Learning again
- Tingting Cojuangco () - January 22, 2012 - 12:00am

Grandchildren are reflections of our own children. In fact they’re mirrors of what we taught their mothers, growing up. I discovered this during the holiday season. I got flashbacks of the past that hounded me about my own children through their offspring. It was like going back to my ABCs. One of my children told her son to sit down straight, both feet in front at the dining table and finish all the food he had served himself from the buffet. The other says “Please” and “Thank you,” two helpful phrases. Before my children learned to say these things, though, they stretched out their smooth palms and fingers to ask. “Thank you” was a sideways nod with a smile, and they were forced to do so with tears or stars twinkling in their eyes.

Mai calls out to Demi, a tiny creature with bangs over her eyes and a “bob” with the softest mane of different hues of brown. She likes to be called Mimi. My second daughter, Josephine, couldn’t decide on the spelling of her nickname (“Phin or Pin”) but it’s a baby accomplishment when a grandchild gives herself her own name: “I am Mimi, not Demi.” Then I heard Mai reprimand her: “Mimi, I taught you to say ‘banyo’ and ‘pee-pee.’ Why did you pee…?” But she’s only two, I remind Mai. Was I that strict when my girls were only two years old? Yet Mimi knows in her infancy the difference between wetting her panty or diaper and soaking her cashmere leggings and knee-high boots. “Sorry…” I hear a voice that sounds more like a mice squeaking. “Look at me in the eyes when you say ‘sorry,’ so I know you mean it.” That was me 40 years ago.

Was this a vacation or an etiquette campsite? “Okay, children, carry your own stuff from the car after shopping.” Liaa says to nine of my apos. They must know it’s a blessing to choose their own toys. They all obediently comply and find their nooks in the house to open their new belongings: Legos to build houses and pyramids and construct their Thomas the Tank Engine choo-choo trains. One is with his airplane in the dining room, the other with a truck in the kitchen, the choo-choo tracks are spread about the TV room so I have to prance around the unassembled pieces. So this is the way five boys are, I think, as I watch Rafael lighting up his salt lamp. Alec at 17 is texting Manila while watching them.

“Duck, Wawa!” Pico shouts and a ball is hurled near my head in a narrow hallway. Bang! It bounces against the wall and another ball replies to the first challenge, hitting the door, sending it backwards to slam the closet. All that ruckus at midnight and now a foam bullet spurts out of a plastic submachine gun and hits Pablo on the chest.

What can I say? In a mellow wawa tone, I say: “Easy boys… Careful… You’ll smash the walls and scrape the paint…” “Stop it!” Pin shouts from the floor above — like I did back then, I’m sure. My girls were never boisterous like that, but the choice of playing inside the house is unavoidable tonight. It’s freezing outside, the ball will get lost in the dark, and Christmas comes but once a year, in a house popping with love and family commitments and laughter.

“I love you.” Every day I said this to my five daughters. Being the three words I repeated constantly, Mikee and Mai copied me. Yet they couldn’t pronounce them. Mai came up and, with a lot of effort, said “Abadoo,” an answer to my endearment of “I love you.” It’s stuck through three generations. Mine, our five children, their own and, henceforth, I hope it remains a family tradition.

Now I hear “Embrace me,” a command from Peping to little Renzo. It’s the same tone and same words he’d say to his five girls. Renzo runs obediently to Wowo with four kisses and two embraces. What a consolation due to a gift — a pair of shoes — and our joy to give our tiny apo who has the fairest complexion of all and the longest arms. A hug is a treasure to Peping and Robbie gives him a tight one, too. I know he wants to remember those moments forever, as he nods at me. Renzo we can make sit beside us for at least five minutes unlike China back then. And Mimi runs all around the house so we have to keep all eyes on her to caution her at every turn she makes. “Uh-oh,” we scream, “Don’t bump into table corners!” We put a durable rubber corner guard on our glass table and Mimi has fun scraping them out of place. Nang Nang Pin put packing tape over them and still Mimi detaches the tape from the table with her little fingers that she can insert under the tape. Where’s Pablo, we wonder? He is ever so quiet and concentrated, playing with his airplanes. Different personalities. I’m coming to know them.

I could continue to boast like every wawa. Every grandmother has her memories of watching Cinderella or Rapunzel or Snow White with her children and now her grandchildren, right? And then again even driving to Disneyland for the fifth time. I will forever recall watching a mesmerized child, Mimi, say, “Prince” while eating Milk Duds. I watched her so long that I forgot to feed her lunch. After the two hours of quiet repose with a CD (best way when babysitting), Mimi was so hungry she ate adobo and rice and I gave her Caramelos when her mom Mai wasn’t home. You know what she did? She put her finger on her lips indicating “Don’t tell.” I didn’t, because the saddest part about being a grandmother is seeing my children “say no” and disappointing my apos. Watching my nine grandchildren get scolded by their parents and seeing tears running down their cheeks: I could cry.

Oh, yes. Grandchildren are kaleidoscopes of multicolored pebbles and fragile glass. They’re of varying colors and patterns, symmetrical or asymmetrical, and their antics fill up my life with so much happiness that, even if I deny my age, I admit to owning them.

CHILDREN MAI MIKEE AND MAI MILK DUDS MIMI NANG NANG PIN RENZO
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