Lia is making me very emotional tonight.

To answer the question, “Where is Papa?” I had to say, “Papa is not here. You know he doesn’t live in Lolo’s house. Papa lives in Papa’s house.”

While hanging out in the balcony, where she chose to join me after seeing me sitting in the dark on a little step and after putting on her favorite pair of shoes from the shoe rack that now holds almost all of her shoes and almost ALL of mine, she looked up at the sky, held her arms over her head and said, “It’s raining on a starry night.”

Looking at her shoes, and remembering mine, I am reminded of what her Papa said this morning, as he was packing my shoes in a big box, “You’re bringing all of these shoes? Now, you don’t have any shoes here.” I said I still have about six to eight pairs of footwear in the shoe rack. He said, “But these are the shoes that you don’t wear anymore.”

Lia went up to me, holding a little doll dressed in pink that she found in my sister’s bedroom’s display cabinet and that she fondly calls Princess, asking me, “Where are her shoes?” I said, “I don’t know. She doesn’t have any shoes.” Then she picked up another doll, a doll from my childhood, a United Nations costume doll from Denmark, and looked at its feet. Seeing that the Danish doll is also barefoot, she told me, “Her shoes are also missing.”

A few minutes later, she came back to me, holding a little black piece of something that upon closer inspection was revealed to be a tiny shoe. “Look mama, it’s a shoe.” And she tried to fit it onto the Danish doll’s foot and lo and behold, it fit! I heard her exclaim, “Yaaan!”

Coming back to Princess and her bare feet, Lia held it up and said, “Her shoes are missing. I’ll go and find it?” To which I could only nod. Speechless.

I am writing this as I play Lenka’s self-titled album and Lia is playing with her blocks, reading her books, all the while singing along with every single song.

I can hold entire conversations now with Lia. It’s quite amazing, the things she says and all the things she does.

This afternoon at the airport, I felt like she wasn’t just my daughter, but my friend. We had lunch at Pancake House because she said she wanted fries and Jollibee did not have any. We took turns drinking iced tea and biting off the lemon.

I had a backpack, a camera bag, a Dora play-and-sing-along book, and we had to have some of the fries and corn dogs to go as we were running out of time, and she had Tutu on her shoulders. People we were passing by couldn’t help but smile – Tutu on her shoulders like it was her on my own.

I didn’t have to carry her anymore at all. She lined up wherever we needed to, she took off her own shoes and got them back on all on her own. She was solely responsible for Tutu. She got on and off the bus all by herself, and even the plane. She left the seat belt on when it needed to be left on and read all the magazines the entire time while I napped.

I can still remember all those trips we took when she was younger. The trips to Bohol, Boracay, Palawan, Bicol, Batanes, Hong Kong, where I had to carry her everywhere in addition to having a backpack, a camera bag, a stroller for her and more often than not, a big luggage. Those were really…. quite hard times.

The plane ride took so much longer than we expected. The plane was delayed. In fact, all the planes at the airport were delayed. There was traffic on the runway and our departure was delayed for another twenty to thirty minutes. As we were approaching Naga-Pili airport, the pilot informed us that visibility was only 5 kilometers, that the airport was closed and we should be prepared for anything. That to me meant any of the following: 1. Rerouting to Legazpi City, making our travel time two hours or so longer. 2. Turning back and landing back at NAIA Terminal 3, where nobody was waiting, and I didn’t have any keys to the house in Rizal. Everyone got anxious.

All we could see were clouds and rain on the window panes. The plane looked like it was going to land after all, as the wheels were lowered right outside our window, and I looked at Lia, looking back at me, and I held her in my arms. I kept telling her, “Keep your seat belt on okay? I love you.” and Lia did not take her eyes off me the entire time, muttering softly, “Mama… mama” over and over again. Darn, I nearly cried.

The plane did land, amidst claps from almost all of the passengers. Damn it. I can only remember two instances when I felt that happy to land – the other one on that plane from Korea after a grueling four-day trip around the world. I remember being probably happier than all the OFWs on that plane combined.

When we got home, the box of shoes was all wet. Lia and I were sitting in front of the TV and Lia said, “Mama, don’t sit on the box. It’s wet.” I promptly moved off the box and onto a nearby chair and she said, “Ayaan.” I can’t believe that Lia, at two and a half, can already take care of me, somehow.

What ever it is I did wrong, whatever it is I am not doing right, I will make it right. Lia has always been my life. The decision to have her was the best decision I ever made in my damned life. I made a lot of mistakes, I made a lot of bad decisions, took a lot of wrong turns, invested a lot of time on all the wrong people and the wrong things – but as long as there is Lia, there is hope. I have been told to focus. I have been told to look at what I have and make the most and best out of it and surely, it has been staring at me in the face the entire time – holding out a puckered up lipsticked mouth, waiting for a kiss.

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