For the first time on our traditional Christmas trip to Baguio with Mona, I decided to leave kasambahay Lani home. Mona, after all, is 10 years old.
Without Lani, she would surely put my rusty disciplinary capabilities to the test: Mona is not only the youngest of my five grandchildren, but also nine years younger than the penultimate one.
I had never had to take care of Mona without help before, but, after coming upon a new disciplinary method that seems to work wonders, I rather felt confident again.
The idea just came to me. I started keeping a notebook of credits for good behavior and demerits for poor conduct—a points system of discipline.
I don’t have to put on a sour face or use a stern voice to show my displeasure. In fact, I don’t even need to threaten Mona with any kind of punishment, say, withholding privileges or depriving her of something she really loves, like dessert.
I merely take out the notebook and announce deductions, and, for some reason, that upsets her.
Strangely enough, we had not even spoken about what good points would get her. It seems enough that she equates good points with good grades in school.
Christmastime with Mona gives me a chance not only to discipline her in my own loving way, perhaps as an attempt to undo all the spoiling I myself may have done to overcompensate for the physical absence of her biological mother, but also to enjoy her company while getting to know her better.
Out of town
It is when we are out of town that Mona and I really bond and develop a unique personal relationship. I leave the rest to her father, my son, who is only beginning to establish himself as his own kind of family man, independent of me. And I’m here to cheer him on.
As it is, Vergel and I are most grateful and beholden to him for the time he gives us with Mona, who, like us, loves to read and listen to music, watch theater and ballet. Since a little girl, she also has consistently shown a keen interest and love of animals and plants. She can be a fierce and unyielding protector of nature and the environment.
I especially love to be around her at Christmas, wondering how the unusual circumstances of her life might be affecting her and feeling consoled that she seems well-adjusted, so far. I must give her dad a passing grade for doing a good job, and we second-stringers do our own part.
Christmas is a special time for any child, and our sweet friends and relatives and their own children and grandchildren, mostly younger than Mona, make sure she gets an overflow of love. Vergel and I have taken the role of encouraging her in her appreciation of art and music, which we believe can save and uplift anybody from any difficulty in life at any age.
I gave myself a passing grade, too, for taking care of Mona in Baguio. I was amazed, indeed, thrilled, I still had the energy to keep up with her. I allowed her to do things she could by herself, and demonstrated to her repeatedly the ways of personal hygiene. Immediately we established a routine she took to very well. Every day at nap time, for nearly two hours, she wore her dental appliance to correct her bite.
The points system really works with her. Once I deducted two points out of a maximum of 10 because, although she finished what she had ordered, she forgot to arrange her spoon and fork properly at the end of the meal.
She argued that I had not told her about that criterion beforehand. I argued back that it was very much a part of proper behavior at the table and goes without saying. She let it go without a sour face, which would have cost her another two points.
As it turned out, Lani’s absence presented no problem for me, but it did for Vergel. The task of horseback-riding alongside Mona fell to him. He had no choice but stay for the 30-minute ride on the old trail at Camp John Hay.
The next time, Vergel, seeing how adept she had become, let her ride alone—she had been doing it, looking forward to it, each time we went up. Besides, Vergel’s old, unaccustomed rump still hurt from the day before.
Not that we don’t enjoy Baguio ourselves—we thrive in cold weather and relish staying at the Manor. We love the accommodations and Billy King’s food. There’s always something happening there: the Christmas village, the musical programs, the show of lights, and the good, live music at the bar by the fireplace.
This year we had booked too late for the Manor, but we were able to get a good suite at the Forest Lodge, which is just next door and had everything, except the closest thing to the real Santa, an authentic Nordic giant who had been lost to another hotel. No matter, he had sent Mona his gift, which she let us know she observed to have come in Toys R Us wrapping.
At dinnertime we usually found ourselves at the Manor, but we love the breakfast buffet at the Country Club and hang out there most of the time, while Mona wandered off—feeding the birds at the veranda and chasing butterflies and talking to the peacocks in the garden.
Once again we made Christmas memories with Mona in good old Baguio, as we have done every year since she was three. All this time, I have not failed to see in Vergel’s love for Mona—what we both do together for her—his own love for me. And love, in any season, doesn’t get more tender than that.