A Great Teacher is a Blessing

The hubby and I just attended the last Parent Teachers Conference (PTC) in my son’s school. On the way home, we discussed about our son’s grades and the teachers’ comments on his conduct and effort in school. We acknowledge that we are the teachers’ partners in our child’s education.

What do I do as a parent? I have chosen to be very hands  on with my child’s studies. As early as in pre-school, I made sure that Joshua has a set time for play and study. I did not need to read a  parenting book to know this. I learned it from my own Mom who helped me develop good study habits. Now that Joshua is in grade 1, I control his TV time and even his video games are reserved only for the weekend. I buy him books and educational toys. Just recently, the hubby bought a telescope for Joshua because he wanted to observe the  moon and the stars. I encourage our son to do this because I know that basic astronomy will be taken up in the grade 2 Science class.  This summer, he will take up basketball and, hopefully, some art lessons. I also plan to bring him to an interactive children’s museum in the city.

But I can only do so much as  a parent. His teachers play a crucial role in developing his mind, emphasizing values and discovering his potential talent. Teaching is a noble yet demanding profession. Many are called to be teachers but few are cut out to be greatly revered. Lucky is the child who ends up with a technically proficient teacher. But blessed is the child who has a teacher with the unique ability of knowing each of his students well  beyond the grades in the report card. A passionate teacher who challenges his students yet creates an inspiring, and loving environment for learning deserves admiration.

I was blessed to have been taught by an amazing  Literature teacher in third year high school. I remember her fair skin, and  chinky eyes hidden by atrociously thick glasses. The first thing that I noticed about her was the husky voice and her graceful, swan like neck. English Lit was considered a boring subject in our high school but she made it alluring for a class of clueless 15-year-old girls. I would wake up excited to attend her class, ready to imbibe the beauty of the written word. Yes, she taught us all there is to know about poems, short stories and novels and their authors. But she was not the type who just wants us to pass her subject. She was adamant that we should have fun first in her class. For her, the grades were of secondary importance.

One time, she asked the class to write a short story on any topic. I wrote a  descriptive story about  a family with the mailbox as the narrator.  She gave me a high grade on that one. I floated with happiness on my way home. She wrote frank assessments of my succeeding stories and told me I have a knack for writing.  Read more books, she advised. Write, write, write. Be original.Discover your own style, she egged me on to write.

Because of her  wonderful influence on me, I decided to take up journalism in college. I became a feature writer of the college magazine and a book/play/movie critic of the university’s student publication. I have never really thanked her for mentoring me. Oh sure, I did the perfunctory thanks but I was afraid to say what was in my heart. In my naivety, I thought gushing in front of her might embarrass both of us.

Last year just on a lark I typed her name on Facebook. Lo and behold there she was!  I introduced myself and poured out my long-delayed heartfelt thanks to her. She was pleasantly surprised and, of course, could not remember me. ( That was 40 years ago!) But she was gracious about it and was flattered that I looked her up.

I wish for my son to receive the same blessing that I had. A teacher who has the exceptional gift of making you believe in yourself. 



A birthday, polvoron and the women of Payatas

A week ago, I watched Christiane Amanpour of CNN interview Tom Colicchio, a celebrity chef in New York, about his advocacy on hunger alleviation in the US.  Though it was not a surprise for Tom to know that there are hungry people in the US, their growing numbers have unsettled him and his Food Policy Action organization. While I was listening to the interview, I compared how the issue of hunger is treated differently in the Philippines. Hunger is so prevalent in our developing country that the populace has become immune to its existence and eventually take it for granted. That, I am ashamed to admit, included me until I received a call from a good friend five years ago.

Woman Payatas She asked me if I will be interested to spend my birthday  in a very unique way. Her friend Jane  has a personal advocacy. She invites people to celebrate their birthdays with the  underprivileged by sharing one’s talent or skill with them.

Intrigued, I contacted Jane immediately. She said that my birthday party should be informal, free wheeling and, yes,  I can bring food but nothing lavish.  The participants will be women from Payatas, the poor community in Quezon City infamously known for its open dumpsite. What is important, she stressed, is that I should be able to impart a simple talent or skill that they can either appreciate or learn to earn additional income. I was stumped. Unfortunately, I did not have any skill to share but Jane told me that I can bring a friend to help me out.

I invited my high school friend Weng who is known for her tasty polvoron ( powdered milk candy) to demo on how to pan fry the all- purpose flour, powdered full cream milk and margarine and then  wrap it in multi-colored paper ( locally known as papel de japon). The polvoron is a popular and inexpensive local dessert or snack. Weng was willing to do a good deed and, just like me, she was very curious  about Payatas.

Payatas was and still is a glaring symbol of poverty in the country. It has  managed to land in the news several times when garbage landslides occurred burying the scavengers. The scavengers make a living by picking up from the mountains of  trash items they can sell to the junkyard. It is not unusual  for them to look for frozen food disposed by restaurants to recycle as the day’s meal for their families. Their  emaciated faces have been featured in the foreign media by countless photographers, horrified and fascinated, at the same time, by their pitiful condition.

polvoronMy friend and I were not sure if the women will receive  us well.  Jane assured us that she knows one of the community leaders who enthusiastically gathered the women in her own home. Around twenty married women were already there as we arrived. Weng did not waste any time as she immediately demonstrated how to measure the ingredients and pan fry it over low fire. She then showed them how to make the polvoron into oval shapes using a molder. Weng also taught them how to do the costing properly and where to source the ingredients.

During the demo, I noticed that the women were interested but reserved. It was understandable. We were considered outsiders coming from the other side of the socio-economic fence. While we were  having our birthday snacks, I wanted to break that invisible barrier on the spot. I decided to loosen them up by narrating about my life. I emphasized from the start that we were not rich. I said my parents struggled to put me and my brothers through college. I also met my husband quite late in life because I was busy earning a living to send my youngest brother to school.  Lastly, I decided to end our impromptu talk by sharing  how I met my husband, our whirlwind romance, his unique marriage proposal and our memorable wedding. Kinilig sila ( They were tickled pink.) and brought smiles on their faces.

In an instant, their shyness banished and to my surprise some of them shared their own life stories. All of them were at their wit’s end trying to raise a family with  very little income. Some run a sari sari ( variety) store  and they hoped selling the polvoron will mean an earning of a few extra pesos. They talked among themselves about some neighbors who had no choice but to pick up frozen food at the dumpsite just to survive. Life was hard  for these women but throughout our encounter they were cheerful, even gossipy, and very appreciative of our polvoron demo. For many of them, that afternoon was the best excuse to leave their responsibilities at  home for a while and just be themselves.

Afterwards, Jane drove us near the dumpsite. I had seen it several times on TV but nothing prepared me for it. It was smelly, smoky, and surreal. I was quiet on the way home. I have never had a birthday celebration as thought-provoking as the one in Payatas. Up to this day, my admiration for those women has never waned. They are poor yet brave in the face of insurmountable economic obstacles. In my eyes, that makes them so beautiful.

Loyalty of a Labandera

clothesline 2

When I think of the word loyalty only one person comes to my mind- Siony, our labandera (laundry woman). She came into our lives when I was in high school to wash  and iron our clothes. I can’t remember now how my Mom  got to know her. She lived in the squatters area near our home where she raised her many children.

Siony was small and thin but managed to hoist our heavy bed sheets and curtains up the clothesline. She washed our clothes and that of  several families  in our neighborhood. It was not uncommon to see her always in a hurry, flitting from one house to another to earn her keep.  The fact is she was not good at washing clothes. My Mom incessantly complained about it  and would sometimes ask her to wash our clothes again.

But Mom continued to hire her because she was a master of the flat iron. With a flick of her  wrist, she can conquer the creases of clothes in any fabric. I would watch her iron our clothes so effortlessly and quickly. It is a gift from God, I told myself, since I don’t relish the chore. Her skill was well-known in our clan. Once in a while, some of our relatives would ask for her ironing services.

She can also be relied  upon to do other tasks for us. She was our dish washer during family parties and  became a  part- time nanny of my youngest brother. My youngest brother grew close to her that it became a running joke in our family that Siony is his real mother.When my brother got married, he would still request her to iron clothes for him. She would oblige even if he lives two hours away.

Siony worked in our family for so many years that she saw my brothers and I finished school, land jobs and get married. She was part of the ebb and flow, the joys and sorrows of our middle class family. When Mom died from cancer, she was as devastated as we were. Right after the burial, Siony claimed that she felt the spirit of my Mom while she was washing clothes. We kidded her that Mom must be checking again if she was washing our clothes well.

She lived a hard life. Her husband left her for another woman and the  partner she chose to live with was an alcoholic. But inspite of it she remained  a good-natured woman. Poverty drove her to be resourceful and grateful for any work that came her way.  Tired of being a  labandera and plantsadora ( ironing woman), she worked in a garments factory for a while. But she could not keep up with the long hours.

One time, I sent her an SOS text message. My plantsadora was sick and there were mountains of clothes that needed ironing. I live outside of Manila and it was a three-hour commute from her house. But I knew she would come. We gossiped like old times and I was again amazed on how fast she finished the ironing.

” Sisiw,” she joked. ( Sisiw is colloquial Filipino for ” That was nothing. It was so easy.”) A few months after that, I heard from my sis in law that she fell from the second floor of her house while hanging newly washed clothes. She died  soon after. I was not able to visit her at the hospital which I regret up to this day. For the last time, I would have thanked her for the generous spirit and  loyalty she had shown to my family.

Travel Light

London 2    Sweden waterfront 2

I envy the Filipino youth of today. With online information readily available plus budget airlines’ low cost deals, foreign travel nowadays is  so convenient and affordable for them.

I was already in my mid 20s when I first traveled out of the country for a two  week marketing training. I was excited, a bit afraid and super naive. During those times if you want to know something about a country you have to read up. This meant read up on books for it was still the pre- Google days. I did that and also asked my colleagues who went there before me what Sweden was like.

I committed a faux pax of any first time traveler. I packed so much stuff in my no wheels luggage. In today’s standards, that was a clunky way to prepare for a trip to Europe.

The trip was uneventful until I landed in  Heathrow Airport, London to catch a  plane to Denmark. The travel agency booked my flight alright but I had to take it at England’s secondary airport, Gatwick.  I had to immediately board an airport shuttle or else I might missed my flight. I dragged my heavy luggage and almost ran to the bus depot.

So this is England in October, I whispered in awe. As we drove on  ( I was the only passenger in the bus) , I saw  a wide swath of green grass with sheep nibbling  on it at both sides of the road. I remember blinking my eyes several times. The grass was so green that it seemed to hurt my eyes. The bucolic scene reminded me of  Mills and Boon novels which I used to devour in high school. I told myself that someday I will be back in England  but not as a transit passenger.

I arrived in Denmark just minutes before a small local plane was to take me to Lund, Sweden. There was no time for me to get my luggage. The airport staff assured me that it will be brought to my hotel soon. And true enough my luggage was in my room after dinner. That was my first introduction to Scandinavian efficiency.

Sweden was cold, cold, cold. My European colleagues, of course, loved the fall weather while I was freezing in my  thick sweater. Lund was such a clean city, a bit of a shock  for someone who came  from grimy Manila. The Swedish also smelled of milk which they consumed by the gallons. And they speak English impeccably.

They were fascinated with me, the little brown girl from the Philippines. Cory Aquino just rose to power and Lea Salonga was wowing theater audiences in  ” Miss Saigon” so the country was prominently in the news.  Sing us  a song, they asked me. They thought all Filipinos knew how to sing!  Some heard me conversing in Tagalog with a Filipino engineer at the canteen. Your language sounded so musical, a colleague commented.

I bonded with the female participants from Malaysia and Argentina while  learning about the global philosophy and marketing success of the multinational company called Tetra Pak. We flew to Stockholm , the capital,  where we visited the Old Town, gawked at the museums, and bought Swedish chocolates. My Malaysian colleague invited me to cross over to Copenhagen for the weekend. I was hesitant because  that was beyond my comfort zone and I was on a tight budget. “Come on, she urged me. The good hotels in Copenhagen offer  50% off  in  their rates during weekends.” That was enough to convince me.

We hopped on a ferry and checked in at a five-star hotel. We toured the city by bus, visited more museums, ate open face sandwiches and one kroner hotdogs to save money. At night, I could not sleep for I was overwhelmed by the sights, sounds and smells of my Nordic experience.

I came home a changed woman. Travelling to other countries, to use an oft repeated phrase, widens your horizon. It naturally feeds on your curiosity and erases the negative spirit of  intolerance.  Oh yes,  I went back to England  for a PR conference and stayed for almost a week.I had fun, bravely exploring the city of London on my own and, this time, I learned to travel light.

On Turning Seven

bday cake He is a few inches taller with some permanent teeth setting in. He now speaks his mind in English more easily and is learning Mandarin. He likes to play at the huge gym in school, a favorite haunt for grimy adventures. My son Joshua, soon to turn seven, has grown up so quickly, absorbing the world around him with unbridled curiosity.  I am  perpetually amused by his  questions.

” Mommy, are girls afraid of lizards?”

” I have a problem. Do we have enough money? You said you will buy a new mattress. Will there be enough money left to buy a double deck bed for  my room?”

” Why didn’t God create snow in all countries? Why is there no snow in the Philippines?”

A lot of working Moms would kill to be in my place. Yes, I am lucky for being a stay at  home Mom. I occupy a privileged front row seat  in the world of parenting.  As Joshua discovers his surroundings with a fresh palette so do I.

Every evening, the standard question from the hubby is ” What did he do today? And  I narrate what I call the “dailies”–  the Joshua stories. I try to make it as detailed as possible as he savors  what he has missed.

While planning  his birthday  party, a thought suddenly hit me. He is growing up too fast. For some weird reason, I longed for his baby and pre-school days. If only I can command time to slow down so I can enjoy my son more. But days just whizzed by.

He will be seven soon and is no longer my baby. To prove it, he declared that he will stopped kissing me by age 9! His first stab at independence. I laughed and realized I am also on my seventh year as a parent “born” on a cool day in January. Happy birthday to me too.

Exhaustion Infinitum


Behind You 79

Behind You 79 (Photo credit: johnwilliamsphd)

Exhaustion. It is a word that all mothers are familiar with especially the stay at home ones. It is a word that most men do not understand. “Exhaustion? You are here in the house all day with no boss or client to bug you.” That is, I suppose, what most husbands would say, if they dare at all, to their stay at home wives.

They don’t really get it unless they are the type who know how to cook, clean the house, wash clothes, and take care of a pre-schooler. I think my three brothers fall into this category. Thanks to the unusual training they got from our  mom. My sisters-in-law are very lucky!

Exhaustion is a word that is akin to a ” melting candle” or what in our vernacular is succinctly described as ” nauupos na kandila.” I heard that phrase from my sister-in-law who has a full- time auditor’s job, who does not have a maid and tackles the laundry and the ironing every weekend. Silently, I agreed with her.

For me it means getting up at 5:30 in the morning  to cook breakfast, sweep the yard, water the plants,wash last night’s dishes left by the husband in the sink and boil the brown rice. After an hour, it is time for that dreaded chore– waking up the five-year old, Sometimes I am tempted to throw a bucket of ice- cold water at his face. He simply loves to sleep just like the hubby.

Bringing him to school comes next even if he has a  bus service. My son wants me there all the time so he can sleep for a few more minutes on my lap. But it is a good thing I have finally convinced him that I don’t need to wait three hours for him to finish school. Three hours! I can practically clean the bathroom, cook lunch and mop the floors in that amount of time.

He comes home almost at lunchtime and half of my day comes whizzing by. There is so much to do. Meals to prepare, assignments to teach, bills to pay, clothes to wash.My son does not like afternoon naps so I am at his beck and call the whole afternoon. And by the time 10 pm rolls by, I am so tired.  

I have worked full- time for 23 straight years but I have never known exhaustion like this one. Who am I kidding? My mind is 30 years old but my body is in its 50s.My muscles are sore, my bones creak and my back pain is now part of my personality. My friends are aghast. ” Why don’t you get a maid?” I have been trying to hire one these past four months but I can’t find a decent one.

One night,as exhaustion puts me to sleep a small voice inside me pipes up. ” You are exhausted but you know that the dust under the bed has been swept well. When you had a maid, you always had to bend over to check it out.”  I nod my head sleepily.

“You were thrilled when Josh got perfect test scores in Science, Math, Filipino, Language and Reading. And now he can read and learning to spell. Thanks to the one hour lesson review everyday”   I yawn as I close my eyes.

” You had fun with the squash and shrimp okoy ( fritters) recipe.”

Yeah, yeah right. Exhaustion has its own rewards. Zzzzzzzz

Summer of contentment


god (Photo credit: the|G|™)

I have been without a maid for a month.  If this had happened to me a year ago, I would have been panicking. But in the middle of looking for a replacement I realized that, for now, I like having no maid at home. It has given me, the hubby and our son much-needed privacy. We had sorely missed it for the past five years.

I also realized that I miss taking care of my son.  I have been working at home since 2003 so I was always around.But now I am the one who cooks for him, bathe him and fixes his things. I make sure he drinks his milk twice a day and takes his vitamins. These all used to be yaya’s responsibilities while I was out managing events or composing articles in my laptop.

The house is also much cleaner too. I do not have to repeatedly instruct someone to clean our house the way I want to. That used to give me a headache. Now I do it myself and I thank God that ours is a small house. 

I was forced to cut back on accepting some projects. Instead of worrying about earning less money, I just let go. Now, I prefer to cocoon myself in our house. Is this me? I ask  myself. Unambitious. Domesticated with no  guilt feelings. Maybe it is age catching up on me.

Whatever it is, I continue to luxuriate in what I call my “summer of contentment”? The heartwarming thing is my son does not miss his yaya at all. That makes me smile.