Timely confessions of a Vancouver mom
VANCOUVER—I still feel the languor of vacation hangover. The reason is that, among all my previous leaves from work, going back to the Philippines was what travel writers describe as time-off. And yes, I’m also suffering from jet lag.
The vacation gave me three weeks of worry-free bliss, a break from my current reality. Waking up without the stress of childcare and not having to touch dishwashers or laundry machines were such a welcome respite. Even my kids’ socks were bright and white again.
You should have seen the smile on my face when I saw how the family’s clothes from our flight had been laundered and folded the morning after our arrival. They included ironed underwear—yes, ironed. I had totally forgotten about that.
My kids’ eyes almost popped out when they saw that they didn’t have to sort their own clothes.
On this trip, all my usual domestic duties were taken care of. I was able to relax and focus on quality time with family, all day and every day.
I saw the Philippines with different eyes, and I relished the view.
I’ve lived in the Philippines most of my life. I was born there, made most of my memories and started my family there. For 35 years I was very comfortable with that life.
Four years ago, however, my husband Monchu and I decided to forego comfort and familiarity for an overwhelming change. This shift tested our personal strength and marriage. We created our own earthquake and migrated to Vancouver, Canada.
In this crucial journey, the decision to move was made after much discussion and debate. Lists were compiled, pros and cons measured. We spoke to every person we knew who lived abroad about possible scenarios.
Advice was collected from those who migrated over 20 years ago, and moved back to the Philippines after getting their citizenship. We spoke to those who had given up their Canadian residency.
We also sought out couples who decided to split their time, spending six months in Manila and six months in Vancouver. We even got feedback from a couple where the husband still has his business in Manila, while the rest of the family live in Vancouver.
We got mixed opinions from everyone. We thought getting feedback would make our decision-making easier. In retrospect, it made our decision harder. No family dynamic is the same. Bottom line is, it is different for everyone.
Ultimately, you need to trade fear for courage, and focus your energy on researching about your life.
What city do you want to live in? What school area is best? Or do you want a private school for your kids? Are you willing to sacrifice your career?
We went through endless questions, and continue to ask them still.
A big consideration in making our decision was having a strong support group. We were lucky to have family and friends living in Vancouver. To gain our strength and propel us forward, we knew we needed their love, guidance and straight-up advice.
And without the unconditional love of our families back in the Philippines, we would have been lost and broken.
No doctors’ bills
Life in a First World country like Canada is everything you can visualize it to be. I live in a city called Port Moody, 45 minutes from downtown Vancouver. Our small home is among evergreens, with a view of water and snow-capped mountains.
The neighborhood is exceptional, considered a secret pocket in terms of real estate value.
My kids go to school in a sound neighborhood, and I’ve met only one crazy mom in a sea of 300.
I teach Catechism to Grade 1 kids and volunteer in our parish weekly, while Monchu coaches our son’s soccer team.
I never have to worry about paying doctors’ or hospital bills. And because Monchu and I work for reputable companies, we all get 100 percent coverage for dental and extended health. We hardly pay for prescription medicine. We get the same coverage for chiropractic services, massage therapy and any other registered treatment to aid physical and mental healing.
Even Carmen’s braces are covered, not to mention the sunglasses needed to protect my eyes. I haven’t even taken advantage of the nutritionist and physio-Pilates sessions available for me.
You can say it is a life that is as crisp as the air we breathe. But this quality of life can be jeopardized quickly if you let it get to you.
Here, my kids call me the driver, cleaner, laundry-er, tooth-brusher, scheduler. I am your ever-reliable mayordoma, capo de tutti, all-around.
Monchu is the cook, car-washer, ear-cleaner and heavy lifter.
These are roles over and above being a working wife/husband and mom/dad. And these are job descriptions that apply on a daily basis, every month of the year.
This was expected. This is what everyone who has moved out of Manila will tell you.
It is the emotional fatigue that was my biggest adjustment. We moved when my two kids were aged 1 and 2, and I was still changing their diapers. In Manila I was used to having the ever-reliable yaya.
When the kids acted up, or were just plain gross, when all your patience had gone, you could always turn them over to their yaya even for just a minute. I remember sending them out to play with the household help when I was too exhausted.
Let’s be honest, Manila can function on voice command. If you’ve had a long Saturday night-out, you could sleep late, and your kids would be dressed and fed with some pasyal to boot. Every Manila mom with support at home, regardless of how hands-on a parent she is, knows that this help is available.
In Canada, Monchu and I hand the kids over to each other—on good days, when we are in sync. But we are not always in sync, and that’s when the emotional craziness takes over our home.
But it is during those crazy days when my kids also surprise me. Carmen, my 11-year-old, always steps up to the plate. For instance, the other day, without prodding, she gave her two younger brothers a shower, brushed their teeth, read them a story, said prayers and put them to bed while I was passed out after a really long day. I woke up only because she hugged and kissed me good night. That evening I melted in her arms.
My first two years in Vancouver gave me a chance to really get to know each of my kids. Knowing and accepting their quirks kept my sanity.
Carmen needs to know what the plan is ahead of time, or else she gets very stressed. Julio has a set idea of what he wants and how to go about it, so I need to catch any curveballs before it hits him. Iker has a lot of questions, and he knows how to express his feelings. So, when someone breaks his heart, we need to talk him through it, no matter how long it takes.
Now, finally, all three kids are in big school. Monchu and I breathe at a steady pace again, on most days.
Aside from domestic duties, there were other adjustments. Recycling, driving on ice, public transit, bundling up in winter, and no alcohol on the beach were new to me. Building our own set of friends, making new friends, organizing playdates, job interviews, trust issues—the list of the things that shook me to the core goes on.
While on vacation in Manila, family, friends and clients urged Monchu and me to move back to the Philippines. My Canadian friends (and I’ve made some wonderful connections) think we’re crazy to give up such a privileged life. My Filipino friends here wanted to meet me soon after we got back, because they wanted to know, “Which felt more like home, Canada or the Philippines?”
The answer is Canada. But our respective clans are in the Philippines, so we will always be pulled in that direction. Maybe we will go home many years from now, or maybe a year from now.
Timelines don’t stress us out anymore. We simply live in the moment.
Now, back in Canada, I’m grateful for this time in our lives.
The author Robin Sharma says, “The more you get exposed to a good idea, the more deeply we get to integrate it… Our capacity to understand gets bigger. Our world view gets broader.”
Now, I have a huge appreciation that my kids know what it’s like to be served and coddled. Yet, they also know what it’s like to be independent and do daily chores. They’ve seen Monchu and me relaxed and refreshed, and they’ve seen us raw and distressed. They get the full picture.
Before our trip, I was worried that I would be swayed to move back, or, at the very least, come back feeling confused about a decision made four years ago.
I’m still enveloped in a fog, but it isn’t because of confusion or regret. It’s because there is simply a fog—it is this beautiful city’s way of telling me that the vacation is over and I am home.—CONTRIBUTED
The author wrote this article after her trip back to Manila in December 2015. She immigrated to Vancouver five years ago and has embraced her life in North America’s West Coast. If you are planning to make the big move to Vancouver, and need to talk to someone who has been there and done that, you can e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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