I used to hate my mom, whom I fondly called “Mu.” I know hate is a pretty strong word, but I never really liked her when I was younger. She would turn me away whenever I would try to help her out with the laundry, or when I would ask her to let me watch while she’s cooking. Mu liked doing the chores by herself, and she would get slightly irritated whenever I would insist on keeping her company.
Thinking about it now makes me realize how much Mu liked having time to herself, in a space all her own.
A lot of people knew Mu as the girl everyone wanted to hang out with. She was, in many ways I could never manage, very open and friendly and welcoming. Our neighbors knew her as the woman who spent mornings sweeping outside our house while singing along to the radio on full blast every morning, playing Carpenters or Air Supply or some other old band. Colleagues in the wedding industry knew her as the smoker who offered to read your palms and predict your future. Parents of my schoolmates knew my mom as the one who got along really well with the teachers and school administrators, some of them probably thought I would never get in trouble in school (but I did, and how it broke Mu’s heart).
Our cousins would tease her about her irrational love for figurines (especially those of angels) and her outdated dance moves. We all knew that my mom was the first one who would take the side of my cousins and would keep their secrets no matter what — a feat that she never really managed when it came to me.
But at home, my mom was the resident sumbungera. She would hardly take any action aside from telling me my brother seems to have a problem “kausapin mo nga at baka kung ano na nangyayari diyan,” or informing me that Pa is planning on doing something, “kausapin mo nga at kayong dalawa rin naman ang nagkakaintindihan.” I suppose she does the same with my dad, asking him to talk to me about my shifting or my breakup. For some reason, she never really spoke to us directly about what she knew or what she thought she knew. She kept to herself most of the time, asking me or my dad to directly address whatever she thought the problem was.
And her instinct was ace. It always has been her strength (with the standard snooping around my room).
The one time she chose to ask me directly about something was when I found myself in an almost relationship. Out of nowhere, as I was getting ready to go to UP, she asked me:
“Sino ba ‘yang *name here* na ‘yan? Boyfriend mo ba ‘yan?”
Caught off guard, I couldn’t come up with a lie quick enough. It has always been one of my weaknesses.
“HIndi ko po alam kung ano kami e. May girlfriend po kasi siya.”
And thus began the longest conversation I’ve ever had with Mu. She’s always been wary of my emotional well-being, I guess, but since then she made it a point to remind me of how she can read me better than anyone else. She always knew when I was pretending to be asleep, or was dying of hunger, or was lying whenever I said “I’m okay.”
But she never pressured me to tell her anything. Not even when my eyes were swelling after crying for more than ten hours, even after I told her it was nothing when clearly it felt like I was losing everything.
She let me have my own space, even if it meant I had to push her away.
In time, Mu and I learned to work with the animosity we used to have for each other. We diverted it into constantly trying to be the cool mom-and-daughter tandem who fought over things but laughed about everything afterwards. Some people never really understood how we related to each other, seeing the crass and sometimes really rude ways we addressed each other, but we knew where our limits were and we never went beyond them.
We always knew what we wanted and needed from each other, and we tried our best not to deny each other of time, space, and love. We sometimes hurt each other, yes, but we never denied each other forgiveness.
The last conversation we had was a joint prayer. I remember praying for strength and courage and the humility to accept what the future holds for us both, and for the ones we love the most. I remember laughing because she asked me to take care of her jewelry and our house before she even asked me to take care of my Pa and Koy. I remember how cold her hand felt inside my own hands, how she cursed me in jest for laughing when I joked about how I thought she loved the house more than she loved us.
The last time I did anything for her was when I replaced her earrings the second day of her wake. Pearl earrings looked better on her than silver studs, and I would never let her wear jewelry that didn’t suit her. It wasn’t something a daughter would normally do for her mother, I guess, but this was us and we were far from normal. The last thing she would’ve wanted me to do in her passing and the days leading to it was cry.
Happy mother’s day, Mu. I miss you everyday.