Some days, I can almost pretend we are no different from the family next door. We wake up, eat breakfast, spend our separate days at school or work, go home, have a family dinner, discuss the day’s events while watching tv, and then go to bed. The next day, we wake up and we do the same things over again, one day no more or no less than the others that followed or passed.

We get lulled in the predictability of it all. We put our guard down. We relax and revel in the absolute safety of our unexciting days.  After all, tomorrow will be just another day in a safe, happily boring life, and one more day when everything just seems, ahhh, well … normal.


Photo from Berkely Science Review (http://sciencereview.berkeley.ed/)

But one day it hits you like a well timed punch in the solar plexus. The brick in your gut is back. The absolute predictability of your ‘normal’ day is gone, and even if only momentarily, you are taken for a spin again in this rollercoaster life called Autism. Never mind the late nights or the early morning awakenings, those are the easy stuff. I can even deal with the bed wetting and laugh it all off. But the anger that comes without warning, the distant look in those eyes that do not hold a glimmer of recognition for anyone, the quick lightning pulls of hair here and there- those wear me down. They make me crumble and weep.

Last night, as I drifted off to sleep, I prayed for even just a single moment of clarity for my son. I prayed that today, I be given the opportunity to reach out to him and be seen, heard, and recognized. I wanted him to call me by name and know who I am.

This morning, Alphonse woke up at seven. After helping him to the bathroom, he lingered unexpectedly beside me, lying down with his head on my shoulder.  I held his hand and sang to him songs I made up in my head, songs that told of how loved, wanted, and needed he is by his family. I poured my heart in those crazy snippets of rhymed melodies that I didn’t even notice the wetness in my cheeks. I looked at him, half-expecting him to say something, but he was so still I couldn’t tell if he had fallen asleep again.

Half an hour into my crazy songs, he opened his eyes and pushed off the covers I had put around him. He stood up, bowing a bit so that our foreheads touched briefly. He gave me the smallest hint of a smile.

And then our eyes met for the first time in so many days, those fleeting seconds seeming like they were meant to last forever.


Rollercoaster highs can be just as unexpected as the lows.


Sons and Connections

Alex- back when just holding on was love2

When holding on was all it took to feel loved

One Saturday afternoon when Alex was eight, I heard a loud scream coming from the kitchen. I was still upstairs in the second floor and startled by the cries, I ran down as fast as my feet could carry me. I had Alphonse tucked in one arm, flailing helplessly. When I got there, I saw Alex cradling his right arm and crying in pain.

Later, after his wounds were dressed in the hospital emergency room and his crying had subsided into soft sobs, Alex told us- his dad, the doctor, and me- how it happened. It was almost lunch time, he said, and he was already hungry. He could’ve asked me for help but he knew Alphonse was having a bad day. He could do it himself, he thought. So, he grabbed a stool, stood on it to reach the kitchen countertops, and with his right hand, lifted the cover of the rice cooker. The steam from inside the cooker gave him second degree burns. Within minutes, his arm had puffed up in large blisters.

At that moment, as I responded to his aid, I realized how hard Alex had always tried to be independent of me. At five, he learned to bathe all by himself. He learned because Alphonse kept running away from the bathroom for their joint baths and he was usually left alone to finish the job by himself. (I had no help most of the time, and joint baths solved the problem of bathing the boys without leaving Alphonse unattended). At an age when most young children still relied on their mommies or nannies to wash them after going to the toilet, he was doing it by himself, unassisted. I didn’t teach him many of the skills he picked up then- folding sheets, packing away pillows, eating alone- because he always just tried very hard not to be in Alphonse’s or my way.

Alex- before there was alphonse2

Before there was Alphonse

I knew Alex needed me then but Alphonse always seemed to need me more. And so in one fashion or another, I passed off his needs for a later time, for when Alphonse was in a better mood, or sleeping, or preoccupied. Too often, by the time those moments actually came, Alex didn’t need me anymore.

I write this because I am thinking of Alex right now and trying to analyze where and when I could have done better to see to his needs. He’s been having some rough days of late, to be honest. I sense his real need to be severed from my apron strings, but I also sense that he still needs me, or at the very least, wants to need me. Sometimes, though, no matter how hard I try to reach him, he’s not ready to be connected to me again.

I can’t write of Alex the way I do about Alphonse, where I don’t spare any details and give everyone sideline seats to our lives. He has always been very private and expects me to respect this privacy. But I think I need this to be spoken out loud; I need to acknowledge the difficulties the special circumstances in our lives have brought us, and consequently, him. I pray that when he is ready, he realizes that I have stopped putting him off for later, that there is time for him NOW, however late it may be. And I hope he knows that I am just waiting, without judgment or prejudice, and always with love.


I’m chilling out today, relieved at the prospect of having some Me time. It hasn’t been easy juggling one illness after another and coping with Alphonse’s rampaging behavior. Almost everything I own right now is under lock and key or hidden in some unknown crevice of the house where Alphonse is least likely to see it/them. The upside is Alphonse’s search-and-destroy behavior has forced me to be as unkind and as cruel as possible to my ratpack tendencies- if it isn’t needed NOW, it goes to recycling or trash NOW. As such, the house is a little cleaner and a little less cluttered.

Alphonse’s behavior has been difficult these last few weeks. While he is not aggressive or injurious (thank God!), he has this fearsome, awesome ability to turn material things into unrecognizable bits and pieces of metal and wood and what-nots. In the last few weeks, he has destroyed a CD player, a radio, a full-sized secretary’s table, books, a few bags, and a few pieces of clothing. Oops, I forgot to mention, add to that list my eyeglasses- three, in succession. I wear glasses at home and contacts when I go out, but lately, I’ve been confined to using contact lenses alone. My last pair of eyeglasses is somewhere in the vast black hole of hidden things, to be pulled out only in times when my eyes are not feeling too well. I’m thinking of finally getting refractive eye surgery as a result. The older I get, the more inconvenient contact lenses or eyeglasses appear to be to me, especially with Alphonse around.

I know that something has gone wrong in the balance in our home and it affects Alphonse in these ways; I just can’t pinpoint what. He gets overstimulated and overexcited, and then crashes emotionally and becomes afraid and agitated. Is it because he has a new teacher and new lessons to deal with? Has illness, which has struck  us one after another, affected his life’s calming predictability? I feel him groping for a sense of understanding of the things around him. I see him often befuddled and confused.  He hasn’t been sleeping well too. As much as we try to set him up for success, it hasn’t always worked out that way. When he fails, he fails miserably, and he knows it and it disappoints him tremendously.

Ahh, these are the days that try our patience.  I’m just glad that this week is finally over.


Alex and CP at 3 years old (with Daddy)

When Alex was three, my father in-law invited us to a trip to his home city of Silay in the province of Negros Occidental.  Being a born and bred city girl, I was terribly excited to experience even just a slice of the provincial life. I had always dreamt of it, but never really found the place I could imagine calling a second home. That short trip, however, opened another world for me. Beyond the quaint and rustic images conjured by our trip to this majestic city in the South, I also discovered a connection to the people who lived there.  In fact, even just for the brief week my family stayed there, we felt a really strong kinship to the people who welcomed us with open arms.

Today, already young men

It has been more than 14 years since my first and last trip to Silay and I still carry fond memories of the place and its people. As such, the arrival of my husband’s cousins from the province was a cause for celebration. Manang Gemma and her husband flew over from the province to help their eldest son get settled in his new accommodations for his freshman year at the Ateneo de Manila University. Since we haven’t seen each other in more than a decade and our correspondence has been limited to text messages, e-mail, and Facebook, we were definitely excited to spend time with them.

Our boys have grown and changed immensely in the years we were apart.  At 17, both of them are almost grown men. After the initial awkwardness common to people who are getting to know each other, Alex and his cousin began to talk. Discussing things they liked and had in common (in this case, both are video game and music addicts, with earphones perpetually glued to their ears; also, this year, they will both be in the same campus), I sensed them both put their guard down — reconnecting and realizing that they are, indeed, kin.


Our time together was much too short. Dinner  last Saturday night was great, made even greater by delightful company. I’m glad we’ll get to see each other one more time before Manang Gemma heads back to Silay this weekend. I absolutely love her, she with the vivacious and effervescent spirit. Of course it helps that we also happen to have the same affinity for all things food, which is immensely helpful in encouraging our loquaciousness.  Quick to laughter and easy to talk with, she reminds me so much of the welcoming extended family my husband has in the province.

As I grow older, I realize more than ever the value of extended family. That the connections among us grow more tenuous as each day passes only serve to remind me to savor each moment as if it were last. These are the memories that are worth holding on to- memories of kinship and fellowship. Memories of love.

Baby Blues

too many kidsI was digging in my plate of tempura and maki when I felt little hands touching my back. I turned around very slowly. Behind me, a little girl, probably around two years of age, poked the hello kitty figures in my shirt, mumbling “one, choo, chee, one, choo, chee.” She counted as she touched them, oblivious to the fact that she knew how to count only to three. I didn’t want to let on that I noticed her until she poked a little too hard and I laughed out loud. I couldn’t help it; it tickled. I heard her scurry away.

My husband, a plate of sashimi from the buffet in his hand, noticed that the amused look on my face. “What are you smiling at?” he asked.

“Oh, honey, you didn’t see the little girl playing with my shirt,” I laughed as I scanned the room to look for her.

“That little girl?” He pointed discreetly to a pigtailed girl in a pink Dora the Explorer outfit, perched on a high chair, chewing loudly on tempura.

“Yes, that one. She is so cute!”

“Uh-huh,” my husband conceded. I could sense he was losing interest quickly, so I decided to surprise him with the following question.

“How would you like to have a little girl of our own?”

My husband stared at me uncomfortably, shocked at the sudden turn in our conversation.

“Where’d this come from, honey?” Of course, he wanted to know.

I suppose I’ve been thinking of it for a time now. It must be why “Jon and Kate Plus 8” (even with all their new troubles) is a prominent feature in my daily viewing fare. Or why I get caught up in the ongoing media frenzy on Nadya Suleman, mom of 14 children, all of them conceived by in vitro fertilization, eight of them octuplets. Or even why the recent news of Elizabeth Adeney, the 66-year-old woman who is dubbed “Britain’s Oldest Mother,” fascinates me. What they all make me painfully aware is that I am not getting any younger. Midlife has set squarely upon my shoulders and the faint tick-tocking of my reproductive clock reminds me that I have only a few more childbearing years left.

I’ve mulled over this issue seriously, and, in truth, I have not yet reconciled myself to the idea that I have only two children. I come from a large family of five kids and I have always wanted my children to be part of the same. And so, for many years, my husband and I tried to have another baby. Four miscarriages after Alphonse (the last one endangering my life), after all sorts of medical tests to determine that neither my husband nor I were incapable of having another child, and even after a short-lived attempt at fertility treatments to increase our chances of pregnancy, he and I arrived at the conclusion that it was simply not going to be as easy as having children in our twenties.

My last pregnancy ended in a devastating miscarriage, and had our child lived, he or she would have been seven today. As it turns out, I am now the mother of two teenage boys and no longer a young mom of little kids. But, ah, I miss having a small one in the house. I miss baby smells and soft, smooth skins, and even a baby’s smallness as he cuddles close to my body. I have a bad case of baby lust, I know, perhaps made worse by my pre-menopausal hormones going awry.

Over the last few weeks, however, I’ve been given a test of resolve and commitment. With the entry of two young boys in our lives (see previous post), a five-year-old and a two-year-old, I’ve had a preview of how my life would be as an older mother with two small children. Here in my home as temporary guests, they call me Mama P.

This past month has been an eye-opener, I must admit. So used to having only Alphonse as my sole concern, I now oversee their welfare as well. Are they fed? Are they bathed? Is someone watching them? Why is the older one left in front of the television all day? The two-year-old is particularly difficult to care for, as he remains wary of us and cries constantly for his mother. Alphonse, ever the tyrant and determined to impose his own rules, wants his old nanny back and grabs her by the hand, even as her little one wails for his mother.

I like that the five-year-old now kisses me and greets me in the morning. I like that I see them smile when good food is set before them. I like that they’ve lost their gaunt looks, and grime and dirt have been washed off their cute faces. I even like it when they ask me for chocolate milk and eat all the bread in the house (well, okay, okay, I don’t like this last part so much). But while their laughter fills my heart with joy, their cries, shouts, squeals, their constant demand for attention, their bickering and squabbling have cured me of any notions of wanting a bigger family. Add to this the extreme jealousy Alphonse feels whenever we give these boys any attention, and I am absolutely done with any fantasies or illusions that I can deal with another child. My body may still be able to do it, that I am positively sure, but my emotions and my state of mind tell me that I am simply too old, or too sane, for it.

Tonight, as I readied myself to turn in bed, Alphonse tugged at my night shirt to sing him a lullaby. This is a constant ritual. Every night, wrapped in his dad’s and my arms, my husband and I take turns singing him lullabies. As I sing softly, I am reminded of how much this child needs so much from both of us. True, love is never ever divided, but time, money, and attention often are in big families. Or in families with special-needs children. Perhaps the time to have another child has passed, I thought soberly, as I patted Alphonse gently to sleep.

Alphonse sighed as he fell into deep sleep. I kissed him on the cheek and whispered a prayer of thanks. I have two children, and that should be enough for me. After all, if it’s a baby I want, I have this one for all time.

Originally published in


Update:  The little kids have moved out of my home, their parents wanting to be near their own relatives. My home is now silent most days.

When God Created Fathers

by Erma Bombeck

When the good Lord was creating fathers He started with a tall frame.
And a female angel nearby said, “What kind of father is that? If You’re going to make children so close to the ground, why have You put fathers up so high? He won’t be able to shoot marbles without kneeling, tuck a child in bed without bending, or even kiss a child without a lot of stooping.”
And God smiled and said, “Yes, but if I make him child-size, whom would children have to look up to?”

And when God made a father’s hands, they were large and sinewy.
And the angel shook her head sadly and said, “Do You know what You’re doing?” Large hands are clumsy. They can’t manage diaper pins, small buttons, rubber bands on ponytails or even remove splinters caused by baseball bats.”
And God smiled and said, “I know, but they’re large enough to hold everything a small boy empties from his pockets at the end of a day … yet small enough to cup a child’s face in his hands.”

And then God molded long slim legs and broad shoulders.
And the angel nearby had a heart attack. “Boy, this is the end of the week, all right,” she clucked, ” Do You realize You just made a father without a lap?  How is he going to pull a child close to him without the kid falling between his legs?”
And God smiled and said, “A mother needs a lap. A father needs strong shoulders to pull a sled, balance a boy on a bicycle, or hold a sleepy head on the way home from the circus.”

God was in the middle of creating two of the largest feet anyone had ever seen when the angel could contain herself no longer. “That’s not fair. Do You honestly think those large boats are going to dig out of bed early in the morning when the baby cries? Or walk through a small birthday party without crushing at least three of the guests?”
And God smiled and said. “They’ll work. You’ll see. They’ll support a small child who wants to ‘ride a horse to Banbury Cross,’ or scare off mice at the summer cabin, or display shoes that will be a challenge to fill.”

God worked throughout the night, giving the father few words, but a firm, authoritative voice; eyes that saw everything, but remained calm and tolerant.
Finally, almost as an afterthought, He added tears. Then He turned to the Angel and said, “Now are you satisfied that he can love as much as a mother?”
The angel shuteth up.


A and Baby Alphonse

(A and Baby Alphonse) 

The true measure of a man’s strength is his love for his children.