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The A- Team

18 Jun

An elderly man hurries down a flight of stairs, a packet of medicines in his hand. He stops by the kitchen to get a glass of tepid water and heads to his sons’ room. He opens the lights in the room and picks up things as he makes his way through – a towel left on the floor, a bubble wand thrown under a chair, even a shirt stuffed under the table. He nudges both boys awake, gently calling out their names. The younger boy meekly accepts his medicine, his first in a series for the day, as the older one holds his water ready for him. 

A young man unwraps a sandwich and cuts it into small pieces. He lays the pieces gently into a small plastic plate before handing it over to his younger brother. He wipes his brother’s mouth every now and then and catches falling crumbs on a tray. If he isn’t fast enough, those crumbs are eaten as fast as they are found, even if they’ve found their way to the floor.

The elderly man sits on an old armchair, visibly tired from a whole day of work. It is nine in the evening but his day isn’t about to end just yet. In his left hand, he holds his phone as he checks email and responds in real time; in his right, he holds a towel and clean underwear as he waits for his son to finish his after-bathing “touching” rituals. 

It’s three in the morning. A young man shrieks as the top of his lungs, singing, nay, shouting, his wordless songs. For some reason, he won’t, or can’t, sleep. His big brother, eyes bleary from the lateness of the hour, sits with him patiently as he tires himself out. It will be morning before they even get some sleep. 

This is what every single day is like in my home these long, hard days. And these men are my lifelines to the world. They are my A-Team. My Autism Team. 

Living with a loved one with severe disabilities is not for the faint of heart. Alphonse is 22, a grown, strapping young man by physical appearance, and yet, he remains a young child in many ways. He needs assistance and supervision in almost every aspect of life, from eating to toileting. He needs help asking for things and in getting them. He can’t be left alone for a single second as his compulsions almost always overcome any measure of restraint in him. 

Day in and day out, we work to help Alphonse find peace and joy in this turbulent world. And while I may play a small part in Alphonse’s life, in truth, it is Anthony and Alex who make our challenging lives work. They carry the weight and burden of caring for Alphonse as much as I do, maybe even more. 

Some would judge Alphonse as as unfortunate individual because of his disabilities. I happen to think otherwise. Alphonse, for all his limitations, is doubly lucky because he has the unconditional love and patient service of his father and brother. 

On Father’s Day, I pay tribute to his two fathers, two of the bravest, most loving men I’ve ever known. Would that every child gets loved the very same way. 

“If everyone helps to hold up the sky, then one person does not become tired.”

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An Extraordinarily Ordinary Life 

1 Jun


I woke up at 8:25 in the morning, the telephone ringing loudly in my ears. I snatched the handheld from its cradle and answered the call. My daily alarms are set to 5 and 8:45 in the morning; I try to catch some Zzzs in between. I rued the lost 20 minutes as I stretched lazily in bed, thinking of all the chores that were waiting for me. We’ve been without nannies and household help for a while now. While their services were appreciated, it seems as if they’ve become more trouble than help of late as we bent backwards more and more over their demands. Going without help has gotten easier with everyone willingly pitching in, but my days have not necessarily gotten shorter as I obsess continuously (and sometimes needlessly, I have to admit) over unfinished chores . 

Today marks my 50th birthday, and were it any other year, perhaps all I would be thinking of would be a visit to the salon for cut and color, maybe even a manicure. And while I’d still be busy with housework, I would also have the luxury of time to get ready for a birthday date with my husband late at night. Instead, all I can think of as I opened my eyes this morning were the hundred and one things that needed my attention – a house that needs cleaning, clothing that needs to be folded and stored, meals and medications that have to be given on time, and a sweet, guileless man-child who still needs my hovering presence, supervision, and help, 24/7. 

Today has been spent in a flurry of never-ending laundry, with more regular household chores squeezed in between. Alphonse accidentally pooped in his bed this morning, and while I had just laundered all the dirty linens yesterday, I had to manually wash and scrape poopy sheets and clothing twice (!) before throwing them in the washing machine. To be fair, Alphonse did try to run to the bathroom as fast as he could when he felt the runs coming; he just didn’t make it in time. I almost broke my back with the sodden king-sized comforter I had to wash thrice in as many days (he threw up on it the other night) and to make up for the hardship, Alphonse peppered his poor Mama with kisses. 

Last year, as Anthony and I prepared for this year’s milestone, we had planned for a trip to Paris to celebrate our 50th revolution around the sun. Today, because of the special circumstances of our lives, we are thousands of miles from where we planned to be. 

Still, I have no regrets. For even as today blends into a thousand ordinary other days just like this, I feel truly blessed. I have all that I want and need- Anthony, Alex, and Alphonse- and they make every one of my days truly extraordinary. 

Prescription: Getaway

20 Feb
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Riding the free T Galleria shuttle

I had the chance to finally break out of house the weekend leading to Valentine’s day after almost two months of bed rest and forced “quarantine.” Which was just the perfect time, as my cough was almost gone, save for an occasional tickle in my throat, and I’ve been weaned off daily nebulizations by then. Traveling light, I had to choose between carrying my portable nebulizer or a doll, and I ended up chucking the nebulizer for two Blythe dolls! It felt great!

Where did we go, you ask? I had visions of sun and sand before we left, but Guam, which was our destination that weekend, pulled a few surprises on us. Sure, there were plenty of blue skies, warm sun, and gorgeous sand, but there was also rain, and not just mild drizzle, mind you. The weather was surprisingly fickle that weekend, flipping hot and cold at all hours of the day. Good thing I was and always have been more of a precipitate kind of person, so I enjoyed the weekend, sun and rain and all. Besides, Guam was simply too beautiful to hold any grudges, and what started out as a whimsical trip where almost everything went wrong (a story for another day) ended up as being one of the most relaxing days of my life.

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The view from our room

We didn’t have a fixed itinerary so we wandered when we felt like it, slept when we were exhausted, and explored just a bit. We were happy with the hotel booking we got; we felt even happier that the back of our hotel was beachfront property so we had ample access to the sea and salty air. There was a little time to explore the shops (DFS Galleria, Micronesia, Guam Outlets, and K-mart!) and watch at the cinemas of the Micronesia Mall. Everywhere we went, we were met by Filipino-Americans who still speak the language, welcoming us with their special brand of island hospitality. We came to unwind, and that was what we did.

We all need that quick getaway now and then, and precious time with A♥ was exactly the answer to my cabin fever. Moreover, I felt rejuvenated and relaxed after a few days, just like the doctors ordered. Alas, I just wish I took more pictures!

Christmas 2016

24 Dec

It’s the eve of Christmas, and I am watching my family through CCTV cameras. Save for brief interactions with them, my boys live separately from me- a sacrifice we all make to keep Alphonse safe- because I have been sick for many days now.

It started with headaches on our last day in Hong Kong, more than two weeks ago. Thinking it was just fatigue, I spent the whole day in bed in our hotel sleeping. My husband and I took the flight back to Manila early the next day, but by nightfall, I was running a fever. My throat felt like it had sand in it, my eyes were bloodshot, and my head was pounding. Every single joint in my body hurt. I stayed in bed the next day, and the day after that. That weekend, I developed pinpoint rashes in my arms, and some on my chest. By then, my voice was hoarse, my nose was running like an open faucet, and my body felt like I had gone through a 12-round bout in the ring. I was also coughing so badly that A♥ brought me to see the doctor.

I was prescribed antibiotics and steroids, and advised to stay away from family members. I stayed in quarantine for another week till I finished the last of my meds. I was feeling better, albeit not completely well, so I decided to shop for Christmas gifts late Tuesday afternoon. It was a mistake, I knew right away, as the teeming crowds made it hard for me to breathe. I was catching my breath each time I tried to speak. I was dizzy and exhausted after only an hour.

By Wednesday night, my throat was sore and painful again. On Thursday morning, my runny nose was back and I started coughing globs of sticky, brownish-green mucus. I could not get any sleep, and when I did fall asleep, I was awakened from these short, restless naps by more coughing. As I write this, my knees feel wobbly and my flesh feels shaky all the time. My abdominal and neck muscles burn from the relentless coughing. I haven’t had an abdominal workout this intense in years.

To make matters a little bit more challenging, all our temporary help left yesterday. Undaunted, A♥ and Alex have willingly taken up the slack. Last night, A♥ took care of dinner, bathed Alphonse, and stayed with him till bedtime. They took three car rides in between, the longest one lasting for an hour. Alex took over at bedtime, watching his brother and singing him lullabies till the youngest one was asleep. 
This morning, A♥ gave the boys their breakfast and gave Alphonse his meds. When Alphonse accidentally soiled himself (wait, did I tell you that Alphonse has diarrhea today, of all days?), Alphonse’ “daddies” took turns washing Alphonse and cleaning up the mess. They do all these, even as they run inside the house every now and then to check up on me.

We communicate mostly through messages. I can’t talk much, I get winded too fast and I cough in between words. So I watch them through cameras, sending them messages and answering their questions on Alphonse and our household (like, “Mama, where are our spoons?”). Last night, I kept the television on CCTV mode, pretending they were all just with me in the room.

When I think about how we can’t all be together during this most special time, I am almost given to fits of despair, were it not for the brave men in my life. Watching them buckle down to work without complaints, without fanfare, without asking for anything in return, I am grateful that my life is blessed with their love and service. They’re keeping us together, even as we are physically apart.

This is love in action. I cannot think of a more fitting tribute to Christ this season.

Merry Christmas, friends and family, and we wish you love and peace always!

730 Days Gone

18 Jul

I wrote this on July 15, 2016, on the Second Death Aniversary of my father.

The Home Above

Two years ago, while my sister Jas and I were going through boxes of old papers, a single letter fell on the ground. It was a letter from the Carmelite missionaries, dated July 15, 1978, saying that July 16 was the Feast Day of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel. I told Jas about it, wondering at the coincidence and pondering on the importance of this unexpected discovery. It turned out to be Daddy’s last day. A week later, I found a stash of old cards we gave Daddy, and this was in them. I think Daddy was sending us a message. I know for sure he is in heaven now.

It was late on a rainy night much like this two years ago when Daddy left us. Alphonse, normally in bed and asleep by ten, could not sleep that particular night. He paced around the room, restless and seemingly bothered. We tried to appease him by blowing bubbles with him, an activity that almost always soothes him, but he angrily shooed us away.

When the phone rang twice at 11:00 pm, Alphonse stopped walking around the room. He stood near the foot of our bed, transfixed and silent. When I put down the phone, he seemed relieved. Then, without fuss, he allowed himself to be led to his bed by his brother. I often wonder about this night, how Alphonse seemed to know of or sense Daddy’s passing even before the call came. Daddy passed away sometime after ten in the evening, alone in his room in a private care facility in Taguig.

I broke the news to our mom as soon as the call came. She started wailing loudly, her heartbroken sobs interrupted only by the anger and blame she directed at me. I stopped her from going to the facility that night. There was a storm coming, I told her repeatedly. I promised we would all go back when the storm had abated. How was I to know?

At one in the morning, amid strong rains that whipped and lashed at our convoy of vehicles, we made a slow, sad trek back to Quezon City with Daddy. We finished signing papers at two in the morning. The funeral staff had brought him to the preparation room but they allowed us access to him. Daddy was soft, but cold. He smelled faintly of baby powder and dried blood. The attendants had wiped Daddy’s face clean and we kissed him on the cheeks and forehead. We held his smooth, cold hands one last time. And then we left him lying in a metal slab, a white cotton sheet tucked around him as if he were sleeping.

The power was out when we returned home. It was going to be light soon but we needed to rest our weary bodies and troubled minds. My husband and I tumbled into bed and fell asleep, my fingers knotted in his. I closed my eyes and willed myself not to cry. There were still so many things to think of. I made a mental list of them, going through each item over and over again until sleep finally came.

Hours later, I woke up unexpectedly from my dreamless slumber as I felt a cold chill pass through me. Sometime during the early hours of morning, A♥ had let go of my hand and rolled over in a fetal position, his back to me. I turned over to reach out to him but in the darkness, I saw my dad lying between us. Daddy seemed to be just sleeping. I’m a self-confessed scaredy cat but somehow, I didn’t feel scared; I felt comforted. I stared at the figure before me and whispered “Let’s rest na, Dad.” I rubbed my eyes of their tears and closed them again.

Typhoon Glenda (Rammasun) made landfall in Metro Manila early that morning, leaving much of the city in shambles and without power. The rains fell without let-up but Mom, A♥, and I needed to brave the downpour for one more errand. Daddy needed new clothes. All his old ones were much too big for him. He had lost so much weight in the last six months that he needed to hold up his pants with a tight belt. And his shirts, even the new ones, they all hang off his scrawny frame loosely.

Mom went through all the racks of suits they had and chose a navy blue suit, a light blue shirt, and a striped tie. A♥ hurried to pay for our purchases while I oversaw the packing of the suit. The saleslady reminded Mom to hold on to the receipt so we could exchange the suit if it didn’t fit. Mom looked at her sadly, eyes brimming with tears, and said “We won’t be bringing it back.”

Daddy’s wake lasted all of five days. We did not expect so many people to come. From early morning to late at night, we sat with guests who wanted to pay their final respects to him. We told Daddy’s stories over and over again and in turn, we heard snippets of his life from those who knew him as their friend, as mentor, as business partner. Daddy felt most alive to me then.

The night before his funeral, I finally allowed myself to cry. I knew that the next morning would be the last time I would ever lay my eyes on his face. After that, I would only get to see him in my dreams, and only if I got lucky. I burrowed my head in A♥’s arms and wept till his arms were drenched in hot, salty tears.

At six in the morning of Daddy’s funeral, I woke up suddenly again, shivering. My teeth chattered from the cold that wrapped itself around my chest and back. I knew it was Daddy hugging me goodbye.

Over the next year, I would dream of him intermittently but often, and in each one, he grew more robust and less frail. I dreamt of him frequently as the father I had in childhood but of late, I see him looking more like he did in his early sixties. The last dream I had of him was a few months ago. In it, I saw him through my bedroom window looking up at me from the garage. He looked healthy, happy, and serene. I saw him mouth the words “I love you” over and over again. I woke up with cheeks wet from tears. I think he’s telling me- us– that he is alright where he is.

It has been two years since that rainy night in July. Seven hundred thirty days without Daddy. I don’t feel the pain and loneliness too much these days, but God, I really miss him still.

Review: Suit Up Philippines’ Luggage Cover

4 Jul

For Mother’s Day and my birthday this year, I received new luggage from my husband, a Rimowa Mutiwheel 75 Sports trunk and a smaller cabin multiwheel, both in matte blue. These were unexpected surprises because we had just purchased matching Delsey Helium suitcase sets at the Travel Expo last year and they were new and still unused. We had planned to use them for our trimova sports trunkrip to the United States later the same year. Alas, we were unable to use them because of SouthWest’s size restrictions. We would have been subject to penalties equivalent to the cost of our tickets (which were cheap at USD99/pax, one way to Dallas from NY, and USD99 for Dallas to LA); too late before we found out that no one really checked for sizes at the SW terminals.

With the spate of “tanim-bala,” the obviously politically motivated modus of “planting” bullets in unsuspecting travelers’ bags, making big headlines last year, A♥ and I didn’t want to take any chances leaving our suitcases unprotected. Besides, the thought of new, pristine luggage being thrown, flipped, dinged, and battered into submission by airport personnel was enough to make us cringe.  We knew we didn’t want to DIY our extra layer of precaution. Neither did we want to spend money for plastic wrappings at the airport, which was not only time consuming and expensive, but environmentally unsafe as well. The only option left was to buy reusable luggage covers.

We found LOQI luggage covers at the Pochi store in SM Megamall. We purchased matching covers for our cabin and checked-in luggage in the following designs: Tokyo for me and Singapore for A♥. They were a little expensive but well worth the price. The fit was perfect and the fabric was stretchy but snug. We were able to use the covers on a trip to Singapore in December and they held up very well to travel. The only downside was the grease stains they acquired during handling. Those were difficult to wash off and can be readily seen because of the fabric’s light colors.

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I wanted to dress up my Rimowa for the same reasons I did our Delsey, and because I had time to do so, I thought I could make a custom order for the sports trunk. It was serendipitous that on the day I was searching online, I came upon a Facebook post on sports trunk suit covers by Suit Up Philippines.

On May 10, I sent Suit Up Philippines’ official Facebook account an inquiry; their response was quick and courteous. I was advised to send them e-mail, which I did, the very next day. In my email, I detailed the size of my sportstrunk (mine was 75 but the trunk also came in a bigger size) and provided dimensions. After sending my design and specifications and receiving input from their end through a series of email, we concluded the transaction with a bank payment made to their account on the 18th of May. All in all, my custom cover set me back PhP2648.

Three days later, I received the tracking number to my package and on the 24th, I received the delivery. I was so excited I took out my luggage to try it on right away. The initial rush of enthusiasm turned into dismay.

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Unfortunatately, what was promised in their ads and what arrived were two different things. I was disappointed because all the pictures I had seen of their other products and all the feedback posted by visitors in their page pointed to solid, reputable products that were functional and beautiful at the same time.  By just looking at it, I knew there was something inherently wrong in the pattern of their sports trunk cover. Note that the sports trunk is more cubelike, with one face being close to square. Regular suitcases carry the shape of rectangular prisms, with all its faces being rectangles. Because the design did not account for this difference in shape, the suitcase cover was stretched to one side, anteroposteriorly, leaving the two sides hanging and the handle holes misaligned.

In the series of pictures below, you can see the problematic design. Picture 1 shows the suit cover as used. Notice the ill fit on top and on the sides. The sports trunk is square on top; when the cover is placed on it, the suit is stretched on one side and left hanging in the other two sides like dog ears.

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Picture 2 shows the overhang in one side more clearly.

suit up cuaycong 02Pictures 3 and 4 show that the holes don’t match the extrusions perfectly. As a matter of fact, the top opening is stretched taut to accommodate the top handle and the retractable trolley handle. suit up cuaycong 03

suit up cuaycong 04Picture 5 shows the top opening when the handles are hidden. You can’t access the trolley handle or the top handles easily.suit up cuaycong 05

Were it not for their excellent customer service, I would have demanded a refund right away. I was impressed at the speed they responded to questions, the courtesy they displayed through our email exchange, and their willingness to work out a solution with me. Customer service kindly offered me a replacement of size but did not promise a different pattern or shape configuration. I wanted to know if changing sizes would resolve the fit issues but they could not assure me of a definite answer.

On May 26, they asked that I return the cover so that they could repair it. I was only able to send it back on June 4 and true to form, they acknowledged receipt of my package and promised to “repair’ it. Seven days later, they sent me the tracking number to my repaired item, which I received on the 15th.

If I had held out hope the fit issues would be resolved to my satisfaction, I would have been doubly disappointed. They managed to trim the overhang but still failed to create a snug fitting cover. I took pictures to document the changes and as you can see, the fit does not look anything like the covers they had on their Facebook page.

The trolley handle was now easier to access-

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but the taut stretch of the fabric made the edges almost white, as if black was simply a dyed color. You could also see the seams stretched to its limits.

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The overhang was smaller but the folds were more apparent.

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Visually, it was not appealing to look at.

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I wrote them back again to reiterate my concerns and thank them again for their service. At that point so close to my trip, it was useless to keep sending back an item they couldn’t fix. Short of a changing their item pattern to perfect the product, I think Suit Up Philippines would do well to remove the sports trunk cover from their lineup. Aftersale support is well and good, but a good product will be able to stand on its own merits, even with just minimal customer service.

Also, after much thought, I went back to my LOQI covers for the trip to Japan just this end of June. I think I’ll stick to LOQI till I can find another brand that works just as well.

(At Narita Airport, June 30, 2016)LOQI covers

Thanksgiving

1 Dec

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

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

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

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

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

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