Thursday, October 15, 2015

flat chests and scant eyebrows

When I was a kid, my grandmother would utter one of those withering grandmotherly comments when I did something stupid. She'd say, "Where were you when God distributed brains?" And I'd roll my eyes and think, Where was I when God distributed grandmothers?

When I became a teenager, she proclaimed that I'd better be good at being smart, since I was not a great beauty. So I figured that she got it wrong; I had been busy catching brains when God was distributing beauty. It was my grandmother who told me that my face was too narrow, I had baggy eyes (that I got from my father, who was incidentally her son), my hair was too unruly, and I looked malnourished. I also had nonexistent eyebrows and equally nonexistent breasts, and I was short. I guess she was relieved that she did not have to worry about suitors swarming her ancestral house.

I don't remember anyone telling me otherwise, and so I suppose I believed it. I wasn't beautiful; get over it and do something else you are good at. I went to college, got good grades, graduated, got a good job. And somewhere along the way I figured that I didn't have to look like a beauty queen to be a beauty queen. I learned to be confident. I made a lot of fashion hit-and-miss before I discovered that it's hard to intimidate someone who can run in stilettos, and so I started to love 5-inch heels. :-)

I married my first boyfriend. Well, there's your reassurance, grandma.  I caught a man! And it must have been good for me, because now, one has to try really really hard to make me insecure. 

And now we've come full circle. I have a teenager. Not much has changed; people tell you thin and tall is beautiful. Big boobs are beautiful. There's TV, social media, and all those clothing advertisements. There's Victoria's Secret Angels. In this place and time, it is so easy to get insecure because you're a bit on the heavy side, you wear eyeglasses, you're not very tall, and you have blackheads. 

And while I have never told her she was ugly, I might have forgotten to tell her she is beautiful. Maybe not right now, not on the surface, but deep inside, in ways that matter, she is.

See that picture on top? It's from Dove's 'Campaign for Real Beauty' in 2005. I'd like to tell my daughter that beauty is not just in the eye of the beholder. It's in the eye of the holder. If you believe you are beautiful, if you believe in your goodness, why, then, you are.  

I still have a flat chest; I still draw on my eyebrows when I get ready for work in the morning. And why not? That's what I caught when God distributed breasts and eyebrows. And I am more than breasts and eyebrows. Beyond that, I believe I'm a hell of a woman. My grandmother would have been proud.

Friday, June 5, 2015


Irene brought me this as a present from her trip to the US. I received it with glee; National Bookstore sells it in hardcover at around Php1,300. And while I have already read the e-book back in December, there really is a distinct pleasure in turning the page of a real book. I love my Amazon Kindle, but I am still a sucker for holding a dog-eared copy of a book you've had for 10 years, with old bus tickets as bookmarks, while you sit on the toilet. Try that with Pet Sematary at one in the morning. I assure you it's a real thrill.

Jamie meets Charles Jacobs, a well-loved small-town minister who also dabbles on experiments with electricity. The minister's wife and son die in a gruesome accident, and he denounces God. Later in life he became a faith healer. Jamie in turn grows up, develops a drug problem, and gets 'cured' by Charles. Charles then lures Jamie to help him with his final experiment by promising to cure Astrid, Jamie's childhood sweetheart, who had terminal cancer. Jamie agreed, and Astrid was cured.

The final experiment had Jacobs using electricity (and whatever forces he gathered) to bring to life a dead woman. He wanted to know what was beyond the door, or maybe where his wife and son went. And what they do see is not a view of heaven and the cherubs, nor the seven rings of hell.

The horror lies not only in the conclusion, not in what they are given a glimpse of. The horror, to me, lies in the every day sweet things that death turns ugly. Your sweet little boy, turned into a bloody mess on the road (reminiscent of Gage Creed's death in Pet Sematary). Seeing your childhood sweetheart dying painfully of cancer. The loss of hope, the loss of love.

Death, to me, is a void. A blank. You become nothing. Some people believe you go to a place where you relive your happiest moments over and over. I am surrounded by death and loss these days: I have a friend whose mother is given just a few months to live. I have a neighbor who has terminal cancer and has come home to die. At lunch time today, we went to the wake of Milette's husband, who also died of cancer. And you can believe what you want, but you never really know what is beyond.

Revival is not a good read when you're thinking of death most days, but we read on, don't we? We stay glued to the pages, even if you knew what was coming next. And though you end up gloomy, your hands itch to get the next book this perfectly horrifying author comes up with next.

happy birthday, chloe.

Happy birthday, Chloe. I did not have the heart to wake you up this morning before I left for the office. You were sleeping so soundly, and this is after all the last week before school starts. But I did not forget. I was watching you sleep, and I marvel at how big you've grown, and how funny, and how beautiful. Mothers get teary-eyed at things like that, but it's hard to repair smeared mascara, so I wrote you the birthday note and left.

I know you don't expect a party, or guests, or gifts. Both you and your sister were not raised that way. I feel a little guilty about that, but I was also raised that way, and I suppose I'm passing it on. You do not expect a new dress and shoes to wear every school Christmas party, you do not expect a new bag every school opening, you do not expect a mountain of gifts on your birthday. You do not have a sense of entitlement, just because there is an occasion. That may change when you grow older, but I think for now, we're fine.

It doesn't mean we're not celebrating. Tomorrow I may take you out on a mother-daughter date, since it's Saturday. But know that every day, not just today, I celebrate having you. You and your sister are the most precious things to me. I hope I am doing a good job of raising you well, of teaching you how to live simply, of showing you how to stand up for yourself.

Someday, when you grow up and have daughters, you will understand these things: why school supplies take priority over balloons and clowns, why mothers have to go to the office on your birthday, why birthday celebrations can be simple and still be meaningful.

And know that I love you. With all my heart, I do.

Monday, February 2, 2015


Chloe is not a very outgoing child, and so we encourage her to play with the neighborhood children on weekends. In the afternoons the street is cool enough for the children to go running and screaming around, supervised by the various mothers and nannies. While I prefer to rearrange my closet, I sometimes do watcher duty. Most days I do ok. Sometimes I overdo it.

Yesterday I saw her go out the gate. I went to get my slippers, and when I turned around, she had disappeared. I tracked her in a neighbor's house three doors down, after I had gone around the block once. And so to avoid getting a heart attack, I invited the neighbor's kid to my house, so I could watch them both.

Woe to me. Another little girl appeared at my door a few minutes later, whom my daughter welcomed gleefully. This was followed by another, and another, and one who was brought over by her mother. They played with loom bands awhile, then watched Dora the Explorer on DVD. Then they checked out the books, while I picked up about 200 loom bands all over the living room. They briefly went out and found the stash of little toys in the garage, and shortly after, there were little boys as well. By 7:00 pm, I had 16 little kids on my hands, with 6 of them dancing to Taylor Swift's "Shake It Off" at full volume. They have eaten all the marshmallows in the pantry, as well as a container of cereal and a pack of wafer biscuits. All my water glasses were now dirty. One little boy asked me whose birthday party it was. Another asked me if he was allowed to jump on the sofa.

The noise was unbelievable. There were toys all over the garage, and cookie crumbs in the carpet, and dirty footprints on my cream-colored sofa. And before somebody started asking where the fried chicken and spaghetti were, I called a halt to the impromptu 'party' at 8:00 pm. The bigger kids were easily driven away; the smaller ones had to be fetched by their mothers. The fetchers all smiled sympathetically, and were all admiration about how I could handle all of the children, while I have suspicions that they were merely glad to have the kids off their hands for a couple of hours.

The children left, but not before asking, "How about tomorrow?"

Thankfully it was Sunday, and all the kids have to go to school the following day. If I had been faced with the prospect of another playdate, I would have locked myself inside the bedroom and combed out all the Barbie dolls' hair in peace instead.

Monday, August 18, 2014

damn the dengue

We visited my in-laws over the weekend, and when it was time for the updates on the relatives, we were informed that one distant cousin's child had died of dengue.

The boy had recurrent fever and was confined at the local doctor's clinic, but the relatives took him out of the clinic to bring him to an albularyo. By the time he was properly diagnosed, it was too late.

I don't know the child or his parents, but for a moment, I felt anger. It's not a very rural place, almost everyone has cable TV and therefore would have a passing knowledge of what dengue fever is, and how dangerous it could be.  They have access to medical professionals at the town proper, one jeepney ride away.  The family is not destitute either.

But how could you not know that there is something very wrong with a child whose fever keeps coming back, and who is so pale his limbs look bloodless?  How could you not understand it is serious when he passes blood in his stool? How could you think that he might still be afflicted by some engkanto or maligno?

They say the mother blames herself.  I am sorry.  I have no wish to find fault or add to the anguish. I guess it's the mother in me that reacts strongly to the story of how he died.  I would move heaven and earth to keep my children with me.  And my mother's heart breaks a little for the loss, for all that the child could have been, for the missed chance to have him well and laughing again.

And call me paranoid, but by the time we have rested, my husband and I scoured the neighborhood stores to look for insect repellent lotion. I lathered the kids, then we spent the night in his sister's house, which had screens on the door and windows.

That damned mosquito might still be flying around.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

the misadventures of chloe, part 2

Day 2

Chloe watched Barney on DVD while getting dressed, so she would not remember that she did not want to go to school.

She came home without her pencils.

Day 4

Chloe came home with a very wet diary.  I asked her what happened, and she said, "It's rainin'."  It was not.  On my husband's suggestion I hung the diary behind the refrigerator to dry.  It did, so now she has a rather rumpled but very crispy diary.

Day 5

Chloe has not been eating her packed lunch.  Her class adviser and I had a written exchange, where she explained that the class has a supervised lunch break, but Chloe does not want to eat lunch, only the snacks.

Day 6

Chloe came home with a box of crayons-- not hers.

Day 7

Chloe came home with a box of crayons-- hers-- but with only half the crayons in the box.  The pencils are missing again.

Day 8

Chloe came home without her diary.  The reminders were pasted in her Science notebook.  She needed to bring 4 long folders with fasteners, which I have to buy from National Bookstore on my way home.

Day 9

The diary reappeared, wet again.  Back it went behind the refrigerator.  Now the pages are looking decidedly tattered.

Day 11

Chloe came home with another child's lunch box and a spoon.  Her own spoon and fork are missing.

I had to go to the department store to buy a new water bottle so we could hopefully avoid wet diaries and books.  Now she needed to bring 9 color-coded folders for her folio.  It's fortunate that I have to pass through Megamall on my way home, where the bookstore is just a short detour away.  It's unfortunate that the neighboring shoe stores have their end-of-season sale.  It's stressful, I tell you.  I also got the new water bottle, with a couple of microwaveable bowls thrown in.

Day 12

I am waiting for 4:00 pm so I could call home and find out what she has lost this time, whether the new water bottle is fine, and if I have to go to National Bookstore again.  I tell myself that she'll get used to the big school, that she will stop declaring she doesn't want to get dressed because her school is closed, that she'll enjoy it soon, that we'll settle into a routine of peaceful mornings getting ready for school.

But in the meantime, darn, it's tiring!

the misadventures of chloe, part 1

Alright, I mislabeled it.  It just doesn't sound humorous if I called it 'The Travails of a Mother Raising A Mightily Tiresome But Dearly Beloved Six-year-Old.'

Chloe entered first grade this school year.  It's a big school.  From her pre-school class of only 8 kids, they're now 33.  I shudder to think of the noise level they can generate.  And because I thought it was fashionable to display some separation anxiety, I took a leave from work on her first day of class.  Heck, I even took her picture at 6:00 am and posted it on Facebook.

I went with the school bus and delivered her to her classroom, counting the things she brought and counting the little kids who were already crying in the room.  I didn't see if she joined in the tearful getting-to-know-each-other session because the teacher made us parents leave.  I joined the other parents milling in the grade school lobby-- there must be about 3 dozen of us-- and took comfort in the fact that they all looked as worried as I was.

That was when I realized that I had labeled all of Chloe's things: her pencils, bags, water bottle, notebooks, but I forgot to label her.  She would not lose her school things but she could lose herself.  I freaked out.  Chloe is trained not to speak to strangers, and so I was sure she would not say her name even if somebody asked, but little kids often display a tendency to trust grown-ups if they seemed kind or acted authoritatively.  I thought it was so easy for someone to get inside the grade school building, pretend to be a parent, and get a small child from the classroom.  Sure, there was a guard at the entrance to prevent unaccompanied kids from getting out, but would he stop an adult with a kid in tow?

I had to call my husband.  He suggested I calm down and go home, and just wait for the school bus to bring the kid after school.  I did.  I attacked the laundry, ironed clothes, rearranged my study, all the while wondering if Chloe ate her lunch, if she cried, if she'd made friends, if she'd agree to go to school the following day.  And yes, I wondered what I'd do if the school bus didn't come.  Then I waited for 4:00 pm, calling the school bus monitor twice to make sure they got my daughter from class (well, she had no ID yet, remember?).

Chloe arrived, disheveled and hair undone.  Her face was blotched from crying.  Her lunch bag looked like the victim of a bear attack.  Privately I wondered if it was too soon for her to go to a big school, but for now, she was home.

"Chloe," I asked, "did you cry in school?"
"Yes," she said.
"Did you sleep?"
"Are you going to school again tomorrow?"

There is no tuition refund.  I'll just remember the name tag.