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.

Why I Probably Won’t See “The Hunger Games”

I picked up the book, “Hunger Games”, last Saturday from a local bookstore. I wanted to find out what all the fuss was about. You see, the past 2 weeks, the movie’s been screening in maybe 16 of the 20 cinemas in the greater Mandaluyong City malls (my usual haunts). And I didn’t want to see the movie till I’d read the book first.

I finished the book in less than a day. And this much I can say about it: I understand why the book is so popular with the kids. Katniss, the heroine, is Lara Croft, McGyver, Dr. Quinn (Medicine Woman), and a Disney princess, all rolled into one. (To those of you too young to know Dr. Quinn or McGyver … sigh … there’s always Google.)  And mushy, heart-on-his-sleeve Peeta’s just one to swoon over, isn’t he? The main protagonists even manage to remain honorable despite their severe circumstances (Katniss kills only 2 of her fellow tributes; one, in defense of another, and the other, out of mercy. Peeta manages to kill only 1; unintentionally at that). To an adult and a parent, that one day in the future we may have to see our kids enslaved and drafted into participating in some reality death “game” is certainly frightening. But the obsessive-compulsive in me couldn’t suspend her disbelief long enough to appreciate the logic of the storyline. (Too manyArgh” moments. Yes, the book was probably much too young for me.)  If this had been interactive, I would have raised some serious issues. If I were a tribute whose counterpart got killed off right from the get-go, at the Cornucopia, for example, I would have vigorously remonstrated against the mid-stream rule change that allowed 2 tributes from the same District to win the Games together.  How unfair and prejudicial is that?  I would have also raised a howl about the Muttations. Hell, if I were a parent of one of those tributes that got “mutt-ated” …. Yes, all hell. Helllll.  Would break loose.

The movie could prove to be one of the few exceptions to my general experience that movies don’t live up to the books they’re based on. Thing is, I probably won’t see it.

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.

 

Sense and Sensibility

The following is an article to celebrate Manny, my husband of 45 years.

 

SENSE AND SENSIBILITY

Sense and sensibility, it seems to me, is as good a formula as any to constitute a good marriage. One of the partners should have the good sense to provide for the family’s basic needs, and, the other, the fine sensibility to enhance family life.

When I married my husband, Manny, I believed he had the practical sense to earn our living. I, on the other hand, would provide the sensibility. I thought myself cultured and refined, to be well versed in history, literature, art appreciation, and psychology, having been schooled in an “exclusive” college for women.

My husband got a “no-frills” education in public school and as a working student, took the highly technical course of Industrial Engineering. When I first introduced him to my friends, I didn’t get unreserved approval. He was not, after all, part of our collegiala circle. He was, indeed, by my friends’ standard, a poor boy.

But they did concede that he was not bad looking. He had attractive, dark eyes and the perfectly classical nose. He dressed simply, very neatly, and one couldn’t fault his manners.

Although my family was much better off than his when we married, I saw no reason to feel superior, to even think that I was marrying “beneath my  station”, (aside, of course, from the truism that “all women do”). Though well educated, I came from peasant stock (and don’t my toes show it!). My father was a “risen peasant”. It was his exceptional intelligence that won him a full scholarship in college, a Civil Engineering degree and good well-paying jobs that raised his own family’s status into upper middle class. My mother had claims to a Hispanic heritage. Her grandfather was a “peninsulare” who came to the Philippines as a member of the Guardia Civil stationed in Pangasinan. But she was born and grew up a provincial and only came to urban Manila as a young bride.

Manny may have grown up in the school of hard knocks, but he comes from “fallen aristocrats”. His father grew up in Intramuros . He was a true gentleman of the old school who stood out at my wedding wearing  a decidedly elegant white suit. And the rest of his forebears are decidedly Manileno. His maternal grandfather, Godofredo Dancel, was Secretary to President Manuel Quezon. His grandmother was pure Castillian so he has more Spanish blood than some of my Spanish speaking friends, if Spanish blood is at all a measure of personal worth. And his great grandfather, Antonio Dancel was once Governador of Rizal.

As a child, he would tell me, he used to ride his three wheeled cycle in the passage around his maternal grandfather’s living room in a grand, old bahay-na-bato  in Tondo. The house, unfortunately, became one of the casualties of the American Liberation of Manila in 1945. I have no such memories. My own grandfather had a large 3-level house at the edge of his coconut plantation in Calauag,Quezon  but it stood by the railroad tracks, next to the train station and its proudest wall ornament was the graduation photograph of my not-so-good-looking father.

It was his mother, Ana,  who “fell” from grace by eloping at 16 with a handsome man who was and remained a small time bureaucrat and having ten children by him.

But even poverty could not erase nor diminish the innate fine sensibility and good taste derived from her “aristocratic” heritage. To supplement her husband’s meager income, she fashioned exquisite children’s dresses that were exclusively sold at Tesoro’s and bought by Manila’s wealthiest families. She was already in her sixties when my daughters were growing up, but she paid me the complement of making them each a particularly lovely party dress. I could and did sew my children’s dresses too, but I didn’t have her way with ribbons and laces. They lived in a small rented apartment but the few ornaments  were delicate porcelain figurines and the finest crystals. My daughters used to love to visit their Lola Ana and listen to the musical Lladro figurines. She also had a way with dish gardens. Instead of planting a small garden, she turned the 10- 12 sq meter space in front of her apartment into a beautifully arranged display of her dish gardens. Her sense of proportion was faultless and her attention to the most minute detail, remarkable.  On the other hand, having borne seven streetwise sons, she could cuss like the best of “kanto boys”, a habit I had to train my husband to unlearn.

I was to find that sensibility is an innate quality of the mind, a cultivation of proper feelings, a control of the senses that is not, necessarily, learned in school nor derived from ones upbringing. Schooling and upbringing could, of course, help in increasing and refining it. But  it is ultimately a product of one’s heritage. People coming  from  a long line of “buenas familias”, I must concede, have a better claim to refinement than most. My grandmother used to say that, “It takes three generations (of good genes, careful upbringing, and education) to make a lady”, keeping her fingers crossed, I imagine, that she had, perhaps engendered a gentlewoman in me.

I also find that sense and sensibility are not mutually exclusive.  Everybody has both in varying proportions. “Aristrocrats” may not necessarily have a larger share of sensibility than sense.  And the common tao is not always just commonsensical.

Manny inherited his mother’s fine aesthetics and used it with practical sense in setting up an advertising art studio that generously provided for me and my two daughters. The girls trust their father”s taste and share his love for things that are exquisitely designed and well made. They prefer to have him with them when shopping, especially for shoes. I do too. But I always find the best buys, fine things at more reasonable prices.

I am not very good with ornaments (I hate clutter!) so I keep a very simple and practical home with emphasis on the good use of space.  The few ornaments in the house are gifts or Manny’s acquisition. And t was Manny’s best friend Onib Olmedo who provided most the many wonderful paintings that have filled the walls of our house . Perhaps after all, Manny has the greater share of sensibility and I have the more practical sense. It really doesn’t matter.

Because after all is said and done and having been married for almost 45 years, I am truly grateful  that he had enough sensibility to love me, and even gladder,  that I had enough good sense to marry him.

Lola (tr. “Grandmother”)

Photo via rgbstock.com

When my daughter Martina was 2 years old, she would meet Lola Lina, who is afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease, at the 3rd Floor poolside and playground commons of our condominium building every morning and every afternoon. Both are brought by their yayas or nannies for their routine “pasyal” (tr. walks) and to hang out with the (other) kids who gather together to play there. Martina talked about Lola to me often enough. But I didn’t really realize how fond they were of each other until one night, Lola Lina’s daughter called me to invite Martina to Lola Lina’s 80th Birthday Party at the Hotel Intercontinental. And she had this special request: Would Martina sing the “Happy Birthday” song at the party? And so we went. It was a formal dinner party with over a hundred guests.  Lola Lina’s children and grandchildren flew all the way from the States for the special occasion.

This article, written by my mom and Martina’s grandmother (ever proud of her one and only grandchild), was inspired by the events of that evening and the very special friendship that Lola Lina and Martina share. 

I am posting it here in memory of Lola Lina.

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My life is in a haze, suspended between the here and there, between what was and what is. I am in a daze. I forget things. I forget what I am doing. Most of the time, I do not know where I am. It is all so confusing. And people are so strange. This woman comes and kisses me and calls me mama. She says she is my daughter. Do I have a daughter? “Do you remember?” people ask. Remember what? It’s all because I have grown so old. Although they tell me it’s because I have this illness with a strange name. I forget the name.

There are many things I can no longer do. I cannot walk. I move around in a wheelchair. And I have a yaya who feeds me, bathes me, dresses me and cleans after me. She pushes me around in my wheelchair like a baby, like I did for my own babies. Yes, I had babies once. My babies also had yayas. Like Martina.

I had a big house then. I remember a big house with many rooms. It’s gone now. Today, I live in a unit, number 505, it says on the door. Units are small. Even my room is small with just one window through which sunlight comes in. Pero no importa.

Martina also lives in a unit, just below mine. After my afternoon nap, my yaya brings me down to the 3rd floor, where there are plants in pots, a playground and a swimming pool. Martina goes there too, after her own nap.

The first time I saw her, she came and stood in front of me. “Hello,” she said. Then she came closer. Putting her hand to her chest, she said, “Martina”. I tried to tell her my name but the sound wouldn’t come out.

“Si Lola ‘yan, [That’s Lola]” her yaya said. “Lo-la”, she mouthed and smiled.

She is a tiny two year old. A pretty little mestiza, fragile-looking but very active. She runs around a lot with one or two other children following her lead. A happy, friendly child who laughs often.

One day she came to me to show me two stuffed toys. They were both red and looked alike, except that one was bigger. “This is Elmo, Lola,” she said of the bigger one. “And this is Baby Elmo.”

I remember because she was so cute that I couldn’t help reaching out and pinching her cheeks. “No, Lola,” she protested, “that hu’ts.” But she didn’t cry. I have never seen her cry. She does not have crying fits like the other children.

I am now 80 years old, you know. I had a birthday party in a large hall filled with many people. There was a program, with songs and dances and speeches just for me.

“Mama has a little friend who came to sing to her,” my daughter was saying. And there she was … Martina!  She walked confidently, straight to where I was, took the microphone and sang the birthday song. The words rang out very clearly, and for a 2 year old, in perfect tune. Everybody applauded when she bowed. I clapped too. She turned around, looked at me, and said, ”I love you, Lola!”

There was a light around her, a halo, and her pretty green dress glittered. She was smiling … sweetly. I knew at that moment that Martina is an angel, una pequeña querubin, with soft straight hair. I know she is an angel heaven sent to me, my own special angel!

When I get to heaven’s gate, I will tell them that I have an angel friend. Her name is Martina, I will say. Then, surely they will let me in. I must not forget her name. I must always remember. Martina.

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.

The Manic Magpie: M.A.R. Room Rules

Taped to the door of my 8-year old daughter’s room (which she calls the “M.A.R. Room”; “M”, “A”, and “R” being the first 3 letters of her name and those of her 2 “best friends”) is this piece of paper with a list of rules everyone seeking to enter the room must follow. My favorites are rules nos. 1, 5, 6, and 8 (How cute is “Always think important”?).