The past three weeks have been all about family. Lydia’s brother Ricky, the doctor in the family, and his wife Chato came over to visit from the US. He was supposed to be here for a medical mission in Taal, but the plan was aborted when it seemed like the volcano was going to erupt anytime soon. It was too late to change plans so they just decided to push through with their trip home. Meanwhile, Lydia’s eldest sister Rosanne and her friend Lorna Ejercito who were supposed to stay in our house for just four days decided to cancel their trip to Thailand due to the coronavirus scare and just stay put in Manila before returning to California.
My daughter Ala, her husband John and their baby Zadie had been staying with us the past three weeks before the rest arrived. My son Mio also flew in from Sydney to attend the wedding of a childhood friend. Our eldest, Erica, decided to fly in from Paris to be with family even just for five days.
It is an understatement to say we had a full house. We had a stream of visitors practically non-stop.
Lydia and I come from big families. On both sides, we have 10 sibs each. We are used to having many people around. Practically every day, our house was brimming with visitors. We all mostly sat around our huge dining table that can seat 22 people. We talked, reconnected, reminisced, laughed and caught up with each others’ lives. There were always at least four to as many as 18 people gathered there at any waking hour.
I enjoy being with Lydia’s sibs. Rosanne, the eldest girl in the Mabanta family, with whom we have traveled abroad on a few occasions, is always great company. She is a real ate who likes to look after everyone. She is also a joyful, generous, funny person who is always great to have around.
The biggest deal for Lydia and I was having all our kids at home. We had not been together since five years ago when Ala and John got married in Sydney. Seeing them around our dining table was such a special occasion. Our children are all grown up and have lives of their own. I mostly just listened to their conversation to see where they were at. I enjoyed hearing their banter, laughter, their stories. It was good to know that at least at this point in time, they all seem to be in a good, happy place.
One highlight was a dinner where Erica, who is slowly making a name for herself as a chef in Paris, whipped up a steak and mashed potato meal. As simple as it sounds, the meal was actually superbly delicious. Her degree at Le Cordon Bleu and her four-month stint at a two-star Michelin Robuchon resto in Paris (Joel Robuchon is a legend in the chef world) had paid off. She learned the secret to making the best steak and mashed potatoes you will ever taste in your entire life.
Ala and John, as a young couple and new parents, are a joy to watch. They are good and very nurturing partners in all ways, especially in their nurture and care of Zadie. As grandparents, we enjoyed Zadie day in day out. She is almost three years old now. We liked staying home babysitting when the couple wanted to have their own time. Zadie is a happy, delightful kid who, we discovered, has great language skills. She uses words like “perhaps,” “otherwise” and “either” with an Aussie accent in their right contexts. She talks incessantly and is quite playful. She loves the company of sisters who are crazy about her.
Mio spent a lot of time with friends. It was good that they liked hanging out at our home just like when they were kids in grade school and high school. They have certainly grown up and are now in their very early 30s with budding careers. From their stories, I was surprised to realize how much their early lives actually revolved around our home. It was great to see them now as adults. Their enduring love and friendship for each other were palpable. They laughed, teased and enjoyed each other. They made each other ninongs to their children and best men at their weddings.
Zadie had an advanced birthday party last Saturday with all the bells and whistles. We hired a big bouncing castle, a huge piñata, good food and tons of children running around everywhere. I remember gathering a few of Ala’s friends and their kids for a photo before they left. Amid the din, everyone heard Zadie say, “Family” right before I took the photo. You could hear a collective “Aww” after.
Every night, Lydia and I would be exhausted and plop into bed only to wake up early and excited to be with family the next day.
What can be a greater happiness than to be with loved ones? A family is something Lydia and I committed to having and nurturing when we decided to spend our lives together. Of course, like all parents, we had no idea what our children would be like or how they would turn out. Just as we raised them, they also raised us in many ways. We learned a lot as we became family.
I think God smiled at Lydia and me and blessed us with great kids. Surely, they are not perfect kids. But we feel that we have raised good human beings who love and have compassion. And two of them have given us wonderful, intelligent and beautiful grandchildren. I hope a few more will come along not too long from now. We can only be so thankful.
All the visitors have gone. We are empty nesters again. It is quiet in the house. But it is not sad. There is a lingering feeling of contentment. We started with just the two us. The children came along. And then the grandchildren. And it is just the two of us again.
We have contributed good people into this world. We as a family have touched the lives of friends, relatives and even strangers. Our home has gifted them with reminiscences to keep and treasure. The memories of this visit will tide us through until we see them all again.
Life is so good.