More than average
MANILA, Philippines -- I am an eternal optimist. Born to a family of pessimists with a narrow-minded view of the world, I have spent most of my life keeping my true self to myself. I may be surrounded by familiar people but none of them really knows me.
It's a sad life. I started working a year before I started going to school. We were taught hard work at a young age. I never get to have the whole day to play but I don't really mind.
We're a big family. Mom and Dad can hardly support us all, so everyone needs to do his/her share. Waking up at 5 a.m. to start making hundreds of sandwiches and repacking all of them neatly is not something to look forward to in the morning. Breakfast and lunch are hurried affairs. I have borne the silent stares and taunts of kids my age for being indifferent.
Life became harder when I started going to school. We all had to wake up at 3:30 a.m. so we could finish making and delivering the goods to the canteen and still have time to take a quick bath before going to our classes.
Because there are so many of us and work occupies all of my parents' time, they never had time to teach us the basics. When I first started wearing shoes, I put them on the wrong feet. And because my shoes were hand-me-downs from my older sister, I had to fill a lot of spaces with old newspaper so they would fit. It was a week after classes began when my mother's co-teacher noticed that I was wearing my shoes the wrong way. She told my mom about it, and that's how I learned to wear them the right way.
I hated rainy days. Because my shoes were over used, the soles provided very little protection and became water-logged when it rained. I would spend the whole day trying to hide my wet socks and discomfort.
We usually prepared our school clothes at night to make sure we had clean underwear and socks. We never had enough of those, and quite often we had to wash them right away after taking them off and hang them in front of the electric fan to be used the next day.
My Dad fits the stereotype of a macho man. He gambles, smokes, drinks and acts as if he had no care in the world. But he's also the best nanny and cook that I have ever known. He never finished college, and never really had much ambition. He is contented to do the household chores while mom teaches in school.
That doesn't mean he works less. Doing household chores and raising seven girls and one boy will surely make any woman go crazy. But not him. He pampers us by cooking exceptional meals and though the children have to work to make both ends meet, we have never missed a meal.
I've always preferred Dad's cooking to Mom's, but I have kept it a secret so that she wouldn't feel jealous. In fact, he does everything better, be it doing the laundry or being a parent.
Mom is the disciplinarian and I almost hated her when I was growing up. She has very little patience. But we are still lucky to have a Mom like her.
When Dad goes out on his bicycle, he is certain to bring back home something good to eat: "kalamay," "sapin-sapin," "pichi-pichi," "suman" or fruits. When I was picked to read during Masses for children, he made sure I would never be late. He would take me to the church every Saturday on his bicycle. But he wouldn't go inside the church, and just wait outside until the Mass was over and then he would take me some place to eat. Those are some of my happiest memories.
I never really had a mentor or a guide. My siblings and I learned to do things on our own. Even though my Mom is a teacher, she didn't have time to teach us. Which is quite understandable, because if you crave for sleep and rest the whole day, it takes superhuman effort to be kind and patient.
My learning skills were not at par with my older sisters'. It was harder for me to learn. I was an average student with lots of work to do. Studying was something that I could only do at school, and the time to do homework was just before dinner. I would get a scolding if I took more time for study since I was supposed to be putting "kikiam" and squid balls in sticks or rolling a thousand cheese sticks to be sold the next day. Mom could make us do anything by threatening to make us stop our schooling. (My parents don't know how lucky they are.)
If I have anything in excess, it is pride. I don't admit defeat and can't stand being laughed at. Growing up with my father, I became like him, complacent and easy to please. I liked going to school because it was easier than staying at home and repacking some goods. In school I got to sit and rest the whole day and could even draw on my notebooks whenever the teacher was not around. I had friends and pretended that my life was as easy as theirs.
I was in Grade I when our teacher called each one of us to read an English story. Those who couldn't were ordered to stand up for the rest of the class period.
I was one of them. I couldn't read even a word. When the bell rang, that was the signal for us to go out. A classmate made fun of me, saying in her loud, squeaky voice: "Ay, anak ng teacher 'di marunong bumasa! Bobo! Bobo! Bobo!" ["A teacher's daughter -- and she can't read! Dumb! Dumb! Dumb!"]
I remember feeling my face burn with tears and shame. I have never forgotten that day.
Something good came out of the bullying: It made me work harder and throw away all my lame excuses about being a slow learner and not having enough time. My Mom was amazed when I asked for the Grade 2 text books and I began studying them during the summer vacation.
The next school year, I got first honors and felt like I had won a personal battle.
It did not stop there. I learned to like learning and developed an insatiable appetite for reading. At the age of 9, I had read all of my sister's high school text books and even summarized "Noli Me Tangere" and "El Filibusterismo." Indeed, I have read all the random books in our house, and found refuge in them.
I used my time conscientiously and worked twice as hard. I would have loved to finish each school year with honors but most of the time, I could only catch up with the lesson after the exam had been given. I could have earned higher grades if only my body were as strong as my will. My only consolation was that I really did learn everything taught in school and none of my teachers could say that I wasted their effort and time.
I am still a Daddy's girl. I love to cook just like him, and he has taught me his secrets. We are still not well off, but I don't have to roll a thousand cheese sticks before being allowed to go to sleep. I have finished my degree and passed the board exams. I work for only eight hours a day and spend my extra time anyway I wish. Two of my younger siblings will be graduating from college this year, and only two will be left to finish their studies. Next year will be better and I may be able to keep half of my salary.
AGM, 24, works as a chemist in a private company.
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