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Bedtime Stories With Nanay

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

equates to

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.

you’re overwhelmed




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

nanay’s home!

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

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