Agrado: ‘Well, as I was saying, it costs a lot to be authentic, ma’am. And one can’t be stingy with these things because you are more authentic the more you resemble what you’ve dreamed of being. ‘ from All about my mother by Pedro Almodovar (1999).
My mom and I were not close. We hugged, we did not argue, we just never talked. I am not entirely sure why. Perhaps it was because I was not emotionally needy enough or loyal to her enough for her drama prone and spotlight stealing persona. Or perhaps I never fully forgave her for being too Lao or for not being ‘motherly’ enough. Or perhaps it was much simpler than that, the fact is that I never understood her. Fully.
And then I had twins and was unable to move because of my C-section recover. So I called her, the one person I did not want in the delivery room with me. Something strange then happened. She cared about my babies like I never remembered her caring about us, her own children. I remember wondering, watching her expertly feeding and soothing my children, whether I had erased from my memory her caring side. Maybe I unfairly remembered only what drove me crazy about her. Things I used to hate include:
– the way she would walk around the house topless even when I had school friends over. I was mortified and each time I would complain about it, she would chuckle:’do you really think I have any ounce of modesty left after giving birth to 5 children?’ And modesty, she did not show indeed when at a family summer barbecue with one hundred guests I saw through huge flames and heavy smoke my mom in a black bra turning chicken skewers because she was hot…
– the fact she NEVER baked any cake for us. It sounds completely silly especially since I did not like sweet stuff back then. I hated those school pot lucks where my classmates would bring their moms and home baked pies and I would turn up alone with a pack of cookies or even more embarrassing some spring rolls. I kept telling her ‘It is cake day mom, not asian food day’. She would not listen.
– the fact that for many years my older sister and I seemed to be the parents in our relationship with her. My mom would work, go out, gamble, eat and drink whenever she felt like it and we would stay home taking care of our younger siblings, watch TV, clean the house, iron all the household laundry etc. She would make emotional blackmails after an argument with my dad. She would say: ‘Take care of your brothers. I might leave one day and never come back.’ And we would try to put some sense into her, again. Yes, she used to be a hot mess.
Since that one month she stayed with us in 2011, things changed. In my twenties, I used to tell everyone that I had forgiven my mom. In reality, my mom never needed me to forgive her; she needed me to understand her. I do now. She got pregnant age 21 and had 5 kids. I am half naked on most days and I only had 3 kids. She told me she wanted to leave; I thought about it sometimes but didn’t tell anyone. So who was I to judge, really?
And as I look at her standing in front of a steaming pot of Pho Bo at 7am (she had been cooking since 6am for DH, our kids and I) while blowing kisses at L, I am thinking: fuck the apple tart, asian food rules. We are going to miss Mamilao.