Tomorrow is my birthday.
I can't help but think about my mother. I spent my entire teenage years battling her. And nearly all of my adult years till she died. It's been over 8 years since she's been gone and I'm just now able to write about her. And damn, do I miss her. I think now that I'm older and not in constant conflict with her, I can see the way we interacted with each other more objectively. I can see her perspective a lot clearer now.
She was strict. Stricter than all of my friends parents. Stricter than my "cousins" (ie: all the other Filipinos in town) parents. She wasn't afraid to smack me around. She used guilt and was good at it. That's how they did it in the Philippines. The problem though, we weren't in the Philippines. I was born in a small, remote desert community about 2 hours from Los Angeles. When I was born, my mother consciously made the decision to raise me as American as possible. She succeeded. A little bit to her dismay. I listened to punk rock and new age music, I watched MTV, the Brady Bunch and John Hughes movies. I talked back (enter the smack across face), I talked on the phone too much, I got my drivers license as soon as I turned 16. I sneaked around behind her back. But I got good grades, almost always made curfew, never did drugs or smoked. Didn't date till I was 17. Went to college and married my high school sweetheart.
We constantly fought. Our relationship was strained. She wanted to beat me into submission. I wanted independence. She wanted me to act like a good Filipino daughter. But she raised a good American daughter. I became exactly the person she wanted me to be, but I didn't have an ounce of filipino-ness in me. She regretted not teaching me the language or customs. She constantly compared to how things were like “back home”. I had no concept of “back home” because this was home.
There were a lot of other things that contributed to our strained relationship, but now that she’s gone, I understand why she did the things she did. We were continuously fighting a cultural battle.
As I approach my birthday, I wonder what she was like before I was born. She died before I could really conceptualize that my mom's life was more than “she grew up poor in the Philippines”. I was still too young and immature. But she was about 36 when she came to California, 39 when I was born. I’ll be 38 tomorrow. I’ve done a lot of living already, and it would be sad if my hypothetical child had no concept of how important those years are to me.
I also wonder what my mom went though when I was born and what I was like as a baby. In the late 60’s it was really unusual for a 39 year old to have a baby. Was she scared? Was her doctor kind? Did she breast feed? Did I cry a lot? How long was her labor? How old was I when I started potty-training?
I also wonder if she were still alive today, would our relationship still be strained? Would I not be able to see beyond our differences?
All this soul-searching has me craving cake and ice cream.
Bring it on!