It was the end of the day, just an hour or so before dinner. I was sitting on my bed, the pillows propped up to support my back, crocheting a blouse for my daughter, Oya. The television in front of the bed was on.
My daughter, having just come home from work, looked in on me. “What are you watching, Mom?”
I looked up to check.
“You really aren’t watching the TV, are you?” Oya observed. “Oh, Mom, you are just wasting electricity!” she said as she walked away.
“I was relaxing, having the TV on relaxes me,” I whispered, to myself.” I had a long, busy day. Wasting electricity is not as bad as wasting me.” I was referring to the personal energy conservation relaxing bit, of course. But the thought gave me a jolt.
Upon reaching seniority when I turned 60, I somehow, slowly but surely, became a homebody immersed exclusively in the concerns of home and family. It was not a conscious choice. It just happened that on that year, my husband Manny had retired and our granddaughter Martina was born.
Manny hardly ever stayed at home before his retirement. He would leave for work in the morning and get together with his best friend, Onib, the artist, after office hours and be out until the wee hours. They were both Malate “streetwalkers,” better known as “tambays.”
But Onib had died, and Manny had no friends around our suburban home to hang around with. So I had to be a friend to him, someone to go out with and talk to. When he developed Parkinson’s Disease a few years later, I had to help him deal with his moments of confusion and offer gentle exchanges, pleasant conversations that were not too taxing or challenging.
My daughter Oya was also back home. She had gone away to college at the University of the Philippines in Quezon City and then to the London School of Economics for her graduate studies. Then she came home to stay, worked for her father until he retired, and sold the business. She found a job in Makati which kept her so busy that she invariably came home tired and famished.
Oya has always been frail and a picky eater. So I made a career of coming up with varied and appetizing menus for her meals and lunch packs. My bedtime reading then consisted mostly of going over recipe books, of which I had collected more than a dozen.
My granddaughter, Martina, is bright and lively. I simply adore her. I eagerly looked forward to Martina’s bi-weekly visits. I always made sure that Martina’s favorite french fries and shrimps are prepared for her. I read to her, baked cookies with her, and sewed costumes for Halloween, school activities, and parties. I have, in fact, just finished making Martina an appliquéd bedcover with matching pillow cases.
And watching TV every evening “to relax” became my regular pastime. I know that watching TV is more often than not a waste of time, so I do something useful besides, something that does not require too much thought or concentration, mindless tasks like crocheting. I had become a real multi-tasker, one who does several time-wasting things at the same time.
Thus do I find myself at 67, a thorough homemaker, or more simply and honestly, a happy housewife.
I have been happy taking care of these three most beloved people. I have kept a fine house and tended a lush garden with joy. Indeed, I have found great self-satisfaction in doing the things housewives do because, you see, I do them easily and rather well.
However, I have nothing to show for it. There is no public recognition, no awards for exceptional housewifery. In the eyes of the world, it may be a useful talent but hardly a significant one. So, I wonder if being “just a housewife” translates into a waste of me.
I have always been a housewife, but until I was slowed down by age and circumstance, I had moved in many circles and assumed many other roles. I had many friends and had always felt free to do my own thing. I had been an activist, a women’s and children’s advocate, an organizer, and a writer.
When I ran into my friend, Julie, some time ago, she enthusiastically asked, “What are you writing now?” “Nothing really,” I had to admit. “I haven’t been writing for a while.”
“What?” Julie exclaimed. “Why aren’ t you writing when you do it so well? You are wasting your talent!”
“I have other talents,” I quietly said. From which I derive more satisfaction and joy, I might have added.
Too much effort
Writing is for me a painful and exhausting process. I do not love it. It takes too much effort and insight and passion and discipline. The writing itself is easy enough, but I agonize for several days just getting it all together in my head. And I have to constantly fight the fear that the writing is not good enough. Because each word of praise I receive ups the ante in my attempt to do as well, if not better. I find that writing takes so much of me—or is it off me?
My gift for writing has served me well during my brief stint in advertising, as well as in writing copy for my husband, who was an advertising man. As an activist/organizer, I have written statements, primers, manifestos, speeches, etc. I have also come up with five books.
I do not think I have wasted my talent. I have rendered a good account of it. Although all the writing was done because I had to, or felt the need to, not for the love of it.
The question now is, does “wasting a talent” diminish it? And does non-writing waste the writer?
Just a few weeks ago, my daughter, Oya, noted that of late I had been quite forgetful and often uncharacteristically disorganized. “Perhaps you should see a neurologist,” she suggested. “You might be developing Alzheimers.” The neurologist ordered an MRI and an EEG.
The results gave me a third jolt. My midbrain showed a scattering of tiny blood vessel “strokes” that blocked the passage of blood and oxygen in capillaries to my brain. It is not so bad, he assured me, considering the onset of old age. He prescribed medication to not only strengthen my neurological system, but also to prevent any more blockages and mitigate further deterioration. I had actually been wasting away!
I was told I had to become more active physically, mentally, and socially. I concluded that I had been taking care of everybody and everything else but me. I had been writing, but not for me, not to please myself, not to satisfy my needs, not out of love.
“What did the doctor say?” my husband who was waiting outside asked.
“He said I am no longer as bright as I used to be” I said. “And it could get worse.”
“Don’t worry,” my most loyal fan assured me. “With your brain, it will take a long time before you turn into an idiot.”