My daughter had just finished taking her shower, and as is habit, I came in to blow dry her hair. Her towel had fallen off by the time I was finished, and she said, “I feel so naked Mom. I don’t feel comfortable being naked around you.” And I said, “It’s okay. Here put your towel around you.” And that is when it finally dawned on me that my daughter is now all grown up. She is 7.
It’ s true. My, they grow up so fast! Time flies.
And as I lay in bed at the end of the day thinking about all these things, I couldn’t help but feel truly blessed that I have been there nearly the entire seven years of her life, almost 24/7 and nearly 365 and 1/4 days per year, or I could have easily missed her childhood.
It was only a few days ago when she was still sleeping next to me on the bed, asking to be hugged or her foot be scratched, so she can fall asleep. Now she takes pride in having her own room, with her own closet, and closes the door when she has to change her clothes. She sleeps in her own bed all through the night, with her Tutu hugged tightly in her tiny arms, with the bed covers up to her nose. She is still a baby because before sleeping she goes to me, hugs me from behind, and says, “I want to go to sleep now but I like being tucked in bed.” And so I go, and like in the movies, I tuck her in, kiss her goodnight, turn off the light, and close the door completely behind me.
Some people would say that my daughter is spoiled. There are many adjectives to describe her, but “spoiled” is not one of those. For someone who has gone through all she has gone through in the past seven years of her life, she is nothing but.
This is my daughter who, after being stung all over her body with a box jellyfish, from legs all the way to face, with burn marks on her right thigh, and swirling black patterns around both her arms and around her legs, never said it was painful. She had the temerity to put on a big smile and a brave face for her mother and for everybody to be assured that everything was okay.
This is the daughter who, after having an entire glass door, fall on her, braved twelve stitches on her head and upper back, while her mother held her tight and hummed “As the Deer” in her ears to comfort her because this was the song her mother sang to her to comfort her when she was but a few-months-old baby. I am known to be a person who never loses composure and is always calm in the face of disaster, but if ever there was one time that I totally and completely lost it, it was that time. I didn’t see the glass door fall as I had my back turned nor did I see that she was right behind me. I remember turning around and there was this big frame of glass door all broken, with my little daughter under it. I took one look at it, and I started crying, cussing, and screaming, all hysterical. I utterly lost it. I was distraught and deranged. But I saw her standing behind me, all bloodied from head to toe, with pieces of glass in different sizes stuck all over her tiny body, wailing, and I had to stop and clear my head enough to go down to her, with all the composure I could muster, to say “Stop crying baby. I will go upstairs and get clothes for you and me because we are going to the doctor,” while removing a big piece of glass stuck on her back, and some more off her arms, and taking tiny ones off her hair. The only way she would stop crying was if I did, so I choked back my tears. We lived at the end of a beach about a kilometre out of town. It was not accessible by public transportation and only by foot or by motorbike. We lived in a town where there was no hospital. And clinics were reliably open only from 8AM-5PM. And it was 11PM.
This is the daughter, whom after being left behind by the last three buses out of York in England because the first bus driver refused to have us board because she had a piece of french fries between her lips and a box of it in her hand, saying “Food and drinks are not allowed in the bus. You have to throw it away,” walked and ran five kilometres with me to catch the last train bound back to Leeds so as to not risk spending the night at the train station at 6 degrees Centigrade.
This is the daughter, who witnessed her mother being battered for three hours, at the age of two, and held on to her mother’s legs, all the while crying and screaming, “Stop! Stop! Don’t hurt my mama!” And screamed wildly behind the bedroom door where she was locked in, while her mother was being flung at the wall and down the stairs.
And this is the same daughter who embraced her wailing mother on the floor of the house where her mother grew up – wailing because she realised she had lost all of her inheritance from her own mother on a bad investment with the wrong people at the wrong place and even almost lost her dignity and character in trying to make things work, and said “It’s okay Mom, don’t cry, please don’t cry. I love you.” She was two and a half years old.
If she is living a good life, traveling around the wold, eating good food, playing with an iPad, and possessing all the nice and expensive My Little Pony toys, it is because she, at the tender age of 7, has already deserved it. She has. In fact, she deserves this, even if she didn’t go through all those bad experiences. Actually, every little girl in this world deserves those even without having to go through any of the things she has had.
Some people can say she grew up too fast because she was forced to do so, in the face of all these experiences. Some people can say it was my fault and that she had no choice.
But that is not the point. The point is I have a daughter who brings joy to everyone, despite everything – who is wise, responsible, dependable, polite, and funny. She dreams of being a pop star someday and embarrasses me with her loud singing in random places, or her breaking out into a song and dance number every time she sees a mirror anywhere, even it if its in the middle of a big busy shopping mall. Who presses me to make videos for her and upload it in her YouTube channel, saying she must upload new videos regularly for the sake of her subscribers (even if she currently has none), who was ecstatic when I finally made a Facebook page for her “fans,” and poses gamely for all photos and reviews them afterwards because she knows they will be sent to family members around the world. I could go on and on.
I am immensely proud of my daughter even if my ears hurt from the constant singing and listening to new compositions everyday. (Which one is better? This melody I made just now or the one I made this morning?) And by God, everybody should probably know by now I am actually tone deaf. We have given her the nickname “Madame” because she can be so bossy and mature sometimes, with statements like, “Didn’t I tell you NOT to take a shower before sleeping?” and “You think this is clean? This is NOT clean!” or “What is more important? Shopping or eating? Food or clothes? You already have clothes!” or “Stop talking and eat! Eat! Eat!” To some people, it may look like she bosses me around with these statements while I stand there and laugh, or do what she says. I laugh because it amuses me to see how closely she can imitate or emulate me and this serves as a reminder for me that I must always be careful of what I say or do, because it obviously has such a huge impact on her and her behaviour. She is a mirror of me and the narcissist in the mother in me likes what it sees.
I may have been a failure in many other things, but at least this one is turning out to be a success. I have given my entire life to this little human being, starting from when she was conceived. I had tailored my life to fit my ideal that a daughter should spend as much time with her mother as possible. I never got a regular job. And as a hands-on-stay-at-home-mom who almost never had a nanny or househelp, was accused that I never had a financial contribution to the family, I swallowed all the judgments thrown my way by family, friends, and strangers alike.
She devours books and I indulge her. We have membership cards in her favourite bookstores and we spend more money on books than anything else material like clothes and toys. I remember when I used to get into trouble for spending all of my allowance in buying books for her at thrift bookstores when she was still a baby. I always defended it, like any other bookworm, by saying, “But they are books!”
She manages to surprise us everyday with her wit and humour but like any typical little girl, she plays constantly with her toys and makes up a lot of stories. She draws and sometimes watches TV. She plays girly games on her iPad. She asks me sometimes, “Mom, why am I boy crazy?” And I answer with, “Because you don’t have enough interaction with boys, that’s why we have to put you in school.”
My daughter, at the age of 7, reads like a twelve year old, and does multiplication and division, and God knows what level is her vocabulary, has never been to formal school. I always enrol her but with all our traveling, she never quite manages to spend more than a few weeks in total per year at her school in El Nido. This is how I finally accepted that we have to settle down somewhere, at least long enough for her to go to school, because she has to. Despite her many travels, there is still no alternative to being in school and spending time with other children her age. She is looking forward to going to school, settling down, and having a dog and a cat.
As a mother, I know enough not to judge anybody else’s parenting or mothering skills or approach. I always say that we can only parent the way we know how, and in the way we know best. No one can teach you to become a good mother or parent. We all just do the best we can.
And this is a story of how I did it, at least in all the past seven years. Last year, I embarked on this two-month journey on my own to find myself and thankfully, I did. I came home with the realisation that I must prepare my daughter for a life without me and I came home with a journal. In this journal, I write letters to her when I can, for her to read in the future when she is much older and hopefully, much wiser.
Let me share with you what I wrote on the very first page:
December 19, 2015
The solo trip almost around the world – Manila, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok, Rome, Sardegna, Torino, Milano, Copenhagen, Fort Lauderdale, Jacksonville, Atlanta, Boston, New Jersey, New York, Taipei, and ultimately, Manila, came out as a pilgrimage that started out with sadness and uncertainty and ended with love and resolve, was, in all aspects, a tremendous success. I came to see friends and family and ended filled with inspiration. One of those resolutions was to restart a journal. A series of letters, to chronicle my life and yours – my beloved daughter, to serve as a memoir of the wonderful time we spend together, to record anecdotes of your childhood wisdom and cheerfulness that never cease to amaze me in so many ways. I don’t aim, as your mother, to leave you rich in money or possessions, only experiences and memories that I can only hope you will cherish and use as a guide and perhaps, also a source of inspiration, in your adult life, or even more, perhaps, in my absence, if by any chance, death has finally brought me home to rest.