The best Mother's Day gift I received arrived in my email yesterday, a lengthy letter from my second-born daughter Ida detailing how her class of 21 nursery students prepared for their own tribute to moms. She clinched her letter with what I'd call an "Ida-ism": "happy mother's day, nanay! you make my eyes roll and you may not be my favourite person, but i love you."
My own Mommy made my eyes roll not just a thousand times. Among my sisters we like to joke that of her physical traits, Mom bequeathed us her indio nose and her bunions that make closed shoes uncomfortable.
Our clashes were bitter wars of attrition with periods of peace, with the intercession of Daddy, during mealtimes and occasions like birthdays and Christmas. There was a period in adolescence when I opted to stay home rather than be seen with Mom and her growing brood (a devout Catholic, she followed papal edicts to the letter and refused artificial contraceptives). Alone I cherished the relief from her nagging and what I felt was her overbearing presence.
I longed for a mother who could be a friend and confidante the way my Lola Purang in Baguio was to her children and grandchildren, or the way Aunties Fe and Pacing (my father's sisters) were to my cousins. What I felt the Lord had burdened me with was a battleaxe in a slender and attractive package.
One of my sisters still has this image of Mom with a fly swatter ready to swat not just flies but any erring child. The fanny was her target. I have memories of Mom chasing a sister round and round the round dining table with a flyswatter in her right hand. We knew what kamay na bakal meant early on.
I was only able to say what was in my heart to my mother through a letter when I approached my 60s. The letter wasn't even penned by me. It was written for me by former Baguio Writers Group president Luchie Maranan when BWG had a commissioned handwritten letter campaign in February 2015. I supplied the ghost writer with the inputs on what I had been meaning to tell my mother, among which was how I appreciated her sacrifices for the eight children she bore even if this meant a lack of quality time for us since she and Daddy had to go out and work to provide for us. When I finally held Luchie's letter, the hair on my arms stood up. Her penmanship uncannily resembled Mom's, and my first thought was, "Why is Mommy writing me a letter through the BWG?"
Anyway, when Mom read "my" letter, she told my daughter and sisters that even late in the day, I had come to realize why she was the way she was--her sternness, her disciplinarian's ways. By becoming a mother myself, I have seen that motherhood is the toughest job in the world. And that the fretting over one's children and their well-being, even if they're already adults, never ever stops.
My mom was a proud and vain woman, ramrod straight in posture, always well turned out, fully made up whenever she left the house, whether for the office (she worked until her 70s) or a Legion of Mary meeting. An illness crept up on her late last year. Today she is a ghost of her former self, but to me she is even more beautiful as peace slowly descends on her. She mumbles in that state between wakefulness and sleep--I try to decode what she says in hopes I get clues to her past which she has always been reticent to share, except for the good times. Her knees buckle when she tries to stand with assistance from hefty adults.
But our faith teaches us hope--miracles are possible. If her body and mind don't heal fully, my siblings and I plus those who fondly call her Auntie/Tita Nene or Mommy Lolarga (from the streetsweepers she has befriended to the village security guards she sends merienda to) pray that her spirit does, ready to return to the source of Light and Love. And when Judgment Day comes, she will be restored to full glory. This we all believe.