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Archive for August, 2010

I never realized the truest significance of a birthday until my first child was born. Until then, birthdays were, well…birthdays. You celebrated the day of your birth; everyone else celebrated along with you, and it was great.

My daughter’s impending birth woke me at four in the morning. Some women don’t realize they are in labor until much later into the whole, um…condition. I was not one of those women. From four in the morning until about seven, I attempted, unsuccessfully, to sleep.

My little doll

By then, my mom (who had flown across the world to be with me for my first birth) was up and about, and I told her of the light contractions. The morning wore on more or less business as usual; I had a meeting at home with a couple of co-workers. I worked on the desktop until about 12:30, when I could no longer concentrate because progress had picked up a bit. Halfway through lunch, they picked up a bit more.

“Hurts, don’t it?” asked my mom, when she saw me pause mid-bite, wincing. I was tempted to get annoyed, but remember that mom went through it six times herself.

We hung out in our bedroom most of the afternoon. Mom read to me while my husband sat beside me on the bed, trying to be helpful yet looking rather helpless. By 5pm I had reached that kind of breathing reserved only for extremely serious situations. We were ready to leave within about half an hour.

My mom, a midwife, checked my progress and realized that I was more or less ready to push. A minute later, she didn’t need to tell me that I was ready; I knew it! The problem was, baby was ready and the rest of us were not. The clinic was an hour away. My husband discovered a new meaning of the word speed as we made our way to the nearest clinic. The ordeal there wasn’t the greatest, but within a couple of hours, we were home, with a newborn baby in my arms.

She was beautiful. She was perfect. Her little rosebud lips, that pouted just like her daddy’s; her curly dark head of hair; her perfectly round face—everything about her. I stayed awake a good portion of that night, just watching her angelic face. I knew a new meaning of love, and I knew it was here to stay.

It was about then the thought crossed my mind. Birthdays are mostly for the “birthday boy” or “birthday girl”; but I think a special recognition should be there for the mother who carried that child (or grownup) for those months: giving up society’s perception of a perfect figure; dealing with backaches and other-parts-of-the-body-you-never-even-knew-existed aches; and undergoing a labor and delivery, which at best is still not something you want to go through on a regular basis (hats off to mothers of many!).

On my birthday, I want to just say thanks, Mom. In fact, thank you to all mothers, without whom we would not be here, literally.

You’re the greatest!

My rosebud, at five months

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On Love…

Maybe you’re too far

Hug, it does a body good.

To hug the one you wish to be close to

Hug another

It could be that is the person who needs it most

Maybe you’re too shy

To greet the one you want to talk to

Greet them anyway

Life is too short to wait for second chances

Maybe you think you’re too busy

To love the one that needs you

Stop what you are doing and love them

It could change your life

Maybe what we all need

Is a “love class” to wake us up

To the real meaning of life

Or maybe we just need to start loving

And our hearts will awaken

And start to see

Just how short time is

And how important

Each gift given in love truly is

[Inspired by the following story, by Leo Buscaglia, printed in Chicken Soup for the Soul)

The Girl in the Fifth Row
By Leo Buscaglia

On my first day as an assistant professor of education at the University of Southern California, I entered the classroom with a great deal of anxiety. My large class responded to my awkward smile and brief greeting with silence. For a few moments I fussed with my notes. Then I started my lecture, stammering; no one seemed to be listening.
At that moment of panic I noticed in the fifth row a poised, attentive young woman in a summer dress. Her skin was tanned, her brown eyes were clear and alert, her hair was golden. Her animated expression and warm smile were an invitation for me to go on. When I’d say something, she would nod, or say, “Oh, yes!” and write it down. She emanated the comforting feeling that she cared about what I was trying so haltingly to say.
I began to speak directly to her and my confidence and enthusiasm returned. After a while I risked looking about. The other students had begun listening and taking notes, This stunning young woman had pulled me through.
After class, I scanned the roll to find her name: Liani. Her papers, which I read over the subsequent weeks, were written with creativity, sensitivity and a delicate sense of humor.
I had asked all my students to visit my office during the semester, and I awaited Liani’s visit with special interest. I wanted to tell her how she had saved my first day, and encourage her to develop her qualities of caring and awareness.
Liani never came. About five weeks into the semester, She missed two weeks of classes. I asked the students seated around her if they knew why. I was shocked to learn that they did not even know her name. I thought of Albert Schweitzer’s poignant statement: “We are all so much together and yet we are all dying of loneliness.”
I went to our dean of women. The moment I mentioned Liani’s name, she winced. “Oh, I’m sorry, Leo,” she said. “I thought you’d been told….”
Liani had driven to Pacific Palisades, a lovely community near downtown Los Angeles where cliffs fall abruptly into the sea. There, shocked picnickers later reported, she jumped to her death.
Liani was 22 years old! And her God-given uniqueness was gone forever.
I called Liani’s parents. From the tenderness with which Liani’s mother spoke of her, I knew that she had been loved. But it was obvious to me that Liani had not felt loved.
“What are we doing?” I asked a colleague. “We’re so busy teaching things. What’s the value of teaching Liani to read, write, do arithmetic, if we taught her nothing of what she truly needed to know: how to live in joy, how to have a sense of personal worth and dignity?”
I decided to do something to help others who needed to feel loved. I would teach a course on love.
I spent months in library research but found little help. Almost all the books on love dealt with sex or romantic love. There was virtually nothing on love in general. But perhaps if I offered myself only as a facilitator, the students and I could teach one another and learn together. I called the course Love Class.
It took only one announcement to fill this non-credit course. I gave each student a reading list, but there were no assigned texts‚ no attendance requirements, no exams. We just shared our reading‚ our ideas, our experiences.
My premise is that love is learned. Our “teachers” are the loving people we encounter. If we find no models of love, then we grow up love-starved and unloving. The happy possibility, I told my students, is that love can be learned at any moment of our lives if we are willing to put in the time, the energy and the practice.
Few missed even one session of Love Class. I had to crowd the students closer together as they brought mothers‚ fathers, sisters‚ brothers, friends, husbands, wives–even grandparents. Scheduled to start at 7 p.m. and end at 10‚ the class often continued until well past midnight.
One of the first things I tried to get across was the importance of touching. “How many of you have hugged someone–other than a girlfriend, boyfriend or your spouse–within the past week?” Few hands went up. One student said, “I’m always afraid that my motives will be misinterpreted.” From the nervous laughter, I could tell that many shared the young woman’s feeling.
“Love has a need to be expressed physically,” I responded. “I feel fortunate to have grown up in a passionate, hugging Italian family. I associate hugging with a more universal kind of love.
“But if you are afraid of being misunderstood, verbalize your feelings to the person you’re hugging. And for people who are really uncomfortable about being embraced, a warm, two-handed handshake will satisfy the need to be touched.”
We began to hug one another after each class. Eventually hugging became a common greeting among class members on campus.
We never left Love Class without a plan to share love. Once we decided to thank our parents. This produced unforgettable responses.
One student, a varsity football player, was especially uncomfortable with the assignment. He felt love strongly, but he had difficulty expressing it. It took a great deal of courage and determination for him to walk into the living room, raise his dad from the chair, and hug him warmly. He said‚ “I love you‚ Dad,” and kissed him. His father’s eyes welled up with tears as he muttered, “I know. And I love you too, Son.” His father called me the next morning to say this had been one of the happiest moments of his life.
For another Love Class assignment we agreed to share something of ourselves, without expectation of reward. Some students helped disabled children. Others assisted derelicts on Skid Row. Many volunteered to work on suicide hot lines, hoping to find the Lianis before it was too late.
I went with one of my students, Joel, to a nursing home not far from U.S.C. A number of aged people were lying in beds in old cotton gowns, staring at the ceiling. Joel looked around and then asked, “What should I do?” I said, “You see that woman over there? Go say hello.”
He went over and said, “Uh, hello.”
She looked at him suspiciously for a minute. “Are you a relative?”
“No.”
“Good! Sit down, young man.”
Oh‚ the things she told him! This woman knew so much about love, pain, suffering. Even about approaching death, with which she had to make some kind of peace. But no one had cared about listening–until Joel. He started visiting her once a week. Soon, that day began to be known as “Joel’s Day.” He would come and all the old people would gather.
Then the elderly woman asked her daughter to bring her a glamorous dressing gown. When Joel came for his visit, he found her sitting up in bed in a beautiful satin gown, her hair done up stylishly. She hadn’t had her hair fixed in ages: why have your hair done if nobody really sees you? Before long, others in the ward were dressing up for Joel.
The years since I began Love Class have been the most exciting of my life. While attempting to open doors to love for others, I found that the doors were opening for me.
I ate in a greasy spoon in Arizona not long ago. When I ordered pork chops‚ somebody said, “You’re crazy, Nobody eats pork chops in a place like this.” But the chops were magnificent.
“I’d like to meet the chef,” I said to the waitress.
We walked back to the kitchen and there he was, a big, sweaty man. “What’s the matter?” he demanded.
“Nothing. Those pork chops were just fantastic.”
He looked at me as though I was out of my mind. Obviously it was hard for him to receive a compliment. Then he said warmly, “Would you like another?”
Isn’t that beautiful? Had I not learned how to be loving, I would have thought nice things about the chef’s pork chops, but probably wouldn’t have told him-–just as I had failed to tell Liani how much she had helped me that first day in class. That’s one of the things love is: sharing joy with people.
Another secret of love is knowing that you are yourself special, that in all the world there is only one of you. If I had a magic wand and a single wish, I would wave the wand over everybody and have each individual say, and believe, “I like me, right this minute. Just as I am, and what I can become. I’m great.”
The pursuit of love has made a wonder of my life. But what would my existence have been like had I never known Liani? Would I still be stammering out subject matter at students, year after year, with little concern about the vulnerable human beings behind the masks? Who can tell? Liani presented me with the challenge, and I took it up! It has made all the difference.
I wish Liani were here today. I would hold her in my arms and say, “Many people have helped me learn about love, but you gave me the impetus. Thank you. I love you.” But I believe my love for Liani has, in some mysterious way already reached her.

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Jess & Allen, all dressed up

Allen is four today. He and Jessica have been counting down the days for a couple of weeks now, from the little calendar in the classroom that says, “Allen’s birthday” on August 9th.

The other day, Jessica came up with a plan for her little brother’s birthday. She wrote it down, and added drawings for good measure. She wanted to get up early, make his breakfast, and while he was eating, decorate the living room with cars and balloons and a big sign that said “Four”.

This morning the kids all woke up earlier than I did. Headaches just aren’t the greatest thing to happen on birthdays.

Jessica came in with the birthday gift she had chosen yesterday for Allen. (On Saturday we broke the children’s piggy bank and counted the coins. Jessica and Allen each took a portion and decided to use it for a birthday gift for the other. They also wanted to save any extra for a gift for their grandma.) She had already wrapped the gift that morning (with a bag because she couldn’t find the wrapping paper), and wrote his name on it: Allen Emmanuel Roque.

She quickly hid it in my closet before Allen rushed in and climbed onto my lap.

“I saw you leave this morning! I don’t want you to go anywhere on my birthday.”

I assured him that I hadn’t gone anywhere and that I was in the room the whole time. He was quite insistent that he didn’t want his family going anywhere on his birthday. Jessica was scheduled to have her final visit to the doctor today; that will have to wait until tomorrow.

They both wanted to dress up for his birthday. Jessica put on her new pink dress and she actually let me keep her hair down. Allen tried on a couple of pants before we found one that fit right; he had a haircut yesterday and looks every bit the birthday boy.

Allen is one of those rare and very precious children. Of course every child is precious and unique, but it’s his birthday, so here we go…

During his first 48 hours in the world, he nursed almost non-stop

His pre-sleep smile

and I was worried he would be a high-maintenance baby. I couldn’t have been more wrong. He was mellow and content to sit in his throne (ahem, bouncer). It was very easy to put him to sleep, usually in that same bouncer. Once, at three months, I lay him on the bed and started folding laundry. He looked up at me, smiled, and closed his eyes in sleep. That was easy!

He loved laughing, from a very young age his deep, gurgling baby chuckle would get the rest of us laughing too.

He loves vehicles, of every kind. Once when I gave them a timeframe to be done with their food, I said, “The clock is ticking”.

Allen answered: “Take out the batteries.”

I said, “That wouldn’t stop time. Time keeps on going.”

Jessica said something to the effect of, “Yeah, unless the world blows up.”

Allen seemed quite concerned: “No, then we wouldn’t have any cars!”

Go for a drive with him, and he will be happy, for hours. We took long car journeys to places and he would be content just sitting on my lap the entire journey, watching everything go by, asking for milk from time to time or engaging in conversation with his sister.

Those are two other great “likes” of his: milk, and his sister.

Milk: he loves the stuff. Until recently he refused to even get up in the morning without a cup of milk to wake him up fully. About mid-morning he needs another pick-me-up cup. After “quiet time” even though he doesn’t sleep, he still asks for some “warm milk” before entering his afternoon activities. And at night, when I say, “Time to brush teeth”, his response, without fail, is “But I didn’t have my milk”. No worries about osteoporosis with this fellow.

His sister: being a typical oldest sister, she is great at directing a game, making up her rules, and decided just how things should be done. Allen is such a sweet brother that he will usually go along with a simple, “Okay”. They do everything together.

When she recently needed to go to the hospital for her foot surgery, he was so concerned about how she would come back, because I had told him that she would not be walking for a while. Before we left, he asked again, “Mommy, will you carry Jessica home from the hospital?” I let him know that Daddy would drive us home, and that I would carry her from the car. He seemed satisfied at my response.

Allen notices the “little things”. When someone dresses up or wears a new outfit, he is the first to observe and comment on it.

The other night someone came to visit when the kids were already tucked into bed. Allen called out to the visitor, “Those are cool pants you’re wearing.”

Today he said, “That dress Jessica has is so pretty.”

Allen decided that he would like a train cake (again). I just put it in the oven, right before Allen rushed down and said, “Mommy, I’m here to help you make the cake”.

I told him that it was in the oven baking. His response: “But a train cake is too big to fit in the oven!”

“Well, then,” I responded, “Where should we bake it?”

“Um, in the blender?”

I explained to him the difference between blenders and ovens and then let him know that it was not yet a train; we would do that later.

“Oh, so now it’s just a circle cake, or a square?”

“It’s a rectangle.”

“Can I help you make it into a train?”

“Yes, you can help me make it into a train later.”—which he did; well, he definitely enjoyed “helping” with the icing. Meanwhile, Jessica worked with a friend to transform the living room into a playroom, full of cars and balloons.

They all had a blast playing together, and by evening he finally agreed that he was four years old. (All day he had been saying that he was still only three.)

After enjoying the red-engined train cake, they watched Cars.

As I tucked them into bed, Allen was not quite settling down. Finally he said in a shaky voice, “I didn’t have my milk yet”. He got his milk, a hug, a kiss, and a prayer. Within moments, my little four-year-old boy was asleep.

The birthday boy & his red engine

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Heart of Man

I see you there…standing, waiting, watching. Each time your face is different. Sometimes your eyes peer out from youthful and innocent features. Other times you carry the burdens of experience. Yet still, I know it is you; a different face, but your soul is the same.

For years now, since I can remember, I have seen you: at a bus stop, at the checkout counter, in a crowd of people—yet strangely detached from your friends. I have seen you walking down the street or passing by in a vehicle. Whether you hide beneath a smile, or sorrow is your expression’s name, always it is your eyes that tell me who you are.

Sometimes I see you just passing by and I remain unnoticed, unseen and wondering: How long have you been waiting? Will you ever find that which you seek?

Sometimes, though, our eyes meet. I see you; you see me, and I know, it is still you; and still you are waiting, watching, hoping. Knowledge is common, but truth remains hidden, just out of your grasp.

I reach out, without words, without even a movement or gesture. Yet it is through my eyes that I express what words can never say…

Give life a chance. Let love guide the way.

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The Light

Art by Daniel Sky

See the light

A thousand million crystals

Shining together as one

In whom no darkness can abide

Shining brighter than the sun

Feel the light

Encasing, speaking, whispers,

Longings of the wind

Promises that stretch forever

To eternity and without end

Touch the light

And hold the promise

Close within your treasured grasp

Knowing that you hold securely

Assurance of the vow you clasp

Know the light

And in that knowledge

Blends the touches of the divine

A life that searched, and now realizes

The source of the iridescent shine

Take the light

Within your heart

Bearing for those who would behold

See it glow and feel the wonder

The dream that came to be retold

Live the light

And in its flame

Find the purpose that you seek

Caring not for glory, fame

Who is strong, or who is weak

Give the light

Outshine the shadows

Paint the prism of life’s story

Trace the colors to blend the rainbow

Of your life, with lasting glory

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My first reminder of friendship day was as I rushed out the door, not wanting to be late for a day of arts and crafts projects with children. It was a text message, which read: “Stars are seen together, yet they are so far apart. Good friends may not speak every day but remember they are always linked heart to heart. We thank God for enriching our lives with your friendship. Happy Friendship Day.”

I was touched, as I considered the message. It is true; some stars, from our view point on Earth, appear to be so close, sometimes even looking like a single bright star. Quite amazing, when we consider the fact that they are millions of miles away, even light years, from each other. Likewise, a friend might be miles away, or on the other side of the planet, yet the quote “Love knows no boundaries” is never truer than in this case. A friend abides in the heart, and as such, can never be far.

At the event for children, I enjoyed working with my friends who had joined efforts for the day: one friend who had been overseas for a month had just returned and it was great working side by side once more; one friend I had never actually worked closely with and the touch of humor she added to everything brightened our day; one friend ran around dressed like a clown cheering children and befriending the shy ones, inviting them to join the fun.

When one child walked up, after having already completed her craft project, and asked if she could make more for her friends, in honor of Friendship Day, I was reminded once more of the blessings of friendship.

It was late afternoon by the time I arrived back home, and was greeted cheerfully by my children. Aiden, who only just mastered walking, waddled up to plant a gentle kiss on my knee; he then attempted to tell me about the highlights of his day, in baby language of course. Allen was nestled next to his daddy, reading a story, but his big smile and “Hi Mommy” was enough to convey his love. Next I found Jessica in the room, reading a book, which she quickly lost interest in once she saw me; she was eager to let me know about everything that she did while I was away. My children are some of my closest friends, and I hope we will only grow closer as they grow older.

A couple of friends stopped by and it was great watching my children interact with theirs and enjoy budding friendships as they played with cars and marbles, and exchanged stories of their past week.

My husband’s cousin had come to visit, and we enjoyed a lively dinner together, catching up on the events in each other’s lives.

I finally got the chance to quickly check my email, and was touched at a note from a close friend. Her heartfelt words definitely made my day, as did the picture she sent which (don’t ask me why) she said always reminded her of me.

I chatted later with someone I have never met, but whose recent friendship I have grown to appreciate.

As I was bouncing the baby to sleep on my lap that evening, my husband came in to hand me a drink. He turned to leave the room, yet just as I reached out to acknowledge him, he turned back and planted a gentle kiss on my forehead.

Friends come in many forms and fashions, each one unique and wonderfully special. I am reminded of another quote: “Angels exist, but since they don’t always have wings, we call them Friends”. Whether a relative or not, whether still a child or someone twice my age, I have come to realize that I am blessed beyond measure…such is the joy of friendship.

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