譚博士經歷最辛苦的是教書、讀博、湊子三線並行的階段。「那時兒子才幾歲，很『痴身』，一定要跟我睡， 我當時急著完成1 9萬字的論文， 他每晚就趴在我腿上入睡。」兒子七歲時，一次跟譚博士和學生上山考察，途中喊累不願意走，她就對兒子說：「你走不動，我揹你吧。」冒著因長期站著講課引致的膝關節疼痛也願意這樣做，只有當過媽媽的才能明白這種愛。
I knew of Dr Tam Mei Leng when I was still an undergraduate student at UM. I never attended her classes, but from what I kept hearing from those who did, students loved her and felt very close to her. Those were hectic days for Tam, because in addition to her heavy workload at the university, she also had a young daughter to take care of. A lover of classical Chinese opera, Tam likens life to a play, in which she has to constantly switch between six different roles.
A Battle of Wits and Strength and a Lesson in Gratitude
Dr Tam is an assistant professor in the Department of Chinese Language and Literature. She has a family that is the envy of many, with a loving husband who also works in higher education and two children who never fail to surprise her on her birthdays. Tam’s daughter, Victoria, graduated from the University of Queensland in 2014, and is now working as a pharmacist in Australia. Her younger son, Douglas, is studying electromechanical engineering at the University of Melbourne. Asked what parenting experience she wanted to share with other parents, she said, ‘Raising children is both a battle of wits and strength, and a lesson in gratitude. First, you must have the strength to play with them even when you feel exhausted after a day’s work. Second, you need to adopt a policy of non-interference and avoid dealing with problems head-on. This is especially important when you have adolescent children. You need to use your wits to solve problems. Third, you need to cultivate a heart of gratitude. I often offer my thanks to the Buddha that my children have never gone astray. It’s a blessing and no blessing should be taken for granted.’
As a teenager, Victoria went to a girls’ secondary school and for a time became very close with another girl. Open-minded but worried about her husband’s reaction, Tam brought up the subject with feigned nonchalance while chatting with her daughter. She told Victoria, ‘It does not matter who you choose in the end; the most important thing is that you choose someone who truly loves you.’ It turned out Tam needn’t have worried, for Victoria introduced her current boyfriend to her mother during Tam’s visit to Australia last year. Ever the witty mother, Tam answered her daughter ’s question about what she thought of the boyfriend with great tact. ‘Even if you don’t like the boyfriend, you can’t say so directly,’ she explained. ‘You also need to be careful with your facial expression, because even a passing look or frown might give you away and hurt her feelings.’ If you are also a parent and despair over your apparent lack of Tam’s parenting talent, take heart! Tam says she is lucky to have some friends who could teach her how to be a good mother. ‘I once had a student, who has now become a good friend of mine. I always turn to him for parenting tips,’ she said.
‘If you are too tired to walk, hop on mommy’s back.’
The most difficult time for Tam was when she had to teach, study for a PhD degree, and take care of her young son at the same time. ‘My son was just several years old. He was very clingy, and wouldn’t sleep without me,’ she said. At the time Tam had to complete a 190,000-word dissertation on a tight schedule, so she worked every night with her son falling asleep on her lap. Several years later, while tagging along with Tam and her students on a field trip on a hill, the seven-year -old child grew tired and refused to walk any further. Despite her chronic knee pain from standing for long periods of time as a lecturer , Tam said to her son, ‘If you are too tired to walk, hop on mommy’s back.’
Switching Between Six Roles Daily
Being a full-time mother is not easy, but juggling a career and a family is even harder. Every day Tam has to switch between six different roles: herself, daughter, mother, wife, teacher, and employee. In the past, she wasn’ t very good at handling work-related stress, so sometimes she returned home with a sour face without even realising it. Her husband noticed this and gently reminded her that bringing negative emotions back home would have a bad effect on the children. So from then on Tam always made a point of putting on a happy face when she came home. ‘I now remind myself to shut down work stress before entering home, because home should be a place where everyone can relax and feel loved,’ she said.
Not only does Tam deserve a Best Mother Award, she should also receive a Best Wife Award, because in addition to all her other commitments, she does all the= housework. ‘My husband left his family in Canada and came to Macao because of me. This alone should make me forever grateful, so I want to take good care of him and pamper him a little,’ she said.
If I Had to Do It All Over Again
Tam is a big fan of classical Chinese opera. But I was surprised by her answer when I asked her which character from classical Chinese opera she thought resembled her the most. She said jokingly, ‘A wannabe scholar.’ She then explained without my further prompting: ‘I’ve been teaching for 25 years, but still I feel I haven’t reached the standards I set for myself. Sometimes I envy my husband, because he can focus on his career without any distraction.’ It turns out of the six roles Tam plays on a daily basis, the role of ‘self’ is her most neglected one. ‘If I had to do it all over again, I would choose not to get married, so I could have more time to focus on myself and my dreams,’ she said. Before the end of our interview, I couldn’t help asking: ‘Do you mean it? If you could do it all over again, would you really rather choose a solitary path?’ She replied, ‘Yes.’