In Defense of Sadness

I’ve seen the movie “Inside Out” several times already, but it still makes me cry each time I watch it. I think it’s one of the most intelligent and insightful animated movies ever made. 

Everyone wants to be happy. The pursuit of happiness drives people to do what they do. Much has been said about the subject. That happiness is a choice, a decision, a state of mind or being. That it is independent of circumstances. It seems to be the goal, the motivation, the reason of our actions. We just want to be happy.

I love “Inside Out” because while Joy is the obvious protagonist in the story, it reveals Sadness as the not so obvious hero. Nobody wants to be sad. (Unless one finds happiness in it. In which case, being sad is one’s twisted way of being happy.) Sadness seemed to ruin things in headquarters, whenever she touched core memories, or wanted to assert herself. She didn’t seem to have any place or function; she didn’t seem to belong. Who in one’s right mind would want to be sad? For most of us, it is an emotion we despise, try to avoid, and would rather get rid of altogether.

But what happens when Joy and Sadness disappear, and Fear, Disgust and Anger are left in charge of one’s life? 

We have always known the importance of having Joy in our lives, but we realize the part Sadness plays, and what a very important part it is. 

For those who have seen the movie, remember that scene when Bing Bong couldn’t be consoled by Joy, and only felt better upon talking with Sadness? How about the part when Joy realized that it was Sadness who reached out to Riley’s parents and friends, after Riley missed the shot in the hockey game? And that part when Riley returns back home, after attempting to run away? It was Sadness who made her open up to her parents, and tell them… “I know you want me to be happy… but I miss home.”

We usually don’t just ignore Sadness, but try to fight it, get it out of our system, not knowing that it has a place in our lives.

I love “Inside Out” because this was one of its most poignant messages that I got. Sadness has its purpose. So instead of treating it like a villain, it might be better to welcome it like a friend. Just like Joy did. It was only when she allowed Sadness to take charge, that things started to get better for Riley. Each emotion has its own place in our lives, and the same holds true for sadness. There’s a happy kind of sad, a sad kind of happy. Our multidimensionality allows us to experience a whole range of emotions at the same time, without necessarily going crazy.

So, the next time you find yourself facing a bit of melancholy, it’s okay. Accept it. Embrace it. Don’t fight it. Don’t invalidate it. Just let it be. Because if you let it, it will eventually lead you where you need to be. And in this world of duality, where Joy and Sadness go together just like in the movie, we can take comfort in the knowledge that where Sadness is, Joy cannot be far behind.

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Missing Ms. D

My baby girl is turning three soon. I will be giving birth in about three months. God is great and I am grateful. I have prayed for this kind of life – to be a mother and a wife, and there was a time I thought it would never happen, that it probably wasn’t for me. But it happened when I least expected it, and now four years later, here I am, living the dream. 

Or am I? 

Sometimes I ask myself, is this what I really wanted? And I remember that I used to write about it, pray, cry, and wonder when, or if, the dream would ever come true. Now, I find myself looking back, and admitting that yes, while I am happy and grateful that my dream came true, a part of me misses the time when I was young, wild (?) and free.

What exactly do I miss? I miss me. I miss who I used to be. I had a lot of angst and drama in my life, which I channeled through taking on different roles on stage, or dealt with by going on adventures and doing things for the first time, like scuba diving, joining a marathon, hiking, or camping on the beach where there were no toilets. I was sheltered and overprotected as I was growing up, so in my late 20s, I tried to compensate for that by going out, not really to party, but just to expose myself to different kinds of people and experiences. I joined an indie film, took on small roles in some teleseryes, and obliged when friends in the industry needed a talent for a video or their thesis. It got tiring, but I had fun. I also gave workshops on using theater techniques and principles to different groups – teachers, sales people, managers, and went to Shanghai, representing the Philippines in a theater festival. Theater seemed to be a big part of my life, even if it was something that I did on the side. I was a teacher by profession. An actor, by passion. But I believe that this passion spilled over to my teaching and the other things that I did.

I was “Ms. D” or “Ms. Laserna” to my students, and I was friendly (mostly) with them. I wasn’t the type who hung out with them after class, but we enjoyed our time inside the classroom (mostly) because it was a non-threatening environment where they were encouraged to express themselves. I would plan activities that would engage them, and I honestly looked forward to our classes not only because I was excited about what I would share, but also because I learned a lot from them. They sometimes had insights which just blew my mind. It wasn’t always fun, and there were also challenging times that tried our love-hate relationship, but in the end, it was fulfilling, and I honestly loved them. 

And I dare say, they loved me too. Some might have hated my guts, or style, or despised my rules, but I know that they admired me for my energy and passion. This is what I miss most. Not the admiration (well, okay, that too, to be honest), but the energy and passion, the anticipation (both theirs and mine) when I enter a room. Each session was different, and we were always ready to be surprised by one another. I was always on my toes. 

Now, the days blur into each other. But though they may be long, the years are short. My daughter is my only student now. She is my only audience. My husband works abroad, but I also subject him to my monologues sometimes. I am pregnant and usually moody. I am no longer the bubbly, cheerful, Ms. D. But I know she’s still somewhere there inside me. It’s difficult to find her when most of my time is spent with a toddler, but when I look at my daughter and see how she has grown, my heart swells with love and gratitude. I may no longer feel smart, or sexy, but when I behold such beauty, and realize the part that I play in it, in the way she gazes at me, and puts her dolls inside her shirt, saying there’s a baby in her belly, I relish the fact that I am mommy. Then she calls out to me, “Ms.D!!!” and I can’t help but laugh.

“Who is Ms. D?” I ask her.

And she says matter of factly, “mommy. My mommy is Ms. D!”

I smile, and I thank God for her, and I thank her for reminding me.

Martyr Mom

I was once asked to write a feature about a person, and when I handed in an essay about my mom, my freshman college english teacher told me that it wasn’t wrong when a daughter dotes on a mother the way I do, but that there was a fine line between that and turning my mother into a saint. What I had written, according to him, was a hagiography, and he didn’t mean it as a compliment.

Fast forward to 17 years later, I wonder how I would write about my mom? I also learned about cliches from that particular teacher, and how to avoid them, but usually, when people talk about their mothers, they usually express themselves in cliches and superlatives. Best mom in the world… If only I could be half the mother you are… I love you so much… Thank you for everything…

It’s not that we don’t actually mean what we say when we say these things, but they’ve been said so many times by so many people, that the words no longer reveal how we really feel about someone.

My relationship with my mom now is also very different from how it was 17 years ago. My perception of her has changed over the years. I no longer see her as a saint and I no longer dote on her the way I did. Hahaha.

Seriously though, I admire my mother, even if I am not very vocal about it. She knows how to take care of herself. She is beautiful by nature, and she has managed to look the same for decades. People do not exaggerate when they say she hasn’t aged a bit. I half-jokingly tell them that it’s because I never gave her any problems, growing up. I didn’t know exactly how to feel back then when people said that she was so beautiful, more beautiful than me, but I have grown up feeling very proud about it. I am proud of the way she has maintained her beauty through the years. And when people say that my daughter looks like her, I am grateful.

My mom and I used to be very close. She would always say that we were best friends. And many of my friends have compared us to the “Gilmore Girls.” I don’t know exactly at what point things started to change. Maybe it was when I first had a boyfriend. And everything seemed to change from then on. I felt that my mom and I were from two completely different worlds, and couldn’t understand each other. I knew she loved me, and I knew I loved her, but there was a lot of resentment both ways. We dealt with our issues through going out. When we went shopping it seemed that everything was ok again. Retail therapy made everything seem normal and happy. That probably explains our compulsion for shopping. It was a band-aid solution to whatever problems we were having.

In spite of our differences, my mom would drop everything for me. At least, that’s how one family friend put it. She does everything for me, even when she doesn’t have to. And later on finds a way to make sure that I don’t forget it. She went to the US twice in a span of a month, to help me take care of my daughter, and then to accompany us back to the Philippines. She seems ready to leave everything behind instantly – her job, my dad – just so she could be of assistance to me. I appreciate it, of course. Even if I am unable to show or say it.

Now, she isn’t just mother to me, but to my toddler as well. Again, she does everything for me, now that I am pregnant with a second baby. My daughter and I still live with my parents because my husband works and lives abroad, and sometimes it feels that my toddler is my little sister, and my mom is OUR mother. I am grateful that she takes care of both me and my daughter now, on top of her other responsibilities. I can see how taken she is with her first grandchild. When there are some inconsistencies between her way and mine in raising my daughter, I usually give in to avoid conflict. I trust her years of experience in mothering, and hope that our combination will produce a positive result in the child.

We may disagree and argue, become hurtful in our words and actions towards each other sometimes, but my mom is the kind of mother who will always rise to whatever challenge life, or I, haha, might throw at her. She may be angry at times, or bitter, but will always do more than what is expected of her. She is excellent in taking care of and teaching a toddler, at the risk of overprotecting and spoiling her. She continues to take care of me and provide for my needs, to remind me of what should or shouldn’t be done, criticize and chastise, but more than what she says, or doesn’t, what speaks louder is the way she puts her family above all else, making her husband, her daughter, and now her granddaughter, her top priorities.

I have always wanted to step out of my parents’ shadow, but I may be more like my mom than I realize. I have always seen her as “mother”, that I forget she is a woman, too. Because for as long as I can remember, this woman has always been around to care for others around her that while she has been very good at taking care of herself physically, she might have forgotten to nurture other facets of her, aside from that of being “mother.” I can only hope that she has no regrets over the choices she has made. I know there was a time she wanted to be a doctor. Then kids happened, and she said, that her life was all about the children. In fact, the reason she became a teacher was that she was always waiting around in school for my older brother. I don’t know if she expects  me to take care of my kids the way she took care of us. She told me before that she gave up everything for us when we were little. She said she felt like she was turning dumb and deteriorating mentally because she was always at home. She said it like she had no choice. Like that’s also supposed to be my choice.

I cannot blame her for trying to guide me based on her beliefs and experiences. Maybe that’s what mothers do. Pardon the cliche, but mothers do want the best for their children. And I love my mom for doing her best. She raised her daughter, while carrying with her the pain of losing a son. She showered her with attention and affection good for two, or even more. She did all she could to protect her from harm. She gave her everything she needed, and so much more. You can just imagine what she went through when the daughter started to grow up.

It must be heartbreaking, when you devote yourself to someone who will eventually leave to live a life of her own. I thank my mom, whose heart must have been broken lots of times, for continuing to subject herself to heartbreak. I don’t mean to encourage masochism, but somehow I hope she finds happiness despite being heartbroken, or at least that the happiness in caring for others is greater than the regrets.

Pregnancy, politics and the Philippines

Election period in the Philippines has always been colorful and circus-like but it has become even more controversial this year. The use of social media to campaign for and against candidates has reached epic proportions, and has blurred the lines between the political and personal. I, however, made a conscious effort to be apolitical on social media, because I don’t want to be confrotational towards anyone who might oppose my views. I have to say though, that I am more nervous than excited about the results of the elections. I try to be nonchalant about politics, but deep inside, I know that I am affected more than I let on.  Or else I wouldn’t spend so much time online, reading and searching, and trying to decipher truth from propaganda, fact from fiction. If there’s one thing I’m grateful for, it seems (at least for us consumers of social media) that more people are involved, or want to be, in deciding the future of our country. It may be a bandwagon, but it’s one that I welcome, even if I chose not to be part of it.

I did choose to exercise my right to vote, and it’s my second time to vote while pregnant. Some people say that everything – thoughts, emotions, hormones – are exaggerated during pregnancy, but somehow the future seems more immediate when one votes thinking of the baby inside her belly. Three years ago, when I was four months pregnant, I was chastised by many for coming back to the Philippines from the US. My child could’ve been a US citizen, they said. I don’t really consider myself to be nationalistic, but for some reason, other than the convenience of having a lot of physical and moral support when I give birth, I wanted to give birth in the Philippines. Last month, I went back home to the Philippines again, and now, I am almost seven months pregnant, and I also wouldn’t want to give birth anywhere else. I sometimes kid that my child might be the next President of our country.

Whoever wins in this election, and whatever impact this may have on our lives, on my family, I refuse to believe that the future is brighter and life is necessarily better elsewhere. Maybe I AM nationalistic. Some might even call me idiotic for saying so. I am nervous, yes, but I am also excited to see what’s in store for us in the next few years. I have hope in uncertainty; I have faith in the unknown. Pregnancy has taught me to trust and be patient, then to push and let go. Similarly, the birth of a nation does not happen without labor pains. Especially now that Filipinos seem to be more politically conscious and ready to take action. We push if we must. We labor, we push, we push some more, until we see and hear and breathe the kind of life we hold dear.