But she has been a surrogate mother to so many children of OFWs that it seems her burden has been heavier than those who have left their kids.
My Tita Loida is a domestic helper in Hong Kong. She left her young daughters in my mother's care.
My Tito Pako is in Italy. He met his wife, a Bulaceña in Italy. They have two kids. My mother constantly checks on their children who are in Bulacan.
My Tita Clemen is in Dubai. My uncle died while she was away. She left her two sons in my mother's care.
Batangueños are known for being extremely clannish. This is true for most Filipinos here and abroad. In the beginning, poverty was the reason why people left the country. Now, they can't seem to find a reason to come back. I fear that some of them have forgotten why they left in the first place.
People like my mother bridge the gap between those who are left behind and those who are in another land.
For the longest time I have heard about and seen relatives leave Batangas, Isabela, and Laguna to try their luck in earning more money for their families. In the beginning it was the men. They braved the desert, the haughty Europeans, and the discrimination that came with doing manual labor. This was considered the right thing to do for men since they needed to be the provider for their families. People perceived that the fathers were doing their paternal duty in leaving their wives and kids in the Philippines.
Then came waves and waves of mothers leaving their toddlers. I suddenly had two female cousins living in our house most of the time. People didn't like this new trend. Fathers that were left behind could barely function with work and housework in their hands. Somehow it was the woman's fault if the family didn't survive this change. She ruined everything for leaving them behind.Even if their husbands were the ones who didn't keep his vows, somehow people chewed out the woman instead of the man. “He was lonely”, they would say. I couldn't help but shake my head when I heard that.
My mom raised us alongside my “adoptive” sisters. I often hear her roll call for the people who needed to be at our table for meals and it often included the girls. If that wasn't the case, she would check up on them to make sure that they had eaten. When their father went home later and later into the night, they had to sleep over at our house from time to time.
They grew up with toys, pictures of their mother in Hongkong, and my mother's constant nagging. I think she took it personally when the eldest girl ended up repeating her mother's situation, having a child while she was still young. She felt like she failed to raise her well. In our family, the welfare of the daughters, their mistakes, and their triumphs are perceived to be based on the alpha female in their lives. I saw how hard it was for my mother that she had not done a good enough job in instilling traditional values into my cousin's heads. As her eldest daughter, I had to suffer the nagging and the suspicious looks. I think I managed to dodge it jokingly, enough to ease her fears.
My mother's youngest brother had been conned by a trusted family friend before his wife managed to get a chance to go to Qatar. While she was there, my uncle died in his sleep.We would later find out that he had a legitimate job offer in Canada. She went home for the funeral but had to go back abroad so she could earn enough for their two sons' education. Once again, after the blow that hit her when my cousin got pregnant, my mother was a surrogate mother again.
Because my cousin's were in the same bed as their dad when he died, the kids didn't want to sleep in their old room. My younger cousin who couldn't sleep unless he had his hand on his dad's ear clung to my mom more, to my little sister's chagrin. They slept in our second floor room with my father, mother and sister. It was a good thing that by that time I was in Makati, my younger brother was in Diliman, and the youngest son was in Los Baños. When we all go home from our separate locations one had to take dibs on a bed or end up sleeping on the couch. The legitimate kids ended up feeling like we were the guests in our own home. But I didn't care, at least not all that much, because my mom told me, “Who else would take care of them?”
My mom doesn't mind disciplining, feeding, and loving my cousins. What I have seen as an adult that I missed when I was still a kid, was that my mom hated it when the parents thought that she was not giving their kids the money that they sent over. My mother had a mantra, “Never spend other people's money.” Both my parents believed that so much that their bosses trusted them with money matters completely. I started realizing that my mother was slowly becoming the victim in the situation. She didn't want to look like the enemy, but there was a time that she had to tell the boys the awful truth. Their mother, my aunt, had found someone new, she didn't have a job and there was no money coming in.
I don't know how hard it is to be far from my homeland. I have heard my friends, my relatives and former lovers talk about how difficult it is to be in a place where there is nothing else that they can do but work, eat, and sleep. I am an advocate that they are heroes in their own right. But let's not forget that there are those who decided that they can work here, care for the young here and fill in the gaps here in the Philippines.
I believe both deserve our gratitude.
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"Strengthening the OFW Families: Stronger Homes for a Stronger Nation."
Reminders for OFW parents of the 22nd century
1. The Social Networks are your bestfriends...and your worst enemies.
Make sure that you know how to use the social site that your child uses. It's not enough that you know how to use the chat options of Yahoo! Messenger. You can get tidbits of information from their comments, posts, as well as what to get them on their birthday, from Facebook, Multiply, Twitter, Plurk or Friendster. Let's be honest, parents are pretty much shunned by teenagers. A little cyber-stalking might come in handy. But don't be the "diary-reading" parent that my mom was. Your kid might just end up writing in code like I did just to keep some things secret. Don't worry, if your kid needs help or "The talk" they would figure out that you are the ones to go to unless you do not allow free speech in your relationship or your home.
2. Money isn't the only thing that they want from you.
Time is indeed something that is more important that some parents, OFW or otherwise, have forgotten that their kids need from them. I hated my parents for hovering for the most part of my life. (I still need to text my mom when it rains or there is something major on the news.) But I consider myself lucky now because I have this assurance that I have my parents to back me up.
3. We are not lazy just because we don't want to leave the country.
I have heard parents insisting that their kids follow in their footsteps. When their kids refuse to leave the country and work abroad they find it somewhat offensive since they think their kids demean their work. We don't. We really don't. But we would just want to gain more experience at home so we can get better options. You gave us the chance to get the best education we can afford, let us give back to the local industry, then we will think about international employment. Or we could just find options here that would pay the same.
Besides, mom and dad, we have a new president. Who knows? Maybe he would do a better job than that lady who...you know who I mean.
4. Try not to pick up where you left off.
Most OFW parents fail to remember that their kids grew up while they were away. I don't mean they are being daft, it's just they find it hard to adjust how they treat their kids since they missed actual years in their kids' lives.
Don't cuddle a teenage. Don't be too strict towards an adult. Don't blame yourself if we have flaws or tantrums. We are adjusting to having a complete family too. Don't force things. Just let the love speak for itself. We know you are our parents, you don't have to scream it at our faces. We love you, we are just in the "teenage rebellion" phase. We'll outgrow it. And did I mention, we love you?
5. If you can, BE PRESENT in major celebrations.
We know you are doing this for us. But we want to thank you too by showing you the medals we have won, the awards that we have received, and the fruits of your labors. Those days are milestones in our lives so we want you in the picture, we want you in the memory, we want to hug and thank you in person. So if you can, please make time.
Pinaywriter a.k.a. Niña Rita Simonis an online English teacher, an unpublished novelist, part-time SEO writer, and comic book collaborator. When she's not writing Tagalog pocketbooks, meeting deadlines or editing comic balloons she finds time to infuriate or make her friends laugh.