How Mother prepared us for life
By conventional standards of motherhood, I’d say my mother is off-center.
My mother did not impose rigid study hours. Neither did she breathe down our necks rushing us to finish our homework. But most of us 10 siblings finished elementary and high school with honors and entered college on scholarships.
How did that happen? Simple. While other parents were preparing their children for the best universities, my mother prepared us for life. While most parents were mapping out careers for their children, my mother exposed us to situations that helped us map out our own future. She taught us that simple things started early and done almost daily can actually influence you the rest of your life.
From her I learned to:
Fresh vegetables were our regular fare for lunch and supper. Slices of tanguige floating on a bed of calcium-rich kalamunggay (moringa) and diced kalabasa were a feast to us her growing children. It was nutritious and cheap.
My mother loves vegetables, and influenced us to enjoy vegetables in all their natural glory. Ampalaya must be eaten as it is, bitter. Alugbate is slippery, like okra. My taste buds have developed a memory for each vegetable such that in another form—moringa in capsules—it becomes repulsive.
My mother is turning 90 in November, a hale nonagenarian with a sharp memory. She lives with me in Quezon City where we continue to eat vegetables every day.
Take a bath anytime
Just before going to bed was the best time of all. The superstitious in my hometown in Dipolog actually frowned on taking a bath at midday (supposedly bad for the nerves) and after sundown (supposedly damaging to the eyes). But my mother was never superstitious. Her children’s hygiene and comfort were more important.
She made us take a bath at noon to cool us down, and again before going to bed to remove the grime we collected during the day and refresh us for a good deep sleep.
Shun soap operas
Practically banned were soap operas, comics, movie magazines in Tagalog and Cebuano. A waste of time, she said. She forbade us to listen to radio soaps where women cried endlessly and men plotted and schemed to win their hearts.
Listening to radio dramas would make us lazy, good-for-nothing people, she said. Reading movie magazines resulted in low IQ, she said. Comics were even worse. Up to now I still can’t follow telenovelas. And while I speak Cebuano, I have difficulty comprehending it in its written form.
Avoid calling on neighbors
Another taboo was going to the neighbor’s house to chat. A useless activity, utterly a waste of time, she said. She never went to see the neighbors, so why should her children?
Even today I still have reservations about entering a neighbor’s house. Once in a while, I get to chat with a neighbor on the street or at the homeowners’ association meeting, but that’s as far as I’d go to get to know the people in the neighborhood.
Do household chores
For her children, my mother created a work schedule that had us taking turns going to market, running the kitchen, setting the table and washing dishes. Among us siblings, we also devised our own routine. For a fee, I’d gladly perform the chore of another sibling. Household chores then were simply tedious duties we performed whenever the househelp was on vacation. But it was also training that proved helpful later in life.
Except for my oldest brother who is a confirmed señorito, all of us—four boys and five girls—can cook, clean the house, wash the dishes, do the laundry, even scrub the toilet until the tiles sparkle.
Read English publications
A teacher in her younger years, my mother quit when she married and had babies. After my youngest sister was born, my mother rejoined the work force as a community development worker in the Presidential Arm on Community Development, the precursor of the Department of Interior and Local Government. Her new job did not hamper her love for reading, an activity which she shared with us.
My mother was among the few subscribers to the popular Reader’s Digest and the glossy Life magazine in Dipolog. We also had the Philippines Herald. I must have learned my ABCs from the newspaper, I think. There was always a newspaper in the house. There were times when my mother could not pay the electric bill. But she would always have money for expensive magazines and even the down payment for an encyclopedia set.
So I spent a childhood marveling at the moon, my imagination soaring to its surface and craters, as shown in a photo essay in Life magazine.
Events leaped from Life’s pages. The My Lai massacre. Muhammad Ali. Kings and queens in their royal finery. The Vietnam War seemed so close and frightening. It must have been my first encounter with journalism. But then, how could I tell?
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