25 June 2012

Hi/Hay, Mom

I know June is the month of Father's Day, but it's also the month of my parents' wedding anniversary, and after spending the day with both of them yesterday, I find myself thinking of my mom.

The morning of my parents' anniversary last week, I was scanning some of my paternal grandmother's old photos. Among the albums, I found this photo of Mom and Dad outside my maternal grandparents' house in Dumaguete. On the back of the photo, my lola's loopy cursive let me know that this was taken in April 1987, just two months before my parents' first wedding anniversary and about halfway through Mom's pregnancy with me.

There was also this photo of her sitting in the shade outside Silliman Church. I think her belly is a little more visible here, but then again, it could just be the dress; Mom was pretty skinny until much, much later.

I guess this is the earliest known photo of us together.

People often tell me that I look like my mom in miniature. On more than one occasion, I've stood in front of her old classmates and received a look of both recognition and bewilderment, perhaps as though they're being visited by the Linda of their Silliman days.

Christmas, two years ago.

But, I've always had mixed feelings about the fact that our physical resemblance is pretty much where our similarities end.

Mom likes pop ballads, romantic comedies, shopping (especially for bags and shoes), bright floral prints, Piolo Pascual, Martha Stewart-y things, and keeping up a busy social and civic life.

I like alternative music, action movies and dramas (and cartoons, which are really both), not shopping, subdued colors, not being a big fan of celebrities in general, TheMarySue/Boingboing things, and holing up in my room with a book.

I like who I am and what I like, but I have this weird guilt knowing that my mom had only one daughter, and that daughter wasn't very interested in the things she liked. I sometimes wish my sister had been born, just so my mom could have had a girl who appreciated kikay-ness better.

When I was growing up, my mom and I didn't get along very well. It wasn't just that we had different interests; I also wasn't a very agreeable child.

That's the face of a rebel right there.

I was satisfied with my grades and my relatively high rank, so I resented Mom for nagging me to study more. I had few friends and wasn't interested in making more, so I resented Mom for telling me to go out and join my classmates at parties, where I just sat in a corner and spaced out, wishing I were home with my books.

I grumbled whenever I had to wear makeup for anything, I could never keep my room clean enough for her standards, and I cringed at some of the things she got me to wear to church on Sundays. I guess it's a classic case of mother and daughter butting heads over her telling me what to do, but we just clashed so much over the years that it was hard for me to be grateful for the things she "got right."

For instance, she picked most of my Christmas gifts "from Mom and Dad" over the years, and some of the books she got me are still favorites today. She was there when we got every pair of sneakers I've ever liked, including the ones I've been wearing for the past two years. In fact, every birthday and Christmas gift she's gotten me, though I may not have liked every one, was clearly chosen with love.

She also baked me a chocolate cake from scratch for one particularly special birthday. Today, I can no longer remember why I thought it was a special birthday, but I still remember the fact that she made me that delicious cake.

When I ended up being the only girl without a date to the junior prom, I think she was partly responsible for finding me one among Gensan's rich sons. That prom night was horrible, but, looking back now, I appreciated her help.

She also helped plan my sweet 16, which was one traditionally girly thing that I wanted because going away to college meant I wouldn't be home for a debut. When I did turn 18, she flew to Manila to spend that birthday with me, even if it was a weekday and I had an accounting exam the next day.

Compared with a lot of moms, she was actually pretty liberal with me. She let me cover one wall of my room with all my teenage ranting. When I asked her in one of our bigger fights to just leave me alone, she actually did for a few months. She let my first boyfriend come over all the time, and she didn't set me a curfew on that last night I saw him, before I left for Manila.

I know from schoolmates that parents have ways of trying to control their children even from far away, so even the fact that I've been independent for the past couple of years is sort of her and Dad's doing (or not-doing) as well as mine.

She's also there for me whenever I do want to hear her opinion, even if only through emails and phone calls. She was the one to tell me that that first boyfriend was cheating on me. She's shared stories of her own college years and 20s, and those stories have helped me feel both more normal and more unique, if that makes any sense.

So really, I'm disappointed in myself because until now, my knee-jerk reaction whenever she suggests something is to be cranky and defensive. My answers to, "You should get this dress," "Why don't you put the cabinet over there?" and even, "You should pick out a good table [which I will pay for] for your new apartment," are unnecessarily terse. Somewhere deep down, there's a 15-year-old girl who still thinks, "Mom doesn't understand me," or, "Mom doesn't know what I like."

Too late, I remind myself, "Mom loves me," "Mom wants to bond with me," and, "Mom just wants to make sure I'm okay," — and that sometimes, "okay" just means I have a rice cooker, some nice kitchen towels, and a good boyfriend who may or may not look like Piolo Pascual.

I love you, Mom. I'm really glad I'm your daughter, too.

19 June 2012

The Fault in My Reading

I do wonder if I didn't enjoy "The Fault in Our Stars," by John Green, as much as others did because of my own history. It just so happens that my ex-boyfriend also had osteosarcoma as a teenager, also was something of a basketball hotshot before that, also was pretty pissed at people who spouted Bible verses and cross-stitched encouragements and all this well-meaning crap, also wanted to leave a mark beyond being a "professional sick person," and even won a local literary award for saying so.

(I also have an uncle on what I guess would be the other side of the living-with-cancer spectrum, the side that's had cancer in three different places, blogs about the chemo battle, and runs marathons to raise money for a cure.)

That's not to brag, really, but just to say that a lot of Hazel Grace and Augustus's frustrations are things I've heard before from someone who's been there and back: Hazel's worry that after her death, "they'd have nothing to say about me except that I fought heroically, as if the only thing I'd ever done was Have Cancer," has a sentiment I've heard expressed quite a bit. So, a lot of the time, reading this book was like staring into pitch-black night with someone you don't really talk to anymore and making that long and awkward silence as long, awkward, and maybe even painful as possible.

I don't know. I guess I can't accept this book based on the recommendation that it's an "alternative" look at life with cancer because it's been the most pragmatic and maybe even best way to look at it for a while now. I also didn't cry at the parts where you're "supposed" to cry, because either I'm a cold-hearted cynic, or, to borrow from John Irving, we are all of us terminal cases — not just the kids with cancer. If I felt sad, it was because someone's friend and child was suffering, not that someone's friend and child was suffering from cancer.

Beyond that, though, the male protagonist Augustus — whose similarities to Martin end above — was right out of my teenage daydreams and therefore unbelievable and sometimes even cheesy. Hazel, on the other hand, was a character I could get behind, and I loved how she (and, okay, Augustus too) was just darkly hilarious and sharp. Despite my cynicism, if you'd call it that, I did laugh out loud at a couple parts.

Perhaps what kept me from enjoying the book more was the constant self-check: if I find this book "inspirational," and go on to say so, I might only be just as misguided as the same people who find the cross-stitched encouragements "inspirational" and thereby fail at the actual empathy that people like Hazel and Augustus — people in general, really — really want.

I guess if there's anything I'd get out of this book, it's Hazel's idea about infinities being shorter or longer, but still infinite (actually, this is mathematically wrong; also, this link is a quote spoiler). It touches on the same "we are all terminal cases," "we all complete," "you got a lifetime; no more, no less," "death from above's still a death" idea that I think would improve relationships if more people had it. Having cancer does not make your life any more precious and special than that of a 120-year-old woman with two dozen grandkids. Your life is special because it is your life.

15 June 2012


There's a patch of skin on my left leg that I scratched a lot late last year. I say it's because of mosquito bites, but I wonder why I still can't leave it alone and why it's taking longer to heal than anything else.

Maybe it's age, I tell myself; maybe you're past being a child with magical super healing skin, when your wounds hurt only a little while.

Why else would something take longer to heal than you thought it would?

07 June 2012


It only sank in yesterday that this apartment is the first place, apart from my childhood home, that I can really call "mine." I've been living in Metro Manila for four years now — about seven or eight if you count college and living in the dorm — but it wasn't until I started sketching layouts for my apartment and debating on whether to get a dining table that the meaning of these acts and how far I've come really dawned on me.

Sure, I'm still renting, but really, I've never felt this free. However hospitable and generous my relatives in Parañaque were, I always felt I was encroaching on my sweet younger cousin's space. When I left Parañaque, I shared a condo with my college roommate Myka, but however well we got along, there was always the uncomfortable business of splitting bills and chores, timing when to bring our boyfriends up and when to disappear, and somehow knowing that the idiosyncrasies we dismissed or rolled our eyes at in college were somehow magnified and different now that we were supposed to be grown-ups.

And after that, there was Cubao, where I did have a room to myself, but it never felt "mine." I told the landlady it was only for six months, and though six months came and about 18 more went, I always told myself, "I'm going to get out of here." That's why I never thought about how to decorate the walls or how to improve my storage options; in the back of my mind, there wasn't much point if I was going to leave soon, soon, soon.

I don't read fashion, travel, or design magazines because they give me uncomfortable, I-want-my-life-to-look-like-this-but-I-can't-afford-it feelings. Last weekend, though, upon our mother's suggestion, Mikko handed me an interior design magazine as a housewarming gift. And after I warily cracked it open, I found myself thinking, "Hey, I can actually do this." I still couldn't afford anything in that magazine (which — ouch — dubbed itself the "cheap" interior design magazine), but it did send home the idea that I had the power to make my place feel less like a well-lit bodega and more like my home.

Maybe we underestimate how much physical distance, space, and freedom can contribute to our mental and emotional senses of freedom. My room in Cubao was not only small but also irregularly shaped and prone to dust from the highway; my furniture was where it was because there wasn't any other way I could arrange it. I ate and worked on the floor with my back against my bed frame and my feet up against my cabinet doors. When I started drawing and cutting buildings, I did so with the cutting mat on a clipboard in my lap. The longer I stayed, the higher the stacks of books and papers I had to step over to move from one corner of the room to the other. I used to collect materials for collages and other craft projects, but they only became a source of exasperation and frustration, because creating and keeping things required more space than I had.

I never had visitors over; visitors couldn't come upstairs — I had no chairs to seat them with, anyway — and the kitchen where they were allowed to hang out was dark and depressing. And while my housemates, landlord, and landlady were nothing but cordial and even nice to me, I was a grumpy shut-in who didn't want to have anything to do with them. The way they or some sign of them popped up everywhere, every day, was just another reminder that this place wasn't "mine."

That's why, when I started sketching layouts, considering tables, and plumbing Apartment Therapy for ideas, I felt my life opening up in yet another way I hadn't known it could. Guys, I can put my stuff on shelves now. I can prepare food on a kitchen counter. I can eat that food at a table. I can clear that table and make things, and then I can display those things around my room. It sounds so small and silly, but honestly, I'm tearing up a little at the thought.

It's a rented space, but the freedom to move and move things in that space somehow makes it mine. Maybe it'll just be for a year; maybe it'll be for three, five, or ten. But it's still the first place in years that feels like mine, to stay in and live.

(The last time I cried over furniture was the day my Parañaque relatives bought new shelves for my cousin's room and said I could use half. I don't know if they'll ever know how much that meant to me. I bought the same type of shelves for myself when I moved to Ortigas, and I plan to get a second set for my apartment now. It's not just that they're modular, affordable, practical, and actually kind of cool; they've also come to signify the ability to make home.)