Bedtime Stories With Nanay
a poem by Julianne Tenorio
Dear Asian Youth,
whether through repetitive nagging or simply checking grades regularly, students often vent about how their parents constantly urge them to do better when it comes to grades. as an asian american high school girl with immigrant parents from the philippines, it’s nothing new to me.
from a young age, my parents greatly prioritized my education, enrolling me in kumon when i was 5 years old and having me recite multiplication tables every night in kindergarten.
at the time, i was still young.
still an immature, budding plant, absorbing what i needed to grow
so i didn’t mind how much i was fed
all the knowledge that i was expected to retain in my tiny brain
and though i was young, i always thought to myself
this can’t be real life, i’m supposed to be playing with my friends at the park
but no, i blankly stare at my Kumon worksheets
problem after problem
page after page
packet after packet.
but when my mother, my nanay, would tuck me into bed
she would tell me fantasy stories and filipino parables
about young children transported to different dimensions
or a misbehaving little girl transformed into a pineapple
(yes, that is an actual filipino story)
my eyes fluttering shut as her soft words played like lullabies in my ears
no longer the girl who studied tirelessly to remember
what 9 times 7 was when she was awake
but rather, the girl who slept and dreamt from 9 to 7
and eventually my petals started to grow.
i entered new parts of my life, unlocked new chapters
my height was increasing, but so was the pressure
more and more conversations about my future
more and more pages and pages of reading
more and more days and nights of research
i often doubted my potential, and though i know this is a feeling that many share, it's hard to believe in the moment that you aren’t alone.
now i come home from school
backpack filled to the brim with papers and books
i sit at my desk, tirelessly writing, reading, typing
until i hear the distinct
of my door opening
i put my pencil down, halt the movement of my fingers
and rush downstairs to say hi, my lively eyes meeting her tired ones
yet she always manages to crack a smile.
i bring down my homework, as she asks me what i’m doing. i tell her, and she says
“You better have an A+ in that class!” she says sternly.
i let out an exasperated laugh, but sigh inside, because it is those words that continuously push me to do my best.
because sometimes she will be the only motivation i’ll have
because i can’t imagine the look on her face when i come home with a grade that isn’t an “A”
because i bite my tongue when i try to ask her for help, terrified of how she might react
because i’m expected to know everything even though
i know nothing.
the syllables play like a crystal clear recording in my mind
sometimes it can be a little much,
as much as i am aware she means well.
all the sleepless nights i would spend cramming and cramming
just to pass one test
bedtime was no longer what i remembered it to be
where i could forget about 9s and 7s as i fell asleep
my priorities changed, my schedule rearranged
until the idea of bedtime was buried deep inside my brain
forgotten and lost in the abyss of unfinished assignments
but i am put at ease once my mom begins to ramble on about her day at work
and the same feeling of nostalgia comes over me as her consistent tone
reminds me of the pale pink floral blankets i cuddled as a child
reminding me to
people my age probably think they’re too old for bedtime stories
i don’t blame them.
time moves too fast for such trivial things, right?
but i find it important to note that the best of these tales
don’t always come from storybooks, novels or picture books
so i breathe and rest my head
as my daily blooms cease to occur
no need to absorb, no need to work
dozing off into a dream
- Julianne Tenorio
Cover photo source: Kelley McMorris http://kmcmorris.blogspot.com/2013/08/bedtime-stories-for-my-little-brother.html