It was 9 a.m. I woke up to the theme song of my favorite “Nick Jr.” series roaring from the TV set, and to the smell of freshly toasted hash browns.
I brushed my teeth, headed to the living room for the latest episode of “Wonder Pets,” and sat back to wait for my mother to serve me a hefty breakfast.
She arrived a few minutes later with my favorite chocolate drink, extra ketchup for my hash browns, and chewy pandesal.
It was 2006. I was in fourth grade, and my mother and I were living in her new apartment building. She had taken a break from her life in Japan to focus on further studies and to monitor the construction of her commercial apartment building in Manila.
When it was done, she took me from my grandmother’s custody and into her new home. The four-story building that would be occupied by countless families was quiet and empty when we moved in.
But it was full of hope as we both looked forward to many happy moments together. After 10 years of flying to and from work abroad, she was finally home. No more return flights or plane tickets, only the assurance that she was here to stay.
My mother had been away for so long that when she returned, she made sure I got all the attention I had missed. Boy, was I pampered! She enrolled me in speech classes, sports clinics, and every workshop imaginable, to ensure that I was never behind my classmates in school.
I was showered with everything a 10-year-old needed, from a loving home and a good educational foundation to a mother and father figure in one. But that setup didn’t last long.
For two years before I entered high school, my mother was my tutor, cook, nurse, and best pal.
As a single parent, she took the weight of work and family on her shoulders, and made me top of her priorities.
But in 2008, she completed her studies and returned to Japan, putting me back in square one.
Two years after living the good life, I again found myself in the care of my grandmother, some other relatives, and guardians in the form of our neighbors.
Years passed and I perpetually looked forward to the day when I could go home to my family without worrying about flights and goodbyes.
Bonding over meals, going on trips, and watching movies together were just some of the things that I experienced rarely, given this OFW family setting that everyone was so obsessed with back in the 2000s.
My mother’s absence for the next 11 years was marked by missed birthdays, fights over Viber, and unanswered calls. During these times, I found myself unconsciously drifting away from her who was once my source of strength.
From being the first person I approached every time I got an award in school, she became the last person to know how my days at work went. Everything turned upside down, and the thread that connected us snapped.
Over the years, I found myself blaming her absence for our faltering relationship, and caring words eventually turned into silence as my vulnerability grew into a resentment that further broke us apart.
I’m still missing the familial perks I once looked forward to, but thanks to the absence that I was surrounded with as I was growing up, I now look back at my childhood with a different perspective.
In those 11 years of spending occasions over Skype and daydreaming of the possibilities with my mother by my side, I realized that this same absence was a concrete manifestation of love — a sacrifice that knows no bounds and identifies no borders.
It turns out I had been looking for something I already had, and I was blindly searching for what was already there.
In the course of time, here’s what I learned.
Love takes countless forms in different circumstances. Love was in the hugs and kisses we received from our parents when we graduated from middle school.
Love was in the bittersweet parting with them when we moved to condos and dorms as we began college life.
Love was also in the harsh words they threw at us when we answered back after that one argument, and it was in the tears that fell down their cheeks when we had our first heartbreaks.
My mother might not have seen me grow up in front of her eyes, but I realized that her love was in the hopeful promise she silently made when she left me when I was four months old.
It was in the leap of faith she took at the age of 25, mindless of the risks of working in a foreign land, just to keep her child alive.
Now, it’s still in the daily sacrifices she makes as she continues to work 1,861 miles away from me, in the hope of preparing the best future for me.
And I cannot thank her enough.
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Mika Madrid, 21, is a fresh communication graduate of Ateneo de Manila University and a production associate at a startup digital advertising agency.
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