Category Archives: Culture Shock

Fresh air.

I was born in the beginning of October, which means that I’m a Libra. Libras fall under the heading of “air sign.”

I don’t know much. But I know that.

*****

It’s 4:30 in the afternoon, and I’m lying in bed, fighting my carpal tunnel and/or arthritis in order to type. It hurts to grip a pencil and to open a bottle of medicine and to reach for my kids. But that’s what I’ve been dealing with the past few weeks.

The nannies have been on vacation because I expected to be in NYC by now and I didn’t want to rearrange their plans just because we’re not abroad. My brother’s been a big help just by looking after the boys for 30 minutes each day so that I can shower—but that’s all the help I’m getting. It’s just me, a 34-month old, and a 10-month old. I clean the five-bedroom house we live in, cook three square meals a day, and take care of the kids. It’s not easy, but it’s gratifying. I’m beyond proud to be able to say that I’ve gotten control of this domestic life within a couple of weeks.

School-wise, I’m at a stand-still. I decided months back that I would take a year off. I was supposed to take the kids back to NYC asap because Rob’s mom has stage four cancer and would like to see her grandsons before she dies. Only thing is, we’ve hit a lot of snags. Problems with paperwork and red tape. Drama that would make your head spin if I got into it.

I don’t know what the future has in store, if we’ll end up going or not. Right now though, my plans don’t include going home any time soon. I want to get my dual citizenship taken care of asap so that I can work at a call center and save money. Due to my grandma’s death, Rob’s car accident, Riley’s hospitalization, and other factors, finances are beyond tight right now; I’ve decided that I’m going to pay for my tuition from here on out.

Not Rob. Not my parents. Not Rob’s parents. Me. No loans or borrowing or credit cards. I’m going to pay for the rest of my nursing school education out of pocket. I’m going to pay for my own tuition, and all of the expenses that go with it.

Also: I’m going to pay for Riley to go to daycare, and for clothes for the kids, and for a life that’s closer to the one that I want. I’m frustrated at my circumstances and need to feel in control of something.

I need to feel like I’m getting a kick-ass nursing education, and that I’m good at what I do. I need to feel like I’m an amazing mother, and honestly, only now, after being a stay-at-home-mom do I feel that I can claim that title. I need to feel that I’m in a relationship that works. I need to regain faith in myself and the future; I keep on fumbling the former and I’m afraid I’ve permanently lost the latter.

I’m angry at Rob for being so goddamn hard to communicate with.

I’m anxious about my health because I haven’t fixed any of my problems, haven’t gotten my skin biopsy or cervical biopsy, and haven’t taken thyroid meds or consulted specialists or gotten answers.

I’m sad because of all the death that’s been surrounding me, and because of my parents’ shortcomings and how they affect me and my own family.

I’m tired of making lemons into lemonade. I think I’m just going to suck on some lemons and see where it takes me. I can’t deal with pretending to be happy all the time just for the sake of other peoples’ comfort.

I am learning to be brief and concise. I am learning to be ambiguous, and to not share as much of my life as I would have done before. I am learning to keep to myself, to let the internal workings do their thing, and to trust whatever is in me.

Point blank: I’m not in an easy place. It’s not a bad place, per se. It’s just terribly difficult. My plate is full of worry and anxiety and frustration. I want to get to the next stage, to a place where I already have my BSN and at least one finished manuscript that I’m damn proud of. I want to kill my board exam and pass the NCLEX with flying colors. I want to add on to my family and move back to NYC and feel… different. I want life to be easier and fun and happy.

Because this? This lack of money, lack of power, lack of control? This overthinking that I do? These expectations for myself and for others that I have? They’re too much. It’s all just too much for me right now. And the more I try to fix things and realize that I just muck up the gears, the more frustrated and angry I get.

I need a break from everything that is unnecessary. I need to strip away the stuff I don’t need and get to the bare essentials.

I’m working Maslow’s hierarchy, one level at a time.

I’m climbing it, trying to get to self-actualization.

And taking as many deep breaths as I can on the way up.

My glass is 1/3 empty.

It all started a few days ago, when I texted my ob-gyn to tell her that I was mulling over the idea of having Micah delivered at Makati Med instead of Asian Hospital. Those are the two hospitals with which she’s affiliated, and though Asian Hospital is the one I’m more familiar with (I’ve been seeing her there + Riley’s pediatrician is there), I’m open to changing up the game plan if Makati Med is just as nice and cheaper. [NOTE: The thing is? It’s not as nice, and though it is cheaper, it’s only slightly cheaper. (I think. I still have to speak with Asian Hospital’s cost counselor to make sure.)] 

So, yeah, like I was saying: A few days ago. I texted The Doc. I let her know my thoughts, and she was all, “Yeah, yeah, sure, sure, I’ll see you on Thursday.”

I figured, since I’m 9 months along and seeing her every week, I’d get my appointment over and done with, get a tour of the facilities, and maybe even take a gander at the paperwork I’ll have to sign when I give birth.

But, no.

None of that happened.

Instead, I spent a lot of money on gas. Then, Bro got lost on the way to the hospital. This prompted him to catch a major attitude with me even though I was in my usual bright and chipper mood and couldn’t give two flying ducks that I was probably not going to get half of my to-do list done. I looked at his road map, told him where to turn, and he deliberately went the opposite direction, which got us going in circles for almost an hour. Again, I didn’t really care and resorted to texting Rob because I figured Bro knew where he was going. It would’ve been A-Okay, only, the whole time, he was snipping at me and giving me lip and generally being an asshole.

So I snapped. I just couldn’t take it anymore. I mean, for real? I drop a lot of cash on gas and food and whatnot, and YOU’RE THE ONE who gets us lost and decides not to take my directions, and you have the balls to be mean to me? At this time? When we’re supposed to be building bonds because you’re slated to be the only one I trust while I’m giving birth? FOR REAL?

I cried and ruined my makeup. All the while, I gave an empassioned speech about how he’s supposed to be my advocate, and instead he’s been being craptastic to me, which is making me feel like it’s Me Against The World.

By the time I got to The Doc’s office, I was upset and itching for a reason to knock somebody out. The office was located in a circular rotunda, and I ended up walking around it several times before realizing, “Oh, wait! I’ve seen this same snotty little girl four times already!” The actual office was built like a railroad car, so that you had to go through a tiny hallway in order to get to the actual office, which made me go, “HUH?” I mean, really, you expect pregnant women to waddle through a hall that’s barely big enough to accomodate my not-even-two-year old?! It didn’t help, either, that one of the ladies behind the front desk was giving me the side eye. I filled out a form, then slipped out to look for the ladies’ room, which was the size of a shoebox. By the time I got back to the office, overwhelmed with a sea of emotion and catching my breath, a nicer lady from behind the desk asked to take my BP. I obliged her, but mentioned also that I hadn’t had time to relax, so she might want to wait. She didn’t understand English, so she took my BP. Then she proceded to ask me questions that I’d just answered on the chart.

I saw The Doc, and all we did was TALK. And I had to pay her to talk to me. Not about my health, even, but about money. Because that’s what happens here in the Philippines, where there are no clear divisions on duties and hospitals only have ONE cost counselor.

I got home, expecting Riley to greet me with his usual “MommyMommyMommyMommmy!!!”, but instead, he barely batted a lash. Turned out, he hadn’t had a nap. So I spent some time with him. Joy and I gave him a bath. Then I lay down next to him and let him sleep.

Now it’s barely 9 p.m., I’m sweaty and tired as all hell, and even though this is THE PERFECT time for me to relax and unwind and watch my kiddo sleep peacefully, instead I’m going to work on a school project. Because, let’s face it. This right here? It’s also the perfect time to get lost in schoolwork without feeling guilty that I’m not spending quality time with Riley.

I’m feeling worn out, on edge, and agitated. I’m worrying that Micah won’t love me because I’ll be too busy with a million other things to take care of him. I’m remembering how my own mom didn’t spend time with me as a baby/toddler because she was always too busy working, and how she and I didn’t develop a close relationship until my late teens/early twenties. I worry. A lot.

But those are the chances I’ve taken, and this is the lot I’ve drawn, and, really, what can I do now but make the most of my situation?

Tomorrow is a new day and another chance to get things right.

Down from my high, then higher still.

Last time I posted, there was a definite swagger to my tone. I was feeling damn good, and not afraid of the implications of this fact. That night, though, Riley’s nanny – who’s been with us a little over a month – told me she’s leaving. That’s right, folks: In about three days from now, I’ll be nanny-less.

My summer semester starts on April 11th and runs until May 25th, and since I don’t have any friends or family available for babysitting, I.need.a.nanny. Big time.

I stressed about it for a few days and I cried a lot. I even complained and cried to our maid, Joy, but she probably understood only every other word of my rant. She’d just sat on the couch, across from me, smiling pensively. She was probably hoping that I’d end the discomfort and go upstairs to my room.

I think about Riley, and my heart hurts. Rob left a couple of weeks ago, setting our little guy’s world off-kilter, and now that Riley’s just started showering his nanny with hugs and kisses, she’s going to leave. I want to strangle her. I mean, seriously? One fucking month and you leave because you’ve decided you don’t like it here, in our house, with air conditioning and food and a loving baby to take care of? After we took her on all sorts of day trips, made sure she had everything she needed, asked her repeatedly if she was going to stay for a while (and she always answered “Yes, everything’s good here. I’m going to stay for a long time.”) – NOW. SHE’S. LEAVING?!

Like I said, I’ve been really upset about all this. Today, though, something happened. I was editing the hell out of three projects, and when I took my break, I took Riley out for a walk around the neighborhood. I watched him play with a bunch of kids. We picked flowers together from vacant lots, collected pebbles from the front of our neighbors’ gates, smiled and laughed and talked. And as all this happened, I thought about his nanny, and how she practically never speaks or smiles, and I realized: it’s okay that she leaves. So what if that puts me in a bind? So what if my plan smight be one year behind schedule? So what? The important thing is that Riley is taken care of. After that, the priority is finishing this degree in as little time as possible, sure. But always always always, my family comes first, and I will never regret putting them first. As long as they’re being taken care of, everything’s going to be okay.

Everything’s going my way.

It’s exam time yet again, and I’m so in over my head, people, I can’t begin to tell you how suffocated I’m feeling. My studying plans were interrupted by the sudden availability of a nanny for the kids; I had to drop everything and pick her up (along with her aunt and mom, since they wanted to  make sure we’re decent people and wouldn’t sell her into the sex trade or anything like that). And now? I’ve skipped out on two exams because I’m just not prepared to take them. I’m studying like crazy today and tonight, and hoping that the new nanny sticks around (although at this point, I’m uber paranoid that she’s not only unfocused in her duties, but that she’ll up and leave after her lack of focus allows something awful to happen to Riley).

For now, Rob’s still here so he can keep an eye on the new nanny (who also happens to be his second cousin). Because he’s here, I can relax a bit and get down to business. I’m hoping that after this week, I’ll be more relaxed and can focus on teaching her everything she needs to know about taking care of our little guy. Also, I’m hoping that she stops being so disturbingly quiet and starts to display some sort of personality other than “scared shitless of nothing in particular.”

Ha! Look who’s talking! A couple hours ago, I was beside myself with worry and anxiety over shit I really don’t have any power over. So what if the nanny leaves, and I’m one year behind? So what if my dad’s a royal jerk and my brother has a tendency to treat me like garbage? So what if people talk about me and don’t get the story right?

I know the story, and so do my loved ones (and you do, too, if you’ve been following along). I know who I am, and I know what I’m striving towards, and that’s all I really need right now. Because you know what? I’m kicking ass just by being me. I’ve set up an editing business that’s making me enough money so that I can take care of myself and my kid. [Rob, on the other hand, is kind of high-maintenance and requires his own budget LOL] That editing business is thriving and pushing me to new limits in my work as a writer and editor. I’m meeting so many wonderful people through the business and touching minds with some old friends, too. And also? While doing this, I’m taking care of myself and the baby that’s growing inside of me, and still managing to look sexy and turn heads. I’m writing up a storm of my own fiction and non-fiction, cooking dope-ass meals for the fam, taking Riley to see my grandmas and other extended family all the time, keeping the lines of communication going with my awesome friends and family abroad, and generally keeping everything in my domestic life in check.

Icing on the cake?

I just found out that my GPA is ranked in the top 10 at school. This, even though everyone cheats and I haven’t cheated a single time. This, even though I have a family to take care of. This, even though I run my own business.

Ya know what? I’m pretty damn convinced: I’ve got everything under control, and everything’s going to be okay.

Caught.

After a doctor’s visit that had me seeing red, I’m back at my not-so-good-place and wondering what the hell I’m doing in this damn country. For the past couple of nights, I’ve been weighing the option of staying here vs. the option of moving back to the States, and that’s throwing me for a major loop. My major problem right now is Lack of responsible childcare (in the Philippines) vs. Lack of money (in the States).

To start things, let me say: I’m not even comfortable letting family members take care of Riley, and I know for a fact that they have his best interests at heart. So letting complete strangers whose motives are unknown take care of my baby? It’s hard. (To say the very least.) There are just so many variables involved in selecting a childcare provider.

There’s the cultural barrier that I worry about, for example. I don’t want some religious zealot spouting off Jesus-talk to my kid while I’m gone. I mean, for one thing, I’m raising my kids to be atheist. For another, the Jesus-talk would probably not be in English, and I’m having a hard enough time as it is getting my kid to talk.

Then there’s the issue about competence. Do you know how to deal with a hyperactive toddler? Are you able to be loving, and yet also instill discipline? Can I, basically, trust you to be a de facto parent in my absence? And in so doing, will you follow the instructions that I’ve left to the T?

Are you physically able to meet the demands of this rigorous job? Will you be able to curb all habits I deem inappropriate, such as smoking, for only the hours you’re not here? Are you clean? Well-mannered? Trustworthy?

There aren’t daycares here, and even if there were daycares available, there is no way to find out which ones are reputable. There is no Better Business Bureau. There are no background-checks on employees. There are no websites or forums dedicated to monitoring, screening, or evaluating childcare practices – or any practices, for that matter – in the Philippines. There is, however, a lot of lying and corruption, and that doesn’t exactly put me at ease.

Without reliable childcare, I can’t go to school. And if I can’t earn my nursing degree, I might as well not be here. Or so my thinking automatically tells me.

When I consider the alternative of moving back to New York, however, I’m at a loss. Sure, I have friends and family there, but should I really expect them to make me and my family a priority? I mean, I know they do to a major extent; but I also know that it’s really up to me and Rob to make things work for us, and I wonder if going back to New York would only be a distraction. After all, going back to New York would mean working our asses off all the time just to squeak out a living. We wouldn’t be able to spend a lot of quality time with the kids, and in exchange for all our effort we probably still won’t be living the comfortable life that we want. So what’s the use of going back? Should I do it just to feel like I’m actively doing something?

There are other issues to consider, and they’re issues that are non-existent if I stay here.

Jobs are scarce in New York – especially for people who don’t yet have college degrees. How will Rob be able to support us? Will our kids always live under the weight of poverty? And while we’re in this great, big rat race, will I have to set aside my friends and family, aka the people I love the most, to make time and energy for making money and raising my kids?

Things look bleak. I’m finding it hard not to assume that we’re not going to find childcare before Rob leaves. Even so, I still don’t want to go back to New York. Now yet, anyway. I  have to find a way to make things work here in the Philippines. I need to figure out a way to make sure my kids are taken care of while I’m at school. At the same time, however, I need to think of what to do in the event that I’m unable to do so.

I’m trying to look at the bright side of things: Sure, my degree will be set back, and I won’t be in the lovely grind of learning. But at least I can concentrate on my pregnancy and raising Riley. At least I’ll know that my kids are being taken care of. I’ll know that I’m eating right and exercising correctly and keeping my stress levels down by managing the hell out of the budget and the household; at the same time, I have the time and freedom to shape and mold Riley into the man I want him to become. And in the meantime, I can look for childcare. Hopefully, we’ll find a nanny and I won’t be set back too much.

Right now, I’m focusing on the things that are within my control, like calling my ob-gyn to ease my mind about her anticipated performance as my health care provider.

I’m also putting in the time to find a nanny, and hoping that things go my way.

What else can I do?

When it rains, it pours.

I don’t have my Filipino driver’s license yet, and anyway, I’m not quite sure I want to drive around in my parents’ huge SUV – not in these dirt streets that were essentially made for motorcycles. Rob doesn’t have a Filipino driver’s license either. And while he doesn’t mind breaking the rules to get to Point B, that’s only possible when my brother, aka The Keeper of the Car, is in a really, really, really generous mood and I’m in a really, really, really risk-taking kind of mood. Those two events line up once in a blue cheese moon, so in order to go anywhere, I essentially have to ask my younger brother to chauffer us around.

I haven’t mentioned my brother onhere very much, and that’s for good reason.  He’s not – oh, how should I put this? – the easiest person in the world to deal with. Our relationship revolves around me, acting like I’m his mom, and him, giving me pains like only a teenager/20-something can give to his mother. Our mom prefers it this way, and this is how it’s been for as long as I can remember. Needless to say, many, many therapy sessions have been focused on this strange knot of familial relations.

Anywhos, now that I’m pregnant, I find myself cutting through red tape very often with my brother, if only to negotiate when he can drive me to my prenatal appointments. And today was an especially headache inducing episode of WTF!?-ness, as my dear little brother chose to ignore my request to leave the house at 1 p.m. We left the house, instead, at 2 p.m., which is when the doors to my ob-gyn’s office are opened. And lo and behold: There I was, all the way down at #12. We ended up getting home six hours later. And then he had the nerve to cop an attitude with me because he was stuck at a nearby mall for six hours, twiddling his thumbs.

Look, dude, if you’da only listened to me, this wouldn’t have happened. Relax yourself and walk away before I snuff you.

This is where I should mention: I firmly believe that any court will dismiss violent charges against a pregnant woman. I mean, if the Twinkie defense worked-?

Yeah, so I had all of that retardedness to deal with, and also: The bill. Because in the good ol’ US of A, I had health insurance, so I never dropped a dime on health expenses and the hospital paid for my Metrocard to and from my appointment. Here? Every single drop of attention from anyone wearing anything even minutely resembling hospital scrubs comes straight. outta. my. pocket. (Except for 20% of lab fees. I think. I have to apply for that next week.) When I compare the fees to how much they would’ve been in the States had I not had insurance, I feel like I should be grateful. I mean, over here, at one of the best hospitals in the country, I paid $200 for a full blood workup. Now, don’t get me wrong: That’s a lot because I’m broke. But in the international scheme of things, that’s tiny compared to what I could’ve been charged. In a couple of weeks, I’ll find out how much a normal labor and delivery cost.

This whole money conversation would have gotten me feeling really upset, except for the fact that a couple of things have been going my way in that department. I don’t want to jinx them by mentioning what they are, but suffice it to say, I’m not worrying too much about finances. In a couple of months, Rob will be working and earning dollars, then I’ll definitely have nothing to worry about. As much as I hate to admit it, Rob was right. Him going back to NYC and making money really is the right thing for us as a family – even if the kids and I are gonna miss the hell out of him.

And icing on the cake of things to worry about: Midterms are coming up, Rob leaves in about six weeks, and we still don’t have a nanny.

As of yesterday, no one was lined up for the position, but as of right now, there are four ladies vying for it. I still haven’t decided who to pick.

I don’t want to go back to NYC.

Not yet, anyway.

This realization hit fast and hard after my mom told me that she wants me to come back to New York to give birth to Baby #2. In theory, it sounds like a great idea: My mom and dad can spend time with Riley and meet Baby #2; I have no worries or doubts about Baby #2’s citizenship; I can see my friends… Then, umm…

*scratching head*

*knitting brows*

*long sigh*

Yeah, I think the list of reasons to go back to New York just ended.

I love New York. I do. So much. And I miss it. I do. Kind of. Maybe. A little…

The thing is, I haven’t done anything yet. I haven’t gotten my nursing degree, or lifted my editing business way off the ground, or finished another novel. I haven’t secured a literary agent, or made enough money for a down payment on a house, or even chipped away at my debt. I haven’t done anything to warrant me coming back to New York and a life of… LOVE, yes. But also: heart-numbing and soul-wrenching debt and financial duress. And I just don’t want to go. Not for a vacation that I can’t afford. Not to see friends who will have to foot my bill because I’m dollar-broke. Not so that my kid’s first memories of New York is of Mommy and Daddy repeatedly telling him he can’t [insert fun thing] because money’s tight.

This is depressing, you guys. But it’s something that I just might have to do. All because Baby #2’s American citizenship is in jeopardy. According to the U.S. Embassy (Manila) website:

In order for a child/applicant to be documented as a U.S. citizen, the U.S. citizen parent(s) must:

1.  have been a U.S. citizen at the time of the child’s birth,

2. meet the U.S. physical presence requirements (transmission) to transmit citizenship (the transmission requirements depend on the date of birth of the child and the legal relationship between the parents at the time of the birth of the child); and

3.  establish a biological and legal relationship with the child/applicant.

Now, I fit # 1 and #3 with no problem. But it’s that numero dos that’s giving me a headache and making me unable to stay sane. See, I only fit that requirement if I prove my physical presence in the U.S. It’s called the Transmission Requirement, and it says that in order for my U.S. citizenship to be passed on to Baby #2, I have to prove my “continuous physical presence in the U.S. or its outlying possession for one year before the applicant’s birth.” That means, the year before Baby #2 sees the light of day, I have to be a resident of the good ol’ U.S. of A. But that isn’t the case. Because I’m here.

There’s a loophole to all this.

See, the above only applies to Baby #2 because Rob and I aren’t married.

If we were married, then it would become a little easier. (I think.) We’d have to prove mine and Rob’s “cumulative physical presence in the U.S. or its outlying possessions for five years, two after the citizen parent’s 14th birthday and before the applicant’s birth.” The fact that Rob would be living and working in the States at the time of Baby #2’s birth would be a feather in our cap.

As it stands, though, I’m technically and legally single, and that means that the Philippines government doesn’t give a damn about where Rob is or where he’s working. Which means that his name wouldn’t be on Baby #2’s birth certificate. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is another set of problems altogether.

I wish I could say that I wish I’d just done more research before getting knocked up, but the truth is, I want this baby so badly that I would’ve gotten pregnant whether or not I knew about all this legal mumbo-jumbo.

I just have to figure out how best to proceed with making sure Baby #2 is a legitimate American citizen. So that, ya know, when I am ready to go back to New York, I’ll have all my kids in tow.

*sigh*

It looks like I’m getting hitched.

I’ve got it, maid.

The closest thing we had to a maid or a cook when I was growing up was my paternal grandmother, who now lives around the block from us. Nana (that’s what Riley calls her) was always cooking exceptional meals and doing laundry. She worked as a babysitter, so our house was always filled with babies, toddlers, and young school children. She was domestic, all right – right down to the apron and gardening. But make no mistake: my grandma was no wilting flower. One of my fondest memories is of her chasing a teenage neighbor around the block with a meat cleaver; his basketball had bounced into her flowers and she wasn’t about to let that go unpunished.

I remember playing by myself a lot as a child. My bedroom looked like a Toys R Us had blown up in it, and toys and dolls were pretty much everywhere. It wasn’t difficult to lose myself for hours at a time as I invented adventures and acted them out. I had no problem keeping myself entertained, and when I really think about it, I have to give my parents a lot of credit for raising me that way. I mean, it’s not like they were doing it consciously or anything (they had to go to work, and when they got home, there was inevitably some household chore to take care of), but their way of rearing an independent and imaginative child worked.

I worry about my own parenting style and its effects on Riley. More specifically, I worry about having a maid, the messages having a maid might send to Riley, and the ways I’ve had to adjust my personal style because we have a maid. To be frank, I’ve never been a domestic diva – not until I moved here and got a maid, that is. All of a sudden, with someone else doing laundry and taking care of chores, I was free to learn to cook three balanced kick-ass meals a day, and garden organic fruits and veggies, and all the other domestic goddess-type stuff that I do. Ironic, how someone had to take those chores off my hands in order for me to be able to master all the stereotypically hyper-feminine tasks of holding down a home.

Anyway, another thing having a maid has allowed me to do is spend more time with my family. Now, don’t get me wrong, that’s a blessing in its own right and I realize that, but Riley’s damn near a year and a half, and he’s gotten a little spoiled with constant acknowledgment and attention. It’s only become noticeable lately, as he’s begun throwing tantrums at home and head-butting us when we’re busy doing something else. I’ve been told by my parents that it’s simply a stage of toddler development, and as I remember my brother going through a similar stage as a toddler, they’re probably right. Still. It bothers me. A lot. My kid’s acting out, and that’s because I’ve done something wrong.

A part of me feels like it would’ve been easier to not have a maid, because then I wouldn’t have needed to adjust to having one in the first place. Riley would have to learn to be more self-sufficient and to keep himself occupied. I wouldn’t feel the need to overextend myself because I’d already have a lot on my plate with regular chores. My life here in the Philippines would more resemble the life I would have led had we stayed in New York.

And maybe that’s the point, really. Maybe that’s why I’ve slowly stopped asking Joy to sweep and scrub the floors, and instead have taken on those daily tasks for myself. Maybe that’s why I insist on cooking all the meals and washing the dishes and sorting laundry. Maybe that’s why all Joy ever does anymore is clean up after my brother’s dogs and wash a few loads of laundry here and there. Maybe that’s why she asked me in a small voice this morning, “Are you going to fire me? Have I done something wrong?”

I find myself in a strange place. On the one hand, I would rather take on all domestic responsibilities; doing so would align my reality with my vision of how things should be. On the other hand, Joy has become a part of the family; Riley sees her as an older cousin-type person, and I’m aware that her family depends on this job to make end’s meet. I’m caught in the middle of this conundrum, trying to find things for Joy to do to justify keeping her around as I figure out the best thing to do.

Random: Our neighborhood, glass houses, and superiority.

It’s nearing the end of 2010, and here in the Philippines, the cool, crisp winds come often. In the early morning hours and after dusk, my neighbors don hoodies, sweaters, and long-sleeve thermal shirts; they shiver at the slightest bit of cold and walk with their heads bent down against the wind. But to me, my brother, and Rob, this weather feels like home.

The present Filipino weather is oddly reminiscent of New York City, after summer has died down and just as the school year begins. I go outside in the mornings and can’t help but think of cashmere sleeveless shirts, tall leather boots, and long, voluptuous scarves. I want so badly to curl up in bed with Rob and Riley while the curtains swell with chilly breezes and the room smells like the flowers growing on our block. Maybe this is exactly what was necessary for me to slip into vacation mode: a break from the norm.

*****

Our house is the second from the corner. At the corner is a vacant lot that’s full of green vegetation and cat meows. To our other side is a small compound of one-floor apartments which is owned by my paternal grandmother’s first cousins, Minda and Ansing.

As the story goes, Minda and Ansing fell in love when they were teenagers, and against all social conventions, they decided to get married. Now here they are, 50 years later, first cousins and husband and wife, and the love with which they look at each other makes my heart smile.

Across the street from our house is a duplex. The half of the duplex which directly faces us has a small store at its front. Ofelia and her family live in that house; she and her husband are about my parents’ age, and I’m the same age as her oldest child. Of her three twenty-something year old kids, only one works. Her daughter gave birth a month or so ago and stays home, ostensibly to take care of her infant daughter, though Ofelia half-jokingly complains to me about her daughter’s lack of child-caring involvement.

I’ve mentioned this mother and daughter before. When the daughter, Jean, arrived 7 months ago, I thought she might be my salvation. She had lived abroad, we were the same age, and she was going to have a baby. For sure, I thought, we’d have a lot in common and be able to bond. The more I’ve hung out with her, though, the more I’ve realized that she and I just don’t click. Despite her fluency in English, she and I just can’t seem to carry out a conversation. Every time I ask her about something having to do with her daughter, for example, she just shrugs and replies that she doesn’t really know how to respond because it’s her mom who takes care of the baby.

Apparently that’s how it happens here. New parents – especially when they’re in their 20s – defer to their own parents. This boggles my mind on so many levels. I just can’t fathom not having an opinion about how my kid should be raised. And the part that absolutely kills me is that I lent her a bunch of my pregnancy/baby books, and she wasn’t even curious enough to look at the pictures. Like, for real? You know nothing about pregnancy or taking care of a baby, and I’m handing you how-to manuals, and you don’t even want to flip through them? You’re really just going to let your mom raise your kid?

Seeing it happening right in front of me pisses me off. I mean, for crying out loud, you’re twenty-fucking-six years old and you decided to bring another life into this world, and all you do is make your parents take care of it?

What makes it even worse is that Ofelia and Jean can’t stop criticizing Minda and Ansing’s son and daughter-in-law about how they’re raising their five-year old daughter. They call the girl’s mom a witch (which has a less-benign connotation in Tagalog), and go on and on about how some people shouldn’t have kids.

And it all makes me wonder about my own criticisms of Jean, and about perspectives, and if anyone really knows what they’re doing, and if anyone is in a place to judge when it comes to parenting. I’ve learned, for instance, that I’m more sensitive to haughty criticisms from non-parents because they haven’t been down this particular path and shouldn’t be looking down on me from a high horse. (That isn’t to say that the plight of women, in general, isn’t universal; there are people out there who honestly get it even though their sexy parts haven’t spewed out living baby and blackberry  jelly-like placenta.) And after moving out here, it’s become more apparent to me that my perspective is in no way the correct one, or the universal one. But when it comes to something as important as children, should we have a base by which to successfully raise and care for them? If so, who should make it? Is it universal? Or is it as simple/complex as “Keep your kids healthy and happy”?

*****

Now that Christmas is over, the carolers have gone away and kids have stopped coming to our gate and asking for money. I’ve gotten a bunch of emails and messages from people wondering about my atheism and how it’s holding up during the holiday season, and as much as I want to believe that the questions all come from a purely curious place, I can’t help but detect tons of judgment.

All of it – the parenting stuff that my block has made me think about, as well as these messages about religion – has been bubbling in my brain, and I can’t help but think about beliefs and about whether certain beliefs – like, about religion, or the existence of God, or about Love, for instance – might hold more worth and power than other beliefs – like, about the weather, and old wive’s tales, and superstitions. Could it be that we can’t held but hold some beliefs to higher regard than others, and that we’re willing to do more for them? And if this is so, and we base so much of our personalities on our core beliefs, can we help but feel superior because of our convictions? I mean, in choosing one set of thinking over another, we’re assigning worth to different belief systems, so that, for example, it’s very obvious that I value atheism more than Catholicism. But does making that decision necessarily involve feeling that I’m better than those who didn’t make that same decision? Is that kind of self-righteousness innate to the human condition?

Iono, man. Lots going on in this little mind of mine… I know I’m all scattered, but what are your thoughts?

Gripes about God, and the many questions they raise.

Okay, so I wrote this and immediately realized that there are MANY talking points contained herein. Like the issue of control and how much of it a parent should exert on their children…

For all the love I have for my life and everyone/everything in it, there are a few complaints that I can’t help but have. My brother and his insistence on coveting the sin of sloth, for example. The fact that there’s only 24 hours in a day. My apparent amnesia concerning the how-to’s of swimming. But the one that’s currently messing with me is being overwhelmed with… religious…ness? Religiosity? Yeah, I’ll go with that. Religiosity. I’m overwhelmed by religiosity.

EVERY DAY, I witness people giving up their goals with a shrug and a “Whatever God wants will happen.” And it pisses me off. So. Much. That. It. Hurts.

So you’re unhappy at your job, in your marriage, with your grades, et al. Why not make a change? Why just accept your circumstances and say that it’s God’s will? The line of thinking seems to be “This is so because God wants it to be so. Therefore, I’ll just bend over and take it in the ass.” And I just don’t get it.

Being here, in this super-crazy Catholic country, where bishops and clergy are spouting off about how birth control is bad because taking control of you’re reproductive health means you’re denying God His choice of how many kids you’re going to have and when you’re going to have them, is driving me cah-razy. There are never any protests or marches or any form of civil disobedience when it comes to the issues that are important to me, and without an outlet, I’m grasping at straws. These are beliefs that speak to who I am as an individual, how I live my life, and how I see the world.

Every day, I’m confronted with religious talk. Prayers are conducted in class. Teachers give sermons about how people should live. Even on Facebook, certain family members can’t help but be all “Let go. Let God.” And it scares me. My world is full of people who carry opinions that are contrary to my own, and when I realize this the first thought in my head is Riley. What if he gets brain-washed by their thinking? What if he spends too much time with our uber-Catholic family members and gives up the values I’ve instilled in him? What then?

I know I have to trust Riley. I know that he’ll be a wonderful, strong, beautiful person no matter what beliefs he accepts about God and religion. I also know that one of the other values I’m ingraining in him is the ability and the will to think for himself. I want him to question everything, and to learn as much as he can, and to make up his own mind about who he is and what he’s about. I can’t help but wonder if and when that value may clash with the atheism that’s in full-effect in our household.

For now, at least, I can still control Riley’s influences and social circle. I’m trusting and keeping faith in my ability to shape a healthy and happy little person. And we’re safe in our tiny corner of the world.

That’s all that really matters.