Tough Decisions (An open letter to a parent)

Sorry but not sorry.

Tough decisions are invariably also my most unpopular ones. After having five decades’ worth of living and learning from a flock of teachers of patience and understanding, I think I can take the heat.

Dear parent of a child I just started working with in occupational therapy, I have thirty two hard years of clinical training. Ergo, I can afford myself a little measure of gravitas, maybe even an arrogance of my convictions, to not stand down.

I don’t have any reason nor the desire to question your parenting style, so what makes you think you have the right to tell me how I should do my work? A decision had to be made, and it needed to be made immediately, because there really is such a thing as professional intuition. Gut-wrenching sense that this proverbial road was leading up to a dead end pretty quickly.

So. If I say I would not be the right therapist for your child, I meant it in all sincerity. Surely, I am quite clear about my intention not to see your child anymore. You need to go to one whom you can gel with, or good lord, you might even like and respect.

I know myself and I stand firmly by my education and training. I expected you to have a trusting mind and simply listen to what I was offering your child in terms of wisdom and experience in treating her needs. You showed me that you neither understood, nor trusted my desire to help you and your child. You also showed me that if you had no control of everything, even mundane things, you will not compromise. You, madam, are absurdly difficult to reason with.

Do you honestly believe that it took you by surprise that, as early as our few therapy sessions I can already sense you and I will not be able to collaborate professionally? I have met many, many parents in my over three decades of work in my field, enough to realize that you and I have not, and will not see eye to eye on anything of importance.  We are a poor fit, our outlook and values about therapy, and this discordance benefits no one, least of all, your child.

So, as difficult as it may seem right now, as your   anger and indignance will tend to sway you to think of me as having no basis for such an unexpected decision, you will in a figurative sense of the word, “thank” me for letting you go.  We certainly don’t need to pretend to engage in this compulsory dance, any more than we find ourselves forced into doing, when we simply are not in synchrony with one another’s steps.

I cannot say I am not disappointed, clearly each child is a new mystery to unfold. But I want nothing to do with wasted time and energy. You are angry because I decided, and not you.

By the way, your rude treatment of my staff, was uncalled for, and by no foreseeable terms, acceptable and welcomed in my place of work.

All the best to your child.




Down and Out in Neverland

Returning to writing is very much akin to opening a creaky, rusty, haunted door. While nothing was out of place, but since all the figurative “furniture” of memories had been covered with white sheets, this place still is a stranger to me.

It is terrible to think that my will to write is weak, and no amount of good desires and intentions could have ever convinced me to simply lay down those words. Singularly and without nary a backward glance. If the shortage in supply of time were the culprit, why had I squandered the many sleepless nights then? If, in place of peering through the shadowy darkness, should I have not traded one eyes-open stillness for a jot on the unchartered page?    The last time I did do that was so long ago, and if it were even plausible, it might be dumbfounding to suggest that I have not lived fully these past four years. 2012 holds the most recent, or ancient post. That troubles me to the very core of my existence.

How intolerable it is to not come up for air after lingering below the proverbial sea of making a living instead of simply living, cherishing each breath? Like the humble penny, each breath seems insignificant, not enough to register.

And yet, each borrowed and conditional breath, marks time, as it passes by, without ever looking back.





Are you good with untangling this, Mom? Alex asked. By “this” he was referring to the pair of ear plugs that he handed me. “It will take me a while”, I told him.

As I went about pulling one end of it and u-looping the other end, I thought hmmm this can be relaxing as long as I take my time with it. I have no deadline. Alex doesn’t mind the wait as long as he is occupied with texting on his cell phone.

Untangling life is not as easy though.

Alex gets incredibly angry at me often, because his  privileges are taken away from him, one by one, when he defies me, when he doesn’t “behave” the way I envisioned a decent human being to behave, as I say to him. Like the Incredible Hulk, Alex transforms into one giant rock of fury. The maternal voice within asks, “whose child is this?”.  Who are you, and what have you done with my son?

Many days we are two islands whose edges barely touch. But we are two islands basking in the sun, surrounded by sea, under the sheltering sky. When night falls, the stars illuminate and make our little islands visible to one another, to navigate from one to the other, and back.

Sisters as Writers: Ode to Chai

The big surprise today was how richly textured her writing landscape, indeed, was. I am referring to this person marvel of a human being I have met some 39 years ago and still she is a mystery puzzle to me…but in a good way. Of course, I am talking about my sister. Last night she invited me to read her blog.

Whoa. Is she really writing one good incredible thing after another and remaining true and consistent with the depth and breadth of her literary voice and she can exploit the maximum impact of every word. Every word carries its own weight gravitas.

I am envious of inspired by her placement of words that frame her photographs.  They are beautiful photographs. Like her words she chose her pictures that make the words even fly. A thousand words a picture makes, for sure.

Chai can write about any topic and she will expose, defend, elucidate, and/or pursue it with unequivocal passion and commitment. She writes about coffee and world rivers and Dr. Seuss and places of serenity.. all having equal weight. What joy to read her thoughts. What pleasure to meet her, as if for the first time, through her words and pictures.

Chai, thank you for sharing your blog with the world, and with me.


Christine is a friend of mine who still lives in New York City. We met at work in 1989. Between the two of us, she is the one who writes more. I think of her often, though, more than she realizes.

One day, I got a letter from Christine. Oh, maybe at least 4, 5 years ago. “I’m going to send you my book collection about the Southwest Native Americans”, she said.

Why, I asked. She said, “I’m simplifying my life from now on. Stripping it bare.”

Although she comes across to me as one who likes to live simply, Christine also strikes me as the one friend of mine I barely could know, and not for lack of trying. She mystifies me with her various layers. Although she is always truthful to me, she leaves me with that feeling of “not all you see is all you should see”. After trying for 23 years, I have thrown in the proverbial towel, conceding to the realization that I will not be the one who will be her repository of secrets and little known truths.

In her prior “life”, she told me  she worked as a social worker. She also danced for some performance arts company, called the Imaginarium. I know she had told me that she also whiled the late nights away by sewing clothes, as she held her joint in the corner of her mouth (and I thought to myself, “ahh, so typical of that generation”). She had been engaged once to a musician. Christine does love her music, and holds season tickets to the chamber music performances as well as the ones at the St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York.

But after all is said and done, I can’t say I know her.

When I would phone her–and I would always be the one to initiate the phone call (which she more than makes up for, by sending me short notes written on special occasion cards)–Christine talks about work, about people we both knew from work, about how muggy it has gotten in New York in the summer, and other ordinary things. I find that I am listening to all this, but I am not contributing much to the conversation. How I love to hear her voice, but after an hour or so of this, I am ready to end the phone call…and once again, am left wondering who have I just spoken to? Once again, after each phone call ends, she is a stranger to me. How can we consider ourselves friends of 23 years, I wonder everytime.

Christine said she was simplifying her life. The life she had that I barely knew she has had, and whose bits and pieces are coming to me, by way of her book collections. I am to treasure what is being offered to me, and I am to have a carefully curated collection of what “Christine” used to hold and treasure..prior to life’s simpification process.

To Steve Jobs, Thank You

You changed the world forever. You were a bright shining star. You may have left too early, and may have done much more, but you have already left an indelible mark on the world.

Thank you for the inspiration to be more daring and courageous, and to dance to our heart’s music. Thank you for all the beautiful, elegantly simple things that Apple created, and hopefully, will continue to create.  Thank you for making these things that brought joy, changed the way we lived, and connected us to each other. Thank you for the fun, creative, hip, brilliant way we communicate our ideas, share lives, and blaze our own trails.

I will miss you, Steve Jobs.


How I Got My Early Catholic Education

By all means let’s be open-minded, but not so open-minded that our brains drop out.–Richard Dawkins

As I sat in the front seat of my husband’s car, the man waved for me to roll my window down. Then he handed me a pamphlet. The Watchtower. On the cover was the iconic image of JC. I remember this same image from way back when in childhood. Although not much has changed since then. Only that the messengers have changed.

I was born and raised in the world’s largest Christian religion. I attended Cathechism class. By age nine, I was leading the family’s nightly novenas, although I was almost asleep and thumbing my way around my rosary. “The second glorious mystery…” . On Holy Week, which had to be the hottest, humidest time of the year in the Philippines, we refrained from eating meat and from watching television, went to Church to visit the Stations of the Cross, or Via Dolorosa, and repented our sins of omission or commision. The only thing we didn’t do was to engage in flagellation (although I have, on one occasion, imagined myself walking on my knees  to the altar at our town church). My siblings and I went to Catholic school.

Mostly, I got my awakening of the Catholic ways of life as a child from the most unlikely Catholics–Sister Petra at my alma mater. My younger sister, Emma, would tell me that Sister P would kick their Monopoly board off the lawn as she was passing through at the time that the children had all been dismissed from class that day.

At one Sunday Mass, in the mid-70s, in our town in Novaliches, our new Parish priest arrived. During his sermon, he explained how he was aware of what the Japanese military had done to my country during World War II. He asked the people at church to forgive. Instead, the people did not forgive the past, and did not forgive this priest for being Japanese. That was the first and only time I ever saw him.

Speaking of other parish priests where I lived and grew up… there was one who had a gambling habit. Another who drank the wine.

Growing up Catholic in the Philippines meant being surrounded by images of Santo Ninoand of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Most, if not all of my friends’ and relatives’ homes had the image of Mother Mary. Our altar inside the house had all three. Our altar was strategically placed at the end of a short hallway, before it forked into my parents’ and our own separate bedrooms.

When I lived in New York, I had Filipino friends, just a few, but we didn’t go to church together. At New York University, I made new friends who were also graduate students who came from India, Taiwan, or Nigeria. I knew for sure, among my new friends, nobody else was Catholic.

Nobody talked about religion, more to be polite rather than because of disenchantment. Conversations were often philosophical. Nobody was trying to be evangelical. And certainly, noone was trying to do any convincing or converting, or to question their faith. It was all about enjoying good company and good conversations.

I go through life now, taking everything in perspective, and looking into all past as historical, not mythical. I don’t know what to cling on to.

Some days, I do have to try harder to keep my sense of wonder.

Sunken Treasure

My mother, Eileen Calinawan Conda, was a natural-born storyteller.

When we were young, Mama would tell us that she was kidnapped by a band of Muslim pirates, off the island of Mindanao, Philippines. She said this happened right before the outbreak of World War II. She would have been five years old at the time.

Although she was hazy on the embellishments, Mama captivated my imagination. How could she have been taken from her own family by these pirates, and not be found by her parents for three, four years? On the other hand, what adventures awaited a young girl while in captivity?

Mama was the “baby” in a family of five brothers and a sister. Her brothers all served in the Philippine Army or the Navy. They were much older than Mama. Her parents, Maria and Marcelino, were away from home every day. They gambled and drank. Mama was often left home alone. What kind of parents were my grandparents, to leave a child that young?

There were many other fables through the years. Fictional characters fashioned after flesh-and-blood people, family members, friends, enemies. Mama was a master weaver of tales. To the child’s mind, all was as distinct as black and white. But if there’s anything true, it was that Mama, indeed, cloaked herself in gradients of grey.

It might have been when I turned thirteen when I had an epiphany about my mother.

She lied to me.

Her world-view shaped my own.

As I grew older, I resented Mama more. Our battles were a daily thing. Sometimes, I would challenge her version of things. I convinced myself that this was why she disliked me so much. We were enemies from the beginning.

Like a ship that was poised to sink to the bottom of the ocean, our relationship was wrecked. It was irreparable.

When Mama died this past May, I saw her closest nieces at the wake.

My cousins, Lourdes and Teresa, said that our grandparents were rich. And along with that old wealth came all the trappings–housekeepers, nannies, fast cars, fancy dresses, booze, and gambling. How about child neglect?

Mama’s parents did leave her, like she had always said, not with a band of pirates but with the housekeepers and nannies, at home. She was a lonely little girl who wanted to belong to, and to be loved by someone. In order to survive, Mama had to invent her life.

Mama was buried alongside Papa a week after she had died. All that I want now is to rediscover her stories, just like one would for sunken ships.


You can avoid having ulcers by adapting to the situation:  If you fall in the mud puddle, check your pockets for fish.  ~Author Unknown

Change is a good thing. Change can be a good thing. It’s an opportunity to stretch a little, or a lot. Like waking up fresh in the morning.

I accept change, of course. But honestly, thank goodness there’s such a thing as constants. No matter how far I must bend over backwards for change, I gotta know that I can return to my starting point. So, as my writing exercise for today, I’ve compiled my list of constants. It’s a short list, to my surprise!

Here’s my list:

Sushi is my comfort food. When I was pregnant with my son, Alex, I dragged my husband to a sushi dinner almost every other day, while we lived in Newport News, Va. (As an aside, perhaps eating sushi wasn’t such a wonderful idea after all. Not while pregnant at least, due to the controversy surrounding autism and a possible link to mercury).

I’ve been known to take a day trip with family to San Diego just to satisfy the craving for fish. Heck, it doesn’t have to be always expensive. We’ve done Todai and Tora in San Diego. I am not ashamed to admit that I gorge on sushi whenever a chance presents itself.

Certain smells–roses, citrus, fresh-cut grass, baked goods straight out of the oven, extra-virgin pressed olive oil. There are a few more but these are my top five.

When I was eighteen years old, I was infatuated with the smell of cigarettes (yuck), especially on a man’s hand. It doesn’t get any weirder than that, does it? And, no. I didn’t have a crush on the guy (his name was Andrew). At least, not consciously? He was nineteen and back then, everyone wanted to look cool. Smoking certainly, by late 70s’ standards of cool, fit the bill. I still say, yuck. Cigars? Hmm. Cigars do smell sweet and nice.

Office supplies–pens, pencils, paper clips, merchandise tags, Crain stationery, all kinds of boxes and containers. I do a Staples run once every couple of weeks–just to see if there’s any new technology in the pens and pencils section. I did find a no-break mechanical pencil, how about that? The niftiest stuff, though, is at Target. Gosh, do they hire designers for their alligator clips? I won’t be surprised. I’m not alone in this–I sometimes walk the stationery and school supply aisles at Target to feel Inspired, e.g. find a color combination for a scrapbooking page.

Hoarding scrapbooking papers and tools. If you’re not a scrapbooker, or if you don’t go to 2Peas, you won’t understand this. But take my word for it. It is either a religious cult, or mass hysteria  So, is amassing an indiscriminate collection of scrapbooking-related doodads still an old and reliable standby for me? Recently, it hasn’t been. The husband thanks me for this. The children heave a sigh of relief that they haven’t been recruited to do the job of manning the Sizzix and cranking out 100s of flower die-cuts. And me? I’m just on a temporary hiatus (because I’ve got a current obsession with bb creams from Korea hah!)

Last but most certainly not least, my home, as my epicenter, my constant constant. My home is definitely not Home and Garden’s material. But for all its craziness and clutter, I can’t wait to get home at the end of a work day. So much of my heart is here.

How do people move out of their houses after having lived there for years? We’ve lived in ours for fourteen years now. We moved in on December 17, 1997. Our children were one- and three-years old then. This is our first house. When we (eventually) move, we leave behind a part of our heart. And soul. No wonder ghosts stay behind.

Rocca and Nutella


This is little Rocca, who like her sister, Nutella, is now ten weeks old. They had their first visit with our veterinarian, Dr. Waples, DVM, today.

Getting two baby guinea pigs was not my idea. My daughter threatened to walk out of the house towards Petsmart (just a couple of miles) in 90+ degree weather (not so brilliant of an idea), unless she can get guinea pigs.

Since Thor died–at least this is how I saw it–Renee has been looking for a new pet. A pet she can talk to (do teenagers never choose their parents first?).

“We’re not looking for a replacement for Thor”, I told her. Nope. It’s too soon.

One weekend in April, hubby and I went to San Diego, used yelp to locate some local pet shops and chose  the Animal House on University Avenue. The guys who owned/managed the shop said their breeding pair just had brand-new babies the day before. Ah, Fate!.

(Newborn cavies-as guinea pigs are also known-are precocious. Meaning, they are born fully-furred, eyes open, and can basically walk around and eat what their mom is eating. But it’s still adviseable to wait until they are weaned off from their mom at 4-5 weeks of age).

Lance, the one who has never been known to gush over anything, said, “The babies are cute”. Translation: let’s get a couple of baby guinea piggies.

The driving distance between San Diego and Yuma is about two and a half to three hours’ worth. And we had to come back in at least four more weeks, once or twice, if Renee and Alex wanted to check on them.

When we reached Alpine, I told Lance, “you know, that wouldn’t be such a bad idea, whatcha think?”  When we reached the Acorn Casino, Lance called the “Animal House guys”, paid them in full for two girl piglets, and vowed to return and pick them up when they were ready.

On June 4th, Rocca and Nutella came home. They didn’t drink nor eat for eight hours. But by 1 o’clock in the morning, I said to my daughter, “That’s it. We’re gonna have to hand-feed them”. And we did, pellet after single pellet.

It took all of thirty minutes for the girls to be fed about six pellets. Yipee.

I’ve become familiar with, and look forward to their wheekings (piggies are highly vocal beings, and this particular sound is reserved for their humans when they beg for food or attention or both).

When you love someone, you can’t avoid spoling them a bit. Rocca and Nutnut will eat their veggies only if we hand-feed them as they lay across our chest. A little sacrifice, in exchange for the big pay-off of seeing them grow each day.

On a few occasions, I even get a piggie kiss or two.

That is Nutella, or Nut, or NutNut, enjoying face time with Dr. Waples, DVM. We found out today that Nut is having babies! Dr. Waples heard at least two heartbeats.