Friday, July 22, 2016

Adventure Vacation Survival Guide for the Non-Adventurous Introvert

Our family pet, a betta fish, is the perfect pet for me. It loves swimming by itself and needs comfortable spaces for hiding. Typical introvert, isn't it? So you can imagine my trepidation when it was decided that we would go on a week-long family vacation in Colorado with my husband's large family. Sixteen people total, mostly active, outdoorsy people. Except for me. 

Let's talk about the destination. Is there any other place that invokes the idea of 'healthy, active lifestyle' more than Colorado does? Probably not. People here live to move. And eat kale and protein bars. I'm happy to be on a treadmill for 30 minutes while I munch on pork belly and crunchy peanut butter. I am certainly out of my element here and participating in all the adventure activities being planned by family members will surely kill me. It's either that or lack of oxygen due to the high altitude!

So how can someone like me, unadventurous with lots of aches and pains and who would rather recharge by being alone in her cave, survive this kind of vacation?

Here are a few tips I've learned along the way...

Dress appropriately. 

You can't dampen everyone's mood by simply saying you will stay home alone every time they go out. At some point, you will have to get outside and join your group. And even though you have no plans of getting bruised and broken, you need to at least dress the part. That way, you'll blend in. This also gives you some flexibility should you suddenly realize that there are some activities you can do at your destination for the day. An introvert can be a bit of a daredevil too from time to time, right? (And yes, I'm using 'daredevil' here quite loosely).

Bring a good camera or at least a phone with a good one. 

If you can, be the only one in your group with a camera! You'll be an indispensable resource and your group won't fault you for wanting to stay behind while they do all the active stuff. What kind of vacation would it be, after all, if there was no one to take all those action shots, right? You're not being a kill joy. You're merely doing everyone a huge favor and sacrifice so they can post something over on Facebook and Instagram. Win-win!

Be Shamelessly Creative

You know those signs at recreation parks identifying the activity they offer at certain areas? You know, like those that would say "Ski Adventure" or "Deadly Rollercoaster"? Yes, look for those big signs and pose as if you've just done it yourself, even though in reality you just ate ice cream or funnel cake while waiting for your crew who actually dared to risk their lives. Make sure you throw in a thumbs-up or two, as well as a happy exhausted face to make it believable. Don't worry about deceiving anyone who sees your picture online. Half of what you see on social media is a lie anyway.

See what I just did here?

Don't Say No to Everything

Though you know you're low on the scale as far as risk-taking behavior is concerned, I assure you that you can't write the entire outdoors off. There are still some activities that you can certainly choose to participate in. Go for an easy hike. There are also bike rides that are great for beginners and not-so-adventurous souls. Or simply take a stroll and enjoy the magnificent views around you. I understand that staying indoors is always a tempting idea but try to remember that you can do that anytime when you're home. You already traveled a hundred miles or so. Try to make the most out of the new scenery you find yourself in because you never know what wonders can surprise you. 

Carve Out Some Me Time 
Even For Short Periods

It doesn't matter how big or small a group you're traveling with, introverts always need some alone time every single day. This helps us recharge, function and relate better. If you find yourself needing this while you're out, don't be afraid to walk ahead or walk behind. Try to find a quiet spot where you can also enjoy the sight, or at least pretend to. Excuse yourself and go to the restroom. Walk away to take photos of a good scenery, flower or rock. Whatever it is, just take a few minutes off from your group. They might not always understand but I guarantee they will appreciate how this can do wonders to your disposition in the long run. 

Whether in vacations or life in general, there are never guarantees that you'll only be traveling with like-minded people or kindred souls. But the variety in life is what makes it all fun and enriching. Wherever you find your self in, or whoever you may be with, just be present. Enjoy it and if you're truly lucky, focus on the fact that you are traveling with the ones you love. 

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Have I Failed My Child This Summer?

Accepting the chasm between the imagined and actual reality is never easy. I am in constant struggle with accepting the breach when it comes to scrutinizing both my own life trajectory, as well as my parenting life. And I'm not just talking about grand ideals on how I want to parent or my dreams of how my child should blossom. No, the reality is that it's a daily struggle, a sense of guilt, if you will, when you picture what good parenting looks like in terms of day to day activities. This angst gets even more pronounced during the summer break. 

Oh the Summer, when children are out of school and when my son, in particular, gets to say to me, 'I'm bored' or 'What else can I do?' ad nauseam. This year, keeping him busy at home has been a bit more challenging than previous ones because we had to skip the camps offered by his school. Since we had to fly out of the country and threw in some out of state short breaks in the mix, fitting the camp sessions into our schedule just became impossible. But I didn't think it would be a problem. After all, I had great plans that won't only keep boredom at bay, but would also adequately prepare my son academically for the next school year. What kind of stay-at-home mom doesn't come up with creative and fun learning activities for her child, right???! There's just no excuse!

I imagined having structured days for my son during the entire summer vacation. There will be time for learning and time for play.

I imagined having him read one novel a week, or at least complete ten books by the time the new school year starts.

I imagined having him log on to math websites to review, as well as learn advanced skills. He will do this for 30 minutes per day. 

I imagined teaching him cursive. I learned it when I was in third grade and so there is no excuse for him. He has to perfect it before starting fourth grade.

I also imagined being able to arrange numerous playdates with his school friends who he has missed and will miss, as these boys will be transferring to a different school within our district. 

At the top of my list shortly before summer break started was also my plan to go through all of my son's paper work from the past school year. They've been begging to be organized, filed away or thrown out. 

And speaking of organization, I was also certain this would be the summer when I would finally get around to finishing that scrapbook documenting our Disney World trip...from 2012! He was five years old at the time with lots of baby teeth. All his front teeth are now (mostly) permanent. 

By now you all probably know me enough to know that I have an overactive and overachieving imagination. In reality, all I have to say is that real life got in the way. 

We wake up and go about our days when we want to. Isn't that what summer break is about? He finished one novel and watched a million other YouTube videos and some Netflix shows. Yes, I let him. Why? Because I feel too tired and am mostly too busy to keep getting angry and fighting. He has reasonable limits but definitely nothing too structured. He still remembers his multiplication and division but didn't really log on to the advanced math lessons I wanted him to watch. Fortunately, with three more weeks left for summer break, it's looking like we can finish the alphabet in cursive. He still forgets some letters, but I'm optimistic he learned it enough so far. Now as to whether he would remember what he learned is another story. And those playdates? We haven't had any arranged ones to date. For now it's enough that he gets to play with the other neighborhood kids. 

I can give you a hundred explanations or excuses. I was jet-lagged. I caught a bad virus and felt so drained and perpetually exhausted. My father-in-law got hospitalized. A very good friend of mine is ill. I miss my own family. I had writer's block. It's too hot outside. There was a ton of laundry to wash and fold. Ants attacked our kitchen...

This list can go on and on and all I really have to say is something I always say when I need a jolt of calm and sense of acceptance: It is what it is. 

Should I be consumed by guilt that my son could have had a more productive summer than what I was able to give him? I don't think so. I think what would have been more disturbing was if I took all the fun out of the equation and made summer break into serious business.

Do I think I'm being a bad mother? Absolutely not. Could there be others who think I am? Perhaps, and it really shouldn't and doesn't matter. Life is too short to be wasted on guilt, and frankly there are far more important things in the world to be guilty about. Having a laid back summer is definitely not on that list. 

In the end, the questions should never be in the direction of "Is my child going to be the smartest?", "Is he the most prepared?", "Is my house the most spotless, most organized?", or "Did I keep him busy enough?". Rather, they should lean towards "Does he know how to appreciate the feel of sand between his toes or the warm breeze against his skin, and all the other simple wonders that surround him?", "Does he know how to be a good friend?", "Am I teaching him about kindness and compassion?", or "Does he feel loved?" These are the things that point to character and not simply credentials. These are the things that can't just be peeled away or get easily dissolved by the changing tides as we journey through life. They point to things that build us and make us authentically stronger. 

Our summer break has been fun, lazy, hectic, unstructured and definitely full of memories. It is what it is. And in the grand scheme of things, where we are and how it is looks imperfect but feels precious and inarguably blessed.

Friday, July 1, 2016

The Reason For My Tears...

I (almost) never, ever cry in public. It would take a lot to make me do so and it's not because I'm heartless. It's just that, I think, it's a combination of my sense of control, sense of privacy, as well as the fact that it simply takes a special trigger to let the tears knock down that gate of control. 

When I left the Philippines this time around, ending our 17-day visit early this month, I was so sure I wouldn't cry. The first time I visited in 2008 after migrating to the United States, I was 'weak', a new mom, in need of much support and missing my family so much, that letting the tears flow freely was inevitable. It was the time when I was able to finally say my proper goodbyes since I left so unexpectedly in 2004 and never got the chance to do the proper rituals that somehow ease one's transition from the familiar to the unknown.  

This time though, I felt less emotional about the thought of visiting. Prior to arriving in Manila, all I could think about was my prayer that none of us get sick, especially not Noah. I was too stressed over packing everything we needed and might need, as well as trying to fit as many meet-ups with friends and family as I could in our schedule while factoring in the unpredictable Manila traffic. I made up my mind that this was going to be a fun and matter-of-fact visit. There's definitely no need for tears. After all, I already felt established in my life as an American citizen, seem well-adjusted and really can't complain about much.

Of course you know that I was proven wrong and still ended up quite emotional in the end. Seeing my dearest friends, some I've not seen for about 20 years, reminded me once more of the sense of camaraderie and familiarity I've so missed all these years. Bonding with family in Manila only highlighted for me the fact that I am, in all honesty, alone here in the States. Sure, I have a husband and in-laws who are beyond supportive and genuinely caring. But let's tell it like it is. It's still different from having my own blood relatives who have known me all my life, isn't it? It just is. 

When I said my goodbyes, especially to my parents, my sister, and my aunt and uncle (who are like second parents to me), I cried. As I hugged them, I felt the warmth of the tears soak my eyes. As I said my goodbyes, my voice broke as I struggled to keep the tears in, to no avail. It didn't matter. What I felt was too much to contain or be embarrassed about. 

But what exactly did I feel? I have been thinking about the reason why I consistently cry with this same set of people every time I bid them goodbye. Why them? Why always with them? 

I remember that one other time when I felt the same way was when I bid my (ex) fiance goodbye. We had a long distance relationship and met up to spend five days together in Manila. At the end of that short week, I had to muster all the strength I had to walk away from him as he took his ride to the airport. Remembering that time helped me figure out the answer to my question when it comes to saying goodbye to my family...

The fact is, I cry because saying goodbye to these people spells out the uncertainty that looms over our love. Guarantees or promises set in stone to say when we'll meet again are impossible to make. We only have plans and hopes, and we all know Life doesn't bow down to either. I can't help but feel a part of me die every time that sense of uncertainty surfaces as I hold my loved ones close and say, "I'll see you again".

I cry because leaving them always signals the end of a wonderful, love-filled period of my life. It means the end of beautiful moments actually lived and the beginning of when I am left to settle with just fragile memories.

I cry because the time spent is never enough and is always prematurely cut short. It's grief over more hours, days or weeks pregnant with beautiful possibilities but must now be surrendered to goodbyes.

I cry because to say goodbye to them is to part with someone who truly knows me, inside out, and loves me unconditionally. These are people who know me soulfully. 

I cry because to say goodbye to them is to say goodbye to someone who will always hold my heart. And for this, 'home' can never just be in one place alone. It is both painful and beautiful at the same time, making every tear drop worthwhile. 

Friday, June 24, 2016

My New Happy Place

The EU referendum results are in and the United Kingdom has voted for Brexit...

Commonsense reforms to gun laws in the United States continue to be rejected, thanks to law makers under NRA payroll... 

Donald Drumpf is still making a lot of noise and people continue to support him...

I can only take so much insanity in a week and it's during these times when I feel so angry, helpless and anxious that I feel the need to turn inward, focusing on things I can control. That said, it's also when I need to calm myself and go to my 'happy place'. Since we just got back from our trip to the Philippines, I've decided that one spot from the Shangri-la Resort in Boracay shall now be my quiet, beautiful, happy place.

I wish I can teleport to this spot any time I need to...

Let's all be in denial for a few minutes. Join me as I reminisce about our heavenly five days in Boracay just three weeks ago...

What's not to love about the white, powdery sand?

The water was so clear, Noah even freaked out when he saw some fish!

It's more fun taking selfies in the Philippines!

 My boys thoroughly enjoyed the magnificent pool at the resort!

 And listen....Don't you hear angels singing as you lay eyes on this spectacular sunset?!

Ok, now scroll back up again and repeat the process until you feel recharged enough and less anxious about the state of the world. 

Wishing you all a happy and sane weekend ahead!

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Friends You Need to Keep

Through the decades, I've found friends and lost friends. Some of those lost were voluntarily or consciously let go, and I've had varying reasons for doing so. One became too toxic and literally unhealthy for me to the point that I was having nightmares, waking up breathless with chest tightness. Another one changed and I felt that the other person was acting like I wasn't good enough anymore. I certainly don't need that kind of attitude and energy in my life. 

As an introvert in her 40s, making new friends especially in a foreign country has never been harder for me. I've realized how selective I've become and I suppose it's really because most of the time I feel that I'm already happy with my existing friends. However, I don't want to fully give up. I still think the process of developing new friendships is an adventure I can't just pass up on. Besides, the few real friends I've fairly recently discovered have all been wonderful, making the process totally worthwhile. 

I don't need to tell you how important friendships are. That said, I don't believe in wasting my time with connections that simply aren't working out. The more we age, the more valuable time becomes and I want to spend that time with connections that will nourish me and suit who I am instead of me still trying to fit in. After all the heartaches, disappointments, fun and lessons learned, I've concluded that the following are the types of friends I intend to keep for the long haul...

Low-Maintenance Friends

We all live terribly busy lives and having friends spread out across the globe has become more of the norm than the deviation. With all the busyness and the fast-paced lives we live, the last thing you need is a friend who demands constant contact, hence adding to your stress and insanity, rather than be a source of calm and be your soft spot to land on. Real friends are those who don't equate the authenticity of your friendship with frequency of contact. I very rarely communicate with most of my truest, oldest friends but every time we do, as cliche as it sounds, it always feels as if we've just spoken yesterday and can pick up from where we left off.

Non-Judgmental Friends 

One of the most spot on memes I've seen recently on social media is that one that says 'True friends don't judge each other; they judge other people together'. Kidding aside, no one needs a judgmental person in their circle of friends. At any point in your life, but most especially as you're older and have become more sure of yourself and have healed your disease to please, you'd want to be in the company of people with whom you can be your true self without fear of rejection or rebuke. You don't want a friend who feels superior or is self-righteous that you always find yourself walking on eggshells, trying not to disappoint. You really don't need that crap in your life. Life is too short to be spent around people who constantly exude an overcritical vibe and who are not so forgiving of people's flaws. Friendships are about building a circle of trust and that includes trusting that you can be your authentic self and know that such will always be enough.

Discreet Friends 

Trust is very important at any age but more so as you get older. Our lives become more complex and nothing is as black or white as they used to be when we were much younger. As such, you would want to have friends you can discuss anything withyour troubles, your gray areas, moral dilemma, etc.and feel assured that whatever you say will not mysteriously be broadcasted to the entire town. And really good friends are those who you feel have the moral capacity to discern on their own which topics are confidential and which can be publicly consumed. They would have that level of discretion and propriety that you feel you can always rely on. 

Deep But Easygoing Friends

I would like to believe that as people age, the more depth we acquire. Aging, for the most part, truly teaches us how to sift through our life experiences so we can cherish things that truly matter and let go of superficial ones. Most of us become more reflective and insightful and it's great to have friends around you who appreciate your wisdom and whose insights you can also rely on. You need people around you with whom you can discuss the meaning of life, or debate the existence of free will, while also having humor and acknowledging that none of these deep thoughts matter in a zombie apocalypse scenario.

Friends Who Value You

And I certainly don't mean this in a utilitarian kind of way. 'Friends' who only remember you when they need something from you are not true friends by any means. What you need are friends who make you feel seen, understood and with whom you feel genuinely connected to in a spiritual and mental level. I know I said that low-maintenance friends are precious and though true friends don't demand constant contact, the need for quality connections is still important. It's that feeling of assurance that you remain important to each other, that there is solid mutual respect and affection dependent only on who you are and not necessarily on what you can give. Being you and time spent with you, no matter how brief, will always be enough to this true friend. 

These are the types of friends, TRUE FRIENDS, old and new, that I have and intend to keep. 
What about you? Any criteria you'd like to add?

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Two-Word Advice For My Younger Self

Original Image: Flickr Creative Commons

Around 3 years ago, I encountered this article from HuffPost where fans were asked to write down some advice to their younger selves in only two words. Giving advice in hindsight is quite easy but to do that in only two words sounds ALMOST impossible. 

Well, challenge accepted! 

Here is my list of 2-word nuggets of wisdom to my younger selves. I decided to break it down per decade of my life given the unique challenges each period presents.

First Ten Years: COMPARE NOT. 
I can't even begin to tell you how much of my life and sanity have been consumed unnecessarily by comparison. As a young child, I found myself always looking up to my older sister who, in most people's eyes and mine, was probably the perfect child. She was compliant, gentle and most of all, highly intelligent and academically brilliant. She set the bar really high and I was neurotic enough, even as a young child, to take it upon myself to strive for that bar and then consequently hate myself for not succeeding. I heard and interpreted every compliment given to my sister as a criticism toward me and how I was not measuring up. And it's not even like I was a failure and not doing well in school. It was just that I was different from my sister, that's all. No one punished me, compared me or made me feel less. It was all me and my predisposition for self-flagellation. I wish I had known better. 

It was in my teens when I began to realize that I was not your average small-framed Filipino. I started hearing insensitive remarks pertaining to my size and weight that contributed to my insecurities getting worse. I never fully allowed myself to feel fully confident in my own skin and always wished I could look different, more attractive, more lovable. I wish I had known then that it all needs to start from within and that I am perfect in my own imperfect self; that loving oneself gives one that priceless beauty that radiates from within.

20s: LET GO. 
I looked around me and found that my peers were getting into serious relationships, getting married and even having children. A lot of them also seemed set in their chosen careers and there I was, still trying to figure things out. I wish I had more patience and saw that we are rarely able to really control much in our lives. I wish I had known the value of being able to let go. It would have saved me much stress and more joy as I let life unfold and allowed myself to just be present in each moment rather than agonizing about an unknown future. Letting go would have gifted me with Patience which in turn carries with it a whole gamut of gifts such as acceptance, gentleness with life, courage and love. 

It was in my 30s (or very late 20s) when I had my first taste of true love. I fell in love twice, got married and had my child in my 30s. This is truly a decade of mature love and I am certain that the real lesson to take to heart is to love well and to never hold back. Choose who you love and love with all your heart. Be brave and know that love should never be defeated, diluted or clouded by fear. Loving well means giving of your whole self, and though it's a big risk, there really is no other way. Only in loving wholeheartedly can deep joy and fulfillment be found. You need to go all in to reap love's rewards.

People often ask me now why I've become so paranoid. I always answer with one word: Motherhood. Having my son brought out the Mama Bear in me to the extreme. I am overprotective and am perpetually consumed by worries. Though I have slowly improved through the years as I've acknowledged this disease, I know I still have a long way to go. If given the chance, I would tell my younger self to enjoy life and be certain that Faith is larger and stronger than fear. Perhaps with 'Stop Worrying' I could add 'Breathe Deep', 'Slow Down', 'Have Faith' and 'Pray Often'. Those are the most important elements to staying calm and finding joy in our everyday worrisome lives. 

How about you? I'd love to hear what two-word advice you'd like to offer your younger self.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Son, This is Really Why I'm Angry...

There are certain things that can definitely get a parent so riled up, so frustrated beyond words that it becomes close to impossible to resist the urge to blow up and be impulsive. Sometimes it's just so much easier to give way to a visceral reaction, rather than be rational and take a pause...

It was a typical school day afternoon. My son Noah was walking home from the bus stop and unknowingly, he dropped his jacket on the ground. One of the boys walking behind him called his attention and let him know that his jacket was on the ground. When Noah turned around to pick it up, he saw another boy "Q" just walk all over his jacket.  It was obvious to Noah that Q did it on purpose because as this boy walked all over his jacket, he muttered the words "step, step, step", as if it was nothing, or worse, that it was something entertaining.  Q neither paused nor made any effort to avoid stepping all over my son's jacket. He just kept walking away as if it was garbage to be ignored. I asked my son how he reacted to the situation and he said he did nothing. Nothing. He simply picked the jacket from the ground and headed home. He was obviously upset over the incident and yet he said nothing to the other boy.

At that point, frankly I couldn't decide who upset me morethe jerk who stepped all over my son's jacket, or my son who once again did not assert himself in a situation where he clearly should have.  Once again, he chose not to stand up for himself when clearly he was mistreated. In spite of repeated talks in the past where I'm practically hemorrhaging from every orifice on my body as I explain to him how important it is to stand up for oneself, he still chose to stay quiet and just walk away. 

This. Made. Me. Explode!!!

The truth is, I sat in front of my computer for a while and let my fingers type away. I knew how to contact Q's mother online and started composing an angry email. But right before hitting the Send button, I took a breath, re-read and reflected. Is this really all worth it? I know my email will only make the mother defensive and will definitely strain our relationship (not that we have anything more than knowing each other very casually and belonging to the same subdivision). Is it really worth making me and my son even more uncomfortable in our neighborhood given our already introverted selves? Can I guarantee that no awkwardness can ensue from my upset message? Do I know the other family well enough to judge how they will feel about my letter? 

The answer to everything was a No

I had to choose my battles.  I knew that awkwardness in the neighborhood in trying to avoid each other was something I would not be able to handle.  Nor is it something I am willing to burden both my son and husband with, simply for the reward of getting my anger off my chest.  It's not like we could just move and sell our home if things escalated and became intolerable.  Now, if my son were physically or verbally abused then clearly that would be a different matter. But this was simply over a jacket being stepped on and a child being inconsiderate or rude.  Could I really not let this one go?

I had to let it go where I knew I had no place controlling the other person's choices. But I couldn't just let it go altogether. 

I got angry at my son for not saying anything. I got angry at him for not responding to the situation the way I needed him to. Most of all, I was angry because I couldn't scream at the other boy. 

It was a selfish and myopic choice. My blowing up was because of a sense of powerlessness with the other boy but not with my son. I knew it was a case of what Martha Beck calls Stress Rolling. I was displacing my aggression, passing on my own stress, anger and sense of powerlessness on to someone (my son) who is less powerful than I am and who I know won't fight back. It was also because of my own fears: fear that my son might be bullied; fear that he might not learn how to speak up for himself; fear that he will get hurt and not be able to defend himself. But as I think about these fears, I also realize that they still point to a sense of powerlessnessmy acknowledgment that I really have no control over most anything that happens to my child. I cannot be with him to defend or protect him from every harm. I cannot make him behave according to my desires. I can't magically make him acquire a personality that is not truly his. Most of all, it's unloving of me to expect him to give me something I don't have myself, something that perhaps I have not shown him. 

Parenting advice prescribes that adults make it a point to explain to their children why they are being punished or what it is that disappointed or angered us. 

It's worth considering that maybe we get angry not just because our children fell short of our expectations, but that we ourselves feel some disappointment with how we've turned out as adults; that there is an inadequacy within ourselves that needs our attention. Or maybe our anger shines a light on the truth that parenthood does not translate to power, but instead to vulnerabilityour capacity to accept that there are very few things in life we can fully control, and the only real space where we can learn trust and courage. The sooner we see that powerlessness is a space for growth, the easier it will be to shun anger. 

Thursday, May 12, 2016

What Spells Success

I'm not entirely sure but I have a strong suspicion that I was way more tense than my son. It was the morning of the 2016 Third Grade Spelling Bee at his school and we have both been reviewing for the past week. Last night, his last chance at really preparing for this event, it came to a point where I can see he had mentally given up. He was too exhausted and I had to back off. He really didn't need any more pressure. A 9-year old can only take so many "I before E except after C's", or his mother interrupting him with "Wrong. Repeat!

The event was held at the school library and the finalists' parents were invited, with two rows of chairs designated for us. I made sure to occupy the back row, a corner spot where Noah won't spot me so easily. I was afraid of making faces unconsciously, or him seeing all my facial muscles contract with trepidation. To be honest, I wasn't sure if it was in my son's best interest that I show up. I asked him repeatedly if he wanted me there and he said yes, he was sure. And so I went, and so did my husband. 

The thing about these events is that it's an exercise for parents to tame our expectations. It's when we fully understand the meaning of 'Expecting the worst, yet hoping for the best'. You want to cheer your child on without putting too much pressure. You tell them you love them no matter what, but you also know deep down that winning makes a difference. You don't want your child to be overly competitive, but you don't want them to be a slacker either and prefer that they grow up with some fight in them. It's a delicate balancing act that, if you truly think about it, simply teaches us Love and Acceptance. We can only exert so much influence and in the end, our children will still experience things beyond our control and end up into people who won't fit our molds with the precision we desire. Ultimately, the challenge is to still receive them with open arms, win or lose. We are constantly taught that the end goal is not to have perfect children, but good-to-the-core, happy children. That's it.

The Spelling Bee lasted for close to an hour, and for those who made it until the end, they ended up spelling words for approximately 50 minutes. There were a total of 18 finalists from the different classes, until finally it was down to three. After a few back and forth spelling between him and another finalist, Noah emerged as the champion!

I have never held my breath for so long that I think it gave me a headache. But when I could finally exhale, the pride and gratitude took over. I was ecstatic that all the hard work Noah put in paid off! But him getting the trophy is really only half the victory. In my view, this image below is what makes him even more of a winner. It was the best part of my day...

That's my son being hugged by one of his best buddies, C, who was also a finalist. Yes, I am proud of Noah for working so hard and bringing to the table his best self. But more importantly, I am happy for him for having such great friends who are supportive and humble. C was there cheering for my son and feeling so proud as well for his friend's success! What an amazing kid, isn't he?

My son is blessed. He may be quite reserved and tends to keep his feelings in, instead of openly expressing them. But I have no doubt that deep down he feels as exhilarated and deeply grateful as I do for being able to share his joys with his wonderful and loving friends.

I hope he knows that success can only feel good if you really worked hard for it, and most importantly, if you have openhearted friends and loved ones who genuinely and unselfishly share in your joy.

I thank God for helping my son today. And I will also forever thank God for giving my son the sweet, unparalleled taste of knowing what good friendship looks and feels like. That's an unfading trophy worth keeping in his heart.

Friday, May 6, 2016

The Unexpected Gifts of Motherhood

There are immeasurable rewards to being a mother in spite of the infinite challenges parenthood has to offer. For every sleepless night, anxiety, frustration, messy house, spit or puke stain on your clothes and simply being exhausted to the bone, there is the deep joy, as well as the kind of love you never thought possible that continue to make you evolve into a better human being. Indeed those are priceless gifts to be treasured, all thanks to motherhood. But that's not what I'm here to talk about. Beyond what I expected to get out of this amazing role and identity, there are a few things that took me by surpriserealizations, lessons or transformations that I didn't think would touch my life as I became a mother. 

Appreciation for Time

I look at my son—the shape of his cheeks, his hair, the feel of his skin, his height, the way he walks, tells his stories, plays with his toys and interacts with other people—and always ask myself only one question: Where did the time go? Every mother I know echoes the same sentiment and for a split second you see in our eyes that wistful look. I am proud of my son and always grateful that I came out still relatively sane after the most difficult first 3 years of motherhood. He is no longer that colicky baby, the needy toddler, or as fragile as any young child is when it comes to illnesses. He is now so much more mature, more independent, very well-disciplined and less shy around friends. So much has changed, some easier than before, while others are more complex. And though I see how far we've come, I can't help but wish time didn't move as fast sometimes. Often times I find myself looking at old photos and watching family videos from the past and as my heart melts with every shot and scene, I know that the only lesson is for me to not take any moment for granted. Time flows independent of our desires and the kindest thing we can do for ourselves, especially as mothers, is to be fully invested in every second. Savor it. Be present. Capture the experience, not with lenses, but with your heart. With every motion time makes, it carries with it possibilities pregnant with change. We can never tell which ones are consequential, although I have learnt that in a mother's eyes, every slight change, every inch gained in height, every slight change in hair color, voice tone, scent and temperament are worth cherishing.

Newfound Courage

Dealing with people outside of one's comfort zone is never easy for an introvert like myself. If you only knew how much effort I put in and how exsanguinated I could feel after a simple phone call with a bank or credit card employee, you would wonder how I've managed all these years fulfilling my mom duties. But that's the beauty of motherhood. It will make you realize that you are the first and foremost advocate for your child. You are a Mama Bear and no one can mess with you where it comes to your child's well-being. Somehow, motherhood infuses us with a 'can-do' spirit, activating that side of us that has no choice but to do what is necessary when it comes to making sure our child is safe and well. I have no issues talking with doctors, asking anything I need to ask when it comes to illness or medication. I have no issues with school personnel, as long as I know I'm not violating any boundaries and not seeking any special treatment. I am still an introvert, very reserved when dealing with others and certainly never confrontational. But I also know that motherhood made me grow claws, ready to come out when needed. 

Perfection Redefined

I have always been aware of my perfectionist tendencies and have been casually labeled by friends and family as having borderline OCD when it comes to organization. Motherhood transformed that side of me. Though I still demand some organization for my sanity's sake, I also now concede that there is perfection in every situation, no matter how chaotic. There is no one system that can work for every family, in every situation. Sometimes you have to let your idea of perfection go in order to experience life more deeply. People are more important than things; laughter and fun more than perfectly sorted toys, remote controls and crayons. And though I still believe in the power of scheduling, I no longer chastise myself for not sticking to one day in and day out. I can't be controlled by blocks of time telling me when and what part of my house to clean each day when I know that my family needs me to be present for them, as well as my personal work and creative side calling out for my attention. I now know that things always work themselves out somehow and that life is perfect even with the bumps and wrinkles we encounter along the way. 

'Dependence' Is Not Always Unhealthy

I always say that I don't know how my Mom did it all. She worked full time and yet took care of 3 children. She woke up at 4 a.m. every day to make sure we had a good breakfast before heading out the door. She and my Dad were also out the door by around 6:30 to go to their respective office jobs. We never felt neglected, and I would say that we had a happy and healthy childhood. But to say that my Mom did it all by herself is also only half-truth. Apart from having my Dad, for a few years when we were still very young we had house help (or a 'maid' as some would call it). Most importantly, we grew up in a duplex with my Aunt (Dad's sister) and her family living right next door. My Aunt was a stay-at-home mom and so she was always there to keep an eye on us. Eventually when we no longer had house help, it was my Aunt who really watched over us whenever needed. This is also why now that I'm living in the U.S., I still find the concept of hiring a baby sitter quite foreign to me. Filipinos are very family-oriented and we are used to relying on extended family for help. There is always an aunt, uncle, grandparents or cousins you can call if you need someone to watch your kids for you. I don't have that now and relying on a complete stranger to watch my son is so scary and alien to me. This is why I fully appreciate the idea that it does take a village to raise a child. Doing EVERYTHING by your self ALL THE TIME is quite impossible. You need family, friends, neighbors, and trusted institutions to assist you with your children. Asking for help is never easy for anyone but parenting assumes dependence on others. It is a vulnerability that's just part of the job description and is not necessarily a bad thing.

Deeper Appreciation for My Mom

Last but definitely not least, my own motherhood definitely takes me back to my Mom and how she was and still is a mother to us. Do you remember how we all hated it when our mothers used to tell us, "Oh you'll understand all this when you become a mother yourself"? To me it wasn't just because it was a withholding of information. It also felt like a threat and a curse. But it's all true. Things I disagreed with or hated when I was a child are things I now see as necessary and find myself doing as well. The strictness, the need for structure, the discipline—I've reaped the rewards of all that and want the same for my son. I consider myself one of the very fortunate ones for having good role models and an amazing, strong, intelligent woman for a mother. I am eternally indebted and just hope with all of my heart that I am making my Mom proud with how I've turned out as a mother, and that she feels I am honoring her with all the right choices I make now, not only as a parent, but as a human being. 

Motherhood is a privilege I will unceasingly be grateful for. It has enriched my soul in countless ways and the lessons just keep pouring in. It is such a tough, all-consuming job and the rewards are there, just not always in ways you'd expect. But thank you. Thank you, Motherhood, for all your gifts whether packaged attractively or not. I receive them with an open heart and wish that all mothers everywhere embrace you with pride and the courage to claim your gifts. 

Friday, April 29, 2016

Sometimes It Pays to be a Slacker Mom

"Bff, you've changed".

She seemed so serious with her message that it actually concerned me. I began asking myself...

Have I been taking her for granted?

Have I betrayed her trust in some way?

Has my hermit-like existence gone too far even for my equally introverted best friend?

But before my thoughts ran amok—and I think she might have sensed my neurosis kicking in—she then added, "In the past, you were already sending invitations by February!"

She's right. It was April and less than two weeks before my son's birthday and I had just finished sending out the Evites. It has come to this. I didn't even bother with actual mailed out invitations this time around. In previous years, I even made my own invitations, composing a nice background image for the photocard and being ever so selective with how I phrase the invitation. 

This year, it was an electronic proforma invitation courtesy of the trampoline park where my son wanted to hold his party. There will be no goody bags for me to compose and the cake will be ordered, not from some fancy bake shop or patisserie, but from a reputable supermarket chain. 

The truth is, not only have I been very busy, I've also been feeling very tired and old. I did slightly drop the ball this year and in the end it all still worked out, as they always do. I felt like this birthday bash business was simply a been-there-done-that kind of thing, and feeling like a veteran mom has earned me the license to slacken a little bit and go for practicality instead of shooting for the wow factor. Besides, shouldn't the only focus be on the celebrant having fun with his friends? We all know that none of these kids really remember what cake they had or how expensive the party was. None of those things matter to them. 

But just as I was basking in this new-found pride of now feeling like a veteran mom—more accepting and less neurotic—the Universe decides to test me. A few days after the weekend partying, our world was forced to slow down, thanks to a mild sprain, followed shortly by a strep throat. Though I didn't completely panic and spasm with fear as if it were the great plague that descended upon us, I must admit that I was still pretty concerned...more concerned than your real veteran Mom. I guess there is a learning curve to this and I need a few more years to master the role. 

Overall, I kind of like it, this Zen-ish side of me. I like that I'm capable of choosing not to put too much pressure on myself. I like that I'm able to see that things always do work out after all. I like that I care less about appearances and perfection, and more about experiences and character-building. It's very freeing. And it's great to see that it isn't just my son who's getting older and a little wiser.