A waste of me? (An Article by The Forgetful Magpie)

In celebration of Mothers Day, I want to share this article, written by my mom (The Forgetful Magpie) and published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer on November 6, 2011 (see the article here).  This post is dedicated to all the mothers out there (especially to my mom and my mother-in-law) who have found quiet happiness in home and family and to whom we owe much thanks. I salute you. Belated Happy Mothers’ Day y’all!

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My daughter’s gift to me on Mother’s Day

A WASTE OF ME

It was the end of the day, just an hour or so before dinner.

I was sitting on my bed, the pillows propped up to support my back, crocheting a blouse for my daughter, Oya. The television in front of the bed was on.

My daughter, having just come home from work, looked in on me. “What are you watching, Mom?”

I looked up to check.

“You really aren’t watching the TV, are you?” Oya observed. “Oh, Mom, you are just wasting electricity!” she said as she walked away.

“I was relaxing, having the TV on relaxes me,” I whispered, to myself. “I had a long, busy day. Wasting electricity is not as bad as wasting me.” I was referring to the personal energy conservation relaxing bit, of course. But the thought gave me a jolt.

Upon reaching seniority when I turned 60, I somehow, slowly but surely, became a homebody immersed exclusively in the concerns of home and family. It was not a conscious choice. It just happened that on that year, my husband Manny had retired and our granddaughter Martina was born.

Manny hardly ever stayed at home before his retirement.  He would leave for work in the morning and get together with his best friend, Onib, the artist, after office hours and be out until the wee hours. They were both Malate “streetwalkers,” better known as “tambays.”

But Onib had died, and Manny had no friends around our suburban home to hang around with. So I had to be a friend to him, someone to go out with and talk to.  When he developed Parkinson’s Disease a few years later, I had to help him deal with his moments of confusion and offer gentle exchanges, pleasant conversations that were not too taxing or challenging.

My daughter Oya was also back home. She had gone away to college at the University of the Philippines in Quezon City and then to the London School of Economics for her graduate studies. Then she came home to stay, worked for her father until he retired, and sold the business. She found a job in Makati which kept her so busy that she invariably came home tired and famished.

Oya has always been frail and a picky eater. So I made a career of coming up with varied and appetizing menus for her meals and lunch packs. My bedtime reading then consisted mostly of going over recipe books, of which I had collected more than a dozen.

Granddaughter

My granddaughter, Martina, is bright and lively. I simply adore her. I eagerly looked forward to Martina’s bi-weekly visits. I always made sure that Martina’s favorite french fries and shrimps are prepared for her. I read to her, baked cookies with her, and sewed costumes for Halloween, school activities, and parties. I have, in fact, just finished making Martina an appliquéd bedcover with matching pillow cases.

And watching TV every evening “to relax” became my regular pastime. I know that watching TV is more often than not a waste of time, so I do something useful besides, something that does not require too much thought or concentration, mindless tasks like crocheting. I had become a real multi-tasker, one who does several time-wasting things at the same time.

Thus do I find myself at 67, a thorough homemaker, or more simply and honestly, a happy housewife.

I have been happy taking care of these three most beloved people. I have kept a fine house and tended a lush garden with joy.  Indeed, I have found great self-satisfaction in doing the things housewives do because, you see, I do them easily and rather well.

However, I have nothing to show for it. There is no public recognition, no awards for exceptional housewifery. In the eyes of the world, it may be a useful talent but hardly a significant one. So, I wonder if  being “just a housewife”  translates into a waste of me.

I have always been a housewife, but until I was slowed down by age and circumstance, I had moved in many circles and assumed many other roles.  I had many friends and had always felt free to do my own thing. I had been an activist, a women’s and children’s advocate, an organizer, and a writer.

When I ran into my friend, Julie, some time ago, she enthusiastically asked, “What are you writing now?”  “Nothing really,” I had to admit. “I haven’t been writing for a while.”

“What?” Julie exclaimed. “Why aren’ t you writing when you do it so well? You are wasting your talent!”

“I have other talents,” I quietly said. From which I derive more satisfaction and joy, I might have added.

Too much effort

Writing is for me a painful and exhausting process. I do not love it. It takes too much effort and insight and passion and discipline. The writing itself is easy enough, but I agonize for several days just getting it all together in my head. And I have to constantly fight the fear that the writing is not good enough. Because each word of praise I receive ups the ante in my attempt to do as well, if not better. I find that writing takes so much of me—or is it off me?

My gift for writing has served me well during my brief stint in advertising, as well as in writing copy for my husband, who was an advertising man. As an activist/organizer, I have written statements, primers, manifestos, speeches, etc. I have also come up with five books.

I do not think I have wasted my talent. I have rendered a good account of it. Although all the writing was done because I had to, or felt the need to, not for the love of it.

The question now is, does “wasting a talent” diminish it? And does non-writing waste the writer?

Just a few weeks ago, my daughter, Oya, noted that of late I had been quite forgetful and often uncharacteristically disorganized.  “Perhaps you should see a neurologist,” she suggested. “You might be developing Alzheimers.” The neurologist ordered an MRI and an EEG.

The results gave me a third jolt. My midbrain showed a scattering of tiny blood vessel “strokes” that blocked the passage of blood and oxygen in capillaries to my brain. It is not so bad, he assured me, considering the onset of old age. He prescribed medication to not only strengthen my neurological system, but also to prevent any more blockages and mitigate further deterioration.  I had actually been wasting away!

I was told I had to become more active physically, mentally, and socially. I concluded that I had been taking care of everybody and everything else but me. I had been writing, but not for me, not to please myself, not to satisfy my needs, not out of love.

“What did the doctor say?” my husband who was waiting outside asked.

“He said I am no longer as bright as I used to be” I said. “And it could get worse.”

“Don’t worry,” my most loyal fan assured me. “With your brain, it will take a long time before you turn into an idiot.”

 

NAMES

My friend Gilda thinks I have a decided “bakli ng utak”, an irreverent take on things. However, relative my husband Manny and my daughter, Oya, I am quite conventional. Take the case of names. My grandaughter Martina calls me Abu which is simply short for the Spanish “abuela”. On the other hand, Oya has taught Martina to call her Fairygod Oya. Manny, she calls Aga. No, not after Aga Muhlach but as she used to explain, short for “aga,aga buwisit”, until someone more proper and less humorous told her that “buwisit” is a bad word.

My English Canadian friend , Tim’s grandchildren, like everybody else call him simply Tim. “Because”, he says, “that is my name”. Very sensible, but I had to inform him that unfortunately, the use of honorifics are part and parcel of Filipino culture.

Then, there is the case of our recently acquired Belgian Malinois puppy. After Martina was introduced to the new dog, she went running to her mom. “They have a new pet,” she cried, “she is a huge dog, and Mommy, she is called Kitty!” She has yet to learn that people and names are not always reasonable. They can instead be funny.

My Future Son-In-Law

Every time I bring up the subject of our daughter eventually getting married (which is not very often, promise! like only when hubby and I get invited to a wedding), my husband gets a panic attack. I, on the other hand, get all excited (Our daughter’s 8; but don’t the years just fly by!). I mean, really, what mother doesn’t dream of her little girl’s big day and the many ways she can meddle in the prep help make it perfect?

I’d have the ideal son-in-law. He’d look like this:

And looking like that, of course he’d be a big action star in Hollywood (the wedding would probably be sometime in the 2030s so my future son-in-law would be, like, Chris Hemsworth’s and Elsa Pataky’s son – who’s already on his way into the world as we speak!).

Oh, and my future-son-in-law would also be a MD, like a cardiothoracic surgeon. No, wait. Too complicated; he might not have time for family. Neurosurgeon? No, too sexy; he’d get into all sorts of girl-trouble, like McDreamy does. A trauma doctor, maybe. Yes, that’s it.

And that would be just perfect because if he injures himself on set doing his own stunts (yeah, he’d be that cool), he could, like, do minor surgery on himself right there, barking orders to his personal assistant (who would be heterosexual, male, and also a nurse) like “Fetch me the microfibrillar collagen hemostat. Stat!” in a really cool way (I mean, not in a panicky way at all). And the microfibrillar collagen hemostat would be in his doctor’s bag, which is always close by, like in his trailer on set.

And he would absolutely adore my daughter and profess that he doesn’t believe in divorce. And they’d have really cute babies, blue-eyed and dark-haired (because they’d be part-Asian, part-Spanish, part-Australian), who would call me “G-mom”. And I would remind them to wash their hands frequently and load them up with sugar-free treats everyday – for the rest of my happy life.

Hello? Anyone there?

You deserve an explanation. Why I’ve not been posting.

Sat all morning in front of the Mac trying to come up with good excuses for my neglect. I came up blank. As I have been doing the past month with the posting. I thought maybe you would appreciate some story like that I was off on a Caribbean cruise for a month and the cruise ship didn’t have wifi or the wifi was too slow and all that buffet-eating always made me sleepy at midday, yadda yadda yadda. But you know I’m broke so this might be more convincing: was busy with “life” (which is really no excuse); tutoring my daughter for her final exams, getting her activities lined up for the long, hot summer, setting up playdates with friends, doing yoga, managing the household, cooking … No, not cooking (Seriously?!). Never cooking. No talent for it. I once attempted a beef stroganoff for my roomies back in college and I ended up serving pasta topped with sukiyaki beef in pink sauce (Yes, I did say “pink”; don’t ask me how I did it because I wouldn’t be able to tell you. And no, I didn’t know then that there is a difference between sukiyaki and stroganoff beef cuts). Another time I tried cooking Asian orange chicken but I didn’t have fresh oranges so I improvised with Eight O’Clock instant (powdered) orange juice (What was I thinking?! I don’t remember. Probably something like those plastic orange traffic cones. But maybe not. Traffic cones would have signaled that I not-go-there.). Needless to say both were horrendous. But I digress.

This may be a good (enough) one: I started working part-time. Started like, before the Holy Week. Ok, hell, that doesn’t cover the month.  Anyway, maybe you shouldn’t (and don’t actually) care. Point is, I’m back. And I’ll do better, okay?

Photo via chaosinthekitchen.com. Looks yummy, doesn't it? Needless to say that is not my pink beef stroganoff.

 

The Manic Magpie: Of God and numbers

Scene: My first grader’s bedroom. We’re doing homework.  And struggling with “subtraction with regrouping”.

Daughter (face all scrunched up):  Mom, how did God make numbers?

Me: Huh? How did God make what?

Daughter:  Nummbers

Me:  Riiight [uh-oh]… Let’s see; God made, er, things, so [quick! think, think!]He had to … uhm … like, count them! [e?!] Yes, that’s it, He had to count them [wtf%#@&?!]. And so He needed numbers …

Daughter: But how?

Me: Oh, yes, right [how indeed]. Well … [think, think, think! quick, quick, quick!] Let’s see. Things are made up of numbers and God created things [ohno-ohno-ohno-ohno] meaning … uh, like length or height or … [Daughter tilting head sideways now; brows furrowed] … uhm, God made all things, actually [ohmigod, how in the world do I get out of this one?], which means numbers were made … [howhowhowhowHOW?!] … exactly the same way things were made!

Daughter (???): I don’t get it.

Me: [Ugh … ] Honestly, I don’t get it either, love. It’s a mystery to me.

Daughter:  Oh … Ohhh [eyes growing wide] … It’s a mysssstery … [a smile? a smile!]

Me: Yes [bingo!]… a mysssstery… [Whew…] Now, why didn’t I think of that earlier?! [Wait. Did I say that out loud?]

[Ugh, I need a beer.]

Math

The Manic Magpie: Nap Time

Scene 1: In my bedroom. After lunch today. As I’m organizing my closet.

Me (to my 8-year old daughter): “Go take your nap in your room, please. I’ll be there in 5 minutes to check on you.”

Daughter: “Mommy, can I take my nap inside my laundry bag?”

Me: “Inside your what?!

Daughter: “My laundry bag. The one in my room.”

Me (confused; thinking it must be a trick to avoid napping): “How will you manage that? No. I don’t think you’ll be able to sleep…”

Daughter (ever the negotiator): “Check on me after 5 minutes. If I’m not asleep, I’ll move to the bed, okay?”

I give in, certain I’ll win this one.

Scene 2: My daughter’s bedroom. 5 minutes later.