Someone to Watch Over Me

“Your bear needs a car seat”.

With a knowing smile, that’s what one of my partners at work told me, a few days ago. He was talking about the teddy bear in my car.

He claimed his curiosity was piqued when he saw a teddy bear securely strapped with a seatbelt in the back seat of a car, and wondered whose car was it. Then he saw a white lab coat with a name embroidered on it, hanging on the back rest of the front seat. He then learned that it was mine.

I was busted for having a teddy bear in the car!

my silent passenger

You probably wondering, why does a grown-up man have a toy bear?

That teddy bear was placed by my wife in my car right after our son was born. We were still in Florida at that time. It was for the purpose that whenever our baby rides in my car, there’s a toy that he can play with to keep him quiet, and also to keep him company in the back seat.

Sure enough, whenever my son and even my daughter whose 5 years older, rode in my car, they played with that teddy bear. It pacified them. It cheered them. It kept them company. My son even gave it a name. He called it “Dr. Teddy.”

That was some time ago.

We have changed home address at least 3 times, moved to Iowa since, and I even replaced my previous car. But that bear remained in the back seat of my car.

And my son? He does not even sit in the back seat anymore. He now sits in the front seat whenever he rides with me.

In the US, the traffic law of most states only allow children to sit in the front seat of a vehicle if they are more than 80 pounds, or more than 5 feet tall, or more than 12 years of age. My son is all of the above now.

My daughter? She herself has been driving for about a year already.

Perhaps I just did not notice how time have gone so fast that that bear was not needed anymore. Or perhaps I was too busy and just did not have the time to remove the teddy bear. Or maybe I just cannot let go of the bear, and the period of time and the memories it represents.

Though I don’t particularly miss tangling with infant carrier, or futzing with car seats, or changing diapers.

For you parents with little children, who probably gets annoyed with the ritual of fastening carriers and car seats, or perhaps are fed up of the duty of changing the dreaded dirty diapers: embrace these rites of passage. For tomorrow, you blink, and they’re gone, except for the memories.

Or maybe, just maybe, that the bear was not really for my kids, but for me. Someone to watch over me, and keep me company when I’m all by myself.

The bear stays.

(*photo taken with an iPhone)

One Sleepless Night

I woke up to the sound of crying. It was coming from my son’s bedroom. It was not a wailing cry but rather of a quiet whimpering. I am not a light sleeper, for I can sleep through thunder, storms and screaming sirens. But somehow I was awakened, perhaps it was the parent in me that heightened my sensation to this kind of sounds.

I called my son to come to our bedroom. When he came in and I asked him what was wrong, he answered matter-of-factly, “I cannot sleep.” It was about midnight.

It was just our third night after we came back from the Philippines. With the 14-hour time difference between Manila and Des Moines, it was understandable that our day and night biorhythm was way out-of-order. Though I confess, I had no problem falling asleep that night, as I already started working the next day we arrived, and with my ICU rotation, that made me very tired. In fact, I was even on-call the night before, so my body was so sleep deprived that no amount of jet-lag can keep me from sleeping.

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Goodbye Manila! (photo taken after taking off at NAIA)

I asked my son to hop into our bed and tried to console him. He is usually jolly most of the times and we know that he is unafraid of the dark. Perhaps it was being alone in the dark with nobody to talk to, while everybody else was sleeping that made him doleful. Or maybe it was the fact that for the past couple of weeks he was sleeping with lots of people (his cousins) in a room, and now all of a sudden he is by his lonesome in his bedroom and he is missing all of them. Or maybe it was just the exasperation of lying awake for more than 2 hours and cannot fall asleep.

My son then asked me what can he do to fall asleep. He asked me this not because he knows that I am a Board-certified sleep expert, but because I am his dad. I told him that he can read a book, but he was not interested in that. I then suggested that he can eat a banana for it has tryptophan that can induce the body to produce melatonin, a natural sleep-inducer, but he was not convinced with my science. (Of course I won’t offer him to take any medications for sleep.) That was when I told him to count sheep. He asked me where did I get that silly idea, and I told him that I learned it not from my medical books but rather from Sesame Street, when I was about his age.

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Ernie counting sheep (courtesy of Sesame Street)

At that point, he already stopped crying. I quietly accompanied him out of our bedroom and back to his room so as not to wake up his mom whom we left sleeping in our bed. I told him he can play with his Lego while I climbed up in my son’s bed and lay there just to keep him company. Maybe I can finally get back to sleep.

However, as I laid there in my son’s bedroom, it was my turn to be wide awake. My mind cannot stop wandering…..

I thought of the many times that I have read bedtime stories to this boy who is now contentedly playing on the floor, and the thousand of times I have tucked him to bed. I also recalled the instance that he called me one night in distress and would not go to sleep as there was a “big” (it was really an itsy-bitsy) spider on the wall near his bed. There were also a few opposite occasions in the past, that we brought him to an evening event but he fell asleep through the show and missed it all. In fact, it was just a little more than a week ago when we were in Manila, and our relatives wanted to show us the new dancing fountain in Rizal Park, but my son was too tired and fell asleep throughout the trip. I ended up taking a video of the fountain instead and showed it to him in the morning. Oh there were more wonderful memories……

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Luneta’s new dancing fountain (photo taken with iPhone)

After an hour of me lying awake in my son’s bedroom, my wife woke up and came in to the room and joined me in my son’s bed. Several minutes later, my son finally got tired and grab his sleeping bag from the closet and slept on the floor, while me and my wife laid in his bed. Not too long after he was in La La land.

I hope someday my son will remember this night, and appreciate what his old man did for him. I did not do anything really, except laid in his bed and kept him company in one long sleepless night.

Or maybe someday when I am in my golden years, and I feel alone in the darkness of our retirement home, that I will pick up the phone in the wee hours of the morning and call my son to return the favor, and tell him, “Son, I cannot sleep.”

Fire and Rain

The past several weeks has been a roller coaster ride of emotions for me and my family. First was shock. Followed by joy. Next came more shock. Then grief. (see previous post)

In the few days that followed after our painful loss, a friend of mine asked me if we should cancel the camping for the boys that has been planned for a while, before all the unexpected turn of events had happened. He told me that maybe our family needs to spend time alone in our mourning.

So I asked my wife about this, but she was quick and firm to say that the plans for the boy’s outing should push through. She added that she will be fine while I am away. Besides, my son, who was really looking forward to this trip will be very disappointed if the camping will be postponed.

Yes we grieve for our loss, but we should also continue to celebrate life. For life should go on. No, life MUST go on. I tell you that life can be like butterfly wings: beautiful, yet can be delicate and fragile. But there’s nothing more resilient and tenacious than the human spirit.

Thus me and my son, together with our friends – another father and son team, headed to a lake-side camp and spent two days in the wild. Well it was not really the wild, for we slept in a cabin, that has heat, air-conditioning and even a refrigerator. There were two bunk beds, spacious enough for the four of us. By the way, this trip was only for the boys, but in a few weeks, our whole family, together with other families, will go for a “real” camping, that is sleeping in tents.

One of the main activity in the camp was building a fire. We enjoyed gathering firewood and sticks and starting our own fire like skilled boy scouts. OK, OK, we cheated. We brought lighter and wood fire starter, so it was no sweat at all. We spent hours and hours sitting around the campfire and staring at the fire. We burned woods, sticks, barks, leaves, paper, plastic, paper plates – basically anything we can find to burn. A little open fire brings out the pyromaniac in anybody.

Of course we cooked our meal too in the fire: hotdogs and marshmallows! What is camping without hotdogs and s’mores? We could have sung “Kumbaya” as well, but we’re too busy munching on our “perfectly” cooked food. Well for assurance, just in case we cannot start a fire, my wife did not let us leave without bringing chicken adobo and cooked rice. So we are not really left alone in the wild to fend for ourselves and survive without provisions.

During the early evening, angry rain clouds with gutsy winds came over. Rain fell over our campgrounds . But the rain did not extinguish our fire nor did it dampen our spirits. The rainfall did not spoil our fun, it just made the night more interesting. My son and his friend grab the umbrellas (yes, we even had umbrellas!) and frolic and dance around the fire. It was a mix of Native American fire dance and Gene Kelly’s Singin’ in the Rain. Minutes later, the clouds rolled away, and the twinkling stars appeared up in the sky.

This experience just reminded me that in life, even when the winds blow and rain pours, if we just hold on for a little longer and keep our flame burning, we will make it through, and we will see the stars again.

We also spent at least a couple of hours biking (we did hauled our bikes along) around the lake which has a nice bike trail, a loop of about 6-7 miles. Along the trail there was a covered bridge, an old round barn, farmlands, parks, beautiful lake-side houses, and of course the lake. It was certainly a scenic bike ride. Halfway through the trail, there was even a cozy diner that serve breakfast, lunch and dinner. So we were far from starving at all!

We did not do any water activity like fishing, kayaking or swimming as it was still too cold for the season. There are many pictures hanging on the wall of the cozy diner exhibiting photos of people showing off their prized catch from the lake, indicating that this place is a prime location for fishing. Maybe we will do that when we return some other time, so we will have big fish stories to brag about. Or should I say “fishy” stories.

As we were going home, I asked my son if he enjoyed our trip. He gave me a wide grin. I don’t need to ask more.

Life indeed continues.

A Very Expensive Board

Few years ago, I paid for a very expensive piece of cardboard. How expensive? $200 for a small piece! Holy Iowa cow! Am I nuts? Here’s the story.

It was a Sunday, and my family drove to Walnut, Iowa, which is known for its antique shops. We were not looking for anything particular, we just want to look around.

After going in and out of so many stores, we entered one in particular that was full of antique mirrors. The mirrors were beautiful, but all of them were expensive. And there was this one that is heptagon-shaped, with exquisite hand painted decoration on the borders of the mirror, and was made in the 1940’s. It was sitting on the floor and was leaning against the wall. I looked at it, but it was not my type (meaning: too expensive). So I passed on it.

My son, who was 2 and half at that time, whom I was towing along, was being himself – hyperactive as always, as most small boys are. Then suddenly, it happened right before my eyes. My son while running down the hall (he miraculously escaped from my grip), accidentally swiped the mirror and it fell face down to the floor. The beautiful mirror was multiplied……… into several broken pieces that is!

The shop clerk came running when she heard the crash. She was unhappy, and that is an understatement. By the look in her face, I knew we have no chance of getting out of the store without a dear consequence.

I ended up paying for the mirror. $200 for a broken mirror. And since I paid for it, I decided to take home the cardboard where the mirror was mounted. I did not take the broken sharp glass pieces, as they may cause more injuries to me, adding to my bad luck. Will I really have 7 years of bad luck?

On our way home, I stayed calm and was not hard on my boy. It was an accident afterall. Why break a $200 Million child for a $200 broken mirror? Besides, I don’t believe in bad luck, and I already have countless blessings from this boy who broke the mirror.

I still don’t know what to do with that $200 piece of cardboard. It still sits in our closet up to this day. Maybe someday I’ll figure out a way to turn it into something useful. And if not, it’s already worth priceless memories.

Son Eats Dad, Checkmate

I like playing chess. My father gave me a chess set very early in my childhood, and I learned how to play chess long before I learned how to ride a bike. I even had a chess book that I read when I was in grade school, to  improve my game.

Less than a year ago, I taught my son (he was six at that time) how to play chess. I was happy he grasped the concept of chess very well. Since then he will often challenge me  to a game of chess. But his novice mind is out of match to his strategy-experienced dad.

We have a chess game application programmed in our computer, and my son will frequently play this. He becomes frustrated stating he cannot beat it. He even requested me to buy him a chess book so he can learn to beat our computer. I smiled at his naivety, as I try to explain to him that it is impossible for humans to defeat the computer in a game of chess.

The other day while I was reading a book, my son again challenged me to a game of chess. I continued reading in between my chess moves. Then I realized I made a simple blunder (for lack of concentration), that my son took advantage of. He ate my bishop and all I got in return is a pawn. I put down my book, and concentrated on the game trying to salvage my situation. But my son kept on attacking and improving on his advantage. Few moves later I was checkmate.

It is either I am a very good teacher or the student is getting better than the teacher. Is this the beginning of a new era? I hope I can also equip my son with enough wares to do well in another chess game, we called life. But then again, he already have mustered enough strategy to beat his dad. I believe he is on his way in conquering life.

I will not be surprise if one of these days he will tell me that he finally defeated the computer in chess.

I Want My Own Cake

In a few days, I will be celebrating another birthday. For the people who know me, this is not to remind you to give me a gift (but I hope it affords you enough time to shop for one, hah!). Yes, I m getting older (older than the number of kilometers in a Marathon ), but I hope I’m also getting wiser (or not?).

There are so many things I’m thankful for, and over the years I have received several gifts on my birthday that I’m indebted for. But there are two birthday gifts in particular that cannot be topped  (even if you give me $20 M gift- but I’ll accept it just in case).

The first one is  life itself. From my first breath (or my first cry, after the doctor spanked me) up to my last breath, I will be forever grateful. To be able to  live, love, laugh, cry, walk, run, eat, drink, play, work, sleep and dream…….is something that I cannot ask for more.

The second one, may be even more precious. What?! What can be more precious than life? Well, you see, life begets life. Seven years ago, I have received a gift on my birthday, that just kept on giving. It is my son, whom I share the same birthdate.

However, since the arrival of my son, my birthday celebration became secondary to his celebration. Nuts! I also would like to have balloons and Super Mario cake of my own.