The Curse of Being an Only Son

Having had three daughters for a good decade before I was born, my mother took on certain habits while bringing up her children that would no doubt leave less than desirable consequences on me.

For example, I wasn’t born with curly hair. My mother had taken it upon herself to be my personal hairdresser from as early as I remember. She was inspired by one of my foster cousins (though a cousin,she was still over 20 years older than me) who was a heartland hairdresser working in a salon at Whampoa.

But while the initial stages of my mother’s self-imposed training only involved straightforward haircuts (which by themselves were already quite a tedious process lasting at least an hour or two per session), it started getting worse as I commenced kindergarten. So began the days of curlers, that terrible perming chemical sting that got into my eyes, nose and skin and painfully itchy scalps, and by the time I started primary school, my mother had mastered the “side pyramids”, a hairstyle I sported throughout my first few years of primary school that involved two large triangles of curly hair growing out the sides of my head.

Permed

As I passed my streaming year into Primary Four, I finally decided I had one perm too many, and my mother and I had a big fight about her using my head as a platform for launching her non-existent career in the world of hair fashion, which thankfully concluded my period of curls and chemical burns on my ears. But it didn’t end there.

There was another ritual my mother would perform on me during that period that involved various concoctions of vegetables and juices which my father, sisters and I were forced to down in the mornings, and the pulp of these strange and not always pleasant drinks carefully collected and kept in the refrigerator. To my knowledge I was the only one who was subjected to the nearly daily torture that my mother claimed were skincare facials.

Yes, my mother gave me facials. Every weeknight. For four years.

Using ingredients sourced from the good earth (these ingredients were in fact derived from the pulp repository of her elderly, yellowing juice blender), my mum would spread the green contents of the bag she saved from the morning’s juice blending extravaganza, all around my face. She would make me lie in bed stock still for 45 minutes to an hour at a time with the muck on my face, saying it was good for me and people outside pay top dollar for this kind of treatment. What i never had the mind to explain to her was that those people were not 10-year-old boys who, as most 10-year-old boys go, have a tendency to get restless and start fidgeting a lot after 3 minutes, leaving green splotches of top-dollar vegetable muck on her bedsteads and my sleeping clothes.

Over time, I developed a theory about facials thanks to my mother, which I believe to this very day. If you start off treating facial skin as you do with any part of the body, meaning just soap it off when you shower and do absolutely nothing else, it will expect nothing more and won’t give you any flak for it like acne or rashes. Conversely, if you start showing your facial skin a bias of any sort, and start pampering it with skin creams, toners, moisturisers and vegetable masks, it would start expecting more out of you while the rest of your body goes on with its life. And if you stop pampering it, it will most definitely give you a piece of its mind.

I proved my theory in Primary Six, when I finally had a heated discussion with my mother about the facial treatments much like the one I had with her about the perming sessions, and she stopped doing it. Later that year, I’d develop an acne outbreak that lasted through most of my secondary school life, a year-for-year payback for the period of time my mother so lovingly slapped vegetable muck on my face night after night.

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