“I’m going to get a chocolate ice cream,” I said, hauling myself to my feet and walking over to the dusty freezer. “Do you want one?” My mother shook her head. It didn’t matter that we’d spent the last 10 hours hiking through the rice paddies of northern Vietnam’s Sapa Valley, or that our picnic lunch had been wolfed down several steep bamboo forests ago.
Self-denial was instinctive for her, a reflex as natural as one’s foot swinging out after a prod to the knee. She has always taken a frugal attitude towards life’s pleasures. I, on the other hand, inherited none of this restraint. I sought to enjoy myself as much as possible as frequently as I could.
Growing up with a Type-A mother meant that she was always in charge. As headteacher of a school, her determination and discipline are harnessed daily. With parenting, she employed a similar approach to hobbies, nutrition and homework. She’s since joked that our home was the “House of No” – by that, she means that her rules governed our upbringing while some of my friends’ parents took a more laissez-faire approach to their children.