Growing up with an alpha mama

Published May 8, 2021, 7:00 AM

by Penny Daza Tuviera

Your mother is the strongest person you will ever know.

And you won’t figure that out until you’re a mother or parent yourself. 

THE ORIGINAL GRAMMAR NAZI The author (right) with her mother

When I was growing up, I got asked all the time, “How are you related to Jullie Daza?”  It was weird, to be honest, because there was always that tone of awe, admiration, and respect. I watched her put her makeup on and dress smartly countless times to give talks to rooms full of audiences who hung on to her every word, and host a talk show for years and years with guests who ended up divulging far more than they intended to when they agreed to go on live TV. 

With a little lambing in her voice, Jullie Daza would have been an asset to the CIA during interrogations. She could make anyone confess to anything, hence the success of her book Etiquette for Mistresses and her talk show Tell the People

But to me, she was just mom. Mom, who put egg white on her face to keep wrinkles away. Mom, who spent 40 minutes a day meditating to achieve inner peace with a frown on her face. Mom, who could only cook one kind of salad, and Prawns with Worcestershire sauce, but only if she had a pan the size of a gladiator shield to keep the hot oil from hitting her hands and arms (the kitchen wasn’t really her beat). Mom, who wrote us notes and sent pager messages and signed them “JYD,” instead of “love, mom” (I got a message on my pager once that said, “love, mommy” and found out it was her secretary, no surprise there). Mom, who didn’t quite believe in curfews and asked me one time as I came home at 1 a.m., “Why are you home so early, don’t you have a social life?” Mom, who when I told her I was engaged, advised, “Honey, why don’t you live together in sin first?  It’s a lot more fun.” Finally, mom, who eyed me from head to toe early one morning, reeking of alcohol and cigarette smoke at 3 a.m. who said in front of my friends, “Welcome home, spawn of Satan!”

She defied stereotypes on a daily basis. Would you believe she’s barely 5” and a 100 lbs. soaking wet, but tough as nails? I’ve seen her go toe-to-toe with cops, congressmen, businessman, senators, and generals with less than saintly reputations. No one, and I do mean no one intimidates her. That might not sound like a big deal today, but believe me, from the 60s to present day, it was even more of a struggle for women everywhere. 

I didn’t realize how patient a mother could be until I was one myself. Raising three verbose, opinionated, talkative, and stubborn children has given me a profound new sense of respect for my mother who never gave in to smacking or yelling (but lord I bet it was hard). Instead, she delightfully chortled, “That’s.  Your.  Karma.” 

How her traits and habits, which I deplored like being too stingy and too sensible, would later become my own signature as a mother (I also correct my kids’ grammar from across the room even if I swore to myself I wouldn’t). She rarely gave in when you asked for something, unless that something was a book. My favorite childhood Sundays were spent eating lunch at my lola’house, then heading off to the National Bookstore on Quezon Avenue for a spending spree on books, books, books. She didn’t care what kind of books you bought, either. As long as it was in a book. And from books is where I learned how to paint, do electrical work, set up an entertainment center, carpentry, and other vocations because she was too stingy to spend on any of that to spruce up my room.

She refused to tap her many, many connections in government and the diplomatic corps, never once agreeing to give us a free pass until we experienced for ourselves first-hand how the vast majority did it, and I absolutely loathed it. And as much as we resented her for putting us through stuff like that, I realized later on that’s why I learned to be insanely resourceful and fiercely independent. 

HOMEMAKER The author’s mom, Jullie Yap Daza, a respected figure and ‘mother’ to many in the print media industry

Like the time my brother applied for a US visa and got rejected. This was in the 80s, where nothing was online and you had to process and collect your documents physically one by one, then line up under the hot sun, which my brother did. He came home devastated and absolutely crest-fallen, so mom called the US ambassador and two weeks later, there was his US visa. 

In college, my husband (who was my boyfriend then) was driving me home one night when we hit a drunk who sprinted across EDSA. The cops came and loaded both the drunk (who flashed a knife under his shirt) and my husband into the same dilapidated service van, and brought them to the nearby precinct.  The cops were treating my husband with contempt for being a “rich kid” and I had to stay with the car until a tow truck could show up, so I called my mom and told her what happened. Cut to the precinct, cop on duty gets a call from Jullie Daza, where his demeanor from brusque, overworked Pinoy cop stereotype suddenly changes to Mr. Congeniality.  He puts the phone down and says to husband, “Kakilala mo naman pala si Mam Jullie Daza. Madami na s’yang natulungan, lalo na sa aming mga pulis. ’Wag ka mag-alala, aayusin natin, ha? (So you know Ma’am Jullie Daza. She has helped a lot of us, especially the police. Don’t worry, we will fix this, alright?  And that was it. My husband, to this day, when recounting this story will tell you, “I’m not sure if that cop loved… or feared your mom.”

FYI, she is the original grammar Nazi. She will correct your grammar and pronunciation from across a football field if you’re related to her.

She tells it like it is. Do not expect this woman to tell you that you’ve done a great job when you haven’t. While my English teachers praised me for my excellent command of English in writing and speaking, if mom ever got her hands on anything I wrote, it came back full of doodles and arrows and x’s and omission lines and question marks. FYI, she is the original grammar Nazi. She will correct your grammar and pronunciation from across a football field if you’re related to her. In fact, she’s correcting this right now as she’s reading it and she’s itching to reach for a pen. 

We all have stories about our moms. And the deeper you dig, the stronger they turn out to be. I have been privileged and lucky to know many, many moms who are strong and smart—super hero strong and super hero smart. From my own mom, to my mother-in-law, to my sister, and my sisters-in-law and my cousins.  Friends I have known since I was a kid, neighbors I got to know during the pandemic. I continue to learn from these wonderfully awesome moms how to be a mother to my children. It’s a constantly evolving process we will frequently stumble through for the rest of our lives, till our very last breath. But we get up, dust ourselves off, and relish the hugs and kisses. 

In a sea of faces, especially through these dark and unusual times, I am surrounded by mothers who rise above and beyond just existing and surviving for the love of their family.

To every child out there, your mother is the strongest person you know.

To my mom, Jullie Daza, you are the strongest person I know. Happy Mother’s Day.