Ate Kuya

By Cris Evert Lato-Ruffolo |August 10,2019 - 08:04 AM

Every month, I go on four dates with my children.

The first date is with Nicholas; the second with Antoinette; the third with Jeff Jr.; and the fourth with all three of them.

The sequence is not always in that order but you get the picture: I go on date with each children and I go on a date with all of them in tow.

Nobody taught me to do this.

But I remember being awake at 3:35 a.m. in 2014 in Guangzhou, China thinking about how I can understand my children better. This happened at the end of a four-month experiment for a graduate school paper on language and literacy education. I observed the twins for four months, which meant recording every conservation and every interaction they had every day for four straight months. I accomplished this mostly by taking notes and recording videos, and reading books on language development.

In those four months, I observed Nicholas and Antoinette interact with each other mostly in gibberish language. My readings taught me the terms, idioglossia and cryptophasia, or what are loosely called as the secret language of twins.

I came to the conclusion that the so-called “twin language” is not a different language per se; rather it is a code that twins share to communicate with each other. Studies show that it is more common between identical twins than fraternal twins.

I have fraternal twins. But I did note that there is an interaction that only the two of them share. Some magic connection that only twins share.

Because I want to be actively part of their lives, I wanted to understand them better. Often times, when we were alone in that three-bedroom apartment in Guangzhou, I talked to them even when I was not sure if they understood what I was saying. I always got responses though.

I refrained from engaging in baby talk. I talked to them in my normal voice and I would ask them to do one-step instructions such as “pick up your toy” or “put the paper in the trash can.”

It has proven to be effective in developing their speech faculty especially in a multi-lingual household.

The twins are now six years old and Jeff Jr. is three years old. I am happy to report that I can actually have conversations with them; real conversations that, in recent days, often revolve around what is happening in school, dealing with bullies, and going on beach trips.

Going out on dates with each one of them and with all of them enabled me to understand them as individuals and as a collective.

When I am with Nicholas, we often talk about Science and animals. Antoinette loves the art so our dates often involve art exhibits and a trip to National Bookstore to buy crayons and watercolor sets. Jeff Jr. wants to be a firefighter and thinks that one day, he can become a dinosaur so he can eat whatever food there is available.

I also make sure to take them out as a collective. It is not the easiest task because I do this alone. Getting three children ready for a date with Nanay is a major production show. It gets better each year though as I only have one child in training pants. Remind me to perform a victory dance when we finally graduate from those.

In every collective date, I take them out for ice cream or French fries and then run some errands. They love it! We sing, dance and laugh a lot. We have a system now in going up and down the escalator. We have practiced our holding-hands system so we do not lose each other inside the department store or a supermarket.

Those collective dates are opportunities to expose them to the world and then “deliver” a lesson on field in one go.

They will not get it now but they will later.

This month, I took them inside a cellphone accessories store because my charger gave up on me. A trans woman, Lady G, whom I know from previous transactions, attended to my need. The boys were restless as usual; Antoinette was beside me, uncharacteristically silent.

Lady G was trying out the units which fit my smartphone when Antoinette motioned to me that she wants to whisper something in my ear.

“Nanay,” she began, “is the person an Ate or a Kuya?”

“Well, what do you think?”

“I think he’s a Kuya before and now, she is an Ate.”

“That is possible.”

“I call her Ate then?”

“Well, why don’t you ask?”

The sales attendant, of course, heard this conversation. I was smiling to her the entire time. I have always considered her as a “she.”  She was getting teary-eyed at that moment.

My six-old-year old girl then looked at her and shyly asked, “Can I call you Ate?”

With a big smile on her face, Lady G said, “Whatever you want baby.”

Antoinette said, “You’re an Ate.”

The boys came up to us oblivious to what just happened. Then Antoinette said, “Hey Nick. Hey JJ. This is our friend, Ate!”

“Hello Ate,” the boys chimed.

We went out of the store hand in hand, a blabbering Antoinette explaining to the boys about how Lady G was a Kuya before and now an Ate.

I have not quite figured out how to explain LGBTQIA to them.

One thing is certain though, my children, who are growing up in a Christian home, are taught to respect and love people no matter what their race, religion or gender orientation are.

That, I believe,  is how human beings should be raised.

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