By Maridol Ranoa-Bismark

Since she retired early this year, my 75-year-old balikbayan mom has been staying with me in the house she helped build with her hard-earned money. The set-up is not as easy as you’d think. She left for the States right after I got married, figuring that my then new husband will take over the duties she used to fulfill for me. That’s a good 20 years of learning how to run a household, finding out the shortest route from my office in Manila to my house in Quezon City, raising my son, dealing with my husband and in-laws, etc.

It was a time of learning the ropes of motherhood, balancing family and career, and dealing with office intrigues on my own. I learned  to hold my breath while navigating the flood waters of Espana, shut my mouth when the boss woke up at the wrong side of the bed, fight for my rights as a wife, go to the moviehouse alone, and drive home in the early dawn hours all on my own.

And then my mom returns to mother me all over again. She makes me eat soda crackers just before I leave the house for work, asks me where I’m going every morning, and fetches me from work in the evening. After 20 years of being on my own, I want to scream, “No more! I’m a big girl now, thank you!”

I think she feels the same way about me as well. I ask her if she has enough money left in the bank for her needs and she protests, “Oh, but I deposited that money so I can spend it while I’m here!”

Very well, case closed.

I caution her against eating too much pork and `sinful’ food, and she shoots back, “It’s OK. I don’t do this often. And I don’t get to taste kare-kare anymore in the States.”

I offer to escort her in the nearby mall where she wants to have a hair cut and she says she can do it on her own. I assure her that I will pay for the cost of a paint job in her room, and she says it can wait until she comes home again for the Christmas holidays.

I guess my mom is as stubborn as I am, but I still don’t get it.

Or perhaps we’ve grown so apart the past 20 years we were away from each other that we scarcely know each other anymore. She has adopted the American way of relying on Western medicine for osteoporosis, arthritis, and even the common cold. I believe in resting to suppress the common cold, overloading on bananas to preserve my eyesight, and drinking milk to strengthen my bones.

But I dutifully swallow the pills she lays down on my plate every morning and  I haven’t gotten sick despite my killer schedule. She doesn’t withdraw from the bank every now and then because I will frown at her when I learn about it.

I grudgingly go to the salon and have my hair and nails done because she believes it gives me `personality.’ Personality? Duh?

It’s give and take. And I guess my mom is learning from me the way I’m learning from her. We may be reluctant to admit it, even to ourselves, but we’re adjusting to each other. Why, I even catch myself speaking like her!

In time, I know we’ll get used to each other again. And our 20-year absence in each other’s lives will vanish, like raindrops on a sunny day. After all, she is my mother. And as cheesy as it may sound, I love her. So I bend backwards and I know she does, too.

And guess what? This bending backwards between us will never stop, osteoporosis be damned!