WAYWARD AND FANCIFUL: Parenting from the heart

I went back to school just as my kids were leaving childhood behind. A fortnight back, I took a leave from everything to take an intensive crash course to earn me 6 credit units. Coming back, I was mighty glad to see that my kids hadn't burned down the house. They showed pictures that they took of each other to indicate that they did get along most of the time while the parents were out.

Hubby and I seldom keep track of each other's calendar. I think that the union of two individualists required that. That's why we never run out of things to talk about. It's wonderful to come home to each other, but to do that we need to be apart sometimes.

Hubby was out of town most of the week, too. And with me in class from 8 am to 8 pm, it was like mother was out for the count as well. On the last day, I caught myself somnambulating down the corridor. I'd text people at 2 or 3 am for virtual company to keep me awake enough to finish working on the assignments for the next day. Not hubby, though. He was in Tawi-tawi where cell connection is yet to go realtime, if at all.

I come back this weekend to find that 9-year-old Sagey has evolved a new repertoire for relating with me. She politely asks if I've got thirty minutes to swing on the hammock or bounce on the trampoline. She insists I play with her cats because "there are lessons they can teach you, Mama." But that's about it. After half an hour, she asks, "Isn't there something else you should be doing now? Check exam papers perhaps?"

She meets my nonplussed silence with a saucy, "And aren't I cute? I'm cute. Witty, too. That means funny in a smarty kind of way."

Oh. Okay. If you say so. Like, I can see you work hard at it, batting eyelashes and all. Okay to kiss you, honey? Hug you, too? Oh, wow.

Liane at thirteen is starting to fade. She deliberately disappears from sight when the car drives up the garage. Sometimes, she does wait till we're inside to endorse her little sister to us. "Yours now," she'd say. Somehow that suggests that she takes her responsibility as big sister to heart after all.


Still, her Dad and I find ourselves constantly knocking on her bedroom door for her to come out and be sociable to these nice people out here who don't bite. Really.

Is this a developmental thing? Or is Li underlining that she doesn't need us as much? Is it because we're not available most times anyway? Whatever the case, she takes care of her business without asking for assistance. This morning, for example, she took off at 10 and came back at lunch minus her upper braces. Nope, she did not ask us parents to hold her hand this time like she did when her ortho put those braces on last year. She celebrates by taking a picture of herself showing off dental work that burned a hole in her father's pocket. Girl knows her best angles. Her self-portraits would give Chiaw, the family's official New Year photographer, a run for his money.

While I'm writing this, Liane is laboring at her desk converting my mother-in-law's notes into a Power Point presentation. Li prays that her grandma never learns to do Power Point because that would dry up her source of extra income. I can only smile at that. My girls are well positioned for the emerging technological trend for visual data processing.

But sad to say, gone are the days when people presented papers at seminars and fora. These days, it's about a mini silver screen flashing bullets of information, you'd think we're at war.

Conversations with Liane have taken on a distinct adult flavor, too. Yesterday, she listened to her dad explaining what he'd been doing in Tawi-tawi. It was a lesson on the reproductive process of the abalone, illustration provided by the video he took that had the abalone under spotlight. I caught him showing her males releasing sperms and females releasing eggs, sperm and egg meeting in the water, and Daddy harvesting the zygotes for the hatchery. Li quietly takes that in, then she turns
around and jokingly chastises her dad for not giving the abalone privacy to mate. She accuses him of kidnapping the babies for his nefarious purposes.

Tonight, something in her grandmother's presentation made her inquire what the ethical considerations are that the government must factor in to manage population growth. It's like I'm talking to one of my brighter students every time she asks me to explain an item of curiosity. I sometimes forget she's just thirteen and I don't know whether or not I should be choosing my words more carefully. I give in and tell it to her the way it bubbles up in my mind.

Thirteen is when they are old enough to understand but too young to do anything about it. Maybe that's why Li deliberately fades and only comes out to engage the world on her own terms. Maybe I shouldn't be knocking so much on her door.

Aw heck. I'll knock all I want. What's the worst that could happen? She'd just tell me to go away. Thankfully, she hasn't done that yet. She opens the door, gives me a quick peck, sometimes a hug, then she'd shut the door in my face. Hi and bye.

I get this feeling that the girls throw us parents together. They're so very encouraging when told we're spending the night at a resort, eating out, or taking in a movie. That's good for their sense of emotional security. Children need to see their parents genuinely caring for each other enough to make the time to be alone

together.

It's not that I'm complaining, but it takes getting used to. I have programmed my life and my career choices so I could disengage and be there for them faster than a speeding bullet, and never mind what the "empowered female thing" to do would have been. I managed. I don't at all feel that I shortchanged myself on my personal, professional, or intellectual growth just to do the mother thing.

I admit I miss out on the wife thing every now and then. My husband gets a lot of ribbing from Bong Cion who always hopefully expects to see me when he sees my hubby. Truth is, I'm thinking hubby has always taken care of himself even before I came along. He's been doing a great job so far. Why spoil the act? He doesn't need a mother.

Too quickly do the children grow up. I guess it means I'm growing, too. It's hard to miss that one when you get a request from the insurance company to exclude hospital income benefit for injury, sickness, loss or claim caused wholly or partly, directly or indirectly by: Menstrual Disorder, Dysfunctional Uterine Bleeding and Hormonal Replacement Therapy.

What?!! Anti-female. Anti Menopausal Females. There. I'll call a spade a spade in bold small caps, too.

"Fortitude," I heard Liane counsel a tearful Sage last weekend. "When they want to hurt you, don't give them the satisfaction of seeing you hurt. Cry in private. Never where they can see you. People want to hurt you some more when you show them that they can hurt you. Remember that physical pain is the least of it. That one goes away after a while. But when people call you names, those stay in their minds a long time," she said.

"But it hurts, Ate. I can't stop crying just like that while it still hurts," Sagey wailed. I guess it meant Sage wasn't ready to hear.

But I did hear you, Li, child of my heart. Is that why you're alone in your room so much?

And hey, I am good for ten more babies. At least. (Wayward and Fanciful is Gail Ilagan's column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. Ilagan teaches Social Justice, Family Sociology, Theories of Socialization and Psychology at the Ateneo de Davao University where she is also the associate editor of Tambara. You may send comments to [email protected]. "Send at the risk of a reply," she says.)

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