Awakening the child in me
- Paulynn Sicam (The Philippine Star) - January 8, 2016 - 9:00am

SYDNEY, Australia — It’s been a long time since I lived with a five-year old. It hasn’t been easy but it’s been a lot of fun.

Here in Sydney, I room with my five-year-old granddaughter Maya, a bright, creative and very active child. Her room is a new addition to the family home and she has just learned to sleep there alone after five years in her parents’ bedroom, so I wasn’t sure she’d be openly welcoming. But the first thing she did when I arrived was to stick a sign on her door decorated with hearts and clouds and our names: “Maya and Lola.”

Sharing her room means helping her get dressed in the morning, taming her thick head of hair, making sure she picks up after herself, supervising her bath, helping her make her chocolate milk drink, and other mundane things. The most interesting part of the day is putting her to sleep at night, which involves cuddling, tickling, giggling, reading a book, inventing silly stories on-the-spot, then singing a couple of lullabies, until she finally sails off to dreamland. Often, I get sleepy before she does, but she wakes me up to complete the routine until she falls asleep. 

But that’s not the end of it. I sleep on a trundle bed beside hers, which means she can roll onto my bed when, she says, she has a bad dream, or just because she needs a cuddle. So after making sure she is really asleep, I move to her bed with its pink sheets, pink princess blanket and a pink teddy bear she calls Red.

She wakes up much later than I do, still giggling at the memory of my invented stories from the night before. She retells my story about Ester and her 10 children who drive her crazy because they keep fighting. Ester goes to her room, slams the door and prays for patience and when she comes out, the 10 kids are at the door, contrite and chanting in chorus, “Sorry, Mommy!” For some reason, Maya finds that incredibly funny. Every night, I must invent another episode about Ester and her children. (Ester, my mother’s name, and her 10 children do not necessarily refer to real persons living or dead.)

The other night, Maya decided that on Monday would be “Lola Day” when she will serve me breakfast in bed, and I will not have to do any chores. She also declared Sunday as “Lolo Day.” Earlier in the week, when I was trying to put her to sleep, we could hear crashing sounds from the movie the others were watching on TV outside the room. She whispered to me, “I will be so afraid of that sound when you’re not here.”

I am writing this in Sydney, and I’m already starting to miss our time together.

Maya is a picky eater. If left to her own devices, she can survive on noodles and meat pies, an Aussie staple. So my fancy cooking is lost on her, except when I make nilaga, that she calls “rice-sabaw.”  We keep beef nilaga in the ref and heat it by the small bowls for her to relish at lunch and dinner. I must say, it makes my heart flutter seeing her slurping the broth, asking for more rice to mix with it, and thanking me profusely for cooking it.

She likes to draw and make stuff out of paper, Pentel pens, cardboard, string, paper plates and cups, and small toys that she puts together with “sticky tape.” The floor in her room is usually littered with tiny pieces of paper, and has Scotch tape stuck to it. Her shelf is piled with her creations, along with her pens, scissors, books, sketchpads, glue, toys and coloring books. When I asked for space on her shelf and borrowed a small basket to put my meds, cologne, hairbrush and other small stuff in, she said I could — if I paid her three dollars! I bargained it down to a two-dollar Aussie coin that she put in her piggy bank.

Staying in the same room as Maya brings me back several decades when my daughters were small and we shared stories, books, drawings, games, thoughts and confidences. It was the happiest time of my life, when they were innocent, trusting and malleable, and nothing got in the way of the pleasure of our relationship.

I will go home to Manila with gratitude in my heart to Maya who, like her mother and aunt when they were little, has awakened the child in me. I may be quite sleep-deprived, but my heart is full. Like when I was a young working mother to my two daughters, I have collected enough joyful memories of funny times and shared confidences that will keep me going in the real world, especially as I navigate through the difficult election season ahead.

ACIRC BED LOLA DAY LOLO DAY MAYA MAYA AND LOLA PENTEL ROOM SLEEP SMALL WHEN I
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