The best gift

Me and my mother chilling after one of her therapy sessions. This is our latest photo together.
When I was a little kid, I read a story about a girl whose parents threw her a circus-themed birthday party with all the trimmings, including a cake shaped like a clown and a ringmaster’s costume for her to wear. Sadly, despite all her parents’ efforts, no one came to party with her. I can’t remember why because it has been years since I last read that story, but that’s not the point.

That story stayed with me, and I grew up afraid the same thing would happen to me. It never did—my fear of being rejected on my birthday remained unfounded year after year, but it kept coming back anyway. It got worse when my anxiety disorder took hold. Things got to a point where even the mere thought of my birthday would turn me into an anxious, sobbing mess.

One year my mother took it upon herself to throw me a birthday party. She saw how worked up I’d get about having to text people and invite them myself, so she did it all instead. She didn’t want to see me so miserable over something that should have made me happy. She did that the next year, and the year after that. Because she had a stroke last June 2, my mother wasn’t able to do that for me this year. I didn’t mind—honestly, partying on my birthday was the last thing on my mind when September began. I was too busy worrying about other things.

Days before my actual birthday, I visited my mother. She asked me how I was planning to celebrate, and I told her, “Most of my friends are out of the country or busy working. I didn’t have time to text anyone, so no celebration for me this year.” 

She teared up because she knows how much my birthday means to me, but I stopped her before she could say anything.

“Mom, it’s OK. I don’t mind not celebrating. Honestly, this year all I want is for you to get better as soon as possible so our lives can get back to normal,” I said, squeezing her hand.

Both our eyes filled with tears when she squeezed back and said, somewhat haltingly but clearly, “I want the same thing, believe me.”


On September 19, the day before my birthday, the power and water in my house got cut and I came down with a high fever. I wallowed in my misery for a bit until my friend Erica Abello sent me a kick in the pants via Facebook. 

Long story short, I ended up at UP Technohub, where I snagged a table at Starbucks. In my haste to leave the house, I forgot to bring a jacket. Despite that, I ignored the cold and sat there writing until midnight, at which point I bought myself a slice of chocolate cake. I couldn’t bring myself to eat it, though; I just sat there and stared at it while tears trickled down my cheeks.

I was 31 and I had never felt so alone.

I was 31 and it was the first time I got older without my mother by my side.


I spent my actual birthday paying bills and running errands. I didn’t get to visit my mother until well after nightfall. When I arrived, she pressed an envelope into my hands. I opened it to find this:

To say that this touched me would be a gross understatement.
She tried to write a birthday message for me, but since she’s still re-learning to use her right hand, this is how it turned out. She also put some money in the envelope with the note. “Treat yourself,” she said when I asked her what I should do with the money.

I nearly burst into tears when I saw the card and money. Even in the midst of a tough battle, she still wanted to be sure I’d have fun on my birthday. That’s how my mother was before she had a stroke—she always went out of her way to ensure my happiness, even if that meant sacrificing her own—and for me, the card and money were a sign that she’s going to be fine.

I didn’t get to throw a party, but upon reflection, I got the best gift I could ever have gotten.

Happy birthday to me.


The old Julian can't come to the phone right now.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for sharing! Teary-eyed upon reading it. Your mom loves you so much as you love her. Very touching indeed. My prayers is with you and to your mom fast recovery. GOD Bless.