Riding in Planes With My Mom

Asia, Macau

I watched her intently as her lips quivered while reading and re-reading her dog-eared and overused travel Macau handbook. As someone who has known her for the past 28 years, I knew that in that exact moment, she was ready to burst with excitement.

For the past two hours, while flying at an altitude of 35,000 feet, she had been brave not to show it. But with our destination barely miles away, her resolve seemed to be melting away as she now struggles to hide her sheer anticipation and anxiety in taking her first steps in a new strange land.

For all intents and purposes, she is not only conquering a new territory, but she is also conquering invisible bonds that have tied her to our concrete, duplex house that was so lonely and discouraging, it prevented her from being the person she really wanted to be.

I have heard of stories of how my mother, at the prime of her life, has been an independent and free-spirited woman who pursued her own happiness. This may have been true, but since I was a child, I have only seen a person who was caged by the limitations of a patriarchal society and by a husband, who thought it was already a mighty achievement to send his kids to school and bring food to the table.

Never mind the fact that his kids, his wife, were never able to enjoy a day of relaxation in the park or in the beach. For him, he has kept his end of the bargain and that was that.

If I tried too hard to remember, I could recall visits to relatives in nearby provinces, but these too were not family trips per se, but social calls to project an image of a loving and functioning family that he so cherished.

One thing my father was passionate about was perfection and success. Instead of school field trips or family excursions to the countryside, he would rather have us locked in the living room memorizing history facts and figures, or the table of elements.

For my sister, whom he wanted to be a doctor, there are no dates, no late nights, so long as they are for dissecting stuff for biology classes.

For some, this may be viewed as being sheltered but for us, this was like being imprisoned in our daily routine. In the years to come, I would realize that my father’s strict ways, was the reason why I was only able to go to my first mall when I was 16.

And all those time, being the supportive and traditional wife, she welcomed each day with a hopeful belief that things would get better for all us.

She seldom aired her frustrations but one time, when I was 13, arriving home from school, I saw her looking out of the window probably into some far away memory when she was still happy and free.

I don’t think she regretted marrying my father or having children but I think deep down, she resented the life of a traditional wife, who has to strictly follow what her husband wants. In her case, it is to stay in the house, keep things in order, and project a picture of a contented wife, even when she was dying to go to places she has heard in conversations from visitors.

I remember how her eyes would light up upon hearing Milan, Hong Kong, Las Vegas, and other places our other relatives seemed to frequently visit. But despite her excitement, she never asked my father or anyone for that matter.

She kept quiet all those long years, appearing to be content with the life she was given. She kept quiet even when one by one, her children would leave the house to pursue their own lives, traveling at varying speeds to varying directions, away from our family home in Manila.

On my very first travel, a sponsored trip to Seoul, she lovingly packed my bags and prepared everything I needed for the trip. At the airport, she told me to take good care of myself. I asked her if she wanted to go with me but she told me that she wasn’t the traveling type.

But I know better.

Two years ago, when my father succumbed to heart complications brought about by his long bout with diabetes, I saw something in my mother that I haven’t seen. She seemed to exude a quiet confidence, as if to tell the world that she is gonna be okay and that contrary to what everyone else believes, she can make it on her own.

It was then that I realized that she was finally ready to discover new places and reach greater heights.

Now on this flight towards Macau, she will experience a first in her life.

This is her first foreign travel. This is also the first time she did something without the explicit permission of my father. This could also be the first time that she will be truly happy.

After making the right preparations (like saving enough budget), I finally surprised my mother with her very first chance to leave the confines of her old town and old life. It was the first time that the two of  us would be traveling together.

I offered to take her to Korea during winter, or summer in the white beaches of Thailand but unexpectedly, she asked for Macau.

I asked her patiently why, of all the places we can visit in this planet, she chose to visit this one particular place. She looked me in the eye and said, that at that stage of her life, finally, she wanted to try her luck.

I didn’t catch her meaning at first, but after a long look at her expectant face, I think I finally understood what she meant.

In this foreign territory, known for its penchant for gambling, she wanted to try to discover things in her rules and in her own time. She wants to make her own decisions and even if those decisions prove to be a failure, at least it was hers to make.

In a few minutes, we’re landing in Macau and I couldn’t wait to see the woman she has become.

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