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Davao City, Philippines

An open letter to my son

August 23, 2019 - Friday 4:08 AM by Eva Aranas Angel

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By the time this sees print, my son will have left for Manila, then Puerto Princesa, Palawan. For the first time, he will be away from us, his Mama and Papa, for almost two weeks. We are loving parents, overly so I must say, if I am to believe my in-laws and my small circle of friends. This time however, we are not going to watch his games. It is not for lack of interest or funds. It is that we are believers of Kahlil Gibran’s construct ‘On Children,' from The Prophet. 

In the last few days, I’ve been running a vertiginous routine of hopping from one shop to another. Or yet to another shop. My son has an uncanny habit of just texting to me what he needs. And he does so with gusto and tenacity most teenagers have. One day it’s seafood carbonara for his carbo loading. The next day a pair of soft sole slippers. Then shirts – soft cotton, stripes, medium size. The following day, I am back to these same shops to have them changed, from V neck to a round collar. From small (the store tells me ‘American size’), to medium. For the slippers, from size 10 to 11.

It dawns on me how much he has grown. From an infant the size of a two liter PET soda bottle the first time I held him to my bosom, to someone I have to tiptoe now when I kiss, and I only can, his armpits. Instead, he kisses me on the forehead. 

I am sharing this hat trick he did on my birthday. I am happy to share the man-boy my baby has become. 

Dearest Palangga,

I, your Mama have been meaning to write you this note since the day after my birthday.  I am sorry it took a while.I needed to sort many things -- work schedule, house visits, difficult to balance budgets, spur of the moment meetings, Papa Ted’s errands and wish list that get more  and more challenging (remember the pine tree?), Lola’s errands (Rosal, San Francisco, and Dama de Noche for her garden, and to search for the biscuits she enjoyed during Japanese time, a gift that a good Japanese soldier, Ohara-san, would give them during the war, because F*ta is too sweet, and Sk**l*kes is too salty). Up until now, I have not had the chance to visit the Japanese consulate about those biscuits. There’s  nothing on Google. Things I do for Lola. She sent me searching for the lyrics of Pulay Melati, a song she said she used to sing to us as lullaby. And it’s in Bahasa-Indonesia. 

I even needed  to sort my emotions too so I could hold up and keep myself together.  It’s a day to day hurdle now that your Lolo is gone. 

That’s how life is going to be Anak, as we grow older. We have more responsibilities. Time management helps you cope with all these, please remember that.

I need you to know that you have been one of God’s greatest blessings to me and your Papa Ted. 

Because of you, I will always remember the evening of my 51st birthday as a night of love, of friendships, and of family. 

I know you will find this puzzling especially because I’d been crying most of the time and hardly had any appetite to eat. I was being truthful when I said I was exhausted. It had been a long day, even if I did not work but, as a doctor, you know Mama actually was working even if I was in the kitchen and there’s that blip on the phone, even if I was not in the office. The petrifying truth was that, I was exhausted psychologically and physically. 

I miss my Papa, your Lolo Jose. This was my second birthday without him. When he left last year, I was never able to grieve. I still haven’t. Or maybe I have. Maybe things are greyscale. Or a blur. Maybe I was grieving in spurts of Oriental sentimentalism when tears would fall down my face while eating. Maybe I was grieving sporadically when random reminders become recurrent and lingering, pushing me to recollect, reminisce  Lolo’s loving presence and gentle ways. 

The evening of my birthday dinner was the polar opposite of how it was last year. This year was unusually quiet at home. It’s just me and Pappy Ted, Lola, Tita Irene, Kuya Peter, Kuya Itok, Kuya Aaron, Yaya Mijoy, Yaya Rhea, and you, our baby. 

I was fighting the compulsion to burst into tears again Anak because I knew this made you feel uneasy and awkward. I did not want to make you uneasy and awkward. 

When you left even before dinner started, I thought you did because you couldn’t stand having a ‘drama queen’ for a Mama.

I was wrong. 

You came back with half a dozen of your friends who, I was certain, you talked into trying to cheer me up. 

I tried my best not to give in to hysterical laughter because I knew you to be quiet and composed and proper. But when your friends started serenading me -- Winston playing your guitar, Aljon giving me flowers they yanked out of my fresh flower arrangement in a vase, Kokok and Jun Liit dancing like slithery worms imitating a macho dancer as back up, I lost it. I had to be true to myself and laugh a hysterical laughter I haven’t had  in so many many months. 

And just like that, you turned the night around. 

Dinner wasn’t sit down but rather  a more relaxed grab your plate, and sit and sing, share a joke and spill your secrets when you’re away from home, out in the seas, or in surf breaks, or hilltops, or cliffs, or cold springs for nature adventures. 

You have very funny friends  and I like all of them. I like how they speak a language and immerse in a counter culture that I try so hard to understand and perhaps, be a part of or embed myself in, if only to guide and guard you all the time. Now I understand why you want to hang around them, and why you’re so generous with them. But please remember you still have a curfew and it is still strictly being enforced at home.

About the girl. 

What can I say. They happily outed you and the girl as they helped themselves with scoops upon scoops of ice cream on a cone. They snitched and I knew you were stymied, the way you scratched your head. I hope you heard what I said in the middle of the mad scramble to sequester cellphones showing photos of you together with what’s her name?

I actually told them, I’d wait for the time when you’d decide to tell me yourself. 

You should have seen their faces, when they gave me a affected and feigned standing ovation. They looked like judges in a talent show, jaw dropped and about to press the Golden Buzzer. In GIF.

Like I said, you do have very funny friends.

I want to thank you my love, for making Mama very happy by showing me snippets of your teenage life in the company of your friends which I documented in countless videos. I know you live a compartmentalised life. I thought I might have realised it when you would celebrate your birthday with us.Another celebration in school. Another one among your varsity basketball team mates. And you saved the best for last, with your friends in the neighbourhood. 

Anak, I am amazed at how loving, thoughtful, and caring son you are to me. I hope this means, by the grace of God, we’re loving, thoughtful, and caring parents to you too. 

Let me remind you Anak, ever since you’re young, you’ve been very protective of me, your Mama. When you were about 2-3 years old, you were seated on my lap. I was ruffling through some papers and sustained paper cuts, my point finger bled. You were quick in grabbing a tissue and wrapped my finger with it, asked me if I was OK. You held my hand and cupped my face and said ‘Hawak mo kamay ko Mama. Hindi kita iiwan.’ I was so touched with the gesture, my eyes welled in tears. And then I realised your lines were from a song by Yeng Constantino. When you were about 4-5 years old, you would ask me if I needed a back and leg massage. When I said yes, you asked if I wanted the 30 minute or 1 hour package. I was amused. You actually had a tariff for each service. You charged me P100 for a back and leg massage but less than five minutes of kneading  my calves, you fell asleep. When you were about 5-6 years old, I was cleaning the gas range. I hit a sharp edge while  trying to open the oven. I ran into my room after washing it. You were there, fiddling with your PSP. When you saw the blood, you asked me what happened, ran outside the room, to the kitchen, and back. You assured me that you already opened the oven for me and there were no more sharps.

‘I already opened it for you Ma. All is clear.’ And then you’re back with your PSP. 

You’re my hero. 

The years went past me faster than I could or would have understood -- the fashion, the hairstyle, the language. And yet, still, you remain to be almost apologetic about your good looks and painstakingly trying hard to be invisible.

Anak, these are God’s gifts. Embrace that part of you. Be grateful Anak. When times seem tough, count your blessings. And pray. Be grateful for the ‘fans’ who would elbow each other when ‘Code Jersey 18’ is out in the court. I’m amazed by stories from parents about how high school girls would scream and cheer you on, even if they’re from the opponent’s team or from some other random campuses. 

You remain humble about your triumphs, you didn’t even want to come up the stage to claim a certificate of recognition and a medal. Yet you’re just as gracious about your defeat. No excuses. ‘They’re the better team today Ma’ or ‘We did our best’. Life goes on for you. Even after defeat, you goes out again to play another game with kids in the hood. I remember one evening when you were ten years old. I asked you during dinner how your day was. You said you played ten games of basketball that day and that you felt great. I asked how many times you won. You said none. I was in disbelief and thought the idea was preposterous. ‘How can our day be great when you lost all your games?’ You know, your reply made me almost choke on a fishbone. You said ‘But Ma, look at the bright side. I got to play!’ 

It would seem that basketball is your life. 

Whatever makes you happy and comfortable, Anak, there you’ll go. There we’ll be, God permitting We will be cheering you on, rooting for you and your team always.I probably will be hollering, if that doesn’t embarrass you. Drink your milk. Full cream fresh milk for now. Say your prayers. The prayer that comes from the heart is always the most ardent and sincere. Follow your heart. No matter what others say, follow your passion if they be for God’s greater glory. Do not let the words of others diminish you because you will be diminished only if you allow them to. 

Your Papa and I feel the same about you having a girl. I hope we raised you to be a gentleman never to break a woman’s heart. I hope we raised you with enough strength in character  to handle things when somebody breaks yours. Be brave like Mama. Be patient like Papa. Be faithful. Be the kind of person who is pleasing to the Lord. 

I have already said too much. This is meant to be a thank you note,  not a privilege speech. 

Anak, we love you very much. You are the apple of our eye. You are our sunshine. You are our universe. You are the love of our lives. Much love, Mama.