Friday, December 23, 2016

I Wish Us All an Elusive Gift

"Peace on Earth and good will to all men."

All my life I’ve heard this greeting during the holidays and I’ve always thought it made sense to me.

May peace be with you. I thought I understood what this meant every time this was spoken. As a child I thought Peace only meant experiencing silence in the literal sense, or calm and the absence of war in the world.

But now that I’m much older, I’m comforted that I understand more. This isn't to say that I don't struggle with taking it to heart though. These days when I'm constantly bombarded with information on what's going on around the world, when feelings of anger and despair overwhelm me because of politics I disagree with, it becomes deeply challenging to surrender to Peace. There are days when I truly feel depressed and defeated by my inner turmoil. 

I know I choose this and it's a mistake to continue to do so. We all choose this defeat and so my wish for myself and to all of you is to find strength to choose Peace...

Peace…Yes it’s a state of calm. Yes it’s tranquility. Yes it’s the absence of war or turmoil. Most importantly, all these things apply to our inner worlds as much as it does to our external reality.

Peace is to be able to accept things for how they are. It’s the ability to befriend the imperfections that surround you, silence the irrational insatiability that haunts you, or to simply be present in the moment instead of resisting it. 

Peace is to silence the fear within you with faith as you give in to the wisdom that tells you that life is not about control, and that real happiness is not dependent on always getting what we desire. 

Peace be to you. May you embrace the imperfections of your family and practice unconditional love as much as your humanity can allow.

Peace be to you. May you accept and embrace yourself wholeheartedly the way you are now and not a future desired version of your self.

Peace be to you. May you sit in quiet comfort having faith that you have what you need at this moment.

Peace be to you. May you have the strength and wisdom to see what you can control and which realities you need to surrender to. May you triumph over your sorrows by choosing to think and act with your soul instead of your limited earth self.

Peace be to you. May you feel only gratitude and openly receive all the love that is available to you, no matter how flawed the source or circumstance might be.

May Christmas and the spirit of the holidays bring you true and enduring Peace!

*This is an updated version of A Christmas Wish from Catharsis. 

Friday, December 9, 2016

Breaking Through the Grief

Sometimes I ask myself why I keep choosing to do this. Must I really remember her this way and in the process taint what's supposed to be festive with something somber?

Six years after I lost Emily, I still include her in our holiday decorations. There is an angel on my tree each year which I bought to specifically represent her, and a tiny stocking has always hung on our mantel for her as well. This year, it's become even more pronounced because my 9-year-old son insisted on finally changing his to a big stocking. He has grown much, after all. Emily never did. 

In the first week of December 2010, I miscarried. It was my second attempt at IVF and after having success with our first one, my husband and I were confident and optimistic. I took it for granted that I was not immune to miscarriages and really thought that as long as my pregnancy took and I remained cautious that everything would end up well. 

It did not and I lost my childwho I was later told was a girlat 7 weeks. 

I've done my active grieving although, as I always say, grief doesn't really completely end but only wanes, ebbs and flows. The tears that needed to be shed have been shed. The anger towards God has been expressed and reconciliation has been found. The echoes of questions have tired and have found their way to serenity. But something always remains and anyone who has grieved can understand this...

The wondering lingers, on some days more pronounced than others. And we all know the holiday season increases one's sentimentality exponentially. 

It's the wondering about how the picture you're looking at and the life you're living might be like had things turned out differently, if the person you're missing were still around. 

It's the wondering about the ripples that person's life would have created and how transformed you would have been if you were blessed with their influence. 

It's the wondering about the love your heart misses, whether you had it for a long time or it only touched you momentarily. Either way the absence of that love carves out a deep crater that you now must tread alongside it carefully, lest you find yourself trapped within it. 

That is why I continue to choose to remember Emily especially during the holidays. When my heart fills with love and anticipation, remembering her forces my heart to see that in spite of the wondering and that sense of loss, Gratitude still wins as I am able to see my life as one that still ended up complete and perfect in its humble way. 

Gratitude shows itself to me when I remember that in spite of the heartbreak and anger towards God, I was never made to feel alone and forgotten; that this God allowed me to find healing at my own pace and realize the wisdom behind how our lives unfold even when we don't understand things at first. 

Even after six years, my grief still continues to bless me and I see no better time to be reminded and celebrate that kind of breakthrough than during the holidays. The fact is, there is now more peace and love than sadness and loss when I look at those stockings on our mantel. 

Friday, December 2, 2016

Things Will Fall Apart...And Then What?

Every morning after I successfully drag my feet to our kitchen to prepare breakfast, one of the first things I see are the ant traps sitting in one corner of our counter top. They've been there for months. We had a minor ant attack in the summer, as if the heat alone wasn't enough to remind me that we do live in the South. Anyway, after a few sprays with diluted vinegar and a friendly visit from our pest control guy, the problem was taken care of. The weather also turned cooler so I really don't expect them to come back until maybe next summer again. 

So why keep the traps? I ask myself that every morning of every day when I glance at those black squares in the corner. The truth is, every day when I see those traps, I feel myself holding my breath a little as a brace myself and wonder if I would see specks of black or reddish-brown crawling around. I know the likelihood is low but I'm expecting the worst and convince myself that this daily awareness, though a torture, is better than being unprepared. 

But is it?

Is worrying about what could happen and perpetually wait for the other shoe to drop thinking you can truly be fully prepared for it, really a better state of mind than the alternative? 

As a self-professed overthinker and worrier, I'm painfully aware of the thin line that separates preparedness from paranoia. It's a very delicate line that if one is not mindful can easily be crossed, leaving you feeling consumed and unable to enjoy life fully.

I have wasted many yearsand still do waste some moments to this date as I work through my recovery—trying to debate if I should let things be and enjoy the moment, or anticipate, prepare and even preempt. 

There was a time when, after having just moved to the South and hearing of news of tornadoes, I did not see the point in decorating our newly built home. I kept hesitating to buy furnishings and told myself, what for if all this can just be destroyed by one bad storm that can hit any time?

More than a decade ago, after breaking up with an ex and then deciding to remain friends and explore the possibility of getting back together, I squandered immeasurable amounts of time debating with myself about the unknown future. I weighed my options and shredded every scenario to unrecognizable pieces, wondering if I should just cut the cord altogether for fear that the relationship was going nowhere and that I wouldn't be able to handle the inevitable second heartbreak that was looming in the corner. I even went so far as to employ the decision matrix à la Pascal's Wager: staying vs. cutting the cord against the two possible outcomes namely ending up together vs. living separate lives. Can one get even more neurotic than that? Yes, the matrix did help me decide, in case you were wondering. However, I can't deny the amount of time I wasted overthinking the whole thing instead of just surrendering to what I felt to be true. 

To say that this entire past year jolted me and thrust upon me changes and realities completely unexpected is an understatement. 

Early this year, a very dear friend of mine was diagnosed with cancer. Another family member received similar news just a couple of months ago.

My parents have suddenly decided to significantly downsize and put our home in the market. 

The United Kingdom voted for Brexit.

My father-in-law passed away.

My two countries, the Philippines and the United States, both elected the less desirable candidates for presidency, men who are clearly not the rational choices in all objectivity. 

Another good friend of mine found out she was going to be laid off after being on that job for more than a decade and all this in spite of doing her work so well that almost everyone in her workplace relied on her. The organization just decided to eliminate her position. 

I can go on and ruminate further on how life has taken me by surprise this year, mostly in unpleasant ways, but the point is this: Indeed, preparing to some extent for the unforeseen  is wise, but never to the point where the future is robbing you of your present. A life lived in a constant state of anxiety about what the future may hold, or one where present choices always feel constrained for fear of a future built on lackfear of not having enough money, not enough love, not enough jobs, not enough friends, not enough time—is not living fully. It starves your soul of possible growth, adventure and wisdom. If you always make your decisions based on your worst case scenarios, you will find yourself fully depleted and yet replete with regrets. You will be left wondering where time went and will be haunted by a sense of mourning, asking yourself why you did not when you still could.

You can really only prepare yourself so much and if you're being completely honest, you know that peace can only be found in relinquishing control. Wisdom will make you realize that there is power in surrender. 

To me, as cliche as it sounds, the key to being present in your Now is to choose what makes you authentically happy. It's not a mindless and selfish way of existence. On the contrary, it requires a lot of introspection in order to define what makes you soulfully happy. And I doubt that the answer would ever lead to anything material. If we focus on answering that question, I suspect we would find it easier to choose to be in the present moment rather than being slaves to our anxieties about the future.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Unexpected Ways the 2016 Election Results Have Made Me a Better Parent

We've all heard it, spoken it, thought about it, macerated it before digesting it so really it's nothing new: Social Media make people unhappy. And this past week made this reality even more pronounced than ever for most of us (roughly 62M Americans at least) as we struggle to make sense of the 2016 elections. 

I have found myself in a sort of deep stupor, feeling simultaneously numb and enraged, and in the process, unable to be fully productive save for the usual mindless tasks I can do on autopilot. Every time I tried to sit down and write, all I'd been able express is anger and a sense of hopelessness and I know this is unquestionably unhealthy for me and my family. I know that I have to consciously will every fiber in my being to break this state of negativity and genuinely move on. 

That said, it has become clear that the first step for inspiration has to be an effort to look at the positives. So I humbly offer this list to you and hope that you can hold on to every bit of light you can find around you these days, nurture it and eventually make it grow brighter. 

The process wasn't easy but it was necessary for me to dig deep and not take anything for granted. What I've realized is that there have at least been five ways this past election has made me into a better parent:

I have become less uptight about my rules...with cussing. In other words, I guess you could say I have become more 'real' with my parenting. Of course I still tell my son that cussing is not acceptable, or at the very least, highly discouraged. He is absolutely not allowed to utter profanity at this time and for many, many years to come. However, since the election results, I have now clarified certain stipulations given that I have inadvertently uttered very colorful words in the past week. Let's just say that where extreme frustration and pain are involved, caused by social injustices and cultural ailments such as bigotry, misogyny or racism, such verbal incontinence or potty-'mouthedness' becomes acceptable as long as you are 20 years old and above.

Speaking of such cultural ailments, I have also been spending more quality time with my child trying to widen his vocabulary. After all, he now needs to know the meaning of words such as xenophobia, 'whitelash', or safe-space, to name a few. More than ever, I now take my role as my child's primary teacher much more seriously. 

The election results gave me a real opportunity to teach my son about sportsmanship. Parties have campaigned, people voted and the results are out. We may not always like how things turn out, not always agree with who wins a competition or how the game played out, but the results have to be accepted especially if you know the game was not rigged. You cannot undermine the process. What you can do is change or improve the process for the next round if you think something about it is not working well, evaluate where you might have gone wrong and do your best to show up as your best next time around. Most of all, don't attack the other group (although you can converse and discuss politely), be civil and try to move on as graciously as possible. 

I learned that cultivating a sense of gratitude means being able to appreciate even the smallest, unexpected sources of joy and comfort. Parenting has efficiently trained me to look at the bigger picture that somehow it's gotten easy to ignore the smaller pieces along the way. I had to recalibrate a bit for my sanity's and child's sake and appreciate that sometimes the seemingly insignificant are all you need to help you just plow through.

Enter the #BROTUS memes. If I must mention one positive from scrolling through my social media feeds, this has got to be the one. I was laughing so hard that truly these memes took my mind off of the heaviness surrounding us. Even my nine-year-old son got so curious that I just had to show him some of them. He loved it so much that he was able to memorize one in particular and recited to me the entire meme the next day before I dropped him off at school. I guess this means I've also been able to elevate my son's sense of humor! Two birds with one stone...Parenting score!


Unfortunately, for all my pronouncements of being quite liberal and respecting diversity, I have to set certain boundaries in our own home. I would have to ban certain things and by things I mean anything, pictures, movies, t.v. shows. I am not prepared to take the risk of inadvertently unleashing my psychosis at the sight of these wide-eyed creatures with fuzzy hair standing up, ESPECIALLY if they happen to be wheat-orangey in color. This would actually save our family some money since my son now needs to be more discriminating with his choice of toys or shows to watch. So far, he's not into it so I consider that another bonus!

Hopefully, I will see more blessings as the months go by. For now, I am willing to live on crumbs as I find healing in all this. I am optimistic. I need to be. Maybe if I repeat that often enough, my brain and heart will eventually catch up. One can only hope.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Our Divided States of America: What Now?

I don't particularly like getting political on this space but there is nothing else for me to say today or for the rest of the week other than #*&^$$%^(^()_:>>?<)*^$###!! Expletives in every version imaginable.

To say that I'm saddened and frightened by all this is an understatement. It was unexpected. And to read that HRC won the popular vote and yet DT still won the presidency, thanks to the Electoral College, is rubbing salt into the wound. However, one still can't deny that millions voted for the unqualified, hateful, misogynist. I am certain those who did so have varying reasons. 

Maybe they saw him as the perfect anti-establishment candidate. 

Maybe they think he's the perfect person who can advocate for their concerns after feeling so powerless and disenfranchised for so long. 

Maybe they just want to vote for their party regardless of who it is because they feel their conservative values are threatened. 

Maybe they are racist and want to protest against every progress made by our first black President. 

Maybe they just hate women. 

We can rack our brains for days to figure all this out and agree on an elegant theory but one thing is for sure. This is a truly divided nation and there is immeasurable work to be done as we all do our best to move forward. 

Moving forward...I will admit it is not easy for me. I can't even stand to hear Trump's voice and look at his face, so to imagine being exposed to this for four years is asking a lot from me. But I know it must be done. For the sake of our children, we all need to show respect for each other. Whether we like it or not, we are in this together and change never had any power when it didn't come from the ground up. 

With every impulse to be angry, we need to choose humility.

With every impulse to look for blame and cause division, we need to choose acceptance and wisdom to see the undeniable likeness we share beneath our clothes, and skin and ideologies. 

After all is said and done, the truth is we all want a good life for us and our children. We all want a better economy that works for everyone and not just the 1%. We all want a sustainable planet that we can live in and pass on to generations to come. We want world peace, as cliche as that sounds. We want equality and respect for all lives regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation, gender, socioeconomic status. 

Those are my desires and the fight continues. The protection of these rights and dreams depend on each person's vigilance. We are our institutions. Don't ever forget your agency, your power to effect change no matter how small. The power to heal does not lie in one leader alone. It's up to each citizen to either choose division or unity. 


F*ck all that! I am angry as hell and worried beyond words that every bit of progress we've achieved these past eight years will be obliterated by the racist Republicans in power (maybe not all) who have made it very clear that their only agenda is to destroy Barack Obama. In the process, they will destroy a lot of rights and privileges now enjoyed by Americans, especially the marginalized. This makes me enraged! And I pray to God this rage only powers us more to fight harder for social justice!

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

I'm an Introvert and I'm Done Apologizing for It

Ever since I read this HuffPost Parenting blog a few months ago, I've been trying to be consistent with my son in asking him how he's been kind, brave, or how he thinks he failed during the day. The answers don't always come very easy and that's where its value lies. I find myself encouraging him to think hard and not take anything for granted. I tell him little things count. I remind him not to be afraid of failure and that when he knows better, he can do better and tomorrow is another day for redemption. Failure doesn't define him, but little acts of kindness and bravery always matter, both to him and the others he has helped. 

Today I find myself applying the same principle, reminding myself that acts of bravery, no matter how seemingly inconsequential, always count. 

I am an introvert. 

To those who don't know me intimately, that may come as a surprise given that you might have seen me 'step up' in certain social situations. People say I'm friendly, I smile a lot and am very pleasant, I seem capable of chit-chat and seem really nice over all. What you probably don't know is that all of those things take so much energy out of me. Sure, those things come really naturally to me when I am around close friends and family, people I have known for a long time and feel really comfortable with. Other than that small circle, it becomes a huge undertaking for me and one that almost always requires a significant amount of planning and psychological preparation.

Yes, I overthink and am always processing things in my head. Even the shortest, most insignificant telephone conversations with strangers, sales representatives, medical staff or insurance adjusters need some form of rehearsal in my head. I can't just randomly pick up the phone and fire away. I need to be clear with a purpose and where I need the conversation to end. Sometimes, it's as if I have an outline in my head (yes, sometimes written out too!) and any deviation from my 'script' can leave me panicked and, God-forbid, stuttering. In other words, I hate surprises and last minute things. I'm all about careful thought and planning. Something 'new' or 'unexpected' and potentially stress-inducing situations (a.k.a. huge social gatherings where I won't know majority of the people) need to simmer and stew in my introverted brain for a while before I can go forth and conquer. 

If we're not close friends, have nothing much in common and obviously don't know enough about each other to sincerely like each other, and my life didn't absolutely depend on it, approaching you to just say 'hello, how are you' won't come naturally to me. It's not that I'm a snob or am being mean. It's just that it takes so much energy out of me and feel the weight of a possible awkwardness too anxiety-inducing. This tendency of mine has gotten worse as I got older because now, I have learned to sift through my social circle and know when to simply not give a damn. Again, I'm not rude, so if you say 'hello' first, I will sincerely smile at you and say 'hello' back. 

This is me. This has always been me and I now stand in a space where I refuse to be made to feel bad or 'less than' about it. That's why when I ask myself now how I've been brave, I consider the little things, the little steps. They may be steps I took to overcome my introversion when it was necessary, or little steps I took to stand firm in it and not apologize for who I am. 

Recently, my husband wanted me to attend a party with him. It wasn't necessary for me to go, it was far, and I knew I would only see a few acquaintances there. No friends, no one I really genuinely liked. To make matters worse, my husband has been so busy and so preoccupied with other things that he only remembered to tell me about the invitation the morning of said social gathering. I agonized for hours. I knew in my heart I did not want to go. I had been so busy myself the previous days and felt like I had reached my quota for the week for being social. I simply felt exhausted. 

Normally, I would give in to him. He would prod me, we would argue and I would feel bad about being called anti-social. But this time, I stood my ground. It wasn't about establishing who had more power over whom. It was about me having the courage to defend my preference. It wasn't simply about being intransigent. It was about heeding my authentic self and respecting my boundaries. It wasn't easy. I still felt tortured in the beginning and found myself making excuses to justify my decision. In the end, I realized I need no excuses. Politely declining an invitation should be enough and no elaborate explanations are necessary. 

I felt free. It felt amazing and empowering to simply have the courage to honor my introverted self instead of allowing it to be depleted. It's a small step but one I could definitely get used to. After all, the reward of having a relaxed time at home, in bed, while overanalyzing a cerebral show on t.v. is priceless and beats endless small talk with strangers any given day. Nothing about any of that requires any apologies.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

My Personal Momsanity Scale

My son just recently got over an illness and it's been a wretched past week for our family. I can only say 'illness' instead of being more specific because no one ever came up with a definitive diagnosis. He was seen by two doctors and just like me, all we can label are the symptoms for which he received medication. 

It started with a headache, followed by high fever. Then he sounded a bit more congested but no remarkable drainage nor coughing. He also had a slight sore throat and slight ear inflammation, but not enough to be a full-blown ear infection. He tested negative for both strep and mono. He has had his flu shot and the doctors seemed convinced it wasn't the flu. 

He started with Amoxicillin but after two days of not making any difference, he was switched over to Azithromycin (3-day dose). That finally made a difference. Fever went away and he started feeling better slowly.

When he was seen by the first doctor at a walk-in/urgent care facility, he was shown a picture card with emojis to identify how he was feeling. Was he feeling a slight discomfort, or was it agonizing pain? While this was going on, the only thought bubble I had at the time was that pediatricians should have a similar scale for parents. Why not also show me a card that will express to you just how much my child's illness has driven me to the edge of insanity?! Perhaps it might give you a more holistic picture of the severity of the situation.

Here's my suggestion for an effective diagnostic tool:

Perhaps I should just print this out myself and carry it around in my purse. Better yet, how about I make a shirt out of this and just casually point to an emoji whenever random strangers start wondering why I'm behaving so oddly?

Said shirt would have come in handy in church when I sorta kinda made a minor, negligible scene. (I know that sounds like an oxymoron but let me just invoke momsanity at the moment and blame it all on the fact that I'm perpetually on emoji #3). 

We got to church quite early and found ourselves waiting for about 10 minutes before Mass started. While waiting, I saw Noah messing with his shoe. He saw a streak on his midsole and was trying to rub it with his bare hands! 

With horror, I instinctively uttered, "Duuuuudddde!", without realizing how much it echoed in the church. When I lifted my eyes after glaring at my son for a moment, I saw at least three people from the other aisle staring at me. 

If only I was wearing a momsanity scale shirt! I can't even begin to tell you how close I was to actually explaining to those people, "Seriously, he just got over a week-long illness and I'm just doing my best to not let the germs gain such easy access. And while we're at it, would you mind not shaking our hands if you have the slightest inkling that you might be coming down with something..thank you very much...God bless you...

There are a lot of things that drive me insane as a parent. There are days when I sometimes feel like I can't exhale and the shadow of a nervous breakdown follows me around, just waiting for me to stop and give in. For me, the strongest insanity-inducing challenge is when my son has an illness, especially one that I can't easily explain or one that lingers. I'm sure a lot of parents will agree with me on that. That said, I now wonder if there should be a 6th emoji that needs to be included, one that shows a mother's face willing to make any deal with God, willing to give anything at all, just to make her child safe and well. For me, reaching that point signals that I'm completely overwhelmed and that my insanity and stress are off the charts. It's definitely the point when Mom, not child, is the one needing medication.

Friday, October 14, 2016

The Day Donald Trump Made Me Grow Up

I had just met up with a good friend at the mall and we said our goodbyes at the bus stop. I knew I had about a 30-minute commute ahead and didn't want to be so late going home. I boarded the bus and was happy that there were a lot of open seats for me to choose from. I walked towards a completely empty row and slid towards the window. I loved window seats. 

Not long after, at the next stop, a few more passengers boarded and as I looked up, an older man stood by the empty seat to my left and smiled at me. I politely smiled back as he took his seat beside me. I was glad it was an older man, someone who looked decent, dressed fairly well and didn't look like anyone who would mug me. Heck, he could be my father, although I could tell he was probably at least 5 years older than my dad. 

It didn't take long for the man to start making small talk with me, only his idea of small talk was undeniably making me feel uneasy. He asked where I worked, what I did. He asked where I was going, where I lived. I don't remember if it was the mere conversation that made me feel uncomfortable, his tone, or if it was the way he was looking at me. He was smiling, he looked harmless, gentle and had a fatherly air about him. And yet somehow I found his hand on mine and even took the liberty of stroking it. He said he immediately noticed me when he boarded the bus and couldn't help thinking how beautiful I was. He said I had the face and smile of an angel. The fatherly and safe feeling didn't linger much too long. It dissipated as soon as I felt his unwelcome hand on my arm as he started to tell me that he's a widower and wants to have his secretary call me for him sometime. He made it a point to tell me he was wealthy, although I wanted to tell him at that point, "Yes and I'm smart too and am wondering why a rich guy like you takes this sort of public transportation". He asked if I had a boyfriend and instinctively I said yes even though it was a lie. I wanted to make it clear I was not interested and that at that moment all I was praying for was to be ejected from my seat. My stop just couldn't come quick enough. Eventually it did and I must have left so fast, so awkwardly that I honestly don't remember how I made it to the bus exit from my window seat. 

This happened to me 20 years ago in the Philippines. I was in my early 20's and thought I knew everything I needed to know. 

My parents made it a point to teach me and my siblings to be always aware of our surroundings. We were taught to keep a close eye on our belongings so that we can avoid getting pickpocketed. What I was not prepared for was how to deal with creeps and potential sexual predators.  

All week long, the breaking news was that of a presidential candidate bragging about sexual assault. This person wants to be the most powerful leader in the world and yet does not have any shred of decency in his being and shows not a hint of a firm moral compass. He sexualizes females every chance he gets and believes he is entitled to them just because of who he is. It is beyond sickening.

The memory of this nightmarish bus ride surfaced as I listened to this candidate flaunt his disgusting behavior and belief that he can always get away with most anything, including the putrid words that come out of his mouth as he objectifies women. I don't enjoy remembering what happened to me, let alone speak of it, but it must be done. Things like these need to be brought out. Perhaps there is value in taking these memories out of the shadows no matter how shameful or even painful they might be. What happened to me is but a small fraction of other assaults and abuses experienced by other women but it doesn't make the sense of violation and the shame in feeling that I should have acted differently any less intense, any less life-altering.

You see, what I realized with my experience was that I was taught a lot of things and mostly it had to do with being 'nice', being 'ladylike'. I was taught to be friendly, to be polite, to be respectful especially of older people. That man on the bus was an older man. I thought I needed to be respectful. I thought I needed to remain nice. I thought I was not supposed to make a scene. I thought I needed to smile and still speak politely even though I wanted to scream, say 'STOP' or just be honest and admit that it was making me uncomfortable and that none of it was okay.

I was not equipped. The definition of the situation, the character involved, the impression I was given, coupled with the socialization I received as to what it meant to be 'proper' all confused me. I just didn't know better. 

That woman in her 20s drowned in a sense of helplessness. But not anymore. This one in her 40s knows better. This one in her 40s can now parent her own child and teach the intricacies of what it means to value others without ever sacrificing one's self; to handle with grace the delicate balance between propriety and self-assertion. This one can and will speak up for herself. This one can and will draw clearer boundaries, will refuse unwanted and unsolicited attention, and will fight back. This one now believes there is no shame in defending oneself, no shame in appearing and sounding rude to someone, anyone, who doesn't know how to respect other people, especially females. 

I will definitely speak up. I may no longer have my day with that man on the bus but I'm sure I can still have my voice heard. And I want to make sure that voice is echoed by the vote I will cast next month. It is a voice that can't be drowned out as it fights back against indecency, a disgusting sense of entitlement and misogyny. It is never too late for me, or any of us, to be heard. 

Friday, October 7, 2016

What Matters Most in Death

My father-in-law died two weeks ago. He has been ill for quite a while until finally on September 22nd, his body gave up. My husband and I, with our son, spent the entire last week in Illinois in order to be with family as we honor the memory of our beloved Big Daddy. 

We had to be around for the wake and the memorial service. Apart from those, as Filipino Catholics, there was also a funeral mass, as well as the nine day novena. Starting from the first night my father-in-law died, family and close friends gathered at my sister-in-law's home to say the Novena for the Dead for nine consecutive days. People not only prayed together but also brought food and gathered to comfort each other during this difficult time. 

I have to admit that I'm not one who's big on traditions. I was not raised in that way and it probably did not help that I have a very practical mother and a highly logical father. We questioned a lot of Filipino-Catholic traditions and superstitions that didn't make sense and were encouraged to focus more on faith and spirituality rather than religiosity and custom. Bear in mind that I'm also a Sociologist and so there were a lot of moments when I found myself depersonalizing the experience and feeling, involuntarily, like an outside observer rather than immersing myself in the highly emotional event. 

I found myself researching why a novena has to be said. Why nine days? I wondered if purgatory is indeed real although we are taught as Catholics that it is. I wondered if praying for the dead really made any difference to their souls. Is there a soul? What really happens to it? I believe we are all energy. Where does that energy go? Can it linger? Can it come back and in what form? Do we really meet others who have died before us when we die or is this merely something we conjure to bring us comfort?

There are no real answers that can convince me 100 percent at this time. It's all a matter of what I am comfortable believing. And the point is, it doesn't matter much, if at all, what I believe. What matters is this...

...That these rituals are not for the dead but for the living. We participate in them not to make the soul of the dead feel good about themselves. It is to affirm to us the kind of human being that person was and that indeed they will be missed as they vacate a certain role in our own lives. 

We go through the rituals to ease the transition somehow. The act of interacting with friends and family when a loved one dies, the act of participating in conversations and being forced to talk about what happened, how it happened and all the details, serve as catharsis for those left behind. The repetition of stories cement the reality that indeed the person is gone, while it also helps cement the precious memories left behind to be cherished. 

I had to be clear within myself that I was there primarily to support family left behind by Big Daddy. It didn't matter whether I believed the same things everyone else believed in. What mattered was the wishes of my mother-in-law, this strong widow left behind by her partner of 52 years. Her husband's death has shattered her to pieces. Hopefully, the prayers and most of all, the overwhelming show of support and love by relatives and friends can help mend her broken heart and fuel her spirit. That's what matters.

...That eulogies are spoken to highlight how the person lived and not how he died. And that is the only real point, isn't it? No person giving a eulogy will belabor the details surrounding one's death. What people spend precious time on are the pertinent events that defined the dead person's life. In this case, more than 300 people will remember Big Daddy as a great cook, a real family man who sacrificed a lot to create a comfortable life for his family; a hard worker; a patriarch who spoke very little but remained respected by his younger siblings and the whole clan. To me, he will always be the man my husband warned me about the first time I was going to meet him. AJ told me not to be scared of him even though he may sound angry. "He just has a loud voice and might seem scary to you", AJ said to me moments before I was about to step into their house so he can introduce me to his parents. But when I finally did meet him, I was confused. I realized there was no such scary man I was warned about. Big Daddy smiled so pleasantly, spoke gently to me and seemed genuinely happy to meet me, although it was the first time. He made me feel comfortable and very welcome and that will always be a memory I will treasure.

When we die, not all of us will have hundreds of people mourning us. Some of us might, while some of us will only have a handful. But as long as we are certain we knew how to love and was able to touch the life of even just one human being we are leaving behind, then we can leave in peace. 

Death never defined a human being. Life does. What matters is not how we leave, but how we live and love. Death only takes away possibilities. Hopefully when it's time for any of us to face death, we can be at peace knowing that we've taken full advantage of every possibility there was for love. That's what matters most. 

Friday, September 23, 2016

Is it Strange That I'm This in Love With My Child?

I am severely obsessed with my child. 

There, I've put it out in the open and I admit that I'm quite on the defensive. As someone who's active in the blogging and online world, I'm keenly aware of the fact that it's far more popular to complain about one's children, write about how difficult it is to raise these young creatures and celebrate the hours they spend away from us. Believe me, I understand all that. I have written a few of those too and don't judge any parent who misses those carefree childless days. 

But I also admit that every time I see social media posts by parents or memes celebrating back to school, the fact that their kids will finally be out of the house again, or read rants portraying their children as uncontrollable, devious monsters that just suck the life out of them, I feel a little guilty because a part of me can't relate.

Sure, I honestly savor time alone when there's no one for me to fuss over and I can concentrate on chores and my writing. It's always good for any parent to have breathing spaces during the day when we can feel the relief of not having anyone else to care for or worry about in our midst. But in the grand scheme of things, I really don't mind having my son around me and to be perfectly honest, I even love it. I understand that I can only say this because I don't work outside the home and I only have one child. There is no employer to worry about when my child has to stay home due to illness or school holidays. And there is no one for him to be incessantly noisy with, no annoying and insanity-inducing fights for me to settle. These are blessings I never take for granted. 

I honestly can't say if I'd feel any less intense had my circumstances been any different. If I had more than one child. If I didn't have any fertility issues. If my child isn't deemed a miracle on top of a miracle being an IVF baby. If my child were any different from how he turned out to be. If I were employed and had the distraction of another career. Would I be any less in love, any less obsessed? Because right now, he is my world. In my eyes, he is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. He has the most mesmerizing eyes I have ever looked into, the face that lights up any dark moment. His are the arms I can't resist when he pulls me close at night, refusing to let me go and accept that tucking him in doesn't mean that I stay by his side for 10 minutes or so. When he comes home from school and walks through the door, I hug him tight and tell him I missed him. And yes, I mean every word of it and feel happy to have him back in my arms and smell the sun and sweat on his hair and skin. When I kiss him goodbye in the morning, I bless him, say a prayer and kiss his head with the hope that our embrace will carry me through my day. During the day, I smile at his photos spread throughout the house as I walk past them. At night when he's fast asleep, I find myself looking at some of his photos on my phone and utter to my husband, "Isn't he just beautiful?", and then simultaneously feel joy and sadness, ambushed by a sense of panic as I realize how fast he's growing, how the moments are just slipping through my tightly clenched fingers. I know this might all sound crazy but there are countless days and nights when I really feel like my chest can burst open with the love it can't contain for this child. This boy holds my heart and I suspect it will be so forever. 

I am not blind to my son's imperfections. I'm not one of those parents who thinks their child can do no wrong. I love him immensely but I also parent him fiercely. I don't baby him, though I know he will forever be my baby. 

This is how I love. This is just how I am. When someone truly gets into my heart, they stay there forever. When someone cuts through my soul, loving in half measures ceases to make sense. I don't find fulfillment in lukewarm or halfhearted. It's just who I am, and parenthood, if nothing else, brings out the best lovers in all of us. 

Friday, September 9, 2016

Watching Grief

Photo by Francesca Borchardt

He lies quietly on his hospital bed placed in the middle of the family room. The sound from the television serves as perpetual background noise. Is he watching, understanding the show that's on? I don't know for sure. His wife, children and grandchildren are all around in different areas of the house. There is subdued chatter everywhere. Again, more background noise. 

My father-in-law's first stroke happened in 2008. Since then, he has been in and out of the hospital, in and out of therapy, up and down, a roller coaster ride. The family, of course, has also been with him on this ride. A period of panic, and then calm, complacency, perhaps even denial. This is how life has been for the past several years but this time, there seems to be something definitively different. His inability to move on his own and care for himself, his imprisonment in that hospital bed, the undeniable fragility of his thinning limbs have forced everyone around him to confront the inevitable. Nobody knows when it will happen and everyone can't seem to fully exhale. 'Have you accepted it?" seems to be the most common question from any outsider looking in, and there can only be one logical response: "I think I have, to the degree that my humanity allows". The subtext to this of course is that the mind can process what it sees and knows what needs to be done, even though the heart remains fraught with hanging questions, unfinished conversations and the heavy presence of unending grief hiding in the shadows. 

He is crying. Everyone takes notice that quiet tears are flowing down his face.

Could he be in pain? He says no. 

Could he be sad? Is his heart breaking at the thought of leaving his wife and children behind? Is he grieving for unfulfilled dreams, plans he now doesn't seem to have enough time left for? Is he thinking about regrets?

Could these be tears of joy? Is he reminiscing about the first sight of each of his six precious children? Is he suddenly feeling the ghost sensation of the very first kiss he shared with his wife when they first fell in love? Are these tears brought by all the fun family vacations and parties celebrated through the decades? Are all the beautiful memories now too much to take in all at once?

Or could this be fear? Is he uncertain of what lies beyond and feels confused about how this will all end? Is he afraid of what would happen next? Or is he more afraid of what might become of his wife and her shattered heart?

She is right beside him, holding his hand and telling him, "I will be fine. Don't worry about me". She musters all her strength until she couldn't anymore and decides to leave his side to break down in the other room. Her daughter stands with her and helps muffle her wailing by holding her tight. They both need this release. And they both know this is only one among many that will follow. 

I know this too. I have had to hold my own son as he tries to process the change that he is witnessing and sensing around him. He has broken down in the dark one night as I was tucking him in. He feels it all but can't fully understand, let alone label the sense of grief coursing through him, as if breaking open his chest. When the time comes and all the goodbyes have been said, the grief will visit him again. As his mother, I need to help him understand that it is best to make friends with this grief. It will pop by when he least expects it. He can't shut his door because it will always find its way in. If he at least makes friends with it, he will know that grief is stubborn. It respects no timelines or deadlines. It may frequent you less as years go by but it will be there. Its only request is that you respect the space you share with it. Just be in it, with it and let it move through you, or even consume you. Just believe in your heart that from the ashes you will rise again...and again. Grief is not greedy that it will want to take your life and happiness with it. Only you can make that choice. 

And so each of us in the family grieves slowly as we brace ourselves for the inevitable. My father-in-law, or Big Daddy as we call him, is with us still. And even after his fragile shell gives up, I am certain we will find comfort in him living on simply because he has touched each of our lives and loved us as best as he knew how. This love is imperfect but one can't deny the perfection it created in the form of his family's devotion. Now I realize that more than just watching grief these past few days, I've also been privileged enough to witness that grief always manifests itself with Love. I find not only comfort in this, but most of all, peace. 

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Beneath the Veins

Image: Flickr CC

When I was a little girl, I would hold my mother's arm and just stare at it. I was always fascinated with her fair skin and how it showed all the blue-greenish veins underneath. To me they looked pretty. They felt familiar, something I always just associated with Mom. There was even a point when I would refer to my Mom's scent as 'the vein smell'. I honestly thought it was those veins that gave her that signature, comforting smell. 

Now, in my 40's, I look at the back side of my own arms and see similar veins. I now understand what veins are, what they hold and how they run throughout our bodies sustaining us, 'feeding' the heart. I also now understand that even though I saw my mother's veins a lot, I never fully knew the secrets they held. 

As I look at my veins showing, I know that no one else knows what courses through them, especially not my son. He sees me and sees only his mother. He doesn't know what those veins have been through, or the intensity of the blood flowing through. He doesn't see the hidden anger or hurts, regrets, passion; nor for what or for whom those veins have throbbed in the past and why. 

They don't need to know. My son doesn't need to know. The truth is, I think for most of us, there is a resistance to confronting the full humanity of our parents especially our mother's. We see them in a certain light and it is dictated upon by necessity more than reality. The mother-child relationship is one of the most intimate relationships we would ever experience, and yet it doesn't follow that it's necessarily the most transparent. We often see our mothers as mothers, and then as a partner to our fathers. But not many of us are brave enough to peel away the surface layers to see more into who they are, where they've been, who they've loved, hated, disappointed; who have broken them, who they continue to bleed for, what they continue to hope for and what they silently cry for in their sleep. It gives us comfort to simply see our mothers as strong, with veins steady and fortified by contentment and a sense of wholeness. 

I stare at my own veins and marvel at them. I know what lies beneath. I know the depth of what they feel and what every drop of deep red carries with it. I know the essence of the stain they will make if you cut them open. But no other soul fully knows, especially not my child. And perhaps he doesn't need to. Perhaps it's enough for now that he is also fascinated with them and finds them comforting. It's enough he sees the blue-greenish tint and not the deep stained mysteries that flow within. Those are meant to be kept between my veins and my heart.