A Kiss of Respect
We were gathered around the nook before breakfast on a weekend at Claire and Nick’s first home in Northridge in the late 80’s. Nini was about 3 years old or so and Mamang just arrived from the Philippines—she was in her mid or late 80s. We kissed Mamang good morning and told Nini to kiss Mamang’s hand but she had the look of fear on her face and refused to do it. We coaxed her, explaining that Mamang was Mama Lina’s mommy. But Nini still refused and her eyes were fixated on Mamang’s extremely wrinkled and lose skin. I took Nini’s hand and said that I was going to tell her a story about skin and her eyes grew a tad bigger, her ears perked up, ready to listen.
“Our skin has a story,” I said. “First we are born with baby skin—soft, delicate, very sensitive”. At this point, I reminded her of the babies among our friends and family and described how pink and soft their skin was. “Then, along with the baby, the skin grows and it becomes like yours,” I said and proceeded to touch her skin and Nini gave her hand a quick look. “See, it is nice and smooth and oh, smelling very good!” I said, as I gave her a kiss. “And the story of skin continues…” “The baby keeps growing and becomes a teen-ager, so the skin stretches and becomes like that of your older sisters, soon to be teen-agers now.” “See, how nice their skin is? Sometimes, though, on their face, the skin develops little bumps and playing outside causes bruises and scratches so they have to put medicine and cream. The skin cries a little but because your sisters are still young, those little bumps and hills on their skin quickly heal and disappear and the skin returns to its nice and smooth state like before. And the story continues…” “The skin keeps growing and works harder and busier—life gets very serious and the skin changes and looks like that of your Mommy. And then it grows some more and begins to look like that of Mama Lina, your grandma. The skin, at this point, because it has stretched so much in many years, begins to loosen up and develops little folds we call wrinkles. See how Mama Lina’s skin is?” Nini nods her head, her eyes impatient for the ending. “Finally,” I said, “the skin gets really old like that of Great Grandma Mamang—it is no longer as nice looking because it is tired and has folded many, many times from doing good things for people. From Mamang’s skin, we have Mama Lina and Mama Lina gave birth to your Mom and your Mama gave us Nini! See how much work that was? That’s why we kiss Mamang’s hand to thank her even if her skin is now old and a little scary. We love it because it took care of our family, ok Nini?” And my precious Nini nodded, her face now with a smile and her lips aiming to plant a kiss of respect on the hand of our dear Mamang!
–Lillibeth Navarro, March 8th, 2014