I was barely a year old in this photograph taken in the early 1980s in our house patio in Batangas City, a now industrial town south of Manila. Mom was in her tube top semi-length dress; suggestive of the relatively warm temperature in the city nestled near the sea. Apparently, I have no idea back then how comfortable my all-white baby ensemble was, which was all in that color for a certain reason. I heard from the adults that they dressed the babies in white “so they would grow up smart dressers; any colors and styles of clothing would suit them.” I looked well-fed, and all-smiles probably because Mom already put on that fresh “lampin” (soft cloth) on me. Most babies back then wore that. They were tucked at the corners with pins designed in embossed colorful animals or silver clips so neat they fastened as good as the tapes on diapers.
Mom, one of my biggest sources of confidence told me, many a couple of times, that I could do everything from raising my hand to answer questions in class to performing on stage. In my elementary, I performed as a grandmother in a school play which was later on staged at the plaza near the municipal hall and the big Catholic church in the heart of our then sleepy city. Her words were “huwag kang mahihiya, kaya mo iyan (do not be shy, you can do that)”.
It was 2010 when I went to Malaysia to deliver my first research presentation. It was on topics of newspaper editorials of student newspapers. A British journalist based in Iraq asked me several questions on the state of Philippine media and shared with him and the other presentation attendees some of its beauties and its grim realities. It felt wonderful after each presentation; a sense of accomplishment that I outdid my expectations of myself. The reason why I became comfortable around people of various backgrounds and experiences was because my Mom always told me I could do it. It was because of her prodding and encouragement that I was able to see the positive in each achievement and in each disappointment even. She did not appeal to the school administration when I was announced second honors instead of first honors during one of my years at the elementary. She was okay with it. I could vaguely remember the details but I was sure that she or my relations did not make a scene in school. There was a sense of content in my Mom. I think it was enough for her to know I did great, so there was no need for some validation of sorts. It helped me understand and be extra patient with people who went overboard with their reaction or with their attitude. These grace and flexibility I got from her, add to them the peace I needed when I got too excited or when I felt anxious. She would tell me “isa-isa lang (one at a time)”. She told me that back when I wanted to do a lot in a limited time like when I wanted to study for a doctoral degree in this or that country.
Much took place from the day this photograph was taken; Mom, in her senior now, and I, in my early adulthood. But her influence remained the same. It would always be an essential in my life, a poignant part of me, a refuge, a still current in the river… (May 9, 2016)