How well do you know your mother? I mean really know her before she was the person who taught you how to read and packed your lunches. In my case, made you cry by forcing you to spend your summer vacation memorizing the multiplication table.
Growing up, I only thought of my mother as this strict, loud, oftentimes nagging presence in our lives. Especially since my father, brother, and I are all quiet, but she talks enough for the four of us. She was the mind, heart, and voice of our family. Once on a trip, my cousin fell asleep while my mom was talking. When she woke up she started laughing, turned to my mom and said, “You were talking when I fell asleep; I woke up and you’re still talking!”
One word I use to describe my mother is that she’s weird. There’s weird and there’s my mom kind of weird — in a sometimes endearing, sometimes embarrassing kind of way. I once walked in on her trying to learn the Gangnam style dance in the living room. She constantly screams hello at her phone before hitting the answer button. Since she never had much when she was young, she finds it hard to let go of things. She may as well qualify as the star of Hoarders: things she didn’t have as a child edition. I would clear out my closet of clothes to give away and the next day they would all magically appear back. When I’d ask her, she would say “You might still want them in the future.” I also watched her negotiate with my two-year-old cousin to give up her Peppa pig stuffed toy in exchange for a cookie.
Like many kids, I never imagined my mother as anything else as my mom. But now that I’m a few years close to the age when she had me, her first child — I can’t help but wonder on who she was as a person before she was the enigma that was my mom.
I do know some things not because I asked, but because of the dozens of times I heard her narrate these stories. So here is my attempt in piecing them together:
She lost her father really young, and sadly not once did we visit a grave nor did I even knew his name. Then their mother became consumed by one of the worst kinds of gambling, cockfighting, and would bring home bloody roosters each night. She and her 4 siblings would wake up at 5 am to sell bread so they’ll have money for school. Then their oldest and only brother left to join the military. Despite her hardships in life, my mom had one goal — to go to college and finish her education. But one day in high school, she came home to find a man in their house. My grandmother told her, “This is the man I want you to marry.” She wanted to send my mom away so there’s one less mouth to feed. So my mom did the only rational thing she could think of — she packed her bags and left. I do not know much of the years she spent away from home but what I knew was that she worked to be able to study. She came home years later after she got her college diploma.
You’d think that was enough hardship for a lifetime, but when she married my father, she had to deal with the challenges of living in a new town, new family clan, and new job. When she had me, she became a working mom who didn’t always have help with babysitting, so she had no choice but to bring me along as a baby on her work trips. I also know that she had two miscarriages before she had my younger and only brother.
But one of the things she was incredibly proud of and talked about repeatedly was about her only trip abroad as a young woman, when she was chosen as one of the four delegates from the Philippines to be sent on a scholarship in Israel.
Years later, as an adult, I met one of her closest college friends and again I discovered things I never knew. Like when she was on that scholarship trip abroad, she had an Israeli boyfriend that she never talked about and in their circle of friends she was the “wild and carefree” one.
Late last year, we sadly lost my dad, so this year, she is starting a new stage of her life as a widow. I was thinking she needs to re-learn who she was when she was younger, an independent, strong woman. But now I realize, she never lost that identity. Perhaps became even stronger when she had us.
If you haven’t already, take the time to get to know your mother before she was your mother. I’m certain there are more things you’ll discover that will amaze you. This is an especially difficult year for me, but it helps me to think about what my mom endured when she was my age, both the spoken and unspoken.
They say that oftentimes, in history, anonymous is a woman. I’d like to add that not only is she a woman, she’s also probably a mother.