Today, I read Alexandra Franzen’s letter to her mom. It didn’t take me long to realize that I felt the same way with my own mother. Despite all her flaws, my mother was ultimately, simply being herself.
I can’t ask from other people more than what they can give.
Often, I do feel entitled to think that other people have to treat me in a certain way. But I know that’s not the case. Nobody owes me anything.
My mother is no exception. In the middle of our family slowly breaking apart and the constant fear of having to go home to some very possible and randomly occurring shit show, my mother did not decide to leave us. My father did. I’m not sure if he left because he was ashamed of the situation that was triggered by his own actions or because he could not live with my mother’s anger incessantly looming over and threatening to destroy the peace of the entire household at any moment. My mom was ballsy like that.
Even though my mother was always either too busy at work or with her social life, she did not choose to abandon us completely. Yes, she had her flaws. She was not perfect but she was perfectly herself. Everybody has their own version of sacrifice.
As I remember, when my mom was away most nights and I was just almost thirteen, I had the pleasure of telling stories to my little siblings, they were only four- to seven-year-olds then. We would huddle together in a makeshift hammock under the stars and I would narrate to them stories from a fairy tale book that my auntie gave me as a birthday gift. I like to think that they were entertained by those stories even though right now they might not have remembered about them already.
But I remember the stories.
I remember how it seemed to always just be my siblings and me in our house.
I remember the times when we had to learn to fend for ourselves with whatever was on the table. There were five of us brothers and sisters so we would divide the food in five equal parts. No more, no less.
Someone was in charge for cooking, another for setting the plates, another for washing the dishes, and still another for sweeping the floors. We were all supposed to wash our own clothes. Mind you, we were using washing machines of the manual kind at the time without the spin-dry function, although later on we upgraded to spin-dry and then finally to automatic after several years. Progress sure takes her time, right?
Young as we were, we had our own little systems in place even though the house was still always a mess.
I remember coming home without electricity because the electric bills were long overdue. We would then have “candle-lit” dinners — minus the romantic feeling, of course. And when it was time to sleep, we would figure out a way to sleep while simultaneously trying to fan ourselves with cut-outs from used carton boxes. We had to leave the door open to let the evening air in when we slept because it was too hot in the summer.
At a very young age, my siblings already knew how to cook, wash clothes, clean up, and survive. I was — and still am — so proud of my them. Nothing could ever change that.
I remember when my mother left to work abroad. I was in college already with four younger siblings in the household. We fought, as siblings do, in a way that — to my belief — only strengthened the bond we had. I would be the one in-charge for the groceries and for the house budget on top of college. I realized it was tough to manage bills and even tougher when there was hardly any money left to manage. We survived anyway.
I like to think, after my father left us, that my mother took the role of provider and I respectively assumed her role as a mother to my siblings. I know I have no right to claim motherhood over my siblings, but I don’t care about labels. My siblings are my lifeline. I would not be where I am today if it were not for them. And I would not have big goals and dreams without their welfare always at the back of my mind.
Giving up was never an option when it came to my family, especially my siblings.
I’ve had people telling me it must have been tough to be in my situation. Sometimes they would sympathize. And still there are others who would look at me with pity, as if to imply that my life was something to be sad about.
There’s nothing sad about people fighting to live and survive, but there is something to be said about those who concern themselves too much about other people’s lives that they fail to look at their own.
I realize I don’t have to care what these people think because, at the end of the day, when I see my siblings happy, I’m happy. When I see them win, it feels like I won several times over. When I see them achieving anything at all, I’m prouder for them than I would ever be for myself. For me, my siblings will always be worth the sacrifice.
Because of my experience, I understood what it meant to be a mother. It’s not a role that you have to fill by crossing things off a checklist. It’s not a job that you can sign out from when you’re tired and emotionally depleted. And it’s definitely not a word you use for the mere reason that that is the person who gave birth to you. A mother is a person who would gladly share a part of herself in anyway she can to another in the hopes of giving that person a life better than hers.