Thanks to a recommendation through social media, a few nights ago I watched an animated short film on Neflix called Canvas. The story is about an elderly gentleman who looks like he is of African heritage and is wheelchair bound. He is coping with the death of his wife and as a result, was reluctant to pursue a hobby of his, which is painting, so much so that he avoids the art studio in his house. He is grappling with grief as he watches over his granddaughter who comes to visit and shows interest and skill in art.
The film is short and one that has no dialogue, and I find those types of animated films really captivating. In order for a silent film to be effective, the background music, sound effects, and imagery in every scene needs to provide the right impact. It is the perfect opportunity to apply the principle of ‘a picture can speak a thousand words’.
The artistic style of the animations shift when depicting real life scenes in the film into something different when depicting ideas and history. The thoughts of the characters and backstory are showcased using a ‘drawn pencil’ style, while the actual scenes with his granddaughter, the abandoned art studio in his house, or the backyard were the default animated style.
In the beginning, the grandpa would look at his granddaughter with reluctance whenever she would be in the dining room drawing. He would pass by the hallways of his house, and try to avoid looking into a dark part of the hallway that has a clothing rack of his wife’s clothes, that hides a door into an abandoned room that served as an art studio. His grief upon his wife’s death was so intense he couldn’t pick up a paintbrush and canvas, and one time he threw down his easel in anger.
His granddaughter, as expected of curious children, eventually discovers the hidden door and sneaks into the art studio room. He also saw his wife in a dream. That seemed to be the wake up call that the grandfather needed to acknowledge the bittersweet feeling of losing a love one, and to reconsider doing artwork again.
Now that I’ve reached a milestone with my husband, being together (dating and marriage) for over ten years, I wonder about the routines and interests that I have that are strongly linked to my life and interactions with him. He was the one who inspired me to pursue doing arts and crafts for various purposes, from wall decor and paintings to practical items like blankets, pillows, and oven mitts. He loves to call these items in our home “items made with love” and now, he refuses to buy decorations and linens from a store. If we need something at home, like a cooking apron or a lap quilt, he would ask me to make one and I’d happily make them.
If heaven forbid my husband passes away before me, would grief drown me the same way? Would I be reluctant, at least for a while, to make art, to sew, to paint? I go to bed every night literally wearing my husbands’ and my clothes, all woven together in the quilts I made in our master bedroom. If the love of your life is gone, I can imagine how difficult it can be to navigate through seeing household items that are tangible signs of the life built together over a long time. This film, in a short eight minute time period, depicts this is a way that is well done.
This film is a must-watch. I am really grateful for that social media screenshot image that encouraged me to watch it, as it was published on Netflix with no big promotions. The link to the Netflix film is https://www.netflix.com/ca/title/81332733
My husband and I had a particularly challenging weekend sometime in June this year. As if the pandemic is not enough. In times of crisis or particularly stressful situations, people react differently. People’s reactions can possibly be categorized into the following: fight flight or freeze mode.
Similar to how we face a threat that is directly affecting us, people might react in the same way if there is a crisis about their loved ones, especially if we are directly involved in their daily lives. Some people are in “hyper solution mode” or “fight mode” running around getting things done, getting everyone together to act, and then after this adrenaline panic-solution mode, they get exhausted and worn out. These helper types, dedicated to support their loved ones, end up not realizing they need to care for themselves too.
There are some people who have intense outbursts of emotion during times of crisis, getting stuck and unable to provide tangible practical solutions to resolve the crisis at the end. I personally describe this as the ‘flight mode’ especially emotionally. However, in my opinion, there is value with how these type of people respond even if it may be off-putting at the time. They demonstrate the emotional impact, the reality and seriousness of the situation at hand.
And there are people that are in silent mode, I would say is the ‘freeze mode’. Those who are too quiet or maybe two numb or lost, unable to determine a course of action. It’s not necessarily that they’re useless in the time of crisis, however, it takes prompting or direct, specific instructions to get them to do anything. Whether it is direction from the hyper solution-focused loved one, or being prompted by the emotional outburst of the others.
Particularly for long-term relationships, I think it is really important to understand how our loved ones respond during times of crisis.
This is because different reactions or solutions would be more appropriate depending on the situation. If someone is in medical distress, it probably would be important to be more solution-focused at least until the severity of the situation is minimized. However, it is important to acknowledge the intense feelings that have come up because of the situation. Imagine your loved one being taken away by ambulance – there’s the peak emotional state and then there’s the crash afterwards. In many crisis situations, solutions, support, and follow-up is more of a marathon not a race. There needs to be diligent planning and follow-up and ongoing communication so that the problem at hand can be fully resolved.
The valuable thing about knowing your loved ones’ mechanism when responding to crisis as you can pick them up and support them during times when they are struggling. Some people struggle with displaying their emotions even after the fact, even when it’s safe, more appropriate, or even healthy to do so. Some people get paralyzed and unable to do proactive helping in the heat off the crisis and that can be detrimental as well. I think it’s important for people to have faced crisis situations to feel vulnerable enough and unpack their emotions afterwards. Being self-aware of one’s own tendencies are just as helpful.
This is speaking from recent experiences. I think, or I hope, that I’ve figured out my own and my husband’s mechanisms when it comes to crisis solving. There will be times when he’s not willing to talk about it just yet and that’s okay. Sometimes disconnecting from the situation for a bit by browsing the internet is an okay way to provide yourself some relief. And it’s important to acknowledge that. He gently suggested a couple times for me to meditate because he knew that it would be helpful for me, and I honestly would not even thought of it if he had not brought it up.
It’s important for loved ones to not be judged by their coping mechanisms. It is also important to gently and lovingly nudge your loved one to get supports that you are unable to provide. It took me a while to acknowledge that sometimes I just need a talk therapy session with a professional to help unpack my emotions so that I can be less filtered in my language and be more candid in a way that works at specifically for me.
To be heard, understood, supported, and pushed sometimes, is really important to maintain our sense of perspective, sense of health, and nurture our ability to help ourselves and our loved ones.
During one of the rare days that I was working in the office this past summer, I dropped by the office of one of my coworkers. He’s a few years younger than me, just finished university a year ago, and is about to pursue another important life milestone: moving out of his parents’ home and moving in with his girlfriend. He started as a volunteer five years ago so we have known each other for a few years and has heard of the relationship milestones that I had myself, particularly reaching legal common-law status with my partner, and afterwards, getting married.
I was teasing him a little bit, and giving some friendly warnings about how moving in together with your significant other is both exciting and unnerving. I told him that getting annoyed with little things such as how toothpaste tubes are placed in the bathroom sink or how a toilet seat or lid is set up will be inevitable. During the chat, I used a phrase I saw somewhere over the internet in the context of a romantic relationship which is “green flags”. When he told me that they assembled a piece of furniture and it went smoothly, I enthusiastically told him that is a relationship “green flag”. He said, he will use that term also moving forward.
In conversations about romantic relationships, “red flag” is a common and appropriate term. It is indeed important to be attentive to subtle and obvious cues, both verbal and nonverbal that can indicate something that is potentially problematic. But spotting positive signs is not encouraged as much. So I was thrilled when I saw the term “green flag”, I think on an internet meme somewhere. Oh, the power of internet, this time for good!
So here is a very introductory list of “green flags” in a romantic relationship.
Both parties are able to be patient and collaborative at the same time. Building furniture, especially from IKEA, is the ultimate test for this. Another way to test this is when cooking a dish together that takes several steps, like cooking on a stove, baking, assembling.
Understanding and respect of differences and limitations such as allergies, food preferences, physic endurance doing an activity, clothing colors or textures of objects they like or don’t like, and more.
Ability to communicate well, outside of romantic expression and having sex
Feeling confident and secure in one’s appearance when around them, there’s no need to fake it to impress
Experiencing a messy bodily illness or function in front of them, and they didn’t freak out too much and judged you harshly. This includes skin irritation, digestive issues, the flu, blood, etc.
And here is a very introductory list of “green flags” in a family relationship.
Feeling at ease in their presence, whether it is an older or younger family member
Comfortable with making small requests, from unloading the dishwasher, cleaning the hair off the shower drain, or a car ride
Positive gestures done in the past is never used as blackmail material or as a guilt-tripping tactic
Able to share casual stories about daily life even if it may sounds like shallow venting
And another short list of “green flags” at one’s place of employment.
On weeks or days that are difficult, there is a feeling that the next day can be a bit better, and it does
Feeling productive most of the time
Having one’s direct supervisor and a few colleagues (not necessarily all of them) be understanding and sympathetic towards the ups and downs of your duties
Not worrying one time about salary and payday
Having functional equipment and honest efforts to fix something when something is broken
Being comfortable with whatever arrangements you make during lunch break
I have two sets of relatives here in Edmonton, two happily married couples whom I observed one action they both do, they address their respective spouses as “mahal”, as in the word for love (and also for expensive, haha!) in Tagalog. I really liked it. So with my partner and now my husband, we address each other as ‘love’. And it’s awesome!
My husband and I chat about our respective workplaces and I share little stories of work activities for staff, social gatherings, and upcoming changes. My husband says with an amused look “wow, your managers actually know how to manage.” Based on stories from so many people we know, we both realized that managing employees is not a skill that everyone has.
I think it’s a good idea to proactively spot ‘green flags’ in our experiences and interactions. It provides an opportunity for appreciation and gratitude, as well as motivation to learn, master and emulate those positive things. This is something that I will try to do more moving forward.
When a child is labelled as an ‘honour student’, that comes with significant implications. There is a barrage of positive traits that are associated with it: intelligent, well-disciplined, capable, confident, admired, role model. The positive associations can also be a heavy-handed set of expectations.
In the Philippines, the English word “transferee” is used to describe students who were new to the school and didn’t start first grade or freshmen year in the school. Growing up in a small mining village with a single school where everyone knows everybody, being a transferee is a rarely-used label.
And then, I became one of those students. Halfway through high school, I moved from the small village to the nearby city.
The move was unnerving for many reasons, and one of them for me is navigating academic achievement and extracurricular involvement. My younger self knew that schools are the same everywhere, that well-performing students get awards and recognition and benefits such as scholarships. The schoolyear stared in June and it wasn’t until November (so about 5 months in and more than halfway through the school year) when I started getting involved again in school clubs.
There were so many things to get used to in this routine. I never had to travel through public transportation every single day, two trips, to go to school and back. It was three years since I lived with my younger brother, and I was living alone in my house-and-business-building dwelling, my sari-sari store, for about a year. It sounds strange to say but I had to get used to living with people again. My brother and I are back to having the mother/father/sister dynamic that we had, only he’s 10 years old and I’m in the midst of puberty.
During the first few months, my priority was knowing names in the school, and within a few weeks, I was successful in knowing the names of my classmates, both first names and last names. The school was previously an all-boys school, and part of the culture was for students to call each other by their last names, since there’s too many students with the names John, Alexander, Anthony, Mark, James, Carlo, etc. The tradition carried on with the female students. So yes, I had to get used to be called General by students during casual conversation. In the early morning before class starts, I hear often “hey yo, General! can I copy your homework?“
But I didn’t join any school clubs right away, because I was still afraid of going home late. I was fearful or unsure on whether the elders, the legal guardian, is aware of the challenges and realities of high school students living in the city. We don’t have a computer at home, so even something as simple as submitting a printed report requires going to an internet cafe in downtown Baguio and it requires a lot of organizing. These city kids seem fancy and wealthy and carefree, and I don’t know how to fit in.
Eventually I was able to articulate, although awkwardly, why I didn’t join clubs. “I feel too shy to go”. My uncle, Tito Roy, who was a teacher in the school, snapped me out of it in his own way. He said how ridiculous that is and told me to “just go and give it a try’.
That really paid off because it opened multiple opportunities for me to feel the same way as in my former school, get involved, achieve things, and have a mental escape from the horrors at home that were about to happen the following year. Managed to be the valedictorian for my graduating class even if I was there for just two of the four years of high school.
As an adult, I think there are times I still feel like this. I found a fancier, but perhaps more appropriate term of it. ‘Imposter Syndrome’. There is a daunting feeling of feeling like an outsider for a multitude of reasons: because of being new and in an unfamiliar space, and being uncertain of one’s ability to be a positive impact in that space. I think the last thing that people want is to be perceived as dead weight or an inconvenience.
Has this feeling gone away? Not completely. I’m participating in the community in ways that I haven’t heard my elders or friends do: help at an election campaign, offer to be a columnist for an ethnic newspawper, submit a writing proposal for a heritage-focused digital writing project, registering to join a board of directors of an organization. So many times I feel a bit lost and unsure navigating these situations. One advice I heard that helped is this: everyone is just trying to wing it. Another one I’m trying is to approach things with curiosity. Instead of thinking “oh man I don’t think I really get what is going on here”, to think “hmmm, what is going on here and what new things I can learn?”
The shy side of my is likely still there, and it’s not the worst thing. A key lesson I remembered from therapy is that “feelings are information”. The feeling of shyness and uncertainty is simply a sign of being new in a situation, experience, or dynamic. And it can be handy in embracing, learning and growing.
Halfway through high school, I had to move to Baguio City, Philippines from the mining village I grew up in that was an hour away. The adjustment was a bit rocky, from having an actual travel commute from my home to the school, being hands-on again with caring for my little brother, and living with my grandmother and my cousin. It was a drastic switch from living alone to living with people.
I was motivated to do well in my new school, the prestigious “Boy’s High” in the city. We were the first batch of co-ed students for the school and it feels like being observed with a microscope all the time. It was an awkward adjustment for everyone, from teachers, the upperclassmen, and students. Seeing students with long blouses, vests and skirts as uniforms was a new sight, as well as female students taking leadership positions in various extracurricular activities.
When I found out that there was a school newspaper, I was thrilled! I joined right away, the new student who is a bit older than some of those who have been part of the club for a few years since their freshman hear. My first task, interview the high school principal for an article. Sounds intimidating, but sure, let’s do it! For context for non-Filipinos, students have a heavy sense of respect and fear of school teachers and administrators.
Our school’s layout was unique, with a road cutting between two areas: the main campus, and the annex campus. When the school switched into a co-ed format, enrollment numbers increased and as a result, a new building was built. The principal’s office is closer to the entrance of the school, on the main floor of the first building of the Main Campus area. My homeroom classroom is also on the main floor but on a separate building, one of the only two classrooms across the open basketball space that housed the chemistry lab, the library, the medical clinic, and the nurse’s office.
I prepared my questions and walked right into the principal’s office, tried to ask politely and in English, on whether I can interview the principal for the school newspaper.
The office secretary told me to come back a few days after during the lunch hour, about 12:30 PM, so that there is some time when I’m not in my class for us to speak. I came to the office and her secretary said that Mrs. Robles is not available, she might have forgotten our meeting, and for me to just try to stop by the same time the next day.
And then, the third time around, I managed to see the principal in her office but she was not available for the interview. She looked at me and said, “you are a determined student, Miss General”. I wondered then if she ever had a student relentlessly ‘chase after her’ before. So we found another mutually agreeable time to have an interview, and I managed to complete my article for the school paper.
This was my primary way to adapting to the new school, immersing myself in academics and extracurricular activities, an attempt to replicate what I used to do. It paid off in many ways, from graduating as valedictorian, getting asked to compete on behalf of the school for competitions which meant a day off from school, free fancy food, and a default 100% score on any quizzes I miss while competing, and a sense of value in myself.
The space and opportunity to be free, vulnerable and silly and weird is a very valuable thing to give to someone you love. While most of my examples are more within the context of a romantic relationships, I think it’s just as valuable within family units or friendships.
“Um….you look like a confused penguin.” My husband told me one night, as I show to him how much I appreciate the new layout of our living room. I tried to point out that there’s room to practice dancing, and showed my awkward interpretive dancing skills, prancing from one end of the room to the other.
“I’m one of those floppy inflatable thingies you see in car dealerships!” He exclaimed, as he walked to the living room wearing his bathrobe. He tucked in his arms halfway through his armholes, and started twirling the sleeves around while bending his torso side by side like a tree. Makes me laugh every time.
A few years ago I was living with a few relatives, where a family friend is also renting a room with us. While we were having dinner one night (and it wasn’t just the first night), he farted, and said “oops” with a giggle. I’m glad he wasn’t mortified. I’m glad that he felt comfortable to realize that he can do a slightly embarrassing, though very human, thing, and it’s not so bad. Not enough grounds to be outcast for sure.
My brother lives in my house and is essentially a roommate. Whenever we have an opportunity to chat in the kitchen, we’d hang out by the kitchen island. I appreciate how much as we grow older, we treat each other more like siblings, as opposed to the parent-child dynamic we had all these years. We talk a bit about current experiences and some past experiences. The language we use though, with inside jokes and unique way we combine English, Tagalog, and Ilocano words, is something that we can only share with each other. This includes talking about dumb things we have seen, heard or done in our younger years, or less-than-filtered opinions.
Only when I started living with my partner (now husband) and my brother, did I feel more comfortable with sounding silly when I talk. Being constantly on edge, and pressured to be a ‘good girl’ and a ‘smart and proper girl’ growing up, it can be difficult to just let loose. For anyone who lives with me now, including our roommates, it wouldn’t be surprising to hear me talking in English with a Tagalog accent, just like comedians, do, just because I can and I won’t be scolded for being ‘ridiculous.’
Ask anyone who has been pressured to be ‘prim and proper’ all the time, or to be in the best behaviour, and I bet they would say they feel more connected with someone whom they can ‘take off the mask’. I hope that this is something that every single person has.
A long-awaited event was finally happening. It was September 2011. My boyfriend at the time (now my husband) was away in the US for a festival named Burning Man, and it was just after the long weekend so things were busy at work and school.
And, my brother was finally arriving to Canada!
The sponsorship application processing took about two years total. And since his application process was identical to mine (Family Sponsorship for Orphaned Family Members), I knew how to help and the process went smoothly. After all was approved, there was a catch. He had to fly to Canada, his first time in an airplane ever, all by himself.
As much as I’d love to fly over there and pick him up, it just wasn’t feasible for me as a student with a part-time job. I also had to spend money to get items set up for him: the actual plane ticket, a phone, computer, a winter coat, his bed and linens. I gave him as much prep as I could and I told him “if I can do it, you can do it too”. I tried to arrange everything so that he lands in Edmonton in the evening, I get to personally pick him up from the airport, and help him get settled in before I go to work the next day.
However, we had a bit of bad luck the night before. Due to the very long lineup for first-time arrivals him and the very short time between flights, the poor kid was stranded in Vancouver. My cellphone got a call from an unknown number and when I answered, it was the voice of an older Filipino man asking for me. When I confirmed who I was, he said “I’m with your little brother and he would like to speak to you”. I was thrilled that he is already in Canada, but he told me, in a slightly anxious voice, that they have to stay at the airport overnight and have an early flight to Edmonton. He and this gentleman and his wife were on the same flight and are sticking together.
It definitely reminded me of myself during our connecting flight in Japan when I was immigrating to Canada. We didn’t miss our connecting flight thank goodness. However, it took about an hour of walking and taking a mini-train to go from one part of the airport to another. My carry-on luggage was a poorly made bag and was very heavy, and I was heartbroken for having to come to Canada and leave my brother behind. A group of adult women saw me and encouraged me to tag along, after they found out that I’m going to Canada, just like them. Going back to my brother, I was relieved that they were kind enough to look after this anxious young man.
I was grumpy when I came to work the next day at the retail store, as I had an opening shift. My plan was to come home early the night before, meet him at home, go for an early shift the next day so I can go home early as well. I was anxious and disappointed that I wouldn’t get to see him right away as soon as he arrived in Edmonton. As we prepared the store for opening, I told everyone who would listen that the flight got messed up and my brother is still on his way.
It sounded like my relatives decided to take him right away to my work right upon arriving. My workstation is visible upon entering the double sliding doors, so the moment he walked in with my relatives, I spotted him.
Puberty is quite unnerving! When I left, I was still a few inches taller than him, as he was 12 years old and I was 16. When he arrived, he was 16 years old, and a few inches taller than me. Not only that, his voice dropped a lot. I heard it a few times over the phone and over Facebook video calls, but it’s still a bit of a shock hearing in person. He was still pretty skinny, just like I remembered when I left. That changed pretty quickly after living in Canada just for a few months.
I squealed in delight and hugged him, a bit of an awkward exchange and most definitely not professional by any means. Our store manager saw the exchange. I’ve talked about this moment for a very long time, so he knows what this means to me. At about 11 AM, just two hours into my work shift, he let me take the rest of the day off.
This was almost 10 years ago, and my goodness has time flown by. There had been challenges along the way, but I hope that I have given him something that eluded both of us for a while. A peaceful, stable home, where he can live in comfort and ease, as he figures out how to be an adult in this day and age. I don’t think I’ll ever shed away the mantel of my role as a mother/father/sister/brother, but he’s in a good state now.
Both my grandmother and my mother were pretty skilled with sewing. Perhaps part of it is because sewing is taught in schools, during the class called Home Economics and Livelihood Education. I know of countless people who claimed that the lessons from these classes, which are taught from Grade 4 to High School, didn’t quite stick. But then, it is something lola and mama continued on in their adult lives.
Lola (grandma) learned advanced levels of sewing and dressmaking from a vocational school she went to right after high school. It proved really handy as she ended up having eight children, and she spent a lot of time making clothes for them. I guess you can describe these clothing as ‘bespoke’. She was also an entrepreneur, setting up several shops that sold various household items. So, her kids get to pick the fabric they want from the store inventory, and she would make these one-of-a-kind pieces of clothing. I heard she these days, she continues to do this making simple clothes such as shorts and skirts for great-grandkids.
My mother, at least when we were much younger, would also make us clothes. I have a particular memory of her making this beautiful dress for my sister’s dance performance. In our village, schoolchildren perform regularly in school and community events, large group dances that are colorful and festive. After my brother was born, life got a bit more busy, and the sewing machine was stored away and was used more as a decorative coffee table, covered by a nice tablecloth and displayed in the house.
The sewing machine now fulfills many roles in my life. There’s the practical and utilitarian side, since knowing how to sew can help fix clothing and make them last longer. Hand-me-downs and thirfted items, worn by other people who have a different body size become an almost perfect fit for me. There’s the creative side, where a beautiful dress that doesn’t fit my chest anymore can become a beautiful sleeveless blouse, or the collection of old t-shirts can become a quilt for the living room, and the bedroom.
And then, there’s something else that I didn’t quite realize until now. It’s the “positive feeling” of continuing an inter-generational legacy. Perhaps it’s the same feeling that people get when they end up loving the same type of music as their elders, or mastering the same recipe that has been passed down onto the generations.
It’s strange because neither one of them actually taught me how to use the sewing machine. In my mother’s case, I was too young, and then she passed away so soon. During all those years I lived with my grandmother, it was she who was at the sewing machine, not me. And when I would bring home the sewing projects I have made from school, she would even scold me for how I badly did them. But I have been on the receiving end of her sewing handiwork. She would go to the old family home and take several bags of clothes that my aunts use to wear, and then she would tailor them to fit me. I have enough dresses go to to church and to go for Wednesday non-uniform days for an entire year without repeating a single outfit. Grandma would tell me which daughter wore each hand-me-down item that she was tailoring to fit me, and she would also complain about how some of the dresses are just too small for my larger frame.
Now I’m doing similar things. From making rags, to hemming pants, to making a personalized apron for my spouse and lots of quilts and pillow cases. He seems pretty thrilled about the opportunity to have uniquely designed items in the house. These DIY-made linens and clothing, he describes them as “made with love”. He is thrilled that between the two of us, we can prolong the usability of pants and shirts, as it fits right along with his tendency to save money.
This method that provided an intriguing combination of partiality, usefulness, resourcefulness and creativity, these women in my life have passed down to me. I guess that is in my way a way of homage, of acknowledging some kind of legacy.
The creative streak in my nuclear family came from my mother. She was a fan of decorating the home, reconfiguring the layout and the furniture to maximize the small two-bedroom apartment that houses a family of six, the parents, the yaya (nanny) and the three kids. It is evident from her elegant handwriting and her signature, and how she is in charge of helping us kids with art related school projects.
She told us the story of how she initially went to university to pursue a Bachelor of Commerce degree and switched halfway through to take Architecture. She can write and draw with both her left and right hands, which was a blessing since my brother, the youngest child, ended up being left-handed.
My father worked as a supervisor for the Safety Department of the mining company, in the village where we used to live. As a result of his job, and perhaps, his love of recycling, he would bring home stacks of paper from the office that we end up using as scrap paper. Most days, he would use these scrap paper to help us with our 5 o’clock study habit. He would take our notebooks where we had a new lesson for the day, craft a simple one-page “exam” to help us test our knowledge, and hand it over for us to answer after we do our homework and read these notebooks. Every time there is a major exam in school, he would compile all these daily exams and it comes a longer practice exam for us to work on. A pretty smart system if you think about it.
As any parent would attest, kids love to doodle and do other fun artistic activities, just to explore and let their imagination run wild. Thanks to the endless supply of paper from our father, finding materials for this purpose is never an issue.
I have a very specific memory of my attempts to fold paper airplanes and make them fly. With the awkward way I fold them though, they would either unravel or would not even leave the dining table after I try to launch them. My four year old self got discouraged. Then my mother reached out, grabbed a fresh sheet of scrap paper, and showed me step by step how to fold a paper airplane. She mentioned how making the edges of the paper meet but not overlap is important, that pressing firmly from end to end will help the fold stay in place. Her airplane was this thing of beauty, of precision and elegance.
She shared another trick to see whether you made a good airplane. The tip of the plane has to be pointy, and she demonstrated this by poking my nose with her airplane. It was sharp and also ticklish, and made me burst into laughter. She forgot about making it fly, as she proceeded to chase me around our dining area, trying to poke me again with the tip of this precisely assembled paper airplane.
The laughter and the teasing usually came from my father, as all our relatives, neighbours and family friends would attest. He is definitely the comedian in every setting, having a joke ready for everyone he meets. This makes this encounter with my mother something worth cherishing, a break from her “persona” as the stoic, workaholic, dedicated and strict one.
Terms and Definitions: Mama is how I refer to my mother, Papa is how I refer to my father and Ate (ah-teh) is how I refer to my older sister.
Dear Mama, Papa and Ate,
Guess what? I just got married!
It’s safe to say that a part of me wished that you all were there. Frankly though, since it has been twenty years since you three passed away, I have a bit of trouble imagining how that feels like. Would I like the feeling of being “walked down the aisle”? The wedding was in a public park, so there was no ‘walking down the aisle’ involved. All the attendees, the nine people, just gathered around. Would I have liked having a sister to brainstorm the wedding details with? Ate, you had a boyish personality when we were kids, but Mama did an amazing job planning our outfits as kids, during Sunday mass or special occasions. I wonder what the two of you would have commented about my choice of a wedding dress. In some ways, I know very well I’m too independent for my own good. So, sorting out many details in solitude, while delegating or brainstorming with him, feels natural to me. No wedding consultants, no bridesmaids, no entourage, none of that.
Throughout the planning and ceremony, we did try to incorporate our family’s story and memories. Instead of a ‘scripture reading’ about marriage, I wrote a page-long speech retelling the love story that made our family, and a moment of silence to acknowledge your meaning in our lives to this day. I also spent part of the morning of the wedding day replicating a photo I saw in Mama and Papa‘s wedding photo album. It’s a photo of the wedding outfits laid down on the bed. The only thing is, sharp patterns of our bedsheet made the wedding attires not stand out as I had intended. I took the photo anyways, since it would be a nice keepsake either way. It’s clear I am not an expert photographer, haha!
I wonder how you would feel about the fact that it was I, the woman, who proposed to Corey. He took it well, and he even said that he was relieved that I was the one who proposed first. He said that his would be slightly less…eloquent. That made me laugh since it’s true. Between the two of us, I am the creative one, the writer.
Another kicker is this, I’m not taking his last name! Now more than ever, I really appreciate how things work in the Philippines, where kids get their mother’s maiden name as their middle name, and their father’s last name as the family name. So that’s me: Giselle Quezon General, where in all of my identification documents I get to keep a piece of both parents. Thank goodness, my lovely husband is pretty understanding and respectful about this. So, for the rest of my married life, I have a wedding ring to wear, will declare in my forms that I’m married, and will still be referred as Miss Giselle Quezon General.
The wedding planning was a bit abrupt, but it felt it was the right move. The wedding took place just within two months after we got engaged. I feel a bit choked up about my mother in law’s medical situation; we found out about the diagnosis this spring. Having a serious illness that can be brutal and unpredictable really sucks. This is why Corey requested that instead of having the wedding on our 10th dating anniversary in 2020, he wanted to have a ceremony ASAP. The only set of parents we have is his, and I’m more than happy to do everything in my power to ensure their active presence and participation in this special day.
If you were wondering why the other relatives were not on this ceremony, I took the inspiration from our very own family, having an initial small ceremony and then a bigger one later on. I remembered when I had to get a copy of the marriage certificates for my immigration paperwork, I needed to remember which wedding date to put on the forms. Civil wedding was in March and church wedding was in June of the same year. So I’d like to celebrate with a bigger event with everyone else when Corey and I hit our 10 year anniversary as a couple in 2020. For someone who is not yet 30 years old, a 10-year anniversary of a relationship is huge! I hope that the extended family will be inclined to come and celebrate next year, and share their wisdom about their own married lives.
Greg ended up being my ring-bearer, and he did an excellent job. I figured, all those times when he did the same task as a little boy will ensure he’ll pull this off with no issues. He did share a few stories from his perspective as a child, being bored with having to be stiff and quiet the entire time during the hour-long wedding ceremony. He said, a trick is to play a bit with the fancy beads on the pillow to kill the time. I laughed quite a bit upon hearing this. And I promised him, the ceremony would be so much shorter.
A few things I take as an exciting challenge are any opportunities that let my artistry shine, saving money, and recycling. My dress was lovely, comfortable, second hand and a great price! Everyone was willing to transport us around, so we didn’t need to rent a limo, we can get hammered with drinks and not worry about driving. Our officiant is the pastor from our neighbourhood, who was gracious enough to accommodate our short-notice date, but to offer a very eloquent, beautiful ceremony that is also non-religious. A good friend of his offered to take professional-grade photographs as a wedding gift. The location was something I crafted, an outdoor mural from a few years back, and I managed to replicate a hand-painted smaller version onto our cake topper. I made my veil and with the same fabric, I made a pocket square for his suit. The restaurant offered lots of choice in the food and we didn’t have to worry about the expense of having a ‘set menu’ and upsetting anyone who has different food preferences. I’m pretty darn proud with how the wedding turned out because of all of these.
My mother-in-law, and everyone else, had a lovely time at our small, intimate, relaxed wedding ceremony. For me, the best part, is that the she still remembered the next day, and a few days after that. I genuinely cannot plan a wedding for 200, 100 or even 50 people on such short notice, both in terms of time, energy and money. Will other people be understanding and compassionate? During your time, did people get upset that they weren’t invited to your wedding? Based on the photos it seemed like you had a roughly 200-people guest list. I heard of other brides having the same dilemma, stressing so much over the guest list. Because ours is so short notice, once we decided “Immediate Family Only Plus Their Spouses” for this one, it gave us a huge sense of clarity.
Mama and Papa, a part of me wants to believe that this incident was a blessing, a positive sign. You see, Greg had brought over to Canada the jewelry box that was used for your wedding in 1989, and inside, is the ‘golden wedding cord’ that is used in Filipino Catholic weddings. Yours is special because your names and the wedding date is engraved on the golden heart that holds the cord together into an infinity loop. We were planning to use this to hold our rings during the ceremony. About three weeks before the wedding, my roommate and I discovered that not only is it a fancy box, it’s a music box! A music box that still works after 30 years! The melody is lovely and both my roommate and I burst into tears when we first heard it. I took a video of the music and asked around what song it was. Turns out it is “Memories” by Barbara Streisand, or from the musical CATS. Our officiant, and my older co-workers confirmed the song. Now, I want to learn how to sing the whole thing, since it’s now very special for many reasons. We’re keeping the music box of course, in case Greg want to use it for other reasons in the future.
I hope that I get to find my own special and fitting definition of being committed to someone for the long term, being each other’s motivations, upholding our right and responsibility to care for ourselves, and nurturing a positive life together. Wherever you may be, I hope that these words and sentiments would reach you somehow.