I’ve imagined myself jumping out of a moving car way too many times. Not for any self-destructive reason, but just so I could escape what was going on: yet another verbal sparring match with my mother. Anything trivial can turn into a potentially intense fight, given the right mix of my teenage rebellion and her mid-life frustrations.
You see, my mother and I have always had a pretty complicated relationship. Think Lady Bird or Hubert in I Killed My Mother.
I’m not exactly sure when it started, but I remember high school being a dark period. It must have been teenage angst disguised as a relentless urge to always be right. Or just straight-up disrespect. Either way, I considered those four years a series of both terrible and mundane things occasionally interrupted by brief moments of respite.
It must have been teenage angst disguised as a relentless urge to always be right. Or just straight-up disrespect. Either way, I considered those four years a series of both terrible and mundane things occasionally interrupted by brief moments of respite.
Like most Asian moms, mine is not big on giving compliments. Except when it’s directed to my friends because then she’d be smothering them with top-level admiration, while the best she could give me was an occasional, “Mukha kang tao ah.” She never attended any of my school’s PTA meetings. Never asked me how my day was, how I was doing in school (as long as I didn’t get anything lower than 80, I was safe), and asking for permission had to be 3 business days before The Thing — with an approximately 85% rejection rate.
She was never affectionate towards me. I could only remember the fights. Like that one time she saw me hanging out with my guy classmates and said I didn’t have any delicadeza. Or that night she found out about the pack of cigarettes in my bag. Or when it happened again a few weeks after, but I swore it was a prop for a contest (that I won, mom). There was also the time I said things I deeply regret because she didn’t allow me to go to an All Time Low’s concert — to which I ended up going, but not without an intense fight that had my grandparents scowling at me for weeks.
And as if to conclude my series of questionable decisions — but mostly to make a point — I chopped off 12 inches of my hair after my high school graduation. She didn’t talk to me for two weeks.
I was convinced she hated me. And so I resented her.
I did my best so I could move out for college, and that meant studying for the UPCAT. A few months later I was already packing my bags to start university an hour away from our house. I only had to go home for the weekend, and I couldn’t have asked for a better routine. This was my life for four years.
It wasn’t as terrible as high school, and I admit that it has a lot to do with the fact that I was living away from home. No one was nagging me to do the chores (even when I was already planning to do them) or asking me where I was at 6 p.m., and other typical things hot-headed teenagers usually rant about on Twitter.
Reading this, you might think that all we did was fight. Not really. We shared some pretty good times, too — mostly in thrift shops. Enveloped in that musty smell of an ukay-ukay, going through rows and rows of clothing racks with that neon green hangers. It was our safe space. We could be having a big argument just minutes before, but once either of us sees a cute item, we instantly become BFFs. Yeah, Lady Bird got a little too real for me.
I never actually felt like I missed my mother until I graduated from university and moved to Metro Manila. It was a strange feeling, to say the least. I even found myself missing her nagging. And when I was sick, I’d silently pray she could teleport and scold me in person about how careless I was with my habits and lifestyle. Just as long as she’d be there with me.
My 16-year old self would be disgusted if she reads this essay.
Over time, I’ve learned how to understand her love language. For example, I know she misses me when she randomly posts a picture of us on Facebook. When she sends a, “Kumusta ka dyan, negs?” on Messenger. And my favorite, when she tells me there’s a seat sale for flights back home. Being a doting mother wasn’t her thing, just as much as being an affectionate daughter wasn’t mine. It took me years to understand this, and I’m endlessly thankful that she didn’t give up on me.
We still argue about it every now and then, but I’d like to think that she’s just doing it out of habit. After all, bickering with me has always been one of her love languages.
While I did not have the guts of Lady Bird to actually jump out of the car (thank god), I’d like to think we share the same kind of frustration rooted in so many things. Being in a Catholic high school didn’t help a bit. And for a teenager with an embarrassingly limited grasp on adulthood and all its wretchedness, I thought my frustrations were more valid than my mother’s. My idealistic dreams clashed with her innate pragmatism.
I realize now that this was why we always fought. We still argue about it every now and then, but I’d like to think that she’s just doing it out of habit. After all, bickering with me has always been one of her love languages.
I’m writing this at the airport, waiting for the boarding call for my flight back home. It’s her birthday in a few days. And in an hour or two, I’ll be in the backseat of our car and she’ll be in front talking about the impracticality and instability of my chosen career. Specifically, my lack of a company-provided healthcare package.
But this time, I won’t be thinking about jumping out. I’ve learned how to love people better from afar, and this time I’ll try to do even better when I’m actually with them. It’s gonna be a long week ahead, but I’m looking forward to it — coffee dates, thrift shopping, and all the mother and daughter bickering in between.