My (P)lucky Mum (An Inspiring & True Tale)
I remember us sitting next to my mother under the bright fluorescent light of our Lebanese kitchen. My mum was helping my younger sister with her tear-inducing science homework while I concentrated on mine, trying to figure out whether a particular Arabic word was spelled with a soft ت (like 'tail') or a hard ط (like 'time') before I could move on to my dreaded French homework. My mum would tirelessly switch between us, navigating each language and subject late into the night despite our frequent and vocal protestations of this torture (in our child eyes, anyway).
You see, growing up, we moved around a lot. For us kids, this meant switching between the Lebanese and Australian school systems and being home-schooled during our stays in Saudi Arabia. Where the Australian school system taught us critical thinking and encouraged us to explore our creativity, it was miles behind the mathematics taught in the Lebanese system, which focused on rote learning. There, we were expected to learn three languages (Arabic, English and French) all at once too.
When we first enrolled in the Lebanese system, the principal told my mum that we wouldn't be able to cope in the constrictive and conformist culture, that we would fail and be held back to repeat the year. My mum refused to accept this. She believed in us and dedicated every evening to our studies. She was there to support us through our zeros and cheer us on through our 100 percents. No one could match the smile on her face when we went from the bottom of the class to among the firsts in our year levels.
What is incredible to me all these years later, is that my mum managed to successfully school us in English-based maths, science and literature subjects despite English being her third language. She learnt English at the same time as she was teaching us, educating herself via correspondence in Australia and continuing during our time in Lebanon.
Despite this, my mum often doubted herself when she spoke to native English speakers. In our early years in Australia, she focused a lot of her energy on our own Lebanese community and volunteered at the local Arabic school.
It is in the past 6 years that I have watched my mum utterly transform, a shift that started the first day she stepped into her chosen university. She went from calling us about the location of her saved files to independently researching university databases and overloading her bookmarks tab with health and nutrition articles. She was your typical mature aged student, hand perennially in the air, gulping information down as if to make up for the years since she left school (it seems I have inherited this trait).
While our own community is and will always be important to her, she has learnt to make friends and connect with people outside our community and has opened her arms to new ideas and ways of doing things. She has volunteered and worked in the health, food and aged care industries, and since graduating, has already been involved in community development projects that are very close to her heart.
For someone who was shy about her English, she is now talking with city councillors to make her ideas for the community she loves come true. Her resume is currently overflowing with personal and professional experiences that I can barely contain in 2 or 3 pages. The tables have turned, and now it is I who is unashamedly proud - I think my smile might just trump hers!
In all of this, my mum's experience has taught me how much harder a migrant's – especially a TCK’s – life can be. How much harder we have to work, how many more sacrifices we make and how lonely it can often be so far away from what we call home. But her story also speaks the language of hope and the fluidity of culture. Even with my mum’s strong and proud Lebanese roots, she absorbed elements of Australian culture that she admired and respected and found meaningful ways to contribute her ideas and passions to the wider community. It is because of her that I place a high value on education and social connection, and go out of my way to create the culture I want to be surrounded by while still paying tribute to my heritage.
If you can take anything from what I have written, think about my plucky mum's personal experience the next time you doubt yourself. Don't wait to get lucky - be plucky and make your own luck!
This article was first published on 18 January 2017