Another year ends

We ended 2019 with a few perennial concerns with the girls, and yet thankful for a relatively good year.
We greet the new year with cautious optimism: cautious because things do not seem to be looking good for this country. Optimism because I’m finally putting my head in gear and applying to do my doctorate.
Self-confidence and self-esteem
A conversation and revisiting a life path is due with Achi this month. She is disheartened by her slow progress in ballet. She feels that she is not talented enough. The stage mother in me says she is. But considering that she only gets to dance once a week for the past eight years, yes, progress is expectedly slow. As well, she does not practice on her own at all, even when there is time to do so after school.
On another front, our introverted Achi is retreating again, socially. Five years ago, her teacher and I banned her from reading her books in school. She was 7 and we wanted her to play with others, not sit in a corner with her books. It worked. She became part of a really solid group of friends whose parents have similar parenting styles with ours. At 8 years old, the friends slept over at each other’s houses and we parents were confident that they could care for themselves.
Last year though, in grade seven, she seemed to complain more about classmates. She is more impatient with, and frustrated by, her classmates’ work or lack thereof. She does not share their interests. I learned that she is back to eating lunch alone in the classroom with her nose in a book. Could I blame her though? After lunch, most of the boys in her grade go to the gym to play basketball. The girls go to the gym to watch, chat or hang out. Achi said it is hot and stinky there. She prefers to stay in a cooler classroom with no noise and no smell.
Sometimes she does go to the gym and invites friends to play. But they are 13 years old, no longer interested in children’s games. She is a full year younger.
Meanwhile, Shobe has started saying sorry automatically, sometimes before she even knows why, when there is no need for any apology. Husband and I have begun pointing out whether it was a mistake that needed an apology or not. It does not look to be working. So, I am wracking my brain to come up with something else to help boost her confidence so she does not apologize at every turn. I am very happy with her friends though, and how she is handling slacker classmates. In a cooking class, she brought extra everything in a separate bag, things that were not assigned to her. She said it was her back up plan. This way, her group is covered even if someone forgot to bring their things.
Gadgets and chores
It has been a year and a half of living in a house with no helpers. Everyone has chores. But the girls are slacking off. I nag them more over this. They are on gadgets most of the time and there is no more stopping them. Achi does the bulk of her schoolwork, reads her books and comics, and plays games on a smart phone. Shobe does some schoolwork on a phone, but mostly just plays games and watches online videos.
The smart phones are old ones that they use for internet access. They each had hand-me-down laptops for school work, but one is totally dead and the other is dying as well. Hence, the reliance on smart phones. Gadget time works with younger kids. I wish I could still impose this. But with husband and I working from home on our laptops pretty much the entire day, could I blame them if they’re on phones as well? Sometimes I end up doing their chores in addition to mine, plus office work and teaching load. Like many working mothers, I feel as if 24 hours a day are not enough.
The days plod on, but the weeks pass quickly. The issue over chores is minor. The need for self-confidence boosts is major. Both need time to be resolved. Meanwhile, we enjoy our time alone as a family of four humans and two dogs.

Vacations
We had two amazing trips last year: a backpacking tour of Panay Island last April (see Tulay May 7-20, 2019 issue), and a yearend break in Singapore and at Legoland in Johor Bahru, Malaysia. The girls are older now, so we carried more things a.k.a. our mess kit and extra food. As we try to live a less wasteful lifestyle, we brought along food containers, chopsticks, cutlery, straws and cups plus a gigantic three-liter water bottle that we share. We brought sandwiches and skip snacks in plastic packaging. There is less trash this way.
Many establishments in Singapore, including hawker centers, allow customers to use their own containers.
We easily found water fountains to fill up our water jug. Our first two stops in Singapore were government-run places: the Jurong Bird Park which features our Philippine Eagle and the Singapore Science Centre. We agreed to eat local food at hawker centers. The girls loved chinchau (青草凍), a drink of grass jelly or black gulaman. We used our own tumbler, and the girls used a spoon to eat it. But they still could not take spicy food. Shobe loved the flavor of her mutton biryani, purchased from an Indian vendor. But the heat of the first bite made her cry. No worries, both of them could eat everything else not spicy.
Achi chose a spinach and mushroom noodle soup. The vendor confirmed there were no meatballs in it. She smiled as she handed Achi her tray, probably because she encountered few children who could eat only veggies. We had great ba kut teh, courtesy of Arianne Alcayde, sister of Tulay editorial assistant Liza A. Lopez, who lives there now. We met at the National Library of Singapore where I got a first-hand look at the original Selden Map of China, on loan from the Bodleian Library of Oxford University. The girls thought I was nutty: I took selfies with a giant map.
At the Singapore Media Festival on the Singapore Management University campus, we viewed a short documentary, “Kinship,” produced by the Public Utilities Board of the National Water Agency. It was about two brothers who were separated when the elder was adopted. It ended with a Malay proverb, “Water does not break apart when you chop it” and “Kinship is as precious as water. Make Every Drop Count.” Here, all the kiosks selling food and drink let us use our own containers.

Vacation highlight
The highlight of this trip was going to U2’s The Joshua Tree concert with the kids. Just like the Beatles were a cultural icon of the 1970s, U2 is the same for Gen X-ers like husband and myself. This is probably the band’s last concert tour as the album, Joshua Tree, turned 42. The girls’ music choices lean more toward K-pop and pop songs, their generation’s cultural milieu, but I wanted the girls to be exposed to other musical genres as well. Bonding time was the best time. There were travel blues, but this was one vacation where I did not say, “I need a vacation from my vacation.”
Back in Manila, we ran into class cancellations because of Typhoon Tisoy and the Southeast Asian Games. We resumed our daily grind, and our house looked like a hurricane passed through it. Chores weren’t done, because the girls got busy building the two giant Lego sets they bought. Chores will be done eventually. For the moment, I was happy they had put down their gadgets and instead were splattered on the floor fighting over how to read the Lego manual.
Top 10 things I need for 2020:

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