Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Stars and Skype

Long distance relationships are difficult, but nowadays, technology makes it somewhat bearable. Cellphones and computers allow friends, families or lovers to chat and see each other at any time of day or night, and in the privacy of their own rooms, or even cars (Just don’t drive and text).  And while we pay for Internet or cellphone service, connecting to another anywhere in the globe is actually free with Facetime, Viber, Hangout or Skype.

In the early 1970’s, when John was courting me (in those days, men courted women and we never said  “when WE were courting …”), John’s mother considered me a bad influence because I was encouraging him to work as a photographer, which meant that he was not paying attention to the family business. To separate us, she sent him off to Iloilo to stay with his sister. Now, in those days, there was no Internet, email or Skype, there were no cellphones or even pagers, and public coin-operated phones were just for local calls. Long distance calls could be done if one had a landline at home (we didn't) or would have to be done at the telephone company's premises.  Mailed letters took a long time, so any messages that needed to be rushed were sent by telegrams. 

My family was poor and we did not have a phone at home. If John wanted to call me, he would have to call my aunt’s house, which was next door, and wait for someone, usually my aunt’s maid or houseboy (then called servants) to call me and for me to rush to my aunt’s house. With cousins practically eavesdropping, there was no chance for John and I to say sweet nothings to each other. Besides, in those days, telephones had party-lines, meaning, two phone owners, usually neighbors, took turns in using one phone line. As a matter of phone courtesy, when one lifts the handset and hears someone talking, that person must put the phone down gently, and wait. If you’re the one using the phone, sometimes, it meant hearing that handset being lifted and put down over and over again, and when the other party becomes impatient, they say “Hello, party line, puede ba ako naman (may I have my turn?)  There was no way to stay on the phone a long time to make “telebabad” (staying too long on the phone).  

It was too embarrassing to use my aunt’s phone to call long distance, so for calls that I would have to initiate, I would go to the Philippine Long Distance Company office in Port Area, near the foot of Jones Bridge (two jeepney rides or approximately five kilometers from Paranaque, where I lived).  There were booths there, and callers were guaranteed not only soundproofed privacy, but also no party lines waiting on the wing for me to finish my call. But long distance calls were expensive, and I did not have the money to make such calls. 

Before he left for Iloilo, and anticipating the difficulty of keeping in touch, John agreed to my romantic suggestion to connect somehow by gazing at the sky and looking at a row of three stars (Orion’s belt) at the same time every night at exactly 7:00PM. We had no cellphones or Internet, it is true, but what we had was a direct connection, soul-to-soul through the stars, it was private, and it was free. Who needs Skype?

John eventually came back to Manila. We set up Adphoto, got married, and raised our own children. We’re still together, so obviously the stars worked. Once in a while, through the more than 40 years since the 1970’s, when John and I look up at darker provincial skies (disappointingly, Metro Manila no longer offers a clear view of the night sky), we give thanks that when we did not have Skype, we had the stars. 

Learning Language

It’s funny how very young children pick up words and expressions - from the people they have around them, as well as from videos they watch.

My younger granddaughter (just turned two last month) was insisting on getting something from me. An iPad, I think. Her demands were accompanied by appropriate authoritative facial expression and body posture - stumping her tiny foot on the floor like a little empress, and with a stern voice, demanding, “I want my iPad!!!” Her mother reminded her to say “Please” and in a split second, and in complete reversal, she not only said “please,” but also softened her tone and volume to what her mother calls “butterfly voice.” She looked at me with a pleading expression on her face, and asked in a very gentle, slow and hard-to-refuse voice,  “L-o-l-a, may I p-l-e-a-s-e have my iPad?  P-l-e-a-s-e, L-o-l-a?”  

On another occasion, she was trying to use expressions that she had picked up from her and her sister’s favorite movie, Frozen.

“Go away!” she told me, in the same tone and manner that the movie’s Princess Elsa did, when she tried to keep her sister, Princess Anna, away.  I thought she was cute, and just laughed but didn’t go away.

“Hmmm,” she must have thought, “that didn’t work.”

She tried “Get out!” I was not sure if that was in the movie, but I was impressed that she was trying other ways of giving the same message, so I laughed again but I still didn’t go away.

“Go…” and she groped for other words. I waited. “Go…” Oops, it looks like she has run out of words with the same meaning. “Go…,” she paused, and then, triumphantly, she commanded…

“Go home!”

She and I both knew that she was scraping the bottom for the right words, and straying from the original movie dialogue. We looked at each other, and we both laughed.

Super cute two-year old! Did I mention that she’s my granddaughter?

Wednesday, December 02, 2015


Why? Why? Why? There’s a time in a child’s life when the search for answers begins with the big question, “Why?” Just this week, my granddaughter, Gaby, who is turning three this month, asked, “Why?” Her mother, my daughter Kathy, was intrigued, and asked her, “Why what?” “Why is London Bridge falling down?”

Gaby’s “why” story made me smile, as it made me recall the first time I, as a mother, faced the challenge of a child’s unending “whys.” 

I remember when my eldest daughter, Ching Ching, started asking “why?” She wasn’t quite three years old, and she had just come from swimming lessons at the Metropolitan Club. I told her that she needed to change into dry clothes, and she asked, “Why?” At first I thought that she just didn’t want to do it, and maybe I was being given the infamous “terrible two” treatment.

Not wanting to just order her to change into dry clothes, or to ask her Yaya to change her clothes, with or without her consent, I knelt down so we could be face-to-face as I attempted to give an explanation – that she might get sick if she kept her wet bathing suit on.  But that answer led to another “why?” And, followed by another “why?” and another, and another, until I got stumped with the question, and could no longer give her any answers.

It was a thought-provoking stage in her young life, and I genuinely wanted to be able to provide answers, or at the very least, encourage her curiosity to flourish. Since I did not want to discourage her from asking questions, including the interminable “whys?” I searched in my head for reasons why things happen –so I could answer my two-year-old - whether from experience or personal knowledge, or at times, just from what seem like logic.   

Her questions also provided an opportunity to encourage her to look into books for answers. (Now, they can Google). But somehow, at her tender age, my daughter must have thought of me as the eternal font from whence all answers flowed, and the moment when she realized that I was an ordinary mortal, whose brains did not have the capacity for all human knowledge, came one day. When the long string of “Why’s” ended with an unanswered “why,” I would say, “Let’s look that up. Maybe the encyclopedia can give us the answer.”  Maybe, I had made that offer to check the books a little too frequently, and one day, she looked at me, with a disappointed look in her face, and asked, “why” – again, that big question, “why do we have to look that up in books? Why, (Hmmm, that “why” has a different ring to it), don’t you know anything?”

Humbly and truthfully, I confessed, “Sorry, but I don’t know everything.” But instead of reproaching me, she just asked,


Thursday, November 05, 2015

Lola Only!

Today is the day I write about today! This is a deeply personal story, and not written as a literary piece. We all have our special moments, and today is that for me.

Today is truly a memorable day! The fourth of November, in the year 2015! It’s a sunny day. It’s a beautiful day. I will mark this day as a day to celebrate!

Before today, there was yesterday, and before yesterday were many other days. Sure, I’ve also had many special days on days before today, but those days were not as special as today! I admit that I cried with joy when my grandchildren were born (as I did when my own children came into this world), got blown away when I saw my babies' and grandbabies' first smiles, or heard them call me “Mama” or “Lola.” I was always thrilled when my grandchildren, coaxed by their mama or papa, would repeat, “I love you, Lola.”

In the days before today, when I offered to carry, feed, or play with them – my sweet granddaughters would say, “Mama only,” or “Only Papa.” That’s to be expected, right, so I didn’t feel so badly, but secretly, I wished to hear them say that it was me whom they preferred. I wanted to hear them say, “Only Lola.”

Today is the day that I prayed, longed, wished for.  Kathy had asked me to babysit my grandchildren as she had a doctor’s appointment towards noon, and the kids had music class at 10am.  As we left their house to go to Music Class, my younger granddaughter, A*, refusing help from Kathy’s helpers, said, “Only Lola.” Those words sounded as clear and melodious as bells on a carillon, or on a windchime, and I still hear them in my ears, and in my head. I think my whole body heard my granddaughter say, “Only Lola.”

Of course, it’s probably because her mama carried her bigger sister, G*, to leave me to carry the smaller one, but who cares? I just heard “Lola only,” and I chose to ignore the circumstances that made her say that. When she needed assistance in getting up to the car, she said again, “Lola only.” But then, she changed her mind, and said “Self. Self.” She’s 1-1/2 months short of being two years old, so I’m not going to dampen her attempt at being independent by insisting that she sticks to her first declaration, “Lola only.”

After Music Class, before we crossed the street, she turned down help from others, including our driver, Junie, and insisted, “Only Lola.”

That’s three times today, (well, 2-1/2 times) that I was the special, the chosen, the preferred one.

“Only Lola.” I’ll forever remember today.

P.S. Although I posted this today, instead of yesterday, the feeling is as strong today, as it was yesterday. I told Wowo this story last night, and this morning upon waking up, I asked him “Lola only?” and he said “Yes, you only.” <3

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Facing Up to a (Nursery) School Bully

A friend mentioned on Facebook that his son was being bullied, and he was trying to teach his son how to face up to the bully. I was reminded of an incident when our first daughter was just two years old. This is one instance of bullying concerning our children. There might have been more that didn’t reach our ears because maybe there was no need to. It could be that our eldest daughter passed on to her sisters the strategy for dealing with bullies.

When our eldest daughter, Ching Ching, not quite three years old, was attending nursery school, she was the youngest (and smallest) in the group. The minimum age was four, but the teacher made exception for her because she was eager to learn.

One day, she came home complaining about a boy classmate, Eljay (that’s his name, but I will not reveal his family name to protect his identity, and also because I honestly do not remember).  Eljay pulled her hair and she was upset. I advised her to tell him that if he did that again, that they would no longer be friends.

The next day, she came home saying that he pinched her. I had no idea that there was such a thing as bullying in nursery schools, and simply told Ching Ching to warn Eljay that if he hurt her again, that she would tell her teacher.

On the third day, she was still complaining about him. Obviously, the warnings I asked her to tell him did not work. John overheard our conversation – Ching Ching was not crying, just telling what happened, matter-of-factly. John asked her to face him, and instructed her to make a fist. She did, imitating with her left hand (she’s a leftie) what her dad did with his right hand.  He then added, “Don’t wait until he has hurt you; if he would as much as approach you – make a fist and hit him hard on the chin.” All I could say was, “John, how could you teach her that?”

The following day, she triumphantly declared that she did what her papa told her – to punch him on the chin - and now, Eljay does not hurt her anymore. He just sits next to her, or follows her around, but remains very well behaved.

When the class – I think that nursery class of Child Learning Center had about eight students – came to visit our home as part of their field trip, Eljay was holding hands with my daughter, and looking for Ching Ching’s papa. Which made me suspect that she told him who told her to punch him on the chin. Soon I saw the two kids, flanking John, holding his hands, one on each side. The three were inseparable during the whole time that they were at home.

Unbelievable. :)

But I acknowledged that John’s response and his instructions to our young daughter on how to deal with bullies solved the problem of bullying. I can only hope that every father’s little daughter is being taught how to stand up to a “bully.” Like Ching Ching was.