My heart hides a hard truth: My mother and I have been strangers for most of my life.
She didn’t really know me, and you would have to press me hard to scrape up meaningful memories I have of her.
Like many Filipino tales of emigration, I do not remember my mother leaving for the United States. I just know she did, but I was too young to remember. I was two.
Family lore says she left because she and my dad wanted a better life for my sister and I, and that cost money.
My mother is a nurse. A good one, I’m told by those who know her. She is a hardworking, competent, and compassionate caregiver.
At the time she left, a job in America meant earning much more than she could if she stayed in the Philippines.
I’m sure the decision to pack up and leave her family was difficult.
Years later, I could still see the pain etched in the lines of her face as she tearfully tries to explain the calculus of what she had done.
“Anak ko (my son), I wish I didn’t have to leave you,” she told me. “But I didn’t have a choice.”
I have always filtered what she said with the context of my life.
I grew up not having a mother around, which meant making lame excuses about where she was anytime someone asked.
It did not take a big bold leap for bitterness to set in — more a matter of convenience really. But also utterly unfair.
Fe Cabanada, 75, is the most loving and generous person I know. She gives what she has then audits her purse later.
If you have met my mom, you know these words: “Have you eaten yet?”
That, by the way, is not a question. It is more a declaration of intent. It is her intention to feed you to the very last lumpia.
That is how my mom rolls.
That brings me back to how I feel about her today.
The past two decades have been a revelation. The more I talk to her, the more I realize how much she had given up in her life so I could have mine.
I knew her dream was to travel. She longed to see the nations in the bible: Israel, Egypt, Syria. She wanted to go on a cruise down the Panama Canal. Russia always intrigued her.
But she waited until I was clear of college to scratch this itch. Yet she is almost apologetic when she would tell me about her adventures, as if I would begrudge her this joy.
My mother deserves every sliver of happiness she finds.
In her own way, my mother took care of my sister and I. Her sacrifice is greater than anything I have accomplished in my life. She is a saint.
I just wish I had come to this realization sooner.
I love you mom.