A tale of two mothers
This is a tale of two mothers—one who temporarily gave up her children in order to secure their futures and another mother who took in both her nephew and her niece so they can have a fighting chance to grow up enjoying the privileges they otherwise would not have if they had remained with their own mother.
This story of two sisters is also a tale of grit, of the limitless capacity of a mother to put on hold her own dreams in order to make sure that her child reaches his or her dreams first, of the stoic love that sees nothing of the personal sacrifices they have to make in order to make sure that their children are headed to a better life.
It’s a school night at the Guintus’ Gualo Rai home and gathered around the table are the couple Frederic and Maricar and their four children—Oneil, Mac, MJ, and Inku—all busy poring over their schoolwork.
To casual onlookers, this nightly scene at the Guintu household embodies a traditional family setting. But what makes the Guintu family different is that it is a blended one made up of two parents, two of their biological children, and Maricar’s nephew and niece—the children of her sister, whom the Guintus took custody of 11 years ago. Oneil, 23, and his sister, MJ (Milarose Jeanne), 16, have grown up with the Guintus own children: Mac, (Frederic Dean Michael), 19, and Inku (Michael Jan Frederic), 11.
Maricar considers the addition of her nephew and her niece to their family as the gift that continues to give.
“My sister had to go back to the Philippines because her immigration status at that time did not allow her to remain here. I wanted to help take care of her children. Instead of sending money, both my husband and I considered it best for us to take them so they can continue their studies here on Saipan. I wanted them to enjoy the privileges of being U.S. citizens, especially the educational opportunities that were open to them.
“My husband and I believe in the saying ‘Teach a man to fish and he will be fed the rest of his life.’ Education is the best gift we can give my nephew and niece because this will set them up for life,” added Maricar.
As a mother herself, Maricar knew how difficult it must have been for her sister to give up custody of her two children so they can take advantage of the opportunities available to them. Oneil was 12 while MJ was just 4 years old when they went back to Saipan to join the Guintus.
All Maricar has for her sister is respect and admiration for another mother who longed to see her children grow up, but had to make sacrifices for the good of her family.
Maricar herself understands the toll separation has on a family because she and Frederic only saw each other intermittently during the first seven years of their marriage due to their jobs. Frederic was then working as a mechanical engineer in Saudi Arabia before he joined Maricar on Saipan to raise their family together. Frederic is now a six-year veteran at Saipan International School where he teaches math.
Helping her sister and her children came naturally for Maricar who grew up as the youngest in a family of nine children. Her father worked as an electrician for a provincial bus line in the Philippines while her mother took to washing other people’s laundry to make ends meet.
Maricar did not let her family’s meager finances deter her from pursuing her dreams—to finish school and land a job so she could give her parents some of life’s conveniences. She finished college on an academic scholarship and right before she came to Saipan, Maricar spent four years as a public schoolteacher in the Philippines. For the past 20 years, Maricar has been a part of Tan Holdings Corp.’s legal department where she is a legal assistant.
Like any other family, the Guintus have their unique challenges to overcome, one of them being the bouts of loneliness that come when one is away for a prolonged period from one’s family.
“We don’t fail to remind Oneil and MJ that their separation from their mom is just for the time being. What is important is that they focus on their studies and that they be good at what they do. Eventually, their hard work in school will pave the way for all of them to one day become one family again. At the same time. I always tell all four of them to always keep on trying. Never give up and always do their best in anything that they do.”
Maricar considers Frederic her No. 1 ally. “I have been blessed with a very supportive husband. He fully agreed with my desire to help my sister and her children, and he even backed my plan for MJ and Oneil to become a part of our own family.”
The family does most of their activities together, especially schoolwork. “We’re very hand-on. Both of us make sure we do not take any outside commitments during study times. We also require the same of the children. They are also constantly reminded about their schoolwork,” said Maricar.
The bond between cousins is very strong. All three younger ones look up to Oneil, not just as an older brother but also as their inspiration. In fact, Mac, who is attending college on a full academic scholarship, has decided to emulate Oneil, a working student, by becoming one himself.
It also helps the family that Maricar is a green thumb. During her spare time, Maricar tends to a vegetable garden, some of the produce of which she uses for their daily meals while she also earns additional income by selling a part of her harvest. It is the same with Frederic, who takes to fishing as a hobby. Whatever leftover catch he has is also sold.
“She is a very selfless mom. She does everything for her family,” said Mirasol Dayao, a longtime friend of Maricar. “I admire her for her very giving spirit and how she turned her love for gardening not just as a source of food for her family, but also as a source of additional income. She budgets well, saves her income and uses her money wisely.”
Maricar herself has nuggets of wisdom that she said has served her well in life: “Spend within your means. Use your hobbies, talent, and abilities to earn extra income. In short be diligent and extra creative.”
Today, the Guintus are reaping the rewards of their hands-on parenting,s as well as the generosity they have shown their nephew and niece. This coming June, Oneil is graduating with a computer science degree from the Western Oregon University, which he attended under a Million-Dollar Scholarship. Both Maricar and MJ are attending his graduation. He plans to go back to Saipan after graduation where he would like to work—Oneil’s way of showing his gratitude to the place he calls home.
Mac is a junior at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, which he attends as a full academic scholar. He is a math and computer science major with a minor in physics. Even as a scholar, Mac still works as a student assistant so he can have spare money for his other needs. “He doesn’t want to ask us for money. But he knows we are here in case he needs financial help,” Maricar says.
The younger ones, both honor students as well, are attending Saipan International School. MJ, a consistent honor student who was just recently inducted to the National Honor Society, is in 10th grade, while Inku is a 6th-grade student who intends to pursue law in college.
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Maricar said she has no regrets about helping her sister and her family. In their journey as a family, the whole experience has taught her about compassion, unconditional love, and how the power of kindness can transform lives.
“I hope that when it’s their turn to help, my children will also be able to look at our life as a family and use the lessons we learned as their inspiration to help. As the saying goes ‘Charity begins at home.’ The biggest challenge is to ensure that all of them never lose sight of their humble beginnings and that they respect all those that they will meet in their journey,” she said.