Thursday, June 25, 2015

Spend Time with Your Children While You Can

(Note: I am sharing this blog with the hope of reaching young mothers who divide their time between work and family.  I pray that their financial situation and personal predisposition would allow them to be full-time mothers, or if not, then for them to find ways to maximize time with their children).

I was having a conversation with one of our younger photographers, when she apologized for troubling me with personal concerns. Assuring her that it was alright, I told her that I could even consider her as one of my daughters. After all, she has been with us seven years, and we’ve probably seen more of each other than I have with my own grown up daughters who now live abroad. 

She agreed, and added that I have probably seen her more than her own mother has.

Those were unplanned statements that triggered some painful thinking. I was swiftly taken to the years when my children were very young. Sadly I computed the hours that we spent with our children and realized that we lost our biggest opportunity to be with them when they started to go to the big schools. And with this realization came regret.

I remembered recently reading on Facebook the agonized confession of an employed and commuting mother who has to leave the house before her child woke up, and who returned home after her child had gone to bed. And it wasn’t even that she worked far from home, but that heavy traffic gets her (as it does many of us) stuck on the road for hours.

In a way, we were lucky that we enjoyed our children’s young years with us. My husband and I had decided that to see more of our children, we should live where we worked. We did not have to waste time on long commutes, and our children could walk in and out of his studios (he’s a photographer) and of my office (I managed our photography business).

Not that working from the home gave me the full privilege of time with our children. Our business was also young and demanded much of our time. Although I pleaded for Saturday off, advertising work was practically 24/7, without regard for Sundays or holidays.

It also meant that even mealtimes were not sacred, and our photographers were known to gobble up lunch or dinner in two minutes flat – so they could go back to finish their shoots. Their busy schedules did not allow for leisurely family dinners. To claim time for the family, we had to conjure a new family tradition – to eat out on weekends when there were no shoots or no urgent paper work to be finished.  Eating out meant walking together to look for a restaurant, sitting down to order, to wait for food to be served, to wait for everyone to finish partaking of lunch or dinner, to wait for the bill and to wait for either change or the return of a credit card. That’s a lot more time to be with family than our two-minute lunch or dinner sprints.

We also had to find ways to combine work and family time. I am grateful that our business of photography allowed that. Sometimes, our children would skip school to join a location photo shoot. It was good that St. Scholastica’s College, where all our daughters went for grade school, shared our belief that they could learn a lot outside of school. (If they were absent from school to go out with their photographer-dad, they were excused if they would do a presentation on the place that they visited).

Looking back, I realize that of all my children, the youngest spent the least time with us. Like her eldest sister, she went to a high school in Quezon City – and even then, EDSA was clogged. At age 15, she entered Ateneo de Manila University in Loyola.  After a year of carpooling to get there from our Makati home, she asked to be allowed to stay at a dorm on campus. After graduation from college, she stayed on at the same university to take up her masters and to teach. During that year, she stayed in a private, off-campus dorm.  While at her university, she could only come home on weekends, but sometimes, not even, as some school activities were scheduled on Saturdays, or even Sundays.

Even those precious weekends were lost when she spent six months in Japan, and soon after, when she got accepted into the University of Toronto. She has been living in Canada ever since, having found employment there, and subsequently marrying a Canadian. Since her husband’s family and clan have settled in Canada, it does not seem likely that they would consider resettling here, especially now that Sacha herself has recently acquired Canadian citizenship.

Ching (eldest daughter) went to the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Quezon City, and while she continued to live with us while she was in school, she did spend an inordinate amount of time going to school and back, either with a carpool, or when she was old enough, to drive to and from school.  (Her high school – like Sacha’s - was also in Quezon City, and that required long hours on the road. I am not sure if that was the time when the MRT was being built, and traffic on EDSA was horrible). I am also grateful that she stayed with us even when she started to work, and her office was in Makati.  She got married in 2003, and she and her husband moved to Singapore shortly after. Presently, they live in California.

Thankfully, Kathy’s high school and university were close by.  A few months’ stay in South Africa after college graduation, and now that she is married, a few weeks each year to visit her in-laws in the Netherlands, or when I myself leave for vacations abroad, are our longest separation times. I am grateful that my son-in-law’s job allows him to stay in the country – at least for now.

She made a brave decision to quit her job with our company to be a full-time wife and mother, and I admire her for this. She is a very hands-on mother, and I expect that her relationship with her two daughters, and with her husband, will be richer and more fulfilling than my own time and business responsibilities afforded me.

Computing time when we spent our lives being together, it is obvious that our best and only opportunity for maximum time with our children was when they were babies and toddlers.

The children grow up. They leave home all too soon. If it were possible to turn back the clock, I would most certainly fight to be a full-time mother. I am now 69, and I get lonely for my children - my little children then, or my grown up children now. In the twilight of my years, I can no longer insist on time with them. They have their spouses, their jobs, their homes and other activities to attend to. My chance – when they were children - had passed. I do appreciate the time that they spend trying to stay connected – through Skype or overseas calls, and personal visits, whenever possible - but typing "kisses" and "hugs" is not the same as physically giving or receiving them. :(

(Note: I thank Kathy for asking us to continue to take an active role in her life, and in our granddaughters’ lives. Having grandchildren gives me another chance at spending time and creating bonds with the children in my life).

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Hit the Jackpot!

My granddaughter, G*, who is two years and five months old, is picking up new words everyday. We’re thrilled to hear her say complete sentences and questions, such as “May I help you?” when her “Wowo” (grandfather) fiddled with his iPhone, or when I looked unsure as I held our smart TV’s remote control.

Last week, she picked up an expression (unfortunately from me) that I don’t know how to explain to her.

We live where we work, and work where we live.

From the ground floor the studios and lobby are located, the stairs lead first to our house (a lower second floor) and then turning to the right to follow the stairs, we can reach the higher second floor where our office is situated. Now that I am writing this for the sake of friends who have visited us, I find it difficult to describe our house-cum-studio/office.

My daughter Kathy lives in the suburbs and brings her two young daughters to visit with us regularly. Usually by the time they come – at around 10am – I would already be working in my office. However, last week when they came, I had a late start. From our bedroom, I could hear my older granddaughter G* (2 years 5 months old), crying.

Kathy knocked on our bedroom door, and as soon as I opened it for her, I asked her why G* was crying. She was carrying her other daughter, A* on a sling, but had left G* at the stairs (leading to our house). She told me that G* was insisting that I was at my office, and that she didn’t want to come to our house. She wanted to go where she thought I was. 

I quickly ran to her, even in my nightclothes – an oversized t-shirt - (it’s a good thing I don’t wear sexy nighties anymore), and found her still crying on the steps. As I was telling her that I was glad that she wanted to see me (which is not usually the case), I offered to carry her. She quickly came to me, and she kissed me! “Oh, wow!” I thought, but said, “I think I hit the jackpot!”

She looked at me with concern in her eyes, and then looked at the steps, and then at me again. She scrutinized both my face and the steps, and asked, “You hit the jackpot?”

I was stumped. I was laughing and thrilled, but did not know how to explain the expression to her. Would any of my friends, who might be reading this, know how to explain “hit the jackpot” to a two year old?

Thursday, May 07, 2015

Kathy's Big Heart for Animals

Kathy’s Big Heart for Animals

Last Saturday, May 2, 2015, we went to a friend’s farm in San Marcelino, Zambales and Kathy was thrilled to introduce her young daughters to not only farm produce – practically all the vegetables mentioned in the Tagalog children’s song, “Bahay Kubo,”  but also to different farm animals –goats, bulls, turkeys, peacocks and peahens, geese and goslings, ducks and ducklings, hens, roosters and chickens, and one carabao. I’m sure I missed out on naming some of the animals, but Kathy could name them all.

When Kathy was young, our home was a veritable zoo.  

We had a dining area that opened up into an atrium, which had a macopa tree. Hanging from a branch of that tree was a cage, which was home to Pinoy, a Palawan parrot (local name: pikoy) that was a gift from our friend Leslie Murray. Roaming freely in this semi-open space were all sorts of animals that we had acquired at Kathy’s request or insistence – rabbits, parakeets, turtles, chicks, dogs, and a stray cat who bravely came into our house, leaving outside about a dozen not-so-brave ones who only came to feed, but not stay.

Once (or twice) I had wanted to give away the birds – both the parrot and the budgies – because their food (bird seeds) dropped to the floor and often attracted mice and rats.  One day, I saw a big rat on the ground below Pinoy’s cage, and I screamed for Jun, our maintenance man. My scandalous instructions for Jun to kill the rat brought Kathy rushing to the atrium. “No, mama, please no – that rat is my pet.” “Your pet?” I asked, incredulous. “How can a rat be your pet?" I asked again, refusing to believe.  “Watch him. He will eat with our cat and dog,” and with that, she put food on a plate. True enough, there they were, forgetting about the historical feud that has kept these animals traditional enemies for, I don’t know, time immemorial? Needless to say, Kathy won her plea, and the rat was given a reprieve on life.  (I don’t know what enticed it to leave its safe haven – probably better food, or an attractive female rat, at our neighbors).

We brought home a rabbit for her from Silang, Cavite when we were coming home from Tagaytay. Having learned about their procreative ways, we only bought one, and not two. (Or maybe we got two, but I don’t remember anymore, but for the sake of this narrative, let’s say it was just one). It was going to be a gift for Kathy. I don’t know how long the rabbit lived, but for all its mortal life, it roamed freely – climbing over the roof, or being brought into the children’s room, which was on the second floor, overlooking the atrium.  But as we are all mortals, one day, while Kathy was in school, we found that her rabbit had died.

We panicked. We worried how Kathy would react to this sad news. John quickly dispatched one of the boys to Cartimar (pet market) to buy a rabbit that was the same color and size as the one we’ve just lost. When the new rabbit came, we were convinced that Kathy would not know the difference. A few minutes after she came home from school, she was in tears. She was asking about her rabbit. “There’s your rabbit, playing” her papa said. “No, that’s not my rabbit!!” Kathy insisted. “Why do you say that,” John asked, trying to keep up with his cover up story. “Her eyes are different,” Kathy sadly declared. John tried to insist that it was the same rabbit, and that maybe the color of her eyes changed because she fell from the roof, but you could tell from Kathy’s sad face that she wasn’t buying her dad’s story. To his credit, John let it go at that, and just said, “I’m sorry, Kathy.”

All her books as a child were those about animals.  She especially loved horses.

Once, she was upset with us, and we found her trying to attach a bundle of a few wrapped clothes to the end of a pole – like in illustrations of children running away from home. She said she was leaving home and would build her own house, and we may not join her in her house. I asked her where she was going to build her house, and she declared, “At the Zoo!” I think she was four years old. I don’t remember how we got her to give up that wild idea.

At another time, we had a shoot for the Ajinomoto calendar, and it showed a pretty female model with a few day-old yellow chicks. After the shoot, Kathy pleaded to have the chicks as pets but we agreed to her keeping only one.  We did not expect that a chick could survive living in a studio, but we were surprised that it grew to be a rooster. But a studio in the city is not quite the ideal home for a rooster – or a rooster is not the ideal pet for a studio in the city, and so we asked a carpenter who worked with us to take it to Bicol, with Kathy’s permission, of course. Kathy only consented to have the rooster relocate to Daet, Camarines Norte, with the promise that the rooster would finally be happy to be roaming around freely in the province. 

To go back to Pinoy, the Palawan parrot. It actually lived a few years with us. Our plans in 1992 to build a car studio meant that we had to give up the atrium. That meant that Pinoy would no longer have a home. John convinced Kathy that keeping him in a cage was not a good idea anyway, and that setting him free was the best thing for Pinoy. Kathy agreed, and Pinoy was helped to fly away. What we did not expect was that this bird, kept in a cage for many years, had lost his ability to fly, and what was even more tragic was that it was Kathy who, when she was alighting from her school bus, saw his dead body sprawled on Bautista Street. We were filled with guilt and horror, but could not do anything but to cry and grieve with her, and consoled her by promising that Pinoy would be flying freely in parrot heaven.

I suppose that parrot heaven is a place in Kathy’s heart, where she kept memories of him alive. When she was a college freshman, she joined an essay contest sponsored by Cathay Pacific for which the prize was a one-week wilderness experience in South Africa. She wrote the story of Pinoy, but from the parrot’s first-person account.  The essay, together with a presentation of her photo portfolio (as suggested by her dad), won for her one of the five slots for the trip to South Africa.

De la Salle University, which is where she went for college, required their students to do community service, and her class was assigned to render community service at a home for battered women. That was a bit too much for her tender heart, and she asked her teacher, if she could render community service at the Manila Zoo instead. Her adviser agreed, and not only did Kathy work at the Manila Zoo, she even organized a volunteer group. But doing volunteer work at her dream place was not without heartaches. She was disheartened by the lack of commitment and enthusiasm about their work by zoo workers, and lack of encouragement from the zoo management. One day, she came home looking really discouraged and even exasperated and unburdened to her dad. She had wanted to introduce behavioral enrichment programs for animals that she had learned in South Africa, and she kept being told that Manila Zoo animals were too old for enrichment programs. John decided to visit the zoo to try to convince zoo vets and officers to implement Kathy’s proposed program.  They threw back the challenge at him and asked him to choose the animal with which he would like to work. He chose the elephant, but that’s another story.

Before Kathy had graduated, she had a group of zoo volunteers organized and their organization incorporated as a foundation, successfully getting companies to donate materials, pledge support and sponsor programs at the Manila Zoo.  She and a friend, Kitty Arce, co-founded MyZoo Volunteer Group Foundation, which at some point had more than a hundred seriously committed volunteers.

The test of their commitment came one day when they were told that the Zoo was planning to put down a sick foal. They named him “Orion” and offered to nurse him to good health, even providing him shelter in the volunteers’ office. The volunteers found a way to convince a top equine doctor to look in at this foal.  Volunteers took turns in watching over him 24/7, which meant that some volunteers had to spend the night at the zoo. Kathy was there every night – which became a source of serious concern for me. It was not too bad during the first week of this foal’s confinement because it was still summer vacation and not a few students volunteered to stay on health-watch. But after a week, summer ended and school started, and only Kathy was left to spend the night at the zoo. I sent the maid to accompany her, then the maid and the houseboy, then her papa. Also, Kathy and I looked for a guard dog to accompany her at the zoo. We went on a search for a German Shepherd, but as we went from one kennel and breeder to another, she fell in love with a black Labrador puppy. I argued that a Labrador was a friendly dog, and Kathy argued that Filipinos don’t really know the breed, and could be frightened by any big, black dog. And so it came to be that we took in Lucas, and we all fell in love with him.

Let’s go back to Orion. The equine doctor finally had to break the sad news to Kathy and her group of volunteers that he could no longer be saved.

Kathy and her student volunteers continued to work during their free times at the Zoo, but graduating from college and entering the workforce offered them very little opportunity to continue. Kathy had gotten too busy with work at the zoo (and other activities that divert the attention of young people, such as music – she was photographing popular rock bands, and sports – which for her then was hockey) and was not going to graduate on time.

We offered her a proverbial “carrot” - a trip to South Africa for finishing college, no matter what course she would finish.  It was probably the “call of the wild,” – all the animals she once knew, met and fell in love with at the Johannesburg Zoo – that enticed Kathy to focus on her studies, and to aim to finish her university education, which she finally did.

We were about to live up to our promise of sending her back to South Africa when Cathay Pacific heard of it, and offered her a free ticket. So the money reserved for travel was used to buy her an Apple laptop. One of her best friends whom she met during her “Wilderness Experience” offered her accommodations at the Johannesburg Zoo.  We gave her enough pocket money for a month’s stay in South Africa, and she was all set to relive and extend her wilderness experience.

Again, this calls for another story, but suffice it to say for now that one month became extended to five months, and Kathy came home completely enamored with South Africa, where she claimed she found her “soul.”

Fast forward – she worked with us as an industrial photographer while photographing her black Lab, Lucas, her yellow lab, Ginger, and once a while, friends and their pets, and borrowed animals from Manila Zoo. Then, she met and fell in love with a Dutch engineer, John (like her dad)  whom she met while photographing the Malampaya facility, off Palawan.

Fast forward even faster to 2015. Kathy is 35, married and has two young daughters. When she got married, she brought Lucas (her black Labrador) and Ginger (her yellow Lab) to join her household, and when John’s dog in Holland died, they acquired another dog, a Belgian Malinois, whom they named Anouk. They have also adopted our African lovebird, and paired him off with another African lovebird from a family friend. Fortunately or unfortunately, both birds are male.

During our fun trip to the Zambales farm that we visited recently, our granddaughters were letting out shrieks of delight when they mingled with the geese, ducks and chickens, just as their mother did years ago. When Gaby grabbed a gosling, Kathy pleaded to allow Gaby to keep it. Our host said yes, but her husband and I agreed that the gosling might prefer to grow up as a goose or gander in a farm.  Kathy’s heart for animals prevailed, and asked Gaby to release the gosling to remain with her family in the farm.

As for me, while I knew that geese is plural for goose, I learned that a group of geese on the ground is called a gaggle. That’s a lesson on goose, geese and gaggles (is there a plural for gaggle?) that I learned just now from my daughter who has a big heart for animals, and is my resident expert on animals.

Kathy's Postscript: Kathy CG Punch line. We were going to name the gosling Ryan.... Ryan Gosling. Ha ha ha. From the ajinomoto shoot we got a pair of ducks. The chicks were from a studio shoot. One dozen. I was horrified they were talking about frying them and eating day old chicks. Til his dying day Tang Quinong swore the chickens were nicely retired in his farm.... We got the rabbits from the Philcomsat shoot, papa and I saw them by the roadside on our way home. We had a pair but missy kept killing the babies. Bugs, the grey one, was the one who had an impostor.  at one point we had three dogs and 19 puppies. Six parrots. Two dozen parakeets. A dozen chickens. Two ducks. Two rabbits. A frog and a rat.... I also had pet mosquitoes but they didn't live long or do much. Dengue wasn't even heard of back then. It was a zoo. I wish we had a horse, but that's why Orion was special. Now we have two dogs and two birds.... I wanted two geese, but John didnt know how we could move if we had to with farm animals 

Kathy CG And a pet earthworm before I hit 3rd grade and learned girls shouldn't be playing with earthworms 

Thursday, April 16, 2015

"Thirty days hath September..."

Since all our daughters were wished for (meaning planned), they’re almost evenly spaced – three and a half years between the eldest and the second, and another three and half years between the second and the youngest. But that sometimes created problems, as things that are clear to a 10-year old, may not be comprehensible to a three year old.

Yet, no matter the difference in their ages, as children, they all seem to want the same thing – even when there is only one of whatever it is that they are coveting. John, their dad, used to drive a two-door Mitsubishi Mirage, and everyone wanted the rear passenger’s window seat nearest where they got in. For safety reasons and since John drives and I don’t, that’s through the front passenger side.  This meant that it won’t be easy for the other two to get into the car, as the first one to get in is blocking the way. We get a lot of arguments that pleading, cajoling and threatening could not resolve.

Obviously, we needed to set down rules, so that they would not be fighting to be the first to get in the car. Here comes Disciplinarian Mommy decreeing that they should take turns, pronouncing that the coveted seat belongs to eldest daughter Ching Ching on dates ending on one to ten; Middle daughter Kathy’s turns are from the 11th to the 20th; and youngest daughter Sacha’s are on the 28th (or 29th), 30th or 31st. When it’s Ching Ching’s turn to be at the right window seat, Kathy goes in first and takes the leftmost seat (behind the driver), Sacha takes the middle seat (the most unpopular seat) and Ching sits on the prized seat – the right window seat. They rotate, moving clockwise.  But when February came, Sacha felt shortchanged and complained that the month only had 28 days. We had to tell her about leap years.  I suppose she was too young to be familiar with the calendar, so we recited the nursery rhyme –

Thirty days hath September,
April, June, and November.
All the rest have thirty-one,
Except February alone,
Which has twenty-eight, in fine,
And each leap year twenty-nine.

I pointed out to her that while she was losing two turns in February, she actually had seven extra days spread throughout the year.  Yes, you lose some, you gain some. 

With that explanation, we did get to impose the rule, and peace and order returned. All they needed to know was what date it was. The bonus was that they also became aware of calendar dates and months.  The rule continued for many years until Ching Ching, and later Kathy, learned to drive. And then it was a different ballgame.