Spent several hours tonight talking with my cousin Melanie, who turns 16 next month. One of the things we talked about was generations; our batch is growing up, with nearly everyone in high school or college or recently through it. We're next in line; within the next decade, our parents will be the elder generation, and some of us will probably be parents. Adulthood will fall on us slowly, over time. And we are gradually starting to circle the wagons - now that our round of children is "complete," with Audrey (17 years younger than me, the eldest) the last one of the bunch - we're beginning to talk and self-organize as a unit, as a generation - because it's likely that within a decade, we will not be "the children" any more.

This is all natural. It feels natural, although it also feels like a slowly awakening consciousness. In a way, our parents (our mothers, mostly) planned this; I remember being small, elementary-school small, and listening to my mother talk about my responsibilities as the eldest in our batch. How she hoped that my cousins and I would be close and supportive of each other, just as we could see her and her 7 sisters doing. And we did see that - it was far more than lip service and duty that kept my mother and her sisters in close touch, caused us cousins to spend an inordinate amount of time together as children considering we lived in different cities, countries, continents - had us watch this remarkable circle of women support each other through life.

And they are a remarkable circle of women. Remarkable, especially coming from a culture and a time that emphasizes male inheritance - a group of 8 sisters, all who went to college, all of whom had careers (at least before marriage and children, though many still do). Somehow, they've managed to instill in us a sense of this is your family and you will perpetuate it just as much - if not more, in some cases - than on our father's side, which is what is "supposed" to happen. We carry our common middle names [0] with just as much pride as we do our patchwork of last names. It used to be a joke that men married into the Lim family rather than the other way around, that boys first decided they wanted to be part of that circle and then would go about figuring out which of the sisters to court. (I don't think it ever actually happened that way, but I do have uncles who were originally thought of by third parties as potential matches for a sister different than the one they ended up with.)

These women raised us as a group, and to some extent we grew up as a group - wildly different lives, interests, groups of friends - but definitely a generation. Not a generation of women as our mothers are - my brother Jason and a younger boy named Neil make up 2 of our 14 - but certainly a generation that recognizes the power of women and the power of the ties of women. Maybe our fathers wear the pants and run the house and have the final say, but our mothers hold to each other. And they make the tough decisions for the Lim clan (how much of this is caused by the absence of sons to do so, I do not know), and they take care of things.

And they took care of us, and I really mean it as a they; I spent my first 14 years in my mother's house, but most of the past 7 in her 5th sister's. My mother's 8th sister has 2 daughters in college near where my parents live; my mother watches out for them. Kids swap around. Your mom's always your mom, but you always have multiple houses to go to, and your cousins are like siblings, and the blood ties run thick and deep. I would not hesitate to open my home to a cousin or a child of my cousin, anytime they needed it, for as long as they needed it, even if I had last seen them years or decades ago. That's just... what you do. You grow up together and you take care of each other.

And you take care of the elders when they're elders. We watch our parents talk, we watch our mothers gather, we watch them subtly weave a web of gentle watchfulness and respect to make sure that our grandmother, our mother's-mother, our Guama, is okay. Who will host her, who will fly with her from house to house, who will pick her up from her apartment; she is woven into our lives instead of set aside apart from them. I want my parents to be the same way when they are older - people who walk among and alongside my children (if I ever have any), not just people who come to visit them. And that does not depend on frequency of visits, nor does it depend on distance; it's a sense you have of where they are and how they are and who they are with you.

Someday, our parents will get older. Our circle of 8 aunts will age. They will take care of themselves and each other, but someday we'll also take care of them. This is many, many years from now - decades, multiple decades. But we're starting to circle our own wagons, talk with each other about these things, now that most of us are in our teens and twenties. The next time there's a family reunion, Melanie said, we should call the cousins together, and just talk. Catch up. Even the littlest ones will be 9 or 10 - old enough to know and listen and remember, to speak and understand. Start recognizing the roles we have been growing into and will continue to grow into; not just elder/younger, not so much "leader" in the sense of "boss" - but rather peacemaker, clown, detail-verifier; storyteller, tool-bringer, the comforter, the rational one, and so forth.

It's fascinating, watching the forming of an "us." Our mothers did their work well. I hope we will do honor to that legacy. I guess we'll find out in a century or so.

[0] The (usual) middle name of a Filipino or an unmarried Filipina is his/her mother's maiden name. When a woman marries, last and middle names get pushed down the queue, with her former last name becoming her middle name; thus Zenith Maya Yu Lim (daughter of Mr. Lim and a Ms. Yu who became Mrs. Yu Lim) marries Kenneth Su Chua (son of Mr. Chua and a Ms. Su who became Mrs. Su Chua) and becomes Zenith Maya Lim Chua. I was born Mallory Lim Chua; under this scheme my married name would be Mallory Chua <last-name-of-husband> - except that I'm a westernized academic who wants to keep her citations easily searchable and will thus be breaking the thread and staying "Mel Chua" forever regardless of life status. Also, I was utterly perplexed when I encountered other middle-name schemes - around middle school graduation, when I heard my classmates' full names for the first time in most cases. ("Your name is Meredith Jennifer Smith? Your... mom's maiden name was Jennifer?")