There was a time when I kept saying I would die without ballet and I probably meant it, too. Dance was the elixir that fed my soul — the one thing that made me feel so vibrant and alive, and for which I would sacrifice almost anything. Every step that I took, every decision that I made, no matter how painful it got, was done for the love of ballet. I simply could not imagine my life without it. That all changed when I became a mother. I never expected the overwhelming sense of maternal pride that swept over me and sent ballet dropping one notch below on my priority list. But that’s exactly what happened when Fred and I had our children Missy and Mac. It doesn’t seem that long ago when they were still in their diapers and booties. But my two wonderful bundles of joy are growing up so fast that often I wonder where the time went. Missy, or Michelle Elizabeth, was born on July 28, 1998. She tipped the scales at a mere 5.5 pounds, but oh, she was the cutest baby in the world — a miniature version of Fred, with huge eyes and a gaze that seemed all-knowing. The first time I saw my daughter, I was speechless – for the first time in my life, my mouth just hung open without saying a word. I was totally in awe! Seeing her pink cheeks and her tiny curled-up hands, all the aches and pains melted away. Then I cried out of sheer happiness, relief and gratitude. I felt so high. She was truly God’s gift, a wonderful miracle to behold. No one could resist Missy’s charms. During the next few months, everyone’s attention was focused on her. She and I were practically inseparable, while Fred dutifully took pictures of every cute expression and every new antic. I breastfed Missy while Fred nurtured her on reading. Sometimes, he would take Missy and lie her down so that her head was at the crook of his arm and they would “read” together. He would show her pictures and explain the book to her, while she would attempt to pull out the pages and put them in her mouth. Baby Missy was born to bask in the limelight. That first year, she was the favorite cover girl and subject of so many magazines. I couldn’t blame them for falling in love with her. With her mass of golden-brown curls, rosy cheeks and mestiza complexion, plus that wide-eyed gaze, she really had everyone under her spell. At a very early age, she also became an endorser for an infant formula. When that television commercial came out, I was the proudest mother on earth.
Missy today – already a young lady and a budding ballerina
Manuel Cesar — Mac— was a “millennium baby” born on August 27, 2000. Mac was equally lovable, with deliciously plump cheeks that anyone would be tempted to pinch. Every new “trick” he did was welcomed with ooohs and aaahs, along with hearty applause from an adoring crowd. They say boys are usually rambunctious but our Mac was a very quiet baby. He wasn’t given to crying fits unless he was hungry. He had a peculiar facial expression when he got frustrated because he couldn’t latch on immediately to feed — his forehead would crease in anger, while his arms and legs waved and shook all over the place until he got what he wanted.
On the beach with baby Mac
My biggest dilemma with Mac was when I had to leave him in order to honor previous work commitments when he was only a few months old. A year before he was born, Ballet Manila had already signed up for a three-week performance tour in Russia and since I was the only one who could speak Russian in the group, I had to join the delegation. I made the painful choice of not to bringing him with me because it was winter and the company would be moving from city to city. I think I was in denial for a long time, but in the end, there was just no way around it. I don’t know how I endured being away from him, Missy and Fred for so long. Every day seemed like an eternity. Caught up as I was in my duties as a performer, den mother to my younger dancers, and official group interpreter, I still found time to call home several times a day just so my babies could hear my voice. When I returned home after three weeks, I decided to take a break from performing for an entire year and threw myself into the full-time role of being a wife and mother. For a whole year, in place of daily sessions at the barre, my world revolved around my kids who demanded my complete attention. I got caught up in all the tiny details of caring for a needy infant and an increasingly demanding toddler, as well as dealing with the concerns of our then teenage daughter, Sasha. I engaged in conversations with Missy — about school, her shoes and her dresses. I also shared in countless viewings of her favorite Walt Disney movies. While Missy loved singing and rhyming, Mac was turning into an articulate lad himself. At one year old, he was mouthing off one word after another, even if he didn’t completely know what he was saying. He would refer to all the animals as “dog” — even if it was really a cat, a monkey, a lizard or a bird. He was very possessive of me, but then Missy would get jealous and I would end up carrying them at the same time, one on each arm, just to appease both. Whoever said ballerinas couldn’t do “lifts”?
My kids join me and Shaz onstage for Don Q finale
Looking back, I am glad that I was there with Fred for all those precious moments with our children: Mac’s first swimming session, Missy’s first pirouettes, Sasha’s high school graduation — these are the pieces of a colorful mosaic that fill my memory and which continue to bring indescribable joy each time I remember them.