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.

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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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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.

OF TEENS AND RAGING HORMONES

I’m sure that all parents of children who have already reached puberty would agree with me when I say that all our parental concerns and fears are encapsulated in just two seemingly innocent words. Raging Hormones. When the adult hormones (Estrogen for girls and Testosterone for boys) kick in, that’s when serious problems normally start to emerge.

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Having three teens under one roof could easily be every parent’s worst nightmare!

Overnight, our sweet, agreeable, predictable and bubbly angels could turn into strangers that are sullen and angry, depressed and rebellious, irrational and emotionally imbalance, aggressive and combative, impulsive and competitive, hostile and volatile, and strong-willed. The dreadful things that we only used to hear from other parents, or read about in family-centered books and magazines, or watch in teen-oriented TV dramas and movies are now menacingly looming before us – threatening to destroy the tranquility in our homes, to wreak havoc to our relationships, and to disturb our otherwise peaceful lives.

Like monsters lurking in the dark, ever ready to pounce on our vulnerable adolescent kids, there are various temptations constantly all around them.

In their intense need to belong, they may give in to their peers’ prodding and pressure to try drugs, smoking, drinking, or gang affiliation. In their hunger for parental attention, they may aim to flunk in school or, in worse cases, they may try to run away from home or even to commit suicide. In their want to test their limitations and recently-discovered freedom, they may attempt to perpetrate petty crimes and to perform ridiculous or even life-threatening antics. In their quest for love and companionship, they may turn to intense teenage romance and premarital sex.

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Emar with his girlfriend, Eira

When our eldest son, Emar, turned twelve, my husband and I were assailed with worries.

“What if we fail as parents?”

“What if the challenges of puberty and adolescence prove to be too much for us?”

“How tightly should we hold on to him and how loosely should we let him go?”

“If those crises that could turn even the smartest or most spiritual or most experienced parents into pathetic failures, beset us, how should we react?”

We knew that one small error on our part could either make or break our child. That’s how emotionally fragile adolescents are.

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MD with his girlfriend, Joyce

A year after, it was MD’s turn. We thought that, by then, we would be more prepared than the first time.

We thought wrong.

The same fears and doubts attacked us, perhaps even stronger than before, because with two adolescents in our midst, the challenges (and, yes, the raging hormones!) had been doubled. Our initial realization when they were much younger that each of them was unique and, thus, required a unique kind of care and discipline technique, was further reinforced. There’s simply no fool-proof and one-size-fits-all recourse or rule in dealing with them. So, it was like starting all over again.

And then, in a blink of an eye, our youngest, Lala, joined the pack.

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Lala with her prom date and soon-to-be boyfriend, Yego

Frayed nerves, frazzled tempers and seething emotions notwithstanding, we just rushed headlong. Without so much as breaking our stride, we let our parental instincts take over.

Thank goodness, all our kids have not strayed too far away from that invisible line that separates the acceptable from the unacceptable, the norm from the delinquent, the proper from the improper, and the typical from the atypical. As far as we know, they have not fallen prey to the influence or sweet allure of drug addiction, alcohol, nicotine, and gang connection. Not one ever tried to run away or to commit suicide or to execute a crime. Neither did anyone of them become a perpetual flunker in school.

But our work is not yet done (I don’t think it will ever be!), for a great challenge is now upon us.

All our three kids are already romantically involved!

Emar was a high school junior when he got all tangled up in matters of the heart; MD, a few months before his high school graduation; and Lala, when she was a college sophomore.

With the two boys, my reaction was the same. I went through the whole gamut of emotions — Initially, I was furious, then disappointed. Next came the hurt and the feeling of betrayal, followed by a strong resolve to put a stop to whatever it was they think they were having (I know, I know. “You’ve been their age once; you should know how it is.” was the line I was made to endure then—once too often.) Finally, after a long process of alternately playing shrink and mental patient to myself, I got it. The more I would try to pull them apart, the stronger and more solid their relationship would become. So, I threw in the towel. That was when acceptance (albeit, hesitantly made) came in.

Over the years, though, as I grew to know the girls more — and it had become apparent to me that theirs were not a simple case of a passing fancy —, the acceptance became genuine.

Emar and his girlfriend, Eira, would soon be celebrating their 5th anniversary, while MD and Joyce are now together for 3-1/2 years. Yes, they still have their petty quarrels but they always manage to find their ways back to their respective partners’ welcoming arms.

With Lala and her boyfriend, Yego, it had been entirely different as far as my reaction to their budding relationship was concerned.

I don’t know why, but I was able to skip all the negative emotions that I experienced with my two boys. It was acceptance right away — genuine, instant, unadulterated acceptance.

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Our three babies with their respective “Babes”

My husband’s (and Lala’s grandfathers’) reaction, however, was a completely different story. He had been in denial right from the very start — and had since gotten stuck there as of this writing. Perhaps, it has something to do with the alpha thing and their inherent territorial characteristic—I honestly don’t know. (He has to delve deep into his own psyche and articulate his emotions first before he can make me understand.) Generally, though, the parents’ apprehension when their teens start dating is centered around these following reasons:

  1. They are convinced that their children are still too young to emotionally handle a relationship. Ask them what they think is the ideal age for their kids to get romantically involved, and you’d probably get the vague (and extremely subjective) answer, “…when they are already mature enough.”
  1. They believe, with the absolute certainty that the sun rises in the east, that a romantic relationship is a distraction to their kids’ focus on their quest to conquer the world.
  1. They are not yet ready to talk with their kids about such formidable topics as wet dreams, erection, libido and, goodness, safe sex! Probably, they will never ever be.
  1. They are afraid to contemplate the possibility of their kids being part of the growing statistics of cases of teenage pregnancy. The mere thought could actually induce severe migraine or, worse, heart attack.
  1. They are afraid that their kids’ partners have traveled straight from hell and are sent here by the devil himself to ruin their family’s peaceful existence. Their nightmare personified!
  1. They are absolutely certain that when romance messes with their kids’ lives, the latter’s relationship with them may no longer be as open and amiable as before. After all, no daughter in history has been known to confide to her father, “Dad, I’m delayed. You might be a grandfather sooner than you think.”
  1. They are not ready to see their children getting hurt (and to welcome the possibility of them spending the rest of their lives in jail for murdering the person who caused such pain and heartache to their precious children).
  1. The mother is not ready to give up her position as the most important woman in her son’s life, in the same way that the father is unable to relinquish his title as the most important man in his daughter’s life.

In our case, there is one more reason why the news of any one of our kids starting to date caused us countless sleepless nights and wrinkles.

You see, my husband, Roel, married his first girlfriend (Whoever does that, right?!!!). And our children, especially the two boys, hugely adore and idolize their father that they are determined to follow in his footsteps. Roel also married young – two months shy of his 21st birthday. Our eldest would turn 21 in November. Now, you do the math. We already did. Waaaah!

A PARENT’S TUG OF WAR (BETWEEN HOLDING ON AND LETTING GO)

All parents have been through this same path before.

Remember the first day you had to go back to work after a lengthy maternity/paternity leave? What about the day you had to hand your kids to their grandparents for a long-overdue vacation with them? This one’s a classic — your children’s first day in school! And then, there’s their very first pyjama party or sleep-over with friends, followed by their first field trip, their first prom, and their first date. What about when they went off to college and had to stay in a dorm? And, of course, how could you forget the day they packed their things because they had found a place of their own, conveniently closer to their workplace? But this one’s the most painful of all, I’m sure — when you walked your daughter down the aisle on her wedding day!

I could go on and on and on with this list because, as parents, we experience countless moments when we find it hard to let go. But, although the only thing we wanted to do was to keep holding on, we knew in our hearts that we had to set them free. That we couldn’t keep them sheltered forever. That we had to give them the chance to discover the world on their own.

We could only hope that all the years of love and guidance in our home will provide them with strong wings to fly and soar, and yes, with deep roots, too, to remind them that whatever happens, they have a family that they could always come back to.

The following is another letter I wrote a couple of years back for my daughter, Lala, and it has something to do with the tug of war I’ve been prattling about. 🙂

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My dearest Lala,

It seems only yesterday when we brought you to the dorm that would be, for the next four years, your home away from home. Coming up with the decision to let you study in Pisay was extremely difficult for us. You were only 11 years old back then, virtually a baby. Yes, you were pretty responsible for your age, but there were a lot of things that you knew nothing about. You were too young to venture into the “outside world” on your own.

But, oftentimes, parents make tough decisions thinking and hoping that those decisions would ultimately benefit their children.

When the once-in-a-lifetime chance to have you in the company of the academically-gifted and to have you receive the privilege of a Pisay-quality education presented itself, we grabbed it with both hands. We thought that we had already braced ourselves for what was ahead, that we had everything figured out down to the littlest detail, that we had everything under control.

But still, we couldn’t help but feel a twinge of regret, and question the wisdom of our decision every time we see your empty chair at the dining table during mealtimes, or when I cook one of your many favorite dishes and you’re not there to share it with us, or when you can’t join us during ordinary family activities such as malling, eating out, watching a movie, or hearing mass, because you have to spend your weekend at the dorm to prepare for the exam week, or work on a project, or practice for a group performance. But, you know what hurts me the most, anak? It’s the feeling that you’re gradually drifting away from us. Deliberately or otherwise, I’m not sure.

Sometimes, I look at you and I want to shake you. “Who are you? What right do you have to invade my daughter’s body? Where did you take her?”

When I visit your dorm, I feel like an outsider, an intruder in that close-knit circle of friends and dorm mates that you have conveniently surrounded yourself with. When you’re home, I feel as if we’re doing a lot of tiptoeing around each other. You’re testing my mood, I’m testing yours.

I would like to think that it is just another manifestation of your adolescence. Really, I do. And I could easily believe that if I don’t have prior experiences with your two kuyas. But I do have, and so I know that that occasional awkwardness between us has less to do with your awkward stage and more to do with the fact that we’re no longer your only family. That we have to share that significant role with your dorm mates and friends in school because, if the basis of family belongingness lies solely on the length of time people spend with each other, they are much more of a family to you than we are.

And that thought makes me sad.

Now that you’re about to graduate, I am assailed by a multitude of emotions (as, I’m sure, you are too!).

I am relieved because, after four long and tedious years, you will very soon be rewarded with a high school diploma for all your hard work. I am excited because you are about to venture into yet another world, a world that is entirely new to you. I am melancholic because of all the familiar faces, places, things and routines that you’ll have to part ways with. I am ecstatic because dorms and weekend stays will already be things of the past. And, I am hopeful because we’ll be given a chance to mend whatever there is to mend in our family relationships.

The two of us could be a formidable mother-daughter duo, the best of friends, reading buddies, each other’s writing consultants and most trusted confidants. We can share everything – from clothes, shoes and accessories, to junk foods, books and movies. We could discover more things that we have in common. This has always been my dream relationship with my daughter, anak. That she would be so comfortable with me, her mother, and so secured with the knowledge that she could trust me with everything and anything.

I hope that we can make that happen.

Finally, I hope that you enjoy every single moment of your remaining three months in Pisay. High school is, after all, supposed to be the happiest and most carefree part of our lives.

May you leave a lasting and memorable imprint on the lives of all your batch mates and friends. Try to get all their contact details so that the communication lines will always remain open. Try to talk to all your teachers, past and present, and to the school staff and let them know that you appreciate them. Try to always smile at everyone, especially to the manongs and manangs at the cafeteria, the guards and the maintenance people. At some point, you may want to return to Pisay and decide to walk the same corridors, have lunch at the same caf, wave at the same guards, linger at your favorite tambayan, but the experience will never be the same as when you were still a student there.

Believe me, I know.

So, try to spread as much of yourself as possible. Try to be generous with your time. Try to be kinder and a little more compassionate. And, try to share your smile and laughter with everyone.

We love you, baby. We are very proud of you. I only pray that the Good Lord will always guide and protect you especially at times when we’re not there to do that for you.

Hugs and kisses,

Mommy

PS: If you want to read my other articles on parenting, click

Don’ts For Parents of Teenaged Kids, Things Teens Wish Their Parents Realize, ASAP!, Bond Of Brothers, The Perks of Having Teens Around (Part 1 & Part 2), Being The First — A Bane Or A Boon?, and My Letter For My Daughter.

Thanks! 🙂

ADOLESCENCE 103: THE PERKS OF HAVING TEENS AROUND (Part 2)

I initially thought that compelling myself to list at least 15 benefits to having our teens around would cause me severe migraine. But, after browsing through hundreds of pictures, reading lots of old letters and articles, and engaging in numerous positive conversations with my husband about our kids (You see how I had to prep myself to come up with this list?), I was able to do it. And I managed to write down, not just 15, but an incredible total of 30 advantages!

So, this second and final part to Adolescence 103: The Perks of Having Teens Around (Part 1) is a proof that, indeed, if we just put our heart and mind into something, nothing is impossible. 🙂

  1. Teens could be our reliable memory bank. At our age, memory may already be failing us. We tend to forget lots of things, and being the considerate children that they are, our teens are always there ready to give us a hand. They regularly remind me, for instance, about the allowance I forgot to give them, their personal hygiene needs I forgot to include in my shopping list, the dates of an all-nighter over at a groupmate’s place, or of the debut party they are invited to or of an org event they are required to attend. And, yes, the money I owe them. (Please refer to #15.)
  1. Teens could be our personal writing editor or grammar Nazi. In my case, it is my daughter, Lala, who helps me with my blog articles. She, without any trace of hesitancy or a hint of mercy, could reduce me to a bundle of nerves, figuratively tear my work into small, pathetic pieces, and turn my ego into a pulverized slab.
  1. Teens could provide us with a free front seat to their daily fashion show. When getting dressed for school, my daughter has an average of five changes before she finally settles on her OOTD. After shower, she’ll emerge from her room in her outfit #1. A little hair-patting here and there, then she’ll go back to her room. She goes out and sits on the table for breakfast in outfit #2. She goes back to her room and goes out again to brush her teeth in outfit #3. When done, she goes back in then out again to get her packed lunch and snacks in outfit #4. Finally, prompted by her father’s honking, she gets out of her room to leave for school in outfit #5. This daily show could leave me exhausted, annoyed and amused all at the same time.

    My daughter, wearing her final choice of her OOTD
                               My daughter, wearing her fourth (or is it her fifth?) choice of her OOTD
  1. Teens could give us free vocal exercises. I start my weekday mornings with four soft little words – “Wake up. Wake up.” I do this at least two more times before they finally get off their beds. Forty-five minutes in their bathrooms, and I’ll start banging doors. “Hurry up. Breakfast is ready.” Amid animated and seemingly unhurried conversations around the table, I would go, “Hurry up and get dressed!” Another fifteen minutes in their rooms, and I’ll be hollering, “Hurry up, you’ll be late! Take your vitamins and get your lunch and snacks!” Ten more minutes arranging and rearranging their bags, and I’m already shouting, “Go! Go! You’re already late!!!” After they leave, I collapse into the nearest couch, heave my deepest sigh and whisper a quick prayer of thanks. Could there be a better way to strengthen one’s vocal cords and expand one’s vocal range?
  1. Teens could be part of our solid support group. After my husband’s kidney transplant, I decided to sign up as an organ donor under the “I’m A Lifeline” campaign. My kids showed their support to my advocacy by signing up, too. With my most recent project, this blog, I don’t know how many of their friends, classmates, orgmates, and schoolmates my children have already wrestled, coerced, paid or begged just to have them read and share my blog posts.
  1. Teens could make sure that we don’t get blocked tear ducts. Good or bad news, happy or sad occasion, warranted or not – mothers are known to be shedding tears all the time. Raising babies, though, involves more physical exertion so moms are not as prone to crying. Raising teens, on the other hand, is more of an emotional struggle so we tend to cry more often. And, in my case, that’s thrice the amount of tears I have to spill. So my tear ducts are not just free from possible blockage; they are working overtime.
  1. Teens could teach us the values of sharing and saving. Lala and I have almost the same shoe size and we tend to favor the same designs and colors in accessories, in the same way that Roel and the boys have pretty much the same shoe size, shirt size and taste in accessories. It’s not unusual, therefore, to see me wearing Lala’s sandals, Lala adorning her neck and wrist with my accessories, Roel wearing one of the boys’ shirts, and the boys sporting their father’s tops and sneakers. With just a few excellent mixing and matching and layering techniques, nobody would even notice that we’re just swapping things among us. A real money-saver.
  1. Teens could sharpen our debating and reasoning skills. Remember the terrible twos when all our toddlers could say was “No!”? We had no choice then but to simply grin and bear it. Now that we are the ones who always have to say “No!” to their ridiculous requests, demands and queries, grinning and bearing it is not in their vocabularies. Of course not. Nothing could be that simple with our teens. They have to make us defend our decisions and answer their rebuttals before they get to accept that that “no” is well-deserved, after all.
  1. Teens could turn us into instant Tito or Tita to many other teens. Our kids’ social skills could earn them their own army of myrmidons, a huge group of peers and a big circle of trusted friends. And when I happen to bump into those excitable teens, things could turn into a ruckus with everyone excitedly shouting at the top of their lungs, “Hi, Tita!” and scrambling to get close to me for that customary beso.
  1. Teens could be our daily source of news, stories and gossips. When the kids get home from school or when we’re all gathered around the dining table on weekends, our children would try to outshine each other with their animated versions of news they read online, stories about their day, and gossips they heard from someone in school. This is precisely the reason why very seldom do I feel the need to watch the news, listen to the radio or read the broadsheets. I have my free and reliable sources.
  1. Teens could be a testament that we are raising economically-boosting individuals. I don’t know about yours, but my kids are the consummate consumers. From every imaginable consumer product that teens nowadays cannot live without, to every brand available in the market today that they claim they need – my experimental teens have already used, tried and tested it all. All this buying exercise at our expense is putting an enormous hole in our pocket, but who’s complaining? (Ah, yes, I am.) A few short years from now, it’s going to be payback time!
  1. Teens could teach us to be prayerful. Time and again, I have emphasized that raising teens could be the most difficult challenge that parents have to face. It could be emotionally taxing and draining. It could reduce us to one big emotional mess, with nerves frayed and tempers constantly tattered. Oftentimes, we are left with no other recourse but to get down on our knees, pray like we have never prayed before and surrender everything to Him.

    Parents become prayerful because of their teens.
               Parents need to be more prayerful because of their teens. Or they could bid their sanity goodbye.
  1. Teens could be a reminder that we benefit (a little bit!) from all those taxes we pay. All my kids attended a government-owned high school – Lala in Philippine Science High School; and her brothers in Marcelo H. del Pilar National High School via its Engineering and Science Education Program, a special program for the most academically-endowed high school students in our province. So for each year of the entire secondary education of my three children, we only had to dish out ₱50 for each of them. Lala was even accommodated in Pisay’s dormitory for a minimal charge and was receiving a monthly stipend. For their college, two of my three children are currently studying in UP, a state university and considered the premier university in the land, for a much lower cost compared with that of its private counterparts. The two are also recipients of DOST academic scholarship grants.
  1. Teens could foster a closer and more romantic relationship between Mom and Dad. We, parents, can now have that vacation in Bali, or the Caribbean, or in Maldives or in France (in our case, it’s just good, old Boracay) that we’ve been dreaming of all these years, without having to worry about leaving our children behind. If our kids are old enough to decide for themselves, they are already old enough to fend for themselves, too. The state of the house we’d be going back to is a completely different matter, though.
  1. Teens could be our night-shift security guard. While the rest of us have already retired for the night and are taking the trip to Dreamland, our nocturnal kids are busy studying, updating their playlist, chatting with friends, watching movies online, playing games, or all of the above. They tend to be at their most active and productive during this particular time of the day. 

Finally, it’s not all the time that our teens are in a bad, bratty, dramatic, uncommunicative mood. There are those few times that they are “normal”, and during those times, they could be very affectionate and warm and sweet. These moments could be extremely few and far between though (so we better savor them and bottle them up if we could). But when they come, all the past disagreements, worries, hurts, mistakes and doubts are instantly forgotten. And we are reminded how rewarding and fulfilling parenthood could be.