I was a child of an era where there was much to be desired in parenting. When I cried, nobody asked why, and what I heard was, “Nakakahiya (Shameful).” I was loved, but what made me cry did not matter. I would dry my eyes with the back of my hands because it was nakakahiya. I must not bring shame. I felt loved, I trusted completely, and I obeyed blindly. I was yesterday’s child.
I stepped into the elevator and found today’s child with her yaya. She was in a bad mood, having been roused from sleep before her time. Sam (for Samantha) is the only child of a young handsome couple from whom she got her good looks and good English grammar.
“You don’t want to go to school. So where?” her yaya asked.
“Wherever, wher-e-e-ver!” she snapped, screamed, and stomped.
“Nice headband,” I said. She looked up at me with some sense of wonder. I bent down and said, “Look at these nice bracelets,” touching her red, yellow and green plastic bracelets. Sensing that I was getting somewhere with her, I added: “You know what? You are very pretty when you smile.”
The elevator stopped on third. As I stepped out, and waved goodbye, she waved back with a full-blown smile on her face. I walked toward unit 311 with a sigh, and thought of how Sam is allowed to cry out her resentments. She is asked, and heard, and she feels loved. She is today’s child.
I was eight and the youngest interna (boarder) at Assumption Academy of Pampanga, an exclusive Catholic boarding school for girls. Run and managed by German Benedictine nuns, it was referred to as the colegio.
Sister Hildegarde, fat and short, was my piano teacher who used a stick to point out the notes. She would slide the stick under my hands, raise them up from the keys, and, in that heavy German accent, say: “Only fingertips touch the keys.” I never improved in my playing and never went beyond playing the “Happy Birthday” song. When my parents realized that it was a waste of time and money to pay for piano lessons that did not get me anywhere, they freed me from
Sister Hildegarde and her stick.
Elena came to our school a week after I did, and I was glad to have another girl in my company. I was clueless as to why she was crying, until someone whispered that she had recently lost her mother. She was very frail, and that added to her image as a pitiful child, sullen, seemingly always angry at something. We were assigned partners in every activity. I got stuck with her, but it was not an accident. God in His wisdom had planned that someone should be there for Elena.
But Elena became more and more difficult. I did not know why I put up with her. One day I found her in tears, her head bowed. I did not know what to say or do, but I did not want to leave her. Finally, at the sound of the bell for our afternoon class, she relented to go, but it took us time to gather her things which she, uncaring, had dropped on the ground. We were late, and for that we were made to stand for 30 minutes behind the panels of the massive wooden door that opened into the halls of Assumption Academy.
A moonless night with a slight drizzle of rain stirred in me a longing for my own mother.
Elena’s bed and mine were side by side, with a locker in between. I heard her sniffles that later became coughs, and I knew tears were flowing. It was a nightly occurrence, but on that particular night I felt my own homesickness. I felt her pain, and I, too, shed the tears I had bravely held back for so long, that broke loose in that one lonely moment. There we were, two children crying out our pain in the night. How much pain can a young body stand? I like to think that an unseen Someone was there, watching, giving us pain not an ounce more than we could bear.
I was sad for Elena, who would never see her mother again. My mother would be there when I went home on weekends. She would affectionately comb my hair and put the ribbons, and I would feel that she missed me. She would ask about Elena and tell me to be kind to her, and I would thank my lucky stars for a loving mother. With enough affection to stave off homesickness, I would return to the colegio.
Time went by and Elena got over her grief. She drifted into the company of the other internas. She was finally weaned from me.
How do we become what we are? How do we get to where we are today?
I caught a glimpse of the answer when, years later, I saw something of my mother in me. One afternoon my youngest son came home visibly shaken. He had seen his playmate’s parents shouting at each other in anger. When I told him of his good fortune that he did not have such parents, and that for that alone he should be kind to his playmate, he hugged my legs, buried his face in my skirt, and cried. He remembered how he had pushed his playmate over a disagreement. I tousled his hair in assurance that it was all right to cry. He cried tears of remorse.
Growing up, I had the best of two worlds. In my years at the colegio, seeds of grace were planted in my spiritual, educational and social upbringing. I saw the deep pain of loss in Elena that brought out the virtue of compassion in my young age.
Within my own home, I saw how my parents lived their lives with love and respect. My home life supplemented my years at the colegio.
I dug into my memory chest and saw scenes of my happy childhood, found the laughter, the smiles, and some tears that revealed to me who I am. Today I am happy with who I am, and I ask for grace to cope with life.
Yesterday is gone. I said goodbye with some regret that I did not make the most of what I had. I folded it, and kept it on my memory shelf, for someday I might find a reason to unfold it.
Today is here and now. I welcome it—“Hello there! I’m here!”—as I look to my heart to seize every moment of each day, and live it well.
Carmelita Datu Yosuico, 89, recently completed a course in nonfiction creative writing at Ateneo de Manila University.
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