June 5, 2012 § 2 Comments

Last year, my stepfather retired from a long career as a rehabilitation physician. I can tell it’s been a difficult transition for him, trying to find ways to pass the time, ways to enjoy the life he’s got — as it changes, as it hastens, as it swerves away from his control.

As time goes on, my parents keep getting older. Usually, I am so consumed with my own life’s petty dramas that, when I finally get a moment to stop and look around, I realize that my parents’ lives are changing too. My stepfather’s hair is whiter than ever.  My mother has new laugh lines and deepened crow’s feet, nesting at the corners of her almond-shaped eyes. Indeed, their bodies grow weaker, their lives shift, and there are illnesses that they can’t avoid. And I can’t help but wonder if I’m wasting the precious time I have left to get to know my parents better.

After college, when I was working at the Foundation, I was living at home for a year or so, trying to save rent money by commuting. When I wasn’t sleeping over at Takafumi’s place on work nights, I remember how I would get home from my long commute, eat dinner, and rush to my room. Like an angsty teenager, I’d spend most of my nights tied to my computer, chatting with my boyfriend and recharging for the next day of work. I was so blinded.

So many years ago, I remember feeling like I’d wasted that precious time with my father when he passed away, and I told myself then that I wouldn’t do that with mom. I would tell her how much I loved her every day. I do tell her that I love her, and I do often. However, I don’t know if I’ve done enough, and often enough, to make her truly feel the deep love and respect I have for her—and for her husband, my stepfather.  I don’t know if I’ve done enough to cherish her life and her experiences, by asking her questions and finding a deeper understanding of who she is and who she continues to become.

Older, wiser now, I realize where time has placed us, and yet here I am again— forgetting to call more often, staring at my cell phone when I’m with them, still ignoring the inevitable, because, in a way, children always pretend that their parents are the constants of their lives.

But, truly, they are a gift, a transient gift.

Thankfully, this summer has offered me some time to think about this. To stop and discover those new laugh lines. To spend a day away from my own dramas, leaning on my mother’s shoulder, watching her fulfill new roles. Last week, I saw her holding her month-old step-grandson, placing a bottle in his mouth and rocking him gently in her arms. My stepfather, the new Grandpa, was looking over them, lovingly. Even now, they find newness in things.

And I get to experience that should I choose to open my eyes.

I won’t have these opportunities with my parents forever. I don’t know if someday my mother will get to hold my own children the way she held that little boy, but I can imagine the kind of love she’d give. I get to take these memories with me. I get to take the memory of a warm Wednesday in June and the love of two new grandparents, a love that was so palpable and so beautiful. I get to take that along with me, long past the days when my parents are no more.

Should I choose to see, I can keep them with me. So, I choose to see.

peanut butter cups and kit kats.

September 22, 2011 § 3 Comments

This week, I’ve had this insane craving for peanut butter cups. I don’t eat them often, but there was something about this week that made it difficult for me to abstain. In fact, I did the exact opposite and devoured an entire package of peanut butter cups from Duane Reade. I was probably a horrific sight to see after the crime, but it just felt right. It felt like being a kid again — before I knew that eating a whole pack of candy was the wrong thing to do, before I knew anything really.

When I was young, there were these special nights when Papa came home from work with treats for my older sister, Dianne, and me. Ate Dianne usually got Crunch Bars or something of the like, but I always got Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and Kit Kats.

I never knew why Papa always got me peanut butter cups and Kit Kats. I don’t remember telling him that I favored the two types of chocolate, and, actually, I have always been pretty impartial. I’d eat anything. Nevertheless, Papa would come home with those treats in tow, each type seemingly chosen with one of his daughters in mind.

Maybe he wanted to be consistent. Maybe he saw how savagely I devoured them when he first gave the peanut butter cups to me, and he thought, “Well, that’s what Milna likes best!” Maybe that’s all the store had. Maybe it was random. Or, maybe he wanted to make it a tradition, something sweet for his daughters to remember him by.

It happens to be one of the few things I do remember so vividly about him. It makes me wonder about him. I wonder where he got them from. Was it from schoolkids selling candy for a fundraiser? Was there a store near his dealership in Jersey City? Did he stop by there every few days to pick up lotto tickets?  And, while he was on line, did he throw the chocolates on the counter and add it to his bill? Did he think to himself, “While I’m at it, might as well? For the girls.” Did he even think in English?

I don’t know, and I wish I could ask him. It may not seem like any of this really matters, but there is so much I’d ask him if I could talk to him today. And it wouldn’t have to be deep. It wouldn’t have to be life-changing. I wouldn’t need to know if he was proud of me or what he’d do differently about his life.

I just want to know more about him.

As time passes, I feel that I forget more and more about my father. I knew him when I was too young to know anything, to appreciate anything, to savor anything.  Sometimes, I think that I’m forgetting the sound of his voice. Like I’m losing what little I have left of him. And that’s frightening to me.

Tomorrow marks the beginning of another year in what’s been a lifetime of growing, learning, and living without my father. Perhaps that’s why my subconscious craved for a piece of my innocent past, a taste of what I once had.

A father who brought home peanut butter cups for his youngest daughter, the one he’d never really get to know too.

the bataan project.

March 5, 2011 § Leave a comment

On random Wednesday or Thursday nights, my mother’s house in New Jersey booms with the sounds of familiar voices, the smells of delicious Filipino dishes, and this indescribable, but truly palpable feeling of warmth. For as long as I can remember, mom has been hosting meetings for the Bataan Association, an organization of Filipino-Americans who emigrated from the historic province of Bataan to the Tri-State area. An academic would call them a diaspora community, a group of people from one land – now in another – keeping their ties alive in their new home.

I grew up calling these people, many of my mother’s closest friends and confidants, “tita” or “tito” — tagalog for “auntie” or “uncle.” Through the years, they have cared for me, showed me unconditional support and affection, and, without even realizing it, these amazing men and women have taught me so much about what it means to be Filipino, to be American, and to be a responsible citizen of this world.

Through action, my mother, titas, and titos showed me that true citizenship is not demonstrated simply by providing and caring for your family, working hard, abiding by law, paying taxes and voting. It’s not enough to just move along through life as if it were a self-containing bubble. You’ve got to utilize your powers, talents, abilities to affect change, to help those in need, to leave this world better than when you first came.

I have never been able to separate what I do in life from this responsibility. I yearn to be part of something larger than myself. That’s what the men and women of the Bataan Association and Foundation stand for. They instilled these values, this passion for contributing, in me. I want to help because, to them, helping has never been an option. It is necessity. It is duty.

I’m so proud to be part of the Bataan Association and Foundation, and I can’t wait to help realize the potential that this charity undoubtedly has to change lives in the Philippines. I want to start preparing the Foundation for success in applying for large grants. I want to visit the Bataan scholars we send to college and share their stories with our donors. I want to meet with the regional hospital administrators to assess any major needs. I want to host a yearly medical mission for primary and dental care. I want to create a memorial scholarship in the name of our late founder to send a student from Bataan to medical school.

There is so much we can do. It’s been a slow start, but I’m ready to give more. It’s overwhelming, and I hardly have the time now, but I can’t sit by with all of these ideas, and let the opportunity to do something — anything — slip by. I’ve got to act.

my mother, the great

August 1, 2010 § Leave a comment

My mother is bold.

She is this unbelievably independent woman, unyielding and stubborn, a willful and powerful force whose beliefs are founded in steel and in stone. I’ve lived my life in awe of her being, and I’ve always felt that the most distinctive facet of her character is the way her actions have always been marked by some great sense of purpose.

As she grows older and continues to improve the already perfect soul within her, I am amazed by her benevolence, her fortitude, her spirit, and her enduring commitment to fulfilling her potential — and to augmenting mine.

I’ve spent the greater part of my thinking years aspiring to resemble her.  I’ve come to realize, for better or worse, I’ve always been the product of her hard work and her nature, and I can’t escape falling into the mold of her semblance.  Not that I’d want to anyway; I’m lucky to be hers.

Sometimes, I think about what life would be like — what I would be like — in another world with another mother.  Essentially, I wouldn’t exist at all.  I wouldn’t know what I know. I wouldn’t feel what I feel. I wouldn’t have become the woman I’m learning to be today.

I realize that it all begins with her.  She is the starting point, the impetus, the catalyst in my life. She has been mother, father, friend, confidant, healer, even foe.  Whether or not I wanted it, she has provided me with everything I’ve needed to become better.

My life is good because she wanted that above all else.  My heart opens almost effortlessly, my convictions are as firm as stone, and my strengths grow like they do — all because of the experience that is my mother.

She is a sight to behold, to remember, to cherish.  My mother, the great.

loved ones wearing smiles

February 7, 2010 § Leave a comment

I am so proud of this photo.

a charmed life.

November 12, 2009 § 1 Comment

In the twilight of a breezy night in Montego Bay, under skies where stars shine brighter than in the pink evenings of Newark, I waded in a lima bean-shaped pool, surrounded by the voices and faces of my childhood. These faces seemed only slightly changed from the way they looked back then. Maybe a little older today, maybe more laugh lines and crow’s feet, maybe more experiences weighing down on their shoulders.

Yet the feeling stays the same. This unbelievable sense of safety. This knowledge that, as long as you have these people loving you, the world is going to keep on turning, and you will always be just fine.

I think about my family often. Especially these days, when I’m questioning most things around me, wondering and wandering around, trying to find a home for my mind and my ambitions. I think about my heart’s contentment when I am with them. With people who have never done anything but love me and push me forward, and when I push myself too hard, they’re the ones who calm my restless nerves and my flightbound feet. And they bring me back to earth.

I have always been so thankful for the charmed life they’ve given me, and I will continue to be profoundly honored to call them my own.

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