When I was nine some of my wealthy classmates called their mothers mommy. I wanted to do that too, but quit when even I knew it sounded so ridiculous calling your mother mom when you were chewing dried fish and nothing else for lunch.
I was reading this book by Nora Ephron last night (I Feel Bad About My Neck and Other Insights on Life), where she devoted a chapter on Parenting. Nora Ephron is the wit behind “When Harry Met Sally”, the screenplay that made Meg Ryan the wet dream of the ‘80s. Well, Nora Ephron has never lost her wits. Her insights on parenting reminded me of the adolescent that I was, the adolescent who was sullen and embarrassed of her parents and like Nora Ephron’s daughter, walked “ten steps ahead of you so that no one thinks you are remotely acquainted with each other”.
I remember this one time that I was invited to my first adult party and asked my mother to buy me something to wear. Actually, my mother was the kind of mother every adolescent should have. She wanted to be cool. In fact, she did buy me a nice blouse. If I were 50 years old then, that is. So I threw a tantrum and was very ungrateful.
My mother and I shared this antipathy for my father’s eagerness to invite his buddies over to the house for drinks. I didn’t know that alcoholism was transferable, like AIDS, and now when I invite friends for drinks, my mother has no one to share her antipathy with.
It is rather unfortunate for Nora Ephron that she grew up as an American, where cultural attitude towards parents is totally removed from ours. In her country, when children leave, they never come back. But in ours, sometimes your children never leave and then you can exact vengeance.
I seriously believe that my mother is enjoying this part of parenting, the part where she gets back at me for my appalling behavior as an adolescent.
Early this year, for instance, she did something that would have totally started another war between us were it not for the fact that I had already been baptized as a born-again Christian which totally forbids me to disrespect my elders.
Long-time readers of my column “Uncool” already know my obsession-compulsion when it comes to my stuff. I like to keep old shirts, even those riddled with holes. I had this cotton shirt which was a gift from an office mate whose sister works in Singapore. I loved that old thing, though it was ripped in parts.
When I clean my room and bathroom – a chore that I hate but can’t stop doing – that old shirt was my reward. Cleaning takes me a couple of hours, because of the absolute necessity of soaking both rooms in antiseptic. While the antiseptic works its magic, I would listen to Delibes’ Lakme, all the more to remind myself that I am being virtuous, and that this weekly drudgery is penance for all the pleasure-seeking I do the rest of the week. Naturally with Lakme I would be having a cup of coffee, or tea, depending on what suits me at the moment. Best of all I would be imagining the absolute relief and gratification I would be feeling afterwards, when the bathroom smells so strongly of antiseptic that the leaves of the jackfruit tree outside my bedroom wither and die. I would be deliciously anticipating the heavenly scent of freshly laundered linens on a bed, a bed that awaits, a bed where – when done with all the cleaning, I will curl up in, after a shower, wearing my white cotton t-shirt from Singapore with all the holes in it.
That old shirt was part of a ritual. And then one Thursday night after a frantic search in my clothes cabinet for the shirt I find that my mother had already divided it into three “because it would make a good rag”. The depression that I went through because of this incident was so deep I needed to visit three ukay-ukay outlets to bring me out of it.
It was my belief that mothers never stop being mothers. I also believed that they must never surrender their authority to their children. Well, my mother has decided to be a woman of leisure. As a result, our house-help often takes advantage of the situation. Because my mother would not be bothered to tend to the kitchen and the refrigerator there is a lack of order and system in these areas, and when I do the cooking on week-ends my search for necessary ingredients would shame archaeological missions to find the lost Ark of the Covenant.
On Sundays when I have to go to church and cannot watch over the beef stew I am experimenting on for lunch I give detailed instructions to the letter, reinforcing it with the original recipe. But when I come home, very very hungry and expectant of a perfectly executed stew, she serves me fried fish instead. “I forgot what should go in first, the tomato sauce or the olives”: this from a woman who used to cook such divine Chinese dishes. I suppose I should be grateful that I’m having the fish rather than arsenic.
Most annoying of all when I am sipping my three-in-one and smoking a Winston Light (another ritual that I must never be interrupted at), I am hostaged into listening to a litany of complaints of Maricel’s – our kasambahay – misdeeds. This exercise is not designed to be the kind of conversation that cultured people supposedly do when they’re having coffee. It is a strategic move to compel me to castigate Maricel. Thus, eschewing the coffee and cigarette ritual, I give Maricel a piece of my mother’s mind – to be interrupted again by my mother, who heaps praise upon praise upon Maricel. I am instantly reminded that this is a crime scene, and I am the bad cop.
I have concluded that Nora Ephron is not an absolute authority on life because she missed this part, the part when you become a parent to your mother. Sometimes I stop and suspect that my mother is doing it intentionally, because I was such an ungrateful adolescent and treated her horribly. But like my father, she has her moments.
My mother is hardly daft. In fact, to prove this point, just this morning she reviewed Nora Ephron’s book and she tells me, with such certainty and confidence, that Nora Ephron’s voice is like mine. “She has such a Filipino way of expressing things. She makes me laugh,” my mother sings, and my love for her overflows like the Angat Dam after three days of heavy rain. I make a resolve to forgive her even when she decides that all my expensive T-shirts make better rags.
P.S. I do not smoke anymore but I still love my mother.