to my three musketeers*

*this letter to my children (usually posted as status/note in facebook) is an annual thing- sometimes on my birthday, sometimes on Mother’s Day, sometimes when i am inspired, sometimes when i am mad. 

dear Isaac, Yesica, and Aryana,

 

         almost 16, almost 10, almost 6. these days, i think back a lot. i had kuya when i was 23. back then, and especially today, it is foolish to have a baby when all you have is a college diploma. when kuya came,  i was oblivious to anything else- because i focused on getting it right as a young mother. i had ate at 30. i was oblivious to anything else- because i was focused on getting a raise as a young career woman. i had Aryana at 35. i was oblivious to anything else- because i was focused on helping you adjust to a new country, a new school, a new normal of English-speaking teachers and friends and Tagalog-speaking parents. 

        and it was then, at 35, a stay-at-home-mother with seemingly no end in sight, that i saw you, all of you. and despite my presence and absence, in alternating times, i realized that all of you turned out to be smart and kind and fun- my kind of perfect. 

 

         there have been many many times that i have berated myself, blamed myself for your every mistake and misstep: i wasn’t present enough, i wasn’t teaching you enough- by words and example, i am not enough. 

 

       please know that i have overcome that. i don’t feel any kind of regret or guilt. not anymore. i did my best as a young mother with nary a penny to her name. and i continue to do my best. if i do more than what i am doing for you, there would be nothing left. and we would all be miserable. 
        i am not the kind of mother who smothers you with love and affection and all things sugary and sweet. i will not read you a bedtime story when i have a book to finish myself. i will not laud your “original idea(s)” when i know Einstein said it first or your “original quotes” when i have read it somewhere, most probably in a Hallmark greeting card. i will not laugh at any unfunny joke or insensitive comment that you try hard to pass as a joke. 

 

            

        but know that i will always strive to hold truth sacred. and these are the truths in our home: it is ok to make mistakes as long as we apologize by doing better and being kinder; it is ok to have B’s as long as we can face ourselves in the mirror because we did our best; it is ok to have crazy ideas or do crazy things as long as we don’t harm anyone. 

  

         we have leveled up this year, even encouraging daddy to join us in adding two more truths😉: first, we won’t spend for any toy anymore, whereas before you were allowed one toy each for your birthday and Christmas, this year, no one, especially Daddy, buys anyone any toy no more. instead, we will read more books, watch more plays and concerts, and go to more places; and second, every time you want something and we agree it is expensive (an iPhone perhaps?), you should save up so you can pay half of the purchase price, and daddy (of course only daddy) will gladly, willingly, shoulder the other half.


 

           i am more relaxed now, and i hope you enjoy it while it lasts😂 joking aside (and jokes are half-meant), i am trying to be more open, more fun, more spontaneous. yes, just like daddy. as they say, it takes two to tango. so thank you. it takes a lot of love to understand me and my transformation from mama to monster with just one bad word, one bad deed. and you have taken it in stride- you have adjusted to mama’s every change of tone, every change of expression, every side-eye. i think we are more patient and loving as we all grow older. 

 

         as i have said time and again, you can be anything you want to be. as long as you are kind. as long as you are happy. as long as you don’t ask support by the time you are 23 (channeling Braveheart: freeeddddoooommmm!).

 

         let me be clear: now and until you turn 23, daddy and i will support all of you: emotionally, spiritually, and financially. beyond 23, we will continue to support all of you: emotionally and spiritually.  

 

         this year is better. mama is better and certainly, stronger. i can now say that i have fully adjusted, five years after we relocated from our home country. plus the beach trip did us a lot of good, yes? there is more laughter in our mealtime conversations (if that is possible at all), more time to watch movies at home, and less nagging by mama.  

 

          i look at all of you, and i am overwhelmed with so much love and gratitude. God does play favorites.

 

❤️, mama

Hello, El Nido! (Travel Tips and Nice Pics)

My favorite family trip of all is going to the beach. There are no trains or buses to catch. No opening or closing hours of museums or factories or shops to memorise. No outfit of the day to match or agonize about. No need for a big heavy bag to carry kids’ change of clothes, sweaters, little blankets, extra underwears, some hankies and socks, a book or two, coloured pens and the like, plus wipes and tissues and headbands too! Whew!

I see the sea, the sand, the sky, the sunrise, the sunset, put on some sunblock, and my soul is fed, my heart, overflowing.

We make it a point to go to the beach at least once year. But we didn’t go in 2016 because we had so many things in our to-do list last year, foremost of which was to wed in church.
So this year, our first family trip was, naturally, the beach. And not just any other beach. Our dream beach destination- El Nido Resorts, Palawan, Philippines, our beloved Philippines 🇵🇭

So bear with me as I recall here our 4 days/3 nights stay in Miniloc, El Nido. This is for me and my family, especially for the sunset years, when we turn to happy memories to affirm that we have lived, really lived, and how.

We planned way ahead. We planned in October 2016 for our April 2017 summer getaway. My bestfriend and her family have been to El Nido n times so I asked her for contacts and tips. And I’m sharing her family’s experience and mine here.

Yes, you can book online. But if you’re like us, a family of 5 who’s looking for regular rates on peak season, email is the key. So, following my best friend’s recommendation, I emailed holiday@elnidoresorts.com. The email address will come out as ‘TKDC Holiday’ in your email, TKDC stands for Ten Knots Development Corporation, the reservations arm of El Nido Resorts. They will assign you a reservations assistant. I asked for a quote for a family of 3 adults and 2 children, all staying in one room. And then the haggling begins. My tip is: if you plan months ahead, you can ask for regular or off-peak rates and they acquiesced in my case.

Once you are ready to book, they will send you a payment link for the room and another for the Manila-El Nido-Manila flight via Airswift. I found that it is also cheaper to book flights via TKDC rather than booking online.

First, the room. I found that the adage ‘beggars can’t be choosers’ is sort of true when your entire family can’t really fit in one room but you insist because that’s what clingy families do. So we were offered a seaview room, and we accepted because who wouldn’t want a seaview room? First step towards our dream-come-true journey check.



daddy and aryana balcony

rhea balcony

Aside from the air-conditioned room, booking a stay in Miniloc allows you to enjoy full-board buffet meals (yes that’s from breakfast to dinner); resort activities complete with a tour guide/photographer/trainer of windsurfing and snorkeling all in one guy; plus of course the usual boat transfers and free use of snorkeling equipment, kayak, and other facilities.


Second, the airplane ride to El Nido. I found that choosing Miniloc afforded us four flight choices: 6:30am, 9:55am, 11am, and 2pm. On the other hand, going to Apulit only gives you three flight choices upto 11am. I surmised that it must be because going to Apulit requires a 1 and 1/2 hour van ride plus 50-minute boat ride versus just two short jeepney rides (of about 1-2 minutes each) plus 45-minute boat ride to Miniloc.

boat panoramic
So we took the 6:30am flight. Imagine that we arrived in Manila from Singapore at 9:30pm, rode the ever-reliable and cheaper airport white taxi (across the street in Naia-Terminal 1) to our Makati condo, and arrived at 10:30pm, bathed and ate a very late dinner (or midnight snack), and slept at around midnight. The parents woke up at 3:30am and the parents woke up the children at 4am. We were on our way to the airport via the ever-reliable and safe uber taxi at 4:15am, checked in at 5am, and Airswift gave us 5 yummy bags of goodies filled with ham sandwiches, brownies (kitkat for the girls), cheese bars, and water. The plane promptly took off at 6:30am. It was a small plane but very comfortable, filled with 30 or less passengers, mostly foreigners with a spattering of Filipino families plus one Filipino stewardess. The flight took just an hour and 15 minutes. Needless to say, the mother goose slept throughout the flight.


They were waiting for us- big, colourful jeepneys upon jeepneys, and immediately swept us off for that one-minute ride to the reception area where they served us Filipino delicacies like palitaw and moron, so delicious that even foreigners lined up for a second serving.


We waited for around 15 minutes and then rode another jeepney for 2 minutes or so, transferred to a speedboat, and then to a bigger boat waiting in the middle of the sea for the 45-minute (I reckon it was less) ride to Miniloc.


I thought the boat ride would be a 45-minute ‘loss’. But it was wonderful to be forced to sit back and take everything in. Those I’ve seen only in pictures and dreamt only at nights- they were right before me: limestone cliffs, rock formations, endless bluest of blue seas everywhere I look. I was surrounded by so much beauty that my heart oh my heart was all over the place, silently weeping, silently ecstatic, silent. I was left speechless in the middle of the sea where beauty and harmony and peace reigned.

We were fortunate that our tour guide Chris was not only well-informed, or an avid story-teller and joker, he was also one of the most natural photographers that I know, doing tai-chi-like movements one second and handing us beautiful panoramic pictures the next.


We were four groups in the big boat- 3 families who were first-timers in El Nido, and two girl-friends who looked like going to El Nido is their favorite pastime. In our group was a Spanish family with two small children. When we arrived at Miniloc, the Spanish dad looked around him and uttered just one word ‘Wow’ which made my heart swell with pride and love for my country. Wow Philippines!



El Nido Resorts welcomed us to Miniloc with a song and a dance and some refreshments. I realise I should leave out some things so that you’ll be enticed to go. But then again, even if I will tell-all, nothing compares to actually being there, gazing at the limestones, swimming in the clear waters, savouring and savouring.





We arrived at around 9:30am, our Seaview room- big, spacious, pretty, and homey- was ready by then. But before we checked in, the reception staff asked us about our preferred activities. Save for the hiking, I am proud to say we did it all plus fishing, even with a 5 year-old in tow. The key is to divide the activities so that you have something to look forward to everyday for a few hours and rest/swim in the remaining hours before sundown.



ate paddling

I am about to break down our El Nido stay according to what we did on a daily basis:

Day 1, Arrival.
Since we slept late the night before and woke up at dawn the next day, we opted to take it easy in our first day. So the girls and I fed the jack fish at 10:30am while daddy and our son went snorkeling in the same waters where the jacks were feeding. We would do this every morning for the duration of our stay, sometimes at 8:30am, other times at 10:30am.




At 12nn, we ate a hearty buffet lunch of grilled everything (my favorite were grilled oysters, shrimps, mussels, and pork, whew a lot, I ate a lot!), plus baked fish and chicken in soy sauce and at least two kinds of rice plus assorted everything: veggies, fruits, bread and jam (i love the home-made guava and santol jams), cakes, and all things delicious and happy.



After that, us girls retreated to our room to read a book and take a nap while daddy and kuya played billiards and pingpong and afterwards, slept on the daybeds facing the sea. Oh what bliss. By 5:30pm, we were raring to go on the sunset cruise, our first activity at Miniloc.





I am old, I have seen so many sunsets in my life- in all kinds of setting, in Buenavista island where I spent my childhood summers, in Mabua beach which is a few minutes by tricycle from our Surigao home, in my previous office which was a stone’s throw from Manila Bay, etc. But trust me when I say I have never seen a sunset like the one I saw in Palawan. We spent a good one hour watching the sun set, I saw it changed from this burst of bright orange color to yellow to pink as it settled perfectly between two mountains, giving us mortals just enough time to take a beautiful photo or two, before sinking to the ocean, leaving us with a tinge of its orange-yellow-pink rays, leaving us breathless.




Aside from the tour guide and the boat captain, we were the only Filipinos there. Them foreigners- Spanish and French and Mexican, their expressions mirrored my heart’s awe. There is a God who makes things beautiful and breathtaking.



We had another buffet spread for dinner, I love the chili fritters and spicy meatballs, an exciting treat to match the still-giddy heart.

Day 2: Island-hopping, wind-surfing, and snorkeling. Big and small lagoons, and Dibuluan Beach.


Refreshed and re-energized, we embarked on an action-filled second day at El Nido, starting at 8:30am. With Chris again as our ‘tour guy’ according to my youngest daughter, we went first to the big lagoon and went snorkeling. Marine life is very rich in El Nido since the resort itself and the people in general all do their part to ensure that every living thing, including the big and beautiful corals, are well taken cared of, preserved, and remained untouched.

My youngest daughter wears eyeglasses with high power, so that we bought graded goggles for her. And how she loved looking underwater. Every time she comes up for air, she describes to me all the fish and corals that she saw. And then I would confirm it by going underwater myself.




My son and my other daughter swam farther with their dad and I could hear excited shouts of ‘I saw Nemo! So many Nemo’s!’ and it was priceless.






After an hour, we went to the small lagoon. You have to transfer to the kayak to be able to go inside the small lagoon. So we paired up: ate and kuya in one kayak, the parents and the youngest in another.



We were so thrilled to see jellyfish in all sizes while we were kayaking. The song ‘Cool Change’ came to mind: if there’s one thing in my life that’s missing, it’s the time that I spend alone, sailing on the cool and bright clear water. I wonder if the composer had been to El Nido.


And then we went to Cadugnon Caves, braved small cave openings and uneven paths littered with sharp rocks to marvel at the columns formed when stalactites and stalagmites meet and have our family photo taken inside the cave.





We had lunch at Dibuluan beach club, also owned by El Nido Resorts. The grilled fish, assorted small slices of fluffy raisin cake and ube halaya paired with fresh mango shake were memorable. There were swings for the girls, and the giggles were music to my ears.


The other memorable thing was when kuya and daddy tried wind-surfing. First of all, I was hesitant because I saw the trainer battling with the strong winds and failing, or more accurately, falling. But then Isaac proved he could make a go of it, and I was so happy that I was able to take a decent shot of him standing up to the wind. I showed his pic to the father, who, in turn, got envious and wanted his picture taken while ‘wind-surfing’. I put that in quotes because he was very clear that he wanted just one pic and then get off the darn thing after. So Chris the tour guy/photographer/trainer allowed him. Pao went for it, feeling like a pro, I took his picture, and the next thing I knew, he was sailing away through stormy waters and raging winds. He got far, boy he did, that Chris had to rescue him by kayaking to where he stood- him and his surfboard, in the middle of the sea.




After lunch, we went to Snake Island, so named because the sandbar produced by two opposing currents is shaped like a snake.





We then headed back to Miniloc to swim some more and then take a rest before plunging into another action-filled night: the spectacular buffet dinner plus that mouth-watering chocolate fondue.
Day 3. Island-hopping and snorkeling. Shimizu island, Lagen resort, and our favourite of all- Entalula Beach.



Another day, another snorkeling, this time at Shimizu Island. The tour guy, Francis, told us the story that the island was named after Mr. Shimizu, the Japanese explorer who went inside the caves and never got out alive. So I told my husband and kids to not wander far off to the caves unless they want the island renamed after them.



I realised- snorkeling is addicting, and El Nido Resorts must’ve known so that it is a daily activity. The current was strong, but Aryana’s spirit was stronger. My five-year-old holding her breath underwater to give homage to the corals and the fish. And she did this n times within an hour. Some children love ipads and computer games, my daughter loves the sea and all the beauty it holds in its bosom.


We had lunch at another El Nido Resort called ‘Lagen’ with its swimming pool, modern European villas, plus gym and library. My children were amazed: wow! a library in the middle of the beach! must be heaven!


Lagen is very laid-back. It is for those who just want to relax for days on end, watch the sea change color from day to night, watch the boats come and go. While we had lunch there (which was fabulous and sumptuous in equal parts- Italian and Japanese food), a senior citizen couple arrived. They said they came from Europe, had a layover in Dubai, then Manila, then El Nido. They seemed so happy to be in El Nido, ‘worth the long flight’ written all over their happy faces. I told Pao when we are older and grayer, we will stay longer in Lagen. Miniloc offers a combination of relaxation and adventure, perfect for families with active children.




After Lagen, we went to Entalula Beach, by far our family’s favorite of all the beaches we’ve been to. The sand is white and soft and powdery. The water magical and teasing, coming at us in big and small waves, instantly transporting adults and children alike to a place where laughter reigns.



We retired back to Miniloc in the afternoon, napped for a bit, ate dinner as the local band belted out songs from our heydays- Eraserhead’s El Bimbo, True Faith’s Hwag Na Lang Kaya, to name a few. In the middle of one Pinoy ballad, this foreigner couple went near the band and danced the night away. Made me hopeful about the world.

Day 4
Our last day in Miniloc, but one of the best days of our lives. We went for the sunrise cruise at 5:30am. It was cloudy when we left, but the clouds parted to allow us to peek into the sun as it was rising in the early morn. Truly wondrous.



At 9am, we were sailing again, this time for a 3-hour fishing trip. A local fisherman was with us that day, in addition to the tour guide and boat captain. The fisherman, Ronnel, showed us how the hook with bait, line (nylon), and sinker work. It was pretty easy, just let go of the nylon until it stops rolling, it means the sinker is already at the bottom of the ocean. When you feel a kind of yanking on the other side of your nylon or especially that you feel it is heavier, than you’ve caught a fish.


I thought: I’ve done this when I was a kid in Buenavista, my grandfather, Tatay Amboy taught me how, it should be easy-peasy lemon-squeezy for moi. It wasn’t. After 2 hours and 3 fishes, I was cross-eyed and dizzy. I had to stop.


My husband gave up long before I did. My son caught 3 and was very happy that he tied the score with me.


Yesica caught 7 fishes and if I hadn’t asked that we turn back because I wasn’t my usual bubbly self anymore, she would’ve caught more.



My takeaway: I saw Yesica listening intently to the fisherman as he was giving instructions. The same focus and determination that I see in her every time she’s doing her math homework or painting. And she just did it- let go of her hook, line, and sinker, and reeled everything back as fast as those small hands could every time she felt something. Focus. Instinct. Hard work. Recipe for success don’t you think?



We had the big adventures. We also had small moments of fun- like when this guy from Botswana passed by me, did a double-take and asked: Bonjour? Me: No. Botswana guy: Hola? Me: No. Kumusta? Botswana guy (mildly disappointed): oh hello! Or that time when every European was in the beach: germans playing billiards, French lounging in the daybeds, and the Spanish mom swimming with her kids while the dad went sea-kayaking, and my husband said: o, pa-Europe Europe pa tayo e nandito lang pala sila! (Loose translation: We go to Europe, only to find that they are here, in our country).


Every afternoon, at 4-6pm, Pao and I would leave the kids in the room, playing board games, as we go to the bar and relish the happy hour. We ordered tequila sunrise and mai tai and Singapore sling and Cuban rum and all things spicy and warm. We talked about the present, now, where we are and how grateful we are of a family that is thriving beautifully amid this mad chaotic mad world. That is what I love about vacations- there is no past to dredge up, no future to worry about, there is only the beauty of the moment.





I don’t like to be flippant about our El Nido stay and say ‘it was a good four days’. It was an experience of a lifetime. Whatever it was that worried us or stressed us out or made us angry or sad or disheartened, it all went away, cast far away into the endless seas, never to find us again, not in the same magnitude nor form nor spirit. We were healed- individually, and as a family. This El Nido trip is one that I will always carry with me wherever I go, whenever I feel down (sorry Paris, I have a new happy now). I have a feeling we will go back, but the first time will always be the most memorable, forever etched.


We went back to Manila the same way we came to El Nido, in reverse order of boat ride and short jeepney rides thereafter. We had afternoon snacks of puto and sapin-sapin while waiting for our flight. El Nido made sure that we felt pampered and special from the day we arrived to the day we left.

We watched the sunset in the airplane window and marveled once more at nature’s beauty.


Thank you to my bestfriend for the referrals and tips and the 100 year-old badgering ‘go to El Nido, you’ll all love it there.’ Thank you El Nido. Thank you my Philippines 🇵🇭 Thank you to my family who’s always up for any adventure. Thank you God, you are truly great and wonderful.

good night leaf

melancholy

I’m an orphan now- and this makes me permanently sad. I lost my mother to Alzheimer’s disease in 2014. I lost my father, half-paralysed by stroke, two weeks ago. 
As my good friend said, this is, unfortunately, the age when we start to lose our parents. Yet it is still sad. Not the unbearable, depression-inducing kind of sadness. But a kind of melancholy has taken over my entire being. There is inside me a longing- of things past, of a future that will never be. There is an ache that goes on and on, uninterrupted by the busy hours at work or the tiredness in my bones as I lay down to sleep. And I cannot sleep, not well, nor straight. 
I don’t know which is better- that it would be a one-time bigtime pain; or this sadness and its seeming permanence. 
But what I do know is that, suddenly, everyone is more important than ever- family and friends. Suddenly, everything else is superficial, even silly- weight problems, working until the break of dawn, the nice earrings I’ve been wanting to buy to reward myself- for what, I can’t even remember now. 
When my parents died, people I have met for the first time came up to me and shared anecdotes about how my parents have helped them or lifted them up when they were down or shared a joke or two to brighten up their moods and their lives. 
That is my life goal- that, in my funeral, people will choose to remember me in a positive light, and forgive me for the hurts I have caused. Nothing more. 
We will all die, and it sounds so morbid, but it is so true. Whatever our status in life, no matter that we are in the last rung of that so-called ladder of success, we will all become part of the earth, food of worms and all things repulsive.  Nothing more. 
Tread lightly. Forgive quickly. Be kind. 

Otherwise, it is an empty life. 

in lieu of a birthday gift

dear pao, 
i will always be a little sore that i turned 40 two weeks earlier than you did. but that it is the only thing that i will resent about you. because all the other resentments- big and small, ugly and sad- they have all vanished when you paid your respects and talked to my mother and father six months before we were to wed in church. maybe such is forgiveness. it takes its own time, follows its own pace, waits for nothing, asks no conditions. but when it does come, it forgives freely and everything, and at a time when you least expect it. 
this is my gift for you- i forgive you for every hurt you have caused me, big and small, ugly and scarring. 
and i am sorry for every hurt i have caused you- big and small, ugly and scarring. 
after almost two decades of marriage, the children have finally noticed that i don’t give you any gift on your birthday. i should take time to explain to them that intangible gifts like forgiveness and love are more precious than any material thing. especially if you’re a crammer and you lack dollars- a lethal combination if i may say so 😂 


in my defense, i always make sure that the birthday dinner is delicious. so tonight, we had pancit bihon and lechon cebu, washed with white wine, and topped off with the biggest and reddest and juiciest strawberries i could find 🍓 


this has always been our story- happy moments and small triumphs and epic wars. but we have always emerged. not unscathed. but stronger than ever. we are stronger together. we are strongest and happiest together with our children. 


17 years of mostly-happy marriage. 3 good children. 2 memorable marriage ceremonies. a faith in God that has always been our refuge, and one which we nurture everyday. basking in the love of family and friends. and countless rolling-on-the-floor, pain-in-the-stomach, laugh-out-loud moments, sometimes at the ungodly hour of 2am, sometimes during ordinary family mealtimes, sometimes in Paris. all these because i met you. 


happy birthday my love. 
-ish me, always me❤️

Dear Daddy*

*I wrote this during Father’s Day in June 2015, when my father was still alive. I promised that I would write about him but once. I want to make good on that promise so I’m republishing here. And anyway, everything still rings true, even after he died last March 25, 2017- that I am thankful to him for giving us the best life that he could give. It was a difficult life. He was a difficult father, hard to understand, harder to love. I have had many father figures, but I have only one father. And he was very present in my life. My husband summed it all when he said: I will be forever grateful to your Dad for raising you up as you are.  
I dreamt about him a day after he was buried, he was wearing his all-time favorite white sando. He was waving and smiling at me from across the street. He is fine. We are fine. All is fine. 

Dear Daddy,

 

          This will be the first and last time that I will write about you. “Strained” doesn’t begin to describe our relationship, although “estranged” is a bit harsh. But I just want you to know that one morning, I thought of you, and there was not a trace of bitterness or anger or pain in my heart and in my soul. Instead, happy memories flooded me.

 

          I remember daddy. I remember every single thing that you taught me: at 8 years old, with me standing on a wooden stool, both afraid and excited, and you hovering near the stove, teaching me how to cook fried rice using just the right amount of oil, garlic and salt. I had blisters in my ten fingers because the potholder was too thin and the cooking utensil I was using was too hard. But I was happy because I saw you beaming with what looked like pride. You started teaching me that complicated game of chess and strategies at 7 years old, I was winning against the older neighbors when I was 10 or 11 years old, and against high school students older than me during school sports fests. You gave me a Citizen watch at 9 years old, and taught me how to read the short hand and the long hand. You insisted that during summer breaks, apart from the household chores, I have to write an essay and a poem for you to critique. It was from you that I learned what “myriad” means. I was winning essay writing contests from elementary up to high school. You taught me how to wake up at 5am when the rooster crows, because you think that knocking on our door or waking us up every morning will make us lazy.

 

        In my entire life, you didn’t give me big sermons nor did I hear you spout big, complicated words, not during mealtimes because we usually ate in silence, not during down times because I honestly could not remember any. My schedule was always full. I wake up at 5am, cook rice in the good old metal pot and watch over it like a hawk or it will burn and you won’t like it because it’s a waste of all the hard work that Uncle Toto and Tatay Oscar and Nanay Minia put in the rice fields, take a bath, put on my uniform, and eat at exactly 6:00am so that we will be on our way to school by 6:30am, just in time for the daily flag ceremony at 7:00am. I come home at 5pm and not a moment after, wash my uniform, take a bath, cook rice, eat dinner, wash the plates if it’s my turn (some days it’s my sister’s turn), study at 8pm, and sleep at 9pm because whether I want to read a Sidney Sheldon novel or not doesn’t matter to you, it is lights off by 9pm at our house. Weekends were the best days of my life. I get to play outside, climb up a hill, slide down with just a piece of cardboard on my butt, and go home at 5pm dirty but happy. We try to hear mass on Sundays when you’re in a better mood, but usually we skip it because you strongly feel that praying is a personal thing, not something to show off to all and sundry along with your best Sunday dress. If you have extra money, we’d go straight to Tavern Hotel for buttered chicken, chop suey, and bouillabaisse soup. I remember that soup daddy, it was difficult to pronounce but very easy to gulp down because it was by far, the best soup dish I’ve ever tasted in my whole life, and I’m not a soup person.

 

         It must be old age- mine. But the pains have blurred far, far away into the distant past. I remember but I choose to forget. Although I have trekked this path of forgiveness a million times, I can confidently say that I have forgiven and I want to ask forgiveness too daddy for all the heartaches that I have caused you and mommy. I have bad days when I feel trapped in that vicious cycle of regret, forgive, ask forgiveness, regret, forgive, ask forgiveness. If I could, I will go back, be a more obedient and respectful daughter, do everything all over again, get married in Church flanked by you and mommy because I know it is something that both of you would want and because it is the right thing to do. Maybe we’re not destined for that kind of altar ending, maybe something far better awaits in the next life. That is what I keep telling myself every time sadness envelopes me. I know it doesn’t matter now, and I know you have forgiven, but I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.

 

        Ma used to say every time I am angry at you “he puts food in the table, clothes on your back, and sends you to the best school in Surigao and then in all of the Philippines, surely that is enough to be grateful about.” Thank you daddy. You were always such a hardworking man. After office, you’re puttering in the house, cooking our meals, planting mango trees and kaimito and guayabano and tambis and macopa and langka and bayabas and okra and pechay and herbs of all kinds for all your gourmet-like home-cooked meals. And you are generous with whatever you have. Your government salary bonuses always go to us- a new dress during Christmastime, complete ingredients for mommy’s spaghetti (the real del monte tomato sauce and not just ketchup no no no, plus extra cheese), and a kilo of crunchy grapes. Until now, every time I tell you we are coming home, you always insist on paying for our airplane fares, and I had to insist back firmly that kaya ko na ‘dy. You are a strong man. You have difficulty walking because of a stroke that left you half-paralyzed and yet, you continue to live life the way you’ve always wanted to live it I suppose, in an unhurried way- reading the morning paper while drinking tea in the morning, watching a bit of TV, taking a nap, watching the world go by. Every time I offer something to make life a bit more comfortable, you always refuse. I get it daddy. You refuse to be a burden. You are not. But thank you for recognizing that we have our own lives now, and raising our own children. Ma was right, the fact that you chose to rear us and nurture us the best way that you could, when you could be like other fathers who abandon their family at the slightest hint of hardship, is something to be thankful for. But what I’m most thankful for is that you raised us not by words, but by example- of working hard, being generous and taking responsibility. We turned out fine daddy, we all turned out fine – me, Mae, Ayn, and Ryan.

The unbalancing act

It took me a really long time, 40 years in fact, but I am finally in a place where I am content with who I have and what I have in my life.
I am grateful for my family. A husband who adores me- a mess of curly hair and stubborn fats and greenish veins, who is very alert to my every expression and pitch of my voice and changes his expression and pitch accordingly, who makes my endless chatter his essential lullaby, who knows me and loves me just the same. Three children who light up my world when they are good and who light up my horns when they are fighting. Siblings who are thoughtful and seem thankful to have me as their ate. Cousins who are also my bestfriends. And bestfriends who are my chosen family.

I used to believe that to settle down is the saddest thing. I am wild. I am free.

My heart have settled. I am ok. I am ok with the thought that no book is forthcoming, not in the near future. I am ok that plans of opening a pastry shop or a bakery or a carenderia are not really taking shape. I am ok that I am still working as a researcher, the same job since 1998. I am ok that I have fewer friends now, some people will never like me, some people will talk bad behind my back, but then somewhere out there is at least one of my few friends who will defend me even if I don’t ask. I am ok that I seem to be the epitome of ‘jack of all trades, master of none’ – so many passions, not one grand thing to show for.

I have found that there is no perfect balance between work and family, that to be happy, it should tilt towards family. My children don’t care about my work, my deadlines and stress or how much I earn, but they worry when I bring my laptop home. So I work in the office and spend time with them after office hours.

I have found that I am more vocal now (if that is even possible), that I am not afraid to call out fake news and fake people, that I will fight for what is right and just, any time of the day. I have found that being married does not tie you down or make you less of who you are, not when you don’t let it, and that a husband who takes on almost half of the family must-do’s including being a mystery reader in kindergarten, is the key. Happy wife, happy life- this is my husband’s motto, not forced on him, I promise you, but that which he has learned after 16 years of marriage. And this affords me freedom- to read my books in peace, to go to the salon, to meet up with siblings and cousins and relatives, and to have a say in all decisions big and small.


I am ok. I am still wild. I am forever free. And my biggest, most precious realisation at 40 is that, I am loved.

*That painting of our family, enveloped by 💛 is by kuya Isaac, his birthday gift to me.

5 at 40

I am 40 with 5 important life lessons, some learnt the painful way, some the woke-up-with-this-realisation way, but all useful in my everyday.

1. wherever you are, at whatever phase in your life, you will always meet people who will make you feel small. rejoice. small is better/healthier/happier than medium or large. what i’m trying to say is that, there are some things and people that you shrug off and move on from. or if you’re up to it, take it as a challenge, get a PhD, save and scrimp and scrooge to bank a million dollars, crawl and claw your way to the top, wherever it is, whatever it takes. others’ definition of success could kill you, yeah? so take it easy. be content with who you are and who you have in your life.

2. keep things simple, be a minimalist, buy less things, store more happy memories. when i think about the Adele t-shirt that i didn’t buy for Yesica and me when we watched her concert in Paris, i feel a bit of regret. but then, i think back to that precise moment that i saw the t-shirts on sale and there was no queue, and i distinctly remember as if it was 8pm on June 9, 2016, that i didn’t want the shirt, i wanted the experience- my heart soaring as Adele serenades me and Yesica.

3. it is ok to have no plans, to flit from one ‘passion’ to another, to not be in the pursuit of something all the time (how exhausting is that?), to stay put, and be still. that is our life as a family. there is no concrete plan. there are no big dreams. there is no endless ladder to climb. there is just our family, kids who are studying, parents who are working, and a family who loves each other enough to go on trips for 2 weeks, sometimes more, mighty glued to each other day and night, 24/7 or 24/14 or more, sometimes getting on each other’s skins as we discover each other’s limits, but always having fun discovering new cultures and talking to people from all walks and colours of life. otherwise, we are still, and we are still happy.

4. marriage is not for the faint of heart. we are on our 17th year and i have yet to faint, but sometimes i feel that i am close to losing it. when i came back from a 5-day visit to Surigao sans my family, my 5-year-old daughter asked: mama, what does it feel like not being here, with all of us, your family? And the first thought that came to my mind was, unabashedly, un-guiltily, ‘glorious.’ i slept straight, from 8pm to 7am. no homeworks to check, no quarrelling kids to referee, no week-long menu to agonize about, no husband to please. that much-talked about ‘me’ time? it is essential. take it, take it. not just an hour off. a whole day and night at least. go alone or with your siblings or cousins or friends. just go away for a while, watch the waves, swim to your heart’s content, soothe the aches, forget about your cares for a day or two or more. come home stronger and saner.

5. ‘when you get, give. when you learn, teach’ so goes my favorite quote from the superwoman Maya Angelou. this echoes what my mother always said ‘give and give until it hurts. if it doesn’t hurt, then that means you can give more.’ this is my mantra, my own truth, and one which i try to do everyday. i don’t want to just give whatever extra that i have because i found that it doesn’t make me happy. but when i consciously set aside something to give to others, buying one less pair of shoes or dress or bag as a trade-off, especially to send children to school or to give food to the hungry, or to uplift others’ lives, my soul is uplifted a million times over.

One last, and increasingly important lesson that I have to learn in this digital age: take a decent selfie. Forgive this one, bad angle and with glasses to boot, but that is me, old, low-tech, but confidently beautiful with a heart❤

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pedicures for dreams

i know of one whose dream in life is to be a private banking client, which translates to about 5 million dollars. i thought then that all dreams are valid, but do some have to be shallow? or perhaps, i am bitter? judgmental, i’m sure.

on a parallel universe- mine- life didn’t exactly panned out the way i had dreamt it to be. i gave up a promising career to be a stay at home mother. it was happy at times, sad most times, and there are moments when it was both happy and sad at the same time that i feared i would go berserk.

staying home for 3 years afforded me enough time.  yes, between the endless laundry and the breastfeeding baby, i had time to clean the house, iron clothes, cook meals, and bake cakes and cookies. i even started on what i envisioned to be a 3-year book-writing journey. i have many, many pages filled with first sentences to show for it.

it has been two years of being back on a desk job. five years since i started on the so-called dream aka book. although ‘started’ is too hopeful; ‘false-started’ is harsh but honest. and in a span of two years, i fear i have become shallow. not via a 5-million-dollar-dream, not that shallow. but i have traded my lifelong dream of writing a book with a desk job that gives me a steady monthly income, which in turn, has allowed for some family trips, new clothes, and monthly pedicure. i could have stayed at home and write. i could quit now and write. but there is this magnetic pull and false security, otherwise called ‘money’ that makes me afraid to go back to being jobless and pedicure-less.

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i thought i could work during the day and write in the night. but there are homeworks to check, school newsletters to read, and children to pay attention to lest they become less of who they should be, or so a child psychologist tells us.

‘listen to the small things children say now or they won’t tell you the big things when they’re all grown’ or something to that effect. how guilt-inducing that quote is. i know whoever said that meant well (wait, really?), but when i come home from work with dead brain cells, the first thing i do is to unlisten. unlisten to bickering children. unlisten to the helper who shares unsavoury rumours about people i don’t even know, much less care about. unlisten to the husband whose furrowed brows and facial expressions i refuse to decipher. unlisten to the tv which broadcasts sad news from refugees fleeing persecution in Syria to refugees being barred from the US. unlisten to the rants in facebook. small minds. big egos. small things. big things. i have to unlisten. or i would go mental.

so i cannot have a day job and my dream book, some are superheroes, i am built differently-  i have made peace with this. it doesn’t mean that i have given up on my dream, no, never. i will write until the last bit of life is squeezed from me. but i understand now that some dreams require more than hard work and patience. Rosita from the movie ‘Sing’ and Mia from ‘La La Land’ showed me, loud and clear, that some dreams require dedication and sacrifice. for them, it means giving up or doing less of their usual ordinary day job to inch towards the extraordinary. for me, it means one pedicure-less day equals one page closer to a book.

i have a beautiful family. it took me a long time, but i can finally say that my heart is truly happy and grateful. for some, that is enough. but there is a restlessness in my soul, because there is a dream left unfulfilled, unwritten.

oh courage, where are you?

 

Of Degas’ Little Dancer and the Madness in this World (a.k.a Inday’s Midnight Musings)

imageWhen we first went to Paris in 2009, we simply had no extra money to buy a copy of my favorite Degas sculpture in bronze- The Fourteen-Year-Old Little Dancer (Edgar Degas, 1881).  And it slipped off my mind during our second visit. Last year, I was ever so tempted to buy this, but I noticed that the price has gone up by 10 euros, and suddenly it was not tempting anymore. Instead, I bought a book about Degas’ Little Dancer called Marie at Musee D’Orsay, which costs less but gives my girls so much happiness every time their dad reads it to them for bedtime stories.

Our visit this year was not the most ideal. Whereas before, I enjoyed the seemingly endless walk from Arc de Triomphe to Place de la Concorde, finally resting at Jardin des Tuilieries with a book in my hand, letting my ohsocurly hair be blown away thru windy days, I wasn’t as carefree this year when our family went to Paris. Yes, I had 3 very excited children to look after, but it was more of a feeling of restlessness. I was wary about the narrow cobblestoned alleys when they have always been my favorite parts in Paris, and the people walking behind me, beside me, when I would feel this cheerfulness/skippy-ness in my heart just by watching people and Paris pass me by.

I don’t even know now if I should be happy that I finally bought this Degas sculpture, never mind that it is around 20 euros more compared to our first visit. I told my children, who were busily devouring cheese and croissant and ice cream: ok let us enjoy Paris, eat cheese, and be merry. Do not forget our time here as a family because I don’t think we are coming back soon- I realise now that I meant every word😢

There is a madness in this world that is difficult to comprehend and accept. It used to be that when we go home to our family and loved ones, we leave our worries at the door and forget about them. But it is different now. I go home and I am thankful but I worry about other children and other families. What uplifts me is that I see friends who are also doing their part to make this world kinder to its children.

What should we do? Be kind. Be generous. Give out hugs and kisses and smiles-  they are free. Reach out. Don’t let our children go to the dark side. Don’t make them feel alone and unloved. Because it all starts with these feelings of isolation and neglect.

‘To whom much is given, much is expected.’ And as my favorite poet, Maya Angelou, urged: When you learn, teach. When you get, give.

 

My (Belated) Wedding Vow

dear pao,

Thank you for giving me and the children a beautiful wedding. Itwas everything I ever hoped for, and more, definitely, absolutely more. I just wanted a beautiful wedding mass and a fun wedding party afterwards. I had both- plus everything was just grand. Small, intimate, elegant, beautiful, and grand. In.every.way. Thank you for making yet another dream come true.

My only regret was that I wasn’t able to compose a proper wedding vow. As you know, I’m not big on promises (including new year’s resolutions and diet plans), because I always manage to break them, if not now, then definitely tomorrow.

But I want to be kinder to you. I want to be patient when I have to repeat myself because you have a bad ear, even when I want to scream or shout. I want to be understanding every time you give a pass or two or three to the children when they quarrel with each other, or make the same mistakes, over and over again, when all I want to do is get angry at them. I want to be quiet when you don’t do what I say at the exact time I said it- please get us a cab now so we won’t be late for Mass, please prepare Aryana’s milk and snacks before we go, please put on Aryana’s socks and shoes, please tell the children to be quiet because my nerves are frayed- instead of being mad at you. I want to help you pick up things- lego blocks, clothes, hankies, stuffed toys- instead of complaining to you that the house is in a state of chaos every single damn day. I want to take over being you with the kids- play with them, read them stories, talk to them about everyday mundane things- so that you will have some free time, instead of me reading a book or being glued to my phone.

I want to save up some money to buy you something nice for once- instead of you saving money to buy me all things nice and pretty. I want to lift you up when you’re sad, take care of you when you’re sick, and be with you, wherever life takes us…and I mean now, tomorrow, forever, and always.

You know what I loved most about Finding Dory, it’s that scene when she said: What is so great about plans? The best things happen by chance, because that’s life. And that is our life- no plans, only one great adventure at a time.

I love you with all of me. ‘Me’ may not be much- all broken pieces and loose ends and bad hair and weird lump of fats and veins- but every part of me loves every part of you.

love,

rhea