Wednesday, April 28, 2010

My Aching Heart

I look out the window and see the bright, full moon against the pitch-black sky.  Everything is still and silent, except for the faint lunar song I hear lulling me to calmness and seducing me to the depths of my imagination.

And then, I hear Noah's coughing which then catapults me back to reality. It's 3am-ish and I'm awake, partially in a zombie-like state.

My baby is (yet again) suffering from the usual cold-cough combination and that spells out a lot of sleep deprivation for if I'm not already sleep deprived for, possibly, 3 years now.  Whenever he catches a cold, night time congestion is to be expected and it sure annoys him to death to be interrupted in his sleep by stuffy nose or possibly almost complete inability to breathe.  Well, who wouldn't be annoyed to death, right?  

I feel so sorry for him and during these times, when not only does he go through much difficulty sleeping and breathing, I couldn't help but wish there was some super medication I can administer to make everything go away.  I understand the American Academy of Pediatrics' rationale for recommending that young children not be given any cold and cough medication.  However, during these trying times (and that's me trying to phrase it lightly), I just can't help but wish that there was a magic drug. Either that, or that we all magically develop immunity to the cold virus and all its strains, present and future ones included!  Take that!

I understand that it all sounds very naive right now and that I know somewhere, somehow, there will be at least one person who will take that too seriously and point out that my wish could have devastating effects on biodiversity or the balance of nature or whatever.  But this is me being a sleep deprived parent whose heart breaks every single time her child cries out from discomfort and coughs so hard that he no longer sounds like a three-year old human being. This is a parent who wishes it were possible for her to suck out all the sickness from her child and just bear it all herself.  This is me, who, like probably any parent out there, wishes she had the ability to shield her child from every hurt, injury and pain, physical and otherwise, and would rather take all the burden herself which would still be more bearable than watching her own child suffer.

Again, I understand that nature (and God) have their reasons for letting these things happen.  I understand that there needs to be balance in everything.  I understand that lessons are learnt from hardships and challenges.  I understand that gold needs to be subjected to fire in order to be purified.  I know. 

My mind knows.

It is this parent's aching heart (coupled with a tired and sleepy body) that refuses to understand and I know that I need to stare more at the moon tonight (or shall I say, this early morning) to listen to God's comforting wisdom and hopefully be brought to serenity and strength.

Oh, how I miss my bed..... *sigh*


Thursday, April 22, 2010

Holding On

It's so cliche to say this but, seriously, how time flies.  I'm not saying it all flew by easily, effortlessly.  But there are days when I do feel it's flying by too fast. Today is one of those days as we celebrate(d) Noah's 3rd birthday.  

My baby has just turned 3.  Three. Technically, I shouldn't even be calling him a 'baby' anymore.  But I've gotten so used to it that I probably won't stop...not just yet, at least.  That, and I really don't care if I raise some eyebrows in public when I call him 'baby'. So far, he's my one and only and he will be my baby for as long as I can help it.  

I don't intend to spoil him and let him get his way all the time, unlike how we treat infants or newborns. But I want to savor certain things, for I know soon, these 'perks' will be gone. When I look back at some of his photos and videos that I've collected through the years, I can't help but get teary eyed some times because somehow, it almost feels like it's a totally different human being.  He used to be almost bald, and now he's got much more hair. I used to swoon over his smiles and chuckles, exposing those cute gums, and now, it's all teeth, but no less priceless and endearing for sure.  When I carry him, he's gotten so much heavier and taller that he's definitely more than half my height, when before, carrying him was almost effortless and he was just this tiny, doll-like figure that never failed to trigger everything that's primal and protective about me.  (Well, that he still does. I think that instinct never goes away really.)  

Any person knows though, that there are far more fascinating things than children's physical development. Personally, I find it almost magical, miraculous, how children learn things so quickly that equip them to deal with the world or the life that's out there. For instance, I never imagined that Noah would be speaking as clearly as he does now, considering he hardly spoke prior to turning 2 years old.  Sure he spoke enough for me to be assured that there was nothing to be concerned about, but still I thought he spoke much less compared to other kids.  Now, he knows all the letters, can identify them, spell his name and even pick up some 'bad stuff' I say when I get upset...yikes! Though he's still quite shy, he does, however, respond more to strangers now and is able to practice certain 'rules of civility'. For instance, he surprised me earlier during our short side trip to Target when he crossed paths with a lady who was pushing a cart. He politely said, "Excuse me."  The lady smiled and my smile was even wider, brighter. I thought to myself, "Oh my God...he IS a big boy now!"  

It's also funny how he responds even to some advertisements. Earlier, he saw this ad for people who need help with their credit card debt. The guy on t.v. said, "Do you have 10, 15, 20,000 dollars in credit card debt?" Then I heard Noah say, "No, I don't". I almost fell off my seat and tried very hard not to laugh. I did find it smart of him though and could not help being the proud Mommy.  

I can talk all day about my son's quirks and habits but the singular point is that I am deeply fascinated with who he is becoming and can't wait to see what's next and what other surprises there are for me and his Dad. At this stage, I am certain of my baby's sense of humor and it's so amusing. I also see that he loves music and loves to sing. He is very shy, but quite affectionate as well to those he is most familiar with. He does have a temper which is something to watch, but not be entirely blamed for. I think I'm partly to blame, genetically that is.  He is also very smart, sharp, with good problem-solving skills and is also highly observant.  He lacks patience though and again, I think I can blame my DNA for that.  

Whatever he is and how ever he turns out in the years to come, he will always be loved to the fullest.  He is not and will never be perfect.  But he is MY baby. No other explanation is required.

And while I can still call him my baby, I will...

let him climb into bed with me and his Dad at three in the morning;

let him play with my hair each night until he falls asleep; 

let him ask me to read one more book and then another, and another at bedtime; 

let him insist on lying down on top of me and ask that I rub his back so he can relax; 

let him give me wet kisses and smell his baby breath;

let him ask me that I dress him up sometimes even though I know he can do it himself; 

let him ruin my plans of watching my favorite t.v. shows just because he wants me to color with him;

let him interrupt my train of thought as I try to finish my writing just so I can watch him play with his toys in the backyard.

I will let him.  For now I will, even though I know experts will probably castigate me for my choices. I will, because I know I don't really have that much time left.  They grow too fast and I just don't want to say to myself that I did not hold him enough, kiss him enough, baby him enough.

Happy Birthday, my sweetest angel! I have unfathomable gratitude and joy contained in my spirit for God has blessed my life with yours.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Crossroads Anniversary

Exactly six years ago on April 18, 2004, unknowingly, my life reached a very interesting fork. For most of us, when changes are about to happen, we are rarely aware and only recognize it after the fact.  Interestingly, April 18th six years ago was also a Sunday and it will always be one of those days forever etched on my 'calendar of shake-you-to-the-core events'.  Landing on Chicago O'Hare International Airport on that date probably doesn't sound as eventful and dramatic as, say, when my heart first got pulverized, or when I got engaged, married, gave birth, etc.  Still, I promise you its importance cannot be underestimated.

Six years ago on this date and day, I came here to Chicago for a vacation.  It was summer in the Philippines and I didn't have teaching load at the time so I decided to come and spend my break with my sister, her family and Mom who was also vacationing here that year.  I was set to stay for about six weeks and just have fun.  At the time, I had an invitation from a friend who wanted to hang out more with me.  I met him in late 2002 through a common friend and as it turned out, he was also from Chicago and thought it would be a great idea for me to come visit him and see where it goes.  As for my side of the story, admittedly I liked him and thought he was interesting and sweet to say the least.  But more importantly, I just wanted a slight change in scenery, get out of Manila and try to take a break from this other guy who couldn't seem to make up his mind about me, himself and 'us'.  I was getting tired of the emotional pendulum I was trapped in, and so I thought I just needed to open myself to other possibilities and just enjoy.  In other words, I really just wanted to have a nice, fun vacation.  No drama.  No (or minimal baggage).  And most importantly, no strings attached. 

I had such grand plans at the time, but I suppose God had even grander ones.

I was supposed to just get over another man, enjoy my single life and not care about anybody.  Instead I ended up dating this Chicago 'friend'.

I was supposed to take it slow, have a long engagement and just enjoy the relationship.  Instead, we fell in love and he ended up proposing within three weeks of my arrival.

I was supposed to end up (or had imagined ending up) with an older Westerner / Caucasian, mature in thinking and undoubtedly an intellectual. Instead I was found by someone my age, a Filipino, though with the perfect degree of Westernization, no less intelligent and with adorable brown eyes to boot.  Eventually I realized that I was better off with someone I can speak Filipino with especially when I'm exploding in anger.  There's really nothing like being angry and cussing in your native tongue, you know.        

I was supposed to board a Northwest Airline flight back to Manila on May 30th but there was a thunderstorm and my flight got cancelled.  I took it as a sign from God and for the first time thought seriously about staying for good.  On that day though, my luggage ended up reaching Manila way ahead of me.

I was supposed to go back to the airport on June 1st considering I booked another flight back to Manila two days prior.  Instead, I ended up sitting at a Denny's diner and staying there as I agonized over my sudden decision to just stay and let the plane go without me.  As I've admitted countless times before, that remains to be the most impulsive and dramatic decision I've ever made.  Fortunately, I live to NOT regret it.

I was supposed to go back home to family and say my long goodbyes before migrating and getting married.  I was left to make do with phone calls and emails and leave people back home with much shock and unending questions. 

I was supposed to go back to my teaching job at the University, keep teaching and possibly pursue a PhD in Sociology somewhere in Europe. Instead I had to abruptly say goodbye to my Sociology colleagues and opted to live and work here in the United States, sans PhD.

I was supposed to get married in the Philippines and have all of my family and closest, dearest friends around on my very special day.  Instead, I got civilly wed in Chicago with just my sister, her family and my Mom, and of course my groom's immediate family.  A year later, we still got married in Church but still with most of my side of the family absent.  It's not like it was a car or bus ride away, so that was understandable.  Sad, but understandable.

Seriously, I was just supposed to be friends with AJ, my Chicago friend.  And look what I got...a friend, a wonderful husband, a child that blinds me every time I lay eyes on him and a life altogether blessed albeit imperfect.  I had so many plans and had my eyes set on so many things, none of which I got exactly as imagined.  Six years later and I'm still in awe with how life has surprised me and turned out when I learned to let go.

"The thing about trains... it doesn't matter where they're going. What matters is deciding to get on."  (The Polar Express, 2004)


Thursday, April 15, 2010

Cathartic Gratitude List 1

This is not such a good day for me.  And that's me trying to phrase it nicely.  I'm not feeling too well and instead of enjoying this 80 degree day outside with Noah and his cousins and my SIL, I know I'll pretty much stay inside my house, maybe lie down on the couch or something.  And since I don't have the mental capacity to write about anything really cerebral right now, add to that the fact that my fingers are feeling stiff as well that pounding on this keyboard feels quite exhausting, I'm choosing to come up with, and share with you my gratitude list for the day.  

1.  I am grateful for this clear and sunny day.  I'm sure a lot of kids are enjoying the outdoors today and so are our plants.  I can't wait to see how many of them have survived the winter and can only hope that our lilies and peony made it and are preparing to impress me with their beautiful blooms sometime soon.

2.  Though I'm grateful for the 'beautiful' day today, (as defined by most people), those who know me know that I'm not a big fan of the heat.  I've always loved cooler days, and yes, the gloom too.  So...I am grateful for the airconditioning in the house.  Thank you for keeping me comfortable, thus subduing the grouch in me.

3.  I am grateful for Facebook for giving me something brainless to be occupied with.  And of course, it's always entertaining to see what's going on in my friends' lives (although some details I'd rather not know about sometimes).  Well, I guess it's all part of the package and I can't complain.

4.  I am grateful for my Noah's kisses.  Especially on these days when I feel out of it and just feel like shrivelling up, all I need is my little imp's sweet kisses.  Oh those soft, tiny, baby lips and that sweet baby breath....I just live for those!  And his tight hugs too!  Simply priceless!  All I need to do is call him, ask for five kisses and he just does it.  Oh, and he counts too so I'm grateful for that as well.  At least the whole stint is quasi educational, right?


5.  I am grateful for leftover food in the fridge.  We all know there are days when even the most inspired foodies don't feel like standing in the kitchen for more than five minutes.  Blessedly, not only do we have leftovers from yesterday, my SIL also gave me this wonderful dish for take-home the other night when we had dinner at their house.  It's a Filipino dish called Sinigang sa Miso.  The soup is tamarind based so it's sour and it's got miso, mustard leaves and catfish as the main ingredients.  I love the comforting sour soup with a hint of heat from the ginger and considering I've been craving for seafood and anything light, the catfish and mustard leaves just hit the spot for me!  

I am certain that tomorrow will be a different day, but I can only pray that it will be a better one.  If not, then perhaps I'll just come up with another list to make my burden feel lighter.  There's really nothing quite like the extinguishing power of a gratitude list when you feel you are beginning to be consumed by the insidious flames of negativity.  

How about you?  What is your list like today?   

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Waiting for My Trophy

Last night, after getting busted for doing something unacceptable (let's just leave it at that), Noah got very upset and angry with me.  He looked at me with sharp eyes at some point, looking both wounded and retaliatory simultaneously, and I realized how those eyes with that look can pierce through me like a deadly dagger.  But what was to follow was far worse. 

I then called him to his bathroom for his night time bath and as I was soaping him in his tub, he kept saying, "I wanna sleep with Daddy".  He then proceeded saying that he wants me to sleep in his bedroom instead and that he just wanted to be with Daddy.  I then asked him if he was mad at me and he said yes.  After such questions, we normally proceed with, "Don't you love Mommy anymore?" and so I stuck to the routine and asked away with the knowledge that of course, he will say that he does love me.  How wrong can a mother be? He actually responded with a shake of the head.  Since I found it quite vague, I clarified with "You don't love me?" and he nodded.  He even added that he wants a new mommy and that I can go ahead and get myself a new baby.  (Of course the thinking here is that a baby is something you just get from Target.)  

I knew I was just talking to an almost 3-year old and that he really didn't know what he was saying.  But still, it hurt.  It was at that moment when all those times when I screamed back in anger at my own mother as a child and especially as a teenager flashed before my eyes and made me both hurt even more and feel ashamed.  At that moment I understood how children have so much power over their parents and that most of them (us) don't realize how much power that is and that we can be so reckless at times in wielding that power.

When I got over the hurt, as Noah got over his anger, I ended up wondering about the idea of love and childhood.  More specifically, I wondered about children's capacity to love.  

We've always known how wrong it is for some couples to say that they want children because they want someone to love them unconditionally or love them for the rest of their lives.  I'd say get a puppy if that's what you want.  First of all, there's never a guarantee that someone can and will love you unconditionally for the rest of their lives.  Second, if you know what love means then you should also know that there is a deep flaw in the thought that children, especially young children, are capable of it.

I believe that love is a choice.  There is no such thing as someone just automatically loving someone even if that person nurtured you inside and outside her womb and sacrificed everything unimaginable for your well-being and happiness.  Young children have affection for their parents.  They are attached because of familiarity and most of all, because of a relationship based on dependency.  Being emotionally and intellectually immature, young children do not have the capacity for real choice, for that requires true rationality. The fact that young children are so incapable to be on their own and are still needing much socialization from so many different social institutions to adequately equip them for the challenges of life, means that the strongest force (if not the only driving force) that fuels their relationship with their parents is just one of need. And 'need' is antithetical to real love.  To truly, genuinely love someone is to choose that person freely and not out of need, desperation or lack of choice.  To love someone is to also do so not because of convention or mere social mores.  

So for as long as children need their parents for their survival (food, shelter, clothing) and whatever perks and other 'needs' there may be, or as long as we live in this same social set-up and norms and moral standards remain the same, where human beings are expected to love their parents and not doing so is frowned upon, then I would hold off on believing that my own child is capable of truly invoking love as the reason for our relationship.  Respect, much affection, care and concern, yes.  But love, maybe not...yet.

This is why parents with adult children who love them (in the truest, concrete sense) are indeed, undoubtedly successful parents.  It is not an easy feat to both be a guide, mentor, enforcer of rules, as well as a 'love-able' person.  If you have children who are now rational and free enough to make choices and they choose to love you, then you have achieved greatness.  I congratulate you! And if you are an adult child who freely loves your parents, then I urge you to make it known to them any way you can.  They deserve it.  

As a parent, I would have to wait and see for about, maybe, 13 or 15 years more before I give myself a pat on the back.  The good news is, at least I know that Noah didn't really withhold his love from me last night!               

Thursday, April 1, 2010

A Dose of Reality

I'm a huge Ally McBeal fan.  Those of you who know me or have been following this blog already know that and most likely also know that I've been revisiting this show through the recently released dvd collection.  Well, the other night I was watching one of season two's episodes entitled 'Love's Illusions' and it really got me thinking.  (Well most of the episodes actually get me thinking all the time, enough for me to actually take down notes and memorize some McBealisms or Fishisms. I guess once a geek, always a geek!).  This last one was quite different though as it made me feel uneasy, not so much for making me realize something new but more for reaffirming something I had long speculated on.  It was so striking to me, striking enough to make me rewind this conversation between Ally and John five times.

John:  If you do get married, ultimately you'll end up getting something you don't want.

Ally:    Why do you say that?

John:  Because what you want, isn't out there.....At some unconscious level, I think you know that the only world  that will ultimately end up not disappointing you is the one you make up.

The interesting thing is, I'm inclined to believe that on some level, what John Cage said to Ally applies to all of us. We all settle.  I've always thought of the phrase 'settling down' when referring to marriage.  Sure, it's a way of closing the deal, arriving at some conclusion somehow.  But I've always been bothered by the word 'settle' also implying a step or move down.  But it's true though.  In choosing a long-term or lifelong partner, people do settle on some level.  Why?  Because if we don't, we'll all end up alone and lonely (assuming of course you are one who desires to be with someone, which is not the case for everyone).  On some level, you are going to have to settle and compromise when it comes to some of your ideals.  I will be so daring as to say that (almost) all of us who are with partners did not end up with exactly who we wanted in our heads prior to committing to our current partners (again, assuming that you had an image of your future ideal someone).  And that is the key component that John Cage did not explicitly say to Ally McBeal; that the real problematic aspect about Ally is that she is not one who is willing to compromise on her pre-set standards and negotiate her expectations.  This is why she'll never find EXACTLY what she's looking for out there because he does not exist as he does in her mind.  And that is true for all of us who have had dreams of how our future partners will look like and be like; true for all of us who have come up with lists of qualities we desire in a partner; true for all of us who have, at any point, held on to 'ideals'. 

I am not trying to dishonor any partnerships or marriages here, whether yours or mine.  I am simply stating the reality that if someone truly tightly held on to every single quality or requirement on that 'ideals list' and went out into the real world trying to find someone who fits the bill, item by item, that person will both be looking forever and end up disappointed.  The fact is, there is a reason why it's called an 'ideal'.  The fact is, when we choose our partners, we find ourselves modifying that list of ideals, maybe letting go of some and hopefully, still holding on to a few non-negotiables.  If we can be honest with ourselves, we'll admit that maybe our partners now are not as perfectly attractive as what we had envisioned before, not as wealthy, not as patient, not as spiritual, not as wild, not as conservative, not as liberal, not as fit, not as brilliant, not as funny, not as serious, not as tall, not as sociable, not as romantic, not as articulate, not as good of a cook, not as spontaneous, and the list can go on and on.  However, when we became certain that we've found the person who both enhances us and lives up to our non-negotiables, then we have found our partner and made our choice.  After this, we learn to want what we have chosen and find other gifts along the way, and therefore find 'happiness' as well.  And yes, that is a cliche but a very true and practical one.  

The Buddhists are correct in believing that we find happiness (and less pain) when we abandon our expectations, when we cease being tied to notions of how things should be.  In other words, we increase our chances for happiness when we stop being slaves to our 'ideals' and learn to accept what is and make the most of what we have (without succumbing to desperation, of course, and in the process letting go of your non-negotiables and having unbelievably low standards that ultimately reflect upon your sense of self-worth, or lack thereof). 

Years of trying to deconstruct 'love' have also led me to be inclined to debunk  the notion of 'The One' (and you all better know that I'm not talking of God or any kind of deity here).  Aside from being utterly rigid about ones ideals when it comes to finding a partner, fixating on finding 'The One' and 'Only One' will truly mess up your chances for happiness and contentment.  When I taught Sociology of the Family at the university, I remember one of my brilliant students (who uncannily reminded me of me, not in terms of her brilliance but for her romanticism and what I choose to call her 'emotional essence') asked me if I believed in 'The One'.  During that time, I was in limbo with someone who I considered to be 'the one'.  As tempted as I was to say to my student, 'Yes, I do, and I've found him', I knew that being 'in limbo' would be like a contradiction in terms and doesn't really support my case much.  So the rational side of me fortunately kicked in (and maybe the responsible side as well, not wanting to mess up and scar my student for life) and I said, 'Yes I believe in someone being 'the one' but I also believe that 'the one' could be more than one person'.  I choose to believe that there are cases where different people could be 'the one' depending on what stage in our lives we are in, depending on who we are or have become at a certain point in our lives. Someone could have been your 'the one' when you were 25, and another could take on that title when you turn 30, or whatever age you choose to end your search for a partner.  (My premise here, of course, is that you follow the current norms of society where marriage or commitment veers you from further searching for yet another 'the one'.)  

A wise person even assured me that you could have two or more people that you may consider as your 'the ones' and that this is not something you should lose sleep over feeling guilty because this merely underscores your complexity as a human being, your multifaceted nature especially in terms of what fulfills and enriches you.  The point is, we change as individuals...our needs, perspectives, priorities, beliefs, worldview. It would be naive to believe that there is only one 'perfect' (in the strictest sense) person that will address all our needs and suit us perfectly for the rest of our lives.  Life is dynamic. To think otherwise is an illusion.  To torture ourselves with the notion that the ultimate goal in our search for love and a partner is to find that one person who will suit us PERFECTLY for the rest of our lives and give us eternal bliss is unacceptable. That person does not exist.  Why?  Because that person is also changing and will continue to change through out life, just as we are and will, and no two people change exactly the same way, at the same pace. What's more is that nobody is perfect and to expect another person to live up to your ideals list without you living up to each and every item yourself, is unjust and cruel.  As they say, you can't expect others to give you what you can't give (to) yourself.  And that's just another pill for all of us to swallow, whether we like it or not.

**(Image copied from