on Gratitude

Most recently, my parents, being the amazing people they are, told my sister and I to book some paid time off so we could go together to the Philippines as a family. My mother and father go quite a bit. You can tell that when my parents head over there my father’s homesickness goes away and he turns into a completely different, more vibrant person. Naturally, my parents have been talking about taking my sister and me. As we grow older, the number of chances for us four to take a vacation together as a family dwindles, so when the dates were finally nailed down, my sister and I jumped at the chance to join them.

One thing that my parents were excited to do was to take us island hopping in various parts of the country. Every vacation to the Philippines in memory has been during our school vacation, which is typically monsoon season. If we were lucky, we could find time to go to the mall, but for the most part we would sit in our grandmother’s room, marathoning episodes of the cheesy game show Pera o Bayong and avoiding the humidity and flooding. This time was different, though. It was as if my parents, who wanted to bring us to all these places that were important to them in the past, were possessed. Their children were in their beloved home country, and they wanted every minute to be packed to the brim with everything their home country had to offer.

My sister and I were in Asia for ten days. In the early stages of vacation planning, my sister and I were tentatively planning side trips to other cities in Asia – Janelle wanted to visit her dear friend in Korea, I wanted to take a weekend to myself in Tokyo. Our budgets and timing were not right for this feat. Mom saw what we were planning to do and encouraged us to book tickets through Hong Kong. She even surprised us by booking tickets for her and Dad to join us, so we could have more family time.

When we got to Manila, everything was a whirlwind. From the moment we landed to waking up at 4 in the morning the next day to drive to Batangas to enjoy luxurious private beaches, my parents took care of everything. From Batangas, we went to Cebu, where my mother arranged for us to stay in a beautiful condo, and was ridiculously accommodating when my sister and I stayed out all night catching up with our cousin, missing her boating reservation. Without any fuss, she rescheduled it. From Cebu we went to Zamboanga, my mother’s hometown. Mom arranged for us to see the city, visit our relatives, have manicures in bed. Still, the vacation started to wear on my sister and I. It was not in the cards for us to stay in one town for more than 36 hours. We weren’t used to eating five times a day. And every day was filled with something, from sun-up to sundown.

Our family vacation hit a snag upon returning to Manila. My father really wanted our family to go to incredibly rural Quezon province. It was colder and raining, and the stomach-churning bumpy drive did not aid our moods. Dad was so happy to show up the places where my grandfather grew up and introduce us to our family. I could not get over the weather, and my smell-sensitive sister was throwing a small tantrum over having to deal with forty wet dogs in a thirty minute timespan.

The snippy mood continued onward to Hong Kong. I was tired, exhausted, and getting over tainted water poisoning. My feet hurt walking up and down Hong Kong’s hills. My mother, through all this, kept a smile on her face as my sister and I took turns throwing small quips and barbs. She was trying to make our vacation enjoyable. I was tired of posing for the umpteenth family picture with a monument of no interest to me. I had enough.

And then, it happened. On our last full day of vacation, we were getting on the Hong Kong subway, only traveling a few stops. My mother had secured a seat on the subway car, and suggested I do the same. She kept trying to push me down, and I snapped. Worse off, I snapped at her. My own mother was just looking out for my best interests. Instead of owning up to my error, I started yelling and being defensive that she had pushed me, and my mother began to cry. My heart sank, because the entire time I had been thinking about myself. I apologized repeatedly, knowing that every apology I could muster would never be enough to repair the error that I just committed to the most important woman in my life, who spent so much time, money and effort to create the best possible experience for all of us. And not just in the Philippines or Hong Kong. Since the day I was born.

I am still pretty ashamed that I had it in me to just be such a terrible, ungrateful person. This week has been especially rough. A girl from my hometown went missing this week, the little sister of one of my sister’s friends. I think about it and of all the grief I have caused over the years, and I feel an overwhelming sense of guilt. I was a relatively troubled teenager and I can’t help but think about the pain I caused my mother when I had a meltdown and went missing – there just aren’t ever enough apologies to ameliorate my behavior of the past.

Time only goes forward – I’m a happy, well-adjusted and gainfully-employed adult, and I have a stronger sense of appreciation after tons of self-reflection. There are so many ways in the world I can pay it forward to people I care about. I try to talk to my mother and aunt more frequently now. But it’s nowhere near enough, I am nowhere near perfect, and our time on this earth is limited.

There can never be enough gratitude in the world.

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