Saturday, September 11, 2010

Drawing the Line

I was pulling my hair out the other day while helping my seven year old girl with homework. She kept sighing and whining while I, kept drilling. The more we got frustrated, the more we struggled. See, I was keeping myself from giving in to her complaints that studying was hard, or that the work was too much. I thought that given her age, I should be tougher on her and teach her the merits of hard work. So I started going on and on about how I used to love studying and doing homework as a kid. I told her that I couldn't understand why she didn't see it the way I did then. She looked at me intently, as if wanting me to truly understand the importance of what she was about to say, and in a very deliberate manner, replied, "Mom, we're different. I just want to draw."

I stopped. I wasn't sure what hit me first --- the fact that we were different, or the fact that I also just wanted to draw as a kid. I knew exactly what she meant. I see it everyday. When I pick her up from school and the first thing she asks is "Mom, after homework, can I draw?" or when her eyes dance at the sight of something that catches her fancy in a book or magazine which she can't wait to copy, or the way she takes care of her colored pencils which, unlike her school pencils, she meticulously sharpens before she goes to bed. Drawing brings her to her own world. A world she can create for herself where there are no rules and the only thing that limits her is her imagination. In that world, she can have all the sweets she wants to eat in a royal feast where she wears a fancy purple gown and a tiara studded with M&M beads. The next minute, she can be a skating ballerina and twirl into the air, as her classmates and teachers clap and cheer while she bows towards the audience. On that piece of paper, for a few minutes a day, she can escape from the reality of having to memorize her spelling list and regroup tens and hundreds while subtracting. I remember how that world feels like. I've been there a million times myself growing up.

And yet, she's right to say that we are different. As a child, I loved words and writing probably as much as drawing. I liked practicing my handwriting and became pretty good at it. I enjoyed the challenge of having to think of answers to difficult questions, or having to research them. And up until the end of highschool, I found numbers quite interesting. So no one had to force me to do homework, nor help me with it. My mom didn't stay home like I do now, so I was pretty much on my own.

I struggled as I thought about what she said. Should I pull her out of traditional school and look for one that makes her happier, somewhere that fits her temperament? Should I let her be, even if I know that if she doesn't get a good grasp on the basics now, she will have a harder time later? Should I continue being tough and use this opportunity to build character? I couldn't find immediate answers but I found myself responding with, "Look, I know exactly how you feel. I used to draw and draw too!" If there is anything that fascinates her, it is stories about mom and dad's childhood. So her eyes lit up as she asked," What did Lola say?". " Well, she'd always come to my room and tell me to go to sleep because it's late," I got her now, so I took a chance and continued, "but that's because I drew after I finished my homework, so I had nothing else to worry about." It was her turn to stop. She was weighing her options I could tell. In this brief silence, I made a mental note to myself. Remember that it's her grades, not mine. That she learns at a different pace, and has a different learning style. Most of all, remember that I am her mother, not her taskmaster. Ease up a bit!

I'm not sure what else I said, but I knew I made a decision to acknowledge how different we were. I snapped out of my thoughts. She was looking at me intently, as if wanting me to truly understand the importance of what she was about to say, and in a very deliberate manner said, "Mom, I want to be an artist when I grow up. Just like you." Yes, I know exactly what she means.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Turning Japanese

Japanese food -- I can probably eat it every day of my life! It's healthy, it's light and the way it's prepared is a visual treat in itself. So eating Japanese is always a delight.

At the restaurant we go to, the chopsticks cover has a tiny origami bird glued to it. On some you can find a blue one, on others yellow. Of course, being a grown up, I never notice this. I'm always too busy looking at the menu even when I already know what to order. Same old, same old. On the other hand, my seven-year-old daughter not only notices everything, she can find all sorts of ways to entertain herself, and the people around her. Today, she decides to tell a tale about three birds -- the ones stuck on my chopsticks cover, on hers and on dad's. The purple one is the oldest, her name is Anna. The green is Felix, and the peach is Feliza. They're friends, and they like to play hide and seek -- under the placemat, inside the napkin, behind the rice bowl. Oh, did I tell you that this storytelling session is interactive? We're not only supposed to look for them, we're also supposed to guess how old they are. And, whose brother is Felix-- Anna's or Feliza's? Hmm...tough one.

Dad and I go along with this because our order is taking longer than usual to prepare. Never mind if we're getting some snickers from the other table. And that mom gets really embarrassed being with girls who talk a bit too loud in restaurants. Finally, the food comes, and we tone down for awhile. But not for long.

I try to clean up my bowl, then focus on the next part of the story. There are three new birds now, courtesy of the wait staff. One of them is the twin sister of Anna, and her name is Victoria. The two others I forget. And this goes on. And on. Until the coffee jelly comes.

I think next time, we'll just go for pizza. At least they don't have chopsticks there.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Changing Cycles

I'm not a very huge fan of change. I kinda like routine. Change, let's just put it mildly, disorients me. And that's why I'm writing again. Writing stabilizes, if not distracts me.

Summer is over in this part of the world, while in others, it is just beginning. Which means while other moms are bracing themselves for the onslaught of non-stop summer activities that can only happen when kids are home on vacation, I'm psyching myself for a quiet home during the early part of the day once the kids go back to school. Oh don't get me wrong. I'd been looking forward to this after eight straight weeks of being with my children--and I only have two! See, in a really odd way, this summer was such a busy period -- starting with Holy Week. Then Easter. Then Earth Day. Then Family Reunions. Then Labor Day. Then Mother's Day. Then Elections. Then A Wedding. Then Mom's Birthday -- packed with short trips and adventures in between! Whew!

But now that June is here, I can't help but be wistful about what we did this summer and how that's about to end in a couple of weeks. I think the children are feeling the same way. Riding in the car awhile back, my daughter kept hugging and snuggling up to me. As if that was not enough, she intertwined her fingers onto mine, the kind where your hands lock and it's a bit hard to let go. My son has been clinging more often too. And to tell you the truth, so have I. Well, what's a mother to do?

Re-establish routines, that's what. This week, we started walking around the village in the morning, ending at the playground for their treat. The swing helps my daughter look forward to the one at school while my son is reminded of how Coach taught them to jog, not run. We've unplugged the TV and packed away the DVD's, and have been reading new books with old favorites more often, and not just before bedtime. I'm surprised at the fact that the kids have not complained, and seem to genuinely enjoy our read-aloud sessions once again. We've also cut back on adventures, except for paying bills, going to the doctor, doing the groceries and picking up daddy from work. We're really winding down into our more structured, uneventful, daily routine. I like it that way. And so do they.

Today, the rain poured practically all day signaling the start of the rainy season. We were undaunted. Daughter kept doing her penmanship book, practicing for second grade. Son was busy looking at his sister's hand-me-down books. And I, got out my own notebook and started typing away...

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Life Takes Over

Someone once said that "Duty is the enemy of art." I'm not sure if that's entirely true but let me tell you I understand it perfectly as I've been caught in the crossfire the past couple of months. Oh, you know what I mean -- blogging beckons but duty calls. Not that I detest what I had been doing while not having had the time to blog. On the contrary, January in our household was one of the best months we've had as a family. (I dare say, it was even better than December). As soon as the new year kicked in, we celebrated two milestones -- the 3rd birthday of my son and our 15th wedding anniversary in back-to-back out-of-town trips that I had initially dreaded would be exhausting but turned out to be so invigorating! Then in February, hubby and I did something new on Valentine's Day. We celebrated not with the usual wine and music, but with a short day trip trying to discover a new place while rediscovering couplehood. During these two months, I had so many indescribably beautiful moments with my husband and children that I couldn't capture with my DSLR even in its continuous shooting mode. And each time I attempted to write about them, words failed me.

I don't know what it is but even my children seem to have acquired a distaste for documenting everything. While on vacation, I kept taking pictures, hoping to make up for the days when they were younger and I was too sleep-deprived to take any. They were gracious enough to pose and smile while I clicked away, but after a few shots they often chorused with "Mom, enough. No more pictures, please!" I would reluctantly pack away the camera, yet, feel relieved as soon as I immersed myself in the very moment that I was trying to capture. And that is exactly what has happened over the past two months that I haven't blogged. I was deeply immersed in the lives of my husband and children, and in the process, I even found bits and pieces of my own past life as I got reunited with friends from school, people I used to work with and family visiting from abroad. Oh yes, most of it was part of my duty -- to plan occasions, make preparations, do errands, and even take pictures -- but the difference is that I no longer sat from the sidelines as a passive observer chronicling events as they transpired before my eyes, disinterested and wishing I were somewhere else doing something else. I've started to participate and actually surprised myself as I truly enjoyed, savored and got lost in each moment. I think it's what you call being present.

So never mind if I have nothing to show for the past two months -- no stories detailing what happened, no blow-by-blow accounts of what was said, no deep reflections on how I felt. I surrender to the thought that those sacred details are forever etched in the heart and will always be remembered by those who were there. Besides, blogging can wait, but family can't.

And to that person who said duty is the enemy of art, I suppose duty can be your art if you do it with your heart. You'll have to excuse me now. Art calls.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

If You Build, It will Come

I was in the car with my son today. He is turning three next week. There are various trucks parked on the road we pass daily. And construction workers. They are laying water pipes so there's a lot of digging going on, not to mention traffic. It's a good thing I'm not driving.

He asks a gazillion times, "What's that?" and I promptly give one-word answers like "soil", "pipes", "crane" obviously not paying attention to what interests him. If you're around this boy everyday, construction terms are a regular part of the conversation. Normally, I would be fascinated when he suddenly screams "Mom, a flat-bed truck!" because trucks look all the same to me. Unfortunately, I was thinking of something else this morning. But it doesn't escape his sensitive radar. So he blurts out "I need to push the soil," immediately followed by "but I have to grow up first." So now he has my attention. It suddenly occurs to me that he is three and growing up faster than I can say "cherry picker truck".

My mind wanders. I see him with a hard hat, on the top floor of an unfinished building in a vastly undeveloped land that is to become another city. Will he be one of the workers having lunch while sitting on one of those metal bars? Will he be driving a bulldozer to "push the soil"? Will he be calculating the load that walls can bear and signing blueprints? I smile at that last thought. My father is an engineer and I had always dreamed of becoming an architect. But I was dissuaded from pursuing a man's profession. So I took up Business, a practical course, and was fortunate to have worked in a creative field for many years, albeit on the management side. Eventually, I studied Interior Design which I happily practiced before I had children. I'm blessed to have part of my dream fulfilled somehow. Others don't get a second chance.

I hold my son's hand. It is big and he has a strong grip. He could use it well for holding tools. Or drafting, if he is inclined to do that. I tell myself to be aware and to do everything I possibly can to help him find what he's meant to do. So I say, "Maybe we could dig in the garden sometime. Would you like that?" He nods. "Okay, I'll get some pipes and we could lay that just like those men. You need to wear a hard hat though." He beams. The thought excites me. Finally, I have something in common with my little boy. I can't wait to see where his dreams will take him. But right now, we just have to start building.

Monday, January 4, 2010

The Work of Christmas Begins

Today, my husband left early for work. My daughter went back to school. My son is at his grandmother's. Our house is back to its regular routine except for piles of gifts that have to be sorted and stored away, the advent wreath, the tree and its ornaments stashed in boxes, and the baby Jesus, mom, dad and company kept until next Christmas.

Other than post-holiday chores, I look around and see that everything is the same. There is laundry to be done, the grocery list is on the fridge, the bills are waiting to be paid ... and I wonder how this Christmas has changed my life as a wife and mother. I think about the Blessed Mother and how her life was never the same after she had said yes to God. And then I see how I've said no so many times these past two years.

Perhaps the emptiness I had been feeling throughout the season despite a full schedule with family and friends was borne out of not having enough room for another baby - the Child whom I used to look forward to with much anticipation. Now that I have my own children, it is easy to get lost focusing on their needs. Especially on occasions that call for gift-giving and merriment.

Yet, last night, I think I caught a glimpse of the Christmas I had been longing for. We were on our way home when my daughter asked for the bag of goodies we leave in the car for streetkids who knock on our window at stoplights. She had seen one but he had walked past our car towards the sidewalk. So my husband waved at him to come over and she was able to hand him a small bag with crackers and candy. Her eyes glowed and she smiled with satisfaction saying
"I really had been wanting to do that, mom." My eyes started to mist, and my heart felt warm. It was the Feast of the Three Kings, and the boy looked like he had just been given gold.

Howard Thurman said it so well...

When the song of the angels is stilled
When the star in the sky is gone
When the kings and princes are home
When the shepherds are back with the flocks
then the work of Christmas begins:

to find the lost
to heal those broken in spirit
to feed the hungry
to release the oppressed
to rebuild the nations
to bring peace among all peoples
to make a little music with the heart...

And to radiate the Light of Christ everyday in every way
in all that we do and in all that we say
then the work of Christmas truly begins.

I look around once more. My ordinary life stares at me. I smile at it. I know that this year, I can make it extraordinary.