On Aug. 13,1990, I became, to Carlo, a first-time grandmother—Mamita. In that golden moment, all the ghostly aspects surrounding both the month of August and the number 13 lost their dreaded power to cause me harm or spook my luck.
Feng shui-conscious businessmen are known to avoid signing contracts, let alone starting any enterprise, in August, and building owners to skip 13 in numbering floors.
But in August, too, on the day after Carlo’s third birthday, celebrated with a party in Mamita’s home, his mom took him away—to grow up and live to this day in Hawaii. That was 22 years ago, but I remember it well.
He was 8 when I saw him again, and despite the oceanic distance, he has never stopped being in my life and I in his. No distance, no force could cut the bond of pure love tugging from a grandmother’s heart.
Done now with college and launched into a new orbit of life, one in which he, as do predictably the rest of his peers, gets an increasing sense of individual challenge, Carlo finds himself, by natural consequence, longing to be a man of his own and left more and more alone by his old guardians —parents, grandparents, godparents—though happy to be reinforced by their blessings and love.
But, while I may understand, still I feel a tinge of melancholy; I feel my immunity from the perils of August waning, thus requiring a booster shot.
Deaths and sicknesses
Not a few disturbing things, in fact, have happened this month. There have been unexpected deaths and sicknesses among family and friends, striking old and young. I’ve just lost to cancer a dear friend from those idyllic and innocent days, and a younger cousin to dengue. Our 96-year-old patriarch was brought to the hospital, though he’s back at home recuperating.
All around me, indeed, the ill winds of August are blowing, calling my attention to other people’s upheavals. Those who have somehow overcome a fall (a common risk at our age, I’ve observed) or some other physical peril suffer the agony of slow and limited recovery.
It’s nothing physical in my own case, but no less painful; it concerns another grandchild, a Carlo all over again—and worse. We’re in the midst of a renewed custody battle over Mona, my youngest grandchild, whom I’ve written about here a few times before.
Mona came to the Philippines from the United States six years ago with her bachelor father, after her mother had left her in his custody to rejoin her husband and a daughter, and to have yet a third child, another daughter, with him.
Three years later the mother came to Manila, sued, and got a Philippine court to award custody to her and, in her absence, her mother, notwithstanding a US court ruling favoring the father on the strength of a waiver executed by the mother and her husband.
Custody thus guaranteed under a Philippine ruling, the mother left Mona again under an arrangement whereby she would be with her father during school days and with her grandmother on her mother’s side on weekends.
Mona’s needs have changed, meanwhile: big school, daily quizzes, new nanny, play dates with friends and classmates, birthday celebrations, as well as medical and dental appointments. All this has prevented her father from strictly observing the court-imposed arrangements.
Older and wiser
Without warning, the absentee mother, with no contact whatever with her own daughter, arrives and, in two days, gets the samecourt to subpoena my son and reimpose the arrangements, no matter what, while hearings continue for new arrangements meant to shut out my son—and me, Mamita, as well, of course—completely.
A much older grandmother now and hopefully also a wiser one, I console myself that it’s not the end of the world. In fact, I can almost see why this is happening now: August must have been put in the calendar to shake us out of our sense of immunity, impunity and arrogance, a sense that can confuse us into thinking life owes us or that we deserve better.
Well, it’s been a while since August has had to pull me back and remind me, surely in a deservedly threatening tone, to appreciate my years of peace and good fortune. I now seem to hear the August winds whispering in my ear that life, as we know it, can suddenly change. And immediately I’m up and listening.
Call it naiveté of age, but it’s hard to imagine things going bad when they’ve been good for too long, or worse yet, when already bad. Anyway, I find consolation in that God’s justice is not our justice, and God’s time is not measured by our clock, although, all the same, we live by earthly standards.
Thus I put my full trust in God’s love for Mona as well as in a most competent psychologist-lawyer. Whatever happens, in Mamita’s heart, there will always be an abundance of the same unconditional, pure grandmother’s love that worked to calm the anxiety and soothe the pain of separation from Carlo and in the end, bring us all closer than ever—him, his mom and her family, and ours.
For all of August’s omens, I cannot be convinced that life is meant to be lived in sorrow or fear. So, with all due respect and with my full heart, I bid you goodbye, August.