Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Olgatraz, Pigsties and Lotto

Whoever said that strong fences make good neighbors forgot to add “noise-proof” and “smell-proof” fences.

When my husband and I planned building our home, we agreed not to build in subdivisions or in those so-called “gated/guarded communities”. I envisioned a place where the houses are far apart and where I didn’t have to see any neighbor if I didn’t want to. I didn’t want my world to be confined within a narrow two-lane street where the farthest point I could see is my next-door neighbor’s gate, or be close enough to hear my neighbor’s every snore, or know at every instance what their meal’s going to be from the odors permeating from their kitchen to mine.

Ever heard of the warning: be careful of what you wish for? Oh boy! Did I get exactly what I wanted – and more! We found the perfect place (?) where the lands were still owned by its original owners or their heirs, and where we could still see wide expanses of undeveloped land almost evocative of rural living. It didn’t occur to us that people in this setting still live the rural way … like raise pigs, for instance?

But that’s getting ahead with the story. Let me start with the terrific duo: our friendly neighborhood shabu dealer and his brother, our friendly neighborhood thief. Thanks to these two (and their similarly-feathered friends), the barbed wires around our home can humble the city jail set up anytime! These two have since then been shipped to Bilibid Prison but not before my home got nicknamed “Olgatraz”. I bet I could make “Olgatraz, Dumaguete City” my address and every mail will still find its way to me!

I barely got settled in to the peace and quiet before another family moved in. I now wake up to the off-key singing of a videoke performer-wannabe belting out ballads for my exclusive torture, or to a blaring morning radio program, or to hard pounding music, depending on their fancy. But sometimes, I get lucky and wake up only to the wondrous sound of their squealing pigs!

Then I retire in the evenings to the nauseating smell from their pigsty, delivered directly into our windows by even the gentlest of breeze! And in between those … heart pounding moments as FIRECRACKERS! - the kind people use in the New Year - startle everyone with sudden explosive bangs at any time day or night!

The firecrackers take only seconds to break the silence, but the raucous they create when our dogs start a barking frenzy takes a good ten to fifteen minutes to end! Sometimes, it happens while I’m in the middle of my nap! Wouldn’t this make you want to wring somebody’s neck?

I’ve tried to be nice and civil through all these. I’ve visited them twice: first, to politely request that they clean their sty regularly, and second, to inform them that we could barely hear each other talk from all the singing that’s coming from their side! It took me supreme effort not to say exactly what I had in mind!

Am I regretting our choice of neighborhood then? It is rather too late to dwell on that at this point. All I can do now is dream of buying that lot just to rid us of these annoyances. Of course, that could only happen if we’d win the lotto so I’d better start betting now.

So, if you should see me queuing up near Bian Yek, you’ll know why.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Regrets As Goodbyes Draw Closer

When my father came to Dumaguete to visit, our battle of wills resumed with a vengeance. For this column today, I planned to grumble about the difficulties we encounter as our parents grow older and more sick, about how bullheaded they become and how they refuse to listen to reason and simply go about their obstinate ways.

From what I hear, this seems to be a common problem with aging parents – and we always hear the complaint: “ang hirap magpalaki ng mga magulang.”

But that changed because of a sudden turn of events. Let me explain.

My father has cirrhosis of the liver, diabetes, arthritis, stomach ulcers, and his latest shocker: he has liquid in his lungs causing him to have bouts of breathlessness. Watching this painful struggle for air tore my guts out, but I still resented him for having brought all these to himself.

You see, Daddy used to be a heavy smoker and drinker. When liver cirrhosis finally caught up with him, it didn’t come as a surprise. After trying in vain for years to make him stop drinking, I somehow expected this disease sooner or later.

He stopped drinking after that – but his smoking continued. In exasperation, I asked him what would make him stop? Lung cancer? Hurtful words said in anger and frustration … little did I know how true they would become.

I could not bear the sight of my father chasing his every breath so I took him to the doctor, wanting to know if a procedure could be performed on what he told me was liquid in his lungs.

X-ray and CT scan revealed a solid mass around seven inches long, 3 inches wide and 3 inches thick. It is so massive it practically covered the upper half of his left lung.

The sentence has been handed down: death in a matter of months. Past excesses finally caught up with him, and Daddy will be paying with his life. At 64 years, he is too young to be leaving us.

I am angry with him for wasting his life away. I want to thrash at him for refusing to listen to all the warnings. I want to shout at him: “Look! You’ll be leaving behind young daughters without a father. You had bartered your time away for a puff and a drink! Are they worth it now?”

Yes, I’m very angry with Daddy, but I am also filled with overwhelming sorrow. Daddy, how can you leave us this soon? Why were you so weak? Why didn’t you fight your addictions before … for your children’s sake? Now you will have to leave us and we’ll be left without our father.

I am pouring my heart out as I write not because I want any sympathy. But I do want to share the following thoughts:

1. Whether we like it or not, our excesses will eventually catch up with us; that for the sake of those we hold dear, it is high time we clean up our act.


Go easy on alcohol;

Quit smoking (imagine your child’s face as you do);

Cut back on your sweets … forget coke with every meal – if you have to, reserve it as a well-deserved treat maybe twice a week?

Also, it wont hurt to put some distance between you and too much humba.

2. Anybody can get the same diseases that my father has. No one will be spared.

3. Don’t be like me. I am facing the eventuality of my father’s death with every kind of regret in my heart: regret for not having loved him enough; regret for not having had enough love to be patient and forgiving of his weakness. I regret all the angry words I uttered to him. I regret not having called him or spent time with him more often. I regret not having showed him my deep love and making him understand that it’s because of that love that I got so angry with him at times.

Our parents can make us feel the most tender of emotions and make us roll our eyes and shake our heads in exasperation at the same time.

They can also ran our patience dry with their obstinacy, or make us want to stump the ground with our feet in total frustration – especially when they start saying: “anak ra ka ….”

But whatever our relationship with them may be now, love and respect are always there. Let’s make the most of that while we still have them. Their time with us will not stretch forever. So let’s give that hug, or whisper I love you or a simple thank you, pick up the phone and talk about nothing, show that you care … don’t wait until the last minute … do what you can now, so you won’t have to look back with regrets later on.

As for me, I have a lot of catching up to do …

Friday, November 10, 2006

Are We Parents Ready for Sex Education?

“Sex education is a responsibility of the parents – not of the teachers.” Reading this statement by Vice-Mayor Ablong (Quotables, November 5, 2006) made me wonder: are we parents ready for sex education?

Assuming that we recognize the need for this, are we cool enough to talk the no-nonsense talk about sex with our teens?

We may be able to crack green jokes with our friends … but doing “the talk” with our kids? As far as one friend is concerned, it is an entirely different matter! I asked if she’s had this discussion with her grown daughter. Her look of utter horror was answer enough.

I know of another mother who freaked out when her first grader asked what the word “sex” meant. Although totally unprepared, she was at least quick enough to think of a suitable answer: it referred to male and female.

How about from the perspective of the teenagers? Would they be comfortable enough to listen and ask questions from a parent with full intention to learn? Try imagining yourself as the curious teenager in that situation: would you dare ask mom or dad as openly as you would probably ask another person?

Most Filipino parents are still uncomfortable discussing sex with their children. The mere suggestion can make even the most modern and/or educated parent cringe.

However, whether we like it or not, and whether we’d take an active role in their education or not, sooner or later, our children are bound to learn about sex. I personally believe that it would be best for my child to learn from me rather than from sources that leave much to be desired.

To illustrate, my friend’s 10-year old son recently announced that he would make love to a woman when he is 15 years old! Freaked reactions came gushing out at the thought of a 10-year old having these thoughts or having discussions of this sort with his classmates. One can only wonder at what grade four boys talk about nowadays!

Supposing then that we are able to overcome our anxieties and decide to bravely take on the job, shouldn’t we still ask ourselves: are we capable of handling our children’s sex education? Do we know enough?

A mere “been there, done that” in our resume will not, by any measure, make us qualified instructors. Sex education does not consist of the actual act alone. There are deeper and more important aspects to this subject.

Take for starters the process of conception. How many among us know exactly what goes on inside the body after the sexual act is culminated? Do we have a working knowledge on proper timing and the series of events that could lead to pregnancy?

If we parents have to handle our children’s sex education ourselves, we should at least have this information at hand. Knowing how today’s teenagers are, a mere warning that sex can lead to pregnancy is no longer enough. If we are to expect them to listen and heed our words of caution, we need to make them understand the hows and whys. And for this, each parent has to be prepared.

But how prepared are we?

It is my contention that we parents should get our sex education first before we even dare contemplate handling that of our children’s. What exactly do we know anyway? We have experience, sure. But how many among us actually took the time to pick up a book on this matter simply because we wanted to know or as preparation for “the talk”?

The sad reality is that parents, in general, no matter how educated they may be, are simply too unprepared for this job! Take me, for instance. I am fairly well educated in the sense that I have two degrees under my belt, but this did not in any way prepare me on this subject.

Until my late twenties, I didn’t have a clue about what goes on inside me. My menstruation came and went and that was it! The total extent of what I knew then was that I could get pregnant the moment I started having my period. Naturally, I assumed that I’d get right to having babies after I got married! I took an active interest only when I discovered my infertility problem.

And I’m not alone in this. People I know, most of whom are mothers, are clueless on such matters as fertile periods, ovulation, fertilization, etc. Most women take these for granted. Based on my own experience, only women with infertility problems and desperate to have babies make the effort to understand the reproductive process. Those who are not as unlucky take this miracle as a matter of course … it just happens, part of being alive, just like breathing.

Another aspect of sex education concerns sexually transmitted diseases. If we are to put the fear of God in their hearts, we should at least know what these are, how they could be contracted, and what exactly it could do to their bodies! Corollary to this comes the need to teach teens about protection. Do we know of any other method in addition to abstinence and condoms?

How about contraception? Do we know enough about this subject? Incidentally, are we willing to teach our daughters how to have sex safely and responsibly?

There are also moral, religious, spiritual, and social aspects that are equally, if not more important than basic knowledge of the birds and the bees. Can we carry on an informative discussion based merely on what we actually know?

How can we impress upon our sons and daughters the responsibility that comes along with sex? How do we warn them of the evils of unwanted pregnancy? Can we still instill the values of purity and abstinence amidst the sexual images that bombard them from all sides?

Shall we opt for the traditional “God-will-punish-you-if-you-have-sex” method? Realistically speaking, this strategy simply does not work anymore. Nor does it make sense to teens these days. In fact, many young adults simply cannot understand why they have to wait for marriage before engaging in sex. In this modern day setting, we’ll be hard put to find a virgin bride!

To the questions that I posed, the reader may answer: I can always learn. Indeed, if we believe that there is need for sex education, we can always scour the internet or devour every book on the subject.

But then, we cannot just assume that every parent out there is equipped with this capability. Lest we forget, there are more people, particularly in rural areas, who have had minimal education, and whose total knowledge can be summed up in these few words: doing it sometimes lead to pregnancy, sometimes not. Can we reasonably expect them to handle their own children’s sex education? Wouldn’t it result to one vicious cycle that goes on and on?

I believe that sex education should be introduced in the high school curriculum. I also believe that parents should become equally involved. There should be no more disagreement as to who should take this responsibility. After all, we are talking here of what is best for all of this country’s children – and this alone should be sufficient reason for everyone to start working together as one.