When I was young, I thought I was adopted. Or I believed I was. I used to have bizarre dreams of me walking in an unknown neighborhood and meeting my "real parents".
My hair was lighter. My skin fairer. My eyes were smaller. I was not very good with genetics and heredity that time, and it was sort of scary that I didn't seem to look like any one of my family members. Although my looks never really changed, I'm doing fine with science now, and I have noticed I resembled Papa.
There were a few Christmases I hated Joey Albert's Pasko na, Sinta Ko; and I clung to Mama's legs and begged her not to give me away to my real parents. My mom laughed and assured me that I am her own.
I bullied my little sister as a kid. Her ultimate revenge were screaming, "I wish they didn't adopt you" or "I wish you're adopted". As we grew up, she had concocted an elaborate story that she was actually older than me and on her family's trip to China, they found me as a baby inside a trash bin. It lasted even after graduating from college.
I remember exchanging messages with Mama sometime before Christmas back in Oman. She told me she'd give me some yema (custard candies) for me to give to colleagues for Christmas. I asked her what was her Christmas gift to me. She said, "Yema din. Nakakaiyak. (Custard candies, too. I'm teary.)"
Deciphering things like this was a bit of a challenge because I used to lack emotions. I didn't get it.
I replied with a joke, saying I thought she'd give love or care or support, to which she replied that unconditional love is in the candies.
I could already picture her eyes welling up. Mama had always been rather emotional especially when watching family movies or Maalaala Mo Kaya. She had been a former accountant for hydraulics companies. She was a workaholic, but always had time to attend our school functions, make breakfast, bring us to work on Saturdays, and take us to the mall. She was amazing. If Superwoman was a real person, she would be my mom.
It pains her that she is unable to give anything now. A kiss for Papa, a greeting for my sister, and candies for me were all she could afford after being resigned from work since we entered high school. But to me, even if she had said her Christmas gift was love or loyalty or trust or that she would braid my hair, whichever would have been enough.
When I started working, my only goal was to make them happy; to be able to provide whatever it was that we couldn't have before, and slowly, I am able to make that dream come true. I told Mama, that it was all right; that it was my turn to give now.
Whenever I invite her to eat outside or when I buy her new things, she smiles at me, like the child that I was when she was the one who used to take me out. When she tells me to take her pictures or comb her hair or walk with her or take her to the grocery, my heart becomes so big, I could die in that moment. All the butterflies in my stomach flutter in an unbelievable speed that I could throw up a rainbow or a unicorn or anything wonderful for that matter. I had always been in love with her being so amazing all the time.
So, if there is absolutely anything that makes me happy, it's being with her; watching her; hearing her tell me stories; eating the dinners she makes; cheering her while she plays Zuma on her laptop; and a million other things, as long as she's there.
So this year and the rest of the Christmases in my lifetime, I give it to Mama and to her unconditional love inside the custard candies.
I love you, Mama. I am always your child. I will forever look up to you.