Thursday, October 15, 2015

Two Ends of A Spectrum: Teaching Our Children Chores

Our business, advertising photography, demands long work hours. It’s almost a 24/7 business, and at times, we could work on projects for 40 hours straight, without sleep, and with just quick 2-minute grab meals.

For this reason, John and I decided that the only way to successfully combine work and family life was to work from our home. As soon as I (or the more politically correct, “we”) got pregnant, we started looking for a house that we could convert into a studio, so we could have easy access to both our baby (later, two more babies) and our photo shoots.

Due to the requirements of our advertising photography business, we also needed to employ, not only photo assistants and office staff, but also a full complement of “kasambahay” (househelp) – “yaya” (nanny), “kusinera” (cook), “lavandera” (laundrywoman), “katulong” (housemaid and houseboy). (Note: I must apologize if these terms are no longer politically correct, and I must further explain to my non-Filipino friends that having this retinue of household assistants does not mean that we are rich. It is simply a lot easier to employ help in the Philippines than in western countries, although finding good people is getting more difficult nowadays).

John and I had different views on the matter of teaching children household chores.  I grew up in a poor household, and most of the time, we did not have even one kasambahay so I learned to clean dishes, wash and iron clothes (so expertly that I even know how to iron the delicate “Barong Tagalog”), and clean the house with “isis” (a rough leaf that works like Scotchbrite).  I didn’t quite learn how to cook because my mother had to help my father in their small handicraft business, and didn’t have much time for cooking. (My siblings and I grew up on easy-to-cook food that our mother occasionally cooked, or ordered from the panciteria (Chinese noodle shop). More delicious and nutritious fare was served by our aunt, Kakang Salud, our father’s half sister, a stay-at-home mom, who fortunately was our neighbor).  John’s family, on the other hand, was better off, and had a cook, driver, yaya and katulong. (John did have a taste of living without help when he lived in Bangkok for a year when he was 16 years old, but that’s another story).

Surrounded by many faithful kasambahay, I worried that my children would grow up not learning ordinary household chores.  I feared their growing dependence on others for even simple tasks.  One day, while at the dinner table, I heard one of them ask Yaya for a glass of juice that was just an arm’s reach away. I was horrified.

On the flip side, John was grateful that we had other people to do household chores, which allowed us to grab precious few moments to enjoy fun times with the kids. He quickly dismissed my fears and reassured me that our children would learn what they needed to learn when the time came for them to be on their own.
Still, as a mother, I had nagging fears that my children were growing up without learning house chores. I looked at them and worried that it may soon be too late to teach them. Fearing that I was running out of time – as they were growing fast - I just had to institute reforms in our household. While I still continued to employ all our kasambahay, I “banned” their coming up to the house (we live on the second floor) until we were done with our meals and chores, and after the children have left for school, or John and I have gone to the studio. At some point, I even told them that I, not they, would clean our house. (However, I did not volunteer to clean the studios and office. That was their job!).

I must admit that all these attempts for me to do house chores, while working full time managing our studio, were sporadic, inconsistent and short-termed. In short, I failed, but I did try. For the sake of my children, I did try. And I tried to make it fun!

We didn’t have a floor polisher then, and I used the traditional “bunot” (half a coconut husk used as floor scrubber) to polish the floor. The final polishing and to pick up dust on the floor was done by using a clean, soft cloth. The fun part was getting my daughters– one at a time – to ride on the cloth while I pulled it. Yes, work could be fun!

Washing dishes became a family ritual.  One daughter was assigned to soap, another to rinse and the third to dry dishes, and of course, glasses and cutlery, and all the cooking pans. Since they were very young, I had to switch to a set of plates that were both light and break-resistant. This was when we discovered Corelle plates – which came with matching saucers, bowls and mugs. They were light enough even for the youngest of our girls, and they were sturdy. Duralex glasses were almost indestructible, so we had them.  I bought Teflon-coated pots and pans, as they were light and easy to clean.

Since I was not a proficient cook, I took them to cooking lessons before they were tall enough to reach kitchen counters. One of our clients was the Maya Kitchen, which offered cooking lessons for children. They required an older minimum age, but fortunately, they made exceptions for my daughters. Until Kathy was nine years old – when she demonstrated a keen interest in cooking, I had to be the cook, albeit not a good one.  I only had time to cook breakfast, and dinner occasionally and on special occasions.  (This was simultaneous with our having a full-time cook, since we served food to our Adphoto staff and all our kasambahay everyday– so I really didn’t need to cook, but I wanted to, as I did not want my children to be strangers to cooking).

Doing laundry was somehow not part of our domestic curriculum, but travelling abroad offered them the opportunity to operate washing machines at Laundromats. They came back from travels eager to do this chore at home, since we had a washing machine, but the “katulong” and the “labandera” would not let them,  - they were afraid that I would scold them for letting my children do the laundry. I had to set the record straight. I needed to explain to all the “kasambahay” that my daughters needed to learn household chores, laundry included, and that I did not want them to grow up as “señoritas.”

 While they did house chores, Ching Ching and Sacha preferred to spend time with their books and computers. Kathy, on the other hand, was all over the house, cooking, not so much cleaning, but once in a while insisting on using the washing machine.  However, no one could be depended on to make up her bed.

I was going to gather my children for a “domestic conference” to scold them about leaving their beds unkempt, but John told me not to. Again, he said that they would learn when they needed to learn.

This was also his message to me when he would insist on my leaving plates in the sink, still unwashed, because he wanted the entire family to go somewhere, or play a game in the house. “Relax,” he would admonish me, and I would counter that I found washing dishes relaxing because I didn’t have to think, compute, evaluate options, strategize or make business decisions.

John and I stood on opposite ends of the domestic responsibility scale and I worried that John and I were confusing our children. I believed and preached that childhood was the time to teach chores, while John was convinced that childhood was a time for fun. Guess who was the easy winner? Between household responsibilities and games, between discipline and fun, between mama and papa, I’m sure you can guess whom they followed and obeyed.

Now, zoom past their growing years and fast forward to now that our daughters are all grown up and married. Did John’s fun policy turn them into slobs, or did my anxiety turn them into OCs?

To my pleasant surprise, I found out that I worried unnecessarily. Maybe there were small residues of my imploring voice etched in their brains, enough for them to develop a conscience for domestic responsibility. I smiled and felt proud when I saw that their own homes were clean, attractive and well kept.  They all know how to cook, even Ching who never showed that she cared for it as a child.  On our recent visit to her and her husband’s Mountain View home, she taught me how to use her washing machine.  On Kathy’s refrigerator is a master guide on housekeeping for her kasambahay to follow. Her children’s toys include child-sized brooms and mops. Kathy is still the champion cook and baker, and now gathering materials for a special, handmade, handcrafted family book of recipes. Dining with her, her husband and two daughters is like a five star hotel experience. Sacha can sew clothes, and with her husband, has even learned carpentry and how to disassemble and re-assemble a washing machine (because as is, it would not have fitted their stairway). In her “Quantified Self” records, she has statistics – on quantity, prices and frequency of purchases. It seems that she has weighed every potato, and know when chicken is on sale in the supermarket.  She can sew. She can knit. (I don’t remember if I taught her how to knit, but I know for sure that when she was in grade school, she was always crocheting).

I am proud!

In counterbalance, memories of fun times with John made them ready to leave unwashed plates and clothes (actually, to have and to use machines to clean them) for instant recreation, entertainment, and lots of family or couple bonding times. Ching and her John go on many trips, sports events and other adventures, and have been to more foreign destinations than any of us. Kathy and her John take their kids, and sometimes us, (or we take them) on frequent visits to the zoo, and on many road, boat, train, helicopter and plane rides. We visit farms, fun houses, and of course, Legoland. Preferring to stay at home, Sacha and her husband, Wayne, enjoy staycations (I first heard this word from her) – trying anything from playing ukuleles to learning Latin.

So, here we are, John and I, in the twilight of our years – happy to see our kids grow up to be responsible adults.  John and I may have come from two ends of the spectrum, representing two different views on how to raise children, but we’ve come to see those views meld into a happy, healthy balance.  It’s as if two different seeds actually grew intertwined to prove that yes, our children can experience and learn both – work when we have to, and have fun when we want to. We can even combine the two – have fun at work! There is wisdom in what I read that it does not have to be an “or,” it can be an “and.” J




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