Tuesday, May 27, 2003

Missing Home

Missing Home – The other day the girls started talking of home. What do they miss most? Katherine had a definite theme. She misses having dessert after lunch at grandpa’s house instead of waiting until after dinner like we do. She misses curling up with grandpa to watch football and she said that grandpa makes everything feel like home. Rebecca misses the waterpark with the crayon sprays near our house. She also misses going to grandma’s house and wishes that grandma could come over for a visit today.

Ian and I were talking one night while sitting on our balcony listening to the rain. We reminisced back to the time we spent in Atlanta and about how quickly the time went. One item that sticks out is the day we missed his Foreign Service exam. He had taken it once in Newport News but hadn’t passed the Oral. This was supposed to be attempt #2 but around noon I had a nagging feeling we’d forgotten something. By that time, it was much too late of course. But looking back, imagine how our lives would have been different. He wouldn’t have been hired by the AP. We wouldn’t have bought our house. And there’s a good chance we wouldn’t have Jonathon. Another baby perhaps, but not this one. Of course, this would have been dependent on him passing all the tests and it might not have happened and we could have just continued on as we did. But imagine what might have been.

28 May 2003 - Memorial Day Weekend

28 May 2003 – Floating Down the River on Memorial Day Weekend.

Tropical Depression Chedeng has graduated to Tropical Storm Chedeng as it moves right over our little island, dumping plenty of rain throughout the area, causing 7 deaths so far and flooding roads, homes and businesses all around.

The airport is leaking through the ceiling into drums, the Embassy canteen is leaking through the bottom of the floor-to-ceiling windows, even Ian’s unit is dripping. In the case of the airport, it’s been leaking during the rains since 1994. Which has to make one wonder. If there are 3 people to check you out at a store, security officer (or 2 or 3) at every doorway, and 10 gardeners working on the playground, could there be enough people to patch and rebuild the roofs during the 8 months sans rain? We’re on day 3 of Public Storm Warning Level Two (gusty winds, bring inside things that might get knocked over, good chance of flooding), with waves of heavy rains and winds that wake us at night. I sure hope we get used to this or it’s going to be a very long 4 months of interrupted sleep. The gloomy weather sure helps the kids sleep better though. Jonathon didn’t wake until 6:30 this morning. It makes our days rather long and yesterday we played Candy Land, Uno, and Go Fish. We put together a puzzle, practiced the piano, watched Veggie Tales, and I had time to make meatballs for spaghetti. Time that would normally be spent at the playground can now be dedicated to dinner preparation. Well, we can peer at the playground from our windows and we’re watching our lawn revitalize with this drenching. Today we’ve read, played Simon Says and Hearts and done a good amount of cleaning up so far.
We received our car last Thursday. Can you hear the *sigh* of satisfaction from there? And the first day, Ian drove home from Seafront. Since then, when he’s home, he does the driving and while it’s still an adventure, it’s not nearly as impossible as some would have you believe. Granted, we haven’t driven through flooded streets, and I’m not willing to drive the main thoroughfares (there is no way I can split my attention between the kids and the other cars and buses), but for regular trips around we’ll be just fine. The school and PriceSmart are in an undeveloped (but planned) area, and the church and little groceries are right outside the neighborhood gates. Close enough and easy enough to drive even for me. OK, I haven’t actually tried it yet, but soon! Really! I promise!
On Friday I had my first drive in our van. I joined Ian at a Junior Officer function at Seafront. Junior Officers from all the Embassies were invited for a Memorial Day swim party. Little did we all know that the rainy season would begin a couple weeks early, as it was drizzly before I left, and by today, well, I already mentioned what today is like. We didn’t swim, but we did speak with some other JOs, one in particular from a province near Beijing and he was just wonderful to speak to. He even gave us some tips on visiting the Great Wall and what some of the differing views about the Wall are within China. Very interesting.
You might be wondering where the kids were at this time. Well, it was typical playground time, so we asked the housekeeper to come in the afternoon instead of the morning, and she watched them for a couple hours at the park and then made them mac&cheese for dinner. By the time we got home, they were eating and all was well. The kids had a great time because unlike mom, she played hide-n-seek with them. This won’t be a common occurrence, but there will be times when 4 small kids don’t fit into a required engagement that even I have to go to, so it is nice to have a babysitter when needed.
On Sunday, we were invited to another Memorial Day party, this time with the kids at a JOs apartment. I guess we didn’t really think this through all the way. An apartment with a small living room. Four well-behaved but energetic kids. There were 20 other people already there including a half dozen other babies and kids. The coffee table was covered with cream cheese poppers and nachos with all the dips and loads of drink cups. Six kids had it as their eating table too. It was cramped. And since it was raining outside, the playground next door wasn’t an option. Thankfully once the kids all ate, one of the ladies (with twin 4 year old boys) offered to take our 3 older kids to their place with her own, and let them play there instead. We took her up on it and it instantly opened the place up. Kids may be small, but they still take up room! We had a good time with just Jonathon to watch since there was another little toddler who took up most of his time. She was fascinated with his red shoes and he was overprotective of them, taking them to the shoe pile to try to hide them from her clutches and following her around saying No no no no no and Mine ‘oe! Eventually they found some plastic coasters that appeased both of them, but they were playing with 3 which did cause some intermittent issues.
On Monday, being Memorial Day, we had planned on going to Lake Taal in Tagaytay. It’s a volcano in a lake in a volcano. Sounds cool and it’s only just over an hour south of Manila. But the rains that were spotty over the weekend hit with full force Monday morning and we cancelled the trip. If we had a driver or had been there before or had even been on the South Super Highway even once, it might have made a difference. But since none of those had occurred, it just didn’t seem smart to take our can on who knows what kinds of roads, with who knows how much flooding, only to get there and be drenched anyway. Some other JOs had planned on going too so we were all pretty bummed. But, not to be stuck at home, Ian braved the traffic on Edsa and we went to yet another mall in our area. As an aside, I’m getting mighty tired of malls. Malls are built one next to the other and they are all gigantic. I don’t think there’s enough cash in the general populace to put a nick into the merchandise supply. This time though we eased our way to Robinson’s Galleria, which also has a bowling alley, movie theaters and an entire floor food court. Getting in the underground parking, the attendant asked for our license plate #. We don’t have plates yet, so she asked for his license (?) and then gave him a plastic parking card. As we were leaving the car, a service guy came up and offered to wash and vacuum our car for us while we shopped. It seemed like a legit business offer, but we passed and did our mall walking for the day. When we were ready to leave, we piled into the car. And Ian couldn’t find the parking card anywhere. Uh oh.
So we drove up to the exit window with the clear sign stating “Lost Card P200” and we prepared to hand over our P200. Well, you should have seen the look that crossed her face. And the concern that set into mine. We were asked to pull up and over to the side. Two security came by. One stood guard after asking for Ian’s license again, another started filling out an entire page of paperwork which Ian was asked to sign, all this along with paying the P200 and additional P20 for the parking. Finally he was given his license back and we were free to go, but it was entirely uncomfortable. In the States we would have simply asked what the purpose was for the information gathering and refused, but here with all that’s going on (general corruption, an undercurrent of dislike for Americans and the fact that we were “in the wrong”) it’s not wise to ruffle any feathers unnecessarily. Someone asked me if we felt safe here. In general yes, but there’s enough to keep us always on our toes and it does not compare to safety within the U.S. borders, even in the big cities. There’s a low rumble of unease that permeates everywhere we go and everything we do.
You know (and this is totally off topic) I bet someone out there is wondering about that odd encounter at the playground with the birthday invitation. Are you wondering if we actually got an invite? Yes, Katherine did. Are you wondering if we went? No, we didn’t. It all seemed very wrong to us and even in the States we would have declined such an invitation.

Thursday, May 22, 2003

You're asking... what have you been doing lately?

22 May 2003: So what have we been doing this month of May? On the 1st of May, we went to Intramuros and saw a smidgen of the actual attractions.

We’d actually just intended on going to this one shop but it was 9:30 and the shop didn’t open until 10 so we hiked around the area a bit. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned it before, but Intramuros is the old part of the city that the Spanish walled up and fortified. It’s a big ole tourist trap full of hotels and restaurants, shops and churches. Well, since we were early, we headed down a street, any street really, and passed lots of people getting their day going, opening their little open air stalls of mangos and magazines. Kids were out playing, we passed a dead cat, and one man who walked by greeted Ian with a “Hi, Joe”. I tell you, that tickled Ian to no end. Bonus points if you know why!
So we meandered to the Manila Cathedral. It was hot, it was dark, but it was also rather stunning for the Philippines. Granted, the doors had all been stripped from the confessionals, and the girls were spooked by the dead people interred along the sides (thanks dad), but really, it was pretty. We’re going to go to an actual Mass in the cooler months because Ian doesn’t trust that there’s adequate cooling for hundreds of people in 90+ temperature and 80% humidity. I guess the floor fans placed around gave him a bad vibe. The Cathedral has had a shaky history. The building we were in was actual Take 6 on that spot. The other 5 cathedrals had been destroyed by earthquakes, fire, bombings and typhoons. I’m sure the local are hoping this one stands. Or maybe they should take some tips from San Augustin down the street, one of the oldest stone churches in the Philippines.
So we walked down a different street back the way we came. We could see off another alley a whole section that had colorful flags hanging and later Ian discovered that fiestas are common in Intramuros and often held in the evenings, with street performers, music and I would imagine, plenty of food. Hmm, something else to put on our to-do list.
And we went into San Augustin. From the street it is truly unspectacular. Dull is putting it nice. A small door off to the side said it housed a museum and since we had time I cajoled Ian into going. It was something like P100 per adult entrance fee and less for the kids. I peeked into the museum room and thought “Well, that’s rather small”, but was delighted to see that the museum actually was door after door off an outdoor center court. We passed through a crypt to Ian’s delight. Of course, we left with 3 kids complaining of ghosts and everything being spooky. The church itself is stunning with blue Parisian glass chandeliers, and it houses the mausoleum of Legaspi, the Spaniard who founded the city of Manila in the 1500s. There were quite a few artifacts but all of them were in non-climate-controlled rooms, with layers of dust and cobwebs and some of the paintings were reduced to blackness from age, disrepair and lack of attention. Half way through the self-guided tour was a snack station with free drinks and cookies with your ticket stub. And near the end, a section opened into a garden with part of the old Intramuros wall as part of the boundary. It was such a pleasant diversion and we hope to attend Mass there as well. When it gets cooler. The organ in San Augustin was much smaller than the one in the Manila Cathedral, but the church itself was smaller as well with one center aisle. As we were leaving, it was being prepared for a wedding.
So we finally made it to the shop, and what a shop it was. Three levels, and we only wandered through one, filled to the brim with handicrafts of wood, shell, woven materials, and wicker. Ian purchased a small kris while we also bought some small gifts, cards and odds and ends.
On the 10th, we decided at the last minute to go to the National Museum. If we’d waited a day, entrance is free on Sundays, but not a big deal. Another thing to make note of I suppose. If you’re looking for something to do with the 3-10 set on a Saturday morning, this is the place to go. The exhibits were small and varied. One discussed the sinking of the San Diego (discovered off the coast of Batangas). It was originally a trading ship called the San Antonio, but was outfitted by the Spanish as a warship. Only the ship couldn’t hack the weight, it had a permanent tilt, the cannon portholes were below sea level and it sank without firing a shot on its maiden voyage when it encountered the Dutch warship, Mauritius, in 1600. The galleon was only discovered in the early 1990s and the archeologists found artifacts from the Ming dynasty amidst the cannons, china and wooden planks. The exhibit room was lighted with blue lights and the air conditioning was pumped so, so you can imagine the effect. Kids can even pick up the cannon balls. The other favorite for the kids was a raised hut that we were allowed to climb in. Since the Philippines has typhoons and many of the people live on the coastline or even on the water, huts on stilts are common outside the city. It was hot and stuffy but the kids thought it was nifty. One of my favorites was the Best of Philippine Art exhibit. It housed about 50 different items (like, I said, everything is small) but one was a wall-sized painting depicting the arrival of the Spanish, claiming the land while the native Malays in full paint markings stand to the side of the cross being planted on their soil. The ships could be seen in the distance. I pulled the girls in front of this work and told them that a single image can hold an entire story and had them find the different parts. It was fascinating.
The 20th was a special day for Katherine. She didn’t have to wear her uniform! OK, that’s a big deal in itself, but today was different. Even though she hasn’t been at ISM for the entire year, she was still here for part of their poetry writing segment. The 20th was the day the class did a poetry reading for the parents. Katherine even did the welcome and introduction of the first poet. She read her two poems (a name poem and a haiku) loudly and well enunciated. I was so impressed with her. I’d even brought the video camera to tape the event and send a copy to grandma and grandpa, but wouldn’t you know the one tape I’d brought crapped out on me. Thank goodness the camera still works and that I’d brought the digital still camera, but even so I was really annoyed that the video didn’t work. Arg. She was extremely hyper the entire time, and was concerned that we wouldn’t make it (she’s –always- concerned if we’re not there 15 minutes early), so she hopped around, talking to everyone in sight, showing me everything that was hers on the boards. I’m always glad when I make it to her school functions. There were plenty of yayas at the reading, but I can’t imagine that makes the same impression on a child. Once the kids were all done with their poetry, they had a surprise for the parents. Each child was given a bound book of all the poetry, complete with embossed name on the front. What a souvenir from the first grade!
Once she was off to lunch, I went around the school completing her re-registration and getting Rebecca’s registration (ack!) largely done as well. This is obviously a private school, if the uniforms didn’t give it away. When going to the clinic (when they say clinic, they mean clinic with robed nurses, different sick rooms, a front desk, and everything on site for minor emergencies. This school even has a dentist. But I digress….) we passed an art section. Not little pieces of ceramic, not small canvases but sections 3’X3’ of cut glass projects, mosaic ceramics, and oil paintings lining the halls. We just might have to come back when the kids are in high school.
The 21st I took the 3 kids to the Women’s Club Bazaar. They hold this every month and it’s basically the same as Shopper’s Day, only smaller. I recognized a lot of vendors and their wares. I keep thinking I’d like to get a quilt for our bed, but you know, the quilts here look just like anything I could buy in the States. Now, if there were one that was an unusual local pattern, or a color scheme from the highlands, that I would go for. But for basic pattern pastel quilts, I’ll pass. I also looked at getting a picnic basket, but the only ones there were just big empty baskets. I know I saw some last time that came equipped and with several compartments, so I’ll keep looking. I did find mother of pearl table setting sets for a very reasonable price, but had it in my mind that I needed 2 matching sets which they didn’t have of the one I wanted. After talking about it with Ian though, 2 different but similar sets would be much more pleasing. I did splurge on some Barbie items for the girls, not that they needed them, but heck why not. Also bought some bathroom mats. My big purchase though was a chess set. Oh, I know what you’re saying “Not another one!” Well, OK, I did but this time I bought one that I’d been looking for, a wooden set with the king and queen designed as local farmers in traditional clothing, with the knight as a carabao and the rooks as fishing huts. I wasn’t going to pass it up, and I have no regrets. Hey, it was a whole lot cheaper than Ian’s marble set and I think it’ll have more meaning for us when we leave Manila too. It even closes up to hold the pieces and has a handle for carrying. Five stars in my book.
At the bazaar I bumped into several people I’ve met, a couple moms from school, and a couple other ladies from the Embassy. One is even newer that us. Ah, seniority! She had her new baby with her and we all chatted for a bit. Apparently she’s been getting pressured to wean her child from the locals she’s met, and has gotten grief for using a front-carrier. Well, I was carrying Jonathon in the sling, but didn’t mention that he was still nursing. Maybe if we invite them over for dinner.

Wednesday, May 21, 2003

Rebecca - May 2003

Rebecca, May 2003 - Rebecca’s front bottom 4 teeth are loose! No one was more surprised than I was. She kept telling me that her mouth hurt when she ate and I couldn’t figure out if she had a sore or what, but upon checking, sure enough her teeth are awigglin’. I don’t see them falling out any time soon, but they do have a smidgen of movement.

Can you believe that she’s decided the letter R is worth saying properly? We might lose our southern belle yet. At the moment, she’s overly focused on making the sounds, so we hear motherrrrr. And Rrrrrainbow. And of course, Rrrrrebecca. And not only is she speaking better, she’s actually still making efforts to read and loves to write (though it’s made of letters, most is complete gibberish). She loves to play school at home, so there are many days where we sit and do math and adding/subtracting flashcards, writing letters and words along with spelling, playing Boggle Jr.. We have art time, snack time, lunch, music, and while I keep trying to push naptime, she never buys it. Drat. But today she sat down and said she wanted to make a book. I’m going to try to scan it in for you, because with a little help from mom, it turned out really great. For those who know her, you’ll notice what a huge improvement she’s had over the past few months.
One thing that never loses it’s draw for Rebecca is the imaginary world of princesses. On May 2nd, we stopped by Glorietta Mall only to discover an abbreviated, full stage production of The Little Mermaid in the center court. She was enthralled even though I don’t think they could have made it any louder, our poor ears. The costumes were lovely, and it wasn’t the Disney version. Instead, the prince fell in love with a human kind of princess and the mermaid (turned human) had to make a choice to either kill the prince and regain her fishiness, or turn to foam. Well, of course she died, turned to foam and then we had the hyper-Christian ending where she ascends to heaven and realizes that there is a greater love than any she could have found elsewhere and she earns her wings as an angel of God. That’s the Philippines for you. The show was an hour long and they were having several presentations, but while Rebecca asked to go back and see it again (and this time bring Katherine), we didn’t make it. She was OK with that though. We went swimming instead.
After that we had a bite at McDo (still haven’t tried that rice burger. If I just knew what was inside the 2 rice patties!) and a literal gaggle of no-longer-teen girls descended on our table. Now, we’ve become a bit accustomed to this, but not to 8 girls surrounding our table. And saying nothing. Just staring at the kids. Periodically one would make a little joke to her friends and they’d all giggle that annoying giggle, or one would try to give Nicholas her phone to play with, or most common, one would just pick up Jonathon. I had to ask more than one to either not pick him up (as she was leaning over) or to put him down (because she swooped in too quick). Jonathon doesn’t eat protein on a regular basis, so having him eat a hamburger every once in a while is a big deal to me. He’s chronically anemic it seems so it’s even more imperative that he be left to eat his meal. One of them actually seemed confused at my request, but did comply. Most of the time though, these girls were silent. Some pulled up chairs to the table, most stood, and just stayed there. It’s odd enough to have the kids ignore strangers because they’ve been asked their names and how old they are so often, but this was plain uncomfortable.
Thankfully, they left.
So, at the playground, Rebecca has become comfortable enough to hang from the first monkey bar. Well, it’s a start. She’s still on training wheels too and won’t go near the big pool. Can we say chicken? No, she’s just not as adventurous or athletic as Katherine is, and that’s fine. She has worked her way up to sitting on the roofs of the play equipment. I guess that’s an accomplishment! If only it didn’t encourage Nicholas to do the same thing. He hasn’t quite made it that high, but he’s getting there.
OK, so what’s Rebecca really like these days. She’s an overprotective big sister, she’s fiercely protective of her belongings, she has a terrible temper, she doesn’t connect actions to consequences, she pushes limits and doesn’t stop when asked, she repeatedly asks for things she has been denied just 5 minutes before (even with explanation), she’s a junk food and TV junkie, she takes forever to absorb new information, she overdramatizes, she cries, she stomps, she screams, she will ignore a direct command if she thinks she has a smidgen of a chance getting away with it. Sounds charming, huh? And through all that, she has a wonderful imagination, she often overdoes it playing with her siblings or by being loving to them, she can play by herself readily, and she can remember just about anything. Now, I know that doesn’t seem to gel at all with the fact that she doesn’t absorb new information. She has an excellent memory for places and activities, for things she’s done or things that require her to actively participate. Her mind completely grasps chess, but takes forever to read the word “his”. She can add and subtract with imagery, tie her shoes and recall her chore list, but cannot remember how to write a letter Y or what sounds it makes. She’s really cute, and uses that to her advantage to try to get out of trouble, which she’s in a lot for being sneaky and pushy and downright mean. And yet she’s the first person to get a bandage or see what’s wrong when someone gets hurt. A truly mixed bag, this one.

Monday, May 19, 2003

Playground Daze

Playground Daze:

The playground. Full of fun, energy and politics.

There are a couple of little boys who come around who are just plain mean. They call other kids names, they say they’re stupid. It all really gives my girls problems on how to handle it. Katherine has been bold enough to go up to their yaya and tell her that they’re being mean, but the yaya just said there was nothing she can do. Alrighty then. On the one hand, these boys are smaller than them. On the other hand, the girls are being ridiculed, laughed at, and generally annoyed. I’ve given my suggestion of just ignoring them, pretend they don’t exist. They’ll stop irritating you if you quit giving them the feedback they expect. Of course, then Katherine starts using her loudest voice to warn other kids away by saying how mean they are. If it’s not one extreme it’s another! Yesterday didn’t go so well, hopefully today will be better. Everyone brings toys and invariably they get left around and other kids pick them up and play with them. No big deal, it’s commonplace and we don’t have a problem with others playing with our balls or trikes. But one of these boys will come up and argue, not only with kids but with adults as well, about how no one asked him to play with something. One time I explained that Katherine had asked another child who’d been playing with his ball if she could use it and had been allowed. He argued! I explained that all he needed to say was that it was his, and then ask politely to have it back. He argued more! I repeated that all he needed was to ask for it back nicely. After waging a small battle in his brain, he asked Katherine, got his ball, and went on his merry way. Did he play with the ball? No.
The playground rejuvenation continues with new plants around the trees, white pebbles within a rock border around the play equipment and the completed trellis. It’ll look gorgeous once it’s all done. Now, if there was only a playground fairy to deliver new Little Tykes park benches for the kids. Hmmmmm.
I’ve met several moms at the playground. It’s unusual enough to see them there, so when they show up we try to say hello. One is an Australian mom with 3 girls from 8 years old on down. The first time I met her she had walked her dog to the playground as well and he was tied to the fence by the play equipment. A local breed, he was a lovely medium sized long-hair. He had apparently been by their house so much and was so friendly that they took him in, had him checked out, and adopted him. He’s been with them for a year, but unfortunately their tour here was cut short as her husband was transferred to India and they’re going to be moving in July. Well, that’s part of this life, people come and go all the time. So, they’re moving to India and she’s been there before and isn’t thrilled with it. There are no school choices, seems the American school is it. And the housing is limited with no yards. Not a good place to own a dog. One of her first questions to me was if we wanted a dog. I had to chuckle and pass, I’m not ready for a pet yet, maybe some day. He did seem very sweet though.
That was, until a big black lab came by and the little fluff ball tore himself off his lead and attacked him. Goodness, he got ahold of the lab’s shoulder and hung on. He tore into his flank. The lab just wanted to get away while the doggie yaya walking him was pulling and shouting and the little mutt just kept lunging. Everyone was yelling, leads were flying and after 5 minutes of serious tussling, Jody was finally able to grab her dog and restrain him enough until the lab could get a little distance.
You were saying something about adopting your dog?
You know, that was the same day that 3 different yayas had their charges pee at the playground. One went off to the wall and peed in the bushes and you know, when you’re little and you’ve got to go, well, you’ve got to go. But it was the other two who had their kids pull down and pee Right Next to the Equipment I didn’t understand. Yes, I know there are those who believe that since it’s a sterile substance folks should be free to urinate where ever they please. I’m of the camp that says that I wouldn’t pee right next to the slides as much as I wouldn’t dump my orange rinds or soda right next to the slide. I don’t want to stick my hands in it and I don’t feel like attracting flies, ants and other bugs right to where my kids are playing. Honestly, would it have killed them to move the kids off to a part of the grass, bushes or wall where there weren’t 20 other kids playing? Arg.
Oh, I met another mom at the playground too, a Pakistani woman who has her oldest daughter in K at ISM. The first time I met her, she was in her traditional clothing and the girls insisted that she was a priest. Ah, the things they learn. The next time we saw her, she was in a t-shirt and jeans and I didn’t recognize her. They live right across the street from the playground, next to the Trotts house and the girls all play together, so she invited us to their house one afternoon. It was really nice, but then it’s always nice to see the insides of some of these homes. I must say that of the ones we’ve seen, ours is the plainest. Says a lot, doesn’t it! They had a lovely home and had turned the attic into a playroom. The attic window has a gorgeous view of Makati, they have a pool, and dangerous glass furniture. I don’t know how she manages to keep glass tables with small ornaments and such around, seeing as she has a 5 year old, nearly 2 year old and 7 month old. But she does! Maybe it has something to do with also having live-in housekeeper and 2 yayas.
Back to the playground. We do bring snacks and plenty to drink when we go. A pack of Yakult every day! The kids love yogurt drinks and while I haven’t been bold enough to try one yet, Nicholas doesn’t let a day go by without having a couple. I bring some cereal or chips to munch as well. Early on, I’d bought a case of chips labeled salt and vinegar cracklins. Well, teach me to read the actual label, there’s not a smidgen of potato in them and are in fact puffy tapioca squares doused in vinegar. An acquired taste, for sure, but even Jonathon ate them readily. They had a stamp on the label saying they’re a perfect food to go with beer. OK, yes, I really do need to actually read what I’m buying.

Nicholas - May 2003

Nicholas, May 2003 – He really wants to learn how to do the “Mont Ee Bars” at the playground but has a smidgen of fear left. I’m not sure his arms are quite long enough to do them at all, but he likes to try it out with someone holding his legs.

He’s also become our designated snack getter for the playground. We have these little yogurt drinks here called Yakult that we bring every day. The kids like them, I’m not even going to try one, but the ads say they’re full of beneficial lactobacilli for a healthy intestinal tract. Who can argue with that? And for P29/5 you can’t beat the price. I pick up 8 or 10 packs when we go to PriceSmart. We also usually bring several water bottles and a bag of chips or pretzels to munch on. Even though the playground is in the shade around 4 when we go, it is still over 90 degrees and muggy out. The kids stay really thirsty the whole time as they run around and get dirty. We do the opposite of the yayas though. When it gets really hot, I douse the kids with water. Local custom seems to be sticking a rag in the back of the shirt over the collar, and wiping the kids’ faces every 10 minutes.
Anyhow he’s talking up a storm. But only we can understand him still and oftentimes he stutters trying to figure out what word to use and how to say it. He still uses sounds for some words like the sucking sound for drink, though he will say soda or lemonade to be specific.
He’s back to taking naps several times a week. And the crowds cheered. The threes have hit him hard with the whining and fussing, slamming of doors and such and I really do miss my good boy some days. He’s not nearly as miserable as the girls were at this age, but it’s still hard to take since he was such a laid back accommodating toddler. This too shall pass. At least with a nap, he’s bearable around dinner time, otherwise he runs around the table and is a general nuisance. Classic signs of being overtired.
As a gift for his birthday, we ordered him a lightsaber from Amazon. It arrived late, but of course, if you arm one child, you must arm them all. So we are now the proud owners of red, purple, green and blue lightsabers. Since blue is Nicholas’s favorite color, that one is his and he carries it everywhere, usually hooked over his pants, and it’s pulled out regularly to fight off bad guys (usually his brother) and he adheres fairly well to the rule that we don’t hit people, we only hit other lightsabers. We’ve had some mishaps, but nothing too bad. Of course Star Wars (all 5) are his favorite movies, how did you know? He enjoys Harry Potter too, but Star Wars beats out all the rest.

Monday, May 12, 2003

Katherine - May 2003

Katherine, May 2003 – Katherine’s (and next year, Rebecca’s) school is the International School of Manila, or ISM. There are several classes of first graders and she is in Mrs. Llantada’s class. It’s in Room 20 which she thought was pretty cool since her classroom at King with Mrs. Childress was Room 20 as well. The school offeres plenty of after school options, from gymnastics to swimming to chess and pottery. I think she'll have even more fun next year when we can register her for these classes. This year was a bust as there's only 2 weeks left for activities. I'm hoping beyond hope that there are options for Kindergarten too as Rebecca has already planned out her year, but the booklet I received only covered the actual grades. If it's not available through the school I'll have no alternative but to look through the CLO.

We arrived midway through the last trimester, but she has adapted well as we knew she would. She has made friends, done well with her schoolwork and loves P.E. and recess. She’s obviously 7. P.E. is a lot of fun here. They’ve had dancing, wall climbing and have started their final section with swimming lessons. Needless to say, with all the stories Katherine comes home with, Rebecca often mopes around wishing she were in school too. Along with all the fun stuff has been some rough spots, including forgetting her lunch at home, missing the bus one afternoon and forgetting her homework pack for the entire Easter break. The missed bus was the most worrisome for her, but I received a call from the office saying she was still there and that she’d catch the next bus. They have regular buses, the after school buses and then the late buses. Thank goodness because we still don’t have a car and when the driver leaves for the day, we’re stuck at home. But she did make it back and all was well. Why did she miss the bus? She was playing with a friend of hers in another classroom and didn’t hear the bus bell. They get out of school about 10 minutes before the buses leave and most of the time she’s at the playground, but not that day. One day she forgot her lunch at home, but another day I got a note from the teacher asking me to remember to pack her a lunch and snack, and I was positive that I had done so that morning. Katherine insisted that she didn’t have it, I insisted that she did and we went round and round until I asked her specifically if she had taken it out to get something else from inside her bag. *light bulb moment* Thankfully there is the option of signing for snack and lunch and running up a tab at the canteen so she didn’t go hungry, but now we have a bill to pay. She kept telling us it was free. “All I have to do is sign for it, mom, and they give me my lunch!”
Katherine’s top 2 teeth are still loose. A little more now than before, but far from dropping out. I should check the gums behind them to see if the adult teeth are coming in there like they did on the bottom. The bottom ones moved up nicely, but she never did have those big empty holes. Oh, and she’s finally gotten in her molars. She was shocked to find them in there one day, I guess they didn’t bother her too much!
When it comes right down to it, she’s a great big sister, and she follows rules to a T. She’s very sympathetic and concerned, but I do wish that it would show itself more often at home, especially towards her sister. Those two are always at each other. Yesterday though, they actually played -together- at the playground. It was so nice to see. They were playing chase and that sort of game really encourages Rebecca to get over any fears of climbing on and over the equipment.
Back to her friends at school. One day she came home with a note from the mother of the other new student, Filip, asking if Katherine could come over and play. OK, so I put off calling back, but when I did I spoke with this wonderful Swedish woman, Gunilla. They’re still in temporary housing and while we are in our house we didn’t have our belongings at the time, so we planned to go to the hotel and go swimming. After talking with her a bit, we discovered that her daughter Frieda and Rebecca are close in age, so she agreed that Rebecca should come too and the four kids would go swimming. That Saturday I packed up the girls and went to the nearby hotel that’s on top of the Glorietta shopping mall. Gunilla had put out a snack and I realized I should hang out around 7 year olds more often. Her son and Katherine are so much alike, even though Filip speaks barely any English, but his sense of humor and behaviors make Katherine seem so much more normal! They had a ball at the pool even though (or maybe because) none of them swam very well, and Gunilla and I had a chance to talk for a long while. She even helped me figure out some of the functions on my cell phone and I sent my very first text message to Ian when he asked if I was having fun. Isn’t that male code for “You’ve been gone long enough, the boys are awake and you need to come home now”? Anyhow, since texting is all the rage here in Manila, I figure I should understand it. While we were talking I asked if she had received a letter from the teacher about a meeting and thankfully she had. Nothing makes you wonder about your kid more than getting a note from a teacher asking you to meet with her after school. Anyhow, she had and we discovered that her time was directly after mine. We decided to watch each other’s kids at the playground while we chatted with Mrs. Llantada.
So, we met up at school and I talked with Mrs. Llantada without interruption. I heard the usual report of how much life and energy Katherine brings to the classroom. How she volunteers for everything, wants to help everyone. She commented on how you can’t tell that Katherine was a late arrival. She made friends and blended right in. That’s my girl. When it was my turn to watch the kids, another mother approached me and asked if I was new. Affirming her belief, she then asked if I was the big sister or… *rolls eyes* I just told her that I was older than I looked and she seemed oddly relieved. Even though her daughter is in a different classroom than Katherine, her family is Embassy and she’d heard of us. Her kids are the same age spread as ours, only in 5th, 3rd, 1st, preschool and a newborn. I guess people think that since we both have a bunch of kids that we should get together. I must say though that seeing her #5 newborn made me seriously wish for another baby of our own. Oh well.

Jonathon - May 2003

Jonathon, May 2003: He’s cut the rest of his incisors finally. I was wondering why he was so much cuter recently and now I realize it’s because he smiles a lot more. Probably just not in pain all day! They are still just the tips, but if you thought he had a lot of teeth before (grandma?) just wait until all of these are in.

Jonathon has been visiting the potty more and more. This will do wonders for his bottom, as we’re getting over yet another yeast outbreak. Goodness I hate that, it really is so painful for him no matter how quickly he is changed. He’s intent on potty training, and he’s doing fabulous. I have changed fewer messy diapers and that can’t be anything but good. He’s even gone pee in the potty sometimes. No, he’s far from being regular, but I can almost reliably leave him naked for a time, and he’ll use the potty. Almost. We definitely have our off days. Of course, he still does the dozen runs to the bathroom in an hour, but it’s progress.
I really want to get his hair cut as it’s getting thick, hot and curling over the tips of his ears. It really is cute but because it’s so thick, I think it needs to be trimmed. Ian has other thoughts. There’s even a Kid Cuts at the mall with little TVs and chairs that look like cars, but if not, I can always use my trust home shear set.
One day a couple weeks ago I put both boys down for a nap as I’ve been doing more often. Nicholas desperately needed one and Jonathon still takes one of course but Jonathon had a hard time settling down and I’d check in and find him in the closet, playing on the floor and doing everything but lying down. Thankfully he was being very quiet about it all, but I continued to scoop him up and plop him back with his blanket. After several times of this, I noticed that the room finally got quiet and when I peeked in I saw that his bed was empty. Checked the closet, checked the bathroom (fearing a toilet drowning), and still didn’t see him. Until I glanced at Nicholas’s bed and who should have pulled up an extra pillow and was quickly conking out right next to his brother?
Then there’s the time we went to Santis and while Ian was paying we stepped outside to lay on the grass and look at the clouds. But the grass here is very very short and very prickly. Laying down lasted all of 2 seconds before everyone wanted to sit on my lap instead. First Nicholas and Jonathon, then just Nicholas. Now, Nicholas puts on his own shoes, but rarely gets them on the right feet. I don’t know how he walks in them, but he insists that they don’t hurt and he’s fine. Well, it bugs me. So while he was sitting on my lap I popped his shoes off to switch them. He wasn’t pleased and gave me a hard time about putting them back on. I plopped him on the grass so he could do it himself (right or wrong, I knew we’d be going soon) and Rebecca wanted to sit on my lap. And then of course, Jonathon again. Yes, it’s called Musical Lap Sitting. Anyhow, I offered to share the lap with him and his sister, but he figured on another plan.
J: “Dihdis ‘ap” (Nicholas lap)
N: “Minmis baby.” (Minute, baby)
J: “Dihdis ‘ap” said as he’s turned around and backing up to Nicholas’s lap.
N: “Minmis baby! Dihdis ‘oe on” (Minute baby! Nicholas shoe on)
I wish we could have seen how it ended, but daddy was done and it was time to get going.
He’s combining more and more words, though most are possessives of some sort. And yes, he’s figured out the words No and Mine. No is an oldie but goodie, Mine is new. He comments on just about everything and who it belongs to “Daddy shoe”, “Dihdis abap” (Nicholas blanket), “Baba ‘poon” (Rebecca spoon). It goes on and on. He’s following in his brother’s footsteps by using “ahm” for food/eat and a sucking noise for drink.
There is something about Jonathon that’s been different than the other kids we have. His willingness to push every button, to ignore directions and to try everything 5 more times after we’ve said to stop. The weird thing is he’s so darn polite and friendly. He says Thank You to everything, he says Hello to everyone. But when he’s in trouble, all we here is “ooooh aaaaaaay” (also known as OK in long drawn out syllables, usually signifying that he heard us, but has no intention of changing his current activity). I think the hardest time we have with him though is in church. He will not sit quietly, for anything. I have spent more time in church vestibules or outside with just him than I have with the other three combined. Periodically he remembers to whisper, but most of the time he’s wiggling, walking on the kneeler, sitting on the floor, chewing on the bulletin, and making his dissatisfaction heard at the worst times. The only times he’s happy is when he’s having a snack or when there’s music to sing to. And boy does he sing! He’ll be a great addition to the Vienna Boys Choir someday. I’m not going to stop him though, he only sings when the music is going so I figure there’s no harm in that and it’s not too distracting. But I do feel that he’d be better (as would the rest) at a more interesting service. There’s little music, and what speaking there is can often be difficult to understand even though it’s in English.
We went swimming at Seafront again recently and even though I asked him to wait until I had Nicholas ready, he stepped right into the baby pool without a backwards glance. Thankfully Rebecca was right there and I was right behind her to scoop him out and make sure his sputtering was just that. But there you have the routine for the rest of the time at the pool. Basically my goal here is to keep him from killing himself.

Thursday, May 8, 2003

8 May 2003 - We have our stuff!

We have our stuff *does happy dance* And now that we've unpacked for 11 hours, we're exhausted. I have a lot to tell about the past week, but I won't be doing it tonight. We've been to Intramuros, picked up some nice items from a handcraft shop, seen the Little Mermaid at the Mall, and well, lots of stuff.

By the way, Papa, the piano made it just fine. We are so happy to have it back.