Home alone with Mio

Sunday, July 15, 2007

On my second week here in wintry Sydney, the only companion I have at home is my 18-year-old son Mio. For a week prior to my arrival, Mio was home alone in Sydney. Erica and Ala and Lydia and myself were in Manila, so we were constantly worrying. Although Mio constantly reassured us that everything was fine, I felt I had to come home ASAP so that he could have someone with him. Now it looks like Lydia’s ticket home will take some time to fix, so it looks like it will only be Mio and me here for another week or so.

There are many firsts that I am experiencing being home alone with Mio. I am learning to run the house beyond just paying the bills, taking out the garbage and the occasional cleaning. I am doing pretty much everything — the laundry, cleaning up, mopping, shopping for groceries, errands, tidying up the house, watering the indoor plants, and so many other things. But the biggest challenge — and the most fun, as it is turning out — is cooking!

From the outset, I realized that my original plan of living on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches indefinitely, or until Lydia gets here, would not be feasible. And so I plunged head-on into kitchen duty. You must realize that I am coming from practically zero experience since my knowledge of anything culinary is nil. I know very little about cooking save for the suspicion that it probably involves heat! My few engagements with food preparation and anything culinary date back to my youth when, as a Boy Scout, I cooked eggs and heated stuff from canned foods while camping.

Normally, I can live on food that does not have to be spectacularly delicious or visually appealing. I’m quite a low-maintenance guy when it comes to sustenance. While I enjoy going out, I generally would much rather eat at home and save money. I can even eat the same dishes for days on end, much to the disgust of my family!

But I find that I don’t relish eating so-so or lousy food during these cold, wintry months and so I have taken the bull by the horns. With the help of friends who I call when I have a question about what to do next, I have bravely taken out unprepared frozen meats from the freezer and prepared some dishes from scratch. Since I got back, I have made baked chicken, fried lumpia, mushroom and cheese omelets and a few other dishes. Last night, I was thrilled to have cooked steak, which, in my humble opinion, was rather scrumptious. I sprinkled them with salt and pepper the night before and they came out quite delicious. I was happy (no, ecstatic is the word) about my accomplishment and quickly agreed with Mio’s suggestion that we should try baking a cake or something!

Mio pretty much leaves me to do the cooking while he does the dishes and throws out the garbage. He also drives when we go out. What I am enjoying most at this time is being with him. I have always enjoyed my son’s company. He has a great sense of humor. He is a fairly easygoing kid who can do some pretty spectacular stuff. Even as a first-year immigrant, he shares the honor with two other classmates of having the highest standing in his English class. He is also number three in math, arts and music. Aside from that, he can play a mean guitar (Joe Satriani, Dream Theater stuff) and now has embarked on aerosol art, which he loves to do.

I have had many moments with my son in the past but these days are quite special. There are no other people — not his sisters, my grandchild, or even his mother — who can interrupt our bonding time.

I have been encouraging Mio to take steps toward being more independent. Last week, he finally got a job as a pizza delivery boy. He came home the first night saying he hated the job. I told him to give it a chance since very few people really like the first day of anything. The next day, he felt better about it. He’s been going out a few nights a week since his shifts are in the evening.

Since we got here, we have had so many meals together, including one with his girlfriend. Last night, we watched the movie Transformers and had a great time. The best times are when we are just talking about anything — cracking jokes, figuring out different ways to keep the house clean, this and that, and even big topics like his future. He says he likes it in Sydney and is not missing Manila enough to want to go back. He will end his senior year soon and will hopefully be going to the university by February next year.

In the car last night, I told him about a bank employee I spoke to earlier who is in her late 20s and already owns a house in our neighborhood. He then asked me if I ever imagined when I was young how much my music would be heard and performed, or how successful I would be at what I was doing. I said no, I really just got into everything because I liked doing it.

He said that he is torn between saving all his money for something big in the future, or spending it on art materials, since he needs to pursue what he enjoys doing. He said he is embarrassed to have to ask us for money to support his artistic inclinations and he worries that he is just throwing money away. I told him that I think he is spending his money wisely since he obviously finds fulfillment in his art. He should therefore just thank his lucky stars that he has parents who will support him in the directions that he would like to grow.

As a struggling artist in my youth, when I could not even afford guitar strings, I would sometimes resort to tying broken strings together. But I was happy every time I played the guitar. I wished my parents had the money then to buy me a nicer guitar, or that we could have been in a better financial situation so I could go to music school. But what mattered was my mom always encouraged me to do what I loved to do. Now, I can afford all these things for my kids and I really don’t want them to have to scrimp on their vision of what they want to be, or on their dreams.

These moments with Mio are so precious, as I relish every opportunity I have to spend individual time with each of my children. Many times, as parents, we like to compliment ourselves by pointing out that we are providing for our kids’ welfare and education. And we think that is more than enough. But we may forget that it is equally important to go beyond being just a provider and getting to know them more intimately as the unique human beings that they are. And vice versa.

Destiny has thrown us together in this unique time and space, and that is quite a privilege. Our time with our loved ones may be long, or it may be short-lived, as it was with my own father. So such bonding moments when we talk and share dreams, wisdom and our love for each other are nuggets to be cherished. They are the gifts we give each other that really matter.

Many years from now, would you rather be remembered for the sizeable bank account you left behind, or the fact that you were never there because you were working too hard to provide for your kids?

Our children will remember all that. But I am betting that they will remember and cherish much more the memory of how loudly we laughed with them, how sincerely we listened to their stories, how patiently we tried to understand them, how tenderly we cared. They will even appreciate how painfully, but faithfully, we administered tough love when we felt it was needed.

Such memories will compensate for all our shortcomings as parents, whatever they may be. These, more than anything else, are what will shape our children into warm, loving, compassionate and happy human beings, and hopefully, much later, into warm, loving, compassionate and fun parents.

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