Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Swallowing Our Pride

Mornings are never fun for parents with school-aged kids.  If you're an average parent like myself (translate:  no nanny, house help or any of that luxury), you start out your days feeling like you're on the brink of a heart attack.  You don't really want to get out of bed but you know there's already a ton of things waiting to be done.  And though you wish your days start just as they do in commercials (i.e. Mom wearing a silky robe, walking calmly towards her gourmet kitchen, coffee ready and she sips with such grace, closes her eyes as if to be thankful for all that life has to offer), the reality is that you're in your shabby pajamas, hair all standing up, and you are frantic trying to figure out what to serve for breakfast and what your child will bring to school for lunch.  The icing on the cake is the joyful experience of dragging your child out of bed...

Normally, what works in our household is the reminder that there's a school bus.  90% of the time, the reminder that the school bus never waits for anyone makes the little guy jump out of bed and triggers instant enthusiasm.  Problem solved!  (Let's hope the magic lingers for at least eight more years).

Once we make it to the dining table, the next major struggle is chowing down breakfast at a reasonable amount of time.  Yesterday though, Noah asked me a question that led me to rationalize our daily delay and struggles with breakfast.

He asked, "Mommy, how come 'J' always makes it to the bus stop early and ahead of us?"  Almost instinctively I replied, "Because he's American and they don't have a Filipino breakfast".

To those who are not familiar with such a type of breakfast, let me sum it up for you in one word:  Rice.  We can eat this (and actually sometimes do) during every meal of the day.  A 'Filipino breakfast' would traditionally be rice and something fried....fried fish, fried pork, fried hotdog, fried spam, fried (Filipino) sausage or 'longganisa', fried beef (tapa), fried chicken, fried bacon, and of course fried egg.  Actually the fried egg comes with all of the above, and even if we're having bread for breakfast, fried egg would be expected as well.  However, Noah's plate these days never contains any egg as he suddenly decided, upon turning 3 1/2, that he hates egg. I'm still in the process of curing this malady.

It takes time and effort to prepare this sort of meal especially when you still feel like a zombie and would really much rather stay in your lovely cocoon in bed.  The 'delay' also comes from the fact that a highly Americanized 5-year old is not the easiest to feed rice to in the morning.  I don't force-feed him and constantly remind myself that the size of his stomach is about the size of his fist. However, it's a fact that chewing rice in tandem with some type of protein takes more time and effort than shoving a spoonful of cereal in your mouth.  

So why do I still choose to do this despite its challenges?

The answer is clear.  It's because I feel I need to.  I need to because I grew up eating the same things.  I need to because I was taught that breakfast is the most important meal of the day and that you need something hearty to carry you through a long morning in school.  Most importantly, I need to because I want my son to retain as much of his cultural identity as possible.  

Everyday, it's a struggle for a migrant parent like myself to assert my Filipino-ness in an environment that is hardly diverse.  We do not have a Filipino channel at home so I really don't get to expose my child to Filipino forms of mass media.  On a more basic level, I feel guilty for not teaching him enough of our native language (Filipino / Tagalog).  I can speak it, and my husband can speak a bit of it, and yet we still speak English at home.  Traditionally, majority of Filipinos are Roman Catholics and though we are all baptized as such, I'll be honest and admit that we hardly practice and to make matters worse, I feel extremely conflicted about my religion.

So what else of my heritage is left that I can easily and joyfully pass on to my child?  Food.  It's a non-negotiable for me.  Filipinos love to eat and gatherings always involve food and lots of it.  It's how we remember traditions, our families and friends, special memories of our childhood and different rites of passage.  Preserving and passing on the flavors of home to my son, no matter how challenging, are sacrifices I'm willing to make on a daily basis.  Maybe someday soon, my son will ask for that fried egg, or even egg with 'sibuyas' (onions).  And maybe he'll soon eat that 'tapa' or 'longganisa' with slices of fresh tomatoes.  Better yet, perhaps he'll crave 'tinapang bangus' (smoked milkfish).  For now, even though Noah prefers to have hotdog, bacon or spam for breakfast, it's still music to my ears and brings pride to my heart when I hear him say, "Mommy, I want it with rice".

* Image courtesy of Michal Marcol /
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