On a day like today

Some days, you just want warm thoughts. And at times, you need them every day, especially when life seems to do little else but spin and overwhelm. These rituals I step into day in and day out  the waking up and the jumping out of bed in a mad dash, and after wracking my brains while it is still half-asleep, I face last night’s to-do list. Meetings in the office? Errands? Thankfully, maybe a quiet dinner can be thrown in as a reward. You go through the motions of yet another busy day, sighing here and there sometimes (I know, that ‘s not a very nice thing to do), but through it all there are many gentle reminders of what to be thankful for. There are a lot.

I am in my 30s, and the one thing I am most thankful for every day is the gift of family. My Mom and Dad are in town often enough and it is such a precious blessing to have them around. You never quite outgrow the comfort that the presence of your parents bring. There is this steady, solid source of quiet joy that grounds you, the very same thing that increases gratitude exponentially. The gift of togetherness is always enough, and memories are made every day. Randomly, there are other such warm thoughts I remember today.

About 11 years ago, my Dad had to go through surgery to get one of his kidneys removed. We checked out of the hospital at the same time  I vividly recall a throng of reporters taking photographs and shooting videos of Richard and myself as we cuddled Juliana who was swathed in a yellow blanket. A few steps beside us were my Mom and Dad  for some reason he was wearing animal print pajamas that someone had given him especially for his surgery. My Dad is very practical, and he never in a million years would choose pajamas in a print other than basic plaid or stripes that he has worn for years and how that animal print number actually got past him is still a mystery waiting to be solved.

It is now a forever joke in the family, and we have written it off as part of God’s sense of humor. So there we were walking side by side, I had just pushed out my baby and Daddy, his kidney. We were the same people essentially but our lives had changed. Only time would tell that it would be for the better.

Back home, we recuperated. I was in love with Juliana and I spent my days staring at the little creature that was totally dependent on me. I wanted to do everything for her. I was anal about having no yaya, I wanted to know I could survive without a yaya. I was so frightened I would be dependent on one and that if she left my world would get dislocated. Juliana slept, was breastfed, cried, and slept again. She was colic and loved to be carried, something everybody said I should not give in to lest she got used to it. But I did not have the heart to let her wail away. So I carried her and lulled her to sleep, we would listen to music that soothed. Martin Nievera’s voice always did the trick for her, so did the lullaby I picked up from the soap Pangako Sa Iyo.

Every day it was the same thing. I’d wake up early to get her out under the morning sun, she would breastfeed, I’d struggle with bathing her and dressing her up, all the while so scared that I would drop her. I was overwhelmed about this whole business of being a mother, although I did not realize that yet. I lacked sleep, I had pimples that looked like little monsters on my face, and having a manicure or pedicure seemed like a vacation. My tummy still felt loose, and my breasts hurt every time it swelled with milk. I was pumping my milk into bottles and I felt like a cow. Okay, I felt far from lovely. But still, I really thought I was doing just fine.

One day, my friend Grace came by. She helped me figure out how to assemble the sterilizer, which looked so alien to me, and she told me to always keep a bottle of dishwashing liquid in our bathroom (something I still do until now). The day was going by so well, until she left and it was back to being just me and Juliana.   I looked out the bedroom window and dusk was falling. I hate that time of day, what they call takip-silim. It makes me sad. It’s like this gray, uncertain area, not daytime anymore but not quite night just yet. The moment she fell asleep, I started to assemble the sterilizer, relying on the manual.

It had so many parts and was more complicated than I thought. I ended up crying in the bathroom. Why couldn’t I just have this all steamed in a pot the way I saw the yayas of my little brothers do it before. Fat tears did not stop trickling down my face and I knew I was crying about more than just my frustrations with that sterilizer. Looking back, I was most probably crying about the strangeness of it all, the learning curve that I knew would just constantly progress, the anxiety that is automatically built in after giving birth, when you worry about every mosquito, virus, and bacteria that lurks in the corners. I cried until my eyes were swollen and my face was so red, and then when I had no tears left I washed my face and I climbed back into bed and held my sleeping baby. Then I ordered crab rice from King Crab. While waiting for the food to be delivered, Juliana opened her eyes and gave me a series of the thousand little faces she loved to make.

Despite myself, I laughed. And the more I laughed, the more she made faces. At that moment I knew I was going to be okay. I had to be okay. This little girl that I loved even before we actually met was so tiny and innocent and helpless, and if her mother unraveled over a non-living thing like a sterilizer how will she even begin to survive in this world? I had to step up, and control my feelings with my mind. One day at a time.

Now, 11 years later, I am still learning. And I am still trying to be as best a mother as I can be. It isn’t always easy but life is so much more beautiful because of it. Juliana still makes me laugh. We’re in this together.

As for my Dad, he is he healthiest he has ever been. Ever since his surgery he has become even more mindful of his diet. He exercises regularly, is very disciplined, and has the energy of someone 20 years younger. But the road getting there was not that easy. My Dad, who is the most positive person I know, actually had a bout with post-operative depression, even if it was a very short one. I remember how I’d catch him in the lobby just outside our room, sitting on a little chair in one corner, just looking out into space pensively. It made me sad, seeing him that way, and Mom was dealing with her own grief because her eldest brother had just died (you see, the family really could not afford one more depressed person!). Seeing Mom so sad made all of us sad, too.

So there were three of us in one household dealing with all these mixed feelings and we would all go in and out of each day feeling happy and sad and sad but happy, but we survived it somehow. It all came to pass. Richard was a very positive force, he never failed to put things in perspective for me as he countered my fears with his assuring presence, helping bathe Juliana, carrying her as she slept, changing her diapers just so I could sleep longer in uninterrupted stretches.

One day my Dad’s sister, Tita Inday, came by to visit. She is very perceptive and even without having to hear anyone say it out loud, she knew Daddy was depressed. So as Dad did his afternoon ritual of sitting in a corner, she just sat beside him, leafing through the pages of a magazine. No words were spoken, they were not even looking at each other, they just sat that way for a very long time. That taught me something that I never will forget to this day. Togetherness is gift enough. Even if you just sit quietly beside someone and let him be sad, then maybe that sadness has been halved somewhat. The burden is easier to bear knowing that someone is thinking of you, sharing your pain, wanting to help you.

It warms my heart to remember all this, especially on some days like today.


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