"My Unmom Mom" by John Silva
With all these loving tributes to moms I can only say my mom, Elena Ledesma aka Helen, was clearly nowhere any of the mom qualities being bandied about this Mother’s Day.
I recall a squeeze and a nuzzle, and her way of being soothing was to gently clean my ears which lulled me to sleep. But after that sweet interlude we get handed to the yayas, the nurses whose body fragrance I can conjure up immediately and whose slavish affection made up for the lack of it from Mom.
She was defiant against all norms. She sat us down as young kids to announce she was divorcing Dad. Days later she brings a guy to the house, she called him her psychiatrist and proceeded to dance for hours, laughing away and sleeping in the room where once Dad was.
She then took off with the psychiatrist, gets her divorce in Mexico, Daddy Tony Silva driving to the Mexican border with a gun but gets stopped because Mom had tipped off the police.
She comes home months later and she’s not alone. She has a baby in tow, and it’s not by Dad.
Mom led a combative life. Deemed a whore by genteel society, she responded with verbal middle fingers. She called her enemies with very creative invectives but “bitch” was the go-to epithet when she needed one quick. She was absolutely unperturbed.
Despite the fact that she was always running on financially empty, she managed to raise us, feed us (there were many Spam nights), put us through good schools, managed to dress us well, and travel, us not knowing how bad things were because she’d never tell us.
She went through bad times and we kids had to practice tough love because she disdained care. She was independent and, if she self-destructed, she didn’t want pity.
But she came through and in the few years left of her she became the loving – in her fashion – mom we had.
Many years later one would think that we’d be relieved and get over this unorthodox lady called Mom.
No. I do something good for the day and I remember her constant admonition that a good act comes back a thousand times. That’s been true to me.
My Calvin undies are always new in the morning because I can hear her voice “What if you get hit by a truck? Your undies should be clean at least.”
If I’ve been going on over 40 years with Jonathan and even married him several years back, it’s because Mom taught me, taught my sisters, through negative example. We saw too many moments when she was alone after Dad. She had love affairs but am sure she wanted more. We don’t want to be that alone and we work our best in our marriages.
The most important lesson she gave me was to allow us kids the right to choose. As an unconventional mom she also didn’t think it her right to decide our fate as she always harped “…just because you came from my hole.” She was supportive of whatever I did and would always, always announce to the world through her letters and her stories to friends how proud she was of us. We could do no wrong.
So when I told her I was gay she shouted “Hah, no grandchildren from you!” In reality, she may have known I was, probably even [while I was] in her womb.
I’ve chosen my paths and they’ve either bombed or worked out but in the end I’m the stronger and wiser.
So, instead of having demonized Mom, I actually wish she was around to see that all her kids are happily married. I want her to know that her way of loving, throwing us to the wolves and getting a backbone made us last this long.
I want to hug her again and kiss her all over though she was uncomfortable with all that American slobbery. When I embraced her tight and not let go, she’d try to shake me off but eventually gave in and smile, realizing, in her backhanded way, the lesson she gave us on love.
Happy Mother's Day, Mom
John L. Silva is executive director of the Ortigas Library, a research library in Manila.