I’ve had my fair share of skinned knees and banged-up elbows.
Looking back on it now, the world of my childhood was bigger than I remember it being. My fondest, most vivid memories of growing up took place not in my childhood home, but at my aunt’s place just a few blocks over. It had a one-storey house with a front terrace that was always so cozy when it rained. The lot surrounding it was huge, big enough to include another house, parking space for a few cars, a small chicken coop, a little forest of fruit trees, and — my favorite of all — an actual playground, with a slide and a swing set.
I was the youngest cousin out of three girls. We must have been little angels, right, all prim and proper? Not exactly. We dressed up our Barbies and read our books, but we weren’t afraid of rough activities, either. For a kid, plenty of ground to cover meant plenty of running playing street games like langit-lupa and ice-ice water, which also meant plenty of stumbling and falling and cuts and bruises that always got better in time. We did everything together: learned moves to Britney Spears and Backstreet Boys songs, fought over who got to be Jack and Rose when we were reenacting Titanic, and whispered about our secret crushes from school. Dana, the oldest, was the popular one, middle child Inah was the smart one, and I was the quiet one.
I was the baby, I knew less about the world than my Ates did, and I had a short fuse — I tended to get picked on and teased a lot. I’ve been that annoying, tagalong younger sibling type who clung to them and tried to be pals with their cool friends. But I looked up to them, and they looked out for me. I joined the grade school student council and Girl Scouts because they did. They let me borrow their Candy magazines and read in their room while they did homework. I wanted to be just like them.
In my mind, we hardly ever got along then. And yet we were somehow thick as thieves, our fondness for each other hidden behind pretend vitriol, because showing affection was yuck. Our fights involved hair-pulling and even some kicking and tears; even now, our parents like to mimic the way we would yell, “Ano ba!” or “Sinungaling!” during our screaming matches. I could never remember how we’d make up — I just know that we always did.
We went to different schools by the time high school and college rolled around, with me feeling a little bit left behind when I had to face fifth and sixth grade without them. As we got older, we grew closer, I guess because we were spending more time apart and we wanted to make up for it. We weren’t so afraid of telling each other “I miss you” point-blank or making public cheesy birthday greetings for each other online or even admitting that we weren’t just good friends, but best friends.
Our paths couldn’t be more different, more so now that we’re in our 20s. One of us is living and working in Singapore. (She cried watching Hello, Love, Goodbye, not because of the romance, but because of the OFW themes.) The other is a doctor in her second year of residency. (“Is your life The Mindy Project yet?” I’d always ask.) I’m the neurotic freelancer who hardly ever leaves the house. (But are we surprised?)
Three years ago, our lives changed all over again when Ate Dana gave birth to a child we’ve named Dylan, who is nothing like the little girls we once were. And yet I also see parts of each of us in her: she’s extremely clever and inquisitive. She likes to laugh a lot and does silly dances and never wants to take off the prettiest dresses. She cries watching Snow White because she feels for the princess. She’s stubborn and sensitive, bright and beautiful. Her first word was fish.
Ate Inah and I were very vocal that we wanted Dylan’s birthday celebrations to eschew themes and motifs like princesses and pink — not wanting her to grow up with very limited ideas and expressions of gender — but we’ve also realized that there’s nothing wrong with being “girly” as long as it’s not forced upon you. Which, for us three cousins, it never really was. It’s got me thinking a lot lately about how girls are raised; how that measures up against my childhood, and how it’s measuring up now as we’re watching Dylan grow up.
Girls carry a lot of expectations growing up, needing to act a certain way, look a certain way, and be a certain way. But my parents and everyone else who helped raise me never expected anything of me other than to be a good person who’s true to herself.
I have very few memories, if at all, of being scolded for not being “ladylike,” or for being interested in things like toy cars and WWE. My mom has never once told me, “Kababae mong tao.” I took a liking to makeup early (which is ironic because now I hardly ever wear it), but I’m only learning to be interested in fashion now after spending years focusing on books and bands. I’m happy to know even now that my parents would’ve supported me whether I took piano or violin, or taekwondo, or ballet — none of which I ended up studying anyway, but it’s the thought that counts.
Girls carry a lot of expectations growing up, needing to act a certain way, look a certain way, and be a certain way. But my parents and everyone else who helped raise me never expected anything of me other than to be a good person who’s true to herself. They trusted me and believed in me. They never made fun of or questioned my hobbies and interests, whether they made me a “girly girl” or a “tomboy.” They never compared me and my cousins, and if we figured out that one of us was better at something than the others, then that just meant we had our own identities and there was no true standard to being who you are. They let us be — then reeled us back in and helped us course-correct if we ever strayed just a little too far. In doing so, they’ve helped me become independent and self-assured.
Dylan’s been developing her own likes and dislikes, and they’re just as colorful and eclectic as any kid who’s exploring what slice of the world she’s been given. I want her to grow up smart, and kind, and — admittedly here I’m being very subjective — with good taste. I want her to be curious about the world and never feel weighed down by ideas of what she’s “supposed” to be. I want her to discover her talents, or at least what she loves and is passionate about. I want her to know that things may be tough and some of them are beyond her control, but she can choose not to let them define her and find her own path.
Most of all, I want Dylan to move through every space with purpose. I’ll be right by her side, and so will her mom, and so will her Tita Inah. We’re here to support her every step of the way, even if we’re not always together, even if it’s hard — just as our own parents and guardians have done for us not all that long ago, and just as they continue to do so even now.