Dig. Dig. Dig. The house was in the process of transformation. And the process entailed me to wake up facing a wreck. My princess bed was placed in the hall way; the foam topper for my bed was in the guest room; my empty cabinets and bookshelves were located at the terrace and I found all my books in boxes and all my art materials in black garbage bags at the guest’s bathroom. Everything was in disarray.
I was seated in the kitchen table as workers were banging the ceiling and the walls surrounding me. Arranged in front of me were bowls of steamed white rice and adobong kangkong with fried garlic topping and clear lapu-lapu soup. I wanted to eat alone.
I stabbed my fork in the bowl of kangkong as I veered away from the noise and the unpleasant sight. I learned to appreciate the fresh crispy green kangkong one evening twenty years ago. I was seated beside my mother at the same brown wooden table in the same country home kitchen. It was a few minutes after seven and I was already yawning and my eyes were heavy and closing. Inside my mouth was a mushy spoonful of rice with shredded chicken that I had been chewing for the past five minutes. It had turned into a homogenous mixture that I wanted to spit out so badly. Suddenly, I heard a crunch in my left ear. It was my mom whispering to me -- the exciting sound of eating, the surprising oomph that came with every bite. My mom told me it was kangkong. It was that icky green thing in the middle the table that I never thought of getting. I hated vegetables. Then another crunch.
“Aren’t vegetables fantastic?” She held up her fork with kangkong leaves and shoved it in my slightly opened and hesitant mouth. Crunch. Crunch. Crunch. The sound burst from my tongue, passed through my small palette, and reverberated in my ears. My ears told my brain, you should like vegetables. I had another bite and realized it was not as awful as it looked; another bite and I decided it was going to be my one and only favorite vegetable; another bite and I whispered the sweet nothings to my mom.
She taught me to enjoy eating vegetables. She told me to take the fats off the adobong baboy and it would still taste as yummy. She influenced me to love eating onions in the corned beef. She took me along with her as we spend joyous afternoons in the mall window shopping and eating ice cream together. She enjoyed making me pretty. She loved to buy me blouses with ruffles, tops with beads and little trinkets and pants that fit my chubby thighs. She taught me my abcs. She had me take piano lessons. She poured her precious time to make arts and crafts with me.
Art was our common passion. During summer, while she painted cherry blossoms with peacock on her several meters long white canvas, I would draw Mickey Mouse and Kero Keroppi on my 5”x8” sketch pad. After each drawing, she would say “Wow!” with a huge smile beaming on her face. It made me want to draw more.
She also enrolled me in piano classes. Every Sunday morning at 8, we would go to one small house in Quezon Avenue and I would play my Hannon and A Dozen a Day books. I would spend one tedious hour in front of the piano counting down the minutes until my mom and I would reunite and walk to the nearby bookstore where she’d buy me a Sweet Valley Kid pocket book. In gradeschool when I started liking boybands, I would ask her to buy some cassette tapes for me. She'd tell me she’d do so as long as I take voice lessons. But I was shy then and told her “It’s okay, no need.”
She would also give me diaries on summer breaks so I would be able to write whatever experiences I had on the days I was free of school work. I would write about our trips to the mall and the cute products I had seen. Once I found a twenty peso bill on the floor while I was biking near the CCP complex, I tried to get it but I fell and hurt my thumb. That was also written in my diary. I learned to write poems. I learned that the last words of some of the verses rhyme. When I read the poems to her, she would tell me “good job.”
As years rolled by, I developed new habits and interests. My piano-playing lessened. My liking for writing daily matters such as where I went, who I was with, what I did, how much I spent decreased. My time for drawing has been used elsewhere. I took more time playing the computer than talking to my family. I watched youtube to learn about crafts. I made my own cards, notebooks, box containers and the like. The shopping days with mom were exchanged with time spent with friends. She said I was turning into a different person. I told her, “This is the same me, but I just know what I want now.”
When I entered college, she told me to be very careful with boys. They were people who would take advantage of me. “Some guys might sprinkle mysterious dust in your drink, make you unconscious and then rape you and kill you.” When I asked her if I could go out with a guy, she almost always replied with a “no”. Studies first, she said. When I asked if I could go out just to have some fresh air, she said no, it’s dangerous outside. I felt that she was already controlling my life. I had no room to explore. I felt I was left with little opportunities to learn, to fail and to succeed.
I tried to flee away from her grasp. I did things that she did not know of. I kept secrets. It was my way of being independent. There were times when I would sneak to their refrigerator and grab a bite of chocolate. I wouldn’t want her to catch me and say, “I thought you’re on a diet?” or “Hey, I told you it’s not good to eat sweets at night, you’ll get a sore throat again!”
Oh, I’m craving for chocolates again. I know there are still some funsize Snickers bars left in the ref. A couple of days ago, we went to Duty Free Philippines for a tax-free shopping spree. We were in my favorite section -- the sweets corner! Just the bright and bold colors of M&Ms plus the swirl of the red and white striped candy canes already lightened up my mood. It was like a glimpse of heaven for my spoiled sweet tooth. I scanned the aisles, passed through the Hershey kisses, saw the Hershey dark chocolate bars, told my mom that antioxidants in this type of chocolate is good for her. Hinting that she should buy one and we, or rather I, could enjoy it at home. Walked past the Cadburry station with all its milk and fruit & nuts variants, skipped a few aisles and reached my favorite brand of chocolates, Snickers. I picked up a funsize pack and turned it around, lo and behold, it costed $6.80. I put it back and told my mom how expensive chocolates have become.
Our walk made both of us hungry. Mom told me to grab anything I liked. I shook my head. My tummy could wait, and besides the prices were more expensive than the last time and they were not good for the teeth. She said it was okay, she was also getting hungry. I held up a cheaper snack. She said okay. But after a while she suggested maybe we should grab a pack of Snickers instead. Although I didn’t tell her about me and my love (Snickers), she somehow sensed that it was my favorite from the whole chocolate troop. Probably it was a “mother’s instinct.” And she told me to go get that instead. I retorted saying it’s quite expensive and I won’t be able to finish it anyway. She insisted that it was okay and promised that she’d take one.
I realized that the phrase “mom knows best” is oh-so-true. Just by looking at her child, a mom would, most often than not, already know what the child’s eyes are saying and what the child’s words are implying. I made other stops too, held other packs too. But my mom knew what I wanted. And I also realized that mothers do not really intend to withhold life & vigor or fun & play from us children, when they say “no”. They have a reason behind locking the chocolates away from us. Deep in their hearts, they want us to be happy and be full of life. They tuck unhealthy things away and shield us from danger’s snare because all they want is for us to be joyful, healthy and alive.
Okay, so maybe I’ll get a piece of snickers after I finish this other thing. The hot steaming lapu-lapu soup was not among my top ten food hit list. And yet, it was calling me. I could already hear my mom say, “Eat it, it’s good for your health.”
The bowl of clear soup reminded me of the time I got sick two years ago. It was a dark moment in my life when I found an odd mass growing inside my stomach. It made me look like a pregnant lady carrying a four month old baby. At first I thought I was just getting fat, until I consulted a churchmate who happened to be a doctor. She told me to undergo an ultrasound as soon as possible.
When my mom took me to the doctor, he advised me that I should already prepare for an operation within three days. Mom kept me calm and told me it was going to be okay. The night before the operation, she sat beside me and prayed with me. I felt a deep peace that God was with me through it all. My mom was with me the whole time. Day and night. Before and after the operation. She was like a God-sent angel that would stay by my side no matter what.
After the operation, even when my mom was busy with all the household chores, she would cook this lapu-lapu soup for me everyday for a whole month. She said “It’s to heal your wound much faster. It’s what your grandma cooked for me after I got pregnant with you.”
As I took more sips of the lapu-lapu soup, I realized that the love of a mother is really different. A mother’s love for a child is incomparable to any other love that has ever been shared (except the unfathomable love of God). She only wants the best for her child. So even if a lapu-lapu would cost her time, money, effort and a bit of rejection from me (sorry mom!), she’d scale it and cook it, just to give the healthiest food to her child.
Even if I said “no” to her countless times whenever she fed me vegetables, she would think of creative ways to make me like it without coercing me. Even if I answered back whenever I felt constricted, she would forgive me and let things pass. That is a mother’s love -- forgiving, enduring, unconditional.
Crunch. Crunch. I munched on more kangkong leaves. I almost finished the whole bowl when my mother walked in the kitchen.
“Have you eaten, mom?” I asked.
“No, you go ahead.” She busily washed the pile of dishes in the dirty kitchen.
“You must be stressed with the renovation. Let me cook for you this time, mom.” I stood up, grabbed a kilo of beef sliced into chunks, crispy lettuce and saba.
I served my mom one of her specialties -- pochero. That’s a different story altogether.