To all the wise mothers I’ve looked up to

Gel Cabotaje
To all the wise mothers I’ve looked up to

Art by Guia Abogado

The often unsolicited life advice you've passed on is appreciated

Magkano ba ‘yon?” (“How much is that?”)

My mom has a habit of asking that question. I can’t recall if she has always been that way, but I’ve heard her say this a lot since I came back home from working overseas — mostly, it happens whenever I ask what she wants while I hastily add whatever I’m craving to the cart of my food delivery app.

When it’s a meal, she often ends up ordering a la carte and zero add-ons because “there’s a bottle of soft drink in the ref” or “we have fruit for dessert”. Sometimes, she straight up comments “masyadong mahal” (“too pricey”) on the food that I’m eyeing for delivery and follows it up with, “may ulam naman” (“we have food”).

Being a somewhat rebellious child, I’d be disappointed whenever that happens. It’s my money I’m spending anyway, right? But then again, those words are enough to talk some sense to me and cancel the transaction entirely.

As I adjusted to life back in Manila, I noticed how she kept track of these cravings and started stocking up on food that she can prepare for me instead of ordering in. We now always have a bag of frozen French fries or fish balls that we can air fry for merienda, flour and yeast that I can use when I’m looking to eat pastries (my mom doesn’t bake, so she didn’t see these as necessities prior to my pandemic-born hobby), and cartons of milk for my iced coffee runs. Stocking up on these ingredients and making the food ourselves is undoubtedly less pricey, after all.

I guess I’m only noticing my mom’s thriftiness now because we’re both at home. She retired in late 2018 but I went abroad in early 2019, so we didn’t really spend much time together before. When she was still working, she used to leave the house before 6 am to avoid the heavy traffic jam along EDSA; I used to work odd or long hours at my jobs then, so by the time I got home, she was already due to sleep.

She wasn’t born into an affluent family, while our own family has our fair share of financial struggles. My dad used to have a thriving business that was enough for my mom to stay at home. She could’ve chosen that path, but she still worked to provide and care for her aging parents, and later on, when life got tough for our family, she stayed in her job for us, her kids.

Given this context, I understand where my mom is coming from when it comes to spending money. I never considered her as stingy, rather, I only see her interventions as her way of teaching me to see the value of spending money — that I can still make the best out of a situation without shelling out too much of it.

Family always comes first

My mother’s story is not a unique one. I know a couple of other mothers who have similar journeys and views on how to live their lives for their kids.

One such is my roommate in Singapore, when I was living there. She has been working in the Lion City for more than a decade now. Like most OFWs, she looked for work overseas to provide a better life for her family.

Just before I arrived, she gave birth to her own kid. It was fairly easy to work abroad when she was still single, I recall her telling me. But when she had her child, everything changed. Everything she does now always involves her kid.

For instance, here’s a scenario: store promotions. We’re suckers for discounted items because Singapore stores always have crazy good deals. While I, a single woman, tend to think about purchasing a sale item like a pair of shoes or a dress for myself, my roommate’s first instinct is to check toddler items to see if there’s something that she can buy for her child.

I admit that I also depend on her to notify me on grocery sales. I’ve eventually picked up her trait of keeping an eagle eye on item promotions and shops that sell essentials for less. I realized later on that she does this not just for her own supplies, but for her family back in the Philippines as well. I always see her carrying packs of diapers and boxes of milk, which she adds to her pile of pasalubong securely packed in a large balikbayan box that’s bound for Manila.

She is a hardworking mother; she tends to work long hours and arrives home late. When that happens to me, I go straight to bed. But my roommate is never tired to miss a video call with her kid who is tucked in his bed that is miles away.

Through her wise hacks and our seemingly endless conversations about life during late dinners and weekends, my roommate has taught and guided me to always remember the reason why we were working hard — in a foreign city, no less.

Wais decision-making

I’ve never wanted to become a mom. It was just never in the picture whenever I paint my dream life in my mind. A mother to a fur baby, yes, but to tiny and not-so-tiny humans?

Perhaps it’s the weight of responsibility that one instantly carries when the door of motherhood knocks that is keeping me at bay. Or the strength that a mom automatically brings out for the sake of her kid. Or the daily decision-making that she has to go through to give the best for her family.

I guess I won’t really know, at least for now, because I’m not a mother. But as I go through life, I am grateful to have experienced and encountered these often unsolicited pieces of advice and hacks from all the wise mothers in my life: from my own mom, who makes the most out of what we have, to mothers like my roommate, who looks for the most efficient solutions to everyday household concerns, and more.

Thanks to these moms, I feel more equipped to face life’s daily challenges through making wais decisions. —

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