Last night, after I had tucked my daughter in bed and put her to sleep, her Yaya Lita came up to me and held out a small round package. Juliana had brought it home from school the day before and had told Yaya Lita to please remind her that she had a little surprise for me. Wrapped carefully in white tissue was a single cupcake, pale yellow and quite dense as cupcakes go, the top speckled with bits of white where the tissue had stuck to the moist surface.
When school started this year, she would come home often raving about the cupcakes they helped bake. Whenever there was a scheduled orientation for parents in school she would excitedly convince me to check the box on the reply slip beside the phrase reading “Yes, I will attend.” “You must attend the orientation, Mom, the teachers will serve the yummy cupcakes we helped bake.” When I brought home cupcakes from somewhere, she would appreciate them and acknowledge how good they tasted; but always, somewhere between the first and last bite, with a wistful sigh, she would say: “But you must taste the cupcakes from our school Mom, they’re the best.”
When I finally got to attend an orientation, the cupcakes were indeed there and were indeed good. No, let me rephrase that. They were very good. They reminded me so much of the cheese cupcakes from the Magnolia Ice Cream House in Ormoc that my sister Caren and I grew up loving as kids, all the way to our teens and even to this day. On the ride back home from orientation we ate a cupcake each. It was good in a motherly and comforting sort of way, and the taste lingered like a sweet memory, even way after the last morsel melted in my mouth. For days after my first taste of it we would together remember how good it was.
Two days ago, they apparently baked them in school again and, remembering how much I had loved it the first time around, Juliana asked her teacher if she could please bring home one cupcake for me. Yaya Lita said that when she picked her up, Juliana came running towards the car, in school uniform and white socks and shiny black shoes, schoolbag looped over one arm, her lunch pack in one hand and a cupcake in the other. “Remind me to give this to Mommy because it is her favorite,” she had told her yaya. Her yaya then wrapped it in Kleenex, but forgot to give it to me until that moment.
At that point I felt like crying. Blame it maybe on a long, drawn-out day at work the day before and that day as well, or the fact that we had fought just before she fell asleep when I stood my ground and did not let her have her way even when she already said she was sorry and that she would not do it again.
We argued because she shifts into a foul mood when she gets frustrated. She can be very impatient with herself. She gets mad at herself when she cannot draw something the exact way she wants to draw it, she cries when she cannot write all her favorite words in script. Tonight she cried about her clothes. She wanted to come with me to a dance concert I was watching (she loves to dance) and when she started dressing up she said she had nothing to wear. Nothing to wear! If you added up her closet space, which holds everything from regular kids’ clothes to butterfly wings and princess outfits and accessories (she and her friends love to play dress up), it would be almost the same size as Richard’s and mine combined. She chooses her own clothes when we go shopping; she even wears some of my tops. Then she whines in front of her closet and says she has nothing to wear!
She wanted to wear a slouchy top similar to the one I was wearing but could find nothing like that among her things. And so she started whining, choosing specific items of clothing and tossing them to one side, complaining that her clothes were “not nice.” She was acting like an 18-year-old who could not decide what to wear on her first date. Too tired to match her tone with my own I’m-your-mommy-and-you-better-not-talk-to-me-that-way voice, I very quietly told her that if I hear her whining one more time she was definitely staying behind. Naturally she whined even more, about me being mean and unfair and all that. I told her two more times and she likewise whined two more times, each louder than the first.
That was it for me. I changed and got ready for the show while she did everything from calling up her daddy, who was at work, to calling up her lolo and lola and her Tita Caren in Ormoc to make sumbong, to clinging to my leg while bawling, to hiding the shoes I chose to wear with my outfit, to saying “I’m sorry Mom, please let me go with you,” copious tears falling from her sad eyes.
I hugged her and told her I loved her and that yes, she was forgiven, but that she still was not coming with me. I had given her a choice from the onset; she still chose to whine and thus she must deal with the consequences. I could see the confusion in her eyes when she said, “How can you say you love me but you still won’t let me go with you?” And then she cried some more. Bawled is more like it.
I stood my ground, but inside my heart I was all broken up. I so wanted to just take her in my arms, take her along with me and forget that we even fought or argued. I was glad that I did not match her temper, that I was able to talk to her without snapping at her despite my own frustration; but still I felt drained and all weak inside. I knew I had to be consistent and firm to get the message across. By not giving in, I hoped I was able to teach her a lesson. But did I? How can I know for sure?
At her age, I’m sure I knew nothing of patience and the graceful way to handle frustration with one’s self. I could not possibly make her understand that now; she is still in a different age, that age where she cannot seem to wait to get from here to there, that age where she cannot wait to act all grown up when in fact she is still very far from it. I can only try to explain patience and frustration and respect and obedience in ways I know she can grasp. Like how Jesus always spoke in a gentle manner and how He says children should respect and obey their parents. How she would feel if she bought someone lots of clothes only for that person to tell her she had no clothes to wear, or that they were not stylish enough or nice enough.
I held her and stayed beside her as she cried and begged, until she fell asleep from exhaustion. I was tired myself, an emotional kind of tired. I almost did not want to leave for the show anymore. Was I being too hard? Should I have gone easier on her? But I know also that to be effective I must be consistent. But still the whole drama of the night did not rest easy in the heart.
Tonight I am reminded of how difficult it is to be a parent. To be given the privilege to love, from conception and birth, this little person fully, unconditionally, and yet be concurrently tasked with molding him/her to be a kind, compassionate person, mindful of other people’s needs and feelings.
It feels a lot like being stretched and pulled from opposite ends, wanting to love and give all that you can yet knowing that, sometimes, a “no” must be heard. Maybe in time, she will know and appreciate what Mommy meant, even if it had to come with a little pain in her little heart.
I think of my little Juliana, who is really not so little anymore, and her many sweet ways. I remember how she always pulls me by the hand towards my closet to make me choose my favorite top or my favorite shawl or hairclip. How she puts them in the many pretty boxes she keeps from presents we receive, how she carefully wraps them using my pretty wrapping paper, attaching a card with an illustration of two girls that look alike except that one is taller and the other smaller (me and her obviously) and an “I love you, Mommy.” She wraps my favorite things and gives them to me as gifts knowing that I like them. I look at the first shelf on my desk, tacked along the perimeter with drawings she made, illustrations interspersed with her loopy handwriting that says “I love you Mommy” or “To Mommy.” I think of the cupcake she brought home from school for me the day before, which I now hold in my hand. How we argued tonight and the other times before that.
I try to rise above all those memories as I eat carefully, lovingly, the almost hardened piece of cupcake, knowing that as a mommy tonight will not be the last time I will be feeling this torn over the whole loving and disciplining and obedience thing. And at this point I really, really feel like crying myself.