Bob Mameng

Whenever I have the gall to gripe about my day, I will think of Mameng, who has broken about 30 bones in his body starting from when he was 7. Because of a genetic disease, his bones easily collapse into each other. His knees are now in his shins. His elbows are in his forearms. Despite this, he constructs the most complicated bamboo furniture. He gardens. He crawls to church every Sunday without any help. He tells himself,

Whenever I have the gall to gripe about my day, I will think of Mameng, who has broken about 30 bones in his body starting from when he was 7. Because of a genetic disease, his bones easily collapse into each other. His knees are now in his shins. His elbows are in his forearms.

Despite this, he constructs the most complicated bamboo furniture. He gardens. He crawls to church every Sunday without any help. He tells himself, “Limang poste lang patungo simbahan.”

I jokingly call him Bob Mameng, a spin off of Bob Marley, because he constantly spews out lines of positivity and worry-free living, my favorite being “Ganito na nga ako, malulungkot pa ako. Mas okay maging masaya nalang.”

His story is my best take-home from Guimaras.

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On Altruism

Kiddo,

Here’s a difficult word to swallow for today: altruism. I must admit this letter took a long time to make. I thought endlessly of what to say to you and what you will most accept in the long run. You see, the act of giving is always a personal one. So I discuss this with the ever-present mindset that someday you will either distort whatever values I teach you, alter it or discard it altogether.

We have different ways of looking at altruism and neither one is right or wrong. Here, in this very word alone, your father and I have had countless arguments of how to treat it because this is what we will ultimately teach you. Your Papa thinks that as long as people work hard for what they want to get, then a lavish lifestyle is justifiable. He did earn it, after all. He’s right. I, on the other hand, think that if you have the basic needs. If you’re comfortable enough to have the means for survival and a bit more for your sundries, then it would be selfish not to give what you don’t need away to those who do. In a way, I may be right too. When I was involved in an NGO, your father didn’t understand how I could give everything, most of my earnings anyway, to give to less-privileged kids’ education when I also had needs of my own. So, what do you prioritize? Yourself? Others? Those who need it more? Or you, who might need it in the future? Like most things in life perhaps, striking a balance to the two is what you should strive for. We will have different ways of looking at giving and giving back eventually.

Here’s what I think about it though. When I say the source of giving comes from a personal one, what I really mean to say is it comes from a selfish motive. It’s selfish because you’re fulfilling that aspect of yourself that wishes to be part of something bigger than the pits and falls of your own world. You do it because you’re seeking an identity that’s found only in the act of giving a part of who you are to others. You do it because it makes you feel good. You do it because you think it’s the right thing to do. That is a selfish motive. And I think that you can never escape it being so, and you shouldn’t even try. You may be fooling yourself to think that you wish JUST to help although helping is inevitably what the act will entail. In giving, that is the fixed point, that no matter what your intention is, whether it be fame, power or finding yourself through others, the act will eventually boil down to helping. So, don’t strive to be the selfless maven who keeps nothing for herself. Strive to be the self-aware person who knows that giving is a wonderful source of happiness.

And know that you don’t have to limit giving in the material aspect too, giving your time, your ideas, your effort, your labor or your empathy is as much an asset in this world than what money can give to others. But in order for this to not look like it’s a term paper, let’s just keep the discussion to material things, shall we? Here are a few things I learned along the way, I suppose, coming from a religious family who was always in the ins and outs of the church and Catholic school:

Never give anything you might not want to receive.
It doesn’t matter whether they’re toys, clothes, books or supplies. Always check each one and ask yourself whether as recipient, this will make you happy if you receive this from someone. It all boils down to respect, little girl.Those people you are giving to do not deserve your wastes.

Allocate a part of your allowance or a box in order to make a routine out of giving.
This I learned quite late. I always had to rummage around my closet and scour for materials downtown when someone asked for ‘donations’ (An ugly condescending word but you will probably hear it a lot.). The key is to actually just get a box and drop things there you think might be helpful to others the same as way an expat or OFW might do with his balikbayan box. Better yet, when you have the chance to shop Downtown or somewhere like Chinatown, get essential things like school supplies and such. Someone will always be needing them especially in a country like ours where the Education budget is equal to none at all.

You don’t have to be in a group just to help.
It’s great if you do especially if the group has the same ideals as you. Members can propel each other and can strive for a common goal. But you also have to remember that each group has a culture of its own. Even NGOs, Charity Groups, Catholic School organizations aren’t immune to peer pressure, and this tool can either be positive or negative. Just make sure the group strives to turn you into a positive version of you.

There is such a thing as giving too much.
When you feel like there is nothing left of you, who you were, who you are, left to give, then stop. Regenerate. Find family and friends who will serve as your lifelines. Somewhere in time, when you’re ready, you’ll share yourself again.

♥,
Mom

On Television

Dear Kiddo,

Here’s why I do not let you watch television. Having started in a profession that makes money out of current insight, I know how overwhelming the sense of NOW can be. That’s how people relate to the world. We always have something we need to react to, lash about, feel strongly for. Trends were made under this premise. It’s a way for people to connect to a common theme.

Not to say that I do not want you to learn but there’s a proper pace for such things. Information is vital, yes, but information that’s consumed too soon and too fast breeds a generation of stressed-out people. That is not what I want you to be. You are already living in a stressed-out world to begin with where clutter tells you to always be updated, always be in.

So, do me a favor, will you? When you grow up, go on a technology fast a few hours a day. Turn your cellphone off or whatever it is techies will come up with 15 years from now. Tune out to the latest issue. Go on a self-imposed Web off. You will be surprised at how much of information can actually wait or can be discarded altogether.

For now, my apologies too because you will probably never have as much TV time as you’d like. You will never talk with your friends what happened on the show last night. Reruns and streaming will be your best friends. And purple dinosaurs and 1920s safe Disney films will be your daily companions. At least until you figure out that in real life, Tom cannot actually regenerate himself after Gerry blows, hammers and minces him to pieces.

Technophobically, speaking,
Mom

On The Sea

Dear Portia,

The sea is making me think in verses, in cut lines, in symbolisms and ampersands.

Here’s one for you:

Slice through her skin
and it remains untethered
Dive through her vessels
and she treats you like mere cell
Pierce through her coral bones
and it refuses you nourishment
The only way to kill her
is to go for the heart
and that is where she lives immortal
because no one will ever know
where the heart of the sea is

You are the sea, little girl. You are stronger than you imagine. And I did not leave you behind. I brought you with me.

On Discomfort

Kiddo,

The bus conductor is making it his private commitment to make me as comfortable as possible. I do not want comfort. That’s not the point of riding public transportation with its rickety wooden slats and a plastic bag covering its holes. Too many times we privatize our world so we can keep others out. We have individual cars or taxis or drive-thrus. Are we really that afraid of interacting with people? That isn’t what I want, so I take the bus whenever I can.

What I find more surprising though is why people look at me and instantly assume I can’t take any form of discomfort. Is it because I look awkward sitting here notebook and jacket in hand? Is it because I stick like a sore thumb? And not in the cute, quirky kind of way but more in the ‘Help! The World is a scary place. I don’t want to handle it.’ department.

Why?

In all respects of self-examination which isn’t that effective to begin with, I ask this.People say I’m a woman child. But really more of child. How baffling to say that especially since I’ve had you. Doesn’t that make me grown up?

It does not.

On Absence

Dear Kiddo,

I’m writing this on a bus which, mile by mile, is taking me far away from you. Excuse the overdramatics.That’s the separation anxiety talking. In my mind, I’m already picturing out the monstrous tantrums you’re gona’ pull out – the hairs you’re going to be pulling, the faces you’re going to slap, the food you’re going to toss. In truth, you’re probably going to have a milder fit than what I pictured out you having. You will whine at the fact that you will not have a breast ready at your convenience. And will be even more aware of that fact at bedtime when you’ve already realized I’m gone. Other times, your world will go on revolving.

Mine will not.

You see, mothers like to think they’re needed. That’s why there will always be that niggling guilt chewing at their consciences everytime they leave, even for just a day. We are afraid that when we’re gone you might need us for some reason, and we won’t be there. Or worse, that in our absence you discover you didn’t need us that much in the first place after all.

When you reach pre-school, sit near the windows, will you? No doubt I shall be one of those nail-biting slobs on the panes, crying a river, lost like a lovelorn puppy. Don’t be embarrassed.

I like writing with movement, I discover. I wish for my thoughts to mirror its pace- fast and flowing- and it surprisingly does.

I sit cramped between a rickety old man who doses off on the window ledge and a mother carrying her child. I miss you already.

On the Purpose of Hurt

Little Girl,

Remember what we were talking about, about how sometimes people do things because of a terrible sadness? Well, that’s how you acted a day after your Papa left. I woke up to the sound of your crying and it was a different cry from all the rest. You may find this hard to believe but by now, I’m familiar with all of your cries. I know when you’re hungry or physically hurting or even just plain whining. I know when you’re practicing your dramatics or are frustrated by limitations set. But that wasn’t how your cry sounded this time. I think you started crying because for some reason, you assumed that your Papa would be there when you woke up. But in his place instead is a pillow you grudgingly thrashed in rebellion.

It’s hard seeing a loved one hurt especially when it’s someone whose every wound you know of. Your Papa is probably hurting too but it’ll always be harder on those left behind than those who left. He will never see the aftermath of things. He will never see you scratch everyone in sight out of anger. He will not hear your whines as you play the You-and-me-against-the-world role to a hilt. He will not see you bite, kick, lash out on the most innocent inanimate objects. All out of a terrible sadness.

I do not want to see you hurt, little girl. And it’s tempting to pacify you with laced words of comfort, of how he’ll be back before you know it or how he’ll think of you everyday. But the thing is, pacification is tantamount to not recognizing your feelings. You hurt. And the best thing I can do right now is to respect that.

You hurt. You are at your rawest. Life will hurt you bad again and again, sometimes more than what you think is necessary. But in time, I hope you will discover that even hurting has its purpose.

Wishing she was a bandage right now,
Mom

On Finding Joy in the Simplest Things

Dear Portia,

Have you ever heard of the term bed of roses? It’s an idiom. You’ll probably take it up in 4th grade or so. It means comfort. But comfort for your mom isn’t drowning in a bed of roses. It’s drowning in a bed of Julie’s Coco bread. That artificial treat has the sugar content of the whole Negros Oriental placed in a bite. Precisely what I need to keep up with you. Sometimes, I dream of them. I even talk to them. It’s a good thing I’m breastfeeding you otherwise call me Butterball right about now.

The Julie’s cart hasn’t passed by yet, so I’m hyperventilating.

On a serious note, I hope I raise you well enough to find joy in the simplest things in life, little girl. Because if there’s anything I learned, they’re the ones worth trying the most. And simplicity does not only refer to tangible living. It could refer to purity of thought, of intention, of feeling. It’s that time in your life when confidence strikes you so strong, you feel like every action is an extension of your true self.

Materially speaking, it wouldn’t hurt to live within your means too. Never purchase something you will have to give up the basic needs over. It doesn’t matter if that dress makes you feel good or that new gadget makes you seem cool. You will still have that niggling feeling of doubt hanging over you, which isn’t the point of buying in the first place. Buying is supposed to complete a part of you, not make you feel guilty. Consider only the necessary. All the rest are dispensable.

Take a walk through the village. Pick stones at the beach. Have a quiet conversation with a friend. See the sunset. Rest on a loved one’s shoulders. Receive a letter from a friend. Bike through quiet streets. Doodle. Make a shell necklace. Have coffee on the sidewalk.

They’re free.At least, most of them are.Best of all, there are no embellishments to distract you from your true self. Find her.

On Naps

Poshi Bear,

Beautiful day, isn’t it? Birds chirping. Trees swaying. Goats bleating. Sun shining. And best of all, you and I got off to a good start. We watched your goats,drank our Milos in the terrace and chased after each other in the living room. Can you hear my enthusiasm? All that came from a good amount of sleep. 10 hours of sleep, to be exact, starting from the time you also slept to the time you also woke up.

Here’s something I learned today. When you’re cranky, stressed or just plain mean, take a good nap. Sleep it off. How simple and yet I wonder why I never thought of it before.

So, let’s make a pact, shall we? I hereby will force myself to sleep earlier. No more sleeping well after midnight. I will be more organized with my work. I will accomplish only one thing at a time. And I will greet you in the morning being less of a Scrooge. In return, please sleep for more than an hour in the afternoon, okay? So Mom can finish her work.

Agreed? Good. Let’s spit on it. Wait, cancel that. I’m supposed to be teaching you about good hygiene.

Love,
Mom

On Discipline and Terrible Sadness

“So what happens when you make something illegal that is just a natural part of the world? You might as well make flies illegal or sweat or Monday morning. But that’s what the king did out of a terrible sadness.”

Dear Poj,

This is one my favorite lines from the movie adaptation of the Tales of Despereaux which I’ve probably seen six or seven times since I’ve discovered it. I love it because there’s such humanity to the line. And it reminds me that sometimes, it isn’t important to judge action from the morals of good and evil but by the side by which they were made from. I think that’s important for me to impart to you although I’ve yet to learn that lesson myself, that sometimes we are neither right nor wrong. We just have a side to consider,a value we subconsciously fight for that spans from a lifetime of influence and culture we know no other way of.

Like this morning for instance when you kept turning on and off the TV despite several reprimands from your Ama. And in my semi-groggy, semi-grouchy state, I abruptly cut off the plug while you stood there upset over what happened. Your side came from the need to explore your world, discover the cause and effect of things. Never mind that the button was about to shout bloody murder. While my side came from a sleepless work bee that slept at 4 AM in the morning looking for an instant solution to stop the ruckus. These are two sides. And I hope someday you develop the ability to see the one other than your own.

I’m telling you this now because I keep on doubting how to handle you, how to discipline, how to give you enough freedom to discover the world for yourself and yet save some for until you finally have the responsibility and initiative to handle it. I’m also telling you this because there might be times when actions that come from me come from a terrible sadness, a terrible anger, a terrible stress or a terrible fear of what you might do to yourself before you even have the chance to discover what you’re fully capable of.

How exactly do other mothers do it? They make it seem so easy trudging the black and whites of their child’s life. And I make it look so awkward. How are you assured you’re doing the right thing? How do you impart to your child only the good parts of yourself? And how do you give her foundation and ground and rules without taking away something that may be a natural part of her? Like your energy. Your tenacity. And your ability to hold your ground even with me.

It’s getting harder and harder to discipline you these days. You are more like me than I thought. You have a stubborn streak equal to the land mass of Siberia. I never thought I’d actually have to use that word for you. Discipline, I mean. Back in the days when your ninangs (whom I miss terribly) used to discuss this, I would say to them ‘Oh, she’s going to be a Bohemian Baby. She can do what she wants. I don’t want to trample her identity.’ Good thing they weren’t bringing a recorder then. Or else I’d turn red just about now for eating my words, bones and all.

I hope that you consider my side when I decide for you too. Someday, there will come a time when you will start to doubt what my absolute and unquestioned decisions for you were. Please do. There is nothing sorrier than a child who does not question. But that day isn’t today. For now, stop using that wire as a scarf, will you?

Walking on eggshells,
Mom