Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Sandwich Years

In our backyard, where we pile up some of the bigger pieces of junk we have accumulated through the years, is a chair like no other. It has a lightly-upholstered seat and arm rests. It is a most beguiling chair because at the center of the seat is a perfectly round hole so big a basketball can be tossed right through it.

The chair is a reminder of my sandwich years.

You know, of course, the old saw -- there is a time for sowing and a time for reaping. A time to receive and a time to give back. A time for making something of yourself and time for raising a family. And for many – not all – there is a time for the sandwich years.

My children were ages five to 19 when my mother, 72, was felled by a cerebral stroke. Though it was described as moderate, it left her paralyzed on one side of the body, unable to walk, and unable to talk. A year after convalescing in my younger sister’s house, she came to live with me and my family.

The inability to speak coherently can be a condition known as aphasia. For an aphasic, the idea or the word is clear and intact in his or her mind but it just wouldn’t come out right when he or she attempts to get it out. At first, my mother virtually pulled her hair out of sheer frustration from not being able to express herself. Eventually, she withdrew into silence and learned some sign language.

What do you do when your sick, helpless, frustrated, and unhappy mother joins you, your husband, and your growing children in your cramped little home?

First you try to recover from the initial shock of seeing the world turn upside down. Suddenly, your parent needed parenting. You brace yourself for the anticipated tug and pull between the demands of growing children and an ailing mother.

Then you arrange for help. If you’re lucky, you manage, as I was able, to engage the services of a caregiver with a tough physique and a gentle heart -- the first for carrying Mom from bed to wheelchair to bathroom or car and back; the second for comforting her with touch or word in her darker moods. And at first those moods were so frequent it was all you could do not to break down. You get a neighborhood hilot – almost as old as your mom but a thousand times stronger – to massage her limbs each day with some potion, hoping against hope she might get some of her motor functions back.

Then you reorganize the house -- its rhythms and patterns -- around the afflicted one.

From school, each of the children had to take their regulation 30-minute turn with their grandmom. They could do their thing with her -- talk to her, read to her, sing to her, feed her, or simply lie down beside her to hug or hold hands.

On weekends, we pushed her to the center of family activities. We pulled her wheelchair to the table’s kabisera during meals. We took her to mass when we could borrow my sister’s car. We forced her to watch home movies though she would sleep through most of the run. When the afternoon cooled, we pushed her wheelchair out into the yard so she could watch children play and people go by or simply wait for sunset and listen to the bird calls.

I bought her a couple of Reader’s Digest large-font books so she could revert to her old love for reading. She just looked at the pages awhile and let the volumes fall heavily to the floor.

My son came homehappily one day carrying a big magic slate, certain he could now communicate with his Lola. He coaxed her by writing on the slate : L-O-L-A- S-U-L-A-T-K-A-D-I-T-O. Uhmmm, no thanks, her wan smile seemed to say.

My other son bought a bingo set not too long after. My mom hated bingo when she was younger -- dismissing it as a no-brainer -- and it seemed she was not about to love it now. She refused to play.

I guess that was then that an inspiration hit me. With my children’s help, I proceeded to execute it.

We set up a square table at the center of the living room even as we covered the table with a thick folded blanket. I lugged a heavy old box -- fringed with cobwebs and laced with dust -- from a top cabinet and poured its contents onto the table. Some of the tiles bounced as they hit each other. With my mom seated on one side and I opposite her, I bade my older sons take the two vacant chairs. Shuffling the tiles noisily, we built walls out of them on all four sides of the table. We were ready to play.

A son rolled a dice to determine who was first.

I began to distribute the tiles, giving the first set to my Mom, whispering a prayer.

Holding my breath, I watched my older daughter by her side put up the tiles for her.

I continued to watch, my blood rushing to my face, as Mom pointed at this tile and that for my daughter to arrange.

When I tossed one tile to the center of the table, my mom smiled broadly and held up her good hand. She was “pung.”

We all let out a whoop of joy. MY MOM STILL LIKED TO PLAY MAHJONGG!

Later, my children would boast they were the only youngsters in the world taught and encouraged by their elders to gamble, bribed to play every weekend, scolded when they didn't want to, told they could keep their winnings. The katulongs – there were three of them at the time – also learned the game. They didn't have to be bribed to play though -- it was part of their job description.

Someday, I might tell you what the big-holed upholstered chair was used for during those sandwich years.


Nyl said...

you have trained the kids so well in dealing with an ailing grandmother and i find their efforts amazing.You will no longer wonder if they grow up one day as well-mannered kids with great respect to elders.

as i read your mom's story, i am on the verge of thinking who will take care of me patiently when i'll be her age...though i sure hope one of my future children will..hehe!

Abaniko said...

You just told us a sanwich story (sandwiched by the sandwich-chair story). Haha.

You should have gathered all the amigas of your mother in your house and declare a mahjong party! :D

exskindiver said...

thank you for sharing a piece of your life.

soloops said...

Ms. Anna,

We have a beloved aunt in Naga, bedridden most days, that's why I know what the chair is for.

We have an improvised one though, the one with solehiya (don't know the correct spelling), through which we purposely bore a hole.

Bless you Ms. Anna, for being a daughter with the softest heart.

Pearl said...

Thanks for bringing back the memories of my own lola through this blog. She's just like your mom in some ways. God bless your heart, Ms. Anna! :-)

Anna said...

Wow! This is so much like me of the here and now. My dad was sidelined by a stroke four years ago. He can move around a bit but cannot speak. He lives with us mainly because the hubby is just about the only "caregiver" he likes. Also, he loves being with my three-year-old.

Despite the tug and pull as you put it, I am generally thankful for the opportunity to take care of him. Now, if I can get him to play mah jongg . . .

Sherry Martschink said...

Beautifully written. Thanks for sharing.

Glenn Palmer said...

Very inspirational, Anna. I gave you a thumbs-up on stumble-upon. This article has jarred me back into posting on my blog. Thanks for that!

Sexy Mom said...

the way you wite this, 'tis like your mom is still alive, and having fun with the mah-jong sessions. her being active once again must have brought you joy--the miracle you were waiting for.

bring tears to my eyes--i lost my father for a some time (and i was daddy's grl) when he left us for another family, but when he got sick, i took him away from them to give him what i thought was the best of medical care (you now, st luke's heart center). he stayed with us in my home, but when he was well, he would still want to be with his other family--so i would bring him there for a visit, sometimes we would even have to brave floods. when he became very sick, i had to take him again, me,my mom, my kids entertained him. the maid even danced in front of him just to make him smile, but i had to go away for 6 months to china. he died on my 4th month, so i had to rush home to say my good bye, and to welcome his 2 other children to the family.

ysrael said...

This is our the duty whether we like it or not, kaya nga ang sinasabi nila parati na dapat mag-asawa ka para may mag-alaga sa iyo pag tanda mo.

rheiboy17 said...

gusto kitang sabihan ng maraming salamat. puno ng pagmamahal ang entry na ito. (at pagdating ng panahon, yung kabutihan nagawa mo ay naituro mo rin sa mga susunod na generasyon)

sya sya, upo ka muna at magpahinga.

julie said...

I don't know how to play with that, punta ako sa inyo :D

I love how you all pitched in, as my mama always tell me, "The things you do to your parents are what your children will be to you some day"

Gina said...

Nobody would have to bribe me to play mahjong ;-P

When my nephew was barely a year old, I taught him the words pung, bunot paningit, escalera, siete pares,kong,sagasa,tepok, etc. =))

But, this is another heartwarming post. Iba talaga tayong mag-alaga sa ating matatanda, ano?

The big holed chair brings back memories of my maternal Lola, too.

pining said...

this post reminded me of how resilient a person can be, kahit na sandamukal na pagsubok/paghihirap ang dumating.
my mother also has to take care of my father when he suffered that life changing stroke (I think he has a mild form of aphasia too); yes, sometimes he gets into her wick, but she just have to do it (true love?), because no one will!
and my father despite of his disability, still manages to crack a joke, every now and then.
thank goodness for caring and generous people like you :-)

Rudy said...

Hmm, I think I know what that hole in the armchair is for, hehe. Having had some experience taking care of a stroke victim (my Dad) I know how hard and trying those times were.

Talo pa pala ak ng mga anak mo, they know how to play mahjong. I don't even know the mechanics of the game

Heart of Rachel said...

It's really sad when a member of the family gets sick. I admire how your whole family showed your mother how much you loved her. It's heartwarming how you all thought of ways to make it easier for your mom. I'm happy that you found a way to reach to her through a game.

The chair must hold a lot of memories. Thank you for sharing this touching part of your life.

imom said...

It must have been difficult for you, but it's good you have your kids who willingly helped. My mom must know how you feel cos she took care of my lolo (her FIL).

I hope I'm a long way from the sandwich years.

Anonymous said...

Now you make me feel scared hehe.. I have long been conditioned to the fact that I would be in a nursing home when I grow old in this place, unless I go back to Pinas. There will be no shortage of relatives to take care of me there. That's one of the advantages of being a Pinoy I guess :)

cookie said...

I certainly know how that feels. When my father was fighting cancer it was my job to take care of him. My 2 kids were also a big help because it was them that inspired my dad to fight :)

niceheart said...

It's nice to read heartwarming stories like this. But you'll have to excuse me. I still don't get what "sandwich years" mean. I know, I could be slow sometimes. :)

But I think I have an idea on why there was a hole in the chair.

Annamanila said...

Nice heart!

Those are the years one finds herself taking care of her own kids (one one side) and taking care of ailing parent(s) on the other.

My fault; not yours. I don't normally explain things very clearly. :(

Anonymous said...

I'm a new mom and wife... And reading this post, I am to be the kind of mother you are to your MOM... It takes a whole lot of love and patience to think of "activities" for your ailing mom to do.

Thank you for sharing. It certainly moved me...

Anonymous said...

I'm a new mom and wife... And reading this post, I am to be the kind of mother you are to your MOM... It takes a whole lot of love and patience to think of "activities" for your ailing mom to do.

Thank you for sharing. It certainly moved me...

dimaks said...

ah the wisdom that i can always swim on.. thanks for this post.

lady cess said...

wala na naman akong masabi except, oh my gosh. ang galing mo talaga.

you know, imom and i were talking about how beautiful you write. we both agreed that your posts are so beautiful and moving, we don't comment right away - bec we need time to compose a comment ;) personally, you leave me speechless/commentless, so i need time to recover fr the shock and come up with a comment more sensible than "oh my gosh" - lol!

evelina said...

I log on today to check part 2 -
where is it?
Thanks I discovered your blog - makes my day all worthwhile.
Missing my daughter so much.
www.dorothygo.com I am soon to retire - hoping to come back to beloved Philippines and perhaps meet you one day.

Annamanila said...


Thanks -- you made my day too. :) I will post the conclusion to Yvette's story tonight. I am glad you like it enough to come back for part 2.

Talk to you again later.

Rowena said...

Hi AM, siempre speechless na naman ako while sipping my iced tea here. Nice, very nice post. I wished my kids would do that to me also when I grow old. First, I really need to learn mahjong, teach me please...Hubby knows but he said ma-addict lang daw ako.

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