Baby’s Vax Day Out

We signed up Alphonse and Alex to our local government’s vaccination program, QC Vax Easy, last month and to the home vaccination program of our barangay three weeks ago. At around the same time, I was also able to submit their names for home vaccination to the co-chair of our city’s vaccination program. To cover all our bases, we signed them up to the vaccine registries of other cities that allowed nonresidents to apply for drive-thru vaccination. We were fully aware that the supply of vaccines was limited, but we were also hopeful that because they belong to the A3 priority group (people with comorbidities), their names would be called up soon.

Nonetheless, my brother-in-law John, a surgeon working in the frontlines, kept us abreast of schedules and venues of forthcoming vaccination drives. Short of the home vaccination program, we felt that a drive-thru vaccination was the only other feasible option. Alphonse cannot wear a mask longer than a few minutes, and even then, that would be stretching his patience thin. He also has a hard time dealing with crowds and is almost always likely to have a meltdown in public. Given these, we followed the news and announcements from the city governments, from our barangay, and from my brother-in-law. When a local vaccination drive nearby opened up, John hurriedly signed up the boys to reserve their slots.

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On our way to the vaccination site

Well, today was V-day. Vax Day! Alphonse woke up without complaints this morning. At 7am, he was dressed and ready for the day. We promised him a Jollibee or McDonald’s breakfast after his “tenteki”* and he nodded his head in agreement.

Alphonse was happy and excited on the way to the vaccination site. This was his first car ride in a year, and he was so thrilled that he kissed me a few times on my face shield. He held my hand throughout the drive, humming happily. We arrived at the vax site at 7:45am; we actually got there ahead of John, who texted that he was a little behind but he was on his way.

He seemed happy enough while waiting in the car. Outside the multipurpose hall, we could see people coming and going, setting up for the day’s activities. He seemed unconcerned at first, giggling happily and demanding for the Nips chocolate bits he found in my bag. John came at 8, right on the dot. When Alphonse saw his dad lower the window to wave at John, he stopped to look at his uncle. His face darkened a bit, probably remembering all the times this particular “Ninong Doctor” (Ninong is godfather in Filipino) had “tortured” him during home check-ups and wound debridement sessions that came after. Alphonse has such a long memory for hurt that he carries his “grudge” for a long time. Still, I was able to distract Alphonse with more Nips and his dark mood dissipated. I was even able to coax him to wear a mask, a few seconds at a time, which he tried to take off hurriedly, because, you know, Nips.

After Anthony filled in the registration forms, John motioned for us to drive the car inside the hall. There, he and the nurse took Alex’s BP and temperature. When they tried to do the same with Alphonse, that started a lot of groaning and screeching. Temperature check was easy; the vaccinators had an infrared thermometer. But we couldn’t get Alphonse to cooperate for the sphygmomanometer or even the pulse oximeter because he got so worked up. He didn’t want to be touched, didn’t want the vaccinators anywhere near him, and struggled against them. After a few minutes of back and forth and trying, the Vax staff gave up, and we heaved a sigh of relief. At that point, I felt they could have just asked us to sign a waiver for Alphonse. Even during hospital stays, the only way Alphonse’s vital signs can be taken is when he is knocked out cold by anesthesia. Awake, he would struggle and fight till he injured himself or hurt others.

When it was time for the actual vaccination, Alex received his dose first. I saw Alphonse stop and peek at his brother’s arm, his eyes widening in alarm. When Alphonse saw the needle beside his door, he started screeching loudly and kicking his legs against the back of the front seat. I couldn’t get him to sit still and when his dad and brother intervened, he fought them off. In the struggle, Alphonse had to be restrained manually by the strongest member of the family- Alex.

His body wrapped in his brother’s arms, with Anthony holding his right arm and me holding the other, Alphonse was able to receive his vaccine. He didn’t even flinch or make a sound when the needle went in. To him, the anticipation, aggravated by the departure to his daily routine, was worse than the actual event, which was over very quickly and with negligible pain.

We were handed their vaccination cards right away. Alphonse was still agitated then, his eyes alert and distrustful. When John said his goodbye, Alphonse gave him evil side glances. He isn’t likely to forget today, and we kidded John that he has become a marked man, hehe.

On the way home, Alphonse continued to be anxious and flustered. He ripped off the adhesive bandage the nurse left on his upper arm, shredded it into pieces, and swallowed a few small bits before I could stop him. He only brightened up considerably when we drove up to the fast food restaurant’s drive-thru. As soon as our orders were handed to us, he tapped his brother’s shoulder and begged for his share of the food. We drove straight home after that short stop.

As soon as we got home, both boys discarded their clothing to a waiting soapy wash, got bathed, brushed their teeth, and finally got their breakfast meals. The whole process took just a little more than an hour, but certain parts of it felt much longer. Like so many of our family’s life events, today turned out to be another rollercoaster ride- exciting, exhilarating, and also a lot scary.

Now that I’ve had the day to gather my thoughts, there were some things that I wish I could have improved upon:

1. Home vaccination would still have been the best option for Alphonse. In the struggle to restrain him, Alex dropped his face shield and lost his mask. It would have been easier to restrain Alphonse at home. BUT with the threat of Delta, we wanted to do it at the earliest possible time, and given the opportunity that was presented, this was a lot better than other available options.

2. Despite our attempts to teach Alphonse to mask up, his sensitivities have made it difficult for him to get used to wearing this. Note that this is a person who has never worn a hat or a hoodie in his entire life, who hated having his hair brushed or his face washed, and who only got used to haircuts when he was already in his teens. As a general rule, we usually check out locations and procedures in advance so we can anticipate his reactions and work on preparing him. This was the reason his dad and I received the vaccine ahead, using the drive-thru option available in EZ Consult. Alas, when this option was discontinued, we struggled to find kinder options for him. Persons with autism, in particular, would benefit from longer prep time and advanced notice so they can manage their fears and anxiety.

3. It’s been repeated over and over again by doctors of the Philippine Heart Association and the Philippine Society of Hypertension that blood pressure screening isn’t necessary to receiving the vaccine, but for some reason, this has remained part of the vaccine administration protocol. I wish there was a waiver for people for whom this procedure is next to impossible to perform. I was able to make Alphonse wear a mask for short periods of time, but when he became agitated with the BP screening, he ripped his masks repeatedly.

3. Because Alphonse is scared of doctors and nurses, I feel like for the next dose, the vaccine syringe and needle should be hidden from his view. We should still put him in some form of a support hold, just to be sure, but removing his fear would definitely make the whole process move faster.

4. We should have asked someone else on site to take a picture for posterity. Because we were all hands on deck this morning, we weren’t able to take a picture of Alphonse receiving his vaccine. On second thought, it wouldn’t be a good picture because we were all over him. Still, the picture would have made a good argument for home vaccination. It is extremely difficult to perform any medical procedure on severely disabled individuals like Alphonse. As such, I pray that the local governments take this into consideration in their vaccination programs.

Despite the difficulties, my family and I are extremely grateful for today. We are grateful for the sacrifice our health care workers continue to make and the hard work our local government officials pour into making our every day lives work in this pandemic. As a promise, we will continue to exercise every precaution to keep us, our family, and everyone around us safe. We will mask up, shelter at home, keep ourselves healthy, and encourage friends and family to get vaccinated. It’s the least we can do to help end this pandemic.

Stay safe, friends! Peace and love to you all always.

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. ❤️

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.

Our Daddy Always

When Alex was a year old, we taught him to call his grandparents Daddy and Mommy. (A❤️ and I were Papa and Mama.) He tweaked this a bit by adding Lolo (grandfather) and Lola (grandmother) to their names, thus coming up with Daddy Lolo for my dad and Mommy Lola for my mom. A❤️’s mom was also Mommy Lola, although as he grew up, he decided to call her Mommy Flower (her real name was Flora) or Granny Flower. A❤️’s dad was also Daddy Lolo, but this evolved into Daddy Only, from a telephone conversation they had when Alex was three.  

Three-year-old Alex: I love you, Daddy Lolo.

Daddy: Alex, just call me Daddy. Don’t add Lolo at the end anymore, okay? Daddy only.

Three-year-old Alex: Okay, Daddy Only. I love you.

 The name stuck.

Daddy is, and will always be, my kids’ Daddy Only.

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Daddy Only had a massive hemorrhagic stroke while driving home from a friend’s house last November 8, Friday night. He did not sustain additional injuries from the accident and, thank God, there was little damage to the car and driver he hit. He must have sensed something that made him slow down (and Daddy was always a fast driver, even at his age) but we will never fully know the events of that night as he never regained consciousness. After a few days in the neurological ICU, Daddy passed away at a little past one in the afternoon of November 14, New York time.

Daddy treated me like a real daughter; in the more than 28 years I have been part of his family, he never showed me a single moment of unkindness. He wasn’t the kind to be overtly sentimental and effusive in expression, but as he grew older, he also became softer and less stringent in affection, dropping “I love you’s” in our conversations and laughing heartily when we rained him with more of the same.

Where Alphonse got his good looks

My history with their family dates back to my high school friendship with A❤️ but in those days, I only ever saw his dad from afar. My first real encounter with his father was when I was already a freshman in college. One afternoon, I dropped by their house to deliver a letter for A❤️ and I came upon a really good-looking man sweeping the front yard of their home. He had on a pristinely white shirt with matching white shorts, and his jet-black hair was slicked and combed back. If I remember the event vividly, it was because the man struck me as “movie star handsome.” He broke into a wide smile when I introduced myself and called on his son, who, at that time, was gangly, gawky, and, yes, a bit pimply. I could see A❤️ ‘s close resemblance to his dad, but back then, Daddy cut a more imposing figure than his son. Family lore has it that when he left Silay for Manila to go to college, he was offered to be trained as an actor in one of the old film studios, but he declined because he was shy.

Over the years, I have built an encyclopaedia of memories with and of him. Because of the geographical distance, most of them are from the weekly Skype or phone calls he faithfully made to us. The most precious ones, however, are from his short visits back home or the times we went to New York to see him.

Daddy was always a no-nonsense kind of guy. He was pragmatic, down-to-earth, and not one to waste a single moment dwelling on “what-ifs.” He was thorough and decisive. When faced with difficulties, he was slow to burn, patient, and not quick to anger. I think A❤️ got those same qualities from him.

When their family decided to leave for the United States in the late eighties, Daddy did so with a lot of apprehension but he did it for his family. He left behind a promising position in Manila (he was bank manager of the PNB Rizal Avenue branch) and worked long jobs in the early days to make sure his family would be comfortable in the US. I try to imagine the humility it took to accept jobs that were beneath his education and experience, all to make sure he could build a future for his children, and it is something that still fills me with awe and pride today. With hard work and perseverance, in time, he found a job that he enjoyed, and he stayed with the same company till he retired.

Daddy with Dale and Joyce, A❤️’s younger siblings

I think of Daddy often as a strong man but in truth, he could be silly and soft, too. Joyce, in particular, his only daughter, could melt him in a putty. The grandkids could always elicit laughter from him, never mind that Alphonse could only repeat the same few syllables over and over again. He also never forgot birthdays and he would call to greet them and say that he loved them. He loved his children and their children, no doubt about it.

Daddy and his Junior, the last time they were together

Over the years, as he built a life in New York now apart from his grown children, he made sure he was always there for all of us. Even with almost 9000 miles between us, we knew he would be if we needed him. He guided and advised us, reminding us of things we likely took for granted. And when our lives turned difficult and split us in different directions, like the Father above us, he never wavered in his faith in his children. He always believed in the best of us. He believed we would find our way back to each other again. And we did. Thank you, Daddy.

Now that you will be with us only in our dreams, it is time to upgrade your moniker from Daddy Only to Daddy Always. You will always, always be a Daddy to us all.

Thank you for welcoming me with open arms into your family, Daddy. Thank you for giving me and Alex and Alphonse a space in your heart. We’ll see you in a little while. We love you so.

Above All, Be Kind

No filter. No makeup. Just me, my fat, and all my years on this earth. I realise I am not a makeup or jewellery or expensive clothes/shoes/bags person; I am what you may call a geek. A nerd even. But it’s alright. I am finally happy to be who I am.

I was looking at this picture today, trying to decide if I even wanted to share it. I looked grubby and a bit tired. I was relieved that the stain in my shirt didn’t show. But you know what? I also looked happy, and that kind of happiness, for many, can be quite elusive in these days of worry and anxiety.

Truth is, I am not always a happy person. And for a time, I was saddled with such great unhappiness that I thought the world could move on without me.

For years starting when I was eleven, I slept with a can of insecticide under my bed. It was a daily struggle to want to be alive. For a time, I also cut myself- short, shallow cuts made where no one could see. There was little blood but the acuteness of the pain was an addictive jolt. In later years, I peeled the skin off my feet so deep that my shoes and bedsheets always had blood stains in them.

My closest friends knew what went on in those early years: I was socially awkward. I was called names and made fun of. I received cruel notes that left me in tears. Some even had the gall to say the insults straight to my face.

We don’t like you. Can’t you get that?”

“No one likes you here.”

“You’ll have to find another group. We can’t work with someone like you.”

“You’re cheap.”

When you’re a young person wanting so much to fit in, knowing that you are unwanted by your peers- hated even- is a devastating blow to your sense of self. But I kept my mask up, never admitting to weakness or shame or pain. And I cried, always alone, in the bathroom of my childhood home, scrubbing my face clean off tears and snot before I went back to pretending again.

In time, I became an expert in masking my pain. While I practiced my social skills, I also learned to seek persons whose interests were close to mine. I developed a radar for kindness. I knew that if I “looked” happy, everyone would just assume I was. When one of my teachers described me as “vivacious,” I was amazed because inside, I was anything but. Inside, I carried all those hateful words in those letters. Inside, I still withered.

It took years before I could finally say I was safe and happy. It took a lot of prayer, advice, counselling, and love to scrape my festering wounds clean. It took friendship and family and God.

Over the years, there have been events that pulled me back to the edge of darkness. Some were big events. The death of one of my childhood best friends. Being hurt and dumped twice (!) by a young man I was enamoured with. Being rejected for being fat and ugly. Being disowned by family. Being beaten daily by a child you love more than yourself. Others were smaller, everyday events, but they didn’t hurt any less.

These days, when I am teeter-tottering on the edge again, I remind myself of what I have. I have my family, the one I was born in and the one I have made, and they have been my constant source of strength. I have kept my true friends from that age of unhappiness and they are my staunchest, bravest defenders. Still, if I have to name my saving grace, it would be my bestest friend in the whole world. He has pulled me off the ledge so many times that I have lost count. If I had to credit anyone for me being here today, it would have to be him. He knows me inside and out, sometimes, more than I know my own self. Thank you, A❤️.

Even today, I don’t think I am whole yet. But I am healing a little bit more each day. The desire to stay is stronger now. When I feel the push again, I know I can ask for help and I know I will receive it. My boys, they help me push back now.

I won’t presume to know what’s in the mind and hearts of those who are still hurting, but I hope you know that you are not alone. I made it through the other side and so will you. Just keep repeating that to yourself, even when it’s almost difficult to believe.

Despite all my wounds, my scabs and scars, I feel loved. I AM loved. And yes, I am happy. Truly, that is all I will ever need.

#backfromtheedge #lovingyourself #nofilter #bekind