Do you remember the first time you did your own laundry, or cook your own food, or shine your own shoes? How old were you?
When I look back at my younger days in Masbate, there is only gladness in my heart now. I couldn’t have lived through life away from my parents beginning at the tender age of 13 had it not for years of learning, albeit resenting at times, all the things they taught me then.
I remember the words of my father who would admonish all girls in the family, telling us that our place inside the house was at the kitchen; that we should not be wasting time doing useless things and instead be present there where cooking was happening. “Girls should learn how to cook,” he would lecture, “what would you feed your husbands?” Whoa, that was scary—I didn’t know any better then. Who would? I was barely in my teens. Was that about “the best way to a man’s heart is through his stomach?”
Next was the laundry, and ironing, and going to the market, and lighting the Petromax, and cracking the coconut including grating the meat. It wasn’t long enough when we were taught husking it, too. The bolo was too heavy for us, I thought. But, there was not escaping the ire of parents who were only concerned with teaching us life skills.
I knew then that starching clothes, especially those worn for work, including my school uniform, was a must. The starch had to be cooked in water, and let cool before dipping the clothes. And sprinkling dry and starched clothes with a little bit of water and rolling them to soak for a while before ironing. I remember that I had fun looking at the creases disappear when the hot iron touched them. I now understand why ironing clothes is one of my favorite chores, minus the starching, because starch today comes in spray cans.
In the market, telling fish from one another was such a challenge. But, we had to learn that, too. One kind was good for grilling; others were best for frying, or sweet and sour, or paksiw. The eyes had to be bright, the meat firm, and the stomach intact—these reminders would ring in my ear as I navigated through the fish stalls in the public market. Imagine what needed to be learned when it was shrimps, or crabs, or squid that I was asked to buy. Getting fresh meat was the easiest for me, because I thought that they were slaughtered in the morning and should stay fresh. I never saw any frozen things in the town market. And plastic bags. The bayong was our only way to carry our purchases.
When did I start learning all of these, and many other “skills” like how it is called today? I remember cooking my first boiled rice at age nine or ten. Pardon, but there was no electric rice cooker then. Your middle finger was your only measuring device to make sure the water was just enough so the rice would not turn out undercooked or overcooked. Otherwise, the entire meal is ruined, even if you had the best ulam.
I thought I had paid forward my parents’ sacrifices and persistence and determination to teach me all the life skills I have used since I left home to pursue my studies. I have five children of my own, all adults now, and I should say I am fairly successful at continuing the tradition my parents had set out for me and my siblings. We have no household help, and five children are an entire crew to be able to live without it.
Life skills are not to be undermined. They are one of the best things we can hand down to our children, much more important than jewelry or property or money.
When do you teach them life skills?