Eleven years ago today I became a mother for the first time. Before I became pregnant with Santiago, I was not sure I wanted to have children. I knew it was going to be difficult and that my life would not be the same, but after a long and unexpectedly difficult labor and birth, there he was. My heart exploded, expanded and suddenly encompassed the world. Until then, I did not know I had so much love in me. I was forever changed. Everything I have done since, I have done for him and, four years later, his brother Andres.
During a conversation with my boys, the topic of marriage came up. My younger son said he might have ten wives when he grows up. At first I panicked and said something unenlightened like, “Well, it’s better to have only one so we must choose well”, which in hindsight was not the lesson I wanted to teach them. Plus it also intimated that their father and I didn’t choose each other well, because we are no longer together. I should have thought of those things right then, but my old mental models kicked in; my brainwashed self simply panicked. What I really want them to learn is how to live authentically and have their life choices emanate from that space. Though the Catholic Church had its function in history, I feel it simply has not evolved with the world. This is not to say that immorality is the new order of the day. It isn’t. I’m saying that the structure of our institutions must now be renewed from the inside–the same way morality must be an internal compass, not dogma dictated by archaic law that was necessary when it was born into the world, but is now no longer relevant. No, I don’t think it is necessarily okay to have several spouses. But I don’t think it’s okay to label or generalize either and say more than one spouse is bad and one is good. I still think one is a magical number, but I also think that deeper issues are at play. Was the marriage authentic? Did both parties honor the covenant? These are the bigger questions that must be asked. I know of a lot of marriages that are unbroken from the outside but are a total mess of lies and deception within. Is that better for your children than each of their parents living out of the space of truth and integrity, even though they are apart? Our institutions must be renewed and we have to start thinking about the ways in which we have defined right and wrong. The substance of any marriage is what is most important. It is not tenure. I have friends who rail against the kind of marriage their parents had because even as children, they could see through the hypocrisy–the father keeping mistresses, the mother turning a blind eye but sowing resentment and bitterness for decades. It was so toxic and painful for them. Separation is also painful and it is a deep and painful gash I will always carry for my children, but if both parties are coming from a space of wanting to live authentically and can no longer do so in the context of marriage, then the children are blessed with a way of life and love that is aligned with Truth, despite the outward picture of “brokenness”. I don’t see my family today as broken. We do not all live in the same house, but we are living out of a consciousness of love and respect still–on a level that was not possible before. It is not how many husbands or wives you ended up having but how truthful and honest you were in the union. You can still be in a marriage but bring a deeper, darker brand of separation into your family–in the realm of each member’s soul life–if you are not living with integrity. That is infinitely more damaging to the children. They learn to accept that living a lie is ok. They learn that deceit, anger, bitterness and betrayal are par for the course. A new world awaits and it has to do with a new consciousness that is aligned with truth, integrity and love. It is no longer defined by dead concepts, unexamined rules and dogma. May we all journey together on its rich and textured path.
My older boy was involved in an incident with a rough classmate. He was pushed and kicked, even though that may not have been the intention. In the process of sorting out the situation, I was told that I should teach my son to fight back. One mother told me that she taught her own child to hit first before she gets hurt, with the assurance that she would sort things out for her later. This made me very uncomfortable, though I could see where she was coming from. Of course no mother wants their child to be hurt, but I also could not bring myself to teach my son to hurt others. I told him he could defend himself by not hurting. In the PAGASA workshops, we are reminded that we cannot solve a problem with the same tools–actions, plans, mindsets–that created it. That’s a big AHA moment. If your approach to life is simply on the level of your own children, it would be easy to tell them to hurt first to protect themselves. But if you’re thinking beyond that and asking questions about what kind of values you want to instill in your children so that they can grow up behaving responsibly and with love towards others, fully aware that their thoughts and deeds shape the world, teaching them it’s okay to hurt is not an option. Make no mistake, my child was hurt but he was also angry. I let him be angry. He expressed it many times at home, so I’m confident that this sort of bullying won’t happen to him again because he will find a way through it next time, and hopefully not through hurting. On the one hand others keep telling him to fight back, on the other I’ve told him that he can find his own way of defense. I am hoping this tension will help him see that there are options and he can exercise them. You cannot solve problems with the same tools that created them. If we become bearers of change in the world–towards integration, peace, spiritual evolution–our options shift radically. I hope that I have armed my son with true grit and love and I trust that he will find his way without being an instrument of pain, violence and further separation.
When I moved out of our old house, I was worried my children would miss it. I was worried they would miss the big, gorgeous saltwater pool we had that was all theirs, everyday, whenever they wanted it. I thought I would build a pool in our new house as well, but I found out what it would cost (not factoring in maintenance costs through the years). I decided it was not something I could do anymore. I worried they would feel bad about that. But all my worries and fears were unfounded. See them? All it took was this inflatable slide and a garden hose. There was no mention of missing the pool. Nothing. Our children are so easy to please. It’s our adult conditioning that gets in the way. I should have known. When I turned 40, I took them to a beach in Laiya. I was worried because they are used to having kayaks on every trip, flying everywhere, having a yacht at hand and here we were at a beach that was less than white and far from private. They loved it. They would run to watch the fishermen bring in their catch and stand with them in commiseration at the sight of empty nets. I would often see my little one sitting quietly on his little flip-flops (to keep his bottom from burning on the hot sand), looking out into the great expanse of ocean and sky. My older son was just everywhere at once. Exploring. They even thought the soup, which was so obviously made from a powdered mix, was pretty good. They make me so proud. Why was I so worried they would miss such luxuries? They had me and will always have me. We forget how children always know what is more important and that being with their parents and the people they love, anywhere in the world, is all it takes. There will be no questions or longing for other things. All they need is already there.
My children study in a Waldorf/Steiner school. This is the only school they know. This is a school that doesn’t advocate television and computers for children at least until the age of 12 when cognitive thinking and the capacity for more abstract thinking begin to surface. Before that, children are encouraged to play. What you are seeing in the photo is a ship. My son, Santiago, built it when he was about 5 or 6 years old. I let my children do what they will with the furniture. The only rule is to put everything back when they are done. This is imagination at work. He used pieces of cloth, clothespins, cushions, a stepstool and a small wooden ladder. He spent a good many hours creating and playing in his little ship. Santiago didn’t watch any television until he was 9 years old. I wanted to wait until he was 12 but his father said one movie on his 9th birthday wouldn’t harm him. Because it was just the one film, it lived with him for so long. He was singing the songs for weeks on end. It was the sweetest thing. He didn’t see another film until a year later. Mary Poppins, I think it was. Some people have implied that I deprive them, but look at the beautiful ship in the photo and the work that went into it. There is no trace of deprivation there. Our world has become so challenging; their world will be even more complex. They will need to face these challenges with their most creative selves. That is the first thing television and media kill. First of all, you can be sure you are watching someone else’s world view–someone’s take on love or hate, for example. If you are not yet of the age where you can discern, you simply take in, take in, take in. If you do this several hours a day, everyday, those places in you that ought to grow and develop over time simply stagnate–the biggest of them is your imagination. I want my children to grow up equipped to face everything. If we feed them with images and concepts from the outside rather than have them develop from within–from themselves–they will have very little to draw from when the world, in all its complexity, begins to close in. But if we encourage them to play, create and imagine, these capacities will remain intact, grow into fullness, and arm them to create appropriate, out-of-the-box solutions to the most complicated problems later in life. Turn off the television, unplug the computers and let your children play! Let them run and climb, turn your chairs upside down and allow them to see what our jaded eyes no longer see. Let them see a ship where we only see furniture. Let them. A child who is able to see everything will never lose hope because he will always see a window and a field beyond, where everyone else will see a crumbling wall. Play is the greatest gift we can give a child. A child who truly plays is the greatest gift to the world.
See those two little boys? They’re my boys. This is a photo I took from the balcony of the rental I just moved out of. I took it a year ago. The lake was just a hop and a skip away from our house then. We moved from congested Quezon City to Silang, Cavite because my boys were always sick in our former house and I felt that I had given them all the help I could in terms of therapies and nutrition. Somehow I sensed we needed to be supported by our environment, too. I was right (hay salamat minsan nakakatama din!). My boys have blossomed since. Though they still have asthma attacks (I was hoping that would disappear), they are both stronger and fuller. I was just showing my older boy’s photo to his teacher and we couldn’t believe how thin and gaunt he was before we left the city. Here, we are surrounded by trees, crickets, frogs, all kinds of insects, clean air and life, life life!!! It takes them no more than 20 minutes of traffic-free travel to get to school. Now my Santiago has gained weight, is happier, less introverted and is always leaving his shoes behind! He loves to walk on grass, soil and stones. Just the other day, my boys planned to have a picnic under the shade of a tree they just discovered they could climb. Each brought an oatmeal chocolate chip cookie baked by their Tita Joy. These are the simple joys of childhood that mean so much. They don’t need toys, TV or computers. A home made cookie each, under a tree. That’s what made their day. I really think that our children need to live away from the city. I’m still in a village, not exactly in the middle of nowhere, so it’s not even as perfect as growing up on a farm, but already the change has made such an impact on the health and well-being of my children. I am so grateful for the chance to move away, start anew and restore their health. Nature is such a perfect healer and I know that just by growing up in the midst of it, my children will be great protectors of her gifts.