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A solo mom’s BFF

/ 03:25 AM November 22, 2011

“Happy Even After” was the charming name of a series of workshops for solo parents organized by freelance writer Ana P. Santos that offered everything from inspirational talks to practical tips on parenthood, dating reminders and personal improvement sessions. Now “Happy Even After” is also a journal, more specifically a “solo mom’s journal” that, says Ana, she hopes will become “a solo mom’s ally, her cheerleader when she can’t take it anymore, her trusted friend who will give her a dose of tough love when she needs it and even her stand-in co-parent—anything and everything she needs and wants it to be.”

At a slim 96 pages, the journal packs a whole lot of information and inspiration even for parents who aren’t solo but still need cheering up. Included in the contents are “inspiring and encouraging short stories and tips from other solo moms who have happily navigated through the path of solo parenting.” Risa Hontiveros, activist and former senatorial candidate, writes of how she struggled to “just keep on breathing” when her husband Frank died after an asthma attack in 2005. She “put one foot in front of the other until the minute became an hour, the hour became a day, the day a month…”

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Clinical psychologist, sex therapist and popular columnist Dr. Margie Holmes warns about falling into the trap of “false dichotomies,” urging solo moms to heed their own inner voices and to “listen listen listen” to what children are really asking.

Looie Lobregat-Ocampo and Mary Ann Marchadesch, who both grew up in solo-parent homes, pay tribute to their mothers who raised them without apologies or unnecessary heartache. Other solo moms, Marina Benipayo, Patty Betita, Angel Jacob, Miriam Grace Go and Jean Lee Patindol, share stories about co-parenting with the father of one’s child, coping with cancer along with single parenthood, framing the story of one’s choices to one’s child, and explaining the complications of life in a way that not only helps a child understand but also cope with the emotional fall-out.

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Bestof all are stories, letters, reflections and chatty insights shared by Ana, who writes of trying dating after her marriage broke up (“I make a great first date,” she claims); foreseeing the future when her daughter, now 10, strikes out on her own; and “dating myself” and learning the difference between “being alone and being on my own.”

Even the most harried solo moms will find this journal a godsend. It contains a feature on the most salient portions of the Solo Parent Law that protects one (and one’s children) from discrimination based on civil status. There’s also a section in the back designed to help the solo parent plan her days, schedule her and her child’s jumbled activities, and fix priorities.

Alongside such practical information are pages to jot down one’s recollections, reflections, reactions. There are spaces for photos and other souvenirs, and pithy quotes from women, not all of whom are solo moms, but all of whom know what it is like to live a life different from the norm, and what it takes to make a difference.

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Last week, I had the chance to sit in as one of the jurors in the 2011 “Huwarang Manggagawa (Model Employee)” awards of Manila Water. The awards are meant to recognize outstanding rank-and-file employees “whose consistent excellent performance and admirable work ethic and values serve as a model for all.”

Accepting the invitation, I resigned myself to a whole day’s work interviewing nervous and fidgety individuals who, I surmised, were not all that used to “selling” themselves before strangers. What I didn’t count on was leaving the premises inspired by the testimonies I heard, and buoyed by the thought that even those engaged in humble, nondescript occupations could bring to their calling a sense of personal dignity, commitment to excellence, and even a desire to innovate and explore.

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Listening to “meter consumption analysts” talk of their work that involves not just reading meters but also conducting spot repairs and advising homeowners of sudden movements in their consumption, I thought about how we take individuals like them for granted (indeed, they are invisible to us), but then, in case of an emergency, they can become the most important people in our lives at the moment.

The MCAs also spoke of surviving dog bites and angry consumers, as well as fending off bribe offers of consumers caught tampering with their meters. (One MCA was followed even after he had boarded a jeep by the owner of a water supply station who had been caught cheating.)

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In the course of our day, we met staff of sewerage treatment plants who not only carried out their work efficiently, but also went out of their way to “invent” devices that could speed up their work. “I invented these mainly for my co-workers so they could work quickly and safely,” said one.

We also met Federico Aquino, a member of the maintenance crew at Ipo Dam, who is a native Dumagat. Aquino does the “difficult and very dangerous” work of removing the debris that collects at the intake of the Ipo tunnels, many times at the height of a typhoon. Asked how he learned the skills and bravery he uses on the job, Aquino shrugs and says diving into dangerous waters has been part of his childhood, taught him by his father, and which he has taught his son.

Most of the outstanding employees we interviewed have been with Manila Water for decades, beginning even when the agency was under the government-run MWSS. Indeed, the story of Manila Water, as exemplified by its “Huwarang Manggagawa,” is how successful privatization of a utility begins with the “re-engineering” of people, turning complacency into efficiency, indifference into a search for excellence.

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