Photo courtesy of Dexter Chew Credits: Photo courtesy of Dexter Chew
Speaking to Elaine about the book, that appreciation shines through. She reflects fondly on the lessons her mother taught her that made her who she is today—a successful TV personality, co-host of The Social and the celeb gossip genius behind laineygossip.com. "I set out to write this book as a tribute to the most important person in my life," she says. "My intention is just to honour her." Though Elaine admits she doesn't show affection (she gets that from her mom) and is grossed out by the words "I love you," writing the book was very much an act of love.
Still, Elaine holds no illusions about her ma. She calls her goading "blackmail" and compares her jarringly loud voice to "a wailing siren that invades your mind." (Her mother even texts in all-caps.) It's that sound that gave her the name Squawking Chicken. After a traumatic incident in childhood, she gave up her submissive demeanor and reclaimed her voice. "She wears the name Squawking Chicken with pride and swagger," says Elaine. "In Chinese, the name conveys that this girl doesn't take shit."
If her mother's storied life sounds more like legend than biography, it's partly because she roots everything in the ancient Chinese philosophy of Feng Shui and partly because she has a personality of legendary proportions. "She's a star," says Elaine, explaining her tendency to make herself the centre of attention. "She's the Marilyn Monroe. Everyone else is in the shadows around her."
Elaine talks and writes about her mom in an honest yet sharply funny way. "I've been raised by a woman who doesn't hold back," says Elaine, who is known for her own tell-it-like-it-is attitude. She admits her mother's honesty can sometimes feel harsh, but she learns from it. In fact, she depends on it to get through life. Ultimately, that's why she wrote the book: to ensure she would always hear her ma's squawking.
In 2011, her mother was diagnosed with a rare, potentially life-threatening illness called POEMS, a syndrome that can cause everything from damaged nerves to enlarged organs. "There's no cure, so we deal with it one crisis at a time." The only time Elaine falls silent is when I ask what life will be like without the squawking. It's something she can't even bring herself to think about.
Motherhood is not in Elaine's plans, but through her book, she has a way to pass on her mother's lessons and love. And that's all she needs. "Our relationship is so fulfilling that I don't miss anything else."
Check out our tips on how to maintain a healthy adult relationship with your parents.