Pride, joy and pain
To mark my 85th birthday, my five daughters took me on a weeklong trip to Kuala Lumpur and Hanoi. Not to be outdone, my seven sons treated me to a five-day vacation in Shanghai.
Yesterday, while looking at old pictures in my album, I came across one of me and my sons in Shanghai, and I remembered this incident.
* * *
We were at a mall for some shopping and entered a small store offering “imported” handbags. Tired from walking, I was seated in one corner while my sons were choosing bags for their wives. From time to time, one or the other came to me to ask my opinion. Curious, the shopkeeper asked my son Pet how we were related. His answer: “She’s our mother and we are all brothers.”
“All of you?” the shopkeeper said.
“Yes,” Pet said.
Pretty soon, people were stopping at the door and staring at me. “Mommy,” Pet said, “you have become a sensation. You are the mother with seven sons.” In a country with a one-child policy, I had become an oddity. I felt like a circus freak. At the counter, Pet told the shopkeeper: “And we have five sisters also.”
At that, the shopkeeper’s wife approached me and said: “Here, we are not allowed to have daughters. If you have one, the state takes her. How does it feel to have a daughter?” But we were already leaving, there was no time to give an answer, and so I could only smile at her as we left.
* * *
This morning, her question comes back to me. How does it feel to have a daughter? Offhand, at this point in my life, I can mention three salient feelings: pride, joy and pain.
Pride. Let me invoke a mother’s bragging rights and say that I’m extremely proud of my daughters’ scholastic achievements. They were valedictorians and salutatorians in high school. In college, the first three made summa, the fourth magna, and the last cum laude.
Joy. Let me start with a quotation: “A son is a son until he takes a wife. A daughter is a daughter all her life.”
Isn’t that satisfaction enough? And these are some of the things that can make this mother’s heart sing: Receiving two dozen long-stemmed roses from a daughter in Toronto on Mother’s Day, pasalubong from their trips here and abroad, birthday cards, gifts and memorable celebrations on important occasions. And hearing words like “You want to go on a cruise? Let’s go” or “Ma, Jun is working overtime, so get ready. I’ll pick you up after work and we’ll go to Payless or Costco or the 99 Cents Store, and have dinner at Ranch or Soup Plantation. In 10 minutes. OK, Ma?” or “Mommy, you have a new apo.”
Pain. When I gave birth to my third child Rosario, nicknamed Cherie or Puput, on Sept. 16, 1950, I cried. When she died of lung cancer 63 years later, on July 12, 2013, I cried again.
She was sweet, loving, thoughtful and very generous—everything that a mother could wish for in an offspring. She got married not long after graduation and she and her husband moved to Jakarta and later Singapore. She was the first in the family to leave home and country. That move caused me pain. Why do parents always wish their children to be close to them?
They had two sons. It would not have been easy to have a third child living in Singapore. In 1982, the family moved to Pasadena, California. My husband and I visited them regularly and when I was widowed, I went to the United States practically every other year.
She was diagnosed with lung cancer in April 2012 and passed away barely 15 months later. She was not a smoker, and neither were her husband and sons. But it was lung cancer she contracted, one of the most lethal cancers there is.
My last visit with Puput was in May 2013. Following her wishes, her family, including her 11 siblings, a few in-laws and myself had a reunion—a glorious week—in Lake Arrowhead in California.
Before going to the airport, when I took my leave at her bedside (cancer had already claimed her strength), I kidded her: “So, Puput, will I see you on my 90th birthday celebration?”
She tried to smile and wondered how that could happen: “Ma, papano kaya, in my condition? But I love you.”
“Love you, too,” I said as we hugged each other tightly. “God bless you.”
Less than two months later, she was gone.
It’s said that losing a child is more painful than losing a husband. I can attest to the truth of that statement. Not a day passes that I don’t remember Puput and feel the ache in my heart.
* * *
“How does it feel to have a daughter?” the shopkeeper’s wife in Shanghai asked. Now I have the answer, but it comes six years too late.
Lourdes Syquia Bautista, 91, is a retired professor of the University of Santo Tomas, widow, mother of 12, grandmother of 27, and great grandmother of 15.
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