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.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Two Ends of A Spectrum: Teaching Our Children Chores

Our business, advertising photography, demands long work hours. It’s almost a 24/7 business, and at times, we could work on projects for 40 hours straight, without sleep, and with just quick 2-minute grab meals.

For this reason, John and I decided that the only way to successfully combine work and family life was to work from our home. As soon as I (or the more politically correct, “we”) got pregnant, we started looking for a house that we could convert into a studio, so we could have easy access to both our baby (later, two more babies) and our photo shoots.

Due to the requirements of our advertising photography business, we also needed to employ, not only photo assistants and office staff, but also a full complement of “kasambahay” (househelp) – “yaya” (nanny), “kusinera” (cook), “lavandera” (laundrywoman), “katulong” (housemaid and houseboy). (Note: I must apologize if these terms are no longer politically correct, and I must further explain to my non-Filipino friends that having this retinue of household assistants does not mean that we are rich. It is simply a lot easier to employ help in the Philippines than in western countries, although finding good people is getting more difficult nowadays).

John and I had different views on the matter of teaching children household chores.  I grew up in a poor household, and most of the time, we did not have even one kasambahay so I learned to clean dishes, wash and iron clothes (so expertly that I even know how to iron the delicate “Barong Tagalog”), and clean the house with “isis” (a rough leaf that works like Scotchbrite).  I didn’t quite learn how to cook because my mother had to help my father in their small handicraft business, and didn’t have much time for cooking. (My siblings and I grew up on easy-to-cook food that our mother occasionally cooked, or ordered from the panciteria (Chinese noodle shop). More delicious and nutritious fare was served by our aunt, Kakang Salud, our father’s half sister, a stay-at-home mom, who fortunately was our neighbor).  John’s family, on the other hand, was better off, and had a cook, driver, yaya and katulong. (John did have a taste of living without help when he lived in Bangkok for a year when he was 16 years old, but that’s another story).

Surrounded by many faithful kasambahay, I worried that my children would grow up not learning ordinary household chores.  I feared their growing dependence on others for even simple tasks.  One day, while at the dinner table, I heard one of them ask Yaya for a glass of juice that was just an arm’s reach away. I was horrified.

On the flip side, John was grateful that we had other people to do household chores, which allowed us to grab precious few moments to enjoy fun times with the kids. He quickly dismissed my fears and reassured me that our children would learn what they needed to learn when the time came for them to be on their own.
Still, as a mother, I had nagging fears that my children were growing up without learning house chores. I looked at them and worried that it may soon be too late to teach them. Fearing that I was running out of time – as they were growing fast - I just had to institute reforms in our household. While I still continued to employ all our kasambahay, I “banned” their coming up to the house (we live on the second floor) until we were done with our meals and chores, and after the children have left for school, or John and I have gone to the studio. At some point, I even told them that I, not they, would clean our house. (However, I did not volunteer to clean the studios and office. That was their job!).

I must admit that all these attempts for me to do house chores, while working full time managing our studio, were sporadic, inconsistent and short-termed. In short, I failed, but I did try. For the sake of my children, I did try. And I tried to make it fun!

We didn’t have a floor polisher then, and I used the traditional “bunot” (half a coconut husk used as floor scrubber) to polish the floor. The final polishing and to pick up dust on the floor was done by using a clean, soft cloth. The fun part was getting my daughters– one at a time – to ride on the cloth while I pulled it. Yes, work could be fun!

Washing dishes became a family ritual.  One daughter was assigned to soap, another to rinse and the third to dry dishes, and of course, glasses and cutlery, and all the cooking pans. Since they were very young, I had to switch to a set of plates that were both light and break-resistant. This was when we discovered Corelle plates – which came with matching saucers, bowls and mugs. They were light enough even for the youngest of our girls, and they were sturdy. Duralex glasses were almost indestructible, so we had them.  I bought Teflon-coated pots and pans, as they were light and easy to clean.

Since I was not a proficient cook, I took them to cooking lessons before they were tall enough to reach kitchen counters. One of our clients was the Maya Kitchen, which offered cooking lessons for children. They required an older minimum age, but fortunately, they made exceptions for my daughters. Until Kathy was nine years old – when she demonstrated a keen interest in cooking, I had to be the cook, albeit not a good one.  I only had time to cook breakfast, and dinner occasionally and on special occasions.  (This was simultaneous with our having a full-time cook, since we served food to our Adphoto staff and all our kasambahay everyday– so I really didn’t need to cook, but I wanted to, as I did not want my children to be strangers to cooking).

Doing laundry was somehow not part of our domestic curriculum, but travelling abroad offered them the opportunity to operate washing machines at Laundromats. They came back from travels eager to do this chore at home, since we had a washing machine, but the “katulong” and the “labandera” would not let them,  - they were afraid that I would scold them for letting my children do the laundry. I had to set the record straight. I needed to explain to all the “kasambahay” that my daughters needed to learn household chores, laundry included, and that I did not want them to grow up as “señoritas.”

 While they did house chores, Ching Ching and Sacha preferred to spend time with their books and computers. Kathy, on the other hand, was all over the house, cooking, not so much cleaning, but once in a while insisting on using the washing machine.  However, no one could be depended on to make up her bed.

I was going to gather my children for a “domestic conference” to scold them about leaving their beds unkempt, but John told me not to. Again, he said that they would learn when they needed to learn.

This was also his message to me when he would insist on my leaving plates in the sink, still unwashed, because he wanted the entire family to go somewhere, or play a game in the house. “Relax,” he would admonish me, and I would counter that I found washing dishes relaxing because I didn’t have to think, compute, evaluate options, strategize or make business decisions.

John and I stood on opposite ends of the domestic responsibility scale and I worried that John and I were confusing our children. I believed and preached that childhood was the time to teach chores, while John was convinced that childhood was a time for fun. Guess who was the easy winner? Between household responsibilities and games, between discipline and fun, between mama and papa, I’m sure you can guess whom they followed and obeyed.

Now, zoom past their growing years and fast forward to now that our daughters are all grown up and married. Did John’s fun policy turn them into slobs, or did my anxiety turn them into OCs?

To my pleasant surprise, I found out that I worried unnecessarily. Maybe there were small residues of my imploring voice etched in their brains, enough for them to develop a conscience for domestic responsibility. I smiled and felt proud when I saw that their own homes were clean, attractive and well kept.  They all know how to cook, even Ching who never showed that she cared for it as a child.  On our recent visit to her and her husband’s Mountain View home, she taught me how to use her washing machine.  On Kathy’s refrigerator is a master guide on housekeeping for her kasambahay to follow. Her children’s toys include child-sized brooms and mops. Kathy is still the champion cook and baker, and now gathering materials for a special, handmade, handcrafted family book of recipes. Dining with her, her husband and two daughters is like a five star hotel experience. Sacha can sew clothes, and with her husband, has even learned carpentry and how to disassemble and re-assemble a washing machine (because as is, it would not have fitted their stairway). In her “Quantified Self” records, she has statistics – on quantity, prices and frequency of purchases. It seems that she has weighed every potato, and know when chicken is on sale in the supermarket.  She can sew. She can knit. (I don’t remember if I taught her how to knit, but I know for sure that when she was in grade school, she was always crocheting).

I am proud!

In counterbalance, memories of fun times with John made them ready to leave unwashed plates and clothes (actually, to have and to use machines to clean them) for instant recreation, entertainment, and lots of family or couple bonding times. Ching and her John go on many trips, sports events and other adventures, and have been to more foreign destinations than any of us. Kathy and her John take their kids, and sometimes us, (or we take them) on frequent visits to the zoo, and on many road, boat, train, helicopter and plane rides. We visit farms, fun houses, and of course, Legoland. Preferring to stay at home, Sacha and her husband, Wayne, enjoy staycations (I first heard this word from her) – trying anything from playing ukuleles to learning Latin.

So, here we are, John and I, in the twilight of our years – happy to see our kids grow up to be responsible adults.  John and I may have come from two ends of the spectrum, representing two different views on how to raise children, but we’ve come to see those views meld into a happy, healthy balance.  It’s as if two different seeds actually grew intertwined to prove that yes, our children can experience and learn both – work when we have to, and have fun when we want to. We can even combine the two – have fun at work! There is wisdom in what I read that it does not have to be an “or,” it can be an “and.” J

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Look Who's Teaching Whom?

Dearest Sacha,

Here’s another story of you as a child.

We acquired our first computer, an Apple clone, in 1984, a year after you were born.  I think we bought a PC, with floppy disks, a year later.  This story will surely age me, but I am proud to say that then, and even now, I am not ashamed to admit what I didn’t or don’t know. I’d ask anyone – whether a more knowledgeable officemate, an experienced tutor, a willing friend, or my even more knowledgeable children.  When it comes to computers, you and Ching Ching were my best, and most expert, teachers.

Your sister, Ching Ching, was eight years old then, and took to the new machines like duck to water. Since I didn’t even know how to play computer games (papa was crazy about them), much less programming, I could not teach her.  Relying on a book, “Computer Programming for Kids,” she was self-taught. (I will write about how, as a grade-schooler, she became our resident computer expert, but that’s another story). Kathy was not really interested (she was more fascinated with horses and other animals) but you, even at a year old, were definitely curious about computers. By the time you were two, you could write your name by typing on the keyboard, and knew how to turn the computer on and off, and open drop down menus, by pointing the mouse at something and clicking it.

You grew up with computers and like Ching Ching, were very at home with the new technology.

While still in early grade school, you taught yourself how to play computer chess games– and would excitedly show us that you won against the computer. When we became awed by this feat, your papa bought a wooden chess set, and proudly challenged you to a game. You lost, you were upset, you cried and you didn’t want to play using the wooden set anymore. Then, you showed us your secret winning strategy, and why you preferred to play against the computer. Whenever you would find your hand losing, you would switch places – meaning switch from playing black to playing white or vice versa. We would have screamed “That’s cheating!” but that you even understood how the game was played was good enough for us. We did encourage you to learn the game, bought you chess books and let you join Milo’s summer programs that taught many sports, including chess.  You learned enough chess techniques to join and win a few Milo-sponsored chess competitions.

When you were 11 years old and a high school freshman, we switched from Lotus 1,2,3 to Excel. While everyone, including you and Ching Ching, said that Excel (and its accompanying programs, Word and PowerPoint) was user-friendlier, oldies like our accountant and myself, found it difficult to make the switch. You took on the task of teaching me. I could see even then that you would make a good teacher, as you patiently showed me, step by step, how to do computations on the new spreadsheet. I’d get lost in anything more than five steps, so you encouraged me by clapping and cheering me on as I succeeded in following a set of instructions, one step at a time.

I was proud of you because even at age 11, you could teach me.  At the same time, I was proud of myself, because I could admit even to my youngest daughter that I didn’t know how to do something.  I figured that the best way, maybe even the only way to learn, is to first be willing to confess that there was something, one or many things, that we did not know.

Fast forward to year 2015. Since you are in Canada, and I am here, I miss having you as my teacher. Don’t worry that I would stop learning. I promise you that I won’t. Sometimes, I’d still call you for help, and I appreciate your step-by-step online instructions. You’d be glad to know that now I see someone who might take your place as my child-teacher. At 69, I am now taking lessons on how to turn on gadgets and devices, and pretty soon, computer programs from my 2-1/2 year old granddaughter, Gaby, your niece. My teachers seem to be getting younger, but I will never forget the time when you were 11, when I learned Excel because you taught me.  You were my most enthusiastic and encouraging teacher. Thank you for your patience in teaching me.

Much love,