Many years ago, after working in the Philippines as a registered nurse earning a meager salary, Tess decided to seek greener pastures. She found a job in UK, but after a while, transferred to the US where she met the man who soon became her husband. How ironic that two Filipino nurses would find and fall in love with each other thousands of miles away from home, when their paths could have more easily crossed here! But, truly, God works in mysterious ways, and apparently, He had bigger plans and a nobler mission for the two.
Tess and her husband, Francis, lived a comfortable life in the Land of Opportunity. That’s when I began to envy my friend.
True, I didn’t grow up fostering the American dream, but I always dreamt of becoming somebody someday. And, seeing her pictures and hearing her stories about the places she had been to, the different kinds of people she had worked with, all those things that they were able to afford, the chance of living in a First World country, and the snow – oh yes, the snow! – well, the green-eyed monster in me just kept on rearing its ugly head, oftentimes even against my will.
Through the years, though, Tess remained simple and modest – never giving me, or anyone else, a single reason to be jealous. To her family in the province, she remained generous – never forgetting her roots and humble beginnings. As a Christian, she remained faithful to her belief – never missing a chance to share her blessings with others.
When the couple was blessed with a child, they were ecstatic. They considered the baby boy an answered prayer. A few years after, they received another blessing in the form of a bouncing baby girl.
Tess and Francis had to work doubly hard for their young family. And, in a highly competitive field and in a country not completely free from racial discrimination, working for the advancement of one’s career while tending to the burgeoning needs of his family was no easy feat. The couple learned how to best manage their time without sacrificing either their individual careers or their family. It was tough, taxing and stressful, especially since they had no one there to depend on or even ask help from, but they were able to manage. They had to, if only for the sake of their children.
Life was good. They soon got used to the fast-paced routine. They learned to be independent. They were enjoying parenthood.
But, their smooth-sailing boat was rocked and put to the test when their eldest child was diagnosed with autism.
“Autism is a developmental disorder that appears in the first three years of life, and affects the brain’s normal development of social and communication skills. It is often characterized by impaired social and verbal and non-verbal communication, and by restricted, repetitive or stereotyped behavior.”
The news hit them hard. They were devastated. Who wouldn’t be? Understanding and taking care of a special child with an altogether different set of special needs could be scary and overwhelming. Were they up to the challenge? Yes, they had their fears and doubts, but the couple once again showed their faith and trust in the Lord by wholeheartedly embracing their destiny.
My once-a-year overseas phone conversation with Tess (she never fails to give me a call on my birthday) always becomes emotional when we touch on the subject of our kids. As always, she was very happy for my family, especially on how my kids are turning out to be (we keep in touch with the goings-on in each other’s lives mainly through Facebook). But, when she matter-of-factly talks about her two lovely kids – their challenges and developments, and her mommy moments with them – I could never contain my emotions.
Here’s someone who could genuinely be happy about my kids, when she is struggling with hers on a daily basis. Yes, her daughter might be “neurotypical”. But, she’s still too young to fully comprehend why her kuya does not act, talk or respond like other kids do. She’s still too young to understand why her kuya, for no apparent reason at all, sometimes throws a fit at a public place. She’s still too young to figure out why people stare at her kuya – some with annoyance and some with pity, but very seldom with understanding and kindness. She’s still too young to fathom why her kuya needs and receives more care, attention, and tolerance than she does.
Tess was able to further earn my respect and admiration when she told me that there are billions of people in the world, and God chose to give them their son. She and her husband find it humbling that He thinks them worthy for such an arduous responsibility. A lot of people, including myself, would question God’s decision. “Why? Why me?” But, here’s someone who finds such challenge an honor, a distinction, a seal of worthiness even.
Now, I realize that I still do envy my friend, Tess – but no longer for the wrong reasons.
I envy her because of her compassion, generosity and humility. I envy her because of her courage and strength as a parent. I envy her because of her unwavering faith in the Lord and in humanity.
I love you, Tess, and I’m so proud to be considered your friend.
Note1: If you want to read all about autism – its Subtypes, Causes, Symptoms, Treatments, How to better understand people with autism, etc. – click this.
Note2: If you want to read an insightful and witty article straight from a mother of an autistic child, click this.