“I was 25 when I got married and I told Jerry I didn’t want children.”

Samantha Chia’s eyes crinkle into her trademark smile. She has the undeniable air of a mother, loving and wise – and always armed with food for the table. The first thing she does as the folks from Thir.st settle down to chat is to place two bowls in front of us, one with fruit, the other with pastries.

“And then at 29 I had Julian and I read book after book on motherhood. But now I can tell you: You can’t plan ahead. It’s a journey of adventure.”

Samantha is the mother of two boys, Julian, 29 and Jonathan, 26. Out of earshot, Jon describes him and his brother as a “difficult pair to love and care for unconditionally”, but that’s not what you hear from their mother.

“They were very easy,” she says.

Their interactions as mother and children appear to prove her right. Lighthearted banter – yet ever so gentle from the mild-mannered younger Chias – fills the air as they take turns to draw an art piece inspired by their mother, a task set before them to commemorate Mother’s Day.

Each son has his own language of love, says Samantha, fluent from years of living under one roof and weathering the ups and downs of life together.

“When Julian was in Primary School, I noticed he always stood up for the underdog. He fought for the ones rejected by the rest. He’s sensitive that way.”

“Jon was a sickly child. He had a congenital lung malformation and I had to take him to the hospital every day for an entire year for blood tests when he was younger. Julian is very protective of him till today.”

Julian is the more unassuming of the two, quietly mixing his paints and working with a steady deftness – he’s an artist, after all. Sensing his mother’s nerves as she sits beside him, painting with the canvas out of her line of sight, he chooses paints only in shades of green. It’ll be a “realistic portrait”, he teases.

The road to where the relationship between Julian and Mum is today wasn’t anything Samantha could have planned for.

“After finishing his ‘A’ Levels at Victoria Junior College, he refused to go overseas for his degree even though the university offered to keep his place while he was in the army. He suddenly announced he wanted to study Art Management. He had never been an art student!”

“I picked it up on YouTube,” Julian told me with a sheepish grin. I look at him incredulously; his artwork is far from amateur. He laughs. “I’m serious!”

According to Samantha, he had somehow assembled a winning portfolio of artwork that got him accepted into Laselle, which she and Jerry saw as the sign they had been praying for. They had hoped the door would be closed rather than open, but Samantha also knew her son would have been miserable if they had forced him out of it.

“He’s a non-conformist like his father. A very good boy but with his own mind. He told his father and I that he could honour us in every other way – but this was his calling. And he’s kept his word.”

Her husband, Jerry, who has been sitting quietly next to her, chimes in. “We could have focussed on the one thing we didn’t agree on and lost our whole son.

“He’s a really great guy.”

There’s a motherly pride in Samantha’s voice. “Both my boys would rather stay home than study abroad.”

Jon, who took a longer route through JC and polytechnic, did not want his parents to pay for a pricier college experience. He’s the wordsmith of the family and not as confident with the brushes. The picture he’s drawing is not a measure of his love for her, he tells his mother.

She tries to help him with the paints. “Don’t tell me how to draw!” He chides her jokingly. You know he’s always been – and will always be – her baby boy.

“It’s challenging convincing her I’m a grown-up now,” he shares with me, “which is tricky when I want to be independent and make my own decisions.”

“We cannot give up when it comes to understanding each other. Communicate, communicate, communicate.”

Samantha uses a metaphor which she will repeat throughout our conversation. “The journey of parenthood is like climbing a mountain.

“There were times I wasn’t sure if I had done something wrong or if it was possible to reconcile our differences. But I learnt that if you persevere to the top, the view is much nicer from there.”

“We cannot give up when it comes to understanding each other. Communicate, communicate, communicate.”

A mother will always be a mother. Jerry, 63, vouches for this as he proudly reveals his masterpiece, his own mother sitting beside him. He had drawn a set of window grills, representative of her nightly reminder to lock the house up safely.

“I do wish she would let us be adults but the mothering side of her is still very strong,” he muses. The older Mrs Chia, who only speaks Hokkien, nods in silent amusement.

When Julian and Jon reveal their respective art pieces, Samantha is surprised to see both have drawn food items – kale and a banana cake, or more accurately, a banana atop a slab of inscrutable brown cake – reflective of her love language of food. “I
thought they would try to convey their experience of me. Like a naggy feeling.”

On a more reflective note, she thinks she could have cut back on the nagging years ago. “Parents my age tend to forget their children have grown up. I have to trust they know what they’re doing and deal with my own fear.”

She also has a word of wisdom for young adults on how to deal with their parents. “Don’t just assume your parents don’t need explanations or reminders. We are not always the wiser ones.”

It might be her sons’ turn to disagree on this one. After all, the last time they sat down together at the study table, his mum was helping Julian with his taxes.

To all our beloved mothers out there, Happy Mother’s Day!