Written in HerStory | Annette Cabadonga
For our week long motherhood celebration leading up to Mother's Day, I got a chance to interview the woman who has been behind, beside and before me in all areas of my life. Her confidence and hard working traits are two of the many things that I could sing and say, "I got it from my mama."
Valerie: Hi Ma!
I think the last time I interviewed you was for your 25th wedding anniversary celebration.
Yes, that’s right.
Crazy! That’s like what?
Three years ago.
Ahhh! So long ago.
Anyways, for Her Progress, we want to do a Mother’s Day special where we celebrate all things motherhood. So, first things first, we want to know the person who brought up this chick right here. In a speeding dating style, tell us five things we need to know about you.
Okay, quick five things about me:
First, I am a wife to a very loving person who never gives up on me. *secretly gushing how cute my parents are*
A mother of two biological children and one equally loved stepson.
Grandmother of two beautiful granddaughters who are in the Philippines.
I’d say I am a dedicated engineer.
And lastly, I am a passionate teacher.
Awesome! So one of the things I love and look up to you for is how you learn to embrace something like a new concept, people, city or even country. I’ve seen you do this through your profession especially. Did you always want to be an engineer? What was your journey like in embracing this profession?
Embracing everything that comes your way is not an easy task. This would mean going with the flow and accepting things as they are. I’m inclined on believing that everything happens for a reason. That there are no mistakes. Easy to say but would need a whole lot of determination, letting go of negative thoughts and trusting the process despite the risks.
Going back to the question, I’ve always wanted to be a nurse. However, my parents couldn’t financially support me in this pursuit. So, I ended up looking for scholarships and the degrees associated with it back then were in the engineering field. With that, I somewhat resorted to taking chemical engineering. Why chemical engineering? Because my aunt was a chemical engineer and I’ve always been convinced by my parents to be like her.
I got a full scholarship at Marawi State University and studied a Bachelor of Science (BSc) in Chemistry. However, after one and a half years, my mum has convinced me to move back home to Davao City to finish my studies. Because there was no BSc Chemistry in Davao, that’s when I resorted to still take BSc but in Civil Engineering.
Back then, there were only few ladies in the civil engineering field. So, I took on the challenge and said to myself, “If the boys can do it, I can do it. I’ll beat them in Maths.” I improved my study habits. I gained friends and did group studies which really helped as well.
I graduated civil engineering with flying colors and was awarded the Academic Excellence Award for the graduating class. This was considered as the highest award if there were no cumlaudes in the graduating class.
Now, with that decision, I think it’s destiny because it is in picking that degree and having to go on a licensure exam to formally practice as a civil engineer that I met my husband.
Yeah. So I embraced the civil engineering profession. I’d say that if you put your heart into it - love it and invest in it - it will become a part of you. There are some hurdles along the way but somehow it’s smooth sailing that you can still figure things out. Like you can always find a way out, and that’s what happened to me.
I mentioned earlier that I am a passionate teacher because after my licensure exam, I started my career as a civil engineering teacher. I loved imparting to students what I have learned and I get excited about their future. As they learn, I also continue to learn because how would you impart if you stop learning?
What was your greatest challenge and lesson as a woman in a male dominant profession? I googled a few days ago and read how there’s only around 20% of women in the engineering field and the rest are men.
Society differentiates men as being greater than women, but I think in the last decade women have proved themselves to really excel in their fields. I had a really good friend who was a teacher and a classmate in my masters, and I salute her because she really did excel in relating to people, helping her students and raising her children. I’ve also come across women here in New Zealand who are in the top level of management and are really technical. You know, when women are also on top, it could be very intimidating to men too.
The challenge for me in this profession is to gain acceptance like being respected for your views, which is something you need to establish first. Before you can be respected, you have to know your position and be confident in the decision making.
Before I used to succumb to the idea that I am inferior to men, but now I believe that I am capable of doing what they also do in their professional roles. One of the major turning points to this belief was when I was confronted and encouraged by a male colleague of mine. He said, “You can do greater things. You just have to be confident in yourself. Because I could see it in you.” I took hold of that and...I am still a work in progress in completely embracing confidence every single day.
You really need to have to faith in The One who created you. It is just a matter of connecting to God who is in you and the universe that is all around you in order to have the genius flow in and through your life.
That is really cool and deep! You are such a confident woman. You put your mind into something and you just excel in it. So good! I’ve been meaning to ask you this: what was it like raising my brothers and I?
I started being a mum at the age of 24. I didn’t have any manual or DIY guide to motherhood...or Pinterest back then. I was really blessed to have friends with family of their own who shared their experiences and “life hacks” with me at that stage of my life.
When I had my first son and my stepson, I had to figure out how to love unconditionally. The unconditional love of God helped me realize that I have to love all people no matter who they are. It is not an easy task even for your own kid but I relied on the strength of God. I relied on the thought and feeling that I am sustained. That God’s grace is sufficient for me. That love and kindness is new everyday. I held on to that promise.
Well, despite the limitations early on in our marriage, my husband and I were happy raising our kids. And my daughter…
...wasn’t easy. She was a very challenging little girl. She had her own way of doing things. I wouldn’t say stubborn…
*laughing* Maybe a little bit...stubborn-ish?
...but she knew what she wanted to do. She tends to argue and defend herself like saying “why not?”
But, I am happy that she has that trait from the beginning because that helped her on what and who she is today. She reasons. Sometimes, she gets hurt when you say something but once she understands it, she would say her mind. I am also happy that her feelings were not 100% suppressed because if it were, she would not be as wonderful as she is today.
Awwww… *legit holding back the tears, guys*
Yeah. Yeah. Raising a little girl...it’s funny because for nine years, I was surrounded by two boys and so I don’t really know how to dress properly in a girly way. I had my own choice of colours that I thank God my daughter didn’t get. But my husband is really fashionable so maybe she got that from him.
I can clearly see in my head the little kids who are now adults and can reason. Life is different now and I am glad that they are adults. I have been waiting for this all my life where my children can reason and we can solve things together rather than just one person doing the thinking.
Awww. That’s really nice. What was your greatest challenge and reward as mother?
My greatest challenge is how to cope when my children are hurting. I have to remain strong in front of them even if I am at the verge of breaking too. I am a kind of person who would save anyone and do things for them. Somehow there are rewards of that, but some people would view it as “too much.” That’s my greatest challenge.
I’ve got another one though. My life as a mother was made colorful because of my stepson. I knew of my stepson before I got married by the way. It’s not like it was surprise. Twenty-seven years ago, I told my husband, “I am going to accept you even your shadows,” and my stepson was a part of that.
Accepting the shadow for 27 years is not easy. I had my ups and downs. I had to cry a lot. I had to pray to God to give me the grace and love to accept even if I was viewed before by my stepson as a cruel stepmom. There is a constant battle of why would you’s but when I was enlightened of God’s love, I realize that I was accepted even with the things that only God and I knew of. So why won’t I do the same?
With the realization, I learnt to love everyone. It’s hard at first especially when you only look at the outside appearance of a person, but if you strip all those - the mess, the muddy, the clothes, the title - they are still human beings created in the Image and Likeness of God.
And all of those lessons that I have heard from many enlightened people has helped me learn to unconditionally love my stepson that when his biological mother died, I proposed, “I cannot replace your mom, but I would like to make a proposal to you. Would you accept me to be your additional mom? I want to help you and love you like my own son.” I made the proposal, which he then accepted with gratitude and great privilege. That’s also a reward for me.
My kids are my reward.
That’s really awesome. So, you were just touching on your faith in most of the questions, and that just makes you a great woman of faith. How do you incorporate faith in your day to day life?
At work, it’s difficult to impose or make your faith vocally known to everyone so I do it through actions. For example, I have faith in the junior engineer who I am supervising by putting him in a position where he is able to exercise his giftings, seeking his point of view, and hearing and implementing his ideas. Faith in this way is like building the confidence in him. Faith is not only spiritual. It is the totality of it. Through this, the guy starts to have faith on himself, the system and the people around him.
As a mother, I do the same thing and even more. It is providing physical and spiritual support to my children. I don’t think my children know this but my husband and I pray for them every single night for their success, life partners and every good that is just around the corner. We want to give them something special through faith one day as a legacy. The life that we live for ourselves is already a legacy for our children because my husband and I make sure that no matter how life treats us, we will always give back a better response, not a bitter response.
As an individual, I see to it that I give thanks to everything - our puppy babies, my children, my husband, my friends and more. It’s like expressing gratitude to The One greater than myself and submitting to my greatest and highest good at all times.
If you had a chance to go back in time and talk to the younger version of you, what will you tell her?
I would tell my younger self to start early. There is so much more inside of you, and so explore and learn that as early as you can. I discovered my genius at a later stage and so I would encourage her to dig deep early and discover. So, she would achieve far greater things than what I have at this age.
Dad shouts across the room in the middle of this: “I suggest you should tell your younger self to please wait and find Val.” *we all LOLed like literally*
Anyways, how do you dig deep to find that genius?
I think I’d say to her...don’t get married young. *laughs together*
Because when you have a lot of commitments and responsibilities, the exploration is limited like I haven’t traveled and engaged in reading good books as much as I wanted. When you’re younger, all you need to think about is yourself. But I’ve got no regrets in where I am at now. I just want to tell her to travel because I believe that travelling is another form of education. Reading books is okay but seeing the things you read is far greater.
Oh, and wait for Val... *laughs together* ...wait for the right person to come along.
How do you know they are the right person?
Well...if the right person for you comes, make sure that he comes after you. *laughs* But in all seriousness, if you can see yourself grow old with that person, then chase and pursue after them. But if you see a blurry picture of your future together, spare yourself from being hurt.
How did you know that dad was the right person?
Before I had this list of things that I wanted my husband to have. Apart from tall, dark and handsome, someone who has good position in life. Someone who can tame me. Someone who can push me into something because before a lot of people have faith in me but I don’t have faith in myself. It’s recent that I have pushed myself into greater things, to not be afraid to fail and to not live a life based on other people’s expectations.
But yes you’ll know…
...one day. Oooh some deep stuff! So we’re almost done. This question is one that we ask all our interviewees: what is being a work in progress mean to you?
While I am in this body, I am a work in progress. There is far too much to learn. There are endless possibilities of improving yourself - mentally, emotionally, spiritually and physically.
I came to the point in believing that my age is just a number because I feel like I can still do more if only given the time and space. In my head, there are endless list of things and a lot of works in progress that I wish to see completed bit by bit. For as long as I am alive, it is always a work in progress.
With all the hats that you wear - daughter, wife, mother, engineer or puppy mommy, how do you celebrate you, and why is it important for you and other women to celebrate themselves?
I’ve got a story for this.
On my 50th birthday, I wanted to celebrate by myself, and took that time as an avenue to be with my greater self. I took a day off at work and treat myself. I went to a spa pool and sauna, got myself a massage, went for a haircut, went out for lunch and bought myself a present. It was so awesome that I just wanted to do it all over again and more often. I felt that I have treated myself well without rushing around for someone else. There was no expectation from anyone, but just pleasing myself. That day was a reward for me.
I realized that on my past birthdays it was celebrated for the people and their expectations, and not meeting that, sometimes leads to them seeing you differently. I realized that I don’t want to live by others expectations and pressures. If there is any sort of pressure, it is not by comparing myself to anybody, but comparing myself to a better version of me. It’s a motivation to continue to learn new things and improve.
I also celebrate myself by having a me time, going to the shops like Spotlight. I love looking around cloths and patterns and planning my next DIY projects.
Awesome! For our last question, where to from here: do you have any goals that you are pursuing right now?
Professionally, I am aiming to be a better engineer. I am targeting to a Chartered Geotechnical Engineer by the end of this year. It’ll take a lot of hard work, time and juggling things around.
Personally, I want to travel more. Europe is the target for next year. I am also looking forward to having my grandchildren here in New Zealand from the Philippines.
Lastly, I want to maintain a healthy lifestyle so I can achieve my dreams and aspirations in life.
Those are really great goals. Thanks for letting me and our readers into your life, and sharing your wisdom. I love you.
You’re welcome. I love you too.