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Are You Homesick, Mama?

...this is one of the few chances I get to hear a homily in Tagalog, and to listen to all-Filipino choirs singing Kordero ng Diyos and Ama Namin, just like back home.

It is around the first week of Advent when my children begin to hear The Best of Bukas Palad on a regular basis. There's something about listening to Emmanuel or Mariang Ina Ko that slows me down during these frantic days of preparation. It is not intentional to bombard them with my music—Mama's music, as they call it. In fact, I do make it a habit to intersperse their Cat. Chat audio shows and Veggie Tales CDs with Munting Bulilit songs so they don't ascribe labels to the music in the house as mine or theirs, or children's or grown-ups'. But they do notice.

By the middle of Advent, we are plotting our route to the different parishes hosting a Simbang Gabi Mass. We are fortunate to have several locations to choose from every night, making our nightly commute shorter than an hour during rush hour traffic. The girls don't seem to mind too much because the salu-salo after the Mass, with the ever-present pansit and puto, has never failed to entice them. I am not complaining either because this is one of the few chances I get to hear a homily in Tagalog, and to listen to all-Filipino choirs singing Kordero ng Diyos and Ama Namin, just like back home.

Mama, are you homesick now? By this time, the girls notice something different and inevitably ask me that question. After all, they hear me belting out the hymns in church and see me swaying to the postlude songs, usually a traditional Christmas song like Ang Pasko ay Sumapit. I don't really feel homesick but I do bask in this transplanted celebration of my faith and culture. I look forward to going out in the evenings, even in the near-freezing cold, to feel the warmth of Filipino companionship.

During the final days of preparation, our home starts filling up with gift-wrapped packages from relatives, and the stack of outgoing mail grows larger. Most of our Christmas cards have been mailed and we are finishing up our baking. But there is a pile of cards for family and friends that still require my attention. In each envelope, I insert a short note of greeting, a bit about our year, and sometimes, reminiscences of my time with that person. Oddly, this is the time that makes me pensive, homesick even. As I write each note, I think of my readers and imagine their circumstances when they receive my card.

I can just see Tita Luding sitting on her piano bench in the old house in Paco. She travels less frequently now and I don't expect a visit from her anymore but I hope of still finding her up-and-about when I do visit. She's reading my news with that knowing look and that little smile in her mouth, which would be telling me of her experiences had I been right in front of her.

Oh, I certainly would love to celebrate Christmas in the Philippines. Yet I also enjoy seeing him in his elements, having a run of his own home...

The note for RJ, my godchild, is part advice, part encouragement. It's hard to see him all grown and managing a career. In my mind's eye, I see the shy, curly-haired boy, who loved reading the books I send. There he is, sitting in a corner in the ancestral home in Malolos, with his face buried in the science encyclopedia. The same corner where my brothers and I hid from the loud relatives during the Christmas family gatherings.

My short letter to Annie expresses my empathy, for though I don't know how it feels to have a child with cancer, I know how a mother feels. I can see her sad but pleased to receive my card and the light-hearted news about my domestic efforts. I still remember where we were, the day before she found out about her daughter's illness. I remember the restaurant, the busyness of Glorietta during lunch hour, the fashion sense of the petite Pinay.

My American husband asks, "Are you sad?" Just wistful, I reply. Time and distance have softened the piercing pain that homesickness brings. Oh, I certainly would love to celebrate Christmas in the Philippines. Yet I also enjoy seeing him in his elements, having a run of his own home, and without having to follow the quick chatter of a language not his own.

My life away from home is filled with the joy of watching two little girls grow. It is even made happier by their distracted humming of Aleluya during the Christmas season. But I know that there will come years when we will roll out of bed for a real Misa de Gallo. There will be newly-cooked puto bumbong and hot salabat right outside the church. I will remind them to button up their sweaters in the chill of the morning. And I will be waving at high school friends from across the parking lot, as they hurry on with their families to avoid the Manila morning rush hour.

Mama, are you homesick? No, my little ones. I am just remembering.

© Diane Auclair

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