Happy Cat

At one in the morning, when everyone else has turned in for the night, this little kitty waits for me to tuck him in bed, lay a soft blanket over him, and sing him lullabies. He pulls my hand with his soft paws, reminding me to pat him gently. As I do so, he purrs happily, his rich, low humming becoming in sync with his breathing. I wait as his eyes turn into slits and he slips into kitty dreamland.

He sleeps the sleep of innocents, happy, content, and loved.

Till Tomorrow

This was written years ago when I heard of the passing of one who used to be very dear to me. I had meant to give the original version to her family but I didn’t feel it was the right time. I rewrote it today as a letter to that person, hoping she is looking down on me with love., and I think she is, as I dreamt of her last night.

20140527-102440.jpgI have one favorite memory of you.

Sometimes, late at night, it’s one that still comes back as clear as the day it was made, and I feel like a child all over again.

On my ninth birthday, you took me shopping. I don’t remember if there were any others with us that day- that is fuzzy to me now- but I remember because it was one of those rare days I felt especially close to you. Those days would diminish as I grew older, as age and history colored our interactions and drew us apart, but on that day I was nine, I would have followed you blindly. I loved you with all the innocence and foolishness of my young heart.

You, like all your siblings, were never overtly affectionate with us… with me. I don’t remember being cuddled, kissed, or praised by any one of you. Ah, we were always so formal and so polite! But I realize, now that I am in my middle years, that, perhaps, you didn’t love me any less or any different; we simply had different ways of showing love. As a child desperate for affection, however, I needed more than just an acknowledgment of my existence. I needed to be recognized as being more than just of the same blood. I wanted to be appreciated and reassured that I was loved for being me.

Many things would happen between that day and the last time you and I saw each other almost thirty years ago. I am now past the age you were the last time we talked. And though it’s a memory I have often tried to suppress and forget, I still see that day clearly too. When I close my eyes, I can almost see you sitting across me, and I remember the furrows etched between your eyebrows, the downturn of your lips, and the shrill of your voice as anger formed a divide between us that not even decades could mend.

Many things would be said, too, in the aftermath of that day, many of them untrue- carried, passed, and whispered back and forth in false confidences by third parties who were observers to the sordid drama of our lives. Many things would stand between us then, and when the memory of that day comes to me like an unexpected visitor, I often wonder how we managed to screw things so badly for all of us.

But that day I turned nine was different. I have a very vivid recollection of you holding my hand firmly, gently- a first, I thought then. You brought me to a store, looked at me tenderly, and said with genuine kindness, “You can have anything you want! This is my birthday gift for you.” I’ve never had that much freedom given to me before, and immature geek child that I was, I settled on a pink stapler with flower-shaped wires and a hodgepodge of stationery items. Erasers, pencils, the first mechanical sharpener I ever saw in my life, paper of all sizes- I was in heaven!

Growing up, I was often told I looked like you, and despite the protestations that followed –you never actually told me you were glad I looked a little bit like you so I felt embarrassed to insist on the similarities– I was actually thrilled and proud. Somewhere along the way, the circumstances that led to our separation played their ugly hand and created the cracks that tore us apart, but each time I look at the mirror, I still see you.

Even today, I still look a bit like you. And I remember the feelings of that child who held your hand and felt loved and wanted. These are the memories that survived the painful years, and these are the ones I now choose to keep.

In the years between then and now, we both grew a lot older and farther apart. When you saw me last, I was heavy with child with my firstborn. You never met my boys, and they, in turn, never knew you. But I always entertained this silly, fanciful dream that there would be time to set things right. I really thought we had more time. I prayed we could have a future- no matter how short- to wipe away all anger, sadness, and disappointment. It is too late today to do all that.

I wish we could start all over, back to that day 45 years ago, and undo all the wrong that tore us apart.

Then again, perhaps it is time to simply forget and move on and live like tomorrow will never come.

And in this today, there is room only for love. And with that, a nine-year-old’s still unwounded heart which adored you and loved you like her own.

Flowers on Mother’s Day

I’ve never been a flowers kind of girl. I’m more of a books and gadgets kind of girl. When Anthony and I were younger, most anniversaries were celebrated with books but lack of space and an inability to let go of books, even the old, tattered ones, have made the Kindle an absolutely necessity. When it comes to gadgets, he can give me anything that works with the kitchen or for cleaning, and he won’t hear a complaint from me. Still, Nintendo handheld gaming consoles win hands down. I’m easy that way. 😊

Flowers remind me that on our second year as boyfriend and girlfriend, Anthony gave me a flower every day. Yes, a single flower every day for one year. When he had a little money in his pocket, he’d splurge on a pink rose wrapped in frilly pink paper and gauze ribbons. And when he was scraping by, he’d find a small wild flower to bring to me. He would slip it between the pages of his letters which he often hand-delivered very early in the morning. I would wake up to a letter and a small flower in my mailbox and that kind of romantic thrill would carry me throughout the day.

When we got married, he gave me flowers for many occasions until Alphonse discovered that shredding them into confetti was as magical as water that dances between his fingers. When you’re an autism parent, nothing brings you back to reality than having your child shred a bouquet of Ecuadorian long-stemmed roses right before your very eyes. All that, gone in a blink of an eye. And that was when we decided that flowers were easily superfluous manifestations of a relationship that really didn’t need it. So that was that.

It’s been a number of years since I last received flowers. And it’s not like I miss them. I like looking at them from afar or from friends’ Facebook photographs. I’m not one to ask for them, really. Or maybe I did, when I commented on a friend’s birthday bouquet? Despite my seeming indifference to flowers, last night, when I was handed a totally unexpected bouquet, I was speechless. In truth, I had forgotten how absolutely beautiful they are.

My Mother’s Day Flowers

More than the flowers, however, I love how Anthony always keeps me on my toes. I love how he pulls out all the stops to make each day memorable for me, Mother’s Day or not. In the middle of long days when he’s at the office and I am home with the boys, I would receive a delivery of a cup of cold brew from him because he knows coffee helps me breathe through stressful days. Last week, it was a Subway sandwich on a Tuesday morning. Two weeks ago, it was a Panda Express meal on a sizzling Wednesday. Things I love. Things that remind him of me.

Last night, he got the flowers, he explained, because as he passed by the Japanese grocery to pick up some grocery items, he spotted them at the flower shop next door and they reminded him of me. Because they were pink.

I’ve never been a flowers kind of girl. But for you, Anthony, I’m willing to make an exception. ❤️

Caturday

I caught the kitten ordering the CatPapa around and I realized that Skyflakes is Alphonse in a cat body. Cute but very bossy. 🥴

“Meow, meow! Scratch my chin, Papa, yeah, there… More! Roar!”

When he saw me taking pictures, he whined even more, “Papa, huh!?! Why’d you stop?”

Another Cat-urday in the Cuaycong “malutong-kahit-anong-ipatong” household. 😂

Keep “Moo-ing”

The cats, Nanay and KiTwo, have been providing us with afternoon entertainment these days. They’re always jumping on each other’s backs, nipping each other, or cuddling together. Most of the time, Alphonse ignores them. But once in a while, I catch him looking at them, and it becomes an opportunity to engage him in a conversation.

Case in point:

Mama: Are you a boy, Alphonse?

Alphonse shakes his head. “No.”

I see him looking at the cats from the corner of his eye so I ask a follow-up question.

Mama: Are you a cat?

Alphonse nods.”Yes.”

Mama: Can you say “meow?”

Alphonse: Moooooo

Mama: You’re a cow, not a cat! 😂

Alphonse starts laughing.

With quarantine still in place, some days are still hard for Alphonse. But once in a while, they can also be silly fun. Keep mooing, Alphonse!

Yet Another Cat Story

I hope you don’t mind, dear reader, if I tell you more about our cats for now. In the middle of a quarantine that sees no end in sight any time soon (Metro Manila has been under varying levels of quarantine since March 15, 2020, with no let-up), our cats have given our lives their much needed change in pace. So, indulge me, please, as I write about the cats that have made our lives a little more colorful during this time.

Peek-a-boo! Guess who! (I took this picture when I was sneaking a peek at the new kitten; that expression makes me laugh each time!)

Yes, you read it right. Cats. Not just one cat. It seems once you open your home to one cat, the lure to add another becomes irresistible. We never planned it that way, though. While Skyflakes was an awaited gift, the other cats that joined our household arrived much like Kitty did.

I remember that when Kitty, our rescue kitten, was still with us, she used to greet Anthony’s arrival with excitement. She would run to the car as soon as it came in (we had to hold her for fear of her being run over) and she would walk with Anthony as he made his way to the back door. All the time, she would mewl and meow gently to him, as if expecting a conversation. Anthony was never a big fan of cats but for sure, Kitty was a fan of his.

Shortly after Kitty passed away, Anthony came out of the house to find an adult cat waiting for him by the back door. It was the first time this cat had approached any one of us but we had seen her many times before, often fleetingly, in cctv footages of her climbing our roof. We saw her in late August, when she left Kitty with us. And we saw her again a few days after Kitty passed away, sniffing around the spot where Kitty used to stay in the afternoons.

Why do they like Alphonse’s trampoline?

She followed Anthony around the garage, but disappeared again that same night. Then, about a week later, we found her crouching under Alphonse’s trampoline, half her face swollen. When we tried to approach her, she ran away in fright. We knew she needed help, but unable to do anything more, we left her food and water.

Towards the end of November, she started coming more frequently to our garage. She would eat the food we left and sit by the gate, eyeing us warily. But each day, we noticed her sitting closer and closer to us. She finally decided on a spot midway in the garage where she could watch us from afar and yet still be near enough her usual points of entry/exit. For the most part, as long as we set out food, water, and later on, a box, she seemed content just watching us from a distance.

By early December, she was in our garage whole days and even nights. She roamed the garage on her own, keeping some distance from us still, but she no longer seemed jittery or terrified of us. After a while, she would wander briefly near us, even trying a few times to rub her head on our feet. We couldn’t touch her, though; the sight of hands coming near her made her shriek and scamper away so we just stopped trying. We figured she’d let us know when she was ready to be petted or touched.

It got to be that she would strut around the garage like she owned it, even chasing away would-be competitors from her spot. One day, she discovered an almost empty, open cabinet in the garage. She decided to leave her box in favor of the cabinet. When she ventured out for toileting, we quickly lined the cabinet with pieces of clean cardboard and Kitty’s old mats. We even put in Kitty’s scratch pad and a few of her toys.

On December 17, 2020, she gave birth to a single female kitten we named Kitty Two aka KiTwo. Nanay (as we now call her) and her kitten are now housed indoors but during the day, they play in the same spot outside where Kitty once stayed. Nanay still resists handling and holding so we give her lots of space with the hope of losing her distrust one day soon. For now, they seem content to stay out but the plan is to spay Nanay as soon as KiTwo is weaned completely.

Nanay and Kitty Two aka KiTwo

KiTwo has grown to be rambunctious girl who loves climbing and jumping. She is also a tail menace as she loves to pounce on her mom’s tail. Nanay tackles her and sits on her each time, but KiTwo just shakes off the rough play and comes back for more. We feel she could hold her own against Skyflakes once she grows bigger. Mom and daughter

After KiTwo completes her fourth round of deworming, we will slowly introduce KiTwo and Skyflakes to each other so they can play during the day. In the meantime, we’re just happy to see them thriving healthily and happily. Now, who knew we’d turn out to be a cat family?

The Seed of New Love

I never really understood the grief that comes with the passing of a pet. For years, I often wondered about the kind of love that elicits such sorrow. I never really understood this, not until Kitty came into our lives.

Kitty came to us on the evening of August 29, 2020, after apparently falling from the roof of our house. We heard a kitten crying loudly in front of our doorstep that night but because we saw a bigger cat with her, we left some food and water and let her be. The next day, this seemingly unfazed kitten spotted Alex looking in on her and decided to follow him. She wandered gingerly towards the back of the garage and followed Alex wherever he went. Her mother repeatedly tried to get her back, calling out to her and putting her paws on her back, but this headstrong kitten just kept coming back to where we were. Alphonse was so surprised to see a baby cat crawl under his trampoline that he started crying loudly and asked to be rescued from the terribly scary kitty monster.

That night, she seemed exhausted from her adventures so we left her in a small plastic bin with a soft cloth and left more food and water. Her mother warily watched us from a short distance and stayed with her when we left. The next day, however, her mother left her alone. We waited for hours for her but she didn’t reappear till many days later.

We didn’t plan on having a pet ever. Between Alphonse and his volatile moods, it has never felt safe to introduce a fragile creature into our home. Moreover, with all the craziness going on in our country and the world today, rescuing one little kitten seemed so insignificant and trivial compared to all our worries. But she came to us like a gift in those lonely times, and for the short while she was here, she gave us so much joy.

A week after we officially adopted Kitty, I brought her to the vet for a health assessment and she gave her a clean bill of health. We were told to return the following week for her first deworming. Before we could return for her appointment, however, Kitty came down with a bad infection. One day, she woke up lethargic and breathing rapidly. She hardly touched her food and drink. She couldn’t even meow.

With the help and expertise of an animal-rescuer friend and her vet, we were able to nurse her back to health. It took a full week before Kitty regained her pep and vigor, but with assisted feeding, lots of cuddles, and the proper medications, she made a full recovery. There was one night during that week that we thought she wouldn’t make it. She kept crawling away to hide in dark corners, curled in a soft wet ball that stank so badly. We didn’t sleep a wink that night as we watched over her and fed her dextrose water and soft gravy.

Kitty stayed with us for nine glorious weeks. Each morning, we woke up with anticipation, knowing we were going to spend another day with her. In the afternoons, Kitty would sit and watch calmly as Alphonse blew bubbles, galloped, jumped, and shrieked himself hoarse. She loved to be cuddled and would often fall asleep in Alex’s lap.

Perhaps I was drawn to her because there were many things about Kitty that reminded me of my own children. The way she was pigeon toed in her right foot, with one paw turned in. Alex still stands exactly like that. The way she was always hungry. Her demands to be fed seemed to always coincide with Alphonse’s cries for food; their appetites were in sync. She was a small kitten, smaller than most, I now realize, reminding me of how, for many years, Alphonse was a little small for his age. For these reasons and more, it just felt like she always belonged to us.

Kitty left us too soon but she was the seed that planted a new kind of love in our hearts. And while we could say that we rescued her, the truth was, she rescued us too.

February’s First Favor

As I continue to fill the pages of this blog, allow me to dwell in the spirit of mindful gratitude. I’ve let too many of these pass in the last year and I should remind myself to cherish each and every one, however fleeting they may be.

February opens with a small gift that brings me tremendous joy. I joined a photo contest of a local cattery yesterday morning, and to my surprise, my entry won! I couldn’t be more thrilled!

I took a picture of Skyflakes (my new cat, whose story will be told another day) early yesterday morning. Skyflakes has a habit of waking me up at 7:30 every morning to ask for food but I was surprised to find him dozing right after eating a full breakfast. It must have been the enticing bed weather. Metro Manila has been unusually cool this past month, much to our delight. Then again, I didn’t mind; I wanted to sleep in too, hehehe. Still, he was just too beautiful in his sleep that I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to take a few pictures. I took some in color, a couple in black and white, and I figured that one was actually good enough to pass muster. So I posted the picture on Instagram, tagged it for the contest, then went back to sleep. By the time Skyflakes and I woke up, we were both ready to get immersed in the day’s activities. Skyflakes wanted more play time (his favorite toy is a toothbrush!) and well, I needed to catch up on laundry. When I finally had time to review email and check on social media early that night, I saw the good news on my IG post. Yay!

This is the picture I submitted as my entry to SirNicolay Cattery’s contest. I used the iPhone 12 to take this shot and it turned out pretty well, I think. Skyflakes is just a beautiful cat hands down, but he is a whirling dervish most of the time, bouncing up walls and always chasing after something. He is difficult to catch still so when he is sleepy or sleeping, I always take a few shots, moving ever so quietly so as not to wake him.

After breakfast, what does a kitty do on a cold Sunday morning? Enjoy the weather and snooze a little more! #rarechillydayinmanila #skyflakesthecat #lazySunday #sirnicolaycattery #blackandwhite

SirNicolay Cattery is hosting monthly photography contests this year, as well as a raffle for subscribers and official members of its YT channel. There are also regular updates on new kittens for rehoming and they are, indeed, lovely little babies. I’m not going to sugarcoat this: these kittens are worth a fortune and lucky are the people who can afford them. Still, a glimpse of them playing happily with the many gadgets and treats James (Sir Nicolay) provides for them is enough to make my heart happy.

If you didn’t know yet, SirNicolay Cattery is a local cattery that raises and rehomes Scottish fold, British shorthair, and British longhair cats. Cats that come from this cattery are all pedigreed (the parent cats are imported from Europe and are TICA-registered) and come with official papers. What I like best about this cattery, though, is that it spares no expense in providing for the kittens’ early start in life. All kittens complete their course of kitten deworming and vaccinations. They are fed premium food at all times, given more than adequate supplementation to ensure their best health, and raised in an environment that is “cattified,” safe, and welcoming. If you love these specific breeds of cats, you’ll find that SirNicolay Cattery is a good place to start your search for your fur baby.

SirNicolay Cattery can be found in YouTube, where Sir Nicolay can be seen sharing his cat experience and wisdom to both old and new cat parents. It also has an active presence in Facebook and Instagram. You can find more information here: SirNicolay Cattery website.

Want to try for next month’s contest? Keep taking photos of your cats!

P.S. It looks like I’ll be keeping my promise, friends, so please wish me luck!

P.P.S. Not a paid post!

Just One Promise

At the end of annus horribilis 2020, the only promise I made to myself was to keep writing. Oh, sure, I had other things on my mind, but I knew making other resolutions would be fruitless if I couldn’t even keep this one promise. To be fair, though, throughout the year that just passed, I had managed to put down snippets of my thoughts in my personal diary, yet for some reason, I felt reluctant to share them with anyone.

Our lives, already removed from much of the world because of the difficulties of our son’s profound autism, became even more isolated. What respite we had, or what was left of it, was taken away from us by the forced quarantine measures of the pandemic. And our world, already small, got even smaller.

Many times, I would wake up in the middle of the night in a panic, the feeling of dread so overwhelmingly intense that I was convinced something bad was happening right at that moment. It took all of my energy to focus and concentrate as my mounting fears threatened to pull me down deeper into the quicksand of my thoughts. In the past, I had been able to quell and stifle anxiety by praying the rosary from beginning to end, but as the months in quarantine grew longer, it took more and more loops of the rosary to stave off the fear.

One night, sometime towards the end of the excruciatingly long year we just had, I woke up to another bad dream. As I turned over in bed, now wide awake but still terrified and confused, my hand was suddenly seized by my husband. Curled under a triple pile of comforters and still asleep, he clutched my hand to his chest. His breathing was calm and regular as he held on to my hand. I couldn’t move without waking him, so despite my tears, I curled right next to him and closed my eyes. I started the rosary in my head again but before I finished the first decade, I was asleep. It was the first time I slept dreamless in a long while.

I’m better these days. My dreams are still as vivid as ever- and in color too- but they no longer terrify me as much. I still have the occasional ones that leave me shivering in fear in the middle of the night, but when I do, I snuggle closer to my husband, clutch his hands, start the rosary in my head, and I can put off my fears for another night.

I wanted to put all this down before the first month of this new year ends. Already, the days pass us in a blur of ordinary sameness-today being a repeat of yesterday, and tomorrow, a repeat of today- that I don’t even remember where all the days of January have gone.

I guess I just wanted to let anyone who still cares to read this blog that I am still here. I’m struggling, like so much of the world these days, but I’m not giving up. Not just yet.

And with your help, perhaps I can keep this one resolution. Maybe then the rest of my courage will follow.

The Human Cost

This is not my story, and so, at first, I felt hesitant to share it. But I felt compelled to tell you of this family’s story, if only to remind you of the human cost of the Corona virus, and of our ignorance, our willful blindness, and our reluctance to call the people in power accountable for their mistakes.

(Credit to Amanda Madden)

On March 5 of this month, this year, an elderly couple flew back home to the United States after their yearly vacation in the Philippines. Their grown-up children (six kids, their spouses, their grandchildren) were divided in both countries so they would try to split the year between them. When the weather became unbearably cold in their part of the US, they would fly back to Manila for the milder climate. Around springtime, when the weather turned kinder to their old bones, they would fly back to their North American home to spend time with their three other children and their families.

This year was no exception. The elderly couple was glad to go back to the US; they missed the rest of their family. When they were here, they missed their kids in the US. When they were there, they longed for the ones they left back here. This year, maybe because of their increasing age, or maybe because of the traffic, they hardly went anywhere else, except for a few short shopping trips in the course of more than four months. For most of their time here, they stayed at home, content to spend the hours in the company of their kids and their grandkids.

Two days after their flight back to the US, on March 7, the couple came down with flu-like symptoms. They immediately quarantined themselves at home but less than a week later, their symptoms worsened and they required hospitalization. Their only daughter, the one who cared for them at home upon their return, also became sick.

On March 17, the elderly father took a turn for the worse. His oxygen levels were precariously low and he needed a ventilator to breathe. His wife was suffering too, but despite her children’s pleas, she refused intubation. And although she could feel her strength withering away, she tried to keep up with calls to her children, her voice weak and gentle as they prayed the rosary together.

On March 23, the couple succumbed to Covid pneumonia. In her dying hours, the wife wished for nothing else but to be by her husband’s side. Mercifully, the doctors and nurses gave them this final gift. They passed away together, mere minutes apart, still holding hands.

This is the true cost of this virus- losing loved ones in this battle. That they die alone, with no company or comfort in their last moments, makes it an even more unbearable death. Despite the overwhelming sorrow that envelops their family today, the children cling to the thought that their parents, who did everything together for almost 57 years, never left each other’s side to the end.

Their story does not end there, though. One of their sons, a surgeon and a frontliner in Manila, is quarantined with his wife and 12-year-old son after showing some symptoms. In the US, their daughter lays in her sick bed, alone, as she fights one of the biggest battles of her life.

Each day, this virus inches closer to us and to our homes. Already, the ranks of medical professionals all over the world are stretched thin. The elderly, the weak, and the sick- the most vulnerable of us- are falling. They are the first, but they will certainly not be the last. Next time, it may be someone you know. It may even be someone you love.

This is a true story. It is not mine, but it belongs to someone we love dearly. And though we are far apart and unlikely to see each other again till this is all over, we pray they know they are always loved.