Letters written during nights of insomnia

April 5th

Dear Ninong M,

It seems funny writing to you now, when I’m pretty sure you can perfectly “spy” on me. In fact I’m imagining you standing just behind me, clasping your hands at your back and squinting your eyes through your glasses.

Still, I want to write it all down. More for me than for you, actually. Perhaps when I’m older I can look back and laugh at my younger self. Even better: maybe I can do it while opening a bottle of red and drinking to your honor.

You met my husband, but you never got the chance to get a glimpse of my son. Ay nako, Ninong! He’s a beautiful, smart, cheerful and healthy boy! You would’ve been proud and very much amused with him…

Anyway, it was five days ago since the first time I truly felt recovered from the tough birth I had to go through. And as my vision cleared, I started to see the world differently- my son is now in it! More specifically, for now my son is in it and hopefully in the future, his brothers and sisters will be in it as well. And that was when I started to think about things (are you shaking your head and smiling in anticipation of what I’m about to say?).

Ninong, I started thinking about you, Ninang G, nanay, tatay and the rest of your tropa. But most especially YOU- you were incessantly fighting and criticizing the system. Most of all, you were always sharing information without any sign of fatigue. Until the very last ounce of your energy.

You and your “gang” joined the ranks of student activists who rebelled against dictatorship. Later on, you became adult activists who continued fighting for social injustice (And historical injustice, too! How can I forget the presentation you did about how former colonies should be compensated?).

See, I felt like wanting to do the same for my son and for my future children. Yes, there’s a naïve part of me hoping to make a better place for them someday, but most of all I want them to KNOW- to know that life is not about comfort because some people don’t even get to eat for days; to know that exposure is the best way to learn; to know that we can learn from anyone, from a homeless man, to a fisherman, to a prostitute, to a businessman; to know that they hold in their hands many possibilities to change people’s lives even if it doesn’t equate to changing the world.

When I finally got myself together, I looked at the baby asleep in his bassinet. Then there it was, the same feeling once again: I swear, I wanted to sail The Rainbow Warrior and save whales so he could watch them swim when he grows up; I wanted to march up to the Élysée and demand the French government to be more real about their immigration policies and truly abolish all walls dividing social classes; I wanted to stand face to face with the current president of the Philippines and ask what is being done with all the untapped talent of the youth; I wanted to join protests; I wanted to adopt an orphaned child; I wanted to mobilize rural women all over the world… I wanted to do so many things which I think would expose him to have a good example of a citizen at home. I also thought that these things would give him the privilege to experience many adventures and live life to the fullest should he wish to.

But then I realized: should I have the possibility to do any or all of those things, what would I do with my son? Shall I bring him along? What did you do? Would I let him stay with family or friends or with his father while I am making at least a tiny patch of the Earth a better place? all the while my son growing without me- his mother by his side? It tore me apart, it really did. And it kept tearing me apart until he woke up. He didn’t cry like crazy, he just lay there, staring at things around him, yawning, stretching, making baby sounds… but I knew he was hungry. And just like that, all of what seemed like a commitment to humanity faded like a daydream.

I guess, Ninong, that the kind of activism you performed is very similar to when boys join the seminary and girls enter the convent- there should be some kind of a calling. Because something like that is a BIG commitment and it entails a HUGE sacrifice. Although I also understand that should things go as planned, all the amount of sacrifice would have been worth everything.

I can’t think of the best way to express my gratitude to you and your fellow activists, except for the simplest one: THANK YOU. Thank you, all of you, countless (and so many are even nameless to me) selfless citizens who chose to fight for a greater good than to stay in the comfort of a cozy home and warm meals. THANK YOU. Because of you, I would never have experienced the childhood I had. If not because of the battles you won, I would not be the person that I am, and Leo (my son, who we named after Da Vinci, the ninja turtle, Cohen and Nimoy) would not be here gifting our lives with wonder.

I pray for your eternal rest in peace.

***

December 23

Dear ML,

I know you might be thinking how weird of me to write at this date, at this hour… but something has been bugging me for a long time now and I want an expert’s advice. ML, how do you sustain your commitment towards people who ask for your help? Not only financially, but also morally- when you travel several hours by car to pick up a hurting family member at a bus station, when you use your day off after 3 consecutive working days to visit an ailing friend, when you find it in your heart to forgive and even SUPPORT those who have caused you so much pain… I guess the more correct question is: HOW IS IT THAT YOU’RE SO GENEROUS?

You shouldn’t be shocked that I wrote at this time of the year. It’s usually the time when you send out so much gifts to people. ML, do they thank you? not just through words or emails or text messages. But do you feel their gratitude towards you? I know you don’t do these things to feel important or to be praised, but do the people you help at least show proper behavior? You don’t have to answer that. The main question was the one I wrote in all caps. How are you so generous?

I’ve never actually seen you around a beggar but you seem like the kind of person who would give coins (or bills) to a beggar. And you’re definitely the kind who, if you saw the beggars in Paris toting their infant kids, would not only give them money but buy their whole clan a McDonald’s meal. I can never give any money to a beggar. I give coins to musicians and performers of almost any kind. But I can’t bring myself to give anything to people who- I’m sorry to sound so snobbish- sit with their arms outstretched and end up most probably earning more than I do every working day (my three-day-per-week contract has not ended, I’m still on maternity leave).

I could do the same, you know? I could sit in a corner, stretch out my arms and ask for coins or any kind of food. I can even bring my cat to add charm to the scenario. I wouldn’t dare bring my son because it’s inhumane! It should be illegal! Why are they not being stopped?

But as I was saying, I could even do a better version of that: I could ask money from you and DD, as well as from DK and DB because hey, you’re our rich connections! You’re in the land of opportunities! where hard work is back-breaking but well-paid!

I must admit, there are times when I have been tempted to take that course of action. I could play the “pity” card. I could play the “I just had a baby and I have no prospects of having a job” card. And all of those cards/excuses/reasoning would be valid because not only they are true, they also pose a threat to my new family’s harmony. And that’s something all of you evidently care about. But then what sort of example will I be setting for my son? that it’s okay not to keep searching for a job because there will always be kind people to help us get by?

For sure, first-world mendicants differ greatly from third-world ones: the reasons that brought them where they are, the reasons why they choose to stay where they are, the realities that force them to stay the way they are… they differ from one context to the next. The point is, they exist in both contexts. Why?

I mention this, ML because sometimes I honestly think that over-generous people like you and your family could be encouraging this kind of behavior from those you help (“beggar mentality”). I’m not blaming you, and I certainly am not trying to discredit your good intentions. What I’m trying to say- and hardly succeeding to- is: what goes through your mind the moment you decide to help someone? You do not the least bit ask yourself whether they’re telling the truth or not? You’re not curious to know why they need such amount of money, at such a timing?

I am aware that you’ve turned down opportunities to give aide before- but not without trying to get to compromise. That is just how good of a person you are.

I guess, ML, what I’m really trying to say is: HOW CAN I LEARN TO BE AS GENEROUS AS YOU ARE SO I CAN TEACH THE SAME TO MY SON?

I love you so much ML. I think of you and your strength during my trying times. Please never consider  yourself alone for as long as I live. We may not always see eye to eye but you to me, will always be on that pedestal.

Send my love to DD as well!

***

November 10

Dear A,

I hope everything’s going well in your side of town. It’s just so-so with us here.

I had a meltdown the other day. I simply felt there was too much pressure and too little support, so I gave in to shutting all systems off.

As you know, winter season has officially started here so that means: less hours of daylight, colder weather AND ALL TYPES OF SICKNESS all around. My household has been sick for the past 3 weeks. However, while all of these things are normal reasons for having the blues, I also had to deal with other unpleasantness, totally unexpected. I really wonder why it seems so tough for me to receive support and kindness from those who are SUPPOSED to give them to me? Honestly, I get more encouragement from my virtual community than from my actual, live social engagements.

What angers me the most are those friends and family who ABSOLUTELY ADORE criticizing almost every single thing about my style of motherhood and parenting. It’s actually funny because these people mostly happen to be MEN. Men, who don’t have the right junk to push a baby out of their bodies; men who will never, ever feel any kind of birthing pain; men who don’t have to deal with monthly hormonal imbalance while getting through their personal and professional commitments…

And then there are the young mothers like me… we truly are our worst enemy! In my heart of hearts I believe that among mothers, there are those who believe that either you “experience it all, or you have not experienced anything at all”. Because really, I did not expect anybody to criticize my decision to take painkillers for birth but there you go! there were critics of that. And then came the flak I got because of my choice to pump breast milk instead of the traditional latching. So you can just imagine how they reacted when later on, when I decided to stop pumping and give the baby formula instead. At each and every one of those times, I was made to feel an inferior mother, as if I was not trying hard enough to give the best to my baby. Sometimes when I felt like it, I would explain my birthing story. Though most of the times I would just smile and say, “Yes, it’s a pity I can’t do things as well as you did/do. But this is what works for us right now.” BOOM! In your face.

You know, the only person that truly sympathized with me was my aunt living thousands of kilometers away. She saw me through a Skype conference, carrying my bulk of a baby (because he really looked like a big bundle of cheeks and lips at that time) and was insisting I leave him on the floor even if he still hadn’t burped. She said my health was more important and that eventually, the baby will learn to regulate his burps.

Things just went on and on: criticisms over the kind of vegetables I give my son, scoffs at the fact that I did not let him use pacifier EVER, disapproval on the way I let him roam around and play instead of watching TV and even objections over the silly fact that I let him sleep all he wants!

Oh but A, those were just appetizers… the worst part of it all is when my identity started to be WHOLLY equated to being my son’s mother. Don’t get me wrong, I love being a mother. I’ve dreamed about this since I was a young girl! Besides, I wouldn’t be doing this full-time mother stint if I didn’t love it. In fact, I love sharing my experiences and learning from other people (as long as they’re not obnoxious know-it-alls).

It’s just that aside from being a mother, I AM ALSO A WOMAN. AN AMBITIOUS, HARD-WORKING AND DRIVEN WOMAN. I was already that even before I became a mother, and I miss putting that part of me into action. Sadly in the eyes of most of my peers, it seems I already lost that quality. Some of them mocked my social networking endeavors, others would ONLY talk to me about motherhood (and then afterwards they criticize how I do things!) and still a number of them aren’t interested when I talk about opportunities crossing my way- they simply dismiss it and go back to asking me about “mommy stuff”.

On the other side of the coin are the HR people, recruiters and job interviewers who question the quality of my professionalism because I’m a mother. The moment I say I have an infant, all the good things they saw in me, all the intelligent responses I gave them and all the witty remarks that made them nod approvingly get thrown out of the window. Do you see the problem? this society is sick! A part of it doesn’t think of me as a good enough mother because I think out of the box and I have my own ideas, while the other part thinks I’m not a good enough professional to be hired because I’m a mother- thus carrying a “baggage”. Sick, sick, society!

That was what mainly caused the meltdown. The physical, emotional and mental fatigue finally caught up and I became really susceptible to the slightest of things. Can you imagine me crying out of sheer joy because someone I highly admire always publicly praises my published thoughts? Or that I almost hugged my husband’s colleague because he said my blog was cool (he’s French and God knows how tough it is to get a complement from a French- somehow, they always find something that needs improvement)? Or the time a dear friend sent me an e-book related to a project I’m currently developing and I couldn’t thank her enough? So yes, I became susceptible to negative energy, but also to positive ones.

So in the middle of my breakdown, I told my husband I’d go stay in the hotel for an indefinite number of nights. I just needed a break. I was already outside of a hotel near where we live, backpack in tow, ready to book a few nights. The plan was for me to still take care of the baby during the day, but to go back to the hotel once he’s asleep. So I walked… and walked until I arrived at my doorstep. I couldn’t do it, A. I couldn’t leave my baby, not even for one night, not even for my own sake.

I am pathetic, am I not? (This is what you get for sending me a message and asking how I’m doing)

The good thing is, I’m better now and in some way I really feel re-booted. I guess it had to happen that way. I’m still hurting and somewhat confused at people’s lack of understanding. But I’m taking things one step at a time. Most of all, I want to work hard towards being the better person and give some slack to narrow-minded people. In the future, I would like to show my son that no matter how hard of a work it is not to give in to anger and impatience, the rewards are greater.

Thanks for your concern, A. We’ll see each other really soon.

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