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.