I have already used up every precious bit of my two-week break, and last Monday found me on my first day back at work. I have been told many times in the past that it takes just two weeks for anything to become a habit. You want to shift from being a night person to one who thrives best in the yellow morning? Just settle in bed early, at the same time each night, and at the end of two weeks your sleeping and waking habits will have changed. You want to quit eating red meat, get used to running, writing regularly, losing weight, exercising patience? Do the two-week thing. It’s almost foolproof — by the end of the period, whatever it is you set out to do becomes almost second nature.
It is no surprise really (even to me) that, in just two weeks, I had also gotten so used to the vacation mode that I embraced it fully and head-on. The end of the workday that was Monday found me happy, yes (for I had also missed the crazy, busy pace that is taping at the studio of The Sweet Life), but tired to the bones. I got home past midnight and after I had showered and changed and climbed into bed, sleep still did not find me. I was tired and oh-so-thankful for the warm bed and, on it, the two warm bodies — the big man and the little girl curled like a shrimp under the crook of big man’s arm — that I could cuddle up to. I kiss and nuzzle Juliana even as she sleeps, whispering that I am home. She always smells of shampoo and rain. Often she will move and acknowledge me with a sleepy smile but sometimes she is oblivious, her sweet little being deep in dreamland.
Richard had also just gotten in from work a couple of hours before me and, as he always does when he gets home, he had carried or moved our daughter’s sleeping form to his side of the bed. By the time I am settled in bed, though, that nightly sweet embrace between father and daughter will have been broken because while I wait for sleep to come, Juliana will already be to my left and Richard to my right. That is my spot; I have to be sandwiched between them. They can switch sides but the center is my permanent place. I like that I can hug both of them at any given time, and besides, they both have this strange habit of sleeping with one leg out of the comforter. They both do not like my spot in the center if only because it will not allow them to do that.
It’s a ritual for Richard and I, lying in bed, to talk quietly about the highlights of our day, sharing tomorrow’s plan and schedule with each other, all the while talking in hushed whispers so Juliana will not be disturbed. We surf the Net together or individually on each of our laptops for a short time and finally settle into watching the AFC Channel. When that happens, we know sleep is near. But often, even that gets sidetracked because the shows on that channel never fail to make us all hungry and craving for something to nibble on. It really is not long before we find ourselves in the kitchen, in our sleepwear, in the wee hours of the morning.
In the two-week break I just had I realized we never even had the chance to go out on a date, just the two of us, as we would most likely have done. But come to think of it since the early part of this year, we have had quality couple time an average of 4 to 5 days a week. Strangely enough it always happens in our kitchen, in the comfort of our home. And usually while we are in our pajamas.
Our “dates” have really evolved. Before, I would get all dressed up in a comfortable but pretty way and he would take me out to dinner, just the two of us. He would feed me whatever I fancied — a thick steak, order after order of fresh oysters even if he absolutely hates it, decadent dessert. But that phase kinda ended as Juliana grew bigger and our schedules tightened. All of a sudden, staying in became the greater pleasure, the desired joy. Our house really became a lived-in home; we made way for a garden to happen, and the kitchen became the heart of our playground. Eating out did not hold as much appeal anymore because, for one, Thelma, our cook whom I enrolled in several modules at Sylvia Reynoso Gala’s cooking school, has really grown in talent and skill and she can do Japanese, Chinese, Italian on a whim. Richard also keeps on buying and showing her cookbooks and she has gotten really comfortable experimenting with new dishes that delight and surprise us. Yes, the results have been very happy, generally. Secondly, Richard really loves to cook so, given even the smallest window of opportunity to play and grapple with pots and pans, he will. Especially when he has the kitchen all to himself. On Sundays, his cooking is more elaborate and chef-like; he will do the whole nine yards from scratch and with a flourish, serving everything from appetizer to dessert.
But on our frequent quiet “date” nights in the kitchen, when everyone else but us is asleep, his cooking is more easy, more maskipaps I would say, with inspiration springing from the first five things he will find in the pantry. He will make for us hotel-quality omelets or give new life to pork loin left over from dinner by making it the main ingredient in a thick, hot, wonderful panini. Maricel (Laxa) was a guest on the cooking portion of The Sweet Life once and she taught me how to make shiitake mushrooms sliced in fat slivers, dipped in egg, coated with flour and deep-fried. You then dip that in vinegar. It is delicious. The other night it was Zaragosa sardines straight from the bottle with Tuscan bread from Italianni’s and tonight it was Century Tuna Hot and Spicy with Wheat Thins. Often, we have cold, sliced fruit — usually papaya, mango and pineapple and if available, pomelo from Davao. When we want to indulge, we eat the fruit with prosciutto from Santi’s, marbled fat included. Richard has turned me on to muesli, too; we buy it in packs from S&R and soak it in fresh milk for 30 minutes. It is soft and lovely, like oatmeal but perhaps even better. Always, there is milk and cheese.
More than the pleasure of the food though is the joy of each other’s presence and company that I savor. We both look forward to this time together. Yes we, or rather I, no longer dress up for our “dates.” In fact it happens when we are already in our pajamas, cheating sleep. I wonder if he misses that — the dressing-up part, I mean. I sometimes do, although I have to admit that this setup is just so much nicer and warmer, for now at least, and not to mention more convenient. My hair wet from a shower, I go down and meet him in the kitchen in one of his soft white shirts.
Across the stainless steel table we ping-pong our dreams to each other, talking about things both mundane and deep simultaneously, alternately, just pretty much going where the wind blows. He talks about the rest house he wants to one day build for us and the fruit trees we will grow; he listens patiently about how I want my craft room to look if and when we find the space for it in the future. We rack our brains trying to make sense of the basement we have. I tell him about little things as I remember them, like the music box I had always wanted as a child and that I still want even now as an adult. It just came to mind one very late night while he was making scrambled eggs for us. We talk about Juliana and our next child when he/she comes, and how joyful it will be to hear the sound of little feet running around the house again. Juliana’s feet are not so little anymore.
We dream together. That is our favorite thing to do and we really go wild in that department. Why limit God when He can give all? What joy! Dreaming limitlessly allows us to take on wings and by heaven’s name, do we enjoy the flight. It is during these times also that I tell him about my childhood crush on him, how I would cut class in college to watch all his movies. That does not embarrass me anymore and we just laugh about it. He shares his own childhood memories with me and I now know all these little stories behind the scars on his leg, the one on his eyebrows that he got roller-skating at the fiesta carnival. He tells me about how he once wanted to be a pilot. I tell him I once wanted to be a figure skater but then I met Manang Belen and her little box full of nail polish and silver gadgets and I pushed that dream away because being a manicurista all of a sudden held more appeal.
Once I told him that I would really like, one day soon, for him to bring me breakfast in bed. He points out that as much as he would want to do that for me, I am never awake for breakfast to begin with. Breakfast will just go cold so until my sleeping and waking habits change, Juliana will just have to be the one lucky recipient of his breakfast-in-bed specials.
Finally and forever, this much I warmly hold on to: when we are both all wrinkled and gray, when deep lines have settled in our faces and we have both lost our youth, I know we will continue to have and enjoy our quiet conversations. We will continue to hold hands and talk and live and love and that will be enough. As early as now it makes my heart do little pirouettes to know that far, far away into the future, way beyond our golden years when Juliana and our future children and grandchildren are all grown up and have lives of their own, and when we naturally don’t have our crazy, busy schedules, it will again be down to just the two of us. The prospect does not scare me because I know the hand I hold belongs to a man I truly enjoy talking to and being with, and that the ties that bind us and all the moments that will lead up to that were, in one way or another, reinforced by the many little quiet “dates” we had in our stainless kitchen table, that sits in the comfort of our own home, as we met countless times there in our pajamas. For this particular phase in our young, married life, these little pockets of time are what nurture and enrich us most.