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Friday, November 10, 2017

The Princess and the Pauper



Today, I realized I am a princess. This sends me goosebumps because for 20 years I had been living like a clueless pauper. When I was five, I started thinking I belonged to a middle class family. It was also then that I started making distinctions between who is rich and who is poor. I often envied the neighbors for having this and that and I concluded that we were not rich. As a kid, I started believing that maybe life is about possessions, that they are the center and the driving force of every man's endeavor. So whenever I saw a shooting star, I would always whisper, “success and happiness.”

I grew up in a neighborhood where money and career were the common topics of women and even men, in their siesta/gossip time. The ones worthy of praise are those who were poor years ago and have worked their way into working abroad, bringing home dollars and are now having their house remodeled. As a playmate, I had my share of boasting around with friends trying to pretend that my family is rich. One time I brought to school a jar of sand with starfish on it, to support my false claim that we have this really nice house near the beach. When I arrived home from school that day, I never felt poorer. So I said to myself, “I will be rich one day.” With the influence of education and my family, I began believing that climbing up hard in the ladder of academic success is the key to wealth. And so, I tried my best to do well in school. But it was not easy doing so. I had my inferiorities, insecurities and relational issues to begin with. When I was five and in kindergarten, I was one of the objects of bullying in class. My friends, especially, the guys would laugh at me putting my right foot on the chair while sitting down. I didn’t see anything wrong with it but since being bullied was not fun, that habit stopped - but not the bullying. Some guys teased me for my skin color; some, for other things I could not remember anymore, perhaps because there were unpleasant for me. There was one time a boy said my other girl classmate was prettier than me. My five year old heart was crushed. It has been over 20 years but I could still accurately spell out that boy’s name and role-play that event with the exact lines. There were times I could not trust my own test answers and had to ask my classmates what theirs were. There was a time I erased my own answer, having heard my classmate say it was wrong – only to find out later that mine was correct. I had my insecurities to begin with and so I could not be so confident in my skills, in being successful and finally being rich or having the power. So I was not only a pauper. I was the ugly pauper who could not trust in herself. And that made becoming successful seemingly difficult. So I made an attempt to change my mind. But this world is the survival of the fittest, it appeared to me, so I tried again. Many of my classmates devoured studying. Many of them gathered in groups to talk about the lessons and sit in clusters and brainstorm answers to teacher’s questions and cheer together as teacher affirms answer. If I was smart, I would be a member of that circle, I thought to myself. So I had second thoughts about actually being smart. I remember one particular instant when the teacher asked the whole class what the color of the sky was, and everyone said blue, except me who said, orange, sometimes even red, actually a mix of both. The class’s reaction made me feel strange about myself, as if I was the most abnormal person in the world. My teacher didn’t react to the commotion I made and simply said, very good class, yes, the color of the sky is blue. My memory of the sky being red and orange could not have simply deceived me then, but, maybe it was just me. To be smart was not that easy, indeed. And to feel this way as a five year old was way too stressful. So sometimes, I did not care about being smart and simply enjoyed playing with friends. My favorite was playhouse and I usually played the role of mom. I like being mom because I could tell my husband what to do and what he did wrong. I could also scold my children and tell them things I believed I was an expert of. I also liked playing teacher because everyone could just sit there and listen to me. My sister said being a teacher is no good and I could not understand why she thought so. I did not ask her because you are not supposed to ask questions from children who have different opinions from yours. I liked playing Tumbang Preso because it felt glorious to be able to hit cans with slippers and run away with it without getting caught or Piko because I felt accomplished to be able to hop my way back to home base with my eyes closed. I liked biking, but was not very free at doing so because my parents only allowed us to ride our bikes nearby - basically just around our small front yard. 

I was a curious child. I did not care if it meant death to do certain things, be it eating raw red chilli peppers, soap or lizard’s manure, or perhaps inserting beads or flowers in my nose. Driven by my what-ifs one day, I stooped so low at a fish pond – too low I fell into it. Weeds were all over my head and I wondered if I had eaten fish. People were sympathetic but I didn’t tell them that I kinda saw it coming. I was too curious in third grade, I asked how I was made. My parents got the encyclopedia to show me the insides of a man and woman. The pictures kinda helped but some things were not clear. I got the impression though that a man and a woman made me – my dad and mom. I didn’t just spring from a bamboo shoot, according to some Filipino folklore. I was a spoiled brat sometimes and people especially one of my babysitters named – okay I’d rather not say her name, gave me so many names I started to think I was the worst child in the world. I was maldita, taklesa, himantayon (bratty, tactless, judgmental). Those moments were my emergent exposure to human character. Sadly, I thought I was on the bad side. So I wasn’t only the poor, ugly, dumb kid.. I was the poor, ugly, dumb, ill-mannered kid. That could have been enough for me to commit suicide, but life was still fun – what with all the outdoor games and the occasional family gatherings. Our family wasn’t perfect but I felt we were happy.

In grade one, I was in the honor roll. Mmm.. so I was smart after all, but not smart enough to know what honor roll means. I had to ask my mom what my teacher meant with that. In a world where everything is measured by numbers (and I actually do not like numbers), it is hard to believe in yourself sometimes and easy to forget your dreams even if it means studying in a Catholic school. We all go through the same insecurities no matter what school we go to, I guess. Until now, I remember clearly the names of those pretty girls I envied – those who had pretty eyes, white skin, nice hair and nice stuff. I envied them too much, I was confused about how I felt about them. It was an intense and powerful feeling of envy that sublimed itself into a strange attraction. So based on who I easily got attracted to, I got confused about who I was. (to be continued)

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

This Halloween, I Celebrate My Dad









While people in the States celebrate Halloween with carved pumpkins, costumes and props, most people in the Philippines do so by remembering the saints and the loved ones they have lost. November 1st and 2nd would be spent going to the cemetery visiting graves, embellishing them with flowers, lighting candles, sharing a meal or two with family. Some people would stay overnight, play board games, play the guitar and sing to their heart’s content. I will be honest and say that this holiday was merely a tradition for me until I lost my Dad two years ago. I don’t get to visit his grave as often as I want to but at this point, I don’t think I need something tangible for my memories of him to be this alive. That bruise in my heart associated with his death is still pink raw and burns every time I dream of him – twice or three times each week.

This Halloween, I am not celebrating with a Piglet costume or a Tauriel. I am spending it remembering my Dad and honoring his memory – even if it means allowing myself to grieve again. I wish our last few days had been more ceremonial – me and him at the beach saying our last goodbyes; me thanking him for that special walk we had one day when I was in 5th grade; him pinching my finger one more time; or the whole family having karaoke night or dancing by the beach on New Year’s Eve one last time. However, some things are meant to happen only in the movies and somehow, life is just blunt, even if it’s about something as serious as losing your dad. My brother who is also a seafarer like my dad was, recently shared that one of his co-workers happened to have worked with him before. They spent time talking about him as a co-worker and as a dad and ended the conversation with tears in their eyes.

My consolation besides the idea of heaven is the thought that if my father were still alive, he would be proud of the life skills I have recently developed. It would surely warm his heart to know I could cook now, that I could build a fire and keep it going for hours, that I could singlehandedly build a pig pen gate using power tools and that my son turned out fine even though I spent most of my pregnancy crying because my father was dying.  A friend once told me that sometimes it is not the quantity of time that you spend with someone that matters, but the quality. And that’s how it was with him. He was away 80 % of the time because of work but we made good and rich memories that are worth remembering and celebrating not only every All Souls Day, but every single day. So today, I will remember. I will sing our favorite songs and I will smile and cry at the same time. 

Friday, October 27, 2017

Blue Squeaky Shoes


A friend of ours gave our son Jhun a pair of squeaky shoes as a hand-me-down. For awhile, they just sat in the box because they were still too big. They are a formal looking pair - blue and leathery and they fasten by a Velcro. They look like something Prince George would wear. A few weeks ago, I thought I would take them out of the box and put them on the shelf thinking they would fit him soon. This morning, his daddy told him to grab his red boots because they were going to feed the animals. Unable to find the red boots in the house, he grabbed the blue squeaky shoes, instead and put them on. Of course, he couldn’t do it well so I helped him out. That was when I realized they are actually squeaky and immediately thought they were kinda corny – and annoying especially because Jhun would intentionally make squeaky sounds with them. We went to the YMCA later that day and not wanting to annoy the childcare staff as well, I switched his shoes with another pair – a more normal one. We came home and we had a campfire with some friends and Jhun started running around in the dark. It was hard to see him and I was afraid to lose him. Then I thought of the annoying blue squeaky shoes. When we went back inside the house to grab a bite, I made him wear those. We went back to the campfire where Jhun would sometimes run around. However, I didn’t need to keep my eyes glued to him anymore. He only needed to keep producing squeaky annoying sounds with his shoes and I pretty much knew where he was. 

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

My First Letter to My Son


Dear Jhun,

I am writing you now because one day, things are going to change and it will seem like yesterday when you and I spent one of the craziest stages of our lives, as a new mom and a new baby. As I write, you are spending time with your dad. Yes, there is life outside mommy and I have to keep reminding myself that. Sometimes, I have to rationally tell myself that you are safe with him every time I have to back off so you can have your ‘men time’. He is ecstatic about having you in his life too. It also takes effort for me to trust friends who offer to hold you. Call me crazy but at times, images enter my mind, of them dropping you on the floor or letting you roll off the hill in your stroller, but I am still sane, so the images go away and I realize I’m not the only one who cares for you.

You are 7 weeks today. You survived probably the most crucial moments of your infant life – getting out of a tiny hole, leaving the comforts of your life in the womb and staying at the hospital a little bit longer because of jaundice and oh, don’t forget our struggle with your latch. I wouldn’t know which one was the most traumatic for you. Life is hard as a new mom but I’ll never know how hard it is for a newborn. I was heartbroken when you started refusing to breastfeed after experiencing the bottle. But I feel proud of you when I look at you now, happy as a clam with my milk and getting chubbier each day.

I haven’t had a decent sleep since you came and I don’t own my time anymore. I have become a 24/7 on-call caregiver and your rapid changes compel me to be flexible, to overlook chaos and forget stability – all these despite the lack of sleep and lack of experience. Yet, as my prize, I get to experience your smile, your funny attempts to express yourself through your coos and enjoy the scent of milk on your skin. I don’t know when I’ll have my next free time, but you are fed, clean, safe, sound and thriving – and I already feel more successful than Oprah. I pray multiple times each day for various seemingly petty reasons – that you would keep napping while I rush to have lunch or take a shower or that the snoring sound in your chest is not pneumonia. My prayers are not always for the small things, though, for I pray that you will live up to your name, Jhun David - be as loving and faithful like your grandfather Jun was and become a man after God’s own heart like King David in the Bible.

Your dad and perhaps, everyone else in the world think I have become a little crazy since I had you – worrying all the time and sometimes feeling responsible for every bug bite, every cold and every constipation that you go through as a baby. I got to tell you - my heart breaks a little every time you cry, every time you are trying hard to sleep but can’t because of stomach cramps or whenever I see a rash on your face. It is crazy but I think that’s what we call ‘love’. I haven’t experienced this kind before so it can be a little overwhelming. I am convinced that if I am not careful, this love could be dangerous to you at some point – if I express it in a way that would not give you room to grow and be the kind of man God has planned for you to be. Again, call me crazy but I am already picturing myself scolding you for refusing to make your bed, or for not doing your chores, or talking you out of an unhealthy relationship with a girl one day. If someday, you might break a woman’s heart, remember that mine was the first you broke. Yet, I want you to remember that I will always be there for you, no matter what.  

I am praying for you Jhun because even though I feel like I am your Wonder Woman, I know I cannot always shield you from the ugly sides of life. I pray that you will be a Superman to many people, by God’s grace and according to His will and purpose for your life. If one day, you might doubt your worth as a person, remember these days when God did not only express His love for you by compelling me and your dad to take care of you despite all the challenges, but projected His very being through your existence. You are worth my back pains, this drool on my shoulder, my aching breasts, these stretchmarks and these tired eyes. I got to go now, to check whether you didn’t roll over the bed and suffocated yourself.

Your crazy mom,
Jill






                                                                                                                                                

America's Food



http://www.vintropolisbar.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/Fastfood-chains.png

A fitness guru once told me, “Eat like a king for breakfast, a queen for lunch and a princess for dinner.” I of course would later find that this rule is followed – in reverse, in America. Many Americans would just eat cereal or granola bar for breakfast. Some people would even skip it or just have coffee. Some people (especially the construction workers) will never drop whatever they are doing to have lunch while others will eat while working. It is pretty common for people to have lunch at different times and it’s not a big deal if someone’s having lunch in front of others who are still working. Most people would just eat leftovers or something that did not require a lot of prep work - a carrot stick, potato chips, peanut butter and jelly sandwich. While going to McDonald’s is considered by many Filipinos as a special meal time wherein you have to dress nicely to sit down and eat, in America, it is pretty common to see men in torn shorts and dirty shirts falling in line to get a sandwich. Nobody cares. People won’t judge you by your dirty clothes.

Meanwhile, in the Philippines, most people would have lunch at around 12 noon and spend 1 hour of “lunch break”. Whatever one is doing – whether he or she is in the middle of a construction project, of manually handwashing clothes or of a meeting, people drop whatever they are doing to eat. At noon, flocks of people will come out of their offices, schools, construction sites to head to restaurants, cafeterias and the like to have a sit-down hot meal. A typical one would be some rice with meat and veggies. In some small cafeterias, the soup is usually served free but that is because most of the time, it is really just seasoned hot water or the liquid part of a huge pot of soup. People rarely eat alone and most people look at their 1 hour break as a very short vacation. After eating, some people take a nap, listen to songs or watch TV.

Many Americans eat their largest meal at dinner. I discovered that they rely so much on baking to cook. I think it’s because it’s faster and it allows for multi-tasking unlike stove-top cooking. When I arrived here, we didn’t have a kitchen yet and that shocked a lot of people. It was almost unthinkable to them that we could make do with a mere single burner stove that we got as a wedding gift in the Philippines. I remember sharing this interesting fact about myself with a friend and her eyes grew large. Her reaction confirmed that gut feeling in me that many Americans are not used to roughing it, except maybe those who go camping often. But even their camping stuff is fancy! We went camping with other families one summer and they had a fancy kitchen set up – complete with stove, tables and other kitchen utensils. But camping was what it felt like while my husband and I were still working on our house at the same time living in it. The day after I arrived, the first thing I did was throw away many expired food products in the cabinet. That was my first encounter of the basic necessities to the typical American kitchen: catsup, mayonnaise, cheese, whip cream, milk, eggs, paper towel and Ziploc bags. My husband, despite being a “red neck” as he was or is, had a lot of Ziploc bags!

(An excerpt from my book)


Saturday, October 21, 2017

In One Year

img source: http://justbetweenus.org/downloads/754/download/Experiencing-Gods-Grace.jpg?cb=4d76c12a049dcf63c04a93b39248c3db&w=640

Moving to a country half way around the world. First year living with my husband. Death of my father. Birth of my first child – all of these happened to me within the course of one year. A year ago today, I arrived in the US to begin a new life with my husband, Jody. One of the major changes I had to deal with was the weather. A lot of people here said that last winter was one of the worst – and yes it was kind of bad especially in terms of animal care, but I guess the fact that it was all new and somewhat exciting to me, and that I had no prior experience to compare it to, did not make it feel like the worst thing in the world. I will say the fall season was more challenging because my body was still getting used to the cold weather and my first trimester of pregnancy had just wreaked havoc to my hormones. Because of that, I wept many times for various reasons and sometimes, for no reason at all.

The spring finally brought hope at last to everyone including me – yet, on its onset, when the last ice had finally melted and our tulips were finally starting to pop out of the ground, my father died. I had often contemplated on how I would feel once that day came and now, I know how it feels. Yet for now, let me encapsulate in fewer words what I could in a novel – I cried my hardest the night I knew I was going to lose him. It’s a cliché to say he was a good father and it may be silly but sometimes, I wish he wasn’t, so there are no good or special memories to remember him by– yet that is not the case. My husband held me close during my sleepless nights – nights I was confronted with doubts, fear and confusion. There were times though, when it was hard to trust in God and easier to wallow in sadness and anger, thinking he was cruel enough to put so much on my plate. My family and friends had been telling me not to cry too much because of the baby – yet honestly this baby has heard all my wails and sobs.

Everyone says “the first year of marriage is always the hardest” and Jody and I agree to that. We’ve been through a lot, I will say. Again, I will capture in fewer words what could be said in a novel: marriage is inherently difficult (Gary Thomas) but I believe that there are certain characters and experiences that only a marriage could possibly develop and give – and that’s what makes it worth fighting for. I will speak for myself but mine has brought out the best and the worst in me. A few weeks ago, Jody and I had to change our routines and began playing one of the hardest roles in life: parenthood. Honestly, it’s like learning to ride a bicycle. We know a few theories but we simply have to do it, to be able to do it.


Don’t get me wrong I’ve had great times too, but I have only one thing to say, now that I have survived one cycle of shifting seasons, have stayed sane when Jody broke the news of my father’s death, that we could still laugh after a long, tiring day at work and could forgive and let go of each other’s faults and are now trying our best to help each other raise a good family: God is good. No, it has not been easy and I will not say I have everything figured out and have always been strong. God was and always will be. If there was someone who has heard and seen the most wretched side of me, it was God. I am glad He did not kill me during those times I expressed blame, anger and doubts at Him. He just won’t give up on me, that’s why I find myself just surrendering to Him at the end of the day. In my surrender, I find peace and pure joy. I also find God in my relationships, in circumstances that encourage me to take heart.  I guess that is just life – it is a mix of joys and sorrows, that there is a time and season for everything and yes, it could all happen within the course of one year but one person once said, “The will of God will never take you where the grace of God will not protect you.” His plans are always good. Always good. All glory and honor to Him.

First World Problems

img source: http://www.ggportland.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/Yard-Sale-Sign.jpg

I have been living in the US for about three years now and one of the facets of American culture that I have been interested in is the nature of its problems – maybe because, they are different from the country where I came from.

The first problem is getting rid of so much stuff. It is not uncommon to accumulate a bunch of stuff through the years that at some point, people wish to declutter. It’s a meticulous job to figure out how to do it because Americans are guided by different ideologies: things like saving the environment, being generous to friends and helping charitable institutions or some just want to keep their house prettier.  You will find people here who would literally beg you to take their stuff so they don’t have to worry about renting a dumpster or doing a yard sale (because yard sale is hard work). Most of the time, they are just happy that their stuff are still being put to good use and are not wasted. It is not uncommon to see free stuff on the curb – old couches, kids toys, TVs.. you name it! I will not lie but many of the things we own have been given to us. We like to think of it as God’s way of providing our needs and even our wants.

The second problem I have noticed is arguing over who will get the bill at the restaurant. I like this problem because I believe it comes from a desire to be generous and to bless others. Often, you would have to secretly connive with the waitress so she will run your credit card instead of your friend’s then your friend would later give you the evil eye for doing so. Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, specifically in the Philippines, it’s not uncommon to tease a friend into paying for your meal.