23 January 2011



By: Marie Habito

I Spent the November 27 to 29 long weekend with my mom in her hometown in Bataan. We left early in the morning to avoid the traffic in Manila, and drove for four hours straight, stopping only to grab a quick breakfast somewhere along the way.

We arrived at my grandmother’s old apartment duplex at a little past 8 in the morning. Immediately, I saw a head peep from the screen door, wondering who the dogs were barking at. As we unloaded our things from the car, some of my kid cousins came out to help.

Lola has been working as a caregiver in the United States for almost 15 years now. Lola’s house is now home to her youngest son’s family. My uncle, a contractor, and his wife, a municipal agriculturist, live there with their three children. The five (soon to be, six) of them live in a space that is only about as big as our lounge, dining room and kitchen combined. On weekends and holidays, another aunt (mom’s younger sister) and her two sons also spend their days at Lola’s house, arriving at breakfast time and leaving just after dinner. The addition of my mom and myself made it one cramped house that weekend.

As I observed my transient weekend environment, I couldn’t help but feel uncomfortable and whiny. I am used to having so much more personal space and so many more comforts at my disposal, some of which I take for granted. At home, we eat meals at a table long enough to fit our entire family. At Lola’s, there are two shifts at meal times: kids, then adults—or a mixture of both per set.

At home, the TV is rarely turned on, except to watch the evening news. At Lola’s, it seemed that the TV was a welcome reprieve for the adults, one that kept the children glued to the couch, distracted, occupied and out of trouble.

At home, everyone is already over 21. We go to work, hang out with each other, and talk over meals and the occasional coffee dates. At Lola’s, there were children running around, screaming, crying, picking things up and pulling them apart, fighting over toys and what not.

When my mom and I returned home, my mind continued to process the things I had observed over the weekend. I found it hard to imagine the sacrifices that my uncle and aunt have to make: putting off their own needs to attend to their children, giving up the concept of personal space, spending days away from home to make enough money to send them to school, feeding, dressing, bathing, cleaning up after them and putting them to bed. It scared me to imagine myself caught in a similar situation once I settle down when I reach my late 20s or early 30s.

The morning after we arrived, I was recounting my thoughts to my sister. And she pointed out, “Ganyan din naman sila Mama at Papa sa atin noon (It was like that for our parents then).”

There was a point in my life when I thought that the sense of responsibility and sacrifice required for getting married and having children was like a switch that automatically turned on when you reach a certain age. But lately I have come to realize more and more that it is largely a function of a personal choice—a commitment—and a certain degree of maturity. My sister was right: I need not look very far for an example. My own parents survived bringing up my three siblings and me, doing all they could to provide for each of our needs and sometimes even some of our wants. It probably wasn’t easy, but they made it work. And today, I realize that we owe the liberties and comforts of our lives to the hard work that they have been putting in all these years.

I remember asking my Mom how she managed to take care of the four of us at a time in her life when she could have been single and free to do as she pleased. I also asked our maid Manang how she managed to bring up her own four kids. Their answers were the same: “When you make that choice, you kind of just live for every day. You take care of and love your children, and in return, they love you back and make your tiredness go away.”

Parenthood is a vocation that I am ready for just yet. But I am constantly surrounded by people who have made that choice and made the most of their situation. And they deserve no less than my utmost respect and admiration. By God’s grace, I only hope I can do the same when the time comes.

-Youngblood (Philippine Daily Inquirer)


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