Baby Love My Baby Love, Special Occasions

“Happy” (A Post for Father’s Day)

In one of my baby showers before I gave birth, we played a game where Jan and I were asked an assortment of questions that we had to answer separately. At the end of the game, we would then see which answers matched. One question, perhaps playing on the stereotype of mixed Asian-Caucasian kids, asked, “if your boy could only be either an athlete or actor, what would you prefer him to be?” I readily scribbled, “athlete” and in my mind thinking, “with two post-graduate degrees”. When it was time to reveal our answers, I found out that my husband (playing fast and easy with the rules, per usual) wrote: HAPPY.

A few months after Jan Andres was born, we were again talking about what we wanted him to be in the future. “Doctor!” I readily said, in full Tiger Mom mode. Jan then said, “he should be what he wants to be. He can be a carpenter, as long as he’s…. (wait for it)…. happy.” I rolled my eyes at him, promptly accusing him of first-world privilege and ascribing his answer to the naïveté of someone born to a country where you can be a carpenter and still be able to send your kids to good schools and not have financial worries.

Reflecting on it further, however, I now see how important it is to be genuinely and truly committed to your child’s future happiness. I know, as parents, we all say “I want my child to be happy”, but have we really unpacked what that means? In the face of hard choices, can we still commit to our children’s happiness? (Parents of an LGBT child who refuse to accept their child’s gender identity probably also said to each other when their child was a toddler, “I want our child to be happy.”) With happiness as starting point, our children have the emotional resources to navigate towards success, self-improvement, social responsibility. They know they have a safe place from which to begin their journey, and to which they can always come back.

Like my Papa was my safe place growing up, I know my son will have a safe place in his Heit. His mom is a work in progress, she will need to be told sometimes to check her Tiger Mama impulses. She’s good for some things too: making sure that Jan Andres becomes the absolute best he can be, that he eats everything on the table without being picky, that he checks his privilege at the door. Oh and trust her to pay for things like Kumon enrichment classes, because well, Asian mom.

But I reckon it is from Heit that he will learn that grades do not define a person, and that life can beat with a slow and easy tempo. He’ll learn from Heit that weekends are for sleeping in and taking long baths, and that sometimes it’s ok to eat meals on the bed when your feet are tangled up under the covers with the one you love. Heit will teach him that in showing someone you care, consistency trumps flash and flourish; and that marriage is about sending buzzfeed articles about farting to each other. He’ll learn to see the perfect in the imperfect, the beauty in the mundane. He’ll learn that safe places are not structures you seek out, but spaces you create for the people you love through the everyday hard work of showing up, being around, staying present.

He’ll learn all these things, because he’ll be learning from the best.

Special Occasions, Uncategorized

Of gentle easters and infinite wells

(I wrote this yesterday, Easter Sunday)

My husband forwarded me via Whatsapp on Thursday the Easter promo of the hotel we are checking into for the holiday weekend. Face painting, egg hunting, magic show, arts and crafts. ‘Sounds good’, I texted him back, almost automatically, as I was in the middle of something. When I found myself a moment, I ran through the list of activities again — elaborate, expensive, instagrammable — and suddenly found myself being taken back to the more simple Easters of my childhood in the 1980s.

We spent our early years in an apartment in Paco, the same place my mom and her siblings grew up in. It was a house with doors that creaked with age, drawers that groaned with the weight of forgotten odds and ends, walls that held sepia-hued graduation photos from the 60s and the 70s, and a 5-square meter laundry area we all optimistically called the Little Garden. When you looked up towards the ceiling, you would see yellowed balls attached to wooden beams: the result, we were told, of a game my uncles used to play as irrepressible boys, where wet cottonballs would be thrown high up in the air to get as many stuck to the ceiling as possible. My brother and sister and I, we spent the earliest years of our lives in that house with the smugness and softness of unquestionably loved children. Love was the abiding truth of our childhood, and in many ways, the love in that house was a blanket that was flung over us to protect us and insulate us from the vagaries of the world.

Easter was always a festive occasion. My Mom’s younger sister, Auntie Boots, designated herself to be our Easter Bunny. She was, however, terrible at keeping secrets and hiding things. Weeks before Easter Sunday, we would start sniffing around for the plastic egg cases that would hold little pieces of candy. They would always be in one of two hiding places: in the small storage room where the ironing board was kept, or in my great grand-aunt’s room, in the wooden cabinet that hid reams of white bond paper and other wonderful things. We peeked at the candies during Holy Thursday and Good Friday, making deals to trade, planning how to spread them out so they would last the summer. Then Easter Sunday rolled in. After the Sunday mass, the big hunt commenced. My aunt made riddles that needed to be solved and elaborate maps that needed to be deciphered. When you find one egg, the clue for the next egg would be inside in, and so on. I loved it! When we were done, we all gathered together, showed off our loot, and then received our “big” Easter gifts. Which was maybe a Nancy Drew book for me, a Bobbsey Twins book for my brother, a stuffed toy for my sister.

My son and other kids of his generation will spend Easter Sunday in gleaming malls and big hotels, while their parents will partake of commercialized Easter brunches in tastefully-decorated spreads. It is certainly more convenient, anyhow. I already know I probably do not have it in me to make elaborate maps and mind-boggling riddles (and while we are at it, homemade Halloween costumes and daily themed bento boxes). But — and this is what I also realized today, amidst the wistful nostalgia washing over me — memories of our own happy childhoods are not there to shame the parents we now are. Rather, they are wells that we draw from, infinite and self-replenishing, so that whether our children take part in a mall-organized egg hunt or find themselves hunched over an elaborate DIY easter treasure map at home, love in its purest and clearest form becomes the abiding truth of their childhood.