Love Language Reflections: On Not Buying Gifts

This is a fitting topic for my birth month! Gift giving is such as well-known gesture to showcase thoughtfulness, affection and meaning, but it can get complicated at times. Then the act of gift-giving is muddied with feelings or anxiousness, resentment, burnout or the pressure of expectations. That is when, in my opinion, the positivity stops.

May is also the month of Mother’s Day, so for the the first two weeks of the month, there’s a wave of relentless advertising about products and services that people ought to purchase to make mother feel special.

Man wrapping a gift box, tying the ribbon.

For couples, I suppose there are three occasions where it is usually expected, or anticipated, by people that they will receive a gift. Birthdays, wedding anniversaries (or equivalent) or Christmas (or equivalent). For quite some time know, my husband and I don’t buy each other gifts for every single holiday and birthday.

I didn’t always feel good about it, especially in the beginning. It’s something I gradually got used to, and eventually appreciated as I got older. The more I get attuned to the constant, and frequent ways of showing care, concern, commitment, and affection to each other, the material goods mattered less and less. Any day, I’ll take my husband saying “I love you” a dozen times a day, than a shiny piece of jewellery every anniversary that will surely collect dust.

We are not super materialistic to begin with and we are both independent in nature as well.. So when there is a product or service that we need, we don’t wait for the next gift-giving occasion, or make someone use their money to buy it. We research, check our budget if necessary, and make the purchase in a way that works best for us.

I needed a desktop computer, since I have only been using a tablet (that I can connect to a monitor) for the past five years. But I don’t need or want it to be completely brand-new. For this year, I got a “half brand new” computer, meaning, I inherited some of his computer parts that he needed to upgrade, got a new case and new components, and got my own machine for half the price! That was actually an experience we treasure, because going out to stores during the restrictions due to COVID19 is quite an experience.

The peace of mind and financial freedom is actually quite incredible. The holiday season every December is so relaxed, because there’s is no need to scramble to buy or make a gift.

One way I have given him gifts is through my arts and crafts skills.I’m fortunate enough to be a crafter, so many of my gifts for him are artistic, one of a kind and also practical items. I first made a quilt, using our old Tshirts as material. As the years go by and we cohabited longer, it became apparent that it’s easy to run out of ideas for meaningful and utilitarian gifts. The quilts and pillow cases seem to be doing well in terms of longevity. And now, while using these items on a typical day, he would exclaim how much he appreciates these gifts “made with love”. I would exclaim how long ago these items were made, and they unexpectedly became mementos in their own right.

Living room couch covered with a quilt and pillow cases that were DIY.

For my brother, over several years, I have been giving him cash, and that seems to work well. It would be in an envelope with a heartfelt message and the dollar bills. Due to COVID-19, I know that many businesses don’t accept cash as payments anymore, so I sent it as an e-transfer, and included my heartfelt message in the message box. He is the only exemption to the rule, and I think in some ways it still counts, since I managed to escape the agony of choosing and buying an item he may not like or use, but instead, give something that would really of benefit as a young man. Maybe, the love language in that one, is that I trust him enough to know the best way to manage his finances.

Love Language Reflections: Embracing the Mundane

I think there’s something that is always underestimated and undervalued in many kinds of relationships, not even just romantic ones but also when it comes to members of our family. It just the ability to embrace, be satisfied, or even be happy with the mundane day-to-day activities we deal with in our day-to-day lives and that we have to do with each other.

It is claimed that in many romantic relationships, or most of romantic relationships, there is the well-known so-called Honeymoon Phase when everything about the relationship and the other person is shiny, bright, enticing, and exciting. However since a romantic relationship will eventually become a family relationship, as in a household, as in people would be managing a household unit with all its chores, and expenses, and bills. Being comfortable with doing the tedious boring things while not killing each other is actually just as meaningful.

With my household situation when I was younger, particularly when I started living with my grandmother, I think there were a few of these mundane household moments that were really nice and I still treasure her to this day. The first time I learned how to cook rice, the first time and the future times that I am in charge of ironing clothes every weekend, when we were counting money every now and then so that we have enough to pay suppliers when we purchase the next batch of products for our store, and many other little things.

With my husband, in recent months and years including this weekend, these activities would include paying bills together, looking through this comprehensive chart of seasonal household chores to make sure that little things are not forgotten such as changing the batteries of our smoke detectors, cleaning grime off the stove, or emptying the fridge annually.

I remember within the first year of our relationship, the first time my husband and I assembled furniture together. I was told by a few couples in a joking way that Ikea furniture is the bane of many relationships. My brother-in-law just bought his townhouse and his dining room furniture just arrived but it wasn’t assembled on time before everybody else arrives for the housewarming party. We were asked to assemble it and would some communication and coordination, and the instruction manual and having the same tools that you need to assemble something like this, we’re able to assemble the dining table. This gave us a sense of pride! The fact that we somehow are able to tackle something as homely, and boring, as assembling new furniture is something we always remember as a ‘strength of the team.’

Most of the items that we bought for our new home are also second hand. So a lot of the items that we buy usually from Kijiji, involves driving to the other person’s house, trying to fit the awkward piece of furniture in the car or the trailer, taking it home and taking it out of the vehicle. And it’s really strange, but I consider these memories really simple but pretty fun.

I think that being able to deal with mundane day-to-day activities it’s a sign of a loving relationship. The ability to tackle little things is an indicator of how you will react and work together when big things cause a lot more trouble.

On the same token I think about my brother. He is my roommate now, he lives in the same house as me. Has his own household set up with responsibilities in arrangements with his girlfriend who also lives with us. And ever since we moved out of my relatives I think my brother and I are over all have a reasonably peaceful relationship living in the same home.

Honestly, I don’t have any specific tips or advice on what needs to be done in order to nurture such a positive relationship with the people you live with at home. I think that for people in romantic relationships, it’s something I definitely need to be worked on because it takes some time. And with any aspect of one’s relationship if a couple finds it important will be able to find a way to make it work. For family members however, that is a bit more challenging. I just hope it is something that people can look into and pursue.

Story Time: When My New Boyfriend and I Blocked a Bus Route

Summer 2010 was an exciting time. I was nervous but also thrilled that I started dating again. Admittedly, the fact that this guy was a friend of my most recent ex boyfriend was a bit unnerving; but we were both determined to give this new relationship a try.

Our challenge was, we don’t have our own place. I was a university student with a part time job living with relatives, while he was a second-year electrician apprentice living with his parents. One time I came over to his house and we spent time together in his room, only for his parents to come home earlier than we expected. It turned into me being introduced to his parents a lot earlier than we hoped. I’m just glad we managed to look presentable just in time!

                 So, we were searching for other places to have some private time together. My house is definitely out of the question, and I still felt awkward going to his place after the recent incident. We’ve done a few walks through River Valley trails which was lovely. There were lots of outdoor parks where people can go for a picnic and lie on the grass. But we wanted to do something more private.

                One Saturday, he picked me up and we drove around the Lewis Estates area. He said he was in the neighbourhood and was shopping for a condo. We drove around the neighbourhood and spotted what we thought was a road with a dead end and lots of trees around it. We thought, it’s a perfect space to spend time together. He parked the car at the end of this road that was more like a circle, then we moved to the back seat.

                After hanging out there for a few minutes, we heard the sound of an engine behind us.  It’s an Edmonton Transit bus! I realized in horror that we parked his car on the end of the road where the bus turns around to continue its route, and that we were blocking it! In panic, we didn’t have enough time to scramble to the front of the car and drive away. Instead, we tried to hide on the back seat, curling up on the floor.  We hoped that the bus driver thinks that someone just made a mistake parking their car on that spot and that it is empty.

After a few minutes, we heard the bus drive away. It looked like it managed to make the turn without any issues, despite a car that was in the way. We busted out laughing for a few minutes, collected ourselves, and then we drove off.

                It’s safe to say that this adventure motivated him to get his own place as soon as possible. Just a month after, he bought a condo in the neighbourhood! I gave him a toaster as a housewarming gift while a bunch of his friends bought a rice cooker and a sack of rice as a gift. As I’m Filipino, I ended up cooking and eating the rice whenever I’m over. I accompanied him to buy his mattress on a part of Edmonton he described as “Furniture Alley” along 135 Avenue and St. Albert Trail. I’m learning more about this guy and about this city as well.

                We had our wedding in the fall of 2019, after dating for over nine years. On occasion, when we get ready for bedtime, we talk about the earlier days of our relationship, lying on the same bed mattress we bough after he got his condo. We certainly haven’t tried making out in the back seat of his car again, but that incident of our car blocking a bus route created a memory of a lifetime.

Love Language Reflections: The Opportunity to be Silly

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.

Story Time: The Moment My Brother Landed in Canada

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.

Language Barriers I had Before Even Immigrating

A common experience expressed by migrants to another country is the struggle with communication, both verbal and nonverbal, both in the professional and informal settings. Nuances of a language, intonation and context can take a lifetime to learn, so having to deal with a brand new vocabulary in a new environment is a huge undertaking.

It’s like riding a car on a slightly foggy and rainy day. Being in the car you get a sense of location and movement which feels reassuring, but it is a bit challenging to look too far ahead because what you see from all directions is just slightly obscured. And then, there needs to be the ongoing constant effort to at least maintain the limited sense of clarity by turning on the windshield wipers constantly and de-fogging the windows of the car. All, this, but mentally, and with words and interpretation of these words.

And then, there’s the disconnection, of acknowledging extra voices and interactions around as background noise. Sure, there is meaning that would have been interesting, but just really inaccessible. So you try to just let it flow around you.

The interesting this is, I’ve had these feeling even before migrating to the other side of the world. And it all began in the village where I grew up in the Philippines.

The only languages I know are Tagalog/Filipino, and English from school. Here’s the rub, the common language used in day-to-day life in the village is Ilocano, and the native language of the indigenous peoples in the area is Ibaloi. So, I would know some key vocabulary in these languages, such as the name of the indigenous special ritual is “canao”, and I know the swear words and expressions in Ilocano such as “anya met tennen”. But I was never proficient enough to hold a conversation in either language. I’m not sure whether my parents and the nannies we had made an attempt in the first place, I would have been too young to remember.

And then, I ended up living with my grandmother for a significant portion of my childhood years. Tagalog would have been her third language, so she is good but not a complete natural. When she gets upset and starts to scold me, she would speak in Pangasinense, which is not great, because it means I actually don’t know what she is upset about. Nagging in itself is not a horrible thing that parents or elders do, but understanding why would have been helpful. Whenever she has important conversations with my aunts and uncles, or gossiping with the neighbours, I am able to pick important words here and there to know what the topic is, but not what the details are. It feels like being a wallpaper but just a bit more aware than one.

I attended a pipe ceremony a few months ago here in Edmonton. After the formal ceremony was over and all the guests were gathered around having food, I ended up sitting beside the Indigenous elder who facilitated the ceremony earlier. We chatted about where we came from, and he shared really fascinating stories about Filipinos coming to North America even before the Europeans came. We ended up talking about languages, where I sheepishly admitted that I only know the national language in my country of origin. He said he can relate to the feeling of embarrassment, as it is similar to an Indigenous person in Canada knowing only English and none of the other native languages.

So, here in Canada, when I am in a court room of a lawyer’s Bar Admission ceremony and everyone is happily speaking in Nigerian dialect, that disconnect is nothing new. When I was in a Indian wedding and the entire ceremony was in Hindu, I relied on reading the body language and location of everyone else around me. When I’m in a group of people who are born-and-raised in this city, speaking in English, but making references to events that happened before I immigrated here, I know the limitations of what I can grasp and comprehend.

And that is because of the early, unexpected training. It’s not necessarily a bad thing. You look forward to the moment when they finally remember that you can’t understand, and then they engage you in the conversation. Also, it helps me empathize with my spouse when he is around my own relatives during gatherings with most, if not, all Filipinos. Maybe this does make me dream of having that universal translator gadget that they have in Star Treck. Google Translate has a long way to go.

Story Time: My Mother and the Sharply Folded Paper Airplane

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.

Letter to My Departed Parents and Sister on My Wedding Day

By: Giselle General

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.

A group of four people photographed together, mother, father, groom, and bride

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.

With all my heart,

Giselle

Story Time: A Memory of My Sister’s Favourite Boy Band Song

Story time again! Sharing stories like this like this one about my father and I as a child staying up late feels right, and I would like to continue doing so. Today’s story features my sister.

My sister, Genevieve was fairly young, and so was I, when she passed away with our parents. I remember her as very outdoorsy kid, very social and friendly with everybody. While she was seen as a tomboy who like sports and rough games with boys, her best friends are girls and she enjoys playing ‘girly games’ with me and her best friends. Because she is older, I have to call her “Ate” pronounced as “ah-teh” before her name, out of respect. I can say the title and then her name or nickname, so something like Ate Genevieve or Ate Babes or simply Ate. Depending on what’s going on, while I cannot eliminate that word when I’m addressing her, my tone of voice clearly expresses how I feel about her at the time, whether it’s curiosity, amusement, excitement, or annoyance. We bicker like mad, which drove our parents crazy.

Boy bands were the rage in the late 90’s and early 2000’s, and the hype is international. How can you tell? If a small mining village in a country in Asia has kids and teens raving about boy bands from the USA, that’s how.

There is this song named “I Swear” by Boys 2 Men that she really liked. Given that this was the era before internet was accessible, and cable TV is a costly thing that not all homes have, the opportunity to listen to your favourite song or artist is a rare treat. This is because you get to hear it only when it gets played on the radio, on the TV during a music video or a recording of a concert, or if you are lucky, your friend might have a cassette from the band and a player in their home.

I included the lyrics of the song below:

I swear
By the moon and the stars in the skies
And I swear
Like the shadow that’s by your side


I see the questions in your eyes
I know what’s weighing on your mind
You can be sure I know my part
‘Cus I stand beside you through the years
You’ll only cry those happy tears
And though I make mistakes
I’ll never break your heart

[Chorus:]
And I swear
By the moon and the stars in the skies
I’ll be there
I swear like the shadow that’s by your side
I’ll be there
For better or worse, ’till death do us part
I’ll love you with every beat of my heart
And I swear


I’ll give you every thing I can
I’ll build your dreams with these two hands
We’ll hang some memories on the walls
And when, and when just the two of us are there
You won’t have to ask if I still care
‘Cus as the time turns the page, my love won’t age at all

And I swear
I swear by the moon and the stars in the skies
I’ll be there
I swear like the shadow that’s by your side
I’ll be there
For better or worse, ’till death do us part
I’ll love you with every beat of my heart
And I swear

And I swear
I swear by the moon and the stars in the skies
I’ll be there
I swear like the shadow that’s by your side
I’ll be there
For better or worse, ’till death do us part
I’ll love you with every beat of my heart
And I swea
r

I was about seven when I first heard the song. I thought it was a nice tune. My sister’s enthusiasm was quite infectious that I was encouraged to at least learn the chorus of the song so I can sing it along with her. Not gonna lie, I cannot remember how her voice sounds like, same with my parents. But given our father has a decent singing voice, and that we have enough relatives from both sides of the family that has interest or talent in music, I would think that she at least can carry a tune.

I wonder what made her (and presumably her friends) and me like the song. Was it because it was what’s trending at the time, with the cool romantic lyrics in English? Was it because of how good the sound with the multiple singers vocalizing? Was it because it appeals to the Philippine culture in major ways, particularly with the eloquent and expressive romantic lyrics?

I personally have never forgotten the chorus of the song, and it pops up in my memory sometimes, like the scene in the Pixar Movie “Inside Out” when the child Riley remembers the song from the bubble gum commercial. It’s one of the very few, and by that it is very few memories I have of her. And it’s likely why I hope it stays in my memory banks in a premium spot for a while.


Love Language Reflections: On Listening Without Judgment

Sometimes, we hesitate talking to the ones whose advice, support, and approval we value the most: our love ones. Whether that is our significant other, family members, or treasured friends, we are most afraid to be vulnerable to these wonderful people in our lives, because we are also afraid of judgment. A disapproving look or reaction from them would hurt so much more than one from a stranger.

The skill of listening without judgment is a very difficult one, and for our loved ones whose well-being we are very invested on, it sounds like not showing outward reactions is counter-intuitive.

I remember when my brother was dating someone who, looking back now, is not a great fit. The fallout of the breakup was pretty rough on him, he had to scale back the classes he was taking that semester. It took all of me to not tell him how he is “stupid” for staying or how “bitchy” she is for behaving like that. Making him feel like a failure is not going to help with recovering at his own pace and moving on. I told him more that once that in my first relationship in Canada I experienced through the exact same thing, the breakup was too much for me mentally, I dropped one class during the semester of winter 2009 and made up for it through an online course in the spring. By connecting what he went through with a similar experience I had, I aimed to not show harsh judgment for what happened. I hoped I achieved the goal at that time.

Just recently, I told my spouse about a dilemma I have at work. As someone who works in the nonprofit sector helping vulnerable people, gut-wrenching stories about people’s suffering is something I hear about all the time. As I shared to him my dilemma, I was very relieved that he did not mock me for my ‘over the top’ idea on how to possibly the client. He acknowledged how emotionally invested I have become for clients sometimes, emphasized the value of setting some separation between work and personal life, and suggested alternate ways to channel my frustration about the flaws of society.

A tactic to curb this almost-impulsive tendency to judge what we hear is to ask more questions. When our love ones vent about their situation, by asking them to rehash certain details, it can help them let off steam. It becomes evident that a reaction or advice from the listener is not even necessary.

Another thing I have learned, speaking of the idea that advice is not what they are seeking, is to actually listen to cues that prompt you to give feedback. Something like “what do you think” or “what should I do” or “any suggestions or thoughts?” And if this does not come up at all, perhaps they just want to vent. I think that people in general are more hesitant to say “I don’t need advice, just a listening ear and maybe a hug.”. Many times, this is actually the default. So I’m working on paying attention to this detail moving forward.

For my spouse, when I want to run something through him, I actually start by saying “baby love, I’d like your thoughts about something“. So, when I start my talk by jumping to the story, or even making complaining mumbling noises, he knows that all I need is a hug, a moment of sympathy, and a listening ear.

In many conversations, in many relationships we have, we take turns doing the role of the giver and the receiver, the supporter and the seeker for help. This form of love language is vital for all these valuable people in our lives, and also for ourselves.