WHEN OUR CHILD’S WORLD CRUMBLES

In the entire span of your life as a parent, you will undoubtedly face countless challenges. You will soon discover, however, that the toughest and most hurtful are those which cause your children immense pain and suffering.

I should know.

As a parent of three young adults, I have already witnessed innumerable times how my children would struggle and, each time, my heart is ripped into tiny pieces.

  • Emar losing his front tooth when he, as a toddler, tripped on the pavement.
  • MD as a baby with a heart murmur.
  • Lala getting her hand burnt when I was cooking while she was in my arm.
  • Emar experiencing his very first loss in an academic competition.
  • MD being bullied by his classmates due to his big voice. (He never talked in school for an entire year because of that. Irked, his adviser locked him up in a tiny, dark storage room.)
  • Lala being fed by her teacher with a piece of crumpled paper.
  • Emar caught up in the throes of his first romantic break-up.
  • MD relentlessly compared with his siblings, and always found lacking.
  • Lala finding herself struggling academically in high school after she graduated valedictorian in grade school.

Just recently, Emar, our firstborn had to contend with a disappointment so great that caused his world to crumble.

Aquino, Mark Romeo 2012-26416 BS ChE PACKAGE D (HALF) FINA~2

 

Emar has always been an academic achiever. The impressive array of medals, certificates, scholarships and scholastic commendations and citations he has received and amassed since his preschool years can easily attest to his unquestionable love of learning, and to the discipline, hard work and perseverance that he continues to consistently demonstrate as a student.

It, therefore, pained us to witness how devastated he was when he learned last year that he could not graduate alongside his friends and batchmates from the UP Dep’t. of Chemical Engineering.

He was a candidate for Cum Laude, so when he and his group encountered a trouble in their Plant Visit subject, he opted to drop the said subject rather than earn a grade of 5.0 which could adversely and irrevocably affect his ‘Laude status. In UP, though, there are certain subjects that are strictly offered on a seasonal basis only. Sadly, the subject that he had to drop was one of those. (It was also a prerequisite to a subject that was a prerequisite to another subject.) So, he was left with no other option but to take his 12 remaining units in 3 successive sems (5, 4 and 3 units for each sem respectively).

We were, of course, disappointed and dejected. He was, after all, the first grandchild from both sides of the family and, thus, the first one expected to graduate in college. The entire clan, especially Tatay Bebot, his paternal grandfather, was excited to see him walk up the stage to receive his college diploma. (Sadly, Tatay Bebot would no longer get to see that day. He died of brain aneurysm last year.)

However, when we saw how miserable Emar had become because of what happened and how he would beat himself up for it, we put aside our own personal feelings to provide him with the support and assurance that he so badly needed at that time.

Thankfully, he was able to bounce back, albeit painfully, diffidently, slowly.

He used his ample time to pursue productive endeavors.

During his first underloaded sem, he became an active tutor in the three tutorial centers he was affiliated with. He mastered not only one-on-one but even class tutoring. Also, he found himself teaching not just students like himself, but also professionals reviewing for the Civil Service exam!

The next sem saw him busy completing his 300-hour internship with Petron Corporation. Assigned to its Research and Development department, he was always excited when he would learn new things and gain additional knowledge, and when he was able to actually apply the lessons he learned in the classroom into the actual processes he was allowed to be exposed to in the company lab.

He also learned how to drive, much to our chagrin and worry.

For his last sem, he planned to work while he studies. Unfortunately, his schedule didn’t permit that so he went back to tutoring, instead.

We all though that a one-year delay in his graduation was the worst ordeal that he has had to bear as a student. We thought wrong.

Yesterday, we learned that his appeal to be allowed to graduate with honors (despite underloaded sems) was denied. (Incidentally, it was also yesterday that we learned that Emar’s baby sister, Lala, who is also studying in UP, will graduate cum laude. That story would have to be for another blog post, though.) Emar has a General Weighted Average (GWA) of 1.587432, safely within the university requirement of 1.450001-1.75 for Cum Laude. Two of my children should be graduating with honors come this June but, since Emar’s reason for underloading is not considered valid under the Revised UP Code (health, employment and unavailability of subjects are the only justifiable reasons cited, a fact which we learned belatedly), only Lala will do so.

This entire experience will, undoubtedly, leave a scar on our son. The thought that people might be talking about him with either pity or ridicule (“Our high school valedictorian did not even finish college on time.”) could sometimes stop him in his tracks. The regret of not having his Tatay Bebot witness his graduation will always bring tears to his eyes. The pain of having disappointed us when he failed to graduate with honors will gnaw at him like an itch that doesn’t go away. But, this entire experience will also instill in him some hard-earned lessons on grit, humility, the values of time and family, and the uncertainty and fragility of life — valuable lessons that will, hopefully, stay with him when he is dealt with tougher challenges in the future.

Emar, anak, the path that led you to this particular moment had not been easy. It was strewn with trials, adversities, uncertainties, disappointments, difficult choices and hopes — fondest, cherished, dashed, renewed and, finally, unfulfilled. But like the true warrior that you are, you persisted. You strove. You overcame. You triumphed.

Congratulations, anak. You may not graduate a cum laude but we are still very proud of you. We are certain that you will accomplish greater things in life. Just remember never to lose heart. When you feel that the universe is conspiring against you, when trusted friends turn their backs on you, when adversities simultaneously assail you, when your best efforts are greeted with indifference, when you fall flat on your face again and again and again —just keep on going. Don’t give up. A miracle may just be around the corner, patiently waiting for you. And rest assured that when that happens, I, your daddy, your siblings, and the entire Baldonado and Aquino clans will all be by your side, cheering you on until all your dreams turn into reality.

 

IMPORTANT ADDENDUM:

Emar received a correspondence from the University Council exactly six days prior to the university graduation. The decision was reversed. My son is going to graduate Cum Laude!!!

 

 

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HOW TO SECURE YOUR CHILDREN’S SAFETY AGAINST ONLINE DANGERS

Over the years, the internet has managed to establish its role as one of our most influential partners in raising our kids. From entertainment and communications to education, it has become a reliable and, to an extent, indispensable tool for our children.

However, due mainly to the anonymity that it affords to its users, the internet has also evolved into a perfect platform for various online crimes and abusive activities.

Just recently, the news about the international cyberpornography trade that the Australian “porn king” and his Filipina live-in partner, dubbed the “Savage Girl,” have been operating in the Visayan and Mindanao areas was all over social media. The infamous couple is reported to prey on unsuspecting female street children and scavengers by luring them into their fold, torturing, molesting and forcing them to perform hideous sexual acts, videotaping them, and selling those live-stream videos to their sexually-perverted clients from across the globe. The victims’ ages range from 1-12.

There was also the case of a female student who experienced grave sexual harassment online when she posted her picture showing her at a protest rally.

Moreover, the rising number of reported cases of suicide triggered by cyberbullying, body/slut shaming or social media depression is something that is causing serious alarm to authorities.

As parents, we need to ensure that our children are protected against these cyber bullies, online predators, pornography vendors and cybercrime offenders. Here are some tips to help us safeguard our children’s online safety.

 

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Photo credit: yoursphere.com

 

  1. Talk to your children about the nature of the virtual world and the concept of digital footprint. Make them understand that, just like the real world, the cyberspace is both a wonderful and nasty place. It is a platform that offers unlimited possibilities, but with ease comes threats, with convenience comes dangers, and with functionality comes risks.

 

  1. Advise your children to be cautious and discerning about what they share online. They should, for instance, refrain from giving out personal information that could be used by identity thieves. They should never share their exact location at any given time. And they should not flaunt suggestive/revealing pictures or pictures of their personal belongings and properties. Most importantly, they should secure their social media accounts at all times.

 

  1. Tell your children never to engage in online chats with strangers. Child predators often pose as kids in chat rooms to make them seem less threatening, and when they eventually earn your children’s trust, they can easily convince their gullible victims to meet with them. That is when real trouble begins.

 

  1. Encourage your children to come to you if anything ever makes them uncomfortable. Kids are naturally hungry for attention and social acceptance. But if they are constantly taught about moral boundaries, it would be relatively easier for them to spot online jerks and to identify sexual advances disguised as sincere compliments.

 

  1. Keep the computer in a common area in the house, and create and strictly enforce ground rules on the time and length of use of that computer. If you have wi-fi in the house, customize specific rules for internet access for each of your children. To ensure compliance, inform them that offenders will be meted out with corresponding penalties.

 

  1. Monitor your children’s online activities. Be aware of the kinds of websites that your children frequently visit and the kinds of people they regularly hang out with online. You may want to invest in a recording software that would allow you to see all the data that your children have seen, received, downloaded and viewed. There are also software programs that could enable you to monitor your children’s mobile devices.

 

  1. Filter the websites that your children can access and block those harmful ones. Using parental control software products that are readily available online, you can customize the web content filtering settings appropriate for each of your children. You can also modify the default settings to add or remove sites at your discretion.

 

  1. Report to the proper authorities any incident that you suspect can expose your children to online danger. Preserve the pieces of evidence by taking screen shots of the inappropriate materials, e-mails, photos, etc. that can be used in filing a case against the offenders.

 

  1. Set an ideal example to your children by being a responsible and cautious #CyberPinoy. You cannot be a credible role model to your children if you are telling them one thing yet your actions are saying something else. Practice what you preach.

 

 

Written for and submitted to Inquirer.net

Commissioned by Globe Telecommunications Company

WHEN MY HUSBAND’S IDOL LEFT HIM

After my husband Roel’s kidney transplant in 2014, I became extra mindful of the state of his emotional health as I am aware that it has a direct effect on his physical well-being. I asked our kids and my in-laws to course any problem or serious concern that they might want to bring to my husband’s attention through me. I, then, would do the necessary filtering and the difficult task of delivering it to Roel with as much tact and care, and as little adverse impact on his health, as I could possibly manage.

The worst and most devastating news that I had to relay to him was something I received recently, on the first hour of Valentine’s day.

When I received a call from Roel’s sister in the middle of the night, I knew right away that something was amiss. But when the first sounds I heard from the other end of the line were the loud sobbing, the halting, quivering voice and the near hysteria, it became apparent to me that something was terribly wrong.

From what I could piece together from her faltering words, it appeared that Tatay Bebot, my father-in-law, was chatting with a neighbor while washing his car when he suddenly dropped. He was rushed to the nearest hospital and was performed CPR on, but to no avail.

He was declared Dead On Arrival.

Upon hearing about Tatay Bebot’s sudden and unexpected demise, I too was devastated. (He was, after all, like a real father to me in the less than 22 years that I have been married to his son.) However, I couldn’t let my emotion consume me at that time. I had a much more important and pressing mission to accomplish.

I took a deep breath, squared my shoulders, and put on my bravest face. (By then, Roel already sensed that there was indeed a problem and was anxiously and impatiently waiting for me to talk.)

“Knee, may nangyaring masama kay Tatay.”

“Ha? Ano ‘yun?”

“Isinugod siya sa ospital.”

“Tara, puntahan natin!”

“Knee, wala na siya.”

“Ano ang ibig mong sabihin na wala na siya?!!!”

“Iniwan na tayo ni Tatay. Patay na siya.”

(“Knee, something bad happened to Tatay.”

“Huh? What is it?”

“He was rushed to the hospital.”

“C’mon, let’s go to him!”

“Knee, he’s gone.”

“What do you mean, he’s gone?!!!”

“Tatay already left us. He’s dead.”)

 

And, just like that, Roel was like a melting candle.

He sunk onto our bed with a heavy thud and started wailing.

Child-like.

Woefully.

Pitifully.

Between guttural howls and whimpers were his lamentations of grief and regrets.

Knowing that he direly needed that release, I let him be for about half an hour. Then, gently yet firmly, I reminded him that we had to go to the hospital. As the eldest child, he was expected to be the family’s source of strength and direction.

Our drive to the city was the longest, most heart-wrenching drive that I have had to endure. Both held captive by our respective emotions, we were utterly quiet. The deafening silence in the car was disturbed only by the uncontrollable sobs that occasionally escaped from Roel’s throat.

Witnessing my husband in that emotional condition shattered my heart into small pieces.

When we got to the hospital and saw Tatay Bebot’s lifeless body for the first time, Roel was assailed anew by a deluge of emotions.

He only displayed a semblance of calm when he learned that Tatay did not die alone and lonely. In fact, Tatay Bebot was ecstatic because, after days of waiting, his car was finally released by the auto repair shop and he was, apparently, more than satisfied with the outcome. He wanted to bring the car to a priest the next day to have it blessed (it was recently hit by a reckless motorcycle driver from behind) which explained the late-night car-washing.

The thing with a sudden, unexpected death of a loved one is we are not spared a chance to properly say our goodbyes or anything else, for that matter, that we need to let out of our chest. That is why I decided to write this — to offer a tribute to the man who was sometimes misunderstood by the people he held closest to his heart. By writing the things that Roel, our kids and I will miss most about him, I hope to shed some light about the person he truly was and the life he lived so freely and so passionately.

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This candid shot was taken by Emar, Tatay Bebot’s first grandchild, during their HongKong trip. Here, Tatay was enjoying the view from inside a cable car.

Tatay Bebot loved driving (he was one badass driver!) and was proud of the dignity his work as a driver afforded him (he worked for almost four decades in Napocor as a driver for the Legal Dept.). He used to tell his children never to be ashamed of his job; it was, after all, his reliable partner in providing for and supporting them for many years.

He loved going to the market, particularly to the Balintawak and Divisoria Markets. He was very good at haggling, and he would always haggle with the vendors for the cheapest prices. When he does manage to get a good deal, he would buy in bulk (even if most of it would be left unused). Then he would brag about his haggling prowess. He was adorable like that.

He hated being idle. When he was neither driving nor marketing, he could be found tinkering with his car or messing around the kitchen or doing a million other things around the house.

He loved kaning tutong so much that he refused to let Nanay Leni use a rice cooker. Ever. He preferred his rice cooked the old-fashioned way.

He was a devotee of Our Lady of Lourdes, whose feast coincides with his birthday. Every year, he would hear mass in her shrine in Retiro before the family heads to a restaurant for his birthday dinner.

From the ’80s until each of his kids got married, all of them would always receive a 1,000-peso cash gift from Tatay for Christmas Day. That tradition persisted with his grandchildren, each of whom would receive the same amount during Christmas and their birthdays. Really, somebody should have taught Tatay Bebot the concept of inflation!

He was a voracious eater —this despite him being diabetic and hypertensive. He especially loved sweets. In fact, he always had a pile of chocolates stashed in their fridge.

He loved doting on his grandchildren. I remember when our kids were younger, he learned that they had taken a liking to kambing dishes. Tatay Bebot bought a whole goat and had someone cook adobong kambing, kalderetang kambing, papaitang kambing, sinampalukang kambing, kinilaw na kambing —every kambing dish imaginable — for his beloved grandchildren. He also wanted to be part of all their milestones. Once, he even traveled all the way to Cabanatuan City (where we used to live) just to attend his apos’ preschool moving-up day.

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Tatay Bebot with his wife, his children and his grandchildren

He had this funny mannerism of furiously scratching the back of his ear when he was exasperated or annoyed. It was kind of his trademark (something that Roel inherited from him). And, oh yes, how could I forget his phenomenal cussing! When provoked, he could beat Duterte in a cussing match. Hands down.

Another one of his enduring traditions was that of making rounds to distribute leche flan/ubeng haliya/bibingka to his old work colleagues every New Year’s Eve. I bet that they, too, will miss Tatay if only for that.

He was a practical joker. One of his old colleagues from Napocor shared to us during Tatay’s wake this particular anecdote. They once had an officemate whom they all suspected was a closet queen. To solve what they considered then the world’s greatest mystery, Tatay took matters into his own hands. He found the perfect opportunity when he chanced upon the co-worker one day, standing at the side of a road while waiting for his ride. Tatay, driving an unmarked vehicle with heavily-tinted windows, sharply turned the wheel to where his officemate was standing. In surprise, the clueless victim shrieked and jumped, his arms flailing wildly —while my father-in-law laughed himself crazy at his own antic. He was very proud of himself and is, up to now, widely known among his officemates for being the one responsible in unveiling the mystery surrounding the sexuality of their colleague.

He was a diligent employee. In his 39 years in service, he only had 4 absences, all of which he accrued when his mother, followed by his father, died. He consistently bagged the tardiness award, though.

He was known among family and friends to be frugal. He would always find ways to get the best possible deal. But, he also knew how to effectively manage his finances. He invested in real estates and in old cars that he would refurbish before selling, and he put his remaining money in an investment vehicle that would yield high returns — all because he didn’t want to be a burden to his family. He didn’t spend much on himself when he was still alive (even for hospitalizations) so he could leave enough for his loved ones.

He was street-wise and cynical, but he could also be compassionate. Under any other circumstance, Tatay Bebot would file a formal complaint against the motorcycle driver who recently bumped into the back of his car. But when he saw that the motorcycle was irreparably wrecked and that the driver was shamelessly nagged by his wife despite him being injured, Tatay took pity on the poor driver. Instead of obliging the driver to shoulder all the repair expenses on his car, he let the guy walk away free of any obligation to him. He even gave him some money to have himself checked at the nearest ER.

He never failed to buy lotto tickets, hoping that he would be the country’s next multi-millionaire. His ultimate dream was to build a big house with 4 floors, with each floor allotted to the family of each of his children. He wanted all of us to live together under one roof.

He was sweet. According to his niece, they were surprised to see Tatay Bebot in the audience during her graduation day. They did not  tell him about it but, apparently, he found a way to know the details so that he could witness one of the momentous events in his beloved niece’s life.

Finally, Tatay Bebot was a living proof that life can be short, precarious and fragile. I can’t emphasize that fact enough, friends. We don’t truly own our lives; all of us are living only on borrowed time. Today, we might be inadvertently neglecting our loved ones. Tomorrow, they might be gone forever — leaving us with nothing but a void so great and a long list of i-should-haves, what-ifs, guilt and regrets that no amount of tears and self-reproach can ever ease or even diminish.

TOUGH-LOVING OUR KIDS

Our parental instincts dictate that we protect our children at all times —at all costs. To shelter them from harm or even from momentary discomfort and, possibly, from all the harsh realities of life. To shield them from the bullies, the predators, the traitors, all the scumbags in this world. We are even ready to sacrifice our life for them, if it comes down to it.

That is what being a parent is all about, I guess.

Unconditional love.

We have to remember, however, that we cannot always be by our children’s side. We cannot constantly keep watch over them. We cannot be around forever to guard and protect them and to catch them after every fall.

But there is one thing that we can do that will definitely help them go through the bad times later on in life with as little trouble, difficulty and pain as possible.

WE CAN PREPARE THEM by loving them, not with tenderness, but with uncompromising toughness. Yes, this is what the professionals refer to as the Tough Love parenting.

Here are some tips on how to go about this.

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1. Let them “bleed” a little. Don’t come to them running or give in to their every whim just because they won’t stop crying until you do. Letting yourself be manipulated that way by your little tykes would inadvertently give them the impression that, whenever they turn on the waterworks or throw a tantrum, they can get away with anything. Consequently, they will grow up with a deep-seated sense of entitlement. Exposing them to certain levels of disappointment early on, on the other hand, will teach them to be patient and be mindful and considerate of others.

2. Let them suffer the consequences of their actions and learn from their own mistakes. Teach them that breaking rules always has its natural and inevitable consequences. Don’t make the habit of cleaning their mess. As young as toddlers, children should know that it is their responsibility to put away their toys after playtime. If they fail to do so, you can hide the toys until they promise to put those back in their proper boxes and bins when they are done playing. That will instill in them obedience and a sense of responsibility.

3. Let them explore and navigate their little world on their own. Give them freedom to run around and try new things with other children their own age. Don’t be afraid to expose them to a little dirt, bacteria or germs —which, according to expects, could help them develop a healthy microbiome and immune system. They will learn to be independent and adventurous, and will grow up with stronger wings and a fearlessness to fly and soar high.

4. Let them be aware of their imperfections, flaws and shortcomings. As parents, we want to believe that our children are perfect creatures –that they are the epitome of beauty, brilliance, wit, compassion, and of every positive trait in the book. We tend to put them on a pedestal. This, however, would give our children the idea that they are better than everybody else and, as such, are beyond reproach. Let them earn every compliment and word of praise you give them. And you need to call them out on their mistakes and indiscretions if you want them to learn humility, tolerance and acceptance.

5. Let them face their fears and fight their own battles. When they fall flat on their face, don’t let them stay there. Make them get back on their feet, dust themselves off and start all over again. They should learn to test their limits, to develop the courage to pursue their dreams, and to stand up and speak their minds. They will grow up into men and women of courage, resilience, independence and strong character.

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6. Let them earn their keep. They would soon realize that free-riders never get far in this world. Assign them tasks and chores that they should accomplish with due diligence. This would teach them the dignity of hard work and the values of excellence and discipline.

7. Let them know who the boss is in your family —and, definitely, it is not them. As parents, and the real bosses in your home, you should set rules and a corresponding set of rewards (for obedience and compliance) and punishment (for offenses and misbehavior) for your children that you will strictly and consistently impose. Rudeness, dishonesty and cruelty should never be tolerated in any home. Help raise a generation of citizens that holds in high regard such qualities as respect (for rules, the authority, other people and other people’s time, the elders, the environment and themselves), honesty, integrity and compassion.

8. Let them see the plight of the poor, the sick, the refugees, the orphans and the other less-privileged members of society. Make them realize that whatever hardship or challenge they may be going through at the moment, there are more people out there who suffer worse conditions. Show them how to give and share to the needy. This will teach them to be appreciative and grateful for whatever they have, and to be giving and generous to the less fortunate.

9. Let them discover their interests, joys, talents, passions and potentials. Let their creative juices flow freely. Provide them with free time to play, daydream and roam around in the backyard. Never, under any circumstance, impose your unrealized dreams on them. Let them think and make their own educated choices and opinions. Make them feel more in control of their world. This will promote love of learning and education in your kids. They will grow up with that ingrained thirst and hunger for knowledge.

10. Let them hear the stories of how people throughout history have been persecuted because of their religious beliefs, of how people of faith have been made martyrs, and of how large groups of believers are discriminated against, imprisoned, tortured, raped, harassed, murdered and even annihilated. But let them also hear the stories of God’s mercy, goodness and boundless love for all of us. This will teach them the value of our spiritual liberties and to have strong faith both in humanity and in God.

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Studies show that the tough love approach to parenting, as compared with the other parenting styles, is the most effective as it is more likely to produce “rounded personalities with well-developed characters.” You need to be cautions, though, in toeing the thin line separating firmness and harshness. Advocates of the Tough Love approach show their love for their children through a combination of parental warmth and discipline. They strive to be firm without being harsh.

Finally, it is best to remember that each child is unique and, as such, the type of discipline that he/she would most likely respond to could also be unique.

20 THINGS I WANT MY KIDS TO KNOW BEFORE THEY NAVIGATE THE WORLD ON THEIR OWN

At ages 21, 20 and 18, my kids would soon leave the comfortable nest that my husband and myself have, over the years, lovingly built and nurtured for them. They would want to break free from our protective embrace to prove their independence. They would wish to spread and try their wings, to fly and soar, and to see as much of the world as they possibly could.

But before we allow them complete freedom, there are things that they need to know to better prepare and equip them for the journey that they are about to embark on. These are the things that will serve as their compass when they get lost, and their beacon of light for when the skies get too dark.

Emar, MD and Lala, listen and listen well. I am your mother and, for the most part, I know best. 😉

 

  1. The world is both a wonderful and nasty place. There is a thin, blurry line that separates cruelty from compassion, indifference from empathy, hatred from love, malice from kindness, jealousy and envy from contentment, prejudice from acceptance, selfishness from benevolence, harshness from gentleness, savagery from humanity, arrogance from humility, and negativity from positivity. Be discerning and prudent in all your dealings.

 

  1. Explore, take adventures, and travel the world. People are not meant to stay in one place. Otherwise, we would have been given roots instead of feet. (That last part is according to a certain Rachel Wolchin!)

 

  1. Rarely is something served on a silver platter. Anything worth having usually takes a lot of hard work and perseverance. There is really no shortcut to an enduring and sustainable success; one needs to use the ladder.

 

  1. Don’t expect life to be fair because, quite frankly, it is not. Yes, hard work and perseverance is the foolproof road to success but, sometimes, luck, connections and ingratiation could be unbeatable foes. Educational background, academic achievement, personality and grit can be reduced to mere nonessentials. A success acquired through shortcut, though, is normally short-lived. And it doesn’t earn a person any respect, either.

 

  1. One always has choices. Always. And each choice has a corresponding consequence. So, do your best to make the right ones and strive to learn from the wrong ones. You should also take full responsibility for your decisions, choices and actions.

 

  1. No man is an island. We do not exist solely for ourselves. Each of us has a purpose in life, something greater than ourselves. Seek that purpose.

 

  1. Be kind to Mother Earth. It is our only home and we are all its citizens. Try to leave it a better place than when you arrived. It has already been used and abused by humans for so long that I’m afraid that nature would soon take matters into its own hands if we don’t change our ways.

 

  1. Know that every small act has a ripple effect. Every smile, every kind word, every good deed may build a current and create a cascade of change for everyone who is at its receiving end. We all have the power to change the world of the people around us. Be responsible, considerate and generous with whatever you drop in that pond of life.

 

  1. Be mindful of your elders’ words of wisdom. We have more decades’ worth of experience than you do.

 

  1. It’s not enough to know what is right. You have to say, do and live it. There are two kinds of evil people in this world — those who inflict pain or injustice or suffering on another human being and those who watch these sordid acts without doing anything. Find your voice and make yourself heard. Aspire to be more than a mere bystander.

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  1. Never lose heart. When you feel that the universe is conspiring against you, when trusted friends turn their backs on you, when adversities simultaneously assail you, when your best efforts are greeted with indifference, when you fall flat on your face again and again and again —just keep going on. Don’t give up. A miracle may just be around the corner, patiently waiting for you.

 

  1. Be wise with how you spend your time; it’s the most precious and most perishable commodity there is. Do not cling too tightly to the past and neither should you invest too much on the future. Live passionately –but responsibly– in the here and now. Do not make procrastination a habit. You should also respect other people’s time.

 

  1. The single, most important key to a successful relationship is open and honest communication. There are many arguments that arise from mere misunderstandings due to lack of responsive communication. Remember that people can’t read minds, so you should say what you need to say — but it must always be with as much decency, sensitivity and tact as you could muster.

 

  1. A grateful heart is a happy heart. To achieve happiness and contentment, be appreciative of all the blessings that come your way. Starting each day with a prayer of gratitude is a sure way to attract positive vibes, and more blessings, all throughout the day.

 

  1. Know your priorities. Not everything that’s important is urgent in the same way that not everything that’s urgent is important. People and relationships should always be among your topmost priorities.

 

  1. Avoid unnecessary stress and worries. Know your limitations and choose your battles carefully. Save your big guns for crucial fights.

 

  1. Never settle for mediocrity. Everyone has the potential to rise to greatness and excellence, so strive to be the best versions of yourselves. Don’t always play safe; take risks. Don’t always try to fit in; stand out. Don’t always be content with your lot; aim for more. Don’t stop challenging yourself.

 

  1. Guard your heart. Do not allow it to be too vulnerable too quickly. Lay a foundation of friendship before building a house of intimacy.

 

  1. Don’t lose the child in you. Never stop believing in fairytales, laugh uproariously, chase the waves, dance with abandon, roll around in the grass, play in the rain, climb a tree —rekindle your sense of wonder. Don’t dwell on what others may think about you, just keep your inner child eternally alive.

 

  1. Love yourself. Nurture your body (eat healthy, be physically active, rehydrate, get enough sleep, have a massage, etc), your mind (read, meditate, play board games, engage in stimulating conversations, etc.), and your spirit (feed your passion, spend time with loved ones, be involved in charity work, be active in your community and church, etc.).

DECADES OF “FOR BETTER AND FOR WORSE”

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During Imelda and Abelardo’s wedding. June 30, 1966.

Today, at a time when the most convenient solution to virtually every marital woe is separation — and when the concept of forever is alarmingly taken lightly —, witnessing a marriage that spans five decades is a welcome breath of fresh air.

Imelda Pulongbarit and Abelardo Banzil just recently celebrated their golden wedding anniversary. Theirs, however, was not the butterflies-in-the-stomach kind of romance. Far from it.

Imelda had another favored suitor when Abel pursued her. After barely two weeks of courtship, Abel, who at 27 was nine years Imelda’s senior, unexpectedly showed up with his parents on the doorstep of the Pulongbarits to ask for Imelda’s hand in marriage. It was a whirlwind arrangement that eventually ended up at the altar. Since both came from poor families, they had nothing to offer their guests during the reception but rice porridge. Also, Imelda was made to wear a wedding gown that she did not know she had to return to its rightful owner right after the ceremony.

That happened on the fateful day of June 30, 1966.

A year after the wedding, the couple was blessed with a beautiful pink bundle of joy. Another two years down the line and baby girl #2 was born. This fruitful  pattern persisted until, by the year 1980, their brood had ballooned to eight – six girls and two boys.

Imelda had always been hardworking and enterprising. Despite being armed with just a grade school diploma, she was already earning her own money and helping her parents in raising her younger siblings even before she got married. She used to do domestic work for the more affluent families in the small, sleepy town of Bagac, Bataan where she grew up. Later on, she worked as a storekeeper, and when she managed to borrow enough money, she invested in her very own grocery store at the town’s public market. When the kids started coming along, though, she decided to give up her store to get a vegetable stall.  It was more labor-intensive (she had to travel to the province’s capital at the crack of dawn each day to buy fresh vegetables in bulk), but it was also more lucrative. Abelardo, meanwhile, was a 6×6 truck driver then. However, their joint income was never enough to cover the burgeoning expenses of bringing up their growing children.

So, in 1981, Abelardo packed his bags to try his luck in Saudi Arabia. There, where he would find himself working for almost 21 years, he served as a family driver for a kind, old Muslim couple.

Their marriage was far from perfect. Just a year after their wedding, Imelda wanted to leave her husband. Though she already learned to love him, she found it hard to accept his vices and indiscretions. Thanks to her parents and parents-in-law, she was made to stay. When Abelardo was working in the Middle East, Imelda also had to struggle with loneliness. She was in her prime and she tremendously missed her husband, but that did not sway her to give in to temptations and abandon her fidelity to her husband, and her faith in and obedience to God. The hardest challenge, though, and the most painful experience that she had to endure happened in 1982, when their eldest son, who was a second-grader then, drowned. She was tormented with grief over her loss, but she could not allow herself to mourn for long. Abelardo’s contract restrained him from coming home just yet, so Imelda had to be strong for her seven other children.

In 1989, she made an extremely difficult decision. She left her kids, who by then, were mostly in high school and college already, to join her husband in Saudi.

For the next nine years, she would start each day by kneeling before her make-shift altar to offer an earnest prayer for them. During that time, when the only way of communicating back home was through snail mail, she had no idea how they were doing on a daily basis. Were they eating right and on time? Were their clothes not drenched in sweat or soaked by rainwater? Were they studying hard? Were their friends of good influence to them? Were they looking after each other? There was not a day that passed that she did not cry for her children.

In 1992, at the age of 44, she learned that she was pregnant. It was unexpected and would pose an additional complication to their already complicated life, but they nevertheless welcomed the news as another divine blessing.

Her employer wanted to adopt the baby. They also urged her to convert to Islam, bribing her with a promise of a better life. But Imelda would not hear any of it. She went home to deliver the baby. When the infant was barely three months old, Imelda had to leave her in the care of her third child who just graduated from college, to go back to her work in Saudi. That was another decision that cut deep into her heart.

Years of sacrifice after, they started to reap the fruits of their concerted hard work as a family.

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the Banzils’ wall of pride

Their eldest, Asuncion, graduated with a degree in Education; Lorena with a degree in Computer Engineering and an MBA in Business Administration; Amelia with a degree in Commerce; Alicia in Nursing; Emma in Industrial Engineering and in Nursing; Aileen in ECE; Abelardo Jr. in Electrical Engineering; and Tin in Travel Management. Seven of them are already married and are living comfortable lives, while the youngest is having the time of her life exploring the world as a flight attendant.

Their life as a couple is a bottomless pit of lessons that they strive to pass on to their children and their children’s children.

They inculcated in them early on the values of education, of love for one another, of humility and kindness to other people, of hard work, perseverance and determination, of patience and hope, of fidelity to the wedding vows, and most importantly, of the unwavering faith in the Lord.

Today, the couple is enjoying their retirement in their ancestral home in the province. But parenthood knows no end. When any one of their children or grandchildren needs their tender, loving care, they could just easily walk down the street where their two daughters live, or jump into their car and drive off to Rizal or Cavite, or board a plane and fly to US or Canada or Qatar. Yes, their kids are scattered around the globe, but no amount of distance could stop these two from doing what they do best – parenting.

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the golden wedding anniversary cake

 

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Imelda  and Abelardo with all their children

 

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Imelda and Abelardo with all  their grandchildren

 

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Imelda and Abelardo. 50 years and  counting.

THE THREE-YEAR-OLD MIGHTY WARRIOR

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Friends, meet Gabby. This beautiful, adorable, energetic boy is the son of a friend and UP batch mate, Dr. Eileen Alvarez-Flameño. In an effort to share and spread God’s message of hope and the immense power of collective prayers, she asked me to write this incredible story about this incredible fighter.

I’m sure, I already wrote this before but, obviously, a reminder needs to be made.

One small act, or one seemingly harmless word, or one innocent mistake on our part as parents, has the potential to either make or break our child.

Sadly, it takes a tragedy for some of us to realize this—a little too late, sometimes, for the damage has already been done.

It’s Gabby’s first school year and, for weeks now, he’s been excited every single day to see his teacher and his classmates for his daily dose of fun activities—as excited as his parents are for their son’s incessant stories for when they get home.

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June 22, Wednesday, a day that is about to irrevocably change the family’s life, is one of such days.

It starts out innocently enough. Gabby has to be in school at 7:45 in the morning, so the Flameños’ household is abuzz early. As an only child, Gab is the proverbial apple of his parents’ eyes. Eileen was already 40 when she gave birth to Gab, so she and her husband, Allen, consider their baby God’s most precious blessing. Their worlds naturally revolve around him.

At 9:45 a.m. on that fateful day, just two hours after he brought his son to the playschool, Allen is back to fetch Gab. They are already cruising along the Balagtas highway when he realizes that he forgot to strap Gab in, who is settled at the front passenger seat, just beside him. Without bothering to pull over, he reaches for the seatbelt, and that, in that infinitesimal moment, is when everything happens in a flash.

The next thing he knows, their vehicle has rammed into a delivery truck parked at the side of the road, with the right side taking the full brunt of the impact. When he sees the still, bloodied, helpless body of his baby lying beside him, he is gripped with a terror so intense and palpable that it is almost paralyzing. He wants to weep, he wants to throw up, he wants to surrender to the sweet temptation of oblivion, he wants to pinch himself awake from that nightmare, but no, his mind and instinct would not let his emotions take over.

He tries to lift Gab, but the boy wouldn’t budge. His son’s right leg is sandwiched between his seat and the door, and the door couldn’t be opened because it is jammed against the other vehicle.

With the help of some bystanders and another truck, they are able to pull open the door and pull Gab out of the car. The boy is then transported to the ER of the nearest polymedic hospital.

That is where Eileen first laid her eyes on the pitiful state of her little boy.

Gab is only three years old, his three-year-old body frail and fragile, and he is lying there — unconscious, bloodied, helpless. Eileen weeps like she has never wept before, and with her husband, she prays profusely and in earnest. Yes, they can draw strength from each other, but at that moment, what they need more is assurance — assurance that their son would not be taken away from them so soon. And only the Almighty Father can provide them that.

They decide to bring Gab to the Pacific Global Medical Center, the nearest tertiary hospital from Bulacan. The initial diagnosis is grim: brain injury secondary to trauma. But the CT Scan findings are even grimmer: total fracture of the right leg, and hydroma (accumulation of fluid) on the left subdural side of the brain.

For the next crucial days, Gab has to stay at the ICU. His operation (draining of fluid for his brain and open reduction for his right leg) has been scheduled in two days.

Eileen comes from an extremely religious family, and in this tragedy that befalls their beloved “bunso” (Gab is the youngest of all the Alvarez grandchildren), it is their faith that they cling tightly to. They ask all the priests, nuns, seminarians and church people they know to hold novenas and to ask special petitions during mass for Gab. They relentlessly ask family and friends—in person, through phone, or via social media—to continue joining them in knocking at Heaven’s doors for the improvement of Gab’s condition. They religiously pray the rosary and even visit various churches to humbly offer their plea.

Three hours before Gab’s scheduled surgery, a miracle happens.

The surgeon wants to defer the operation because, based on the result of the latest CT Scan, there appears to be a misalignment of bones in Gab’s neck area. He wants an MRI done on Gab first for more conclusive findings. But since the hospital does not have an MRI machine, and because the family also wants to seek a second opinion, they decide to transfer Gab to another hospital. They end up in St. Luke’s Medical Center (Global City), where Gab is immediately intubated and hooked to a ventilator. The MRI result reveals that Gab has not sustained any cervical and spinal injuries, and while the Arterial Blood Gas test shows that there is indeed a retention of carbon dioxide in the boy’s blood, the orthopaedic surgeon maintains that an operation is not necessary at this point. That happens on June 25, the same day that Gab opens his eyes and moves his left foot and left hand for the first time. See, miracles happen indeed!

He stays at the ICU for three more days until he is transferred to a regular room on June 29.

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Each new day brings with it small but steady improvements in Gab’s condition. On July 05, with both his eyes open and clear, he gives his very first smile! That is definitely a sight to behold, and for his parents and the other relatives who stayed with the family all throughout the ordeal, a well-deserved reward for the many sleepless nights that they have had to endure.

Gab is now back in the familiar and reassuring surroundings of their home. Yes, a lot still needs to be done to bring him back to his old, jolly, playful and bubbly self, but his family is optimistic that they are already past the worst of the storm; all the trials that are yet to come their way are mere drizzles compared to what they have already gone through.

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Finally, in spite of everything, Eileen and her family still consider themselves blessed beyond measure.

God has remained faithful to them by sending His love through the people who have been part of their struggle — Gab’s indefatigable prayer warriors, the doctors who rendered their professional services free of charge, the people who magnanimously extended financial assistance, and the bystanders who unhesitatingly helped in pulling Gab out of the car right after the accident.

They are also grateful for the valuable lessons they learned along the way.

They recognize that negative thoughts and emotions should not be entertained during crises. Instead of finger-pointing, doubting God’s plan, and wallowing in guilt, anxiety and depression, the Alvarezes and the Flameños quietly draw strength and inspiration from each other and from their unwavering faith in God’s perfect love. They are assured that when they lift all their troubles to the Lord, they, in turn, would be lifted.

They also realize how fragile and precarious and unpredictable life could be, that they should value every precious moment spent with loved ones.

They learn the depth of the love parents could have for their child—the great lengths they are willing to go to—to shelter him from further pain and harm. It’s the kind of love that sends them to their knees to beg that they instead be allowed to carry all of Gab’s pains for him, because no parent deserves to witness the suffering of his child. It is an experience one will never wish even to his most hated enemy.