Collateral Blessings

(Or How to Turn Crappy Days into Gratitude Days)

I came home with a rare social high from back-to-back outings recently. Truth is, it has been a long time since I did anything for myself and by myself that did not have anything to do with household chores and management.

The other Friday, I had gone to a very informative, whole-day baking class under Ms. Beng Legaspi. I learned loads about the science and art of gluten-free/sugar-free baking and picked up tips and tricks that can come only from years of research and experience. I also made new “Baking Mama” friends, some of whom were already pros in the kitchen.

With my “classmates” (Photo credit: Ms. Jan Rubi)

Our class photo (Photo credit: Ms. Beng Legaspi)

Then the next day, a Saturday, I attended a Sylvanian Families Christmas Party luncheon hosted by Sylvanian Families Collectors PH. I was reunited with old collector friends, Analyn and Ledz, both of whom I haven’t seen in years. I also met new collector friends, some of whom I have only seen in Facebook. I’m grateful and honoured to be friends with Rose and Robert, one of my favourite couples in the world, and with Joann, Nenette, Blair, Christine, Mely, and many others who welcomed this old Sylvanian junkie with open arms!

Sylvanian Families Collectors PH is ❤️

As you can already tell, I have been home bound for much of these past few months, taking care of Alphonse and nursing my knee injuries, that days out for myself and with friends have definitely been rare and far-in-between. A❤️, bless his kind heart, gave me the time to enjoy these events by taking over Alphonse’s care for those days. Alex, my eldest, pitched in to help, forgoing sleep to sub for his dad when A❤️ needed to do something else.

And then disaster struck.

Within an hour of my return home that Saturday, Alphonse had a meltdown that ended with Christmas ham and gluten-free chocolate cake samplers being smooshed all over my head. My short absence, coupled with the unexpected visit of relatives that day, had set him on edge, making him anxious and irritable. Even after that episode ended, when he would have otherwise been able to shrug off his nervous energy, he never lost his angry snarls and discomfiting whines. He was rigid, obsessive, and controlling, barking his often unintelligible demands one after the other the rest of the day.

To illustrate:

“Heh!” Alphonse shouts loudly to his dad. Translation: “Don’t move your leg, Papa!” A❤️ moves his leg slowly to return to an “acceptable” position.

“Heh!” Alphonse shouts again, this time at me. Translation: “Touch your glasses twice, Mama!” I nudge my glasses down my nose and up again.

“Heh!” Alphonse directs his bossiness at his brother. Translation: “Go back the house again!” Alex steps inside the house and steps back out, doing this twice, to complete a ritual that exists only in Alphonse’s head.

By early evening, we were all exhausted and impatient for the day to end. Our nerves were frayed, and we felt beaten. In the last few weeks, we had been hopeful that we had found a good formula of routine, play, and exercise to keep his bad days to a minimum. Saturday was a sudden turnaround to the progress we had been making. As is often the case with our journey with autism, when we take one step forward, we wind up taking two steps back again.

The following days turned out to be more of the same, angry, dark days that got worse at each transition point. Somehow, we found the strength to stand up and carry through each day, pacifying, calming, and working with Alphonse to dispel his anxieties.

But something worth telling happened to me that Saturday. While Alphonse had my head in a wrestling hold, his fingers alternately pulling out strands of my hair and massaging as much cake and ham as possible to my curly ‘do, I felt an unexpected wave of calm wash over me. It was weird because I suddenly felt disconnected from myself. At that moment, it dawned on me that even in that lock hold, there were still things I was in control of. I could choose to wallow in the sorrow of the occasion, or I could choose to be grateful. I had a choice.

With that, I quit struggling under Alphonse’s strong hands. My breathing slowed down. Instead of pulling away, I pushed nearer him and quietly stroked his hands. And then, I began to list all the things I could think of, making mental notes of each one and giving thanks in a silent prayer.

It started with this epiphany: Hey, my head didn’t hurt as much! It seems that short hair, even when pulled with all the strength of a vigorous, severely autistic, young man, doesn’t give in as easily as long hair does. I had rued the loss of my locks for a time but ultimately, I was grateful that Rose, my longtime hairdresser friend, had given me my (fat) pixie look.

Next, Ms. Beng’s gluten-free and sugar-free chocolate cake did not only taste good, it felt really soothing on my scalp too! Who’d have thought that was possible?

Also, Alphonse may have been raging with fury, but some semblance of restraint kicked in that day. The old Alphonse would’ve fought us off till he was spent of all his anger. His next move was patented: he would’ve kicked me in the chest even as he pulled down my hair. Yes, Alphonse would’ve wrought maximum damage easily had he wanted to. Saturday, however, despite his shouts of protests, he listened and backed down. Thank God for that!

Then too, and most important of all, A❤️ and Alex relieved me of the burden of Alphonse’s care until I could change and wash my hair. True, for a while, I did give in to tears, more from disappointment than from pain, but when my boys’ consoling arms enveloped me in a family hug, I was able to wipe my eyes dry again and feign a smile till it became real.

The way I see it, there will always be unintended, unintentional damage when it comes to dealing with profound autism. We get hurt, physically and emotionally. God knows how many cuts, bruises, bites, and wounds we’ve had to endure over the years. We get frustrated and disappointed. We become angry and afraid. We are, after all, human.

But if there’s one thing we’ve learned through the years, however, it is this: that autism, despite its many difficulties, also has its fair share of goodness – what I’d like to think of as collateral blessings.

Because of autism- and Alphonse- we discovered our personal strengths. We learned to roll with the punches and to shrug off episodes of sorrow and anger as just “blips” to a normal day. We learned to live with hope and optimism always, even when things look bleak and dreary. We honed our ability to laugh and celebrate even when we are hurt and in pain.

We found within ourselves a fount of complete forgiveness – one that comes easily and bears no ill will or grudges. This process goes both ways, as we have sometimes also inadvertently wronged Alphonse in our lack of understanding of his needs. We learned to live each day with overwhelming gratitude that springs from rare moments of peace and joy. Perhaps, best of all, we are able to recall and summon love- at will- even in the midst of horrible, debilitating despair.

Life with autism is often wearisome and difficult. But Love, we’ve learned, is not.

These are the blessings that sustain us each day.

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To A❤️

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.

The Gratitude Attitude 2012

I’m grateful to be here today, living my life the way I want to, surrounded by loved ones and friends (some virtual, some real). Some of my friends did not make it this far, and when I think about the million possibilities their lives could have taken, I am all the more grateful to be alive. To be free. To be whole and safe and loved.

As we bow our head in grateful thanks to our Creator, may we always be grateful for all our blessings and may we always see our challenges as life lessons. May we never forget to share, to forgive, and to love. May our pursuits of joy be tempered with concern for our fellowmen. And may we always be united in kinship and friendship- here’s to all of us!

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Happiness is… (vii)

realizing that “when you turn your face to the sun, the shadows fall behind you.”

Happy 17th birthday, my dearest son.

After all we went through this year, after all the tears and gut-wrenching pain, we made it. Your smile-even just a hint of it- is the light at the end of our dark tunnel.

Stay happy and well always.

We love you, Alphonse.

.

Gratitude

“At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.” — Albert Schweitzer

I was watching an old episode of Oprah today, the one where the Smith family (Will Smith’s) was promoting The Karate Kid remake. Something Will said struck me as important, “Greatnes lies at the brink of destruction,” and somehow I understood what it is he meant. I’ve been trying to draw something positive from our family’s recent experiences and that seemed to me to be most appropriate. We have faced our worst fears and have come out of this scathed and scarred, but alive; we are still standing.

I have to make a conscious effort to change my mindset these days. I have been struggling with my feelings since this all began, trying to remain optimistic and constructive, but often with less than successful results.

Today, however, I will choose to live in a space of thankfulness. Today, I will fight to shed the cloak of fear that envelopes my being. Today, I resolve to start living again.  

Working on this, I start by sharing this wonderful picture of my son Alex. This just about makes my heart burst with pride and happiness.

Doesn’t he look adorable? (Okay. Give this Momma some love and you all agree with me on this one.)

Alex will graduate from high school this coming Sunday afternoon. We are very happy parents to see him through this important milestone. A couple more months and he is off to college. Time is passing swiftly, indeed.

And because I choose today to be a happy day, allow me to use this time to pause and reflect on the blessings we have received throughout our family’s ordeal. The truth is, we are a family unused to kindness from others. Perhaps because we have had little of it in the time since Alphonse’s diagnosis that unexpected gestures of kindness floor us. As friends and family moved away or removed us from their lives- some by happenstance, many by choice- we learned to sublimate the pain that comes with rejection and instead, replace this grief with self-reliance and independence. We learned to harden our resolve and simply do what needs to be done, with as little bother to anyone as possible.  

As such, this surprising outpouring of love and support has overwhelmed us completely. That these are done without expectations of reciprocity amaze us; that many are people who are not related to us in any way astounds us even more. I think if there is any doubt that God exists at all, it is easily dispelled by the kindness of the human heart. Only Someone divine and infallible can create Love.

To Patricia– for all our messages of advice and support and for your genuine friendship,

To Lyra– for your open heart and your generous spirit, for the smiles and happy tears your kindness has sprinkled our lives with,

To Dang and Tiff–  for your visit which proved to be a balm to my soul,  

To Pilar– for your thoughtful gesture and your reassurance of kinship ,

To Chat, Rams, Aileen, Lissa, Ronnie, Melyn, Mei, Ron, and Auden – for your messages of support and friendship, for your constant prayers, for your presence in our lives,

To my blog, SF forum, and FB friends- Leirs, Lori, Sarah, Pei, Tanja, Eric, Candy– for thinking of us often with kindness and concern,

To Teacher Rod and Teachers Paolo, Wilson, Mark and Jom– for coming to our aid in our time of need, for working with Alphonse patiently day in and day out amidst his troubles,

To my 4B family- Ms.Joy Sacluti (Alex’s adviser), Malu, Carina, Sally,  Joville, Cecille – and all of Alex’s teachers at the Ateneo– for helping Alex cope especially in the last few months of school (Alex could not have made it through these difficult months without your love and patience), for your prayers and words of encouragement,

To Mommy. Daddy, and Jas– for the home cooked meals, for the free babysitting whenever we needed respite, for simply always being there,

Thank you for standing with us in these difficult times. There is a long way to go yet but your kindness and love have helped us immensely in this journey of healing. God bless you all.

Season of Love

Today, when I woke up, the last lines of the “Apostles’ Creed” were still on my mind. I often pray the rosary to sleep, and of all the prayers, the “Apostles’ Creed” is the one that comforts me most. For me, it is a prayer of affirmation of all the things I believe in. By virtue of saying “I believe,” I profess my faith actively. And although “The Lord’s Prayer” is powerfully majestic and the  “Hail Mary” serene and graceful, I love the “Apostles’ Creed” because it represents a choice I willingly make each day. 

As we prepare for the last few days of Advent, it is easy to be overwhelmed by the commercialism and materialism of the season. What is Christmas without gift giving? What is the holidays without festivity? What is celebration without party cheer? Too often, we get caught up in the indulgences of the season and forget the real reasons we celebrate. I was reminded of this by this beautiful message that has certainly gone around the world many, many times. It is a timely reminder of why we rejoice in this Season of Christ’s birth. Truly, this is a season for gratitude and love.

I dreamt that I went to Heaven and an angel was showing me around. We walked side-by-side inside a large workroom filled with angels. My angel guide stopped in front of the first section and said, ‘ This is the Receiving Section. Here, all petitions to God said in prayer are received.

I looked around in this area, and it was terribly busy with so many angels sorting out petitions written on voluminous paper sheets and scraps from people all over the world.

Then we moved on down a long corridor until we reached the second section.

The angel then said to me, “This is the Packaging and Delivery Section. Here, the graces and blessings the people asked for are processed and delivered to the living persons who asked for them.” I noticed again how busy it was there. There were many angels working hard at that station, since so many blessings had been requested and were being packaged for delivery to Earth.

Finally at the farthest end of the long corridor we stopped at the door of a very small station. To my great surprise, only one angel was seated there, idly doing nothing. “This is the Acknowledgment Section, my angel friend quietly admitted to me. He seemed embarrassed.” How is it that there is no work going on here? ‘ I asked.

“So sad,” the angel sighed. “After people receive the blessings that they asked for, very few send back acknowledgments”

“How does one acknowledge God’s blessings?”I asked.

“Simple,” the angel answered. “Just say, Thank You, Lord.”

“What blessings should they acknowledge?” I asked.

 “If you have food in the refrigerator, clothes on your back, a roof overhead and a place to sleep you are richer than 75% of this world. If you have money in the bank, in your wallet, and spare change in a dish, you are among the top 8% of the world ‘ s wealthy. ”

“And if you get this on your own computer, you are part of the 1% in the world who has that opportunity.”

“If you woke up this morning with more health than illness .. You are more blessed than the many who will not even survive this day. ”

“If you have never experienced the fear in battle, the loneliness of imprisonment, the agony of torture, or the pangs of starvation .. You are ahead of 700 million people in the world..”

“If you can attend a church without the fear of harassment, arrest, torture or death you are envied by, and more blessed than, three billion people in the world.”

“If your parents are still alive and still married …you are very rare.”

“If you can hold your head up and smile, you are not the norm, you’re unique to all those in doubt and despair…….”

Ok, what now? How can I start? If you can read this message, you just received a double blessing in that someone was thinking of you as very special and you are more blessed than over two billion people in the world who cannot read at all. Have a good day, count your blessings, and if you care to, pass this along to remind everyone else how blessed we all are

ATTN: Acknowledge Dept.

“Thank you Lord, for giving me the ability to share this message and for giving me so many wonderful people with whom to share it. ”

If you have read this far, and are thankful for all that you have been blessed with, please share this message.

I thank God for everything, especially all my family and friends. 

The Gratitude Attitude 2010

For 28 years of Friendship  and 19 years of Marriage, each year filled with Love,

For Sons who fill our home with Life and Laughter, with Song and Joyful Shouts,

For Family who keep us afloat when life brings us down,

For Friends, old and new, who have kept us in mind and in heart through the years,

For a Home that shelters us through heat or rain,

For Work that fulfills and provides,

For good Health that’s worth more than all the world’s wealth,

For God whose merciful grace has given us Peace and Forgiveness,

I am forever grateful.