Halfway through high school, I had to move to Baguio City, Philippines from the mining village I grew up in that was an hour away. The adjustment was a bit rocky, from having an actual travel commute from my home to the school, being hands-on again with caring for my little brother, and living with my grandmother and my cousin. It was a drastic switch from living alone to living with people.
I was motivated to do well in my new school, the prestigious “Boy’s High” in the city. We were the first batch of co-ed students for the school and it feels like being observed with a microscope all the time. It was an awkward adjustment for everyone, from teachers, the upperclassmen, and students. Seeing students with long blouses, vests and skirts as uniforms was a new sight, as well as female students taking leadership positions in various extracurricular activities.
When I found out that there was a school newspaper, I was thrilled! I joined right away, the new student who is a bit older than some of those who have been part of the club for a few years since their freshman hear. My first task, interview the high school principal for an article. Sounds intimidating, but sure, let’s do it! For context for non-Filipinos, students have a heavy sense of respect and fear of school teachers and administrators.
Our school’s layout was unique, with a road cutting between two areas: the main campus, and the annex campus. When the school switched into a co-ed format, enrollment numbers increased and as a result, a new building was built. The principal’s office is closer to the entrance of the school, on the main floor of the first building of the Main Campus area. My homeroom classroom is also on the main floor but on a separate building, one of the only two classrooms across the open basketball space that housed the chemistry lab, the library, the medical clinic, and the nurse’s office.
I prepared my questions and walked right into the principal’s office, tried to ask politely and in English, on whether I can interview the principal for the school newspaper.
The office secretary told me to come back a few days after during the lunch hour, about 12:30 PM, so that there is some time when I’m not in my class for us to speak. I came to the office and her secretary said that Mrs. Robles is not available, she might have forgotten our meeting, and for me to just try to stop by the same time the next day.
And then, the third time around, I managed to see the principal in her office but she was not available for the interview. She looked at me and said, “you are a determined student, Miss General”. I wondered then if she ever had a student relentlessly ‘chase after her’ before. So we found another mutually agreeable time to have an interview, and I managed to complete my article for the school paper.
This was my primary way to adapting to the new school, immersing myself in academics and extracurricular activities, an attempt to replicate what I used to do. It paid off in many ways, from graduating as valedictorian, getting asked to compete on behalf of the school for competitions which meant a day off from school, free fancy food, and a default 100% score on any quizzes I miss while competing, and a sense of value in myself.
The space and opportunity to be free, vulnerable and silly and weird is a very valuable thing to give to someone you love. While most of my examples are more within the context of a romantic relationships, I think it’s just as valuable within family units or friendships.
“Um….you look like a confused penguin.” My husband told me one night, as I show to him how much I appreciate the new layout of our living room. I tried to point out that there’s room to practice dancing, and showed my awkward interpretive dancing skills, prancing from one end of the room to the other.
“I’m one of those floppy inflatable thingies you see in car dealerships!” He exclaimed, as he walked to the living room wearing his bathrobe. He tucked in his arms halfway through his armholes, and started twirling the sleeves around while bending his torso side by side like a tree. Makes me laugh every time.
A few years ago I was living with a few relatives, where a family friend is also renting a room with us. While we were having dinner one night (and it wasn’t just the first night), he farted, and said “oops” with a giggle. I’m glad he wasn’t mortified. I’m glad that he felt comfortable to realize that he can do a slightly embarrassing, though very human, thing, and it’s not so bad. Not enough grounds to be outcast for sure.
My brother lives in my house and is essentially a roommate. Whenever we have an opportunity to chat in the kitchen, we’d hang out by the kitchen island. I appreciate how much as we grow older, we treat each other more like siblings, as opposed to the parent-child dynamic we had all these years. We talk a bit about current experiences and some past experiences. The language we use though, with inside jokes and unique way we combine English, Tagalog, and Ilocano words, is something that we can only share with each other. This includes talking about dumb things we have seen, heard or done in our younger years, or less-than-filtered opinions.
Only when I started living with my partner (now husband) and my brother, did I feel more comfortable with sounding silly when I talk. Being constantly on edge, and pressured to be a ‘good girl’ and a ‘smart and proper girl’ growing up, it can be difficult to just let loose. For anyone who lives with me now, including our roommates, it wouldn’t be surprising to hear me talking in English with a Tagalog accent, just like comedians, do, just because I can and I won’t be scolded for being ‘ridiculous.’
Ask anyone who has been pressured to be ‘prim and proper’ all the time, or to be in the best behaviour, and I bet they would say they feel more connected with someone whom they can ‘take off the mask’. I hope that this is something that every single person has.
A long-awaited event was finally happening. It was September 2011. My boyfriend at the time (now my husband) was away in the US for a festival named Burning Man, and it was just after the long weekend so things were busy at work and school.
And, my brother was finally arriving to Canada!
The sponsorship application processing took about two years total. And since his application process was identical to mine (Family Sponsorship for Orphaned Family Members), I knew how to help and the process went smoothly. After all was approved, there was a catch. He had to fly to Canada, his first time in an airplane ever, all by himself.
As much as I’d love to fly over there and pick him up, it just wasn’t feasible for me as a student with a part-time job. I also had to spend money to get items set up for him: the actual plane ticket, a phone, computer, a winter coat, his bed and linens. I gave him as much prep as I could and I told him “if I can do it, you can do it too”. I tried to arrange everything so that he lands in Edmonton in the evening, I get to personally pick him up from the airport, and help him get settled in before I go to work the next day.
However, we had a bit of bad luck the night before. Due to the very long lineup for first-time arrivals him and the very short time between flights, the poor kid was stranded in Vancouver. My cellphone got a call from an unknown number and when I answered, it was the voice of an older Filipino man asking for me. When I confirmed who I was, he said “I’m with your little brother and he would like to speak to you”. I was thrilled that he is already in Canada, but he told me, in a slightly anxious voice, that they have to stay at the airport overnight and have an early flight to Edmonton. He and this gentleman and his wife were on the same flight and are sticking together.
It definitely reminded me of myself during our connecting flight in Japan when I was immigrating to Canada. We didn’t miss our connecting flight thank goodness. However, it took about an hour of walking and taking a mini-train to go from one part of the airport to another. My carry-on luggage was a poorly made bag and was very heavy, and I was heartbroken for having to come to Canada and leave my brother behind. A group of adult women saw me and encouraged me to tag along, after they found out that I’m going to Canada, just like them. Going back to my brother, I was relieved that they were kind enough to look after this anxious young man.
I was grumpy when I came to work the next day at the retail store, as I had an opening shift. My plan was to come home early the night before, meet him at home, go for an early shift the next day so I can go home early as well. I was anxious and disappointed that I wouldn’t get to see him right away as soon as he arrived in Edmonton. As we prepared the store for opening, I told everyone who would listen that the flight got messed up and my brother is still on his way.
It sounded like my relatives decided to take him right away to my work right upon arriving. My workstation is visible upon entering the double sliding doors, so the moment he walked in with my relatives, I spotted him.
Puberty is quite unnerving! When I left, I was still a few inches taller than him, as he was 12 years old and I was 16. When he arrived, he was 16 years old, and a few inches taller than me. Not only that, his voice dropped a lot. I heard it a few times over the phone and over Facebook video calls, but it’s still a bit of a shock hearing in person. He was still pretty skinny, just like I remembered when I left. That changed pretty quickly after living in Canada just for a few months.
I squealed in delight and hugged him, a bit of an awkward exchange and most definitely not professional by any means. Our store manager saw the exchange. I’ve talked about this moment for a very long time, so he knows what this means to me. At about 11 AM, just two hours into my work shift, he let me take the rest of the day off.
This was almost 10 years ago, and my goodness has time flown by. There had been challenges along the way, but I hope that I have given him something that eluded both of us for a while. A peaceful, stable home, where he can live in comfort and ease, as he figures out how to be an adult in this day and age. I don’t think I’ll ever shed away the mantel of my role as a mother/father/sister/brother, but he’s in a good state now.
Both my grandmother and my mother were pretty skilled with sewing. Perhaps part of it is because sewing is taught in schools, during the class called Home Economics and Livelihood Education. I know of countless people who claimed that the lessons from these classes, which are taught from Grade 4 to High School, didn’t quite stick. But then, it is something lola and mama continued on in their adult lives.
Lola (grandma) learned advanced levels of sewing and dressmaking from a vocational school she went to right after high school. It proved really handy as she ended up having eight children, and she spent a lot of time making clothes for them. I guess you can describe these clothing as ‘bespoke’. She was also an entrepreneur, setting up several shops that sold various household items. So, her kids get to pick the fabric they want from the store inventory, and she would make these one-of-a-kind pieces of clothing. I heard she these days, she continues to do this making simple clothes such as shorts and skirts for great-grandkids.
My mother, at least when we were much younger, would also make us clothes. I have a particular memory of her making this beautiful dress for my sister’s dance performance. In our village, schoolchildren perform regularly in school and community events, large group dances that are colorful and festive. After my brother was born, life got a bit more busy, and the sewing machine was stored away and was used more as a decorative coffee table, covered by a nice tablecloth and displayed in the house.
The sewing machine now fulfills many roles in my life. There’s the practical and utilitarian side, since knowing how to sew can help fix clothing and make them last longer. Hand-me-downs and thirfted items, worn by other people who have a different body size become an almost perfect fit for me. There’s the creative side, where a beautiful dress that doesn’t fit my chest anymore can become a beautiful sleeveless blouse, or the collection of old t-shirts can become a quilt for the living room, and the bedroom.
And then, there’s something else that I didn’t quite realize until now. It’s the “positive feeling” of continuing an inter-generational legacy. Perhaps it’s the same feeling that people get when they end up loving the same type of music as their elders, or mastering the same recipe that has been passed down onto the generations.
It’s strange because neither one of them actually taught me how to use the sewing machine. In my mother’s case, I was too young, and then she passed away so soon. During all those years I lived with my grandmother, it was she who was at the sewing machine, not me. And when I would bring home the sewing projects I have made from school, she would even scold me for how I badly did them. But I have been on the receiving end of her sewing handiwork. She would go to the old family home and take several bags of clothes that my aunts use to wear, and then she would tailor them to fit me. I have enough dresses go to to church and to go for Wednesday non-uniform days for an entire year without repeating a single outfit. Grandma would tell me which daughter wore each hand-me-down item that she was tailoring to fit me, and she would also complain about how some of the dresses are just too small for my larger frame.
Now I’m doing similar things. From making rags, to hemming pants, to making a personalized apron for my spouse and lots of quilts and pillow cases. He seems pretty thrilled about the opportunity to have uniquely designed items in the house. These DIY-made linens and clothing, he describes them as “made with love”. He is thrilled that between the two of us, we can prolong the usability of pants and shirts, as it fits right along with his tendency to save money.
This method that provided an intriguing combination of partiality, usefulness, resourcefulness and creativity, these women in my life have passed down to me. I guess that is in my way a way of homage, of acknowledging some kind of legacy.
The creative streak in my nuclear family came from my mother. She was a fan of decorating the home, reconfiguring the layout and the furniture to maximize the small two-bedroom apartment that houses a family of six, the parents, the yaya (nanny) and the three kids. It is evident from her elegant handwriting and her signature, and how she is in charge of helping us kids with art related school projects.
She told us the story of how she initially went to university to pursue a Bachelor of Commerce degree and switched halfway through to take Architecture. She can write and draw with both her left and right hands, which was a blessing since my brother, the youngest child, ended up being left-handed.
My father worked as a supervisor for the Safety Department of the mining company, in the village where we used to live. As a result of his job, and perhaps, his love of recycling, he would bring home stacks of paper from the office that we end up using as scrap paper. Most days, he would use these scrap paper to help us with our 5 o’clock study habit. He would take our notebooks where we had a new lesson for the day, craft a simple one-page “exam” to help us test our knowledge, and hand it over for us to answer after we do our homework and read these notebooks. Every time there is a major exam in school, he would compile all these daily exams and it comes a longer practice exam for us to work on. A pretty smart system if you think about it.
As any parent would attest, kids love to doodle and do other fun artistic activities, just to explore and let their imagination run wild. Thanks to the endless supply of paper from our father, finding materials for this purpose is never an issue.
I have a very specific memory of my attempts to fold paper airplanes and make them fly. With the awkward way I fold them though, they would either unravel or would not even leave the dining table after I try to launch them. My four year old self got discouraged. Then my mother reached out, grabbed a fresh sheet of scrap paper, and showed me step by step how to fold a paper airplane. She mentioned how making the edges of the paper meet but not overlap is important, that pressing firmly from end to end will help the fold stay in place. Her airplane was this thing of beauty, of precision and elegance.
She shared another trick to see whether you made a good airplane. The tip of the plane has to be pointy, and she demonstrated this by poking my nose with her airplane. It was sharp and also ticklish, and made me burst into laughter. She forgot about making it fly, as she proceeded to chase me around our dining area, trying to poke me again with the tip of this precisely assembled paper airplane.
The laughter and the teasing usually came from my father, as all our relatives, neighbours and family friends would attest. He is definitely the comedian in every setting, having a joke ready for everyone he meets. This makes this encounter with my mother something worth cherishing, a break from her “persona” as the stoic, workaholic, dedicated and strict one.
Terms and Definitions: Mama is how I refer to my mother, Papa is how I refer to my father and Ate (ah-teh) is how I refer to my older sister.
Dear Mama, Papa and Ate,
Guess what? I just got married!
It’s safe to say that a part of me wished that you all were there. Frankly though, since it has been twenty years since you three passed away, I have a bit of trouble imagining how that feels like. Would I like the feeling of being “walked down the aisle”? The wedding was in a public park, so there was no ‘walking down the aisle’ involved. All the attendees, the nine people, just gathered around. Would I have liked having a sister to brainstorm the wedding details with? Ate, you had a boyish personality when we were kids, but Mama did an amazing job planning our outfits as kids, during Sunday mass or special occasions. I wonder what the two of you would have commented about my choice of a wedding dress. In some ways, I know very well I’m too independent for my own good. So, sorting out many details in solitude, while delegating or brainstorming with him, feels natural to me. No wedding consultants, no bridesmaids, no entourage, none of that.
Throughout the planning and ceremony, we did try to incorporate our family’s story and memories. Instead of a ‘scripture reading’ about marriage, I wrote a page-long speech retelling the love story that made our family, and a moment of silence to acknowledge your meaning in our lives to this day. I also spent part of the morning of the wedding day replicating a photo I saw in Mama and Papa‘s wedding photo album. It’s a photo of the wedding outfits laid down on the bed. The only thing is, sharp patterns of our bedsheet made the wedding attires not stand out as I had intended. I took the photo anyways, since it would be a nice keepsake either way. It’s clear I am not an expert photographer, haha!
I wonder how you would feel about the fact that it was I, the woman, who proposed to Corey. He took it well, and he even said that he was relieved that I was the one who proposed first. He said that his would be slightly less…eloquent. That made me laugh since it’s true. Between the two of us, I am the creative one, the writer.
Another kicker is this, I’m not taking his last name! Now more than ever, I really appreciate how things work in the Philippines, where kids get their mother’s maiden name as their middle name, and their father’s last name as the family name. So that’s me: Giselle Quezon General, where in all of my identification documents I get to keep a piece of both parents. Thank goodness, my lovely husband is pretty understanding and respectful about this. So, for the rest of my married life, I have a wedding ring to wear, will declare in my forms that I’m married, and will still be referred as Miss Giselle Quezon General.
The wedding planning was a bit abrupt, but it felt it was the right move. The wedding took place just within two months after we got engaged. I feel a bit choked up about my mother in law’s medical situation; we found out about the diagnosis this spring. Having a serious illness that can be brutal and unpredictable really sucks. This is why Corey requested that instead of having the wedding on our 10th dating anniversary in 2020, he wanted to have a ceremony ASAP. The only set of parents we have is his, and I’m more than happy to do everything in my power to ensure their active presence and participation in this special day.
If you were wondering why the other relatives were not on this ceremony, I took the inspiration from our very own family, having an initial small ceremony and then a bigger one later on. I remembered when I had to get a copy of the marriage certificates for my immigration paperwork, I needed to remember which wedding date to put on the forms. Civil wedding was in March and church wedding was in June of the same year. So I’d like to celebrate with a bigger event with everyone else when Corey and I hit our 10 year anniversary as a couple in 2020. For someone who is not yet 30 years old, a 10-year anniversary of a relationship is huge! I hope that the extended family will be inclined to come and celebrate next year, and share their wisdom about their own married lives.
Greg ended up being my ring-bearer, and he did an excellent job. I figured, all those times when he did the same task as a little boy will ensure he’ll pull this off with no issues. He did share a few stories from his perspective as a child, being bored with having to be stiff and quiet the entire time during the hour-long wedding ceremony. He said, a trick is to play a bit with the fancy beads on the pillow to kill the time. I laughed quite a bit upon hearing this. And I promised him, the ceremony would be so much shorter.
A few things I take as an exciting challenge are any opportunities that let my artistry shine, saving money, and recycling. My dress was lovely, comfortable, second hand and a great price! Everyone was willing to transport us around, so we didn’t need to rent a limo, we can get hammered with drinks and not worry about driving. Our officiant is the pastor from our neighbourhood, who was gracious enough to accommodate our short-notice date, but to offer a very eloquent, beautiful ceremony that is also non-religious. A good friend of his offered to take professional-grade photographs as a wedding gift. The location was something I crafted, an outdoor mural from a few years back, and I managed to replicate a hand-painted smaller version onto our cake topper. I made my veil and with the same fabric, I made a pocket square for his suit. The restaurant offered lots of choice in the food and we didn’t have to worry about the expense of having a ‘set menu’ and upsetting anyone who has different food preferences. I’m pretty darn proud with how the wedding turned out because of all of these.
My mother-in-law, and everyone else, had a lovely time at our small, intimate, relaxed wedding ceremony. For me, the best part, is that the she still remembered the next day, and a few days after that. I genuinely cannot plan a wedding for 200, 100 or even 50 people on such short notice, both in terms of time, energy and money. Will other people be understanding and compassionate? During your time, did people get upset that they weren’t invited to your wedding? Based on the photos it seemed like you had a roughly 200-people guest list. I heard of other brides having the same dilemma, stressing so much over the guest list. Because ours is so short notice, once we decided “Immediate Family Only Plus Their Spouses” for this one, it gave us a huge sense of clarity.
Mama and Papa, a part of me wants to believe that this incident was a blessing, a positive sign. You see, Greg had brought over to Canada the jewelry box that was used for your wedding in 1989, and inside, is the ‘golden wedding cord’ that is used in Filipino Catholic weddings. Yours is special because your names and the wedding date is engraved on the golden heart that holds the cord together into an infinity loop. We were planning to use this to hold our rings during the ceremony. About three weeks before the wedding, my roommate and I discovered that not only is it a fancy box, it’s a music box! A music box that still works after 30 years! The melody is lovely and both my roommate and I burst into tears when we first heard it. I took a video of the music and asked around what song it was. Turns out it is “Memories” by Barbara Streisand, or from the musical CATS. Our officiant, and my older co-workers confirmed the song. Now, I want to learn how to sing the whole thing, since it’s now very special for many reasons. We’re keeping the music box of course, in case Greg want to use it for other reasons in the future.
I hope that I get to find my own special and fitting definition of being committed to someone for the long term, being each other’s motivations, upholding our right and responsibility to care for ourselves, and nurturing a positive life together. Wherever you may be, I hope that these words and sentiments would reach you somehow.
My sister, Genevieve was fairly young, and so was I, when she passed away with our parents. I remember her as very outdoorsy kid, very social and friendly with everybody. While she was seen as a tomboy who like sports and rough games with boys, her best friends are girls and she enjoys playing ‘girly games’ with me and her best friends. Because she is older, I have to call her “Ate” pronounced as “ah-teh” before her name, out of respect. I can say the title and then her name or nickname, so something like Ate Genevieve or Ate Babes or simply Ate. Depending on what’s going on, while I cannot eliminate that word when I’m addressing her, my tone of voice clearly expresses how I feel about her at the time, whether it’s curiosity, amusement, excitement, or annoyance. We bicker like mad, which drove our parents crazy.
Boy bands were the rage in the late 90’s and early 2000’s, and the hype is international. How can you tell? If a small mining village in a country in Asia has kids and teens raving about boy bands from the USA, that’s how.
There is this song named “I Swear” by Boys 2 Men that she really liked. Given that this was the era before internet was accessible, and cable TV is a costly thing that not all homes have, the opportunity to listen to your favourite song or artist is a rare treat. This is because you get to hear it only when it gets played on the radio, on the TV during a music video or a recording of a concert, or if you are lucky, your friend might have a cassette from the band and a player in their home.
I included the lyrics of the song below:
I swear By the moon and the stars in the skies And I swear Like the shadow that’s by your side
I see the questions in your eyes I know what’s weighing on your mind You can be sure I know my part ‘Cus I stand beside you through the years You’ll only cry those happy tears And though I make mistakes I’ll never break your heart
[Chorus:] And I swear By the moon and the stars in the skies I’ll be there I swear like the shadow that’s by your side I’ll be there For better or worse, ’till death do us part I’ll love you with every beat of my heart And I swear
I’ll give you every thing I can I’ll build your dreams with these two hands We’ll hang some memories on the walls And when, and when just the two of us are there You won’t have to ask if I still care ‘Cus as the time turns the page, my love won’t age at all
And I swear I swear by the moon and the stars in the skies I’ll be there I swear like the shadow that’s by your side I’ll be there For better or worse, ’till death do us part I’ll love you with every beat of my heart And I swear
And I swear I swear by the moon and the stars in the skies I’ll be there I swear like the shadow that’s by your side I’ll be there For better or worse, ’till death do us part I’ll love you with every beat of my heart And I swear
I was about seven when I first heard the song. I thought it was a nice tune. My sister’s enthusiasm was quite infectious that I was encouraged to at least learn the chorus of the song so I can sing it along with her. Not gonna lie, I cannot remember how her voice sounds like, same with my parents. But given our father has a decent singing voice, and that we have enough relatives from both sides of the family that has interest or talent in music, I would think that she at least can carry a tune.
I wonder what made her (and presumably her friends) and me like the song. Was it because it was what’s trending at the time, with the cool romantic lyrics in English? Was it because of how good the sound with the multiple singers vocalizing? Was it because it appeals to the Philippine culture in major ways, particularly with the eloquent and expressive romantic lyrics?
I personally have never forgotten the chorus of the song, and it pops up in my memory sometimes, like the scene in the Pixar Movie “Inside Out” when the child Riley remembers the song from the bubble gum commercial. It’s one of the very few, and by that it is very few memories I have of her. And it’s likely why I hope it stays in my memory banks in a premium spot for a while.
Given the recent victory of the Raptors not too long ago, which is a huge deal for basketball fans, me trying to not eat too many chocolate bars recently, and having trouble sleeping some nights, I thought of something that my father and I used to do when I was a kid. Late night basketball with chocolate bars.
It involves this particular brand of chocolate bar. Do they even sell these in Canada? I actually don’t think so. I can’t seem to remember the last time I saw one in a store. Typically in corner stores, grocery stores, vending machines, and pharmacies, I would see other ones like Resse’s Cups, Coffee Crisp and KitKat, but not this one. The next time I see one I’ll buy it right away.
As a child, I’ve always been afraid of breaking the rules. I get really anxious when I am unable to do what I was supposed to do, especially if that rule is supposed to be a good thing. Say, for example, sleeping at night so that I am well-rested and ready for school the next day.
On more than one occasion, I would wake up in the middle of the night, between 11:30 PM and midnight, and I would try to get off the bed I share with my sister, and try to not step over our nanny who is sleeping on a mat at the bottom of our bed. I’d try to get to the living room of our small apartment and would usually see my father, lying on the couch, watching NBA. Based on the few paraphernalia we have a home, I vaguely remember him being a fan of the Chicago Bulls.
Anyways, younger me would anxiously approach him and in a very sad and scared voice, tell him that I couldn’t sleep. That I wanted very badly to fall back to sleep but just couldn’t. To my relief, he would not scold me for getting up. Instead, it became a special opportunity to spend some time together, just him and me, the middle child.
We would even have a snack together. And somehow, almost every time I’d get up this late, there is a Crunch chocolate bar in the fridge. We do sell it in our small sari-sari (convenience) store that is a 15 minute walk away from our house. He would grab it from the fridge, nice and cold and crisp, break it in a few pieces before opening the packaging, and he would hand me a small piece while he eats one until we finish it up. We’d do this in companionable silence, while watching the basketball teams trying to shoot one more time, trying one more dunk.
Sometimes I get another treat. In the Philippines, powdered milk is more common than fresh milk, as it is cheaper and it lasts longer. You can keep a tin or a box on your kitchen counter for weeks or months with no issues. There are brands of milk that is recommended for school children, toddlers, and of course, infant formula. At around this time, my little brother is a toddler, and there is a can of powdered milk my parents bought especially for him. The funny thing is, he hated that milk so much. He pretty much preferred the cup of coffee with powdered creamer that my mother drinks. As soon as he saw our mother with a cup, he’s just go and grab it. My parents freaked out at the sudden motion, since a child getting scalded by hot coffee is not a fun scenario.
Anyways, regarding powered milk, I love it so much! Powered milk of any kind, I’m all for it. Since we both know that the milk will go to waste because my brother doesn’t drink it, my father would make me a glass. The typical formula to make it warm enough for kids and ensuring the powder get dissolved: you pour 1/4 cup of boiling water in a cup, pour the powdered milk, usually two tablespoons, a teaspoon of sugar, stir what’s in the cup so far, add room temperature water until the cup is 3/4 full, and stir again.
Around closer to midnight, my father would encourage me then to try to go back to bed. And it usually works. The next moment, I’d be hearing the voice of either of our parents, waking up both my sister and me at 6 AM to get ready for school. Some of the time, when their calls are not enough, our father would yank the blankets off, resulting to me and my sister whining a little bit before getting up.
I think that many of us have memories of seemingly small interactions with the adults in our lives. It’s interesting to find the more adult language to describe the scenery, dialogue, and the feelings that our childhood selves have. I wonder if because the fact that my mother, father, and sister passed away many years ago, that these memories are still here, perhaps a subconscious way to hold on a part of them in my life. Writing out this story is a really good experience for me, so I might do more of it in the future.
One evening, as I was taking the bus on my way home, sitting at one of the seats on the upper back level, I hear the person behind me talking to someone over the phone. This scenario itself is not new, but something caught my attention that made me smile.
He was language-switching. During the first three minutes of the call, he was talking in straight English. Then afterwards, he started speaking a language I don’t understand, but still, he has used certain phrases in English like “oh my gosh” and “yah exactly” and “only a few followers on Instagram”. I cannot remember much else of what he said in English, but one’s intonation indicates whether what the person is saying is a statement, a question, a story, or a comment. The tone of voice indicates also when the person is usually done speaking that particular sentence. Given that understanding, I was able to get a sense that over the next 10 minutes that I was seated in front of him, he eventually was speaking half the time in English, and have the time in the other language.
Given that I can speak more than one language, and that English is my second language, I totally understand the appeal, the convenience, and the comfort of language-switching. I’ve read a number of articles that lists different terminologies that don’t have an English translation. If the person you are speaking to can understand the hybrid statement that accurately gets your point across, it works out so much better.
I’ve seen it myself in many occasions, especially with talking to fellow Filipinos here in Edmonton. The wary and shy look on their faces lifts up as soon as I start talking in Tagalog, which usually happens when I answer their question in the polite way, adding the word ‘po’, since that indicates that I know what that word is used for. When speaking to clients at our office after my cowokers call me in because they have hit a communication barrier they cannot overcome, there’s a sense of relief when I tell them, feel free to speak in English as much as you like, and you can switch to Tagalog anytime and I’ll translate it for you.
Having a communication dynamic that allows language-switching is also an indicator of how special your relationship is with that person. My brother and I do this on a fairly regular basis. Given that my spouse speaks only in English, and my brother’s girlfriend’s first language is actually not Tagalog, but Bisaya, I usually speak in English with them. With my brother though, I describe our language combination as “English with Tagalog with Ilocano expressions”. As in swear words, yes. It’s a more fitting array of language options for us, given where and how we grew up, and what we’ve been through.
My bet is that this is a common dynamic of every immigrant person, so it is not an unusual scenario. Just noticing this a few days ago made me feel nice which is why I wanted to take a moment to acknowledge it. It’s time to feel pride, not shame, at having a slight accent when speaking in English. I encourage people to start imagining “how many languages does this person speak?”. I think so far I know of one gentleman who speaks seven languages which is incredible! Being multilingual is a freaking superpower!
I was arranging a brunch meeting with someone and hoping to meet them this weekend, and he said that this weekend is hectic because of Mother’s Day. That is indeed coming up again. And I keep on forgetting it. It kind of makes sense since my mother passed away decades ago, my grandmother whom I lived with after my parents’ passing wasn’t the type who remembers holidays like that, especially in the Philippines, and the aunts who were kind of involved in some aspects of parenting were a bit all over the place. They certainly fulfilled some of the parenting duties, but my younger self’s fractured sense of attachment, made it impossible for me to describe any of them as ‘mama’.
To any of you who had a challenging upbringing, when a mother figure was inconsistent and when you had to fulfill these responsibilities for yourself and any other siblings, this is for you.
Happy Mother’s Day!
Kudos to you for doing everything you can to nurture a sense of love, belonging, care, for yourself and for any little brothers and sisters who needed it just as much as you did. You likely had to give those hugs and kisses, the words of advice about the world that you yourself are still trying to figure out, and in silence, have to heal your own hurts.
Great job for trying to hustle maintaining your home, earning income, doing chores, and budgeting even when your heart screams for the satisfaction of a capable adult doing this for you instead.
I would not be surprised if there were some people who came to your life that made you think, ‘Is this gonna be her? Is she gonna be the new mother that I can finally have?’ and finding out that you are wrong. And then you continued to get by, day by day, until you reach that very desirable legal age in your area, which opens up a new set of possibilities. Kudos for making it this far.
For those of you that are like me, who lost their mother through a heroic moment of self-sacrifice, may you be nurture this precious gift and opportunity to continue being in this world, while not being crippled with too much guilt or misguided sense of obligation that it holds you back.
For those of you who lost their mother through the flaws that humans tend to have, like neglect, abuse, indifference, or hostility, may you have the healing and the freedom that you deserve. May you feel empowered to define for yourself the best way to move forward, whether that means removing yourself from the woman who claimed the title ‘mother’ but didn’t quite embody what it means.
And now, when the passage of time has forged you to be perceived by the world as an adult, I hope that you are able to find ways to crate opportunities, permission and space for you to be cared for, fussed over, thought about. Since that need being unmet can be an entrapment of the mind, reaching out to the lonely, hungry child inside of us is crucial to feeling free to live life.
Being a mother is a mindset, a set of actions, the goal to care for a younger person and raising them into an adequate stage of adulthood. Again, to those of you who was pushed to the role too soon, who carry the scars and victories for making it through, Happy Mother’s Day to you.