By By Vietrez P. David-Abella, MD
Sibling revelry
posted 31-May-2015  ·  
594 views  ·   0 comments  ·  

I grew up in a family of 8 siblings. All the while I hated it. Martial Law in the '70s trumpeted "Sa ikauunlad ng bayan, disiplina ang kailangan," and sowed the Family Planning program in Philippine soil. I couldn't imagine why my progressive parents old-fashionedly chose to have 8 children.

When Dad got back from the States after getting his masteral and doctorate degrees, there were 4 of us kids, already twice the ideal of 2.  Number 5 brought the challenge of dividing the family pie into 7 slices, parents included. And so it was a relief when number 6 came, 2 years after.  Then just when I thought our family was completed, number 7 and 8 came in succession. Eight was definitely ENOUGH!

Being the eldest daughter, second to my brother, I was delegated some household tasks that later included caring for the younger ones. I learned child care from Dr. Benjamin Spock's Baby and Childcare, first practiced when I assisted my mother giving baby baths. This was an elaborate routine of boiling water, clearing the bathing area (the dining table), preparing soap, wash cloth, cotton buds, baby oil, towel, bigkis, diaper, and baby clothes; setting out the tub with lukewarm water, and finally placing the baby down atop a rubber mat, to start the bath proper.

With my next-in-rank sister, we minded the toddler. We'd lay out a mat, line the sides with pillows, and let her or him crawl around, while we watched tv or read a book. We'd take out a fussy baby for a walk on a stroller, going up and down the street. By the time we were of school age, there was enrollment, buying school supplies, attending Girl Scout investitures, and  the occasional visit to the family dentist along Taft Avenue.

But we had lots of fun times too. We'd have summer games, scheduled around our mom's birthday. We played favorite board games like Monopoly, Cluedo, and Scrabble, battled it out in chess and darts. I typed up certificates for the winners and mom would give out small tokens like candy. Since Dad loved movies, most weekends we'd be at any of the theaters in Araneta Center, Cubao: Diamond, Remar, Coronet, New Frontier, or Act. We discovered Jackie Chan in "Snake in the Eagle's Shadow," watched the latest Disney cartoon, caught the latest thriller: storylines and ending twists to be discussed later ad infinitum.

In our tangerine Austin Cambridge, we took little outings to visit relatives in Pampanga and Batangas. I especially loved the drive to Balayan, Batangas, because it took the longest, around 2 hours, with a portion through scenic Tagaytay, without the insane traffic that crawls through it now. We'd take picnics to Los Banos, Laguna, and Mount Makiling, buying carabao's milk, kesong puti, and buko pie along the way. Just a new culinary invention then, the pie was almost 2 inches thick and loaded with coconut meat, unlike the commercial preparations now, wafer-thin, with a sliver of coconut meat enveloped with cornstarch-based filling.

In the summer after Grade 6, at my mom's encouragement, I started our household newspaper which I unimaginatively titled "The Weekly." Of course I was the editor-in-chief.  A sister was assistant editor, a brother was cartoonist, another sister was reporter, and the baby was muse. Family news, games, and cartoons were featured. We did this for the whole summer, culminating in a "magazine" issue that I called "The Thirty-third Tertiary," intended to come out 3 times a year.  <It was thus but natural that I gravitated towards "The Science Scholar" in high school, first as contributor, then news editor, and contributed to UP Medics in medical school, later becoming features editor.>

Eight kids in a small house was chaos. There were cliques and alliances: usually the younger ones against the "disciplinarian" older sister. Being non-confrontational, I disdained the fights that erupted every so often. Most of the time Dad and Mom did not intervene in our petty quarrels, and let us learn to settle things on our own. As we matured, we simply adjusted to each others' quirks. All throughout,  Dad kept things light with corny jokes and panunukso he imposed on us.

I finally appreciated having many siblings when I got married and moved out of the house. At least there was always someone looking out for our parents, while I settled 500 miles away. But we kept the lines of communication open through letter-writing and the occasional phone calls. When Internet connection was established, e-mail buzzed across continents. Now my mom keeps an e-group and a Facebook page going.

I dreaded how things would be when Dad passed on. His jokes and bantering had held us together. His hospitalization, then funeral, and all the arrangements that came with it, was our first test.  Surprisingly to me, things went as smooth as they can possibly go.  I took charge of the practical arrangements: settling the hospital papers, calling the funeral home and finalizing details of the wake and burial, making arrangements with the memorial park. Everyone else pitched in: manning the fort to thank the people who came in to pay their last respects, receiving Mass cards, food, and flowers. A sister made sure that Dad's favorite music was always on. The brothers took turns driving Mom. Someone coordinated with the Psychology Department for the necrological tribute, got a choir for the funeral mass, contacted friends and relatives, etc., etc., etc. When the 10-day wake and burial was done, we had a family portrait taken, to document the first time in 17 years that all 8 of us were together again. Complete, but with a black hole in Dad's place.

It's been almost 8 years since Dad died. But he lives, as we try to do the best for what he left us with: take care of Mom, and watch out for each other. And mind the next generation. Life and family goes on.

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