Commentary

Let the bells chime for children

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It is generally accepted that most people have a place for children in their hearts, for all sorts of reasons. Children are lovable and cuddly. Some are funny, many more are lots of fun. They are bright and wonderful and are a source of joy in many ways, even imparting it to the joyless. Certain select ones—strictly little girls—are nothing less than bundles of sweetness.

The silver screen, as it was then called, was the source of a song that tells of 3-year-old Sonny Boy “who came from heaven” and made his father’s earthly existence heavenly: He turned gray skies to blue. Without doing anything special, children provide direction, motivation and inspiration to those close to them, whether parents, relatives, teachers or friends.

Children’s ways are not complicated, except perhaps when they are in the “terrible twos” stage—actually, no more than the child’s assertions of independence which give the impression of being constantly contrary. Their rule of conduct and behavior—“not allowed” or “bawal”—is simple and easy to understand, there being no room for bending the rule. By nature, children are honest and truthful. The story goes of a young George Washington, later the first President of the United States, who said, “I cannot tell a lie. I chopped down the cherry tree.”

When they say “What shall we tell the children?” adults are practically in the process of inventing a falsehood. Children are quick to sense that something is wrong. On discovering the truth, they start to lose trust in people they believe in. Unfortunately, they may find the use of falsehood occasionally convenient, as time goes by.

To make proper progress after birth, every child has to negotiate three developmental tasks: the physical one (crawling, sitting, standing, walking); the medical hurdle of children’s diseases (measles, etc.); and the psychological one, which is an introduction to the formative years (“As the twig is bent, so the tree grows”).

The starting years are important for the child’s development. The baby soon discovers that it has its own being and identity, its own “self,” the center of its existence, different from the “significant others” like parents and siblings. The baby also discovers how it looks on seeing its reflection in a mirror. Pleased, it smiles, and the image smiles back, causing it to clap its hands with delight. The baby will have many more pleasant experiences and encounters with itself, like finding its hands and using these to bring food to the mouth. It will hear music and find it stimulating. Above all, it will find comfort and warmth in the cradled shelter of the mother’s embrace. Many pleasant experiences in the first six or seven years of the child’s life make for a “balanced personality.”

Equally important for the child’s well-being is the practical side of its development, which involves personal habits of hygiene and cleanliness. The formative years also serve to stimulate the senses and prepare the child for exciting adventures in the wondrous worlds of literacy and numeracy.

Play, with its physical aspects and socializing effects, has a role in child development. Whether blowing bubbles in the air, throwing paper airplanes aloft, quietly sitting at a game of  sungka  or weaving thread patterns with the fingers, a child feels at ease and relaxed. The more active forms of play like basketball, swimming, luksong  tinik,  patintero, and  pikó  require coordination or team work, useful lessons in the child’s development.

The schoolchild’s day may start with shouts from adult friends.  Mang Ben’s baritone cries “Taho!” to announce his arrival with his tubs of soya cream that he sells in plastic cups drenched with delicious brown syrup. On other days,  Mang  Joe’s soprano-like voice fills the early morning air with “Puto!” as he sells white rice cakes and sticky orange  cuchinta.

Breakfast is substantial: If not  lugao  or  arroz  caldo, then  champorado  and salted fish or  pan  de  sal  with cottage cheese. Coffee has no place at the breakfast table because Nanay is a calamansi  fan, harvesting green balls from Tatay’s backyard of small trees.

The many-faceted and -splendored panorama of the normal child’s world is in stark contrast to the disturbing reality in this imperfect world of certain children’s shattered lives: street children who have not known childhood, abused children who have known violence, and unwanted children who long to be loved. Unicef, Save the Children, Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, Médecins Sans Frontières, to name some organizations, are dedicated to the noble mission of improving these children’s lives and need every support, especially funding, to carry on their mission.

It is said that this time of the year is a time for children. The kids are busy writing letters to Santa Claus while the older ones are in a campaign to reveal Santa’s identity—none other than Nanay and Tatay. The believers have been told by Miss in school that the disguises, jolly or otherwise, are mere forms of the spirit of gift-giving that comes from the Little Child in Bethlehem. So, no end to the letters addressed to far, freezing North Pole. The Providers willingly play their roles, thanks to the 13th-month salary law. This joyous “Pasko!” season is indeed a real ho-ho time for children—of all ages.

Cristina Asprer, 94, was a would-be psychology graduate when Pearl Harbor was bombed and her life was “changed forever.” The University of the Philippines was closed for the duration of World War II. She worked at the Manila City Hall and, later, moved to other jobs involving children, their care and welfare. “What I missed in the academic field, I gained in experience and practice in the wider School of Life,” she said.

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