The Gift of Childhood Play

November 3, 2007

These days, memories pop up in my head more frequently and more vividly than they used to. Events, situations, incidents, and other occurrences which I’ve marked as “trivial” and have therefore stored on the bottom drawer of my mind’s inner closet resurface and yell out, “Hey, look at me! I’m important, too!” And, indeed, they are.

My memories of childhood play, for instance, are those that show up more frequently. There were those times of creating entire cities made out of Lego blocks, with Little Rica playing the Master Planner. Each time a new Legotown was built, there were the requisite school, store, church, and airport. Every house was built exactly the same way, spaced the same way (and I would count the number of spaces to make sure), and even furnished the same way. The only modifications that “homeowners” could make were whatever gadgets they could fashion for themselves (and, here, my sister was always the winner). The Lego games fueled a fleeting dream of becoming an architect—I loved the metric-ruled precision of it all—and whenever my sister would throw a tantrum over the city being destroyed by our dear old yayas (who would sweep everything away before my mom returned from a flight), I would simply tell her, “Legos are made for building! Let’s just build a new town!” And the building would happen all over again.

My sister and I were a precocious pair, and our house would be transformed into a live version of Nickelodeon’s Fun House or Takeshi’s Castle every time Mom was out. We would fashion obstacle courses out of chairs, blocks, the garden swing, and whatever else we could find. One of my favorite creations was a go-kart that my sister made out of mom’s old luggage trolleys, a small chair, and a cushion. It was a fancy little thing, and we would zip around the street in it. Our yayas would always go aghast over the huge messes that we regularly made, and we were just thankful that Mom was always out so that we could have our little piece of childhood heaven right at home.

In those days, creative play was as important for us as studying, and we would apply ourselves diligently to the next game or the next “project” because they were ways of actualizing talents that we were happy to have discovered. For instance, childhood buddy Mela and I would go around the neighborhood, spying on neighbors and dictating our discoveries into her little micro-cassette, acting like reporters for the “village newspaper.” Of course, since there was actually no village newspaper, we made one ourselves. We also made our own little company, MERC (Marco, Ena, Rica, Carmela) that created made-to-order stationeries and greeting cards. We would sell them to our titas and even deliver their orders via bicycle. Back then, we already knew that customization and great customer service were important in running a good business. We made some decent bucks out of that.

Now that we’re all grown up, I’m sure we can trace some of our recent successes to those days in Tangier Street when play was work and work was play. Co-village reporter Mela is now associate editor of a prestigious international magazine title here in the Philippines. Marco is now an IT consultant. Ena, my super streetsmart sister, is now IT supervisor (and she is mostly self-taught, mind you!). Of course, we all know what I’ve become, and I can directly link all of it to those days of creating stationeries, writing scripts, directing my playmates, and creating programs on the computer.

I’m very, very grateful that I was raised by parents who were very supportive of our innate artistry. They never said “no” to our artistic or athletic pursuits; they were always there during recitals and tournaments in spite of being out of the country most of the time; and they encouraged us to go and discover our talents and strengths. When I was choosing between European Languages (in UP) or Communications (in Ateneo), I never heard “Why that? You will never be rich in that!” from them. When my sister was choosing between Multimedia Arts or Interior Design along with a basketball scholarship (in CSB), my parents rejoiced and said, “Go for it!” Now that my brother’s in Industrial Design (in CSB) but is seriously considering leaving his major to study Flying, the best advice we could give him is, “Think about the long-term consequences of your decision, and if you’re sure of it, then go for it.” We were never punished for being artists at heart, and we were always encouraged to think for ourselves (and create our own solutions).

One thing is sure: when I become a mother, I will make sure that my children get lots of time and space to play and discover their own world. I won’t panic if they come home with bruises and scratches and mess all over their clothes; it will teach them how to take care of themselves. I won’t yell at them if they break things or cover the walls with pastels and paint (but I will make them clean up after their own mess); it will teach them the consequences of their actions. I won’t get heartbroken if they declare later on: “Mom, Dad, I want to be a musician/artist/performer/designer/stylist/model/actress/inventor/scientist/filmmaker/writer.” I will rejoice that they have found something to be truly passionate about, and I will support whatever they decide to get into (even if it’s just plain old accountancy).

I have learned from my childhood that children are more intelligent than we see them to be, and if we give them enough space to experiment and learn from their own mistakes and misadventures they will grow up to be brighter, tougher, and self-reliant. My siblings and I are all products of sweat, dirt, grime, cuts, bruises, scratches, falls, tears, and big, bad mistakes—but we were all loved and accepted unconditionally. So we have also learned that, when do fall and get hurt, we can cry and run to Mommy for some kisses and hugs, but—ultimately—we will have to get back up on our own two feet and face the world on our own. There are certainly no dim-witted pushovers in this family.


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