To Pio and all the little ones

(Illustration by Jeanne Hernandez)

If you go down the disheveled memory lane of my own childhood, you would probably see me with flour-dusted hands helping Mama make her upside-down cakes or with horns and noisemakers when every maternal relative is present during New Year’s Eve (which my boy cousins would effortlessly paint memorable because of their flatulent bombs in the middle of firework displays). Those were happy timessomething my mind loves lingering in.

Life was only ever as difficult as running and chasing after Manong Taho around the block, or trying to avoid getting for recitation in class. It was only ever as painful as landing on your butt on the sand or getting thrown off the swing set. It was only ever as pesky as tripping over undone shoelaces and peeking nailheads on the treehouse’s sloppy wooden flooring. It was only ever as saccharine as good night toothless kisses after secretly consuming half of the gummy worms from your mother’s secret midnight stash.

But despite the memories, life unfailingly still has its ways to sneak up on me. I’m now a self-proclaimed babysitterto my nephew and to some family friends’ babies every time they would pay a visit at home, even though I used to be indifferent to kids. They just always have their voices on top of their lungs and they like complaining about infinitesimal things like their unpredictable sticky pancake hankerings for breakfast that their parents would often forget about. A room filled with children is like a cluttered kitchen with crumb-filled muffin pans over counters and wired whisks dipped in batter dripping against unwashed bowls left by the sink. The scene would just inevitably leave you baffled.

(Illustration by Jeanne Hernandez)

December of last year changed me. It took us five days into the month to meet my nephew and my eldest brother’s first son. His arrival was so special, him being the first grandchild and great grandchild to my parents and my late maternal grandparents respectively. I could still fondly recall that day which I thought would merely be an ordinary Wednesday. We got off the van from visiting my sister-in-law in the hospital the morning of her labor. But once inside I heard my mother’s throat screeching in the other room and when I went in to see what was going on that was when I found her, eyes red from a sudden sobfest. Sniffling unabashedly, Mama held up her phone to me. It was a picture sent to her of a newborn baby. Just like that, my father started the engine once again, and we rushed back to the hospital. And there he was wrapped in powder blue cotton like a fresh burrito. Pio.

With everyone’s cheeks damp and my parents debating on whom he looked more like, I am reminded of my new responsibilities. I have taken care of other kids before but to tend to an infant so fragile especially when his parents aren’t around is a much different task. After being asked to be one of his godmothers, I figured that my babysitter contract is now lifelong; so at age nineteen my maternal instinct must stay afloat at all times. I’ve been thinking about this day ever since and all I’m left to do is root for the future. I could be one of those he’d crawl towards as he grips plastic toys and as his babbles turn into actual words. In school when he’s finally on his own, I hope he speaks his heart out every declamation and in every recitation. I hope he knows it’s only perfectly right to stand up for himself. 

This goes beyond what I know would become couch potato babysitting afternoons, Instagram stories and stuffed toy play dates in the future.  To watch his day-to-day growth will be chances to learn and reflect on what it had been like for my parents, kuyas and ate in making sure I’d have a great childhood. Already, I am resolving to be the one to help him up after crash downs during kindergarten tags. Just as how any babysitter slash godmother should be fulfilling the duties they’ve sworn to do, I wish nothing but to be there for him every time he would need me.

Although every childhood differs from another, what is true behind every kid is the people who unconditionally look after them. We wouldn’t be who we are without the helping hands assisting us along the way and the hands which would eventually allow us to break free from our shelled safe zones. And this includes my nephew’s potential playmates, even the neighborhood kids, the ones who grew up on the streets, the ones who never had their parents by their side but still had a family they ran to and all the other little ones— their noise, their curiosity, the wonder in their eyes— this is what life is greatly composed of, and it’s what keeps the future on its toes. Children deserve the life they were promised the moment they were made, and it’s a fact we must always be reminded of.

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