23 Sep Michelle Ressa-Aventajado
Michelle Aventejado’s presence is immediately felt whenever she enters a room. It isn’t her arresting beauty that gets everyone’s attention (although we must admit it’s a close second) but the regal manner in which she carries herself. Strong, smart, witty and opinionated, she is the type of woman who knows what she wants and how to get it. And while she may seem a tad intimidating at first, you’ll soon find out that she is extremely warm and nurturing not just to her husband and brood of four but to everyone else around her. We sat down with Michelle as she shared marriage advise from her Nana, the importance of spending time with your girlfriends and the need to sometimes put yourself first.
What was the first thought that entered your head when you found out you were pregnant?
I was ecstatic. I thought to myself, if all goes as planned, my daughter will finally have a sister. I always wanted a sister for Gia. I have three sisters who I love dearly and was hoping that Gia would have the opportunity to grow up with a best friend built in, just like I did. Imagine my joy, when the sonogram said she was a girl. I had the perfect set. 2 boys 2 girls. We were complete!
What is the absolute best thing about being a mom?
So many things. Watching them grow. Kissing their boo boos. Hearing their belly laughs. Nourishing their bodies with food I like to prepare. Nurturing them to be who they are supposed to be. I like watching them (when they aren’t fighting and screaming or biting one another). I imagine how they will be when they are grown up, I remember how they moved as babies and can see the correlation. The best thing about being their mom is the opportunity I have been given to watch them grow.
What is the hardest thing about being a mom?
Not being able to use the bathroom by myself. Hahahaha! No, seriously? Not being able to shield them from the pain of disappointment betrayal or rejection. Watching them fall but knowing that they need to fall. Isn’t that the hardest thing?
How did your marriage change when you had children?
Hmmm… It changed a lot. Originally, when we first got married, I thought that Nino and I were very similar in our parenting styles. I realized over time, that that was not the case at all. I realized at that time that even if Nino and I only had one fight before we got married in the entire two years we were dating and engaged…that more would follow if something didn’t give.
There are three things you will fight about with your husband that can and will cause strain in your marriage.
MONEY -Money always puts stress on a marriage. Especially, if you are running short and having a hard time paying the bills. On the flip side of that…having a plethora of money does not give you the ability just fix any problem. There is a saying…”Money is the root of all evil?” Not sure if that applies in the context of marriage but I have seen some marriages suffer from either extreme.
IN-LAWS – Ahhh. Nino’s parents have this saying “If the husband represents the walls and foundation of a marriage, and the wife is the light, then the in-laws are the termites.” They say this in Tagalog. Some people are gifted with wonderful in-laws who support from a distance without being overbearing. Others not so much. One thing I know for sure, is that the type of in-laws you are gifted or challenged with can create problems in your relationship if your partner does not put you first.
PARENTING- This is the real deal. We are leaving our legacy with by raising kids. If Nino and I don’t see eye to eye on how we parent we are going to have some confused kids. I remember the first time Nino saw how I let Gia self feed. He (and his family) totally freaked out. As in they were appalled at what I was doing. Nino never really was super hands on. Didn’t change diapers or feed or drop off and pick up at the bus stop. That was my job and I happily owned it.
Anyway, the story goes we were eating penne ala vodka. (It’s one of my go to quick sauces) I cut up all of the penne and put it in Gia’s bowl and on her tray. She ate everything with her hands, sauce everywhere. Played with her food. Put her plastic bowl on her head like a hat. When she was this little I would just let her eat in her diaper. I would wipe everything down and give her a quick bath if she was messy after eating. He could not stop freaking out. He kept wanting me to wipe her mouth. Make her subo. Sit and attend to her. I just couldn’t. We were living in the states at the time. No helper plus toddler. I had to clean the house and manage everything while he ran our business. He would come home for dinner but since he was there that gave me a few extra minutes to throw in a load of laundry pick up the house or even vacuum quickly. He watched how I fed Gia and was cringing. I explained to him that I do this for two reasons. She’s safe in the high chair. strapped in. eating food that was bite size for her. Self feeding was not just for her but for me, because while she was eating I could balance all the other things that were also my responsibility in keeping home.
Self Feeding was important for her because I wanted her to be independent. To be able to self regulate and stop eating when she was full. To strengthen her fine motor skills. Improve her hand eye coordination. These are all things I knew from my background in teaching. And to be honest, I wasn’t going to be a mom chasing her kid to make subo. I wanted my kid to learn that there is a time and place to eat. a time and place to play. and a time to ask for help. Eating is something that I wanted all my kids to learn how to do on their own from an early age.
So, how did we finally end up agreeing on self feeding? (I stuck to my guns by the way, even under pressure from the in-laws) It happened when my third baby turned three, and his nephew was the same age and we were already living in the Philippines. He saw the stark difference between his nephew being spoon fed at Sunday lunch with his family, and his own son, feeding himself and excusing himself from the table when he was finished. It was after that particular Sunday lunch that he said “Now I see what you meant about self feeding.” Shucks! That took almost ten years of marriage for him to see it! But he saw it, and finally understood it.
Now… parenting an 18 year old and an almost 6 year old changes marriage as well. And the country that we have chosen to live in changed marriage as well. It’s all intertwined with cultural norms, acceptability, and gender roles, I suppose? Perhaps that’s for another question and another interview where we talk about expectations of a Filipino husband vs. expectations of a Fil-Am wife…
What is your philosophy on motherhood?
Sigh. I want it to be slow. You know this whole slow food movement? I want my motherhood to be like that. I want to be able to savor every moment and milestone while documenting it all in Instagram worthy photos.
But let’s be real. Things fall through the cracks with four kids, a small business, and an advocacy. Most times I feel like a chicken without a head. I hope that the time I have carved out for all of the kids is enough. Of course it was more for Gia because she was an only child for 2 and half years. I feel like she got the best of me. Each succeeding kid has gotten less of me because they are more than one. I try to read to Gelli every night like I did with the big kids. I’m just so much busier now. I feel awful when I forget things, like sending the right t-shirt for a barong but that’s when the collective motherhood catches me. My co-parents. My moms in waiting. My net. And then they tell me…it happens to the best of us. (not like it’s a competition, I’m done with that shit. No mommy wars thank you.)
I do my best and hope that my kids won’t need crazy therapy when they are older. I give them my all and remember that they are my teachers too. Motherhood can be messy. It can be insanely gratifying. It’s the hardest job that reaps years of benefits when we are gifted with the time to watch our children grow. If we are lucky, we get to grandparent their children too…things change at that time…perspective.
So my philosophy? In a nutshell?
There are two gifts we should give our children; one is roots, the other one is wings.
That’s it. That’s my philosophy. Nurture my kids so well that they have strong roots. They are solid in their values and morals, their ability to tell right from wrong. They can withstand the winds of criticism and doubt and stand like a tall oak tree. But they will have wings to soar, to fly, to step outside their comfort zone. Perhaps even to come back home and visit with their momma for awhile.
What is the legacy that you want to leave your children?
Kindness. I want them to know how to be kind. I want them to know that I was kind. to others and to myself. I’m no so good at the latter, but hopefully, before they leave the nest, they will see that I knew how to take care of myself too.
What advise would you give your younger self?
I would tell myself not to sacrifice myself for my children or my marriage. Standing my ground in who I am and what I want for my family will never make me a bad person. Going against what I know is right just to keep the peace will always come back to haunt me in the end. I would tell myself to take time to nurture myself and my relationships with my girlfriends and my sisters because it takes a village and your can’t pour if your cup is empty. I would tell myself to rest more. Take naps with the kids when I can. The body doesn’t forget so I would eat healthier at a younger age. I would tell myself to buy the expensive moisturizer for myself and not feel guilty because mommas have to feel good too. I would also tell myself to nurture the relationship I have with my husband. I would tell myself to listen to my Nana. She said the kids should always sleep in their own room. I followed it for a while but then allowed them to always sleep in our room instead of just on the weekends. Husband and wife time (date night etc.) is vital to your marriage.
I would tell myself to not sweat the small stuff…and as the book says…it’s all small stuff.
What are the characteristics that you value most in people?
Honesty, truth, vulnerability, forthrightness and modesty. These are all the things I promise to bring to the table so when I see them in someone else, I can appreciate it.
Is there such a thing as having it all?
I don’t know. Is there? That’s a great question. I feel like I’ve been so close. And then I feel like I’ve been so far. Gelli put so many things into perspective for me. Her birth changed so much. My “all” suddenly became a different kind of “all.” And then, even after that, in the past year or so my definition of “having it all” has changed yet again. More so because of my relationships and different things with Nino’s family. So “having it all” shifts with age and time? I think in a day and age when there is so much violence, tragedy, and pain, having it all can mean simple things like continued health for my children and my husband. A home to live in. Food on the table. Fulfilling relationships and finding purpose in what I do. Nice things? they can come and go. They are pretty and great to look at, but in reality they don’t define me or you. Every now and then I like to treat myself, I like to buy something that makes me happy or feel good, but I think that’s part of what we are taught or what we buy into. I say that, knowing fully well, that I am blessed with so much more than I could have imagined for myself as a young girl. I suppose having it all in one sense can be something as simple as being able to take care of my family, find time for myself, nurture my marriage, and fulfil my purpose. So if I go by that standard, I’m pretty darn close even if it’s a little messy from time to time.