Thursday, July 23, 2015

Growing up

I named him “Angelino” because he was my angel (well, also because he was born on the same day as my grandmother, Angeles). Paolo Angelino saved me. From my youth, my depression, my craziness. After him, life had meaning. I needed to shape up. I was a mother, after all.

Paolo Angelino was born on August 1991. I was 20, a college junior (only because I had already wasted so many years slacking). I was young, unsure of what lay ahead but determined to bring a baby to life and raise him well.

With my week-long old Angelino

He proved to be a savior, Paolo. He straightened me up. The thought that I had to finally be responsible and dependable pushed me to finish college, at last, at 24. He was my inspiration. I remember bringing him to my college once in a while in between classes. My schoolmates knew him. They knew he was my son, and they called me, “mommy.” Maybe because I was never ashamed of it or maybe because it was nice to look up to someone who’s been through so much.

I married Paolo's father with much hesitation a few months before he was born and for five years we were a family. My ex-husband and I were young, immature and unready for the responsibilities of marriage. Parenthood was easier because of our strong support system. Grandparents on both sides and aunts and uncles provided guidance that was sometimes lacking because my ex and I were busy with school or simply because we were young and irresponsible.

Recently, I asked Paolo, now almost 24, about what he remembers from the separation. My memories of those years are vague. It seems that in order for me to survive the aftermath of those tumultuous years, I had to forget events, even feelings. Especially the feelings. Paolo said, “I just remember that you told me that you were separating from Papa and I cried.” 

Why do I look back now, 19 years after the separation? Finally, after all these years, I am in the process of filing for my annulment from my ex-husband. I am divorced in the United States and never found the need to end the marriage in the Philippines because I lived in California. And then I moved back to Manila in 2008. 

Paolo gave me away during my 2001 wedding to Allan

Coming back meant living in the society that recognizes that I am Mrs. C and not Mrs. B. I submit two passports to immigration when I travel- one Philippine and one US. Each with a different surname. My three little children from Mr. B are considered illegitimate under Philippine laws. But more importantly, I carry the legal burden of a short-lived marriage; one that was over even before it started.

Filing for annulment forced me to remember details from long ago. As I looked back, narrated my story to my lawyer and the psychologists, as I answered questionnaires and psychological tests, as I dug deeper and deeper into a stage of my life that I had long forgotten, I realized how immature and unstable I was as a young wife.

Marriage is tough but it must have been tougher for a 20-year old with no sense of identity, low self-esteem and an abundance of hangups and angst.  Even now, I admit, I find marriage difficult. It is not the happy ending we are led to believe when we are young. A lot of hard work goes into keeping a marriage strong. 

Nowadays, when marital challenges come my way, I look at my three little B kids and think of how much I love them and how I will try at all costs to make my marriage work. These children will not be the same if their parents separate. They will lose their innocence and optimism. At such a critical time, they will be forced to stop being children in order to cope with the emotional upheaval that a separation would bring. I was not going to do that to my children. 

Paolo is a wonderful kuya to his younger siblings. Tessa calls
him her "ene-brother" (enemy-brother) because "he is always
supervising" her.

And then I realize how much I’ve changed since I separated from Paolo’s dad and how much I’ve grown and matured. I have become a real parent and a true adult. (I’m 44, it’s about time!) 

Then I stop myself. Guilt floods my heart. Does that mean I did not love Paolo as much as my little children? Was I too selfish back then that I did not try harder to make that marriage work for the sake of Paolo’s happiness? Should I have stayed, should I have sacrificed my happiness and sanity so that Paolo would have a complete family?

Then I stop myself again. I look at Paolo now; how he’s grown to be responsible, good-hearted and disciplined. Could he have turned out this way if I stayed with his father? Or could he have been a better man?

Then he posted this on Facebook after his graduation: 

And then another post came on Father’s day:

My tears fell. When you're a younger parent you often wonder if all the parenting you do is good enough. Paolo's stepdad and I tried to raise him the best way we could and despite all his childhood emotional baggage, Paolo turned out to be a great man.

But, forgive me still, Paolo, for not trying harder to keep your first family intact. Forgive me please for being a crazy, selfish and irresponsible young mother who often left you with your grandparents when I had to go out with my friends. Most of all forgive me, for those years when I had to give you up so that you would grow up in a stable environment while I, myself, tried to grow up and find my way. 

You have surpassed my expectations. Thank you for charting your own course and finding your way despite all the setbacks that came your way early in life. I admire your strength and stability, your sense of identity and your resolve to be a better person than your parents were. 

After the wedding, we walked down the aisle as a family.

Your Ninong (yes, Allan is Paolo’s godfather) and I have tried our best to provide you with a stable, loving environment since you were 11 years old. It may not have been ideal. You may have had to witness a lot of drama and tears but I also hope you remember the happy times we had with your siblings who adore you. Ours was not a glitch-free marriage (it still isn’t :) ) and our family is far from normal (thank God!) but my hope is that we have given you enough good memories to help you build a strong marriage and a happy family in the (hopefully not-so-near) future. 

I love you. Happy birthday!

I'm sorry. And thank you.