No Means No

20 May

These days, when Alphonse says NO, we have to believe he means it.


Communication is difficult for individuals with autism and Alphonse is not an exception. For those on the tail end of the spectrum- those whose disabilities are considered severe or profound- like Alphonse, speech is a most challenging obstacle. It is a huge credit to his ABA manager/teacher, Teacher Rod, that he even learned how to give “yes” or “no” answers by nodding or by shaking his head. But perhaps because the act of nodding is easier than moving the head sideways, Alphonse’s default answer to everything is “yes.”

In the beginning, we tried to find things he would object to just to emphasize the difference between a “yes” and a “no.” With food being such a strong reinforcer in his case, we thought of introducing bitter things such as ampalaya (bitter gourd) to elicit a negative reaction and associate this with the gesture and the word “no.” Weeks later, however, he began enjoying the taste of bitter gourd and we lost a reinforcer to his voracious appetite. After that, we tried chili peppers and hot sauce and even those became enjoyable to him after a while.

We had pretty much given up on ever teaching him to make “yes” or “no” choices until I inadvertently discovered he hated having his eyebrows trimmed. The pair of tweezers I use to trim and shape eyebrows scared him witless and he would shake his head and push my hands away. Of all negative reinforcers, this elicited a consistent “No” over multiple trials.

When Alphonse finally found his “no,” he began using this in earnest, answering us in the negative even with repeated questioning. Throwing in another question that is answered by a definite, unequivocal “yes” (like “Do you want bubbles?”) eliminated the uncertainty of his disagreement. I was so proud of this milestone that I whipped out the tweezers every opportunity I could get just to see him say “No.” Pretty soon, he could answer “yes” or “no” when asked if anything hurt (we go through a checklist, point to the body part, and asked if it was “ouchie”) and if he needed medicine for it. What a milestone it was!

Sometimes, however, even I forget that Alphonse’s choices do matter. This morning, after breakfast, I decided to trim his beard and clean his face. I dabbed some Cure aqua gel to exfoliate his skin and gently rubbed in circular motions to massage the product. When I got to his nose, I asked permission to rub harder.

“Alphonse, can Mama rub your nose?”
Alphonse shook his head. No.

“I need to rub your nose to clean it, Alphonse.”
More shaking of head, harder this time. A definite No.

“Well, Mama says she needs to do it, okay? So just be good.”
And so I did, completely ignoring his hands pushing me away.

I saw him look at me as a flash of anger darkened his eyes. Then, he began to pull my hair with both hands. He screeched loudly as he tore my hair from their roots.

I said nothing as I waited for the nannies to remove his hands from my head. I grabbed my hair by the roots to prevent them from being pulled but I was no match for the violence of his angry hands. My scalp stung in places but I was also still grateful that Alphonse had not employed full force. I was chastened.

I knew it was my fault. I knew that I had pushed him too far, that I had failed to respect his choice. He had tried to communicate his needs with me and I ignored them willfully. Sometimes, I forget that he does know what he wants. Sometimes, I forget that even the most well-meaning mothers have no absolute right over their children’s choices, disabled or not.

Later, as I apologized, I asked him if he was still angry with me.  He shook his head and looked at me kindly.
No, Mama. I could almost hear him say.

“Do you still love Mama?” I asked timidly. He nodded. Yes. And then he bent to kiss my hair.

As Alphonse slowly finds his voice, I have to remind myself to be more sensitive and respectful of his choices. Whether I am ready for this change or not, his ability to choose for himself- however simple these choices may be- means he continues to change and evolve. I know he cannot be my baby forever.

I have to let him grow. It is time.

Weekend Cinema

26 Apr

We caught Avengers: Age of Ultron on its first day last Wednesday at TriNoma. My husband and I were able to drag Alex along for the screening, enticing him with the promise of barbecue popcorn and Brothers burgers. Unfortunately, while we enjoyed the movie, both my husband and I felt the sound system at Cinema 1 was off that night. For some reason, it wasn’t loud or clear enough so we ended up missing some dialogue. Well, either the cinema sound system was on the fritz that night or our hearing is going, ouch!

imax 01

The IMAX schedule at SM North EDSA this weekend

Anyway, we wanted to watch it again, this time thinking of going all-out with the IMAX immersive experience. Yes, the price of tickets would require us to fork over an additional P200 for each of us (regular cinema’s P250 compared to IMAX’s P450). And yes, we knew that unlike, say, The Dark Knight Rises, Avengers: Age of Ultron was not filmed using IMAX cameras and was simply converted to 3D postproduction. But just imagining that humongous screen- all 15 meters of it- was enough to quiet our second thoughts.

imax 06

As if that was not enough, we learned that the IMAX Theater at SM North EDSA would have 24-hour screenings for this weekend only. Now, how could we say no to that?

Still, the last time my husband and I stayed up late for a midnight first screening of a movie, we were too cross-eyed with sleep to actually enjoy it. So considering our aging body clocks, we opted for what we thought would make more sense: an early morning screening. Five am early, to be exact.

imax 02

I’ve never been to the malls that early, truth to tell, and it felt eerily like being in a scene from Dawn of the Dead (both the 1978 George Romero original and the 2004 remake), where the survivors of a zombie apocalypse hide out in the mall. A♥ and I walked leisurely, amazed to have the mall almost to ourselves. While walking, I quickly scanned the empty stores for possible hiding places, figuring that I’d probably head first to the supermarket for food anyway. Ah, but I digress.

imax 05

The ground floor of SM North EDSA was empty at that hour. (Brain thinking: too many glass walls and zombies can see you!)

imax 04

Heading to the theaters on the second floor

imax 03

Have you ever seen this flight of stairs without people? Nope!

There weren’t so many people for Sunday ‘s five am screening, which was to our liking. I’d have thought more people of our age group (with our unusual predisposition for waking up early) would be there but before the family seated behind us came, A♥ and I seemed to be the only “old folks.”

The IMAX experience of Avengers: Age of Ultron certainly lived up to our expectations. The sound system was a huge improvement over our first date with Avengers:AOU, allowing us to laugh with the punchlines and double entendres. The larger screen was perfect for detailing action, blowing them up in full detail and rich color. If you’re watching Avengers:AOU before its run finishes, I’d fully recommend doing it the IMAX way. The extra money is definitely worth it.

As far as dates go, this one was unusual in that we’ve never ever taken in a movie at 5am before. A♥ and I have done many things together in our almost 24 years of marriage and I guess when you’ve been with someone far longer than you have been without them, it’s easy to take the things you do together for granted. Watching movies has always been our thing because my husband is a movie addict.

That we continue to enjoy the same things we did many years ago tells me that while many things may change, there are also things that stay the same. Thank God for that. :-)

The Summer of Alphonse’s Smiles

22 Apr

My friend Mayet dropped in on us with a surprise for Alphonse the other day. It was one of my son’s favorites, a homemade flour-free rellenong bangus (deboned stuffed milkfish) that could be fried easily for his afternoon snack times. I knew Alphonse would appreciate the visit so I dragged Mayet inside to say hello, and lo and behold! Alphonse was in his birthday suit, heehee.

I can’t blame the boy. It started to sizzle in the city late in March, with temperatures slowly rising to the mid-3o’s (°Celsius). The other day, we hit 37°C, with no respite in sight. Yesterday was a degree cooler and we had unexpectedly strong rain (with hail in some parts of the island) so we slept better than we have of late. Still, we expect higher temperatures in the next couple of weeks as summer goes into overdrive. The boys and I are hunkering down for the long, hot summer. We stay in darkness or under the shade during the day so we can cut down electricity costs. We settle for electric fans during the day, using only airconditioning at night before Alphonse goes to bed. With a cold drink in hand and the almost-daily afternoon halo-halo, we manage to survive this heat wave one day at a time.

Alphonse does have it better than us. While Alex and I make do with fans and mist sprayers, he has a mini inflatable pool. We can’t set up his large pool (the one big enough to accommodate four large adults) because we need to conserve water so this will have to do for now. At least it gets him cooled down. Water play has always been his favorite activity next to blowing bubbles. :-) alphonse in pool We’ve had to let his hair grow a while now because of his ear problems but with the heat bearing down on us, it made sense to give him a short buzzed cut. He’s been tugging at his curls often these days, so even with the open wound on his ear, we went ahead and got him a hair cut. Alphonse summer 01 Judging by the pictures, he enjoyed the visit to the barber. His dad said he kept smiling and giggling the whole time. Props to his barber too, for getting it done really fast and without a fuss. alphonse summer 02 As much as the weather oppresses us with its searing heat, summer has its good moments. When the weather cools down in the evening, the boys gravitate to our bedroom for shared airconditioning. I like these times best, when the boys spend time together. Alex is often preoccupied with his usual pursuits- music, computers, chatting with friends- and Alphonse is so very far behind his big brother’s interests that finding them a common activity has always been difficult. There are times, however, when nothing needs to be said or done, when all that is needed is a touch or a hug to reconnect and strengthen the bonds of brotherhood.

I love that my boys, despite their ages, still have these moments. Autism, for all its difficulties and challenges, does have its gifts and this is one of them- a loving look that passes between siblings, even when both are fully grown. alphonse summer 03 If we continue to measure our lives by Alphonse’s struggles and successes, we do so because we are all he has. We make no apologies for that anymore.

This summer, just like the others that have gone before it, is another chapter we save gladly in our memories. We will draw strength and inspiration from it when the good times become difficult to remember. And until the darkness comes, we will soak in this bright, beautiful world that is Alphonse’s smile and be grateful that the light is here for a while.

Sylvanian Page Update!

6 Apr

SF Cleaning TipsI am reposting the Care tips from PH Sylvanian Families in this blog to make it easier to find. Mobile Facebook, unfortunately, does not make accessing notes easy for fans of the page. I’ve added a new section in my Sylvanian pages called ” Sylvanian Play Tips: Collecting, Organizing, and Taking Care of Your Sylvanian Families Toys.”  You can either click this link to go there or click the tab and scroll to the subpage.

If you have any more suggestions and helpful tips, please feel free to comment so I may add to the lists.

Happy Sylvanian collecting!

Because It is Still Easter in Some Part of the World

6 Apr

Yesterday was a day spent with the boys at home, eating barbecue ribs, garlic honey shrimps, and that undeniably Filipino dessert concoction, the halo-halo. We couldn’t go out with the boys because Alphonse still has a fresh wound on his ear (he had a second operation, maybe another story for another day). And so, instead of bringing them out, we thought to celebrate at home with the hopes that maybe Alphonse wouldn’t feel so bad about being cooped up for so long.

In the few minutes before Alphonse woke up yesterday morning, however, I took pictures of my larger Sylvanian rabbits as my Easter photo for this year. I didn’t have time to set-up my dolls and critters so this had to do. This is a bit late as Easter has come and gone where I am but because it is still Easter Sunday somewhere in the globe. I am posting this to wish everyone a  –

SF Easter rabbitsMay the spirit of our Risen Lord be with us always,

with love, friendship and peace for us all!


Sylvanian Families- Collection Update 2015 P1

23 Mar

I should really get around to uploading these pictures to the Sylvanian collections. If I don’t do it now, I’ll never get them done, I just know it. With me being at Alphonse’s beck and call these days (and he does beckon very often, alas!), there’s hardly any time to do much of anything else except look at a few figures now and then.

Usually, I no longer bother to post separately before I upload these pictures in their proper categories. I thought to do it differently, just so I can see in one glance what I’ve done so far. Doing this also allows me to know right away which boxes and bags I still have to work on.

These figures are part of last year’s purchases from London, Japan, and Hong Kong. There are also a few that were bought locally, precious finds from local toy collectors and resellers. As much as furniture and houses are fun, I’ve discovered that I love figures more and can’t wait to add more to my collections. I have some more that will need to be reunited with their families so here’s hoping I have more time tomorrow to haul them out. In the meantime, please enjoy my new figures.

Warning: This post is graphic heavy.

The Grandstand and Souvenir Shop with Shopkeeper Zoe Barker (FL)

New SF 0315 01- Sue Barker and games stand

The Fish and Chips Van with the Osbornes (FL)

(Papa Finley comes with the van, Mama Francesca comes in the “Francesca the Fish Fryer and Sonny” play set, and Andrea comes from the “Canal Rowing Boat” set.)New SF 0315 02- osbornes and fish and chips van

This is Sonny Barker. He has a thing for fish and chips.

New SF 0315 06 FL Sonny Barker

Dolly’s Candy Floss (FL)

New SF 0315 21 FL Dolly's Candy Floss

Elsie’s Ice Cream (FL)

New SF 0315 20 FL Elsie's Ice Cream

Chocolate Labradors (FL): The Hunter-Smyth Family

Papa Charles, Mama Camilla, Brother Hector, Sister Isabella, Baby Gerald and twins Thomas and Georgina

New SF 0315 04 FL Chocolate Labradors

 Striped/ Caramel Cats (JP)

New SF 0315 03 JP Caramel Cats

 Beavers (JP)

New SF 0315 24 JP Beavers

 Gray Mice: The Thistlethorns (FL)

New SF 0315 17 FL Thistlethorn Gray Mice

Goats (JP)

New SF 0315 16 JP Goats

Yellow Labradors (JP)

New SF 0315 15 JP Golden Labradors

Monkeys (JP)

New SF 0315 14 JP Monkeys

Hamsters (JP)

New SF 0315 07 JP Hamster

Solitaire Cats’ Wedding Set (FL) 

New SF 0315 08 UK Solitaire Cats

(Grandma) Hazel and Rihanna’s Day Out (FL)

New SF 0315 19 FL Grandma Hazel and Rhianna Dappledawn

Babblebrook Grandparents (JP)

New SF 0315 13 JP Babblebrook Grandparents

Chocolate Rabbit Grandparents (JP)

New SF 0315 23 FL Chocolate Grandparents

Berry Grove Cheerleaders (FL)- renewal figures for SSK membership

New SF 0315 22 FL Berry Grove Cheereleaders Renewal Figures

Maypole Dancers: Abbie Keats and Poppy Dappledawn

New SF 0315 18 FL Mayflower girls

Oakwood squirrel brother (JP)

New SF 0315 12 JP Oakwood Squirrel Brother

JP Milk Rabbit sister with JP Cake Shop Special Gift Set

New SF 0315 11 JP Cake Shop Special Gift Set Milk Rabbit Sister

 JP Prize Pink Cotton Rabbit (c.2000)

New SF 0315 10 JP Special Prize Pink Cotton Sister Yr 2000

Woodland Princess (JP)

New SF 0315 09 JP Woodland Princess

Part 2 coming soon…


The PH❤SF Love Photo Contest 2015

21 Mar

Thank you 03 copyThe final entries came last night in a flurry of last-minute submissions. There were more entries in the past two days than in the first three weeks of the contest and I was floored with all the e-mail and private messages I got one after the other.  I was also pleasantly surprised to find that this year, despite the absence of international submissions, we had 70 local entries- a record number!

While the judges set about to studying each picture in detail, I’d like to invite you all to please check out the submissions of our local contestants. You can find them at the PH❤SF page in this album: The PH❤SF Love Photo Contest 2015.

PHSF timeline old

My thanks to all those who Liked the page, who made time to set up their detailed dioramas, painstakingly took photos, and submitted their entries, and who stayed tune to all the developments in the page. I am also deeply grateful to Ban Kee Toys, the official distributor of Sylvanian Families in the Philippines, and to Mr. Joseph de Leon, Brands Department Manager, for the support they have shown me and the PH❤SF community.

And with yesterday being Sylvanian Families’ 30th birthday, I must say these entries were all wonderful ways to celebrate this important milestone! Salamat muli!

HBD Sylvanian Families

Mabuhay ang Sylvanian Families sa Pilipinas!



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