Lessons I learn from my son

Roque, my four-year-old, has been extra clingy lately. He would insist on lambing time with Mama in the morning between his morning milk and bath time, and again at night between dinner and bedtime.

He was adamant as to where the lambing should take place: always upstairs in his room in the morning, and on the sofa downstairs at night.

Given that we also have a very demanding 9-month-old and no extra help at home, it’s difficult to indulge him every time even if I wanted to. I tried to introduce the idea that lambing can be present anywhere, regardless of what you were doing. This was met with resistance.

Last night, as I went up to put the baby to bed, Roque made me promise to come back down and lambing with him on the sofa after I had laid Cortez, the baby, in his crib. Super tired and sleepy myself, I absently agreed and promptly fell asleep, Cortez on the bed by my side. 

Tired of waiting, Roque soon came upstairs to get me. Thinking to get out of my promise (and really, a bit annoyed and not wanting to get up from the comfy bed), I tried persuading him to just lambing in bed with me, which caused him to start tearing up in frustration because ‘we had a deal, Mama! You said you were going to go back downstairs and lambing!’

Muttering and grumbling, I finally made it back to the sofa. Snuggled up to me, he softly said, ‘Mama, I want to tell you something.’

‘What is it?’

‘Diba when Cortez does something wrong, you don’t get mad at him. You comfort him right away…’ He trailed off and his earnest face dissolved into tears.

Roque is by nature a playful and energetic boy. He is almost always on the move — dancing, singing, running, jumping, laughing. Because of this, it is inevitable that days with him are filled with warnings being given and admonitions being yelled. And because of the baby, oftentimes the yelling becomes the priority and the hugs take a back seat. To him, it seemed that all Mama did was get mad at him but never at Cortez. 

My heart broke as I realized that this was the cause of his recent clinginess; my sweet boy was feeling sad and neglected.

I hugged him tightly and explained as well as I could the difference between how a baby understands things and how a bigger boy does. I squeezed him tight and assured him as well as I knew how that Mama and Dada love him so so so so so much and that he gives us so much joy.

He clung to me and cried and cried, and I marveled at how lucky I was to have a child like him, who continued to treat his baby brother with sweetness and kindness even as he felt unfairly treated.

We cuddled a bit more and stayed up later than we should have on a school night, but exhausted or not, I was determined that he got his fill of lambing. 

Every day, I realize more and more that I learn from my kids more than they could ever learn from me. In the four years that I have been his mother, Roque has taught me patience, kindness and empathy, among other things. He has forced me to pause and take a long, hard look at how I treat others, at how I view the world, at how I live the values I claim to espouse.

I’m convinced Cortez arrived to make sure I don’t get smug about the lessons his brother had taught me.


Fed is Best

We went to the pediatrician’s this afternoon for Cortez’s monthly check-up, and I expected to be in and out after the routine length and weight check and vaccination. To my surprise, I was stopped at the hospital entrance and asked to surrender the milk bottles I had with me.

Apparently, the #OurLadyOfLourdesHospital (#OLLH), where my kids’ pedia holds clinic, has been accredited by the #DepartmentOfHealth (#DOH) as a mother-baby friendly hospital and as such, cannot have milk bottles brought inside its buildings.

I explained that my 5-month-old son was due a feeding in about 30 minutes and asked if there was a waiver that I could sign. The answer was no.

I was told that I was, of course, free to come to the lobby to retrieve my child’s food at any time and feed him outside the hospital.

I began to seethe.

Now I purposely waited several hours before writing about what I feel about this unreasonable, illogical, stupid and discriminatory directive, in the hopes that my rage somehow dims. It hasn’t.

This mother-baby friendly hospital only welcomes mothers who directly breastfeed their babies.

No, it doesn’t count if you express milk and have your child drink it from a bottle. And God forbid that I actually feed my child formula. Without a doubt, I must be the worst kind of mother there is! I should be grateful they let me in at all!

Don’t get me wrong, I am not here to question the pros of breastfeeding. I am all for it and have great respect for mothers who breastfeed. I would do it if I could, but unfortunately, my breasts refused to cooperate.

Hardcore breastfeeding advocates can argue until next year about how anybody can produce milk if they only try hard enough, and they may even be right, but the fact remains that one can hardly will one’s empty breasts to produce milk on demand.

I would like to believe that each mother does the best she can for her child, and at the top of the list is making sure her child does not starve.

Yes, direct breastfeeding is ideal, but guess what, ideal is not always doable for everyone.

Ideal is not always doable for mothers who work, and the next best thing may be expressing milk and having their babies drink it from a bottle. 

Ideal is not always doable for mothers who, like me, have little to no milk at all and so must supplement with formula which their babies drink from a bottle.

Ideal is not always doable for mothers who, for reasons known only to them and we must respect, choose to feed their babies formula from a bottle.

Ideal is not always doable for mothers who have had double mastectomy, OFW mothers who have no choice but leave their infants, and fathers whose wives died in childbirth.

I can go on and on, but I guess mother-baby friendly hospitals would rather babies starve rather than have them feed from milk bottles.

They wanted me to feed my child outside, like it was something dirty, lest I taint their mother-baby friendly image with my evil milk bottles.

Milk bottles aren’t the enemy here, it’s small minds who think up these blanket discriminatory rules and laws that pass judgment on people.

UPDATE: Apparently, and somebody correct me if I misunderstood, this law under the Milk Code is an old one and it is in accordance to the #WorldHealthOrganization (#WHO) policy under the International Code of Marketing of Breast-Milk Substitutes wherein the Philippines was one of the signatories. [Please read: http://www.wpro.who.int/nutrition/documents/docs/wpro_breastfeeding_obstacles.pdf ]

I don’t think anybody is disputing the fact that breast milk is best. It is. But it is also a fact that it is not always doable to breastfeed, directly or indirectly.

I think we can all agree that DOH’s interpretation is extreme. What they should do is strengthen their campaign so mothers can make informed choices, not force everyone to comply regardless of circumstances.


There are Days

There are days when I understand why mothers walk out on their families. Get up, pack their bags and not look back.

My heart is not big enough to contain the love I have for my children but there are days when the crying and whining and demanding become too loud and too much and I have to stop and close my eyes and take deep, deep breaths. And in that moment I see myself in my mind’s eye getting up, packing my bags and walking out the door.

There are days when I understand why mothers smack their children to near-death. Lift one hand and slap slap slap them silly.

My heart aches with each heartbreak my son goes through and I would give anything to take the hurt but there are days when the stubbornness and tantrums and outright defiance get the better of me and I have to stop and clench my fists until they stop shaking with the desire to spank, smack, slap.

There are days when the 4-year-old complains about every little thing I ask him to do and the 4-month-old starts crying as soon as I put him down. Days when the house is dirty and filled with crying and whining, and my head throbs so hard I am sure it would explode. Days when I start running around as soon as I open my eyes trying to take care of two kids and trying to finish chores, and the only time in the day I get to sit is when I pee.

There are days when I can feel everything and everyone clawing clawing clawing at me from everywhere and the hardest thing to do is stay.

But there are also days when the little boy is extra sweet and the baby wakes up smiling. Days when the sun shines extra bright and a soft breeze blows through the house. Days when I have to pinch myself and ask how I got so lucky to have the life that I have.

And so on these days, the good ones, I find quiet moments to stand back and just watch, and remember, for when the bad days come.


Starting School

Roque starts kindergarten in exactly 10 days. I am both excited and terrified. I’m not really worried about him not wanting to go to school, because I know that he enjoyed the one month of summer class we specifically enrolled him in so ‘real school’ won’t be too much of a shock to his system, but the idea of my baby being exposed to the world without me there to hold his hand and explain unfamiliar things to him is giving me all kinds of mixed emotions.

books

I had one book in Kindergarten. One!

I know that he needs to learn to digest and cope with new experiences on his own. I know that only by being allowed to work things out for himself will he be able to know what he is capable of. I know that he needs to go out of his comfort zone so he can stretch and grow and transform. More importantly, I know that I’m not the first parent who has overthought this particular phase in their child’s life.

Still, despite all this knowing, I have yet to be completely okay with the idea that a month from now, I might not be the biggest influencer in my son’s life anymore.

I became a biological mother when Roque was born, but everything I now know about parenting day-to-day, we learned together.

I honestly believe that being a parent to my son has forced me to become a better, more empathic person. Pre-Roque, I’ve never really thought of myself as selfish, but, like most people who don’t have children are, I was. I’m not saying this is something childless people do on purpose, or that they are bad people because of it. It’s just that, by default, yourself is the primary person you think and take care of, so most of the time, your happiness and well-being are what you are concerned about.

Having a child and choosing to take care of that child compelled me to take a hard look at myself and my values. Raising a child necessitated for me a kind of soul searching like no other and with every new situation I am thrown out of my comfort zone yet again.

Do I insist that Roque hug and kiss relatives because polite society dictates it or do I teach him to listen to what his inner voice dictates about personal space? Do I teach Roque to be obedient and do what his teacher says or do I teach him to question and risk being labeled a difficult child? How do I explain to a 4-year-old that fighting is wrong but that he needs to fight back if somebody is being mean to him?

Do I even want to introduce the idea of meanness into his fresh, unsullied world? Is it smart not to?

Often I worry that my son will suffer the consequences of my being a newbie parent; that my making a wrong decision in his upbringing now will taint how he sees the world and interacts with people and makes decisions later in his adult life.

It’s a long term case study and, unfortunately, it would be impossible to erase the slate and start anew if the definitive results show I had fucked it up.

So far, the kid seems to be doing all right though, and I am always amazed at how intuitive and kind hearted and resilient he is. And how funny! Roque genuinely makes me laugh with the things he says and does, and I can only hope he survives childhood with this quirky sense of humor intact.

Almost four months ago, our family dynamic changed when Cortez arrived and Roque became a big brother, a role he enthusiastically embraced (sometimes too enthusiastically, haha!).

In ten days, his life is going to change again, and though I know that Roque doesn’t realize just how big this step is, I do, and I will do my best to be a good parent by stepping back and letting him go.


Lago Update

Hello, it’s been a while. I’ve popped out a whole new human being since I was here last, and we are now a family of four!

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(L-R) Jona, Cortez, Roque and Alvin

Roque is now 4 and starts Kindergarten in two weeks, Cortez is semi-brand new at 3 1/2 months, and Alvin and I are trying our best to remember what babies need and when they need them.

It’s amazing how much a person forgets in four years! When I was nine months pregnant and almost ready to pop, I frantically tried to recall all the things we had to prepare for the baby and all I could come up with were tie-sides, milk bottles, and mittens; I had to Google ‘newborn checklist’ and ‘what to bring to hospital for delivery’.

The first day Cortez was given a bath at the hospital, Alvin and I watched how it was done as if we had never bathed a newborn in our lives.

Having a second child feels very different from having the first. Yes, I’m more physically tired because there are two to take care of, but, somehow, it’s not as mentally exhausting because even if I had forgotten the little everyday details needed to care for an infant, I feel that I am a more capable mother now than I was four years ago.

When I was pregnant with Roque, one of my sisters and I gave birth within a few weeks of each other. The big difference was while it was my first pregnancy, it was her third. I remember Roque and I visiting her and her baby, and being amazed at how calm she was while her tiny daughter bawled her lungs out.

Now with Cortez, I get it.

When I had Roque, I spent the better part of my 2-month maternity leave trapped on the sofa, unable to even put him down to pee because I was too scared to wake him up. The slightest whimper sent chills down my spine and I ran as fast as I could to his side, afraid something was the matter. Before he left for work, Alvin would make and leave sandwiches for me because all I could manage come lunch time was a quick sprint to the refrigerator to get them.

While I certainly can’t claim to be supermom, I can safely say that with Cortez, I am a more relaxed one. Babies cry, that’s what they do, and I have learned to be okay with that. I am not as anal about feeding times and nappy changes and poop color, and these days, I only worry about ruining my kids’ lives a couple of times a week instead of every day.

I am also more optimistic about being able to blog again, which I really missed. I know this sounds strange because how could I possibly find time to write with two kids when I couldn’t with one? But I feel like a part of my brain that had been holding its breath for the last four years was finally given permission to exhale.

Cross fingers that my optimism holds and translates to actual paragraphs.


encore

if i were to pinpoint when i began longing for a second child, i would have to say about a year ago. in the time between then and now, despite my attempts to stamp it out, the longing slowly turned into yearning; the ache to hold a second baby in my arms at times so strong i found it hard to breathe.

madness.

i wasn’t sure i wanted to be a mother in the first place and now here i am, wanting to be a mother of two. everybody i know must either be laughing their heads off or have fainted in shock.

all phases of motherhood are hard — from pregnancy to childbirth to child rearing, but these same phases also bring with them a certain kind of happiness i am incapable of explaining. the best way i can put it is like suddenly having access to a supply of love so abundant it can’t help but overflow and forge new paths to travel on.

universe, know that if one of those paths lead to a second child, i would be very grateful.


food wars: round 2

i don’t want to boast but i think it’s only fair to say that i’m winning in the food war against my one-year-old. turned out, the reason why roque wouldn’t eat during meal times was because we’ve been stuffing him with milk!

in the early food war days, his average daily food schedule went something like:

6am – 5oz milk
8am – breakfast
10am – 5oz milk
12nn – lunch
1pm – 5oz milk
3pm – snack
5pm – 5oz milk
7pm – dinner
9pm -5oz milk

that’s a lot of milk, i know. no wonder the kid didn’t have room for solids. he probably thought i was crazy whenever i tried shoving food into his mouth. we got the go-ahead from his pedia to lessen his milk intake and justlikethat the kid started eating solids like crazy. like crazy, i tell you.

this is how we divide up his days now, food-wise:

6am – 6oz milk
9am – breakfast
12nn – lunch
1pm – 6oz milk
4pm – snack
7pm – dinner
9pm – 6oz milk

the longer breaks in between meals (milk or solids) really made a huge difference. where i used to employ any and all tips and tricks i could think of just to get him to eat, now, i can’t get the spoon reloaded and into his mouth fast enough. often, while readying the next spoonful, i would feel a little hand tapping my arm impatiently and look up to an eagerly open, empty little mouth. it’s been almost a month of happy eating and roque’s cheeks have already gotten fatter, like a chipmunk’s with a mouthful of nuts.

now you know it can’t be all good, and this is the part where i warn you that poop will be discussed.

the downside to my victory is that he’s had toddler’s diarrhea since a few days after we changed his diet. it’s actually gotten better now, but there were days when we had to wash and change him *every* *fucking* *hour* (the only silver lining in this cloud was that those days coincided with his diaper brand going on sale, so heart attacks over how much all this pooping was starting to cost were avoided).

it’s hard not to worry when your toddler poops at least four times a day everyday but i’m doing my best because everybody (and by that i mean his pedia and people on the internet, collectively) says toddler’s diarrhea is normal and it’s supposed to clear up on its own. also, roque’s as happy and energetic as usual, which does a lot to quiet my fears.

on second thought, abundance of poop or not, for this round, i think everybody wins.