HERE are some of my most favorite throwback photos. The first photo: my most favorite baby pose. I did this same pose for my kids at that age. The second photo is my first formal portrait. My husband always teases me to relive this “smile.” The third
photo is me at our grandparents’ bar. Many times, my sisters and I would play “restaurant” here. And, yes, this was my usual look: shirt, Adidas shorts and Mighty Kid shoes. At the time, my grand aunt worked for Rubberworld, which had the license to manufacturer for Adidas then, and were the makers of my favorite shoe brand: Mighty Kid. The fourth photo shows me on my first trip to New York, outside my uncle’s house, accompanied by my grandmother and sisters. It was my first time to see snow. On a side note, I just realized how consistent I was in having red as my favorite color.
I WAS always teased for not looking like my sisters. I was a lot darker in complexion and had bigger eyes. I didn’t look Chinese at all. My two elder sisters knew how sensitive I was, so they always teased me as being adopted. I remember one afternoon while we were playing in Agno, they teased me again. I was so furious that I actually walked toward the driveway and out our gate. I remember that walk. I walked passed two houses, half fearful but mostly hurt. I honestly doubted I was an adopted child. But then I realized I had nowhere to go. I headed back.
I guess in this walk back I subconsciously realized that whether or not I felt I belonged, it was my own choice to fit in. I realized that because it seemed like I might not even be part of this family, I needed to work extra hard to make this family glad to have me even if they had doubts.
I spent most of my time with my grandparents, my Aunt Daisy and my Grand Aunt Diane. I remember sleeping with either of them when I was living in Agno. I remember always having nosebleeds and staining my grandparents’ bed sheets. They never got mad at me for that. I remember my grand aunt always giving me her super-soft yellow floral blanket, which I used for so many years until it was all torn up. I remember my Sundays spent going to either Luneta Park with my grand aunt then eating Tasty’s Dumplings in Masangkay Street, or Mass with my parents and siblings at Santo Domingo Church. I also remember Sundays playing badminton at Quezon City Sports Club, and then having donuts with my Aunt Daisy.
When there was no school, it was given that we needed to be at the office. I swept the floor, weighed spools of thread or just hung out with the mechanics and warehouse staff. When it was time to go home, I would always walk home with my grandparents. Usually, I would be beside my grandfather, holding his hand. But there was one distinct afternoon that I remember walking behind my grandparents. I was maybe two meters away. The vision of them holding hands stuck to me. I remember when I was a senior in Poveda, there was a sharing session of how I see my life would be like. I said that memory as my benchmark for my future.
When I turned 8, we moved. We’d no longer stay with my grandparents. I vividly remember the car moving toward the narrow driveway. I was facing back and almost in tears because my nanny, Manang Iyang, could not come live with us. Her sister, Manang Flora, had petitioned to have her live in the US years but she refused. A few days before our departure from my grandparents’ house, my nanny told me if she’d known that she would not be living with us, she would have taken the opportunity.
After writing my most distinct memories down, I realized the reason I was so different from my family might somehow be rooted in my having been cared for in my formative years more by people outside my immediate family. I also realized how lucky I was to have parents who sacrificed a lot to provide us a better future. I knew it wasn’t easy for them to spend that much time at work. I also understand now why we had to be at the office a lot. It was our parents’ way of spending time with us.
In 2003 I was about to be married. I had an opportunity to live with my grandmother. At the time, I wanted my youngest sister to do better in high school without the distractions at home. It gave me time to be around the rituals of my childhood again. More than that, I got to spend more time with my nanny again.
Our family was going through another turmoil. It brought out a lot of questions. Is it possible to break our family’s cycle of conflict? How much can my own family experiences affect my future married life? It dawned on me one evening to just get a piece of paper. Draw a vertical line in the middle. Then just write the positives and negatives of my family life. Then, I firmly decided to focus on the positives.
It’s not simple to do this. The best realization for me was to deal with the negatives first. I saw the various mistakes. I saw the painful consequences. But the most important thing was suspending judgment. I realized I could never put myself in my parents’ shoes. I can only say, without a doubt, that my parents did the best that they could. For that, I can only be grateful. I guess looking at our childhood as we enter parenthood allows that much-needed crossroad…to live in the past? Or to pick up what’s good and map our own future? In the end, I unearthed the best gifts of my childhood:
“Relationships are my blessings. They have impressed upon me a love for love and a hope for pure connections. But most of all, it showed me the beauty of giving and the beauty of unconditional love. And this is the best gift I can also pass on to my children.”
Happy “Childhood Exploring,” everyone.