How many roles can one play in a lifetime? Who prepares us, and are we ever ready? At what age do we start?
I was in a kindergarten class run by German nuns who knew very little about showing love and affection. They were strict and watched us closely, not so much to see how well we did but to find out what we were doing wrong.
What rules were we breaking? I was ambidextrous. The teacher held a wooden ruler. Once in a while, it gently but firmly made contact with the palm of my left hand.
I so wanted to be that little girl who got ribbons and “estampitas” for good behavior. I was not afraid of Sister Carentia but I was awed by her looming presence. Her gaze behind the round black-rimmed glasses was intimidating. I think her demeanor was only her way of commanding respect and mute obedience.
Up until graduation I tried to do all that was required of me. I was a pretty good student. I obeyed the rules, most of the time. My aim in high school was to finish with honors and start life in the university far away from nuns singing vespers. I was a driven and determined senior. I couldn’t wait to be in college. I had lofty dreams.
At home, I was expected to be an obedient and loving daughter and a well-behaved younger sister. We had many rules there, too. I broke some.
There is a rebel in the heart of every young person. We think we know it all. We watch in fascination as life begins to take its twists and turns. Foolishly, we stand against the wind and dare it to take us down. And it does. We travel the darkest road without a candle to light the way. And we stumble.
When I should have concentrated on acing my English finals and focused on the sonnets of Shakespeare, I ventured a little too far from the safety net and plunged into the role of wife and mother. If anyone had evaluated my credentials, the report would have said “not ready.” It was small comfort to know that I was not alone in my situation. Many women my age, some of them my own friends, were in similar straits. But where does one go for “Growing Up 101?”
At a recent gathering to introduce a new line of household items, a just-for-fun questionnaire was passed among the guests. One item asked for the different titles each participant thought best fit her role as the “lady of the house.”
Here are some of the top answers. Mommy. Cook. Driver. Banker. Teacher. Doctor. Referee. Laundry woman. Cheerleader. Judge. Janitor. One said, interior designer of messy rooms. I liked one who called herself “healer of booboos.” I can relate to the one who said storyteller, accountant and plumber. My niece wrote psychologist. How about mind reader? Show me a woman who does not “just have a feeling” that her child is sick.
I remember wearing so many hats that once in a while I had to withdraw from the pace and take long showers just to collect my thoughts and recover a sensible sense of self.
Back in the day, I resented knowing that women were ranked second in importance to men. In the Philippines, thanks to 300 years of Spanish dominion, machismo ruled. Today, this image has changed. We now have empowered women who are given equal billing with men in decision-making. They are informed, educated and validated as professionals and experts in their fields of endeavor.
Today’s Filipina is an indispensable breadwinner. Where income is concerned, gender inequality has not been completely eradicated. But we have come a long way.
What was lost
Because I am from a generation now past, a part of me still clings to the way it used to be. And I grieve over what was lost in the name of progress.
Some of us have forsaken a measure of our gentleness and grace just to get ahead. We now jostle and elbow our way up without looking back to see who we have pushed down. This is an irreparable loss.
It breaks my heart to see the continuing exodus of women overseas workers who leave home to take care of children not their own, to assure a brighter future for their families. This is today’s reality.
I read a few more of the clever replies on the questionnaire. One in particular caught my attention. It said: daughter/caregiver/mother to my mom.
It is a fact of life that with time the roles of mother and daughter are often reversed. It happens quietly, without much drama. When the need arises, as if on cue, a daughter steps up to the plate and becomes the eyes, ears, hands and feet for her mother.
This was evident the other day at a sumptuous birthday lunch held at Wild Flour. The food was delicious. But nothing was sweeter than the warmth that radiated from three moms, four daughters and one granddaughter. There was laughter and fond remembering. We celebrated the legacy of a friendship that spanned two or three generations.
It didn’t much matter that some faculties are now faulty or flawed. There was enough unconditional love there to make up for what time has mercilessly ravaged. There was gentle chiding from the younger moms about medications and too much Coke. No matter. We were indulged.
At one end of the table, three seniors remembered the good old days. We talked about parties, how we danced, the men we dated, the ones we married and those who got away. We laughed until our tears got in the way. How true it is that at any age, hope springs eternal.
As we said our goodbyes, my friend leaned over and said, “We are so lucky. Our children love us.” I hugged her tight. Part of her memory may be gone, but she knows for sure that she is loved. I can’t think of a blessing better than that. God is good!