Saturday, September 5, 2009

Bootnotes #1: Harbouring Guilty Feelings for Being a Working Mom?

So I go home late. So I spend the better part of the day and the the week in the office. I could feel guilty but really, there is no basis for guilt there. I've long since stopped harbouring these baseless guilty feelings. How did I manage? Looking back, I suppose at a certain point I made a decision to accept what cannot be changed and stay in control over what could be handled.

I simply accepted that I may not be a housewife and have to give the day to day running of the household to my trusted Yayay. But she and I both know that it's still MY home. She may run it but I still rule over it. I'm still queen, well, queen in absentia but still, THE Queen. I may no longer cook but I have a hand in deciding what will be served at the table (point in favor of the Mommy in Boots when they ask what's for dinner and I am able to supply the answer). I may not spend as much time at home but on weekends and holidays, I take time to do the rounds in every room and make an inventory of what needs fixing, cleaning, purging, replacing, etc. I let Yayay do the grocery list but I still take time to check the list and do the groceries myself. I know how many detergent bars, fabric softener, cooking oil, etc. that the tribe consumes every fortnight.

I may not get to spend as much time with the kids during weekdays but when I do get home, I'm all theirs. When I ask my daughter how she is school, I don't stop at the usual "OK. Fine."answer. I ask about her friends, her teachers, her lessons. And I listen. Not an easy task when you're waaaaay too tired. But, yes, I listen. And laugh with her. And get upset with her. That's how I know Kathleen is her funny new friend, JCourt 12 is how they call their barkada, that Barley is their secret name for their adviser and that until now, she hates "J" with a passion. In the same manner, I let my family ask me how I am. And in the same manner, I don't stop at "OK". I let them in on what's happening at work and what made me come home late that night. I ask them to pray for me when an event is coming up. That's how my tribe knows who Bob is (our GM), why I have PMP (Performance Evaluation), what presentation I'm doing and which celebrities will grace an event.

Hey, it does not always work like clockwork and there are days when exhaustion is just stronger than all my good intentions. But I have a feeling that the secret is working at it and never giving up. And now, when I see my tribe sliding in their chairs to keep me company while I have a late dinner and then the conversation just flows and flows and when I see that the kitchen cupboards are all organized and food supplies are OK...the secret seems to have worked. God is truly good for the Mommy in Boots.

Bootnotes #2: They Know!

I had thought that you only get to reap the rewards as a mom when you see your kids grown up, settled down and secure. I had this mental picture of my daughter on a stage somewhere or on National TV giving a speech where she thanks me for being her inspiration in discovering the real 9th planet or for developing the cure for some rare cancer. Because these things, clearly, are way too far off, I never thought that the little day to day things I do now matter much to her.

I could never have been more wrong.

My girl has taught me that the smallest things do count. That regardless of how dense, unmindful, detached and unaffected she may appear to be sometimes, she does notice and appreciate the smallest things.

This much I gathered one time when I was teasing her about not being able to make it to her Tae Kwon Do promotions test (she's a High Blue Belter Jin). I expected her to dramatically sulk and was surprised when she just sighed deeply (with the same amount of drama, I must say) and said,"It's OK, Ma. I will not feel bad at all."

"And why not? Maybe you really didn't want me to go?", was my overly sensitive rejoinder.

"Of course I want you there!", she said."But I will not feel bad if you cannot make it because I know there can only be a really really good reason that you cannot. I know you always make an effort to be there for me. If you cannot, then I know it's beyond your powers."

There, from the mouth of a child, I derived great wisdom. To my daughter, and to all kids probably, making an effort counts as much as the actual results. And I have this uncanny feeling they have this inborn gift of seeing when we do make an effort. Which is good. Because we cannot always control everything and we cannot always be there for them. But to know that they do know that we'd rather be there with them than anywhere else helps a lot.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Yes, I'm a No. 2 and Proud of It!

"Ma, don’t forget the Mom-Daughter thingy on Monday."

My daughter issued the reminder just before we set off for our planned family weekend getaway to celebrate my birthday. Her class had a retreat scheduled that Monday and a Mom-Daughter interaction was to be one of the event highlights. She had told me about it weeks before and I did recall signing off on the school's confirmation slip. Of course, at the time, I reckoned without the presentation I was assigned to make to the company GM and the directors on Tuesday which means Monday would go to putting the presentation together. Additionally, at the time, I also reckoned without a balikbayan uncle requesting to be picked up from the airport on the very same afternoon of the retreat.

So as not to spoil what we intended to be a wicked weekend extravaganza, I told her I'd check what can be done. Inwardly, though, I knew I had no other choice but to miss the event. And I was sure she would understand.

That was supposed to be the comfortable end to that story. But it was way too convenient it made me uncomfortable. I suddenly remembered a young girl who had looked on with sad envy at her classmates who had parents picking them up after a girl scout camping trip. And she only had her father’s driver at her side. That young girl had been me. And I knew I didn’t want my own girl going through the same. So, come Monday morning, I went to work extra extra early and told my boss I’d go undertime. I’m blessed to have a boss who believes in putting family first so it was not difficult to get her go-ahead. I spent the better part of the morning finishing up my presentation and looking for a driver to pick up my uncle from the airport. My husband’s out so his driving services were not an option that day.

By 2pm, I don't know how I did it but everything at work was in place, a driver was on standby and yayay was on her way to the office to meet up with the driver, get the car and proceed to the airport. So, Mommy in Boots, this time in stilettos and dressed in her jumpsuit shorts, was retreat-bound in a cab for the Mom-Daughter interaction.

It was to be one of the most rewarding afternoons of my life as a mom.

The class retreat was held in the Spiritual Center, just beside the school campus. The place was soooo quiet the sound of my heels as I walked was almost deafening. I was the first one there, by the way...which was actually sad because I really wanted a grand entrance, in my corporate shorts, stilettos and my air of unperturbed confidence. Oh well, not the place and time for that, the heavens declared, I suppose. Once all the parents were there, we were directed to an activity room where the Retreat Facilitator walked us through the Retreat theme (Bread Blessed, Broken and Given Away), the activities they did that morning and the activities that would take place in the next few hours.

I was struck by one of the activities that the girls did that morning. Based on the gospel story about the paralytic who was brought to Jesus for healing by 4 of his friends through a hole in the roof, the girls were asked to draw a diagram of a circle, on top which is a small rectangle and each corner of the rectangle emphasized by a dot. The circle is supposed to represent the hole into which one will dump all her brokenness, symbolized by the rectangle and the four dotted corners represent the people who support, carry and make one feel the most loved. I remember thinking it would be interesting to find out who my daughter's dots were but had no time to think more about it because the girls were about to come into the room.

The Mom-Daughter interaction kicked off with an Open Letter read by one of the students. It was a touching, heart-rending letter where the girls aired out their thank-yous, their apologies, their hurts and their calls for attention. I could feel some of the parents welling up, saw one or two actually wiping their tears away.

While I did not actually cry, I felt the familiar tightening in my heart, the way it usually does during emotional episodes. The rest of the students came into the room and soon, my girl was sitting beside me. Her first question was: why in the world did I choose to sit in the front row? My answer, of course, was: where else did she expect me to sit? I'd never sit at the back!

The Facilitator then gave all the Mom-Daughter tandems time to talk. Acting all nonchalant, I asked her about the circle-rectangle-dots activity. She was surprised I knew about it and spent a full minute before answering.

“You know, Ma, I have my 4 dots. My friends. Then Papa and baby bro. God.” I may be a dunce in Math but I remember thinking that what she said all summed up to 4 already. And I was not there! Could there have been 5 dots? Before I could make an appeal, she said:

“God is my No. 1, Ma. You’re my No. 2. Papa and baby bro are 3 and my friends are No. 4.”

Cinematographically, I imagined an invisible camera zooming in for a close-up shot and an orchestra music playing up. Because really, I may not have been Valedictorian in school. I have yet to receive a really serious Award at work. There is no way I will clinch a Beauty Title (now that I'm 40. And only because of that!). And playing title role in a Hollywood movie is too far off.

But there, in that roomful of parents and girls, I felt like I have just received the Best and Most Prestigious Award of all time. From the only award-giving body that will ever really matter to me. I was No. 2!

If that had meant anything less to me, I would probably have been able to say something really great and poetic. But to be affirmed by my daughter, who NEVER pulls my leg and could be pretty harsh and honest with me, and affirmed in that unexpected way, I was at a loss for words. I remember putting an arm to hug her, squeezing her hand and then telling her I love her. There really is nothing else left to say. All the sacrifices, all the struggles, all the fears, all the apprehensions I have as a mom drifted away like smoke.

Being No. 2 made everything, everything all worth it.

Being No. 2 made me feel like I was on top of the world. God is good!