First Father’s Day without Dad

The title probably isn’t accurate. I’m sure there were times when Chipi and I didn’t get to spend Father’s Day with our dad because he or we were away. It is the first time, however, for us to experience Father’s Day since his passing.

There’s a Christian song with a line that goes “He’s a Father to the fatherless…” and it’s a real tearjerker at Sunday worship, but it has always given me a pause. It’s such a simple phrase, but the depths it plumbs! When I think about it – the importance of having a father – it staggers me. Even now at 44, I need my dad, and it makes me feel immensely lost that he’s not around anymore, that I now number among the “fatherless.”

I hope that that statement doesn’t come across as offensive to those who’d become fatherless before I did, especially to those who have always been fatherless. I’m not saying that I had it better and that it’s miserable to join their ranks. What I want to say is that there’s no doubt that having the presence of a good father in one’s life is a priceless blessing, and to lose that presence could really turn one’s world upside down.

My thoughts and emotions seesaw in grieving for my father. While noting his absence fills me with agony, my mind is always quick to remind me, “But you were blessed with a father for 44 years. That’s a relatively long time. He was there for your most important milestones… And you will see him again… And he’s where he wants to be now.” And that’s how I comfort myself when I verge on wallowing in pain. That has been my key to slipping back to a semblance of normal life as I knew it.

Nonetheless, it has come to a point where my sister and I have to knuckle down and settle Dad’s affairs. It’s an incredibly tall task. As difficult as it is to deal with his estate, his pension, his social security, etc., minding his personal possessions is even more daunting. You see, my dad is a collector.

He’s not a hoarder, but some people would probably be inclined to use the term loosely with him. He never threw out his small collection of cassette tapes. The same is true for the small hoard of DVDs he had organized in a shoe box. Almost all of his ID cards from the ’70s (the decade he married my mom and started living in Marikina) to the present are neatly stashed in a drawer. Marveling at his office, we have to remind ourselves that this trove of personal collections had already been significantly diminished by the great Ondoy flood of 2009.

However, just because he had a huge bundle of mostly non-working refillable pens doesn’t mean that he had an obsessive compulsion to acquire and hold on to things. For starters, Dad would be the last person to buy anything non-essential. He never had the latest of anything, and unless whatever he was using was already falling apart, he wouldn’t think to replace it. I remember posting about it on Facebook a couple of months before he passed away. I normally didn’t post about Dad because he wouldn’t have seen it anyway. He had a few accounts that other people made for him (mainly because he kept on forgetting his password) but he never actually engaged in social media. Anyway, this is what I said:

 

In any case, Dad seemed to live by the tenets of the Great Depression. Use it up. Wear it out. Make do. Do without. It was a little depressing having to grow up with this way of thinking, but since hindsight is 20/20, I can now say that it really made things more interesting. It was character building if anything.

That’s not to say that he didn’t appreciate material things; he just never coveted. This realization clicked when my husband told me that when he and Dad were in the ER, waiting for Dad to be admitted (this wouldn’t happen until early evening of the following day), Dad told him that his secret to avoiding sin was not wishing for what he didn’t have. By that time, he had already mastered the science and art of contentment.

This was something that I couldn’t understand growing up and I later simply put down to being a quirk of his. I remember going around the high-end shoe stores at Caesar’s Palace with him as we waited to meet up with friends. I watched him enjoy himself as he picked up and admired different shoes. I knew he could afford them if he really wanted them, but he would gently put every shoe back. “Aren’t you going to buy anything?” I asked. He replied, “I can admire without wanting.” I just huffed in answer because I hated window shopping and was bored. The man just never bought anything he didn’t deem necessary.

His heart didn’t lust after “stuff,” but whatever he did have, he used and reused until it begged for mercy and then recycled or repurposed. He also gave a lot of things away. You wouldn’t think it, spotting all the vintage items in his office, but he usually gave away things that were still new. If something lasted with him, it was because he continued to have a use for it or he imagined that he would have a use for it farther down the road. So, essentially, my point is that my dad wasn’t a hoarder despite all the seemingly random collections.

Now that Dad is gone, I’m glad that he had this habit of storing and filing. The filing system he used only made sense to him though, of course, but I was happy that I could be certain that whatever I needed to find would be among his things because he hardly threw anything away. While I was going through the folders in his home office, I came across this:

This is a clipping of an article I had sent to the editorial section of the Philippine Daily Inquirer. I don’t remember if I timed sending it so that it could get published around his birthday (November 14th). I mean, I couldn’t be certain that it would pass muster in the first place (Youngblood was relatively new back then) or that it would be published within weeks of being reviewed, but that’s how things unfolded. My article was approved for publication and was published a day before Dad’s birthday. I went with a semi-pseudonym for my byline, retaining my then family name and using P.K., a known acronym among Protestant children, which stands for “pastor’s kid.”

Of course I originally had my own copy. I kept a portfolio of my published work in a clear book, but I had left it in my room at my parents’ house and when Ondoy struck, it was just one of the many sentimentally valuable items my family lost. I was devastated, but what else could I do but shrug and adopt a c’est la vie attitude?

Anyway, I was hoping Dad would still have a copy of the article, but because of Ondoy, I wasn’t really expecting to find one. That’s why I was ecstatic to come across it in one of his folders. I had to take a moment to stop my sorting and sob my heart out. I took it home with me, of course, and immediately got busy with the laminator. Now that I think about it, I should also get busy with the copier and the scanner, but I’ll likely put that off indefinitely – well, hopefully before I end up being sorry for procrastinating yet again.

In my first fatherless Father’s Day, I’d like to take the time to indulge myself further in remembering my dad and being grateful for the privilege of growing up under his care and correction as well as for the many beautiful moments I had with him.

I would also like to take the opportunity to express my appreciation for the fathers that are still in my life, starting with my husband Mark. He really rose to the occasion when my side of the family needed him.

I would like to thank Dad’s brother, Uncle Philip, for being our rock during that immensely arduous time. He and his wife, Auntie Nerie, were always there to comfort and support us as we struggled through that unexpected upheaval in our lives.

Our other uncles, my mom’s brother (Tito Vic) and brothers-in-law (Tito Edo and Tito Adan), with our aunts also consistently extended their care and support all the way from the other side of the globe.

Chipi and I are indeed very fortunate to still have good fathers in our family even if we’ve lost Daddy.

I’m learning to go on without Dad’s physical presence as my anchor and compass, but all those years of his influence are not for naught. His Christ-centered example and teachings will remain at the core of my being and continue to guide me as I navigate my own way to the finish line.

This Father’s Day is bittersweet, but I’m keeping my eye on the blessing. I’ve been crying, but I can also feel joy. I know my father is happy in heaven with his Father.

Life Lessons from Our Brush with COVID-19

My mother finally got to come home after almost a month of hospitalization. Their household is now COVID-free with everybody having already tested negative. The virus may be gone, but the havoc it wreaked still lingers. My father is now physically gone from us, and Mom has a long road to full recovery yet.

Less tangible than the physical effects of the sickness is the trauma of going through that nightmare. I’m not going to detail what trials and hardships we bore because, at the end of the day, we were more fortunate than others. Dad and Mom were both admitted in hospitals whereas multitudes expired while waiting to be seen at the ER, any ER.

My heart just aches for what’s happening in our country right now and for those who are in the thick of suffering through it. The mental and emotional anguish I feel is so immense that I can’t even get political about it. Last year, I was always ready with a rant to express my displeasure at the poor response of the government to the pandemic, but now I just don’t have the heart for it.

That doesn’t mean that my mind hasn’t been constantly grinding. It has been working overtime even if I hadn’t been voicing my thoughts out. Some of them are futile anyway – unprofitable what-ifs, pointless bargains, and other useless musings. In my grief-clouded brain, however, I still managed to glean realizations that helped me understand life better and appreciate the important lessons that this painful season of my life is teaching me. Here are some of them.

Important Lessons from COVID

1. It can happen to you, so make sure your soul is at the ready with peace like a river, joy like a fountain, etc.

Nobody is spared from bad things happening to them – cancer, accidents, and now COVID. Whatever happened to God’s protection, right? I used to take it personally when something unfortunate happened in my life, never fully acknowledging the thought, but still knowing in the back of my mind that I was feeling like God didn’t love or like me enough to spare me from one form of misery or another.

I’ve been taught all my life that being a Christian doesn’t spare one from suffering, that the difference was in the way God makes peace, comfort, hope, and even joy possible in the direst of circumstances, but, see, I didn’t really want spiritual fitness; what I wanted was to have a charmed life. I was in for a rude awakening because nobody is immune from adversity.

I may not have been very welcoming of this teaching, but when the rubber hit the road, it was one that I clung to. When the greatest tribulation we’ve ever faced as a family was unleashed upon us, the pain was so great, the details so plentiful, the challenges so overwhelming that I had no choice but to retreat to God for refuge to avail myself of the peace that passes understanding (Side note: As a kid listening to Kid’s Praise, I thought the song said “I’ve got the pizza pasta understanding down in my heart.”).

So, the takeaway is that we will all face affliction, and we will have to deal with all the unpleasant emotions and disquieting thoughts it comes with. That’s why it’s best to have God to turn to for our hiding place. (Side note: Remember that song? I loved singing it when I was a kid because we sang it as a round song. Did you too?)

And during trying times, let’s trouble ourselves to observe keenly that God is using them to grow us in our knowledge of Him and to make them work together with everything else in our lives for our good.

2. Never take anything other than God’s goodness and faithfulness for granted.

Our tendency is to make assumptions, educated and otherwise, but you’re pretty much setting yourself up for a downfall when you take anything as granted. They say that change is the only constant in this world, but we can count on God to be unchanging. His goodness and faithfulness are more reliable than the constancy of change.

In any case, everything in this world is temporal, even those things that they say last forever. Our time here is fleeting. In the post-Eden world, nothing endures, and, yet, we behave as though reality as we know it is indestructible.

Hearing my dad’s recorded sermons from last year’s ECQ made me realize that I took it for granted that I would always be hearing his words. They’re so familiar and ever-present to me that I didn’t always properly appreciate them. I’d heard them my whole life and I assumed that I would be hearing them throughout my days.

I used to be amused by Daddy’s standard lines like “That’s the world” (he obviously had a very poor opinion of the world) or “I’ll always choose Jesus” (he loved Jesus the best and nobody, not even his family, could persuade him to compromise his adherence to God’s principles). He uttered them ad infinitum and I must shamefully confess to having mildly made fun of them, but I experienced such profound sadness to realize that I wouldn’t be hearing them again from him. I was foolish to take the presence of Dad and his sermons in my life for granted.

My daughter Marguerite has a similar regret. She has a propensity for asking deep, existential questions at bedtime. Since my intelligence steadily declines from 9pm onwards, I find that I’m rarely equal to these discussions. I urged her to talk to Grampa about it, and she said she would, but when Grampa asked her what her questions were, she was so busy with all the things that occupied her attention during the daytime that she said she didn’t have any at that moment. Marguerite sadly took that opportunity for granted. She thought she had all the time in the world to ask her questions.

It’s also never wise to make assumptions because even the most logical ones can have the rug pulled out from under them. For instance, we assumed that Mom would get the Philhealth benefits for critical pneumonia since her pneumonia was undoubtedly critical. However, I was absolutely floored to learn that her pneumonia was only classified as severe. Her lungs had lost 80% of their function when she was brought to the ER. Her O2 level was at 70%. She was gray and her lips were turning blue. She had to undergo four rounds of hemoperfusion and stay at the ICU for almost a month. She was dying, and her case couldn’t be classified as critical? Unfortunately, the doctor said that his hands were tied. Philhealth had issued very specific guidelines on classification. If the patient hadn’t undergone renal replacement therapy or extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, then she couldn’t be given a critical classification. That’s hogwash!

We were furious but too exhausted to make a fuss. At any rate, a world system may have failed us, but God, of course, could be counted on to be our ever present help in time of need. Despite the more than Php400k difference between our expected bill and the actual bill, God made sure that we had sufficient funds to settle Mom’s bill.

Universal truths, ancient standards, natural laws… they can all go berserk and bail on you, but you can always depend on God to be steadfast and unchanging in who He is.

3. It’s good to have advance directives in place.

Here’s a very practical lesson. It’s a good idea to determine now if you want to be resuscitated, intubated, or even hospitalized on the occasion that you fall critically ill. My dad signed a “do not intubate” order. The doctor assured me that he was lucid when he made the choice, but since he had been having hypoxic (brain was not getting enough oxygen) episodes, I couldn’t be sure that he had made that decision rationally.

I’ve accepted that God had set that time for Dad to go home to heaven, but I’m afraid that, at the time, I had to do everything in my power to ensure that Dad would be given every chance to survive, so I made my case that he hadn’t been himself since he got sick and tried to override his DNI order.

In the end, it was too late. By the time I got to the hospital and suited up in PPE, Dad had lost a pulse and they were already trying to resuscitate him. I was able to revoke the DNI order, but it was all just too late. Since it was a legal matter and the question of ethics figured into the whole thing, it took some time before my request was granted.

At least I was able to be there in Dad’s last moments. Standing right outside the door trying to stay out of the nurses and doctors’ way, I repeatedly called out to him that I was there and that I loved him. This study says that patients already in an unresponsive state may still be able to hear, and I certainly wish it’s true. COVID deaths are often lonely, but I managed to be present at his end of life, and I was allowed to say my goodbyes and thanks. I just hope that Dad was aware of it.

God’s control will always prevail, but it’s important to have these directives in place so that medical professionals and family members can be certain of carrying out the patient’s wishes. Loved ones will be able to avoid arguments as well as the agonizing burden of making such crucial choices.

4. Community is vital.

I’m not the warmest or friendliest person out there. I’m ridiculously introverted and often prefer my own company, but I like to think that the connections I’ve made are meaningful and lasting. My parents, on the other hand, are well-loved by many, and, by default, this sentiment is also extended to me. The gift of belonging to such a caring community has been made apparent to me in the past month.

Our close relatives have, of course, been very helpful, supportive, and generous. We have been blessed by aunts, uncles, and cousins of faith, who have been our rock to lean on during this incredibly difficult time.

Our church has been extremely wonderful as well. More than ever, I truly appreciate that we’re a smaller and more intimate gathering of believers. We have a personal connection with every member, and the sense of family is incredibly strong.

Our congregation has been consistent in their prayer and in their active help. When we said that we were bringing, first, Dad, and then, a few days later, Mom, to the hospital, several members were there along with me calling hospital ERs to find a place that would admit my parents, a seemingly impossible task at that time. When we said that Mom needed oxygen, they started calling different places to see where we could source it. They didn’t just give us numbers and told us to try calling possible places. They themselves made the calls to spare us the trouble.

When Mom and Dad were in the hospital; my sister and cousins were stuck home with symptoms of COVID as well; I was restricted by having to stay home with small children who were not allowed out, considering the suddenly much bigger threat of infection; and our two family members who could go out and take care of the multitude of details that needed to be dealt with were incredibly busy and exhausted, church friends constantly volunteered to run errands for us.

Additionally, our friends from different areas of our lives have been very generous and caring, sending everything from encouraging words and assurance of prayers to food and money. We really felt loved and cared for. Belonging to a kind and warmhearted community made a world of difference in our ordeal.

5. Until the war against COVID is over, don’t let your guard down.

What’s happening in the country right now is a result of many of us letting our guards down. I sense there’s another factor involved. The surge in infection is just too insane for all of it to be put down to people not being careful enough. Nonetheless, if people behaved as though the virus was still at large – which it definitely still is, festering and mutating like a villainous entity in a horror movie – perhaps the disease wouldn’t have been in the wild rampage it has been on in the past month or so.

In war, you do not relax your defenses as long as the threat is still out there. This is a good time to be overcautious. It may make you look uncool, as though you’re fear-mongering, but that uncool over-caution actually makes a lot of sense in this strange time and may very well be just the thing to save you.

If there’s anything the reality show Survivor taught us, it’s that you’ll fall spectacularly when you get cocky. The past weeks show us that we definitely shouldn’t get cocky with the coronavirus.

6. Jesus is your omnipresent friend.

Encounters with COVID-19 are suffused with loneliness. Can you appreciate how vile this virus is? Not only can it ravage your body, but it can also separate you from the loving warmth of your family, leaving you more vulnerable to its ill effects.

When my dad was admitted, the hospital said that COVID patients may have a companion, but the companion would have to be in isolation with the patient. Without a companion, a CCTV would be installed in Dad’s room so he could be better monitored. Considering our situation, we had no choice but to leave him companionless.

Dad didn’t like cell phones so he didn’t have one, but his room had a landline so we could talk to him. During our calls, he never expressed that he was lonely. He said that he was bored, and even though he had a TV in his room, he preferred to work, so he asked for his laptop. Mark brought it to the hospital, but I don’t think Dad got to use it. I wished that he had a companion, but, based on his behavior, Dad hadn’t felt alone. Even as he suffered from pneumonia, he remained calm. That’s the thing about him; he was always aware of God’s presence and always mindful of God’s control over any situation.

My mom, who had such a long and traumatic stay at the ICU, also says that it was God’s presence that comforted her and sustained her during that harrowing time. Meanwhile, my sister, who was alone and self-isolating at home, had to grieve all by herself while also sick with COVID symptoms. It was definitely a blessing that she could draw strength, courage, and peace from God.

Through all this, it has been made even clearer to us how wonderful it is to have faith and to enjoy the privileges of having a relationship with Jesus. We may not be able to dodge heartaches and hardships while we’re in this imperfect world, but having Jesus in our lives means that we have a perfect, ever-present friend at anytime and anywhere.

Your Own Thoughts?

I’m sure other realizations will occur to me as I continue to ruminate, but for now, these are what I’ve gathered and wanted to share with you. What about you? What has this pandemic taught you? I certainly hope that the lesson hasn’t been painful for you, and that you and your loved ones are all well.

Whatever you learned in the past year, I’d like the chance to ponder on them, so please feel free to share any relevant food for thought in the comments. Take care and stay safe! God bless!

Goodbye for Now, Daddy

Have I told you about my father? In my eyes, no man could be more remarkable. By the standards of the world, he didn’t really do anything astonishingly extraordinary. He didn’t achieve the wealth, clout, and acclaim that people of renown have, but in his relatively small sphere of influence, he had touched, inspired, guided, and changed so many lives.

My dad, Pastor Papa

He was a pastor. He was affiliated with the Assemblies of God, but he preferred that our church be independent. He had been district superintendent and presbyter of two regions for many years. That experience led him to the decision that our church didn’t need the burden and bother of politics that big ecclesiastical organizations usually bear.

Since becoming a Christian more than fifty years ago, he had dedicated himself to serving the Lord. Shortly after his salvation, it became clear to him that he was called to ministry, and since being ordained, he had worked tirelessly to pastor the flock/s God had given him.

My dad was also an accountant, and, for years while my sister and I were growing up, he also worked in sales. An honest, principled man in sales didn’t usually spell success, but clients knew Dad to be trustworthy, so many decided that they’d rather deal with somebody ethical than be wooed by the razzmatazz of flashier sales reps.

He excelled in that work and was consistently promoted. While he had steadily been accessing the higher rungs of the corporate ladder, his deadline for himself came up and he left his job to concentrate on ministry.

That happened when I was in high school. Suddenly, our income was much lower. It was scary, worrisome, and inconvenient for my bratty teenage self, but in retrospect, I’m glad now for the experience since I was able to see over on over again both Dad’s faith at work and God’s unfailing goodness to us. If I ever find myself doubting God’s existence, I only need to look back on my life and the faith that I witnessed from my Dad to see evidence, but, thankfully, I’ve personally proven for myself time and again that God is real and almighty.

My dad’s testimony is incredibly powerful. How God took him from incredibly humble, nay, dismal beginnings and lifted him up is always a source of amazement for me. Dad was born right after the war. His father was the 20-year-old spoiled youngest child and, by that time, only son of a well-to-do family while his mother was a 15-year-old poor but beautiful girl. My scoundrel of a grandfather gave my incredibly young grandmother two more children before abandoning them. My dad was then seven years old. When he was ten years old, my grandmother sat him down and told him, “You are now the man of the family,” and with such words did she heap that mountain of a responsibility on the frail shoulders of a sickly little boy.

Make no mistake, that poor and weak boy rose to the challenge, working at a young age and helping take care of his younger siblings. He toiled while attending public school, all the while maintaining a friendship with his rich cousins who all went to exclusive schools. It was a childhood fraught with hardship and humility, and when he graduated from high school, not only did his mother tell him that he couldn’t go to college, but that she actually got him a job as a janitor at the very university where most of his classmates were going to study.

Despite his circumstances, he strove hard to get a college education. While he couldn’t afford to send himself to school, he frequently visited the library and tried to educate himself by reading. He eventually moved on from custodial work to clerical work. After four years, he was finally able to enroll with a union scholarship.

Around this time, he attended a church camp in Baguio and accepted Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior. He had grown up in the Protestant faith. Their mother had raised them on God’s Word and involved them in church work, but it was at this point when he truly became born again. There was no turning back after that.

He started college, taking up commerce and accountancy. Of course he was a working student; he had been working nonstop since he was a child. He met my mother at this time. Both of them were members of their campus’s Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship, wherein Dad served as president.

Dad finally got his degree and, having perceived his calling for ministry, immediately enrolled in Bible School. Again, he got in as a working student. Again, he did custodial work while his classmates’ studies were funded by foreign missions. The sad and ironic reality is that most of these mission scholars ended up pursuing other careers instead of ministry. Meanwhile, my dad, who didn’t enjoy their privilege, spent the rest of his life serving the Lord.

Like I said, it amounted to about 50 years in active ministry. Besides being a pastor, he spent time in missions to barrios in Mindoro and other remote places. He also taught Church History at the same Bible college he attended. He even co-hosted a Christian radio program for a time in the ’90s. He was invited to preach in churches abroad. Wherever he went, he was always spreading the Gospel. He would strike up conversations with cab drivers, sales clerks, street vendors – virtually anybody who had the fortune of spending even a little bit of time with him – and tell them about Jesus Christ.

While I was growing up, I found that a little embarrassing. There were many things about Dad that I resented while I was a kid. He had an easygoing demeanor but he was steadfast, absolutely unbending when it came to his spiritual convictions. Because of my immaturity, I often couldn’t understand his rationale and decisions. For instance, his mother is an American and she moved to the US while he was in college. We could have followed and become US citizens as well, but he chose for us to stay here. Apparently, it was God’s plan for him to minister here. As far as Dad was concerned, God’s will for our lives would always prevail. Suffice it to say, I wasn’t often happy with God’s will for us while I was in the thick of living it.

Chip, Dad, and I in Las Vegas

As a father, Dad wasn’t perfect, but there’s no doubt that he was a good one. He wasn’t a sweet person, but that’s not to say he was cold. He just wasn’t sentimental or demonstrative. He was away a lot, but he always made sure that we spent quality time with him. He had a sense of humor, but he was also incredibly corny. He was dependable and responsible. My sister and I always knew that we could count on him. Despite our disagreements, we never doubted his love for us.

Dad was borderline ascetic. He never cared about material things, and that was sooooo hard for us, growing up exposed to this world’s ideals. He really tried to get us to set our eyes and heart on heaven and not on this earth. It might seem that he had failed at that, but if you scrutinize my weirdness, there’s a vein of asceticism there.

You could not sway him from his values and principles. His faith defined him and explained his actions and decisions. He was conservative, but was also an independent thinker. He was just so against the grain that it was often difficult for us since we had to deal with the usual growing pains and the natural desire to fit in. We were so non-mainstream growing up that my sister and I eventually learned to embrace our alternativeness, rather than perpetually despair that we couldn’t be like everybody else.

That was a process, of course. Dad and I were often at odds with one another, but as I matured, I began to appreciate his positions more and more. That’s why my first ever published article was about him. It was back in the ’90s. I submitted it to be published in the Youngblood column of the Philippine Daily Inquirer’s editorial section. It was titled “My Father’s Disciple” and it talked about how I transitioned from rebel to follower in my relationship with Dad.

Dad walked me down the aisle, and then he officiated my wedding.

Dad was a pastor, a father, a husband, a grandfather, a son, and a brother, but there were other nuances to him. He wrote poetry and songs. He sang and enjoyed music. He dabbled in drawing. He ran marathons. He was an avid reader. He loved watching the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia, and other cycling races. He loved parades with “mosiko” (marching band). He liked watching sporting events, but didn’t believe in competition. He loved Omakase’s salmon donburi. He could slo-mo the perfect lay-up form, but never had a ball in his hand or a basketball ring in the vicinity while doing it. He could make believable trumpet sounds with his mouth. He enjoyed the music of John Denver and Kenny Rogers. As a boy, he was an avid fan of Erap the actor, but never even considered voting for Erap the politician for the presidency.

My dad was giving and helpful. People always sought him out for advice and financial aid. He gave us a role model for charity, which means that my sister and I got to witness innumerable times his active caring for the needy. The image of him helping a man who was seemingly having a seizure on the ground right outside the grocery store entrance is forever branded in my mind. The man’s toddler sat crying next to him. When we happened upon this scene, the crowd just milled around the father and son, watching. Nobody was doing anything to help. My dad immediately went to kneel next to the man to attend to him and his little boy. Before long, he was feeding the man and his son at the Chinese restaurant next to the supermarket. The man had collapsed due to hunger. They had come here from the province, intending to stay with a relative they unfortunately hadn’t been able to find. Dad intently listened to the man’s troubles and ended up giving him the funds and supplies for him and his boy to be able to return to the province. That man was able to visit Dad several times in the years after to repeatedly express his thanks.

Marguerite’s dedication – performed by Grampa

Marguerite’s water baptism, also performed by Grampa

In his ministry, Dad was able to touch and make a difference in many people’s lives. We’ve had recently released ex-convicts come straight to the house from the penitentiary because they had become believers while in prison and their pastor had given them Dad’s name and contact information. No one was ever turned away. All of them were warmly welcomed and given the assistance they asked for.

Sawyer with Grampa

Cameron with Grampa

Dad was passionate about righteousness and holiness. Many pastors choose to focus on God’s love and blessings, which are topics that are naturally more appealing to listeners, but while Dad spoke about them as well, he made sure that we never forgot the part where we also accepted Jesus Christ as our Lord, not just our Savior. He wanted us to understand that we should be living lives that are pleasing to the Lord.

There’s so much more to say about Dad, but I wanted to time this post so it would coincide with his cremation today. There will be no wake or interment as per DOH’s protocol regarding COVID-19 deaths.

That’s right. Daddy passed away due to the coronavirus. We initially thought he was having a restroke. We never expected his illness to be COVID-related. He issued a DNI order. He knew God was in control, and if God meant for him to stay, he would allow a miracle, but Dad was ready to go. He had of course been ready for the past half century and he had had a few serious health issues throughout the years, including a stroke in 2016, but this time, I think he was anxious to go. He had experienced healing and miracles many times over. He was 74 years old, and I think he wanted to rest.

Up to the Sunday before he was brought to the hospital, he was standing at the pulpit, preaching God’s Word. He didn’t know he had COVID. The issue was with his blood pressure. He was weak and unwell, but he had pledged to serve God, and as long as he was able to, there was no question that he would. What dedication. What service. His life is an inspiration to us who have a desire to effectively witness to our faith.

I will edit and post anew as I see fit because, although it would be impossible to write all that I feel and think about my father, I’d certainly want to give it my best try.

Daddy with Mommy, the woman who stood by him for 45 years

There have been several revelations to me upon Dad’s passing. The biggest realization, of course, was that I was blessed tremendously to have had him for a father. Many of us quote Philippians 1:21 (For me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain) and Colossians 3:2 (Set your minds on things above, and not on earthly things), but not many of us get to see that in action. I was blessed to see that ideal lived out with my very own eyes. I didn’t always appreciate it, but now I’m incredibly glad that Dad was the way he was. That’s a rare thing to observe constantly first hand. Dad’s favorite hymn was “I’d Rather Have Jesus,” and nothing could be truer. Jesus was always number 1 for him.

Another important observation I’ve had following a moment of despair when I wept about how I didn’t have anybody else I could trust to give me wise and godly advice or to rescue me when I was in any kind of slump, was that I could easily get those directly from God. It was important to remember that. I’d leaned on Dad’s faith so much all my life that I sometimes forgot to exercise my own.

Another paramount realization is that Dad’s passing also reinforced my desire for rapture, the choice to set my eyes heavenward. That’s a gift to a Christian, who may still struggle with worldly enjoyment.

I miss my dad so much. My heart is broken, but I also have a hope and promise to cling to. I will see my dad again, and when I do, I will see Jesus too. That will indeed be a time of great rejoicing. In the meantime, I will remember my father with great love and gratitude.

Daddy – he kind of looks like Jethro Gibbs here

Here’s to my dad, the Reverend Cesar V. Papa, Jr. You’re an inspiration and an example. I’m so glad my children got to spend time with you and experience your love. We love you deeply and we will miss you so much, but we’ll be together again someday. See you then, Daddy!

Autism and the Battle with Mysterious Meltdowns

Having two boys on the autism spectrum, I have come to anticipate meltdowns. These are different from temper tantrums or hissy fits (these ones, I’m prone to). There are many articles delineating their difference, and through the years I’ve learned to correctly identify whatever it is I’m dealing with, and thus respond accordingly.

More importantly, I’ve become better attuned to the brewing stage of meltdowns. I’ve made the effort to identify triggers in order to avoid them and to understand what’s going on when meltdowns do happen.

Nonstop Meltdowns

However, there are meltdowns, and there are long spells of seemingly aggressive, violent, and self-injurious behavior. We had this with Cameron, who’s now 9 years old, from 3-6 years of age. These were outlier episodes. Cameron is very chill. When he was a toddler and first exhibiting signs of autism (they only emerged at 1.5 years – he had always been on time/ahead with his milestones before then), we initially kidded around about him being so cool, like he didn’t have time for cutesy and silly behavior that was typical of kids his age. If he paid any attention to you, it was like being noticed by that perfect but aloof guy in a high school romance trope. That he was very handsome (he is; that’s not just a mother talking) certainly completed the cliché. That was a fun, entertaining way to look at it, except that it turned out to be autism.

Anyway, for about two weeks every year, Cameron would have this spell of him crying and angrily thrashing around almost nonstop. Both of us would come out of those episodes with minor cuts and bruises. He’d be fine or back to his regular ways after, but I’d be licking my actual and metaphorical wounds in despair long after. Don’t worry; the licking is figurative. I’ve happily noticed though that those weeks of marathon meltdowns hadn’t transpired in the last couple of years.

And the Fun Continues

Last year, his younger brother Sawyer had his own autism diagnosis. Oh, we’d known he was on the spectrum long before the official diagnosis, but we thought we’d get the official certification as well so we could be advised by a professional, and, of course, so he could be eligible for PWD privileges.

Right away, the developmental pediatrician told us that Sawyer was incredibly intelligent – and this was a boy who was pretty much non-verbal. Side note: I hate using the term for my boys because they do have language and they would use it to ask for stuff they want. They can identify things like champs, but couldn’t figure out how to use all those words they know in a practical way. It’s just easier to throw the non-verbal label out there to manage other people’s expectations.

In any case, the doctor told us that Sawyer’s autism was mild and that he manifested many signs of giftedness. She recommended a regular preschool instead of SPED. Okay. I have always been committed to homeschooling, but I got excited about sending the boys to school. I had already picked summer classes for the boys to join – School Readiness for Sawyer and Life Skills for Cameron. And then the pandemic happened. At the very least, that stupid virus was a monkey wrench thrown into the new course we were to take on our autism journey.

Autistic and Gifted

The thing about Sawyer is that we could tell he was very smart. He taught himself how to read and write really early, like Marguerite, their big sister did, but he had been more challenged in that he wasn’t even conversing. He is extremely curious and interested. He would get into everything and want to try everything we were doing. It’s like the opposite extreme of Cameron’s coolness. Sawyer is red hot in his buttinski-ness. He has always had an air of mischief about him. He also had a very volatile temper. He laughed easily and got mad easily.

Shortly after New Year’s Day, he seemed to be in a perpetual rage, alternately crying and pouncing on those around him. We all fell victim to these attacks, but I was most frequently on the receiving end. It was a lot like trying to tame a bobcat, except more heartbreaking.

Meltdowns on Steroids

We tried to figure out what was going on with him. He didn’t seem to be in pain. Sometimes he’d laugh after screaming angrily. As much as I hate to say it, it often felt like a demon possession. He would thrash around on the floor in abandon, kicking his legs, uncaring of hurting others or himself. He’d ask to be hugged and carried, and then ambush us in the middle of being comforted. I was frankly at my wit’s end. Cameron’s episodes seemed like leisurely walks in the park compared to Sawyer’s.

We persisted in finding an explanation for the behavior. We all had theories coming out the wazoo. My mom thought that he was frustrated because he was so smart but had disabilities that hindered his learning. I thought that he was frustrated about not being able to communicate better in a verbal way (in his fits, he would often scream out a spate of random words, but, at the same time, he was also often successful in expressing himself, e.g. “I’m sad!” “Help me!”). Mark thought that he was experiencing restless legs (growing pains?) and remembered getting them himself at around Sawyer’s age, and they had been bad enough that he would cry because of them. We also thought that it was a sensory thing, that he was reacting to a stimulus that we just couldn’t detect yet.

Calming Tricks and Hoodoo

We had tried a diverse range of calming methods. Mark would roll Sawyer up in a soft blanket like a burrito. He would also tirelessly massage his son’s limbs.  I made a calming roller blend and calming play dough with lavender and bergamot essential oils. He definitely received lots of bribes from aunts and grandparents who wished nothing but to get back our mischievous but amusing little imp.

Sawyer’s birthday was on January 26, and while he was beginning to calm down, those lulls were often traitorous, presaging an ambush that left scratches and bruises on Sawyer and his hapless target. Understandably, his presents this year mostly had to do with calming him down. My sister gave him a much nicer bedtime projector lamp than the one we had (it was tacky; we moved it to the garage before Christmas where it projected red and green stars in the dark). My cousin got him kaleidoscopes and a fidget popping toy.

My mom got the kids gummy melatonin (not as a present), but we’ve only used it once to underwhelming results. It wasn’t for regular use, but we were trying to go back to an earlier bed time, and then, of course, there were those punishingly sleepless nights with Sawyer’s meltdowns. He refused to take one for some reason, by the way, while Cameron and Marguerite both did go to sleep  early but woke up in the wee hours of the morning. We’ll give it a go again when we encounter sleeping issues.

I’m also going around the house now to scope out the right ceiling beam from which to hang the boys’ therapy swing. My sister had given it to Cameron on his birthday, but we have yet to install it. Obviously, we’re getting all the tricks we could possibly conjure out to make sure we are well equipped to deal with a repeat of these episodes.

Of the tools we have used, I can say that the play dough, the popping toy and the lamp have been effective. The lamp’s effect can vary, however. It lulled Sawyer to sleep while it fascinated Cameron so much that he sat in front of it and watched for a long time.

These days, Sawyer’s episode is dwindling down. He’s still given to crying when he doesn’t get his own way, and I think his habit of holding his breath until he’s very red in the face has gotten to be, well… a habit that we have to distract him from. He has also learned to curb his impulse to grab and kick, and it does seem that whatever was causing him to fling himself down in a self-inflicted wrestling power bomb has gone. I’m not going to speak too soon and say that the episode is over, but I am praying that it is.

Anyone on the Same Boat?

Have you had any experience with this kind of episode? Do you know with certainty what caused it? What action did you take? I hope an informative, helpful, and supportive discussion about this can be started in the comments.

Oh, and if you’re wondering how I’m coping, it’s with Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. Don’t judge.

In the meantime, here’s the recipe for the calming play dough that I made:

 

Auditing 2020 and Editing for 2021

2020 was really something, huh? It definitely messed with our weltanschauung (haha, I’m always on the lookout for opportunities to use this curious little mouthful I picked up from Comparative Literature 100). Life as we knew it may never return. A new normal has already crept in place, but many of us have yet to accept it.

If you’re still trying to wake up from the nightmare that was 2020, sigh, we can only hope that it really did all end with the year, that 2021 is a completely fresh start, an overhaul of the year that operated on the premise of Murphy’s Law.

In any case, being stuck at home and restricted in so many ways doesn’t mean that we can forgo retrospection and improvement. Life isn’t suspended until the virus is gone. The clock continues ticking, and we have to make the most of the time we have now, no matter how bizarre things are.

There were many memes about a 2020 planner being useless, but I failed to see the logic in that, probably because my life was mainly home-based even pre-pandemic. Any work I did was done at home, and the kids were homeschooled. Of course, we used to be able to go out a lot, but the main entries in my planner were stuff I had to do at home. In any case, many of the activities that used to be conducted outside the home continued online, e.g. piano lessons, taekwondo training, homeschool get-togethers, workshops, book launches, and even shopping trips. My planner remained filled with entries despite being stuck at home.

Then again, I’m a list maker. If I don’t list my agenda for the day, I’ll probably just aimlessly walk around, cluelessly responding to the most pressing demand and then letting the next ones pile on top of it so I end up getting overwhelmed and rage-quitting all of them by watching Netflix or YouTube. You have no idea how much vehemence I can put into clicking those icons.

Anyway, I’m always excited to start writing on my planner at the beginning of the year. In college, I used to do a “365 Things to Do This Year” list. I never got to cross out all 365 things, but it didn’t dampen my spirits. I was happy to cross out even just a quarter of the items on the list. Later on, I dropped the 365 and just listed as many goals as I could think of. I had found that in trying to come up with 365 things to do, I sometimes duplicated items, so I thought, why bother with the number? It wasn’t like I’d set out to accomplish one goal per day.

The goal list became a personal tradition, one I’ve carried out for more than 20 years. I used to be more random about it (climb a tree, fly a kite, learn to cartwheel…), but through the years, I’ve learned to put some retrospection and introspection into it, making the exercise count more in my private campaign for self-improvement. This is how I’ve come to annually conduct a life audit and edit.

To audit the past year, I ask myself certain questions, the answers to which would give me an idea where I’m at in terms of working towards the life I want to live and the person I want to become. Here’s an example:

  • How do I spend my days?
  • With whom do I spend the most time?
  • Is that time with them enjoyable to me?

Depending on my answer to these questions, I figure out whether I’m doing well in this area or not. I then ask myself some follow-up questions.

  • How would I like to spend the majority of my days?
  • With whom do I want to spend them?
  • How do I make this time with them more quality?

I try to cover all the bases, analyzing every aspect of my life. Here are the areas that I focus on.

  • Character, attitude, and behavior
  • Spirituality
  • Habits
  • Relationships
  • Home and lifestyle
  • Finance
  • Health and fitness
  • Learning
  • Skills
  • Work
  • Productivity
  • Effectiveness
  • Creativity
  • Happiness and Enjoyment
  • Downtime

 

When I’ve asked and answered my questions, I then come up with a list of goals. Sometimes they involve a detailed action plan. Other times, I just state what I want. For instance, in the health and fitness area, I could just very generally state “lose 20 lbs” or I could outline the steps I plan to take to make this happen:

  • Only watch YouTube and Netflix (this won’t be chill at all) while on the treadmill.
  • Quit soda.
  • Quit milk tea.
  • Quit rice.
  • Avoid fast food drive-thrus by always bringing your own snacks.
  • Play something very physical with the kids every day.

As you can see, this annual audit tends to reveal what kind of edits I should make on my life. As expected, decluttering is a big word for this time of the year, but its application definitely goes beyond my possessions. Here’s a confession: when I set out to edit my life, my mind immediately goes to editing certain technologies out of it. In a split second, that notion morphs into me editing myself off the grid. I probably just revealed my 10-year plan (5-year, preferably), haha.

Anyway, as I was saying, my usual edits happen in these areas:

  • Thinking habits (too much daydreaming, negative self-talk, the tendency to pinpoint what or whom to blame…)
  • Relationships (grudges, drama, screen time when together…)
  • Schedule (late nights, insane morning routine, unnecessary commitments, laundry – haha, just kidding, BinJin breaks – this time, I’m not kidding! Another confession: I got obsessed with “Crash Landing on You” and went a little overboard shipping the leads. Comment if you’re over the moon about the news of them being in a relationship and if you’re up to a CLOY-themed party to celebrate. Dang! I just said I’d stop wasting time on this, right?)
  • Consumption (digital engagements, junk food, gas/electric/water – in this case, just whittle down)
  • Budget (indulgent grocery list, credit card shopping, shipping fees – meaning, hair-trigger online shopping)

Of course, the edit manifests itself most evidently in the decluttering of our closets and storage cabinets. We’re starting with my daughter’s room, and, my word, we have to edit every possible surface. Maybe we should have saved it for last.

That basically sums up my yearly audit-edit routine. What about you? Do you still go through making New Year’s resolutions? Or have you lost faith in them? Let me know!

BONUS:

Since it has been quite a while since I last posted, here’s a collage of pictures showing tidbits of 2020’s tail end for our family.

  1. We have a luffa (loofah) plant that has been good to us lately. We’re getting tired of misua though. I tried roasting it with chicken, carrots, and potatoes once, and that was pretty good. Any suggestions on how else to cook it?
  2. Pies are my usual contribution to our noche buena. These are apple and peach.
  3. Baking gingerbread has been a part of our holiday tradition for years. I usually sell gingerbread men and houses at Christmas bazaars, but not this year obviously.
  4. Those cookies were the first batch of holiday baking I did. I had been so busy trying to restore the house back to livable that I was late getting into holiday mode.
  5. That’s Morgan, one of our cats, on New Year’s Day morning. I guess she partied too hard the previous night. At least, she didn’t come home with an armadillo armor. Just kidding; she’s not allowed out of the house.
  6. Those are our Christmas stockings. Living in the tropics, we don’t have a fireplace, so we hang ours wherever we feel like it that year. For a time, I thought they’d be the main holiday décor we’d have since we got cats last year, and we weren’t sure how they’d treat a Christmas tree.
  7. There’s Morgan again. We were late setting up the tree this year. It’s usually up by December 1, but the cats and their parkour stunts had me on second, third, fourth… thoughts on the wisdom of having a tree. Thankfully, the most mischief they got up to was batting at low-hanging ornaments to send them skittering across the floor.
  8. This picture is actually from early November, taken on my mom’s 70th birthday. I can’t post pics from our Christmas and New Year’s Eves shindigs since I know some would be opposed to having their pics displayed online.
  9. My daughter had an online piano recital on December 12. That’s her tickling out the tune of “Mary the Magician,” one of the three pieces she played.

That’s all, folks! Bye, 2020! It’s been real! Welcome, 2021! Please be kind to us!

Where Autism Awareness Should Lead

Other than in private exchanges I had with my family in Messenger group chats, I didn’t really air out any thoughts on the recent controversy over the incident of PWD-discrimination at Plantation Bay, an exclusive and expensive resort in Cebu. It wasn’t because I didn’t have any strong feelings about it, but because I felt so strongly that I would have reacted based solely on emotions, and that wouldn’t have helped the cause of autism awareness, an advocacy I’m very passionate about, any.

One with the Public Response

I was gratified to read the outpouring of support for Mai and Fin Pages as well as of indignation at what they experienced while vacationing in Plantation Bay. Like many, I was saddened and angered by the treatment they received while at the resort. I was similarly outraged by the initial response (now deleted, but the Internet is “forever”) issued by Plantation Bay resident shareholder Manny Gonzalez. Mr. Gonzalez was impressively articulate in expressing his thoughts. Unfortunately, his eloquence was misdirected. It laid out a misinformed and narrow-minded argument that belied the level of education and accomplishment his credentials page enumerated in painstaking detail. And like the masses, I was enraged by the very unsympathetic, very judgmental, very WRONG posit he put forth that Fin had just been misdiagnosed, and that his behavior was due to parental neglect and not to autism.

Did I feel inclined to storm the doors of the resort and scream at this seemingly pompous fool? Yes. Did I want to rally the people to boycott him and Plantation Bay, and generally make him pay for his scathing response to a genuine complaint that resonated with the depths of my very own heartbreak? Yes. Did I want to print out his sorry excuse for an apology letter and force-feed it to him? Yes.

That was my raw, unprocessed reaction. It was a maelstrom of fury and sorrow probably powerful enough to burst a vein. This incident gave force to my fears and worries. It threatened to snuff out the hope I felt for the possibility of an infinitely kinder, more understanding, more tolerant, and thoroughly inclusive society. It fueled the daydream of creating another world for my children and others like them.

It was upon reading his very hoity-toity résumé that my perspective shifted. He got his MBA in 1974, before I was even born. This man was probably the same age as my own parents. He is from a very different generation. He grew up with a very different mindset within societal norms that have drastically evolved through the decades. My own father, a great and godly man in my eyes, who loves his autistic grandchildren with every fiber of his being, feels that the best, most practical solution for “extreme” (obviously a relative word) special needs is institutionalization, segregation. He thinks that they would be safer there, better taken care of, and the neurotypical can function with better efficiency sans the constant vigilance necessary in the care of those with special needs. Like I said, such a position comes from a different time, a different way of thinking.

Manifestation of True Awareness

There are many out there like Manny Gonzalez – people who will choose to quickly judge and act upon their erroneous judgment. And then, in the face of public censure, they will offer a half-pantsed apology that clearly shows they haven’t actually budged an inch in their position. We can take offense, demand retribution, but, more importantly, we can continue to work toward awareness.

Almost everyone has come across the term “autism” and encountered somebody on the spectrum. Most people have a vague idea of how a person with autism is limited and challenged. True awareness, however, goes so much farther than knowing the dictionary definition of autism. True awareness comes with compassion and empathy, leading to acts of kindness.

I remember another mother venting about the pastor of her church. It seems that her son with ASD was able to practice with the rest of his Sunday School class for a special song number. That had previously been unheard of. The boy hadn’t been inclined to participate in the past, but that time, he was interested and he was able to stand with the group to sing instead of running off. During practice, the mother watched, incredibly thrilled about this particular milestone when the good pastor walked up to her and said, “Is it a wise choice to have him up there? He might ruin the performance.” The mother expressed her hurt over the remark, but she also had the grace to understand where the pastor was coming from. Obviously, it was from a time when children were forced to toe the line and imperfections were dealt with through their removal. People who didn’t make the cut, well, simply didn’t make the cut. Exclusion was the norm.

This account, mild though it may seem, is particularly disquieting. Inclusion should be a right, not a privilege. I can’t tell you how many times unintentional slights were directed at my boys for their autism, automatically excluding them on the assumption that they couldn’t do what the activity entailed. There was no effort at all to accommodate them, to offer certain allowances so they could participate. “This was the neurotypical’s world, the neurotypical’s program. It wasn’t the neurotypical’s duty to pander to the atypical’s different abilities.” This perspective must make so much sense to many, and yet it cuts and it stunts, causing hurt feelings and missed opportunities for progress for all involved.

Another story I remember is about a person with autism attending his high school graduation. His parents were worried that he wouldn’t be able to attend the ceremony because of the level of noise expected at such an event. Unfortunately, the man (he was already 21 at that time) wouldn’t be able to tolerate all the clapping and boisterous cheering. It is common for people with ASD to have sensory issues. Loud noises are often difficult, even downright painful for them to process. The entire auditorium, however, agreed to have a silent ceremony. The principal said that the decision was very characteristic of their community. Such a display of true awareness was incredibly heartwarming. In the current Pinoy vernacular, let me just say, sana all.

PWD Discrimination and the Law

There would be those who would struggle to make concessions and adjustments to their standards and operations in order to accommodate special needs. They may be good, decent people and still not get how inclusion is always the right choice – and, actually, in many countries, including the Philippines, the only legal option.

Discrimination against a person with disability, as the Plantation Bay administration is painfully learning now, is against the law. Unfortunately, not every PWD or parent of a PWD knows enough to raise a stink when discrimination occurs. Many of us are inclined to be apologetic about the inconvenience, the bother, the disturbance… the supposed perjuicio that our presence causes, and be resigned to the idea we just don’t belong and to the conclusion that the lack of welcome is completely acceptable. It is not, and the law is on our side. Of course, a law being enacted and a law being enforced are two different things. I’m not a lawyer so I’m not going to delve too deeply into the legalities of the matter. I just want to emphasize that the Magna Carta for Disabled Persons goes beyond the discounts PWDs can avail themselves of.

Fruit of Awareness

I have so many hopes and prayers regarding my own children’s autism that my brain just goes in a zillion directions when I try to talk about them. I mean, we have all sorts of awareness campaigns. Did you share a touching post on April 2 (World Autism Awareness Day)? Did you light it up blue? Did you add a spectrum ribbon or a jigsaw puzzle piece to your profile picture? These are good, appreciated steps, but I especially love it when people exercise this promoted awareness – when they offer a lending hand to a mother whose child is in the throes of a meltdown, when they just smile understandingly when an autistic child stims noisily at the next table, when they insist that our autistic children are welcome at their wedding, when they’re willing to amend tradition, the standard way of doing things to be inclusive…

We have a long way to go, but things are getting better. We can look at Mai and Fin Pages’s experience and see the bad, but we can also look for the good – the overwhelming support from netizens, the action being taken by government bodies, and the deeper awareness resulting from this unfortunate incident.

The Blessing of Autism

I hadn’t always felt this way, but I consider my boys’ autism a blessing. Our life is rife with miracles, as all of yours probably also are, but we are better able to recognize the wonder in the minutiae, thanks to this “disability.” Life with autism bestowed upon me such priceless gifts: patience, kindness, empathy, and many more.

In the end, I have to feel sorry for Mr. Gonzalez. He seems to have never encountered an autistic person that he had to resort to Google to try and explain it. Sadly, he also seems to have stopped at one paragraph because the Internet has so much more to say about autism. All I know is that if there were an autistic person in his life, he wouldn’t have dared to say what he did. I’m also sure that he would have been an infinitely better, kinder person for it.

Bringing Iceland’s Jólabókaflóð to Your Home

I’ve always been intrigued by Iceland. For someone who lives in a tropical archipelago, I imagine it’s pretty much the opposite of what I know. Watching travel shows featuring it, I was further enchanted by its exotic (for someone based near the equator) qualities like its combination of glaciers, geysers, and volcanoes; its non-stop sun in the summer and super short winter days; its close-knit community with everybody being related to everybody else (this is actually familiar to me, being from a city with a small town vibe – but Iceland is a whole freakin’ country!), etc.

In recent years, I learned of another Icelandic offering that really resonated with the avid bibliophile in me. Every year, Iceland holds the Jólabókaflóð (Yule book flood). In the weeks before Christmas, new books are released, and every household gets a catalogue of the new titles.

This tradition dates back to the Second World War when there were restrictions on imported giftware. Since imported paper wasn’t as restricted and Iceland has always had a solid literary tradition, books became the default gift at Christmastime. Thus ensued the lasting custom of exchanging books at Christmas Eve and then spending the rest of the night reading.

For a bookworm like me, that sounds like heaven, especially now when I can’t sit for two minutes without one of my kids demanding my attention.

When I was growing up, I was always certain that I would get a book(s) on my birthday and Christmas. Books didn’t cost much (in the late ’80s, most children’s books like the Baby-Sitters Club, Sweet Valley Twins, and the Newbery titles were about 30Php brand new) and my mom could be sure that I would enjoy them. We weren’t poor, but my dad is kind of an ascetic. He shuns materialism and is critical of indulgences, so there was that element in our childhood.

Now, with my own kids, I don’t really get them books as gifts. I buy a lot of books on ordinary days, and then get them other presents for special occasions. My husband and I tend to bend over backwards trying to think of presents that would make our kids ecstatic. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, but I sometimes wonder if they can better learn gratitude and appreciation if we keep our gifts simple.

***I know I mentioned on the Ulysses post that I was just doing a last edit on this one and it was pretty much ready to go. I’m afraid, however, that WordPress failed me. For some reason, the saved draft didn’t include anything past the previous paragraph, so I’m rewriting three long essential sections of the post. I hope I can recall all the main points, and that what comes next reads well since I’m typing it while still disgruntled. 😀

The Benefits of Observing Jólabókaflóð

Of course, getting books is a perk in itself, but there are other benefits that should urge you to consider observing Jólabókaflóð – or a version of it, at least.

  • Less expensive gifts. If you decide to just give books on Christmas, there’s a good chance that you’ll be able to trim down your usual holiday gift budget. If you can find pre-loved books in good condition, even better/cheaper. Anybody else out there who actually prefers secondhand books?
  • No great cost divide. You won’t have to worry about your gifts being “unequal.” There shouldn’t be a huge price gap between books unless you’re giving rare editions, a complete series, or those expensive coffee table books. It’s probably still best to set a price cap, but even if you didn’t, you wouldn’t be facing something akin to an exchange involving an expensive watch and a rap song (“Friends” reference).
  • Something for everyone. If somebody’s claiming to be a non-reader, I’m certain there would be books out there that would interest him or her. There are all kinds of books, and on every possible topic. I know people will read if they’re interested enough in the content; after all, supposed non-readers can read social media posts the entire day. 😀
  • Exercise in simplicity. While books are still purchased, there’s something about giving them that seems like a less commercial exercise. Although a book is not the most impressive present you can give, it’s usually a thoughtful one, and you’re essentially catering to a simple yet timeless pleasure.
  • Gift of slow time. Today’s pace is incredibly fast and we are super distracted. I really feel sorry that my kids aren’t growing up in a time that allows them to create and imagine more, to put in more effort to arrive at what they need or want, and to deal with those idle, boring moments with minimal modern provisions for amusement. Books belong to that lost era.  Thankfully, they were able to cross over to and linger in this millennium. Time spent with a book is quiet and serene, even if your mind has wandered off to a wild adventure in a far off place and distant time. It’s a true gift. ***Let me note that the original post was a lot more “ranty” than this, haha.
  • Lesson in gratitude. Sometimes we get so caught up in trying to delight our kids that we unconsciously teach them to expect grander things. It would be in their interest to teach them to appreciate every kind of present. If they can feel joy in their heart over a new book to read, that’s a win for you as a parent.

Coming up with Your Own Jólabókaflóð Tradition

Not being in Iceland or even Icelandic, you’ll just have to borrow the custom and perhaps tweak it to better suit your family. Here are some ideas you can apply in making your own Christmas book flood tradition.

1. Hygge it up.

Make the entire evening extra cozy. Since in the Philippines we do our Noche Buena on Christmas Eve, and that’s usually a fun and noisy feast, you might want to choose the eve of Christmas Day for your Jólabókaflóð. You can wear your pjs, set out some hot cocoa and munchies for the family, play some nostalgic Christmas muzak, use warm lighting, and diffuse some Christmassy essential oil blend. You can relish all that hygge as you read your new books.

2. Decorate with books.

You can fashion a tree from a pile of books. Festoon it with fairy lights, perch a star or fairy on top, and you have yourself a Jolabokaflod tree! It can be the focal point of the area where you will be exchanging books and reading.

3. Have a theme.

Themes always make events more interesting. You’d think that books would be enough as the unifying theme, but you can narrow it down to something more specific. It could be an author, a decade, a place, a topic… Just make sure to have the right spread and décor. Maybe even attire?

4. Serve Icelandic Fare.

As a nod to where it all started, you can have an Icelandic treat. You can buy ready-made goodies or try creating something from a recipe. Something that looks relatively easy to make is pönnukökur, which is Icelandic pancakes with skyr (a dairy product that’s close to Greek yogurt). Honestly, it’s just pancakes; it’s the skyr that makes it Icelandic. If you can’t find skyr, you can sub with Greek yogurt. Pair it with a popular Christmas drink called jólaöl, which is a mix of malt and orange soda.

5. Read books and eat chocolates.

Jólabókaflóð explanations don’t always specify that Icelanders have to eat chocolates while reading in bed, but quite a few do, and that picture understandably appeals to me more. Reading + chocolates sounds heavenly, and it’s a custom I’d be happy to start with bells on.

I’m always eager to talk about books and reading, so let me know if you’re considering adopting this wonderful Icelandic treasure for your home. I’m sure you can come up with more ways to make your own Christmas book exchange more fun and specifically suited to your family’s holiday needs, tastes, and traditions. I hope you’ll share your own ideas here. 🙂

When God Doesn’t Spare You

The gold foil curtain and gold mylar “70” balloons still hung as a backdrop for the dining room table. White and gold balloons still rested atop the china cabinet. The gold letters spelling out my mother’s name and fairy lights were still suspended from the chandelier.

The flood hadn’t reached them. I saw everything the day after the muddy waters had subsided. Below the remnants of the previous Saturday’s party was an overwhelming challenge. Waterlogged chairs had descended from their buoyant state upside down. The heavy sideboard had also floated and then rested on its side. The fridge had done the same thing in the kitchen. Everything was coated with thick brown mud.

Our house is a bungalow. The second level is but four steps up. Still, I prayed that the bedrooms would be spared so we could go back later in the day, when the typhoon had subsided, and sleep in our own home. That prayer wasn’t granted. The water went up to about mid-calf on the second level. It really was a pretty wretched day overall. It started way too early and then seemed to stretch indefinitely.

The power going out at about 4am woke me up. The winds lashed lustily outside, accompanied by a heavy rain that showed no signs of abating. That had been going on all night. We Mariqueños obsessively monitor the river when there’s a typhoon. In the wee hours of that morning, it had unfortunately already breached three alarm lines. It didn’t look good for those of us who live in the valley.

Marikina has hills. We used to live on top of one. I hadn’t had to deal with this kind of anxiety in recent years; however, we moved last year to one of the barangays lining the river. Nonetheless, we were much higher up than those along the waterfront. Our house remained safe from most typhoons, but it was vulnerable to a rainfall phenomenon like Ondoy (Ketsana). My husband and I told ourselves, “It has been more than a decade and there has been no flood in this area all that time. There probably wouldn’t be a repeat of Ondoy.” We shouldn’t have said that; it was too much like tempting fate. As it would turn out, Ulysses (Vamco) was a lot like Ondoy.

So that fateful morning, Mark and I finally got the sense that we were experiencing a rare meteorological event and started securing our valuables and electronics, storing them in higher places. All the while, I was praying, “Lord, please stop the rain. Please don’t let the flood come into our house.”

Water started entering our garage while we were packing the things we needed to evacuate. By the time the water started seeping into our living room, we were ready to cross the flooded street to the four-story house across. Our neighbors had been kind enough to open their home to us and those in single level houses on our street.

While at the neighbors’, I kept on praying for the rains to stop and, this time, for the bedrooms to be spared. Water continued to gush from the heavens. By the time I was pretty sure that the flood had reached the second level of our house, the rain weakened and some sunlight started peaking through the dense clouds. Too little too late.

The steady drizzle continued. The flood didn’t quickly drain as expected. I kept on praying for the water to go down. There were reports of other streets being flood-free in just a short time. Apparently, our street had a drainage issue. Of course it did!

When it started to get dark, and all the roads were already clear of water, except for ours, my mother sent over two of my cousins to pick me and the kids up. Finally, we could get some rest. Evacuating with two kids on the spectrum (and two cats!) is exhausting at best. Mark, who had been able to park our biggest vehicle on a higher incline, was able to follow in it shortly after further securing our still-flooded home.

It definitely could have been worse. I’m thankful that my family remained safe throughout the ordeal. That was really what was important. I told myself early on that I wasn’t going to dwell on the material loss, but I have my moments of grief over the things we have no choice but to throw out, especially the ones with sentimental value. As you know, I’m a collector/borderline hoarder. I’ve always liked that about myself, as a history buff with a penchant for nostalgia and preservation. The trait does say that I tend to hold on to things, setting myself up for the kind of heartbreak I’m experiencing now.

Against my nature, I try to look on the bright side of things. I can do it – with effort that apparently eases as I tune into God’s Word. The key is in looking to God for answer and comfort. The more I expose myself to Scripture, the better I understand what faith is all about, and I get a deeper appreciation for God’s goodness.

When things don’t go my way, I tend to get, well, royally pissed. I take it personally. Why didn’t God grant my prayers? Admittedly, my EQ’s not the highest. Deep inside, I can still be a spoiled brat. I want a charmed life – smooth-sailing and free of heartache. That’s not something you get from being a Christian. You’re actually considered more blessed the more you suffer. My human nature balks at the idea.

Consider Peter’s input, however (1 Peter 4:13 ~NIV): “But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.” Not only are you supposed to not resent the suffering, you should actually rejoice while going through it. That’s quite the tall order.

However, thinking of what Jesus went through, it did make me go, “What’s a little devastating flood?” Losing material things, facing an overwhelming challenge in order to return to life as I knew it… The desire to pout was there, but shame from this impulse overcame it. I said to myself, “Really? You can’t thank God for the protection, for the strength and good health, for the kind neighbors, for your parents who have been hosting you, for family members who have been watching your special needs kids while you try to get your home habitable again and your life back on track, for the provision, for the peace and resilience…?” If I can’t exult and exalt God in this minor trial, how can I bring myself to do so when something more difficult comes along?

James 1:2-3 says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.”

I often say that I don’t believe in testing or grading. That’s the kind of homeschool parent I am. The statement is not accurate though. Of course I believe in testing. Life tests my kids’ acquired knowledge all the time. That’s why I prefer their learning to be natural and genuine, not forced for the purpose of passing written tests and getting impressive grades.

The testing of one’s faith is trickier and harder than any exam out there. Failure means profound loss and immense danger. God not sparing me from mishaps, disappointments, and losses allows me to fortify my faith. It’s like building up spiritual muscles that I can flex as life’s storms strike. A strong faith is obviously paramount in finishing the race. In this lifelong event, great endurance is absolutely necessary.

In my 40+ years, I’ve learned that, while I may not be not privy to it, there is always a bigger picture than my personal episodes. Life has meaning, and all those moments make sense in the grand scheme of things. That’s why I can expect this experience to improve my mettle as well as to further equip me for God’s plan for my life. I’ve gone through multiple existential crises in my day, but I’m happy to note that I was always able to resolve them with the conviction that God is real and that He is good.

Difficult times will shake our faith. Prayers that are not granted will fuel resentment toward God. Cling on. It’s important to forge on our spiritual path and develop God’s perspective to understand that our sufferings do not negate His love and goodness. In doing this, we can learn to remain joyful and thankful no matter our circumstances.

I had a post about the Icelandic Christmas book flood in the late stages of tweaking and pretty much ready to go, but Ulysses happened, and I had no choice but to shelve it. I hope this bit of musing can help somebody come to terms with their difficult situation. Blessings to you all.

Old Children’s Books Series Kids Today Should Read, Part 2

I was fortunate to have had access to libraries with a wide array of children’s books when I was growing up. I never ran out of new stories to read. My parents were also very encouraging toward this pastime and happily financed the beginnings of what would turn out to be a vast personal library.

I’ve often boasted about my kids reading the very copies of books I’d read as a kid. I can imagine some people going, so what? I guess it would take a kindred to grasp how special that is. Fortunately, I’ve encountered many who belong to the race that knows Joseph and get it. 😉

A little while back, I published a post listing three children’s book series that are so wonderful that I feel kids today shouldn’t miss out on reading them. Unfortunately, they’re not as easily accessible anymore. I acquired my own copies from thrift stores and secondhand bookshops. I’m afraid they’re no longer the titles you’ll find on the market these days.

And there are more series that can be included in the list. Here are three of them:

The Boxcar Children (first published in 1924) by Gertrude Chandler Warner

This series is pretty successful, so it’s actually still being perpetuated by different writers and with stories set in the current time. I’m not really interested in those. I prefer to read the ones from the first half of the 20th century, preferably those that were actually written by the series creator, Gertrude Chandler Warner. Why should your kids read these books?

  1. The stories are really riveting for children with a penchant for mysteries, a sense of adventure, and a desire for independence. The four children were always doing things on their own. Of course the stories (the original ones – I have no idea what’s going on in the current ones) are set in a different time, but I suppose, even then, most kids wouldn’t be allowed to travel in a caboose by themselves, stay on an island by themselves, do long bike rides by themselves, etc.
  2. There’s so much they can learn from the collection of stories, trivia stuff, different era stuff, practical stuff, etc. I personally got to apply some ideas from the book in my life. For instance, when I was first living on my own, I had the idea to make a pie because I had a can of peaches that was set to go to waste if I didn’t intentionally use it for something. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a rolling pin, but, fortunately, I did remember reading in Surprise Island that Jessie was in a similar predicament and found solution in a bottle. I did have wine bottles, so I was able to make my first pie that day. It was pretty good for a first attempt.
  3. The Alden kids are nice kids with manners and values typical of an earlier, more genteel time. This will hopefully inspire your kids to behave similarly. Times have clearly changed, so we have to be similarly dynamic, but there are some tolerated behaviors today that I just can’t accept. This reminds me of a favorite rant of mine. I’m so bothered by the way people nonchalantly take out and use their phones at the dinner table. It’s so anti-social, and that’s coming from me, an unrepentant introvert! There was a time when you had to excuse yourself and leave the table to take a call, and even then you would apologize profusely because you shouldn’t take calls at mealtime. It would be nice for kids today to be exposed to the etiquette and social conventions of an earlier era.

The Famous Five (first published in 1942) by Enid Blyton

Most of the children’s book series I’ve featured here are set in the US. This one, penned by beloved children’s book author Enid Blyton, however, is set in Britain. Similar to other children’s book series, the protagonists in The Famous Five encounter in each story some mystery that they have to solve. The formula clearly never gets old since I also use it for my own children’s books. This is a worthwhile inclusion in my list because it shares many of the benefits I already enumerated with regard to the other series I’ve already featured, plus the following:

  1. It allows readers to experience various British climes, often rural, allowing them to learn about the people and culture of these places. I don’t know about you, but reading about these far off foreign places gave me a hankering to know more about them and experience them first-hand. These seemingly inconsequential exposures have a way of shaping readers, including their goals and dreams in life.
  2. It lends an opportunity for young readers to learn the Queen’s English. With some guidance from you, this shouldn’t confuse them about which type of English to use. Ideally, this would allow them to compare and contrast it with American English. Of course, there’s also the factor of time adding an extra nuance to the expressions used, which, in turn, also adds to the readers’ stores of knowledge.
  3. It’s all about adventure – being outdoors, exploring, engaging in physical activities… In these old books, the characters don’t spend the day watching TV or playing video games. It allows young readers to have a better idea of what a screen-free childhood is like, how it’s actually possible and (dare I say it) more fun. I often lament that kids today are missing out on slow time, which is actually real time. It allows the mind to work better, to better process and savor moments, to come up with solutions with fewer tools available, etc. Sorry, that’s another favorite rant of mine. 😀

The Great Brain (first published in 1967) by John D. Fitzgerald

Although the books are set in 19th century Utah, they weren’t published until the 1960s. They’re essentially stories that are loosely based on the author’s own childhood experiences. The “Great Brain” alluded to in the series is the author’s older brother, Tom. He demonstrates amazing intelligence, which is unfortunately accompanied by a money-loving heart, turning him into a mischievous swindler.

How do kids today benefit from reading about this adorable rapscallion’s escapades? The same way kids of previous generations did.

  1. The books are a very entertaining read. Each story is a humorous account of The Great Brain’s youthful shenanigans. Don’t worry about his propensity to manipulate others for his own monetary gain. He actually has a strong sense of justice, and despite his smarts, he often does get his comeuppance and is subjected to discipline.
  2. I’m a strong believer in living books being more effective tools of learning than text books. The Great Brain stories offer many snippets of knowledge in various subjects, particularly history, science, and logic.
  3. The setting is pretty unique. 19th century Utah offers a fascinating visit, as you can probably imagine with its natural landscape, as well as its historical and religious significance.

Did you get to read these books when you were young? Do your kids know about them? I hope you and your kids can access copies. You can probably find some from secondhand bookstores and online sellers.

Can you suggest other early to mid-20th century series that should be included? I can already think of two.  I think there may be a part 3 to this. 🙂

Birthdays and Malaise

September is an insane month for us. Three of our family of five have birthdays exactly a week apart. It’s not like we can even get all the celebration in one go. There’s one every week. I’m not complaining; I just want to give you an idea how hectic things get during this time.

But, first, let me share the online cards I made for Marguerite and Cameron.

 

 

 

This year, we had to keep our celebrations to just the family. That includes my parents, sister, and cousins. Mark’s family live far away, and with the pandemic, arranging time with them got even more difficult.

Unless it’s a milestone birthday, we usually don’t have a party. We had one last year because our eldest became a teenager. This year, the celebration was way more low-key – less stressful, yes, but not completely stress-free.

On the birthday itself, we have a little ritual of cake-blowing and gift-giving when the celebrator wakes up. Mark and I used to buy a cake for the wake-up ritual, but this results in two or more birthday cakes crowding up the fridge for days, and then when the supply is finally dwindling, there comes another batch of cakes from the next birthday. I’ve learned to just make something that we can pretty much finish off at breakfast.

Around noontime we head on over to my parents’ house because my mom always prepares a spread and that’s where we celebrate with the rest of my family. My children are the only kids on my side since my sister is happily single. I also have three younger cousins whom I still think of as kids but who are actually already in their 20s. They’re very close to my family and more like my siblings than cousins. They’re all still unattached, so my kids are blessed with this solid set of doting aunts and uncle.

Mark’s birthday is, of course, a little different from the kids’. We usually arrange a staycation at nearby lodgings. That was a bit harder to manage this year on account of the pandemic, but we were fortunate to find a place in the mountains that Mark had actually already been interested in checking out for some time. The following day, we just indulged in a pleasant drive on mountain roads. Please note that we hardly had any social contact all throughout the trip, and we stayed masked-plus-face-shielded and always disinfected like crazy.

 

The thing is that we always have satisfying celebrations, but when our days start to settle down, that’s when the adrenaline sort of crashes and exhaustion sets in. Around the end of September, people start getting sick, usually starting with my husband. Flu-like symptoms manifest. With the threat of COVID-19 always looming among us, home diagnosis is a tad more nerve-wracking this year. Fortunately, the symptoms seemed more straightforward – no loss of taste or smell, no diarrhea.

As I’ve mentioned before, we try as much as we can to remain drug-free when treating our illnesses. We were able to deal with this round by drinking lots of tea, supping lots of soup, taking immune system-boosting supplements (multivitamins and 4Life Transfer Factor Plus – my parents are great believers in Transfer Factor, and from my own experience with it, it does seem effective), oiling, and getting plenty of pampered rest.

I don’t want to speak too soon, but I’m going to go ahead and do it anyway. Thank the Lord because I seem to have dodged the virus. So does Cameron. This is a real blessing because I’m the official caregiver here. Exposure and exhaustion usually make me susceptible, but it certainly looks like I’ve been spared this year.

In any case, I would like to share the essential oil flu blends for diffusing and topical application that I used on my family.

 

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