My niece Arya turned six years old days before I left for my vacation. I would’ve left earlier but I could not miss her birthday dinner at Pizza Hut simply because she means the world to me. After all, she’s the closest to a daughter I will ever have.
When I asked her why she wanted to have her birthday dinner with the family at Pizza Hut and not in a fancier place, she said, “Papa (my father, her grandfather) loves pizza, I asked him to choose where so he’ll be happy on my birthday.”
Comments like these from her tug at my heartstrings because my number one concern is she grows up to be a kind and considerate woman who is devoid of any sense of entitlement. But so far, she has given me enough reason to put my unfounded fears to rest.
(By the way, I was the one who named her Arabella Maria Sofia. Her biological father Nico gave her her nickname Arya; yes, Arya — inspired by The Game of Thrones.)
When she was still five several months ago, after an appointment at the US Embassy, I asked her if we could walk to Diamond Hotel where we were billeted since the car picking us up had not yet arrived and I left my phones in the hotel room. She was game and so we walked a block or two along the Roxas Boulevard promenade.
Always so observant and perceptive, she immediately noticed the garbage floating on the waters of Manila Bay. “Oh my gosh, look at all that garbage. So ugly. Tsk. Oh, some people,” she complained, sounding like a grownup.
I asked why it bothered her. “Tito Mike, the fish, all the cute dolphins, the sharks, they all live in the sea. If they eat the garbage, they’ll die. Didn’t you know that?” “Of course, I do,” I answered amused. “Oh, then why are you asking?”
I laughed because she reminded me of a young “pilosopo” me. But more than that, I was exceedingly happy that she showed concern for nature and animals like that.
One time, I was in the kitchen putting water in a vase for some flowers I had brought home. The water pressure was strong and so the huge, fat vase started to overflow. I was startled when Arya, who I didn’t notice was also in the kitchen having merienda, started to speak. Apparently, she was quietly observing me. “Tito Mike, you’re wasting water!”
My gosh, that wasn’t a lot of water but I’m definitely happy to see how she’s shaping up to be a stickler for these things.
A few weeks before her birthday, I overheard her talking to her Nana (Arya’s “Nana” is our ever dearest Manang Pelang, Teofila Lopez, whom we consider our second mother, she who’s taken care of all of us siblings and now, Arya. Since she’s also looked after my late grandfather HP “Oro” Acebedo when he was old and ailing and my parents when they’re sick, she’s been more than family to four generations of Acebedo-Lopezes.)
“Nana, Ate Judy Ann will celebrate her birthday soon. I want to buy her spaghetti and a small cake. I have saved some money and I’ll use it to buy her spaghetti and a cake for her birthday.”
(“Ate Judy Ann” was our laundry lady who’s now assigned to a building my parents own in downtown Cebu. When she was assigned here at home, she would help look after Arya when she’d play around our family compound after class. Even after Judy Ann was assigned somewhere else, Arya still asks about her.)
It was truly inspiring to hear our little girl be so thoughtful and considerate like that. The next day, while I was having my usual afternoon coffee, I felt I had to talk to her for a serious “positive stroking” session.
“Arya, I heard what you said yesterday about the surprise you had in mind for your Ate Judy Ann. That’s really good. I hope you continue being kind to other people. You know, I know you’re doing very well in school but while I’m very proud of that, please know that more important than that is the person that you are, the person you become, and that is, for me, defined by how you treat others. To me, what matters more than being an honor student, more than medals or awards, is that you grow up a kind and generous person who loves people and nature and animals. That’d make me really proud.”
She listened quietly and answered me with a big, tight hug.
My heart overflows.