BATU, Indonesia. Photo by Jes Aznar

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Single motherhood: muddling through the mayhem

My latest blog on The New Internationalist:

I write this on a busy Saturday afternoon. I had just emailed my last story, a few minutes past the deadline, and before I put the clothes out under the scorching heat to dry.

I am lying on the bed with sheets I have yet to wash. Near my aching legs are heaps of dry clothes I have to fold and beside me is my five-year-old daughter who is sick with high-grade fever. The thermometer reads 37 degrees Celsius at the moment, down from near 40 degrees last night.

The sink is overflowing with unwashed plates, the last one from a bowl of cereal, which I just served my daughter.

Welcome to my universe, a paradise in mayhem or a mayhem in paradise as the case may be, depending on how exhausted or sleep-deprived I am.

This is my life of single motherhood. I am a journalist and blogger, chasing stories while being a mom to a little girl. I juggle my time and sanity among my daily coverage, her life and the bills I need to pay.

Today, same as yesterday, she is sick and truth to tell, it is hardest when she is sick.

It is distressing to worry about her health when she is sick, but even more painful to see her in pain. As if all this is not bad enough, it’s also heartbreaking to realize that in the end, whatever happens, I am the only one to be blamed.

My daughter gets sick once in a while. There are no warning signs. It hits at the most unexpected times, much like a thief in the night.

I remember driving her one afternoon from one emergency room to another because her platelet count had hit alarming levels. She was there on the backseat, sick and pale as a ghost. It was just the two of us.

I didn’t know which to be more worried about: her high-grade fever or that she might fall from her seat.

Her health is not the only problem. Once, for one whole week, I was cracking my brains thinking how I would raise money for her tuition. It was three days to go before the deadline.

But somehow the great universe always finds a way and that is where my faith lies. That in the darkest of hours, when the going gets tough and the bad becomes worst, the universe figures something out.

Many people think that women like me tend to glamorize or romanticize the travails of single motherhood.

That we shouldn’t complain because it is a situation we brought upon ourselves, a place we chose. That’s what many say in this society filled with self-righteous people.

But if romanticizing is a way to keep sane amidst the chaos, then so be it.

The fact is, in the Philippines, there is a crop of women struggling to raise their children by themselves.

My dream is for our government to recognize this segment and to recognize that for every 25 people, there is a single parent, according to Newsbreak, an online investigative magazine.

The initiatives can be as simple as providing state-run daycares that can be trusted by single mothers for their children while they are off at work. Or access to discounted vaccines. Or discounts in drugstores, business establishments or in tuition at their children’s schools.

How about discounts in hospitals? Or better access to healthcare? Perhaps access to emergency loans from state-run financial institutions.

This is not to say that single mothers deserve more care than other segments of society. It’s just a stark reminder that we do need help from the state. I fervently hope it can recognize this reality.

The possibilities are endless, as endless as the stories of all the single moms out there.

Every single mom has a story to tell. And each story is truly her own.

I know of a single mom’s son who looks at every street beggar intently, hoping to find his long-lost father.

I know of another single mom who lost her husband to pirates on a desolate island in Africa.

There is a single mom who mustered the guts to attend the wake of her kid’s father, in full view of the married father’s legitimate family.

The stories are as varied as they are painful.

The lesson I learned from my own story is that no matter how much you try to stretch your heart to give your offspring the storybook family, sometimes it just doesn’t work the way you thought it would.

Curtains fall. The music stops. Dreams vanish.

The good news is that we can always weave better dreams and change the story of our lives. As I said, the universe always finds a way.

My story is woven with heart-wrenching reality and enormous love every single day in the rented shack I live in; with my beautiful five year old who patiently waits for me every night and begs me to stay just a bit longer every morning when I leave for work.

We’ve gone through thick and thin, shared heartaches and tears, endured each other’s screams and rolled over in belly-aching laughter.

We now have made room for the man in our life, a man who courageously and generously wants to share in our story.

This is our story. No romanticism. No glamorizing. Just lots of love, lots of pain. And lots of kisses, too.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

safe and sound

With every word i live again
Through the eyes of another
We’ll meet at night wet from the rain

And surprise each other
With how we take away the pain
Could you be the one to find me safe and sound

Love is how it’s lost not how it’s found
I don’t know those eyes
But i see beauty there always

I know it’s wrong to love you from afar
But it’s a craze
You recognize my pain

Could you be the one to find me safe and sound
Love is how it’s lost.. not how it’s found
Love is how it’s lost.. not how it’s found

I’ll take away your pain
Could you be the one to find me safe and sound?
Love is how it’s lost .. not how it’s found
Love is how it’s lost .. not how it’s found
Love is when I’m lost.. not when I’m found

- Azure Ray

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Patient Number 20

(an interview in the psychiatric ward of a government-run hospital)

For three hours she waited for her turn. There was no turning back. She had put off this day for years. She would have all kinds of excuses -- no time, no money, no reason at all. She wasn't scared that she'd be diagnosed with a mental disorder. The thing that scared her most was the possibility that the psychiatrist would find nothing wrong with her.

That being the case, how could she then explain those days of total madness when all she wanted to do was to be alone, away from everything? No mother, no father, no daughter, no husband. Just alone. In the dark. Not the please-save-me-from hell kind of shutting down. Just total silence, away from the chaos, far from the wild rumpus.

But she didn't have much choice. Her husband dragged her to the hospital. The night before, she lost it again, even if she promised herself and him that she wouldn't snap again. But she did, as she did before and the nights before that.

So she went to see the psychiatrist. After more than an hour, the doctor, he with several letters after his name -- indicating perhaps that he is one of the best in his field -- is staring blankly at his computer. He does not know what to tell her. As she knew deep down before she stepped inside the clinic, the doctor would dismiss her case.

"There's nothing wrong with you. The symptoms you have are not enough," he tells her.

But cautions, in the same breath that the signs could lead to a bigger problem if ignored -- bipolar, anger impulse disorder or depression.

Patient number 20 is not surprised. She knew the doctor would dismiss her case. Hell, yeah, maybe, as the doctor says, she just had a bad week. He could be right. She has it once a month, for more than a year now.

But deep inside, she knows what's wrong. A therapist before him had told her before: "You're stuck, somewhere in your childhood years and you handle life as such."

Patient number 20 left the psychiatric ward knowing she would be skipping her next appointment. It's the same old story.

She just doesn't want to cross the desert as Hagar did, or gather bones like La Loba, the Wolf Woman.

That, little does she know, or is probably too proud to admit, is the only work that she has to do. No more lining up in psychiatric clinics.

Friday, May 11, 2012

The Invisible Tug

Where ever I am, there's an invisible tug that never goes away. And even in the silence, I hear her infectious laughter.  Whether I’m in a different time zone, in a war-torn province in the south, in a secluded island in Palawan, in an abandoned hut 200 steps above sea level or in the comfort of the shack I live in, there's that constant pull. Always eager for my attention. Always willing to share her life with me.

"Ma, look at this." "This, ma, this!" "Ma, listen, listen!" It could be a new drawing, another dance step. A new song or another story she wrote.

There is never a quiet moment unless she is asleep.   

The tug is always there, whether I’m exhausted from work, hungry, sleepy, sleep-deprived or simply hormonal.  And it breaks my heart that sometimes, I’m just too crazy to not respond.
Last week, I received early Happy Mother’s Day greetings. But I'm thinking...I really have yet to truly, deeply understand what it really means to be a mom.

                                (mother's day manna from Jes Aznar)

I’m still learning. Every single day. With every tug. With every song and dance. With every step she takes. I'm guessing it would be another Happy Tug Day.