Last Sunday I dropped by a friend’s place and found her in the kitchen with huge bowls of cashew nuts.
My friend quickly explained she was going to take orders for fruit cakes. As I left the house I noticed there were a few Christmas ornaments around the house and my friend’s long-time helper asked me, in Cebuano, if I had started decorating as well.
Aguy, I replied, Christmas is so far off. She laughed and reminded me, the “ber” months were starting on Monday. Suddenly it all made sense, the cashew nuts and the fruit cakes and ornaments and all.
The ber months are indeed upon us, and so are Christmas carols on the radio. I am sure the malls are gearing up with their marketing strategies to cash in on what is probably the world’s longest Christmas season.
But I thought we might want to avoid the crass commercialism and look at the ber months as a season for taking stock, and for reflecting. Last week I was at a gathering of homeschooling parents at The Master’s Academy and we had a great speaker who talked about how, in planning our parenting activities, we should consider what “season” we are in our lives.
I sensed she was taking off from the passage in Ecclesiastes: “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted…”
I like countries with four distinct seasons, each with their own symbolism: spring for new life, summer for warmth, fall for transformations, winter for tranquility. Each of those seasons also have their challenges and struggles: spring, for example, reminding us of how precarious young life can be.
We have seasons too in the Philippines but they are not always as symbolic. My foreign friends laugh when I use the term “summer” to refer to April and May because for them, it’s summer all year round in the Philippines, and if one insists on seasons, they’d say we have two: hot and very hot.
Farming communities do appreciate the division of the year into the wet and dry. May’s fluvial festivities mark a cusp between a dry season and the coming rains, which bring promises of a new planting season.
We can make the ber months more meaningful, seeing it as a season to think of the seasons in our lives, “a time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away.”
Last Saturday I was in Davao visiting a cousin and his new son, five months old. As I carried him I realized how much I was missing carrying babies.
When I got back to Manila I was driving past the neighborhood park and realized they had taken away the playground. I had seen construction going on but the slides and swings were around until this week. Their disappearance reminded me of a season that had passed, or rather of seasons passed, the passages of each child garnering courage to tackle the higher slide, to swing up higher into the air.
Each new baby in the home ushers in a new season. It’s a season of extreme joy, but it can also be a season of stress, and sacrifice if family members don’t build support for each other. Postpartum depression—very serious “black” moods right after delivering a baby—is more common in societies with nuclear families, where you’re on your own. But I suspect in our own society, with families that are too extended in the sense of many dependents—many other children and/or non-working adults—a new baby can also induce depression way beyond childbirth.
Young children in the home is a season. The house is never quiet, and our schedules revolve around the kids: who and when to take to school, to do groceries, to tutor, to get a check-up with the pediatrician, the dentist, and the many school meetings. It is a season too when we become more conscious of budgets. There is, after all, a “tuition season” too.
Our seasons change as the older children mature, taking on responsibilities including care for younger ones. Last week when I organized an expedition to a movie, I ushered the kids into their seats then got up to get snacks. My eldest jumped up to accompany me: “You’ll need help.”
It’s not just their greater sense of responsibility for younger siblings but also for parents. I was biking with my son some weeks back and paused at one point to catch my breath. He was way ahead but he turned back and asked, “Are you all right?”
“Hey,” I told him, “that used to be my line.
It’s become a standing joke now when I get home and we try to be the first one to ask, “So, how was your day?” I used to be the one asking until a few months back when he beat me to it.
I tell him he’s 8 going 18.
In Filipino homes, the seasons are shaped, too, by people of different generations. I’m living separately now from my parents because of my work, but make it a point to visit middle of the week and on weekends. There’s a special bond between my son and his Lola, even if she rarely speaks now, her face lighting up when she sees her “little boy” now not quite little. Ecclesiastes again reminds us there will be “a time to keep silence, and a time to speak.”
Someone once told me about how worried she was about a parent who was beginning to dement, and said she hoped the parent would “leave” before the dementia becoming serious. She meant it to say she didn’t want to “lose” the parent she knew.
I told her, no, even after they no longer recognize you, you will feel the bonds, in the way they respond to your greetings, to your holding their hands. I tell my children what a privilege it is for them to still be able to see their grandparents.
I know there are more seasons ahead, the hustle and bustle of a growing household quieting down to an empty nest and the children starting their own families, their own seasons.
These ber months, we should think of and marvel at the seasons of our intertwined lives. We will feel less guilty about what seems to be our inadequacies, and more appreciative of those who provide us with strength.
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