Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Proof that cuteness is in my blood

I'm starting a new tradition here on my blog—the birthday tribute. Friends and family, beware. I will not even ask your permission to post compromising photos here. That's how much I love you all.

The first victim, er, recipient of the birthday tribute is my niece Madelaine who turns 12 today.

When Madie was born, we were in the process of moving into a new house. My sister was starting a new life with her new partner and the new baby. I was feeling resentful because I didn't want to move from Makati, where I was born and raised, to Cainta, which I had never even been to before. Makati was Urbanite Heaven, with its high-rise buildings and classy shops and restaurants. Compared to it, Cainta was Nowhere Land, and I felt like I was being dragged from civilisation into oblivion.

Whilst we were busy unpacking and trying to make sense of our new life (and I was still boiling with resentment), my sister came home with this little baby from the hospital. She was tiny. And man, was she just the cutest thing ever. I couldn't stay angry for long. Madie made everything bearable.

I remember a few days into our move, I was left home with Madie, as everyone else had gone back to our old house to help my other sister and her family move into their new home. I'd like to say that she was the best-behaved baby in the whole world, and we had a lovely quiet time together but I'm afraid Madie, even at less than a week old, was already feisty. And loud. I'm sure all the crying she did that evening must have damaged my eardrums in some way. Those hours that I spent with her, trying to comfort her and give her her formula, were extremely exhausting. But those trying hours cemented my bond with this little girl. I knew I was going to be her doting aunt for life.

When I left the Philippines over eight years ago, I felt quite despondent at leaving my family behind. The thought of not being there as Madie and her baby brother Kyle grew up was upsetting for me, especially since I had helped looked after all my older nephews and nieces. I didn't want to be cut out of their lives, but I had to go and make my own new home. Somehow though we have managed to stay close through the years, thanks to Friendster and now, Facebook. It has been wonderful to witness Madie grow from a shrill-voiced, wriggly toddler into a shrill-voiced, less wriggly girl.

But oh my, in the last couple of years, she seems to have just grown at breakneck speed. Goodness me, what a transformation!

This was how Madie looked when I last saw her in person five years ago:

She's the little girl striking a pose on the right. (By the way, this is one of my favourite photos of all time. It brings back a lot of lovely memories of our last visit to the Philippines and it's a reminder of how fast time flies. I can hardly remember Lucas, Kyle, Donna and Madie as being this age.)

And here she is now:

Isn't she gorgeous? (I'm so grateful for having nieces and nephews that provide proof that cuteness runs in my family.)

I never cease to be amazed by this growing-faster-than-I-can-imagine Madie. For one thing, she's a beautiful mixture of her parents' talents—her father comes from a family of artists and indie filmmakers, while my sister is a terrific singer and dancer. Madie's pretty good at drawing pictures, and she's also a wonderful dancer and singer. (Oh, and yes, she has acted in a few films too.) And this is what I admire most about her: Not only does she have talent and ambition, but she's also actively working to make her dreams come true.  She takes lessons and works hard for every performance that she does. Her networking skills are so much better than mine. She's even made it possible for her to meet her idol and inspiration a few times! How many grown-ups do you know are doing what this little twelve-year-old is doing?

Dear Madie, thank you for being a part of my life and teaching me about resilience and seizing the day and making things happen in your own life. As long as you believe in your power to create a beautiful life for yourself, I'm sure you'll do great whichever path you choose. Happy birthday, baby girl!

Saturday, 19 March 2011

Memories of my father

Today is Tatay's 24th death anniversary. I don't quite know how I'll mark this day. Last year I baked an egg pie because he always used to buy me a slice of this pie along with a cold chocolate drink as a treat. I don't have any baking plans for today and it looks like I'll be dining in on my own as S and the kids are going out with some friends, so I'll just write this post to mark my father's passing.

One of the saddest things about my father dying and our house burning down at the same time is that we were left with no photos of my father when he was alive. (The side story to this is that we did pack our photo albums as we were leaving the house, but some heartless bastard stole the blanket in which those albums and most of our clothes were bundled. I hope that this person found out about my father's death and that the knowledge that he stole the only tangible things we had left of my father would hound him for the rest of his life.)

We eventually found his driving licence photo, a tiny 1" x 1" photo which made it impossible to discern his facial features. We also found another slightly larger ID photo, in black and white. That was it. There was nothing to show anyone the life that existed behind the serious facade of the man in these photos.

One of our friends took many photos of my father in his coffin at the funeral.  The man in those photos was nothing like the man we knew when he was alive. His face looked grim, whereas my father had a lovely smile that went all the way up to his twinkling eyes. But those photos were all we had and somehow they served to comfort us.

After a year or two, however, the photos started fading and humidity damaged most of them. The images that we had been holding on to were gone forever.

I think that in some ways, this loss helped us in our recovery. We had no photos or home videos to spend hours looking at longingly, burying us deeper into our grief. All we had left were the various memories we had of my Tatay when he was right there in the midst of our lives, and those are the things that we have kept alive in our hearts all these years. The wonderful thing is that each member of our family has a different set of memories of my father and yet all these memories have done the same thing for us—they've kept us going through the tough times and made us more appreciative of the good times, knowing how short life is and that we all get only one shot at living a meaningful life with the people who are in that life.

Here are some of my favourite memories of my father:

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Happy World Book Day!

The kids in Lucas's school were asked to come to school dressed as their favourite book character. Lucas originally wanted to dress up as Eragon. 'All I need is a white long-sleeved soft shirt with a collar, and a brown leather waistcoat. Oh, and brown trousers,' he said. 'Mmm... and brown boots!'

We brainstormed a little more and decided that he would go as Jared Grace from the Spiderwick Chronicles instead. Jared is pretty much a normal-looking boy. All I needed to score was a red hoody (thank you, Peacock's, for selling one for £8) and make a book that looks like Arthur Spiderwick's book. So off I went to the study in search of an old-looking hardbound book. I found a Mrs Pepperpot book and covered it with black paper. I downloaded an 1840s-style script font and printed out the title of Arthur Spiderwick's book, stained the printout with tea to make it look old and pasted it on the black cover.

Ladies and gentlemen, here's Jared Grace:

The little girl next to him with the funny look on her face is Madeline although I have to admit she looks more like Lola from Charlie and Lola, or Pippi Longstocking with slightly less messy hair. :)


I would like to thank Circus Queen for giving me something to blog about today. I've been struggling with a few blogging attempts that I've made in the last week or so, mainly because they deal with my personal history. I keep this blog mainly to keep in touch with close family and friends, and I'm careful not to write anything that could hurt their feelings. Not that I'm harbouring any secret hatred for any of my loved ones, but sometimes we have different versions of how things had happened and how things are now, and I'm worried that if my version clashes strongly with theirs, they'll think that I'm being deliberately hurtful. It's just that recently, I've been rummaging through bits and pieces of my past, trying to find out why I am the way I am and how to get to where I want to go. The process has been liberating and the temptation to write about it here is proving too strong to resist. Maybe one of these days. . .

Fortunately, this meme from Circus Queen came along and gave me something to think and talk about, and hopefully I'll be able to avoid expressing any existential angst. Heh.

I am . . . a voyager. I used to describe myself as a wanderer, especially in my twenties. I spent a large part of my young adulthood trying out different things, looking for somewhere I could fit in. I think my main problem has always been that I'm someone who found at an early age that I could be good at different things. I divided my leisure time among drawing and making things, making up stories, learning maths and science, and singing and dancing. When the time came for me to choose what to do for the rest of my life, I was completely at a loss. I tried being a scientist, then I was an editor and writer. When I got married, I was certain that my wandering days were over. I was going to be a wife and mother, and a career woman. I realised soon enough though that wasn't enough, that my journey couldn't possibly end there. I prefer to call myself a voyager now though, because I feel more certain about where I'm going, and I now have a home of my own that I'll always return to.

The bravest thing I have ever done. . . is leave home and go on an aeroplane for the first time on my own to join my husband here in the UK. I was seven months pregnant at the time.

I feel prettiest when . . . I'm wearing a dress. (My grungy twentysomething self would be horrified.)

Something that keeps me up at night. . . Hmm, I'm not very good at sleeping and the slightest thing leaves me wide awake at night, be it a school activity that I have to prepare for (especially if it requires a costume!) or a financial niggle. Sometimes, I get so excited about a project or an idea for a project that it keeps me up all night. I now keep a notebook next to me so I can just jot my worries, ideas and to-do lists down and that helps a lot.

My favourite meal is. . . definitely a Filipino one. Squid adobo, fried tilapia and squash and fine beans cooked in coconut milk, with rice served on banana leaves. For dessert, I'd have leche flan and mango ice cream. I would probably have a bad case of indigestion afterwards, but it would be worth it.

The way to my heart is . . . little acts of kindness, not just towards me but to other people as well.

I would like to be . . . more tolerant of myself and other people. I used to have what I considered to be a high set of standards for my friends and myself. (For example, I refused to be friends with people who couldn't spell.) Over the years I realised that they were just silly rules that were stopping me from appreciating what is good about myself and everyone else.

I'm tagging My Peasant Feet and Katie Green Bean. I'll probably add a few more people later, but now I have a couple of children to dress up for school!