A Tubby Tabby, Three Konekos, and a Life with Hello Kitty and Autism

Archive for the 'Parenting' Category

Smile, Baby, Smile

Thursday, September 18th, 2008

Last week, I wrote about adolescent angst and how it’s making itself felt in my household of two teenagers (technically, both my boys are teenagers by chronological ages, but the young one is still a little child in many, many ways). Of late, it has been one issue after another: late bedtimes, chronic daytime sleepiness, inattention and apparent deafness (or just selective hearing), repeated (^nth power) requests to use Yahoo Messenger, and worse, going through a PhP300 prepaid cellphone load in just a matter of days!

We’ve slowly adjusted our household rules to address these issues. For example, his late nights do not worry or bother me as much as it did in the beginning. Studies have shown that the period of adolescence brings about a change in circadian rhythms. While the the sleep-related hormone melatonin remains at a constant level from childhood to adolescence, alterations in the timing of its secretion by the pineal gland affect their sleep-wake cycles. Melatonin secretion occurs later at night, making early sleep difficult, and turns off later in the morning, making early wake-up time just as difficult.  

Alex, who used to have a 10 pm bedtime at age 12, now can’t sleep earlier than midnight, and this we understand and accept fully. On a regular school day, he averages only five and a half hours of sleep (12 MN to 5:30 am) as school starts at 7 :45 in the morning. Thus, on weekends, if his schedule allows for it, we let him stay in bed longer to make up for lost sleep.

The other issues are a bit trickier. When he “seems deaf,” do I just repeat myself? YM requests must  answer a need, and not necessarily a want (like, is it for homework, or for socialization), but I find myself questioning and second-guessing myself if I limit his social interactions with this rule. Ahh, no easy answers, it seems.

And lastly, the sudden burgeoning of his cellphone load expense. Last year, PhP300 lasted him two months, but now, we see his load dwindling in a matter of weeks, days even. To instill in him some fiscal responsibility, we decided to make him buy for himself every other load card he needs. So,  on an alternate loading schedule, we share in the burden of his expense.

I find myself thinking about him more and more these days. I worry about him now more than I do his differently abled brother. Autism is difficult, true, but at least we have a clearer sense of how much Alphonse needs us and how long we will be in his life.  With Alex, there are so many possibilities- a million potential outcomes, it seems- that I worry about the choices he makes and how it will affect his future. The changes that seem to come almost every day leave me unsettled, wistful, and nostalgic. Sigh.

Every now and then, though, I still see glimpses of the little boy who followed me around shouting “I love you, Mama’ in sing-song fashion. Of the chubby six-year-old boy who refused to leave my side. Of the twelve-year-old who broke out in song every chance he could get, singing the Les Miserables libretto by heart. 

On a day like this, when he and his father exchanged ridiculously funny messages on SMS.

And on a day like this, I just have to remind myself to stop worrying and to “Smile, baby, just smile.”

Growing Pains

Thursday, September 11th, 2008

It must be the season for adolescent angst as I deal with two hormonal young men in my household. While Alphonse grapples with his feelings of jealousy and insecurity, Alex seems to find his way into mischief now more than ever. All weekend long, he and I were constantly bickering, and I suddenly missed the days when my son thought of me as divine and infallible. Nowadays, it seems the first words out of his mouth always begin with a “But.”

By Sunday, I was worn out from all the explaining and discussing, and yes, arguing. I ignored him as long as I could; I didn’t want him to see me lose control. Worse, I didn’t want him to see me cry. I crawled into bed in the middle of the afternoon and slept.

When I woke up, I saw a piece of paper neatly folded by my side table. On it was a poem Alex had written for me. This time, I gave in to my tears.

How the heart weeps and cries,
For such a useless thing
How meaningless can a man die,
When he starts to weep and sigh

On accounting of my deeds
I’ve oft but shown my pride
I say with lack of dignity
“I’ve been all I’ve needed to be!”

“I deserve a right to do
Whatever I may wish
To rampage through lands unknown
To scour the globe with steel and bow!”

“I’ve done what I’ve needed to do!
The time now is to relax and be through!
With useless chores and laborious days
I deserve my break!”

But on reflecting of my crimes
I’ve seen with sorrow and dread
Unknowingly and grudgingly
I caused my own death

My death from times I might’ve enjoyed
If patience I had had
And times I may’ve laughed and smiled
When all I’d done was sigh

And in seeing my attitude
Of how I sit upon a high horse
I scurry down with fearful dread
And change my heart’s ways

“Have pity!” I cry
bending down on knees that creak and groan
“Have mercy, please, I beg of thee
I’ll change now and forevermore.”

This I said with a changing heart
That smiles as it did before
Before, when I was proud and grim
Before, when I was seated on my high horse

I didn’t think adolescence would be this tough and right now, we’re barely at the starting line. The days when my son tests my patience and parental control while he searches for his sense of self, his identity, and his autonomy seem at hand; I dread more days like these. And yet, as long as he continues to dialogue with me- with us- and as long as he expresses his feelings of confusion, anger, remorse in ways like these, I am pretty confident we will weather this teenage storm. I pray. I hope.   

Cognitive Milestones

Wednesday, September 10th, 2008

This article was originally posted in HerWord.com on September 8, 2008.

A few years ago, a friend of mine rang me in the middle of the day and started screaming at the top of her voice, “He lied today. Oh, my, he has learned to lie!”

He is her nine-year old son with autism.

Apparently, he was playing hide-and-seek with his little brother that afternoon, when little brother asked “Are you in the bathroom?” Normally, he would answer a direct question with a yes or no, oblivious to the fact that his little brother was using his honest replies to tag him and get an edge in the game. That day, for some strange reason, he shouted “No!” though he was, indeed, inside the bathroom. Little brother, expecting victory on his side, ran to kitchen and asked “Are you in the kitchen?” at which time he was surprised to find his brother appear from behind him.

“No fair!” little brother cried out and tried to tell on him. Big brother just smiled delightedly.

And so, when my friend called me up that afternoon, I got caught up in all the shrieking and rejoicing, too. After all, it isn’t everyday that our children with autism get to reach a cognitive milestone.

Just last week, Alphonse reached his own cognitive milestone. For the first time in a long while, I caught a distinctive glimmer of the soul hidden behind his autism. Last week, Alphonse learned the rudiments of jealousy.

It started quite unexpectedly. My sister dropped off her infant son and his nanny here at home, asking if I minded looking after him while she worked. She had some things to finish at the hospital that day, after which she would pick up her son to go to a friend’s house. Since my house was nearer their secondary destination, she asked if he could stay a few hours here with me. “Of course,” I readily agreed, excited at the prospect of having a baby in the house. Since my next-door neighbors (my cousin and her two gorgeous children) left early this year, I had missed having little visitors come to the house to eat and play. Baby J was a little too young for rambunctious play, but he’s been very giggly these last few weeks, and he does give out the wettest, slurpiest kisses of all my nephews and nieces.

Baby J was playing quietly on my bed with the boys’ old toys when Alphonse came up after his morning class. I took Alphonse by the hand and re-introduced his baby cousin.

“Alphonse, this is Baby J. He is here for a visit. Do you want to say hello?” I said enthusiastically.

“Ha!” Alphonse grunted and waved reluctantly.

Then he inched away from the baby, preferring to watch from a few feet away. He looked disinterested, or so I thought, though I did catch him stealing a few glances from the side of his eyes. I asked him if he wanted something. He smiled shyly and turned away. Again, he stole a few glances at the baby and suddenly scowled a little. I was a little concerned at his reactions, so I thought to distract him from his preoccupation with the baby. I asked him to join me for lunch. I was rather surprised when he said no.

“No? Aren’t you hungry, Alphonse? Let’s go eat lunch,” I gently coaxed him.

He would not budge.

I decided to leave him in the room. Alphonse is a predictable fellow, and there are some things that we’ve all learned will work with him. And this is one such formula: when I leave a room, he follows. That particular moment, he stayed behind, lingering and looking at the baby intently.

Then, and this is according to Alphonse’s nanny, he made his way to the bed, sidled up close to the baby, and gently took his baby toys from the bed, away from Baby J. Smiling, he put them as far away as possible, almost near the floor. Only when he was assured that the baby would not be able to reach his toys did his face betray the first signs of a smile.

When his nanny rushed down to tell me about it, I could not believe it at first. Alphonse has never felt territorial with his toys or any of his possessions (okay, except for food); most of the time, he would not care less who touches or plays with them. But that day, he didn’t want to share at all.

In the afternoon, just before his class, he went back to the bedroom again, and upon seeing the baby beside me on the bed, slowly crept up and gingerly inserted himself between the baby and myself. He flashed a smile of triumph, as if to say “I’ve claimed my bed and my mother,” while baby J mewled softly beside him. He also kept asking for kisses and would not leave my side, despite his nanny’s reminders that it was time to study anew. I had to escort him back to his study room.

When my sister fetched Baby J, Alphonse was visibly relieved. In the following days, he seemed a little anxious, although we simply ascribed it to the minor changes in his routine. Unexpected visitors always seem to ruin his rhythm.

A few days later, however, he was back to his jovial, relaxed self. It was a good day, just one of those days when all his answers were smiling yesses, as he seems to want to please everyone.

“Are you a good boy?” Alphonse nods to say yes.

“Do you like ice cream?” Yes.

“Do you want a kiss?” Yes.

“Are you happy?” Yes.

And even “Do you have body odor?” Yes. (For the record, he does not have body odor.)

So it was turning out to be one of those funny days when he says yes to all you ask, but my sister just happened to ask this question: “Do you like Baby J”

Alphonse smiled and shook his head.

“You don’t? Oh, my poor baby!” my sister cried.

Alphonse kept smiling and shaking his head. No. No. No.

My thirteen year-old son, my Alphonse, is jealous of a little baby. Oh, what a glorious day!

Midterm Confessions

Thursday, July 24th, 2008

(aka Please Don’t Shoot The Messenger)

Dinner, Sunday night.

Alex: Mama, we’re going to confession tomorrow. (Sounds nonchalant, just trying to make small talk)

Mom: Uh-huh… (mouth full, making yummy chewing sounds)

Alex: And Ma? (stops in between mouthfuls of food)

Mom: Uh-huh? (I get a chill down my spine. I don’t like the sound of this…)

Alex: Midterm grades are coming out the same day.  (Takes a deep breath and blinds me with the metal braces of his smile.)

Mom: Uh…huh… (Inflection on huh; A and I exchange knowing glances.)

Alex: You think they’ll make us go to confession tomorrow so if our parents kill us for poor grades, we can go straight to heaven?

Mom: Uh-oh. (Oh, well, got to give him credit for trying to make me laugh.)

source: http://www.dubuque.k12.ia.us/parents/ReportCard350.jpg

Update: Doing okay in math, but he’ll have to do much, much, much better in Filipino.

(Man, can anyone tell me why this boy thinks in English and is hopelessly terrible in his own language?)

Back Home

Tuesday, July 22nd, 2008

We’re back home and back to our everyday routines. Yet, before the last weekend fades into distant memory,  I want to thank all those who wished us well - Doc Mark, Casdok, Megamom, Leirs, Doc Ness, Beth (FXS Mom), Mari, and Odette — your prayers and well wishes are very much appreciated. :-)  Thank you, dear, dear friends. We had such a great time that already I am planning and saving up for the another weekend trip next month.

Last Friday morning, Alphonse woke up at the crack of dawn. He was too excited to sleep, I guess. He kept handing me a picture of ”car” and I had to repeatedly remind him that it was still too early to go anywhere. We sat down and looked at the picture schedule of his day and that seemed to quiet him down.

After a three-hour lesson in the morning, a leisurely lunch, and some play time, he knew it was time to go. He hurriedly dressed himself, slung his pecs notebook over his shoulder, and climbed into the back of the car, a silly grin plastered on his face as he waved happily to his nannies.

Thirty minutes into the car ride (we were not even out of the city limits), I took a peek at the back through the rearview mirror and was surprised to see both boys fast asleep. It’s not unusual to see Alex sleeping at the oddest hours- this boy sleeps as soon as the car starts- but Alphonse is another matter. Still, the day’s excitement was probably a little too much for him. Add the fact that he started his day long before the sun was up, and it  was understandable to catch him dozing off.

We got to our destination shortly before sunset. Alphonse spent a few minutes walking around the well-appointed hotel suite. He checked the mini-bar, flushed the toilet a few times, channel surfed, ate the complementary fruits, and paced the entire length of the room as if counting his steps. Then he insisted on opening the balcony door to catch a whiff of fresh sea air. He took three sniffs with his flaring nostrils, frowned at the thick, salty air that assailed his senses, then closed the door back to settle in on the airconditioned room. So much for nature.

Over the weekend, we were able to bring Alphonse everywhere. Alex volunteered to baby-sit while A and I have a quiet dinner but since I don’t trust two teenagers alone in a room together, we hauled them everywhere. Alex feigned hurt that I did not trust him to watch after Alphonse, and he seemed to get a kick from my response that if I catch both of them in a wild party with girls and drinking, I’d have to ground their a**es till they were in their thirties. :D

It was amazing to see Alphonse enjoy himself. The last trip we were in all together was almost two years ago, a few months before he went on “siege.” Since then, we’ve been wary about bringing him places, as new people, places, and experiences could set off a major tantrum. Lately, however, we’ve seen in him a renewed interest in the world. He’s been so much more attuned to others around him. And yes, his behavior has improved so much that most of the time, he now simply responds to verbal reminders on how to behave and act appropriately.

We were able to eat dinner at a Japanese restaurant and while he kept looking at the other tables, probably wondering why his food was taking a bit longer than he was used to, he did not whine at all nor did he attempt to grab someone else’s food. He played with memory cards until his food arrived, and when it did (a large order of tempura and a bowl of gyu saikoro don), he gobbled it up almost immediately. Not content, he begged for slices of Alex’s teriyaki chicken, and only after eating half of Alex’s food did he appear sated. Then he sat down quietly, taking in the conversations around him, till we were all finished.

It was the same thing when we brought him to fastfood joints. Here in Manila, drive-thrus and home delivery are commonly the methods of food acquisition we use, as they limit our interaction with other habitués of any dining facility. Over the weekend however, we discovered that Alphonse could now tolerate waiting periods, could eat independently, and best of all, would not grab at other people’s food or drinks. It was such a major stress reliever.

The trip without the nannies was a big test, true, but he seemed to enjoy the independence. Of course, I looked in on him while he bathed and dressed (I supervised), but I no longer needed to help him with a lot of things. Also, he used his communication notebook and pecs cards more consistently; we were surprised to find him “asking” for things and not simply waiting for it to be brought to him. And these were some of the lessons we brought home for his nannies. They were there to watch over him, to prompt him occasionally, to help him cope with the things in life, but they are not his hands or feet. Many things he will have to do by himself. It’s time to stop the babying and let him be the man he is destined to be.

Alex and I were reviewing our weekend pictures last night when he remarked, quite aptly, that our pictures seemed so mundane and would hardly merit any praise as travel pictures. (“Mom, you took pictures of the bathroom? Did you take one of the park? How about the beach?”) He didn’t want some of his pictures shown, the ones where I catch him holding on to his PSP as a fifth appendage, and I had to twist his arm a little (not literally) to convince him to allow me to show people how he sleeps with his mouth open. I certainly agree with his astute observations; I did forget to take shots of the lovely beach and the verdant park. Yet, I explained to him, that this last weekend was not about the destination but about the family, not about the sights but the journey. And if those 48 hours were any indication of what our future will be as a family living and loving and thriving with autism, then I can look forward to tomorrow with inextinguishable hope.


Road Trip

Friday, July 18th, 2008

We’re taking the kids on a weekend getaway, only this time, Alphonse’s nannies will have to be left behind. I think of this as some sort of a test we have to pass as a family and the only criterion for passing would be surviving without help for at least 48 hours. I’ve noticed how we’ve all become a little too dependent on the help lately and I think it’s time we shake things up a little bit.  

Then too, this will help us prepare for that trip sometime in the future when it’ll have to be just us for a month or so. If things go well over the weekend, then it’s time to take Alphonse to other destinations.

So far, I’ve got everything packed and ready to go. Alphonse’s bag is always a production number by itself and this one took me longest to put together. While he has his own overnight bag filled with clothes, I have to bring another, albeit, slightly smaller bag to house his emergency needs like a change of clothes and underwear (for “accidents”), disposable pee bags, timer, food, candies, bubbles, his pecs notebook, Lysol wipes, tissues, a small towel, a squirt bottle of soap and a foldable cup, his medicines, and his iPod. See what I mean by production number? 

But hey, no worries. I love the idea of Alphonse stepping out into the world some more. I know he loves it too. Last weekend, when we brought him out to go to the mall to get some supplies, he didn’t stop singing the entire time. He was using his falsettos, throwing off those high notes in remarkable fashion, singing a wordless tune which mirrored his happiness. He held my hands and walked and skipped happily with me and his dad. And despite some minor problems (people literally jumped out of his way when they heard him, as if they were afraid, or many, as usual, stared impolitely), he enjoyed his short trip to the mall so much that the good feeling stayed with him for a few more days.

I hope this trip works out well for him again. I’m cutting his classes short today (we leave after lunch). I’ve brought some of his things so we could continue classes while on the road. Wish us luck!

When God Created Fathers

Tuesday, June 17th, 2008

by Erma Bombeck

When the good Lord was creating fathers He started with a tall frame.
And a female angel nearby said, “What kind of father is that? If You’re going to make children so close to the ground, why have You put fathers up so high? He won’t be able to shoot marbles without kneeling, tuck a child in bed without bending, or even kiss a child without a lot of stooping.”
And God smiled and said, “Yes, but if I make him child-size, whom would children have to look up to?”

And when God made a father’s hands, they were large and sinewy.
And the angel shook her head sadly and said, “Do You know what You’re doing?” Large hands are clumsy. They can’t manage diaper pins, small buttons, rubber bands on ponytails or even remove splinters caused by baseball bats.”
And God smiled and said, “I know, but they’re large enough to hold everything a small boy empties from his pockets at the end of a day … yet small enough to cup a child’s face in his hands.”

And then God molded long slim legs and broad shoulders.
And the angel nearby had a heart attack. “Boy, this is the end of the week, all right,” she clucked, ” Do You realize You just made a father without a lap?  How is he going to pull a child close to him without the kid falling between his legs?”
And God smiled and said, “A mother needs a lap. A father needs strong shoulders to pull a sled, balance a boy on a bicycle, or hold a sleepy head on the way home from the circus.”

God was in the middle of creating two of the largest feet anyone had ever seen when the angel could contain herself no longer. “That’s not fair. Do You honestly think those large boats are going to dig out of bed early in the morning when the baby cries? Or walk through a small birthday party without crushing at least three of the guests?”
And God smiled and said. “They’ll work. You’ll see. They’ll support a small child who wants to ‘ride a horse to Banbury Cross,’ or scare off mice at the summer cabin, or display shoes that will be a challenge to fill.”

God worked throughout the night, giving the father few words, but a firm, authoritative voice; eyes that saw everything, but remained calm and tolerant.
Finally, almost as an afterthought, He added tears. Then He turned to the Angel and said, “Now are you satisfied that he can love as much as a mother?”
The angel shuteth up.


A and Baby Alphonse

(A and Baby Alphonse) 

The true measure of a man’s strength is his love for his children.

On The Sunny Side Of The Street

Friday, June 13th, 2008

I’ve been playing catch-up with Alphonse’s demands for new PECS cards. These days, it seems as if everything is a breeze to him as he absorbs new things with amazing speed and comprehension. 

Object pictures are easy enough to do and over the years, I’ve amassed thousands of pictures of just about everything I could photograph. Action pictures are a lot tougher and sometimes, it takes a few tries before I can capture a single clear picture. I often use burst photography to get as many shots as possible, and even then, sometimes I have to re-shoot multiple times. (Fortunately, Alphonse is always a willing subject. :-) ) After that, I preview the pictures on the computer, choose the clearest ones, and use Photoshop to clean them up. Here are some of the newer ones:

 PECS wear pantsPECS wear socks

The other night, I explained to Alphonse that he needed new pictures again. I asked him if he was okay with posing; in response, he smiled widely and nodded vigorously. When I gave him instructions to “wear pants,” he did so with the utmost speed that I had to ask him to do it over and over again, just to be able to take enough shots. Ditto with the wearing of socks.

Apparently, Alphonse thought I would be taking facial shots too because at each click of the camera, he did this:

More Cheers!

And this:

And pose!

And he did these for all fifty shots!

The sun is shining brightly these days on this side of the street. :-)

Because You Loved Me

Tuesday, June 3rd, 2008

My Mom

My mom’s birthday is today.  A very young-looking, beautiful 62, she is an accomplished businesswoman in her own right (Go, Reliv, Go!), grandmother of four, mother of five, and wife to a much-loved man.

Happy Birthday, Mom! We love you!


I wrote this eight years ago in honor of the most important person who shaped my life- my Mom.

My Mom, My Hero

My mother regrets that toward the end of her days, when people ask her what she has to show for, all she has is a house full of children and grandchildren.

At the age of 18, my mother married my 23 year-old dad. It was 1964. Groomed since birth to believe that every woman’s destiny was to be a mother and a wife and nothing else, my mother strongly resented having to subjugate her desires to please everyone else. She wanted to study, but her parents, relics of a forgotten era, thought education was sorely wasted on women. They refused to subsidized her education. She worked and studied for a while, but the money she earned was barely enough for her own needs. Each day, she struggled desperately against her parents and tried to make something of herself against their wishes. She took care of herself and her siblings, and she went to school, often hungry, often without books, pen, or even paper. It was a hard life, with little pleasure and little of everything else.

She met my dad at 17 and fell in love with him. Less than a year later, when he proposed marriage to her, she said yes. She had kids one after the other. By the time she was 25, she had five little kids all below the age of seven. My dad had a tough time trying to get his business off the ground so he spent a lot of time in the makeshift office-cum-factory where he did manual labor from dawn till dusk. Mom was left pretty much alone to care for us.

In the beginning, when finances were tight, my mom put her dreams on hold for all of us. Money that could be spent fro her dreams was money for her children’s food, clothing, and yes, education. The one thing she was deprived of and that she wanted most was the one thing she would insist for all her children- a good education.

So each year, as a new school year commenced, my mother would wrap her dreams for herself all over again and pin her hopes on us, as if we would be able to satiate the burning ambition that raged inside her. The first time she saw her children’s schoolbooks, neatly bound in plastic and arranged in brand-new bags, she wept openly. She remembered all the times she wanted, nay, craved, for new books and bags, for a pair of black shoes, for pen and paper, and was denied of them. She prayed that her children be spared of the same “hunger” that she had grown up with.

Mom and 5 year-old meWhen I was five, I began to realize that behind my mom’s perpetually sunny disposition was a sadness that she could not mask very well. The tension was etched in the sinews of her limbs when she hugged or smothered us with kisses. I could not understand. She was happy when my dad was around, and even happier when all five of us were clowning around her. But late at night, I often heard her muffled cries and my parents’ whispered voices. In the morning, it would seem as I imagined the entire thing, and she would be up again, making us breakfast, back to her cheery self, back to the smiling, giggly, beautiful mommy we all loved.

I found the truth from a maid’s wagging tongue. Everyone knew it, she whispered conspiratorially to me. It was the talk of our little town. My paternal grandmother disliked my mother because she was not “good” enough for my dad. What made it more difficult for her was the fact that my grnadmother lived in the house right behind us and mom had to bear with hurtful criticism and unfounded gossip every day. Mom pleaded with my dad to move, but dad loved his family too much. He worked tirelessly to support his widowed mother and his siblings. He begged for mom’s patience. He asked my mom with bear with them gracefully and to bear them no ill will. He assured her that they would learn to love her once they got to know her. They will soon see what he found so special in her, he promised. But they never did.

Because we were my mom’s children, we never felt we quite fit in with my cousins. My cousins were always seen as more important, more beautiful, brighter, or smarter than we were. When we were very young, we tried hard to please my father’s family, but all they gave us were patronizing smiles and pats on the head. I have no memories of being hugged or kissed by any of them. Often, my grandmother would make fun of my flat nose or my chinky eyes, openly favoring my cousins’ long lashes and aquiline nose. I never cried, thought I bottled up all the hurt till my heart turned into stone.

My mom knew that we hurt from our relatives’ rejection and she gave us kisses and hugs to make up for it. She taught us to hold the pain, to realize its enormity in our young lives, and to use it to make us stronger. She always gently reminded us that as long as we loved ourselves, no other person could hurt us again. Often the five of us would fall asleep all around her, a tumble of legs and arms, as she sang us songs to heal our wonded hearts.

Growing up, I have a lotof memories of moms’ special moments with each of us. Her childhood stories made up a lot of our afternoons. She read little Jasmine stories in different voices. She told Jeff and John war adventures and ghastly ghost stories passed on to her by her father. She watched intently, half in fascination and half in horror, as Joee performed a complex spidergirl routine of climbing walls and jumping off high places. Many afternoons were spent baking us cakes and letting us lick the spoons clean of batter. She had a gift for making good food and she made us all kinds of treats. Nights, she braided three little girls’ long hair and set them in curlers. She stayed up late when exams were around the corner, making reviewers and sample tests for my siblings, all in long hand. She brought us to school every moining, putting her make-up on while the car was moving, at the same time running through her checklist of other things that needed to be done. She was just ALWAYS there.

When my dad suffered four strokes in a span of a year almost nine years ago, our family was devastated. Twice in those four times, the emergency room physicians had turned us away from looking on as they struggled valiantly to save his life. Dad spent many months in critical care. Mom and I stayed in the hospital with him, and she fed him, bathed him, and loved him even when he was too out of it to know. One night, long after the steady stream of visitors had gone, I asked her what she thought our future would be. I remember her reply, for it is something that struck me deeply. She said, “I’m not afraid. I’ll take your dad any way I can. I just want him alive.” 

Shortly after, dad’s relatives took over his business and disowned us. My mother patiently nursed him to full health, but the emotional pain he suffered pushed him into deep depression. Mom took over the reins of the family while my dad recovered. She became the rock that anchored us together. She kneaded and baked bread till the weary hours of the morning to keep the money coming in. In those times of hardships, she taught us to hold on to our faith. Praying over dad constantly, she taught him to forsake his material loss and empty his pain to the Lord. For close to five years, she was the sole spirit that buoyed our flagging hopes.

I shared a lot with my mom. When I was young, we kept each other company during nights when dad stayed up late to close shop. Some Saturdays, the three of us would be up at two in the morning, eating pâté  and bread and discussing the day’s events with each other. I liked hanging around her, watching her put on make-up. She was always beautiful, always glamorous. I liked watching her choose clothes and try them on, one by one. She in turn, loved taking pictures of me- pictures of my first day in medical school, my high school prom, my first date, my first serious boyfriend. She wrote me letters every so often, tackling sensitive issues like crushes, my changing body, falling in love, premarital sex, and yes, the undying theme of excellence. For a long time, she was my best friend. She was always my soft place to fall on.

Mom taught me to reach for my dreams very early in life. She taught me courage when the pretty girls in grade school bullied me senselessly. She taught me to fight back not with my fists but with my brains. She encouraged to to try out for things I wanted to do, like ballet and gymnastics, even when my pudgy body seemed oout of sync with te requirements of the dance. The important thing, she continuously emphasized, was that I was not afraid to try new things, to see diffeerent perspectives, to take on bigger challenges.

I understand now that I was a favored child. I was not beautiful the way my sisters were. I was timid and soft-spoken, taciturn, quiet and aloof. But I loved my parents unabashedly and they, in turn, showered me with more love than I could imagine. Yet one day, I did something that hurt them deeply. I turned my back on medicine.

Mom pinned all her hopes on her first daughter. She placed her dreams of being somebody other than a wife and mother squarely on my shoulders. It was not a burden, I believe that still, but after a time, I came to realize tnat I could not fulfill my spirit in the way everyone expected me to. On the day I told her I was putting my career on indefinite hold, my mother wept once again. I carried that image of her for a long time, my mom slumped in her arms, weeping quietly, trying to make sense of my decision. We carried on a running conversation days after; she repeatedly asked me questions, I parried her with shrugs and smiles. After a while, I just stopped explaining. I een stopped listening. I know I hurt her by my seeming eagerness to throw away years of their sacrifice, just when the star I’ve reached for  was almost at hand.

And so, my mom sees herself as a failure in a lot of ways. All she has is a house full of children and grandchildren to show for her 54 years.

But you see, mom, you are not a failure. You are my hero. You were always my hero. I took a step back from medicine because I wanted to be there for my children, the way you were when I was growing up. I wanted to look back on children’s early days and remember afternoons spent telling them stories. I didn’t want them to miss any moment with me. I grew up whole and healed because you were there. I didn’t want Alex and Alphonse to grow up on me. Their bandaged shins would not wait. Their little spills and tumbles needed a mother’s kiss. I wanted to be there with them as they started their monrnings and still be there at night to tuck them in. I wanted them to remember songs I taught them. I wanted to be you.Mom and Adult Me

Life is too short to waste on regrets. You haven’t wasted your life. Mom. Even as I write this, I am passing on your legacy to my children. They will always know how it is to be loved. My dreams were made on the kisses you showered me, on the letters you sent me throughout my young life, on the the faith you showed your short, pudgy, unbeautiful daughter. You always knew I was good enough to be anything I wanted to be.

Don’t worry about me, mom. I may have taken a detour in life, but today, I am doing the things I love. I have made a real home with my husband. Each day, I am blessed with opportunities to help two boys reach perfection. I write about faith and trust and belief. I write about truth and family. I write about love. And I live it everyday.

You will always be my hero, mom.

And all because you loved me.

Apron Strings

Monday, May 26th, 2008

Sleeping like a babyI woke up very early this morning with a feverish child cuddled by my side. His breathing was raspy and shallow. Alphonse was hot, yet he was shivering from the cold of the airconditioning. I turned off the cold air and covered him with a light cotton blanket. After a while, his breathing became more regular and peaceful. I let him sleep.

As I read a book quietly by his side, I thought about how much this child, nay, young man, still needs me and his father, even at thirteen. Where neurotypical children of his age are raring for independence, Alphonse still clings to us like a little baby. He needs us for many things, most of all, his security. Many times, he would wake up in the middle of the night just to check if we were there beside him. When I work late at nights, he would fetch me from whatever it is I am doing and beckon me to go to bed. And when A and I are late coming back from a movie or dinner date, he would be sitting in the garage, waiting for us to come home to him.

Yes, of late, he has been more independent, more willing to try out things for himself. He feeds, bathes, and dresses himself, with very little help from us at all. Sure, when he eats he can be very messy as he has not mastered the art of the fork (we use a large tray to catch his spills), and yes, sometimes, he puts his underwear on backwards. Yet each time he does these things for himself, he looks to us for approval, for a sign that we appreciate what he has accomplished for himself.

His big brother, on the other hand, is the opposite. At fifteen, he relishes his independence and guards it zealously. He is quick to barrel through the world with all its ugliness and harshness, knocking down obstacles like one swats flies. These days, he struggles against our apron strings and pulls them taut many times, as if to test our limits as parents. He is no longer a child, and becoming more and more of his own man.

Once upon a time, A and I imagined a time when we would be empty nesters, when the children were grown and responsible for themselves. Perhaps we could travel the world then. Perhaps we could retire in some obscure but picturesque village in his father’s native province. And then, looking at a sleeping Alphonse in the middle of our family bed, A and I quickly dismiss the thought. We would never be empty nesters, and while there comes a twinge of sadness with this thought, there is happiness in it too. Alphonse will never know how it is to be alone and unloved.