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My mother was the eldest daughter; I am the oldest child. Like my Nanay Salud, I was born into the role of a designated mother in accordance with family tradition observed by several generations before us.

As designated mothers, we were prepared from childhood—mastering household chores like food marketing, cooking, home management, and generally caring for the family.  

For my mother, it meant accepting the fact that she would not go to college despite her good grades in school. Instead, she married young but on condition that she and her new family stayed in her parents’ compound so she could look after her own mother and father and younger siblings.

Her younger sisters were sent to universities in Manila. One became a doctor, the other a teacher.

My earliest memories were of weekend trips with Nanay Salud to my aunts’ dormitory near UST to deliver clean uniforms, homemade snacks, and their weekly allowance. She collected her sisters’ soiled clothes to be washed and pressed at home and returned ready-to-wear the following weekend.

As a child, I was taught not to question family traditions. Only decades later did I realize the opportunities Nanay Salud and her children missed by being the designated mother.  

My aunts married professionals and lived in beautiful homes. We stayed in our grandparents’ old house. They sent their kids to private schools. My brothers and I went to public schools. I was in college when I felt the injustice and complained. Nanay Salud explained that we should just accept our fate. After all, the public school I was forced into entering was the University of the Philippines in Diliman.

I was 25 and single when Nanay Salud died and we became orphans. I became mother and father to my younger brothers. That was when I learned to appreciate all the years of training and preparation I received as designated mother. I was tough and ready.

My training began when I was barely five, Grandma took me to public markets daily, teaching me the names of all the fish, fruits, and vegetables. In her old-fashioned kitchen, she showed me how to clean, cut, cook, and preserve food frugally and wisely.

I inherited her heirloom recipes for kare-kare, lechon sauce, burong mustasa, tauchong bangus, palaka sa gabi, pancit pusit, and many more.

Using her old Singer sewing machine, I pedaled my way through aprons, dish towels, and dresses, ripping apart old clothes to reuse as patterns and as repurposed materials.

Together, we patched holes in banig (grass mats) and wicker (solihiya) rattan chairs. She gave me her old baro’t saya sets embroidered with abaloryo (glass beads) to keep and copy.

“Be patient with children” was her mantra with her dozen grandkids. I try to remember this when I am overwhelmed by my own dozen apo.

Marrying late was the price I willingly paid as designated mother. I waited until my brothers had their own families before settling down. It turned out to be a blessing. At 33, I had become less rebellious and more patient—traits that helped keep our multi-racial marriage together.

Today, as a 75-year-old great grandmother and matriarch of a growing family, I look back and thank past generations for traditions which, with a few tweaks, could produce more caring and loving families.

Source: Manila Bulletin (

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