My parents met as classmates taking Masters in Sociology in Malate. They married in a training center. They wore simple cheap matching batik outfits and asked their guests to share their BYOB and then donated to charity the money they received.
Growing up in Holland, I remember that (almost) everything we owned – the furniture we sat on, the cutlery we ate with, the clothes we wore, the books we read – were either hand me downs, were gathered from the many different airplanes we flew in, or were bought at second hand stores.
During Christmas season, my classmates ran around the playground in their brand new clothes and showed off their brand new toys and brand new bikes. Papa put our family’s simplicity in perspective with: “Mientje (my nickname), you get to go to the Philippines every year. Would you rather have brand new things or go to the Philippines?”
When my parents had the opportunity to leave Europe and transfer the family back to the Philippines, they grabbed it. We stayed in beautiful Antique where I remember Mama seemed to be a feminist light years ahead of other married women. Antiquenos found it such a novelty at the time that mama retained her maiden name. When I reached college, my parents moved the family to Davao and Mama told my classmates: “Call me ‘Ms. Javellana’ never ‘Mrs. Vandenbroeck’.” Her passport and all other documents showed the same. Growing up, I’d often hear papa being addressed as “Mr. Javellana” instead. People who just met my parents and didn’t know that Mr. Vandenbroeck and Ms. Javellana were actually married, would be confused by their affection for each other. To the persistently curious, Mama explained nalang: “Arnold is my querido!”
Mama loves shocking people like that. It comes naturally to her. When she was in college, she once cut classes with her best friend, to watch a movie. They were the only students in the quiet dark cinema wearing their immaculate white Ateneo uniforms. Everyone was intently following the protagonist running after a plane that was about to take off. They jumped in their seats when Mama suddenly stood up and raised her arm: “Waaaaait!” she told the pilot of the plane.
Mama’s style of movie watching rubbed off on me and Bayani Vandenbroeck, my brother. When we all watched Jurrasic Park for the first time in the cinema, only papa didn’t cover his eyes as the dinosaurs hunted the humans. The whole time, mama peeked through her hands, asking: “Arnold, unsa nahitabo?” (Arnold, what’s happening?) “Unsa daw?” (What did she say?) “Gipatay na sila?” (Are they dead?)
My mother dear is so damn participative. Just before my Masters thesis defense, I reminded her several times to, “Ma, do not join the panel of judges and ask questions ha? Ma, pleaaaase keep quiet ha?” She almost succeeded! She was sitting at the back of the room encouraging me. She did not ask questions. But she did not keep quiet either.
Maya: “My research shows that…”
Mama: “That’s a good point!”
Maya: “My review of related literature is found on…”
Maya: “I found out that there are other ways to…”
Mama: “Well done, Maya!”
One time I had Bagani, my classmate and biking partner, over for dinner for the first time. The moment Bagani sat down to eat, Mama complained of the heat and, to Bagani’s astonishment, Mama nonchalantly unclasped her bra from under her shirt, removed it like a magician, and hung it over her chair. Then she whistled to make the wind stir. And flapped her short skirt to fan herself. “Init kaayo!” (It’s so hot!)
This crazy mother of mine wears her heart on her sleeve, and is comfortable in her skin no matter what other people think or say. She has the audacity to be real and sincere, fun and spontaneous.