“Life is every bit an opportunity and to be able to live each breath is, by and of itself, happiness. ”
I once asked my mother if I was beautiful. She looked at me straight in the eyes, with both kindness and gentleness and with a slight degree of playfulness convened on her face, and replied, “Child, I’m your mother but I’m gonna have to tell you the truth. No, you’re not beautiful.” I was probably eight or nine then.
My mother is an ordinary person, that’s what she always used to say. She said there’s nothing special about her. In fact, I cannot remember a time when any of my teachers had a glimpse of her. She was never on a PTA meeting neither had she attended any of commencement programs in school. But I’m pretty sure she was present in our (me and my sibling’s) university graduations. I cannot recall whether there was any time that she dropped us to or picked us up from school. I also cannot conjure up whether or not she spoke of our achievements in school unlike some mothers who usually even amplify their kids’ abilities and accomplishments. She was shy and quiet. She couldn’t cook, didn’t know how to fix her kids’ hairs, and didn’t like eating vegetables.
Mother does not usually voice her opinion. There are many things she keeps to herself for peace sake. However, she stands her ground when she believes in something or someone. Never could any office seeker buy her vote. And even when everybody strongly expresses his/her disagreement to her political preference, she would just say it’s my choice. Period. No explanation. No argument necessary. This is the same with other matters.
Mother is actually quite unpopular in my father’s side of family. His is largely matriarchal. She has not gained the favor of the most powerful forces in the clan who impressed in us the importance of academic education. She was actually looked upon as sluggish (well, she literally walked slowly) and less than brilliant. No, she does not have a degree and she finished her high school in her late twenties just so she could pride that she at least completed secondary education. But her brain is anything but dull.
Her family was tight on money. She had to forego education so she could look after her sick parents. And when my grandparents bit the dust just a month apart of each other, mother planned to go back to school which she did. However, with only herself to depend on, she worked in the morning and attended her classes in the evening. She wanted to be a teacher but her financial footing kept on interrupting on her goals. But she always felt glorious and humbly proud of what she achieved. She got married in her mid-thirties and had four children then after.
Mother has had very few friends but they loved her. She is loyal to them too. I have only seen her cry once for reason I cannot remember but it was a muted expression of perhaps frustration or anger. It was very brief. I never heard her talking back to father even when reason was not on his side. When she did, it was to make a monkey of the situation that would ruffle his feathers more. Then she would clam up to calm him down. (Well, they were frequently pushing each other’s buttons but they cannot leave each other’s sides.) Not once have I ever heard her raising her voice to father in protest or complain or whatever, not even a decibel!
Mother was not a disciplinarian (father was) neither was she a spoiler. We would not run to her each time we got a hiding from father because she would always remain neutral. She let us deal with our petty issues with the other kids we were playing with but would gently admonish us when we would wear the little rascals’ cloak. She never laid her hands on our butt. That was father’s job.
She is shy but she is not inferior. She is quiet but she always sticks to her guns. She did not show up to any of our school activities because she let father do these. Mother knew well that father loved to be the one doing all the school stuff for us whether attending PTA meetings or putting on the ribbons or medals awarded to us for luckily snatching a place in the honor roll, or for just being a “stage father” when we were given a part in a school program even when it would only be a few seconds of appearance in a platform. Mother was usually left to manage our intensely busy diner when father had to make the grade in his parental duty in school. She never complained even when she was snowed in. Not any other condition did she moan that she was tuckered out.
Mother may have always thought that she is no extraordinary but as her child, I always believed otherwise… even when she told me I was not beautiful though I perceived she was just being facetious. Oh yeah, she laughs a lot. Sometimes, she laughs until tears build and roll from her eyes. She loves jokes and she delights on comedies. I think she is cool… and she is the coolest and strongest and happiest and most peaceful woman I know. I might not have inherited her gentleness and calmness and quiet demeanor but she has thought me so many practical things in life.
When I was a young teenager perhaps fourteen or fifteen, we had a few serious mother-daughter discussions but to have or not to have a boyfriend was not in the least one of them. In hindsight, I think she just let me try to figure it out myself so I can be responsible of my own actions. But there were some far-reaching pieces of advise that were forever tattooed in my mind. She told me that when one day I would marry a man, I would not completely rely on him to mostly bring in money in the household, that I should strive to be independent while keeping a peaceful co-existence with him, that I should not expect to be treated like a queen because marriage is mutual in all areas of the relationship and that includes its financial aspect. My burgeoning juvenile brain somehow partly grasped what mother meant then and this became clearer when one day, a story was flashed in the Philippine prime time news where a man in a family fell in a demise leaving his wife and children with nothing. The unexpected crisis was passed on to the wife who would not have any idea how she would solely raise her young family. I have watched this story repeated in different people in the same news channel. Getting a load of such news was always heart-breaking but it would also always magnify mother’s words. Later on, I would realize that my husband takes so much pride in my independence as a woman and my outstanding capacity to contribute to the economic affairs of our own household.
In my youth, I was quite baffled when mother would speak of not emotionally investing in great length on anything or anybody so that when that anything or anybody leaves whether through passing over or through broken relationship, it’s not going to hurt awfully. Yet over the years, when our pets’ lives expired, mother would be the one who’d always take the hardest blow. When we would get sick, she would also get sick, even sicker! She lost all her siblings and parents, who she loved so deeply, quite prematurely. She was able endure each of their passing with quiet dignity but she would miss them terribly (although I only actually witnessed the last three deaths).
What I admire most from mother is how she remains happy regardless of circumstances. That is still a work in progress for me. Now that she’s in the twilight of her life, considerably weakened by old age and illness, mostly dependent on her ever so kind and lovely carer, she still expresses her love of life and the happiness it brings to her. To a certain extent, I thought she was scared of the expiration of her own life but I was wrong. I feel quite beat down every time I see her decrepit body that is far too unrecognizable from the mother I used to know, but in one of our deep-seated conversations a few years ago, she told me that life is every bit an opportunity and to be able to live each breath is, by and of itself, happiness. That was profound.
Mother rarely speaks now as a result of her continuously failing body. But if she does, I think she would still assert that she is not special. I also don’t think she realizes how much impact she had on me and how I used her words as a compass to guide me to achieve my personal goals. Her comedic wit, independence, strength, substantial reasoning although at times quite puzzling, and fairness make her extraordinary. Her sometimes counter-cultural and counter-social behaviors would not always go unnoticed but she had always acted them in a way that is acceptable, right, kind and loving. That’s why maybe as a child, I (and my siblings), at no time, questioned her absence in our important school programs. My juvenile emotion hardly ever got scarred when she said I was not beautiful. Although she went on to say, “you actually look like me,” with a soft grin on her face.
She is truly a remarkable woman being!