Not Your Typical Batang Ina

December 6, 2021

Xyzma Bober

 

An eldest daughter’s resilience and ability to manage more than three things at once may sometimes make her unstoppable, but not always. 

 

Our story focuses on a 3rd year college student named Laniel Eszy Arive. She is also a sixth, eighth, and ninth grader all rolled into one—courtesy of her siblings who, like their ate, have been stuck in this remote learning setup since the pandemic began. This setup certainly put some strain on their young lives, much like their Ate Eszy when she was their age. See, the moment she turned 15, Eszy had to be a de facto mother of three, needing to play the role of her parents, who were away from home in their pursuit to earn a living. 

My mama left the country when I was in Grade 9, [2015]. Yet just like every OFW, of course the main reason is to give her children a better future. But at what cost?” Eszy stated. With her mom having worked in Taiwan for six years now, she’s seen firsthand how this sacrifice kept their sizable family afloat in their finances. Yet she also saw that their family was at risk of coming apart at the seams.

 “At first, my siblings were clueless, they were still too young to understand. Our youngest was just 5 years old then. You know the typical “magbilang ka ng maraming

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This was a time when Eszy could not figure out how to make her siblings understand that their parents, who were working in remote places, were separated by more than just physical distance. To be honest, Eszy was barely old enough to make sense of it herself. Their marriage was strained before it had been stretched thousands of miles in opposite directions. This rift was only highlighted when they were far away and out of sight.

 

She describes her family dynamic as a home split into two. While seldom on good terms, their parents could agree and even agree on what mattered the most: the welfare of their children. Eszy says that she and her siblings have a stronger bond with their father since they see him more frequently compared to their mother.

“Pero at the same time, that's the magic mothers have. Kahit ang layo nila, they never fail to establish that clear connection with their children,” Eszy added. 

Some of that magic may have rubbed off on Eszy too, since she is a mother of sorts herself. For 6 years now, Eszy and her siblings have been splitting household chores amongst themselves. Some may say that this is such a basic and menial task anyway; that children are expected to do all of this growing up. But Eszy’s case is different. She was, and still is, manning the house.   

araw, tapos isang araw paggising mo nandito na si Mama”? That’s usually how phone calls with our mom panned out,” Eszy recalled. 

She has to be the mom and the dad at home, and nothing prepared her for it. Unless of course, you count the times her parents were still home, memories that lay half-buried in her dusty childhood recollection.   

 

Mom ako in a way how a mother is to her children—yung sa bahay, literal na pag-aalaga sa kanila. I have to wake up earlier than them so I could make breakfast. Nung high school pa lang ako, mornings were the most challenging part of my everyday dahil I have to get myself and my three siblings ready for school. Hindi naman puwedeng hindi sila pakainin, yung uniform kailangan plantsahin, kailangan may lunch na maiiwanan para kakain nalang sila pag-uwi nila sa tanghali.” 

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I’m a mom to my siblings the same way a mother is to her children—literally taking care of them like they’re my own. I have to wake up earlier than them so I can make breakfast. Back when I was just in high school, mornings were the most challenging part of my day because I had to get myself and my three siblings ready for school. I had to prepare their breakfast, their uniforms had to be ironed out, and their lunch had to be prepared ahead so all they had to do when they came home for their lunch break was eat.”

 

Being the eldest daughter of a Filipino family, everyone seems to think that she can do it all.

Having been left with no choice but to perform the role of a parent to her siblings since her mom left to work abroad, she is known to be reliable and trustworthy even beyond the four walls of their household. Yet there are always two sides to a story and Eszy’s capability sometimes gets taken advantage of. 

“Kasi kahit satisfying yung pakiramdam na "oo, natulungan ko mga magulang ko, ginawa ko ‘to para sa mga pamilya ko, or dahil kailangan ako ng mga kapatid ko", walang makakapagpabago sa fact na ako, or children like me, we seem taken for granted. This is acceptable, yes, lalo na sa mga pamilya na hindi naman mayaman, you know, we have no other choice but to help each other.”

“Even though it is satisfying to feel that I am doing this for my family, to help out my parents, and be there for my siblings, nothing can change the fact that I, or even children like me, seem to be taken for granted. This is acceptable, yes, especially within families that are not well off, helping each other is a norm and is the only choice.”

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Pero may hangganan,” she added. “‘Pag sinabi kasing helping your parents out, assistance lang eh. Kunwari, hindi makakabayad ng bills dahil busy sa gawaing bahay so you have to help out at home, ganon.”

But there’s a limit,” she added. “When you say you're helping your parents out it should mean you’re providing additional assistance, not shouldering the responsibilities yourself.”

 

At present, Eszy is frustrated and confused about her life; she asks herself,

“Bakit ang bata ko pa kailangan ko nang gawin ‘tong mga bagay na ’to?”

She was resentful and jealous of her older brother. He is older than her, but she still had to be the ‘adult’ while he got to be the ‘baby’ because he was less robust than her, both in physical and emotional health. She wanted to blame her parents: the two adults that she was filling in for. She is always there for everyone, but no one is really there for her.

“Kasi ‘pag sinabing ikaw na yung parent sa mga kapatid mo, that's where I categorize myself—that is, when you live your life every single day having to play different roles of being a child to my parents, and a parent to my siblings. Paano ba idedescribe na hindi ka na lang isang anak sa araw araw, siguro yung fact na may nakadepende na sa ‘yo; na hindi assistance ang binibigay mo, but you're actually taking over almost everything,” Eszy continued.

“I see myself as the parent to my siblings. I don’t know how to describe and explain how I’m not just a daughter anymore, the fact that there are people who depend on me; that I’m more than just extending assistance, but actually taking over almost everything.” Eszy continued. 

 

For Eszy, being the eldest daughter means, the moment you’re born, you need to prove yourself worthy. As someone who is always in charge, Eszy had to make plenty of sacrifices and adjust accordingly. Somehow, her mother managed to be incredibly strict even from far away. This pressured Eszy to do everything perfectly, while somehow not knowing exactly how, or what perfect is. After all, there really wasn’t an opportunity to learn by demonstration.

Nevertheless, Eszy’s mother made sure that her expectations were felt even from a distance, and these certainly didn’t help in easing the load of responsibilities that have already been thrust onto her shoulders.

“Being the eldest, lalo na sa isang malaking family, is nakakaanxious. Kailangan perfect ka—responsible, tumutulong sa pamilya, and yet you can't fail sa school or sa work mo. Kahit anong hirap o problema na pagdaanan mo, you have to make things happen,” She paused. “No excuses, you just have to because you’re the first-born.”

 

“Being the eldest, especially in a big family, makes you anxious. You have to be perfect—responsible at home, in school, and with your work. You have to make things happen despite struggling with your own problem.” She paused. “No excuses, you just have to because you’re the first-born.”

It would seem that Eszy’s life as an ate has taken an inordinate toll on her well-being. She has had to live up to the responsibilities of her parents. She’s even had to

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be the panganay when she technically wasn’t the oldest.

So is there absolutely no comeuppance at all?

“But I should say, mas mom ako in the way that I see them.

Hindi ko na sila nakikita as kapatid, para silang mga anak ko talaga, na kapag may tama at mabuti silang nagawa, nobody would be more proud of them than me.

Kapag naman may kalokohan or maling nagawa, there was that hard feeling in the chest na okay, it is my responsibility to correct them and call them out for doing such thing dahil hindi sila pwedeng lumaki na hindi alam kung ano ang tama at mali,” Eszy mused.

“But I should say, I’m more of a mom in the way that I see them. I don’t see them as just my siblings anymore, they’re like my very own sons and daughters. When they do something praiseworthy, nobody would be more proud of them than me. But if they do something wrong, I feel my chest harden. After all, It is my responsibility to correct them and call them out for doing such things. I wouldn’t want to let them grow up not knowing how to tell apart what is right and what is wrong.” Eszy mused. 

Despite all that’s happened and will happen, Eszy proudly embraces her role as it trained her to become the woman she is today. Even though she had little to no idea of what and who to emulate, she did not want her siblings to experience what she went through. The absence of their mother left them scared, which in turn made them braver. It made them vulnerable, yet even stronger. With all these aiding them, Eszy let sheer will and resolution lead her in taking care of them. She is able to say that she worked for and with her family as a team. While it stings that she had to do so with no guide, there is solace to be found in the fact that they are still in this together, despite countless adversities.

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“The most difficult thing about being responsible for a home is keeping it a home. Yet, succeeding at it is the most rewarding thing for me and about me.”

 

  Eszy’s story is hidden in plain sight: the distinct resiliency of the eldest daughter is an assumed trait, a symbol, that resonates in Filipino culture so often it cannot be helped but be taken for granted. With the new normal demanding that homes become sites of lockdown, learning, and limited medical facilities, Eszy along with thousands of other ates-in-charge like her are stretched even further. 

Eszy’s story shows us that this has been going on for a long time now, and it is not so much a circumstantial conflict in light of COVID-19, but a deeply rooted cultural issue. I believe Filipinos need to uproot the tendency to designate the firstborn, (or even just the most diligent child as is Eszy’s case) as a third parent, all the while expecting they will take to it naturally, as if they were meant to spend their youth as a beast of burden. This comparison is not completely fair, as even the carabao is trained and guided, recognized as a partner that requires a bare minimum of support for it to perform its best. And the proverbial panganay is no different. They deserve to be supported.

 

Isang Kakaibang Batang Ina  

December 6, 2021

Translated by Timy Cana

Ang pagpupunyagi ng isang panganay na babaeng anak at ang kakayahang asikasuhin ang samu't saring mga gawain ay malimit nakahahadlang sa kanya ngunit hindi palaging ganito ang sitwasyon.  

Ang lunduyan ng kuwentong ito ay isang mag-aaral na nasa kanyang ikatlong taon ng kolehiyo at siya ay si Laniel Eszy Arive. Tila siya na rin ay nasa ikaanim, ikawalo, at ika-siyam na baitang na tulad ng kanyang mga kapatid ay napilitang sumailalim sa remote learning mula noong nagsimula ang pandemiya.  


 

My mama left the country when I was in Grade 9, [2015]. Yet just like every OFW, of course the main reason is to give her children a better future. But at what cost?” Eszy stated. 

("Umalis ng Pilipinas ang aking nanay noong ako ay nasa ika-siyam na baitang, [2015]. Tulad ng mga nakararaming OFW, ang kanyang dahilan ay  para mabigyan ng mas mabuting kinabukasan ang kanyang mga anak subalit ano nga ba ang katumbas na kabayaran nito?" ani ni Eszy.)

 “At first, my siblings were clueless, they were still too young to understand. Our youngest was just 5 years old 

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then. You know the typical “magbilang ka ng maraming araw, tapos isang araw paggising mo nandito na si Mama”? That’s usually how phone calls with our mom panned out,” Eszy recalled. 

("Sa umpisa, hindi alam ng mga kapatid ko dahil musmos pa lang sila upang maunawaan ito. Ang bunsong kapatid ko ay limang  taon pa lamang noon. Alam mo, iyong tipikal na sinasabi, “magbilang ka ng maraming araw, tapos isang araw paggising mo nandito na si Mama”? Kadalasan, sa ganoon ang aming pakikipag-usap kay Mama sa telepono," sabi ni Eszy.)

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Ito iyong oras noong hindi mawari ni Eszy kung papaano niya maipaliliwanag sa kanyang mga kapatid na ang kanilang mga magulang na nagtatrabaho sa ibang bansa, ay magkahiwalay, hindi lamang sa pisikal na distansya kundi pati na rin sa kanilang relasyon. Sa katotohanan, bata pa rin si Eszy para maintindihan nang lubos ang sitwasyon. Hindi naging maayos ang relasyon ng kanyang mga magulang bago pa man sila nangibang bansa. Ang kanilang paghihiwalay ay mas nabigyan pansin nung sila ay magkalayo at dahil hindi nila palaging nakikita ang mga bata. 

Inilarawan niya ang kanyang pamilya bilang isang tahanan na nahahati  sa dalawa. Bagaman hindi madalas na mabuti ang kanilang pakikihalubilo, pareho silang sumasang-ayon sa isang mahalagang pananaw: ang kapakanan ng kanilang mga anak. Sabi ni Eszy na siya at ang kanyang mga kapatid ay mas malapit sa kanilang ama dahil mas madalas silang nagkikita kumpara sa kanilang nanay.

 

“Pero at the same time, that's the magic mothers have. Kahit ang layo nila, they never fail to establish that clear connection with their children,” Eszy added. 

(“Pero sa oras na iyon, iyan iyong  kakayahan ng mga ina. Kahit ang layo nila, hindi sila nabibigong magtatag ng isang malinaw na koneksyon sa kanilang mga anak,” dagdag ni Eszy.)

Taglay rin ni Eszy ang katangiang iyon dahil tila siya rin ay naging isang ina na rin. Anim na taon nang hati-hati sa mga gawaing bahay sina Eszy at ang kanyang mga kapatid. Maaaring sabihin ng iba na walang kahalagahan ang mga ito; na ito ay kailangang naman talagang makasanayan ng mga kabataan bagaman iba ang sitwasyon ni Eszy.

Siya ay namumuno at nag-aayos ng bahay. Kinakailangan niyang maging nanay at tatay ng kanyang tahanan at walang nakapaghanda sa kanya para dito. Maliban nalang kung bibilangin iyung mga oras na nasa bahay ang kanilang magulang, mga guni-guning hango mula sa mga nakatabing alaala ng kanyang kabataan.  

Mom ako in a way how a mother is to her children—yung sa bahay, literal na pag-aalaga sa kanila. I have to wake up earlier than them so I could make breakfast. Nung high school pa lang ako, mornings were the most challenging part of my everyday dahil I have to get myself and my three siblings ready for school. Hindi

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naman puwedeng hindi sila pakainin, yung uniform kailangan plantsahin, kailangan may lunch na maiiwanan para kakain nalang sila pag-uwi nila sa tanghali.” 


("Para akong isang ina sa kanyang mga anak-- iyung sa bahay, literal na pag-aalaga sa kanila. Kailangan kong magising nang mas maaga para magluto ng umagahan. Noong high school pa lang ako, pinakamahirap iyung mga umaga dahil kailangan kong ayusin ang sarili ko at pati na rin ang aking mga kapatid para sa paaralan. Hindi naman puwedeng hindi sila pakainin, yung uniform kailangan plantsahin, kailangan may tanghalian na maiiwanan para kakain nalang sila pag-uwi nila sa tanghali.”)

Bilang panganay na babaeng anak ng isang Pilipinong pamilya, malimit na iniisip ng nakararami na kaya niyang gawin itong lahat.

Dahil napilitan siyang maging isang magulang sa kanyang mga kapatid noong umalis ang kanyang nanay para magtrabaho sa ibang bansa, lala siya bilang isang responsable at matitiwalaan hindi lang sa kanyang tahanan. Gayunpaman ay palaging may iba’t ibang panig sa kwento at minsan, pinagsamantalahan ang mga kakayahan ni Eszy. 

Kasi kahit masaya ang pakiramdam na"oo, natulungan ko mga magulang ko, ginawa ko to para sa mga pamilya ko, or dahil kailangan ako ng mga kapatid ko", walang makakapagbago sa katotohanan na ako, o ang mga bata tulad ko, na tila hindi lubos na pinahahalagahan . Katanggap-tanggap  ito, oo, lalo na sa mga pamilya na hindi naman mayaman, alam mo, wala nang ibang mapagpipilian kundi tulungan ang isa’t isa.” 

Pero may hangganan,” ani niya. “‘Pag sinabi kasing tulungan ang mga magulang, assistance o pagtulong lang iyon sa mga maliliit na bagay eh. Kunwari, hindi makakabayad ng bayarin dahil okupado sa maraming gawaing  bahay kaya kailanang  tumulong sa bahay, ganon.” 

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Sa kasalukuyan, si Eszy ay naiinis at nalilito sa kanyang buhay; tinatanong niya ang kanyang sarili,

“Bakit ang bata ko pa kailangan ko nang gawin ‘tong mga bagay na’to?”

Nagkaroon siya ng sama ng loob at nainggit siya sa kanyang nakatatandang kapatid na lalaki. Siya ay mas matanda sa kanya ngunit kinailangan niyang maging mas ‘matanda’ habang siya ay naging mas ‘bata’ dahil hindi siya kasing tatag kumpara kay Eszy, sa piskial at emosyonal na kalagayan. Nais niyang sisihin ang kanyang magulang: ang dalawang nakatatanda na naging dahilan kung bakit kinailangan niyang gawin ang kanilang mga tungkulin. Palagi siyang nariyan para sa lahat ngunit wala naman talagang nariyan para sa kanya. 

“Kasi  ‘pag sinabing ikaw na yung magulang sa mga kapatid mo, doon ko kinakategorya ang aking sarili-- iyon ay, kapag namumuhay ka araw-araw na iba iba ang aking mga gampanin tulad ng pagiging anak sa aking mga magulang at magulang sa aking mga kapatid. Paano ba ipapaliwanag na hindi ka na lang isang anak sa araw-araw, siguro iyung katunayan na may nakadepende na sayo; na hindi assistance and binibigay mo, kundi na iyung nag-aasikaso sa lahat,” ipinagpatuloy ni Eszy. 

Para kay Eszy, ang pagiging panganay na babae ay nangangahulugang na simula ng kapanganakan, kailangan mong ipakita na ikaw ay karapat dapat. Bilang isang taong palaging namumuno at naiiwan sa iba’t ibang mga gawain, maraming sakripisyo at pagsasaayos ang ginawa ni Eszy. Mas kinailangan niyang maging perpekto sa anumang  gawain bagaman hindi niya lubos na alam kung paano o ano ang ibig basehan  ng pagiging perpekto.

Gayunpaman, sinigurado ng ina ni Eszy na alam ng kanyang anak ang kanyang mga ekspektasyon kahit sila ay magkalayo. Lubos itong hindi nakatulong sa bigat ng mga gawain na nakapatong sa kanyang mga balikat. 

“Being the eldest, lalo na sa isang malaking family, is nakakaanxious. Kailangan perfect ka—responsible, tumutulong sa pamilya, and yet you can't fail sa school or sa work mo. Kahit anong hirap o problema na pagdaanan mo, you have to make things happen,” She paused. “No excuses, you just have to because you’re the first-born.”

(“Nakababalisa ang pagiging panganay sa isang malaking pamilya. Kailangang perpekto ka-- responsable, tumutulong sa pamilya at hindi ka puwedeng bumagsak sa pag-aaral o sa trabaho mo. Kahit anong hirap o problema na pagdadaanan mo, kailangan mong magsumikap para mangyari ang mga bagay-bagay,” huminto siya. “Wala kang palusot, kailangan mo lang talagang gawin ito o maging ganito dahil ikaw iyung panganay na anak.”)

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Nagmumukhang malaki ang epekto ng pagiging ate ni Eszy sa kanyang kapakanan. Kinailangan niyang gawin ang mga responsibilidad ng kanyang mga magulang. Kinailangan niyang maging panganay kahit hindi naman talaga siya ang panganay.

Kaya, wala ba talagang kabayaran ito? 

“But I should say, mas mom ako in the way that I see them.

Hindi ko na sila nakikita as kapatid, para silang mga anak ko talaga, na kapag may tama at mabuti silang nagawa, nobody would be more proud of them than me.

Kapag naman may kalokohan or maling nagawa, there was that hard feeling in the chest na okay, it is my responsibility to correct them and call them out for doing such thing dahil hindi sila pwedeng lumaki na hindi alam kung ano ang tama at mali,” Eszy mused.

(“Ngunit, kailangan kong sabihin na para akong isang ina sa turing ko sa kanila. Hindi  ko na sila nakikita bilang [mga] kapatid [ko], para silang mga anak ko talaga, na kapag may tama at mabuti silang nagawa, higit ko silang ipinagmamalaki. Kapag naman may kalokohan or maling nagawa, nagkaroon ako ng responsibilidad na pagsabihan sila at turuan ang wasto dahil hindi sila pwedeng lumaki na hindi alam kung ano ang tama at mali,” sabi ni Eszy.)

Sa kabila ng lahat ng nangyari at mangyayari, ipinagmamalaki ni Eszy ang kanyang papel dahil ito ang humubog sa kanya para maging kung sino siya ngayon. Kahit kaunti o wala siyang alam sa ibang mga gawain o sinong uliran ang kanyang magagaya, ayaw niyang makita ng kanyang mga kapatid ang kanyang pinagdaanan. Ang kawalan ng isang ina ang siyang naging dahilan upang sila ay maging mas matatag. Naging narupok ang kanilang pakiramdam subalit mas lumakas sila buhat nito. Dagdag sa lahat, ang pagpupursigi at resolusyon ang siyang gumabay kay Eszy sa pagkupkop sa kanyang mga kapatid. Kaya niyang sabihin na natulungan niya ang kanyang pamilya bilang isang pangkat. Kahit masakit na walang humabay sa kanya, mayroon kaginhawaan na sila ay magkakasama bagaman maraming ikinaharap na balakid. 

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“Ang pinakamahirap na bagay sa pag-aasikaso sa tahanan ay pagsisiguro na ito ay isa pa ring tahanan. Gayunpaman ay ang pagiging matagumpay dito ay ang pinaka nalulugod na bagay para sa akin.” 

 

Hindi maipagkakaila na ang kuwento ni Eszy ay ang katatagan ng isang panganay na babaeng anak. Ito ay isang katangian, isang simbolo na umaalingawngaw sa kultura ng mga Pilipino at hindi ito dapat ibalewala. Ngayon na ikinahaharap ang bagong normal na siyang tumutulak sa mga tahanan na maging lugar ng mga lockdown, pag-aaral, at isa na ring ospital na hindi kumpleto sa kagamitan, marami ring mga ate ang humaharap sa parehong sitwasyon at minsan ay higit pa. 

Ipinapakita ng kuwento ni Eszy na patuloy itong nagaganap ngayon, at hindi ito buhat ng  pandemya kundi ito ay isang isyu sa kultura. Naninindigan ako na kinakailangang bigyan ng wakas ang kaugalian ng mga Pilipino na iatas sa panganay (o sa pinakamasipag na anak tulad sa situwasyon ni Eszy) ang pagiging pangatlong magulang na tila magagawa nila ito agad at malalaan nila ang kanilang kabataan upang asikasuhin ang bigat ng mga gawain. Ang paghahambing na ito ay hindi patas dahil pati ang mga kalabaw ay sinasanay, ginagabayan, ay kinikilala bilang kasosyo na nangangailangan ng suporta para maisakatuparan ang lahat ng mga gawain ng matagumpay. Hindi ito naiiba sa sitwasyon ng isang panganay. Karapat dapat din na sila ay suportahan.