A Family Portrait

(published 28 December 2014, MST)

Today, the last Sunday of the year, my four children and I will don our holiday best, troop to the mall to a studio, and have ourselves photographed. A lunch treat is also planned afterwards.
The photo shoot is a tradition we’ve had since 2005, on a Christmas evening when we visited a friend and we did not want to go home just yet. Then, the kids were little. Bea was 11, Josh 9, Sophie 5 and Elmo 3. I was...well, forget me.
Since then, we’ve kept up the practice. We pick a photo package, normally with two shots—one of the five of us, and one of just the four of them.  The former gets reproduced into wallet-size pieces. The latter gets enlarged and mounted on the living room wall. 
Today, the 10th photo will become the latest addition to the living room series. It’s always a great conversation piece when we entertain people at home. Most of the time, the kids and I are ourselves still entertained, just by looking at them. “Look how young and innocent we all looked that first year!” “Do you know that I bought that shirt at the sidewalk?” “Sophie is actually crying in that photo, because Kuya was pinching her.” “Look how fat I was then!” “Look how thin I was then!”
The exclamation points seem endless. And it’s only been a decade.
I think they know this is a family tradition they must keep up every year, long after printed pictures become an absolute rarity.  I can just imagine them when they are all grown up, with families and careers of their own. We must physically go to the studio together—or anywhere where a decent photo can be taken. If anybody’s abroad, he or she must come home from wherever, not necessarily for the photo, but for the experience of having the photos taken together, even the shared meal afterwards.
I read a saying once: “Siblings will take different paths and life may separate them...but they will forever be bonded by having begun their journey in the same boat.”
This is so true for the set I call the Fab Four. They, like many other sets of siblings, went through many things at a young age. I started having them when I was just a kid myself, not yet finished at university, and you can imagine the complications that arose from there. Years after, they saw me build a life on my own. I took them with me, some ahead of others,  started over, and made do with very little.  They had to make sacrifices themselves, not having the material comforts that many of their peers had and took for granted.
Those days feel like a lifetime ago. Now they seem, before my eyes, flourishing. Bea, who is 20, will be getting her literature degree in a few months. Earlier this month, she spent a week in Lima, Peru as youth advocate of the United Nations Development Programme. They observed members of the Philippine delegation at the climate change conference and participated in several meetings themselves. Josh, who will be 19 in a few days, is a bass major at the UST Conservatory of Music . He spends several nights a week playing before an audience, either at some school event or with his band. Fourteen-year—old Sophie is a student leader who wants to go to law school. She dabbles in acting, writing and taekwondo. Elmo, 12, just recently auditioned with the Philippine High School for the Arts so he can spend the next six years honing his academics while playing more violin—on full scholarship. Results will be out in February; I have a good feeling about his chances.
Yes, I am an incurable stage mom.  In the end, however, I tell myself and them that these are just nominal achievements—something nice to put on Facebook but not something on which you base your self-worth.   What is more amazing with these kids, actually kids no more, is the confidence they inspire in me to keep on doing what I have been doing. There are growing pains, and there are petty fights—sometimes over household chores or other silly reasons—but I sense they will grow into adults who will, in their own spheres, seek to make a tiny difference in the world. After all, we are here not to be great, but just to do good.
That, and their ability to look out for each other and actually seem like they are enjoying it.
I was very happy with the presents I received from them on Christmas Eve. The boys got me two pairs of earrings -one stud and one dangling—and Sophie found a necklace that matched an already-existing pair of earrings that I had bought from another store. Bea gave me a lipstick, in a shade that would have caused me to blush years ago. I think they are telling me something with their gifts—that it’s time to pamper myself, too, because I deserve it, and to quit worrying so much, because they will be fine.
I will wear the red lips, the earrings and the necklace to today’s photo shoot, of course. I think I will have a wider smile. I can’t wait to update the picture of the five of us in my wallet. I also can’t wait to add another portrait on the wall, step back and marvel at how much they have grown and how far they have gone.