Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Talking Body

After day 6 of my 30-day yoga challenge, I took off my shirt, stood in front of a mirror, and frowned at what I saw. Recently, I had accepted that I could not out-exercise the way I eat, so I've been trying to make better food choices (and not necessarily always succeeding). I know this is a great opportunity to build up the virtue life keeps prodding me to acquire again and again: patience. Sure, I've been working out more consistently and eating a bit more mindfully, but real results aren't going to come in a week or two.

After turning away from the mirror, I thought, "Life is too short to spend in a body I'm not happy with," and resolved to step up my efforts. I was tired of hearing people tell me that I "have such a thin face." (It happens a lot more often than you'd think.)

But maybe this yoga challenge is making me more enlightened, because immediately after that thought came another: "Life is too short to spend being ungrateful."

My body, for all my perceived flaws, has served me well all these years, and I realized that I hadn't even thanked it for all that it has done for me. So, body, THANK YOU.

For allowing me to keep dancing, and for remaining fairly flexible.

Photo by Felix Angue

For letting me finish a half-marathon, even without sufficient training.

For letting me keep playing the sport I love.

For carrying a child for nine glorious months, and producing enough breast milk (with equal parts difficulty and determination) for 22 and a half months before my son self-weaned.

Photo by Sara Black. Makeup by Omar Ermita.
For being able to do pull-ups, something I haven't been able to do before--not even when I was younger and lighter.

For allowing me to bear the weight of a toddler who's growing fast and seems to be all about the gains.

This gratefulness doesn't mean that I'm about to let myself go--it's just enabling me to see my body in a whole new light. I want to work out and eat right not (merely) because of vanity, but because I know my body deserves to retain its strength and its resilience and its beauty (in spite of--or because of--everything it's gone through: childbirth and breastfeeding and just plain getting older). It deserves to be treated with respect, and it deserves to be loved and nurtured. Just like the rest of me.

Photo by John Paul Santos

Monday, April 13, 2015


Today was tough.

A's yaya resigned last week, and it was our all-around helper's day off, so it was just me and A. Like all toddler boys everywhere, he found numerous ways to give his mother a heart attack--jumping from the top of his slide, climbing halfway up our steep stairs by himself, throwing things in the air that could possibly hit me or, worse, him on the head. He also stubbornly exerted his will and threw a couple of tantrums (he's two, after all, so all par for the course).

At some point, I was so tired from chasing after him, and saying no no no, and (shamefully) even raising my voice. I was in a foul mood and desperately wanted reinforcements. But I reminded myself of two things: 1) full-time moms everywhere had to do this every day, and 2) these days--of spending one-on-one time with him, of him wanting mommy's attention--are going by all too fast.

I stopped looking at all the things that were going wrong, and instead decided to relish this magical time in his life. That change of mindset did the trick. It turned my frustration into gratitude. 

I took him out, so he could expend some of his boundless energy. At the toy store, he spent so long in front of a keyboard with a microphone, and I just laughed as he put on a show for me. 


He wanted to be carried around for the most part, and though my arms were tired, I figured he's only going to get heavier, and I resolved to carry him for as long as he'll let me. When we got home, I set out some dinner, and he uncharacteristically sat in his chair for the entire meal. He finished all the food I  prepared for him, and even managed to feed himself (and the floor).

Later, after he asked me to sing and dance my way through Hi5's house hits (his version of a lullaby), we were lying in bed in the dark as I waited for him to fall asleep. Out of the blue, he said, "Mommy? Love you!" It was the first time he ever said "love you" unprompted. I don't know if two-year-olds even know what that means, but my heart just melted. It made this--this day, the doing-it-by-myself, the exhaustion--all worth it.

Today was amazing.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

A Prayer for Rosemarie

Walking back to the office from dance class, I would normally pass beggars on the street. Shamefully, I've somehow become inured to street kids, blind people holding out cups, mothers cradling babies on a sidewalk. Perhaps it was a conscious effort to put up a wall, because if I don't, I would just feel so incredibly helpless. When a kid knocks on my car window, or a man in crutches holds out his hand as I make my way down the MRT stairs, I feel my heart closing up. Sometimes I even close my eyes. Because I can't take it. I often think that what little I give can't help anyway. Or that if I help one, I have to help everyone else. Or that they're just part of a syndicate.

Maybe this is what happens when you've lived in a developing country all your life.

But tonight was different. As I hurried along on the sidewalk, I stopped dead in my tracks. There, right by the bottom of the stairs of the Boni MRT station, in front of 7-Eleven, was a mother holding a kid in her arms. This kid had an enlarged head due to hydrocephalus (a condition wherein fluid accumulates in the ventricles of the brain). And I don't know if it's because I'm a mother now, or because I recently hung out with a real-life good Samaritan who always does random acts of kindness (hi, Mark), or because I was still on a high from dance class and my defenses were down, but I felt compelled to help. I fished out a bill and put it in their bowl filled with coins. But that just felt useless.

I bought them some bread and water from the convenience store, then I crouched down and talked to the mom. The child's name is Rosemarie. She's 9. The mom (Rosalinda, if I remember right) can't work because she has to take care of her kids. "Sinasabi ng iba na ginagamit ko lang ang anak ko," she said, "eh paano naman ako magtatrabaho?" The noises from EDSA would drown out her voice, but from what I could gather, they would go to National Children's Hospital whenever fluid had to be removed from Rosemarie's head. There are plenty of people who are willing to help (in fact, while we were talking, quite a few handed Rosalinda some bills), but it's the doctors who don't want to operate on the little girl. So there's nothing that can be done. All I could do was meekly offer to pray for them.

I cried the rest of the way back to the office. I kept asking, why does this kid have to suffer? What is the point of it all? Being poor is hard enough without throwing an incurable sickness into the equation. I just cried and cried. And kept asking why. And I hated that there was nothing I could do.

I remembered a book I read a long time ago. It was about a man who didn't believe in God because of all the suffering in the world. A monk took him to see a gorgeous mosaic picture, and the monk explained that there are dark tiles and there are light tiles, but if you put them all together, it is a thing of beauty. The atheist scoffed at the idea of comparing suffering to a dark tile.

I felt that way as I walked and cried, walked and cried. Was this all just part of a bigger picture?

Then I remembered the little girl who asked Pope Francis during his Manila visit, "Why do children suffer?"

And if the pope doesn't have an answer, what hope do I have of figuring it out? He's right about one thing though. I've learned to weep again.

Say a prayer for Rosemarie please. And her mother.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

First Love

For the past few months, life has been more hectic than usual. My workload increased significantly because my mag went through a revamp (keep an eye out for it next month!), we were working on two issues at once, plus I was editing two books on top of already demanding magazine work. A typical day would have me leaving the house in the morning, and going home to spend a bit of time with my son in the evening (whether it was to have dinner with him, give him a bath, or just say goodnight), then heading back to the office and working until late. I was working 12- to 16-hour days. Even on my trip to Vietnam, I was in front of a laptop every chance I got. After weeks and weeks of this, I was starting to burn out.

So I went back to my first love. 


It seems counterintuitive, but I really believe that the busier you get, the more you need to pay attention to yourself. But who has the time? I've come to realize that moms never have the time—so you have to make time. The kid will always be there, needing your attention. Work will always be there, with an endless to-do list. And if you let these rule your life and you forget about you, well something's gotta give. You have to shut off the mommy guilt and believe that a happy mom is a better (more efficient, less harassed) mom, and the people around you—your kids, your co-workers—will benefit from that.

The minute I started dancing again, I felt happier. Dancing is the only thing in the world that can make me forget about everything else. I'm so focused on memorizing the choreography, and then on mastering the nuances, that for an hour there are no deadlines, there is no stress—it's just me, the movement, and the music. And the effects last well beyond that one hour in class. I go back to work or go home on a high, and the anticipation of the next class helps keep me afloat.

What's one thing that you want to do for yourself? Even if it's just an hour a week? Think about it. Then go out and do it.

Lots of people have been asking—I take dance classes (usually jazz funk) at Acts Dance and Arts Academy (Unit B Messanine GA Tower 1, EDSA cor. Boni Ave., Mandaluyong City), which is a short walk from my office. Join me!

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Fear of Flying

Lately, I've been thinking a lot about dreams. It started when a friend told me about his amazing goals for the year, and I was so impressed by how he seemed so driven and confident that he could check them all off his list. And then (and this is going to sound kind of ridiculous), I caught The Princess and the Frog on cable, where everything Tiana did was in pursuit of her big dream of owning a restaurant. It hit me that I don't have that—a dream that I relentlessly pursue, that serves as my North Star. Of course there's my son, and my dream of a great future for him, but I don't have a dream that's purely for me.

When I thought about it, I realized that the last two years of my life have just been about getting my bearings. (When I met an astrologer, he asked for my sign, looked at his chart, and said, "Well, you've had a shitty two years.") My thoughts were on recovery and on just getting through each day, working hard and raising my son, and just keeping everything steady despite whatever inner turmoil I was going through. But now that the dust has settled, I'm starting to wonder: What's next?

I've always been afraid of dreaming big, because the "hows" get in the way. I want to travel the world! (But how will I fund it?) I want to be a children's party stylist! (But how do I even start?) I want to teach a dance class! (But how can that happen when I'm not a certified anything?) That last bit is also telling of another barrier that I've erected for myself: Before I get serious about something, I want to know as much as I can about it. And when I get so overwhelmed thinking about the skills I need to develop and everything I (feel I) should learn, I end up being paralyzed. Often, I can't just jump in and do it

For the longest time, I held on to just one dream. And when that came crashing down, it not only added to my fear of dreaming, but it also left me without direction. Where do I go from here, after all my heart desired is no longer possible? And what's the point of dreaming when, even after giving it my all, it still crushingly doesn't come true?

Maybe the point, I've come to realize, is for me to be redirected towards a new path. Maybe the point is for me to have the courage to dream again, despite failing spectacularly the last time I allowed myself to do so. Maybe the point is to dream a bigger dream.


It's an interesting place to be. It's a scary place to be. But I feel in my heart that it's exactly where I'm supposed to be.

Monday, December 8, 2014


This morning felt like one massive Pinterest fail.

I had my day all planned out. I was going to wake up early, get a workout in, bake cookie cups (to be used for ice cream), decorate the tree with A (quality time!), then leave for lunch at a friend's house by 11:30 a.m. Take that, Martha Stewart!

By 12:15 p.m., my experimental cookie cups looked like hardened golden-brown blobs that I couldn't manage to remove from the muffin pan (I ran out of butter for greasing), and I feared that the regular cookies I popped into the oven were burnt because I was so distracted by my extra-clingy son. A, being very good at being nearly two, decided to throw a fit, and I was left to decorate the tree on my own, while simultaneously trying to calm him down. The classic Christmas carols I was playing over Spotify ("for ambience") seemed like a discordant soundtrack to his sobs. A little later, I gave him a bath, and not for the first time did I wonder if I was bathing him or if it was the other way around, because I came out of the bathroom drenched.

I felt frazzled as I arrived at my friend's place, and was apologetic as I presented my container of freshly baked, nearly burnt cookies, which I deposited beside fantastic-looking store-bought desserts. But the delicious food and great conversation with the girls I've known for over two decades allowed me to let go of my disastrous morning. Plus, they devoured my cookies, so I suppose I did something right?

I had to go home earlier than everyone else as I had work to do. (Still do.) As my son napped, I decided to quietly finish trimming the tree, before buckling down to transcribe (my most detested work chore) and write. When A woke up and cried the cry of just-woken-up toddlers everywhere, I turned on the Christmas lights on the tree. He was mesmerized. I think he even said, "Wooow!"

I had a crate made using wood scraps, and went with a Filipinana theme for the tree: capiz stars from Dapitan, raffia angels and twigs from Kultura, and sinamay from Carolina's.

I wasn't able to pull off the whole baking-decorating-looking fantastic thing the way Nigella would have done it, but in the end my cookies turned out OK, and my son seemed in awe of our tree. My domestic diva dreams weren't quite so perfect in reality, but eh. Whatever gets the job done! 

P.S. I have two containers of crumbled chocolate chip cookie cups in case anyone's interested.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014


I hadn't even left Ho Chi Minh yet, and already I was daydreaming about my return.

I didn’t expect to fall in love with this city, but I guess love has a way of sneaking up on you like that. (May ganon?) Ho Chi Minh, a.k.a. Saigon, wasn’t even on my list of places to visit—I just booked a flight on a whim, while my brother was still working there (free accommodations + foodie tour guide = why not?). We landed at past midnight, so I didn’t get a good view of the city as we headed to District 2 (very Hunger Games), where my brother is currently staying.

A few hours later, as the sun came up and I still lay in bed, my brother walked in and asked, "Have you looked outside?" I stood up, pulled back the blackout drapes, and looked out of the 13th-floor window: On the highway were hundreds and hundreds of people on motorcycles. "Parang mga langgam!" remarked my tita. Being from Manila, I thought about how hellish it would be to drive amid all those motorbikes, but I've discovered that people here are much more disciplined riders, and I'm told that there's hardly ever an accident. There's a rhythm to the way the motorbikes move here (in fact, when you're crossing the street, you're not supposed to stop, and it's second nature to them to avoid you), and entire families of four pile onto one motorbike, so you have to trust that safety is foremost in their minds.  

We flagged down a cab—something that's remarkably easy to do in Ho Chi Minh—which took us to District 1. We stopped at what looked like an alley lined with knock-off Van Goghs and other paintings, and came upon a decrepit (but clean) building bearing a sign: “L’Usine.”

We made our way upstairs, and found ourselves outside the most charming-cool cafĂ©—black and white tiles, slate gray walls, sunlight streaming through picture windows. I was smitten; if HCM had little gems like this hidden all around the city, then I was in for a treat.

As the day progressed, I found many other things to delight in: My mom and my tita said that the tree-lined streets and quaint shops reminded them of old Manila. (Never mind that one of these “quaint shops” was actually a Louboutin store.) I didn’t tire of seeing the French colonial architecture, and I appreciated how the chipping paint and worn facades gave buildings so much character. 

And the food! A few days before my trip, a nutritionist told me that carnivore me had to watch my red meat intake as my uric acid was higher than average. Vietnamese food was just what the doctor ordered—fresh spring rolls, steaming bowls of pho, and lots and lots of vegetables.

Even with all these things, I still had a hard time determining why the city seemed to have such a strong pull. After some reflection, I realized it was because it offered the less frenetic pace that I’ve been looking for. Even while in Ho Chi Minh, I was perpetually answering text messages and email from work, and sitting in front of a laptop every chance I got. I’ve been working so much—leaving early, going home just to have dinner with my son and give him a bath, then going back to the office to work til 11 or 1 or 2; working on weekends—that my psychosomatic stress symptoms (hives, for one) have again begun to manifest. My life was (is) just all kinds of crazy, and Manila reflected that—the never-ending to-do list, the demands, the traffic. Being in Saigon reminded me of the kind of life that I crave.

I want a life where I get to eat at cute little restaurants tucked away in old buildings...

...where I get to have an amaretto sour and oysters at sunset, while laughing with family...

...where I get to meet interesting new people, and hang out at a bar and just have good conversations...

And I have to stop myself from getting carried away and plotting a move to Saigon, and just appreciate the lesson it’s taught me: I can find these things back home. I just need to make time to do so and bring some balance back into my life. It’s not the city that needs to change—it’s me.