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The first piece of bread

My mother’s greatest sacrifice for her children is eating the end pieces of a loaf. She would fight for the first piece as if it was the last. What was in it that we, her children, were not allowed to eat? It didn’t matter if the end piece was thin or thick, or if it was poorly sliced; the point is, I did not want to make my mother angry and so I, the youngest of three daughters, never ate one until well into adulthood. I speculated there was nothing inherently wrong with it since she still consumed this first piece with her usual spread of mayonnaise and cheese, although she would eat this piece alone by folding it in half.

One morning, I opened the new and fresher loaf out of the two that were on the breakfast table because I didn’t like how some bread would dry out over time even before its expiry date. Immediately, my mother, thinking her anger is always justifiable, reprimanded me over this simple thing and reminded me of her peculiar and unbreakable rule at home. Out of shock and initial spite, I answered back and asked why and ridiculed what seemed to me, this purposeless family rule. It came to me as no surprise that with an irrational practice, an unjustified anger, came a dismal answer of “basta.”

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This scene, along with many others, led me to have a strange relationship with my mother. My sentiments toward her would be between Meursault’s apathy and Eva’s pent-up anger with their own mothers; and a sense of authentic concern and care for her, not as her child but as someone who authentically empathizes with another. These ambivalent feelings were the stronghold of our relationship as mother-daughter.

I became a mother myself at 25, the same age my mother had her eldest. I almost never got to know the irrational rationale behind not eating the end pieces of bread not until almost three years after I gave birth and I wanted my daughter to try and take a bite of my peanut butter and jelly sandwich. In contrast with Marcel Proust’s “In Search of Lost Time,” I recalled parts of my childhood without nostalgia. Maybe it was the smell of the bread or how I opened up a new loaf that made me remember a thing of the past that still took such a hold of me. “Bakit nga ba ‘di mo kami pinapakain nito, mommy?” I asked, as I held up what was for me the infamous piece of bread.

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Superstitious tales have always been part of almost every Filipino household, and ours were no stranger to it, especially food-related superstitions. We had 12 round fruits every new year’s celebration, we believed in falling utensils as premonition and prediction of a guest’s arrival and sex, and of not cleaning up the table if someone is still eating lest this person remains unmarried for the rest of his or her life.

It came to me as a surprise that my mother finally shed light on something that was left unexplained for years and that I was unaware we had been practicing another superstition all my life. This answer gave me a sense of relief and halted my developing feelings of animosity.

It is believed that eating an end piece of a loaf will make you finish last in the race of life. For decades, my mother has been making this great sacrifice. It was as if this act would interfere with all her daughters’ individual fate and that we owe much of our success to this self-giving. She must have believed this hard that fighting for a piece of bread saved us years of misfortune.

As someone who majored in philosophy, this is fallacious. It does not follow that eating a piece of bread would cause one’s misery in life. As a mother, it costs nothing to believe in it. The moment my daughter began eating bread, I began the same practice.

I found that knowing this sacrifice has revealed a concealed truth: a mother-daughter relationship is always a becoming. I still hold this superstition close to my heart, as a reminder of a mother’s love for her child and the sacrifices that come with it; and of holding myself and my child responsible for each other’s journey.

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Marie Geraldine Caballero, 28, is an editor at an academic publishing house, a graduate student of philosophy, and a mother to Cloud.

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