Love to your mothers.

This evening, I rummaged through stacks of family documents to find a paper my brother needs. This is always an unwelcome task because it means I have to leaf through my parents’ files. I have to see their handwriting,  their transcripts, their death certificates. Understandably, whenever I have to find something from this pile, I try to find it as quickly as I can, retrieve it, and just hide everything again.
 
Unfortunately, I couldn’t find the document right away and had to shuffle through every folder. I found our birth and baptismal certificates and my siblings’ grade school report cards (for some reason, only theirs). There was also the “business proposal” my sister and I sent my parents when we were in college. We wanted to start a café and drafted the layout and made the menu. It was mostly made for fun and we deliberately made it look seriously professional as a joke. It was amazing that it was there filed away with the documents from their old businesses.
 
The most heartbreaking find for me was the printed emails. The summer I spent away from home to complete an OJT and a special project for a professor, I regularly sent emails to my family. I sent it to my brother’s email but addressed it to everyone. Apparently, my brother printed the emails for my mother to read and she kept them. It was surreal to read my words. To me, they were not worth keeping. They were just inane words from this clueless kid who kept rambling about software projects, cool teleconferencing equipment, and laundry costs. Every email also seemed to have reassurances to my mother that I wear clean and decent clothes and that sneakers are allowed in the workplace. Her replies must have always been concerns about how I presented myself outside university. 
 
Even now, almost five years of being totally on my own, I still hear my mother’s words and reminders in my head. I am reminded of her in the little things she taught me — like being polite to service staff or not making a mess in the kitchen when cooking. I feel her guidance in the more significant things as well. When I am forced outside my comfort zone, I seek courage in the thought that my mother would have wanted me to grow. When I feel like wallowing in depression, I would imagine my mother being disappointed at me for not making the most out of a very blessed life.
 
Her voice has become an extension of my conscience. She is no longer with me but I am still led by her upbringing. She gave so much of herself to us that twenty-seven years of being her daughter has provided me more than enough love and guidance to sustain me for the rest of my life. I will keep coming back to it, like a well that never runs dry.
 
If you are still able to actually hear your mother’s voice not just in your head or in your memories, be grateful. I hope you find time to hug her or call her today.
 
Love to your mothers. Cheers.

Obsolescence

Buying the last print issue of Newsweek in the bookstore a few days ago (headlined appropriately with #lastprintissue) sent me and my friends into a retrospective mood. We’re barely in our thirties, but we realize that we will belong to a generation that will have memories of things that will soon be obsolete.

It’s not just printed magazines, of course. Although that reminded me of an assignment in grade school to cut out all kinds of graphs from newspapers and compile them in a folder. My father had subscriptions to Time, Newsweek, and Reader’s Digest magazines when I was growing up. And there were always stacks of them in the house. So I took my scissors and cut through all the shiny pages of the magazines to get the colorful graphs. I ended up with a good thick compilation and a great grade for the assignment. I’m just not sure if my parents were thrilled with the mutilated pages.

Today, anyone can find great infographics in the interwebs, without the need to print and cut them out. Which is a good thing for the decrease of paper usage. Speaking of which, books are also being transitioned from dead trees to electronic media. How long has Powerbooks and Fully Booked been around? It feels recent, but it’s probably been ten, fifteen years now? It may be wishful thinking, but I don’t think physical books will go away that soon. You will always have those nothing-like-the-smell-of-books kind of people to buy them. But think of the how far the e-book industry has come. You can get almost any title you like in literally seconds through Amazon. I bought my nephew Dr. Seuss books like the ones we had as kids. But there’s also an interactive app version of “The Cat in the Hat” in iOS, which I’m sure he enjoys more. Yeah, we didn’t have that in the 80s.

My friends were particularly nostalgic about Kodak. Now that the company has gone bankrupt, it won’t be long when the phrase “Kodak moment” will lose its meaning. I remember film photography at a time when there was no other choice but to buy 24 or 36 shots of film from a store, taking pictures and choosing your shots well, and then waiting for an hour to have the prints developed. Nothing like all the digital cameras we have now that we use to mindlessly take hundreds of pictures with for a single album. 

So I guess this part is as good a place as any to segue into digital media storage. It’s amazing that some young people do not know what the “save” icon is. I read somewhere that a kid thought it was a washing machine. A washing machine! Zero concept on what a floppy disk is. We used to save one mp3 file into three of those. Now, even my trusty old 2GB thumb drive is sometimes not enough when I need to move files around. Makes me think of how life was so much simpler when I was buying a computer in college freshman year and can’t imagine how I would be able to use up all of my 6GB HDD space.

I’m not a gamer and have never been, so I won’t be able to reek nostalgia over old gaming consoles. My brother had an Atari when I was much younger. It was bulky, it had cartridges, a whole lot of wires. And that was pretty much all I remember of it. I have a Wii that I hardly use, and could also now be as obsolete as the Atari, for all I know. 

I’m sure I missed a lot of great transitions in history. Would’ve been cool to see the period where the world changed from black and white to color (Calvin’s dad is awesome, lol). But this is actually an interesting time to be in. I reckon if I keep my iPod long enough, it would become a relic like cassette tapes.

In the meantime, kindly refrain from trespassing within my lawn’s premises.

What do you do?

Some years ago, in one of those rare Sundays when I was able to have breakfast with my mother, she asked me what I actually do at work. She knew that I was a software developer by profession but did not know what work that entailed.

Now, my mother was very engaging in conversation. She was curious about a lot of things, and she was always interested in our lives. Not in a meddling way, but more of an evaluative way. I could still remember her expectant face while I fumbled with words describing what I do for a living. She was not exactly a luddite as she was able to indulge in her love of computer word games, but she belonged to the generation who double-clicked when a single left click would do.

So I tried my best to tell her something about coding, something about the development lifecycle, something that eventually made her conclude that basically, I just sit in front of the computer the whole day. If she found that disappointing in any way, she didn’t show it, at least. I knew that as a mother she worried about our well-being and for all I know, she wished I’d have a different life or a different job, for that matter.

It’s been four years to this day since we’ve lost her. More than anything, I wish we had more time. Enough time to make her see that my siblings and I turn out ok. Maybe she knew we would be, I don’t know. Maybe it was me who had doubts. I’m not changing the world or anything, but every day, I try to measure my words, I measure my actions in such a way that no one will every fault my parents for the kind of upbringing they’ve done for us.

If my mother asked me now what I do, I’d say I’m still trying to be a good daughter.

 

Stretching Sore Muscles

A friend whom I haven’t seen in years asked me good-naturedly to greet my mother a Happy Mother’s day for her. It’s a little awkward whenever this happens and unfortunately, it happens often.

“Will you bring your parents to Family Day?”

“What did your mom say about you having to travel for a week?”

“Why didn’t you list your parents as dependents?”

I guess it’s reasonable that people assume that I still have parents. After all, few people lose their parents in their twenties.

I try to be as lighthearted in my replies as I possibly can. But,  you know – how upbeat can you get while telling people you’re an orphan? I feel uneasy that they they’re obligated to apologize afterwards. I feel bad that they feel bad about me feeling bad. It’s a crazy quirk, I know.

There’s never a day that I don’t think of my parents. But understandably, I remember them more on special occasions like today, Mother’s Day. Some random post on the internet said missing lost loved ones is like stretching sore muscles; it provides a sense of relief from a nagging pain to remember how things were when they were still around. I thought it was a very insightful metaphor. I get tired of faking adulthood sometimes. It’s exhausting to always keep everything together and letting myself be flooded with the memories can be cathartic.

When I think of my mother, I miss so many things at once it’s almost overwhelming. I miss her laughter and the animated way she talked. I miss watching movies with her. I miss her phenomenal home-cooked meals. True story: on our way back from the funeral, my sister and I started to enumerate which of Mama’s recipes we remember. If your family has them, please write them down. You might not think it matters now, but yes, it will. On a somewhat related note, I miss my mother’s beautiful cursive. On a totally unrelated one, I miss her singing voice. Unfortunately, I got neither of the two. And I certainly did not think I would, but I miss the embarrassment whenever she would brag to everyone about our every lame and significant achievement.

Looking back now, I realize that my mother’s parenting was a balance of instinct and deliberation. She was always aware that she was bringing us up. She knows that her words and actions – positive or otherwise – have a direct effect on us and she tried her best to mold us into well-rounded individuals.

Well-roundedness include social skills and I believe there was a time my mother found it hard to understand my introversion. She kept prodding me to get out of my proverbial shell. She had a sociable personality and my older siblings are fairly gregarious – at least much more than I am. My mother had to deal with a youngest child who didn’t want other kids on her own birthday party; who goes out of her way to avoid any form of social interaction outside her inner circle. Eventually, I think she resigned to the fact that I was that way and didn’t force me into uncomfortable situations.

A quick digression. Just the other day, I was telling friends how thankful I am for online food delivery systems. Because of this technology, I don’t have to call a stranger and give my order. I sometimes wait for an hour for these services to go online. They usually confirm through text (yay), but when they call me up, then that just defeats the whole purpose for me.

Anyway, I wish Mama could see my nephew now. He’s growing up to be a smart and funny kid. I’m sure she would’ve loved teaching him all the nursery rhymes that she taught us as kids. She would’ve enjoyed hearing Adi recite, “My name is Anjeran Daniel… I am three years old. I live in Doha, Qatar.”

His name is actually Adrian Daniel, but we cut all three-year-olds some slack on enunciation, right? If you ask Adi what food he would like to have on his birthday, he’d say: cake, chicken, and gulay. Sitaw, in particular. My brother and sister-in-law are turning out to be wonderful parents. I’m sure Mama would’ve been proud of them both. I think my siblings and I all try to live our lives in such a way that if our mother were still alive, she’d still have enough stories to bore everyone about our every lame and significant achievement.

As always, to those of you who are still blessed to be able to, please hug or call your mothers today. Thanks.

The Adi Chronicles

This is a first hand account of a 17 day long contact with a two-year old human subject with a given name of Adrian Daniel. Subject invariably answers to calls of “Adi”.

 Physical Appearance

Subject is two years and seven months old and has a height of a little over three feet. He has a big, round face, soft cheeks, and brown eyes. His head is topped with slightly curly hair that is usually cut very short, except for winters when his parents let it grow out as a warmth layer for the subject’s still-delicate head.

Indoors, he is often seen wearing pajamas with patterns of ducks or turkeys. Subject also likes wearing socks and would exhibit restlessness if they are removed from him intentionally or not. When leaving the comfort of shelter, he wears a thick hooded jacket and usually, any one of his pairs of Lightning McQueen sneakers. His fascination with this character will be discussed more later.

Adi brushing his teeth.

Speech

Adi is at a stage of vocabulary building and would sometimes parrot new words he hears. Because of this, the adults would be extremely careful of word choice around the subject so as not to taint his vocabulary with rudeness. Unfortunately, there are a few times when an undesirable word or phrase would be in his earshot (like “Oh, sh*t!”) and he would repeat it. The adults would exchange glances and tacitly agree to ignore it, but the subject has the uncanny ability to sense that the phrase has elicited a unique reaction and would then proceed to repeat it over and over again.

His speech has significantly developed, especially in the past year. For instance: to express gratitude, he started from “Tutu”, to “Tikyu”, and finally to “Thank you.” It must be said, however, that whenever he thanks someone, he also appends “You’re welcome” to his response. He still has not grasped the idea that the phrase is not for him to say. He must be under the impression that in the previous instances that it has been said to him, he was being prompted to say it, too. So when one gives him candy, for example, he would say, “Thank you. You’re welcome.”

A very promising aspect of his speech is his pronunciation. He has a clear distinction between his voiced and voiceless dental fricative (/th/ as in “this” and “thing”). And also between his “B” and “V” sounds.

Movement

Motor skills have greatly improved in his second year and he is now able to run and walk with relatively more stability. However, he has a propensity for climbing on top of tables and stacked chairs which he still is not adept at. He also trips every now and then on flat surfaces. With any misstep and imbalance, he admonishes himself out loud with, “Careful, Adi!” or “Hinay, Adi!” (Subject is exposed to Tagalog, English, and Visayan. His vocabulary is a mixture of the three.)

Diet

Bananas are an important part of his daily diet. He asks for them the whole day. When he knows that his mother would not give him any more after he’s had two or three in one sitting, he would find another adult to conspire with and ask in a low voice if they could get him more bananas. When at home, he asks for rice when he’s hungry. When outside, he asks for candies. When he’s sleepy, he asks for milk. He also has acquired a taste for kubus (Arabic bread) and paratha (Indian bread).

At home, they have a rule that allows the subject to reject a food offered, but only after he has tried it. His first encounter with a pomelo is an apt example. He was adamant he did not want to eat even a little bit of it and was close to having a tantrum. When he was finally tricked into sampling some, he realized that he liked the taste and would not stop asking for it until all the pomelo was gone.

Bananas! Nomnomnom...

Behavior

Like most two-year olds (in their “terrible” stage), subject is prone to tantrums. Although his tantrums is limited to just being all-around grumpy (not listening, crying and yelling for no reason). This often happens when he’s not had a nap during the day. Otherwise, he stays agreeable until bedtime.

When he is not deprived of his nap, Adi is very congenial and will hug anyone at request. He also repeats “I miss you” to anyone he interacts with. Apparently, he does not know what it means but is sure that it is something that establishes friendship. Outsiders find his politeness remarkable. He reaches for a handshake, he says “please”, “thank you”, “excuse me”, “borrow”. He is generous with his toys and his food. He distributes his matchbox cars  so you can park them with him or create makeshift humps in the sofa with him. He would readily extend his feeding bottle if he is jokingly asked to share some of his milk.

Cars

Subject has a significant fascination with cars. He loves the cartoons “Cars” and everything to do with Lightning McQueen and Mater. But this does not stop with the Pixar franchise and its characters. Adi spends most of his time playing with toy cars, looking at books with car pictures, and pointing out cars on the road when he’s riding in the backseat. He can also identify them by names like, “Honda Civic”, “Nissan Tiida”, “Xterra”, or “Innova”. He knows which ones are buses, pickup trucks, or taxicabs.

In one instance, he saw a car carrier and could not contain his glee. He literally jumped off his seat, clapped with excitement, and exclaimed in a loud voice, “Tungtong ang car!” Although he still has not understood the concept of a convertible because when he saw one with its top down, he said, “Guba ang car” (The car is broken).

CARS!

Familial Relations

Adi has the structure of a complete and stable family. He has a mother who stays at home with him, a father who is only out of the house eight hours a day for work. An aunt who lives in the same city and sometimes spends weekends with them. Another aunt who lives on the opposite side of the continent and only sees them on vacations, but loves her nephew so much and misses him everyday.

Stickered Adi

 

Level Two

A little over two years ago, I left my long-time job at a software development firm and transferred to the IT department of a multinational company. Although I started still as a programmer, all application development of my new company was eventually outsourced to a third-party and I ended up becoming part of functional production support.

I had the intention of professionally branching out of coding, but did not expect that the chance would come as soon as it did. I had my hesitations at first, but decided that it would be a good thing to learn more about business processes and the applications that support them at a higher level. So I transitioned to the new position. I scooched over to the functional support and am now sandwiched between the clients and the technical group.

Now, just a background of my previous programming job. For a long time, it had been my comfort zone because the setup was fitting to my personality.  In actual work, I only had to deal with three people: my systems analyst for the specs, my test engineer for the bugs, and my team lead mainly for the schedule. All I had to do was to make sure I followed the design, I fixed all the bugs before deployment, and I met the schedule.

I went from having to interact with those three technical people to having to interact with multiple marketing managers across the world who use the application I support.

My first few months in production support were rough, at best. The workload was not a concern as I was used to having a six day workweek with 10-12 hours a day in my old job. But needless to say, I did have to adjust to a number of other things: the increased number of people I had to interact with and also the multicultural differences. However, the most significant adjustment for me was that I now had to deal with non-IT people.

The difficulty in transition did not lie so much in the difference of technology skills, but the communication. Business people and IT people talk different languages — that much is a given. And I now found myself in the position of being the interpreter for both sides.

When the tech tells me that the database listener of the web server is down, I cannot relay that to the client word for word. Because all they know is that nothing is working and that it should just get fixed. This is an instance wherein detail is not appreciated. So I choose my words and to consciously rid it of jargon.

And there would be times when I get the heat from clients when the application does not behave the way they expected. It takes patience to explain that it is not a bug when the expectation does not match the design.  Especially when the design have been communicated, reviewed, and approved by them.

There have also been funny, priceless facepalm moments. I once attached a form in an email and have asked it to be returned to me filled out. I was very suprised to find out that the client printed out the form, filled it out in ink (you know, by hand and with a pen), scanned the document and sent me the image file. I should have tried to be more explicit in the instructions.

Another time, a client was adamant that her access rights were revoked because she cannot view a record. She was about to raise a ticket when I asked her to just please try scrolling down. And her priceless response to me was: “It was hiding!” (exclamation point and totally serious demeanor are hers, not mine.)

It got me thinking whether I should have accepted that job offer by old friends from the university who went into start-ups and new cool technologies. I visited them a year ago and was asked the same famous line from Steve Jobs to John Sculley “Do you want to sell sugar water for the rest of your life, or do you want to come with me and change the world?” I knew he didn’t mean it, but it was a witty and coincidentally appropriate joke.

Regrets hover on me for just a bit, but do not really settle, because in truth, I do have an interesting job. I get the chance to step back from the nitty gritty details of semicolons and pixel widths and millisecond response times. And now, just think about how all those are used in the real world and how they affect real people. Also, one nice thing about this transition, my clients are very expressive of their appreciation whenever I help them resolve an issue. I’ve been called a very nice, kind person and an angel numerous times complete with the halo-bearing smiley emoticon. I mean, I never heard that from any of my systems analysts or test engineers.

I guess there are far worse things than dealing with, eww, people.

Adi Adventures (S02, E01)

My brother called me today and told me about the the latest incident my nephew had this morning: little Adi locked himself inside the room and could not get out. 

Their apartment has these old-fashioned doorknobs that require key turns for them to be locked. So they usually just leave the keys hanging from the knobs.

Apparently, while inside the bedroom by himself, Adi was able to somehow lock the door, but was then unable to turn the key and unlock it the other way. The opposite keyturn gets slightly jammed and has to be twisted more forcefully. My nephew is two years old, by the way. He could barely reach the knob in the first place and is not yet strong enough to unjam it.

When Adi realized the predicament he was in, he started to cry and scream out loud. His mom tried to calm him from the other side of the door, but the crying went on. She initially asked him to try and turn the key but could tell that he was having a hard time with it. She finally had the idea of slipping in a paper underneath the door. There was a slight gap between the door and the floor wherein the key can be slid out. So my sister-in-law carefully talked Adi into following the instructions of pulling out the key and placing it on top of the paper that she slipped under the door.

And in between sobs, screams, and probably panic, he did as he was told.

The moment the door opened, Adi, still crying, rushed out and hugged his mother very tightly. My sister-in-law later found inside the bedroom that Adi tried to improvised way to reach the doorknob. He tried to drag the chair and other things near the door.

For now, we view his fifteen-minute self-inflicted involuntary exile to the bedroom as a testament that no matter how far his playfulness gets him into trouble, he is at least smart enough to help himself out of it.