By Tina Arceo-Dumlao

The realization that I was truly and absolutely responsible for someone else’s life came without warning one quiet morning in 1996, a few days after my son, Miggy, was born.

My mother had left that day for work and left me home alone with my two brothers with the firm instruction that we should give Miggy – who was a little over a week old at that time – a nice, relaxing bath as soon as he woke up from his early morning nap.

She neglected, however, to tell us exactly how to do just that.

Because I delivered via caesarian section, it was my mother who had been giving Miggy a bath since we came home from the hospital, and I did not see for myself how she transformed the little life form into a sweet smelling baby since I was mostly in bed recovering from my operation. My husband, Jerome, who was an executive at that time in an office in Makati City, was not around to help because he had left early for work.

And so there we were, three siblings without any idea how to give a fragile, crying baby a refreshing bath.

We argued over options: Should we just put him in the tub? But he might drown! Do we just put him on the bath mat? But we might miss some spots! Should we use a sponge or a small towel? But it might hurt him. How much pressure do we apply? Will he get scratched?

There were too many questions and just us three loudly arguing over what is the right thing to do.

In the end, I took over and made the final decision. I was the mother after all and the call was mine and mine alone to make. Talk about responsibility on a young and first time mother’s shoulders.

And so I told my Kuya to carefully hold him over the bathtub while my younger brother and I took turns soaping then rinsing him.

Of course, it was the wrong and inefficient way to do it, but he did end up smelling like only newborns can – a faint mix of milk, baby powder, and baby soap. I came out feeling oh so proud of myself because I, who was 24 years old when my son was born on Feb. 2, 1996, had made my first major decision for the good of my son. I had become a mommy!

Armando Miguel Arceo Dumlao is 15 years old now and in his final year in high school at La Salle Green Hills, and it has been one decision after another since that time I gave him a bath for the first time.

Some do not require much brain activity: Mom, can I go to the party? No. Mom, can I stay overnight at a friend’s house? No. Mom, can I get a new pair of shoes? No. Others you have to agonize over: Mom, can I ask somebody to be my date to the prom? Ummm….Yes (Sigh). Mom, can I start driving soon? I’ll think about it.

But through everything, I was guided by the same overriding, singular thought that crowded my head that time that I was splashing water on my baby’s tiny, wriggling body: What is the best for my son?

My decisions are not right all the time, but I rest easy knowing that right or wrong, I tried to do what is best for him – always for him, not about myself.  And that sacrifice, that heroic act of putting my son’s interest before my own (even if it kills me) is, for me, what motherhood is all about.

Tina Arceo Dumlao is a multi-awarded journalist and desk editor of the Philippine Daily Inquirer. She has a Journalism degree from the University of the Philippines.

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