Till Tomorrow

This was written years ago when I heard of the passing of one who used to be very dear to me. I had meant to give the original version to her family but I didn’t feel it was the right time. I rewrote it today as a letter to that person, hoping she is looking down on me with love., and I think she is, as I dreamt of her last night.

20140527-102440.jpgI have one favorite memory of you.

Sometimes, late at night, it’s one that still comes back as clear as the day it was made, and I feel like a child all over again.

On my ninth birthday, you took me shopping. I don’t remember if there were any others with us that day- that is fuzzy to me now- but I remember because it was one of those rare days I felt especially close to you. Those days would diminish as I grew older, as age and history colored our interactions and drew us apart, but on that day I was nine, I would have followed you blindly. I loved you with all the innocence and foolishness of my young heart.

You, like all your siblings, were never overtly affectionate with us… with me. I don’t remember being cuddled, kissed, or praised by any one of you. Ah, we were always so formal and so polite! But I realize, now that I am in my middle years, that, perhaps, you didn’t love me any less or any different; we simply had different ways of showing love. As a child desperate for affection, however, I needed more than just an acknowledgment of my existence. I needed to be recognized as being more than just of the same blood. I wanted to be appreciated and reassured that I was loved for being me.

Many things would happen between that day and the last time you and I saw each other almost thirty years ago. I am now past the age you were the last time we talked. And though it’s a memory I have often tried to suppress and forget, I still see that day clearly too. When I close my eyes, I can almost see you sitting across me, and I remember the furrows etched between your eyebrows, the downturn of your lips, and the shrill of your voice as anger formed a divide between us that not even decades could mend.

Many things would be said, too, in the aftermath of that day, many of them untrue- carried, passed, and whispered back and forth in false confidences by third parties who were observers to the sordid drama of our lives. Many things would stand between us then, and when the memory of that day comes to me like an unexpected visitor, I often wonder how we managed to screw things so badly for all of us.

But that day I turned nine was different. I have a very vivid recollection of you holding my hand firmly, gently- a first, I thought then. You brought me to a store, looked at me tenderly, and said with genuine kindness, “You can have anything you want! This is my birthday gift for you.” I’ve never had that much freedom given to me before, and immature geek child that I was, I settled on a pink stapler with flower-shaped wires and a hodgepodge of stationery items. Erasers, pencils, the first mechanical sharpener I ever saw in my life, paper of all sizes- I was in heaven!

Growing up, I was often told I looked like you, and despite the protestations that followed –you never actually told me you were glad I looked a little bit like you so I felt embarrassed to insist on the similarities– I was actually thrilled and proud. Somewhere along the way, the circumstances that led to our separation played their ugly hand and created the cracks that tore us apart, but each time I look at the mirror, I still see you.

Even today, I still look a bit like you. And I remember the feelings of that child who held your hand and felt loved and wanted. These are the memories that survived the painful years, and these are the ones I now choose to keep.

In the years between then and now, we both grew a lot older and farther apart. When you saw me last, I was heavy with child with my firstborn. You never met my boys, and they, in turn, never knew you. But I always entertained this silly, fanciful dream that there would be time to set things right. I really thought we had more time. I prayed we could have a future- no matter how short- to wipe away all anger, sadness, and disappointment. It is too late today to do all that.

I wish we could start all over, back to that day 45 years ago, and undo all the wrong that tore us apart.

Then again, perhaps it is time to simply forget and move on and live like tomorrow will never come.

And in this today, there is room only for love. And with that, a nine-year-old’s still unwounded heart which adored you and loved you like her own.

Yet Another Cat Story

I hope you don’t mind, dear reader, if I tell you more about our cats for now. In the middle of a quarantine that sees no end in sight any time soon (Metro Manila has been under varying levels of quarantine since March 15, 2020, with no let-up), our cats have given our lives their much needed change in pace. So, indulge me, please, as I write about the cats that have made our lives a little more colorful during this time.

Peek-a-boo! Guess who! (I took this picture when I was sneaking a peek at the new kitten; that expression makes me laugh each time!)

Yes, you read it right. Cats. Not just one cat. It seems once you open your home to one cat, the lure to add another becomes irresistible. We never planned it that way, though. While Skyflakes was an awaited gift, the other cats that joined our household arrived much like Kitty did.

I remember that when Kitty, our rescue kitten, was still with us, she used to greet Anthony’s arrival with excitement. She would run to the car as soon as it came in (we had to hold her for fear of her being run over) and she would walk with Anthony as he made his way to the back door. All the time, she would mewl and meow gently to him, as if expecting a conversation. Anthony was never a big fan of cats but for sure, Kitty was a fan of his.

Shortly after Kitty passed away, Anthony came out of the house to find an adult cat waiting for him by the back door. It was the first time this cat had approached any one of us but we had seen her many times before, often fleetingly, in cctv footages of her climbing our roof. We saw her in late August, when she left Kitty with us. And we saw her again a few days after Kitty passed away, sniffing around the spot where Kitty used to stay in the afternoons.

Why do they like Alphonse’s trampoline?

She followed Anthony around the garage, but disappeared again that same night. Then, about a week later, we found her crouching under Alphonse’s trampoline, half her face swollen. When we tried to approach her, she ran away in fright. We knew she needed help, but unable to do anything more, we left her food and water.

Towards the end of November, she started coming more frequently to our garage. She would eat the food we left and sit by the gate, eyeing us warily. But each day, we noticed her sitting closer and closer to us. She finally decided on a spot midway in the garage where she could watch us from afar and yet still be near enough her usual points of entry/exit. For the most part, as long as we set out food, water, and later on, a box, she seemed content just watching us from a distance.

By early December, she was in our garage whole days and even nights. She roamed the garage on her own, keeping some distance from us still, but she no longer seemed jittery or terrified of us. After a while, she would wander briefly near us, even trying a few times to rub her head on our feet. We couldn’t touch her, though; the sight of hands coming near her made her shriek and scamper away so we just stopped trying. We figured she’d let us know when she was ready to be petted or touched.

It got to be that she would strut around the garage like she owned it, even chasing away would-be competitors from her spot. One day, she discovered an almost empty, open cabinet in the garage. She decided to leave her box in favor of the cabinet. When she ventured out for toileting, we quickly lined the cabinet with pieces of clean cardboard and Kitty’s old mats. We even put in Kitty’s scratch pad and a few of her toys.

On December 17, 2020, she gave birth to a single female kitten we named Kitty Two aka KiTwo. Nanay (as we now call her) and her kitten are now housed indoors but during the day, they play in the same spot outside where Kitty once stayed. Nanay still resists handling and holding so we give her lots of space with the hope of losing her distrust one day soon. For now, they seem content to stay out but the plan is to spay Nanay as soon as KiTwo is weaned completely.

Nanay and Kitty Two aka KiTwo

KiTwo has grown to be rambunctious girl who loves climbing and jumping. She is also a tail menace as she loves to pounce on her mom’s tail. Nanay tackles her and sits on her each time, but KiTwo just shakes off the rough play and comes back for more. We feel she could hold her own against Skyflakes once she grows bigger. Mom and daughter

After KiTwo completes her fourth round of deworming, we will slowly introduce KiTwo and Skyflakes to each other so they can play during the day. In the meantime, we’re just happy to see them thriving healthily and happily. Now, who knew we’d turn out to be a cat family?

The Seed of New Love

I never really understood the grief that comes with the passing of a pet. For years, I often wondered about the kind of love that elicits such sorrow. I never really understood this, not until Kitty came into our lives.

Kitty came to us on the evening of August 29, 2020, after apparently falling from the roof of our house. We heard a kitten crying loudly in front of our doorstep that night but because we saw a bigger cat with her, we left some food and water and let her be. The next day, this seemingly unfazed kitten spotted Alex looking in on her and decided to follow him. She wandered gingerly towards the back of the garage and followed Alex wherever he went. Her mother repeatedly tried to get her back, calling out to her and putting her paws on her back, but this headstrong kitten just kept coming back to where we were. Alphonse was so surprised to see a baby cat crawl under his trampoline that he started crying loudly and asked to be rescued from the terribly scary kitty monster.

That night, she seemed exhausted from her adventures so we left her in a small plastic bin with a soft cloth and left more food and water. Her mother warily watched us from a short distance and stayed with her when we left. The next day, however, her mother left her alone. We waited for hours for her but she didn’t reappear till many days later.

We didn’t plan on having a pet ever. Between Alphonse and his volatile moods, it has never felt safe to introduce a fragile creature into our home. Moreover, with all the craziness going on in our country and the world today, rescuing one little kitten seemed so insignificant and trivial compared to all our worries. But she came to us like a gift in those lonely times, and for the short while she was here, she gave us so much joy.

A week after we officially adopted Kitty, I brought her to the vet for a health assessment and she gave her a clean bill of health. We were told to return the following week for her first deworming. Before we could return for her appointment, however, Kitty came down with a bad infection. One day, she woke up lethargic and breathing rapidly. She hardly touched her food and drink. She couldn’t even meow.

With the help and expertise of an animal-rescuer friend and her vet, we were able to nurse her back to health. It took a full week before Kitty regained her pep and vigor, but with assisted feeding, lots of cuddles, and the proper medications, she made a full recovery. There was one night during that week that we thought she wouldn’t make it. She kept crawling away to hide in dark corners, curled in a soft wet ball that stank so badly. We didn’t sleep a wink that night as we watched over her and fed her dextrose water and soft gravy.

Kitty stayed with us for nine glorious weeks. Each morning, we woke up with anticipation, knowing we were going to spend another day with her. In the afternoons, Kitty would sit and watch calmly as Alphonse blew bubbles, galloped, jumped, and shrieked himself hoarse. She loved to be cuddled and would often fall asleep in Alex’s lap.

Perhaps I was drawn to her because there were many things about Kitty that reminded me of my own children. The way she was pigeon toed in her right foot, with one paw turned in. Alex still stands exactly like that. The way she was always hungry. Her demands to be fed seemed to always coincide with Alphonse’s cries for food; their appetites were in sync. She was a small kitten, smaller than most, I now realize, reminding me of how, for many years, Alphonse was a little small for his age. For these reasons and more, it just felt like she always belonged to us.

Kitty left us too soon but she was the seed that planted a new kind of love in our hearts. And while we could say that we rescued her, the truth was, she rescued us too.

The Human Cost

This is not my story, and so, at first, I felt hesitant to share it. But I felt compelled to tell you of this family’s story, if only to remind you of the human cost of the Corona virus, and of our ignorance, our willful blindness, and our reluctance to call the people in power accountable for their mistakes.

(Credit to Amanda Madden)

On March 5 of this month, this year, an elderly couple flew back home to the United States after their yearly vacation in the Philippines. Their grown-up children (six kids, their spouses, their grandchildren) were divided in both countries so they would try to split the year between them. When the weather became unbearably cold in their part of the US, they would fly back to Manila for the milder climate. Around springtime, when the weather turned kinder to their old bones, they would fly back to their North American home to spend time with their three other children and their families.

This year was no exception. The elderly couple was glad to go back to the US; they missed the rest of their family. When they were here, they missed their kids in the US. When they were there, they longed for the ones they left back here. This year, maybe because of their increasing age, or maybe because of the traffic, they hardly went anywhere else, except for a few short shopping trips in the course of more than four months. For most of their time here, they stayed at home, content to spend the hours in the company of their kids and their grandkids.

Two days after their flight back to the US, on March 7, the couple came down with flu-like symptoms. They immediately quarantined themselves at home but less than a week later, their symptoms worsened and they required hospitalization. Their only daughter, the one who cared for them at home upon their return, also became sick.

On March 17, the elderly father took a turn for the worse. His oxygen levels were precariously low and he needed a ventilator to breathe. His wife was suffering too, but despite her children’s pleas, she refused intubation. And although she could feel her strength withering away, she tried to keep up with calls to her children, her voice weak and gentle as they prayed the rosary together.

On March 23, the couple succumbed to Covid pneumonia. In her dying hours, the wife wished for nothing else but to be by her husband’s side. Mercifully, the doctors and nurses gave them this final gift. They passed away together, mere minutes apart, still holding hands.

This is the true cost of this virus- losing loved ones in this battle. That they die alone, with no company or comfort in their last moments, makes it an even more unbearable death. Despite the overwhelming sorrow that envelops their family today, the children cling to the thought that their parents, who did everything together for almost 57 years, never left each other’s side to the end.

Their story does not end there, though. One of their sons, a surgeon and a frontliner in Manila, is quarantined with his wife and 12-year-old son after showing some symptoms. In the US, their daughter lays in her sick bed, alone, as she fights one of the biggest battles of her life.

Each day, this virus inches closer to us and to our homes. Already, the ranks of medical professionals all over the world are stretched thin. The elderly, the weak, and the sick- the most vulnerable of us- are falling. They are the first, but they will certainly not be the last. Next time, it may be someone you know. It may even be someone you love.

This is a true story. It is not mine, but it belongs to someone we love dearly. And though we are far apart and unlikely to see each other again till this is all over, we pray they know they are always loved.

Our Daddy Always

When Alex was a year old, we taught him to call his grandparents Daddy and Mommy. (A❤️ and I were Papa and Mama.) He tweaked this a bit by adding Lolo (grandfather) and Lola (grandmother) to their names, thus coming up with Daddy Lolo for my dad and Mommy Lola for my mom. A❤️’s mom was also Mommy Lola, although as he grew up, he decided to call her Mommy Flower (her real name was Flora) or Granny Flower. A❤️’s dad was also Daddy Lolo, but this evolved into Daddy Only, from a telephone conversation they had when Alex was three.  

Three-year-old Alex: I love you, Daddy Lolo.

Daddy: Alex, just call me Daddy. Don’t add Lolo at the end anymore, okay? Daddy only.

Three-year-old Alex: Okay, Daddy Only. I love you.

 The name stuck.

Daddy is, and will always be, my kids’ Daddy Only.

~0~

Daddy Only had a massive hemorrhagic stroke while driving home from a friend’s house last November 8, Friday night. He did not sustain additional injuries from the accident and, thank God, there was little damage to the car and driver he hit. He must have sensed something that made him slow down (and Daddy was always a fast driver, even at his age) but we will never fully know the events of that night as he never regained consciousness. After a few days in the neurological ICU, Daddy passed away at a little past one in the afternoon of November 14, New York time.

Daddy treated me like a real daughter; in the more than 28 years I have been part of his family, he never showed me a single moment of unkindness. He wasn’t the kind to be overtly sentimental and effusive in expression, but as he grew older, he also became softer and less stringent in affection, dropping “I love you’s” in our conversations and laughing heartily when we rained him with more of the same.

Where Alphonse got his good looks

My history with their family dates back to my high school friendship with A❤️ but in those days, I only ever saw his dad from afar. My first real encounter with his father was when I was already a freshman in college. One afternoon, I dropped by their house to deliver a letter for A❤️ and I came upon a really good-looking man sweeping the front yard of their home. He had on a pristinely white shirt with matching white shorts, and his jet-black hair was slicked and combed back. If I remember the event vividly, it was because the man struck me as “movie star handsome.” He broke into a wide smile when I introduced myself and called on his son, who, at that time, was gangly, gawky, and, yes, a bit pimply. I could see A❤️ ‘s close resemblance to his dad, but back then, Daddy cut a more imposing figure than his son. Family lore has it that when he left Silay for Manila to go to college, he was offered to be trained as an actor in one of the old film studios, but he declined because he was shy.

Over the years, I have built an encyclopaedia of memories with and of him. Because of the geographical distance, most of them are from the weekly Skype or phone calls he faithfully made to us. The most precious ones, however, are from his short visits back home or the times we went to New York to see him.

Daddy was always a no-nonsense kind of guy. He was pragmatic, down-to-earth, and not one to waste a single moment dwelling on “what-ifs.” He was thorough and decisive. When faced with difficulties, he was slow to burn, patient, and not quick to anger. I think A❤️ got those same qualities from him.

When their family decided to leave for the United States in the late eighties, Daddy did so with a lot of apprehension but he did it for his family. He left behind a promising position in Manila (he was bank manager of the PNB Rizal Avenue branch) and worked long jobs in the early days to make sure his family would be comfortable in the US. I try to imagine the humility it took to accept jobs that were beneath his education and experience, all to make sure he could build a future for his children, and it is something that still fills me with awe and pride today. With hard work and perseverance, in time, he found a job that he enjoyed, and he stayed with the same company till he retired.

Daddy with Dale and Joyce, A❤️’s younger siblings

I think of Daddy often as a strong man but in truth, he could be silly and soft, too. Joyce, in particular, his only daughter, could melt him in a putty. The grandkids could always elicit laughter from him, never mind that Alphonse could only repeat the same few syllables over and over again. He also never forgot birthdays and he would call to greet them and say that he loved them. He loved his children and their children, no doubt about it.

Daddy and his Junior, the last time they were together

Over the years, as he built a life in New York now apart from his grown children, he made sure he was always there for all of us. Even with almost 9000 miles between us, we knew he would be if we needed him. He guided and advised us, reminding us of things we likely took for granted. And when our lives turned difficult and split us in different directions, like the Father above us, he never wavered in his faith in his children. He always believed in the best of us. He believed we would find our way back to each other again. And we did. Thank you, Daddy.

Now that you will be with us only in our dreams, it is time to upgrade your moniker from Daddy Only to Daddy Always. You will always, always be a Daddy to us all.

Thank you for welcoming me with open arms into your family, Daddy. Thank you for giving me and Alex and Alphonse a space in your heart. We’ll see you in a little while. We love you so.

Above All, Be Kind

No filter. No makeup. Just me, my fat, and all my years on this earth. I realise I am not a makeup or jewellery or expensive clothes/shoes/bags person; I am what you may call a geek. A nerd even. But it’s alright. I am finally happy to be who I am.

I was looking at this picture today, trying to decide if I even wanted to share it. I looked grubby and a bit tired. I was relieved that the stain in my shirt didn’t show. But you know what? I also looked happy, and that kind of happiness, for many, can be quite elusive in these days of worry and anxiety.

Truth is, I am not always a happy person. And for a time, I was saddled with such great unhappiness that I thought the world could move on without me.

For years starting when I was eleven, I slept with a can of insecticide under my bed. It was a daily struggle to want to be alive. For a time, I also cut myself- short, shallow cuts made where no one could see. There was little blood but the acuteness of the pain was an addictive jolt. In later years, I peeled the skin off my feet so deep that my shoes and bedsheets always had blood stains in them.

My closest friends knew what went on in those early years: I was socially awkward. I was called names and made fun of. I received cruel notes that left me in tears. Some even had the gall to say the insults straight to my face.

We don’t like you. Can’t you get that?”

“No one likes you here.”

“You’ll have to find another group. We can’t work with someone like you.”

“You’re cheap.”

When you’re a young person wanting so much to fit in, knowing that you are unwanted by your peers- hated even- is a devastating blow to your sense of self. But I kept my mask up, never admitting to weakness or shame or pain. And I cried, always alone, in the bathroom of my childhood home, scrubbing my face clean off tears and snot before I went back to pretending again.

In time, I became an expert in masking my pain. While I practiced my social skills, I also learned to seek persons whose interests were close to mine. I developed a radar for kindness. I knew that if I “looked” happy, everyone would just assume I was. When one of my teachers described me as “vivacious,” I was amazed because inside, I was anything but. Inside, I carried all those hateful words in those letters. Inside, I still withered.

It took years before I could finally say I was safe and happy. It took a lot of prayer, advice, counselling, and love to scrape my festering wounds clean. It took friendship and family and God.

Over the years, there have been events that pulled me back to the edge of darkness. Some were big events. The death of one of my childhood best friends. Being hurt and dumped twice (!) by a young man I was enamoured with. Being rejected for being fat and ugly. Being disowned by family. Being beaten daily by a child you love more than yourself. Others were smaller, everyday events, but they didn’t hurt any less.

These days, when I am teeter-tottering on the edge again, I remind myself of what I have. I have my family, the one I was born in and the one I have made, and they have been my constant source of strength. I have kept my true friends from that age of unhappiness and they are my staunchest, bravest defenders. Still, if I have to name my saving grace, it would be my bestest friend in the whole world. He has pulled me off the ledge so many times that I have lost count. If I had to credit anyone for me being here today, it would have to be him. He knows me inside and out, sometimes, more than I know my own self. Thank you, A❤️.

Even today, I don’t think I am whole yet. But I am healing a little bit more each day. The desire to stay is stronger now. When I feel the push again, I know I can ask for help and I know I will receive it. My boys, they help me push back now.

I won’t presume to know what’s in the mind and hearts of those who are still hurting, but I hope you know that you are not alone. I made it through the other side and so will you. Just keep repeating that to yourself, even when it’s almost difficult to believe.

Despite all my wounds, my scabs and scars, I feel loved. I AM loved. And yes, I am happy. Truly, that is all I will ever need.

#backfromtheedge #lovingyourself #nofilter #bekind

Tears for Fears

Towards the fifth month of our kitchen training/enterprise with Alphonse Reece, our son with severe autism, we realized one thing: although he was encouraged by the extremely gracious feedback we were getting, he was also becoming increasingly jittery, anxious, self-harming, and aggressive over the last few weeks. Every day, we experienced longer and longer meltdowns triggered by just about anything. We knew the signs; we had seen them before. It was time for a break.

So, last week, we decided to take a brief respite from the kitchen to reorganise his activities and identify his key participation points. We decided that we would use the time to decompress and allow all of us to regain our equilibrium. We wanted to be able to get back to the kitchen with joy and inspiration, and not have it feel like a chore or a responsibility he would dread each day.

We planned the break to coincide with the short trip I was taking with friends. Before I left, my husband and I discussed what we wanted out of his regular days at home- a little work, a lot of play. They would keep his activities light and demand-free. Through all of these, daily affirmations were required given with as much enthusiasm, energy, and excitement as we could muster. (This was harder done than said- we are mostly boring people, haha!) Anthony and Alex had to remind him continuously that we will help him always and that we love him, no matter what.

Daily phone calls kept me abreast of developments at home. Alphonse was clingy and possessive of his dad, as expected. Throughout the day, if he didn’t have a hand on his dad’s arm, he would glance at his dad to check on him and see if he had moved from his spot. If he did, say, even just to use the toilet, he would immediately run after him. There was less fear now but the insecurity was difficult to shake off.

When I got back, Alphonse was sweet and loving but still very apprehensive. His heart would race when one of us would go away even for a short time and we had to reassure him repeatedly with a pinky promise that we were coming back. There were some tense moments, with flashes of anger and aggression directed at us, but we really didn’t know the depths of his despair and fear until the night he broke down in tears.

Alphonse cries a lot, but they’re mostly vocal sounds- grunts, groans, howls, ululations- with no tears. We haven’t seen him cry with real tears in years, so we know that when he does, they come from a place of such deep anguish, pain, and grief.

A few nights ago, for reasons still unknown to all of us, he just started sobbing louder and louder, tears streaming down his face until he was all spent. We still don’t know why. All we know is at that moment, he poured his heart into those tears and we could do little but wipe them dry and remind him over and over again that he is loved.

Truth is, we’ve always wondered what he thinks. It’s a puzzle to us, even after all these years. His difficulty in acquiring more complex skills has limited his ability to communicate. When we started incorporating Son-Rise techniques in our everyday life, he developed more expressive vocalisations, more “eh-eh-eh-eh” with distinct intonations and patterns. His PECS cards come in handy but his volatility oftentimes preempts their use. Falling short, he has always resorted to self-injury and aggression.

Because of this, we’ve decided to extend our break for a few more days. Next week, when we resume our training, we hope to be stronger, happier, and healthier. May I ask you then, dear friends, a favour please? Please keep Alphonse and our family in your thoughts and prayers. We need them most now.

Thank you so much and God bless you all!

His Mama’s Name

Every morning, we follow a routine to get Alphonse ready for the day. Part of this routine is taking his medications after breakfast. Even the order of his medicines has been planned to get him to swallow his pills and capsules first before we shift to those that need to be chewed, such as his supplements.

Every morning, this is our dialogue:

Me: This is your first medicine. It is yellow and small. Are you ready?

Alphonse: Ha! (Which means “yes.”)

I put the yellow pill on his tongue and he dry swallows it. He takes a sip of water afterwards.

Me: This is your second medicine. It is pink. Your Mama’s name is Pinky. Pink color and Mama Pinky!

Alphonse: Ha! (Which means “yes,” again.)

Mama: Are you ready for the second medicine?

Alphonse: Ha! (Which means “hurry up and give it to me already!”😜)

I hand him the second one and he dry swallows again. Sometimes I have to remind him to take a sip of water to wash it down.

Me: Please drink your water.

Alphonse obediently takes a short sip. Then he opens his mouth to show me there is no pill inside.

Alphonse: Ha! (Which means “Look! It’s all gone!”)

Mama: Wow! You did that very well! Thank you for taking your medicine.

We do this until we finish all his morning medications, eight all in all, including chewable supplements.

At the end, I ask him if he remembers his Mama’s name.

Me: Alphonse, do you remember my name, baby? I told you my name at the start.

Alphonse: (pauses to think, then smiles broadly) Ha!

Mama: Okay, big boy. I know you’re smart. What’s your Mama’s name?

Alphonse: (takes a deep breath, then shrieks) Mama!!!

What a smart boy I have! 😂

This is Alphonse being naughty and cute at the same time, hehe. He loves mouthing stuff and would walk around carrying this -or some other thing- in his mouth. (Yes, that’s a KFC gravy cup which we reuse for his little snacks and cut-up fruit. )

Easter and Autism

Alphonse didn’t sleep on Thursday night, which meant the whole household went with little or no sleep, too. We were all addled and dazed the next day, doing our chores on autopilot even as our brains were blinking red in distress. Lack of sleep, repeated over and over again over time, has a way of wearing all of us down.

While most families were in their rest and relaxation modes for the long weekend, ours was in full work mode- keeping him busy, pacifying his fears, redirecting his aggression, and making him happy. There is no respite in sight. It’s not fair, I know, most especially for Alex, but for better or for worse, this is our life.

Then yesterday, in a sudden fit of anger, Alphonse pulled my hair again -what’s left of it, anyway- and kicked me on the chest while I was down. As I staggered beneath the weight of his heavy hands, I felt his foot connect with my chest. The kick came so unexpectedly that against my better judgment, I shrieked and cried for help. In the last few weeks, talking Alphonse down from the edge had worked rather well, but yesterday, he was in full meltdown mode that he was unable to pull back anymore. My husband, alerted to my cries, rushed to my aid and was able to disengage Alphonse from me. He took over the rest of the afternoon, doing gross motor exercises with Alphonse to tire him for the night.

This morning, my head heavy and throbbing, my chest tender and hurting, I had to summon all of my good cheer and positive energy to face Alphonse again. I have to be honest; sometimes, it isn’t easy to wake up raring to face the world again, more so when the past day has been a particularly bruising one. Some days, I wish I could just bury my head in the sand and not come up for air. But seeing Alphonse- wide-eyed and unsure each morning, stepping into our world with such fear and trepidation- erases all my ambivalence and I dive back head first into our daily grind.

When I reflect upon the Holy Week and what it means to us as a family, I am reminded that Love is a truly powerful force. It is Love that makes forgiveness possible, even when we have been hurt over and over again. It is Love that summons mercy and compassion even when anger and disappointment threaten to overwhelm us. It is Love that covers us with an impenetrable armor of hope and optimism. In the middle of tears, it is Love that makes us laugh and smile again.

I admit I have been dispirited and disheartened many times over the last few weeks. Working with Alphonse daily is exhausting work that requires pouring all my emotions, energy, and attention into him; when he rejects me as he does, I am crushed and defeated, submerged in a sorrow so deep that my strength and determination are often not enough to drag me out of my despair. But Love, even in the darkest, deepest hole, brings a sliver of His light and I am able to recognize- nay, see-something beautiful and hopeful in Alphonse and in our lives again. Without darkness, there is no light, this we know only too well.

In the season of His rebirth, we are grateful to be reborn in hope as well.

“Not The Mama”

Image

When I brought out breakfast for the boys yesterday morning, Alphonse came up to me right away and kissed me. I was glad to see him looking happier than he had been of late, so, buoyed by the 3Es of the Son-Rise Program, I celebrated with whoops of joy and a silly dance.

Alphonse turned out to be amazingly responsive, using more vocalisations to respond to me. His “red light” moments were shorter, enabling me to sustain longer interactions with him.

While he was having his breakfast, I kept a running conversation with him. At one point, I asked him, “Did you have a good night’s sleep, Alphonse?” He responded with a loud “Yah” and a vigorous nod. I followed it up with “Did you have a good dream?” Alphonse roared “Yah!” again, smiling broadly and nodding his head in obvious agreement.

Of course, this Mama just had to ask: “Did you dream of Mama?”

Alphonse looked at me quizzically, then shouted a deafening “Eh! Eh!” He shook his head emphatically. An expression that can only be described as “ewww” 🤢 crossed his face fleetingly.

I laughed so hard I almost fell off my seat.

I wish I could have recorded the whole thing in video. When Alphonse opens himself up, he is quite the hilarious fellow.

Then again, do I give him nightmares? 🧐

Update:

Today, I asked him the same questions, and his replies were honestly consistent.

Me: Did you have a good night’s sleep, baby?

Alphonse: (shaking his head) Eh.

Me: Did you have good dreams?

Alphonse: (shaking his head again) Eh.

Me: Did you dream of Mama?

Alphonse: (nods sadly) Ya.

I do give him nightmares! This just cracks me up! 🤪