These words were deeply ingrained into most nineties kids from a very early age. For as long as I can remember, there was at least one adult reminding me of things that can and cannot be bought. Toys for one, are a huge no-no. I can remember many grey, dateless moments where I had to be dragged away from the toy section of a grocery store or department store, in tears or not, simply because I wanted a new toy. With so few choices for alternative activities during our time, toys were splendid distractions (at least for a few days), which is why every child naturally wanted to have a new one, as frequently as possible. Toys held the virtue of novelty, color, excitement, life. To have a toy was to have the time of your life. Unfortunately, it was just one of those expenses that no household every prioritized, thanks to the ever-worsening economy.
The funny thing about how kids understood things like the economy was that we constantly hoped against hope. We counted the weeks, months and years, thinking that one day soon, that bright, heavenly day would come that the economy will no longer be a problem.
Unfortunately, it never did recover. At least, it never recovered to the point that people could have a better life.
One could say that I am fortunate to be the son of teachers. If the bases of the quality of life are truly limited to things like shelter and bread on the table then yes, I had a high quality of life. My mother, especially, made sure that there was always food – and she tried her best to shower us with good food, the kind of food that would make you remember Saturdays and Sundays when she was fully around for motherhood. I never resented that she had to work long days and hours—no child should, especially with the conditions of this horrid country.
But yes, I did lose perhaps more playtime hours with her than I care to remember or count clearly. Let’s just say that my fondest memory of my mother was that she taught me how to write my name, weeks before I was enrolled in kindergarten. That was a truly magical moment for me—for me to be able to replicate, with mechanical precision, the M’s, A’s, R’s, I’s, U’s, and S’s in my name. My mother also taught me how to count, but never in the way that my teachers wanted me to. I counted vertically or horizontally. I sometimes skipped objects in a line to go back to them later. Numbers made little sense to me. But I was dazzled by words. In the end, words became my toys—an unlimited supply of new objects to manipulate, and I slowly descended into the realm, with little reason to look back.
In primary school, there was always a terrible onus to do well. Not just well, to be the best. With a country past the point where it could logically recover, the parents of nineties kids often had just one thing in mind—to prepare their kids for the worst. It was something that they found unavoidable, given the miserable, material conditions of Filipino life. To be the best was to be highly skilled, hirable, and indispensable. From a young age, a brutal, survivalist work ethic was pounded into the skulls of children. And this was also the point in life when a child’s identity soon fused with the free market index of success of abundance. And as these indices were inscribed in flesh and bone, thus emerged the future “failures” and “layabouts.” My generation was quick to inscribe these messages to the future—this boy here will never amount to anything. That girl is stupid, and will likely be a burden to her family. These children in sections four, five and six—they are hell-bound for the purgatory of mediocrity and the land of dropouts.
Adults spent so much time projecting their woes and insecurities to children that they rarely had the time to look at themselves. And perhaps they thought they were doing something to help the future labor force of the country.
Because life is hard, and money is scarce.
Marius D. Carlos, Jr.
Marius D. Carlos, Jr. is a storyteller, essayist, and journalist. He is an independent researcher focused on transnational capitalism, neocolonialism, empire, and pop culture. Contact him for writing projects. Visit Marius’ profile on Minds, MeWe, and Twitter. Email Marius: firstname.lastname@example.org.