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My mother’s legacy

Every Mother’s Day, I don’t see myself as a mother to my children; I see myself as a child to my mother.

My mother was  a deeply religious woman. She personally attended to her nine children as well as to her husband, our father, a physician. She would often tell us that she had wanted to be a nun but that apparently, God had other plans for her.

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Mama’s rearing method was strictly old-school. Her being a product of St. Theresa’s College, Manila, came to the fore when she brought us up. She disliked seeing anyone idle. During  the summer break, we neither got up late nor played the whole day. She made a daily schedule for us: wake-up time, make our bed, clean our room, practice our piano/violin lessons, sew, or read books, with one hour of “free time.”

Perhaps Mama was unconsciously following the regimen of a nun’s life. My then 9-year-old mind could only conclude that the reason nuns rarely smiled (especially our Belgian nuns in school then) was that they didn’t do enjoyable things. That they spent all their free time praying in the chapel. That they slept on a bed without a mattress or ate only vegetables. That their entire life was one big sacrifice.

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And to think Mama wanted that life for herself! I began to look at her with awe.

Mama never allowed us in the kitchen. We had many household helpers, but she did all the cooking. The inevitable result was that none of her children, including her six daughters, became great cooks. But years  later, days before our respective weddings, she would give us crash courses in cooking which never really registered.

Every night, Mama would lead our family in praying the Rosary. It was, to me, a kilometric ceremony because it didn’t end until all the saints in heaven had been invoked. We had to kneel throughout the prayers. And whenever we did bad things—like telling a lie or quarrelling among ourselves—Mama would denounce our acts as done “for the devil,” as if we had a hotline to the great Satan himself! Whenever we had to do unpleasant but necessary things—like taking that awful aceite de castor when we had fever—Mama would tell us to stop resisting and say, “For you, my Lord.” It was a wonder that none of us children ever mixed up the two invocations.

I dreaded the season of Lent. Fridays were strictly no-meat days, and though we were not even at fasting age then, we had to eat less than usual. During Holy Week, we  were not allowed to play or listen to loud music.  Life came to a standstill in our home on Good Friday.  We had to listen to the Seven Last Words on TV,  sitting upright, not lying down, on the sofa lest we fall asleep. Holy Week was never a time for us to go to the beach or watch movies. It was observed as prayerfully as we could. This was Mama’s  first legacy which my own children have unconsciously assimilated.

Every Dec. 31, it was an unwritten law that at the stroke of midnight all the members of the family should be together at home. And while the rest of the world ushered in the New Year with champagne toasts, our family would spend the first five minutes of the new year on our knees, affirming our faith as we recited the Credo, and thanking God for the past year’s blessings. Only after we had done so would the revelry follow.

Old-school? Definitely. Holier-than-thou? I don’t think so. She was simply a mother bringing up her children in the best way she could. To me, she was  a great mother. I bet she would have made a  great nun, too.

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Lita Caluag Cruz, 75, is a retired teacher and occasionally conducts writing and other workshops.

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