Substitute Human

The cat had lost her appetite, yet she did not have a physical ailment.

Her heart was broken.

Her owner, my husband had not been cuddling with her as much. She used to sleep on his side of the bed, acting like his little spoon. But due to his recent shoulder injury, he had not been sleeping on that shoulder. He had been sleeping facing away from her.

I know that the cat’s heart is broken. Not only did she stop waiting for him in the foyer to come home from work. She also just came to my side of the bed… to me, her less preferred person, at this odd hour to cuddle with me and ask for petting. She was so lonely, she gave her paw to me twice, and I stroked it, hoping that for now, I am enough.

Heart on my sleeve

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I love how you kiss me before you leave for work, how you text me every weekday just to say hello, how you do the laundry conscientiously (thanks bjj), how you cook the best dinners and weekend breakfasts, how you take me on Community Day dates, how we rotfl while catching up on our shows, how you play with Niko and look after him while I’m busy or tired, how you gobble up the food I make even if it’s meh or of questionable quality, how as an IT professional and all-around techie, you put up with my Luddite qualities, how you understand and appreciate me. I want you to know, that even if you don’t say it often, I feel it. I love you, too.

Happy Valentine’s, Papa Bear!

Remembering how to play

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Dear Niko,

It’s been a long time since I wrote.

Truth is, I’ve been overwhelmed. By a career path I’m good at but don’t love. By a dream I need to pursue even if it means facing the truth that I’m not good at it and may never become better at it. By being away from you, physically, mentally, emotionally. By recurring health issues in mind and body.

I’ve had a rough past year. I’ve made a lot of drastic changes but I’m still adjusting. One of the changes: stay at home to care for you full-time.

I thought I would be awesome at this. I thought I would be on top of house chores. That I would be exercising Zen like patience when you don’t listen, when you lie, when you hurt me, when you forget to say you’re sorry. I thought your potty training would be a breeze and that I would have your home schedule all figured out, along with my efforts to care for my health and follow my other dreams.

I thought I’ve had some challenging roles. But this is the hardest role I’ve had thus far. Every day, I’m still winging it. Sometimes, I feel so blessed I get to spend so much time with my sweet, smart, talented child whom I love with all my life. Other times, I wonder: what the hell was I thinking? What made me think I could handle this level of responsibility?

Over the last few weeks, I’ve realized – I’ve forgotten how to play. As a child, I used to play pretend with my sisters all the time – with or without toys, inside or outside. I played multiple characters – protagonists, antagonists. I developed exciting plots – tons of humor, action and drama. Then, I grew up… got busy with school then work then life and slowly, I forgot.

But you’re teaching me. You’re helping me remember. You’re helping me find my inner child beneath all my hardened and broken pieces.

I’m not sure when I’m going to find things easy, I’m not sure if I ever will. I can’t promise to always be fun and not have any down days. You will likely still catch me off guard when you ask, “Mama, what are we doing today?”

I will never be perfect. But for you, I’ll keep learning and re-learning. I’ll keep working to find balance. To care for myself, too, so I can be my best at caring for you.

I love you. We’ll figure this out together!

Love,

Mama Bear

Second Birthday Blues

Hi Niko,

It’s your birthday.

You turn two today.

Time goes by so fast. I’m happy you’re growing into a smart, handsome, kind (sometimes crazy) boy. But at the same time, I feel bad that so much of your life is passing by without me at your side.

I often wonder how other moms do it. How do they go about with barely any sleep, cook all the meals for the family, keep the house clean, do the laundry, do budgeting, spend 50-60 hours working and still care for a young child?

Truth is, without your father and Tita (and/or Grandma) – I really don’t believe I can manage. I either go nuts trying to get work done or I feel extreme separation anxiety when I am unable to spend more time with you. So yes, the house is constantly a mess and the next meal is always a mystery. For someone who plans ahead and manages a lot of projects at work – I just plain suck at managing a home.

Often, I come from work tired out of mind – that I am not even able to give our family quality time.

But know that if I had a choice, if we can afford it (this state, and country in general is insanely expensive), I will leave the corporate world in a heartbeat to care for you full-time. I am not sure if I will be any better at keeping up with chores but I know I’ll be the best damn mom that I can be, not half-assing like I am right now.

Know that I keep working not only because I want you to have a better life, the best life. I also keep working because I want to excel at something (in addition to being your mom). So that when you grow older, you’ll know that at some point, in some other way, your mother rocked. Then, maybe, I could hope to inspire you like you continue to inspire me.

I love you, Son.

Hope you have a happy birthday!

Love,

Mama Bear

On Material Things

Dear Niko,

When I was in grade school, I had a yaya (house maid) – several yayas in fact that took care of me. I would buy a new stuffed toy almost every week, thanks to your grandpa, and I would often go clothes shopping with your grandma. We weren’t rich but I thought we were doing very well.
And then, at some point, we weren’t. Money was really tight. I remember getting teased at school because I only had enough cash to buy my favorite sour cream Vcut chips but then, the price went up from 10 to 12 pesos so, I couldn’t even afford it anymore. I was also made fun of for wearing shoes that weren’t branded. Hey, at the time, I thought they looked pretty cool. Then, when the hippest phone was a 3310, I still had a 5110.

I was very envious of other kids for not needing packed lunches, having cash to spend, wearing expensive brands and owning the latest devices.

That was high school. But through college, followed by a few years of work, my financial status kept shifting and ultimately, my thinking changed. I mean I still like having nice things but even if I don’t have them, I’m okay.
Right now, we are not rich, quite far from it. But we are blessed. Childcare is too costly but your Titas (aunts) have been helping us out. We have a roof over our heads, food in our fridge (after we do groceries soon) and our friends and family have gifted you with a constant supply of clothes and toys.

Sometimes, we will have nice things, sometimes, we won’t. I want a nice, comfortable life and the best things for you, and I know that growing up, you will still want what you don’t have. But Son, I hope that when you get older, you realize that the best part of life is enjoying what you do have.
Right now, I don’t need to tell you that. But when you start experiencing teenage angst due to material things, like your mother did, I might have to show you a photo of your toddler self, enjoying a laundry basket more than your actual toys.


Love,

Mama Bear

How long is a year?

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How long is a year?

Long enough for me to watch you with joy, pride and wonder as you aced each milestone – smiling for the first time, holding your head up, saying your first words, eating solids, sitting up unsupported, sleeping through the night, crawling, standing, walking and getting your first tooth.

Long enough for me to continuously question my capabilities as a mother. Many days, I’ve run on empty but because I love you and because I am accountable for your wellbeing, quitting is not and will never be an option.

Long enough for me to experience “too many cooks in the kitchen” where there are too many opinions on how to raise you. Although suggestions are highly valued, your father and I must still aggregate and filter all available information, sometimes making mistakes in our decisions, so that we could find our own way.

Long enough for me to deal with bouts of anxiety and depression while I struggled to balance family, health and career. Only to realize that things will never be perfect across the board and that I can be happy just from doing my best to get by.

At any other point in my life, a year would have felt like such a long time and yet, it feels like it was only yesterday that I first saw you, held you and heard you cry.

I love seeing you grow and become more independent, and yet, I already miss you being so tiny and fragile. I already miss you asking to hold my hand with every step you take.

The first year went by too quickly and yet, it was long enough for me to feel all the beautiful, scary, all – enriching things you’ve made me feel.

I love you so much, Niko… Although you are officially a toddler now, like I’ve said many times before, you will always be my baby boy.

Happy First Birthday, Baby Bear!!!

A Letter to Tita Ninang (Aunt-Godmother) from Baby Bear

Dear Tita Ninang Den,

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The first time you took care of me, you didn’t have prior childcare experience. Grandma showed you how to hold me, feed me, change my diaper and get me to sleep. While Mama Bear only gave you one simple rule: “Don’t drop the baby.”

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In less than 4 months, with very little guidance (because Mama Bear is also new to all this) you’ve become an expert babysitter. You looked after me while my parents worked or rested. But you did more than just keep me satisfied with food, naps, clean diapers and play time. You serenaded me, read me books, helped me prep for my baptism (by playing coffee shop background noise for me every day so that people wouldn’t scare me so much on the big day – and it worked). You took awesome photos and videos of me that I hope to look at when I get older.
You sat next to my carseat and made sure I didn’t get cranky during car rides. You sacrificed a lot of sleep so that you can have time to both work and look after me.
You’ve been such a big help to Mama Bear and Papa Bear during this tough transition period of having their first kid.
Now that you’re back in the Philippines, I miss you. My days are not the same without you. But don’t worry, Mama Bear is trying her best and I am still the happy baby you know.
I love you, okay? Please take good care of yourself. Thank you for all you’ve done for me so far and for all I’m sure you’ll do to stay a huge part of my life.

Happy, happy Birthday!
See you later!

Love,
Baby Bear
Niko

Your Anxious Mother

Dear Niko,

People tell you many things before you become a parent. But there are things people forget to tell you or intentionally don’t tell you, perhaps, because some topics are deemed too grim. So here is one of the most commonly skipped topics.
Long before you decide to be a father, I want you to know that until you become a parent: you have never known fear, not like this.

I have always been anxious regarding a lot of things growing up. I get scared by potential sources of conflict, failure, helplessness and loss. So, believe me when I say I have never been this scared before. Why?
I worry about you, your health, your safety, your development, your future… and most importantly, I worry about the possibility of losing you.

You got sick when you were 2 weeks old and to be on the safe side, the doctors did a septic work-up on you – which was apparently a series of tests that required poking a baby all over, even taking spinal fluid from you (to rule out meningitis). You were admitted and confined in a hospital on your first Thanksgiving. So, imagine me and your father clinging miserably to each other because we couldn’t bare to see you suffering… and quite spectacularly on a night when our family should have been celebrating. I wept, wondering what we could have done differently – maybe we should have waited longer to take you out of the house, maybe we didn’t keep you warm enough or cool enough, maybe my breastmilk was not giving you the antibodies you need…image
Thankfully, on the third day, you were cleared of any concerning infections and we were able to bring you home. I can see why people don’t like talking about this. Up to now, thinking about this event brings me to tears.

You’re a week away from turning 5 months. You’ve had 2 sets of vaccinations already. You’ve maintained a healthy weight (consistent 90th percentile). I’m still paranoid about you catching sickness, but I gain a little more confidence every time we go out on an excursion with you. However, I’ve gotten myself a new fear to face… every night within our home.

You’ve been rolling a lot and you’ve discovered the comforts of sleeping on your belly (I was also a tummy sleeper before I got pregnant with you). That’s fine although what’s terrifying is how I’ve been catching you sleeping face down. I’ve lost plenty of sleep, pondering if you would always wake and turn your head without fail in case you had difficulty breathing. You see, Son, your mother sometimes gets over-educated by the Internet which worsens her anxiety. As an example, I learned the meaning of rebreathing.
Hence, I did some more research and purchased you a breathable mattress pad and breathable sheets. Even with all the positive reviews for these products, I’m still afraid. I still regularly check-in through the night to make sure you’re breathing and to turn your head as needed. I hope that in just a couple more months, the worries about safe sleep would go away like the forums say they would.
I can tell though that there will be another cause for fear after this and that my list of fears involving you will just keep growing and growing.

Now, I have heard people say that nothing can make you appreciate your parents more than becoming a parent. Based on my limited experience, I find this statement to be true.
I want to thank my parents, your Grandma and Grandpa. I’m just in the early stages of motherhood and if I’m already frightened by so many things, then, I can’t even begin to fathom how scary it must have been to raise me and my two sisters over the last three decades.

Ma, Pa, for all the times I scared you and still scare you, I’m sorry. For all the things I was too little to know or recall and for all the things I do remember – like when my head got stuck between the balusters of our balcony as a toddler, or when I stayed out too late without bothering to give a heads up as a teenager, or when I went to the emergency room multiple times as an adult.
I want you to know that I love you and that I appreciate all the fears that came and come with caring about me. I could only hope that someday, Niko will see all the love behind my fears and appreciate how scared I am, too.

Oreo’s Ordeal

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This is a follow-up post to:Your Two Sister Cats and Stomatitis

Your sister cat Oreo returned to the vet today to get her teeth cleaned. Unfortunately, most of her molars and premolars were in such bad shape that they had to get extracted.

She had to receive anesthesia for the dental procedure so, we were told not to expect her to feel like eating or doing anything at all. We were also told that if she does eat, she will most likely just throw it up.

Of course, when she came home, she defied the anesthesia. Having fasted 8 hours prior to the visit, her hunger got the better of her and she headed straight for the wet food we put out for your other sister Reeses. The little pieces must have snuck into her extraction wounds causing her to paw at her mouth in pain. We tried draining broth from a fresh can of cat food and feeding it to her but she hated it.

She wobbled around the house like a toddler walking for the first time and after watching her fail repeatedly at completing her jumps and keeping her balance in general, we had to follow her into every room.

Thankfully, your father had a brilliant idea to feed her a wet food variety with larger chunks of meat, in hopes that the bigger pieces won’t fit in her wounds and therefore, won’t irritate her further. She ate a lot without pawing at her mouth and finally, with her tummy no longer empty, she has retreated into our bedroom to sleep.

It has been a really scary experience so far, from leaving her at the animal hospital, to waiting for the call to pick her up, to bringing her home and seeing her so weak and so clumsy.

The doctor said she will feel so much better after her wounds heal for the next couple of days. It’s been heartbreaking to see your sister go through this and I am so looking forward to having my sweet, healthy, happy Oreo back.

 

Your Two Sister Cats and Stomatitis

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You have two big sister cats named Oreo and Reeses. They may not be human but they are part of our family.

Although we adopted Oreo first, she and Reeses came from the same litter. Except for a few common facial features and the likeness in the black/brown stripes on their tails, these biological siblings can’t be more different from each other.

Oreo is a predominantly white cat with large black spots and less pronounced brown marks. She reminds me more of a cow than an oreo cookie. They are both Domestic Shorthairs, yet Oreo’s fur is thicker and fluffier than Reeses.

Reeses used to be called Tiger because of her brown-orange color and black-brown stripes and spots. She has a thinner, shinier coat, probably due to how often she grooms herself and how much she loves wet food.

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Meanwhile, Oreo prefers dry crunchies and is lazier about cleaning herself. She has a petting schedule that she must adhere to. Otherwise, she’s generally the more independent cat.

Reeses is overly attached to your father. She hangs out wherever her dad is, whether he is lying in bed or sitting in the couch to play video games. Oreo is more of a Mama’s cat. She comes to your father for petting, too, but stays with me more frequently and for longer periods of time.

Your sisters have been the sweetest cats and I can’t wait for them to meet and love you like they love us (they are cats though so they are also likely to be manipulating us with this perception). Still, I’ve seen pictures on the Internet of cats being affectionate to babies and hope that you can develop the same closeness with them.

On their annual visit to the vet, your father and I found out that while Reeses is perfectly healthy, Oreo has Stomatitis. This means the gums in her mouth are inflamed and she gets hurt chewing food. If she doesn’t get proper treatment, she could die from loss of appetite and malnutrition.

She took a steroid shot for the inflammation and will get a teeth cleaning next Saturday. Based on the vet’s assessment by then, she will get antibiotics and in the case where the disease has become too advanced, she might need to get all her teeth extracted.

Oreo, being our first cat, was a source of comfort for me. Having her (in addition to reading and exercising) has been therapeutic for my recurring struggles with depression and anxiety (more on this later on). The thought of possibly losing her soon, rather than at a ripe old age, is unbearable.image

She has to be okay. She has to meet you and cuddle with you and take photos with you as you grow up. She has to live many more years so you can be big enough to remember loving and appreciating her.

Your father and I will do everything it takes to help her through this. I promise to be there for your sister during this tough time like she has always been there for me.