Autism, Work, and The Search for a Meaningful Life

When Alphonse was diagnosed with autism at a year and a half, the future was vague, nebulous, and filled with so much uncertainty that we could not think or plan beyond what was right in front of us. The diagnosis of severe autism and how it will change the trajectory of all our lives shook us to our very core.

Alphonse at 18 months of age

When he grew a little bit more and became a child and later on, a teenager, we lived through periods of perpetual crises that came one after the other. While parents of neurotypical children could help their kids plan ahead for college and career paths, we remained at a standstill working on the very same issues year after year. Toilet training and how it appears and disappears at a whim. Aggression. Self-injury. Pica. Obsessions and compulsions that dictate the very rhythm of our lives. When you have your hands full and your mind constantly preoccupied with even the most basic of life skills, the future is not something you can readily imagine.

The years passed quickly, and before we knew it, Alphonse has grown to adulthood. Despite early intervention, years of behaviour and social skills training, and continuing vocational instruction, his challenges and difficulties have made it nearly impossible for him to find a comfortable place to settle, bloom, and become his own person. In the last few years, we have explored different areas of interest Alphonse might enjoy, and we have found none to keep him motivated. Unlike some of his differently-abled peers who have found success in the workplace, employment isn’t going to happen for him anytime soon, not unless we help make it happen for him.

We find ourselves now staring at this once dreaded future, standing at these crossroads where independence and opportunity meet. Even as we continue to struggle with issues of independence, we must now create the opportunities to make self-sufficiency happen in our lifetimes.

This is the raison d’être of Reece’s Pizzas and Treats, the dream that we could help our son find purposeful meaning to his life through work. Reece’s Pizzas and Treats, as we envisioned it, would be a line of low-carb, gluten-free, and keto-friendly products based on Alphonse’s favourite food- PIZZA! 🍕

As my husband takes on the major task of building on funds for our son’s welfare and needs, the plans for making Reece’s Pizzas happen fall upon my shoulders. Training Alphonse to take on different tasks, as well as incorporating these into his daily routine, has already begun, but as is often our experience, this is a long, tedious process that finds us doubting our capabilities and flagging in spirits. I have to admit that with so many hats my husband and I wear everyday, we sometimes find ourselves overwhelmed and in need of a clearer direction. Personally, entrepreneurship is something that is foreign to my natural inclination, education, and experience, and I find myself second-guessing my decisions for Alphonse and the business many times throughout the day.

Alas, the Universe always sends me a kindness when and where I least expect it. From out of nowhere, an invitation drops into my lap and it seems like an answered prayer.

The fourth run of “Game Plan for Success” begins on April 13, a short two weeks from now. In its previous iterations, it has helped more than 40 women find clarity in their goals and achieve them. The event is interactive, allowing participants to explore their personal motivations and manage the resources they will need to make their goals viable successes. Sponsored by The Fulfilled Women, a community organization of women led by Ms. Viviene Bigornia, this is a workshop made for women by women.

If you want to translate your unique ideas into realizable business, come and join us! Find out how this can help you get in track to fulfilling your goals and check out this event page in Facebook:

https://www.facebook.com/events/547073455785377/?ti=cl

Ladies, it’s our time. Let’s make this happen.

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A Safe Space for Alphonse

So I finally did it. The first batch of my Sylvanian toys has been shipped to their new owners and Project Alphonse’s Safe Space is officially started!

Alphonse and his “six-teeth-less” smile, heehee

As many of you already know, I started collecting Sylvanian Families at one of the lowest points in my life. At that time, I had injured my neck and suffered stiffness and mobility issues in my neck, spine, and upper limbs. After one particularly rough day, my husband gave me a set of Sylvanian Families figures to make me feel better. Something in that gift ignited and fuelled an interest and passion for all things Sylvanian, and from that single four-figured family set (and a baby!), my collection grew exponentially over the years. Pretty soon, my Sylvanian Families toys took over every nook and cranny of our home.

Over time, I acquired items not only from local toy stores but also from abroad, all while navigating online websites for great deals. With my husband’s unwavering support and encouragement, I was also able to tick off my bucket list some Sylvanian-inspired dreams. A few years ago, I travelled to London to visit SSK (Sylvanian Storekeepers) and, in the same year, visited Japan to see the Sylvanian theme park in Grinpa. Collecting Sylvanian Families proved to be instrumental in my physical recovery from my injuries. Best of all, it linked me to a worldwide community of collectors who became my friends. Looking back, I truly enjoyed every second of this ride.

And then one day, when one of my old high school friends passed away unexpectedly, it suddenly dawned on me how little time is really given to each one of us. I was also reminded of the tedious, exhausting year I spent disposing of my father’s collection of various items when he died- knowing none of us had the time or predilection to care for it- and the burden, sorrow, and dread it filled me every single day. I certainly didn’t want to pass on this same burden to Alex when he will have enough on his plate with the care of his brother.

As I pondered on all these, I was faced with another pressing concern. As Alphonse grew bigger and stronger than us, we realized that our daily living accommodations were no longer enough to keep him protected; we needed to create a “safe space” for him for those nights when his energy refuses to dissipate into rest or for those times when his anxiety and anger get the better of him. While Alphonse already has his playroom (which doubles as his bedroom), we felt we needed an even more controlled environment where he could decompress and relax. The room we envisioned would be padded, sensory-friendly, and child-safe, but also relaxing and comfortable.

One night without sleep is one night too many. 🤯

When Alphonse doesn’t sleep, we don’t sleep! 🥴

We looked at the Internet for inspiration and we found companies that specialized and custom-built them. I spent more than a few nights poring over pictures and prices, customization and colors, sizes, and designs. Alas, not only were they expensive; they were also available only in Europe and in the US. The cost of transporting one to the country, with the current tax measures in place, would be more than our pockets can bear.

The most logical option is to DIY one for him. After taking a good look at our home’s layout, we found the perfect location to be my Sylvanian storeroom. This extra space could easily be an adjunct to his living space, making the transition easier for him.

Ultimately, it was Alphonse’s need that proved to be the tipping point in my decision to let go of some of my Sylvanian Families, dolls, and other sundries. When the Sylvanian storeroom is cleared enough, the funds acquired from this sale will jumpstart the renovation to install wall and floor paddings, smart lights, cctv cameras, and audio/video equipment.

Over the last few months, I have already re-homed some of my precious toys, but there are still more to be organized, sorted, and sold. I will keep my favourites to give to my future grandkids, but the rest will have to go to give Alphonse his safe space.

Should you be interested in the purchase of Sylvanian Families or dolls (I also have duplicates of Blythes, Barbies, and accessories) or even just in helping out to make Alphonse’s safe space a reality, please send me a message here or on Facebook. I welcome all help.

Someone asked me if this means I am saying goodbye to toy collecting, and, consequently, to the friends I’ve made. Truthfully, I don’t feel like I am giving up on my community of collector friends. The desire to enjoy Sylvanian Families toys remains just as strong as the first time I laid eyes on them. I look at this decision as simply an opportunity to enjoy playing again instead of always obsessing for the next big thing.

The long and short of it is this: I want to love more and want less. And in wanting less, I hope we will be able to give Alphonse his own safe place.

Kittymama loves her new SF family! 😍

Grill Diaries #1: Sumo Niku

The day “Aquaman” started its run in local theatres, A❤️ and I found ourselves on a date right after giving Alphonse his dinner and meds. We had tired him all day with all sorts of activities— a lot of jumping, running, and crawling through a tunnel of recycled refrigerator box— and we were confident he would be able to sleep soundly that night. Alex had promised to give us regular updates from home and had pushed us to squeeze in a few hours of “us” time before we clocked out for the day.

With barely half an hour to get ready (another plus for short hair, yay!), we reached the mall with enough time to get a late dinner and catch the last show. It was serendipitous, and a little scary, too, how Facebook knew exactly what I was looking for. (Wait, does my iPhone have ears?) I got a Facebook recommendation for a restaurant at the newly opened North Tower of SM North EDSA and it closed late! Woohoo!

We found Sumo Niku on the second floor of the North Tower, near the end of a long corridor of establishments, many of which were still closed, and in front of the mall walkway connecting the North Tower with The Block. We had come on a most fortuitous day, the restaurant’s first, but, even during the soft opening and at that time of the night, it already had a sizeable crowd.

Sumo Niku, as you can guess, is a Japanese all-you-can-eat grill or yakiniku. “Sumo” refers to Japanese wrestling, the country’s official sport, but in English, the word could also be used as an adjective to mean “supreme or great” when referring to quality, and “hefty or large amounts” when referring to quantity. “Niku” is meat, and true to its name, Sumo Niku offers unlimited meat selections of chicken, pork, and beef. Sumo Niku also serves a variety of side dishes, Japanese rice, and drinks (iced tea and cold water), all of which are refillable upon request. Price-wise, at a starting point of P399 (lunch; chicken and pork combo), it offers a competitive choice for patrons who enjoy grill/buffets.

Before this, Sumo Niku could only be visited at the SM SouthMall, but with traffic getting worse every day, it was a stretch to be able to drop by on the other end of the Metropolis anytime of the week. With this new branch, we don’t have to feel like we’re missing out anymore.

A❤️ and I have been on a quest to find good grills in our area, and in the last few months, we’ve often found ourselves drifting to Korean samgyeopsal places that close quite late. After some hits and misses, we’ve learned to be discriminating when it comes to grills and meat selections. Some places offer good cuts but their grills use accelerants in charcoal, leaving the chemical aftertaste of kerosene in your meat. Some serve cheaper cuts of meat with little bits of gristle and bone but the efficient grills make up for this with even and fast cooking. Sumo Niku, fortunately, has got these areas covered with good cuts and a great grill.

The kitchen serves six preparations for pork, four for beef, and two for chicken. All of the meat we ate that night looked, smelled, and tasted fresh. The pork was flavorful and robust while the beef had this melt-in-your-mouth quality. The hibachi grill, shallowly submerged as a built-in, had an electronic ignition, was nonstick, distributed heat evenly, and cooked quite quickly. The air vents worked really well in dissipating smokes and odors, as well as fanning the heat coming from the barbecue.

As a general rule, we prefer plain meats (unseasoned or with just salt and pepper) to marinated ones, but trying all the preparations at the time, we quickly narrowed our choices to plain, pepper, and teriyaki for pork, and plain and wagyu for beef. For side dishes, we had quite a lot to begin with but we both recommend the dumplings, the crab claw, and the seaweed. They also served us some kimchi, which had just the right spice level with each nip, biting but not enough to make your eyes water.

Service was quick and friendly, and our requests for refills were readily granted. Sadly, the restaurant didn’t have lettuce, ice, or sodas that night, though our meal didn’t suffer at all from the lack of these items. Here’s hoping it gets to stock up on these items the next time we visit.

All in all, we had a great meal at Sumo Niku, making us more likely to return a second time.

P. S. There is a Starbucks Reserve just below it so a nice cup of joe to round up the meal was nice.

All in all, it was a good experience- two thumbs up! 👍🏼 👍🏼

Collateral Blessings

(Or How to Turn Crappy Days into Gratitude Days)

I came home with a rare social high from back-to-back outings recently. Truth is, it has been a long time since I did anything for myself and by myself that did not have anything to do with household chores and management.

The other Friday, I had gone to a very informative, whole-day baking class under Ms. Beng Legaspi. I learned loads about the science and art of gluten-free/sugar-free baking and picked up tips and tricks that can come only from years of research and experience. I also made new “Baking Mama” friends, some of whom were already pros in the kitchen.

With my “classmates” (Photo credit: Ms. Jan Rubi)

Our class photo (Photo credit: Ms. Beng Legaspi)

Then the next day, a Saturday, I attended a Sylvanian Families Christmas Party luncheon hosted by Sylvanian Families Collectors PH. I was reunited with old collector friends, Analyn and Ledz, both of whom I haven’t seen in years. I also met new collector friends, some of whom I have only seen in Facebook. I’m grateful and honoured to be friends with Rose and Robert, one of my favourite couples in the world, and with Joann, Nenette, Blair, Christine, Mely, and many others who welcomed this old Sylvanian junkie with open arms!

Sylvanian Families Collectors PH is ❤️

As you can already tell, I have been home bound for much of these past few months, taking care of Alphonse and nursing my knee injuries, that days out for myself and with friends have definitely been rare and far-in-between. A❤️, bless his kind heart, gave me the time to enjoy these events by taking over Alphonse’s care for those days. Alex, my eldest, pitched in to help, forgoing sleep to sub for his dad when A❤️ needed to do something else.

And then disaster struck.

Within an hour of my return home that Saturday, Alphonse had a meltdown that ended with Christmas ham and gluten-free chocolate cake samplers being smooshed all over my head. My short absence, coupled with the unexpected visit of relatives that day, had set him on edge, making him anxious and irritable. Even after that episode ended, when he would have otherwise been able to shrug off his nervous energy, he never lost his angry snarls and discomfiting whines. He was rigid, obsessive, and controlling, barking his often unintelligible demands one after the other the rest of the day.

To illustrate:

“Heh!” Alphonse shouts loudly to his dad. Translation: “Don’t move your leg, Papa!” A❤️ moves his leg slowly to return to an “acceptable” position.

“Heh!” Alphonse shouts again, this time at me. Translation: “Touch your glasses twice, Mama!” I nudge my glasses down my nose and up again.

“Heh!” Alphonse directs his bossiness at his brother. Translation: “Go back the house again!” Alex steps inside the house and steps back out, doing this twice, to complete a ritual that exists only in Alphonse’s head.

By early evening, we were all exhausted and impatient for the day to end. Our nerves were frayed, and we felt beaten. In the last few weeks, we had been hopeful that we had found a good formula of routine, play, and exercise to keep his bad days to a minimum. Saturday was a sudden turnaround to the progress we had been making. As is often the case with our journey with autism, when we take one step forward, we wind up taking two steps back again.

The following days turned out to be more of the same, angry, dark days that got worse at each transition point. Somehow, we found the strength to stand up and carry through each day, pacifying, calming, and working with Alphonse to dispel his anxieties.

But something worth telling happened to me that Saturday. While Alphonse had my head in a wrestling hold, his fingers alternately pulling out strands of my hair and massaging as much cake and ham as possible to my curly ‘do, I felt an unexpected wave of calm wash over me. It was weird because I suddenly felt disconnected from myself. At that moment, it dawned on me that even in that lock hold, there were still things I was in control of. I could choose to wallow in the sorrow of the occasion, or I could choose to be grateful. I had a choice.

With that, I quit struggling under Alphonse’s strong hands. My breathing slowed down. Instead of pulling away, I pushed nearer him and quietly stroked his hands. And then, I began to list all the things I could think of, making mental notes of each one and giving thanks in a silent prayer.

It started with this epiphany: Hey, my head didn’t hurt as much! It seems that short hair, even when pulled with all the strength of a vigorous, severely autistic, young man, doesn’t give in as easily as long hair does. I had rued the loss of my locks for a time but ultimately, I was grateful that Rose, my longtime hairdresser friend, had given me my (fat) pixie look.

Next, Ms. Beng’s gluten-free and sugar-free chocolate cake did not only taste good, it felt really soothing on my scalp too! Who’d have thought that was possible?

Also, Alphonse may have been raging with fury, but some semblance of restraint kicked in that day. The old Alphonse would’ve fought us off till he was spent of all his anger. His next move was patented: he would’ve kicked me in the chest even as he pulled down my hair. Yes, Alphonse would’ve wrought maximum damage easily had he wanted to. Saturday, however, despite his shouts of protests, he listened and backed down. Thank God for that!

Then too, and most important of all, A❤️ and Alex relieved me of the burden of Alphonse’s care until I could change and wash my hair. True, for a while, I did give in to tears, more from disappointment than from pain, but when my boys’ consoling arms enveloped me in a family hug, I was able to wipe my eyes dry again and feign a smile till it became real.

The way I see it, there will always be unintended, unintentional damage when it comes to dealing with profound autism. We get hurt, physically and emotionally. God knows how many cuts, bruises, bites, and wounds we’ve had to endure over the years. We get frustrated and disappointed. We become angry and afraid. We are, after all, human.

But if there’s one thing we’ve learned through the years, however, it is this: that autism, despite its many difficulties, also has its fair share of goodness – what I’d like to think of as collateral blessings.

Because of autism- and Alphonse- we discovered our personal strengths. We learned to roll with the punches and to shrug off episodes of sorrow and anger as just “blips” to a normal day. We learned to live with hope and optimism always, even when things look bleak and dreary. We honed our ability to laugh and celebrate even when we are hurt and in pain.

We found within ourselves a fount of complete forgiveness – one that comes easily and bears no ill will or grudges. This process goes both ways, as we have sometimes also inadvertently wronged Alphonse in our lack of understanding of his needs. We learned to live each day with overwhelming gratitude that springs from rare moments of peace and joy. Perhaps, best of all, we are able to recall and summon love- at will- even in the midst of horrible, debilitating despair.

Life with autism is often wearisome and difficult. But Love, we’ve learned, is not.

These are the blessings that sustain us each day.

Straight to Fitness with Curves (Magnolia)

When I was a teenager, summer vacations didn’t mean fun and relaxation. While they were short breaks from schoolwork, my summers were spent doing another kind of work. For me, particularly, they were spent losing weight. As the fat kid who later became a fat teenager and an even fatter young woman, this was the kind of a “work” I both hated and dreaded.

No doubt many would think me lucky that my parents spared no expense in gym memberships for me. Mom, always the more worried parent, would do her homework by checking out different gyms, fitness clubs, and weight loss programs for me. I appreciated the effort and the expense, but after a while, the whole idea of losing weight became much more of an emotional burden for my fragile self-esteem.

I was really thin when I graduated from high school, but the weight slowly crept back in from stress eating. By the fourth year of college, which was also the second year of medical school, I had gained almost all that I had lost, probably more. Mom got so concerned that she decided to upgrade my membership, adding extra programs for the rest of the year. After lectures or duties, and on free weekends, I would haul myself to the gym, never once telling my parents I hated every second of it. Shortly after, I had a bad workout and I hurt my back, turning me off exercise and gyms forever. That pain saved me from having to go back again, but it also hounded me for years, causing me emotional distress and a lot of physical discomfort.

I had given up on the idea of ever going back to the gym when I discovered Curves Philippines a few years ago. The first local branch of Curves, a franchise from Gary and Diane Heavin’s original Texas fitness club, was located at the Bonifacio Global City, and they have since expanded to more locations in the city. I wanted to give the concept of circuit training a try and their guarantee of short but effective workouts was tempting, but the distance and long travel time (think Metro Manila traffic) ultimately dissuaded me from pushing through with the plan. I figured, the harder it is to go anywhere, the more likely I would not want to go because of the commute.

Fortunately, just this year, I got wind of a location nearer me — at the new Robinsons Magnolia Residences, just beside the commercial complex of Robinsons Magnolia in New Manila. While not exactly within my neighborhood, it was near enough for me (around 15 minutes without traffic, and 30-45 minutes with) to want to explore the fitness services offered by Curves Philippines.

I went in for a consultation bright and early one morning and after a short interview and explanation of how the circuit works, eagerly jumped to the workout. The concept of the Curves circuit revolves around the combination of strength training and cardiovascular workouts to elicit maximum exercise efficiency. The use of specially designed hydraulic resistance machines that target different muscle groups provides consistency and regularity to the drills. Alternating each turn at a machine with cardiovascular exercises (aerobics or dance) builds resistance and endurance, thereby creating the “burn” that one hopes for. And because the circuit involves only two complete rounds each time, 30 minutes is all one needs at a minimum to start a fitness routine.

The bicep-tricep, leg press, and chest machines

Having been to many gyms in my lifetime, I love that Curves has many advantages over others I’ve joined in years past. One, I love the comfort and security of being in an all-women gym. The tagline “no make-up, no mirrors, and no men” is absolutely spot-on as Curves abides by this faithfully. Not having to share facilities with men allows women the confidence to push our bodies to our limits, without unnecessary worries.

Two, I appreciate the one-on-one supervision, which, unlike some gym clubs where you work out independently, is part and parcel of one’s membership. Curves has trained coaches on hand to supervise you in machine use and create workouts tailored to your level of ability. I started experiencing knee pain right after a trip abroad last year, and at the time of my Curves visits, I wasn’t too steady on my knees. The coaches who supervised me at each of my visits made sure I was challenged and pushed to my best but were always mindful of my physical limitations.

Three, I love that toning and conditioning were necessary components of their fitness regimen. Inside the Curves gym is a large, immovable cube frame meant for stretching before and after the circuit. I would do this as part of my warm-up and recovery regimen, and time with this was always my favorite part of the routine.

Four, I love that Curves keeps upping their game by providing a wide variety of additional activities. For those looking to extend their workouts’ duration and intensity, Curves offers yoga, kickboxing, zumba, and dance aerobics sessions as adjuncts to the circuit. They also have special Arms and Core sessions throughout the week to help you gain tone and strength in these areas. From their Facebook page, I recently learned that they also have Tai Chi, and this has me second-guessing my absence from the circuit, despite injuries.

Post-workout, sweaty but happy!

Sadly, in April of this year, I had to hold off exercise while I was under medical observation and treatment for my heart. When I hurt my remaining good knee in August and partially tore a ligament, I had to scuttle any thoughts of returning to the circuit, at least not before my knees are healed enough to walk without constant pain.

I miss Curves, really. After each workout, I would come out walking taller and straighter, my back, neck, and knees less painful. I also didn’t limp and hobble as much after each session. And while I didn’t focus on weight loss as an incentive to work out, I did lose a kilo or two despite having one of the lightest regimens in the gym, this, based on the activities of the superwomen I worked out with. Working out at Curves, I realized, just always made me feel stronger than the way I felt the day before. It’s a feeling I miss every day these days.

I am grateful to the wonderful people who looked after me during my visits — Coaches Jhing, Jessie, and Irene — and I miss them all. I look forward to going back one day soon, “Pinky” promise. So please, drop by and see for yourself what an amazing place Curves Magnolia is, and while you’re there, please say “hi” to them for me!

 

Curves Magnolia
GF The Magnolia Residences,
Dona Hemady St. cor N. Domingo St.,
New Manila, Quezon City
(0906) 526 7307

 

 

 

Back to the Blog

I have to start today’s entry with an apology. I’m sorry for my absence. My blog went into hiatus these last few months and I didn’t even realize how long I’ve been gone without updating, not until I looked at the calendar today. I had not planned on staying away too long but time got away from me as I grappled with a series of health crises that came one after the other.

I was bedridden for most of May and June, and save for a few rare days here and there, I hardly left the house. Aside from the physical symptoms that caused a pervading sense of discomfort, I was physically and emotionally exhausted. I wasn’t sleeping well, ehrm, let me rewrite that to say that I wasn’t sleeping at all most nights.  During the day, however, I couldn’t even muster the strength to get out of bed.

The responsibilities of 24/7 care for a profoundly disabled young adult weighed heavily on our shoulders. When I got sick, my husband took over Alphonse’s care, allowing me to rest, recover, and work at my own pace. I did try to catch up with many of my chores, except that I got too winded easily. Without additional help, all three of us — my husband, my eldest son, and I — were often run ragged and tired to the bone.

And then in mid-August, I had a pretty bad accident. In the middle of a busy rainy afternoon, while cleaning the schoolhouse bathroom, I slipped and slammed my back and knees into the cold hard tiles. That was a doozy. Ouch.

I was able to cushion my head with my arms but I hit my right knee by the side of the toilet bowl. My lower back made direct contact with the slippery floor. I couldn’t stand up at all as my back and knees screamed in pain.

From the bathroom door, I saw Alphonse outside the schoolhouse and playing on his basin of water. Alone with him (my husband was somewhere else in the house and Alex was with his friends that day), I called out his name and asked for his help.

“ALPHONSE! Alphonse! Please help Mama!” I shouted myself hoarse as the sound of heavy rain drowned my sobbing.

After a few tries, I saw Alphonse turn his head and look at me with a sideway glance.

“Alphonse, please help Mama!” I waved a shaky hand at him as I struggled to keep myself upright with the other hand.

Alphonse looked at me again… and waved back.

“Alphonse, help,” I tried again, giving in to loud crying. Sitting there in the wet, slippery floor of the bathroom, I realized that Alphonse was oblivious to my pain. His innocence and inability to understand social cues or comprehend risks and dangers made him unaware that I needed help.

“Mamam,” Alphonse muttered loudly. “Yu!” he shouted, the crescendo of his tremulous baritone merging with the pitter-patter of rain.

Mama, I love you. That was what he was trying to say.

“I love you too, baby,” I thought to myself, crying even harder this time. The idea that something worse could have happened and Alphonse would be unable to help anyone, not even himself, sent me into more fits of sobbing. When I think about it now, I still can’t decide if I was crying for Alphonse or for myself.

A few minutes later, my husband found me, drenched wet and hysterical. Alphonse went about his playing, glancing every now and then, smiling at us and shrieking happily.

My knees are still sore and painful today; I hobble around like an old lady in knee supports and cane. While the right knee received the brunt of my accident, my left knee is slowly giving in from the burden of walking and climbing. The orthopedist has recommended a regimen of treatment to alleviate the pain and increase mobility but I am unable to complete treatment as of today. Not only is the cost prohibitive, we also struggle with finding manpower to help with Alphonse, even just temporarily.

Between living with the constant pain and trying to find a semblance of normalcy to our days, I am hard pressed to find time to sit down and write. The pain has robbed me of my peace, truth to tell, and the struggle to give Alphonse the consistency of routine and predictability has fallen completely on my husband’s and son’s shoulders. I worry for them too, as they help carry my share of the load without complaints.

Still, today is a new day. Today, I found the will, and energy, and desire to write and keep writing. Maybe if I keep writing, I can forget about my worries and fears and allow myself some joy. For now, I will hobble along and try to keep up.

I’m just grateful to be here again, old friends.

Zero-Waste Journey: Alphonse’s Cup

One of the goals I’ve set for my family this year is to transition to a zero-waste lifestyle. I joined a couple of groups on Facebook that teach beginners how to do it, and they all suggest starting with little steps at first till it becomes a completely doable lifestyle. It seems easy and simple enough, that is, until I consider some of the challenges that come in a household with autism. I don’t want to give up on this easily so I’ve been hard pressed to look for solutions.

Case in point:

My son Alphonse, a young man with autism, is a ripper, shredder, and smasher. He has been all his life. Over the years, we’ve tried to redirect his destructive interests into other areas, with little success.

Aside from ripping (paper and clothing), shredding (paper, clothing, and plastic), and smashing (everything else), he also loves to bite and chew into things. As he grew in strength and size, we’ve had to abandon the use of glass in our home as even dinnerware touted to be “unbreakable” have been shattered to smithereens. We have used stainless steel, melamine, and plastic dinner and service ware to keep him safe but he has started biting into them too. Last year, he ended up with several cuts on his lips and tongue. Today, he nurses a recurring wound on the bridge of his nose, the result of pressing deeply the roughened rims of our drinking glasses on his face as he drinks.

There’s that wound on his face, see it?

Recently, we’ve had to limit and/or abandon the use of these materials because of his tendency for self-injury. While we looked for replacements, we used disposable paper and plastic cups for him but I felt really guilty each time he shredded them after a single use. We wanted to keep Alphonse safe but we were creating more trash to do it, and this thought nagged at me constantly. Sadly, our local malls didn’t have much to offer by way of alternatives but the through the Internet, I discovered silicone drinking glasses. Finally!

Yes, I love silicone! It’s handy, flexible, and Alphonse-proof. It’s also soft enough not to cause injury to Alphonse’s face and mouth. Moreover, silicone doesn’t make alarming clanging noises when dropped accidentally or thrown intentionally, which is what usually happens with Alphonse around.

Still, not all silicone drinking glasses are made equal. The first set we bought was a set of four Brovino wine glasses purchased from Amazon. We loved that these glasses could withstand Alphonse’s constant biting and throwing. They weren’t quite stable enough, though, tipping quite readily when bumped accidentally. Then too, learning to hold them properly was a process as the contents spilled easily if our grip was too hard. So even as we used these, we kept looking for other glasses to replace them.

A few weeks ago, I discovered a different kind of silicone glass. Supported by an embedded stainless steel frame inside, the cups were said to be kid-friendly, microwaveable, dishwasher safe, plus they didn’t collapse when gripped. The Silikids Siliskin silicone cups were available locally through an official distributor so we didn’t have to worry about international shipping and taxes. Their prices were also very reasonable; a two-pack goes for PhP700 when it retails USD12.95 in the Silikids.com website. At the time of purchase, only 8-oz kid-sized cups were available. We loved the cups instantly despite their size (we like big drinks so we needed refills right away) because true to their word, they were very easy to use. Unlike our first set of silicone glasses, these were quite firm and stable and didn’t tip over when bumped. However, less than three weeks from purchase, Alphonse’s constant biting created cracks in the rim. A few days later, he peeled off a piece of silicone from the stainless steel ring with his teeth, almost swallowing it in the process.

Even with this outcome, I still like the Silikids cups and will probably get the larger 16-oz ones for myself. The brand is just not a good fit for Alphonse or for any individual who chews and bite things avidly.

The “strongest silicone cup” was no match for Alphonse’s teeth. Oh well.

A few weeks ago, my sister-in-law (A’s sister and the kids’ godmother, J) gifted Alphonse with a two silicone cups she purchased in the US. Of the two, Alphonse took to the bigger one immediately, a foldable soup cup from Smart Planet. It’s large enough that it doesn’t need constant refilling and the plastic rim has stayed smooth despite being gnawed on. This is Alphonse’s cup for now.

See Alphonse enjoying his new cup? He always steals it from the kitchen. It multitasks as his drinking glass, ice cream bowl, and bubbles bowl too!

We’ve done away with paper cups since we shifted to silicone glasses. We’re also reusing the last of our plastic cups, a lot of which came from food deliveries, and we won’t be buying more. While we already segregate, recycle, and compost, I truly feel that we could do a lot more to reduce our impact on the environment. This may be a small step but one that’s the beginning of our journey to limit the amount of waste we generate.

In the meantime, the search for the perfect silicone cup for Alphonse continues.