While my father nurtured the smarts in me, my mother did the girly mother-and-daughter things. She dolled me up, fixed my long hair in different ways, and made me feel I was truly beautiful. She was very generous with praise, hugs and words of affection.
Among my earliest memories was going to a photo studio. Nanay (mother) liked dressing me up and taking me to Mang Pecto's studio at the Little Quiapo across the street. I was fortunate to have pictures of me taken at a time when the only people we knew who had a camera were professional photographers, and pictures were colourized or in sepia. My mother coached me to pose this way and that. One time she brought me crying and whining all the way to Mang Pecto's. I disliked my bulging petticoat. Ugh, so itchy on my thighs! But when my mother said smile, I knew I had to smile. I acted in front of the camera.
I'm glad the petticoat was just a passing fad.
One more time with a petticoat.
Bunso means last child. My position in the family and the circumstances in which I was born presented perks and privileges that I can only describe as providential. After all, who determined the time of my birth? But as I said in my previous blog entry, being in this situation was both a boon and a bane for me as a young person. When it was a boon, I thanked God. No, I didn't really know yet how to thank Him, I just enjoyed my position. But when it was a bane, I blamed Him. That one, I learned earlier.
Growing up, I gradually learned to understand and resolve the dynamics surrounding my birth and upbringing. To begin with, I was born two years after my fourth sibling, an 18-month sister, died of polio. Who knows the grief and the vacuum her death left in my parents' hearts? And who knows what my arrival did in healing that pain and filling that gap? I don't want to be presumptuous, but I believe this played a big part in the way I was cared for and loved.
With all the attention and compliments I received, I could very well have been a spoiled brat. Yes, I was bratty at times like most children. But spoiled? My mother would be the first to say, Not. I got spanked by her every now and then. She did not spare me the slippers. Boy, oh, boy, if she had to chase me around the house, she would. I was so afraid of those slippers. I would cry a lot.
My father spanked me maybe once or twice, but that was enough to teach me not to act out in his presence. He had a heavier hand which was probably why he refrained from spanking unless extremely necessary. He had bigger, hard-soled slippers too. I would rather have my mother spank me 10 times than my father spank me once.
I could always expect my mother to comfort me within an hour after a spanking. She explained why I had to be spanked while reaffirming her love as she applied Vicks Vapor Rub on the welts on my butt and thighs. I would be whimpering and wallowing in self-pity. Then we were good, and I got a treat later.
The blessing of not being rich
I heard my mother once said when I was already in my late teens, early 20s perhaps, that if only we had the means, they would have bought me what I wanted when I was growing up. Things would then have turned out differently. I would have turned out differently. I might have been spoiled indeed.
But God in His wisdom did not give us material excess. We had very simple means. We did not feel we were poor--poor was not in my parents' vocabulary--but we, especially the children, knew not to ask for much.
At one point I felt we were rich. We had one of the very few TV sets in the neighbourhood. I think that was because my father was a technician and could make discarded or second-hand electronics work. Most of my friends did not have their own TVs. They came to our house to watch.
As I grew up, I realized that money was hard. I did not get everything I wanted. If my parents said we could not afford something, that was it. I learned to be frugal and to save my centavos early. I asked to have my own bank account with the money I had saved in my plastic piggy bank. This was before I understood that a bank was not like a drawer where my coins, including my prized antique one from the 1930s, remained the coins I deposited.
I had new clothes on my birthday and Christmas, and sometimes on school openings, if I didn't have enough old or hand me down uniforms. My school supplies were always bought from the U.P. Coop. I used to wonder at my classmate's stuff she bought from a real bookstore. I was fascinated by how an eraser could smell like candy, I wanted to eat it. In fact, I did try to bite one secretly.
My baon (packed lunch) to school, when I needed one, was often rice and cheap meat loaf fried in scrambled egg. A piece of pork or chicken was rare to have. I did not have a big allowance either. I think I had 25 centavos by Grade 3, up from 10 centavos of the previous year. I saved that money. I hardly bought snacks. Because I was not eating properly at school and letting myself go hungry, and then drinking Coke, I started having sharp pains in my upper abdomen when I was in Grade 3. The doctor at the U.P. Infirmary said I had ulcers. Ulcers at Grade 3?
My one consistent material desire was a piano. I so wanted to have a piano ever since I got chosen to have free lessons for a short period at the U.P. College of Music. I asked my father several times for a piano, and though he never said never, I knew from his response it was like asking for the moon. When I asked for a piano, he said he'd get me pianono (a kind of pastry).
I believe the fact that I did not get a lot of material things, plus the fact that I was disciplined by my parents, prevented me from becoming a spoiled brat.
Personally, I think too much attention and love do not a spoiled child make. If anything, they are good for a child's healthy self-esteem and sense of security. I believe that because I was sure I was loved, I did not grow up with a huge craving for stuff that will make me feel better about myself. Even today I don't need a closet full of stylish clothes, lots of shoes, name brand bags, the latest gadgets, expensive perfumes and makeup, jewelry... I am low maintenance. Ask MrB.
"What's my fetish?" I asked him one time as we were walking inside Metrotown mall and I was looking for something to excite me.
He thought for a moment. "Pagtitipid." (Saving)
Haha. You can thank your in-laws for that. They are SAVING YOU a lot of money.
(to be continued, maybe)