A woman named Aida Garcia raised me from the time I was an infant until I turned 7. My parents had separated before I turned 4, and I am certain Yaya Aida shielded and protected me from my parents' tumultuous marriage. She treated me like her own.
My mother was hurting and coping with the separation. Aside from trying to emotionally heal, she was working long hours because she had me and my three older brothers to support. Yaya Aida took care of everything -- she brought me to school, she fed me, took me on walks, kept me busy. I was asthmatic as a child, and she knew what to do. She took me to the doctor herself and administered the medicines.
Yaya Aida took command at a time when I needed a stable figure. She was stern yet very loving, always present and so dependable. I dreaded it whenever Yaya Aida went on her day-off; I always felt abandoned somehow. She would always come home with my favorite “pasalubong,” sweet pinipig.
I fell asleep to siesta every afternoon listening to “Mr. Lonely,” playing in the background as she listened to her dramas on radio. (To this day, I would listen only to AM radio while in the car.) Thanks to her and our kasambahays, I spent many happy afternoons picking macopas and kamias from our trees and eating adobong Adidas (chicken feet) daing, and tuyo with my hands, much to mom’s frustration. Even today, I find eating kamayan style is the best way to enjoy a good Filipino meal.
I will always feel blessed that I found people who treated me and my children as their own.
When I turned 7, however, my father had thought I was too old to have a yaya. It was that year that Aida left. She said she needed to take care of her ailing father. But looking back, my father must have asked her to leave because he always thought I was too attached to her.
Thirty-nine years later, I have sought a balance between being able to do what I love (teaching) and being around for my boys. I do that with the help of Yaya Nelly, who has been with us for 10 years and knows the boys from the day they were born. She helps my husband and me to nurture and raise them with so much love and “malasakit” that I often wonder where she gets her patience.
I dreaded it whenever Yaya Aida went on her day-off; I always felt abandoned somehow.
Yaya Nelly has loved, cried, and held our hands through the tough times -- the first hospitalization, the first surgery, even the loss of my mother. She was the stable figure I knew I could count on when my mother got sick, and my husband and I had to be away from the boys for weeks. She has been our prayer warrior throughout my younger son’s diagnosis of autism. In fact, she has been his second mother, patient and persevering throughout his treatment. Yaya Nelly celebrates all of the small miracles with us every day.
Yaya Nelly, along with our kasambahayas, Jen, Neng and Cherry, have cared for my boys over the years and loved us like family. It is my prayer and my wish that my sons grow up knowing that the people who care for them are God’s biggest blessings who should be cherished, respected and loved.
I've always wanted to find my Yaya Aida and thank her for all that she was to me. My gratitude and love for her are beyond words.
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Michelle Lichauco-Tambunting, a son-rise mom to Luis (who has special needs) and Paco, obtained her Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology from Wellesley College in Massachusetts, U.S., and her master’s degree in education from Harvard University. She co-founded the Young Creative Minds Preschool in 1999 where she continues to serve as its directress.