I have one daughter, but I always wanted more children.
I loved being pregnant, of feeling my baby shift and move and wriggle and squirm. I loved being heavy and swollen, my body adjusting itself to accommodate the life growing inside me.
I loved being a mother. Watching my baby grow and develop: rolling, crawling, walking, then talking, reading, learning to drive, buying a house. Those years have flown past the the blink of an eye.
He was a young man, 22 years old, and I had met him earlier that day. He sat down beside me and put his arm gently around my waist and, after a few seconds, said: You feel like my mother.
My daughter is grown and barely needs me. Not that I’m complaining, although I mourn the relationship we don’t have. In many ways, it reminds me of my relationship with my mother, where I was constantly trying to prove myself worthy of her love, until I gave up and didn’t bother any more.
Don’t get mad, get distant.
But I always wanted more children, and I thought they needed to be of my blood.
Sometimes blood isn’t thicker than water.
Sometimes blood means nothing.
He was a young man, 22 years old, and I had met him earlier that day.
He sat down beside me and put his arm gently around my waist and, after a few seconds, said: You feel like my mother.
It was in that moment I realised.
I was mother to more than 100 young men and women, and counting.
Who weren’t related to me by blood.
But felt more like family than my own.
I was in Saigon for work, and coincidentally, so were a whole bunch of KOTO trainees—around 30 of them. They had arrived that day, eager yet nervous to start their placement—the last six months of their traineeship. Then they were launched into the big, wide world, forging their own way, their own careers, their own lives. Creating their future. Living their dreams.
Outside KOTO, but forever a part of it. Family.
It was something that Mr Jimmy talked about often: being a part of the KOTO family.
I had worked with these particular young people—as well as three other classes—for the past five months as a volunteer, assisting the English teachers at KOTO. I had formed relationships with these young men and women built on mutual respect and laughter and kindness. And their need to learn English. Being with them made me happy, and—I found out later—the feeling was mutual.
When I heard the trainees had arrived at the restaurant, I walked out to greet them.
Hello! I said.
Ms Diane! What are you doing here? They called my name in unison, grins spread across faces surprised and delighted by my presence. Some came and gave me a hug.
Hi, I said. I knew you’d all be here, so I came especially to see you!
They knew I was joking, but played along. We chit-chatted for a while.
Then they asked: Would you like to see where we are living?
Of course, I replied.
And I did.
Later that night, I took a motorcycle taxi to an area in Saigon that was completely unfamiliar to me. I didn’t care, because there were a whole bunch of people waiting for me, looking out for me, making sure I was ok.
They showed me their apartment, proud and grateful that I could share this important time in their lives. As was I.
And then we went for juice, except for me. I had beer.
And we talked. And we talked some more.
And then one young man told me, You are so happy, Ms Diane. Whenever I see you, you make me feel happy too.
I told him the feeling was mutual.
Being around each and every one of them made me happy.
So very happy.
Because, as I have realised, these are my children.
Like the young woman, who clasping my arm as I walked back to the main road to get a motorcycle taxi to my hotel, called me mother. Said I was her mother.
What an honour.
These young people have taken me into their hearts with such kindness, warmth and trust.
And the young man?
The one who said I felt like his mother?
Who I’d only just met that day?
Who was he?
KOTO alumni. Helping settle the new arrivals into their life in Saigon. Just as other KOTO alumni did for him.
My new son.
This is the 13th essay in the #52essays2017 challenge that I’ve set for myself this year. I’ll be writing (or trying to write) one personal essay a week: 52 in total. And I’m doing this because I’m the first to admit I’ve become a lazy writer: allowing guest posts and series and cross-posting to make up the bulk of content on The Diane Lee Project across 2016. The brave, fearless writing that readers admired and respected me for has all but disappeared. This year—2017—will be different. I’m reclaiming my voice—my write like a motherfucker voice! And if you are interested and want to join the #52essays2017 challenge, you can find out more information here, and join the Facebook group here.
Photo credit: Word Vietnam