Honeymoon of Nine Children
Most couples are surprised to get one honeymoon baby. We had an average of nine.
The idea of revisiting a place where we’ve already been is not our style. The more you travel, the longer the list grows of places to visit. No matter how many places you can check off, the list never gets shorter. So it was our highest compliment to return to the Philippines for our honeymoon. After becoming engaged in the Philippines last year there was a sentimental component, but really we went back because it’s so fricking cool.
This time, however, we tried out new places in this country of 7,409 islands. We went to about 12 – yes 12!- new islands, or, by Filipino standards, a walk around the neighborhood. And this time we met a dozen new varieties of Filipino, an egg carton of new ways to think about this stunning country.
Here we learned – fully – that the Philippines is Catholic. No, not church on Easter Catholic like half of the Midwest. Real Catholic. Gangster style graffiti read Jesus Loves You. Teenagers with saggy pants and tattoos complimented each other by saying (non-sarcastically) “God loves your heart.” Here the in-crowd sang along to worship songs and cheesy love songs. We laughed watching armed security guards sing together, “Then God gave me Yoouuuuuuuuuu!” As a Catholic only by family association, it was quite beautiful to see real, actual faith – and demonstrated by really, really nice people.
And like all good Catholics, Filipino families on the small islands have a lot of kids. A lot. An average of nine – really. They blame it on eating fresh sea urchin. Filipino Viagra is its nickname. And when anyone from anywhere heard we were on honeymoon, sea urchins were swiftly pulled from the ocean and presented as good luck gifts.
The kid thing took me by surprise. I mean, I’ve just married a man from South Africa where families can easily have eleven children. But never have I ever seen so many kids in such small places. Many of the Philippines 7,000 plus islands are tiny. But near Cebu, where we spent the bulk of our trip, they are certainly not deserted. While you can see small houses on the islands as you approach, I was shocked when our captain estimated there were 3,000 people living on an island the size of a few square blocks. How could they possibly all fit? “Most of them are kids,” he explain. Yes, they were. This was a Lord of the Flies kid-take over situation of note. As we disembarked kids just…appeared. From the village. From around bends in the beach. From up out of the ocean. I swear some just popped up as if they’d been lying in wait in the sand. And once assembled these kids, quite politely and innocently, showed us they were the ones in charge. Our escort of minors proudly led us through narrow dirt paths, past homes quaint and simple and past homes rickety and un-romantically poor. They were the island representatives and our parade stretched almost end to end of their tiny ocean mountain top. The adults moved out of their way and seemed happy that they were happy. As we entered our host’s house, they followed and filled the place up from loft to pig stall in the corner. When we left on the local ferry boat they splashed after us, hanging on to the wooden outcrops of the boat and having one final victory jump from bow to wave as we started to speed up. From their aqua blue playground they waved and cheered goodbye.
JD and I thought about it afterwards. Surely they were the happiest, healthiest most active children we’d ever met. Did this freedom in tropical paradise outweigh the limitations of their island? An island with no doctor, a one room (optional) schoolhouse, jobs only as fishermen or wives, one generator reserved for watching Manny Pacquiao fights on the church TV and the foundations of a hotel split in half by some earthquake five years ago that never even made national news. I remembered a story heard maybe in high school that questioned what makes happiness. In it a man from a similarly beautiful, backwards island realizes his limited status and makes his way to the city, leaving behind the banana trees and coconuts and waves. Thirty years on he’s made enough money to retire to a small city apartment where he can afford tinned pineapple and cable TV to watch travel shows about the beach.
A slight discomfort crept up as we put-putted away from the island Kiddom. Maybe they are the ones who have it right? Or is it only their ignorance that lets them be happy? And, if so, where does the extent of my own ignorance blind or delight me? Whose happiness is more authentic?
And then I went back to my honeymoon with my incredible new husband and decided not to rank one against the other. Happiness in whatever form, for almost whatever reason, is beautiful. Nine kids and all.