Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Lessons from my garden

This year has been an incredibly blessed year for my family. We tasted God’s goodness in large chunks, not tidbits. Our blessings poured by the bucket, not in trickles. The backside is that our challenges were unusually huge too, but nothing that God's grace did not sufficiently cover.

For me, it was--and is--like watching a garden bloom, though I am not the gardener. The One who carefully tends our "garden" is the same One who makes the sun shine and the rains fall. I am referring to none other than Jesus Christ to whom I turn over the management of our lives on a daily basis. And is He ever so good at the job!

Let me share this analogy:

At our townhouse, we have an enclosed little garden that, since we moved in, grew nothing but weeds. We kept our junk there too. When Dad came to visit for a month in the summer of 2004, he started to diligently work this land. Not quite knowledgeable nor fond of gardening, I was only too glad to let him do as he pleased with it. He collected and threw out all the junk, pulled the weeds, and began tilling the soil. Soon, he discovered a HUGE dead root beneath the soil surface running across the center of the garden. It came from a dried tree stump just outside the fence. Dad had to chip away, even saw, this dead root. It was a cumbersome task that had to be done before anything else.

When the dead root was finally done away with, Dad continued cultivating and making garden plots. In between the plots, he laid out columns of little rocks he had collected while digging up the soil. Dad layered the soil with fertilized top soil we bought by the sack. He then made trellises around the sides near the fences. When everything was prepared, he planted various vegetable seeds and spices according to his layout. Everything was carefully thought out and purposefully done.

This is a neat picture of how Christ cultivates our home life. He digs, tills, and uproots--which can be an unpleasant experience--then He replenishes lost soil and nutrients. He plants seeds of life, and I don't mean the existence kind of life, but life in various areas of an otherwise glum existence. Then He grows what He has planted with His sources of nourishment.

I am seeing  plants grow, others are still incubating. There’s individual blossoming and corporate growth, but a lot of digging and weeding out in the process. The works!

As I said, I am no gardener, and if it were up to me, I would not have known where to start, much less, how to proceed. It pays to leave it to the Expert.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Memory loss

Markus was setting up the Nintendo for the two of us to play, while I was still cleaning up in the kitchen.

Selecting the Pokemon memory game, he called out to me from the living room, “Mom, do you have a good memory?”

“I can’t remember,” I answered.

“I guess that’s a no,” he said to himself.

This conversation got both of us a-LOL-ing.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Rewarding results, not intentions

Last week, Markus brought home his best report card ever. 7 A’s and a B. I decided to give him a reward of HIS choice, within MY budget.

“Ten dollars!” he exclaimed. “I get $10?” He seemed blown away by such good fortune. There is value in not being spoiled rotten. He enjoys more of the little he gets.

“Mom, I can pay some of it with my clean-room salary,” Markus offered, referring to a previous deal. The hilarity of this statement was matched only by the good intent behind it. So I tried my best not to demean what he said, even if I wanted so much to laugh.

Yesterday morning, I snuck up to Markus’s bed to wake him up. The short distance between the door and his bed was like an obstacle course. I was careful not to knock over his Christmas “décor” in the middle of the room, or step on school supplies and clothes scattered all over.

After the usual wake-up kiss, hug and a little chit-chat, I said, “You said your room was clean.”

“It WAS!” he replied. “I didn’t say it IS true.” So quick on the draw!

“So is today a good day to clean? You have early dismissal today,” I said.

“What about tomorrow, Mom? We have no school tomorrow,” he bargained.

“Okay. Do we have a deal?” I wanted a commitment from him and Gabriel. They both said yes.

I came home Friday and found their room acceptable. If only they could keep it that way for the agreed one week, without moving their mess to other parts of the house, I will gladly give a "clean-room salary". I have yet to disburse this money.



Sunday, November 27, 2005

Gino turns 19


Gino turned 19 this month. Am I that old already? I still feel 23… Pardon the cliché, but it seems like only yesterday...

When I found out I was pregnant with Gino, I tendered my resignation at work so I could concentrate on my pregnancy and motherhood. But my director wouldn’t let me go. He enticed me to avail of a one-year economic leave after my two-month maternity leave was up to give me enough time to think about it. Not a bad bait. The economic leave was something new at that time, given to staff who went to the Middle East to work and might want to come back to the jobs they left behind. I accepted the offer even if I wasn’t going anywhere nor earning any dollar. I loved working at the University and prolonging my stay there in this way wasn’t really a bad idea.

Before Gino was born, I regularly did my Lamaze exercises, watched my diet, and drank tea made from boiled roots of damong mutha, something handed down by my maternal ancestors. I wanted to have an easy birth and avoid a C-section. I was determined to go natural. I was scared of anaesthetics, sleeping through childbirth and not waking up again, or waking up a vegetable. I also didn’t want to drug my baby. There was another reason: the cheap in me would rather go through childbirth pains than through financial hemorrage that St. Luke’s Hospital might deal me if I incurred additional costs related to having an epidural, etc. (anaesthesiologist’s fee, medical supplies...) and stayed longer in recovery. I wanted to leave my semi-private room as quickly as I could. Natural was the cheap way to go, barring complications.

Believe me, I saved quite a sum! But I endured a lot. My labour pains were horrible, indescribable, almost unbearable. I wished they had said it like it was at Lamaze class instead of minimizing the pain aspect of giving birth. Midway, I wanted to give up. I forgot the most important thing in managing birth pains, which was finding one immovable focal point at the height of contractions and staring at that one thing alone while doing the breathing techniques…

After giving birth, I didn’t really remain unemployed because I was offered to manage one of my in-laws’ neighbourhood auto supply stores. When Gino was probably 2 or 3 months old, we moved to a tiny one-bedroom, or rather one-room, pad connected to the store by a two-way washroom. This was where Gino would spend the next few months of his life – in an auto supply store.

I didn’t know a thing about car parts and I was intimidated by rough jeepney drivers, I was really useless as a store manager. I didn't want to be out in front talking with mostly male customers. I just watched the cash register and counted the sales at the end of the day. Even if I basically left the customer service to our workers, I had to be in the store too, with my baby. I was determined to make this place, surrounded by bolts and nuts, filters, spark plugs and engine oil, a teaching environment for baby Gino.

Our store sold reflectorized stickers people put on their bumpers as a warning device. These hung colourfully at the store front – bright red, bright orange, bright blue, bright green… Holding Gino in front of me, I would point to each of these neon colours and say their names repeatedly. Orange! Red! Green! Blue! He would look at each one with wide eyes. I let him feel them too. Smooth! No, I didn’t let him taste motor oil or touch grease to teach him Yucky! or Goo!

I would sit him on the front counter as vehicles went by. Car! Jeep! Truck! Motorcycle!! It kept Gino stimulated.

The only other place to hang out besides the store front was an open space at the back outside our house. It was a driveway leading to the neighbour’s house. There was hardly anything to see there but concrete ground, a few potted plants and the neighbour’s doghouse with a dog that was loud and hyper. I would take Gino out there, sit or walk him around, which was really just a few steps altogether. The dog was always an object lesson. Dog! I said over and over. At 8 months, Gino said his first word, and not surprisingly, it was dog, or do, at first.

Gino talked quite early. Maybe it was the books that we often read to him from pregnancy. Or the classical music we played by my tummy. Or the frequent conversation we had with him even before he was born. By his first birthday, he could say more than 20 words. My niece Nikki and I actually counted as much as we had heard from him at the time. Two months later, I counted more than a hundred! Believe me, I am not exaggerating. By 2 years old, he was talking straight. People, including strangers, would stop and ask how old he was. His language was definitely too advanced for his puny size. He didn’t do baby talk and I wish we had a camcorder back then to record it.

I remember travelling to my father’s hometown when Gino was probably 4. The trip took about 8 hours. We adults took turns responding to Gino as he was probably talking three-fourths of the way. He was like a radio, except that you couldn’t change the station nor lower the volume.

When he first watched the movie The Never-Ending Story, he loved to re-tell its plot. His grandparents said he was never-ending. Gino went on and on and on. They were delighted and astounded.

Today, Gino is 19 and still talks a lot, is smart, and has strong opinions about many things. We talk about various subjects, although we don't always take the same side. He loves languages. Learns Greek and Hebrew on his own, I think Latin and Italian too. He speaks French learned at school and as an exchange student in Quebec last year. Can understand some Spanish, also from school. Still fluent in Tagalog. I think God has gifted him with a flair for words, and I will not be surprised if He will use this for some significant undertaking someday.

I believe Gino will go far, geographically and otherwise. I pray that God would bring out all his potentials and make his life count. I give him my blessings to go out there and conquer, and fulfill the great purpose assigned to him by his Maker.

PS. To my three other sons, don’t worry, you will each have your turn and your own PR piece by Mom… No playing favourites here, okay? After all, you all came from the same tummy, with your own stories!

Monday, November 14, 2005

To beat Mom

I am currently the ping pong champ in our house, and I better blog this before I lose my crown. My boys are all aspiring to the throne. It seems that their main goal is to “beat Mom”. They are really trying.

About three weeks ago, I suggested that we use our glass dining table as a ping pong table when Mickey started showing interest in the game. Our table is narrower and shorter than the real one, but I knew it would work. I've seen my high school classmates play a mean game of ping pong using a tiny teacher’s desk at lunch break.

With a set of hand-me-down paddles and balls from the dollar store, we started playing ping pong on our dining table. It’s become a craze in our house, there are times when we eat from the stove and kitchen counter to keep the table clean.

Mickey is the most serious player of them all. He is working on his spins, drives and serves. Gabriel and Markus have considerably improved too. Gino is not too much into the game, but he plays every now and then just for the fun of it. The younger three play to win.

I am sort of the veteran player and trainer. I am not great at ping pong, maybe above average, but I have great enthusiasm. Ping pong gives me a rush and a flimsy excuse for missing my aerobics class.

I’m stepping up my game as my boys are getting better and better. Unbelievable, but Mickey, Gabriel and Markus have all won against me. I can no longer play it easy or they will smash the ball with no hesitation. It will put me on the defensive.

The other day, Mickey beat me thrice in a row. He declared himself the new champion and I conceded. Then Markus beat him twice in a row. So this is how it feels to be Mom, Markus gloated. Gabriel also beat me twice in a row. What’s going on? I’ve been standing for three hours in the kitchen cooking and cleaning. Of course, I will lose… I’ve been playing against all of you, guys, non-stop… You get to rest, I don’t. Excuses…

Yesterday, I decided to reclaim the throne. I beat Mickey five games straight. I felt I was back in my element. Then beat them all. Ha!

In a few minutes, Markus will be calling and they will be wanting their turn to once again “beat Mom”.

Ping pong is a good way of unwinding at the end of the day; better than slouching on the couch. It’s a good warm up too before I head to the gym, which I am determined to do – again.

It’s just a matter of time before all these boys excel in ping pong. I can see it. Of course, you will all beat me sooner or later, I tell them. I’m growing old. But for now, I will give them a hard time.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Heart of worship

We were just starting to sing an upbeat contemporary Christian song when Madonna, who was standing beside me, began to belt out in a high-pitched voice you would expect from a 60-year old woman. She was about 40. Her voice rose above everyone else’s in our corner. A lady on the row in front of us slightly turned her head towards our direction as if trying to find the source of this shrill and shaky soprano.

The worship leader’s powerful voice and adept guitar playing continued to stir the congregation. I was getting into the spirit too, but Madonna, without her meaning to, continued to distract me. With eyes closed, hands raised and body swaying, she seemed lost in worship, without a care in the world. I knew this person to be genuinely passionate for the Lord.

Every so often, I would close my eyes to help me focus, but with little success. I tried to be worshipful, but when Madonna started to do sign language and sing at the same time, I slipped farther away. Is anyone deaf around here? Madonna was not only swaying; her arms were flinging all over the place.

This is not good, I told myself. The lady was obviously enjoying worship time, singing to the Master, who am I to judge her voice or manner of singing? It’s my own heart I should be concerned about.

With a bit more compassion, I tried to think of something positive about what was going on beside me. From the corner of my eye, I began to “read” her hand motions along with the song. It then became more bearable and rather interesting. Don’t be too quick to criticize. You’ll never know if  you’ll ever need to learn sign language, I thought to myself.

Why did she learn sign language? Who is she using it for? Is one of her children hearing-impaired? Or could it be her husband? Or a parent? Does she minister to a group of deaf people at a church or school somewhere? I wondered.

I began to imagine where Madonna could be coming from. Maybe she did sign language for someone so frequently that it became her natural thing to do even as she sang. Maybe she had to keep on practicing it. Maybe… I thought of different scenarios. When I pictured Madonna guiding others and especially her own child “sing” with their hands, my heart began to melt. I put myself in those deaf people’s shoes, then in Madonna’s shoes. She might be carrying a burden I knew nothing about. I was choked to tears. I wanted to cry.

Madonna was clueless of what was going on in my head. She was still lost in worship, arms flinging all over the place. I felt I had just fallen flat on my face.

I’m coming back to the heart of worship… we sang on the fifth song. And it’s all about You, all about You, Jesus…I’m sorry, Lord, for the thing I’ve made it, For it’s all about You, all about You, Jesus.

This song by Matt Redman felt like a brick on my head, but it did bring me back to the heart of worship.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Making a mountain out of a mole

Markus has a big mole near the corner of his mouth. Many adults find it charming. He DOESN’T.

Nothing annoys him more than being teased about it by, who else, but his Kuya Gabriel. Gabriel, on the other hand, knows that the easiest way to get under Markus’s skin is to allude to his mole, so he resorts to it whenever he is upset with Markus.

“Mom, Kuya Gabriel called me mole,” Markus whines and complains over and over.

Gabriel doesn’t even have to say “mole” to tick Markus off. He could simply place the tip of his finger on that part of his face where Markus’s mole would be on his. Markus would be miffed and make a big fuss.

“MOM!!!” That all familiar scream. It gets to my nerves.

I quickly snuff out his mole-whining or reprimand Gabriel. But it’s not working. Markus continues to make a mountain out of, well, his mole. He can’t get past this molehill.

This very thing happened before bedtime last night. The two were squabbling in their bedroom and Markus called out to me.

Exasperated but with restraint, I said, “You have to get over it, Markus. You can’t do anything about your mole.”

“Yeah, Markus,” Gabriel butted in. “Even I have a mole.” Gabriel, Mickey and Markus each has one big mole on some part of the body.

“But it’s on your arm and you hide it under your sleeves. Mine is on my face!” Markus retorted.

“What can you do? That’s nature. It doesn't look bad,” I said.

“Is it nature if people come up to you and make fun of your mole?” Markus was still incensed. By “people” he was obviously taking a swipe at Gabriel.

“That is HIS sinful nature,” I remarked. “Your mole is your natural feature." I paused then continued. "Markus, listen to me,” I made sure I got his attention. “When he makes fun of your mole, it’s NOT about you, ok? It’s about HIM being insensitive and inconsiderate. It’s not at all about you. Your mole doesn’t look bad.”

Markus had calmed down.

Ahhh, I need the wisdom of Solomon for those times when I have to make a molehill out of a mountain...

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Winterizing the house

The cold season is upon us. It’s time to turn on the heater and cough up more money for our gas and electric bills. I tried to delay this as long as I could by telling my family to wear warm clothes.

I read on the Internet that to save on utilities, we should set the thermostat level at 68 – 69 degrees Farenheit during the day when people are at home, and lower it to 63 – 64 degrees at night when people are sleeping. I’m not sure if I remember the numbers right. No matter, I sometimes set it a degree lower or higher, but never 70 or above.

Other people find our home too cool for comfort. My brother-in-law, who visited last year with my sister and mother from Seattle, suggested that I insulate the glass window and sliding door panels in the living room. That was the first time I became aware that there were ways to keep the heat in and the cold out other than revving up the thermostat.

I also noticed cold drafts of air coming into our house from the bottom of the front door. We covered the area with a floor rug until I found out in one of my trips to the hardware store that there was such a thing as a door sweep. Ours must have needed a replacement.

So this autumn, I’ve been going back and forth to Wal-Mart, Rona, Home Depot and Canadian Tire and learning how to winterize the house. I scrutinize the items that might serve my purpose, and spend a lot of time reading labels and installation instructions. I find this engrossing. In fact, when I brought Gabriel and Markus to the Fleetwood Recreation Centre two weeks ago, I visited Rona Home Centre across the street. Since when did I choose a hardware store over a water slide and Olympic-sized swimming pool?

Thus far we’ve done a few things in the house -- changed the furnace filter, vacuumed the floor vents, placed filters on these vents, changed the door sweep, attached weatherstrips on the front door and sliding door, and installed plastic insulation films on the glass window and glass doors on the main floor. I will finish the last panel tomorrow. I’m sure there’s more to do. Lots more.

I hope to finish everything by the end of October and start putting up our Christmas decors. This way, it wouldn’t seem so cold and dreary.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Sweet and short

I just have to blog this.

I fell asleep quite early last night. Didn’t even change my top, nor sleep in the right place. I was dead to the world by 9 pm, bushed after work and grocery shopping.

About an hour later, I sensed Markus snuggle up to me. I wanted to strike up a conversation but was sort of in between dreaming and waking up. Then I heard him say quietly, “Dear God…”

Half-awake, I said something totally irrelevant--I couldn’t even remember it--in my desire to have a small talk with Markus. Realizing the ill-timing of my senseless words and still struggling to wake up, I muttered, “Pray before you sleep, Markus…”

“I just did. Let me pray for you, Mom,” he said tenderly.

“Okay,” I said. That pulled me out of my grogginess. Normally, I would be the one saying that to him at bedtime or when I wake him up in the morning.

“Dear God, please protect my Mom,” Markus prayed.

What a sweet, short prayer that must have stormed the gates of heaven.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Wanted: Boredom busters

My boys, with the exception of Gino, have been off school since last Friday because teachers are on strike. Class suspension, regardless of the reason, is always good news to elementary and high school students, but bad news for parents. For me, this means more food consumed at home throughout the day, more mess accumulated, and more unexpended energy that will greet me at the end of a long day, especially in this kind of weather.

Yesterday, I found pillows all over the living room when I arrived from work. This is not unusual. My sons literally throw our throw pillows, and not just throw but kick them as well, by Markus's own admission. While I was resting on the couch, he animatedly showed me how he kicked a pillow over the couch, towards the bookshelf (“It didn’t hit anything Mom.”), back to the couch, jumping twice over the backrest... I had a hard time following his blow by blow account.

If the throw pillows aren’t enough, they take down their bedroom pillows and hit one another with those.

“Guys, the thing you see on TV where they have pillow fights and feathers flying all over the place, we DON’T do that!” I emphasized. Not that we have that kind of expensive pillows but I don’t want to buy more pillows, period.

Gino doesn’t have school on Tuesdays. Last Tuesday, he cleaned his room, miracle of miracles! As I walked in the door after work, he greeted me, “Mom, this is the cleanest I’ve seen my room.” I checked and true enough, his room was very neat indeed. A few days ago, you could hardly see the floor, and I’m not exaggerating.

Mickey spends a lot of time fixing our computer and working on a website. He can sit in front of the computer for long periods but he goes out with friends, too. He’s happy with the teachers' strike.

Gabriel and Markus mostly stay at home and play on the computer or with the Gameboy or with each other. I give them chores to do during the day and check on them from work. But the strike is stretching on and they are getting bored.

Last night, while I was preparing dinner, Markus came down and complained.

“Mom, I’m bored,” he said. “There’s nothing to do.”

“What do you think will make you not bored?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” he whined.

“Well, think. What do you want to do? What will make you NOT bored?” I repeated. I was pushing him to think.

“Why can’t you?” he threw the question back to me.

“It’s not my body,” I said. “What do you want to do?” I suspected he already had something in mind.

“Something that has nothing to do with cleaning,” Markus declared before I could give him a chore.

Shortly, he went back upstairs and Gabriel came down. It turned out Markus had been impatiently waiting for his turn on the computer, and the waiting bored him.

I realized I have nothing prepared for the boys to do should the teachers’ job action go on indefinitely other than those that have something to do with cleaning --washing the dishes, doing the laundry, cleaning the table, fixing the bed...

I am open to suggestions.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Rich in other ways

On our way to Metrotown mall, Gabriel lamented, “Why aren’t we rich?” This was after I had told him we were not really going shopping, but more like window shopping.

“We are rich,” I said. Then I enumerated the things we were rich in. “Love, friends... We’re just not rich in money.”

I avoided saying “We’re poor” because it might become a self-fulfilling prophecy, especially if said or thought of repeatedly. Doesn’t the Book of Proverbs say, “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he”? Besides, the word “poor” is highly subjective.

Gabriel clarified his statement. “I mean, money, Mom,” he said. “Why don’t we have money?”

“We have money, too,” I corrected myself. “It’s still in God’s hands though. But it will come.”

“What do you mean? Is it going to follow us to the mall?” he was being sarcastic.

Living here in Canada, I feel truly blessed for what we enjoy as a normal part of life even if we are not, by Canadian standards, wealthy. I have seen so much poverty where I came from, who am I to complain now? Many kids who grow up here don't even have a clue what stark poverty looks like.

One of my big challenges as a parent is teaching my boys how to value money without worshipping it. In North America, materialism can rub off on you so quickly if you don't watch out, and my kids are just as vulnerable.

I am not against getting rich but if it becomes your overriding goal, I believe it will eat you alive. “For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his soul?” There will be much less troubles in this world if people were not so greedy.

I want my boys to succeed in life. I want to see them prosper with integrity. But before then, I want them to build their character so they will be strong and wise enough to handle prosperity when it comes.

Upon learning that his aunts and their spouses were vacationing in Europe, Gabriel asked, “Mom, are they rich? And I mean in money, not in looove…”

“Yes, they are rich in money, but they are also rich in love,” I answered. In fact, they are among my usual examples to my kids of money falling on the right hands because they are ever so generous.

Do I want to be rich...in money? Sure I do, but only as God blesses me and I gain it honourably. Just the same, I am thankful for what I already have.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

From the bottle depot to the bank

Markus and I went to the bank not too long ago to open his own savings account. Before that, we went to the Guildford Bottle Depot to redeem four bagfuls of empty bottles and cans that he and Gabriel had collected from our kitchen. (Our deal is that they get to have the $ if they collect the bottles and bring them to the depot with me.)

“Markus, we will deposit $30 to your name,” I told him. I had planned to deposit more but he chose to have a little birthday party. So I deducted some amount to make him understand that choices have a cost. We made a deal. He made a choice. Now we had to stand by it.

“Plus the $5 I got from Jesse,” he remarked, making a reference to a gift he got.

“Oh, yes. That makes it $35,” I said. “And the $10 you made today from the bottles. You have $45 now!” I said excitedly.

“Make it $50, Mom,” he said.

“No, it’s $45.” Even if it was tempting to simply round it off, I stood my ground to teach him that money is hard earned, and you had to work and save up for it.

“What about the massages? I’ve been massaging you since January, blah, blah, blah..and you have not paid, blah, blah, blah…” Markus has a good, albeit sometimes skewed, memory of our “transactions” and it could go all the way back. Or I have a short memory, and don’t do a good accounting of all his massages that were not “for free”. (Yes, he occasionaly offers to give me a free back massage.)

Not wanting to engage him in a long argument (which is hard to win with Markus anyway) about the massages he had given me “since January”, I agreed to the $50. Besides, he could be right.

“So, Mom, can I withdraw a dollar? I want to buy something,” he said after getting his own passbook and ATM card.

“No, this is just for depositing,” I replied. “We need to save up for college.”

I wonder how many bags of empty bottles that would take.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Gone camping

Gabriel left this afternoon for a church youth camp at Cultus Lake. This being his first time to be away from home, he was very excited and anxious. “Is there gonna be a shower?” “Are there blankets?” “Are there bears there?” he kept asking.

Knowing that our church puts together wonderful programs for the youth, I encouraged Gabriel to go on this trip. It is also a good way for him to integrate with other church kids, and have some good worship and Bible study time.

Yesterday, we bought his toiletries from Pharmasave. When we got home, I left him to choose his tavel bag and sleeping bag, and pack his own clothes. I wanted him to feel all grown up about it. I felt I should step back and let him take responsibility. He even remembered he had to bring a Bible and a notebook. But now that he has left, I’m here wondering if he brought a pen, his pair of sandals, his toothbrush, enough clothes… Is he able to sleep? Is he warm enough?

I worked only half-day today because Gabriel wanted me to bring him to their meeting place myself. They were told to be at church by 3:30 pm.

“Mom, are you going to stay until we leave?” he asked more than once.

“Yes, I can stay, if you want. I’ll wait till your bus leaves,” I assured him.

As we pulled into the church’s parking lot, he was excited to see the other campers. We got off the car and I walked him towards the church’s lobby.

“Mom, you don’t have to stay,” Gabriel said with confidence.

“Well, OK. Do I get a kiss?” I asked. Gabriel stopped and I gave him a peck on the cheek. He walked on by himself, carrying, not rolling, his wheeled backpack and sleeping bag. He looked like a hiker.

“Have fun,” I called out. Delighted to see him greeted by new friends, I drove off.

This is like taking him to his first day in kindergarten, only I don’t get to peek through the window or the door. And I just have to trust that all will go well, that there will be no bus accidents, no broken bones, and no bears(!).

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Markus is 10

It was Markus’s birthday last Thursday. I convinced him to save his birthday money in the bank instead of asking for a gift he would tire of in two weeks or two days. He agreed. Still, he asked me if he could invite his friends over. He was very insistent.

“How many friends are you thinking of inviting?” I asked.

“Three or four,” he said.

Manageable. “OK, we’ll have a simple party on Saturday,” I said. We agreed on the menu – pizza, ice cream, chips, pop, cake, sausages lightly fried in maple syrup and ice cream. As simple as it could get. I made invitation cards on the computer. My friend Esther baked the cake and decorated it nicely like a soccer field with 10 players.

Up to the last minute, Markus was trying to negotiate with me if I could take him and his friends somewhere, like the bowling lanes. He and Gabriel had been thinking it would be very boring just to stay home and play old Nintendo games.

“Boring is what you make it,” I said. “It’s up to you to make it fun or boring. It’s all in your head.” I did not want to spend any more than my budget. Besides, I could only fit four passengers in the car.

I am not a party person. I don’t have the knack for setting up fancy arrangements or thinking of motifs or folding napkins. But I decided to hang multi-coloured buntings I found among our Christmas decors, and I made sure the living and dining rooms were cleaned and vacuumed for our little guests.

At three o’clock this afternoon, Markus’s three friends came one by one. Within a few minutes, they were running around the house, up and down the stairs. Was I glad there were only three! Fortunately, they settled down in front of the TV when Markus set up the Nintendo.

Before they got glued to the TV, I called them around the table. I said a prayer of thanksgiving for Markus and prayed God’s blessings on him and his young friends, thanked God for the food, then everyone started eating. No one cared that the table was not beautifully set up, or that the two extra large pizzas Gino bought from Vancouver had gotten cold. They were busy talking, eating and playing. No one noticed anything else.

Boy, were the kids pumped up. They were  obviously having fun and not bored at all. Markus opened his gifts and scattered everthing on the floor. When his friends left past 5 pm, it was like a tornado hit the living room.

“See, Mom,” Gabriel said. “You shouldn’t have spent time cleaning and vacuuming. It’s more messy now.” Crumbs were all over the floor.

“Well, it’s party,” I said. “I will just vacuum again.”

Markus was very pleased. He gave me a big hug after his friends left.

Happy birthday, Markus!!! It was fun, wasn’t it?

.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

AirCare - something to care about

I did something for the first time yesterday. I brought my car in for emissions inspection.

Here in BC, we have to do this every year before we can renew the vehicle registration. Mine was expiring this week so I had to go for this test with enough lead time for repairs and reinspection in case it fails the first time.

I was so anxious. Nobody likes to fail the AirCare test. No one wants the possibility of failing a second time or getting his or her vehicle grounded.

Malcolm of Honda told me two months ago that all I needed to do prior to the test was to drive for 30 minutes and to keep the engine running at the lineup.

Yesterday, I decided to go to the AirCare Centre in Langley. At the entrance, the sign read “Wait Time: 11 minutes”. There were three lanes and a few vehicles at the lineup. I made sure I kept my engine running. I kept my prayers running as well. “Oh, God, you know I can’t afford not to have a car. I have kids to take to school and I need it to go to work…”

The AirCare Centre looked like a big garage with several testing gadgets. When it was my turn, a big guy signalled me to drive in and park at the first of three stops. Big Guy looked through my window.

“Please pull up your emergency brake,” he said.

“Which one is that?” I asked. When he pointed to the hand brake, I felt so stupid.

“Open your gas cap, please,” he continued. I got this one.

The inspection started and after I had paid $23, I was told to drive forward to the second stop a few feet ahead where Medium Guy was waiting. He attached a huge hose to the muffler (oh, I got this one too..) He told me to step out of the car, and he hopped in to do his stuff. I went to the washroom to do my own stuff as the tension mounted.

When I came out, I saw a computer monitor in front of the car displaying some readings, which I didn’t understand. Medium Guy went out and motioned me to get into my car.

“It’s good, huh?” he smiled at me.

“Did my car pass?” I asked.

“Drive forward and I’ll give you the results,” Medium Guy said.

I drove to the third stop. Just before handing me the print out, he asked, “What country you from?” He was East Indian, an immigrant like me. Most of the attendants were.

I smiled, unsure if I should tell him where I came from in case Big Guy had told him about me. Small Lady doesn't know her emergency brake. Not a good reflection on my home country.

Coyly, I said, “Philippines.”

He flashed a big smile and told me my car passed.

I was deliriously happy, so delirious I screamed insided my car as I was driving away.

“I PASSED AIRCARE!!! WOO-HOO!! THANK YOU LORD!!!”

I was glad nobody was around to watch or hear me. And even if there was, who cares? My car passed. I have another year to drive my trusty Honda Accord. For now, that is all that matters.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Back to school

Finally, I’m home by myself. It is so quiet in the house, ohh, what bliss! All the kids are in school. I took two days off to help ease everyone back to routine and clean up the summer’s mess. Yep, more cleaning and fixing up to do!! Never ends.

The kids seem pretty excited to go back to school in their new runners and backpacks and packed lunches in brown bags. The teens are upbeat about their new subjects and new school for Gino. Me, I am just upbeat.

Early this morning, I started preparing their hotdog sandwiches. The boys were up and about unusually early too.

“OK, guys, what do you want on your hotdog? Ketchup? Mustard? Mayonnaise?” I asked. No one likes relish.

“Ketchup only,” Gabriel and Markus chimed. “Mom, who puts mayo on hotdogs?”

“Some people do it. Like me,” I replied. I don’t understand why they find that strange. I find them finicky. They won’t eat hotdogs without a hotdog bun. Me, I can eat it with rice, with nothing, or with mayonnaise.

“I want mustard and ketchup,” said Gino. He wanted two sandwiches.

“Ketchup only, no mustard,” said Mickey. Just one sandwich.

“Do you want fruits?” I offered. “Orange? Apple?”

“Both,” for Gino.

“Any,” for Mickey.

Yogurt for Markus and Gabriel. Disposable teaspoon. Iced tea for drinks. Bottled water each for Gino and Mickey.

I kept a mental list of their “orders”, and prepared indvidual bags with their names on. Whew, I could work as a waitress!

We had ample time to relax before driving off. This schoolyear, I plan to change my morning routine, prepare lunches the night before and leave earlier. Gino is now going to UBC, so it’s one less person to drag out of bed.

I am going to enjoy the next few hours with nobody whining, bickering, interrupting my work or correcting my English! My belated holiday!

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Not so sleepless in Seattle

I have just come back from an overnight in Seattle. I decided to go with my sister and bro-in-law at the last minute and brought Gabriel and Markus along. I wanted to see family and eat lechon at my other bro-in-law’s birthday celebration. My mother was happily surprised to see us.

This trip was a good respite from my busy schedule, and the last summer outing before school starts. I was able to sleep a lot on the trip because I wasn’t driving this time. I slept quite a bit at my mother’s apartment too, and at my sister’s place three storeys below. It was so relaxing not to worry about cooking and cleaning and grocery shopping. I went out twice, only to visit a thriftshop and Uajimaya (a Japanese supermarket), which were both within walking distance.

Downtown Seattle is not as clean as Vancouver but it has its unique character that makes it very interesting. I enjoy Pike Market, Seattle Center, Pioneer Square, Westlake Mall, Waterfront and Ross department store.

Whenever I am at my mother's seventh-floor apartment, I like looking out the window and watching the lights and the large clock at the Union Station. I also see Safeco and Qwest fields where major league baseball and football are played, respectively. I wish I could actually see the Mariners play, but only if they were sure to win.

Seattle is the main reason we are here in BC and not in Ontario or Prince Edward Island. It is our home in the US. Gino and Mickey spent their summer vacations there until last year. Those were precious times spent with their grandparents and rehashing their Tagalog.

We love Seattle if only because my parents settled there and we have many wonderful memories in this city with my beloved late father and together as a clan. I hope the rest of my side of the family can join us in Seattle someday. Just like old times in the Philippines.


Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Sayonara, Hayato!


My family enjoys having homestays who come to Canada from Japan or Korea to learn English. We’ve been doing it since last year. It’s always been a very pleasant experience for us. This is why they leave us feeling bad, which is how we feel right now about Hayato.

On Monday, Hayato, our 16-year-old Japanese homestay, left for his home country. He stayed with us for a mere 12 days, but he blended quite well with the family. My boys hit it off with him quickly. They played and laughed a lot. Hayato loved playing the guitar too, sometimes jamming with Mickey till late at night. We were able to go together to the pool, the mall, the beach, the church and the park at the US border. Mickey took him to downtown Vancouver, English Bay and Metrotown mall.

Having a homestay really means extra work for me – driving, preparing lunches, cooking and maintaining the house in order.  But it pays off in terms of the cultural exchange that transpires between our guest and our family. I find it very enriching.  It is quite delightful to see his progress in speaking in English within the short time that he is here. My boys are also better behaved around our guest. That’s a bonus!

Hayato, like Jong Heon and Yo Hei, is now part of our growing global family. It’s a privilege to be part of these boys' Canadian memories.





.


Saturday, August 27, 2005

A pleasant surprise

“Mom, am I an accident?” Markus, sounding disturbed, asked me one day. “Kuya Gabriel said I was an accident.”

“No, you are not an accident,” I assured him. “God does not make accidents. You are a surprise. A pleasant surprise…” I didn't like to use the word "unplanned". Three of them were.

Markus seemed unconvinced. “Didn’t you always want to have a girl? Then why did  you have girl names for Kuya Gino?”

And for Mickey, and for Gabriel and for him. There were Sophia, Riana, Galadriel (yes, from LOTR), Mayumi, Kimmi…

“That’s because everyone guessed I’d be having a girl,” I said. Even my OB-gyne thought so in all my four pregnancies until I had an ultrasound. With Gino and Mickey, having an ultrasound was not yet routine at St. Luke’s Hospital. There was that element of surprise. When I got pregnant with Gabriel, she said it was something I needed to have on whatever month. New hospital policy. So I knew their gender beforehand.

“I had beautiful pregnancies,” I sort of boasted. OK, I boasted. And exaggerated.

Many people think that if you get uglier—darker neck, swollen nose, bloated face, etc--during pregnancy, it's a boy. The statement "You're having a boy" is loaded with a subtle insult about your appearance. To be told the opposite is therefore a compliment.

I was starting to reminisce and to conjure up images of my “beautiful pregnancies” when Markus interjected, “That’s nowhere near the truth, Mom.”

He has a nice way of bursting my bubble. The pictures in my head quickly dissipated. Then he gave his own idea of how to tell a baby’s gender, and it sounded as absurd  as those you hear from adults.

I have four boys and am very content. I might have wanted a daughter at some point in my child-bearing years, but today I wouldn't wish it. I don't believe in accidents. Believe me, Markus. You aren't one.

And neither are your brothers.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Tough questions

“I don’t get it, Mom,” Markus told me as he stood by my bedroom door. “What’s the point of living if you’re only going to waste it by dying?”

Tough question for a 9-year-old. Tough for many adults, too.

I believe I wondered about this myself when I was in Grade 4. I can say exactly where I was and what I was doing when it hit me. I was walking along the corridor of the U.P. Elementary School when I was suddenly gripped by this mind-boggling question.

Like Markus, I didn't get it either. It didn’t make sense to me.

So here I was, trying to answer a complex question in a language Markus could appreciate. He sat at the bedside and we had a little discourse.

“You know, God made us to live for Him and to enjoy Him forever...” We talked about heaven and hell and how faith in Christ made the difference for the two thieves who were crucified alongside Jesus. Markus had a few more questions; I didn't pass up this opportunity for a simplified theological discussion. No, not when I had a captive audience.

My prayer is that none of my boys will waste his life on all sorts of vices and godless pursuits. I hope they realize you don’t have to die to waste it.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Balbon

Ever since Gabriel and Markus noticed the hair on my lower arm, they’ve been teasing me about it. I’ve seen more hairy women, called balbon in the Philippines, and back in my country, it was viewed as an asset among females. That was the impression I got from people. I’m not sure if times have changed and being balbon is now something to be ashamed of. Or maybe I got it wrong.

My sons are just exaggerating this “hairy arm” thing. The fact that they noticed only recently means it is not very obvious.

“Mom, why don’t you shave your arms?” Gabriel asked one afternoon while we were watching TV in the living room.

“No, shaving makes the hair tough.  Women wax,” Mickey butted in from the dining table.

“So, Mom, why don’t you wax your arm?” Gabriel continued.

“I don’t like to wax my arm. I like my arm,” I replied.

Markus hatched a plan. “Kuya Gabriel, let’s wax Mom’s arm while she is sleeping.” Then turning to me, he said, “Come on, Mom, we’ll do your moustache too.”

“I don’t have a moustache!” I protested.

Ahh, these kids need to go back to school quick before they notice my eyebrows. And I better hide my gel épilatoire.



Friday, August 19, 2005

You gotta do what you gotta do

Summer break is almost over. I am quite pleased with what I have accomplished around the house within the last two months. I got a few things fixed and improved. What a difference these have made in our home life. It’s so nice to have things working properly! These have given me a greater sense of ownership of our home as I look at the fruit of my blood, sweat and cheers.

I am not a handywoman. I WASn’t, but that is changing now. I'm beginning to do things I would've easily hired someone else to do had I been in the Philippines. I’m also trying to get my boys interested in fixing things because of the steep cost of labour here.

Last weekend, I had a long curtain rod from Ikea installed in the living room. I did the measurements and the markings, Gino drilled the pilot holes, and Mickey plugged the anchors and screwed the brackets into them. It sounds simple, but for us amateurs, this was quite stressful. The rod is not perfectly straight, but hey, who’s to complain?

Mickey once mentioned to me something about him not having the genes of a handyman, that he was not interested in these kind of things. I replied, "Was I born a handywoman? I do things because I have to." I try to learn. I read up or ask around.

Do I enjoy painting the walls? Do I enjoy hammering? I would rather sing in the shower than caulk it. I would rather play ping pong, take long walks, or spend a week in the Bahamas (if I had the moolah). But to fix the toilet??? I don’t even want to clean it. But you gotta do what you gotta do. Even if it makes you want to barf.

Markus told me recently, “Mom, do you know what my plans are for the future? I'm gonna get a good job, one that requires you to be very smart. Then I'm gonna give you half of my salary so you can keep this house and buy new things.”

Thank you, Markus. That is really very smart of you. However, when you do get lots of money, can you just buy Mom a new house, one that's not gonna require me to be very handy? Or you can just send me off to the Bahamas.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Lost in translation

I was deboning fresh salmon prior to baking it when Gabriel came and asked permission to feel the fish. I said OK, and he immediately washed his hands. As he was doing this, I said, “Just don't lamutak the fish.” The English term escaped me. (To my non-Tagalog speaking readers, this is pronounced la-mu-tak, not lay-moo-tahk.)

With some hand motions, I tried to show him what lamutak meant to make sure he got it.

I turned away briefly, and when I looked back, Gabriel was doing exactly what I told him not to do.

“No, no, no!” I exclaimed. “That’s lamutak! That’s lamutak!”

Gabriel took a flake of fish and left the kitchen. A few minutes later, he came back to return what looked like a small fish ball.

“No,” I said. “Don’t put that back. That’s already lamutak.”

How frustrating it was to be groping for the right word. It was not even close to the tip of my tongue. I asked Gabriel what lamutak might be in English.

“Squish?” he asked.

“Yeah,” but squish sounds a little lame. It’s probably closer to “mash”—with an attitude.

Gabriel learned one Tagalog word today, and I learned that if I wanted to say “mash” and evoke a sense of grossness, lamutak says it better. Save the finesse for later.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Kimchi on my mind

Jong Heon went home to Korea last Thursday. Three weeks went by so quickly. We miss him already. After work, I drove by his ESL school and felt a tinge of sadness that my homestay was already on a flight back to the “land of the morning calm”. Will he miss our home of the morning commotion?

I hope he has good memories with my family – our wandering the streets of Vancouver when we got lost and found our way to English Bay for a fireworks exhibition, our picnic at a park along the Fraser River, our trip to Victoria, his playful wrestling with Gabriel and Markus, and many hours of playing video games with the boys.

The past three weeks have somewhat changed our food preferences. My boys now like very spicy ramen and kimchi. I used to be the only one who ate kimchi in the family. And whenever I made sushi, I had to leave out wasabe. Now that’s okay too. I have also learned to add chili sauce to most dishes-—stews, soups and even our very own pancit and tocino. Jong Heon loved this “sweet pork”. I didn't know it could be that spicy good.

Bye, Jong Heon. I hope you had a pleasant experience here in Canada and our very multicultural society. You can always come back to our home. Kimchi will be ready for you.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

4 reasons why you’re the “best” Mom

For my birthday last week, Gabriel made me a nifty full-colour illustrated card that was both sweet and teasing. Inside, there were four quadrants, each one containing a reason why he thought I was the “best” mom:

You’re good at saving money …stop shopping at “VV”
You’re very “smart” (“Is there rice anymore?”)
You’re a handywoman.
You’re my Mom.

Then he drew a floor with a paint can, paint stains, a screwdriver, falling hair(!), and a crumpled Value Village receipt in an Ikea trash can. There was also a spider weaving a web at one corner.

On the opposite page, he listed his favourite Mom’s quotable quotes, including my blunders in the English language that give us a good laugh. Without meaning to, I sometimes say garbled sentences and use wrong grammar or senseless words that Gabriel and his brothers find very amusing. They don’t let me get away with it.

This birthday card is now tucked on my wall beside other handmade greetings my boys have given me this year. To me, they are far nicer than Hallmark cards. Nothing but the “best” for Mom.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Car care – when ignorance isn’t bliss

I know very little about cars, but because I drive one I decided this year that I should learn about car maintenance. A friend gave some helpful tips and suggested that I read the manual.

“I’m not the manual kind of person,” I replied. Even so, I searched for it in the glove compartment then read it through.

I retained very little though. And some important things aren’t even written there. For example, the manual does not tell you how to use the air pump at the gas station. The first time I had a soft tire, I used the pump at the gas station and totally deflated my tire within seconds. Fortunately, a kindhearted hunk assisted me. What a pleasure! I mean, his kindness not his hunk-ness.

And have you ever seen anyone overfill his gas tank? Again, the manual doesn’t say that if the gas spout makes a noise, it means FULL. The driver on the other pump had to tell me, “Your gas is overflowing” because I wasn’t looking. I kept pressing the lever waiting for the $ counter to reach my prepaid amount of $30. Why should it stop at $27?

I didn’t particularly enjoy lifting the hood, and even today, I don’t always get it right on the first try. The engine intimidated me, but I had to learn how to add coolant, motor oil and wiper fluid. I have not gotten around to the brake fluid.

Don’t open the radiator cap while the radiator is hot or steam can burn your face. …Make sure you have wiper fluid in case mud splatters on your windshield and blocks your view. …Make sure you have enough motor oil. Use the dipstick to check the level.…

I have added these fluids a few times. For checking the motor oil, I even used the dipstick.

Last Saturday, I was taking my boys and our Korean guest for a picnic at Cultus Lake. Ever the cautious driver, I went on the Internet to get directions. 90 kilometres from Vancouver. Quite a ways off. I checked my tires and checked my oil. Hmm, I think it’s time to refill the motor oil. After doing this, we headed to the nearest gas station to get enough gas. Just then, I glanced at my rear view mirror, and to my horror, my car was emitting so much smoke. I had never seen that happen to my car or to any car here for that matter. I immediately stopped at a parkway and called BCAA for roadside assistance.

“Hello,” I said, “there’s a lot of smoke coming out of that thing at the back of my car.”

“Do you mean the muffler?” the person on the other line asked.

“Is that the muffler? Yeah, the muffler,” I said. Ladies, at least know the basic car parts.

In a few minutes, a BCAA serviceman came and I told him what I had done before leaving the house that morning.

“You poured four litres of oil? You poured too much.” He then showed me two dots at the end of the dipstick that tell you the minimum and maximum levels for motor oil. I never knew about that. So what was I looking at every time I used the dipstick? Your guess is as good as mine.

The BCAA man suggested that I have my oil drained and refilled to the right level. Fortunately, Budget Brake and Muffler was just across the street. I drove the car, belching smoke like crazy, to that shop.

As soon as I approached the man at the front desk, he said, “I can tell just by looking at your car that you blew up your engine gasket.” He said I should not drive the car at all or I might destroy my engine completely, and that his shop couldn’t do anything for it.

“Are you hearing me?” he asked when I stared at him blankly. I thought I just poured too much motor oil. Now he was telling me about gasket and engine and hundreds, even thousands of dollars for repair and replacement. My goodness, he had not even checked inside my car. I thought he was very snooty.

I called BCAA again to have my car towed to Honda along Fraser Highway. At least there, I have a regular customer service person, Malcolm, who attends to me and my car very well.

I sent my kids home, which was just around the corner, with our picnic food. “Mom, that’s why you shouldn’t be putting motor oil. The last time you did that, we had another problem,” Mickey said.

“I should have helped you, Mom,” Gabriel said. He was supposed to be my “oil assistant” that morning but he was busy with other things. Markus did it previously. I try to involve them in car maintenance so they will not grow up as ignorant about cars as I am.

At the Honda shop, Malcolm was very accommodating unlike that guy from Budget Brake and Muffler. However, it would not be until after lunch when my regular mechanic could see my car. I asked to be driven home by Honda service. On the way, I recounted what just happened to my car to Terry, the Honda driver.

“Oh, at least you poured it in the right hole. Otherwise that would have been disastrous. Are you sure you did not use vegetable oil?” he teased me. He gave me very useful car care tips to avoid costly mistakes.

“Why do they sell motor oil in 4-litre containers if you’re not supposed to pour it all?” I complained.

During the next two hours, I nervously waited for a call from Malcolm. Oh God, I hope it’s not the gasket nor the engine. Just please make it be the least expensive trouble.

True enough, the problem was too much oil which was drained and replaced. I had other things checked and serviced too. Honda even washed my dusty car.

I would love to have a brand new or slightly used car in the future. My boys each have a favourite – a convertible for Gino, a VW beetle for Mickey, Hummer! for Gabriel, and vintage!! for Markus.

Me, I just want something that won’t give me a headache!!!

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Project accomplished

My weeklong vacation is almost over. It seems short, but I was able to accomplish what I set out to do. I painted the washroom! Yes, I did it. Good job, lerryblossoms.

It took me four days to complete the job. Day 1 – cleaned the walls and ceiling with TSP, sanded old paint that was peeling off, applied primer/sealant. Day 2 – painted the washroom ceiling and did the kitchen ceiling too. Day 3 – painted the walls mocha. Day 4 - retouched uneven sections, cleaned smudges, cleaned work area and put everything back in place.

Gabriel and Markus were very eager to help. “I want to paint! I want to paint!” They argued about who’d go first. I let them have the first shot at the ceiling so they would stop badgering me. They were so excited to do it for the first 2 minutes. “Ahh, this is hard,” they both said then left me in peace shortly after.

Markus returned later to help with the walls. “Oh, I made two smudges. I’m so bad at this, Mom,” Markus commented after accidentally painting over the white border.

“That’s okay, Markus. We are not painters. We will make mistakes. I’ll just wipe it up,” I said.

Encouraged, he went about painting merrily and after he was done, the two small smudges had turned into two metres of mocha paint on the white trim. No way I could wipe that up. I would have to repaint it white.

“Mom, you should put tape on this,” he said, referring to the edges.

People, there’s a reason for the painter’s tape. I was trying to cut corners by not using it and ended up messing up the trim. “Yeah. Thanks for pointing that out,” I replied.

My project is done and I’m quite pleased. Our downstairs washroom walls are now coloured mocha. Quite bold. “Scary,” Gabriel said. I like it. I think it is very no-nonsense and gives the message, “Whatever you do here, do it quick.” Just right for a busy area.

With this washroom finished, I will start thinking of the upstairs one. That will be my sanctuary. It is roomy and has a tub. I will paint it something light and comforting. “Turn it into a private tub, Mom, so you can relax for once,” Markus suggested. “Put some candles,” he added.

Ahh, there’s nothing like a warm bubble bath after a hard day’s work.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Sunday, July 31, 2005

Feel at home

"I feel sorry for our homestay," Mickey told me yesterday morning. "I know lots of families who have homestays and they have big houses and nice cars."

We have neither. Our old townhouse, though spacious for our family, is smaller than the monstrous homes so common here. I drive a 1991 Honda Accord that has no airconditioning and lacks a visor on the passenger side. When our guest arrived, we had a plumbing problem that got fixed only a week later. (LHB, I was charged only $40/hour.)

Mickey was right in a sense. We are not the ideal homestay host family.

"Well, you know, what is more important is how you treat them. These kids are homesick. They need a caring family more than a big house and a nice car. That is what they will remember more," I said.

I could say that from experience. My first job at the University of the Philippines took me travelling a lot to very depressed areas in the countryside where I did not know anybody and where there were no motels or inns. I had to rely on total strangers to take me in, always through referrals. I sometimes travelled with a team and often by myself. I knew what it meant to be lonely in a strange place where I did not speak the language.

My host families were mostly simple rural folks who lived in very humble homes. I experienced staying in places where there was no running water, electricity, bed, or a normal toilet. But these people had big hearts and treated me like a VIP. It was very humbling because, really, I was a nobody from the big city. But with everything they had, they gave me a haven.

On the other hand, I have been in large, beautiful homes, with a place for everything and everything in its place. It was like stepping onto a page of Metropolitan Home. Or the set of Martha Stewart's TV show. And yet, I felt very uneasy. My movements were calculated. I couldn't wait to be out of the door.

My homestay seems quite comfortable in our house now. He interacts with the family and lingers in the living room. He slurps his food with gusto, which is a compliment to the cook (that's me), and his bedroom is beginning to look like my sons'. He must be feeling at home.

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Out of the mouth of Gabe

Awakened by my murmuring, Gabriel leaned on my arm as I was praying beside him in bed early one morning. I thought he had gone back to sleep as his eyes remained closed.

After I said “Amen” he looked up to me and said, “Mom, I realized something while you were praying.”

I sat up straight, eager to hear something profound “out of the mouth of babes”. An epiphany.

“And what was that?” I asked.

“I realized you have hairy arms.”

So much for profound and so much for epiphany. It was nonetheless out of the mouth of babes.

Leave it to children to say the most candid things at the most unexpected time.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Pie for thought

A mother’s love is not like a pie that you can cut up so each child gets a slice. Each child gets the whole pie! Now don’t ask me how this works. It’s just how it is and I believe I’m speaking for most moms.

However, even if I love my boys with the same deep level of affection and high level of commitment, I treat them differently. One size doesn’t fit all.

It sounds ironic but I think it is unfair to treat all your children the same. (Of course, children won't understand it this way.) They have different ages, personalities, needs, likes, dislikes, talents, gifts, idiosyncracies. They are different people. I have to adjust accordingly. Yes, we have certain house rules and family values that go for everyone, but beyond that, I have to give room for everyone’s individual quirks.

This can be very challenging and a lot of work. I have to keep abreast with what’s going on in everyone’s life and continually connect with them individually. It’s no easy task considering that they are in a constant state of change inside and out. I admit I don’t have it all figured out. It’s hard to keep up.

Some people, upon knowing I have four boys, give me the look that says, “How in the world do you live with that?” Some actually ask it. Recently I had someone tell me, “Hats off to you.” Others have told me “Congratulations.” To me they all sounded like “Good luck.”

I do not count on luck. Every morning I ask God’s favour on my children and pray for each one by name. I ask for wisdom and strength and every other ingredient that will go into my pie for the day. Then I go about baking it.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Spring cleaning in the summer

I have a 16-year-old male Korean homestay. He arrived today and will be at our house for three weeks as he goes to school to learn English. We are all very excited.

Yesterday, someone called me if I would be available to take in 2 boys, aged 16 and 13. “Sure!” I said. I immediately headed to Wal-Mart after work and bought lots of stuff – convenience foods, toiletries, towels, a set of linens… I didn’t forget to get air fresheners for the house and for the car. I wanted to have all the bases (and muggy smells) covered.

Driving home, I realized I was having two guests and 4 boys of my own, and the house was a mess. What was I thinking?? I almost had a panic attack. Yeah, I think I did.

Just then, my mobile phone rang. It was the program coordinator telling me that another family was getting the 13-year-old, and was I fine with that? Oh, that’s fine. Thank You, God!!! You saved me again.

Even before I arrived home, I had mentally listed a hundred things to do to prepare the house for our homestay. I needed to make a good impression so I will be given another one in the future. As soon as I arrived at around 6 pm., I lost no time idling and began a major clean-up. Dinner was oven-ready pizza. I had to concentrate on spring cleaning in the middle of summer.

The guest would be staying in Gabriel and Markus’s bedroom, I had to turn it updside down. You wouldn’t believe the stuff and junk that were hiding under the bed. So that’s where their socks went. By the time I finished at around 10 pm, I was dead tired and still not done.

I moved on to the shower downstairs. I had been planning to change its ugly caulking during my weeklong vacation in August. I planned to re-paint its walls and ceiling as well. But now the caulking at least must be changed. I worked on this till midnight. Yikes! Folks, don’t let your shower walls accumulate stains and mildew. Clean that grout! I tell you. I used a caulking strip so it was just a matter of peeling and sticking. Last week, when I worked on the tub upstairs, I chose to use the caulking tube with a caulking gun. That was harder to do but had a nicer finish.

Not half-done with my chores, I decided to stay home today and do more cleaning. I started early with my tons of laundry, and cleaned the toilets till they were squeaky clean. Next, I cleaned the window sills with mineral spirits for the upstairs washroom, and with diluted bleach for the downstairs one. Why I had to do it differently, I don’t know. I just know I had a terrible headache inhaling the fumes. I know, I know. Bleach is bad. Between the two chemicals, mineral spirits seemed to do the job better. And it even gave me a high.

Then I scrubbed all the vinyl floors in the washrooms and kitchen. My knees hurt from kneeling, reminding me of the days I waxed our floors in the Philippines. Then I did another round of vacuuming. My head was already spinning. I had not eaten breakfast and it was past 10 am. In fact, I had not even prepared it.“Guys, just eat cereals.”

Our guest was arriving at 1 pm and I was still not done by 11:30. I looked awful. Smelled likewise. I was getting cranky too. I snapped at Gabriel and Markus a few times especially when they walked into the kitchen with outdoor shoes after I had just scrubbed the floor.

“Sorry for screaming at you,” I later told Gabriel as I was folding clothes in the basement. “I was tired and pressured, but there’s no excuse.”

After all my work was done, I soaked in the tub. I swear, it is much better to clean regularly than to wait for spring.

Our homestay arrived two hours late. I had freshened up by then and had taken a nap. I was baking choco chip cookies when he came with an entourage.

This is going to be a fun three weeks. 21 days! They say if you do something for 21 days straight, it will become a habit. For sure, I will be cleaning daily for the next three weeks. Let’s see if it works.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Rolling!

I became a movie extra last Thursday. Yes! Me, Gabriel and Markus. We will be in the final scene of Dr. Dolittle 3. We made it to Hollywood!

The scenes were filmed at the Cloverdale rodeo. Actors rode horses and "tackled" calves. We, the extras, filled the grandstand. Many came complete with cowboy hats. Because it was advertised in the local papers, there were hundreds of us.

Filming was pretty boring. From where I sat I could not even recognize any of the actors in the arena. My friends said LeVar Burton (Kunta Kinte in the movie Roots and also the blind guy in Star Trek) and a popular young actress were there. Eddie Murphy wasn’t. I read somewhere that he was not going to be in this straight-to-video movie at all.

What was more exciting were the giveaways and raffle prizes. Lots of cheap cameras, T-shirts, tote bags, DVDs, etc. were thrown to the crowd in between shoots. This made the crowd go wild. DVD players and mp3 players were raffled off. The top prize was a trip for four to Disneyland. I was already imagining which son to leave behind. (Just kidding, you guys. Of course I'd take you all.)

Someone with a megaphone directed the crowd. He told us when to cheer, boo, gasp, laugh or be absolutely quiet. It was amusing to do these things on cue. “Good job,” the director always said afterwards. I think everyone cheered better when it was freebie time. I so wanted that tote bag. I jump up, waved, screamed… Freebies surely excited me more than the camera.

Whenever the cameras were about to roll, someone shouted “Rolling!” A few others echoed it to make sure everyone kept quiet. I thought they said, “Lights; camera, action!”

We did not win any raffle prize nor did we get a tote bag, but we got all the others including free refreshments, and a chance to be in a Hollywood movie. Watch out for Dr. Dolittle 3.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

The nut that drove me nuts

This is a story about a stupid toilet seat.

When we moved to our own townhouse two years ago, I felt very repulsed by the knowledge that others have sat on our toilet for years and years. I cleaned it very well with disinfectant stuff, but some old stains on the toilet seat wouldn’t go away. I had always planned to get a new seat but only got around to doing so a week ago. Since Gino was looking to earn some money for the summer, I delegated the installation to him as part of the deal.

Gino successfully removed the right hinge of the old seat but got stuck with the left. The thick plastic nut that secured the metal rod was so encrusted, it wouldn’t budge. Rust must have accumulated inside and around it for more than three decades. I guess it was the original seat installed when the townhouse was constructed.

I checked the left hinge myself and vainly tried to loosen the connecting rod and nut with lots of lube oil then used a pair of pliers, then a flat nose, a utility knife, a wrench. Nothing worked.

Because of the bowl’s position, it was very difficult to work on its left side. It was too close to the wall. I usually found myself cheek-to-cheek with the bowl whenever I had to peek under it. It was becoming a pain in the you-know-where.

For days, I worked on the nut and the rod that secured the seat. I became almost obsessive. I worked on it late at night, early in the morning, and times in between. The despicable nut was driving me nuts!

It had become a challenge. I can do this. I will not give up. This thing will give before I do. My hands hurt from the pressure of using the pliers everyday. It was the only thing I could hold down there. After many unsuccessful attempts, I began to entertain changing the toilet bowl itself to get rid of the stubborn seat.

A bright idea dawned on me when I saw Gino drilling his leather belt one night. The nut was plastic, therefore, it could be drilled. Yes! I was sure a series of holes would weaken it enough, and then it could be pried open or torn apart.

Gino got the idea. He began to work on it the next day. However, with drill in hand, body contorted, and powdery rust falling beneath the seat, it was hard for him to stay in that position for a long time. He had to work in increments till the following day.

Finally, Gino called me at work one afternoon. He had successfully pulled that thing out. We were ecstatic. Congratulations! Celebrate! And let me add, Answered prayer! It sounds ridiculous, but I did send several distress signals to heaven in desperation. God pleaase help….

I was so relieved when the hinge was finally loosened. Gone was the constipated feeling of frustration. This toilet now has a nice, padded seat. Great comfort for you-know-when.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Spelling Be

“Mom, how do you spell alcohol?” Markus asked while running down the stairs to where I lounged on the couch after dinner.

“A-l-c-o-h-o-l,” I answered.

“No,” he disagreed then showed me a tiny piece of paper where he had written “alchohol”.

“Oh, there’s no h after c,” I said.

“Yes, there is,” he replied.

“Then that would sound like “al-tsho-hol.”

“No, some words don’t sound like that,” he said referring to the ch sound.

“Yeah, but not alcohol.”

“Oh crap! I lost $15 to Kuya Gabriel.”

“Why do you bet on spelling? Why do you even bet?” I asked.

“Well, anyway, I’m still better in spelling other words like ‘giraffe’ and ‘insanitary',” Markus went on.

“It’s ‘unsanitary',” I corrected him. After a couple of tries, he finally had it right then ran back to his room where he was probably having a spelling contest with his brother.

Markus takes pride in the fact that he was able to spell “nuisance” correctly, whereas, none in Gabriel’s grade 6 class got it right. He and Gabriel still repeat this story to me.

Keep working on your spelling, Markus. Strive for e-x-c-e-l-l-e-n-c-e.

And work on your vocabulary, too.

Friday, June 24, 2005

All that gas

One morning, as soon as I got in the car, with all the boys already inside, a waft of foul odor filled the air, and everyone started fainting. OK, I’m kidding. But we definitely held our breaths in hopes that whatever it was would go away fast.

“Eaww!” everyone howled in between bursts of laughter. We quickly rolled down our windows.

Mickey, seated beside me, was very amused. That was a clear giveaway.

There was certainly hydrogen sulfide in there. Sulfur is always the culprit.

While we were still gasping for oxygen, Mickey popped(!) the question, “Do you ever smell your own fart?... I like to know my own product.”

“They all smell the same,” I said, chuckling.

“No,” I heard opposing voices. “It depends on what you ate.”

“Oh yeah,” I agreed. Some go unnoticed, some are just horrid.

“How come you like your own stink but not others’?” Mickey asked.

Beats me. On and on went the lively discussion around a stinking topic.

Just before I dropped off Gabriel and Markus at Lena Shaw, another malodorous breeze left us squirming.

“That is worse than crap!” Markus yelled.

Gas – whatever is the reason for its being? Aside from being a normal function of our digestive system, I think it serves to remind us that we are just as human as the next person. It does not respect anyone.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Thoughts from the driver's seat

I drive my four boys to their respective schools every morning. I drop off Gabriel and Markus at Lena Shaw Elementary then Gino and Mickey near Johnston Heights Secondary. I try to haul everyone to the car by 8:05, but 9 out of 10, we leave at least five minutes later.

By the time we leave the house, I have probably reached half my stress level for the day. There are days when I wonder if I should just find a carpool for the younger ones and let the teens take the bus. Then I could bide my time, fix my hair better, put on a little more make-up. And eat a decent breakfast.

So why do I keep driving my boys to school? Weighing the pros and cons, I still think these car rides with my kids are worth the trouble. I savour their company even if there are some occasions when I lose it and spout the oft-repeated line, “Will you guys please cooperate? I can’t afford to lose my job!!”

But most days, we spend some 10 minutes together chattering about whatever – music, school, religion, politics, money, history, girls, inanities… We’ve had some funny times and sour times, but I consider each one a bonding time. It may not look like it today, but when these boys grow old, they, like me, will have some good memories from these daily rides together.

Classes at Johnston Heights ended last week, Lena Shaw has until June 28. After that, they will be off school for about two months and I will be driving by myself in the morning. Gino has graduated from high school so he will no longer ride with us when school opens in September.

I know it’s only a matter of years when all my kids will be out of high school and driving on their own, so for me these rides to school are very precious. They are not just car rides. They are riding through life together.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Petcetera

"Mom, can we get another hamster?" Markus pleaded. "I have learned my lesson. I won't put any more duct tape on it."

Poor hamster. You can just imagine how it was as Markus peeled the tape off.

I love pets. But for now, they are a no-no in our house. For me, they are a potential aggravation and additional burden to my already overworked body. Unless my boys commit to take full responsibility for the proper care of these creatures, beyond Markus's promise never to use duct tape on them again, I will not even consider it.

The cost of maintaining pets is another consideration. It is like having another child without the tax exemption and monthly government subsidy. Once you have a pet, you are looking at food costs, vet costs, insurance costs, and so many other hidden costs. Lassie, time to take you to the groomer for your pedicure, er, paw-dicure.

Ever since we set foot on Canada, we have had a dog (a cross between a rottweiler and a bulldog), rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters, and cockatiels at different times but for the same reason -- we thought we were ready for pets. Whenever having pets had ceased to be fun, especially for me, we gave each one away except for the guinea pigs that killed each other. The dog was gone in two weeks, the cockatiels lasted several months. We gave a rabbit to the SPCA and 7 baby hamsters to a petshop. All for free. No, we had to pay SPCA to take in the rabbit, and in turn, we were scolded for not taking further care of it. Only Gabriel's hamster was lucky enough to die of old age.

I find it hard to appreciate rodents. They remind me of rats and mice that we mercilessly killed in the Philippines, poisoned or trapped with fly paper. This is why I cannot understand why petshops here sell mice for $3 a piece. Or why people buy them. Markus wants one. I refuse to give in. There will be no mouse in our house especially if I have to shell out $30 for a cage and other amenities to give it a comfortable life. Oh rats!

I would probably like to have a nice dog in the future on the following conditions:

it is free;
it has been neutered and given shots;
my boys will commit to taking it out every day -- winter, spring, summer and fall;
does not shed constantly,
does not bark persistently,
can eat leftover food
does not attack people
does not chew on shoes
is toilet trained.

By the looks of it, I'm not going to have a dog for a very long time.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

What I Got for Mother's Day

I got Mother's Day coupons, two each from Gabriel and Markus, a few days ago. From Gabriel, I got a coupon for one free hug and another for washing the dishes. Likewise, Markus gave me a coupon for one free hug and another for vacuuming.

Claiming the hugs was easy. The chores were a different story.

"Mom, it has expired," Gabriel said, referring to the dishwashing coupon.

"What?? It's not even Mother's Day. Expired already?"

At least he cooked breakfast yesterday as advanced Mother's Day gift. Sunny-side-up eggs and pancakes rolled like sausages.

Asked about the vacuuming, Markus replied, "Mom, that's good only for one day. You want to use it when the house is very dirty. I've seen it dirtier," Markus said.

Oh, okay. I hate to see the house dirtier but I guess you can help make that happen with very little effort.

Encouraged by Gabriel's cooking, Markus also fried eggs this morning.

"So Markus, how about the vacuuming?" I asked again.

"Oh, I really meant cooking but I accidentally put vacuuming and it expired May 7. So how do you spell vacuuming, Mom? Is it with two U's?"

"Yup."

"Good."

He got the spelling, all right, but apparently that was not what he meant.

Aww shucks. I wasn't told these coupons could be revoked or altered without notice--and they had expiry dates!

Nevertheless, in addition to two cuddly stuffed toys which they bought with my money, and a lunch out at The Pantry, this lovely message from Markus's handmade card made my Mother's Day:

"Happy mothers day! Thank you for everything. Here are ten reasons why you are the best mom.

1. you help us with our homework
2. you cook delicious foods
3. your very kind.
4. you make cookies alot
5. you help me when I'm hurt
6. your very funny
7. your very smart
8. your always happy
9. you buy us toys
10. your always there for us

Thank you Markus, your a wonderful son. And thanks Mickey for paying half our lunch bill at The Pantry. And thanks Gabriel and Gino for sharing the fun.

Friday, May 06, 2005


Me - the blogger mother

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Fath

I was busily typing on the computer when Gabriel and Markus came up running, one after the other, to my room. By the sound of it, they had another squabble.

“Mom, Markus called me fat,” Gabriel complained.

“No, I didn’t,” Markus was defensive.

Gabriel didn’t look like he was joking, but I almost laughed.

“You are not fat,” I brushed aside his moaning. Because if you were so, I’d be grossly obese. I continued working, but the two just wouldn’t leave me alone.

“Mom,” Gabriel went on. “He called me fat with an h. FATH! That means dumb.”

I paused for a moment and turned to Markus. “Markus…” I said, in a firm tone that says you-cannot-get-away-with-that.

Just then Gabriel broke into a naughty smile and said, “Mom, fath is not even a word.” Then he and Markus started laughing, and poking fun at me.

Grr! They got me again with some nonexistent word. Perhaps for the third or fourth time. Hey, you two, don't you take me for a fath!

Monday, May 02, 2005

Sneeze it

Markus woke up today with puffy, reddish eyes that made his face look swollen. He had a cold, but to make sure it wasn't something else, I drove him to the clinic. On the way, he asked me, “Mom, can you make yourself sneeze at any time?”

“No,” I replied.

“Well, I can,” he said. “I just roll up paper and stick it up my nose,” which was what he was doing with a piece of Kleenex that I gave him.

“Oh, yeah. Didn’t I teach you that?” I remembered.

“No. I’ve been doing that.”

“I taught you that,” I insisted.

“No. What time did you teach me that?” Markus was very sure he learned it all by himself. And to prove his point, he was even going to establish a timeline.

“So what time did you teach me, Mom?” he asked again. “I learned it at 7.”

Who remembers the time she teaches someone how to trigger a sneeze with rolled up paper? But I had no doubt I taught him that a few months ago when his nose was all stuffy. (Ok, I didn't learn this from Dr. Spock.)

“I think it was 3 months ago,” I said, certain it was much earlier than 7 a.m.

“Mom, I learned it at 7. That was more than 2 years ago!!”

Oh, he beat me to it. I conceded.

To sort of redeem myself, I added, “Just don’t stick anything else in your nose.”

“So I can’t stick lead?”

“No, just paper.”

“And my finger.”

“Eww, that’s gross, Markus. Don’t do that in front of other people. It's dirty.”

After a short silence, Markus continued, “Why do people say Hachoo or Hatsing? You can just say Hackkhh…”

"Well, people like to do it differently." I know someone who says Whiiissskey.

Then he genuinely sneezed and spewed fluids on the dashboard.

“Yikes, Markus!!!” I need to teach him to cover his mouth while sneezing. Looks like he didn't learn this at 7.

Friday, April 29, 2005


Gino's graduating in June. Time flies!

All in the Family

I'm so delighted that my kids are into music. It's a gift and in their genes. Not a day passes when I don’t hear someone playing on the keyboard or strumming the guitar. Often there’s singing too. My kids aren’t virtuosos but neither did they have substantial one-on-one tutoring except for the initial lessons I gave them. We basically take the same learning route—determination and self-study.

Gino had some experience with the school band, where he learned to play the flute and sax, but he wasn’t taught to read notes. He has become quite adept on the keyboard on his own. He tries to follow the music sheet then ad libs. He also plays the guitar and lately has been wanting to learn the violin. (I do too!)

Mickey, a leftie, has become a dedicated right-hand guitar player. I never thought this would work until a friend suggested it. Now he and some friends are planning to put up an amateur band. He sings popular Pinoy songs made famous by bands like Rivermaya, Eraserhead and Bamboo, and solo artists like Nyoy Volante and Paolo Santos. This makes for good practice on his Tagalog.

Mick finally bought his own Fender Stratocaster electric guitar last Saturday. Light turquoise blue, according to Markus. Mick put a downpayment on it out of his savings from his part-time job at Swiss Chalet. I would imagine that when he gets tired of loading dirty dishes into those huge dishwashers or mopping the floor, the thought of Long and McQuade repossessing his guitar can be highly motivating. That's a good time to sing, HOY! Pinoy akoooh. Buo aking loob ko..., in his head.

Gabriel has his own guitar too, a three-fourth sized classical guitar I gave him on his last birthday. For a long time, he played Jingle Bells and Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, both classics, until Christmas went by and he got tired of the nursery rhyme. So I taught him two contemporary Christian songs with more difficult chords like G and F minor. His strumming has improved.

Markus hasn't shown a keen interest in music but he seems to like guitar pics. He looked very cute on the drums though while pounding away or tapping his sticks. I thought he and Gabriel had a lot of fun on the electric drums complete with headphones. Whoever invented electric drums with headphones should be highly commended. That’s my kind of drum! Eardrum-friendly. Quieter than my chopping board.

Still at Long and McQuade, Mickey’s light turquoise blue guitar got my nod out of all the ones hanging on the wall. I fell in love with the colour, and the price was reasonable. Plus it’s Fender Stratoscaster. But what clinched it for me was when the sales rep asked Mickey about his type of music.

“Rock,” Mickey replied.

“Oh, then this blue one will make less noise…” and he went on to explain why while pointing to some features on the guitar neck.

All I heard was less noise and I immediately said, “Yes, that’s it! That’s the one.”

With his guitar signed out (on my Visa), Mick was quite elated. “I will take care of this like a car. Now, I don’t need to have a girlfriend. Woo-hoo!.”

But he still needs that headphone.

Friday, April 15, 2005


Hey, Mickey you're so fine...

Mom Unmasked

When I was single, my friends thought I was a very patient lady. Someone even wrote me a note saying exactly just that. “I can’t imagine you getting angry,” “You never complain,” “You have a quiet and gentle spirit,” they would say. I almost believed them—then I had children.

Motherhood brings out a side of you that you never thought you had. Some call it mean streak. Others call it dark side. I call it everything-ugly-in-me-I-have-thus-far-suppressed-or-denied.

Motherhood tests your patience to the limit, even way over it. It causes temporary insanity as surely as it brings permanent weight gain. It unmasks you, and usually it’s the part of you that sucks. Show me a regular Mom that has never yelled at her regular child at any point in time, and I promise to stop regularly watching Desperate Housewives.

I recall an incident when Gino and Mickey were about 7 and 6. Their squabbling turned into screaming. I tried to keep my cool for as long as I could, which was about one long minute. Finally, I hollered, “WILL YOU TWO STOP SCREAMIIINNNNG?!!!” Practice what you preach, you crazy woman, I heard a voice in my head. Today I hear it still.

To mothers with young kids, don’t fret. Time is on your side. Your kids are growing, and, hopefully, you are.

Friday, April 08, 2005

No Less Feminist

I was attending an art exhibit at the University of the Philippines, my beloved Alma Mater, when I bumped into a U.P. Fine Arts alumna. We introduced ourselves and then she asked me what I was doing. At that time, I had just resigned from my job at the University after a good 10 years and opted to stay home with my two young kids. It was also about this time when I finished my masteral studies except for the comprehensive exams I needed to pass in order to graduate.

Upon hearing this, she smugly remarked, “You should go back to work. I’m a feminist.”

I was taken aback by her statement. I just met her and now she was telling me what to do? The gall! I simply walked away.

As I thought about it, I didn’t see how my decision to stay at home should offend a professing feminist. What did she mean? Was I betraying the cause of women by leaving the workforce?

I wanted to stay home to bring up my boys into responsible men. I wanted to equip them with skills so they can fend for themselves and not equate Mom or wife with maidservant. I wanted them to develop values that will guide them through adulthood, values such as love, faith, respect, integrity, and hard work, and help make this world a better place for everyone—women included. And especially women.

Imagine if I, with God’s help, am able to instill these values in my boys—all four of them now—how many girls or ladies in their sphere of influence will enjoy the benefits?

I stayed home fulltime for about 8 years while my kids were growing up and I have no regrets. I’d still do it if I did not need an income. My brain did not rot during all those years. I did not throw away my education. In fact, those were the years I developed other interests and skills that better equipped me for my present job.

By staying home and being a hands-on Mom, I may have done more service to your cause, my feminist sisters, than if I had carried a feminist placard and marched in feminist rallies.

Gabriel and Mom

Mom and Markus

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Food Samples

I do my major grocery shopping once a week, usually on the weekend. My favourite supermarkets are T&T Supermarket, Hen-Long (both Chinese), Canadian Superstore, and for selected items, Save-On-Foods. I am just beginning to appreciate Costco that opened a new outlet beside my office. Very convenient and very huge, with lots of food samples!

Although I know from experience that it is hardly a good idea to bring kids to my shopping sorties, I habitually invite one or two to come with me to the supermarket. Occasionally they oblige if they expect to get a special item of their choice like a choco bar or some munchies. I spend a bit more when someone tags along but this is one of the occasions I let it slide. It’s still worth the extra time we get to spend together as long as we agree beforehand on what they can ask for and for how much.

Food is great for bonding. Boys love to eat, so it’s always fun to go shopping where there are free food samples. “Come on, guys! Let’s have some tasting food!” I once said in my brainless English to entice Gabriel and Markus to come with me to T&T. “Mom, you mean food samples.” They still tease me about this. Let’s have some tasting food.

One day, while driving to Langley with Gino, Gabriel, Markus to check out a thriftsore, I suddenly felt hungry but it was a bit early for lunch. I had a bright (and thrifty) idea. "Let’s pass by Costco and have some food samples before going to Value Village." The plan was to grab some KFC afterwards. I quickly made a detour.

As we walked past the electronics section, I strained to look for food sample stands until I saw one from a distance.

“Food sample!” I pointed towards the deli section. “Okay, okay, don’t get too excited, boys. Act naturally,” I said as I paced hurriedly, leading the pack.

“Mom, you’re the only one excited.” Gino remarked.

The boys and I sampled each and every item offered. They themselves got very excited, I thought they looked like they had not eaten breakfast.

Costco certainly knows the benefits of having these samples. I ended up buying their products. Wheat tortilla? A big bag of apples?

Moral of the story: Never go shopping with a hungry stomach and free food samples.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Bad Hair Days

I've been cutting my kids' hair for seven years now, or for as long as we've been in Canada. At $7 - $10 per haircut, that’s a lot of savings for my family of boys. Had I known it'd be costly to get a haircut here in BC, I would've learned haircutting before migrating from the Philippines.

Being a very practical person, and a bit of a tightwad, I determined I would learn to cut my sons’ hair on the job. Initially, my older kids had some doubts and resistance so I gave them a fairly attractive offer for the first few cuts: I would pay them $5 if they let me cut their hair. The bribe would still cost me less than going to the barbershop. I’m not sure if I kept the offer, but I kept the haircutting.

The first time I cut Gino’s hair here, I had no haircutting scissors. I used the kitchen shears. With no experience and no proper tool, I struggled to get a decent cut, and ended up creating terraces. It was very eye-catching.

Through the years, my sons have had some really attractive heads. People would ask them in a funny tone, “Who cut your hair?” The stay-at-home cut.

I can well remember a haircut I gave Mickey that he described as the “jungle look”. “Mom, I have stripes and spots…” The wildlife cut.

My haircutting sessions with my kids often provide comic relief to our mundane lives. Every haircut is a surprise. Their photos in the last seven years bear proof of the many hairstyles they have had to live with and laugh about. This also gave them a lesson or two on optimism. Don't worry, hair grows back.

Over time, I became slightly better with the scissors and the clipper. I even learned to dye their hair--upon Gino and Mickey's insistence--sometimes, a lighter shade of brown, or blondish. Often in streaks and patches.

I have such fussy “clients”. My kids always ask me to cut their hair a certain way, never like their brothers’. “Mom, I don’t like mushroom cut.” “Mom, cut only the back and the sides. Keep the top.” “Mom, I want to be able to spike it.” Mom, this and Mom, that. I try to do as they ask, but in the end, it's come-what-may.

Yesterday, I cut Gabriel’s hair. “Mom, can you make it even this time?” That's the one question everyone asks.

Gino and Mickey have grown their hair and can now go to the salon for more sophisticated hairstyles, IF they have the money. Gabriel is eager to do the same some day. Markus couldn’t care less as long as I do it quickly. (“Mom, that's enough. My hair is never even anyway.”)

Years from now, my sons will look at their childhood pictures and say, “Mom did this haircut.” Good or bad.