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The case of the wayward ‘L’

As schools open, the tempo of life quickens. The daily stresses in the lives of Rosie and Mac, a couple just in their late 20s, intensify. Rosie, a graduate of a famous state university, works at a call center, leaving at 6 a.m. and returning from her Quezon Avenue office shortly after 5 p.m.

Mac is lord of their small Marikina apartment. He takes care of their three boys, Tom, aged 5, Tim, 3, and Teddy, 1. He cleans the house, cooks the food, does the laundry, takes out the trash, and feeds the two dogs. But his main job is keeping the three boys in neutral corners. He stays home except to buy food occasionally at a nearby takeout place.

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The struggle between Mac and the kids continues the whole day over soiled diapers, refusal of the kids to eat, fighting over toys, and minor injuries. Perhaps to avoid the temptation of physical punishment, Mac would keep Tom or Tim, the usual transgressors, briefly outside the main door. The kid, wearing a T-shirt but no pants, cries his eyes out, negotiating with the father to be let in.

When the door opens, the kid is pardoned. The crying stops and immediate peals of laughter emanate from the house as if nothing happened. Then the endless sound of nursery rhymes begin as Mac leads the kids in some spirited sing-along. Until another transgression happens, like Tom or Tim climbing onto the dining table, and the ruckus begins anew.

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At half past four, an insistent blowing of a car horn signals that Rosie has returned. Mac perfunctorily gets out of the house to guide Rosie in backing the car into the extremely narrow parking space.

In the evening, the wife, tired from a day’s work, gets overwhelmed by the kids who miss her. She begs the husband for aid in dealing with the children. Occasionally, when payment for the utilities is delayed, Mac and Rosie get into a noisy quarrel about why Mac does not find work, to which he replies with good reason that he does as much in taking care of the young kids and the home.

When school opens, Lora, daughter of Rosie from a previous relationship, aged 9, comes to stay with the family. She has been with her mother’s aunt in Makati since the couple got married. In the era of blended learning, the grandaunt can’t provide the coaching Lora needs, so she sends the daughter back to her mother.

Despite Mac’s already stressful day with the boys, he takes on the added role of tutor to his stepdaughter. There are fewer sounds of admonition from the house and more laughter as the boys enjoy the novelty of their sister’s presence.

One time, upon returning from work, Rosie learns that Mac is marching Lora too rapidly through her lessons. Rosie reminds him that in this time of COVID-19, the teacher has cautioned patience. A debate ensues. Mac says he suspects Lora’s smartphone often switches to nonacademic use when he is tending to the boys, something Rosie does not see. He raises the issue of Lora’s “learning curve.” Instantly, Rosie’s eyes widen. “Aha, learning curve pala! Do you know what that means? Okay, give me the definition of learning curve!” And so on and on. Mac’s voice trails off in defeat.

One night, both Mac and Rosie are stumped by a curious concept in Lora’s lesson—“linlangin ang talino (deceive intelligence).” They wonder, why do we have to deceive intelligence? The next morning, Rosie skips office to see Lora’s teacher. She returns with an air of triumph as she recounts to Mac that the teacher herself could not explain what the concept meant. She tells the story with an exaggerated imitative flourish, and Mac and the kids laugh. It is a rare moment of relief the family shares.

When I realize that the curious concept is really “linangin ang talino (cultivate intelligence),” I marvel at how a wayward letter “L” in the time of COVID-19 could bring momentary peace to an embattled family. These must be the stories that bring a frown to Education Secretary Leonor Briones’ brow, and a smile to us who can only chuckle and shake our heads.

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