Why I used to cringe at being called ‘Nanay’

Most of us are already parents, and being called Nanay or Tatay by our  children is definitely music to our ears. But what would be your reaction if a complete stranger addressed you the same? Here’s how the author of the following article reacted when she experienced this:

“I was stunned. Someone whom I have never met in my life called me Nanay — and he seemed to be just a tad younger than I was! I wanted to snap at him, ‘How dare you call me Nanay!’ but kept my cool. I cringed at the term also because it stung my vanity. Did the stranger see me as a woman who looked old enough to be his mother?”

Read on and be prepared when your turn comes. 🙂

Why I used to cringe at being called ‘Nanay’
Written by Dr. Esther Fe B. Gusto

Growing older each day doesn’t normally stare us in the face until we reach the age of 50 or 60 — the time when the way people categorize or address us begin to hit us like thunderbolts and make us realize our prime time is almost over.

The nomenclature on aging, including “senior citizens,” “elderly,” ” retirees,” “old folks,” “aged” and “folks of advanced age,” can have their negative psychological effects such as depression, resentment, sadness and a feeling of hopelessness owing to the common notion that old age is the beginning of incompetence and uselessness.

Senior citizens (the government’s term for people 60 and above) enjoy certain privileges, but many are embarrassed by the term because it implies a diminished ability to work and be financially independent.

The term “elderly” is more stinging than “senior citizen” because it usually pictures people in wheelchair. “Aged” — as in “an aged woman” — stings much more because it is synonymous with “antiquated.” In fact, the ARD online dictionary defines it as “having lived almost beyond the usual time allotted to a species of being.”

In the United States, I heard some young people calling older people various pejorative names such as crone, fogy, fossils, frump, geezer, senile and the more offensive old hag and old fart.

I can think of only three derogatory terms that Filipinos use to refer to older people: “matanda” (old, aged), “hukluban” (senile), and “ulyanin” (an old person who is forgetful and repetitious).

When I was still in my fifties, I did not give much thought to how people addressed me until a stranger called me “Nanay.” I was stunned. Someone whom I have never met in my life called me Nanay — and he seemed to be just a tad younger than I was! I wanted to snap at him, “How dare you call me Nanay!” but kept my cool. I cringed at the term also because it stung my vanity. Did the stranger see me as a woman who looked old enough to be his mother?

In today’s Filipino culture, calling a woman “nanay” or “lola” is a sign of respect. But some people use these terms to emphatically tell a woman that she is already an elderly. We often hear ladies making this appeal: “Huwag mo naman akong tawaging nanay, pinatatanda mo naman ako niyan (Please do not call me nanay, you make me feel older that way).”

Even when I reached 60, like most other women who were advancing in years, I still wanted to do what I could to preserve what was left of my youthful appearance. Looking youthful — or at least being made to feel so by others —boosted my self-confidence that I was still part of the mainstream and could still pursue my dreams. I felt that calling me names that were associated with old age was like telling me, “You’re finished! You no longer belong! ”

Sometimes, people sound so unkind even if they do not mean to. One time, a group of 50-year-old women were riding in a passenger bus. When they were about to disembark, the conductor shouted this instruction to the driver, “Hinto mo, may bababang matatanda! (Stop, some old people are getting off!) Horrified, the ladies were speechless as they got off one by one. But one of them gained her senses and took the chance to censure the conductor, “Ingat ka sa pagsasalita, di pa kami matatanda! (Be careful with what you say, we’re not yet old!)” The conductor was stupefied.

How I wish people would realize that it would be an act of kindness to refrain from using terms that rub in aging or old age, such as lolo, tatang, lola, nanang or nanay — unless the true chronological age of at least 70 or 80 is apparent. In sensitive matters like age, giving the benefit of the doubt always has its benevolent value.

So how do older ladies want to be called?

I can’t speak for other older women, but if I could have my way, I’d like people on the street to call me “Ale”—the Tagalog version of Miss or Mrs. — because it sounds less age-referent than lola.

Most friends and other people in my work, religious and social circles still call me “Manang Esther ” (Manang is the Ilocano and Visayan term of respect for an older sister ) or simply “Ate Esther,” which I like best.

Some banks, restaurants and other business establishments have this professional way of addressing their female clients, regardless of age, as “madame” or “ma’am ” which I think is more business-like than nanay or lola.

At my age — I will be 80 in April—I believe I have already come to terms with aging. The nomenclature on aging does not bother me anymore like it used to. I take care of myself and try my best to contribute to society by doing Christian work. I speak in churches and fellowships here and abroad to share the spiritual insights, wisdom and experience that the years have gifted me with.

One time, when I went to the home of a friend, I was delightfully surprised to hear her eight-year-old granddaughter Mary Missy call me Ate Esther. I asked her, “Would you like to call me Lola Esther instead?” She asked me why and I said, “Because you are only 8 while I’m already going on 80. That makes me a grandmother, not just an older sister to you, right?”

Indeed, I congratulate myself for having made it to old age. Not everyone is granted that blessing by the Lord. So I always ask Him like what the psalmist asks Him in Psalm 71: 18: “Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, O God, till I declare your power to the next generation, your might to all who are to come.”

(Dr. Esther Fe B. Gusto is a Christian speaker/lecturer in schools and at religious seminars. Read the original article here.)


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