To A❤️

30 Dec

Every year, as the minutes and seconds wind down toward the end of December, we find ourselves with renewed anticipation for the waning days of the year. While Christmas passes sedately in an autism household that does not care much for- or cope with- rowdy and frenzied celebrations, this enthusiasm breathes new life into our holiday merrymaking. This eagerness, however, is not for New Year’s Eve, which will not be for another 24 hours. And certainly not for the first of the New Year, which is a day we all seem to both await and dread. For me and my family, the 30th carries far more weight than any other day of the holiday season, and with good reason. On the 30th of December, we celebrate A❤️’s birthday.

This is one of my favorite pictures of my husband. 😍

I met A❤️ when I was 14 (he was 13) at the Philippine Science High School. We weren’t classmates right away, just two freshies thrown together for a debate team. He was six inches shorter than me, and skinny to boot, with hair always slick wet from Vitalis. Not my type, for sure. 😜 Lest you start to feel sorry for him, though, allow me to state that the feeling was completely mutual. We became good friends, true, and somewhere down the line, we would become best friends, but we never saw each other as anything more than that for years.

We grew up together in the warm, nurturing environment of Pisay, where we were both free to become the geeks and nerds of our dreams. Talk was one thing we had in common. He and I would spend hours freely talking about anything and everything we thought of, and friend that he truly was, he allowed me to hog the conversations most of the time. He bore with me patiently, never mind that he once described me in my junior year slam book as loquacious and voluble, a kindness when I think of it, especially when he could have simply have said I talked too much. Even when he and I went to different colleges, we bridged our friendship with snail mail and calls he made on the pay phone at Bellarmine Hall.

On his 19th birthday, he finally noticed I was a girl. Maybe the chocolate cake I brought to his birthday party did the trick. Maybe it was that single “happy birthday” kiss on his cheek. I don’t know why or how it happened, but having just come back from an extended stay in the United States, he said he woke up one day feeling like he couldn’t breathe without me. Thirty one years later, he says he still feels the same way.

And this is why when the 30th of December rolls around, I am reminded of the greatest gifts the Lord has ever given me- the gifts of undying friendship and unconditional love. This man has seen me at my worst, at my ugliest, and at my fattest, and yet he loves me all the same, cellulite, stretch marks, wrinkles, and all. He has stood by me through our difficult days, leading by example and with such faith and trust in the Lord that I myself did not possess. His is the hand that has pulled me many times from the brink of despair and the edge of sorrow. Today, many years after that day he first told me he loved me, he continues to show me what the meaning of true love is. I only have to look in his eyes to see.

Happy birthday, A❤️, my love, my best friend. I love you so.



19 Dec

I came home on Sunday afternoon, rejuvenated, refreshed, and with a newfound sense of purpose, from the Son-Rise Program Start Up, the very first in the Philippines. For the five days I was away from my family, I learned new things, made fast friends, and gained a whole community of support. Over a hundred parents participated in this life-changing program, each one with a different, yet completely relatable, autism journey of his/ her own. In those five days, we learned to shift our mindsets to a new paradigm, forever altering the way we see our interactions with our children in the autism spectrum.

With Ron K. Kaufman

On our last morning, before we all said goodbye to each other, we wrote letters to our children- letters of affirmation, of commitment, of love- and some bravely shared theirs with us. It took all I had not to dissolve into a blabbering, whimpering crybaby as one father said “I would go to hell and back for you.” I still get teary-eyed when I think about it.

Last night, as I said my bedtime prayers after another long day with Alphonse (yes, it’s him and me again!), it struck me how apt and how perfect that line was. Alphonse was reticent and distant the whole day, ignoring me most determinedly. My absence had hurt him, and I knew he was not going to let me back in his life without an apology, which I gave, repeatedly. No dice. He also wasn’t feeling well and a sudden tummy ache turned into a “poo-nami” (think tsunami, but poo😳) at dinner time. While he writhed in what I can only assume to be colicky pain, he threw our dinner to the floor and spilled everything within reach of his hands. Then, he looked at us expectantly, waiting for our reaction. While I silently perused the scene of devastation, A❤️ kept his composure and reached out for Alphonse’s hand. Alphonse took it. My husband helped him get cleaned up, but Alphonse had several more poo-nami episodes that didn’t reach the bathroom just in time. A❤️ patiently washed our son, deftly steering him away from the remains of food and waste on the floor.

It wasn’t the homecoming I expected. After being away, I wanted Alphonse to run to me and act like he missed me. He did kiss and hug me once sincerely, but he moved away just as quickly, eyeing me suspiciously from the corner of his eye. I was hurt, truth to tell, and disappointed, but as my husband talked to Alphonse in a low, soothing voice, I saw in him the lessons I picked up from my time with Son-Rise and, like him, drew strength from love. Even after Alphonse was clean and had drank oral rehydration salts thrice, A❤️ had to scrub a whole section of the house for an hour before it was clean. We had to move furniture to make sure little bits and pieces of our dinner weren’t left for mice to feast on. He scrubbed the floor with bleach and soap and water to remove all traces of poo and I mopped up after him. I laundered the stained chair covers and table mats in one cycle and hang them up to dry. Later, I headed to the kitchen for my hour of washing up and A❤️ followed to help with the rest of our chores.

I realized this is what it means to “go to hell and back for you.” Because every single day, we do. And we do it without complaints, without begrudging him anything, and with much joy and enthusiasm, because we love Alphonse.

Before I finally fell asleep, I remembered something else. I’ve been meaning to write about this picture but a fog had settled in my brain. Anyway, I was sorting the photographs in my camera roll a few nights before I left home last week when my eyes wandered over a particular picture. It was one my husband took while we were in Taipei two weeks before that. It was part of a series of similar pictures- same pose, same squinty smile, same background- and were it not for the figures on the right side of the photograph, this particular photograph would have ended in the deleted pile along with ten others. For some reason, my eyes lingered on those two figures and stayed there.

I drew on my recollection of that day to place them in the picture. On that cold morning, as A❤️ and I ambled along while taking photographs, I didn’t even know that the camera had caught them. What I do remember most was the sound of a male voice mumbling slowly in a monotone behind me as an older female voice talked soothingly and calmly. I remember whirling around to catch a glimpse of where the voices came from. I remember seeing an adult man and an older woman holding hands as she gently led him across the wide main road, talking him through it. I remember thinking that anywhere in the world, a parent loves his/her child with special needs, and this love, while most unique and exceptional, can also be quite common.

Take A❤️, for example. Or the old Chinese woman with her adult son. Or even the father who choked back his tears while reading his letter to his son.

“I would go to hell and back for you.”

Yes, we Will.

Yes, we Do

Fat Woman Changing

10 Dec

Three things happened to me in the year I turned 50.

One, I lost all our temporary help in the household. Which turned out to be a blessing in disguise despite the many difficulties it presented, but that is another story for another day.

Two, I lost my hair. For some reason, my hair started falling out in clumps early this year. I was losing so much hair every single day I decided to have my locks cut off into a shorter style. For the first time in a long while, I have above-the-shoulder length hair. I miss my long hair, but I love the ease and comfort of this new wash-and-wear style.

Three, I lost my “body.” Rewrite that to say I lost some heft, emphasis on some and not all of it yet. This is the story of how that came to be.

In February of this year, I got a complete medical check-up courtesy of my HMO. My husband had to make the appointments for me and he badgered me to keep them. The truth was, I was a little hesitant because I knew I had gained even more weight since my last physical. Also, I hate weigh-ins with a passion. I dodged my doctor’s receptionist every time she called me in for a weigh-in. I would run to the bathroom and hide until my turn at the clinic came up. Then too, at the back of my mind, I was worried that there would be some significant changes in my state of health as I had been experiencing more and more health issues of late.

As expected, some of the results came back on the wrong side of normal. Moreover, I was surprised to find that I had tipped the scales at an all-time high. I had to slyly convince the nurse to shave off 3 kilos from my listed weight by claiming that my jeans, oversized shirt, sweater, and thick socks made up those excess 3 kilos. I was fooling myself, of course, because the weighing scale at home (which I had deftly kicked out of sight under my son’s bed) confirmed this astonishing figure. I guess when you’re with a roomful of people ogling at the weighing scale, your dignity takes a dive when the scales tell you you’re the fattest person in the room and everyone knows it.

So there. I am fat. I’ve always been fat. Even when I wasn’t at my heaviest, I was still bigger and fatter than most girls- and boys- my age. When I was younger, I dieted and exercised myself to injury, losing big patches of my hair due to nutritional deficiency and hurting my back for more than year from over-exertion. I never stayed thin for long, though, and the weight rebounded fast and furiously. It didn’t help that in my youth, the boys I liked all preferred me to be thinner. I starved for one boy, literally, eating nothing but lettuce for weeks. He dumped me later for a thin girl. (What a jerk, right?) Another young man I really liked told me “you have everything I want in a girl, except that you’re fat.” That one, he broke my heart.

When A❤️ came along, he didn’t care whether I was fat or thin. He loved me the way I was, period. The pounds piled on more each year, yet it didn’t seem to faze him. With his encouragement, I learned to love myself the way I was, to be comfortable in my own skin and fat, and accept that I could never ever fit into society’s norms of thinness.

Everything in excess, however, takes its toll, and up till a certain weight, I was still active and healthy. The problem began last year when I began getting sicker and weaker. I caught a bug that evolved into a nasty pneumonia. I developed asthma, with painful bouts of air hunger. My knees ached all the time; my back hurt like crazy. My blood sugar hovered precariously in the prediabetic range. My blood pressure seesawed dangerously. I knew it was time to take control of my life again.

I didn’t want to announce this lest I jinx my progress. Besides, I’ve talked about losing weight so many times over the years that I was afraid people would not believe me anymore. Talk about feeling like the boy who cried wolf. Also, to talk about it would be to commit to it with finality and I wasn’t so sure I was ready to commit to it in the early days. Now, I am.

So here I am, telling you and everyone else who’d care to listen that I have lost 21 kilos in the last few months. That’s 46.2 pounds in the English Imperial system. I wore sizes 24 to 26 in the plus size section three months ago, now I fit into a pair of size 18 jeans. Whoa! I haven’t fit in a size 18 in 14 years!

I am still fat, true, and I have quite a way to go. But knowing what I know now- that I can be healthy and “thin” by changing my mindset and way of eating- I am pretty confident that the next time I step on the scales and people ogle at my numbers, I would no longer get that urge to burrow my head in the sand. I look back at that day in February, thinking of how I invented all kinds of excuses to justify my weight- perhaps my shoes were too heavy?– and I smile at the memory. My husband bought me a new weighing scale recently and I have it front and center in the living room. We’ve gotten quite close, really, and I no longer kick it under the couch. 😜

Here’s to this fat woman, and may she never tire of changing.


One (Wo)Man’s Trash…

9 Dec

Is another (wo)man’s treasure.

I’ve been meaning to get a new case for my phone but I was too stingy to spend for one. I saw some really nice ones in Taipei just recently, but with the peso at a low, it just didn’t seem to make sense to spend for non-necessities right now.

So I made this.

Trash- packaging of Hello Kitty shampoo- turned into treasure- an upcycled iPhone case. What could be cooler than recycling?


Mom on the Run

3 Jul

These days, our household’s daily schedule is very regimented, revolving largely around Alphonse’s schedule. Everything is a function of his needs- food, toileting, medications, therapy. I can speak for all of us, my husband and eldest son included, when I say that our personal needs have taken a backseat to his. It’s certainly difficult but we’re not complaining; it’s just the way it needs to be.

Once in a while, however, we allow each other the time to de-stress and relax. Take for example the time two weeks ago when Alex took charge of Alphonse so that my husband and I can catch a late showing of “Wonder Woman.” We must have been one of the last ones in the city to catch the movie (I had read all the reviews by then), but it still turned out to be a great, if harried, date. Or how about last weekend, when my husband gave me an hour of nap time and cared for Alphonse while Alex was with friends? Despite the lack of extra manpower to aid us, our household continues to function because we all try to give more than, if not as much as, we take, each one of us mindful of the others’ needs. 

Now, one of the things I wanted to do for my birthday last month was to go to the salon for a pampering. Unfortunately, long hours at the salon are now impossible to fit in our schedule, so we had to improvise on an alternative. Instead of getting the full service at the salon, which would not only be time consuming but expensive as well, I split the process  into easier, more manageable, and less costly steps. This way, I don’t stay too far and too long from Alphonse, and I save a few bucks in the process.

I’ve been going to the same hairdresser for the last 20 years, and Rose of David’s Salon SM North EDSA Annex is an expert when it comes to cutting my hair the way I like it. Thus, the hair cut is nonnegotiable and would have to be done by Rose, no ifs or buts. As for hair color, since I like DIYs and I’ve been doing my own color for years, I decided to find an easy alternative.

For those who want a quick, no-frills, affordable hair color service, I discovered that nothing beats the “free application with purchase” service. In the Northern mall landscape, Landmark TriNoma offers this regularly, as opposed to other malls with limited time promotions. It has even provided a dedicated area called The Lounge for patrons who may want to avail of the service, with personnel trained and employed by the hair color companies manning the section.

The only requirement to avail of the service is that the hair color (Revlon at P394.75, for example) must be purchased on the same day as the service. Patrons must keep their receipt and submit it for registration. They are also required to sign a short waiver form stating they have used the product previously and have done a skin test. 

Yes, this is me, with three months of gray hair !

The Lounge can accommodate 5 clients at once and usually, there are enough personnel to keep the line moving. There is a small seating area beside it for clients waiting for their turn. Those who don’t like sitting idly while waiting can go around the mall to shop (as I did, shamelessly, with a black plastic cap on my head) or move to the adjacent nail salon for a manicure or pedicure. 

So how was the service? The color application was good, almost professional even, and for the cost of a bottle of color, well-worth the hour I spent at The Lounge. The attending service personnel definitely eased and hastened the process, especially as a perpetually stiff neck has made it difficult for me to reach the back of my head for an even application. 

A week later, also on a Sunday, I got to finish the process with a visit to my favorite hairdresser. I made sure to come as soon as the mall opened to be first in line, and I was done in no time at all. I’m only sorry I didn’t have enough time to enjoy the other services at the salon. A manicure and pedicure would have been heavenly, as also a hair treatment. Still, just a decent cut is enough to make one feel refreshed and rejuvenated, and that is how I always end up feeling after  Rose does her magic on my mane. The picture speaks for itself- doesn’t my hair look movie star worthy? 

This is what they call “talikod-genic!”

Moms on the run do not always have the luxury of time, but we do deserve pampering. That this is done affordably, with minimal time and effort away from children who need us, made these experiences well worth the effort. Will I be doing this again? Definitely. A great big thumbs up to this! 


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.”


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.