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The Triumph of Fortitude

By Lyra P. Villafana

 

I used to edit a two-volume publication on legal costs. Referred to by practising lawyers in Australia, it was one of the most difficult to understand among all the products in my department’s list.

The first time I spoke to the author, she asked:  “Are you legally qualified?”

“No,” I said.  “I have a bachelor degree in Communication and my background is publishing, not law.”

“I can’t imagine how you can edit this kind of publication.”

Notwithstanding my lack of formal legal education, I forged a productive relationship with the author.  I gave her all the support she needed to be able to perform well as an author. In return, she delivered her manuscript on time, picked up the phone and talked to subscribers when I asked her to, and helped me with my product research. The question about the law degree never came up again.

All these years that I’ve worked in legal publishing in Australia, my education in the Philippines has served me in good stead. My training at the Ateneo de Manila University Graduate School of Business has helped me develop commercial acumen, a skill that is becoming valuable among editors these days.

Editors are not just wordsmiths anymore. Rather, we are the commercial owners responsible for the profit and loss of our publications.  Even when I was editor-in-chief of Entrepreneur magazine in Manila, I looked at the title in terms of market wants and needs. I managed the editorial process so we could go to press on time—the earlier we could supply the magazine to distributors, the more money we would make on newsstand sales.

I’ve reaped dividends too from my UP Communication degree.

The ability to read and analyze difficult text? My grasp of grammar and punctuation? The confidence to believe that I can learn and engage in meaningful discourse? UP nurtured me in all of these.

There are many other overseas Filipinos like me who have established themselves in their chosen careers. Nurses. Engineers. Accountants. IT professionals. The two things we all have in common: the fortitude to finish our studies and the tenacity to get every job done.

 

Swimming Lessons

By Lyra Pore Villafana

 

Every weekend I drive to the nearest aquatic center to take swimming lessons with other adult learners. My classmates are all parents to young children: one is a mother to a sixteen-year-old girl and a seven-year-old boy, another has three children all in grade school and yet another has a two-year-old son.

“I’m doing this for myself,” the mom to the two-year-old said last week.  “I work and look after my family, but I need to get away from it all every now and then.”

“Me too,” the mother to the three kids agreed.  “I don’t work but I need a bit of time for myself so I don’t go crazy.”

“I have the same reason for coming here,” I revealed. I work full-time and do my best to look after my young family too. It reinvigorates me when I am able to spend even just two hours a week doing something for myself.  This is my “me time.”

The mother to the teenage girl and grade-school boy listened intently.  She had told me on a separate occasion that she enrolled in swimming class to help her manage her asthma.

My swimming buddies and I are all Asians who have migrated to Australia with our families. None of us is really aspiring to become a strong swimmer. Of course, we want to be able to survive should we fall into the water but to us, it’s not simply about the swimming.

Life overseas is so different to what we’ve all been used to. We don’t have extended families to support us, we and our husbands have to do all the house work ourselves as there is no domestic helper who can do the cleaning, washing, cooking and other chores for us, and none of us has the benefit of live-in nannies. Amidst all these, many of us strive to hold a job as well.

But doing something for oneself isn’t unique to Asian moms coping with the stresses of building a new life in a different country.  A few weeks ago, my family was invited to the home of an Australian family ― well the wife was Australian while the husband was British. They had a twelve-year-old daughter who’s been born and raised in Australia.

Every week the wife, who’s an operations manager in a chain of nursing homes, attends piano lessons. “I do it for my brain.  I have to keep it working,” she said. So once a week, she spends an hour improving her piano playing techniques.

I do not view these one- or two-hour excursions without husband and children selfish at all. A busy mom has to take care of herself too. It does the whole family a lot of good when the mother takes a bit of time to do something that will help keep her mentally, emotionally and physically healthy.

Baby Talk

By Lyra Pore

“Mom, are you going to have another baby?”

“No.”

“How do you know?”

“We can’t afford another baby.”

“Mom, you don’t have to buy it! You just pop the baby out of your tummy!”

To my seven-year-old daughter, having a baby is but a simple matter. Several years ago when there were only two children in the family, she pointed to the empty seats around the dining table.  “Maybe we should have another baby,” she said, “so someone can sit on that chair.”

Indeed we’ve had one more baby since she uttered those words. Not really to fill empty chairs in our dining room, but because we always found joy in having children around the house.

We broke the news to the girls in the park.  “We’re having a baby,” their dad told them as we all sat around a picnic table next to the playground.

“Are they going to cut up your tummy in the hospital?” They asked.  “Or are you going to pee and the baby comes out?”

“I’m going to pee,”  I said.  I’ve had two natural deliveries and was expecting the third to be the same.

“Is she going to have blond hair and blue eyes?  Some of our classmates have blond hair.”

“We can’t have a blond-haired baby.”

“How come?”

“Well,  Daddy and I are Filipinos and Filipinos have black hair.”

When the baby finally arrived, the girls came to visit us at the hospital.  They looked at her lovingly as she slept in her bassinet.

“Can she speak English?”

“Not yet.  Newborn babies just cry.  They have some growing up to do before they can talk.”

“Can she eat sinigang?”

“Not yet. But someday she will.”

Bonding Over Harry Potter

By Lyra Pore

Hogwarts. Quidditch. Wands and spells. The first time the Harry Potter series hit bookstores back in the late ‘90s, I couldn’t stand the books.

“I’m too old for this.”  I dismissed Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone after just a few pages of reading the book.  If the series had been published when I was in high school, I would have loved it.  But I was by then a new mom to a baby girl my world was filled with diapers and formula, not owls, wizards and some fictional beings misguided by a Nazi-like obsession with the purity of species.

Last Christmas, however, my baby girl who had since turned ten received the children’s edition of the complete Harry Potter set for Christmas. Keen to find some bonding moments with her, I picked up the Philosopher’s Stone and tried reading it again.

I couldn’t have chosen a more auspicious time to take up Harry Potter. My daughter, just like Harry in the first book, was turning 11 in a few days.  And like Percy Weasley, Ron’s older brother, she’d just been elected school prefect.

Over the next two months, the two of us would explore the Harry Potter world together.  It would soon become a family affair too, as my husband and our other children would join us in watching the film adaptation each time we finished a book. Not only did we form a mother-daughter book club, we’d also organized family Friday Night Movies.  We’d all sit on the couch on Fridays, watch the Harry Potter DVD and talk about how the movie differed from the book.

“It wasn’t Neville Longbottom who gave Harry the gillyweed in Goblet of Fire. It was Dobby!”

“How come the other elf Winky wasn’t in any of the movies?”

At times, our Harry Potter journey turned into a writing lesson.  My daughter, who was starting to develop an interest in fiction writing, would comment on J.K. Rowling’s style and how it differed from that of Rick Riordan, author of the Percy Jackson series.  I worked in publishing; I took delight in talking about books especially with my children.

The excitement over the release of Deathly Hallows 2 took over our household.  My husband would buy our girls Harry Potter souvenirs that were being sold with every purchase of a local newspaper.  The family also organized a weekend trip to an IMAX theatre to watch the movie in 3D.  Making a day of it, we set out at 9 a.m., picked up some friends who were also going to the movies with us, went to lunch at a restaurant just a short walk from the cinema, and spent the rest of the afternoon not just enjoying the last movie of the series but savouring gelato that IMAX moviegoers could get free for each scoop they bought.

“Lord Voldemort’s wand will be out with the Sunday newspaper,” I told them after dinner on Friday.  “I thought it was Dumbledore’s,” my husband replied. “Oh, you’re right.  It’s Dumbledore’s.  The newspaper says it is.”

Upstairs our two year-old daughter was fast asleep. She’d been playing the whole week with Harry’s wand, yelling “crucio!” and “stupefy!” at her older sisters.

Choosing the Right High School

By Lyra Pore-Villafaña

My family has had a number of conversations lately about the best high school for our oldest daughter who’s now in Grade Six.

“I want to go to OLMC,” she declared last year. OLMC is an exclusive girls’ school run by the Sisters of Mercy in Australia.  It prides itself in educating Catholic girls in the Mercy tradition for over a hundred years.

My daughter has been particularly impressed by the breadth of extra-curricular opportunities that OLMC provides.  There’s a string ensemble, a cake decorating club, a debating team. Name any activity that will catch the fancy of teenage girls, and they probably have it.  They even have a strong swimming team that my child, who loves racing, is looking forward to joining.

We’ve already  made up our minds about OLMC that we’ve  enrolled her there one-and-a-half years before she’s due to go to high school.

Then a few weeks ago, my daughter received an offer from one of the government-run academic selective schools.  These are like the Australian equivalent of the Philippine Science High School system.  Each year, thousands of Grade Six students apply for admission to selective schools, but only a few get offers because places are limited.

While we are all extremely happy about her passing the test, the good news suddenly throws  our plans into disarray.  My daughter will have the opportunity to study in one of the best high schools in Australia at a very minimal cost to us. All we have to pay for are the school uniforms and supplies and a small contribution to educational resources. The decision to forego private schooling seems to be a no-brainer ― but it actually isn’t.

Yes, the quality of education in an academic selective school will be superior. Yes, it will save us a fortune. Foremost on our minds though is this:  Will she be happy in a highly competitive environment that these schools are known for? Will she thrive in a school where she’s constantly striving for good grades, leaving her with very little time to pursue other interests?

My husband and I have been in the workforce long enough to know that building a successful career isn’t all about having the brains to do the job. Don’t get me wrong. Having walked the grounds of the University of the Philippines in Diliman myself many years ago, I am all for academic excellence.

My experience in the “real world”, however, has also led me to appreciate that doing well in life doesn’t depend on intelligence alone. Equally important is one’s ability to build relationships, to bounce back from failure and rejection, to keep one’s focus even when the going gets tough.

What type of school will help a person build that character?  It depends. Some children excel in a highly competitive environment. Others blossom when allowed the time to  pursue arts, music, sports, and other co-curricular activities.

We decide to give our daughter room to weigh her options. Though she’s only 11 years old, we feel that she should have a say in the matter.  It’s her future after all.

“I’ll go selective,” she announces just a few days  after  mulling things over.  “And why is that?”  I ask, amazed at how quickly she has come to a decision.

“Well,” she begins.  “I checked out the school uniform, and I think I will look good in it.”

“And I have some friends who are going there too.”

So there.  I seem to be making things more complicated than they really are.  To an 11-year old girl, it’s all about the outfit and the friends.

Child-friendly Holidays

By Lyra Pore

It had been a long drive. My young family had just spent seven hours on the road; and we were relieved to have finally arrived at the Twelve Apostles, one of the most popular tourist destinations in Victoria, Australia. Getting a glimpse of the famed rock formations would be a fitting highlight to our road trip after the scenic drive along the Great Ocean Road. My children, however, thought otherwise.

My six-year-old asked, “Is this all we’ve travelled seven hours for? To see rocks in the water? And, look, they’re not even twelve.”

“The drive is part of the experience,” I’d told the girls earlier. But dizzy as they were from the twists and turns on the zigzag coastal road, they completely missed the point. To them, the fun part was getting off the car, running on the beach, and picking up pebbles and shells they could take home.

Earlier that week, my husband and I had taken them on a sightseeing trip to the Melbourne City Center. It would be fun, I figured, to ride the tram that went around the city and hop on and off to check out different tourist spots. But my girls didn’t even bother to look out the windows. They took out their Nintendo DSi games and played with them the whole time we were in the tram. The Melbourne day-out would have been a complete disaster had we not stumbled upon a sand pit where they were happy enough to play with shovels and pails.

I picked up some brochures at the visitor information centre to find other places we could visit. Ballarat, a gold rush town with lovely 19th century architecture, would be interesting–not to the children though. They sat at the back of the car with this bored look on their young faces unable to appreciate what could be so fascinating about those brick houses that were built over a hundred years ago.

“Can we swim in the pool when we get back?”

To them, the highlight of the day was heading back to the resort and frolicking in the pool. Last weekend, a family friend suggested we go on a family holiday in New Zealand. We would see things there, he said, that we wouldn’t find in Australia.

“We’re not ready for it,” I said to my husband, memories of our trip to Victoria still fresh on my mind. “The children aren’t interested in sightseeing.” It wouldn’t really matter to them where they went. Their idea of a great holiday was simple: just let them play.