The International Happy Child Nursery Co-op is a huge success. Anabel has had to move the operation to far larger quarters twice in eight months. It is one of the only full-day nurseries and the only one using English-only in the morning and Tagalog-only in the afternoon. Some of the other Phil-Am wives with English skills have been brought in for the morning sessions. These mothers were given the option of doing full days but opted to just work the half days. The afternoon staff members have less English and are told to stick to Tagalog under all circumstances.
Anabel's desire to provide shelter for battered women is manifestly provided for in their operation. The women, are both protected by armed guards, who she has to employ for the nursery in any case, and provided for by employment at the nursery. Simply speaking, they are singing for their supper. The cost of an armed guard 24x7 is ₱24,000 a month. That cost is completely covered by the tuition fees. The battered women feel safe and useful. Thankfully there are very few battered women who come through her door, but when they need the shelter, it is there for them and their children.
Since it is run as a co-op, all the mothers of my children have ownership stake and there are membership meetings. Anabel is the President of the organization and she is both busy and happy. I see her briefly every day, but her interests have taken her away from me and into this endeavor. We haven't talked about it directly, I think, because both of us are frightened about what this all really means in reality. We both prefer to go about our lives, without coming to terms with the consequences of the facts on the ground. It's a case of mutual denial.
Anabel has not pressed for another pregnancy. She is very happy she has given our marriage a child, but the fear that something might go wrong next time has put her back in the mode of birth control and limiting sexual contact.
Kaysi also seems willing to call it quits on the baby making business. She has her two kids from before we met and one from me. As a three time mother, she feels no pressure to repeat the experience. And just like Anabel, she is desiring time in my bed very rarely.
Others of my harem, are not as willing to leave matters as they are. They want more children. Lailani, Mary, Ivy, Miafe and Grace, all want another child. I don't want that to happen.
Anabel says she doesn't want them all pregnant at once. It would be a challenge for the nursery, if all were carrying at the same time, or even close to it.
Grace proposes that only two of them can be pregnant at any time. She suggests that she and Ivy be first. Following the next year, by Lailani and Mary. Miafe should wait two years. The prospect makes Miafe unhappy, but Grace insists it's the best for the family. Everyone else, with the exception of me, likes the plan.
I tell them 'no' in no uncertain terms. On top of everything else, I point out that Mayari and Masaya are within a year or two going to want to have children as well. So long as there is a ban on all pregnancy, I can hold them off. But with the plan proposed, we will have pressure from the young ones as well. For some reason, Mary and Ivy do not see a problem, and since they don't, no one else does either.
I have lost a great deal of authority. This co-op is accustomed to discussing and voting without me. And they do that now. Yes, they consider my input, and then choose to do what they wanted to do! And in doing so, Grace has put herself at the front of the line with Anabel's blessing.
This has me a bit peeved and if they can act in such a way, so can I. I announced that I will be getting a vasectomy.
Shocked, Miafe screams, You can't!
Oh, yes I can. And I will. None of you can make this decision, ignoring my wishes. I have said, no more children. I mean it.
There is a tumult of voices and Anabel calms the females, before addressing me. Ray, this really is not fair to us.
Bel, it is also unfair to decide, and not fairly weigh, my position. This is not a matter for your co-op. It is one-on-one. Me and each of you, separately. In each case I get half the vote. Plus, as you know, 'No means no!' That goes for men as well as women. In this case, I say 'no.'
Can we compromise?
How? Have half a child? This is a yes/no situation.
Ray, please come to the bedroom so we can talk privately.
OK. I start walking to the bedroom as does Anabel when Grace speaks. No! I come too.
Anabel looks at me. I nod. Anabel raises her eyebrows twice toward Grace, who now follows us.
Once behind the closed door in the bedroom, Anabel turns toward me, Ray, we have to find a compromise. I do not want you to get a vasectomy. If I change my mind later and want a child, what will I do if you do this now?
I'm not going to have five more kids. It isn't going to happen.
Grace … Grace, you want another child, tama1?
Ray, are you going to deny Grace, a child?
Cute, Bel, very cute. If there was a way to give Grace another child without getting four more with it, I would do it. Grace, you know that. But, Bel, as soon as I make an exception, it will all explode on me.
Ray, please do not get a vasectomy.
If I don't, they will get pregnant. You know that. I have been conned and lied to and manipulated too many times here and you, Bel, have done your share of it. I am not going to let it happen again.
What if I tell them that I convinced you to not get a vasectomy now, but if they break your rule and get pregnant, you will get one and they will have to leave?
Leave with my child? No, Bel, that won't work.
OK so I will tell them that the child will stay but they will have to leave. I will tell them that the only one permitted to get pregnant again is Grace and me, if I want another child.
No! Grace spits it out as if she were to wait a moment longer she would explode.
Anabel is perplexed. She looks a long time at Grace before swallowing hard and asking, Why?
Miafe and Lailani! They have only one child. The others who want, they have two already. No mother should have only one! Ray, Miafe should wait three years, but you should give her another child. You can wait Lailani two years, but she should have another.
Anabel is fearful. Her eyes dart up to me to gauge my reaction, but she isn't getting any. I'm chewing on it. I am in love with Grace and do not want to deny her a second child, but putting one female over the others in this way, seems to me, to be setting up a long term resentment between the others and Grace. As far as I can see, there is no good option.
If I acceded to Grace's logic, Masaya, Mayari and Inday will both want two children, in a very few years hence. So in addition to the three she wants to let through the gate now, there would eventually be six more, or a total of nine more children! Add that to the seven we have now and I will have sixteen kids. This is patently nuts.
Bel, get Mary and Ivy married and out of here. Grace, get Masaya, Mayari and Inday, each, set up with a guy of their own, and I will consider your proposition. Until then, no one gets pregnant. If anyone does, I will get the vasectomy, the child will stay but that person will have to leave.
Grace is about to say something, but Anabel cuts her off. Ray, you can't do that! They are your girls.
Bel, you haven't done the math. I have. Think through all the implications of Grace's requirements and what they mean.
Anabel just looks at me and then turns away as if to think the problem through. I guess that is what she has done, because her mouth opens is a huge silent, Oh! Before saying, Nine?
I nod, Yes, Bel, even without Mary and Ivy or you, over time, it would mean nine more kids. Add Mary, Ivy and you, and it means twelve.
Anabel turns to Grace, sits on the bed and pats the mattress next to her, inviting Grace to sit down. Grace does and Anabel turns to her. Grace, do you understand that if each of us must be allowed to have two children, then, in the next few years, Masaya, Mayari and Inday will also give two each. Add those six to the three you want Ray to give you and your nieces, and that means nine more children. Do you see why he is saying 'no?'
Yes, Grace gets the point. I see. Yes, too many children. What we do? They yours, Ray!
It's got to be the way I said. No more children. There are no good solutions.
Anabel and Grace are holding hands and crying.
Ray, please, whatever happens, do not get a vasectomy. I want another child.
Bel, you just told me the other day, you would not have another.
Talaga2, talaga, it is so. But I think, OK, maybe I change my mind. If you do this, I can't change my mind. I want to have one same time as Grace has hers. Ray, you need to give your two girls... No that's not right... Ray, you have to give your two WIVES, children. Ray, you know this. I know this. Grace is a wife. Better than me, diba3?
Bel, you know I will not say, 'better.' But yes, Grace is a wife to me. Grace knows this. I am relieved that you know this too and are not angry.
It make me a little sad for me, maybe, but it allow me to have my shelter. So maybe it God's will. Grace is good to you. I know this. She never hurts me. She is good to me, too. So yes, I am not angry. But Ray, we need your children.
Grace is, of course, hearing all this. She is crying even harder and holding on, as if for dear life, to Anabel. But Grace regains her voice. Madam...
No, Grace, call me Ate, or sister, or Bel. I am not your better.
I am afraid!
Too late for that sister, you and I are wives to the same man.
Sige, sige, OK, Ate. Ate, you are wrong about one thing. Miafe. I not think Ray know this. I not think you know this, but Miafe, she also a wife.
Why you say this sister?
She is. Talaga. She will die before she not be by Ray. She live for Ray. You not see this, but it true.
Ray, you know this?
No, Bel, no, I didn't. I know she is always around. I know she is like a shadow of Grace. But no, I did not know her feelings. I always wonder why a young girl, as beautiful as Miafe, is hanging around me.
Well, Ray, you have your answer. She thinks she's a wife. I know this is all my fault, Ray. I know. You not have to tell me. I start this. Because of that, I must accept it. Miafe is yours too. … But Grace, Ray is right. We have to do something about Mayari, Masaya and Inday. They can't all be wives. If all have more children, there will be more almost twenty of them. Ray is correct. This cannot be. If they want more children, they have to move from here.
Ate, I not know how that can be done. But it OK if we tell them, not now? No children now? If we say, only you and me can have Ray's babies. All else have to wait so we can figure it out? That OK, 'te4?
Sister, I think we must be more honest. We say that Ray gives you and me permission to have another child. But no one else has this permission. If we can find a way to handle more children, we will consider their desire. But for now, if they get pregnant, they must leave, and leave the child here. That is what Ray say and that is what we tell them. That OK, Ray?
I think it will cause many problems. I suggest you go over the numbers with them. See if they can understand the issue.
Sister, are you willing? You are an equal with me now. What do you say?
Ate, you think it OK, if I tell Miafe, to keep quiet, that there will be a way for her later.
Ray, are you OK with that?
Yes, OK. I agree.
Good! Ray, you stay here. Grace and I will talk to them.
And so I am sitting here, in my own bedroom while the currents of emotionally charged females swirls around the dining table. To those guys who want a harem, all I can say is that they must be made of tougher stuff than I am. This shit is driving me crazy. All the intrigue! All the politics! And the demands for children! It's nuts. In no time at all, I would have a tribe. Now I have two or three classes of females. Wives, first and second class mistresses. Lailani is up the ladder from Mary and Ivy. Kaysi is more Anabel's best friend than anything else. I am her guy so that she is safe, and not for deep and abiding love. The young ones? Oh hell, it makes no sense. And on top of that there is Sam2x! What the fuck am I to do with Sam2x? She is not leaving, because Kaysi isn't leaving.
I am ruminating on this when Miafe comes into the bedroom. She sits down on the bed next to me and puts her arms around me. She just holds me for the longest time before speaking. Tita tell me that I am a wife to you. That true Ray? Am I like Tita Anabel5?
Yes, to some extent, you are. But you are also young and so maybe you should think of yourself, for now, as a wife-in-training. OK?
Talaga? For real? I will be a wife to you?
If you want that Miafe. But in truth, you should not want it. You should find a boy closer to your age.
Don't say that! I don't want another. I want you.
Yes, I know, your Tita Grace told me that.
Yes, good. So I am a wife-in-training for now. And I can have another child?
In a couple of years... not now and you are not to talk about this with anyone. Do you understand?
Sige, sige. The others, they get jealous if they know this. di ba?
Ray, may I call you asawa6 now?
I have to smile. Miafe is so earnest. She is looking directly into my eyes. Her hands are clasping mine.
Yes, my asawa, you may call me asawa.
Magandang, magandang salamat!7
And now Miafe is crying what I gather are tears of joy. God save me from the irony of this craziness.
I hold Miafe in my arms. Tears dampen my shirt as this impossibly lovely young female in the most intense bloom of her sexual being seems to want to be wholly and completely mine. This makes no sense.
A cell phone is chirping and I know it is not mine. Mine does not make that sound. Miafe looks at her Cherry Mobile phone and tells me that we are needed at the dining table.
What I see when we rejoin the others, are many scared faces. Mary and Ivy are crying. Kaysi is somber. Lailani's face is one of frozen fear. It is Kaysi who speaks. She is the only one who, with three children already, was not pushing for another.
Ray, we are scared. No one here wants to be sent away. This possibility is very bad. We not do the math like you do it for Anabel and Grace when you meet with them. We not understand why you so mean before. Now we not like it, but we understand some. But Ray, we have questions. Is it OK if I ask for them. They scared to ask you. … Why you not want more children? You afraid we not have enough room?
That's part of it. We don't have room for so many. Also, I would feel less like a father and more like a farm animal used to breed. I would not really know my own children! And I could not afford to educate them. Kaysi, that scares me.
Ray, I think we can make the education problem go away. And maybe we can make the room problem go away too. But I don't know how to fix the other problems. Is it OK if we try to find a plan that will work for you?
Kaysi, I want to tell you 'no,' but that would be unfair. I can tell you that I do not see any way you can come up with a plan and can work. But I will not stop you from trying.
Good! Then we will not have any more children until you say OK. But we will find a way! We want many more children. We are a family. All of us. No one leaves. We will make sure of that! We are your girls. We that forever. You know there no divorce in the Philippines. We are all yours. No divorce. Not even Mayari, Masaya or Inday. OK, Ray?
I hear you Kaysi. I hear you.
§ § §
1 - Correct?
2 - Truly
3 - It is not so?
4 - A slang for 'Ate.' Pronounced 'teh.'
5 - Clearly, Anabel is not a biological Aunt to Miafe. But the terms for Aunt and Uncle are frequently used as affectionate references of belonging two those not part of a real family tree. It is another person who by practice, proximity and behavior fills the role of an Aunt or Uncle. If I wasn't fucking Miafe, she would be calling me Uncle.
6 - Means the marriage partner. Not sex specific, it can mean husband or wife.
7 - Thank you very very much!
8 - Generically it means 'You're welcome.' Technically it should be translated as the Spanish reply, 'Da Nada,' or it is nothing.