Tucked beneath winter’s dark blanket, held magically under a silver moon’s spell, it sounds as if all Saxony is fast asleep.
All, except my daughter, that is.
The tiny one has kicked off her blankets and socks, crawled unceremoniously out of bed, and proceeded to drag me along after her, to play. At 3am.
Jetlag can be cruel.
While she gnaws at toys in the old box we opened up from when her brother was a baby in this house (our in-laws), I contemplate.
I’d needed help with the new baby and toddler, since a C-section operation was expected. Household help and nannies were no luxury in Asia, and I knew it would be many months of recovery before my body could be back to normal. Besides, I was homesick—for chicken adobo, and social neighbors, and the sharp/sweet fishy taste of bangus belly, and cinnamon sand between my toes.
My husband agreed—begrudgingly—to move us all back, and we set up house in a quite historical little place called Subic Bay.
It was here in Olongapo City that the Americans had stationed their troops for many years. But since the fatal eruption of Mt. Pinatubo in the 90’s resulting in a giant evacuation, and other historical events, the Bay town was now a tourist stop, for leisure and slow living. We thought it would be a nice place to live with the kids, in stark contrast to Manila’s grit and grime, where we had no intent on raising them.
On the first day of March, just as we’d scheduled, this feisty girl was born, steps from the ocean’s mouth.
And when I saw her, so strong, so dark-eyed, so full of life, spunk, and at times, complete seriousness, the name my husband suggested (well, we still debate who came up with it first) stuck.
Three months later, both children contracted pneumonia and were hospitalized, one after the other.
In the thick of this crisis, I learned the most about being a mother. The strength I never knew I had: the kind that fights for life, never gives up hope, and never succumbs, even when the tears and trials are too many. When the kids had recovered and the worst had passed (as it always does), I also got back to healthier living, exercising, regaining myself.
Life was precious, as it always had been; only now, I’d come to cherish it even more.
In the year that was 2013, it seemed too, that the Philippines as a country, suffered horrendously. Natural disasters occurred nearly every month; rife with civil wars and political drama. It scares me to list the recent events that happened just this week, as we were leaving: a bus falling off the highway near my parent’s house and killing over 20 people; murder at the airport where an 18-month old baby’s life is lost to the bullet; holdup at the mall.
When one becomes a parent, priorities change: suddenly, all you care about is your children’s safety, security, finding a place they can come home to and feel no fear.
And as much as I love many things about the Philippines, we knew we wouldn’t stay forever.
No place in the world is perfect, and this side of the planet has its downsides as well. But when you can’t have it all, at least you can choose where is best for the moment.
And now, in this stage of our lives, when the children are young and need a solid foundation, fresh air to breathe, structure and nature, we find ourselves back here in Middle Europe again. Here, my partner and I, then a young and carefree couple, walked through enchanted forests, climbed ivory sandstones, drove through golden fields and swam in Spring.
So we’ll stay here awhile in this beautiful place and nurture them. I hope they’ll make fond memories, too.
My children, my pride and joy…they were the best things about this year that was. The source of my ecstasy and exasperation, frustration and freedom.
Freedom? You ask.
Because, in a strange way, they keep me untied down. They teach me how to easily let go, say goodbye (or “until then”), and start all over.
So many days, my son has asked me, as we’ve packed our things into boxes and bags, as we’ve gotten ready for takeoff, and strapped ourselves safely into constricting airplane seats, “Are we going on an adventure?”
And each time, I’ve answered him, “Oh yes—yes we are.”
It is in this exact moment, recalling our adventures, that I hear my boy laughing in his sleep. Not a tiny chuckle, but the giant, uncontrollable kind of laughter.
I smile along, knowing they’ve also taught me to enjoy life, heartily and for no reason at all. To laugh out loud, and dance all crazy, just because it feels good, and it’s fun.
And now, excuse me, my daughter’s just done a stinky…this note must end abruptly.