Retrospective is everything

“Every five years or so I look back on my life and I have a good laugh” – Indigo Girls, Watershed

“Perspective is everything” – Aimee Mann, Invisible Ink

My friend Foxglove surprised me with a phone call one day. She’s a special ed teacher who deals with challenging kids all day and while going home she was thinking about how the parents of her students were going to manage over the weekend. This led to thinking about parents and parenting and how difficult it was to be “on call” 24/7, and her various friends who were now parents.

Gusto ko lang sabihing ang galing mo!” (I just wanted to let you know that you are awesome!), she had said, and when I asked where this was coming from she went into a discussion of Katie and me and all we’ve been through and just that she was happy about where we are and what we’ve become. “Biruin mo, a few years ago kung san san lang kayo nakikitira tapos ngayon.. basta ang galing mo!” (A few years ago, you lived from friend to friend and now…you’re just great!). Thanks Foxglove!

My friends have always been encouraging, and are the type to freely give a kind word. But lately, these affirmations have been resonating. It’s always pleasant to hear and gives me a certain high to be told I’m a good friend/listener/mother, and that someone believes in me especially from people who know our story. But for some reason, I feel I am really only hearing and believing this now that the shitstorm we went through is over.

The thing about difficult situations is that it is hard to find their value while you are in it. Five years ago, I didn’t think I was a good person– I was dragging my almost 2 year old from couch to couch, scrounging for food money, wallowing in debt and self pity and all I could think about was how to get to the next day and that I would have to do it all over again. I felt I was being unjustly punished. I felt bitter and that life would never be the same. I felt hopeless and that I would never be happy again. More days than not I contemplated “the end” and the relief that ceasing to exist would bring. I prayed I wouldn’t wake up. I prayed my ex would be struck by lightning. I prayed one day that God would stop hating me.

Dark days indeed.

During these days my therapist would tell me to focus on what I was doing as accomplishments. I was navigating a system foreign to me, as best as I could. That I was in an temporarily unpleasant situation but was doing extraordinary things. That I was doing the right things: getting help for depression and trying to get our life on track. That time would bring healing and that someday I would look back at all of this in awe.

Just as the newborn days are a haze of sleep deprived never ending hours where much happened and little is remembered, so are my dark days. We survived with the help of many, but also (as bestie Maya often reminds me) through my sheer determination and stubbornness. Now, 5 years later, I feel vindicated, validated and strong. Above all, I feel more human: more able to accept my mistakes and more likely to reach out to someone else who might be in the middle of their own dark days.

This is not the last shitstorm. Things won’t be smooth sailing forever. But retrospective is teaching me that life isn’t crummy all the time. And that somehow you become a better person because of what you’ve endured.

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San Francisco is <3 (a very late post)

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Because of my blogging hiatus I was unable to share our most awesome vacation to San Francisco. This chilly winter day seems appropriate enough to look back (in Filipino: balik-tanaw) at our happy time there.

We didn’t really take a vacation last summer so when C&C invited me to their fall wedding, and friend MM offered for us to stay in her apartment, I decided the stars were right for a Nanay and Katie adventure!

I used Delta miles for my ticket and paid for Katie’s which cut down on a lot of the airfare. I bought each of us a San Francisco City Pass ($84/adult, $59/child) which gave entrance tickets to 4 attractions and unlimited rides on public transport including the famed cable cars. I also borrowed a Frommer’s San Francisco guidebook from the library and downloaded a Lonely Planet app. Once there, our host told me to also download a Muni tracker app. I relied on both apps extensively on my phone to get around as I have very poor navigational skills.

It’s a good thing we had those passes because Katie’s absolute favorite part of the trip was riding public transport particularly the cable cars. We must have ridden them at least 6 times! Without the pass it would have cost $6 per ride or $72 for both of us– eep!

Aside from the fact that they are a technological marvel, I liked using the cable cars because they were slow enough so i could almost always tell where we were or at least find where we were on he map or phone . We also learned to skip the turnaround and ride 3 stops ahead so we didn’t have to get into the loooooong lines to board.
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At the Powell Street turnaround with Fakecheese the turtle and Slither the snake

Out Citypass allowed us to visit the California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park (5 stars! so much to see and do inside and within the park), take a scenic tour via boat (Blue and Gold Fleet– 5 stars and Katie’s favorite), and see the sharks at the Aquarium by the Bay (meh: 2 stars, go to Monterey Bay instead). We were unable to visit the Exploratorium, a hands on science museum for kids, because it was closed on Mondays (darn!).

We were able to do quite a lot of sightseeing in 4 days. Katie was able to ride 2 of the 3 carousels in the city. San Francisco was very accessible by public transport (bus, train, streetcar and cable car) and the weather in late September/early October was gorgeously sunny and cool. No fog until our last day there although it was scarf and hoodie weather off and on. The city had a nice laid back, chill and feel good atmosphere. We definitely would like to make a trip back someday.

Katie’s picks: the playground and carousel at Golden Gate Park, eating Doritos with hot chocolate at Ghirardelli Square (and getting free samples at their 3 stores), cable car rides and the Cable Car museum, carousel at Pier39, riding the F street car, boat tour via Blue and Gold.

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Nanay’s highlights: meet ups with former classmates and online friends, Union Square particularly the Dewey Memorial (Philippines reprezent!), fortune cookies made by hand in Chinatown, fun wedding (with childcare) at the Fairmont Hotel, riding down the crooked Lombard Street and quality time with Katie of course.
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We both liked: eating! Particularly these jumbo shrimp.

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We both did not like: the noisy sea lions

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At home in the streets of Boston

Today was a perfect day to go to a sprinkler park. We made a day of going to Downtown Boston with best friend Wubby, them in swimsuits and me in my trusty summer hat. The girls were a cheap date. We took the T ($2), played in the Rose Kennedy Greenway Rings fountain (free) and had ice cream from Emack and Bolios ($3/kiddie cone) while looking at seals in the New England Aquarium (free). The girls decided to walk to the Frog Pond for more water play (free) and a carousel ride ($3) with the caveat that we would rest as needed. Rest turned out to be Dunkin Donuts (munchkins for them, dark roast iced coffee for me) and Bath and Body Works for personal sparkly hand sanitizer ($1.50 with case).
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How refreshing it is to explore the city with children. They donned their sunglasses and sashayed like they owned the place. They took turns looking for the “red brick road” aka Freedom Trail that would lead us to our destination. They tried not to chase the pigeons and waited for me to cross the street with them. Wubby was more genial than my daughter, chirping a bright “Hi!” or “Hello” to every tourist, baby or dog that came our way. Inevitably, we met people for whom the streets have become home. And before I could stop her, she was already talking to a girl who looked like she was in her 20s.

Wubby: (reading from sign) Every bit helps…homeless. (To lady) What does homeless mean?
Girl on street: It means I don’t have a place to live.
Katie: Why?
GOS: I lost my job so I can’t pay for a place to live. But I am looking and hopefully soon I can have a home.
Wubby: My family is moving to another house but you can’t live in our apartment because the people downstairs are having twins so they are moving upstairs.
GOS: That’s ok. If they are having twins they must need the space more than me.
Wubby: (pointing to backpack) What’s in there?
Katie: Is that ALL of your stuff?

We try to shield our children from the unpleasant, and the ugly, and hope they will never have to deal with these things. Avoidance makes it easier to tune things out and pretend that all is well but we lose the opportunity to teach tolerance and compassion. The reality is that the world is not all pink and fluffy, but black and white and infinite shades of gray all of which our children deserve to know about, if not experience. In their innocence, neither girl was uncomfortable discovering the harshness of life.

We resumed walking and I answered more questions. I stopped myself from telling Katie that we were homeless too, once, and that Wubby’s parents had been one of those who had offered us a place to stay. I held their sticky hands when what I really wanted to do was give them a big hug.

“Peng, how come some people can’t have a place to live? Why isn’t there work for everybody?”

“I wish me and Wubby could be fairies and unicorns with magic so we can give her a home.”

“If me and Katie were giants or Martians maybe we can give that lady a job and we can MAKE her a house.”

Thank you Katie and Wubby. You are hope for the future.
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***
P.S. While chatting, we found out that our new friend had worked with animals before she lost her job. I was able to tip her about applying to my old workplace. I hope she finds work soon.

On vacation with friends of friends

I am sipping my coffee in beautiful Vermont, listening to birds and watching the sun spread light over the trees and mountains. We are here for part of the weekend on the invitation of a dear friend’s dear friend.
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A close knit family is as essential to a Filipino as white rice is to adobo. As transplants from the motherland, we have had to make our own families here. Thus, friends of friends and their friends become cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents. Just like at home.

My bestie Maya is one of those people who are adept at making an ever expanding circle of good-as-family friends. For instance, all the 13 adults in the house are somehow connected to her: through high school (soirée!), college, dance, or when she first moved to NYC. I met our host through Maya when we were pregnant with our first borns. 6 years later, our children become fast friends, roaming the house’s many secret passages, refreshing their kindergarten phonics lessons and even deciding to have a “sleepover”.

The air is sweeter in the country. After living under the city lights for so long you forget what a massive blanket of stars looks like. We swam in a pond, played on rocks, even waded through a rushing stream. As we return to the bustle and noise, to being awakened by ambulances and drunk college kids, I am grateful for the reminder of a world so massive and peaceful.

Thank you M and J for an awesome time.

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Four Birthdays and a Wedding

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To say that this weekend was busy is an understatement. I will admit to some shock when I was looking at my trusty google calendar and found it a mess of color blocks. In addition to it being the last week of school with 2 early release days, we had committed to attending 4 birthday parties and a wedding.

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what a difference a schoolyear makes!

There was a time when I would not have attended any of these events. When even just being around people was unpleasant and having to interact, painfully excruciating. I see our (disclaimer: I say “our” when it is really Katie’s social life that is rockin’) busy social life as an indication of my improved mental health and a return to “normalcy”. These days, when I tell people, “I’m back!” I really mean it and I feel great!

Besides, who doesn’t love birthday parties? The kids have fun and get tired. There is cake and a chance of excellent free food. Some parties (my favorite kind) even save me from having to cook a meal. Between mom’s group/baby playgroup friends, a church community that is ever expanding, and school, there are a lot of birthdays to celebrate. I wouldn’t say I recommend being this busy every weekend but then again, the laundry can be folded some other time. After all, it has already been sitting on Katie’s bed for more than a month.

We were also privileged to be invited to my ex-brother-in-law’s very intimate, simple yet classy and heartfelt wedding. Because of the deception I underwent at the hands of my ex-husband, I felt I could not trust any of his family. Even worse, I was afraid they would try and take Katie away from me. Pat and Ally were the first ones to reach out, and kept trying to include us when I gave excuses like “too busy”, “too far”, “not a good time” or even when I simply ignored the invitation. They didn’t give up on someday having a relationship not only with Katie, but also with me. And you know what? Persistence pays off and thanks to them, Katie will know that side of her family. Which is in part why I was determined to swallow the awkwardness, embrace the weird and be part of their special day.

But of course I employed the help of my Fairy Gothmother to be extra pretty 🙂
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Doing the right thing is really really hard. I only hope one day Katie will see that I did this for her: so she won’t be wondering about the other side of her family and she can form her own opinions about and relationships with them.
When I see her face, I am glad I didn’t take away moments like this no matter what I feel.

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Birthday party at Build-a-Bear Workshop

Katie and I decided on a Build-a-Bear Workshop (BABW) party with a small number of friends instead of our usual park play date. BABW is a place where you choose and stuff an animal plushie. I booked the party at their location at Faneuil Hall, around the time the store opens (10:00am). Booking was done online, and I received a call 2 days ago confirming the number of guests and the $ budget for each child.

We were met at the door by Sean-Patrick, our engaging and delightful party host. He gave Katie a special badge, kept track of each child’s name and the name of their chosen animal, engaged the kids, stuffed their bears, and made taking turns fun. My favorite part was when he had the kids pick their plushie’s heart and an extra one for Katie’s bear so that hers had hearts from her friends!

The kids all seemed to know which friend they wanted to take home. Some even had chosen a cheaper bear so they could dress it up. Katie chose a pink and purple bear she named Elizabeth. She also brought along her old BABW friend, Hello Kitty. One of her friends chose a camouflage bear eventually named Army. Another child’s bear was simply, Bear. All her friends and Sean also signed an autograph bear which is still unnamed.

At the end of the party, the kids had a picture with their creations and each was given a cardboard “cub condo” complete with a stuffed animal birth certificate. Katie rang the store bell and everyone sang happy birthday. We then headed outside with a cooler of juice boxes, pizza from Pizzeria Regina, and more Keyks cupcakes. I even remembered to bring candles and a lighter.
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Many thanks to the parents who came and helped me by saving and setting up a place for us outside, serving the kids, taking pictures, cleaning up and being kind enough to take home presents and our cooler. You guys are so great! Everyone went home happy 🙂

Build-a-Bear Workshop
6 North Market Bldng, 6 N Market St, Boston
(617) 227-2478

Pizzeria Regina
226 Faneuil Marketplace Boston, MA
(617)742-1713

Keyks
333 Acton Rd, Chelmsford
(617) 855-5395