A Tubby Tabby, Three Konekos, and a Life with Hello Kitty and Autism

Because You Loved Me

My Mom

My mom’s birthday is today.  A very young-looking, beautiful 62, she is an accomplished businesswoman in her own right (Go, Reliv, Go!), grandmother of four, mother of five, and wife to a much-loved man.

Happy Birthday, Mom! We love you!


I wrote this eight years ago in honor of the most important person who shaped my life- my Mom.

My Mom, My Hero

My mother regrets that toward the end of her days, when people ask her what she has to show for, all she has is a house full of children and grandchildren.

At the age of 18, my mother married my 23 year-old dad. It was 1964. Groomed since birth to believe that every woman’s destiny was to be a mother and a wife and nothing else, my mother strongly resented having to subjugate her desires to please everyone else. She wanted to study, but her parents, relics of a forgotten era, thought education was sorely wasted on women. They refused to subsidized her education. She worked and studied for a while, but the money she earned was barely enough for her own needs. Each day, she struggled desperately against her parents and tried to make something of herself against their wishes. She took care of herself and her siblings, and she went to school, often hungry, often without books, pen, or even paper. It was a hard life, with little pleasure and little of everything else.

She met my dad at 17 and fell in love with him. Less than a year later, when he proposed marriage to her, she said yes. She had kids one after the other. By the time she was 25, she had five little kids all below the age of seven. My dad had a tough time trying to get his business off the ground so he spent a lot of time in the makeshift office-cum-factory where he did manual labor from dawn till dusk. Mom was left pretty much alone to care for us.

In the beginning, when finances were tight, my mom put her dreams on hold for all of us. Money that could be spent fro her dreams was money for her children’s food, clothing, and yes, education. The one thing she was deprived of and that she wanted most was the one thing she would insist for all her children- a good education.

So each year, as a new school year commenced, my mother would wrap her dreams for herself all over again and pin her hopes on us, as if we would be able to satiate the burning ambition that raged inside her. The first time she saw her children’s schoolbooks, neatly bound in plastic and arranged in brand-new bags, she wept openly. She remembered all the times she wanted, nay, craved, for new books and bags, for a pair of black shoes, for pen and paper, and was denied of them. She prayed that her children be spared of the same “hunger” that she had grown up with.

Mom and 5 year-old meWhen I was five, I began to realize that behind my mom’s perpetually sunny disposition was a sadness that she could not mask very well. The tension was etched in the sinews of her limbs when she hugged or smothered us with kisses. I could not understand. She was happy when my dad was around, and even happier when all five of us were clowning around her. But late at night, I often heard her muffled cries and my parents’ whispered voices. In the morning, it would seem as I imagined the entire thing, and she would be up again, making us breakfast, back to her cheery self, back to the smiling, giggly, beautiful mommy we all loved.

I found the truth from a maid’s wagging tongue. Everyone knew it, she whispered conspiratorially to me. It was the talk of our little town. My paternal grandmother disliked my mother because she was not “good” enough for my dad. What made it more difficult for her was the fact that my grnadmother lived in the house right behind us and mom had to bear with hurtful criticism and unfounded gossip every day. Mom pleaded with my dad to move, but dad loved his family too much. He worked tirelessly to support his widowed mother and his siblings. He begged for mom’s patience. He asked my mom with bear with them gracefully and to bear them no ill will. He assured her that they would learn to love her once they got to know her. They will soon see what he found so special in her, he promised. But they never did.

Because we were my mom’s children, we never felt we quite fit in with my cousins. My cousins were always seen as more important, more beautiful, brighter, or smarter than we were. When we were very young, we tried hard to please my father’s family, but all they gave us were patronizing smiles and pats on the head. I have no memories of being hugged or kissed by any of them. Often, my grandmother would make fun of my flat nose or my chinky eyes, openly favoring my cousins’ long lashes and aquiline nose. I never cried, thought I bottled up all the hurt till my heart turned into stone.

My mom knew that we hurt from our relatives’ rejection and she gave us kisses and hugs to make up for it. She taught us to hold the pain, to realize its enormity in our young lives, and to use it to make us stronger. She always gently reminded us that as long as we loved ourselves, no other person could hurt us again. Often the five of us would fall asleep all around her, a tumble of legs and arms, as she sang us songs to heal our wonded hearts.

Growing up, I have a lotof memories of moms’ special moments with each of us. Her childhood stories made up a lot of our afternoons. She read little Jasmine stories in different voices. She told Jeff and John war adventures and ghastly ghost stories passed on to her by her father. She watched intently, half in fascination and half in horror, as Joee performed a complex spidergirl routine of climbing walls and jumping off high places. Many afternoons were spent baking us cakes and letting us lick the spoons clean of batter. She had a gift for making good food and she made us all kinds of treats. Nights, she braided three little girls’ long hair and set them in curlers. She stayed up late when exams were around the corner, making reviewers and sample tests for my siblings, all in long hand. She brought us to school every moining, putting her make-up on while the car was moving, at the same time running through her checklist of other things that needed to be done. She was just ALWAYS there.

When my dad suffered four strokes in a span of a year almost nine years ago, our family was devastated. Twice in those four times, the emergency room physicians had turned us away from looking on as they struggled valiantly to save his life. Dad spent many months in critical care. Mom and I stayed in the hospital with him, and she fed him, bathed him, and loved him even when he was too out of it to know. One night, long after the steady stream of visitors had gone, I asked her what she thought our future would be. I remember her reply, for it is something that struck me deeply. She said, “I’m not afraid. I’ll take your dad any way I can. I just want him alive.” 

Shortly after, dad’s relatives took over his business and disowned us. My mother patiently nursed him to full health, but the emotional pain he suffered pushed him into deep depression. Mom took over the reins of the family while my dad recovered. She became the rock that anchored us together. She kneaded and baked bread till the weary hours of the morning to keep the money coming in. In those times of hardships, she taught us to hold on to our faith. Praying over dad constantly, she taught him to forsake his material loss and empty his pain to the Lord. For close to five years, she was the sole spirit that buoyed our flagging hopes.

I shared a lot with my mom. When I was young, we kept each other company during nights when dad stayed up late to close shop. Some Saturdays, the three of us would be up at two in the morning, eating pâté  and bread and discussing the day’s events with each other. I liked hanging around her, watching her put on make-up. She was always beautiful, always glamorous. I liked watching her choose clothes and try them on, one by one. She in turn, loved taking pictures of me- pictures of my first day in medical school, my high school prom, my first date, my first serious boyfriend. She wrote me letters every so often, tackling sensitive issues like crushes, my changing body, falling in love, premarital sex, and yes, the undying theme of excellence. For a long time, she was my best friend. She was always my soft place to fall on.

Mom taught me to reach for my dreams very early in life. She taught me courage when the pretty girls in grade school bullied me senselessly. She taught me to fight back not with my fists but with my brains. She encouraged to to try out for things I wanted to do, like ballet and gymnastics, even when my pudgy body seemed oout of sync with te requirements of the dance. The important thing, she continuously emphasized, was that I was not afraid to try new things, to see diffeerent perspectives, to take on bigger challenges.

I understand now that I was a favored child. I was not beautiful the way my sisters were. I was timid and soft-spoken, taciturn, quiet and aloof. But I loved my parents unabashedly and they, in turn, showered me with more love than I could imagine. Yet one day, I did something that hurt them deeply. I turned my back on medicine.

Mom pinned all her hopes on her first daughter. She placed her dreams of being somebody other than a wife and mother squarely on my shoulders. It was not a burden, I believe that still, but after a time, I came to realize tnat I could not fulfill my spirit in the way everyone expected me to. On the day I told her I was putting my career on indefinite hold, my mother wept once again. I carried that image of her for a long time, my mom slumped in her arms, weeping quietly, trying to make sense of my decision. We carried on a running conversation days after; she repeatedly asked me questions, I parried her with shrugs and smiles. After a while, I just stopped explaining. I een stopped listening. I know I hurt her by my seeming eagerness to throw away years of their sacrifice, just when the star I’ve reached for  was almost at hand.

And so, my mom sees herself as a failure in a lot of ways. All she has is a house full of children and grandchildren to show for her 54 years.

But you see, mom, you are not a failure. You are my hero. You were always my hero. I took a step back from medicine because I wanted to be there for my children, the way you were when I was growing up. I wanted to look back on children’s early days and remember afternoons spent telling them stories. I didn’t want them to miss any moment with me. I grew up whole and healed because you were there. I didn’t want Alex and Alphonse to grow up on me. Their bandaged shins would not wait. Their little spills and tumbles needed a mother’s kiss. I wanted to be there with them as they started their monrnings and still be there at night to tuck them in. I wanted them to remember songs I taught them. I wanted to be you.Mom and Adult Me

Life is too short to waste on regrets. You haven’t wasted your life. Mom. Even as I write this, I am passing on your legacy to my children. They will always know how it is to be loved. My dreams were made on the kisses you showered me, on the letters you sent me throughout my young life, on the the faith you showed your short, pudgy, unbeautiful daughter. You always knew I was good enough to be anything I wanted to be.

Don’t worry about me, mom. I may have taken a detour in life, but today, I am doing the things I love. I have made a real home with my husband. Each day, I am blessed with opportunities to help two boys reach perfection. I write about faith and trust and belief. I write about truth and family. I write about love. And I live it everyday.

You will always be my hero, mom.

And all because you loved me.

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