My mother was my teacher in grade four. It had nothing to do with grade school politics. I just grew up in a town where the sons and daughters of public school teachers automatically qualified for grade this-and-that section 1. And besides, my mother had been handling the class even before I was born.

Mother sometimes referred to the class as “grade four section fast-learner,” although a mispronounced ‘f’ could spell horror to a child with a keen sense of what it meant to be left behind in a supposedly future-oriented curriculum.

She refused to use names of local fruits and trees – like “grade this-and-that section banaba” – for the simple reason that in the Philippines all trees were created equal. And sampaloc tasted as sweet as any other fruit.

Not so with intelligence, mother said. With numbers or words like “fast” and “slow,” accuracy in the clustering of students was assured. Hence the banter outside the classroom: “grade four section tamatis” (for whatever representation a rotten tomato had in the life of a ten-year-old boy.)

The grouping didn’t apply to us children of public school teachers. A rare breed, we were thought to be made of the same stuff as our parents who treaded the august halls of Cebu Normal College in the 60’s for their diploma (which they’d hang on the wall alongside General Milling calendars and Romeo Vasquez posters).

If any good at all, my enrolment in mother’s class added to my short list of English vocabulary the word “favoritism” in all its discomforting whiff. Mother had to assure me that if she weren’t a teacher and there was grade four section lomboy, I’d still qualify for section apple because I was brayt.

“And like I said, I’ve been handling this class since before you were circumcised. So stop flattering yourself,” she barked at me one morning when she had to drag my little arse to school.

We never planned how we were to carry ourselves inside the classroom. How would I address her: madam, ma’am, ma? What if in some unguarded moment I’d run to her begging for some loose change, just like at home? Or when if I’d fall asleep on her lap with lunch still in my mouth?

Mother wasn’t as cautious. One time in the middle of a grammar class she asked me if I had turned off the light in the kitchen back home. “And dodong, did you wash the dishes before we left? Pastilan ning bataa. Now, as I was saying class, linking verbs …”

To make up for the slip, she’d give me the most number of assignments in the afternoon’s gardening session. It’s her way of telling the class that I ceased to be her son once she called the roll every after flag ceremony. All allusions of motherly care were purely unintentional and bore no resemblance to reality.

Back home, we didn’t talk about how we fared in our teacher-pupil relationship. Now in her duster and with the laundry before her, she returned to her role as mother at which she’s perfect.

I believe you are to submit tomorrow a report on green revolution movement. It might impress your teacher if you discuss something about crop rotation,” she’d say. On the eve of an exam, she’d say: “You know how your teacher formulates questions. So better concentrate on the definition of terms.”

I guess the only time she gave our relationship a real hard thought was days prior to the school’s graduation ceremonies. Would she award me with first honors and risk being accused of favoritism? I qualified for the slot all right, but wouldn’t that be a decision too reckless for prudence?

Her solution to the problem was a wise blend of a mother’s loving her son and a teacher’s observing delicadeza in the performance of her duty. Meaning, I ended up sharing the award with a classmate whose brilliance in class wasn’t simply acquired from being a daughter of a public school teacher.

For the first time before the community, mother addressed me by my full name, complete with middle initial, as I went up the stage to receive my award. And I swear by Job I heard her say “wash the dishes when you get home” as she winked at me and shook my hands.

( weekend magazine)