You’d think that after exploring Intramuros, Corregidor Island, and eaten copious amounts of mango fresh from the tree, that we had seen all that we could see of Manila in one week. But no, the last night of our stay had even more surprises in store for us.
One of Don’s Colleagues was holding a birthday party for her granddaughter on Saturday night, so Sara and I were invited. We were a little trepidatious at first because we didn’t know the family, but we were so flattered by the invitation that we accepted it. As we meandered through the highway, Judy mentioned that there would be the kid’s party first, then the adults’ party after dinner. At this point I wondered what exactly Sara and I had gotten ourselves into.
This was our answer.
To say this was the most extravagant birthday party I had ever been to was an understatement. They had a DJ leading the kids through games of finding coloured golf balls and seeing who could say “Happy Birthday” the longest. There was a vintage ice cream cart, a cotton candy machine, Transformers goody bags for the boys, Disney Princess goody bags for the girls, and chair covers. As God as my witness, I have seen chair covers at a child’s birthday party.
But what really floored me about the whole party was the parents. What were they doing while their children were being over-stimulated with toys and sugar and all that nasty stuff? Again, as God as my witness, they were chilling. Just kicking back with their drinks and watching their kids have the time of their lives.
Now this is a scene that is completely foreign to my home country. If this was going on in a Canadian backyard, no matter what income level, you’d have parents in the middle of the games making sure the “bad” kids kept their distance from their precious little snowflake. Someone would be grilling the caterer over little Jimmy’s gluten allergy, or there might be a small cache of parents gossiping about what a bad influence the DJ is. They would not be catching up with their cousins over fruit cocktail.
Now, you might say I’m only making this observation as a non-parent, but believe me, I was nervous too. Someone was making toy swords with balloons, and Sara’s 10-year-old triplet cousins were having a full scale battle with the other kids. I fully expected to hear a piercing wail coming from a kid who got hit too hard or whose balloon sword had popped. All I heard was laughter. Sara and I were talking with Don’s colleague’s neighbour, who has twin nine-year-old boys, and she asked if Sara had any kids and when she was planning to have any. Her tone was more akin to asking “When are you going to Cancun?” rather than the “When is your life going to be ruined too?” or “Can I have your mat leave?” tone that I usually hear when the question of children comes up. At that very moment, something clicked into place. A solution with clues reaching far back into the trip.
We all may have heard at some point or another on celebrity talk-shows or chick-lit novels that you need to get a Filipino nanny because, you know, they love kids. You might think, well, they come from a developing country and they would appreciate the Canadian/American minimum wages, so they’ll work hard. The party was a big “No, no, no, you don’t understand,” to that statement. They LOVE kids. They are not only our future, but they are one of the pleasures of life. The sound of children playing is considered the background noise to a life well-lived. In the malls, there are all of these playgrounds and rides. I saw no less than 5 places in one mall advertising that they host birthday parties. You could tell that the tour guides were directing their stories at the triplets, and any other kids we taking the tour with. Judy even told us that in Geneva or Canada, people would see her with a triple stroller and give her looks of pity. In the Philippines, people with no more with 5 pesos to their name would go up to her and tell her how blessed she is.
Does this mean that they value children in the Philippines more than we do? Of course not, but the concept of children is approached with less emotional baggage and less fear. Our culture makes it tough to be a parent. “Where are the parents?” is the first question people ask when they hear about kids shoplifting or beating up each other in the news. Then you’ve got the other side of the coin, where parents are pulling their kids from dance school because they were playing “Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini” at the recital. Parents are basically being judged all the time, which makes them paranoid. Everyone else is paranoid of the paranoid parents. We are all actively trying to avoid each other, so our parks are empty, our kids can’t relate to anyone, and under no circumstances do we have big, fun, birthday parties.
So what am I going to do, knowing what I know now? Again, I’m not a parent yet, but I want to be some day. I’m not going to be leading a one-man revolution against paranoid parenting, that’s just too much for me or my kids. We can’t just socially engineer away all of our problems. I will be looking to them to see what makes them happy, and try to balance that with the knowledge that I have that will keep them that way in the future. And most importantly, I will enjoy myself. I think we can always choose the way we react to life, and if an entire nation can make their child-rearing years the best years of their life, I think I can too.