Tag Archives: Kids

Present and Accounted For

25 Jan

I’ve been trying to think of a word to describe how Alphonse has been in the last month or so, but no matter how I rack my brain to do it, nothing seems to fit. Aware? Conscious? Sensitive? I find myself at a loss for words. Somehow, these don’t seem apt at all. Then too, if I use them, do they betray a prejudice against individuals with autism by attributing them with the lack or absence of these traits? Alphonse is certainly aware, conscious, and sensitive of us and his environment; if at all, he is painfully burdened by an over-awareness of everything that goes around him. Perhaps the word or words I am looking for are more related to a perceived emotional distance, an aloofness that disconnects him with other’s intentions and motivations.

And yet, today, even as I write this, Alphonse seems more here, more present with us these days. I can’t explain it at all. I don’t know why or how, he just is.

He tries to reach out more often, making himself seen and heard. Would you believe that we’ve been able to have conversations with him- funny ones at that? Despite his inability to communicate through spoken language, he has managed to make his responses understood. There is also a remarkable degree of restraint in him these days, something we have not seen in a long while.

Consider this.  When his nanny absconded early last year, despite a promise to return (with an advance on her salary, a paid-for return airplane ticket, and a borrowed cellular phone), Alphonse didn’t break out in tantrums right away. We had given him a social story on his iPad to read before and during his nanny’s absence. I made sure to include a calendar marked with her vacation days. Three days after she was due to return and with news that she had eloped, Alphonse finally had that full-scale meltdown. He pulled our hair, threw all our borrowed dining chairs, and even tried, on several occasions, to bite us. It took about a week before he calmed down.

Knowing his reactions to loss, we resolved to make the next transitions smoother. With our previous successes with social stories fresh on my mind, I worked on poster pictures for Alphonse, giving him copies on his iPad and printing out some to post on the walls. I even kept copies on my mobile phone so would always have them on hand and ready for viewing. We showed the pictures to him every day, and after about two weeks, he began to really understand what they were for.

No pulling hairWhen another nanny informed us of her plans to “retire” soon after the others, we redoubled our efforts at showing him these pictures. Three weeks before his nanny left, I gave him another social story, a goodbye book to prepare him for her departure. We took pictures of his nanny waving goodbye. We told him she would not be coming back, but that she would keep in touch through Facebook and phone calls. On the night he first read the book, Alphonse shrieked and yelled in heartbreak. With tears streaming down his cheeks, he proceeded to throw what he could lay his hands on BUT he did not pull our hair. When I ran toward him to comfort him, he sobbed even louder, burying his head in my shoulder. I noticed his hands were clenched in tight fists. He had clenched them so tightly that his hands were bright red and his nails had dug marks into his palms. That was when we began to realize the extent of his self-restraint (no pulling hair, Alphonse!) and his new-found understanding of what he may and may not do.

That he’s been more attuned to us continues to be a source of our amazement and joy. We ask him questions and surprisingly, he gives us answers. The easiest questions are those he can reply to with a nod or a shake of his head. Of late, he has also started verbalizing more, often accompanying his nod with a “Ya” and the shake of his head with a “Na/No.” Even more amazing, he would say “Ayaw ayaw ayaw” (I don’t want to, I don’t want to, I don’t want to) when pressed into doing something against his will (like bathing with cold water, heehee). When presented with choices, it’s comforting to know he knows what he wants and can often choose to his satisfaction. Little things to many, but for one who has never had his own voice, they certainly mean a lot.

Just this New Year, on the way to lunch with the rest of the family, we asked him what he wanted to have for lunch.

Do you want chicken? Na.

Do you want pizza? Ya.

Shakey’s? Ya.

Pizza Hut? Ya.

Yellow cab? Weh? (He’s never had Yellow Cab Pizza, I forgot.)

Poor thing. We ended up eating at Max’s Fried Chicken because Shakey’s was closed and we didn’t want to take another stab at finding parking. It took a while before his gloomy face brightened and only after we bribed him with a whole Max’s fried chicken. Still, it makes us happy to know he has opinions and choices; we only need to find a way to help him bring them out in the open.

I can only imagine what the future has in store for us and for Alphonse. But if this is any indication of what we can expect, then we shall see Alphonse evolve and continue to grow as he ages. All children grow, and children with autism are no exception. But Time, it seems, is what they need the most of.

For now, it is enough he is here, present and accounted for, struggling against the mighty wall of his disabilities. We shall continue to arm him with the picks and axes he needs to tear down these walls. Time, I pray, will do the rest.

12647688_10207356738890657_797840846_n

 

Alphonse at 20

3 Nov

Alphonse newbornTwenty years ago, at six am on All Saints Day, I woke up to the feeling of wetness on my skin. I was hugely pregnant and bloated on my 37th week, but my delivery date, which was supposed to be a scheduled repeat Caesarean section, was still more than two weeks away. On that morning, however, as I dragged myself to the bathroom with fluid leaking between my legs,  I knew that this baby was not going to wait two more weeks.

Less than two hours later, I was in the labor room and my contractions were coming steady, strong, and in increasingly shorter intervals as the hours wore on. I never went into labor with my first son, so it was a novel experience, albeit an excruciating one. I remember looking at the clock very often, counting the minutes and hours till they could wheel me out to the delivery room, and trying to distract myself from screaming through the pain by watching television through squinted eyes. (I had no eyeglasses and the nurses made me take off my contact lenses; I was almost blind.)

At four in the afternoon, my labor was suddenly halted by tocolytics injected in my intravenous line. November 1 would not be my delivery date, my obstetrician had instructed in a phone call. My repeat C-section would take place two days later, on November 3.

And this was how Alphonse came into this world, two weeks early but also two days late. That his earliest days were marked by indecision and confusion seemed eerily appropriate as it foretold a lifetime of straddling worlds- his and ours.

Today, Alphonse turns twenty. This year is especially significant as he chucks off the last physical vestiges of childhood and adolescence and steps into adulthood. True, his cognition is still that of a young child, but the world sees him as a full-grown man now, and were he any other young man at the cusp of his life, we would be planning careers instead of carers.

Twenty years of Alphonse and twenty years of autism. That one cannot exist without the other is no longer a source of our grief or shame. We have moved beyond the sorrow, the guilt, and the blame, to a point where only Love exists. We have made peace with the fact that autism will be our constant companion for the rest of our days. While it has made our son’s life- and ours- difficult, it has also woven and bonded our family into a formidable force that protects and loves Alphonse unconditionally.

Indeed, we have lived through much. But our joys have also far exceeded our sorrows. We have learned to appreciate life more keenly, to value the seconds and treasure them as if they were our last. We have learned to be grateful for every little smile of our often long and tiring days. We have learned to work together, to trust and support each other, even when other families have been torn apart. And we have learned to accept and love each other for all our weaknesses and frailties, knowing that our strength as a family trumps any of our individual failings.

Today, on Alphonse’s 20th birthday, I must admit we still have many of the same questions we had when we first started our journey with him. Who is he? What does he really want? How will he be ten, twenty years, from now? The truth is, we don’t know the answers to these still. Just like any other child, his is an unwritten future and we can only guess at them for now.

The only difference between then and now is this: the certainty that whatever happens, we will go through them together. Alphonse will never walk alone.

Alphonse and mama 02

Happy birthday, dearest one! Mama, Papa and Kuya love you always!

 

Sons and Connections

26 Apr
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.

Potty Mouth Kid

26 Mar

My eldest son Alex is on summer break starting this week. With him in the house, we expect increased electricity charges, what with the desktop and his laptop always on and his gadgets always charging. Morevoer, with the summer heat bearing on us during the day, it’s always a temptation for him to turn on the airconditioning. Yesterday, it wasn’t enough that he had two electric fans blowing air at him; he hounded me all morning to turn on the airconditioning in the family room. Ever mindful of our budget, I kept saying ‘No.”

A couple of hours later, the boy wasn’t ready to give up.

Mama: Alex, do you want to try these chocolate truffles? They’re yummy!

Alex: Only if you turn on the airconditioning. Mama, it’s hot! *grumbles*

Mama: For the nth time, son, I said NO!

Alex: (muttering under his breath) Dammit, it’s so hot!

Mama: (eyebrows rising) What did you just say?

Alex: Uhm…ehr… I said “damit!” Clothes, Mama! I really should change my shirt. (giggles softly)

Mama: ??? *mental machine whirring, processing slowly*

Alex: (whispering to himself) Good job, Alex! You got out of that one, whew!

Mama: *throws box of chocolates at son’s head*

What should I do to a potty-mouthed kid? I think I ought to keep this one handy from now on, just in case.

pottymouth copy

~0~

A Quick Lesson:

Dammit (damə̇t)- an interjection used to express irritation, contempt and anger; a contraction of “Damn it!”

Damit (dam´it)- clothing or dress in Filipino (Tagalog)

Allergic to Love

9 Jan

Allergic to Love copyChristmas night, between the long hours of after-dinner and putting Alphonse to bed, I chanced upon Alex, my eldest boy, playing quietly in one small corner of his room. On most nights of his short vacation, Alex was plugged online, oblivious to all of us. His ears were swaddled in gigantic headphones designed to block out noise and catch every nuance of his music, online messengers, and video games. On other nights, he was immersed in other worlds, his Kindle Fire his preferred companion. But for some reason, on Christmas night, he had none of his gadgets with him. Even the headphones and the iPod were gone.

Alex at play

Stolen shot

Instead, he was playing with action figures from his favorite anime. We had given him money this year, aside from the usual (shirts and ehrmm… socks). Money was a no-brainer as he was saving up to buy a new charger for his laptop but we had also pulled together an unexpected “sort-of-Christmas-present” for him- a box of figures from the Japanese manga “Fate Stay Night” he liked so much. And even as we didn’t bother with wrapping the figures that came in an old shoe box, we could also tell that he was quite happy to open even just one boxed present from us.

I haven’t seen Alex play with toys in a long time and that night, my heart was seized with melancholy and nostalgia. How many moments have I missed in this young man’s life, my eyes and ears always focused on his brother’s needs? How many times did I put off the moments meant solely for him because his brother always needed me more? Alex just grew so fast that now, looking back, I don’t seem to have enough of his childhood memories to stow and keep. So many moments I missed and so many regrets.

I ambled slowly over to him. I ruffled his hair and kissed him gently on the cheek. He looked at me, surprised.

And then he sneezed.

“I’m allergic to love, Mama,” he whispered.

We both broke out laughing.

Even now, as Alex nears his 20th year, I remember the little boy who loved Pokemon, Power Rangers, and dogs named Beethoven. My first-born- the one who opened my heart to a different kind of love- will always be the funny, little boy who filled my days with wonder and delight. I just hope I have not made him truly allergic to love.

Living with Boys

10 Oct

Back in the early days of my first pregnancy, this was my favorite commercial on television. A♥ and I always wanted a little girl. We both wished for someone cuddly and cute and … just all girl. And this roller baby (which was the coolest thing back then, or so we thought) was part of that dream.

BUT we got a boy.

Oh, please, don’t get me wrong. We love our boy! Alex was a beautiful baby! He was cuddly and cute and sweet… just not girl.

And so this dream went on the back burner, until the day the sonologist told us our second child would be a girl. *whoops for joy*

And then, the second baby turned out to be a boy again. No less cuddly or sweet. Still, not a girl.

This desire for a little girl invaded my boys’ infancy and toddlerhood, though I was sane enough to recognize that I couldn’t pull this particular stunt off longer than a couple of years: crossdressing.

Alex in a “Little House on the Prairie” look

Alphonse looking all girly in pink

After a while, they both realized that dressing up as girls was not fun (at least for them) and they both would say “NO!” emphatically, with an indignation that  only toddlers could muster so beautifully. I gave up then. If I had to live with three boys, the earlier I got used to it, the better for me. Pretty soon, I became an expert on The Power Rangers and Rourouni Kenshin, though I could barely pass Pokemon 101 (there are just so many of them!).

Now that both are almost grown men (Alex is 19 and Alphonse will be 18 next month), I’ve realized that I would not trade anything for all their years. Sons are sweet, and oftentimes, cuddly (unless they forget to bathe). They can be drama princes too! As such, our lives have never lacked for drama, color, or warmth.  And while they may never fit my idea of a “California Roller Baby,” now that they are older (and less cute and cuddly, but no less disarming), I think I can baptize them with new titles.

Alex (imperious and kinda bossy) and Alphonse (Sir Screams-a-Lot) – My Transformer Decepticons Megatron and Starscream.

 

For Alex

8 Aug

At 5 am this morning, Alex asked me to take his vital signs. “I feel my heart racing, Mama,” he said, as he handed me the medical kit. After having his heart rate, respiratory rate and blood pressure  checked (all normal), he kissed me gently on the cheek and whispered “I love you, Mama. Thank you.” Then, he left the room to get ready for school, leaving me and Alphonse alone in the room.

I’ve missed this boy’s kisses. I missed the little child he once was. I should never have let him grow up too fast and too early. All too soon. my little baby — premature and fuzzy, too small even for small-sized infant clothes — has become a man. Today, he is mere moments away from complete independence and I miss all the moments in between.

I will always be grateful for this young man’s love. Alex — romantic and sweet, headstrong and stubborn, emotional and fiery — is my wellspring of joy and my source of humor and lightheartedness. Only Alex can make me laugh the way he does.

***

At six

When he was six, Alex brought home wrote an essay he wrote about the woman he loved most in the world — me! In it, he wrote that I was kind and generous, thoughtful and caring. I was very flattered until he told me his classmate wrote that his mother was, ahh, ehhm, sexy. I remember him punctuating the sentence with a little gasp.

“And why didn’t you write the same of me?” I feigned hurt feelings.

“But Mama, that would be a lie!”

May you always be honest, my love, even if the truth may hurt.

***

picture borrowed from The Celadon's FB page

A few weeks ago, Alex told us that  he had applied for membership to the Celadon, his university’s official Chinese Filipino organization.

“Are you sure, son? You are only an eighth Chinese!” I reminded him.

“Well, Mama, if there were eight parts of me, I am sure that one of them is a hundred percent Chinese!”

May you always be proud of who you are, my son. Never let anyone make you think or feel that you are less than who you are.

***

Saturday afternoon, A and I were discussing a family issue and the debate was fun, lively, and engaging. Alex, on the computer, seemed oblivious to it all at first. After a while, probably tired from hearing his parents go on and on, he suddenly said, “In marriage, one person is always right and the other is the husband.” A readily conceded defeat and we all started laughing. 🙂

What can I say? I trained my boy well!

And may you always remember that love means giving of yourself, even if it means losing in the process.

***

I love you, Alex. Don’t you ever forget that.