Mother and child in a bus: life lessons | Inquirer Opinion

Mother and child in a bus: life lessons

My Facebook feed is flooded by Mother’s Day messages and the like. My ears almost bleed at hearing all sorts of greetings. And I keep receiving text messages telling me to forward such greetings to my mother.

I’m not bitter about Mother’s Day even if technically I no longer have a biological mother. My mom died when I was 10. I had only 10 years to celebrate the day. I probably mumbled “Happy Mother’s Day” around six times, and I bet that in half of those times the greeting was barely pronounced right. The rest of the years were wasted by unheard thoughts and fake “happy” greetings.

What was there for me to celebrate, after all?

But I remember one Mother’s Day: I had just completed weeklong fieldwork in Mindanao. My body was in pain and my brain was pleading for sleep, and there was the added hassle of a delayed flight to Manila. Waiting is not my talent.


In Manila, I got into a bus to endure the hours-long trip to Cavite. I was looking forward to being home and getting some sleep. I was sitting beside a woman and her child, roughly 30 and 12 years old, respectively. They were loud, busy with a conversation about their life happenings. It was annoying, but I tried my best to ignore them, to mind my own little sad world, and sit quietly.

But their story never seemed to end. Just by sitting there, I already knew everything about their life. I began to wonder: Why were they telling their story inside this poor, overcrowded bus? Didn’t they have all the time in the world?

Like me, they apparently didn’t.

Through their conversation, I learned that the woman had sent the child off to Zamboanga for a more convenient life, with an aunt to support her school and everyday needs. The mother was endlessly apologetic in explaining how awful she felt about the years that she was away from her child. I was moved when she said, weeping and shaking, that she had even brought IDs and documents—“as proof that I am your mother just in case you won’t accept me.”


“I was anxious to see you,” the woman told the child. “I was afraid you won’t remember me. Four years away from you was too long, and was just painful to bear. I’m glad you still know me and accept me as your mother.”

I didn’t want to cry in the bus after that sudden punch in the heart. I looked at them, smiled at the woman, and the words “Happy Mother’s Day po” slipped out of my mouth. It was the sincerest greeting that I had ever uttered. The breeze smelled sweet from my bitter heart, this moment in the middle of chaos felt right. My heart was crying but my mind felt easy.


The woman said she did not know it was Mother’s Day, just that “this is the day I’ll have my child back.”

Dates are important, along with celebrations and the like.

But I don’t want to remember just the date; I want to keep in my memory a picture of the moment, the way it felt, how the wind tasted, the twinge in my heart, the tears I shed. Sheer repetition of a greeting makes it lose its sincerity and importance. But I conveyed that sincere greeting to a mom who waited for four years to get her life back.

Sorry, I’m not greeting anyone else a “Happy Mother’s Day” again, as I also realize that every day moms give love to their children—more than the celebration of motherhood, or the celebration of their lives. But I’m wishing all mothers a happy, healthy, extended life, so that heartless strangers like me will learn and appreciate the assorted mothers who took care of me.

On Mother’s Day in 2012, life delivered a hard punch to my heart. I learned that while I will never have my own mother back, I can still be a kid that a mother will want to love.

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Clarice Sarao says she was cared for by all sorts of mothers for more than 20 years — lola, tita, cousin, neighbor, a friend’s mom, even strangers.

TAGS: Inquirer Commentary, Mothers Day

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