It’s nearing the end of 2010, and here in the Philippines, the cool, crisp winds come often. In the early morning hours and after dusk, my neighbors don hoodies, sweaters, and long-sleeve thermal shirts; they shiver at the slightest bit of cold and walk with their heads bent down against the wind. But to me, my brother, and Rob, this weather feels like home.
The present Filipino weather is oddly reminiscent of New York City, after summer has died down and just as the school year begins. I go outside in the mornings and can’t help but think of cashmere sleeveless shirts, tall leather boots, and long, voluptuous scarves. I want so badly to curl up in bed with Rob and Riley while the curtains swell with chilly breezes and the room smells like the flowers growing on our block. Maybe this is exactly what was necessary for me to slip into vacation mode: a break from the norm.
Our house is the second from the corner. At the corner is a vacant lot that’s full of green vegetation and cat meows. To our other side is a small compound of one-floor apartments which is owned by my paternal grandmother’s first cousins, Minda and Ansing.
As the story goes, Minda and Ansing fell in love when they were teenagers, and against all social conventions, they decided to get married. Now here they are, 50 years later, first cousins and husband and wife, and the love with which they look at each other makes my heart smile.
Across the street from our house is a duplex. The half of the duplex which directly faces us has a small store at its front. Ofelia and her family live in that house; she and her husband are about my parents’ age, and I’m the same age as her oldest child. Of her three twenty-something year old kids, only one works. Her daughter gave birth a month or so ago and stays home, ostensibly to take care of her infant daughter, though Ofelia half-jokingly complains to me about her daughter’s lack of child-caring involvement.
I’ve mentioned this mother and daughter before. When the daughter, Jean, arrived 7 months ago, I thought she might be my salvation. She had lived abroad, we were the same age, and she was going to have a baby. For sure, I thought, we’d have a lot in common and be able to bond. The more I’ve hung out with her, though, the more I’ve realized that she and I just don’t click. Despite her fluency in English, she and I just can’t seem to carry out a conversation. Every time I ask her about something having to do with her daughter, for example, she just shrugs and replies that she doesn’t really know how to respond because it’s her mom who takes care of the baby.
Apparently that’s how it happens here. New parents – especially when they’re in their 20s – defer to their own parents. This boggles my mind on so many levels. I just can’t fathom not having an opinion about how my kid should be raised. And the part that absolutely kills me is that I lent her a bunch of my pregnancy/baby books, and she wasn’t even curious enough to look at the pictures. Like, for real? You know nothing about pregnancy or taking care of a baby, and I’m handing you how-to manuals, and you don’t even want to flip through them? You’re really just going to let your mom raise your kid?
Seeing it happening right in front of me pisses me off. I mean, for crying out loud, you’re twenty-fucking-six years old and you decided to bring another life into this world, and all you do is make your parents take care of it?
What makes it even worse is that Ofelia and Jean can’t stop criticizing Minda and Ansing’s son and daughter-in-law about how they’re raising their five-year old daughter. They call the girl’s mom a witch (which has a less-benign connotation in Tagalog), and go on and on about how some people shouldn’t have kids.
And it all makes me wonder about my own criticisms of Jean, and about perspectives, and if anyone really knows what they’re doing, and if anyone is in a place to judge when it comes to parenting. I’ve learned, for instance, that I’m more sensitive to haughty criticisms from non-parents because they haven’t been down this particular path and shouldn’t be looking down on me from a high horse. (That isn’t to say that the plight of women, in general, isn’t universal; there are people out there who honestly get it even though their sexy parts haven’t spewed out living baby and blackberry jelly-like placenta.) And after moving out here, it’s become more apparent to me that my perspective is in no way the correct one, or the universal one. But when it comes to something as important as children, should we have a base by which to successfully raise and care for them? If so, who should make it? Is it universal? Or is it as simple/complex as “Keep your kids healthy and happy”?
Now that Christmas is over, the carolers have gone away and kids have stopped coming to our gate and asking for money. I’ve gotten a bunch of emails and messages from people wondering about my atheism and how it’s holding up during the holiday season, and as much as I want to believe that the questions all come from a purely curious place, I can’t help but detect tons of judgment.
All of it – the parenting stuff that my block has made me think about, as well as these messages about religion – has been bubbling in my brain, and I can’t help but think about beliefs and about whether certain beliefs – like, about religion, or the existence of God, or about Love, for instance – might hold more worth and power than other beliefs – like, about the weather, and old wive’s tales, and superstitions. Could it be that we can’t held but hold some beliefs to higher regard than others, and that we’re willing to do more for them? And if this is so, and we base so much of our personalities on our core beliefs, can we help but feel superior because of our convictions? I mean, in choosing one set of thinking over another, we’re assigning worth to different belief systems, so that, for example, it’s very obvious that I value atheism more than Catholicism. But does making that decision necessarily involve feeling that I’m better than those who didn’t make that same decision? Is that kind of self-righteousness innate to the human condition?
Iono, man. Lots going on in this little mind of mine… I know I’m all scattered, but what are your thoughts?