Birthday misses

We celebrated Mom's 68th birthday this past Wednesday.  Got tickets to the show, RAIN: Tribute to the Beatles and afterwards dinner at The Palm.  The show was amazing as it took us back in time -- the feel of psychedelic drugs, peace and love along the background of Beatles music hits.  Last year, we watched Jersey Boys.  Seems to be our new tradition -- a show and dinner. 

As we settled into dinner, I noticed Mom's eyes tearing up.  I didn't say anything as I hate when others notice that I'm overwhelmed and just need the moment to pass.  I suspect maybe Mom (we) missed Dad . . . Mom's third birthday celebration without Dad since he threw her a surprise party in 2007.

The Christmas holidays were uneventful which I suppose isn't so terrible.  Visits from M. (CA) and K. and family (GA) were most welcome, and we had the usual familial fare on A.'s side.  No surprises.  Even more apparent this wishing/missing season is our anticipation of picking up our pre-schooler from the Philippines so that s/he will be included in our family festivities, and we can create new traditions.  

Our biggest wish?  Hoping we get our child match early in the new year! 

Rounding the corner to 2011
I am so proud of A., who has been super disciplined at reaching his optimal health.  So much so that he's been able to do away with one of his meds (with the doctor's approval, of course).  And maybe one day, he won't have to be on any meds.  A. continues his focus on losing weight healthfully in addition to his mindful eating and exercise regimen.  A positive habit he will definitely be able to pass along to our child.  With A. in a healthier groove, he inspires me to keep working on a more thoughtful life pattern. 

Sun bathing in winter
snow dunes sun bathe
outside my livingroom window
Sun knocks through the saffron shades
as i listen in cozy reflection
and see myself in the Light



year's end
holidays' celebrations
fill the calendar
memories and longing
fall like a blizzard blast
from my eyes
from my heart

-- i intend to have a blessed day


Winter's dreams

I had my annual physical this past week, and I was in tears.  My PCP adopted a 10-year-old girl from China a year ago and shared photos with me.  Sweet photos.  She'd grown so much since when she first arrived compared to her most recent school photo.  Last I'd seen Dr. F., she was waiting for the green light to pick up her daughter.  Five years since she and her husband had started the adoption process, Dr. F. shared with me how since I. has been with them, she's told them she thought she would never be adopted and was so excited to learn that she was going to make it out of the orphanage.  I. would ask her caregivers, What if I'm never adopted?  I.'s thriving in her new NYC home and was eager to leave behind China and all that was Chinese. She has had some surgery on her cleft palate and will have dental surgeries for the next eight years before her mouth is just right.  (Good thing her folks are doctors!)  As I looked at her photos, I couldn't help but be so happy for Dr. F. and her family.  Every child is a blessing. 

Winter's dreams
2010 comes to an end
our journey to you began long before
one year and four months ago 
paperwork completed
dossier submitted
winter here
tropical Christmastime there
birthdays and holidays sled past us
as dreams of you summer us 
in blanketed patience 
after nocturnal snowfall


The practice of deep roots

Done!  I'm done wrapping holiday presents . . . even put on some Christmas music as I stuffed tissue paper into gift bags, labeled gifts and sipped on my hot lemon water.  While I know that 80 percent of our presents will go unappreciated and land in messy piles to be placed in hefty garbage bags for the drive home from family festivities, the other 20 percent will be much appreciated.  And while most kids today are probably overindulged and we do the overindulging, it does tickle our hearts when the kids, who ARE appreciative, give us warm embraces because their presence in our lives means so much, and we wanted to give them holiday treats.

While I haven't gone all out in holiday decor in our home, I did put up our two Christmas parols (Filipino lanterns) -- and that's all the Christmas that's going up this year.  More important than gift giving and ornaments is a renewed pratice in feeling rooted within myself as well as among family and friends.  That strong centeredness requires much discipline for folks like myself who can be easily embittered by the daily commute into the city along with witnessing social ills at work against a backgrop of privileged experiences in the urban outskirts.  And that centeredness is often challenged during the holidays when families spend extended periods of time together.  Here's to the practice of deep rootedness!

Grounded thanksgiving
still and strong
rooted like a 100-year-old tree
whose stems extend thousands of miles
below winter's arctic ground
in deepest love and gratitude
practice again and again
with mindful grace

P.S. Just witnessed innocent sweetness.  ESS has volunteers visiting from University of Mississippi, and they are painting a Lion King mural in one of ourfoster care meeting rooms.  One of our foster care children, A., was curious to see the room.  So our volunteers invited him to join them.  With permission from his mom, a shy 7-year-old A. hesitated and shook his head "no" and then happily picked up a brush!  Moments like this are excellent for staying rooted.  Christmas time isn't so bad, I suppose. 


Back to breath

I hate Christmas.  Hate the having-to-buy presents.  Hate all of the materialism associated with Christmastime.  Oh, the madness of the holiday season.  No doubt most of us are stressed out by deadlines, gift lists and not-so-delightful crowds.  Others are perhaps planning how they're going to stay healthy & keep the weight off -- amidst the work parties, friendly soirees and family feasts.  At least, A. & I are. My biggest peeve is that there are never enough vegetables at family festivities, making it extremely difficult for folks who are heart health conscious.  Even more frustrating is the fact that in general, Filipino food is not the healthiest what with the meats stewed in artery-clogging grease and desserts baked in delicious, but high cholestrol and fat-sticky coconut milk.

But we can be disciplined and control what and how we eat.  For ourselves (and the child who will join our family).  Often A. & I wonder if our child will be able to learn the discipline of healthy eating.  A. says, Good thing is, s/he won't be inheriting my genes.   

Holiday stress and anxieties about the future aside.  Just as important as healthy eating is retreating back to breath.  By that, I mean truly feeling centered.  Centered enough to appreciate time with friends and family.  Centered enough to express our gratitude for all that is right in our lives.  Retreating back to breath can be an hour of yoga, a 20-minute meditation or 5 minutes to . . . take a deep breath. 

Each evening before dinner, A. & I make sure to thank Spirit for love, patience and each other.  And that makes our everyday a little less insane. 

Back to breath.  Back to blessings.   


Dancing with memories

I just finished reading the memoir, Sleep in Me by poet/author Jon Pineda. A boy’s coming of age story during his family’s misfortune of his older sister’s car accident leaving her wheelchair-bound, it is a thoughtful and grieving recollection. Pineda communicates with such poetic language his sadness and tensions within himself as he witnesses his sister’s teenage life changed traumatically. Walking through his memories made me cry as I was reminded of my own family’s experience and our (dis)ability in dealing with my older brother, Micho’s, autism. After almost a decade of therapy in my young adulthood, I’d worked through my anxieties of the responsibility of caring for my brother as well as my parents’ wishes for his care once they passed away. With a legal special needs trust established and other details documented, I resolved to just let it all go -- my ongoing concerns about how our extended family ‘cares for’ Micho in the Philippines as well as the complicated financial obligations paid to family members who have cared for my brother since his arrival from the States when he was four years old.

Thank you, Jon Pineda, for sharing your Filipino American heartache's dance.

a legally binding contract

(a) special needs

papa’s side of the family
as micho has for 37 years
but I am no longer able to

micho sat in a room
flapping his fingers intertwined
with a paper and pen

(i sit

(a) special needs
unmet by papa’s side of the family
for 30 years

prepares my brother
and me
when mama and papa
have gone

how does my brother
the sister
he has never known?


As we wait to make more memories

I had a most heartful email exchange with cousin, V., whose kids' combined 2nd birthday and naming ceremony we'll be attending in a little over a week at La Fontana, an Italian restaurant in Nyack, NY.  I'd mentioned that we enjoyed a lovely picturesque dinner along the Hudson River last we were there (January) as that was where A. & I celebrated a significant milestone in our adoption process -- completion of our psychological evaluations for our adoption dossier.  It was the last major task before our file was sent abroad for review by the Philippine government's Inter-Country Adoption Board.  V. (as I hear her Brazilian/Portuguese accent) then asked  how our adoption process was coming along, and this was our correspondence:

V:  I have to tell you, S. . . . I can't imagine what you guys are going through . . . with all of this process and everything that is demanded from you guys.  And still . . . you seem to be going through with such strength, grace and positivity. . . 

S:  Okay . . . you're making me cry, sister.  Actually, I can be a total pool of tears if i think too much about our waiting process.  It's not easy.  While I'm excited for family and friends who have or are about-to-have little ones in their lives, I silently ache for the moment when we get word that we are about to be parents too.

V:  Don't cry . . . it is really because I guess I am emotional about it because I just had a little one. And I know what it means. and I wish the feeling, the experience to everyone who wishes to start a family. I just feel that you are so strong because I would be a mess, I think :) You are not negative, you are not pessimist and the thing that touches me the most is exactly your excitement and grace when you celebrate and talk about your family and friends who have or about to have little ones in their lives. Even if you silently ache, like you said . . . Keep up this light . . . pretty soon you will be running around your bebe.

Thank you, V., for your genuine enthusiasm as we await our child match.  I am humbled by your generous and encouraging words as we continue to appreciate our family as it is at the moment and all the blessings we receive. 


 " . . . poetry is our most ancient form of prayer, 
is a healing medicine . . . can be a nondenominational form of prayer, 
a companion through difficulty, 
a doorway to the soul, and a direct conduit 
to an inner source of joy, peace and inspiration." 
~ K.Rosen

Horsehoe Cove
thank you, Great Spirit, for the words 
that bespeak our deepest thoughts . . .  
Delphic like the massive plunge of the inlet's sandbar
. . . that connect to our most heartful memories -- 
saddened that our loved ones will not be seated at the dinner table
to celebrate holidays like today -- 
blessings surround us
like the bayshore's lapping waves 
as we whisper thanksgivings 
in Horseshoe Cove, our humble sanctuary 

What I miss
The holidays don't seem to be the same without Dad.  As A. & I drove home down the NJ Turnpike, we talked about what's different.  We still shuffle between our families -- Thanksgiving lunch with his family, dinner with mine.  The same people are in attendance -- minus Dad.   And then I realized, our gatherings lack a certain color to them that Dad always managed to radiate. While some family members can be quite colorful, it's not the same extroverted banter that Dad enthusiastically shared during the holidays.  He had his moments that would leave us in bellyaching laughter, unable to breathe.  And that's what I miss most.  

I guess that's why younger kids' crazy energy is so delightful at family gatherings.  A strong reminder to be in the present.  Thank you to my nephews, two-and-a-half-year-old J. & one-year-old-plus S., for being my amusing prompts today!


A shower of lil monkeys & more

This past weekend, we attended M. & R.'s baby shower in Stamford (CT) thrown by Tita R., M.'s mom, at their home.  M. and I have been family friends since we were six years old.  M. & R. came in from OH where they moved a little over a year ago.  To go with their zoo animals theme, my cousins, K. (in from GA) and M. (in from CA), decided to bake monkey cupcakes.  

Naturally, I am ecstatic for M. & R. who have been together for the past 22 years.  For the longest time, they were a couple who'd decided they didn't want kids and were madly content with their familial entourage of farm animals -- dogs, guinea pigs, birds, hamsters -- all who followed them to their new home in OH.  For the longest time, they'd made it clear to family and friends that they were not interested in expanding their family to include children, and no one bothered them about their decision as they remained the favorite uncle and aunt on R.'s side of the family.  

Almost two Christmases ago, M. shared that she and R. changed their minds and were going to be not-so-cautious and try getting pregnant.  At the time, I'd also shared that we'd been trying for quite some time, nothing was happening, and we were eager to start our adoption process.  Beyond first tier testing to be more informed about our fertility as a couple, we'd never been the kind of folks who'd wanted to explore pregnancy through all medical means possible, and we'd discussed adoption as a choice to expanding our family since we dated.  We've also been quite aware that stress does not work in favor of getting pregnant -- from A.'s open heart surgery to Dad's cancer journey and death.  

Still, baby showers are always a source of momentary anxiety as I anticipate the usual -- 
Do you have kids? . . . Why not? . . . Maybe you'll be next?  Comments that M. & I used to endure together for many years.  

I tried very hard to have a positive attitude as this was M. & R.'s celebration, and I am genuinely excited for them.  Still . . . 

I'd just walked through the door and hadn't taken my coat off yet, when . . . there it was. The source of my anxiety.  Tita E., whom I've known since I was a little girl and whose own daughter, C. who married a year ago is pregnant and due next week, greets me with an innocently enough enthusiastic, "Are you next?"

Feeling the not-so-shocking blow but a blow nonetheless, I put my coat and bag down in one of the bedrooms and head straight for the wine bar.  After all, I'm not pregnant, I can drink.  I proceed to have a glass of red, then white, alternate with a bottle of water, then another glass of red.  I was excruciatingly annoyed.  What if we'd been trying to get pregnant, had multiple failed IVF attempts and were crushed that pregnancy was just not an option for us?  

I can accept cultural and generational excuses to some degree.  Not really.  

Thankfully I didn't go ballistic though A. says maybe I should try it next time.  That should quiet any nosy tita who wants to know when I'll be next.  

As the evening went on, another tita who happens to be an adoptee herself and whom I hadn't seen in years felt comfortable enough to ask, Do you have kids?  I responded, Not yet. But we're in the adoption process.  

No reaction.  Our conversation ended there.

Still, K., M. & I had a lovely time catching up.  I was heartened when M. introduced us to her other friends as her "sisters."  I was even more charmed by the three playful four-year-olds at the festivities, one of whom especially reminded me of a young apl. from the band Black Eyed Peas, who was sponsored through PSB (our agency).    

Four seems to be a great age.  Maybe our lil monkey will look just like him.

Wishing M. & R. a most healthy pregnancy as they wait to welcome X.!  


Local gems

As we continue to wait for our child match, every so often A. & I throw with-our-child-isms into the conversation.  For example, we finally visited Cheesequake State Park just 15 minutes from our home.  It took four years to decide to go on a hike there.  A. assumed it was a not-so-lovely nature preserve.  We were pleasantly surprised by the range of difficulty of hiking trails and the local flavor.

With-our-child-ism:  Can’t wait to take our child on hikes at Cheesequake Park.

As we hiked the moderate blue trail, we stumbled upon hash-a-thon runners, one of whom was dressed in fishnet stockings and revealing turquoise shorts (didn't seem like running shorts).  Once the herd passed us, A. turned over a handful of logs searching for salamanders & snakes. 

Stepping on pine needles, strolling past the lake fishermen, spotting the ospreys’ nests across the salt marches made for a most meditative Sunday outing.  And after our hike, we hit our favorite Keyport bruncheonette, a local gem -- Lenora's, where the crunchy french toast, authentic huevos rancheros and homemade turkey klub sandwich on multigrain are my personal favorites, all baja fresh and artfully prepared by Lenora herself.

(Can't wait to take our child to Lenora's.)

What a way to taste the autumn!


Holiday's approach

fallen leaves drift
as memories pour from the cerulean
and down my face
unafraid of your guardian angelic love
i glance above
and catch a peek --
your winged embrace coasts down sunbeams
and jostles me


Sama-sama (Together)

hinahanap namin kapayapaan
at ipasok natin
  . . . bilang kung ang aming huling hininga
puntos ng liwanag
magkasabay sa pagkakaisa

we seek peace
and we enter 
  . . . as if our last breaths
points of light 
together in harmony

Salamat, E., E., A. & A., for sharing in the journey towards illumination.


Remembering Smoky Mountain's Children

my heart burns
like dreggy diapers and rancid leftovers
erode into Smoky Mountain
where child hunters
climb the garbage steps
into homely scrap metal slumber
and sister merchants
fancied with perfumed sampaguita necklaces
catwalk alongside Manila traffic


Fall ritual

A. & I seem to find ourselves trekking through Holmdel Park at every turn of the season -- winter into spring into summer into fall . . . Our mindful walk on the hilly path along the lake has become our own family tradition along with a side trip to our favorite country farm, Delicious Orchards.  Love me some honeycrisp apples, especially in the fall!

Sadly during our stroll, my thoughts wandered briefly to this past week's CCC visit to the Horizon Youth Detention Center in the Bronx, a secure facility for youth who've allegedly committed serious crimes, though more than half of them don't even belong in there.  Unfortunately, the juvenile justice system is wrought with grave errors.  Youth who commit petty crimes are thrown into prison and into an experience that ruins any chance of true rehabilitation.  Certainly there are young people who have committed serious crimes and deserve to be in prison.  But there are even more who should not be locked up and are forever scarred by disgusting practices such as physical and sexual abuse by prison staff.  Not to mention the fact that several New York State upstate youth prisons remain open for the purpose of keeping staff employed even when there are no residents in those prisons.  Abominable.  Children are not a job creation strategy.

No fall rituals for the young women and men at Horizon, other than wearing the same colored jumpers and walking with their arms behind their backs crossed in invisible handcuffs as they are escorted throughout the facility, never left alone.  

Every week, each CCC site visit has become my personal parent-in-training seminar as I learn more about the importance of advocating for children.  It's amazing that many of the social concerns related to child and family welfare are rooted in much needed support for parents, particularly preventive services.  While poverty plays a major role in the urgency for social services, so many parents lack general stability to properly take care of and love their children, resulting in hugely disturbing physical and emotional violence.  Yet, they don't require hundreds of pages of readings, group studies or multiple home visits before they actually become parents -- the way they require such for adoptive parents.  Don't need a license to parent a birth child . . .   

My thoughts weren't actually sidetracked for too long a moment during our hike.  My conscious learning makes me thoughtfully appreciative of life's blessings as I set intentions for healing and renewal in the world.  

Turn, Season, turn.


And 3

Last week, my CCC course brought me to Brooklyn Family Court, where I sat in on two juvenile delinquent cases.  Both 16, one resulted in being sent to a non-secure detention home because while on probation, he'd committed robbery, and the judge wanted to keep him from committing any more crimes as an adult. The other was a young man, who spoke no English, had been arrested for carrying a machete on school grounds.  I didn't stay long enough to witness the case's outcome, but the lost look in the young man's eyes was heart-breaking. More than 30% of juvenile delinquents have a history in NYC's foster care system, and more often than not, their IQ falls below average indicating they have grown with some developmental disabilities.  

My eyes welled up as the judge sentenced the first youth to detention as he handed his possessions to his father who sat in the back of the room.  In between cases, the judge clearly exhausted by the inefficiency and lack of improvement of 'the system', was kind enough to chat and share his insights with us.  Young people are under a tremendous amount of peer pressure, and for those who are from the poorest of families, that peer pressure is everything.  Not to mention their already traumatized lives as children who've been in the foster care system and who've also struggled through school without getting the proper assistance.  

My weekly site visits coupled with waiting for our child referral make for interesting processing.  A vast majority of young people seem doomed to fail in 'the system,' while I work my small piece to improve it . . . and while I am in the process of  bringing a child into our family.  Will we be able to provide the support that our child needs to keep him/her out of trouble, to succeed in school, to make the right friends, to make the right choices . . . ?

And 3

Our 10-year-old nephew, M. came over for a few hours last night while E. & W. attended an adult-only party.  M.'s visit gave us a short glimpse into what it'll be like when there's a third in the home as we sat for dinner -- turkey burgers with veggie fixins plus sweet potato fries and onion rings on the side AND pumpkin pie for dessert.

I'd just spent the previous couple of hours searching on youtube for adoption referral day moments . . . crying my way through a few.  I need to do this every so often, and it's been some months since I've searched for adoption day videos.  The referral day is just as important as the gotcha day.  Some days, the wait seems longer than others.  I find myself thinking about our referral day more as we receive invitations for upcoming baby showers, anticipate new family births and attend christening celebrations.  Of course, I am thankful to participate in these festivities.  But sometimes I am left aching fiercely for the moment we get to beat our drums loudly at the welcome of our long-awaited third.  

Yes, we're still adopting.  No, we haven't heard anything yet.  But every day brings us closer to our child.    


Couple time

We celebrated A.’s birthday this past Tuesday, October 19.  I wanted to surprise A. with a local day trip, so I provided him one clue per day leading up to his birthday.  1. Among NJ's best meditations 2. Along the President's gardens 3. A place that combines the best of outer & inner 4. Dining with Claude Monet 5. Peacocks mean integrity 6. Whimsical wonderland PLUS two bonus photo clues.

We had a most meditative day at Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton (NJ), where we lingered along the grounds for five hours making our way through meticulously landscaped nooks and crannies.  Tiptoeing through the Forest of the Unconscious, sitting for a spell with Renoir’s boating party, and climbing Monet’s scarlet poppy hill, to describe just a few of our reflective moments.  The most exciting part of our trek was lunching next to founder/sculptor J. Seward Johnson at The Rat’s Restaurant, where the feel was a scene from the book, The Wind in the Willows, and the view as if we were right there with Claude himself, alongside his lily pond and bridge.  Mr. Johnson was kind enough to share that he noticed my eyes light up (I wonder why) as he and his business colleagues began to discuss Republicans, whom he mentioned, happen to be the ones who buy his works.  (He made $35M this past year.)  After our 20-minute conversation, A. & I thanked him for the experience of his wonderfully whimsical gardens.  (And we secretly hope Mr. Johnson will consider creating a sculpture of us [me?!] once we send him our personal note in the mail with a photo of us enjoying our day!)  To have a glimpse of our not-so-artsy cell phone montage, click here
together we stroll
through these enchanted gardens
admist the magical drizzle
the sun peeks out
and we beam in charmed delight
marveling in the marriage
of nature and playfully chiseled forms

Happy Birthday to my heart, A.  Enjoy another trip around the sun, my love!


Protecting every child's right to a loving home

As my CCC course delves deeper into child welfare issues, I am crushed to learn the realities of how the American foster care system fails so many families, especially the children. While I’m sure there are lovely stories out there, the majority are harsh truths.  My last site visit brought me to Lawyers for Children, where we had a converation with the individuals who direct the attorney/social worker teams who assist foster care children. Lawyers for Children specifically advocates on behalf of the youth, really listening to their wishes and advocating on their behalf in court.

Most gut wrenching was the documentary we viewed, Why Can’t We Be a Family Again?, which chronicled a set of Brooklyn-based brothers in their grandmother’s care because their absent mother was a drug addict. When given the opportunity to legally separate from their mother, the boys could not bring themselves to do so even after multiple disappointments and the knowledge that their mother did not want them.  The complicated layers of love, protection, and care are evident in the film and left our small group of mostly women advocates reaching for some kleenex.

Upon our return to CCC to discuss our morning treks, a 19-year-old young man was our guest expert. Hassan articulately described his life in foster care since the age of 10, in and out of group homes, as well as the physical and emotional abuse he suffered from his mother. One of 13 children, his mother made him stand in the corner facing the wall for hours at a time. She would jump from a chair with a belt to have the most impact when she hit Hassan who described, ‘When you hit your kids, you usually don’t climb on a chair, you just hit them . . . ‘

Among the memories he recounted was the time during winter when he walked from his home to a friend’s to seek refuge, wearing nothing but his boxers because his mother told him to get out of the house.


He shared that group homes don’t work because young people don’t remain long enough to develop worthwhile relationships with any adults. They’re in and out every couple of months based on their therapeutic needs. What young people like himself need are loving families, adults who will support them, listen to them, and consistently be there. Hassan, who still lives in a group home, talked for over an hour and openly answered our questions. His amazing resiliency was a testament to his strength to continue to survive and grow into the college man that he is today, pursuing Coporate Law because he wants to be a future humanitarian/philanthropist.