Thursday, December 31, 2015

2015 Comes to a Close

Another year is nearly over. The month of December is always a chaotic one, particularly because it happens to be peak season at my two shops. This month, after wildlife weekend Big A and I had to fly to Hong Kong quickly to collect some corporate ribbon orders, and then the following weekend we took Little A to the mountains for our annual end-of-the-year trip.

The "snow" village is only open in December, and this year we were properly equipped with wellingtons and a raincoat. Little A wasn't feeling too well, but he rallied like a trooper as best as he could, and enjoyed, for the first time since we begun staying there, the Japanese restaurant at the Country Club. He has taken to watching cooking shows on YouTube recently, and was thrilled to see the chef at the teppanyaki table prepare his meal.

Little A wasn't the only one feeling out of sorts. I experienced terrible vertigo for most of the month, possibly due to an ear infection, adverse reactions to my new birth control pill , or simply stress and over fatigue. Little A was sleeping well, thankfully, and I was on track in the presents department, with all gifts wrapped and distributed in record time, apart from two that Big A had ordered last minute. There was too much to be done, work-wise, to take any time off to rest, at least not before the 25th of December.

Before we knew it, Christmas Eve was upon us. We had two families to visit that night, Big A's first, and then my parents', where Santa made his annual deliveries. The next few days were more restful, though only slightly less stressful as I worked feverishly to catch up on the paperwork that had been neglected in the week or so leading up to Christmas, when every hand was needed on deck to wrap presents, make change, and ring up purchases.

And so 2015 comes to a close with a whisper. We have been invited to Big A's client's apartment for New Year's Eve, to watch the fireworks across the city from their floor-to-ceiling windows. It will be a quiet night, and an early one. I've cleaned out our flat and finally sorted out the boxes of car parts and old clothing that sat on our balcony for years. New Year, new start. We hope 2016 is as kind to us as this year has been. 

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

A Year of No Shopping

In 2015, I was a total consumer. Big A and I traveled to over 10 cities together, two with Little A, and did a significant amount of shopping at each.

Granted, Big A only shops properly about twice a decade and many of my purchases were from the discount, secondhand, and thrift stores I love so much, but I still acquired, in one year, six pairs of shoes, four sets of hugely expensive undergarments, swimwear, beachwear, daywear, and winter wear. And a couple of handbags.

Looking through my wardrobe before Christmas I knew there was nothing more I needed for at least another year. I turn 40 in 2016, and while most people buy a new dress to celebrate this milestone I decided it would be even better to pick out an old dress from 15 or so years ago and make sure I still fitted into it. Double goal: shop less, and get fit. 

As for the pile of unread books I have accumulated over the years, it stands at about five dozen, 1/3 actual and 2/3 virtual. A book buying ban is also in effect, at least til this stack gets down to manageable proportions of a dozen or two at most. 

So, goals in place, let 2016 begin.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Ocean Adventure

Given the number of overseas trips Big A and I have made this year, we wanted to take Little A somewhere very special as a change of scenery from our usual mountain getaway (though we have visited that one twice this year already and have a thirs trip lined up for the second weekend in December).

About 18 months ago, I made a booking for Little A to meet some dolphins. He would play with them for about half an hour in the shallow water of a beach located just two hours out of the city. 

For most children this would be an amazing experience, but for a nonverbal autistic boy with a special affinity for animals, the encounter would be a dream come true.

Unfortunately, the weekend prior to D-Day, both Big and Little A fell ill with the bad cough and fever combo that was making the rounds. The Dolphin Encounter was shelved, and we didn't  manage to reschedule it within the year.

With another long weekend coming up, I dusted off the telephone number still written in my little notebook and dialled. After confirming that the date we wanted was available, the lady on the phone asked me how old Little A was. On replying that he was eight, she cheerfully informed me that his encounter would no longer be a shallow water one, but that he could swim with the dolphins already.

What a thrill for him this would be! While waiting to board our flight to Hawaii, Big A and I booked a hotel and settled payment details for the following weekend. On our return from Honolulu, I prepped Little A for the dolphin swim, showing him his and his dad's matching outfits and encouraging him to look up videos on YouTube.

The weekend arrived, bright and sunny, and off we went to Subic Bay. We checked in, unpacked, then drove to the small zoo where Little A saw some animals and got to ride a train.  He enjoyed himself, but we knew the best thing would come the following day.

D-Day arrived, and we arrived at the ocean side of the freeport with about half an hour to spare before the scheduled dolphin swim. It was perfect because a dolphin show was about to start, and Little A, who had always hated such things because of the noise and the crowds, saw four dolphins in open water and decided right there that he had to watch.

He found a space on the concrete steps leading to the water, outside of the main seating pavilion. With great excitement, he barely blinked as he watched the graceful mammals jump, splash and twirl.

When the show was over I told him it was his turn to meet the dolphins. He immediately started to take off his clothes and quickly donned his swimwear. I told him there would be a quick lecture first, and that he needed to sit and listen to the "teacher" before he could swim with the dolphins. 

With such reward in store for a little bit of sitting and listening, he complied (though he did run around a bit calling out with joy first). Finally, it was time. The trainer took his hand he raced toward the water, only to stop short and cling to Big A as the gentle animals approached.

The encounter started in shallow water, with the trainers showing two groups of four guests how to gently stroke and then interact with the dolphins before each animal towed them one at a time into the deep water. When Little A first laid his hand on a dolphin's skin, all fear evaporated instantly and he fell in love.

In the deep water, the humans donned life jackets and one at a time learnt how to instruct the dolphins to spin, jump and twirl. Little A found a pen with more animals, wild ones and young ones, and watched them jump in their contained space.

At the end of the allowed time, they were meant to be pulled back to the shallows to say goodbye. One animal, called Loki, ignored his trainer's commands for a few minutes and looked long and hard into my little boy's eyes. They had a bonding experience all their own, and then he allowed himself to go back to the shallow water. Come goodbye time, though, Little A swam out after his new friends and had to be firmly led back. Inconsolable, the only thing that stopped his crying was the promise of sea lion show starting in a few minutes.

He raced into the arena full of people and found a seat in the crowd. Expecting him to be overwhelmed by the noise and to want to leave soon, I stood near the entrance/exit only to be pleasantly surprised when Little A motioned me to climb up the bleachers and sit with him. He proceeded to wait for, and watch, the entire 25 minute show, clapping, cheering and all, with rapt attention.

At the end of that, when told there would be no swimming with the sea lions as night was falling, he cried a little. But only a little, and got into the car and rode back to the hotel with memories in his head and on our mobiles. We promised him another trip, with more sea animal encounters, and all look forward to the next one. 

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Hawaii Holiday

After counting our blessings because Big A and I have been lucky enough to go on several overseas trips this year, along came another!

The Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit was scheduled to be held in Manila, and given the city's overpopulation and lack of infrastructure, the government simply declared classes suspended and government offices closed for an entire week. Not the most economically sound of decisions, but there you go.

At any rate, the stock market had been good to us and Big A thought it was high time he saw his brother again, so I quickly applied for visas and we snagged a pair of budget air tickets to sunny Honolulu.

Little A's patience and sitting-still abilities need to built up to tolerate a ten hour flight, so we co-opted the all-too-willing grandparents to share babysitting duties while we were away. The Indefatigable Au Pair is our godsend, and without her none of these trips over the past years would have been remotely possible.

This was only my second ever time to visit the United States, and the main thing that struck me about Oahu was that Manila, and the other Philippine cities, must have been modeled after it, though massive overpopulation and decades of corruption have turned it into the urban sprawl of a nightmare mega-metropolis that it is now.

Big A loves Hawaii, and would happily, budget allowing, spend half the year there just lounging on the beaches and living the very chill island lifestyle. I, on the other hand, have always been a city girl. Sure, I love sun, sand, and surf, but I also like knowing that galleries, bookstores, and theaters are within easy reach and constantly changing their offerings.

It was a lovely week, and Big A and his brother had plenty of bonding opportunities. We flew home refreshed and ready for a long month ahead - a series of short out-of-town trips and the mad rush of the Christmas season are to unfold over the next few weekends. Bring it on!

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Halloween 2015

It's the time of year again, when dentists the world over rejoice. 

Little A has been looking forward to "fall," never mind that we live in a country with only two seasons - wet and dry. He knows that there will be fancy dress, walking around collecting bits of things in his plastic pumpkin (having never eaten sweets nor desired to, he nevertheless enjoys the door-to-door bit), and then, his favourite time of year - Christmas.

This year he attended three Halloween celebrations. First was the school one, where he donned what must have seemed to him like a plain red t-shirt and black shorts but was in fact an attempt at a Star Trek costume. (There was a badge printed on the t-shirt's breast.) Then came the building's trick-or-treat, when he put on an old pair of pajamas decorated to look like a scuba diving outfit. Finally, on the day itself, he slipped on his Japanese top and shorts and went to visit my parents in the village touted as the Philippines' Halloween capital. 

Big A and I attended our own Halloween party that night at a newly opened restaurant-bar a few streets away. I wore the female version of Little A's Japanese costume while Big A put on his captain-of-the-fleet Star Trek top. It had been ages since we'd been to a proper costume party, and while it was a much quieter celebration than the parties we attended as an unmarried couple, a good time was had by all. 

The next day, Halloween was officially over, which meant only one thing. Out came the Christmas tree and all the trimmings. November the first, and ours was the first Santa Claus head on an apartment door. Holiday season is definitely here. This weekend, before November even hits the double digits, we have the first of many Christmas dinner parties for the year. Let the wild rumpus begin!

Monday, October 19, 2015

Having Haircuts

Recently, a post about a little boy having a haircut went viral on the internet. Typical people getting their locks trimmed is not something that makes headlines or even the back pages of the news, but when the person getting their hair cut has special needs and the hairdresser (or any other service worker) is especially accommodating, then we sit up and take notice.

Little A has been traumatised about haircuts for years. Most infants scream or sleep through the first one, but then quickly grow used to it. Not so for those with sensory processing disorders.

After his first-ever cut at age one, when the stylist simply took an electric shaver and buzzed my son's hair down to his scalp, I've been taking him to a children's salon in a nearby shopping centre that specialises in haircuts for the young. Aptly called Cuts for Tots, this salon has the children sitting in toy cars with a small screen and dvd player at each of the 4 cutting stations. There are toys, dvds of every children's popular television show and cartoon film of the past decade or so, and the assistants are adept at distracting children with bubbles, squeaky toys and the like while the stylist does his or her job.

In our seven years of going to this salon, I've seen a crying child less than a handful of times. Little A, on the other hand, has needed up to three people apart from myself holding him down while the hairdresser trimmed his hair. The ordeal leaves us all sweaty and covered in hair (and in my case, tears and snot) but has always ended up with Little A having just the cut we wanted within 15 minutes.

The stylists are ninjas, ducking and whirling as Little A whips his lighting hands around trying to grab away scissors and shavers. The noiseless shavers may not make a loud buzz, but it is the vibration that drives my son crazy, and the sensation of cold steel touching the skin around or by his ears and neck.

We've done social stories, played his chosen dvds, had a number of people distracting him with different things, but it seems only sensory integration therapy has worked, or a combination of that, behavior therapy and just plain emotional maturity.

For the past two haircuts, Little A has not only worn the hairdressing cape without ripping it off, he has sat relatively still and only tried a few times to grab the cutting tools away from the hairdresser. I have been able to take photos from a few feet away rather than with one hand on Little A and the other on the camera. Better still, he tolerates the tools with only a minimum of intervention and reassurance.

It's been the same way with nail cutting, which for years I resorted to doing in his sleep when attempts to do so in waking hours were futile or incomplete. (My son is as slippery as an eel and strong as an ox, and has overpowered me bodily many times as I have attempted MMA holds to get his nails clipped.) After establishing a regular routine for nail clipping, the screaming, kicking, biting and head-butting that used to be a matter of course tapered down to whining, pushing me away, and curling his fingers into claws I needed a second person to hold open, and eventually down to zero complaints, just the same video playing every time his nails are clipped.

Progress is being made on the life activities front. While there is still a ways to go, I'm happy with the way things have developed, and Little A must be much less anxious about these activities than he used to be.

So, onward to the next huge challenge - visiting the dentist. 

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Fifty Years

My in laws recently celebrated their golden wedding anniversary. Six children (three still living), two grandsons (so far), and many pets have marked their half century as man and wife.

While many well-to-do couples hold a lavish celebration that usually eclipses the cost and guest count of their original wedding, complete with renewal of vows, hotel ballrooms and all attendant finery, my in-laws are simple and unassuming and marked the momentous occasion by going to Mass and then coming to our apartment for a seafood dinner.

My sister-in-law flew in for the week, but the brother-in-law I have not yet met could not as he has very recently become a new father.

Instead of an audio visual presentation of decades' worth of old photos, speeches by the children and song and dance numbers by the grandchildren, we had a quiet meal catching up on each other's news and conducting a tutorial on how to create photo collages for posting on social media. 

Little A was comfortable as he could stand up, walk around and do what he pleased (which mainly consisted of jumping on our bed as there was no one to keep telling him off). It was the first time in about six years that this same bunch of people was gathered around our table, and we hope the next time is not so long in coming, and more regularly. 

Big A's is the typical example of the Filipino diaspora family, with two of three children living and working abroad, and all three sharing the cost of keeping their parents' retired lives comfortable. It's the "old style" way, because with the millennial workforce these days, often the parents need to keep providing, even well into retirement age, while the children (in their twenties now) lead charmed lives and spend all they earn (if, in fact, they work) on themselves.  

There are still young people who know the value of hard work, enjoying their comforts but still fending for themselves in the world. But the disparity in lifestyle and values from the last three generations is amazing, and something we hope changes for the better by the time Little A is all grown up. 

Still, this was a celebration, for fifty years of marriage is absolutely nothing to sneeze at, and I can only hope that Big A and I reach that milestone still healthy and happy together.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Father and Son

These days, whenever the entire family is together at home, Little A declares me persona non grata. I am made to exit the bedroom, or the living room, so that he and Big A can have uninterrupted boy time. 

As it is, I am Little A's daily driver, after school minder and supermarket companion five and a half days a week, so he probably wants me out of his sight when Dad is home.

Since Big A only has evenings with Little A during the week, on weekends we make short trips to the nearby zoos or parks. Otherwise we hang out in our tiny flat, relaxing until it is time for the following week to begin in earnest. 

Boy time leaves me free to read, have my nails done, attempt to get the flat organised, and lately, try and get a head start on this year's Christmas shopping. That last is simply done from my mobile phone as I have a handy list of crafty contacts who regularly produce presents for the people on my gift list. Nephews, nieces and godchildren get books carefully chosen and purchased during the September sales.

The busiest time of the year at my shop looms ahead. In a few weeks, we will be putting Christmas merchandise on the shelves and hoping it sells out quickly. Knowing I can do my bit to bring in my share of the family bacon while my son is happy at home with his dad is a welcome thought.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Japan Again

Three overseas trips in one year, what a lucky girl I am! Granted, the European one in January was mainly a work trip, but in the spring, and again last week, Big A and I jetted off to Japan while Little A (almost too happily)went to stay with my parents for a long weekend.

Since the first trip was to Tokyo, this second one was to Osaka and nearby Kyoto. It was summer, and we did not expect the heat to rival that of Manila. As Japan is further north on the globe, we thought it would be more temperate than tropical. At any rate, friends who had visited the week before we did told us to be ready with summer clothes.

The weather was what we were used to from home, so it wasn't unpleasant. Osaka is not so large or cosmopolitan a city as Tokyo, and we weren't really there to shop, so we spent only two days there and then took the train to Kyoto.

This town was lovely, with all the charm one would expect from old Japan. Wooden structures, cobblestones, people in traditional costumes, and no skyscrapers made this visit a very historical one. Our three days in Kyoto consisted of traveling via the very efficient rail system from one temple location to another, and one day renting bicycles to see a particular area. There was a lot of walking and stair climbing as well, but all this activity was countered by the eating that was done nearly every other hour.

In between the temples in Kyoto are restaurants. And these many restaurants serve the city's famous Wagyu beef and whatever else is in season. There is no need to hunt down rated eateries or Michelin stars unless one is so inclined, because every eating establishment serves excellent quality and very reasonably priced food.

Naturally, there was a little bit of shopping done as well. I can never resist the piles of high quality, low cost, beauty products that overflow from the numerous pharmacies scattered on every street. And Big A treated me to a couple of pairs of my much loved red-soled shoes.

It was a lovely trip. Even if it marks the last for this year, we still do have five more years left on our visas, and no doubt we will visit Japan again. 

Thursday, August 27, 2015

United Nations Day

It's fancy dress time at school, officially. In the first term, the teachers and students at Little A's school go all out for National Language Week (Filipino traditional dress), United Nations Day (any country's dress, really), Halloween, and then the end-of-term pre-Christmas show.

Part of the reason for this is that most of the students are children of expats (therefore national and world awareness need to be given equal importance), and another part because many of the special needs students are very set in their ways. Most dislike breaks in routine and those with sensory processing issues have problems wearing different types of clothing. Little A fits into both categories and yet this year and last have made him so much more open, and willing, to put on various types of fancy dress. Kudos to the teachers for that.

Naturally, I try to find the least uncomfortable costumes in fabrics that are acceptable to him. This year, two trips to Japan led to the purchase of what is actually a pair of pajamas for Little A to wear to school for a day. I have seen photos of my Japanese friends' children wearing these types of outfits around the house, but one person's sleepwear is another's fancy dress, so what the heck.

Little A happily spent the day in the "costume," and together with his classmates, save one, made up the entire history of the Philippines. The Malaysian boy wore a Chinese outfit, one girl a Spanish dress, another boy a shirt and tie to symbolize America. Little A represented the World War II bit and came as a Japanese boy.

All went well then, and onwards to Halloween!

Saturday, August 15, 2015


Given the huge success of the football programme started last year at Little A's school, parents have been clamouring for more extracurricular activities for their children, especially those that involve said children expending their enormous reserves of energy.

A basketball programme was recently started, initially offered to the older children only, but eventually accommodated to include the younger ones.

Unlike the football coaches, who came into school and conducted individual assessments on every interested child, the basketball coaches just asked everyone who wanted to enroll their child in the programme to turn up at the first lesson on a Wednesday afternoon.

As luck (and my sieve-like memory) would have it, I was late picking Little A up from school that first Wednesday. By the time we arrived at the court where the class was being held, which in itself was no easy place to find), the first session was halfway done.

Little A jumped right in initially, as they were running similar drills to the ones done in football sessions. Later on, however, it became apparent that the skill level expected for a beginner class was far beyond what my barely 8-year old was capable of at this stage in his development. Perhaps this was why the class was initially targeted for children aged 10 and above.

Little A and his companions were not only expected to be able to dribble a ball competently, but to dribble the ball while walking and following an in and out weaving pattern. Assisted by two former professionals and two adept teens, the children were made to do a series of increasingly challenging courses.

My son has not yet achieved the level of coordination required to bounce and catch a ball while walking, let alone dodging in and out of a plastic cone obstacle course while doing so. Honestly, I don't even think I am capable of navigating that course as they set it.

The children who couldn't, or wouldn't, cooperate were allowed to simply wander the court on their own undirected. This was where the difference lay between the football coaches, who managed every week to engage the attention of a dozen children, get them to participate without any force, and seamlessly adjusted the activity to every child's skill level, and the basketball coaches, who simply expected every child to participate, or not.

Ten minutes before the session ended, Little A had given up and was seated next to me at the sidelines. We decided basketball wasn't for him at this time, and moved on to a more productive activity of grocery shopping at the supermarket by the carpark. Lesson learnt! 

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Second Grade

School is back in session and this year Little A is a second grader.

He is in his same old classroom, but this time with a new pair of teachers and a new group of classmates. He's been grouped with most of the neurotypical children in his year, and instead of spending half the day in an IEP program with a different bunch of kids and the other half in his "proper" classroom like he did in the first grade, this year he spends all day in the second grade room, apart from three pullouts a week for therapy (speech, occupational, and music, to be specific).

I worried he would have a hard time sitting still the entire day, but was told by his OT that they put a special cushion on Little A's chair that allowed him to bounce and rock as he prefers (in a manner that drives Big A, who is not without his own fidgets, incidentally, crazy at home!). We have also noticed that he happily picks up pens and other writing implements at home and scribbles on any old writing area - the backs of used envelopes, random receipts etc. So this is a good development.

Little A also has specific tasks - he is Schedule Monitor on Thursdays. This means he keeps track of the time and the lesson on that particular day. Each "subject" is posted on the board in a vertical row and at the end of each one, the sign is taken off and placed in the finished bin for return the next morning. This is a job my little boy takes quite seriously!

Finally, they have a new uniform. The white polo shirts drove all the parents crazy the past year as they showed dirt so quickly and were nearly impossible to rid of paint, ink and assorted stains the children would naturally get on them in the course of a day. The new shirts are a nice navy, and the only "dirt" Little A's regularly sports now is cat hair from our white furred pet.

There is a PE uniform as well, for Tuesdays and Thursdays, consisting of an aertex-type (or whatever they call the newfangled sweat-wicking material workout clothes are made of these days) fabric, also in navy with white side stripes. Very smart.

So the new academic year has begun. May it go well for Little A, his teachers, his classmates and the rest of the ever-growing school's roster of pupils and staff.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Getting Ready for the Big One

One week into Little A's summer school session, the teachers sent home a letter that informed parents that each child must bring an emergency kit packed with food, water, comfort objects, a flashlight, whistle and emergency contact information to school as part of their earthquake and disaster preparedness initiative.

Apart from finding out that your child is seriously ill or disabled, nothing can be more sobering for a parent that having to prepare such a kit. 

It took me over two weeks to get Little A's things together, and I am still waiting for his plastic Emergency Contact card to arrive. Knowing his challenges, I included a notebook and pencil, a pair of scissors for his box of cornflakes, a handheld bell on a key ring (he has a hard time blowing a whistle) and broke the safety seals on his bottles of water. 

Even still, I hesitate to send the bag to school because there might be something else I've missed out. Or maybe I don't want to accept the reality that Doomsday might happen when our family is separated. 

The students and teachers spent the summer school session running repeated earthquake drills in between academic sessions. Better safe than ignorant, particularly in a school with a significant population of young special needs pupils.

So Little A is as prepared as he can be. He is actually safer in his one storey school that I am in my ground level shop at the mall, or Big A in his low-rise office building. 

I've also updated our home emergency kit and put togeher one each for our cars. Now we can only hope and pray that the Big One doesn't happen in this lifetime.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Amazing Eight


Little A is no longer so little. Coming up nearly to my shoulder, he still seems like a small boy when he slips his hand in mine and runs into school in the mornings. But besides being taller, he is growing up in all other ways boys do and becoming more independent. This is a bittersweet truth all parents realise.

We celebrated his eighth birthday in our favourite mountain getaway, and this trip my parents, sister and two nieces came along too. Little A was delighted when they set up a surprise birthday welcome in their room, working late into the night and early in the morning inflating and hanging up balloons, buntings and preparing presents he joyfully opened.

The cousins went horseback riding together, tried bowling and just hung out, spending time in each other's company. I am truly grateful for this latest memory of family fun Little A experienced, and look forward to many more. As the ages of my sisters' children range from 20 to seven, no two cousins are the same age, making it that much harder to arrange suitable play dates. But we make do when we can.

On our return to the city, a storm resulted in summer school being called off for three days. Little A's school birthday celebration took place a full week after his birthday, and consisted of cupcakes in a paper ferris wheel at school, buntings, balloons, and loot bags for his half-dozen classmates which he wrote on carefully and distributed properly.

Birthday parties are much less stressful for us now that Little A is learning to tolerate noise and bustle. Also, as he gets older parties are less frenetic than those for younger children, with smaller numbers of children attending and less organised activity.

The last weeks of summer are upon us. Soon, a new academic year begins. We will enjoy these final days of freedom from the alarm clock. Cheers to summer!

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Supermarket Run

It's been a while since Little A has accompanied me to the supermarket. We used to go together all the time, in the days when I could just pop him in the trolley and open a box of cornflakes for him to munch on while I got everything on the grocery list.

As he got older and began spending whole days at school, I took to doing the weekly shop as soon as the supermarkets opened, after the school run. Sometimes in the afternoons he would come with me to get one or two things, but most of the time he preferred to stay home.

Recently though, he has been putting out his toy shopping basket and filling it with produce from our refrigerator. I asked if he wanted to accompany me to the supermarket and, on agreeing, he was the most efficient helper, putting in the correct number of items into the shopping trolley, and adding numerous vegetables of his own choice.

Since re-discovering the joys of grocery shopping, he now wants to go regularly, which makes me worry a little for the month-end bill but also ensures our larder is never empty. Apart from his obvious favourite snacks, Little A is becoming familiar with the other things we need for the home.

Next up, kitchen duties. Hopefully within the next few months, I will have a proper little household helper.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Beach Trip

Summer is upon us and we are feeling the heat. Despite living in an archipelago, our family has not made many beach trips in the past ten years. Little A is used to our mountain holidays, which is where we choose to escape twice a year to enjoy cooler weather.

Before meeting me, in his twenties Big A used to spend every weekend under water. He is a licensed Technical Diver and earned his certification with hundreds of hours spent in the sea. I, on the other hand, am more comfortable on land, and prefer to lie on the sand working on a perfect tan.

We went on some beach trips until we were married, but when Little A came along we only managed one as a family, as our son did not like sand. We planned to rectify this and go on more beach trips together, and one opportunity came along just as the school year ended.

The parents at Little A's school have a support group that meets monthly. Sometimes we have a guest speaker, other times we just have breakfast and share stories. Certain months are given to family activities, and we decided summer should be one of these.

One parent recommended a beach resort just three hours' drive from the city, so we booked some rooms and headed there the day after the school's end of year show. There were about six families in all, and it was a very enjoyable weekend.

While I settled our bags in our room, Big A took Little A down to the water to see the sea. I came down a few minutes later to find Little A fully dressed, in the water. After racing back for his swim trunks and changing into swimwear myself, I joined him and tried to keep up as he swam off with incredible speed and ease, despite the salt water, towards the nearest outrigger boat.

Big A came back down in his swimwear just as I despaired of ever catching up with our son. Little A is a self-taught, confident swimmer with no fear of depths, and he headed off to a raft that was maybe fifty yards from shore and anchored in 30 feet or more of water. Big A kept up with him easily, and I lagged behind, taking photos.

We enjoyed the sunset from the raft, and the next morning rented a boat to take us to a nearby island with a sandy bottom. Little A loved the boat ride and the morning swim, climbing up at wooden outrigger and jumping into the water repeatedly until we had to go back to check out of the resort.

In the days following, Little A would ask to go back to the beach, crying when we told him it had to be planned well in advance. We will plan the next one, seeing as how he enjoyed this one, and look forward to many family beach trips in the future.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Hungarian Dance

Little A has finished the First Grade. I couldn't quite believe it, even when I attended the year's final Parent-Teacher Conference and verified that he did indeed accomplish the set work required by the national curriculum to move up to Second Grade.

In a week or so, he starts Summer School, a five week half-day academic and IEP programme to prepare for the coming school year. I understand this means no more taking shoes off in the classroom, more seated writing work and less floor-based play learning. I hope he matures enough to cope with the demands of the coming year, but have confidence that he will since he has pleasantly surprised us at every turn.

More importantly, he seems to genuinely love school. The first few days of the holidays he seemed at a bit of a loss, and one morning put on his uniform and got his school bag and lunch box and instead on going to school.

Another thing he truly loved was the end-of-term programme. This year, the school had on its staff the first licensed music therapist in the country, who would give weekly lessons to each class and private lessons to certain students, among them Little A.

Teacher B did an amazing job at the Christmas concert, which Big A and I unfortunately missed due to an out-of-town wedding. The end-of-year concert though, was an even bigger production. The increase in students meant the parent audience would no longer fit in the school's small car park. So a nearby convention hall became the venue for the school show.

Little A has long been obsessed with stage performances. He watches them on YouTube, but has been overwhelmed whenever we have tried taking him to children's concerts. But as a performer rather than a member of the audience, I hoped he would focus on the music and the dance rather than the inevitable applause which still bothers him but he has conditioned himself to accept.

Once the class had walked through the theatre and gotten familiar with the layout, three mornings of run throughs and rehearsals took place before the actual show. Little A's class was doing a Hungarian dance composed of 16 children, each little boy partnered with a little girl. It was a long piece of music, well over 3 minutes, and I was amazed that all the kids had the choreography down perfectly.

All the classes did an amazing job, but I was proudest of my Little Prince, as his female classmates described Little A when he first entered their backstage room in his "costume" of dark trousers, long sleeved shirt and black vest. He danced, he bowed, he did lose it onstage during the awarding of the certificates, but he calmed down soon afterwards, and no one is perfect.

So ends another academic year. Two down, eleven to go. Bring it on, Grade Two!

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Present Perfect

In the Philippines, there is a travel tradition called pasalubong, which involves bringing back small presents for loved ones at home. It is a thoughful gesture that lets one's nearest and dearest know you were thinking of them on yout travels and wanted them to have a small token from that city.

These days, with budget airfares and improved road systems making travel much more accessible, the pasalubong tradition may not be so frequently practiced.

Among childhood friends though, it is very much alive.

As teens, my best friend N and I were lucky to have spent every other summer in Europe. I was at boarding school in the UK, so my parents and legal guardian invested in a London flat where various family members could stay during their trips over. This included my second family that is N's. When her parents and brothers went to America instead, she would still come to London with my mum, dad and sisters.

In later years, it would be just my sister, N and myself. We would spend a few weeks in London and a few days somewhere "on the Continent". Rome, Florence, Venice, and Vienna were some of the cities we explored when we weren't pounding the pavements of London. Those memories are priceless, and to this day we have small items that remind us of certain trips.

When we graduated from university, started working, and then married and had kids, the threesome trips stopped, but the travels didn't. Instead of visiting new places together, we would see them with our own families, and always bring back something for each other no matter where in the world we might find ourselves.

N's family have been bitten by the cruise bug, so she has been trying to convince me and Big A to try one with them. We look forward to the day we will travel together again, whether it be on a solo girls' trip (the big 4-0 is coming up) or with our husbands and kids on a large ship. Until that day, each time we travel, no matter how near or far, we will come back bearing presents for the other. 

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Turning Japanese

Just after Easter, Big A and I went on a mini-break. It was the first time for both of us to visit Japan. As we only had a few days, we spent all but one of them in Tokyo. 

The one day away was another first as we took a train to a ski resort just an hour outside the city. It was a half day trip, for one ski lesson.

Big A is a natural athlete and thoroughly enjoyed himself, rising to the challenge of the new sport. I, on the other hand, was wary. Stopping required forcing my legs and feet into positions unnatural for a ballet dancer. I was not sold on it, but was glad to have tried and will probably do so again if another opportunity were to present itself.

Despite the snow on the mountain, it was springtime in Tokyo and cherry blossoms were in bloom. We walked around the city, tried as many kinds of Japanese cuisine as time permitted, and did some shopping. 

I was most pleasantly surprised by the lack of a language barrier, as most people had enough English to be able to communicate with us as needed. With this city only four hours away by plane and five year visas in our passports, it looks like we will be coming back to Japan. Next up, Osaka and Kyoto!


Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Seeing Signs

Words, words, words. Where would we be without them? Hark back to the days when humans had not yet discovered speech. They communicated with signs, pictograms and grunts. Even today, when in a foreign country, tourists and natives can cobble together some form of communication with just a map and some hand signs. 

These days, there are a number of ways to communicate. I will forever be grateful for technology that allows my non-verbal son to express himself more clearly, but sometimes the simplest ways are most effective.

While Little A has long been using that standard yes and no head movements and waving hello or goodbye, his sign language was limited to "thank you" (which most people mistake for a flying kiss), "all done" and the basic toilet signal, patting his crotch, which again can be misconstrued by most of the public.

Lately though, he has been more expressive using hand signs. 

The Goodbye song performed at the end of each school day involves a "see you" hand sign that looks like a salute. For a few weeks now, when I drop Little A off, or leave him at home for a meeting, when I say "see you later" he responds with that hand sign. He does it to store salespeople as well, and restaurant staff when we are in the mall. 

I tried to teach him many times to call someone's attention by tapping their shoulder, then making eye contact and pointing to something or showing a written or typed set of words. When he wants something and simply tugs my hand towards it, I remind him to "ask," whereupon he promptly taps his own shoulder, and then points to the object he wants. Close, but not quite. 

Last week, his Occupational Therapist once asked me if Little A's shoulder was hurting as he kept tapping it. I told her this was his way of "asking" and that if she observed more closely, the shoulder tapping would be followed immediately by seeking an object or an action. 

She must have worked on this with him because yesterday, for maybe the first time, when he wanted something Little A tapped my arm and then indicated towards what he wanted. Such a small action, one most people take for granted, but for Little A this was a huge, man-on-the-moon momentous step. I wanted to shout for joy but simply smiled at him and said, "Good asking. Yes, you can borrow that."

This was only one time, though, so I'm not calling the press yet, but waiting and seeing, and hoping it becomes a regular thing. Baby steps will still get us there in the end.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

The Seventh Church

On Holy Thursday in the Philippines, there is a Catholic tradition of visiting churches. Called Visita Iglesia, the "proper" way was to visit fourteen churches and say one of the Stations of the Cross at each one.

Most families these days visit seven, or at least ours has for as long as I can remember. We don't do the Stations of the Cross (that's something done on the evening of Good Friday) but do say our own quiet prayers at each one.

Since Little A came into the family, we have continued the tradition, but now do the church visits on Good Friday. And as we no longer live in the neighbourhoods we both grew up in, the churches we visit are the ones nearest where we live.

Big A has narrowed down the churches to six Catholic ones within a five mile radius, and one that is Anglican. He has a special affinity for this church because it is so simply furnished. None of the ornate altar carvings nor solid gold statues of velvet-attired saints, this one has simple wooden pews and a large cross. It keeps prayer straightforward, he feels.

I have no objections to visiting this church because as a product of the British boarding school system, I attended an Anglican school for five years. Every student was required to attend Chapel on weekday mornings, and a service on Sundays, when the Catholic contingent (less than 20 of us, all told) were bussed to the nearest church for Mass.

Our campus Chapel was small but pretty, and our weekday services consisted of a hymn, a reading or some school announcements, and a prayer to conclude. Each one lasted fifteen or twenty minutes and took place after breakfast and before the start of classes.

When the school closed in 2004 and the campus was turned into residential flats, the Chapel was either demolished or repurposed. Luckily, the altar remains, and has moved to a new home in Kentish Town.

This June, all alumni are called back to attend a memorial service for our former Head of Dance, who passed away early this year. It also marks 21 years since I left school and 11 since the campus relocated to Birmingham. I have not yet decided whether or not I will attend as the trip over requires funds and a visa. I will keep my fingers crossed, but in the meantime these annual visits to our neighbourhood Anglican church keep my memories of boarding school very much alive.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Stomach Flu

On Monday afternoon at school, Little A fell asleep at his desk. Since this has never happened in the two years he has been attending, his teacher suspected he wasn't feeling well. She woke him up just before the last bell, and he rushed to the toilet but didn't quite make it there.

I arrived to see one of the school helpers wringing out Little A's wet uniform trousers and shoes. She told me what happened, and when we got home he indeed had stomach flu. He spent the next two days at home running to the toilet every couple of hours, including getting up once and leaping from his bunk bed at 2am.

I'd love to hear what other parents do, as we simply put Little A on the stomach flu diet of white rice and dry grilled mince, since he eats neither bananas nor toast. Instead of artificially coloured, sugared and possibly caffeinated energy replenishment drinks, I searched high and low for this electrolyte enhanced water that used to be available at the corner convenience store but, alas, was no longer in stock. We also resumed the powdered probiotics Little A used to drink daily, at least while his tummy was still upset. Finally, I switched him from filtered tap water to distilled bottled water, again just to get all his tummy flora and fauna calmed down.

Midway through the second day at home, things seemed better. While Little A never lost his appetite, he was markedly less energetic, spending plenty of time seated or lying down and voluntarily brushing his teeth and going to bed much earlier than he usually did.

On day three, I was all for sending him back to school, but Big A insisted he stay home one more day to get his strength back. His school breaks up for the Easter holidays in three more days, so being ill is hopefully something we can avoid over the coming ten day break.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

All That Jazz

Once upon a time, I was a very fit person. These days, walking up the stairs can get me winded. Thank goodness for a very active son who likes to run around shopping malls or I'd get no exercise at all.

This year, though, I noticed the dreaded advent of cellulite and its friends thigh and belly flab. In a bid to be rid of them, I enrolled in a weekly dance class. It helped that a new centre opened just ten minutes from Little A's school, and the class fitted in with my own schedule.

So these days, on Tuesdays at lunchtime, I can be found attending a modern dance/jazz class.

While it's not as fat-burning as I'd hoped, and sadly my brain no longer seems to be able to retain long combinations (not to mention my body being stiff as a board), it is a welcome once a week activity.

My instructor was a professional too, and continues to teach and choreograph so we work on his new ideas in our class before he adapts them for his other students.

When I feel more fit, I may enrol in a second class during the week - pole dancing! I tried this a couple of years ago and really enjoyed the workout. More gymnastics than dance, the strength needed to support your own body weight on a vertical pole is upper body and core-centric, both areas I need to work on. Plus, it's lots of fun.

Fitness, then. I may entertain a teeny tiny hope of possibly appearing on stage again (amidst a group of senior citizens rather than the professional dancers to whose ranks I once belonged) but if that doesn't happen, as long as I stay muffin-top free, that's what really matters.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Bohemian Rhapsody

As a student, I was fortunate enough to spend many of my summers in Europe. First we travelled with my parents, then I was at boarding school, then my sister went to university in London. Every other year or so, my best friend and I would fly out to London (sans parents by the time we hit 18) to stay at my family's Sloane Square flat for six weeks and, with my sister, gallivant to one European city courtesy of the airline's free stopover policy.

We toured Italy this way, stopping at Rome, Pisa, Florence and Venice. Two years later, we visited Austria (Vienna and Salzburg). Then we all settled down to our jobs, married and had kids, and the group trips stopped.

Now, we three travel with our own families, but I look back fondly on the days we spent in Europe together. Perhaps one day, when the children are big enough and we can be spared for two weeks, we can do a repeat trip.

Shortly after I met Big A, we visited Paris and London together. He flew to Europe to see a friend matriculate from graduate school (and drive from Paris to Spain and back again), while I visited my sister in her last year of London uni and we spent a weekend in Paris.

Big A was joined in Paris, then London, and since then we've not gone anywhere outside of Asia together. Until this year.

Our ninth wedding anniversary coincided with the annual Spring Trade Fairs in Frankfurt and Birmingham. As I was attending this year in place of my mum, Big A came along and we added another city to the itinerary.

Prague had long been on my visit wish list, and it was a delight. Pretty, historic, and without any of the hustle and bustle of a business city, it was well worth the two day visit. We saw all the main tourist spots, took in a concert, and enjoyed some delicious meals.

Frankfurt was drab and businesslike as expected, but London, my favourite city in the world, was thrilling as always. It was our second time there together, Big A and I, but we went to very different areas than we had the first time round, excepting Covent Garden, and did many different things. We discovered neighborhoods that had changed greatly since I last saw them, and saw many more signs of change to come.

It was wonderful to travel, despite the freezing weather, and we hope to do it again in another two years, budget allowing. Still feeling the wanderlust, Big A wanted to book another, Asian, trip as soon as we got back. And so he did. In April, we're going to Tokyo!

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Sleepover Saturdays

On Christmas Day, quite by accident, Little A had his first ever "sleepover" at my parents' house. I wondered if that might be a one off or if we were marking another milestone, quietly.

One month later, Big A and I were off to Europe for a whirlwind twelve days. Our ninth wedding anniversary, two trade fairs, and three cities. We started off midweek in wintry Prague, where we stayed in a gorgeous hotel, but did not get a fast enough Internet connection to complete any video calls with Little A.

Come the weekend, we arrived in Frankfurt for the first of the trade fairs. The internet was quick and efficient, just like its host nation. We discovered that Little A had spent Saturday night at my parents' and Sunday morning sitting in church (not quite still and perfectly quietly, but well enough, considering it was a children's mass). The following Saturday night, by which time we were at the tail end of our trip and leaving London after three days' holiday post-trade fair, Little A again slept at my parents' house, all the night through on a large mattress on the floor normally shared by my two nieces whose parents travel for work much more frequently.

Two weeks back home, and there was a school holiday. It was a friend's 40th birthday quite near my parents' house the night before, so I asked Little A if he wanted to sleep at his grandparents'. He certainly did! The minute I dropped him off, it was as if I was no longer there. He got right into the routine, begging my dad to play the piano. 

The following morning, as I rushed around doing work and bank errands, Little A rode my dad's golf cart, went swimming amd visited the town centre to ride the children's train. He had a full, eventful, fun day, by the sounds of it.

Big A and I now feel slightly less guilty about long weekends spent away, just the two of us. Little A seems to enjoy sleepovers, so perhaps this will be the start of a new weekend tradition. 

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Separation Anxiety

This time next week, Little A will be parentless for 12 days. I will be off to some trade fairs on the other side of the world, in the dead of winter, and since our wedding anniversary falls on those dates and we never had a real honeymoon, Big A is coming along.

Little A has never been "on his own" for more than 3 nights. Our previous childless trips were weekend jaunts around Asia, and while I went to London for ten days in 2013, Big A stayed home to keep Little A company.

My parents want him to move in with them while we are gone, but the distance from their house to Little A's school is considerable (add another hour to the travel time either way) and we know he will be more comfortable at home in his own bed at night.

The small consolation is that we will be leaving him during term time, so the eight weekdays we are gone will be school days (and school nights). On the weekends, he can hang out with his grandparents or just chill at home with the Au Pair.

So in the week before our departure, I am a flurry of activity (even more so than usual). Checklists, contact details, informing all of the teachers at school of our upcoming absence so they can handle Little A if he misbehaves, arranging alternate transport to and from school, step-by-step instructions for what to do if his wobbly tooth falls out while we are away. Then there will be the last day grocery run, paying all the month-end bills in advance, and making sure there are ways for Little A to reach us when he needs, or wants, to say hello. And of course the work stuff. Sigh.

I hope I get all the bases covered. In the meantime I'm trying not to waste a single minute with my not-so-little boy.