Third Parent

My family would shop at Costco at least once every week when I was growing up and I will never forget the looks on people’s faces when they saw us parading through the aisles. They were less impressed with our shopping cart that was threatening to topple with groceries, and more interested in the fact that all eight of the kids were, indeed, my parents’ children.

 “These are all yours?” one lady asked. I remember her hair was pulled back into a ponytail and her workout clothes seemed either brand new or unused but she, like all of our interrogators, always had the look of amazement mixed with shock. And as her son sat calmly in the cart, munching on one of Costco’s new teriyaki chicken samplers, my brothers and sisters wandered in and out of people, attempting to get more delicious Costco samples.

“Yes, all mine,” my mom laughed. My dad stood there, grinning as he put his arm around her. My mom continued to introduce us, trying to point those standing in the line. “That’s Gabriel, our youngest, with Yzabel and Angel, our next two girls.” The trio was holding hands in line, eager for a snack. “Then comes Nathaniel, then Briel, then Kristel.” Kristel glanced over at us from her spot in line, keeping us in view. “And this is Ariel and then Daniel, our oldest.” I stood there, feeling a little uncomfortable. “And it’s not as hard as it looks,” she added quickly, as if to avoid more questions. She looked at me. “It gets easier when they grow up. The older ones help out a lot.” Then, as if it were my cue, I went to gather the kids together so that we could move on to the next Costco sampler without anyone getting lost.

            “The older ones help out a lot.”

At the time, I barely acknowledged this phrase. Helping my parents out was something I did because I wanted to and because they needed it as well. But now, looking back from where I stand now, there’s more to this than I first thought. It first dawned on me when I began to examine how and why I missed my brothers and sisters each:

I miss Ariel. She is the second oldest of eight in our family and is going to be better than me in life, despite popular belief about me being the firstborn. Somewhere in my junior year in high school I realized that she was going to achieve much more than I would ever in life, a fact that I readily accept. She was homeschooled until high school where she got above a 4.0 GPA and never got in trouble at school or at home. She was in the choir department all her years in high school and won the “Best All Around Singer—Oh, And Everybody Loves You” award. She sang barbershop as a soprano doing all those different harmonies and so whenever I would get the chance I would show her my harmonizing skills by singing off key or monotone. She would just roll her eyes but not say anything. My commandeering personality was wholly untreated growing up and so we got along well because she agreed to whatever TV show I wanted to watch or to whatever game I wanted to play. But what I thought was my knack at having good, fun ideas was simply her passive compliance to my demands. Today, she’s at Biola scoring in the 98th percentile in her nursing class, taking care of an elderly couple that lives in a cemetery and also being enrolled in the Torrey Honors Program. We call each other when we can but with each of our busy schedules we understand that we don’t keep in touch as well as we should.

I miss Kristel, the third born. As a baby, she always knew what she wanted and always did what she wanted. I used to call her BooBoo until one day she told us to stop our habit cold turkey. And once, when we went to the Phillippines, we were assigned nannies that would take care of us, as is customary in the country. Kristel refused her nanny blatantly, at five years old, knowing that she could take care of herself in this foreign country. Or other times, she would eat candy secretly under the table before dinner even though we weren’t allowed to eat sweets until after dinner. I always knew where to look when I couldn’t find her anywhere else. Seeing her grow up has been one of the proudest privileges I have had and I’m excited to see her graduate in May from high school.

I miss Briel. I have a special place in my heart for Briel. I always tell people she is the female version of me, almost exactly. I have seen her grow up with many of the same struggles and problems and strengths and weaknesses I have. She definitely gets in trouble as much as I did, although she has yet to be grounded for four months. But then again, she’s not in high school yet. When I call home these days, I ask specifically about Briel and the answer is usually in the same tone of voice I remember hearing when I would eavesdrop conversations my parents had about me: tired and exasperated but patiently loving for the day that attitude and trouble would cease. Disciplining Briel was and is always more difficult than with the other kids because her grasp of logic and reason outstretches her maturity. She’s going to be a great leader and she already has a nice little following of groupies wherever she goes too and her own pick of friends but a good enough head on her shoulders to want at least one real friend.

I miss Nathaniel, my first brother. I prayed for a brother since before Ariel came into the world and finally he came. My mom decided that day in the hospital that his nickname would be NutNut, which I didn’t like, but it has stuck ever since. He is a kind, loving soul, something that I will always admire, and his tears flow on familiar streams. He is the upgraded version of myself in all aspects. Physically, he will be a better soccer player than I could have ever dreamed of being. Academically, he can read in Latin and has read and understood Plato and Aristotle at the age of 10. Socially, all the boys want to be his friend and all the girls want him to notice them already. He is still indifferent to the opposite sex and so has time yet to enjoy his youthful innocence, much to my relief. I will never forget waking up in the night, as he would be crying in his crib and I would climb, half asleep, down from my loft bed to rock him back to dreamland; Or waking up as soon as the sun rose to his little voice calling my name as he rattled the plastic bars on the cage that kept him; or sometimes too, I snuck him candy and told him not to tell or gave him something he was not supposed to have yet. And even when my mom did find out, she just shook her head in disapproval and I would shrug my shoulders.

I miss Angel and Yzabel. The two are sort of a package deal even though Angel is almost two years older than Yzzy. Her demeanor is the most “normal” for girls her age out of the sisters, meaning she loves dolls and playing house and dancing ballet. Angel and Yzabel are always playing “Pet Shop” with each other or teaming up against me in the fight between good (them) and evil (me). Even though she is the older sister, Angel sees Yzabel as her best friend and vice versa. The two of them also share a room but separate from the other three girls, which is a good thing. The fights they get in threaten to cause deafness. This is usually because Angel tends to be more pragmatic while Yzzy is the creative idealist. They butt heads in the same and many ways that the infamous literary eternal struggle does. Fortunately, their battles are short lived and playtime is resumed shortly. Maybe they fight just because they are only seven and five years old but I don’t see Yzabel changing her idealistic view of life when she grows up. She is the smartest kid at her age than any of us were. She started reading when she was around three because she got tired of seeing letters but not knowing what they meant. She self taught herself ninety percent of the way, learning all of her letters and sounds. Recently, Yzzy, who was reading one of her many new library books, was told to get ready for bed. “I never have enough time to do anything!” came the curt reply as she threw her book. Now, she’s allowed to keep the light on and read a book before she goes to sleep, much to Angel’s dismay because Angel loves her sleep, giving them one more reason to fight.

I miss Gabriel—or Geb, for short—the youngest, our baby boy. He’s about three feet tall but packs a whole lot more fight than a person his size should.   He’s the roughhousing type and we were wrestling the day he started crawling. This presents a bit of a problem, however, because my sisters tend to refrain from that sort of activity. So, the first mantra I taught him was “Sisters are for hugging and kissing, not punching and fighting.” Once, I was Darth Maul and he was Master Yoda and he tried to execute a spinning slash move on me, leaping from the couch. Naturally, I dodged out of the way unharmed while he tumbled and fell in a heap. I paused, expecting cries and instead, I heard laughter. Then I saw green and felt plastic hit the side of my head. “Got you!” he yelled. Then from the heat of battle, he proceeded to attack the nearest target which happened to by Yzabel and Angel. I picked him up and raised him over my head until he apologized and his sisters were both satisfied. I guess I still have to beat that lesson into him every now and then, metaphorically and literally. He can take it, though.

 “The older ones help out a lot.”

These are all the kids in my family, besides me. I never realized how much that statement meant and all the responsibility that came with it, until I came to college and began to miss my family the way I do. There is a sadness that will grasp me every now and then when I dwell on the fact that I missed out on soccer games or church performances. When I’m in conversation with my friends talking about their brothers and sisters, there are few that seem to share my sentiments, and usually these friends are the oldest in their families as well. I participated in an exercise called family sculptures that helped shed some light on what I was feeling. In the exercise, I was required to place other classmates like statues in a formation to communicate how I viewed my family. The result was the “statue” of my dad in the forefront with my mom “statue” at his side and the kids “statues” behind them in a “V” formation. Meanwhile, I stood in the back with my arms outstretched, trying to hold the rest of my family within my arms reach. The observations from the rest of the class threatened me to tears. The position I placed myself in was in that of a caretaker and that I felt personally responsible for my brothers and sisters, a “third parent” in many ways, not just a brother. Thinking back, it makes sense: I would watch over the kids, drive to soccer practices, make lunches, make dinner, change diapers, put the kids to sleep, wake up in the middle of the night when the kids couldn’t sleep, treat the kids to ice cream, buy them Christmas presents, administer discipline and many other things that established a sense of responsibility and duty that was more than simply being a brother. At twenty-one years of age and as the oldest of eight children, I’ve probably changed more diapers, made more lunches and dinners than some parents have raising their own children. While I know I’m not a father because I’ve never had any kids of my own, I’m also not completely inexperienced at being a parent either and hopefully, soon, I can utilize my “third parent” experience raising my own children.