Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Of Transformations and The Search for Happiness

"Garret are you happy?"

"A-pee." He replies, smiling at me as I take his picture.

We finally decided to bring the boys to Visayas State University after several months of talking about it and not really having the time to actually do it. To say it was a worthwhile experience one that we plan to revisit time and again is an understatement.

The university atmosphere is endearing. The mountainous landscape filled with various kinds of foliage and flora are soothing to the senses, calming to the soul. And those majestic, giant trees that beautifully splay the rays of sunlight are a sight to see! A blatant contrast to my college years in the heart of Osmeña Boulevard. I wonder, if I had known there was a place like this 17 years ago, would I have chosen to study in this university? With my brazen, city-girl, must-be-close-to-home- like tendencies back then? Probably not. But now, as my eyes devoured everything in sight from the college students contentedly hanging around with books filled with highlighted marks, pen doodles and whatnot, laptops, having pre-finals reviews and club meetings, to the giant trees that looked like fern gully surrounding these "kolehiyalas", from the dirty ice cream and tempura vendor where students lined up for, to the lamplight and fallen leaves lining up walkways, a thought emerged, " I could study here. If there ever were post graduate programs that interest me in this university, I would enroll in a heartbeat. God, I could live here."

Amazing how with a 45-minute exploration of a place such as VSU I can affirm to myself how much I have changed and how much I have remained the same over the span of more than ten years. I find myself looking for comfort in the most unadulterated, unsophisticated ways, well not that I was much of a high-maintenance kind of person. But somehow, I am discovering there is more pleasure to be found in the understated, underrated, in the down-to-earth, in the uncomplicated. The hubris of youth excludes no one after all. The want for attention and blitz somehow are slowly stripped away down to its very core. And what is left is what is essential. Not to be misunderstood, I am discontented with mere complacency and I still yearn for that which moves me-- stimulating conversations, intelligent ones, the ones that speak to your soul, a display of artistry and craftsmanship whether in theater performances, poetry readings, book readings, writing, advocacy that represent the life you are living or fighting for. Above, beyond and beneath it all, I am finding that at the beginning of every endeavor I choose to take, I ask myself the question, "For what purpose?" And if for no other reason other than it feeds my soul, for no other reason than to find happiness, then the journey is on its way.

The transformation of oneself is astonishing as it is necessary. A change in beliefs, some values maybe, behavior and to an extent personality even, can occur as one ages. Perhaps it's the getting older that allows for almost an immediate preference and a deeper appreciation of the subtler, simpler and quieter things in life. The less clutter and noise, the better, kind of attitude. But then again age is just a biological occurrence, perhaps it is what we bring to aging, the life changes we go through, crises or milestones of triumphs that constitute the so-called "aging gracefully" and perhaps create a certain profoundness in perspective, a transformation of the self.

As for me, I am grateful to have been given the wonderful blessing and opportunity that some do not have, to bear and bring two beautiful human beings into this life. I may not be in the least bit graceful nor close to being profound but I find myself to be ever-changing, constantly transforming into a different, maybe a better or a more resilient version of myself. And I have my two boys to thank for every time this happens. Becoming a mother and parenting them is truly one of the most beautiful milestones I could ever have reached.

Anais Nin could never have said it any better when she said, "I take pleasure in my transformations. I look quiet and consistent but few know how many women there are in me."

Garret and Morgan teach me everyday to find beauty in the ordinary, contentment in the absence of frivolities and joy in the daily miracles of life. And as I look at their faces taking in everything about this place, the peace and quiet of Visayas State University in the city of Baybay, Leyte, I am reminded once more how indeed, very little is needed to be truly happy.

Perhaps a significant part of the "very little" which is needed to be happy, is the willingness to change and transform in ways that are sometimes incomprehensible. Transformation is necessary, if we are to find our joy, I believe. Because even our definition of happiness changes as time does too.

In the next decade or so, who knows how much of myself will have transformed again? All I know is that I look forward to it. My boys make sure that I look forward to it and teach me time and again to take pleasure in it-- transformations and miracles, every single day.

On the ride home, Garret and Morgan are laughing to their hearts content, looking at me with meaningful eyes as if to say they had the best afternoon. If one or both of them would have asked me if I was happy too, without missing a beat, I would reply, "A-pee, my boys very a-pee."

Post script: More photos to come especially of the majestic trees I am raving about and yes, of Morgan too. Oh and yeah, talking about aging and stuff will probably make you ask how old I am. I always have one answer to anyone, in their right mind, who asks about my age-- 25. Forever 25. ;-)

Sunday, September 22, 2013

For My Morgan

There are days when my mind and my heart gets too...tired (too exhausted to look for stronger term). So I do what I do best. As all autism parents or special needs parents do best, we cope and we become adept at coping. We get used to breaking and we become strong in the broken places. We learn that to be strong is not to carry it all. But to let some things go. So, on days when Morgan goes into one of those seemingly unexplainable tantrums, I just let him be, let him cry it out, and if he allows me to, carry him and cradle him like a newborn child and he cries some more. After 15 minutes, half an hour or almost an hour, he quiets down. And all is well with our world again.

This is for you my Morgan. Mama loves you come peaceful or stormy seas.

There, there now my feisty king,
Mama is here...
I'll hold you tight till the bed bugs won't bite.
I'll hold you close till the thunder in your heart stops.
I'll hold you singing till the clouds of chaos in your mind clears.
I'll hold you, just hold you till the rain in your eyes dries.
I'll hold you till the skies of your thoughts turn from gray to blue.
I'll hold you till the sun in your smile breaks through.
It's okay now, my feisty king,
Mama is here
I'll keep you here in my arms
Until you need me to
You are feisty, brave and strong
You are stronger than all the storms.
You are infinite, unconquerable.
Be sad if you need to
Be scared if you have to
Be angry if you are
Spill those tears to
soothe your heart
And I'll catch them
with my own beating heart
It's alright my feisty king
There, there now,
Peace will come
Soon you will find your calm...

Perhaps, during the most unlikeable moments that we have living with autism or with life, all we really need to do is to go through it, acknowledge it, feel every sting of it, weep if we have to, lash out, let it go, stop trying to control what is uncontrollable, sing a little song, hum a little tune and yes, expand our hearts and love a little more.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

To Hearty Dinners and Real Conversations

Garret was eating his lunch when Morgan smoothly bumped into him intentionally as shown by the smirk on his face. I scolded him and in turn told Garret, "Kuya sumbaga gud na imung manghud." (Garret, will you please punch your brother?)"

Oops my bad. But not really.

I recently visited my hometown and was meeting up with my cousins at a certain place where the it never sleeps at all. Call centers, resto-bars, food joints, coffee shops, pastry shops abound and in them were families having a Saturday night out for dinner and whatnot. This is common sight, I can imagine, families eating out, having dinner together. I see siblings sit peacefully, silently side by side. Wait, did I just say peacefully? And silently? Well how can they not be peaceful and silent with each other when all of them had thumbs and eyes glued to i Pads, tablets and smartphones? They glance up occasionally and speak up rarely, only when they order food or when the parent asks something that they feel they are compelled to answer. Seeing all this, it was all I could do to control myself from walking over to their table and telling them to pack away their gadgets and could they please fight with each other.

Of course the truth of the matter is I don't want them to fight fight. I wanted them to fight as in talk. To each other. Like human beings. Not act like android or apple robots. To talk about their favorite color or song, sing together One direction or Selena Gomez or whoever or whatever song is on the top 40's on the radio. Wait, do kids these days even listen to radios now? Much less know what a radio is? The answer to that question scares me. Anyhow, I want them to talk about their day in school, girls, boys, complain about subjects or teachers. I want them to talk about their aspirations or what made them happy, sad, excited or whatever for as long as they look each other in the eye and talk and laugh until they annoy each other and until one gets punched or pinched in the arm or arguments ensued. That's what I want. Clearly it wasn't what they wanted.

Language has always been a topic of intense interest for me considering how much my boys struggle to express themselves everyday. So whenever I see normal, regular, neurotypical (enough adjectives?) kids not talking to each other, not having a conversation when in fact they can, is almost of an abomination to my sensibilities. Still, at the risk of sounding too self-righteous, I have asked myself many times if my boys didn't have autism, would I also tolerate my kids acting like darn android robots? Would I be taking for granted their ability to socially adjust and verbally interact? Of course answers are vague and speculations at best. But that is where my fear lies. That maybe, I may just be the kind of parent I wouldn't want to be. So I actually thank heaven my boys have autism because I am given the chance to truly appreciate what it means to speak and have a conversation.

So no, not really "my bad" when I say to my son "Punch your brother", because it means if he does punch his brother, he responds to teasing, he is emotionally responding to his brother. So I wonder, are these normal kids emotionally responding to each other at all anymore? Do they know how to articulate their thoughts, ideas and emotions? I certainly hope these technological gadgets serve to augment their communication skills and their relationship skills rather than impair them. And the possible response to this statement also scares me quite a bit.

One of my favorite memories growing up was when we would go out to dinner Sunday evenings at Sunburst Fried Chicken Restaurant. For the authentic Cebu childhood growing up experience of the best tasting chicken(no offense, Jollibee) Sunburst definitely hits the mark. The thing about those dinners that made it memorable was how we were made to wait 20-30 minutes before it was served. Half an hour. And we had no cellphones or tablets then. What we did have was an overflow of ideas spilling out of our heads as we patiently waited, fiddling with the ketchup, hot sauce and Worcestershire sauce pouring them on the sauce plates, mixing them using toothpicks. My brother and I talked. My aunt and I talked. My mom and papa talked. We talked to each other. We told each other stories of our day, of the coming days, of days gone by, past, present and future happenings. And yes, sometimes I would annoy my brother so much that we would fight. But it was well worth it. Because it was through those fights that we came to know each others strengths and vulnerabilities, our belief systems and what we hold dear to our hearts, because authentic sibling relationships included fights, emotional responses and anything that involved expressing oneself to others even if it meant numerous shouting matches and punches.

Finally, when the conversation lulled, the food came steaming hot, just in time. Hearty dinner followed. Or rather continued. Because the conversation before the actual meal served as the best appetizer ever. And those hearty dinners, I believe were authentic family experiences, as human as they can get.

So, when the day comes when my boys are able to initiate and maintain a conversation with me and their father, all my senses will be attuned to them , with what they have to say, prodding their language out and encouraging them to talk and talk and talk until they get tired.It would probably be the second best day of my life. The first being the day they were born. When that day comes, I'll make sure to bring them to Sunburst Fried Chicken for the authentic Cebuano sumptuous chicken experience with the 30 minutes waiting period. We will have numerous hearty dinners, real conversations, fighting and all.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Our New Adventure

After bringing my boys to regular Playgroup class this morning, I was beset with random thoughts and insights:

It's amazing how 4-year-olds can be so small their school bags are bigger than them and yet their vocabulary bank is so large it holds numerous words, sentences and ideas that they literally cannot contain within themselves they have to shout out with glee to their teacher in class. But what really leaves me in awe is not so much the shouting that leaves my ears literally ringing as it is their joy and enthusiasm that they exuberate in answering questions and in simply conversing with each other.

I hope their parents encourage this joy and energy to flourish. I hope their parents do have lengthy conversations with them regardless of whether their kids talk about how they played bubbles or finger painted or some other seemingly nonsensical things because for them, it isn't. For them, this is their way of knowing the world they live in. For them everyday holds so much value, beauty and wonder. I hope parents do take time to talk to them because language is such an intricate and complex process. This joy and exuberance in speaking may come naturally to these kids but it comes with a LOT of hard work, confusion and tears even with my own boys and for other kids on the spectrum.

Perhaps even as adults, we forget how to be simply happy by the very fact that we can express ourselves so clearly. We forget to appreciate what we do have. This has always been the life lesson my two boys teach me everyday. Gratitude and True Appreciation. These two are inseparable. There can be no real gratitude without the giving of value to what is already there.

This morning I looked at the twenty regular, neurotypical kids and they have taught me a very important life lesson too-- to never forget that joy comes to those who exercise it daily, to those who choose not to forget to always live in awe at the daily miracles life has endowed us with so generously. Miracles are everywhere. And we will only see them when we begin to live in this world with the joy and exuberance of 4-year-olds.

Post script: For a long time that I have been immersed in the environment of special needs, now that my son is slowly exploring the "regular" world in the regular kids' class, I feel as if I am exploring the normal world myself in the place of these neurotypical kids too. It's quite unsettling as it is exciting. An adventure for myself as it is for my little prince.

More posts about this new adventure of ours soon. :)

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Our One Day

"I love you,"
"You yuv mee."
"We're a happy family"
"Wee a gey bee huh"
"And a kiss from me to you"
"Won yoo say"
"You love me..."

Today. I sing the first line of the ever famous Barney song. Garret sings the second line. And so on and so forth. We are lying on the bed on this rainy afternoon, my left hand holding his and we are singing. Together. Wait, let me rewind. Let me repeat that in case you missed one crucial point-- Garret is singing the lines, actually verbalizing the words. We finish the last notes of this song and my heart is twisted in knots marveling at how far my little prince have come.

July 18, 2013. Three weeks ago. My little Prince said the most beautiful word to my ears for the very first time. "Mama". When he said it three times, yes not just once, but one, two, three times, my world literally spun that I didn't know where to put their bug spray and their bag. I was stupefied, amazed, awed. All the synonyms of that emotion that leave your mouth hanging open and heart bursting at the seams would pretty much describe how I felt at that time until now.

I have heard too many testimonies of how when mothers saw their children for the first time in their arms, they cried and felt that one unbreakable bond in an instant. And even more stories of their children's first words at 10 months old or younger. Words as significant as "Mama". When I gave birth to Garret, all the testimonies and stories I heard remained just that-- narratives to me. Of course there is no question, I love him with the whole weight of the universe but somehow I couldn't connect to him the way I expected to. I don't know if Autism caused this "disconnection" that I so deeply felt but wanted badly to deny, maybe it did. And when the months went by until he turned 3 years old, when still no "mama" or "papa" was heard from his lips, questions began to pile up in my head and in my heart waiting to be hurled to the universe of which no answers were heard as well.

From the time Garret was then diagnosed at three years old hence, and a slew of therapies and special education commenced, life began unfolding in ways I could not even predict or sometimes even understand. What was clear in the years that have gone by was the one undeniable truth of how my little prince was teaching me the ropes of life. And not the other way around. Acceptance. Gratitude. Courage. Strength. Resilience, And Love above all. Among the questions that piled up was the one that bore the heaviest load, "Why Autism? Why my sons?" I only have to look at my Garret and my Morgan and see the joy in their faces at the simplest things and see the courage in the full breadth of their souls to face everyday hurdles in living in this normal world of ours and I find the answers I am searching for.

To be honest, my faith has seen countless days of wavering strength. Frustration came in all forms. Anger directed at the universe of the "unfairness" of it all. More questions--"Why couldn't my son still not talk? Will I have the strength to carry on?" How did I get through days like this? I just let go. I asked the hard questions and allowed myself to weep and be angry. And then when everything that was toxic and dark and not good went out of my system, I gathered whatever strength there was left and pooled the support and love of friends and family and used it to support my weight long enough to stand on my own two feet again. "Mama said there'd be days like this. "

And days of bliss...

Just when I was about to give up, the tide turned. Our One Day came. Let me tell you the details of what transpired the day my world spun:

I was blow-drying my hair, getting ready for school a.k.a. work a.k.a. teacher-momma mode. And in the mirror, I saw Garret approach me, wanting me to be done with whatever I was doing because he wanted to go already. I turned off the blow dryer and looked at the mirror, I cupped his face and said, "Look, Mama and Garret." I pointed to our faces in the mirror. He then said, nonchalantly, "Ma-ma". I was dumbfounded so I brought him outside and told his father, "He said, Mama." His father said, "Maybe it was ma-na (finish in our vernacular), as in he wanted you to finish blow drying your hair." I told Garret this time, "Garret say, Mama." To which he said, "ma-ma". I requested that he say it again. And he said "Mama" Twice. And that was when my world transformed into a roller coaster of joy and tears.

8 years. A slew of therapists and therapies. One word. "Mama." Miracles happen. Breakthroughs are possible. The Universe certainly knows what it's doing.

As I am typing this now, Garret approaches me with his pack of biscuit. He says, "A-ma Bea, O-wan." I open his biscuit and hands it to him, I cue him, "Tha--" He continues, "Chan-chyu."

Mama Bea. Open. Thank you. Five words. And more coming.

It has taken me a long time to write about this fateful day. Because I wanted to give it justice by writing it when all my senses are attuned to celebrate and laud my little prince. Because as much as this is about him saying the word that fills my heart with the greatest joy and content, this is about him breaking through one seemingly unbreakable wall of autism. One being this wall of apraxia that afflicts most kids on the spectrum. This is about my little prince Garret's courage and strength. This is about him experiencing the world as never before, being able to communicate, to explicitly express himself. One day, it won't be his mama anymore telling his and his brother's story. One day he will tell you himself. One day, Morgan too will tell his story. And I believe this with all my heart.

And this day wouldn't be possible at all without the love and dedication of his therapists, teachers and doctors and the unfaltering support of family and friends. I thank all of you. You know who you are. I will be forever grateful for your kindness and love you give to my boys and my entire family.

In the meantime, we continue to do what we always do. What my boys have taught me to do, live each day as if it were the first and last day of life, give it my all, do whatever it is that lights my fire, appreciate every single blessing, see everything as miracles and know that no matter what happens, hope is not lost.

And on this note...

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune--without the words,
And never stops at all...

-Emily Dickinson-

Lastly, as if I would forget the one who is looking down on everything perhaps in utter amusement at my lack of faith and human questioning, maybe even saying, " I told you so.", thank you, Universe.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Pieces of My Heart

Pieces, blocks
Zoob things.
Cars. Rubber ducks.
Cards. Pictures.
Alphabet. Numbers.
Grouped color by color
Or by height and size.
Placed in just the
Right position
And looking at them in
A sideways glance
Or staring at them
With an enthusiastic
Excited hand flap
Reveling and lingering
in his happy
Peaceful place

Until it comes
Without warning
Because of a mere
change of the direction
Of the wind
Or sound of the first drops
Of rain
Never mind the thunder
Resonating in the sky
But mind the roar
Of your heart
That distinctly says
"Here it comes.
Brace yourself."
And in a split
Second before
You even can,
They all come
flying off--
Blocks. Zoob things.
Cars. Rubber ducks.
Cards. Pictures.
Alphabet. Numbers.
For some, tables.
Tears. Shrieks.
Kicks. Slaps.
For some, punches
Glares of "Why?"
As in "Why do I have
to do this?"
"Why can't I make
you understand?"
"Why can't YOU understand?"
From both sides

And the last to
fly off are the
Pieces of my heart.
Piece by piece
Falling down
On the colored
Rubber mats
"Pick it up.
Pick it all up."
I, as calmly
As I could
told the little boy.
Blocks. Zoob things.
Cars. Rubber ducks.
Cards. Pictures.
Alphabet. Numbers.
And he did
With angry
And confused
Tears in his eyes
Hands curled
up in a tight
As if
Barely containing
the wave of
His little body
could hold.

"Pick it up.
Pick it all up.
All the pieces of
Your heart."
I, as fiercely
as I could,
Told this
Mama's heart.
And I did.
My weary hands
groping for
All of it
In the vale
of tears
Piece by piece.
The words
"Because" and
"My" and "little"
and "Prince"
"I" and "love"
and "you".

He sits down
And I say
to him
With my eyes
And throat
voiceless dry
"I have no
For now,
And this--
Every piece
of my heart
This is
All I can
Offer you,
I hope this
will do..."

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

NBA and My Two Little Champions

I never thought I would be writing about NBA. Or any kind of sport for that matter. But I am. Although in a non-conventional way. Because with all the heat and excitement of Game 6 yesterday of the NBA finals, I cannot help but be overpowered and drawn by the hype. So bear with me. But of course, mostly, this will be about the two little men in my life who are way more gorgeous than Tony Parker.

Babbles, utterances, single words that most of the times serve functions other than what it's meant for, these are what my boys have in their language bank. Often times I wondered whether they actually mean something by them or whether these are just one of the many repetitive behaviors that are characteristic of kids on the spectrum. As an autism parent, it is second nature for me to anticipate my boys' needs even before they realize it themselves so much so that I fail to recognize and realize that despite their language impairment and cognitive delays, they still absorb everything they hear, see and feel and that they are always, always communicating something important. Admittedly, I have been too afraid to hope that the time will come when my boys can communicate with me as clearly as other kids do with their parents. Having been disappointed so many times, where my patience is constantly tested, where every bit of hope and perhaps even my faith exhausted, I forget that every little thing I do as a parent, as a mother, as a teacher to my boys does bear fruit.

No matter how long it may take.

Simply because miracles happen.

And, because they're called miracles, they seem to not come very often as much as I want them to. They come at the most unexpected moments. They come at the most opportune time where I am barely hanging on by a thread of my faith, just when I am about to give up. And maybe the old adages are right in that miracles come simply when the time is right. When we have worked our asses off that we're pretty damn sure they're literally falling off. And what does this imply? It means we work for it. I have to work for it. Miracles. The truth may be that we have to earn it. I have to earn it.

This morning, as I was helping Morgan get his drink of water, I did the usual prompting and commenting, "show give" (for open palm gesture) expecting him to reply with the usual "Mmm", because no matter how many times I prompted him in the past days to say "drink" no response ever came close. So when he suddenly said, "ding" before putting the bottle to his lips it took two or three seconds to register that he meant "drink" in my dumbfounded brain, I was ecstatic! I quickly ran out of the room to tell their father which elicited a kind of joy on his face only a father can have that surpasses the joy had the Spurs beat Miami in Game 6 of the NBA finals. (Wink!)

And now as my two thumbs are furiously punching the qwerty keypad of my phone, Garret is constantly asking me to open his pack of eggnog cookies. I pause every now and then to do the work, "Garret, say 'Open'." He looks at my mouth and with all the darn apraxia his brain could manifest but with all the strength of will of my little prince could expel, he looks at my mouth, looks at the ceiling as if in concentration, and says an emphatic, " Ppphuh!" Again my heart soars and again I quickly went to inform my better half. And again appeared the face that confirmed how no matter who won the NBA finals, it doesn't matter. Because all that really matters is that his little man said " Ppphuh".

This is what I learned today:

One, my boys' babbles and utterances do mean something. They are absorbing everything I teach them, they are feeling every facet of life I show them. They are communicating to me and the world around them. I just have to pay closer attention and listen more carefully.Because when I do, I am able to give value to my boys' manner of communicating. And when I am able to give value to what they are telling me every single day, I am able to give more importance and more meaning to our connection. I am able to have a deeper connection with my boys. And maybe even a relationship with them not unlike neurotypical parents and their neurotypical kids where conversations and out of the box ideas flow freely. Maybe an even more profound relationship if I haven't already.

Two. I mustn't lose hope. Because as Tyler Knott Gregson says,
"I do not believe there is a more destructive and dangerous force than hope but I do not believe that there is a more necessary and perfectly beautiful one either."

More than a mother with a strength of a thousand armies when it comes to loving my boys, I am but human though, I do what I can with the best of my abilities and through my frailties I get impatient, arrogant and easily discouraged but when it comes to my boys this I should always, always carve in my heart, I shouldn't and mustn't give up. When it comes to my boys I mustn't give up. Because to love them unconditionally is to always believe in them and to give them the ultimate gift of the human spirit--hope. Hope in themselves, hope for better things to come after every struggle they will surely face and hope in the best of people they may encounter in their lifetime, no matter how many times they fail, no matter how many times they get disappointed, no matter how dark and winding the tunnel of their life map may seem.

Three. Faith. I have to believe. Because miracles do not work if I do not believe. Every day. 365 days a year, until my last breath. I need to trust in the universe. That everything is working according to a higher and deeper purpose. That the outcome of my journey as a mother, as a person, the end mission of my boys' journey and their autism and the journey itself, are by and in themselves miracles in every essence of the word. Good things come to those who wait, the saying goes. And better things come to those who work for it. With faith comes patience and discernment. I need to believe, be patient and reflect on things that have come to pass and pray for whatever will come to pass.

If by some miracle the Spurs do win the NBA finals, I'm sure Garret and Morgan's papa would be very happy. He usually pushes for the underdog. Me, on the other hand, I could care less about basketball and all that hullabaloo. All I know is that I'm rooting for my two "underdogs" in the world of normalcy and neurotypical development, always. Because in my eyes, with every struggle they face and overcome everyday living in our "normal" and if I may add, chaotic world, they are champions, in every sense of the word, miracles even from the moment they were conceived. Of course, without having to say it out loud, but affirming it nonetheless, for the father of my boys, if Tony Parker, Manu Ginobli and Tim Duncan would be few of the San Antonio Spurs' hands holding that elusive NBA championship trophy, for him, that would just be an added bonus to the challenges our little men overcome everyday.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Autism Proof

I never thought the day would come when I would be explaining to my son why I spanked him. But it did. And for me, for us in our family, this is another milestone achieved. It's not so much as me explaining to him why I had to do it as it is he understanding my explanation. As in really understanding the events that led me to him spanking him. And perhaps truly understanding the most important reason of all.

Garret is 8 years old. He has single words now here and there. A-koo (Apple), Ana-na (Banana), Graesh (Grapes), Fish, Skweh (Square) among those that are more or less consistent, clear and unmistakable. Two word-phrases still elude him though. Conversations, all the more. But I haven't lost hope. If there's one thing I still believe, it is that one day, my little prince and I will be talking under the sun, the moon and the stars non-stop. One day. And I could just imagine the things we would talk about. Or maybe I will just gape in wonder at him when the time comes and he will be doing all the talking.

Language is expressive and receptive. There can be no true language without both. Expressive language obviously can be measured by how much a child speaks and how he speaks, uses the words, etc. Receptive language, on the other hand can be partly measured by how much a child expresses himself. And this is where the discrepancy happens, I believe. Because so much of what a child understands does not necessarily translate into verbal responses. After all we have what we call "choices". Even at a very young age, children begin to practice making choices, choosing what to answer. Yes or No. Cake or Ice Cream. Blue or Red. Behave or misbehave. And it seems, as they grow older, mental mapping, reflection, pondering, processing any input from the environment all the more contribute to the quantity and quality of verbal responses and behavior, of course. I would love to cite a reference for this paragraph but I think I do not need to because these few sentences are products of what we all experience. Common sense, you may call it, don't you think?

So back to the point of this blog post. Two nights ago, I spanked Garret. Our newly-cropped ears Dobe, Riley was trying to play with him, licking him as he went out of the room,which Garret does not like. So he pinched the ear of Riley. I called his attention once. Still he did not heed my reprimand. He pinched Riley's ear again. This time I swatted his bottom with one firm smack. He looked at me, went to our room and hid under his pillows. His papa called to him. He refused to approach his father. He sobbed quietly, looking at me like it was my fault he was crying, which of course was understandable. It went on like this for 10 minutes or so until I couldn't take it anymore and approached him. He was lying face down. I did the same beside him and put my arm around his back. I stroked his hair and said, "Garret, I spanked you because you did not listen to mama. Riley's ears will get hurt if you pinch it. And I have to spank you because you have to learn to listen to what mama says." Or something like that. I tried to make my words really simple and easy to understand. He looked at me, tears in his eyes. I continued, "Mama spanked you because Mama loves you." At this, I left him alone to process everything I said. After three minutes or so, he stood up and joined Morgan jumping on the bed, smiling slowly as if nothing happened. And that was when it struck me, as in really struck me-- Garret understood me. Really understood what I just said. In his own non-verbal way. Actions do speak louder than words ever will. He understood more than any two-word phrases and sentences could ever measure. But more than anything, I was amazed at the thought that what I said got through to him. Somehow beneath the seemingly sound-proof walls that autism builds around the world of my son, my words were autism-proof. I connected with my son on a different level, and he connected with me. And that meant everything. Because just when I was up to my neck with self-doubt and on the brink of losing my patience and perhaps some parts of my faith all together, a breakthrough like this happens.

So what have I learned from this? Three things: One, language is more than just spoken words. More importantly, it is seen, clearly seen in what is not said. What I say, what I do, my little prince is taking it all in. As Morgan does. They understand everything that goes on around them in their own way perhaps even in a more hypersensitive manner. They may have autism but they may be more in tune with life than I am. So this is a note to self in my other aspects in life as well. I have to be more sensitive to body language, facial expressions, subtle nuances that people I interact with, communicate with me. Sometimes, words only serve to cover what is the truth.

Two, even if I begin to lose hope and question if any of what I'm doing as a parent is ever working, even if I forget the one true thing that gets my boys through, the one powerful force that nothing could ever surpass, the Universe does not forget and somebody up there is just taking it all in as well. And when the time is right, he / she tells me, shows me in his own verbal and nonverbal way as well, like saying, "I did not forget. And here it is, what you need. I may have had to postpone some miracles so you would learn the value of patience, discernment, reflection and gratitude always. And I did this for no other reason than because I love you." Well, what do you know, my stubbornness and know-it-all attitude is also given a firm smack on the bottom.

And three to wrap it all up in one tidy neat bow: Love, what I have for my boys, what the Universe has for me unconditionally, is autism proof always. :)

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Sarah Kay for My Boys or Better Yet for Me

Recently I just discovered an amazing Spoken Word Poet, Sarah Kay. And among the few ones I have heard her perform, "B" is the most poignant and moving of all for me. I would like to think that these are the words I want to tell my boys when the time comes when they can understand my words, my spoken words more deeply. But, on second thought, maybe these very words, are what they are teaching me ever since they were born. Life does have a different way of making me find out and live out what is sacred in life itself. When I think I already know how things should go about, it takes a different turn, the road diverges into a narrow, rough patch without even an early warning device. And all I am left to do, compelled to do is to ponder, wait, trust the process and be thankful for everything. Because nothing in this life is without a purpose. So here's Sarah Kay's "B" for my boys, my little prince Garret and feisty king Morgan, or better yet, my boys' daily reminder for their mama.

If I Should have a daughter… (For my boys, or better yet For Me)

By Sarah Kay

If I should have a daughter…“Instead of “Mom”, she’s gonna call me “Point B.” Because that way,
she knows that no matter what happens, at least she can always find her way to me. And I’m going
to paint the solar system on the back of her hands so that she has to learn the entire universe before she
can say “Oh, I know that like the back of my hand.”

She’s gonna learn that this life will hit you, hard, in the face, wait for you to get back up so it can kick
you in the stomach. But getting the wind knocked out of you is the only way to remind your lungs
how much they like the taste of air. There is hurt, here, that cannot be fixed by band-aids or poetry, so
the first time she realizes that Wonder-woman isn’t coming, I’ll make sure she knows she doesn’t have to
wear the cape all by herself. Because no matter how wide you stretch your fingers, your hands will
always be too small to catch all the pain you want to heal. Believe me, I’ve tried.

And “Baby,” I’ll tell her “don’t keep your nose up in the air like that, I know that trick, you’re just
smelling for smoke so you can follow the trail back to a burning house so you can find the boy who lost
everything in the fire to see if you can save him. Or else, find the boy who lit the fire in the first place to
see if you can change him.”

But I know that she will anyway, so instead I’ll always keep an extra supply of chocolate and rain
boats nearby, ‘cause there is no heartbreak that chocolate can’t fix. Okay, there’s a few heartbreaks
chocolate can’t fix. But that’s what the rain boots are for, because rain will wash away everything if you
let it.

I want her to see the world through the underside of a glass bottom boat, to look through a
magnifying glass at the galaxies that exist on the pin point of a human mind. Because that’s how my
mom taught me. That there’ll be days like this, “There’ll be days like this my momma said” when you
open your hands to catch and wind up with only blisters and bruises. When you step out of the phone
booth and try to fly and the very people you wanna save are the ones standing on your cape. When your
boots will fill with rain and you’ll be up to your knees in disappointment and those are the very days you
have all the more reason to say “thank you,” ‘cause there is nothing more beautiful than the way the
ocean refuses to stop kissing the shoreline no matter how many times it’s sent away.
You will put the “wind” in win some lose some, you will put the “star” in starting over and over,
and no matter how many land mines erupt in a minute be sure your mind lands on the beauty of this
funny place called life.

And yes, on a scale of one to over-trusting I am pretty naive but I want her to know that this world
is made out of sugar. It can crumble so easily but don’t be afraid to stick your tongue out and taste

“Baby,” I’ll tell her “remember your mama is a worrier but your papa is a warrior and you are the
girl with small hands and big eyes who never stops asking for more.”

Remember that good things come in threes and so do bad things and always apologize when you’ve
done something wrong but don’t you ever apologize for the way your eyes refuse to stop shining.
Your voice is small but don’t ever stop singing and when they finally hand you heartbreak, slip hatred
and war under your doorstep and hand you hand-outs on street corners of cynicism and defeat, you tell
them that they really ought to meet your mother.

Sunday, May 19, 2013


After two long days of Speech and Language Workshop, follow-up sessions and evaluations, I'm quite beat. But happy beat. There's nothing more rewarding and affirming than coming home to my two little royalties kissing me full on the lips and embracing me with the tightest hug they can will their little boys' arms to ease their mama's tired body and mind, like they're saying to me in their own nonverbal way, "You did good, Mama. And boy, are we glad you're home now."

It's been 5 years. This roller coaster life of autism. Garret was diagnosed April 2008, three months after I gave birth to Morgan. And Morgan, diagnosed almost two years ago. A slew of therapists, therapy sessions, teachers, methods. How do I briefly explain what a roller coaster life we have been living? Well, everything has been an adventure. And as all adventures go, it's full of unknown pathways, surprising rewards, terrible emotional breakdowns, severe testing of your faith and sometimes the losing of oneself in the uncharted ocean of humanity and a constant questioning of fate, destiny, determinism, will, choices, control, peace, joy and life in general.

The Autistic mind is a literal mind in more ways than one. It's part of their social impairment. They have difficulty understanding hidden meanings. So for the sake of those who want a clearer, more "literal" description of what living with autism is like, let me explain it in no other way than in literal terms. If only to put oneself in the shoes of my two boys.

It's like you wanting to go to an amusement park. And you line up for one of the many many adventure rides. You wait in anticipation for the excitement, the exhilaration you will surely feel, the fear of what could possibly happen to your body and mind while on the ride. The beauty and terror of it all. And you hold this conviction in your heart that no matter what happens, you will have fun. And you will have something to talk about afterwards. Funny stories. Good stories about the ride. So your turn comes up, you hand over your ticket to the operator. You climb into the car, buckle your seat belt, they put the protective gear over your head. And you wait. You hear the engine roaring to life and you are moving, slowly at first, dipping down moderately, and then, the tracks go berserk! And you are screaming your lungs out, "AAAAAAAAH" for enjoyment or "NOOOOOOOOOO!" for terror. "Don't stop the ride!" or "What the hell was I thinking?" And, when you think that you can almost die, you don't because the tracks suddenly turn itself the normal horizontal way. Until it swerves again and you are upside down out of your mind.

Do you get it now? Do you feel the sheer amazement and terror of that one adventure ride you chose to take? Well, I do. Every single day. And my boys do too. Every magnified second of everyday. I've been on the high end of the spectrum of hope for my boys and on the deepest end of the line of desperation. From wanting them to be "normal" at one point to accepting them for what the Universe created them to be at another more poignant stance. From looking on at other families who seem to have their boys recover from autism to caring less about my boys being able to speak and appreciating more what they have brought to my life-- a million life changing lessons that just about altered my entire universe.

Last night, I sang to my little prince-- "If you're happy and you know it, clap your hands..." He sitting on my belly as I lie down tired from the days' activities, smiles profusely his prince charming smile. I clap my hands and I say to him, "You do." I was attempting to do the new techniques our Speech and Language therapist trained me to do. Attempting and not really getting all assertive as I had no physical strength left to do a serious application from the lessons I've learned in the workshop. He looks at me and claps. Something he has never been able to do many years ago! And then we get to the point where I sing, "If you're happy and you know it shout, hooray!" I stop just before I sing the last "Hooray" giving him a chance to respond. And you know what, he just did. My little prince sang, eyes crinkling, grinning from ear to ear, "Oooo-ray!" And it seemed like my chest was pounded by some paramedic by a defibrillator, giving me what seemed like a thousand joule bolts and the life line on the monitor just went from one horizontal line to a jagged sign of life! And we repeated the song 10 times and each time, he shouted, " OOOO-RAY!"

With my renewed strength, I move on to Morgan. He jumping on the bed, I holding both his hands letting him now, I am with him, letting him take the lead. I say, "Yes, jump." "Morgan jump". I then kept quiet and waited. And he looks at me continues jumping and says, "UMP!." And I smile saying, "Good saying Jump, Morgan!" He looks at me some more, cheeks all pink and sweat beads forming on his upper lip, smiling his widest grin and verbalizing, "eh-yah". Bea?, I ask myself silently. My heart was beating loudly, assuring my brain, yes, he said your name. Again, it was as if I was jolted back to life. I joined my feisty king, I jumped on the mattress with him!

A slew of therapies, therapists, schooling. 5 years. 5 wonderful, adventure-filled years. 1825 days of beauty and terror. Amazement and desperation. Routine and crazy unpredictability. Hope and impossibilities. Compassion and cruelty from all around. Questioning my purpose, the reason for autism in my boys and sometimes definitive answers and affirmations and sometimes even more depressing answers. And this weekend just brought my roller coaster car to a momentary stop in the swerving tracks and onto a horizontal view of what lies beyond. Telling me, reminding me, "Look at the sky. Just look at everywhere around you. Everything is where it's supposed to be. The clouds floating up there, the sea glistening blue down there, the trees rooted firmly to the ground with their branches raised up in heaven as if saying, Yes! I am where I am meant to be." Like our speech and language therapist telling me, "Bea, just tell your boys what you want them to do once and wait for their response. Relax and wait." With this realization sinking in, I breathe deep. Feel every beat of my raging heart slowing down to a calm steady pace, assuring me with its every pulse, my purpose in this life-- my boys. Then the coaster dips again, round and round...And I guess, this time, every fiber of my soul is singing, no shouting in amazement and maybe with a little terror but always with a longing for more adventure---

"OOOO-RAY!" and yes of course, my heart is on its feet, no less than jumping! :)

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Mama Said There'd be Days like This...

What does it mean to say "you have a lot of heart"?

I remember many years back, a reality show on boxing aired on a particular channel and what kept repeating from the mouths of the fighters were "I respect him. He has a lot of heart.", in reference to their opponent after the fight. For the life of me, I couldn't grasp what the hell it meant. Because all I saw was a bunch of men trying to beat themselves up and for what? Fame? Glory? A million bucks? Or all of the above? How can one have "a lot of heart" for that? I couldn't wrap my head around it and I just had to ask my other half. And all he said was, "courage, honey." And all I could reply was, "Oh."

I hate to say this but sometimes I feel that I'm in living in a live reality show. You know that feeling that you pretend that you really don't care about what other people say about you and your boys, you and your family and all your principles and all your values, but in reality, you do. Not because you thrive on other people's approval but because it's there. Like the elephant in the room, you can't shake the rest of the prying eyes of the world off. No matter what you do, good or bad, right or wrong, someone somewhere has something to say about you. And it drives me nuts every once in a while. It seems as if the reality show I am in is an everyday battle between my personal demons, the warring voices in my head, doubt and faith, wondering and believing, questioning and having vague answers at the very least, trusting in the process and trying to control it. Not unlike that boxing reality show. Several days of prepping oneself, doing the work, and then getting beat up in the end. Let me say it out loud. What the hell am I doing with my boys that is actually helping them? Why can't they still speak? Why do I feel that my boys are left behind? Even with all the intervention and effort we're doing, there's that nagging pull from my insides. Like I'm eternally stuck in one phase and the rest of the world is moving on. And finally, this one question, "What's the purpose of this all?"

I'm not afraid to admit it. This is one self-pity post. I'm not ashamed to admit it. "Because mama said there'd be days like this." It is easy to fall into the trap of this shadow. And wallow in it for a little while. Because there is no getting over some things, only through. And I feel in my heart, right now. What I need is this. To feel self-pity. To question why. To debate on the unfairness of it all. Why are some kids talking volumes of conversations with their dads coherently, smartly, smart-alecky, even profoundly? Why can't I have that? Why can't the father of my boys have that? Why must it be that I be the one to interpret their actions and turn them into words? Why can't they say what's truly in their hearts and minds? Why can't they get it off their chest so they wouldn't feel as confused and wouldn't need to only cry out their desperation? Why?

I just finished reading Coelho's Manuscript in Accra and this line is like a drill boring into my skull-- "When our legs are tired, the strength of our heart allows us to keep walking. When our hearts are tired, the strength of our faith will carry us through."

Right now. At this very moment that I am writing this, I am losing a lot of heart. My legs are tired. My mind is weary. My heart is fatigued. And I sure do not know where I put my faith. Where I lost it. Somewhere. Out there. At the back of my mind, I know it's there. It's like this impending fact that confronts me as if saying "You're going to fight tonight. And you're gonna get beat up, pretty bad, fall down several times, and the hand that the referee's going to raise, is not gonna be yours."

Living with autism. Surviving a day in the life of autism. Going through days like this. And many more days like this. And where am I amidst all this? Who am I amidst all this? Takes the life out of you sometimes, questions that bear no comprehensible answers.

Like my friend Kary just recently said, "love gets me through, writing gets me through, until then..." Last night I originally decided to write a post about courage and heart and love, all three shown in the very presence of my boys and I planned to write about my bliss which is them and everything happy. But maybe, now it's okay to write about the real shadows behind all that. If only to clear my mind, purify my heart, bring it out in the open, liberate me from whatever demons I have inside. And maybe even if I am writing not all about courage and heart and happiness now, I am making way for these three to come through, eventually. Cleaning out my closet, clearing out the cobwebs of my soul, quieting the beast in my heart.

"Mama said there'd be days like this." Behind all these turmoil of emotions I am allowing myself to go through right now, I know there'd be days of bliss to come as well.

Until then, I just have to keep up the brave face, continue doing the work, prepping myself and my boys, doing what needs to be done everyday. Even if I feel I'll only get beat up. Because beneath all the questions I am asking, underneath the river of self-pity I'm wallowing in, there will be answers. And the noise all around? They're there for good reason. What reason, I don't know. Nor do I want to know right now. Until then, while waiting for my bliss to come, I'm going to muster enough heart to get through the day.

Yes, I think, I'm finally getting the "having a lot of heart" part. Not all of it, but some of it, not for fame, glory or a million bucks. But maybe just to get through the day, one day at a time. And for now, that is enough.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Questions, Courage, Truth

Our lives with autism.
When will this be not an uphill battle?
What's the point?
Why does it feel like I'm left behind?
Why does it seem that my boys are left behind while the rest of the world moves on?
Is there no getting out of this?
What is the purpose of all this?
Why my boys?
What does the future hold for us?
But most importantly, for them, when we are gone?
Why other people and not us?
Why other kids and not my boys?
Where and when is our salvation?

This barrage of questions invading my peace. But somehow I am compelled to ask the most difficult questions because the answers compel courage to come forth. And it's almost easy to fall into the trap of self-pity and to an extent, despair. Almost. Until just moments ago, Garret approached me out of the blue, gazed at me with eyes holding the most indescribable, incomprehensible tenderness and Morgan, cheeks all rosy pink from jumping on the mattress grinning, all teeth and gums showing, grinning at his momma--- there's my answer, this right here, my truth. And it is just so much easier to fall back into a state of grace, gratitude and peace. :) And yes I am truly glad I was not afraid to ask the questions.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Miracles, Gratitude and Celebration

We recently celebrated our 3rd year milestone of our Sped center. As usual I gave the welcome remarks. And it went on like this:

"If there are three things that I have learned from the three years that our center has grown into, having seen the kids grow and learn significant life skills, having shared the other parents' joys and growing pains over the triumphs and trials of raising kids on the spectrum, it is this: One, there are no small miracles. Two, to be grateful for everything. And three to always celebrate our children and life in general no matter what."

So many changes have transpired this end of the year. Our two teachers have moved on to another chapter in their lives. And our senior sped teacher will soon be starting a new life too. That leaves me with two new sped teachers and the imminent possibility of me being more hands-on with the training of the teachers and kids, and undergo more trainings in special education. I would have expected myself to be anxious about all these changes transpiring. And yet, all I feel is a sense of calm and peace that everything is happening as it should be. That everything will turn out okay because it is simply time. A season and reason for everything. And coincidentally, I have found an avenue that allowed me to unearth my old buried deep passion for poetry. But then again, having been through everything I've been through, coincidences don't belong in my vocabulary anymore. And for all this, I consider it to be a miracle, I am grateful and I am celebrating it everyday.

But the bulk of my purpose in this life has always been my boys. And of course this post will be about them and the many milestones they have been reaching. I realize it has been quite a long time since I last wrote about them save for intermittent Facebook status updates. But I've never been one to be contented with one-line phrases or one glance readings so here's a lengthy post if only to celebrate my boys yet again. Over and over again. So yeah, the above paragraphs are a mere introduction. Here's the real thing...;-)

Imitation. One very important learning skill, prerequisite to teaching functional communication. A challenge to most if not all children on the spectrum.

“In general, imitation is important because of the developing ability to construct internal representations of the behavior of others and to duplicate them. To imitate physically, the child must be able to perform at least three tasks: turn-taking, attending to the action, and replicating the action’s salient features” (Owens, 1996, 145).

My boys face this challenge as well though it has improved over time. One clear although unconventional and perhaps incidental example? Just recently, Morgan has discovered that he can move my desk quite easily near the bed where he'll be able to cross from the desk to the bed in semi-jump. Until the semi-jump became one full-blown, hands in the air, unmistakeable grin-on-his-face jump. Garret then followed suit and in just a few seconds had his own improvisations-- climbing up to the window sill, hanging on to the window frames for balance, turning around and jumping full body on to the mattress not unlike the one you see on the old Nestea commercials. The mattress seemed to be a better choice than the good old trampoline. After which of course, Morgan imitated his big brother. The two of them taking turns unprompted, patiently waiting for one to finish jumping before taking his turn. This has been their nightly ritual, their form of play, their happy place-- still no clear verbal language to each other and yet the understanding that they have with each other is crystal clear and perfect. This morning at the center as the caregiver and during the break, as usual, Garret climbed up the railing of the stairs, both feet on the lower railing, arms outstretched balancing. Yep, this is normal for us. I have long stopped having a mini heart attack when I see this sight. You just get used to it, you know. And what do you know, the Morgan calmly took his place up there too once Garret came down, once again imitating his big brother. I smile now amused at the thought that if my boys would have been neurotypical, it is but natural to scold the older sibling for modeling such "bad behavior" that the younger siblings would ultimately and always follow. But thank God, they're not neurotypical. You ask, "Why thank God? Shouldn't you be wistful and wishing they were?" Well, no, because otherwise I wouldn't have noticed the little itty bitty milestone that some if not most normal parents take for granted-- my boys overcoming the challenge of the simple task of imitation. Oh how they do imitate now!!! Of course, I do realize, this is just one part of the even greater challenge in improving their communication. But this is no less important.

Another thing that strikes me as I watch my boys everyday is how their interaction with each other have grown considerably. Take this for instance, Garret does not like to play in our koi pond turned ordinary mini-swimming pool, alone. He patiently, oh ever so patiently waits for his little brother to wake up from his afternoon nap and when he does, practically pulls Morgan out from the room and out to the pond. And when they do play and frolic in the water, I can see clearly how it's not just parallel play. They have moments where they communicate in their own way. Morgan spontaneously hugs his kuya. And Garret looks at the pink chubby cheeks of Morgan and pinches it smiling. Garret plunging into the water, Morgan observing his big bro and imitates him. Taking turns. Doing it together. Having fun together. It is one of the many things I live for everyday--seeing my boys playing with each other and actually having a language of their own. Their own little world. Their happy place. But most of all, when I see them, all I see love emanating from their souls. The kind you see that's simply untarnished, pure, raw for whatever they comprehend about it and however they show it. Long before they were both born, I had an idea how my life would be fulfilling having both of them. What an understatement that was. Little did I know what I was in for. I was in for one tremendous love that just fills your heart and soul with the kind of raw, overwhelming emotion that breaks and bursts your heart with a force that you think you will literally explode. And as I always say, I'm gonna need a new heart. Despite all my misgivings, heaven help me, the universe have still been merciful to have blessed me with this kind of joy every single day. Every single day, I think to myself I must have done something right in my life.

This morning with Morgan in my arms mouth slightly open, softly snoring. Yes, the kind of cuteness that just breaks your heart again and again. I hold his right hand stroking his palm and fingers, breathing in the smell of my king. And as I breathed, my chest just warmed involuntarily with the sudden thought, this right here, my boys, this is my joy. And I could not and should not ask for anything more. Garret snores softly as well in the other bed with his papa. Everything was quiet save for the mayas announcing the break of day outside. In the early hours of the day, my mind is quiet as well, save for my prayer, my declaration, an admission of humility--

Every day is a miracle day. And for this I am grateful. And for this I celebrate my boys. I celebrate my purpose in this life. I celebrate my life.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013


in translation
If you will
The language here
is indecipherable
There is only fear
And the eternal
What would you
do if you knew
You would not fail?
Sometimes I just
Want to pack
My bags and
Take my boys
And run away
Some place safe
Where they are free
Where their roads
Will be paved
without pride
or prejudice
But where is that
Where on earth?
And these times
If only
I could take them
back to my womb
Turn back time
But there is only
The here and now
What must be faced
Must be faced, confronted
Even those who refuse
Refusal or fear
Same difference really
So how do I make
Sense of all of this?
I don't.
I let it be.
Because I am not
In control
Nobody ever is
And I dig hard
Dig deep
Where there is joy
Find that joy
The air that I breathe
The life that remains,
Through my veins
And perhaps I'll find
even peace
And this joy and
this peace will
Burn out all
the pain.

Monday, January 28, 2013

The Best Teacher

It was several months ago that I accepted the project handed over to me by my sister-in-law. My mindset back then was, "Sure, why not. It's still in January, anyway and I'll still have more time to prepare. I think I can do it." And then the month of the project came. And I was up to my neck with activities for the entire month, activities for the Autism Society and the daily grind for my two boys. And now I was thinking, "What the heck was I thinking?" But at the back of my mind I was excited at the prospect of doing what I actually enjoy and love doing, again after almost a decade of a hiatus. And by some amazing miracle despite a myriad of challenges two weeks prior the scheduled "project", it just all came through.

Shortly after graduating from college, I worked at my Alma mater as a guidance counselor and taught part-time basic Psychology subjects while "trying" to squeeze in units for a master's degree, of which I really had no intention of finishing. And then my aunt who was then the dean of a certain college in Samar admonished me to pursue further studies citing how my students were only a page behind me in terms of knowledge base and current learning. It was based on fact, of course. Sensible. Made simple common sense. So I didn't argue at that time. I was 21. What did I know about the world except that at that time, it was my oyster, mine for the taking, mine for the choosing, mine to control.

Fast forward to now, 12 years later, I'm married to a wonderful man and have two beautiful boys. Garret and Morgan have special needs. They have autism. As of now they are non-verbal. They are under a special program that qualifies for their education. I am no longer a guidance counselor since 3 years ago, my last experience of training students was in 2006 and my work load has been whittled down to coordinating activities at our sped center, collaborating with the teachers and parents. The term "further studies" seem to remain just that--further. My top priority are my two boys. My Garret and Morgan. No text books required. No written or oral exams to undergo. Not even constant parent training available by a certified professional. Just the hard, raw, challenging, hands-on, dirt-in-your-face, poo-in-your-hands, decoding their needs that may include emotional or physical bruises every single day parenting stuff. Every day I learn new things. Everyday I expand my understanding, my emotions, my ability to look at life in a certain manner, my perspective, my beliefs, my hopes, my dreams, my faith. I know more about the world more now than 12 years ago. And the world, as I look at it now in different-colored lenses, and as I have realized, is not my oyster anymore. Rather, I have discovered that the world is an endless ocean of unfathomable possibilities, where personal decision and determination is just but a fragment of a billion  outside forces that shape one's experiences.

The "project" that I am referring to finally took place three days ago. An 8-hour Team building workshop to young professionals about to embark on a 30-day journey to a foreign country for the sole purpose of learning. Training. This was my main job a decade ago. Oh how I loved it! Facilitating the structured learning activities, prodding the participants' insights and learning and formulating it into one amazing reflection of themselves and the goals they have mapped out for their near or far future. And I discovered that at the end of the day with my feet dead tired, propped up on the backseat of the car going home to my boys--- oh how I still loved training and how I missed it terribly.

As I watched the houses of Barangay Bantigue roll by, I reflected how in the days prior to the training, I was very anxious, thoughts replaying in my mind how I was so out of the game for quite some time already, whether I would still have the spark that would ignite the participant's interest for starters and in the end, not just elicit learning, but long-lasting, practical insights. My body was already screaming to lie in bed as I did not get more than two hours of sleep the night before. This emotional roller coaster I had to go through, I now realize, and still trying to fulfill my mama and wife duties, was certainly an awakening experience. As I said, the project pulled through. I did it. And I think based on informal feedback, I did it with high marks, flying colors, whatever metaphor you want to call it. The bottom line was I. Did. It. Can you see my wide grin on my face?

On my way home from the venue, not only did I realize how much I still loved training and how I missed it terribly, but I realized how I have somehow become miraculously a better trainer than I ever was before. Why? I didn't have to guess for a long time, because my answer or answers rather, greeted me when I entered our gate when I reached home-- my boys, Andro, Garret and Morgan.

My life with my three boys. Yes, I call my husband, my "kamagwangan" with a touch of endearment and a little "pasakalye" of course. My life with them, my beautiful, amazing, exciting, not-a-dull moment life with them, raising Garret and Morgan, living with autism, thriving despite and in spite of it, has shaped me into a better person, a better wife, mother and woman all rolled into one. Being a better trainer is  just an added bonus, in fact. And hands down, no amount of further studies, masters or doctoral studies could ever compete with the experience, learning, grace and wisdom that my family life has endowed and blessed me with. And I am sure even my dean-aunt would not even try to argue with me on this.

Experience come in all forms, shapes and sizes. Maturity in mind and body, likewise. Wisdom certainly comes with experience. What's that eternal question that every now and then we ask ourselves? Oh yes, here it is, "If I were given a chance to go back and change the past, would I?" Here's my answer:

A simple and resolute "No."

The night before the training, a friend asked me what I was studying about and I just couldn't reveal what it was because I was too afraid that the training might be a flop and I wouldn't measure up to their standards or worse, my own. And with the response that came next, it revealed what I couldn't even articulate myself because of the anxiety and fear I felt. It came along the lines of, "It must be so important and special to you for you not to tell me or anyone." And all I could say was, "Thank you for getting it." The project was indeed important and special to me because if I accomplished it well, then that would prove that somehow in the deep recesses of my cognition, perception and ability, I am still worth it, of value, and significant. That I am still a positive and significant contribution. It would prove that I still have it. By "it", I mean growth, learning, improvement, evolving, changing, bettering, maturing with grace, sublime with age and experience. And if I didn't even pass according to whatever standards, well, I'll have to deal with it some way or another.

At the beginning of the training I practically begged my participants not to call me a speaker. I did not fit into that mold. I jokingly told them, a speaker is somebody mature, older in years and with a lot more experience than I have. Besides, I'm still young. I stopped counting my years when I reached 25. To which, thankfully they got my humor, my first clue that the training was starting on the right foot.

So yes, the best teacher is experience. The best "further studies" is experience. And I am so abundantly blessed with teachers in my life.

Thank you Ate Anna, for trusting me enough to entrust me with this project.
Thank you Ate Polly, my cousin, who helped me enormously with the training modules. I hope someday we can work together. Then I can learn even more from you.
Thank you Sandra, for your belief and faith in my abilities.
Thank you Lyra, Carmi and Diane, my three beautiful assistants during the training who seemed to anticipate my every need even before I knew what they were. I look forward to working with you again.
Thank you friends and family for getting it. Your affirmation and validation is important to me.
To my wonderful, wonderful, wonderful participants-- Lito, John, Clare, Sandra, Wesley and Team leader Ma'am Cathy, what more can I say? You made it easy for me that fateful day. Training you was the best decision I made in a very long time. Good luck to your journey in that foreign country.

To my primary teachers in my life-- Andro, Garret and Morgan, thank you my boys, thank you. I truly must have done something right in my life to have been given the miracle that is all three of you...

Friday, January 4, 2013

My Boys Know Better, Way Better...

"A deep breath to steady herself. A willing of the mind to focus on what's more important. A striving to try to forget what just transpired. The mind, however could only do so much when emotions barrel in like an avalanche. And when this happens, there is only a sagging of the shoulders and heaving wracking sobs. He looks at her, looking at everything that just happened, quiet, observant, silent. When the avalanche rolls in he approaches her, brings his little hands to her face and kisses the tears not one time but twice, all the while murmuring indecipherable words of comfort. All at once the sobbing calms down. And what is only heard is, 'Thank you, little prince.' "

As a parent, it is our natural instinct to do things for our children or provide them with everything so that they wouldn't want for anything in this world. So they wouldn't suffer or sacrifice as much as we did. So they can live an easier life than we did. As simple as carrying them so they won't have to tire out walking long distances, carrying their heavy bags for them, and even clearing our own throats whenever they cough--as if this actually works, but we do it nonetheless for no other reason than the belief of the sheer force of positive thinking that we can take away whatever pain or hardships they have to go through. With everything we plan and do to take care of them, we often forget ourselves. And more than that, we forget our children.

We forget ourselves.

Mothers are the best examples of what I'm saying. I'm not saying all, though. Take this example: Grocery / Shopping list-- 95% of the budget goes to kids' needs. Sometimes even the 5% still goes to their wants. Another example-- Before going to school or work: Get the kids all ready and prepared, their bags ready to go and snacks all tucked in, their uniforms or whatever clothes they'll be wearing pressed to the last wrinkle. And the mother? Darn if she can remember to put some lipstick on in the car, 3 minutes before arriving for work. Lastly, whenever personal problems arise, mothers do their absolute best not to break down in front of the children, shove their personal issues aside and revert their attention back to the kids. We forget ourselves. We forget to take care of ourselves. And we forget that taking care of our own personal health and sanity is essential so we can fully take care of our children.

We forget our children.

In our efforts and preoccupation of doing everything for them, helping them out, we sometimes tend to forget their own strength and resilience. To an extent, we underestimate their abilities. We think that they don't know half of the world yet and what it takes to survive in it. Which is probably true in most cases. But every now and then something happens. Something happens to prove our perception of them of not being able to understand, or to face or simply to be ready yet to be completely untrue.

I use the word "we" not to say that every parent does this. I mean it to say me personally and those who can relate to the scenarios I've been explaining. God knows, how different and similar at the same time special needs parents and "normal" ones go through.

My boys surprise me in ways I wouldn't have imagined. It was Garret this time who stopped and made my heart beat faster all at the same time. With all my beating and skipping heart I knew with an overwhelming realization that what just happened was that he bravely broke down the walls of autism when he cupped my tear-stained face into his little boy hands and kissed my tears away.

On that particular day, my little prince brought me to my senses once more. As clear as the skies are on a summer day, he reminded me loudly, plainly and clearly of two things. One- "Mama, I am here. Let me take care of you. I will wipe your tears away." And Two, "I can be strong for you too. I am strong. I am resilient. I am capable of anything. This is why I need you to take care of yourself too. Because I cannot be who I am and who I am meant to be without you."

What better proof do I need in order for me not to forget my child for the most beautiful, the most able work of art and creation that he is? What better reminder do I need in order for me to realize the most important and basic fact of all in parenting, that I need to take care of myself too?

On that particular day as well, Morgan was not without a role, although comical as his personality dictates him to be. Just remembering it now brings a smile to my face. How he can be so "kengkoy" as we say in our vernacular. While all of our Oscar-worthy performance was going on, a smelly odor wafted in the room. Morgan all crouched beside the bed, face furrowed in concentration. I don't need to spell it out for you, do I? Needless to say I cleaned him up afterwards with tears and laughter all mixed in my bowl that day. I am laughing now as I remember a Cebuano saying to deal with sorrow, "I-utot lang na day, mawagtang lagi nang problema." (You just fart it out and all your problems will dissipate into thin air.)Was that Morgan's way of comforting me? I don't know. Sometimes it may seem like I'm putting words into my boys actions or Morgan's poop for that matter. But when you think about it, that's how insight comes, right? From our own hypothesizing, analyzing and concluding. As I am typing this right now, true to his personality, Morgan relentlessly tries to get my attention by sitting on my lap, facing me and grinning at me with his widest grin that all his gums are on showcase. The "bungisngis" face. I stop occasionally to kiss his chubby cheeks and he moves on.

My Garret, my little prince with his pure heart of gold. My Morgan, with all the personality you could tuck in a 5 year-old body. My piece of heaven. My purpose. The whole point of this otherwise pointless life. Both of you know better what life is really all about. Way better than I'll ever know. Thank you my little prince and feisty king. Thank you my boys. Mama loves you more than you'll ever know.

To end this post, Sonnet XVII of Pablo Neruda comes to mind. I first read this 10 years ago. The words were rich in depth and so powerful, that much I knew. I just didn't know that I would finally come to understand the depth and power of it until I became a mother. This is for you my boys:

Sonnet XVII

I do not love you as if you were salt-rose, or topaz,
or the arrow of carnations the fire shoots off.
I love you as certain dark things are to be loved,
in secret, between the shadow and the soul.

I love you as the plant that never blooms
but carries in itself the light of hidden flowers;
thanks to your love a certain solid fragrance,
risen from the earth, lives darkly in my body.

I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where.
I love you straightforwardly, without complexities or pride;
so I love you because I know no other way

than this: where I does not exist, nor you,
so close that your hand on my chest is my hand,
so close that your eyes close as I fall asleep.