Saturday, July 31, 2010

Elsie's Smile

The first time I saw Elsie, Sister Celina was showing her an outgrown dress of my daughter’s, and telling her that it was going to be hers. Right there and then, I witnessed and was captivated by one of the most beautiful smiles I have ever seen. That was Elsie’s smile. It was hardly a smile that would qualify for a toothpaste commercial. All you could see were her gums and a few front teeth that have been eaten up and blackened by decay. But boy! was it beautiful!! It brightened up her entire face and shone with all the innocence that only children could muster. But it was more than that. Elsie’s smile that day radiated her joy and excitement at the thought that she was going to have another dress.

You see, Elsie just recently arrived at Casa Cittadini – Home for Girls. She only had one set of clothes that day she came in ... the very ones on her back. She had to borrow from the other girls during her first few days at Casa. When Sister Celina was finally able to buy her one dress, she asked a question that was of utmost importance to her: did she still have to return that dress?

That day when Sister handed her my daughter’s old dress, Elsie’s smile showed her joy as she finally understood – that dress was going to be hers alone. Nobody was going to take it back.

Today, Elsie continues to smile with that same contagious, joyous smile of hers. I would like to believe that it is a reflection of her inner joy and contentment. Having been taken in by the Ursuline Sisters at Casa Cittadini, she now lives a much better life.

Elsie’s life had not always been this good. At her tender age, Elsie already knows how it feels like to be abandoned by her own mother. Yes, tiny Elsie, who at age six looks no bigger than a four year old, has seen some of the worst that life has to offer. She still talks about her baby sister whom her father gave up for adoption due to poverty. And at that age, Elsie learned to cook rice by herself. Her case study reveals that their father often had to leave her and her brothers a week at a time because of his work. During these times, the children learned to survive on their own, sleep unaccompanied by any adult in a filthy shanty wearing the same unwashed clothes for days on end, and yes, cook rice when there was rice to be cooked.

But all that is behind her. Elsie now lives at Casa Cittadini along with 25 other girls under the care of Sister Celina and Sister Maria Fe. They all go to school and have a safe, secure, and loving home to return to each day where nutritious meals and clean, warm beds await.

Elsie is but one girl. But her life mirrors that of the 25 other girls whose life stories do not differ from Elsie’s. Fate brought them to Casa. Now they have a better shot at a future that is full of promise.

There are more institutions like Casa Cittadini that provide the same kind of service to disadvantaged children around Negros Oriental. Little Children of the Philippines, GWAVE, and GP Rehab are but a few of the non-governmental organizations that are actively working right now for these children’s welfare.

There was a time when these organizations worked individually and independent of each other and with little or no knowledge of the others’ existence. The idea to bring them together under an umbrella organization to maximize their effectiveness and to enable them to share their resources and expertise in their respective fields came up and thus, the Oriental Negros Children’s Advocacy Network (ONCAN) was formed. Under the Presidency of Baby Jambora of Chapel of the Doves, ONCAN is a fully functioning network made up of more than 30 member NGOs. It is actively working towards the advancement of its members’ capabilities and capacities with the end in view of maximizing their potential for the benefit of all the children under their care.

There are thousands more of little Elsies out there. And each of them is receiving the same kind of care and nurturing that Elsie of Casa Cittadini is getting. But the sad reality remains that there are probably hundreds of thousands more out there who have not been reached by the members of ONCAN yet. They have a daunting task ahead of them, but having seen their dedication and commitment, I am certain that they will get there.

If you wish to get involved, you may email me or visit the following websites:

(ONCAN is hiring a full-time psychologist to do counselling and evaluation of children who have been victimized, abused, or traumatized. Salary range is P10,000.00 to P30,000.00 depending on qualifications. If you are interested, please email me so I could give you more details. ONCAN will be accepting applications until August 5.)

Saturday, July 17, 2010

The Never-Ending Battle with the Bulge

What is it that women of every age, race and creed continue to obsess on? What topic would we invariably talk about whenever we’d get together? What has caused and is continuing to cause us women endless frustration and dissatisfaction the world over? What have we been battling and kept losing to over and over again?

A woman reading this would have guessed already. Yes, it’s our figure or more specifically, our loss of figure. Yeah, I know – sad isn’t it? We continually lament over our bulges ... you know, that thingy that we’d see right away when we look down? Yes, that thingy – also the culprit behind those rolling undies. They really do stand out, do they? No amount of inhaling on our part could keep those tummies in. The bulges are not that bad though. They can be a source of great amusement, but only if you have an irreverent kid like mine. My brat loves to jiggle it and watch it move about like jelly. That never fails to bring out peals of laughter ... joyful laughter from her. Mine was more of the agonized kind. (sigh!)

And did you know that we also have the much sought-after, macho male must-have six- pack? Ahh! And you thought that it’s only Taylor Lautner (Jacob of the Twilight saga) and his kind who have those!!! How wrong could you be? Heavily endowed ladies like yours truly have those too and more! But ours got misplaced. Somewhere along the way to our abs, our six-pack changed course and found its way into our backs. If you are one of those who now looks at your image in the mirror with increasing dismay, do this at home – put on a tight brassiere and a close-fitting shirt – then look at your back. You won’t miss them.

But whether it’s the bulge or the six-pack, our battle boils down to one thing: weight gain. This is a curse that most of us are born with. We only get to enjoy our slimmer selves for a short while. After the babies start coming, off to heavyville most of us go.

Weight gain almost always comes with motherhood and age. It is as inevitable as the onset of wrinkles and the white hairs. But there are those of us who hasten this process because of our passion for all the sinful food out there!

Oh! If only there is fairness in this world, the vegetables and the fish would be the definite no-nos!!! Then we’d get to tell our children ... “no, you cannot eat vegetables ... they are baaaad for your health!!!” Wouldn’t that be great? Then children would joyfully eat “healthy” food.

I have been working out in the gym these past 5 weeks because I finally admitted that dieting alone wouldn’t get me where I want to be. I recently ballooned to almost 180 lbs after I’ve had another pregnancy. In an effort to keep our baby from being lost, I had to take prednisone among other medications. The steroids, plus my mandatory bedrest and all the yummylicious food I could demand from my very attentive and compliant husband, all contributed into making me the female version of the sumo wrestler.

My yo-yo dieting actually helped me lose around 10 lbs at a time but I gained back about half of them in a matter of weeks because I didn’t do any exercise. So raised the white flag I did. I dragged myself into the gym and with a heavy heart, I joined in.

And so, as I agonized over the aches and the pains that come along with the gym scene, and as I counted off the repetitions for the weights that got heavier by the second, my mind would wonder off somewhere and dream about a parallel universe where chewing is the only exercise that we needed to do. And if we wanted to go the extra mile, we could actually add to our exercise routine using only our thumbs as we press the buttons in the remote control. Yes my like-minded sisters, in my parallel world, the best exercise there is, is lying on the bed comfortably propped up by pillows as we face the TV while munching on fat-burning lechon skin.

Yes, if only the world were fair. But back to reality I must return. My fantasies made me lose count. How many leg raises have I done already, by the way?

Friday, July 09, 2010

Falling into the Love Trap

I remember reading about a man who was watching a butterfly struggle out of its cocoon. He pitied the straining creature so he did what every Good Samaritan would do ... he helped it out to ease its passage from the dark confines of the cocoon into the bright new world that awaits it. I guess that we all know what happened next. The butterfly’s wings became crippled because of the man’s kindly efforts. Unbeknownst to him, the poor creature had to go through that painful process. The butterfly needed to struggle out of the cocoon so it could emerge whole and capable of flight.

The article went on to explain how this story is an analogy of every parent’s primordial instinct to shield their children from every hardship that would come their way. There is no argument against that. As a matter of fact, this very instinct is what guarantees the survival of our race. But as we all know, too much of anything is not always a good thing. As in the case of the man and the butterfly, a loving parent wanting to show his love through every means possible, including easing the way for his child and doing everything he could to spare his little one from going through the same struggles and difficulties he grew up with, might be doing his own child a great disservice. For he may not know it yet, but he might be raising a spineless individual, one who, not so unlike the flightless butterfly, is incapable of standing on his own two feet.

I read this article from the Readers’ Digest when I was in college, a time in my life when it felt as if things could not get any worse. To put it simply, life was very, very hard. From a relatively privileged childhood where everything got done for me by other people, I suddenly found myself living in Manila in a cramped rented room and sharing a dilapidated house with three other families. Money was very scarce. Every food on the table was a result of my father’s mighty struggle for survival. And on those times when there were none, we would walk over to a nearby used clothing store and sell off our own clothes. Then we’d have rice to cook for that day.

The circumstances surrounding my life may have been the reason why I never forgot the butterfly’s story and why I made the resolve to learn its lesson: don’t fall into the parental love trap. The word “trap” is always bad, and so it is when, loving parents as we are, we want to do everything for and give everything to our children to make their lives as easy and as struggle-free as we could make it.

And how does this translate into my being a mother? Of course, like every doting parent out there, I would never wish the life I had on my only child. But I keep reminding myself that that very life that I pray she would never get a taste of, was the very same life that moulded me into the kind of person I am now. I am a survivor. I came out of it a much stronger person. Circumstances forced me to learn early on that our parents cannot provide for all our needs all the time ... that we cannot and should not expect other people to take care of the same for us ... that later in life, when we grow up, we will have to work hard for all our needs and wants.

And so my daughter began her training on independence and self-reliance as a baby who was still learning how to walk. I was always beside her, ready to help whenever she needed me. But oftentimes when she would fall, and I knew that she could get up on her own, her mama just stood by and watched her proudly as she struggled back to her feet. Lesson: “Rely on yourself. You can do it.”

Abby’s training continues until now. She has to work hard if she were to get what she wanted. With God’s grace, hers will be a different form of struggle. I pray that she will never have to experience hunger or deprivation, but learn the value of hard work ... she must! Lesson: “Things do not come for free. You have to work hard for them.” Of course there are things that I provide to her freely – but these are things that are intended to equip her for life ahead – her needs.

Staying true to this course is also a struggle because as a mother, the desire to shower my only child with all the pampering and material comforts I could muster is understandably strong. But I try to stay on course by looking around and seeing the children who have been crippled by their parents’ great love. I see grown-up sons, married and with children, still living with their parents and relying on them to see to their own children’s every need. I see young men whose needs have always been provided for by doting parents, too lazy to fend for themselves, and resorting to theft and drug peddling for its easy money when the parents were no longer there to provide for them.

I believe that it is the little things that matter. In Abby’s school (Catherina Cittadini St. Louis School) for example, Sr. Marissa, the Principal, has always encouraged the children to take their bags to their classrooms by themselves and not to rely on their parents to do the same for them. I am certain that there are parents who oppose this policy under the mindset “why let my child do it when I can do it for him?” I could only hope that they would see how this little act can go a long way into forming their children’s character.

We can’t love our children enough. Or to put it in another way, there is no such thing as too much love. Our love has no bounds, but I also believe that too much pampering does not always translate into loving the child. This mother believes that letting a child taste a little hardship or inconvenience to prepare him for what lies ahead is a form of loving no child should go without.

Unlike that man with the butterfly, we should not make life too easy for our precious ones, lest we cripple their wings and miss the chance of seeing them take flight and soar.

A Taste of Broadway

Not all of us have the means to set foot on the US and have the chance to enjoy the musical and visual delights of Broadway musicals. In the 80’s where Madonna and Cindy Lauper ruled, I was the odd one who spent nights listening to the recordings of Les Miserables, Miss Saigon, Cats, Phantom of the Opera, West Side Story, and so many other popular musicals. I could only imagine how it must be like to be actually there, watching the musical unfold before me on the stage, and soak in all the drama and the heights and depths of a truly passionate performance by professional stage actors and actresses. I have read of the elaborate sets, the moving and revolving stages, the lights, the full orchestra with their music that could fill one’s soul ... and I could but sigh and dream and imagine! Alas! Not everyone have the good fortune.

Music continues to move me. Even with marriage and motherhood, and all the seemingly endless concerns that life brings to us daily, I still take every opportunity I could get to indulge this one interest that has persisted through the years. Fortunately, the hub of Dumaguete’s cultural soul, the one we simply refer to as “Luce”, is but a stone’s throw away.

Thursday, July 1 saw me and my daughter headed towards Luce to watch Hinilawod, an epic tale of love and heroism, of vanquishing monsters, and adventurous princes whose exploits paved the way for the rising of Panay Island from the sea. I went there expecting an enjoyable night of music of which I was not disappointed. But what I did not expect was the texture and the detail that went into everything! Simply put, the richness of the production left my mouth hanging wide open. It was simply amazing!

I guess that I had gotten used to the usual productions that we see here in Dumaguete, rich in performances but kind of minimalist in terms of settings. We focus on the performance or the story but everything else that goes around is left pretty much to the imagination.

But this time around, we walked through dark scary forests and fought horrible monsters. We entered caves and shot down a monstrous flying bat. And we survived a catastrophe which saw people drowning in gigantic waves. We witnessed everything in vivid color and vibrant sounds. We were entranced by the energy of the entire production as the story was told in songs and dances amid music and sounds made by traditional instruments.

Hinilawod was a wonderful experience and should not be missed especially by children who have always wondered how a tikbalang looks like. Too bad the tickets are all sold out. But despair not. Hinilawod will be coming our way again on April 22 and 29, 2011 as announced in its website

That is something to watch out for, for Hinilawod is not merely a production wonder. The epic itself should be introduced to our children as a source of national pride. It is a testament of our people’s creative genius and an integral part of our culture. Furthermore, the epic is a testament that the Filipinos were a far cry from the depiction of an unenlightened race that the Spaniards “discovered” and had introduced to “civilization”.

On a more personal level, this Broadway dreamer took great delight at having watched Hinilawod as it showed a little glimpse of what a Broadway musical could be like. Simply wonderful.