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.