The Moment My Life Changed, For The Good


About a month ago, we celebrated the death anniversary of my maternal grandmother. Whenever I think of my ama, my mind often flashes back to this specific scene: my ama, sturdily climbing up the grand staircase of Makati Shangri-la Hotel, off to see me get engaged to my now husband. By then, she was already at Stage 4 pancreatic cancer, and had already undergone a number of surgeries (none were effective).

For those unaware, pancreatic cancer is the Mike Tyson of all cancers: it’s hard to detect, spreads fast, and packs a mean punch that can knock you out, for good. Even if you win a round, it comes back at you roaring, until you lie down in defeat.

By this time my ama’s stomach caused her constant pain, not to mention the various aches in her body. But on that day, it was as if a miracle happened. My ama told me she felt no pain at all, and suddenly had the vigour to climb those steps, just to see her granddaughter formalize her betrothal. I like to think of it as God giving her a get-out-jail-free card, but only for a day.

I was the happiest girl in the room, and it definitely wasn’t because I looked great that day (although I did), or that the food tasted good (it did). It was also then that I realized that no one else would ever love me like that, in that way.

My ama passed away a few months after.

Life is short.

Whenever my parents ask me out to dinner and I’m knee-deep in the rat race of trying to earn money, I think of my ama climbing those steps. In the end, nothing really matters. That is, nothing really matters, except for God and family. People and relationships matter. Time matters. So I set my work aside with no second thoughts, and go off to see my mom and dad.

Here’s to my amazing grandmother, Bonifacia, for making me see what truly matters. I love you.


My 2nd daughter, Chloe, nicknamed Coco, had her Moving Up Day in ICBB a few weeks ago. Fittingly, ICBB chose Disney Pixar’s Coco as the theme. As has been for the past 4 years, Party Magic did all the styling and set design:

Party Magic’s set design of ICBB Preschool’s Moving Up Day

I absolutely loved Coco. It’s a tale about the boy Miguel, whose love for music inadvertently lands him into the Land of the Dead, where he meets his dead relatives and learns more about his estranged father. It’s a charming tale about music, life, death, and betrayal. Mostly though, it’s a tale about family, redemption, and forgiveness.

I also love Coco because it gave me the perfect excuse to use fresh flowers and the brightest, loudest colors.

We also styled ICBB’s set for their photo shoot, the images from which were used for the playbill of the Moving Up Day in Teatrino:

Set for the group shot of ICBB’s Coco

Set for the solo shot of ICBB’s Coco

While my first daughter, Sofia, takes after my husband’s side, Chloe undoubtedly radiates the Cheng family features (my mom and my ama’s side), through and through.  While it’s not an exact copy, if you close an eye and squint with the other, you could almost see my mom and my ama in Chloe.

It’s a shame that Sofia and Chloe never got to meet my ama. But hey, they at least have my mom, their own ama, to look out for them.

My Chloe as Mama Imelda Rivera, the Rivera Family matriarch

Do you know that saying, time flies when you’re having fun? Us moms have our own version too: time flies when you’re having children. It seemed not so long ago that I also watched Chloe’s older sister, Sofia, in her own ICBB musical.

Sofia in ICBB’s Hairspray Musical

Just think. This was already THREE years ago!

Because when you really think about it, time is the ultimate currency. Forget about trying to earn millions of money; once you have a respectable amount to help you take care of the essentials plus some extra for savings, earning more of it only provides diminishing returns: the utility that your first million gives you is much, much more than the next one.

Real wealth lies in having time. Time and money are almost always at odds with each other. When you’re young, you have little money but a lot of time. When you’re old, you have a lot of money (at least some adults do), but little of time. This is why kids trade time for money (washing dishes, working at a fast food joint, etc.), while the oldies trade money for more time (hiring a cook, a cleaner, going on vacation, etc.). Why else are we so fascinated with young billionaires? It’s because they are that rare combination of a lot of time and a lot of money.

I think this is why we are so enamored with children: they are blessed with mounds and mounds of that ultimate currency: they have their whole lives ahead of them. Who knows what Sofia and Chloe will end up as, 10, 20, 30 years from now? As a mom, I can only nurture them and steer them in the right direction, and dream a good life for my children.

And when the time comes, you can bet that I’ll climb those steps to see Sofie and Chloe’s daughter (or son) get engaged.

Life is short.

Or is it?

I think that one should rather say (in the spirit of Seneca):

Life is long if you know how to live it.


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Michelle Lao

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By Michelle Lao

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