29 July 2007

where's lola?

during one of those rough rainy days, the paloma and i were playing with her little people and her little people house. she found a little person to portray almost everybody (like the asian mommy screaming, "please stop hitting your brother with the plastic baseball bat!" to the little asian girl) in the family except - "where's lola?", she said. and with a weary, heavy and bitter heart, i said, "honey, i really don't know where your lola is."

i can remember the first time my lola arrived from the philippines. an excited gaggle of aunties and uncles was dispatched to greet and retrieve her from o'hare airport and a tornado of sweaty limbs and luggage and boxes returned to our doorstep a few hours later.

she was sitting on our disco day-glo orange sectional sofa surrounded by opened balikbayan boxes, luggage and a beautiful accordion displayed in its carrying case. the floor was scattered with packages of dried mangoes, tamarind candy, polvoron and a special colorful malong purchased just for me. she had a mischievous smile, a quirky, disarming sense of humor and a boisterous, infectious laugh.

i'll never forget those first few days, when lola was very generous, exhibiting her love with both words and hugs, sloppily ladling out oodles of her spare time and the bounty of her multifaceted self. she was our historian/storyteller, our cook, our seamstress, our moderator, our family stone, etc... and then?

then, lola got down to brass tacks (/tax). lola became "The Dona" in our family.

maybe a week into her arrival, she took over every household duty. the sun rose and set with my lola. when lola woke up, we woke up. when lola wanted you to go to bed, you went to bed. and you didn't get dressed up or go anywhere without lola's official seal of approval.

lola planned and prepared all of our meals. in the morning, she would make a HUGE pot of sinigang na bangus (or chicken adobo or beef caldereta) and a matching pot of rice. and that would ensure that she wouldn't have to cook the rest of the day. we'd have sinigang for breakfast, lunch and dinner. i was shocked that lola didn't know how to make a halo halo or a bread pudding out of leftover sinigang na bangus.

i used to especially hate when she would fry fish in the morning. don't get me wrong, i LOVE fried fish, especially with some vinegary sawsawan on the side (MASARAP!). but when i arrived at school, i would braid my hair tightly and try to stay as still as possible hoping not to create even the slightest breeze that would betray my fishy smell. but my third grade teacher, who had an extremely sensitive nose would always complain, "does anyone else smell... FISH!?" and would run to the windows and dramatically throw them open.

we almost never had another pizza night, a mcdonalds run, an italian beef au jus, a gyros, or sweet and sour chicken - because that would've been downright insulting and well, wasteful to lola.

lola was very religious too. my mom and i went to church every sunday before lola came. after her arrival, we were going to novenas on tuesday nights and were hosting a local santo nino statue for a week, once a month. i remember being very afraid of the santo nino statue specifically. he just did not look like a very innocent, very approachable baby jesus. then, one day i saw a smear of what looked like chocolate on his face and i was sure he was walking around eating our bread at night. one night i woke up from hearing a loud growling coming from outside my room and i absolutely FLIPPED OUT. i ran as fast as i could with my eyes shut into my moms room. she walked me back to my room where we saw lola asleep on the sofa, mouth open wide. her snoring, the loud growling of a mythic beast out of dante's inferno, echoed from front door to back.

my lola, who owned land and businesses in the philippines was also our financial advisor. she judged when items (houses, clothing or an apple) were a bargain or too expensive. she was also the keeper of our social calendar. her intuition was very sharp and she could spot a bad influence from miles away. though my family and i were dubious to her counsel, she was usually right.

despite all of that, she wasn't perfect. ;) she had generalized/flawed ideas about people and other things and did not have the curiosity or vision to see beyond what she "knew" and learn something else - though not necessarily something new or better.

lola used to drill tell/remind me that when i got older, it would be my responsibility to live with and take care of my mother and father, just like my mother was taking care of her. in return, my mother would help me care for my children and my house. it was something i naturally took for granted. it wasn't meant or perceived as a burden to me at all. i was actually looking forward to it.

i learned a few things from my lola. mostly, how to hand and machine sew and embroider. i'll never forget the day i could sew faster on a machine than lola. her face was beaming and her eyes were moist. it never occurred to my family that i might choose to make sewing or fashion design/production into a career.

i fantasized about my mother teaching my children how to doodle just like she taught me. i was curious to see if they would be interested in her work as a civil engineer and what mechanical wonders she could show them in detail. i hope that she teaches the paloma to knit (even though i can too) and that she shows the porkchop how to fix things (since the thin man isn't really all that handy and my mom is even more handy than me). i'd love to see her teach them how to play sungka, to make a parol at christmas time and how to haggle a seller/the selling price of any item to what they're offering.

but, in reality my mother (and stepfather) has no interest whatsoever in living with me, my sisters, my brother, our spouses/significant other or her precious apos. we all have room for both of them. we all have offered. none of us are crazy or violent (much). but, the both of them (now well into their 60s) are adamant in wanting and asserting their independence from us. at first, we thought they were too proud to admit that they were getting to old for the daily stress of work. but, we all realize now that they are still not ready to "settle down". although they do not shirk babysitting duty (much), we do have to check with them ahead of time to make sure that they're not working, on a cruise/vacation/road trip or playing golf or going to a *insert filipino social organization " party/ball or are otherwise mysteriously unavailable. not all, but many of my fellow pinay moms/dads have "hit it rich". their moms and dads often invite their grandkids for sleepovers and weekends. they care for their grandchildren during a weekday(s) so that one of the parents can take care of errands unencumbered around town sans kids and nap schedules and potty breaks.

please don't misunderstand. i love my mom desperately. i want my mom to experience everything that she wants out of her life and this wide wide world. especially because she sacrificed so much of herself for me, my siblings and our diverse futures. but, sometimes often, i need help or even just some guidance or sisterly/motherly support, just like she did when she was a single mom trying to make a life for our family. i treasure her experience and her knowledge and her history and my kids need to learn from her, to ask her questions, to listen and remember the melody and cadence of her speaking voice. i want them to see and recognize the small mole on her left temple like i remember the deep scar on my lola's forehead - the scar she told me that god had put there to remind her that she had a purpose, that she was worth something. i need my mother to help me carve our time for my self too, just like my lola helped her to do the same.

intellectually, i know an experienced and reliable babysitter will do in a pinch. and in a way, i don't want my children to have a lola like mine. my mother is really my lola's complete opposite. and theirs was not a soothing relationship of equals. i really thought that my mother and i would collaborate and cobble a modernist interpretation of the tradition that my grandmother recited like a mantra or religious dogma.

so, on the days that it rains, literally and figuratively, it still deeply disappoints and wounds me that i can't count on her to be there for my children, like my lola was there for me, and my mom, unconditionally and almost as elementally, as water or air.


Rachel said...

Beautiful post. You are a great writer.

It's complicated, the whole intergenerational thing, with the children taking care of the parents who take care of the grandkids. We considered living with the inlaws, but it would not have worked. Still, I feel wistful when I see those intergenerational families. Several of my students were caring for grandchildren during the day.

ImPerceptible said...

That's a wonderful post. I have tears in my eyes.

honglien123 said...

Great post mamazilla. Your relationship to your lola sounds wonderful, no wonder you want to have that for your children.

Also, I can totally relate to the fish smell, my parents worked in a squid factory when I was in elementary school. They'd end up bringing buckets of squid home and the car would reek to high heaven. Of course, this meant that anytime I was dropped off, I would reek as well.

Freezing Islander said...

Love your post.
Visited my kids' lola in the philippines a few months ago. First time she saw both of my kids. It was good at first and then she started "making" suggestions on childrearing. I know she meant well but rubbed me the wrong way. There were tense moments.
I would love for her to stay longer and visit us here but I can't imagine living with her more than six months. I bet my kids would love it. Probably won't be good for my state of mind.

bokumbop said...

I agree, this generation is facing a big shift, and that includes our own parents' view of their roles as we all age ... I would also love for my own mom to be more involved, but in this case I can't let her. Hey, our house reeked too - between the fish and fermented soybean pastes, chili powder and garlic, it was like an olfactory assault.

MJ aka sugarmama said...

I laughed and cried throughout this post and I wish I had the kind of Lola you had. Mine was too busy playing mahjong to be bothered, and I honestly don't remember ever seeing her without a mahjong tile or a deck of cards in her hands.

Get that unfinished novel done already please!

Anonymous said...

What beautiful, vivid images. So many things reminded me of when my lola lived with us. I think it's great that your parents are still active and healthy. Maybe it's true that 60 is the new 50! Maybe in the next decade they'll be ready to stop galavanting.

xiaolin momma said...

I LOVED this post. I too was close to my lola. My parents are no way close to that - they are clear they have their own house and don't need to move into mine anytime soon.

My kids think of them as the best gift givers - but I wish they knew them like you knew yours.

Thanks for sharing!