Point to Point and Getting You There on Time

25 May

In the last few months, amid the heat and tension of the electoral contests, I learned a lot of things about myself, the people I call my “friends,” and my country. The lessons I learned from this most recent election will need a separate post, meant for another day when I am least likely to give in to tears. But from today, I will try to look at my country with more forgiving eyes and write about something that works, be it an an idea or a service, to remind us that contrary to what we are constantly being told, we are headed towards the right direction. Progress may be slow, and it may not affect or benefit all of us at once, but as long as we continue to work together as brothers and sisters under one sun, there is hope for us yet. 

These days, I find myself giving up on city travel most of the time. Not even the enticement of a new movie and buffet dinner can budge me from the comfort and safety of our home. Gone are the the days when I would readily hop on a tricycle, hang on a jeepney, flag down a cab, or even squeeze myself with the teeming crowds in the MRT. At my age, I don’t feel like I have the stamina or the patience to bear with traffic and high people volume anymore. And so I am rarely out of the house, if I can help it. With my agoraphobia and claustrophobia in full gear, you can bet that you will find me at home 99 times out of a hundred.

Sometimes, however, you need to step out of your comfort zone to rediscover the world. One such opportunity came up a couple of months ago and I readily said yes, never mind that my anxieties over vehicles and traffic were at an all-time high. I rode with my husband in the morning, slogging through an hour and a half of slow moving traffic to get from Quezon City to Makati. At least my fears were temporarily quelled, with A♥ beside me. At the back of my mind, however, I knew I had to make the ride back home by myself, and this was a cause for worry. I had two choices: use Uber, which would be expensive but safe, or wait for A♥ to finish work and go home with him then, which would mean being away from Alphonse for almost a whole day.

Fortunately, Facebook came to the rescue. It was serendipitous that at 5am that same Monday morning, I found a shared article on the Point to Point Premium Bus on my newsfeed. It seemed like an answered prayer.

I convinced A♥ to let me try the bus. I knew he had reservations because I really don’t go anywhere without him, but Alphonse also needed me at home. For someone with little experience riding a public bus, I was feeling pretty confident about the whole thing, a surprise in itself.  Thus, at 3:15pm, I found myself being dropped off at the P2P bus stop. I made it in time for the 3:30pm departure to Quezon City.

The P2P bus from Makati to QC is run by Froelich Tours on behalf of the Department of Transportation and Communivation (DOTC). Launched as an adjunct to transit services last December, it was meant to be a stop gap solution to the shortage of available  transportation experienced by the riding public every Christmas season. Operating on the framework of timed departures and arrivals at specific points, the P2P bus system is widely used in many countries all over the world. Within this same system, bus drivers are paid fixed wages instead of boundaries/quota and commission-based earnings.

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I got the bus all to myself!

It took the bus I rode exactly 45 minutes to traverse the section of EDSA from the pick-up point  at Glorietta 5 to the drop-off  at TriNoma. The bus ride, while a bit jerky and bouncy –it’s a bus, really, what do I expect?– was uneventful and quiet. The driver, unlike other bus drivers in EDSA jockeying for position, was careful and did not weave in and out lanes, one of my biggest bus pet peeves. Inside, the bus was clean, swept, and odor-free, the seats were comfortable, and the upholstery was intact and new. Air conditioning worked well, with cold air blowing generously out of the vents unimpeded.

In the last two months, I’ve taken the P2P bus from Quezon City to Makati and vice versa many times. Not all the buses are the same, and some are clearly nicer than others, but for P55, it is definitely a good deal. I hope more people would patronize this service, even as it begins spreading out to other parts of the city. Imagine if ALL buses were point to point and on time, then, the riding public would have a reliable service at our disposal. Perhaps then, the MRT would be able to receive the rehabilitation it sorely needs, without crippling the whole city in its wake.

The following are the routes currently in operation. For more information (maps, fare matrix), please visit the DOTC website (link here).

Trinoma to Glorietta 5 (North EDSA to Makati)
Alabang Town Center to Greenbelt 1 (Ortigas to Makati)
SM North EDSA to SM Megamall (North EDSA to Ortigas)
Robinson’s Galleria to Park Square (Ortigas to Makati)

 

The Ring (with Update)

23 May

lost and found 02I lost one of my weddings ring yesterday, I don’t know exactly when or where. I wore it yesterday morning when I left the house; when I took off my jewelry later in the afternoon, it was no longer in my right hand. I’ve been trying to think of where or when I might have lost it, but nothing comes to mind.

I’m not much of a jewelry person but I do have a few favorites. This is one of them. A♥ and I bought our first pair of rings- a pair of plain white gold bands- from a roving “Manang alahera” at the Philippine General Hospital. We paid for the rings in installments over six months, well, because we didn’t have much money of our own back then. (I was a junior clerk in medical school and he had been working just a little over a year.) They were cheap compared to the ones we got for our church wedding much later, but for both of us, they were worth so much more than gold and diamonds. The rings reaffirmed our desire to be together, back when it seemed impossible. They reminded us of how much our friendship and love endured over the years. And for a young couple with little money at the start of their marriage, those rings represented a commitment to build a life together, for better or worse.

It feels a little worrisome that I lost a wedding ring on our 25th year. But I don’t want to read anything more into it than what it was, a lousy accident in an otherwise okay day, and so I pray that it brings love to whomever finds it. My ring may have been lost, but I have years of memories to cherish and appreciate. Then again, perhaps it’s time to get a new ring to commemorate moving forward to the next 25 years. Let’s go find “Manang alahera” again, A♥.

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P.S. That’s my ring there. How I miss it. 😞

~0~

UPDATE: The Ring

Last night, I went to bed thinking of all the things I did yesterday and retracing my steps. This morning, I woke up with a heavy sense of loss. I posted my ring story here on Facebook and then went about our day.

On Mondays, I try to clean our bedroom more thoroughly than other days and this afternoon was no exception. Against the odds, I hoped that my ring was just somewhere in our room, that it rolled off to some dusty corner waiting for me to find it again. As I often do on Mondays, I started my cleaning by stripping the bed off its sheets. Just for good measure, I whispered a prayer to St. Anthony again. I took off the sheets, brought them to the bathroom, and shook them there. Nothing. I strained to hear a clink against the tiles but none came. I did the same with each pillow, fluffing them at the same time. Disappointed, I placed the sheets and all eight pillows back. Afterwards, I took my sturdy pink broom (instead of the usual, the vacuum cleaner) and swept every corner. I even crawled under the bed to reach some hidden dust bunnies. Still not a sign of the ring. I finished by wiping down our things.

By then, I had given up; the ring was not in the room. I would have to move to another part of the house to look later. I had already been through the bathroom, even the trash cans, but the ring was nowhere. The kitchen would be my next stop.

I was mentally going through the list of things I would have to check when a wave of exhaustion swept over me. I sat down on the bed, forlorn and a wee bit bitter. Remember I had just made the bed- removed the sheets, shook them in the air, and put them back- AND then I saw the ring.

In the middle of our bed.

I still have goosebumps over it.

Happy 57th, Barbie! *

10 Mar HBD Barbie

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*Barbara Millicent Roberts turned 57 yesterday, March 9, 2016.

I’ve never been a girly kind of girl. Ask anyone who knows me. Apart from a short interlude with a Fisher-Price Mandy doll and a 1974 Baby Alive doll when I was nine or ten, dolls were never really my thing. I liked reading and playing video games more.

As a young girl, I hoarded back copies of Reader’s Digests from my relatives and spent the bulk of my allowance on Nancy Drew books. I bought music cassettes with what was left of my allowance, spending hours sitting by my huge “portable” radio/cassette player (the kind that needed six D-cell batteries to operate). Long before emo and goth were fashionable, I was the girl in black in the middle of summer, listening to songs of loss and death, writing essays about the futility of “being” and the death of love. In short, I liked solitary, nerdy, dark things and not the glitzy, glam, bedazzling life of a Barbie doll.

ballerina barbie

Wish I had been able to keep mine. (Source: http://www.giank.it)

Eh, Barbie dolls? I only really had one. It was a Ballerina Barbie with pale blonde hair, a white and gold tutu, pointe shoes, and the highest arched heels I had ever seen in a doll. She was so beautiful she made me want to become a ballerina myself. She was my inspiration for taking up the dance in my childhood, never mind that I always had thirty pounds over my peers in weight and body mass. Unfortunately, Ballerina Barbie suffered an early demise. She survived me for all of a year, until my younger sister Joee accidentally decapitated her in a brief struggle for ownership.

My sister Joee was the one who loved Barbies. She still has many of them today, dolls we bought together on summer trips to Hong Kong. Given time to explore the small city by ourselves, Joee and I would find ourselves entering dimly lit stores along Mody Road, looking for Barbie dolls to take home. Along the stretch of Nathan Road, we found many of our treasures and hoarded them happily- Barbie for her, Hello Kitty and Game And Watch for me, or as much as our combined allowance for the three- or four-day trip would allow.

All of my love affairs with dolls ended unhappily and lasted no more than a summer’s worth of boredom. Even as I maintained my fascination for Sanrio, books, and video games, I lost interest in dolls, Barbie dolls most of all. On hindsight, I think my body and self-esteem issues as an adolescent contributed a lot to my inability to connect with a Barbie doll. Try as I might to look or feel like one- beautiful, glamorous, perfect- I was always a gawky, nerdy ugly duckling in my mind.

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My first Silkstone- Trace of Lace: A♥ got her for me because her hair is like mine. *blushes*

It thus comes as a big surprise that as I cross the threshold of middle life, I find myself an owner of not just one or two Barbie dolls, but, ehrm, quite a few. Silkstone Barbies and Kens make up my current Barbie collection. They are all beautiful in their exquisite ways, all perfect, and all mine.

What caused this change of heart, you ask? For starters, they were gifts from my husband. He must have noticed me spending a little more time viewing doll pictures on Facebook and so he gave me one on Mother’s Day three years ago. This was followed by three on my birthday, and some more on the countdown to our 22nd anniversary. So, even as I whine and complain about the cost (Silkstone Barbies are not regular, play line dolls and do cost a bit more), I find myself quite fascinated with them.

The truth is, despite my long history of angst with what I used to perceive as the “impossible perfection” Barbie endorses, I have made my peace with her. These days, I no longer see Barbie’s beauty and unlikely body proportions as a critical reflection of my deepest personal flaws. I don’t diss her choices to become a nurse, secretary, cheerleader or any of traditionally female gender work roles that stereotyped her for years; after all, she has made larger strides in gender equality in her 57 years. I don’t blame her for materialism, eating disorders, intellectual inferiority, promiscuity, or the sexualization of young girls. These problems are not Barbie’s doing; they come from a much deeper place than a doll or the ideal of the doll. Instead, I think of Barbie as a reflection of the changing times. She is not perfect but she knows how to adapt and survive. And while I would wish for her to temper her mind blowing expenses on fashion, I laud her for the zest and love of life she espouses, for the kind of giggly enthusiasm that is hard to match by jaded men and women of her years.

(Below are some of my dolls. Click the picture to view it on a larger scale.)

barbie 01

barbie 07My silkstone dolls (well, some of them)

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barbie 04I love the doll and dress sets best!

barbie 05Lingerie Silkstones 1-6 
barbie 06My favorite Barbie and Ken set- Darya and Nicolai

I can only think of one more argument that trumps all of the above and it is this: all of my Barbies have been gifts. As such, I choose to focus on these acts of giving. For the first time in ages, I know what it feels to be a girly kind of girl, even just a teeny weeny bit. I doubt I’ll ever be one completely, knowing how most days, I’d give up a bath for a couple of hours of The Sims 4 or Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer. Some things never do change. But if there’s anything I learned from my experiences with Barbie these days, it is that Mattel might have had it right all along.

“Girls can do anything.”
“Be who you want to be.” 
“Be anything.” 

I am A♥’s best friend. I am a mother. I am a geek. I am a wife. I am a nerd. I am a gamer. I am a collector. I am an advocate. I am a girl.

And I like being all these.

I like being me.

Happy birthday, Barbie! Thank you for the inspiration.♥

HBD Barbie

Sundays with Alphonse

22 Feb

blog 01Since A♥ started working farther from home last year, weekends have been used for one of two things: running errands or sleeping. Our date and movie nights have suffered seriously because of his schedule, but we’ve adjusted by turning our errands into dates, and our sleeping days into lazy dates! Winking Face Emoji (Twitter Version)

Of course, with Alphonse around, we’ve been hard pressed to find time for these “dates” so we’ve taken to bringing him with us when we can. It’s not a mean feat preparing him for a few hours of the outside world; aside from the mental and emotional preparation, there are the physical ones we have to overcome first. Packing a bag of essentials is a must; his carry on usually has a  change of clothes and underwear, his PECS cards, bubbles solutions-a bigger bottle for refills and a small one with a wand, a small towel, wet and dry tissues, snacks, and a a reusable adult wee bag for those times he cannot wait. (The iPad is optional since he tends to use cards more but it does come in handy for social stories.) The car is also prepped with extra golf umbrellas (to form a makeshift cover for him when the calls of nature come suddenly and unannounced) and cushions and pillows to prevent headbanging.

Yesterday was one of our errand days but Alphonse also needed to get out of the house. He has been acting very angsty since A♥ went on an overnight work trip last week. We figured a little time outside with us would help calm him down.

We left the house later than we planned. The sun was already high and hot above us when we left but Alphonse was in good spirits. Aside from picking up our week’s rations of vegetables from the supermarket, we had planned to drop by to visit Dad at the cemetery and A♥’s Mom at the nearby church ossuarium. The last time we went to Loyola, Alphonse couldn’t wait to get back in the car (it must have been the heat), so we were happy to see him stay for a while. We were even able to say our prayers before he signaled for us to go.

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Alphonse brought flowers for Lola, Great GrandLola and Tito Lolo. ♥

And then came his favorite part of the day- grocery shopping! I wish I took a video of how he helped us choose and bag vegetables. He was quite the helper yesterday!

Alphonse 22116C

Alphonse stopped by the CDO hotdog stand and asked for one. Mom had to hold it lest he swallowed the whole thing in one go. He wasn’t too happy about it though.

We made a few more stops for pancake and rice cake mixes before we headed to the check-out lanes. When Alphonse got the cart near the counter, he suddenly broke out in loud, uncontrollable laughter and shrieks. And then he grabbed four Kit Kat bars and hugged them close to his chest! Ah, this young man is a little boy at heart (and mind) still! You can see his smiles below; they’re truly the most heartfelt of smiles.

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The sweetest smiles are reserved for his Papa… and Kit Kat. ♥

Having less people around Alphonse has allowed him, by necessity, to gain a measure of independence. We’ve gone a long way from when Alphonse could only look at the world from the inside, peering through windows and watching life pass him by. These days, he is happy to mingle and take part- however limited the interactions may be- in the world around him. And we are happy to hold his hand and make this journey possible for him.

I wish all days were like Sundays.

 

 

Present and Accounted For

25 Jan 12647688_10207356738890657_797840846_n

I’ve been trying to think of a word to describe how Alphonse has been in the last month or so, but no matter how I rack my brain to do it, nothing seems to fit. Aware? Conscious? Sensitive? I find myself at a loss for words. Somehow, these don’t seem apt at all. Then too, if I use them, do they betray a prejudice against individuals with autism by attributing them with the lack or absence of these traits? Alphonse is certainly aware, conscious, and sensitive of us and his environment; if at all, he is painfully burdened by an over-awareness of everything that goes around him. Perhaps the word or words I am looking for are more related to a perceived emotional distance, an aloofness that disconnects him with other’s intentions and motivations.

And yet, today, even as I write this, Alphonse seems more here, more present with us these days. I can’t explain it at all. I don’t know why or how, he just is.

He tries to reach out more often, making himself seen and heard. Would you believe that we’ve been able to have conversations with him- funny ones at that? Despite his inability to communicate through spoken language, he has managed to make his responses understood. There is also a remarkable degree of restraint in him these days, something we have not seen in a long while.

Consider this.  When his nanny absconded early last year, despite a promise to return (with an advance on her salary, a paid-for return airplane ticket, and a borrowed cellular phone), Alphonse didn’t break out in tantrums right away. We had given him a social story on his iPad to read before and during his nanny’s absence. I made sure to include a calendar marked with her vacation days. Three days after she was due to return and with news that she had eloped, Alphonse finally had that full-scale meltdown. He pulled our hair, threw all our borrowed dining chairs, and even tried, on several occasions, to bite us. It took about a week before he calmed down.

Knowing his reactions to loss, we resolved to make the next transitions smoother. With our previous successes with social stories fresh on my mind, I worked on poster pictures for Alphonse, giving him copies on his iPad and printing out some to post on the walls. I even kept copies on my mobile phone so would always have them on hand and ready for viewing. We showed the pictures to him every day, and after about two weeks, he began to really understand what they were for.

No pulling hairWhen another nanny informed us of her plans to “retire” soon after the others, we redoubled our efforts at showing him these pictures. Three weeks before his nanny left, I gave him another social story, a goodbye book to prepare him for her departure. We took pictures of his nanny waving goodbye. We told him she would not be coming back, but that she would keep in touch through Facebook and phone calls. On the night he first read the book, Alphonse shrieked and yelled in heartbreak. With tears streaming down his cheeks, he proceeded to throw what he could lay his hands on BUT he did not pull our hair. When I ran toward him to comfort him, he sobbed even louder, burying his head in my shoulder. I noticed his hands were clenched in tight fists. He had clenched them so tightly that his hands were bright red and his nails had dug marks into his palms. That was when we began to realize the extent of his self-restraint (no pulling hair, Alphonse!) and his new-found understanding of what he may and may not do.

That he’s been more attuned to us continues to be a source of our amazement and joy. We ask him questions and surprisingly, he gives us answers. The easiest questions are those he can reply to with a nod or a shake of his head. Of late, he has also started verbalizing more, often accompanying his nod with a “Ya” and the shake of his head with a “Na/No.” Even more amazing, he would say “Ayaw ayaw ayaw” (I don’t want to, I don’t want to, I don’t want to) when pressed into doing something against his will (like bathing with cold water, heehee). When presented with choices, it’s comforting to know he knows what he wants and can often choose to his satisfaction. Little things to many, but for one who has never had his own voice, they certainly mean a lot.

Just this New Year, on the way to lunch with the rest of the family, we asked him what he wanted to have for lunch.

Do you want chicken? Na.

Do you want pizza? Ya.

Shakey’s? Ya.

Pizza Hut? Ya.

Yellow cab? Weh? (He’s never had Yellow Cab Pizza, I forgot.)

Poor thing. We ended up eating at Max’s Fried Chicken because Shakey’s was closed and we didn’t want to take another stab at finding parking. It took a while before his gloomy face brightened and only after we bribed him with a whole Max’s fried chicken. Still, it makes us happy to know he has opinions and choices; we only need to find a way to help him bring them out in the open.

I can only imagine what the future has in store for us and for Alphonse. But if this is any indication of what we can expect, then we shall see Alphonse evolve and continue to grow as he ages. All children grow, and children with autism are no exception. But Time, it seems, is what they need the most of.

For now, it is enough he is here, present and accounted for, struggling against the mighty wall of his disabilities. We shall continue to arm him with the picks and axes he needs to tear down these walls. Time, I pray, will do the rest.

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Keep Calm and Break Resolutions

8 Jan

Broken ResolutionI have only two resolutions for 2016 and on the eighth day of this new year, I realized I’ve already managed to break them both.

The first one was to write more. I’ve been putting off writing for a while now. When my PC’s hard drive died on me at end of the year, I figured I had gotten off easy with fulfilling my first resolution. I shushed the voice inside my head that nagged at me (“But don’t you have a laptop? And an iPad?”) and pretended that the death of my PC was the most compelling reason not to write. The truth is, it isn’t for lack of anything to say. In the last few months, writing- the physical act- has become more difficult. I can’t hold a pen firmly and my handwriting, once the stuff teachers raved about, has become illegible. Even typing is hard, as my fingers lack the strength and the feedback it once had. All I feel now is a lot of achy pins and needles in my hands.

Fortunately, while fine motor movements are difficult, gross movements can still keep me busy. I can cook and bake, but my knife skills are shot. I can still whip up a mean cake, but I can’t ice it. I can hold a doll, but I can’t brush her hair or dress her up in her fine little clothes. I can only look at my little Sylvanian toys now so I play video games more; smashing buttons is easy. Little things that I took for granted are once again the bane of my existence. Heck, I can’t button my clothes or hook my bra! Even typing these last two paragraphs have taken longer than usual as I now need to look at the keyboard more often to see if I am hitting the right keys. My fingers feel thick all the time.

I don’t know what caused this but I have a nagging thought that my neck, stiff and unyielding again, is related to it. (I’m also keeping a close eye on my blood sugar levels, promise!) So while I muster the nerve to show up at my orthopedist’s office, I will have to manage this the way I did seven years ago- through sheer grit. Wish me luck I can squiggle my way through this.

My other resolution was to walk more. I’ve been taking daily walks with Alphonse since the start of the year, nothing big, just short walks around the neighborhood. The plan was to walk slowly and build up my momentum so I can go back to longer distances. Somewhere at the back of my head, I thought that maybe I can even manage to learn how to ride a bicycle. (Unless my husband caves in and buys me a three-wheeled bike! Please, A?) But in the last two days, Alphonse has had other things in his mind except walking and we’ve been stuck inside the house. Resolution two broken before it even got off the ground.

The good news is that there are still 358 days left in the year, time enough to restart and get a do-over. Also, there’s another New Year coming up in about a month, so if this New Year isn’t enough to galvanize me into action, maybe a second one would finally give me the shove, errhm, push I need.

So here’s to the New Year, dear friends! May it be kinder than the year that passed and may God bless us all!

“No matter how hard the past, you can always begin again.” ~Buddha

Thanksgiving

1 Dec

This post is a little late for Thanksgiving, but then again, each moment with good friends is a moment for gratitude and  appreciation.

quipple846Last Thursday was the first time in 30 years that my own “band of brothers”- A♥, JD, and JI- was complete. In the three decades since we left high school, we have not had the chance to get together again as a group. We had seen each other on separate occasions, though these meetings were very few and far between. The last time I saw JD, it was at my father’s funeral last year. He had come to comfort A♥ and me at a time when we were both reeling from our loss. The last time I saw JI, it was in August of this year, when he and his wife graciously opened their Dallas home to A♥ and me. Yes, thirty years have stretched our ties and pulled us all in different directions.

I looked at the men before me and tried to remember the young boys they were in high school. I know A♥ the longest, having met him in debate team in the latter half of freshman year. JI and I became fast friends when we became classmates the following year. The three of us- JI, A♥, and me- became classmates with JD in junior year. Soon after, our little gang of friends was born.

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Back in high school, JD was the quiet one, but beneath his baby-faced looks, he was always sensible and smart. He helped temper my brashness and impulsivity with sound advice. JI was funny, carefree and adventurous, but he was also highly protective of his friends. He would make sure I was right behind him when we crossed streets, reminding me so often to look both ways. A♥ was my counterpart in nonstop chatter. We both liked the same books and music so we always had much to discuss. Out of kindness, however, he would always let me talk more. These three boys were my lifelines then. We were were all fiercely loyal to each other.

As I looked at each of their faces that night, it struck me how we have all been changed in so many ways. Now in our middle years, we all tread different paths and circumstances. Our lives are bigger than just our dreams now. We have beloved spouses and children, work and responsibilities, extended families and communities. But even just for several hours that night, I remembered how it was to be surrounded by my closest friends and feel secure in their friendship.  And just like in high school many years ago, we reached out to each other in genuine acceptance and cast anew bonds that hold us together not only as friends but as chosen kin.

It dawned on me then how apt, how fitting, nay, how right it was that we got together on a date that was celebrated as Thanksgiving, for truly, such a moment was what Thanksgiving was all about.

 

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