Monggo-Bean-Inspired Ruminations

Big things come in small packages, so the adage goes.

I’m no stranger to the truth of this. One of my best friends of many decades is barely five feet tall but she has the biggest heart and the most amazing ability to paint in watercolors. A little closer to home: I have five boys decades younger than me (and some small enough to still sit on my lap, although that’s rapidly changing…<sob>!) and they mean the entire world to me.

Then there are the many little things that happen each day that, sifted and sorted and blended together, make up that great marvelous thing called Life. And sometimes, when the stars align and the universe smiles, one of those little things can even be hugely profound in and of itself.

Even something as tiny and minute and seemingly inconsequential as a mung bean. (Or more accurately, five of them.) But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me start at the very beginning.

Mung beans, which are more commonly called monggo in my part of the world, are tiny. In fact, the first word that Wikipedia uses to describe them is “small.” They make their appearance on the dinner table in many different forms: most often as a vegetable soup (stewed with onions and garlic and topped with bits of chicharon, or crunchy pork rind), or cooked and rolled in a thin rice wrapper as lumpia, or tucked into a Chinese bun known as hopia.

They also frequently make an appearance in grade school classrooms, thanks to Science teachers who know the value of the quick-sprouting seeds in teaching lessons that focus on plant parts and plant growth.

Well, that was exactly the kind of appearance demanded of the humble mung bean today in my little grader’s Science class. Except I didn’t know it beforehand. So there I was, bringing him to the door of his classroom, when we walked in on four or five little boys scrambling on the floor, laughing and chasing after tiny things that I couldn’t quite make out. They, of course, turned out to be mung beans, escapees from the plastic container that held about a thousand more of their kind.

And that’s when my son turns to me with a quiet gasp and says:

“Oh no, Mom. We were supposed to bring five pieces of monggo beans to school today for Science.”

Oh no, indeed. We live quite a distance from the school, and that would mean increasing the usual four-drives-to-and-from-school into six, if I were to deliver monggo beans in time for my son to use them for his class.

But a quick glance at the situation unfolding turns on the lightbulb in my head, and I smile and  calmly say to my boy, “Oh dear. You should have told me about that yesterday. But don’t worry. It looks like your classmate has quite a lot of them… why don’t you go to him and ask if he can share five of his beans with you?”

So he does as I suggest, with a sweet smile on his face. I turn my head to look away for about 30 seconds, and when I turn back, I find my son standing in front of me, trying his best not to look sad. He opens his mouth and tells me, “He said No.”

Momentarily stunned, I ask him, “What?”

Patiently, he repeats what he just said, word for word: “He said No.”

I promise, I’m usually quite quick at grasping things, but this morning I think I may have been experiencing a slow connection error, because I say, “What do you mean, he said No?”

“He said No, Mama.”

I can’t believe that he heard right. Five beans? Versus hundreds, heck perhaps even a thousand, in a plastic container? I bend to whisper to him, “You might have heard wrong. Or perhaps he heard you wrong.” You know, it’s possible, right? So I gently nudge him in the direction of the little boy who’s still in the process of scooping up the hundred wayward fallen mung beans and pouring them back into his container, and say to my son, “Ask him again, sweetie.”

My little boy goes to his classmate, whispers to him, comes back to me, and delivers the verdict: “I asked him again if he would share five monggo beans with me, and he said ‘No. This is all mine.’ ” He pauses to smile a little hopeful smile, and then says, “So can you just bring me monggo beans later, Mama? Please?”

I didn’t think it was possible to be stunned twice in the span of five minutes, but there we go. I was flabbergasted.

You see, these things are tiny. Have you ever seen a mung bean? They’re so tiny that you could scoop a handful in your palm and you’d easily have, what, a hundred beans right there? Perhaps more?

Seriously. Check them out:

Ruminating on Mung Beans

And so, there I was, wondering how anyone could have an entire plastic container filled with at least a thousand beans, definitely more than five times the number of beans the entire class needed, and turn down one asking for a measly five beans. In my mind, I could see Mark Lester as Oliver Twist, holding his bowl and asking, “Please, Sir, may I have some more?”

Except my boy wasn’t asking for more. He was asking for five. mung. beans.

Granted, my son should have been responsible enough to bring his homework of five monggo beans. In his nine-year-old wisdom, I’m pretty sure the minute I reminded him that he should have prepared it the day before, he understood where he failed, and for me that was enough of a greater life-lesson learning experience for him.

Mind, I’m not excusing my son for his lapse in responsibility. But somehow I can’t help thinking: There also happens to be a classmate who has more than enough monggo beans to go around the entire class and still have hundreds more left over. Am I wrong in wanting to break out singing  “Oh, lucky day!” and encouraging my son to ask for a few? Isn’t it a great lesson in humility to beg for a few beans and to admit that one is asking because one happened to forget his?

My sons have often told me stories about their classmates or even they themselves forgetting a pencil or a sheet of pad paper or a sheet of Oslo paper and it’s so natural for them to say, “it wasn’t a big deal because we shared, because we had some left over.” The same spirit of sharing and give-and-take permeates their daily life at school, not just for materials or tools like pencil sharpeners but even food that a classmate wishes to have a taste of. Perhaps that’s why I am stunned: because I am so used to the great brotherhood that exists among the boys in my son’s school (or most of them, at least) that this is a first-time thing for me to actually witness.

When I arrive home about half an hour later, I tell my 20-year-old son this story over breakfast. He says to me, “Mom, why are you surprised? As sad as it is, there are people like that everywhere.”

And I reply, “But at that young age? Refusing to share when you have more than enough? That’s terribly sad.”

My husband looks up from his newspaper and says, “But isn’t it normal for very young kids to be selfish?”

I say, “For very young children, perhaps. Studies have shown that until two years of age, a child in a play group will focus on just his toy because his awareness of his surroundings is limited to himself and his toys. But children older than 2 begin to learn that there are others who exist in the world besides himself, so that same child when he gets older will focus on interacting with other children and their toys as well. And I don’t think that’s selfishness. It’s simply a matter of awareness-of-self expanding to include awareness-of-others as the child grows and develops after 2.”

My 20-year-old son looks at me and says, “Yeah. Well. It happens. In the real world, there are adults who are like that too.”

To which I reply, “And that’s exactly what makes me sad. If it’s difficult for a child to dole out five puny pieces of monggo seeds when he has hundreds to spare and only needs five himself… I don’t even want to imagine what the adult version of that child would be like.”

Okay, so there’s justice and fairness. The child was responsible enough to remember his homework; my child wasn’t. It’s perfectly logical to say, “Well, tough luck, kiddo, but you should have been more responsible. You should have remembered. I did, so I get to keep my mung beans. You didn’t, so you can’t come to me and ask me to bail you out just because I have more than I need.”

In the same way, an adult can perfectly say, “I work hard, day in and day out, no matter how tired I get, no matter how much I look forward to retirement, no matter how many times I wish I could have a day to rest and get my energy back… and so I deserve to reap the benefits of my hard work. Even if I have more than I need left over, why should I share what I have with the poor? Why don’t they work hard and reap the benefits of their hard work?”

Makes sense, right? Logical.  Fair. And just. And let me qualify: I’m all about justice. I am a big believer in fairness. But I am a bigger believer in mercy. You know? The kind that hopes that my sons will one day grow up to be men that give generously of what much or little they have, just because it’s good to do so. Just because we’re all in this life together, and we’re all part of the bigger picture, the Big Family of the world, and that’s what brothers do with each other. And if the roles this morning were reversed, I’d like to think that my kid would be the kind that says, “You should have been more responsible. Write it down on a post-it next time and stick it to your forehead if you need to, just so you remember. But for today, sure, here are five beans. I have more than enough, anyway, and you’re welcome to take what you need.”

And so, I pack a plastic container with about a hundred beans to bring to my son later. Just in case there are any other little boys who, like my son, might have forgotten to bring their own five seeds. (I happen to know that two of his friends forgot too, so definitely there would be at least a couple who will benefit from his plastic container of seeds).

And you know what? I didn’t bother to tuck in a note that says, “Share, honey, with those who don’t have.” Because I’m hoping and betting that my son’s experience today will further impress upon him the lessons that my husband and I try to impart to him and his brothers daily. Lessons that  include not only the importance of not forgetting one’s homework but much more, extending into Life Lessons that will make him a much better person and a much better man.

So thank you, Science teacher who required mung beans for today’s class. And thank you, mung beans, for not being in my son’s bag when you should have been. Because the ruminations you inspired today are far-reaching and of much greater value than simply identifying plant parts and plant growth. I dare to think today’s real lessons have more to do with growth of the heart. And that’s always a great lesson to learn.

7 Lessons Learned from the 70s

I will, at the risk of revealing certain factors that may make it possible for you to guess my age group, admit to being a child of the Seventies, and loving every moment of it. A decade like no other before or after it (yet), the 70s espoused the wild and carefree spirit that the 50s didn’t have, but was less rebellious than the 60s and less daringly anti-establishment than the 80s and the 90s. The 70s were the perfect decade for coming of age (possibly not a very objective view, considering that they were, after all, the years that I grew up in), but I will dare to venture that proof of this fact lies in the vivid recall of memories of anyone who was a child in the era of America, Bee Gees, and James Taylor.

(And for total ambience: America’s Ventura Highway, folks!)

The 70s taught me a lot about life and love, and the lessons are inextricably intertwined with childhood memories. Allow me to share both–the memories and the wisdom–of those wonderful years with you.

Lesson 1 – Follow, Fella

When I was about 6 years old, my paternal grandparents celebrated their golden wedding anniversary and, because we had the house with the largest space, ours was chosen as the venue for the big party. Great excitement filled the air as household help prepared the place (and hired men butchered numerous chickens in my first exposure to real-life gore). We had a jungle-gym of sorts in our backyard, and at six in the evening of the big party, I was still busy turning somersaults, my hands holding on to the bars of the gym while I threw my legs up in the air and left my head suspended midway like an astronaut in zero gravity. My mom told me to stop playing as it was time to get ready for the party and performance–oh yes (groan), who kid didn’t get asked to perform for relatives back then? I decided I could afford to do just one more somersault before going inside, so I did–and promptly hit my face on a rock whose existence on the ground I hadn’t even noticed until it caused me to see stars before my eyes. Wonderful: more real-life gore, on me this time, and a bad gash on my face which registered in all the photos of the grand event.

Lesson learned: Listen to your parents because they really do know more than you do. And obey. Immediately. (I have the scar to prove the importance of this lesson).


Lesson 2: Dance in the Rain

These days, when a little rain falls, many children will easily be seen in thick plastic raincoats, shielded additionally by umbrellas carried by their loving nannies. It wasn’t always this way. Back in the 70s, my brother (who’s two years older than me and therefore, by default, my partner in many crimes) and I would wait till the heavens poured down water in torrents and then we would gleefully grab our towels, shampoo bottles, soap bars, and run. In the wide expanse of our backyard we would dance and play and yes, take a full bath in the rain! Fully clothed. With mud stuck to our legs. Boy, it was a load of fun. Today I still try to get my kids to attempt this, just to experience the utter joy of feeling raindrops on their faces and arms, but they look at me with a mixture of doubt and amusement. (And then I almost see the thought-bubble forming in their minds: “Ah, mom–she is so charmingly nuts!”)

Lesson learned: Take time to frolic in the rain–or in the sunshine, for that matter. Happiness is a decision. It certainly doesn’t cost much, and it can be found in the simplest of things.

Lesson 3 – Fly Like the Wind

As a child I loved spending weekends at my cousin’s house. There was a park nearby, with great big mango trees that were perfect for climbing, and we would sit on the thick branches and contemplate deeply on the answers to some of life’s most troubling questions, such as which flavor of ice cream should we buy, and should we buy it now or later on? There was a big swing set, a serious one, nothing like the unremarkable Little Tykes plastic ones all over the place nowadays. No sir, these swings were made with wooden seats and real metal chains that squeaked as you pedaled with gusto. Unbeknownst to my mom and dad, I would pump my legs on those swings, trying to reach the sky, pedaling harder and stronger and faster, till I reached the point were the swing seat was almost parallel with the top of the swing bar. Then, at that point of greatest height, I would let go, push off, and soar through the air, landing on the grass feet first.

It’s a miracle I broke no bones. But in my 41 years of life, few things have topped the exhilaration of flying through the air.

Lesson Learned: Be fearless (within reasonable limits, of course. We’re talking about launching from swings here, not from roofs of houses). Dare to push the envelope. Don’t be afraid to fly. You may just discover talents you never dreamed were hiding inside you.


Lesson Four:  A Little Dirt Never Hurt

We would start right after the requisite one-hour-rest-after-lunch (“or you’ll get appendicitis if you run around right after eating,” warned my grandma each time, like the broken ’45s that played on the turntables back then). We would end our playtime only when the sun threatened to set, our backs wet (no cloth diaper corners hanging out of our shirts because we never used diapers past the age of 8 months, much less on our backs!), our faces and hands grimy from a whole afternoon of Tumbang Preso or Patintero. When there were no neighbors to play with, I would “cook” leaves and sticks with mud in clay pots over coal. And I could do this all summer long with never a single whine about being bored.

Lesson Learned: Go outside. Get your hands dirty. Experience life with all your senses. There is no substitute for playing in the sunshine, sweat trickling down the side of your cheeks. (You don’t just give your muscles a workout, you also learn what it’s like to win and lose with grace).

Lesson Five: Of Canals and Combantrin

A cousin of mine and I always wanted a swimming pool. We didn’t have one in our house. So one hot day, we decided to take our wishes into our hands and pronounced the kanal outside the gate as a pretty good substitute. (Our kanals, as opposed to “canals”–which are large waterways–were about a meter wide and were meant to serve as sewage waterways… you can see where this is going). So into the kanal we jumped and splashed around, not minding the green moss floating but being careful not to dip our heads and open our eyes in the knee-deep water. Our older brothers and sisters mocked us, but we laughed right back in their faces and said they were missing out on the best thing… till something that did not belong in a swimming pool came bobbing by. We scrambled out just as my mom came around, her eyes wide open with mixed amounts of worry and anger. She made us take a bath in alcohol and water, and then made us drink 2 bottles each of Combantrin (I swear I can still taste that sticky deworming syrup).

Lesson Learned: Sometimes you’ll be ashamed of certain things you’ve done. But you’ll live through it, don’t worry. What doesn’t kill you can only make you stronger. And one day you’ll laugh about it. And if you were lucky enough to learn something from it, you’ll have even more than just a funny story to pass on.


Lesson Six: Humor Is Never Overrated

My brother would get his kicks from teasing me and mispronouncing my already-difficult-to-pronounce full first name. I would get back by sneaking close while he was building a tower with several decks of cards and happen to get an uncontrollable urge to sneeze right when he’d be putting the last few cards at the top (thereby sending cards flying in all directions). No matter how we annoyed each other, we continued to play together and have the time of our lives. Our guiding principle back then–to which we still subscribe today–was Picon, talo (“He who gets upset, loses”).

Lesson Learned: When things irk you, you either laugh at yourself, or you learn to dish it out in a spirit of fun as well. Life’s too short to spend wallowing with a morose face in a pool of gloom.

Lesson Seven: Beware the Bangaw and the ‘Bao


Every morning, my father would wake up the six of us, children, at the crack of dawn so that we could walk to Mass at a convent a block away from our home. We kids would trudge along the street, half-asleep, but not for long. See, walking with half-lidded eyes could only result in falling prey to one of two risks: (a) planting your feet deeply into squishy, warm fertilizer material freshly laid by the herd of carabaos that just passed by on their way to the grazing fields, or (b) walking headlong into a sleeping large fly (aka bangaw), your eyes flicking wide open at the instant you realize you’d been hit dead-center on your forehead. And that’s if you’re lucky, because if you had otherwise happened to have your mouth slightly open, there’d be at least a 98% probability that the offending large fly would sleepwalk straight into your throat, causing you to sputter in disgust, all sleep forgotten by your now-revolting body.

Today my father no longer wakes us early in the morning but he, my sisters and brothers, and I still find ourselves attending Mass regularly, some even daily, in our own respective parts of the world.

Lesson Learned: Old habits die hard. So make sure you establish really good ones while you’re young, especially if these habits have something to do with being physically and spiritually healthy and peaceful.

The Gift of the 70s: The Four F’s – Essentials in Life

Taken all together, the best gift of the 70s era for me was my discovering that there are really only four essentials for living a full and happy life: Faith, Family and Friends, and Funniness (i.e., a great sense of humor). You can have all the money and possessions in the world, but none of that can ever come close in value to the joy and fulfillment and gifts brought by the Four F’s.

So whatever decade you grew up in, or are presently growing up in, I wish you all the best of the 70s lessons, and may you be blessed with the Four F’s in your life.


* This was published in my ParenTTalk column, October edition of The Glimpse.

Credits for Images:

  • RetroMovies image by saine @
  • Cassette image by ugaldew @
  • Carabao image from
  • Patintero image by Orville Tiamson for ForexWorld Artwork.