Firsthand: 5 S’pore adults show off the best gift their mums have given to them

I boasted about an empty box.

Alfie Kwa | May 13, 2023, 09:33 AM

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I have this box that has tiny golden stars on its dark blue inner surface and on all four sides of the exterior there’s a portrait of a little boy with angel wings and stars around him.

On the top and bottom, there’s a drawing of a house in the middle of a field of snow and a gold sparkling string in a loop attached for it to be hung like a Christmas ornament.

It’s nothing fancy, but it’s one of the most meaningful gifts I’ve received from my mum.

A box filled with stars

I received the box as a five-year-old and it’s been kept in the same drawer where my bank documents and passport are.

Even after moving homes and repacking my room, I’ve never misplaced it nor has it been damaged.

It's something of a miracle that it's survived this long as the box is just made from cardboard. If something heavy falls on it, it will flatten; if it touches enough water, it might disintegrate.

Right now, it is a little dusty and the portion which connects the lid to the rest of the box has suffered a slight, but other than that it's in good shape.

And so is my affinity towards it.

For a long time, my mum showed her care through gifts like this. When she gave me the box she told five-year-old me, “You’re shining like the stars within.”

But as I got older, my mum seemed to get less soppy and sentimental with her words towards me; compliments seemed harder to come by.

At times, it wasn’t clear that she cared about me — she was busy with work and I was an annoying teenager who didn’t want to do well in school, and eventually we grew apart.

For years, my mum would pass comments like “You’re so forgetful, you left your wallet at home” and “You look so drabby” — all signs of concern, though not in a way I appreciated of course.

Nowadays these comments have taken a softer turn: “You want me to pass you your wallet?” or “You must be working hard”.

Every couple of years at family gatherings, I talk about the box and how I still love it, especially the golden stars on the inside.

“Mum, do you remember the box you gave me that time?” I’d ask, “ I love it”.

She’d nod and say: “Ya, that’s why I got it for you.” Not in an affectionate way, but matter-of-factly, the way you might say: “Ya, it’s raining,” when it’s raining.

But a couple of days ago, when I asked my mum why she gifted me the box, she said the same thing she did years back:

“Because you’re shining from within.”

It was almost as if I was five again.

The gift has stood the test of time (and the rocky periods of our relationship) and I’ve kept it locked and close to my heart all these years.

No doubt others may also have a gift from their mum that means a lot to them, so in celebration of Mother’s Day this year, I asked a couple of colleagues if they could share their stories and here’s what they said:

A stainless steel pot for his new home

On the day of my “show-and-tell” session in the office, my colleague Nigel came in with a small stainless steel cooking pot his mum gave him after he got married and moved out earlier this year.

He held it up next to his face and explained that it was a piece of kitchenware used to cook many of his meals growing up.

To Nigel, the best part was that it’s the perfect size for a packet of Shin Ramen and an egg or two.

More importantly, it reminds him of the countless meals his mum prepared for him and his three siblings growing up and reflects her belief in the value of home-cooked food.

Not only does she cook for them, but she also included them in the cooking process from a young age, often at the expense of a bigger mess in the kitchen and longer preparation times.

But that taught them some basic cooking skills.

And with this familiar kitchen item and others, his mum has given him, Nigel and his wife have cooked tofu, Xiao bai cai, Japanese curry, and even fried eggs since moving to their own place.

“My mum worked in a bank until she became a mother, and she’s been a housewife ever since,” said Nigel.

“She used to joke that she doesn’t have a lot of wealth to hand down to us, she only has pots and pans.”

But to Nigel, the most valuable thing she gave them was done “through her teaching and training, and through her love and care”.

Cheering her up with a ukulele

“Anything mother-related I am in,” said another of my colleagues, Syahindah, when I asked her to bring the best gift her mum has ever given her.

Everyone in our office knows she shares a special bond with her mum — she’s even written about it in the past.

I was so curious about what she’d bring; I can imagine it’d be hard for her to pick.

“Do her words count,” she asked me. Unfortunately, it wouldn’t for my article, so I asked her to bring something tangible instead.

So, Syahindah brought a ukulele she’d received on her birthday in 2020.

Everyone at home was “a bit down” during that period and what Syahindah normally did to perk herself up was jamming on her ukulele and singing her favourite Kodaline tunes.

But her previous four-year-old ukulele had been mangled by a kid of the same age and was unplayable.

“Okay, let’s go. Let’s go buy another one,” said Syahindah’s mum when told about the destroyed instrument.

“She’s always been supportive of the things that I love doing,” Syahindah said, “music being one of them.”

The ukulele is just one of the many ways her mum has been her number-one advocate over the years.

A hand-made teddy bear named Bear

Andrew lifted a black tote bag from under his table and pulled out a teddy bear his mum made for him about 20 years ago.

The bear stands at about 40 centimetres tall, has scruffy brown fur, beaded eyes and paws that point outwards.

Its arms and legs could be adjusted and rotated and it has a perfectly symmetrical smile which made it hard to believe it was handmade.

But it was. His mum bought the materials, sewed it and put it together so well that it’s lasted all this time, surviving with a slight tear in its right paw.

It was gifted to Andrew when he was a 9-year-old, in the midst of his parents’ divorce.

His mum had moved out of their family home and wasn’t seeing her sons as often as she normally would.

“She made these teddy bears for me and my brother and kinda gave it to us as a little gift to tell us that she was still our mum.”

Up till today, he still remembers this gift as one that brought him comfort during a difficult time.

A valuable coin collection

Matthias almost bailed on the show-and-tell. “All the things my mum has bought for me have been thrown away,” he said.

She mostly gave him clothes as gifts, which he outgrew and had to throw away.

The only reason he’d keep them of them today is to turn them in table top or window-cleaning rags.

But after some searching, he finally found something: a coin collection encased in a flattened eleven-sided polygon.

It was from the Vancouver 2010 Winter Games and his mum had gifted it to him for his birthday the year after.

“I believe they are mint-conditioned commemorative Canadian coins which display curling, snowboarding, and ice hockey, among other winter sports,” said Matthias.

“It is the only gift that has lasted beyond ten years.”

It may not have been any better than the other gifts, but searching for it and talking about the coins reminded him of all the other gifts Matthias’ mum had bought for him over the years, even if they’ve turned been turned into household cleaning tools.

Check out our TikTok interview:

@mothershipsg To all the mums out there: We appreciate you #mothersday #gift #tiktoksg ♬ Ocean View - Gregory David

All images via Alfie Kwa.