When there was no such thing as ‘helicopter’ parents

The kids get a dip and play in the river.

I’m not sure if it has to do with my cousin and me being boys, but as early as 9 years old, our parents would leave us in the province at our aunt’s house for a few weeks during summer.
If they were helicopter parents when we were younger, they eventually threw us off the helicopter and left us in the jungle.
Two city mice born and bred in the noisy streets of Quezon City restlessly scurried through the sleepy town of Pakil, Laguna where everybody knew everybody.
The old folks knew us in relation to our parents – “anak ni Baby at anak ni Boy.” I’m the son of Baby and my cousin was the son of Boy. Don’t laugh. It could have been worse. We could have ended up being called McBaby and McBoy.
It wasn’t difficult then to approach any group of kids congregating in the plaza, which was literally the town center. We played the same games we played in school: patintero, tumbang preso, agawan-base.
To play basketball, our Nike Airs had to give way to rubber slippers. We didn’t play basketball on any cemented well-lit covered courts. We only had a ring nailed to a tree and the dusty ground beneath our bare feet.
After a while playing with rubber slippers on, the slipper’s Y-shaped strap would eventually decide to part ways with the sole as rubber slippers are known to do. Eventually, we had to learn to attach the strap again on our own.
It was a time before the Internet-as-we-know-it and cable television so we never felt we were giving up a lot for staying in the province. If anything, we gained more freedom.
We could stay up as late as we wanted. We could loiter in the plaza even at night. And there was also the town swimming pool, which may not be the 50-m Olympic-sized-sports-club swimming pool but nothing beats free. Or the pool may have been free for us because our grandfather was well-known in those parts.
I wouldn’t be surprised if my grandfather had a hand in the construction of the pool. It was a fresh-water swimming pool perpetually replenished by a mountain stream. No chlorine there, the way nature intended water to be.
The pool walls were tiled but the floor was all algae-covered limestones. The tickling sensation from the algae was a good enough reason to stay afloat and keep swimming.
Nothing can be more satisfying than jumping in the pool after a full day exposed not just to the road dust but to the rice “dust” (gilik). You’re probably familiar with seeing rice husks being sun-dried along the provincial highways.
But only those who live in the province will be familiar with what happens when the rice husks are removed and all the fine powdery dust wafts through the air in every street corner. The effect – total mind-numbing body itch.
The fastest cure was a jump in the pool. Not just any jump. The pool had a cemented five rung bleacher starting a foot from the pool’s edge going all the way up to the mountain stream. Step-by-step we would dare each other to jump to the pool from as many bleacher steps as we could. And we did; over and over until we were bored and moved on to the next dare.
There were actually two pools. The long but shallow main pool and a small but deeper secondary pool. Connecting the two pools is a squarish tunnel that can only fit one adult.
The dare was to swim through the tunnel and get to the other side. The tunnel was long enough that we had to swim fast enough before we ran out of air. There’s no turning back. We needed to cross our fingers and toes that no one is doing the same dare as we were and coming from the other side. And we did; over and over until we were bored and moved on to the next dare.
On some parenting-reflective days, these are the summers I would want my own children to experience. While I am very proud that Achi inherited my tech skills and is already doing some basic programming on her own, and Shobe got my guitar skills and is fast-becoming a pro at the ukelele, I still want them out of the house.
I want them away from the computer, iPad, TV and hopefully commune with nature. Except that I no longer have relatives in Pakil whom we can leave the kids with.
At most, there are Hilomen family reunions during Holy Week in Tarlac but most of that is spent in an air-conditioned house anyway because it was too hot.
So, when the girls got invited by a schoolmate to spend the night at their farm in Tanay, Rizal, off they went. It wasn’t entirely similar as leaving them for an entire summer and they weren’t completely on their own, but it was one rare instance that they get to be outside.
The first photos we got via Viber (from the parents) were of the children playing in the river. Meah and I laughed at that. Achi could be so finicky about dirt, but she needed to suck it up and play with her friends.
The girls reported that they got to stay up as late as they wanted. K, the mom-in-charge over there, said they finally went to sleep at 1 a.m. The children were ecstatic over sleeping in a tent, even if the tent was just on the second-floor veranda of the house.
The next day, they spent their morning riding horses, and being surrounded by goats. Another dip in the river, trekking through some trails – their weekend was spent totally with no technology.
That farm sleep-over was the closest to my childhood summer experience that I want my kids to have. But then the parent in me would kick in and think that I would never want them to do the dares I did as a child. I wonder how our parents coped with the knowledge that what my cousin and I did were potentially life-threatening?
I could probably never throw them off the helicopter but could lower them down bit by bit. They can still experience the carefree, gadget-free summers that I had.