Being a mother
At about age 10, my daughter brought up a memory from her storied past. “Remember the time, when I was about six, I had a fever and you were supposed to bring me to the doctor?” she said one morning without warning or preparation (for me).
“I was sick but you said you had a meeting and we would have to pass by there first before we went to the doctor,” she started. I recalled the day, and the meeting for some moral recovery program or other at Malacañang, attended by bigwigs in the media and the government.
“I wasn’t feeling well, and was lying down on the chairs but you forced me to sit up even if I was feeling sick,” she said in a chiding tone. Too late I remembered feeling embarrassed about bringing a sick child to a meeting, and not wanting to be judged by the other attendees.
“I was sick and you let me sit up!” she repeated, and I could feel the full weight of her reproach and rancor. Oh, crap, I thought at that time. Never mind all the wonderful surprises, the treats, the fun times we would have throughout her childhood. When, as an adult, she remembers her growing-up years, she will remember the time her mother put a meeting before her health needs, and made her sit up besides. What a losing proposition motherhood is.
But isn’t that what happens even to the best of mothers?
I remember sneaking a peek at my then-teenage Sister No. 1’s diary, and reading about an incident in her early childhood when our Mama brought her along to buy a new party dress. Sister No. 1 hated the frilly outfit Mama chose, and when Mama insisted, she broke into tears, the whimpers turning into wails when Mama began scolding her and whipping her behind for her “hardheadedness.”
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Sister No. 2’s sharpest memory of Mama was walking home with her from church and sharing the story of a classmate who was having problems at home. To which Mama, short of temper even in the best of times, snapped at her: “Why are you telling me this? I have enough problems of my own!”
I, too, have a Mama story. Scolded for something or other by Mama, I rushed crying to the master bedroom and, armed with a pencil, squeezed myself into the narrow space between her closet and the bathroom sink, writing on the white closet wall in my smallest script: “I hate you Mama.” I wonder if workers, demolishing our old house, puzzled over this cryptic sentence before they razed the bedroom.
Funny the memories we choose to keep—and those we discard, or ignore, or take for granted—when remembering our mothers.
The point is underlined in the book “Motherhood Statements,” a collection of essays edited by Rica Bolipata-Santos and Cyan Abad-Jugo (Anvil Books) and written by daughters and sons, some of them mothers or mothers-to-be, on the “most tricky and exciting terrain of mothering and of being mothered.”
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For the most part, I think, the sons harbor kinder, gentler memories of their mothers. Maybe that’s because the daughters are better able to see through the maternal roles and duties that wrap their mothers in a kind of aura of saintliness.
Daughters, I think, are better able to penetrate the haze and recognize the women behind the icons. Perhaps they are simply more honest, or their experience as little assistant homemakers enable them to acknowledge the drudgery and boredom, the resentment and regrets, that go with raising a family.
And daughters who are now mothers also discern the patterns that somehow survive their own childhoods and adolescence, recognizing the traits they have inherited, the styles they subconsciously copy, and even the very same words they used to hate hearing but now use on their own children.
Writes Abad-Jugo in the introduction: “Maybe being a daughter is easier than being a mother. But I know that for some, it’s a walk on the edge, it is a tiptoe around some wild, strange, indescribable creature that’s just as likely to pounce and scratch you than nuzzle you. I try not to be that kind of mother.”
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And then there are the daughters now mothering their own mothers. FH Batacan, a business writer who also writes mystery crime novels, pens a letter, “To a Friend who is Losing Her Mother,” replete with answers to that friend’s questions. There is advice about health care and dealing with the unexpected, but also words on things to tell one’s mother as the days speed by, even words about the seemingly unimportant. The most important thing, writes Batacan, is just “to tell her.”
Luchie Maranan writes about her irritation at her own mother’s melodramatic approach to life, and her wonderment at her own daughters’ fondness for the old woman. Then she remembers how much closer she was to her own grandmother, wondering if indeed “It Takes a Generation” to reconcile the years and the memories.
Mothers raising special children raise new, unusual dimensions to motherhood. Bolipata-Santos, in “For Teodoro,” writes of being “always on the verge of tears,” not knowing how to reach or relate to her autistic son. Honeyleen de Peralta remembers “When My Daughter was Born,” and their slow process of accepting, understanding and celebrating the fact that their daughter is born with Down Syndrome. Janet Villa, in “Waiting for Anna,” recalls the road she and her husband tread in the process of finally welcoming their daughter to their family, declaring: “no power on heaven and earth could have taken you away from us.”
But funniest are the recollections of less-than-perfect mothers. Noelle Q. de Jesus in “Beneath the Mother Load” bemoans her “hot, snappish, growlie temper” but takes comfort “in the knowledge that my son and daughter have become the people they are because of—as well as in spite of—their mother.”
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