Lessons from the commonplace

published January 4, 2013, MST, page A5
It is almost a relief to settle back into routine.  We do not do so, of course, without pondering what happened in the past, how we responded to crises real or imagined, and how we expect to do better this year.
Maybe I am getting older, but what I unearthed this holiday season were not earth-shaking nuggets of wisdom but simple lessons from what would appear to be common events. Let me share them with you.
Our house helper, like many others at this time of the year, went home to her home province of Quezon for nearly two weeks. She left on December 21 right when the Christmas frenzy was beginning, and came back only today when all the parties were over.
This meant that my kids and I had to do the cleaning and cooking and washing on our own. We had difficulty adjusting at first. The Christmas and New Year holidays also meant there were more people going in and out of the house and that more dishes needed to be prepared, consumed and then put away. And then, the mountain of dirty clothes was rising fast—and why not? Holidays meant we had to dress up more than usual.
The inconvenience turned out to be one of the best things that ever happened to us. Indeed my kids, aged 18, 17, 12 and 10 are old enough to assume responsibilities.  Their participation helped lighten my load. And since we took turns with the chores, we were reminded that we all had our roles to play.  It felt good to chip in—and to chill out afterwards in front of the TV.
I also noticed that the humble townhouse we are renting seems to be a favorite hangout for our friends – mine and the kids’. I hosted two parties in the past month where our group of kumares and kumpares continued our traditions. The kids’ friends also like dropping by and sometimes staying in. My university freshman hosted a reunion for his high school classmates. The seventh grader had her best friend sleep over. The 18-year-old was visited by different sets of buddies. The neighbors will tell you there is a fair amount of chatter and laughter, sometimes music, going on until the wee hours of the morning. Nothing rowdy, of course.
The prospect of cleaning up after any given party seems daunting, but fortunately even our guests help out.  It is nice to think that even though we don’t have a luscious garden or a pool, or even that much space, people seem drawn to our home. Perhaps they feel they can be themselves—do what they want, speak their mind, laugh their guts out.

The girls: Bea, myself, Mareng May, Mareng Winnie, Andrea and Sophia

The boys: Josh, Pareng Ron, Wacks and Elmo
Holidays are not holidays when you don’t reconnect with family and friends. I met up with more family members this year than I could imagine. I did not mind shuttling back and forth to many places. I was glad to go out of my way and see as many of them as possible—not from any oppressive sense of duty but out of a real desire to get to know them more. Families may take on different forms, unconventional ones sometimes, but the bonds remain.
I was also reminded that I am fortunate to have, not that many, but a handful of long-standing friends.  With them, there is no need to maintain appearances. We can be crazy and smart, feisty and fragile all at the same time and they love us no matter what. My wish for my kids is to find and nurture friendships like mine.
There was also frequent interaction with my ex.  It has been five and a half years since we separated and a full year since a judge declared our marriage, contracted when I was a child of 18, null and void.  It follows that there are less tense and awkward moments; now it almost feels like he were a relative. I think it sends a good message to the kids that one need not be bitter for long.

Photobooth at the house where we all used to live
How to tell when you have really moved on? Spend New Year’s Eve with the family at the ex’s house, don a crazy wig, strike a wacky pose and post it on Facebook. Everybody deserves a chance at inner peace and happiness. Then again, divorce, not just annulment, is a topic I would rather write about in a separate column.
Finally, I have to talk about planners. There is something about the smell of newness, the promise of blank pages, and the exhilarating thought of what you can do, achieve—and perhaps stumble into.
This year will be a good year, as all the other years have been.  It will shape part of who we are—as individuals, as families, as a nation. I wish the best of 2013 to everybody.  And even when it’s not going as you planned or hoped, it helps to remember there’s always a gem to be found somewhere.