Hats Off (BM Apr 7 2016)

THESE past two weeks was a season of graduations and recognitions. My own son also graduated from kindergarten this year.

IMG_4551 (1)  Congratulations Marcus for getting Silver Award! But more importantly, congratulations for the joy you give to mom and dad everyday… yes, even in your most persistent moments : )

While he was performing their graduation song onstage with his classmates, I didn’t expect to find myself in tears. Just the day before, my best friend was telling me about Courageous Caitie, a little girl who lost the battle with a rare case of leukemia. There was certainly a sense of gratitude in seeing my son pass this milestone that seems normal to a legion of parents, but one that has been denied to kids taken away so early in life.

When I was 6, I went to New York to visit my uncle and his family. He had four kids, and one of them was around my age. His name was Bryan. I remember following him around the whole time. A few weeks after we returned to Manila, we received a phone call one early morning informing us that Bryan had met an accident while biking. The memory of that day remains quite vivid to me… which phone in the house we all hovered around, how my grandmother received the news.  When I became a parent, I often remember my cousin. I think that’s why I hug and kiss my kids a lot. His memory has helped me appreciate my time with my kids with a profound sense of gratitude every day.

We often wish our kids to excel in school. We are so proud of them when they get awards. From nursery, I would always look forward to recognition day at the end of each year. I worked hard to ensure I would get onstage and be awarded with a medal every year since I was 5. Why was it so important to me? First, the medal was my gift to a grand aunt who worked so hard with me every night to study. Second, I knew I’d get a reward from either my teacher, my yaya, or my parents. Last, it was also important because my mother told me early on that she would only come to school whenever I got a medal. I always felt I owed it to my parents because they worked so hard for us. To this day, I’m grateful for this “pressure” because I know I was able to push myself to be the best I could be at the time.

Recently, I experienced a teaching moment regarding my daughter’s academic life. She finished a quarter not garnering the top spot in her class. She was also getting into some social issues with a classmate. My daughter didn’t talk about it much at first but I felt it. Over the course of that period, I would often try to engage her to talk about it but for the most part, she just remained quiet. I felt she wanted to project her strength. Still, I assured her I was there for her no matter what.  Slowly, she got around to sharing more about what happened in school and how she felt about it. Then, over dinner one night, everything came out in a rush of tears. I told her then that being on top was not the most important thing in the world. I told her, “Mommy does not love you any less just because you’re not the best in class.” I honestly felt something was unlocked in her that night.

The next day, it just so happened there was a school event. I was chatting with one of the foreign administrators. She told me something quite enlightening. She told me how lucky I was to have a daughter that opened up to me. She told me that, oftentimes, we as parents praise our kids when they do a good job. Kids, not surprisingly, become convinced your love for them increases when they bring home “good jobs.” Thus, kids seek more accolades thinking they will be loved more for this. Even their self-love becomes equated with achievement. She told me kids should be taught to love themselves for themselves, regardless of their weaknesses, and we as parents/guardians should assure them that everything and everybody is a work in progress. It is good to encourage our kids to dream, but we should also let them know we love them for who they are, and not for the dreams they hope to achieve.

I realize the importance of our children developing “unconditional self-love.”  This is different from indulging sloth or negative behavior.  For me, it is guiding them toward this journey of self-discovery, where they can view both good and bad situations to be equally positive, they are able to acknowledge their strengths and weaknesses and still love the person they see in front of them.

I have always aimed to have happy and fulfilled children. I have always worked toward my kids finding their passions and applying hard work.  The happiness part was a bit hard to grasp at first. I realize now it is because happiness is a largely internal situation and choice. Arriving at happiness is not as easy as following a bullet point of tips. All I know is teaching our kids to love who they are is a critical ingredient, along with us showing our love unconditionally.

Hats off to this season’s graduates. Hats off to all students. Hats off to passing another milestone. May the memory of Courageous Caitie and all precious lives, who passed on at such a young age, push and enlighten all of us to value life and make the choice of happiness even more necessary.

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