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Newsmakers

Mommy Sonia

PEOPLE - Joanne Rae M. Ramirez - The Philippine Star
Mommy Sonia
Sonia Reyes Mayor with daughters (from left): Valerie, Joanne, Mae and Geraldine.

During my birthday a couple of years ago, sports legend Freddie Webb told me that one’s birthday is the day one should honor one’s parents “who brought you into this world.”

Especially one’s mother. Because of your mother, you have a birthday even by just her physical, painful act of giving birth to you. (This was the time before surrogates, who also have made many women happy mothers.) And many have given up their lives to give birth to another life, so that I remember the late Father Reuter, SJ telling us in one of our high school retreats that a mother who dies in childbirth goes straight to heaven because, as Scripture says, there is no greater love than laying down one’s life for another.

My mother Sonia Reyes Mayor underwent four Caesarian operations in the ’60s, riskier procedures then compared to now, to give birth to me and my sisters Mary Mae, Geraldine and Valerie. It was going to be Mom’s first delivery when I was due to be born, and the doctors expected me to make a “normal” appearance, but I wouldn’t budge from the refuge of her womb. So when my heartbeat weakened, my parents and her doctors decided on a Caesarian — and Mom had three more after that.

It’s been two months since my birthday but it’s never too late to shower bouquets on my mother, especially since we had just celebrated Mother’s Day last Sunday. This is a welcome gift as well because Mommy Sonia just arrived in Manila after nine months in New Jersey with my sister Dr. Geraldine Mayor.

From the time she was a new student from Bongabon, Oriental Mindoro, and a boarder at the St. Scholastica’s College in Manila, to her UP days, to the many homes she made for us as Dad (the late Frank Mayor) was assigned to Iloilo City, Manila, Legazpi City, Makati and later, Anaheim in California, Mom was always popular with any circle she found herself in.  My colleague Büm Tenorio Jr. once complimented me by saying that in one event we went to, he was awed that I could identify all the people in the ballroom but one. I got that from my Momma. She could work a room and remember names, anecdotes and trivia on people she had met.

“She is like a magnet that attracts rather than repels,” says my sister Mae, who concedes that at 83, Mom is “a better dresser than me. She always makes an effort to look her best.”

“Because of my profession, I have encountered many adults wounded by what their parents said or did to them.  It made me realize how fortunate and blessed I am that my mother never said anything to hurt my feelings or make me feel bad about myself or my actions.  My mother is kind and never cruel.  To have that kind of peace in my life is the best gift a mother can ever give her child,” says Geraldine, a psychiatrist.

“I admire Mom’s positive outlook in life,” says our bunso Valerie Sotto. “She radiates hope and happiness wherever she goes. That’s why a lot of people like having her around. She is their happy pill…”

Mom’s granddaughter Trish, Val’s only daughter, agrees. “Grandma’s instinct is to compliment people.”

***

When Mom started living in the US in the ’90s, one of her therapeutic tasks was doing the laundry in the washing machine. Whenever we would visit her, she would insist on doing it, even when we were about to return to the Philippines and would just heap our soiled clothes inside a laundry bag and toss the bag inside our suitcase.

“Para pagbukas ninyo ng maleta pagdating ninyo sa Pilipinas, mabango,” she would say. Indeed, when we would open our suitcases and balikbayan boxes in Manila, we would quip that our home would be “amoy States.”

Even now, in her eighties, Mom still loves doing the laundry, so much so that my sister Geraldine had a state-of-the-art washing machine and dryer installed just outside Mom’s bedroom in New Jersey. So, during a recent reunion there with my sisters, she still did the laundry.

I think her obsession, if you would call it that, with sweet-smelling laundry is part of her language of love.

When my sisters and I were still children, and Downy was unheard of yet, our bed sheets were always sweet-smelling and crisp. Mom didn’t do the manual laundry, but she was very particular about it. I remember that whenever classes were suspended due to a typhoon or whatever, I would jump right into bed still in my uniform and burrow my face in the pillow and just smell the sheets around me. They smelled like love and home. Indeed studies show that scent evokes more memories than any other sense.

“There’s no place like Grandma’s home,” says David George Nye, Mae’s son.

Indeed. Mom’s home would have this distinctive scent from her love of scented candles and potpourri that even her niece Stephanie Reyes, who once visited Mom, would say in her “thank you” letter: “I miss your home and the smell of your home.”

***

I have been working, though part time and by choice at the time, since I was 18 years old. I earned my first paycheck (signed by the late Betty Go Belmonte) even before I graduated from the University of the Philippines. And my being a career woman was largely informed by my mother. Dad was the wind beneath my wings but it was Mom who urged me to fly.

A full-time housewife, she always encouraged my sisters and me to have a career. She was prescient. She knew our times would be different from hers, and that women would and could break many glass ceilings if they chose to in the generation after hers.

So, whenever I felt guilty about being a working mother, she was the first to put a balm over the guilt before it became a wound. She would always say that I have become a better wife and mother because I had fulfilled my best potential.

I remember she only put her foot down once, during the 1987 coup attempt led by then Col. Gringo Honasan. My son Chino was just a year old. I was needed in my post in the press office at Malacañang and that was a time I felt like a soldier ready to face the barrel of the gun. Was it adrenaline? Love of country? Foolhardiness?

Then my mother told me: “Your husband can find another wife, but your son will never have another mother.”

That was it. I stayed home till the situation calmed down for the day.

Because truly, one can only have one mother and thank God, Mommy, God gave me you.

(You may e-mail me at [email protected]. Follow me on Instagram @joanneraeramirez.)

SONIA

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