A world without bounds. That was my childhood. My brother threw a tantrum and 2 television sets from our second floor. He was met with “Ta (Ilonggo term of endearment) you want a bottle of Royal? And he’s chugging Royal Tru-Orange, his future prospects at hauling and throwing crystal clear. We didn’t have rules or clocks at home. Schedules were according to your fancy. My brothers would chew their food to mash, roll and throw them up so they get stuck in the ceiling. Yet our mom never responded with: “No, you can’t do that.” At 15, I even asked if I could sleep at my boyfriend’s house. She said: “Yes.”
Which is probably why I studied law. There was no telling how I’d adjust to a world of boundaries, having had no experience inside it. Quite honestly, I have a tough time with limitations. Or waiting. Even conflict. Our world was filled with goodness and colored with rose. How do you articulate “No” or endure “Maybe later” when these were not your language? What about consequences? It was almost always, carpe diem. Never mind what happened the morning after.
Twenty years later I am granted the task of raising two girls in a seemingly boundless world. This time and in this home, I attempted to delineate boundaries. Then my mom pronounced:
“I didn’t do that to you, why do that to your children? Your poor kids, they are so deprived.”
And it’s not just mom. It’s the aunt, the in-laws, and the friends who quietly scoff at you wondering what ever happened to the free spirited girl they grew up with. Another mother said this to my daughter:
“What! You don’t have the [must have toy of the decade]? [Her daughter] has plenty plenty toys!” and: “See that, [her lucky daughter] you should be thankful mommy lets you do [this and that.]”
(I could strangle her.) And yet, every mother will have her way with kids. And I somehow, had to pick the road less traveled.
Perhaps my home is fenced-in. It’s a mad world and I want to keep the wolves out! But children are in desperate need of clear-cut boundaries. They need to know you can’t throw television sets or sleep at the boyfriend’s house. And the fences have to be set in stone. Because they will try you. The other night, my little one threw a temper (enough to trigger that blast in the Makati.) She wanted to bake cupcakes except it was bedtime. Began with Bambi eyes, moved to tears, appealed nicely, lashed out angrily and closed with kicking. But the rule had been set. In stone. And understanding that all negotiations and cajoling were futile; she whimpered, sighed and climbed into bed. Asleep in ten minutes.
It could be that my childhood was every child’s fantasy. Except it was chaotic. There were attempts at fences, but they were built with sticks and straw, blown away with a huff-puff. Often, the oldies were the first ones to break the rules anyway.
And that’s another lesson about boundaries. As you patrol your fences, you should never transgress them too. Your rules can only command obedience when you as rule-maker abide by them. And it’s not just with the rules you create. It’s every commitment you make, whether with them, or with anyone else. Imagine how perplexing it is for a child, when we as rule-maker, keeper of bounds, and mother who knows best, renegade on our contracts, the words we say, or say we would do. As a friend says: Be consequent. Your word should also be your bond.
One last lesson on boundaries. Without bounds, there are limitless possibilities. All things are possible, all the time. Yet that made my childhood so unstable. I never knew what would happen next. I had a brother who slept with his shoes. We were constantly anxious about moving homes or losing people. So he wore his shoes to bed, ready for what ever happens tomorrow. As a child, you want to know that one thing follows another. That good things that happen today, will happen tomorrow and the day after. It’s as straightforward as knowing that after you wake up, you shower, and there’s breakfast at the table. Or that when the sun sleeps, it’s time to prepare dinner, or that bed follows a story and a candle. Boundaries will divide the day into schedules and sequences. I had so little of it then. Unbounded, we lived in moments. And they were different every time.
(Disclaimer: I am not regretful about childhood. I’m fond of every bit of it. It’s given me wacky memoirs to write. Except that I want a whole new story for my children.)
Some book recommendations: Stress Free Parenting in 12 Steps by Christian Kutik, A Guide to Child Health by Michaela Glockler, You are Your Child’s First Teacher by Rahima Baldwin Dancy