33

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I’m 33 today. I got a few wrinkles, permanent eyebags and white hairs hiding among the purple.

Age is just a number. Apart from my looks, questionable health, being sleepy at 9pm, I do feel younger. Maybe it comes from acting too old for my age in my youth. My mother did tell me multiple times that since birth, I have always been in a rush to get ahead. I was originally due on Christmas Day.

I watched too many Calvento files and Days of Our Lives episodes as a kid. I may have started liking boys at too young an age.

I became competitive with my studies, quiz bees, sports, research contests, joining the next cool company. In many ways, I’ve felt like I was pushing myself to do things an older wiser person would do.

Then, my body started feeling older. I got hitched. I have a kid. The universe doesn’t $@#*% slow down. Thank goodness my experience with anxiety and depression taught me this cool trick of focusing on what I can control.

I feel younger because I’ve learned that I may not be able to stop time and &@$! hitting the fan but I can choose to slow the $@#*% down.

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“I don’t love Mama”

Warning: Super emo post

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Dear Niko,

The other night, you told me you like Papa better. Last night, you said you don’t love Mama.

I wanted to leave. Just walk away. Show you what life would be like without me. Some people might say, he’s just a child. He doesn’t know what he’s saying. But you do know. You can tell that I am too busy or too tired to give you the attention you need. You see me as the mean parent because I am the one asking you to do things you don’t like most of the time – potty train, change clothes, clean up, sleep. I am not the fun parent because I can’t make your toys do funny things.

I cried when you said it. I am crying now, remembering it.

But I’m still here, while you are sleeping beside me. Son, this is love. Staying even when you’re in pain because you are not loved back or appreciated.

I hope that tomorrow, when you wake up, I can repair whatever parts I broke in our relationship. I hope that someday, you can fully understand why I ask you to do or not do things. I just want you to be safe and grow up to be a good person. I am trying to do what’s best for you.

You’ve told me many times that I’m your best friend. Even if you stop believing that, even if you stop loving me, with my broken heart, I will still care for you. I will still love you.

Damn. You’re not even a teenager yet.

Love,

Mama Bear

Remembering how to play

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Dear Niko,

It’s been a long time since I wrote.

Truth is, I’ve been overwhelmed. By a career path I’m good at but don’t love. By a dream I need to pursue even if it means facing the truth that I’m not good at it and may never become better at it. By being away from you, physically, mentally, emotionally. By recurring health issues in mind and body.

I’ve had a rough past year. I’ve made a lot of drastic changes but I’m still adjusting. One of the changes: stay at home to care for you full-time.

I thought I would be awesome at this. I thought I would be on top of house chores. That I would be exercising Zen like patience when you don’t listen, when you lie, when you hurt me, when you forget to say you’re sorry. I thought your potty training would be a breeze and that I would have your home schedule all figured out, along with my efforts to care for my health and follow my other dreams.

I thought I’ve had some challenging roles. But this is the hardest role I’ve had thus far. Every day, I’m still winging it. Sometimes, I feel so blessed I get to spend so much time with my sweet, smart, talented child whom I love with all my life. Other times, I wonder: what the hell was I thinking? What made me think I could handle this level of responsibility?

Over the last few weeks, I’ve realized – I’ve forgotten how to play. As a child, I used to play pretend with my sisters all the time – with or without toys, inside or outside. I played multiple characters – protagonists, antagonists. I developed exciting plots – tons of humor, action and drama. Then, I grew up… got busy with school then work then life and slowly, I forgot.

But you’re teaching me. You’re helping me remember. You’re helping me find my inner child beneath all my hardened and broken pieces.

I’m not sure when I’m going to find things easy, I’m not sure if I ever will. I can’t promise to always be fun and not have any down days. You will likely still catch me off guard when you ask, “Mama, what are we doing today?”

I will never be perfect. But for you, I’ll keep learning and re-learning. I’ll keep working to find balance. To care for myself, too, so I can be my best at caring for you.

I love you. We’ll figure this out together!

Love,

Mama Bear

Second Birthday Blues

Hi Niko,

It’s your birthday.

You turn two today.

Time goes by so fast. I’m happy you’re growing into a smart, handsome, kind (sometimes crazy) boy. But at the same time, I feel bad that so much of your life is passing by without me at your side.

I often wonder how other moms do it. How do they go about with barely any sleep, cook all the meals for the family, keep the house clean, do the laundry, do budgeting, spend 50-60 hours working and still care for a young child?

Truth is, without your father and Tita (and/or Grandma) – I really don’t believe I can manage. I either go nuts trying to get work done or I feel extreme separation anxiety when I am unable to spend more time with you. So yes, the house is constantly a mess and the next meal is always a mystery. For someone who plans ahead and manages a lot of projects at work – I just plain suck at managing a home.

Often, I come from work tired out of mind – that I am not even able to give our family quality time.

But know that if I had a choice, if we can afford it (this state, and country in general is insanely expensive), I will leave the corporate world in a heartbeat to care for you full-time. I am not sure if I will be any better at keeping up with chores but I know I’ll be the best damn mom that I can be, not half-assing like I am right now.

Know that I keep working not only because I want you to have a better life, the best life. I also keep working because I want to excel at something (in addition to being your mom). So that when you grow older, you’ll know that at some point, in some other way, your mother rocked. Then, maybe, I could hope to inspire you like you continue to inspire me.

I love you, Son.

Hope you have a happy birthday!

Love,

Mama Bear

In the End

I was having a touchpoint with my boss when I got the news. She received a text message from another manager… about a Linkin Park member committing suicide. She knew I liked Linkin Park because it was only yesterday that she approved my half-day PTO, which I specifically scheduled for July 28th, the date of the Blinkin Park Concert (Blink 182 + Linkin Park). So, together, we did a search on her browser and found out that it was Chester Bennington – and it was suicide by hanging.

My boss seemed to be saddened by the news, too. She asked me if I knew Chris Cornell from Soundgarden and shared that she enjoyed their music and got the chance to watch them live. She said that it (suicide among artists) was happening too often. Then, awkwardly, we had to wipe tears from the corner of our eyes.

I’ve loved Linkin Park since high school, when most of the boys wore those dark polo shirts in salute of the group’s taste in fashion, despite the sticky Philippine heat. I borrowed my husband’s (then boyfriend) CD of Hybrid Theory and I later gifted him with Reanimation and Meteora. I never had a loud, raspy, screaming voice but for karaoke, I still sang all the Chester parts in their popular songs. I knew the rap, too, but often let my husband handle the Mike Shinoda sections.

I grew up with their music. I still put them on if I want to relax (yes, screaming and rapping is relaxing for me). Their music has evolved through the years but it still sounds pretty awesome… and I was truly looking forward to finally watching them perform live.

Chester’s gone though. Linkin Park as I know and love is no more. I mourn with his family and friends and once again, I mourn with everyone who lost a loved one to depression and suicide…

Strangely, hauntingly, below lyrics from my favorite Linkin Park song will never sound the same again:

“But in the end, it doesn’t even matter…”

R.I.P. Chester Bennington (1976-2017)

Self-Image and Little Miss Philippines

When I was a child, I believed that I was beautiful – both inside and out. I wanted to compete in a popular pageant for young girls called “Little Miss Philippines” on a noon time variety show called “Eat Bulaga.” For some reason, I knew in my heart that I would crush it but I wondered why no one really advocated for me to join. That’s when it started… Between 5 and 7 years old, I began to question if I was seen by others as beautiful.

Fast forward to high school. Again, I found myself yearning to be nominated for a chance at the school beauty pageant. I waited for four years to be asked if I was interested but nothing happened. This was when it dawned on me – I just physically did not fit traditional standards of beauty.

It was also in high school that my self-image began its journey into distortion. For the first time in my life, I was told that I could be skinnier. So, at some point, I skipped lunch for a year to lose weight. Somehow, I started associating beauty with skinny (unfortunately, media and Philippine culture do too much to reinforce this). I was miserable and yes, I did stop believing I was beautiful.

Then, through college and through my first jobs, people kept telling me: I was gaining weight, I was getting fat. Even if my boyfriend (now husband) and best friends kept telling me I looked great, guess who I listened to? Guess what I saw every time I saw my reflection or looked at a recent photo of myself? I saw myself as overweight and unattractive.

The funny thing is… whenever I look back at those older photos now, I get so confused – why were people calling me fat? Why was I so convinced that I was fat? More importantly, why did it matter so much? As an example of what I mean when I say distorted self-image, take a look at the pic collage below. From the 4th photo onward, I’ve looked at each photo in the past and thought I looked fat due to either some feedback from the time or my own corrupted view of myself and yet, when I see these pictures now, I think: my BMI may not have been perfect but how come when I looked at these in the past, all I saw was weight I had to lose?

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After giving birth, breastfeeding helped keep the weight off for a few months. Then, my milk supply ran out and soon, I became the heaviest I’ve ever been in my life. Except this time, losing weight is physically and logistically not as easy.

I’ve been avoiding posting pictures of myself. If I do post something, I carefully choose what makes the cut, fearful that I’ll be judged. I have deleted comments about my weight before.

I’m trying really hard to lose weight again. And this time, I want to do it not to avoid getting hurt by what others think or say. I want to do it for health reasons and without regard for how skinny society wants me to be. Whether or not I succeed, I want to feel beautiful again. Deep inside, I know she’s still there – the little girl who loved and believed in herself enough to think she can win “Little Miss Philippines.” I have to find her. Because no one else can advocate for me better… than me.

 

On Material Things

Dear Niko,

When I was in grade school, I had a yaya (house maid) – several yayas in fact that took care of me. I would buy a new stuffed toy almost every week, thanks to your grandpa, and I would often go clothes shopping with your grandma. We weren’t rich but I thought we were doing very well.
And then, at some point, we weren’t. Money was really tight. I remember getting teased at school because I only had enough cash to buy my favorite sour cream Vcut chips but then, the price went up from 10 to 12 pesos so, I couldn’t even afford it anymore. I was also made fun of for wearing shoes that weren’t branded. Hey, at the time, I thought they looked pretty cool. Then, when the hippest phone was a 3310, I still had a 5110.

I was very envious of other kids for not needing packed lunches, having cash to spend, wearing expensive brands and owning the latest devices.

That was high school. But through college, followed by a few years of work, my financial status kept shifting and ultimately, my thinking changed. I mean I still like having nice things but even if I don’t have them, I’m okay.
Right now, we are not rich, quite far from it. But we are blessed. Childcare is too costly but your Titas (aunts) have been helping us out. We have a roof over our heads, food in our fridge (after we do groceries soon) and our friends and family have gifted you with a constant supply of clothes and toys.

Sometimes, we will have nice things, sometimes, we won’t. I want a nice, comfortable life and the best things for you, and I know that growing up, you will still want what you don’t have. But Son, I hope that when you get older, you realize that the best part of life is enjoying what you do have.
Right now, I don’t need to tell you that. But when you start experiencing teenage angst due to material things, like your mother did, I might have to show you a photo of your toddler self, enjoying a laundry basket more than your actual toys.


Love,

Mama Bear