With Great Distinction

My daughter sat hunch over on a bar stool, and her eyes were glued to her MacBook sitting on top of our kitchen center island. She was watching her university’s President give the ceremonial address on-line. At the end of his speech he conferred to all the graduates, who were watching at their homes, their respective batchelor, master, and doctorate degrees.

It was sad that the commencement ceremony end up in this manner. No marching of the students with their cap and gown on a large auditorium. No roll calls announcing the names as they receive their honor and diploma. No adoring family and friends applauding as their graduate walk up the stage.

The ceremony culminating the hard fought four years of college was a letdown, and I felt sorry for my daughter that her graduation rites came to be this way. Damn this corona virus pandemic!

I certainly know the awful feeling of not being able to march for your graduation, for I myself was denied of that opportunty when I finished my medical school. Though the circumstances in mine was totally different and I have only myself to blame. The memory is still painful up to this day, but that’s a different topic for another day.

However, despite the bittersweet turn of events, there is a momentous achievement that cannot be denied.

Seventeen years ago when our daughter started her formal schooling, we had serious fear. This is a girl who did not speak until she was past the age of four that we even consulted a speech pathologist. When she was about to be a kindergarten, she only speaks in words and sometimes phrases, but not sentences. It’s not that she’s unintelligent, at least that was what we want to believe, she was just different.

We knew that if we enrol her to a conventional school she would be labeled by her teachers, and most likely be bullied by her classmates. But most of all we were worried that she may not develop into the fullest potential that we know she is capable of. That was when we decided to homeschool her. And it was one of the best decisions we ever did.

I commend my wife who did the heavy lifting in homeschooling our kids. I know that there were days that it was a struggle. Yet we pressed on. We were always looking for ways to tap their strengths and fortify their weaknesses, especially in our daughter, hoping to unlock her abilities. But more importantly, we asked for heaven’s guidance in all our undertaking.

Math came easy for her, but language and communication was her Waterloo, and constructing even a 2 or 3 sentence essay was a difficult endeavor. Thus we chose a curriculum that was literature heavy and had them read 20 to 30 short story books or classic novels per school year. One bright thing that happened was when we introduced her to music, it became her language and she found her voice.

We homeschooled her until highschool. Besides the education we had at home we also used tutors to prepare her for college. This included lots of music activities as well. And as she entered college, we were again uncertain of how she would adapt to conventional school. Did we educate her enough? Did we train her enough? Did we equip her enough?

Four years of college had gone by. It went so fast like a blink of an eye. Our daughter did not just survived college, she thrived in it. She got scholarship and maintained it throughout. We were relieved and we felt vindicated.

For any of you my readers, who have a child or know of a child who may be struggling in school, I want you to continue to believe in them. I am convinced that there are no dumb kids. They only have different and individual ways of learning, and we as parents and educators just need to discover their potential. Invest in them, including your time, and if you need to take over their education, then do so.

On this occasion of epic magnitude, our joy is magnified. With magnificent pride and with magnanimous love, we present to the world our 2020 graduate. And she even did it with a Latin honor of Magna Cum Laude.

our graduate

We thank all our family and friends who supported us through this journey, and to God be the glory!

(*She missed Summa Cum Laude by a very slim fraction. But we are not complaining. Magna Cum Laude translates as “with great distinction.”)

A Silver Lining

They say that in every dark cloud there is a silver lining. I totally understand that what is going through our world today with this pandemic is alarming and quite nerve-racking to many, yet maybe there are some lessons we can learn from this time of crisis.

I read from one blogger from Italy, a nation that is hardly hit by this COVID-19 pandemic, on how he have learned something from this calamity. He said that he has a “bad” habit of going to a coffee shop 3 to 4 times a day. But since many establishments are closed, coffee shops included, he now brings to work coffee from home in a thermos, and he realized that he was wasting lots of money before. An eye-opening reality.

A day in Florence Italy, before COVID-19 scare

I agree with his realization. Do we really need to go to the coffee shop several times a day? Do we really need to spend lots of our time and money in clubs and bars? Do we really need to eat in a restaurant every night just because we can? Do we really need to go to the mall to buy that 100th pair of shoes?

What we might think is important before, may not be so important after all. This changing times changed our perspective.

I have a friend that posted a photo of a store where uniformed police officers standing guard to a huge pile of toilet paper. That may be extreme, but I believe they were trying to enforce a limit on how much a buyer could get. Who would have thought that we will see something like this, for all we know is they guard only valuable things like gold bars and jewelries. I guess you cannot wipe your behind with your jewelries, nor could it make you clean.

In time of crisis we determine which ones are needs, and the rest are just wants.

It is also interesting in this crucial time that we now have deemed the healthcare workers, (from doctors, nurses, to even the ones that clean and sanitize our hospitals), and the farmers who provide our food, and the grocery workers that stock our food, and the truck drivers that keep the pipeline of essential supplies going to where it is needed, and the police officers that implement the law of lockdowns and curfews – are people more important than movie actors and actresses, pop singers, professional athletes, and other famous people we used to treat as gods.

I have nothing against famous people. What I am against is how we view them compared to the people around us that give us valuable service. Let us give these “regular” people their proper due.

Since we are advised to do social distancing, I encourage all of us to do our fair share of this. I know some of the recommendations by the health authorities may not be feasible to some. Like there is a recommendation that no group of 10 or more people should gather together. But how about those people in very densely populated cities where there might be 10 people already sleeping in one room? How can you do social distancing of at least 6 feet apart, if you already live like sardines?

As we are forced to stay home, let us just be grateful to spend time with our own family – our children, our parents, our siblings – the most important people in our lives that we barely spend time with before. Even though we are not in a beautiful vacation resort or in a cruise to an exotic place, may we find this opportune time with our families, inside the four walls of our home, precious and productive.

It is quite sad to think that it took a pandemic for us to set straight our priorities in life. I know that this crisis will also pass just like every problem we have, but I hope that the lessons we learned from this, we will not forget.

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(*Photo taken during our visit last year, way before the travel ban and lockdown.)

Milestones

(Below is what’s I wrote in our holiday greetings/newsletter that we gave out for this year.)

When we go on road trips, we often take notice of those numbered markers at the side of the road. These are mile markers or milestones telling us how far we’ve come. In our life’s journey there are also milestone events.

Some milestones are simple, yet joyous. Like when your kids graduated from diapers and are fully toilet trained. We are way, way past that milestone, yet we cherish those moments for children are small only for a short time.

Some milestones are bittersweet. Like when your firstborn leave home for college. We are past that too, as our daughter has been in college for a few years now. In fact she will be graduating next year, which will be another milestone.

Some milestones are just sad. Like when you become empty nesters. We’re not there yet, as our son still lives with us, but not for long. He will be a senior in high school this coming school year, and will be off to college in another blink.

There are some milestones you don’t want to broadcast. Like when you hit 50, and realize that you’re old. Both my wife and I are past that too but we did not have much fanfare about it.

But there are some milestones you’re simply proud of. And that’s the kind of milestone we are having this year. My wife and I are celebrating our 25th wedding anniversary. I know further adventure awaits us and we are looking to more milestones on this journey.

There are events though that are more than just milestones. They are earth shattering and have altered the course of history. Like when Jesus came to this earth to save us from our sins. It changed the destiny of us all. We celebrate His birth on this Holiday season.

May we all experience a Blessed Christmas and a Prosperous New Year.

(*pictures from our photo file)

Thoughts From An Old Couch

Where do old couch go?

Few days ago, my son and I carried out our old couch to the end of our driveway for waste management to pick-up. Would it be recycled into a new form or would it rest in a land fill? I don’t know. This is not the first time though, that I have dealt with a couch on a curb.

About two and a half decades ago, I came to United States on a training visa to start my medical residency. I had one suitcase in hand which was all my belongings plus a few dollars in my wallet. Leaving our home in the Philippines, I arrived in Morristown, New Jersey and stayed with another Filipino medical resident whom I just met. I crashed at his apartment for I have no place of my own.

One day we saw a couch left at the street curb to be picked up by the garbage collector. Seeing that the couch still has some life left on it, I thought it could be of use to me. My friend and I scooped up the sofa before the garbage truck could pick it up. Of course we inspected it first and it passed our visual and smell test.

A month later after I received my first paycheck, I was able to move to my own apartment. My friend and I transported the couch from his residence to mine which was 1 kilometer away. No, we did not load it on a truck for we had no truck. We carried it through that distance. Even though it was not that big, it seemed that it got heavier and heavier as we went further along. Especially considering that we were two scrawny and muscularly-challenged guys.

Good thing was, midway, somebody saw us struggling with our load. She flagged us down and asked how far we were going. We were actually already sitting (and panting) on the couch taking a break at the side of the road. The lady lent us a furniture dolley so we can roll the sofa instead of lifting it, and she said to just bring it back when we’re done. That was nice of her. That was one of my first impression of that place – that people were nice and trustful of their neighbors.

The lady even asked if it was some kind of a special “oriental” couch that we were transporting. Perhaps she was wondering if it was that valuable that we would go through all that trouble. If only she knew that we just picked it up from the street curb.

Several months later, my wife got her visa and came to America to join me. We used that salvaged couch for a couple of years. When we moved to New York, we did not bring it along anymore. We left it at a street curb for the garbage collector or perhaps somebody else to pick up. Did it find another owner? I don’t know.

We moved several more times since then and in fact, we had 10 different address changes until we finally moved to our current address. It seemed like we were in a witness-protection program that we kept on moving, roughly every year. However, we are living in our present home for 14 years now and counting.

Regarding this couch that my son and I just placed at the curb, we bought it when we were still in Florida after we moved out of California. We got it on a clearance sale. We really did not care about its blue color, but my wife thought she could make a cover for it. Her family’s business when they were growing up in Pampanga was making drapes and seat covers. After she made a phone call to her brother and asked for some tips, she sewed a white fabric cover for our couch. It turned out pretty good actually.

We hauled this sofa along when we eventually moved here in Iowa. We have sat on it, lounged on it, spilled food on it, my kids barfed on it and I spent many lazy days sleeping (and drooling) on it. Over the years of use the covers that my wife made got torn and for a long time now we were just tossing a white blanket over it. It has seen better days and now it is time for it to have another life apart from us.

As we placed our couch at the curb, I sat there for a few moments, reminisced, and watched as the season (and our life’s season) turns. There are so many things to be thankful for. Including old couches.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

(*photos taken with an iPhone)

Electric Outlet Plugs and Precious Memories

I am taking a break from studying. I took two re-certification exams from American Board of Internal Medicine for different subspecialties this year. One in May and another this November. Next up is for another subspecialty, but it’s not until September next year. So I’ll chill out for now.

Because of the preparation I did for the boards, I have spent a lot of time reading and studying. I chose to review in my daughter’s room. Since my daughter is in college now and her room was empty, I took residence there and used her study table which is near the window. It was nice and quiet there plus it has a great view of the outside.

I also downloaded my favorite music for studying in Spotify and had it playing while I was reviewing. My go-to music when I’m studying is Jim Chappell’s. I discovered him back in the early 1990’s when I was preparing for my Philippine Medical Boards. His music is calming and perfect for quiet reflection. It puts me in a right mood too, I guess.

As I was studying in my daughter’s room, I was surrounded by her articles and effects – the stuff toys she had in one corner, the favorite books she read in the book case, the medals and trophies in the shelf, and other sort of things. Lots of memories tied to all of these items.

Then I noticed that some of the electric outlets in her room still has the plastic plug covers. We child-proofed our home and placed these outlet plugs when we moved into this house years ago. She was still a little girl at that time. Obviously we place those covers to protect her from being electrocuted in case she stuck her little fingers on those electric outlets.

But time has passed so quickly it seems that she has grown up and we have not noticed that she don’t need those outlet plug covers anymore. She probably left some outlets covered as she did not need them anyway. The wallpaper in her room may also require some updating as it was from the original owner of the house. But my daughter said she liked them, so we let it be.

I took out the plastic outlet plugs now for there were no use for them anymore. Besides I have to plug my laptop, my phone, and my portable speaker near her study table.

My daughter will be finishing college this year with a degree in Music. In fact, a few nights ago we attended her cello solo recital at the university. In a few months she’ll be performing in her final senior piano recital which will be a bigger event, since piano is her major.

It seems not too long ago that she was sticking her fingers in the peanut butter jar, playing dirt and picking dandelions in our yard. Today, those beloved beautiful fingers are electrifying musical instruments. We are glad we protected them from harm, including injury from electric outlets.

Below is a photo of my daughter during her recent cello recital. She was accompanied by her piano professor.

It is kind of funny that even the simplest of things like an outlet plug cover will evoke such precious memories. Or maybe it was the music that I was listening to that made me.

Alright, I’ll blame it all on the music.

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Here’s Jim Chappell’s song, “Precious Memories.” (video from Youtube)

He Checked Out

It is a lonely world out there.

Yes, we have this modern technology of all the world being connected and wired through broadband networks, internet, Wi-Fi, and all platforms of social media, and yet the proportion of the population suffering from loneliness and depression is on the rise at a rate that we have never seen before.

A couple of weeks ago, a man suffering from Parkinson’s disease presented to the hospital for progressive weakness and failure to thrive. He needed to be placed on a non-invasive ventilator (BiPAP) for respiratory failure. He was admitted to the ICU by my partner the night before.

I went to see the patient the next morning. Before going in to the patient’s room the nurse at the station made a comment to me, “I think he just has no more will to live.”

I examined the patient and I spoke to him. Despite him on the BiPAP mask, he was still able to communicate. After learning more about him, he expressed to me that he wanted to be DNR (Do Not Resuscitate), meaning, to let him go peacefully if his heart stops.

I learned from the patient too that his wife passed away recently. He also had a son that lives in the area but he did not want him contacted. His next of kin that he put on record was his church pastor.

I tried to get him off the non-invasive ventilator but his oxygen saturation dropped so we had to place him back on it. But I told him that we could take him off the BiPAP mask briefly to let him eat, however he said that he had no appetite.

After our initial work-up, his condition was still a conundrum. He was not in congestive heart failure. He had no apparent pneumonia. He had no viral or bacterial infection. He was just unwell.

I think the nurse’s assessment was spot on. The patient simply gave up on living.

That night, a little past midnight, my phone rang. It was one of the ICU nurse telling me that our patient went bradycardic (low heart rate) and then went into PEA (pulseless electrical activity). The nurse commented, “He checked out.” He gave up the ghost and died.

The saddest part as I learned later, was that there were no friends nor family that visited him. There was nobody around, except for our hospital staff, when he died.

I don’t really know what was the story behind this patient. What I know is that he was lonely and that he did not care to live anymore. What if somebody was there for him? Could it have made a difference?

Please take time to show people, specially our loved ones that we care.

(*photo taken from here)

Tag-lagas: Isang Balik-Tanaw

(Nais ko po muling balikan ang isang akda na aking isinulat walong taon na ang nakalipas, inilathala Oktubre 7, 2011.)

Lumalamig na naman ang simoy ng hangin dito sa amin. Tumitingkad na rin ang mga kulay ng mga dahon at nagiging ginintuan at pula. Unti-unti rin silang nalalagas, nalalaglag at kumakalat sa lupa. Dahan-dahang namang kumukupas ang mga luntiang kulay ng damo sa aming paligid.

Lipas na naman ang tag-araw. Hindi magtatagal ay tagginaw na naman. Lilipad na naman at babalut sa kapaligiran ang puting niyebe.

Nakaupo at nakahalukipkip sa isang sulok ng aming tahanan ang aking nanay. Siya ay dumadalaw sa amin dito sa Amerika, at mahigit dalawang buwan na rin siyang namalagi dito. Ito ay pangatlong pagkakataon niyang makarating dito sa aming lugar. Ang unang dalaw niya dito, mga ilang taon na ang nakalilipas, ay sa kalagitnaan ng tag-lamig, dahil gusto raw niyang masaksihan ang niyebe. Ngunit dahil sa sumusuot sa butong ginaw ng tag-lamig dito, ay ayaw na niyang manatili at maranasang muli ang tagginaw.

Dahil na rin siguro sa kanyang edad, ay hindi na siya mahilig mag-lalabas at mamasyal. Pinipili pa niyang umupo sa isang tabi at maiwan na lamang sa loob ng aming bahay. Masaya na siya sa panonood sa kanyang mga apo, o dumungaw sa bintana at magmasid sa kapaligirang mundo na patuloy sa pag-ikot. Maaring maligaya na siya na magbalik tanaw na lamang sa mga kasaysayan ng kanyang buhay.

Lahat ay nagbabago. Walang sinisino.

Malaki na rin ang ipinagbago ng aking ina mula ng ako’y unang tumulak parito sa Amerika. Hukot na ang kanyang tindig. Mahina na ang kanyang mga kamay: mga kamay na minsang panahon ay malalakas sa pag-aaruga sa aking kabataan. Malabo na rin ang kanyang mga mata: mga matang minsa’y kay linaw sa pagbabantay noon sa aking kalikutan. Purol na rin ang kanyang pandinig: mga tengang dati-rati ay matalas na dumidinig ng aking mga iyak at tawag. Mabagal na rin ang kanyang mga hakbang: mga hakbang na noon ay mabibilis sa paghabol sa aking kamusmusan, para ako’y malayo sa panganib.

Pana-panahon lamang ang lahat, ika nga nila. Ang oras ay tumatakbo, hindi naghihintay kaninuman.

Ilang araw pa ay tutulak na muling pabalik sa Pilipinas ang aking nanay, parang ibong manglalakbay na lumilipad patungong timog upang tumakas sa nagbabadyang masungit na taglamig.

Hindi ko alam kung ilang pag-kikita at ilang pag-papaalam pa ang nalalabi sa amin. Panahon lamang ang makapagsasabi. Sana ay nakapagdulot ako ng kasiyahaan bilang isang anak sa aking ina. Ito lamang ang pinaka-matamis na ala-alang maipapabaon ko sa kanya.

Hindi magtatagal ay mauubos at mahuhulog na rin ang lahat ng dahon sa mga puno, at matitira na lamang ay mga hubad na sanga at tangkay nito. Mananatili itong pawang tigang at patay…… hanggang sa panahon ng tag-sibol at muling magsisimula ang panibagong buhay.

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(*Post note: Ang aking ina ay tuluyan nang namaalam tatlong taon matapos kong isulat ang akdang ito.)

(**autumn photo taken from the web)

Bye at the Window

It’s autumn here in our part of the world and the leaves are changing colors. We see them everyday as we peek through our windows. In fact, we can watch the time go by through our windows and witness not just the changing of the leaves.

When our son was much younger, he would always tell us when we leave to wave goodbye at the window. So as our car would pull out of our driveway, he would be watching at the window and waving goodbye. He would feel bad if we would not wave back at him. It was his some sort of reassurance that everything would be alright. He would do this especially with his mom that it became their tender ritual. So when my wife would leave him even for a very short errand he would say, “Bye at the window, Mom.”

Children seems to have a hard time dealing with being left behind. Remember the first time we let them sleep alone in their bedroom? They would do all kind of delaying tactics so that we would not have to leave them in their room for the night.

Like, “Can you check for spiders on my bed?” “There’s none left, the monster under your bed ate them all.”

Or, “Can I have another drink of water?” “That’s your 5th glass of water, you will pee on the bed.”

I don’t know about you, but our kids did something similar. However we had to be firm in our actions so they would develop that sense of independence.

Maybe you remember when you dropped your kids on their first day of school in kindergarten. Perhaps some of them clung tightly at your skirt or perhaps they wrapped around your leg and would not let go. We have not really experienced dropping our kids in kindergarten since we homeschooled them, but I just wonder what kind of fiasco they could have done.

Our kids are grown up now. Our daughter has been gone for a few years and is almost done with college, while our son is a junior in high school. He still home schools, but he now attends some Advanced Placement classes in a community college nearby. He also drives now, and a couple of months ago his driver’s license was upgraded that he can drive all by himself but still has a restriction that he cannot drive alone after midnight or before five o’clock in the morning.

Few weeks ago, my son humorously told my wife (*in a deeper voice too*), “Bye at the window, Mom.” But this time it was he who was leaving, and my wife was the one waving goodbye at the window.

My wife said that it really felt weird and different this time. She felt so nostalgic as my son was pulling out of our driveway and she waved goodbye at the window for the longest time until the car made a turn at the street corner and disappeared from her sight.

There is definitely a twinge of sadness on these rites of passage. Yet, they must come to pass.

I think we had it wrong all along. It is not our kids, but it is us parents who have a hard time letting go.

(*photo taken by my wife as my son drives away)