As a mother, I know enough not to judge anybody else’s parenting or mothering skills or approach. I always say that we can only parent the way we know how, and in the way we know best. No one can teach you to become a good mother or parent. We all just do the best we can. And this is a story of how I did it, at least in all the past seven years. Last year, I embarked on this two-month journey on my own to find myself and thankfully, I did. I came home with the realisation that I must prepare my daughter for a life without me and I came home with a journal. In this journal, I write letters to her when I can, for her to read in the future when she is much older and hopefully, much wiser. Let me share with you what I wrote on the very first page…
It may seem absurd, but yes, we tropical people only know rain and sun…. and typhoons, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, tidal waves, among other things, of course. So here we were, in Jafferau, with the remnants of winter…
So today is Mother’s Day and as in the past 5 years, I didn’t feel or do anything special. I remember last year’s Mother’s Day was extremely difficult. I was alone in my family’s condo in Taguig and afterwards I was walking around the mall in tears. I went to a waxing salon and they thought my tears were all because of the wax. I had to assure the lady that it wasn’t.
I sent Mother’s Day greetings to all my surrogate mothers, the “mothers” I have known, the “mothers” I still have, and the women in my life that were the closest to the mother I could ever have. I have never been very close to my own mother but she passed away in 2011 and the fact that I had no real mother to speak of, to celebrate Mother’s Day for, caused me a lot of pain.
And also because nobody celebrates Mother’s Day for me. Until Lia is old enough to know it, nobody will do special things for me on Mother’s Day.
But really, Mother’s Day is not only one day a year. Or twice a year depending on your nationality and where you are currently living (like my niece in Sydney).
Last year, I was feeling absolutely horrible, sad, lonely, and basically all those depressing adjectives, because not only was Mother’s Day passing by with nary a trace, the reason I can be and am called “Mother” was absent.
This year’s Mother’s Day is better simply because my daughter is with me. We don’t have to do anything special. I don’t have to receive anything. Every single day that I spend with Lia is Mother’s Day.
Everyday is Mother’s Day as long as I have her with me and that’s all that matters.
I have been meaning to write this post as this happened three and a half months ago but I have been extremely busy. I used to blog everyday. Before I moved to El Nido, I posted something twice or thrice a day. One would think that with my moving to El Nido, to live in a native cottage that is roughly 15 square meters, with just the most basic necessities, without air conditioning and television, far away from the city, I would have more time to blog. As it is, I have barely written anything noteworthy since I sort of officially, permanently, moved here half a year ago.
Anyway, my 4-year old daughter and I went to an afternoon party at a beachfront restaurant along Corong-Corong Beach where we live. At the party, my daughter found one of her best friends, our 5-year old French neighbor, and together, they went swimming. They were out on a paddle board, while two Filipino boys ages 10-12 were on two surf boards following along and keeping watch. I was sitting on a bench on the beach, watching all of them from a distance.
I saw my daughter waist-deep in the water, as she had probably fallen off the paddle board, and heard her screaming “Help! Help!” while making frantic wading motions in the water. I ran towards her as fast as I could. By the time I got to where they were, my daughter Lia was already lying face down on one of the surf boards with one of the local boys. One of the boys had managed to fish her out of the water and up on the board. She was quiet but breathing heavily. I called out her name, and she slid off the surf board. She ran towards me. I was unsure of what was happening and I immediately took her into my arms, and felt the stings on my arms and my stomach, where her legs had touched my skin. “Ah, jellyfish!” and I put her back. There was no way I would be able to carry her myself back to shore so I borrowed the surf board from the boy and paddled us both back to shore.
On the shore, I walked towards the restaurant and calmly asked for a glass of vinegar. I poured the vinegar all over my daughter, all over her stomach, arms, hands, legs, chest, as well as on her face and ears. The owners and the staff came running to assist. She still had a lot of tentacles wrapped around her hands and legs. We picked them off of her one by one. We used two full glasses of vinegar on her.
My daughter was crying but not screaming. She was very brave and strong. I kept asking her if it hurt and she kept saying yes but she was very calm. She kept asking me to take her home and give her a bottle of milk that she takes as comfort food. I rushed her home up the path to the road, into a tricycle, off again into the street, down the path at the back of our house and all the way home to our cottage by the beach. I gave her a quick bath and gave her some paracetamol for what I expected would be a quiet night of applying hot water on the stings every now and then.
The locals said she would be fine, that there was nothing else I should do, that the stings would start to get itchy the next day but everything would be okay.
That’s when I took a photo of her right leg.
The first time I was here was eight years ago and I have always felt that this place was “home,” but when I decided to permanently move back to El Nido this year, I was not as prepared as I thought I was. The first month was truly difficult as my daughter and I went through the tedious process of looking for a house where we both could live peacefully and happily, and feel truly “at home” in all meanings of the words, and the adjustment to the weather, to the flora and fauna, and the new environment took its toll on our health.
For me, it was not so much about location, as I was not too keen on living by the beach front, but was most concerned about cost AND the speed of the internet connection. I have said this often to anyone who cared to listen, “The two things that make me happiest are, 1. really good coffee and, 2. really fast internet connection.” So I was looking for houses near where I knew, from experience, internet connection was fast enough, if not the fastest, in all of the town; but my daughter had an entirely different perspective about this new home of ours.She, of course, did not care about the cost, being four years old, and cared only a little about the speed of the internet connection. Lia was most concerned about comfort and her own idea of happiness – the beach, and being a child, lots of space to run around.
I was not too surprised when, going around houses in the middle of El Nido town, Lia did not find anything she liked enough. She only liked one house, its old paint made pale pink through neglect, because it was really big, with its three rooms and spacious living areas and a garden and yard going around the entirety of the house, that I was told rented out at Php20,000/month. There is only me and my daughter so we did not really need a three-roomed house, and so I started looking farther out of town where I thought it was going to be cheaper. In the end, we found the house a friend of mine was living in last year empty and available, and it sat directly on the beach. Lia, exclaimed exuberantly, “We’re home!” When your 4-year old child declares you are home, you just have to believe that and trust in her instincts. After, of course, checking out how fast the internet connection is. Never mind if it is an expensive bahay kubo! You are paying more for the view – and the opportunity to walk barefoot on the sand everyday, than the house itself.
For my part, I was paying more for my daughter’s happiness. Because as long as she is happy, then I can be happy. And I am saying that realistically. My daughter and I live alone, just the two of us. I have to be able to work, and take care of her, and do all of the house chores all by myself, and all these depend on whether or not she is happily skipping about, or digging sand castles in the yard, rather than clinging to my legs or walking about with a dour face, ninety-seven percent of the time.
I have not been blogging in the past months because between trying to make a home for just two people and trying to make a living, I just had my hands full. The first month was the most difficult as we both had to deal with adjusting to the weather, the island fauna, maladies of all nature, and just getting the basic necessities inside the house. I know I have been living in this little town on and off through the years, one week to two months every year in the past seven years after the initial ten months in 2005-2006, but there is nothing like leaving one home to another that was completely empty. When, after a full month, I went to Puerto Princesa to buy a stove, a rice cooker, a coffee maker, dishes and bowls, utensils and water glasses, brooms and dust pans and trash cans, non-slip bathroom mats, laundry baskets and clothes racks, hooks and hangers, and all kinds of foot rugs, was I ever truly able to breath and exclaim, “Oh, what joy!!”
Our first month was spent getting to know the neighbors, and acquiring a dog, in the process. Elvis, the black Labrador-Doberman mix dog, is our neighbor’s. But he spends the entire day with us while his “dad” goes to work diving during the day. He is Lia’s play mate, and they are almost best friends.
As a new chapter of my life begins, allow me to look back at how we have spent the last four years together.
We used to spend every waking and sleeping hours together, just you and me. But now, there will be less time for you and me to be together because you are growing and things are changing. Soon, you will be four years old, going to school more, and spending time with more and more people outside the family.
Before you came, I was hard at work on my master’s degree and was close to taking up a 5-year doctoral degree at a university abroad. I was also a [highly-paid] Drama teacher at a prestigious all-girls high school. I had more money than I needed. But I was lost.
Only when I had you did I find purpose in life. Indeed, you are the best thing to ever happen to me, and without you, I would have been living a successful, and yet, empty life.
Because you and I will be spending significantly less time with each other, I could not help but look back to the time you came into being until now, to this. The time of being primary and sole caregiver, stay-at-home-and-hands-on mom has ended as I now go back to working full time.
But know that I am your mom and I will always be here for you. I love you in ways unimaginable. You have made me a better person altogether. For all that you have done to me, I am grateful.
Our journey has not been easy but it had been very exciting. You are my daughter and my best friend, and I could not ask for more.
I had loved traveling with you.
July 2008 – Camarines Norte, Camarines Sur, Albay and Catanduanes
September 2008 – Siquijor, Negros Oriental, and Negros Occidental
November 2008 – Camarines Sur
January 2009 – Cagayan de Oro and Camiguin
February 2009 – Guimaras and Iloilo
March 2009 – Pangasinan
May 2009 – Camarines Sur
Having finally decided that Lia and I will never come back to live in Bicol, we embarked on a road trip to haul all of our stuff back to Manila. We used to travel together every two weeks when Lia and I were both based in Bicol in 2011 but this was Lia’s first return trip to Bicol after leaving nearly ten months before. We allotted two out of the three-day long weekend for just driving the 900+ kilometers back and forth, and only one day to stay and roam around the area. This mainly meant having coffee at Starbucks Magsaysay, dropping by Bigg’s Diner and Red Platter, having kinalas and puto bucayo. Of course we could have done more but with the limited time, we had to prioritize the ones I missed the most.
I have always wanted to go up and visit Stonehouse Gardens, and because we had no plans of ever coming back, it was imperative that we go this time.
We arrived a few minutes before four in the afternoon on the first Saturday of December. The sun was nearly at the horizon and behind the clump of trees by the fence. After refreshing ourselves with glasses of juice served by the resort and take-out food from Bigg’s Diner, we went on a walk around the place and took photos. The setting sun gave just the right light for what would become some of my favorite photos for the year 2012.
My daughter has a very good eye and I am immensely proud of it. I’d buy her her own camera soon as she is old enough to know exactly what it’s for, and is responsible for what she will get out of it. She loves looking at the photos I take and I like asking her opinion on which photos are good or not.
She also does not like having her photos taken. More often than not, she would say No when I ask if I can take her photo.
Some days I’d ask her to take photos and she’d flat out say no.
Whereas some days she wouldn’t stop taking photos. She loves taking photos of me.
So one September morning, while hanging out in our bedroom in El Nido, Lia decided it was portraits time.
And I guess that day, Lia was really in the mood for taking photos because that evening, she was still at it. She found it extremely amusing that I had Angry Birds stickers on my face, which she put on herself.
Lia and I definitely have lots of fun together. Even if we are just hanging out inside our bedroom. 😉
Through all of Lia and I’s many ups, and a significant enough number of downs, is a blossoming friendship. More than being mother and daughter, we are best friends.
The other night, as I was slaving away, like I have been the past two weeks, she and I were staying up late, me with my two laptops, many text books, pens, notebooks, and many paperwork, and she with her portable dvd player and two books she has “borrowed” from God knows where, I suddenly hear her in a very serious, commanding tone, “Mama, hug me.”
Startled, unsure of what I actually heard, the tone being commanding, my forehead creased in lines, I asked, “What?”
Bewildered at where this was coming from, I went over to her, where she promptly put her arms around me and held me quietly and tightly for about a full minute. I glanced at what she was watching, wondering if this sudden need to hug me or be hugged by me came from what she was watching, and saw that she has been watching an episode from her favorite Little Einsteins show and that there was absolutely nothing there that could have prompted this overwhelming show of emotion.
She proceeded to flip her book with one hand, while another arm was around my shoulders and we we’re like that, for about five minutes.
Ah, my darling sweet little girl… You’re the love of my life.
We went to hang out at Pukka Bar on this day, and the weather was nice, the light was good, and I came home with 400 photos in my camera. I take RAW+basic jpeg shots so that translates to 200 photos. Half of them were taken in the first twenty minutes we were there, and half of them were taken after I was done with the camera and my daughter and I were just playing and hanging out.
These photos were taken by Likha. He has the habit of stealing up on us and taking our photos. I had no idea he was taking pictures of us until I got home and looked at my camera.
In most photos, you can see Lia with a backpack. Sometimes it has a water bottle, a face towel and a bottle of her milk. Most times though it only has her toys. We make it a point to bring her beach toys every time we go to town.
Lia said, “Mama, will you play with me in the sand please?”
Most days my daughter would refuse to have photos of her taken.
I keep saying this to all my no-kids friends, of which there are plentier than plenty, since I was almost the first of all my friends put together to get married: You will never know what it takes to be a parent until you become one.
“Your life will change when you have a kid” is an understatement. Though superficially, my life now seems not too different from the one I used to have pre-baby, that’s all it is, superficially.
The very first thing I learned when I had the baby was, it’s possible to love something so much that nothing else comes close, and you will do everything, anything to make your life and that thing you love so much, work. It’s even possible to forget all other loves you once had. That was how it was for me.
When I read this article, I cried, bitterly.
Mama, look at me! I’ve got long hair, parading herself in front of me, wearing her towel on her head. I asked her if she wanted her photo taken, and she stood in front of me, as serious as she can get, with only the slightest hint of mischief in her eyes. The usual. I could only gaze at her and wonder how she can be so much like me, yet so much better.
This morning, when I ran my errands while she was at her play school, I chanced on a store that sold this plastic crown. Promptly, I took it to the cashier with me. When I showed it to her the minute she walked in the door, she exclaimed, “Oh wow, a crown! It’s mine! Oh my gaaahd!” and I had to laugh. I did not teach her to say “Oh my god” after all, and in that manner too. I get asked often enough where she gets her accent, and I should be excused when I shake my head in ignorance.