LAST week I shared my insights on the magazine article written by Charlotte Alter, titled “The Secrets of Super Siblings”. It shared the successes of nine families who were able to raise “super siblings”, and pointed out the commonalities in upbringing she saw among them. These were Immigrant Drive, Parent-Teachers, Political Activism, Controlled Chaos, Lessons in Mortality and A Free-Range Childhood.
When I was growing up, we lived with our grandparents. They are first-generation immigrants from Fujian, China. I remember my grandmother being upset if we allowed rice to fall from our plates. We had to scoop them back, and eat them. She would tell us their home in China was near the mountains, and it was very hard to get rice. When my grandaunt tutored and took care of me while I was growing up, valuing our Chinese roots was ingrained. Our bedtime stories would be Chinese idioms and fables. She would always tell me the 21st century would be China’s century, so learning Mandarin was very important. I took this to heart growing up. I joined Chinese declamation contests, and loved Chinese songs. Aside from Mandarin, I also needed to learn Fukien, which is the local dialect of our hometown in China. My dad would never answer us if we didn’t speak Fukien with him.
My grandaunt used to be a teacher. My relatives all loved books. Our study room always had the smell of old paper, because their textbooks from school were still kept intact. Math is the subject most valued. My dad always told me the story of how he got a 102 for Math in his report card. My uncle finished Engineering at the University of the Philippines (UP) and worked in IBM in New York. An aunt finished Statistics and another aunt finished Economics, all in UP. I knew then that being good in Math would assure me a successful job in the future.
My parents were not political activists but they were always involved in social causes. On some of our free Sundays, we would visit orphanages or mental institutions, or join feeding programs.
More simply, my grandparents would always reprimand us when we messed up the room too much or wasted towels, because the maids would be inconvenienced. No matter how simple, it taught me great empathy. I was very fortunate to also receive so much care from “nonblood-related friends” from my yaya, Mang Maco, our school janitor, teachers, employees and a lot more. Their care really pushed my perspective of wanting to be a part of nation-building. There was a time in my life when I wanted to be a politician to effect positive change. That’s why I studied law for a while, aiming to be a human-rights lawyer. I later realized I could probably be more effective doing this as a private citizen. That’s why I love human-resource management.
Our family dynamics was also fostered by sibling competition. I remember one time we were in our office display room, and my mother had a family friend over. Coincidentally, my siblings and I were all in one line. My mother was very proud to say that she let her daughters compete with each other. As a result, we all excelled in school. However, our “voices” had different “volumes”, depending on who was more capable. These later on formed varied complexes and insecurities that we carried as we aged in life.
The great thing that my parents taught me was “will”. Any time I wanted to pursue something they disagreed with, they taught me to push, justify and push again. They taught me to be independent. They never minded that I was learning to drive by 14. They allowed me to join every activity I could possibly join in school and even outside of school. I was allowed to go to foreign study tours and camping trips. Given that we were all girls, I realize today how forward my dad was in allowing me to do so many things on my own at an early age. This cultivated in me an “always find a way” attitude. I remember when I wasn’t allowed to take voice lessons in high school (I couldn’t blame my mom, my voice was really too husky). I asked our head teacher if she could help me find a teacher who would teach me for free. She found one in downtown San Nicolas, Manila, a Mr. Ngo. He only taught opera-style. I went to his place and auditioned if he would be willing to take me on as a student. Luckily, he said yes. The next problem was how to get there. I was lucky that a friend of mine had a weekly dermatologist session with Dr. Nellie Yu nearby; I hitched a ride with him every week. At a young age of maybe 5, I always accompanied my parents and relatives to funerals. I think that’s why I was always aware of my own mortality. It was further deepened each time important people in my childhood passed away. My grandfather, my grandaunt and my nanny have all passed. Every year I visit them in the temple or in the cemetery, I like “reporting” to them how my life has been. I always hope that all their hard work in caring for me has borne fruit, and they can be proud of what I have become.
My siblings and I all had the same environment growing up. We all took it in different ways. I realize today how many positives I draw from what my parents and the people around me allowed me to be aware of and experience growing up. Next week I will share my own experience as being a “sibling” and my views and ways on how I attempt to raise my 2+1 headstrong kids today.