Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Old and New

At his latest parent-teacher conference, I was told that Little A's Shadow Teacher, after a year of working with our son and his teachers, has not been achieving results as quickly or effectively as we would have liked.

I agreed with them on this as I had been feeling the same way, and took immediate action. There is no doubt that she is intelligent and capable and clearly loves my son, but at this point, I had to do what was best for his development, which still lags far behind his peers'.

Big A and I had also been looking into giving up his Monday Speech Therapy, which he'd been attending for a year with little results. Most forums suggest abandoning a course or therapy after a couple of months if it doesn't seem to be working, but like all parents who grasp at straws, we didn't want to give up one class if there wasn't a replacement. We'd finally gotten another Monday class - Communication Therapy this time - and were willing to make a switch.

There was a Shadow Teacher I consulted when we first needed one for Little A. At the time he was working with another child, but last summer he emailed me to let me know he was available. At the time we wanted to stick with the one we had, and had trained from Day One to work with Little A, but time enough had passed to indicate she wasn't effective enough.

So we engaged the New Shadow (who came with a companion as he wasn't available on all the days of the week we needed one) and began the transition, which was interrupted by The Great Fall. Now we're into the Christmas break, so I expect another adjustment come January. We're readying ourselves for what the New Year will bring. Happy Holidays!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Great Fall

I thought it would be a regular Tuesday. Put in a load of laundry first thing in the morning, got some paperwork done over breakfast, made sure everything was ready for the dinner party Big A and I planned to attend that evening, and paid a visit to the bank while Little A was in therapy.

After talking with his therapist at the end of the class, I took Little A to school and headed off to the shop for a couple of hours. As I waited for the lift in the mall's carpark, my mobile rang. It was Little A's school, and this was the first time they had ever called me during class hours. My heart skipped a beat before I answered.

Little A has had an accident, his teacher said, as I heard him screaming in the background. He's bleeding from his ear. The headmistress is already on the phone to your pediatrician. Please could you come back now? Quickly as I could, I rushed back to school.

In the classroom, Little A lay on the floor whimpering. When I came in, he curled up against my chest, his hand cupping his right ear. I was told a car was on its way to take us to the doctor's office. The headmistress accompanied us there.

From what I gathered, his new shadow teacher (the current one leaves in a couple of weeks, so today was the second day of the transition from old to new) was playing with him, and when he picked up Little A, my boy threw his head backwards and pushed with his feet against the teacher's chest. He does this with Big A, to flip over. The New Shadow did not expect this, and dropped Little A, falling to the floor himself.

My son must have hit the ground so hard, though they could find no bumps on his skull, because his ear did not stop dripping blood for hours. Our pediatrician took us in immediately but couldn't get a good look because Little A was screaming and wiggling so much, so she sent us to an ENT. We went off to another hospital, with my mum this time, who'd rushed over herself as soon as she got the news. We left our car at home for Big A, who was also speeding back from work, breaking every traffic law in the book.

The ENT found torn skin in the ear canal, and ordered a CT scan to check if there were skull fractures. He warned us that if there was a fracture, he'd want to keep Little A overnight for observation. Big A, having once been little and no stranger to hospital emergency rooms himself, had anticipated this, and arrived armed with the Au Pair and extra clothes, books and toys for our boy.

We had to wait a few hours because Little A had had cornflakes in the car, and he needed to be sedated for the scan as there was no way he would lie on that cold hard metal bed voluntarily, even for a 2 minute procedure. Instead of waiting in the Trauma ward, we got a room and let him have a much-needed nap while I finally got to eat some lunch. This was at 5pm, and he had fallen just after noon.

At 730, we all walked down to the Radiology unit. The sedation team came, and I held my son as they injected him with a tranquilizer. He tried to fight the insertion of the IV and the tubes and wires, but quickly went under. Blinking back tears, I laid my son on the machine's hard table. The scan was over, as promised, in two minutes. I accompanied Little A to the recovery room while Big A stayed with our SuperDoc to hear the findings. The Au Pair cried as she watched our little boy being wheeled out on a full-size hospital bed.

In recovery, Little A was still half sedated as he removed off his oxygen tube, his pulse monitor and made every attempt to rip out his IV. SuperDoc's voice and mine calmed him down, but in the end the tubes had to come out because he refused to keep them in there. Groggy and nauseated, he climbed off the bed and would have made for the door if his legs hadn't given out. I sat him in my lap while he threw up in a basin, and we waited to be sent back to our room, watching the anxious faces of our family through the glass panels in the swing doors.

Back in the hospital room, Little A made up for the 12 hours since his breakfast, gobbling down a bowlful of food but then vomiting it back up again because the sedative was still wearing off. He stood under a hot shower and then played until bedtime. We made every effort to keep him quiet and still because it turned out he had two fractures, in the temporal bone and the occipitoparietal (?) one. The bleeding finally stopped and I put in the antibiotic ear drops as he slept.

We've got a struggle ahead of us keeping him from running, jumping and rough play for up to a month. But so far Little A is cooperating, walking slowly and climbing carefully. He is learning how to be less than a human dynamo at all times, which will certainly be wonderful if he manages to keep it up. As for me, I'm just taking it one day at a time. Just call me Humpty's mother.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Technical Difficulties

Last week, my laptop's hard drive conked out. Once upon a time that would have been earth-shattering, but with everything I'm dealing with at the moment - work, life, family - it was just a minor blip on the radar.

What did make me mad was discovering that the Internet Cloud site I was supposedly storing my files in as backup, the one that claimed to "automatically update files as you update them on your computer," was a total crock. Some of the files were 6 weeks out of date, and others never updated at all. I'd stopped emailing them to myself simply because I believed the stupid Cloud site's claims. (Okay, maybe I didn't read every single word of the fine print. Still. I have false advertising.)

So the only "real" data I had was what I'd either written in my trusty notebook (never without one, thankfully!) or I'd printed out. Thankfully, I'd just printed out a recent batch of Little A's photos since I still keep proper photo albums, otherwise all of this year's snapshots would have been completely lost.

Today I was told by the technicians that the files in said dead hard drive are unrecoverable. So now begins the task of rewriting 6 weeks' worth of daily sales reports and other things I really don't have time for since I can barely get the laundry and groceries done and my son to and from school on time, let alone find, buy and wrap Christmas gifts for my entire family (thank goodness friends and teachers have theirs already). So it's goodbye, sleep, for the rest of 2011. Now, where's that frozen margarita?

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Anger Management

On Saturday mornings, Little A has Occupational Therapy. It's in the next city about a 20 minute drive away from home. During the hour he's in class, I try and fill my time productively. Today I'd booked an appointment that was timed to finish in barely enough time for me to pick him up after the session was done.

Since the therapy centre is in an office building, it's fairly quiet on Saturdays, and only two or three out of six lifts are in operation. Apart from us parents and our special needs kids, the only other floor that seems abuzz with people is a call centre two floors up.

Little A's session time coincides, apparently, with breaktime for a particular shift of call centre agents. This means that after leaving him with his therapist, it can take up to 15 minutes to get a ride down the elevator, because every time one stops, it's already packed with people. Big A says to get into one that's going up, since once it stops on the call centre floor and fills up, it heads straight down with everyone inside.

Today I did just that, and found that Big A was right. I stood in a corner as the lift filled up with young people sporting bright orange ID lanyards proclaiming their employment for whatever business outsourcing firm they belong to. One smart aleck by the door thought it would be great fun to keep popping his arm between the doors every time they started to close, causing them to open again. The other people waiting on the floor for the lift to go down so that another would arrive, and we crammed like sardines inside, were far less amused.

After about 2 minutes of this unbelievable behaviour, I snapped, "Could you kindly stop that and allow the doors to shut? Some of us have better things to do with our time than stand around while you amuse yourself." The young man quickly pulled his hand in and allowed the door to shut, finally.

The lift started down, and I would have shut up if I didn't hear a sarcastic comment whispered by someone else inside the lift. I then retorted, "There's floor full of special needs children working below you, and not one of them behaves as badly as you do in a lift. If you can't observe proper elevator etiquette, you should just take the stairs in future." At this everyone fell silent.

Once we got to the ground floor and everyone poured out, I tapped the offending character on the shoulder and asked him to apologise. Perhaps his other companions found his antics amusing, but I certainly didn't.

I don't know if a mother's voice of authority works on anyone other than her own children, but I certainly hope I shamed some of those uneducated young people into better behaviour today.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Once on This Island

There's song that goes, "They paved Paradise and put up a parking lot..." In this case, they paved paradise, but brought electricity, sewage treatment, solid waste management, clean water, a team of teachers, healthcare and job opportunities for the residents of the island, while keeping as much of it as possible au naturel.

A win-win trade off, in my book. Balesin Island off Quezon province in the Philippines is a pristine piece of land that for three decades was largely left untouched, apart from an airstrip graded by the pilot who owned the island. Since sold to a corporate entity, development has been quick, but all of it sound, thanks to the capable hands of the sustainable island developer spearheading the work.

Big A and I spent a day here recently, at the invitation of said corporate entity, who are selling a limited number of membership shares to what will be a stunning vacation spot with six themed villages and the usual island recreational activities.

If we had the cash to spare, we may have purchased a share; unfortunately we've still got a large debt to pay off for the business we started a few months ago. But we hope for the next best thing - that our friends invest, and then invite us over.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Date Night

Lately, every time I get home from work in the evenings, which is right about the time Little A finishes his evening meal, he comes up to me and takes me to the door to indicate we should go out.

Where we used to walk to the playground or around the swimming pool outside, these days he likes to go further abroad - specifically, down the road to where a row of restaurants and cafes is situated.

He has decided on a favourite restaurant and heads straight for it and up the stairs to a preferred table. He sits and reads his book in enough time that it takes me to order and consume something. Since these regular dates are getting quite painful on the wallet, this means a small salad, an interesting appetizer, or even just a drink.

Some nights I convince him that we could go to Starbucks instead. He likes this too, after initially needing to be carried inside and shown that it wasn't a frightening place to be.

While Little A still has a long way to go improving his communication and social skills, this is a little help in that direction, I hope. And it's a wonderful way to bond with a child.

Friday, October 28, 2011


It's the school holidays again. This one would be an equivalent to what I once knew as half-term. Little A gets nearly two weeks off school and a week off therapy, so we hied off to the mountains for a few days.

The culminating activity for this half-term was a United Nations Day programme, with children from the five classes in Little A's preschool dressed in various costumes, shaking maracas, jumping up and down and moving to different bits of music.

This was Little A's third time onstage since last Christmas, when he simply cried and tried to get off at every opportunity. This time he'd been practicing assiduously with his classmates for weeks after getting accustomed to the new piece of music, but always with his Shadow Teacher nearby to give constant encouragement.

Come D-Day, she was off sick. Little A stood onstage, crying slightly because of the crowds and the noise, but calmed down when he heard the familiar music. He didn't do all the actions, but watched his classmates and did the ones he knew best and liked most.

Big A stood right in front with the video camera and tears in his eyes. My sister, her daughters and my mum were next to him and I was a few feet back. We were all very proud.

A huge thing that will get Little A going in the speech and behaviour management direction is imitation. He does things voluntarily but rarely upon command. So the main focus of our work the past year has been to this end. It's gratifying to see some results, and we pray he continues to improve.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Making the Grade

I met a good friend for tea this afternoon. She's been studying for the bar exams these past few months, but took time off yesterday to celebrate with her husband and sons because the first term's marks had been released and both boys made the honor roll.

My sister and her daughters came along too, because both girls had gotten good grades as well. While sitting at a cafe outside a large toy store, we saw countless parents with their children there for the same reason. (Little A was home, asleep.)

I was simultaneously appalled and fascinated to see this blatant display of material rewarding. While at university 15 years ago, I remember being amazed at how some classmates would boast of receiving large cash sums as a "prize" for making the Dean's List. Upon mentioning this to my parents they replied, "We never believed in using such incentives. You should earn good grades for your own sense of accomplishment, not because there will be a cash reward for doing so." They were so right.

At boarding school, earning a prize on Speech Day came in the form of a paper certificate and a book token. I loved this reward system, because it made sense. Surely those hungry for knowledge would want to enrich this by acquiring more, then only available in the form of books.

As children, my sisters and I looked forward to visiting the bookstore on weekends with our parents and picking out one book each - two if we were lucky. I cannot recall a single instance of a visit to a toy store that inspired such happiness.

While sitting outside that toy store I wondered if the bookstore at the opposite end of the mall was doing as well. I hoped so, and I hoped that more parents begin to realize what my parents knew so long ago - that books can often create a far richer sense of fulfillment than many toys can.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Worlds Collide

September sped by and I survived relatively unscathed. Little A's godmother, her partner and my newest goddaughter are now back in chilly Helsinki after a visit to Manila that was all too brief. The big corporate event I was supposed to help organise was postponed because two years and a day after one huge storm hit the city, another came along and caused significant damage to the hotel that was meant to be our event venue.

Part of my duties for this event's coordination included sourcing the evening's entertainment. Dance was the chosen medium for the conference's opening number. As I did wear pointe shoes for a large chunk of my life, no one was more qualified than I to find the perfect performers.

During the search, I realised that despite the many hats most of us now wear, all of my dance colleagues have remained in the industry somehow or another. Once you've gotten it in your blood, you can never be rid of it. My dance friends now run their own schools, choreograph, teach or do related things like costume design, notation or makeup.

Coming back in contact with my local dance friends has, sadly, taken the form of securing them as event entertainment as I've been unable since having Little A to take enough time out to go to the theatre and see a performance. One simple question by the director/choreographer at the recent event meeting made me realise I truly miss this part of myself. Not the glare of the lights nor the sound of applause, but the use of my body to express what words could never adequately convey.

Since giving up professional dance, I've been asked countless times to open a school or teach young children. I don't know that I want to do that yet. Perhaps there's still enough in these tired limbs to get the blood flowing again. Perhaps in the not-too-distant future I can put my shoes on, get back into shape and once more move to beautiful music. Who knows?

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Changing the Rules

Independence is something all children achieve in time. Or so we hope. From taking those first unassisted steps to moving into their own homes, there are so many levels a person goes through in the course of life.

Recently I've discovered that I need to adjust to allow Little A more independence. But how does one transition from "No" to "Yes" gracefully, without seeming self-contradictory or having to offer long-winded explanations?

Some things are still at the NEVER level: touching the stovetop, iron and open flame, crossing the street, going out the front door or getting into an elevator alone, climbing out of a wet bathtub and onto the highest level of the playground slide without a safety barrier.

Others need to move to the CAREFULLY level though: stepping on and off escalators accompanied (but not necessarily holding hands), pouring glasses of water, using the toilet unaccompanied.

Apart from using the "Now you are bigger, you can try this by yourself" line, what other ways are there to take children to the next level of independence? I'd appreciate any suggestions.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Stressful September

This month, I am stretched thin, nearly to the point of tearing. Metaphorically speaking, of course. My calendar is full, and choices must be made.

While one foreign-based friend has headed back to the other side of the world, another has just arrived, husband and baby in tow. Both these friends of nearly two decades are Little A's godmothers and both have not been home (they live with their husbands in cold Europe) in over two years. So spending as much time with each other as possible while they are in town is of high priority.

On the other hand, there are inescapable work requirements, plus a very important corporate event I was booked for months ago which takes place in two weeks, not to mention wife and mother duties.

So I find myself choosing, but the choices are not easy.

My book club events have taken a back seat this month to a wedding, a scheduled but sudden play date, and an important client presentation. I love these new reader friends and hope they understand but am certain they will, as they too must have kindred souls and brothers and sisters of the heart whose company they crave after being so long apart.

Next month, I hope, I will be able to breathe. But then the Christmas rush will be upon us. I will cross that bridge when it comes.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

I Have a Little Shadow

Now that Little A loves school and I no longer need to hang around on-site in case he comes crying and looking for me or just wants to exit the classroom, (all of which he used to do frequently) I hardly know what goes on when he's there. Since he won't tell me about his days, all I can do is drop him off and pick him every day up like a good mother.

Thank goodness for the Shadow Teacher's journal. Again, I only get two mornings a week to read five days' worth of school activities, but it's better than wondering or having to grill an already tired teacher at the end of every school day.

Her very detailed journal chronicles their activities together both in and out of the classroom. I give verbal reports on the latest developments with his various therapists and she tries to incorporate all the efforts into her work with him.

Sometimes he still surprises us. Lately he's typed "hed" for head, "otr" (otter) and "egele" (eagle) into the keyboard. Those were easy enough to interpret, and once I corrected his spelling he didn't get those words wrong again. Harder was "hipots", which turned out to be his version of hippopotamus.

One day I saw that he had spelled "time" with letter tiles, and concluded this was part of what they were learning at school about the calendar. He's been arranging his letter tiles into fours or threes, but never upon command. So he may be getting the concept of quantities, even if I didn't think he listened when I tried to explain them to him.

His Shadow Teacher reports that last week at school, the teachers were trying to determine if he could identify beginning letters by pointing them out when presented with an object. Clearly bored with that simple lesson, he quickly spelled out "corn" (a word no one had ever taught him to spell) when presented with a plastic corncob, then took it and went off to play farmer.

When he wants to get her attention in the classroom he stands in front of her and looks at her face until she makes eye contact with him, and then smiles. He's gone from being annoyed with her to having a classroom buddy to interpret his gestures and babbling.

Non-verbal communication is extremely difficult for human beings. Most difficult for the person who knows what he wants to say, but cannot express it verbally. We've had a recent run of checkups, and I've gotten a pediatric neurologist's number to see if there's anything that can be done to address what may be apraxia or dyspraxia or some other thing I need to read more about. Whatever it is, I pray that one day we discover the key and unlock Little A's mind-mouth connection so he can finally tell us everything he's been wanting to say.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Darkest Hour

There are all sorts of sayings about having to go through trials before getting a just reward. All sorts of advice, too. From fortune telling to prayer to the alignment of the stars, every belief set has its own sage wisdom.

Still, when you're at that low point, sometimes it seems like it's never going to end. Plans pan out, hopes are dashed; before even drawing breath, you're back at square one.

Big A and I were beginning to wonder if the light was ever going to come. All his professional life, he'd been in the most volatile sector of the finance industry. Well and good if you're young, single, and feeling invincible. Not so when you've got bills to pay and a family to support and one part-time paycheck just won't cut it.

After two major economic recessions, some boom years but just as many, if not more, bust ones, we'd had enough. One must learn from one's mistakes, and our little boy's needs weren't getting any fewer, no matter how thin we managed to stretch what was left in our bank accounts.

Just as we were about to scrape bottom, our prayers were answered. A business opportunity Big A had been studying assiduously for weeks took shape. The loan we needed to take on to make this all happen was approved. Lawyer drew up papers. In a couple of weeks, we will turn a corner and start a new phase of our life together.

It will be hard. It will require keeping those belts tightly notched for half a dozen or so years more until the debt is paid back. But it will keep food on the table and Little A in school and a roof over our heads. And that's all that really matters. All else is just gravy, and we know that if we cook our meat just so, when the time is right, the juices will flow and so we will enjoy that benefit too.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Like Father, Like Son

I love my boys. My constant companions, they are a dynamic duo with a love/hate relationship. (Hate when the little one hogs the iPad and the big one wants his turn, or when the big one says it's time for the little one to get out of the swimming pool - though lately that last task has fallen to me, so I am the villain.)

In some ways they are totally unlike each other, in other ways they are undoubtedly father and son.

Either way, these photos through the years will always be something to treasure.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

A Fitting End

Cinemas worldwide will be packed this weekend, as the last film of what is likely to be the bestselling children's book series of all time hits the screens.

Harry Potter has played a huge part in many lives this past decade and a half, least of all my own. My nephew was born the year the first book was published, and read the series as avidly as I did when he was older.

I first heard about the Harry Potter books from my sister's ex-boyfriend. Curious, I bought the first book and found it an interesting read, with strong echoes of Roald Dahl. Upon learning the author was British, I asked my sister, then at university in London, to bring home the second book for me, and the third when it came out in paperback, as they were unavailable in local bookstores at the time.

By the end of Book 3, I realised that Rowling had gone beyond her literary influences and indeed created a world that was nothing less than magical. A first edition Book 4 was my first ever Amazon.co.uk purchase, with a copy that was delivered to my parents' London flat just in time for their return trip to Manila.

With Bloomsbury editions unavailable in my country, (Scholastic has the rights to publish and sell Harry Potter books in America and the Philippines) I had to find other ways to complete my collection. Book 5 was purchased online and brought home by a colleague who was in Singapore at the time of the release. Book 6 was bought at a Hong Kong bookshop (it seems that former UK colonies sell UK editions, and former American colonies sell US ones) when my best friend's family were there on holiday right after it went on sale.

Book 7, being the last, was special. I wanted to be in London, queueing up outside a bookshop for the midnight release, but my life had other plans. Little A was born two days before the final book was launched worldwide, and while my fellow fans spent July 7, 2007 with their noses buried in their books, I was in hospital, nursing and burping a newborn every two hours.

Little A's godmother took my last book home from Edinburgh in time for his christening, a full two months after its release. It was the longest wait I'd ever had to make for a Harry Potter book, but I hardly noticed it, what with colic and nappies and sleeplessness.

When I started reading, in fits as my baby slept, I didn't mind the wait at all. The series got ever better as it advanced, and the ending was no less magical than I had hoped for. These books have been reread numerous times, and will be read again in years to come.

The films are equally memorable, as they chronicle my relationship with Big A quite well. We watched every movie on the first day of release from the same seats in the same cinema until it shut down after the third film, which I had to watch on my own as Big A was at a golf tournament. He knew better the next time though, and made sure he was always free on the day a new movie was released.

We saw the last one today, and I thought it was done just as wonderfully as the book ended. And we do not bid the series farewell, but look forward to Little A enjoying it in years to come.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Fantastic Four

Four years old. This year, for the first time ever, Little A blew out his birthday candles. On the day itself, we fed his classmates and gave them goodie bags, and then had a quiet lunch with his cousins and grandparents at the weekend.

Little A knows birthdays are special, and has been looking over the photographs and watching videos of previous celebrations as if to show us he remembers. He counts on his fingers and smiles sweetly when we get to number four, and sometimes brings us his birthday candle so he can practice blowing it out.

One thing we have noticed is that he is much calmer these days. The time for tantrums seems to have passed (fingers crossed!) and he understands that he can't always get what he wants, when he wants it.

Happy Birthday, Little A. May you stay healthy and happy and continue to grow in all the ways you can. We love you.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Back to School

Little A went back to school last week, and I marveled at how far we have come in 2 1/2 years.

When he started playschool at 16 months, we pulled him out after 3 months, because he couldn't engage with the teachers and didn't seem interested in the group activities. A year later, I enrolled him in a preschool twice a week, and not only were his teachers terrible, he was bullied constantly.

Midway through this first semester, we finally got his ASD diagnosis. He began therapy, but when I asked if he needed a shadow teacher and a more structured school program, his clueless teachers couldn't give me an answer. He spent most of that semester crying, and I gritted my teeth and waited until he moved into the next class, hopefully with better teachers.

When the schoolyear started last year and he started attending classes thrice a week, we were finally advised to find him a shadow teacher, a process that took close to three months to complete. Once they had adjusted to each other and the regular teachers, Little A began to really enjoy school.

By the time classes ended last March, it was difficult to tear him away at the end of a day. He happily attended his summer classes, and come this month, when he has been enrolled for daily classes, he bounces into the room without even waving me goodbye.

While he still has a way to go yet before he will be "big school ready", he has shown great improvements in being able to tolerate sitting with the group, following the class schedule and the like.

Academically, he is ahead of his age group in some ways - reading and spelling, but he needs work with writing. We're working on math skills now, and hopefully he will prove as astute with numbers as he is with letters.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Saying Goodbye to Summer

We managed to squeeze in a single trip before the summer ended. Our regular mountain visit took place the week before Little A went back to school.

This time around, apart from the usual time spent at the day care centre and visits to see horses (he is still afraid to ride them but loves to watch them in action), he discovered Guitar Hero. A pair of big boys were very accommodating, and allowed him to interrupt and then join their music time.

We also visited a museum nearby, and spent plenty of time in the fresh mountain air. Now we are back and ready for a new school year.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Dying Young

The world was supposed to end today. For most of us, it didn't. But for some, it did. Round about the time the Rapture was supposed to take place, the husband of a dear friend lost his battle with cancer and went ungently into the good night.

Death happens. We all know that. Yet we manage, most of the time, to keep ourselves removed from its reality. Until it happens to someone we love, and we realise that it comes to regular people, not just terrorists or criminals, but everyday people who make a living, care for their families, and just get through the days like we do.

My dear friend, at age 34, is now a widow. We, her friends, are devastated, and very much aware of our mortality. What can we do, what can we say, to make things easier for her to bear? To make it less painful for her to see her husband's remains cremated and fly them to the other side of the world, where he came from, and then pick up what was left of their life together, alone?

There are no words to express this kind of sorrow. Or perhaps there are, only I can't find them yet. All I can hope for is that when he went, he did indeed feel Rapture.

Friday, May 20, 2011

The Count

By accident, just the way we found out he could read, I discovered Little A could count beyond 20. He has a magnetic calendar board with the days of the week and months of the year, so he can stick on the dates from day to day if he wants to.

For a long time, he only played with the hands of the clock on this board, pointing out the numbers from 1-12. Then one day he took notice of the date numbers. More quickly than I expected, and without any help from anyone, he put the numbers 1-31 in order and looked for more. The iPad has an app that counts until 50, so clearly he's been paying attention to this. There is also a poster on his wall with numbers up to 100, and he's been pointing to these one by one and asking us to count for him.

So - reading, check! Counting, check! Next comes simple Maths. My Waterloo. I do hope I'm up to this.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Me Time

As every mother knows, there are never enough hours in a day. Getting the kids ready and to and from school, driving them to and from their other activities, grocery shopping, doing laundry, cooking, and trying to squeeze in work besides - it's no wonder there is a day set aside in our honour. What is a wonder is that it is only one day in a year.

One of the things that comes last on a mother's list of priorities is herself. Where once she would enjoy a few hours a week on her own, to get a manicure, go to the gym or quietly read, there is now a whole barrage of other, more pressing, things to get done in that time. "Me" time for mothers is reduced to a ten minute bath or five minute shower, and even that is rarely uninterrupted.

One of my goals this year (and last year, come to that) is to try and get back into shape. I've put on some pounds where I don't want them to be, and feel decidedly unfit. Last year, I managed a grand total of TWO exercise classes. This year I signed up for four to start with. Two are done, and I feel like I'm inching toward that fitness goal. There's a long way to go, but if I only steal an hour and a half per week for myself til the end of the year, I may yet achieve it.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Live and Learn

Little A loves the iPad. Many mothers tout it as the ultimate electronic babysitter, keeping children quiet in restaurants and such, but we appreciate it even more than the average parent, because it is shaping up to be an excellent communication tool for autistic or nonverbal children.

This month is Autism Month and in honor of this, there are numerous free apps available, all of which Big A has downloaded. Little A enjoys learning, and some of our friends have asked about these applications as their children only use the iPad to play games.

As with anything, we limit Little A's time with this gadget, and he has learned how to ask for it, and how not to be angry if it isn't his turn. While traditional teaching methods may still be the most effective, there's no denying that these modern tools are a great help. We're very glad for this one.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Skills Test

Ah, summer. Here indeed, just in time for Easter. Sweltering days and still evenings, but so far the temperatures have not soared to the heights of last year, thankfully.

What is called Holy Week in the Philippines are the few days preceding Easter Sunday. Holy Thursday and Good Friday are always holidays in this predominantly Catholic country, and unlike other holidays, on these two days shopping malls are closed. Hooray! This means a real holiday for me.

Little A picked this week to fall sick - probably good timing since it was also his week off school and therapy. He had an unexplained four day fever that had us worried, but finally (fingers crossed!) disappeared last night.

Otherwise, he's been having a busy summer - swimming every day after morning class or therapy, and keeping active indoors. He's into alphabet letters, reading and words now, so I recently tested his skills by writing animal names in crayon on the floor and had him put matching figures by the words by reading them. He did every one correctly, with no help or prompting.

He's also becoming more communicative with his gestures. Tapping on my cheek with his fingertip now seems to mean "please" as well as "sorry", and prompting me to smile and say "it's okay" tells him that I've accepted his apology.

Speech still to come, but this is improvement, and we are glad.

Friday, April 15, 2011


Normally, this time of the year in this part of the world is unbearable. We can hardly step outdoors for fear of being fried, and the electric bills soar with air-conditioning units going full blast, all day long.

This year though, whether it is due to climate change or La Nina, summer is perfect. Admittedly, the sun has only come out this week (when we are usually sweltering by mid-February), but it is not as intense as April sun usually is.

Little A is in school at lunchtime thrice a week, so I use those two hours to work, walking to and from the little shop. If it was a "regular" summer, the walk would be akin to crossing a desert at high noon. But now, it's pleasant. Sometimes sunny, sometimes overcast.

As soon as we get home from school, into the pool we go. I can work on my summertime Ts - toning and tanning - while towing Little A around the pool. Then comes late lunch, naptime for Little A, and back to work for me.

Summer is shaping up beautifully. Hope yours is too.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Driving the Mummy Mobile

I call it The Tank. A friend calls hers The Behemoth, though I have a feeling hers is larger than mine. No, we aren't using euphemisms for any body parts. We're talking gas guzzlers here.

A few weeks ago, my faithful car of ten years was sold. I loved that car. It was a colour one could never miss, meaning I never had to wander through parking lots just to find it, and it took me everywhere I needed safely - to and from work every day, on errands, and to every doctor's appointment when I was pregnant, including the trip to the hospital on the day Little A was born. Best of all, it got great mileage.

Little A loved the car too - he picked it out among others in a crowded lot, marked orange as his first ever favourite colour, and always chose the little car over daddy's big black truck when asked.

Still, there were signs that the orange car needed to be replaced. In the last few years, servicing costs were through the roof. Major parts needed changing. Rattling sounds wouldn't go away. Luckily, our friendly mechanic agreed to buy it for his daughter, since he knew what a great car it really was and had the ability to fix it up relatively cheaply. So what started as a servicing trip ended up being the last time I saw my little car. And I didn't even get to properly say goodbye.

I wanted another fuel-efficient car to replace this one, but given the budget we had for a "new" old one, there was none to be found. Available little cars were in poor condition, miles racked up were astronomical, or they were just as old as my orange one, meaning the same costly repairs would be needed.

Then Big A found a great deal. On a car for himself. One that was old, but in wonderful condition and with a ridiculously small number on its odometer. It was a car we could sell easily in a few years and still make good money on.

So now Big A had two cars, and I had none. The big black truck suddenly became my car, and in one fell swoop I went from carbon credit conscious girl to suburban mother in tank.

The truck is large. It keeps us safe. Little A and I are like two peas rattling around in it, and because it has so many areas to explore (a large roomy trunk accessible by climbing over the backseat), he is hardly ever in his car seat. He also insists on riding his Little Truck inside the big one whenever possible.

It is not hard to drive, and not that hard to parallel park - the turning radius is more of a hindrance than the size. But it consumes fuel frighteningly. We now get less than half the mileage Little Orange Car did. And with everything that's going on in Libya, petrol prices are sky high. So we need to make adjustments to make up for this sudden size increase in our family's carbon footprint.

Anyone with any suggestions on how to do that, please send them over.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

I Am Mother, Hear Me Roar

Much fuss is being made these days over a book, mainly because of the reactions this article sparked. Parents, children and parenting experts worldwide agree, disagree, and air their two cents' worth.

As a mother and a daughter, I think there are some fine things to be said about discipline and instilling a good work/study ethic in children. These days everything is so different from the time of my own childhood: instant communication versus snail mail, a worldwide marketplace and wealth of information at one's fingertips that keep one from having to even stand up, let alone discover patience and the value of looking for something in a library, and, thankfully, a growing awareness that everyone is unique and some are more special than others and need extra help.

At the end of it all though, in order to raise an individual you can be proud of, one you feel will make as best a contribution to society that nurture will allow, you do what works for you. This may be based on how you yourself were raised, on what you read or on what others say. Or a combination of all three. Every child is different, so every parenting style is too. I know mothers who treat each of their children differently in order to obtain the same results.

Tiger-raising is not strange in this part of the world, with a significant component of the population being partly or fully Chinese and many of the country's movers and shakers having three letter last names. One of Little A's friends is barely three and has daily lessons in four languages, tests every week and elocution programs where they recite nursery rhymes. In preschool. Her Filipino mother (the girl's father is Chinese Filipino) needed more adjustment to this way of learning that the child did, but both now seem to be doing fine.

Different strokes for different folks. One thing we mothers all have in common though, is the fierce determination to protect our children. No matter what anyone might say, there is a tiger in every mother.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Thinking About the End

While Little A napped this afternoon, Big A and I watched a very sad movie on tv. It was an end of the world story, but this time America didn't save the day. Several children from around the globe were chosen, though, to be spared and continue the human race, presumably on another planet.

It was the story of a parent's love for his child more than anything, and it made my heart ache because the little boy reminded us of our own. It was hopeful though, in an incredibly sad way, and we took it to mean that if anything should happen to us, our boy would not be left uncared for or alone in the world.

This came hot on the heels of a very good friend and her husband flying into town unknown to all but very few family members and friends, because he is after more aggressive cancer treatments that are not being offered in their home country since he, at not even 35 years of age, despite being fit and reasonably active, was suddenly diagnosed with stage 4 cancer barely four months ago.

It is a shocking tragedy when someone is struck with any sickness, but even more so when they are someone you know and care about, and someone who should have many more years ahead of them.

We've spent the past month researching alternative treatments for him, and of course hope and pray that they will work. He is strong and positive, and determined to fight what will probably be the most challenging battle of his life. We stand beside him to give him whatever support we can.

Finally, a little note of sympathy for the people of Japan.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Birthday Season

The month of March is always a merry one. From the first day to (nearly) the last, there is a birthday of someone near or dear. One niece, one nephew, two godchildren, a sister-in-law, about 10 good friends and finally Big A and myself.

Cake bakers are busy and restaurants do good business. Ideally my little shop will too. Evenings are studded with dinners and drinks, and weekends are packed with children's parties, some of which overlap and necessitate rushing from one to another.

This year, one near friend and one very far away but very dear one are having babies this month. More March celebrations for the years to come.

Happy Birthday, fellow Martians!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Special Days

A couple of weeks ago, Big A and I marked five years of marriage and a decade of knowing each other. We didn't do anything fancy, but felt the special-ness of the occasion anyway, particularly when we looked back on all that had happened since the year 2000 ended.

Ten years is a long time, and yet it seems so short in other ways. Ten years ago, Big A and I were both enjoying the single life, and seeing each other in addition to other people. Six years ago, we moved in together. Three and a half years ago, Little A came into the world.

So much has happened, and in other ways, so little has changed.

May we be blessed with many more decades together, now we are a family.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Lions and Tigers and Ponies, Oh My!

We took Little A to the children's zoo last week. Located in the middle of the urban jungle, it is called The Ark, since all the animals are kept in a smallish building in roomy areas behind glass (big cats), open ponds (fish, crocodiles, geese and ducks), pens (goats, sheep, pigs, rabbits and guinea pigs) or cages (small snakes, birds).

Since he loves ducks and fish, Little A spent plenty of time peering into the ponds. The eagles and owls tethered by their legs to wooden posts were slightly frightening as they had limited flight space and could hit or peck a small child. Keepers brought out an orangutan the same size as my son, but with hands and arms the size of Big A's. It was a friendly creature, but both Little A and I were hesitant to sit so close to him and have our photos taken.

A fan of horses, Little A ran towards the Shetland pony. A blanket was put on the horse's back, and despite the lack of anything to hold on to (no reins, stirrups, or rope of any kind), keepers told us he could be ridden. My little boy didn't want to, though, just yet.

We visited the second floor, where Little A fed the rabbits and large guinea pigs a carrot on a stick. He thoroughly enjoyed the swing in the recreation area, but when we went downstairs to head home, he decided he was brave enough to get on the pony.

Because there was nothing to hold on to, and I was afraid he'd pull the horse's mane too tightly, I stood next to my little boy to keep him balanced. The keeper led him once around the lower area with me walking alongside the horse, then Little A motioned that he wanted to go again.

Midway through the second round, another keeper came out of a side door. For some reason, this startled the pony, who kicked me hard in the leg and bolted around the corner, throwing off Little A in the process.

My son landed on his side on a rough concrete floor. He cried loudly, from shock more than anything else. Naturally, the few people in the building came running. Ice packs, a nurse's examination, and curious onlookers resulted. Little A seemed uninjured save for a scratch on his forehead, but I suffered a nasty bruise on my leg in the perfect shape of a horse's hoof.

Before going home, we encouraged Little A to get back on the pony, just so he wouldn't be afraid of horses in the future. He did, and went around the closed area once more. Despite his calm leave-taking, he does seem to harbour some sense of unease about the visit, as when he looks at the videos on my husband's mobile phone these days, he always chooses to skip the ones of the trip to the zoo.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Getting a Life

For about 2 decades, a book called Four Bare Legs on a Bed has sat on a shelf in my parents' house. My mum bought it on one of her trips to London, but it never seemed to appeal to me and was one of the few books in the house I never read.

My mother was mainly responsible for my love for books. She stocked the home shelves well, and still buys me great titles when she travels without my asking for them. And yet, in nearly 35 years of being alive, I have never once seen her reading.

This always perplexed me, for how can a woman with such great literary taste (to me, anyway), not read the books she carefully purchases? Then I became a mother, and then I understood.

Late last year, Helen Simpson's Getting a Life came my way via Bookmooch. I recognized it had the same author as the book sitting in my mum's reading room (one review says it is in fact the same book, retitled and rejacketed for the American market), and noted that the first book won a writing award. Still, it took a few months for me to pick it up and read it.

The book now sits on my shelf and in my mind as a true gem. Simpson writes beautifully, and strikes such a chord in me with these stories that I wish every mother had their own copy, and that every father could read it too.

The author is a mother herself, and knows whereof she writes. What makes this book so resonant is that it shows how mothers are all, in fact, in the same boat, and they know this, but cannot reach out their hands to each other for support, for these hands are too busy "running the domestic circus, functioning as the beating heart of the family".

"Their needs were what was set. Surely that was the logic of it. It was for her to adapt, accommodate, modify in order to allow the familial organism to flourish. Here she was weeping over her own egotism like a novice nun, for goodness' sake, except it was the family instead of God. But still it was necessary, selflessness, for a while, even if it made you spat upon by the world. By your husband. By your children. By yourself."

I share my mother's knowledge now of "the shelves of books on the wall loaded with forbidden fruit, impossible to broach, sealed off by the laws of necessity from (her) maternal eyes. During the past five years, reading a book had become (for her) an activity engaged in at somebody else's expense."

Simpson rightly and beautifully illustrates how the family unit is in fact "a seesaw", and in order for one to take time for herself, the other parent must take up the slack, something few men are willing to do, so blindingly oblivious are they to all but their own needs and desires.

Like each story's protagonists, I love my husband. But wish he would realise just how demanding running a family really is. Still, now I feel less alone, less helpless. I know that mothers and wives all over the world feel the same way.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Wakey Wakey

We seem to be reaching a scary point in Little A's life. The time when he starts giving up his nap. Scary for me, and for every one else in our home who needs those two or three quiet hours in the afternoon to rest. And breathe. And do the grocery shopping. And work.

Little A is unbelievably active. When he was tiny, Big A and I would say that we hoped he would get into parkour when he grew bigger. Boy, did we get what we wished for. His gross motor skills developed unbelievably quickly, and he was walking unassisted at 9 months. Running and climbing quickly followed. My sister half-jokes that Little A was never a baby, but was born and turned immediately into a toddler.

At 3 and a half, he is pure energy. He drinks no milk and eats no sweets, out of his own choice. I dread to think what it would be like trying to keep up with him if he liked sweets and caffeinated things such as chocolate.

Jumping off furniture is something he would do all day long if he could. He can get up places higher than his head with little more than one or two hand and foot-holds. Here he is on top of his play slide, which is about 4.5 feet high.

It took nearly two years to get him to sleep decent stretches at a time, so it seems too soon for my sanity for him to give up his nap. My mum says I stopped napping before I was three, so we should be glad Little A still naps regularly. With a little bit of luck, we'll reach his fourth birthday before he fully gives up these precious afternoon sleeps.

Monday, January 10, 2011

2011 in Books

This year, my reading challenge is simple - to read 50 books from what is now a huge - 70 book - TBR (To Be Read) pile. After the 50 are done, I carry on reading, and by the end of this year hopefully on my reading list will be 20 classics, 15 award-winning books and at least 5 Filipino-authored books. Plus a much smaller TBR (a dozen books at most.)

Big A is beginning to despair of ever getting his well-organized home back, and has already had the contractor in to see where additional bookshelves can be installed. He also gave me a Kindle for Christmas so I can theoretically store all further book purchases on one slim machine instead of all over the apartment.

The problem is, not all the books I want to read are available in e-book format. Plus, it's a machine. One spill of water, coffee or whatever liquid means my entire digital library is inaccessible, and I have to fork out far more than the cost of a replacement book to get it fixed. I will also be reliant on having a plug socket to keep it alive, though the battery life is amazing. Most importantly, I need to be sure my active little boy doesn't accidentally sit on it, step on it or drop it.

In my book (pun intended), the e-reader will never replace paper. They can, however, live harmoniously side by side. In halving my library between digital and printed formats, I do a little bit more to save the trees, plus keep my flat just that much further away from being submerged in books.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Happy Holidays!

This was Little A over the Christmas holidays. He loves the drums at his grandparents' house and plays them enthusiastically every time he visits - provided there are people to clap for him, of course.

He also discarded the cards on the My First Scrabble set soon after opening it, choosing instead to spell something without anyone's help. Straight from the shower, he ran to the tiles and when I came in to put his clothes on saw that he'd spelled a new word correctly and completely. Until now his favourites have been "duck," "musical ins" (short for instruments) and the usual "cat," "dog," and "Thomas" for the train.

His teachers at school don't believe he can spell, as he still hasn't shown them what he can do, given that the alphabet boards in the classroom only have one of each letter. Big A and I though are certain there are many more words he already knows, and we can't wait until he spells them for us.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Another Year Over

Hello, 2011. Here you are already. As a new year has begun, I look back on the one just gone.

2010 seemed to fly by, but within the 12 months, many things happened. Big A started a new job midyear and then resigned in November. Little A started therapy - twice a week OT, and in the last quarter of the year added a weekly Speech Therapy session and thrice a week sessions with a home behaviour specialist/ shadow teacher.

He still does not speak, but he now reads and spells many words. He still loves to jump, run and climb, but can now sit still in a restaurant and allow us to eat a quick meal. He tolerates noisy places and birthday parties and has become more consistent in following instructions.

We did not travel out of the country in 2010, a first since Little A was born. We did make several local trips, to the mountains and the beach. I read 200 books, and the little shop that started in November 2009 just celebrated its first birthday. I managed two exercise classes and a few more book discussions.

All in all, a good year. Looking forward to the new one, as at the end of this month, Big A and I celebrate 10 years of knowing each other and 5 years of marriage. We also have milestone birthdays to look forward to. Cheers to a bright 2011!