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.