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.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Deepest Desires and Ugly Truths

"What do you REALLY want?"
"What is your deepest, darkest desire?"

They're phrased differently in different episodes but these are the questions uttered by the devil in the t.v. series "Lucifer" to draw out people's secret thoughts. I know there are people who think this show is spiritually dangerous and that it should be canceled because it makes the devil look lovable, cool, and funny. But seriously, if your spirituality's maturity level as an adult is where you feel it can be easily shaped by a t.v. show then you probably shouldn't be watching any shows at all. Or you need some growing up to do. Anyway, I'm clearly a fan and have better things  to do than protest the appearance of Tom Ellis on my screen as Lucifer. 

Since the beginning of this show, I've always been fascinated with the 'desire' question and have wondered how I'd respond if I were asked by the devil and couldn't resist or lie. 

What is it that I truly desire? 

If I were being totally honest, my gut reaction would be to say that I want to lose my belly fat. Or maybe just fat all over, how about that? The sad thing is that when I asked my son to guess what my answer would be, he actually guessed correctly and said the same thing. I think that's sad because it means my son perceives how that desire consumes me and how frustrated I am with my body shape. 

Ever since I can remember, I've always been 'chubby', 'rounded', 'big framed' and every other synonym you can think of to say that I was different from the norm weight-wise. I was never 'fat' or 'obese' as a child but always, I remember having a round, full belly, a round face and arms that are straight and shapeless. And they're not straight in a thin way but a full, squeezable way. I have always hated both my midsection and my arms, and from being that first grader in the picture below to this 42 year-old adult, I never quite got over my dissatisfaction with the body I was dealt. And lucky me, I was dealt this body in a country where people just naturally have smaller frames typical of Asians. I was always one of the 'bigger ones', the 'heavier one', sometimes made fun of by ignorant people who  always assumed I just ate too much even though I really didn't, and thought body-shaming was entertaining. 

However, to say that getting rid of my flab and lumps as my only real deep desire is probably only being half-honest to both Lucifer and myself. The whole truth would probably look more like this...

What I truly, deeply desire is to have the courage to fight my internal demons. 

The entire truth is that it's not just about my body-image issues. There's a host of other things, a never-ending chant of self-doubt and deprecation echoing inside that torment me on an almost daily basis. There are days I'm able to shove them to the back of my consciousness and silence them for a while, but there are days when the caustic self-criticism is too loud, too pronounced that it's incapacitating. 

I have no real talent. I am not skilled at anything valuable. 

I am not good at anything that is of any real monetary value. 

I am such an introvert who's not into networking that nothing remarkable or significant could ever happen to me. 

I will never find my space in this life. 

I share these not to invite pity or sympathy. I share them because I would like to believe that shedding light on these demons weaken them somehow, and hope that taking them out of the shadows loosens their grip on me. I know that no angel, fallen or otherwise, can magically grant me salvation and slay my demons for me. Just as in the show Lucifer, the question is asked simply to draw out the truth. The answers are still all mine and what I do with them is also solely up to me. 

What about you? What is it that you really desire?

Friday, April 15, 2016

Our Marriage is the Half-Eaten Cake

It was just one of those nights I had gotten used to. The husband sends me a text message  to inform me that he won't be having dinner at home. Dinner will be with some co-worker but this time, it's with someone quite important and it will be at a fancy restaurant. I say "Okay, no problem" and the evening goes on. No biggie. 

But this one actually ended up a bit differently, to my surprise. When he came home at around 9:30 p.m., he hurriedly came upstairs to our bedroom, with a small take-out box in his hand.

"Hi Hunny, I have some carrot cake for you!", he said eagerly. I politely declined and said I was already full and didn't want any more carbs before falling asleep. But he seemed really excited about it, told me he thought it was really good cake I might enjoy and that he'll just leave it downstairs on the kitchen island. 

Then it hit me. Aside from seeing how thoughtful the gesture was, I thought to myselfThis is what makes a marriage. Our marriage is this half-eaten carrot cake.

Here's why...

The element of selflessnessWhen I tried the cake the next day, it was really moist, dense and simply one of the best I've had. I'm sure my husband could have finished the cake and probably wanted to.  But he didn't and instead chose to share the experience with me. It's tough factoring in your partner as much as you can in every decision you make. But that's necessary in marriage. A certain amount of self sacrifice should be present. Thinking of what will make your partner happy, what is good for the other AND for your partnership all become second nature the longer you're in it. Hopefully, you reach a point when you don't mind it anymore and you even feel like your happiness depends on you being able to share the cake too. 

Shared biography. My husband knows I like carrot cake. It's not my ultimate favorite (and I'm not sure I have a favorite cake really) but I always enjoy a good one. We both do, and he knows this and remembered. In addition, I also found it endearing that he showed a desire to share an experience with me even though I couldn't physically be present. Not only did he verbally share what transpired in my absence, bringing home a physical representation of the event reinforces my impression that it was something he wanted me to be a part of. Marriage has a lot to do with history, shared moments and memories that serve as cement to the union. The more each spouse returns to, or invokes such memorieseven through the most seemingly insignificant actions such as conversations and even conjured thoughtsthe more you feed your marriage.

It's all about coming home...and wanting to be home to share the cake. I was touched seeing that my husband seemed excited about having me try the cake. I almost felt guilty declining but I'm glad he understood. More importantly though, I knew that no matter how fancy the restaurant was, or how great company was over dinner, he was happy to finally be home and sleep in our bed. Most days, we don't give each other a detailed account of how our days went. We share certain highlights but for the most part, we're both realistic enough to understand that sometimes, just being close in proximity is enough and that there is nothing threatening about our respective needs for solitude. That brief hand-holding, or short-lived spooning in the middle of the night, is a loud enough proclamation that this is home and we continue to choose to be here for each other. 

My marriage is far from perfect. We disagree, fight and I'm sure I speak for both of us when I say there are times when we want to kill each other. But more than simply controlling that impulse to let all hell break loose, I think it has a lot to do with constantly choosing what you focus on. Sometimes, it's really just the small gestures that all add up and make you realize that you do have a solid marriage in front of you, one you're in for the long haul. It has a lot to do with thinking beyond your self, making the decision to do small thoughtful acts. That said, I do believe that the ultimate marriage-killer is self-centeredness. It's when you no longer have any desire to share any piece of that cake that you're in trouble. So far though, I'm more than willing to still share my half cake, even the mint leaves and the sad looking strawberry on the side. 

Tweet: The ultimate marriage killer is self-centeredness. You have to want to keep sharing that cake. @jpage_manuel  The ultimate marriage killer is self-centeredness. You have to want to keep sharing that cake.

Friday, April 8, 2016

The Necessary Delusion

Witnesses say the fire started at around 1 a.m. on April 1, and that the most likely cause is faulty electrical wiring. It started on the third floor where I used to hold office. Reports state that there were no casualties but as a former member of this academic community, deep down I can't seem to entirely agree with that.

Yes, no one was physically hurt as a result of this tragedy, but the wounds, the depth of injury and pain resulting from this fire is something difficult to quantify. 

Photo Credit: Prof. Josefina Natividad

Photo Credit: Prof. Josefina Natividad

The University of the Philippines Faculty Center (Bulwagang Rizal or "FC" to most people) housed the department offices of the university's College of Arts and Letters (CAL), its faculty rooms, as well as those of some departments of the College of Social Sciences and Philosophy (CSSP). My home department, Sociology, used to occupy a part of the third floor. Over a year ago, they transferred to a newer building and so I'm happy to know they've been spared somehow. 

However, I can't even fully imagine the amount of loss brought upon to many others as a result of this fire. Priceless book collections, research papers, theses, dissertations, test papers both graded and ungraded, grade books, laptops and flash drives, art works and artifacts, just generations of knowledge borne out of dedicated scholarship now gone. 

And of course there is the intangible casualty of memories now floating around like lost ghosts and faint echoes, with no real center to draw and ground them, uprooted from where they were birthed. Students and Professors both roamed its dim hallways and staircases. Countless consultation hours were spent. Passionate intellectual exchanges and debates transpired in almost every room in that building, as well as jovial and lighthearted discussions among colleagues who are also undoubtedly friends and even family. 

I will never forget the few late nights spent in FC checking test papers or end of term research projects. I will always remember the sense of accomplishment I felt each and every time I got done grading every single student for the semester. Or the grueling hours that aged me while I went through reams of data begging to be coded and analyzed so I can finally write up my master's thesis or some other research project. 

The profundity of my sense of loss stems from the feeling that a part of my past had been literally erased, a significant part of my identity now physically gone. I may not have lost any physical possessions, unlike those who still call the FC their home. But I'm certain that anyone who once did at some point in their lives, no matter how brief, now grieve this death, this irreplaceable void that we're all suddenly forced to confront. I know it's been more than a decade since I left my job at the university, more than a decade since I legitimately identified myself as an academic. I have accepted that I no longer have any claim to such a self-definition and in the recent years, have learnt to mourn the death of that 'self' I've left behind. And yet, the truth is that some part of me still hoped. 

I was really hoping I could still take my son to see the FC and show him where I worked before, the one work environment that impacted my identity the most, the one I feel most connected to as it's also part of my alma mater. I was hoping to walk him through its hallways and be able to point at the doors I used to call my office. I was still hoping things could stay the same at least until I'm able to travel the thousands of miles to visit home. 

I think that most migrants have this sentiment, this sort of secret hope in our hearts that no matter how far we've traveled away from home, or how long we've been away, the home we left behind will always somehow stay the same for us, or if not, still at least feel familiar. Beyond reason, our sense of nostalgia overpowers realism, making us hope that things remain somewhat frozen in time, waiting for our return. It's a self-centered view but a delusion that serves a necessary purpose. This is the irrationality in most migrants' memories. I think we need this sense of holding on to the familiar to lessen the angst of no longer fitting in and feeling displaced, not quite knowing what or where 'home' is anymore. Any significant shift in the familiar picture we managed to preserve in our memory becomes highly remarkable and is viewed as a further weakening of our anchor to the place we struggle to still call home.

I'm certain this is part of my grief. It's not just a building lost in a fire and me being deeply sentimental about the past. It's also about having another reminder that things do move on whether we like it or not, with or without us. It's another painful reality check grabbing our shoulders to make it known that 'home' needs a redefinition, one where our hearts no longer need to catch up to what our eyes see. 

The grief I feel over FC's burning may only be a fraction of the grief felt by the current members of the university faculty and staff. But grief is grief. We all experience it differently, but the reality of having something inside of us shatter is all the same and true for each grieving soul.