Who Knows Better, Marmee or You

a short story by Ovidia Yu

Quick smile for PohPoh.

Quick take your fingers out of your mouth and smile for PohPoh smile for NaiNai smile for GongGong smile for YehYeh smile for Papa smile for Mama! No she’s not shy she’s just stubborn.

Don’t cry! What are you crying for? No she’s not shy she just sleepy she’s just hungry she’s just tired. We better go now.

She’s purposely doing it to make me look bad. When have you ever known this one to be shy? Now all your relatives are going to think I don’t know how to bring up children!

Stand up straight. Don’t keep pulling on your ribbons. Say Hello to Aunty say hello to Uncle. Go and play with your cousins. Don’t keep messing up your dress. What did you do to your shoes? How did you get mud all over your—come here. You can’t be trusted one minute.

No you can’t go outside. Sit here.

Sit still and don’t disturb us. Stop kicking your legs. No you can’t go outside until you learn to sit still and behave yourself.

Aiyoh the way she fidgets! Her teachers say she is quite bright but they can’t get her to sit still.

Here! Sit! Stay still! You are jolly well going to sit here until you learn to sit still in school!

Why did you get B and not A?

What’s the use of telling me you got A when you didn’t come in top? You think when everybody is doing better than you anybody is going to care about your precious A is it?

Study harder. Practise piano more. Whether you like it or not is not relevant. Practise Chinese essays. Oh, she’s not that smart. Naughty eh, I can’t get her to study.

Oah-Beya-Sum! Rock-Paper-Scissors Long Jiam pass. You don’t get to choose who your parents are. They don’t get to choose how you turn out. Like playing kuti kuti.

Like playing pick up sticks.

You never know when the next piece you pick up is going to make everything fall down.

What for you want to know what your friends are talking about?

Those friends are all stupid! Who knows better, Marmee or you!

Look I know better than you. This is for your own good. One day you will thank me.

You cannot want to do what everybody wants to do. If they all go and jump into the sea you also go and jump into the sea is it?

I don’t want you playing with those children any more.

Don’t ask such stupid questions. You are too young to talk about things like that.

I don’t know and I don’t want to know. All your nonsense.

Your teacher says you aren’t active in class. Why aren’t you more active in class?

I don’t know you should know what that means what. Is your teacher—complaining about you!

Of course it is a complaint. If nothing is wrong with you why would your teacher bother to write to your parents?

Put up your hand in class. Answer questions. Of course you got things to say. Dumb ah you?

I don’t want you playing with your cousins. They are not good influence on you.

It’s got nothing to do with whether I like them or not. I know what is best for you.

And I know their mother tells them bad things about me. Your father’s whole family is like that.

Wicked. Where are you going? Who are you going with?

Don’t waste time talking about such nonsense. You should be studying.

Don’t waste so much time on the computer

Don’t waste so much time on the phone

Don’t waste so much time on your music.

What I want you to practise is the proper music for exams! Not this kind of rubbish.

You should be studying.

Don’t argue with me. I’m your mother I know what’s best for you. If you have time to talk on the phone you have time to study more. I’m taking your phone until after your exams. I’m only doing it for your own good.

What nonsense is that teacher of yours coming up with now?

I don’t have time to waste dealing with her nonsense. You don’t need her to pass the exams. Don’t pay any attention to her.

Only mad people go and talk to therapists. People with too much money to throw away. You want people to think you are mad is it?

If you want to go and throw away money you go and earn your own money first.

After all we have done for you you want to go and listen to what some outsider says.

We had no idea anything was wrong.

There was no sign at all that she was unhappy. She never said anything. In any case if she was unhappy I would have known. I’m her mother. Everything I did was for her. She was the only good thing that came out of my marriage.

And I don’t want her looking like that in the coffin. I don’t care what she wanted. Don’t argue with me. I’m her mother I know what’s best for her.

Here. She refused to wear this dress while she was alive but at least it won’t be wasted.


Reprinted with the permission of the author, this short story appears in Body Boundaries: The EtiquetteSG Anthologies Volume 1, edited by Tania De Rozario, Zarina Muhammad and Krishna Udayasankar, published by The Literary Centre, Singapore (2014). On-line sale at Ethos Books.

You can read a short introduction to the anthology here.

body boundaries_cover

Ovidia Yu is an award-winning novelist, short-story writer and playwright. She is the recipient of the Japanese Chamber of Commerce and Industry (JCCI) Singapore Foundation Culture Award (1996), the National Arts Council (NAC) Young Artist Award (1996) and the Singapore Youth Award (1997). Her plays have been peformed locally and also in Hong Kong, Malaysia, Glasgow and Edinburgh. She has worked with Action Theatre, TheatreWorks, The Necessary Stage, Arts and Acts, Music & Movement, WOW International and Wayang-Wayang Theatre Company.

About Jee Leong Koh

My book of poems Steep Tea (Carcanet) was named a Best Book of 2015 by UK's Financial Times, and a Finalist by Lambda Literary. I also wrote three other books of poems and a book of zuihitsu. My work has been shortlisted for the Singapore Literature Prize, and translated into Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese, Russian and Latvian. Originally from Singapore, I live in New York City, where I edit the arts blog Singapore Poetry, and run the Second Saturdays Reading Series and the Singapore Literature Festival in NYC.


  1. datta2014

    nd I don’t want her looking like that in the coffin. I don’t care what she wanted. Don’t argue with me. I’m her mother I know what’s best for her.

    Here. She refused to wear this dress while she was alive but at least it won’t be wasted.”

    Very interesting,moving, and the end is somewhat striking.


  2. Thanks, datta2014, for reading.


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