In America, it’s not really unusual to be a hands-on parent, says New York-based therapist Jen delos Santos, 37. But in Jen’s case, she gets by as a single parent who takes care of her son round the clock, all by herself, while running an outpatient clinic in New York.
“In between working 8–12 hours a day, I drive him to school everyday and pick him up, then drive him to his after-school activities” says Jen.
“When he’s not in school, he’s with me wherever I have to go—office, grocery, pharmacy, hospitals, church, shopping centers, gym, and yes—facial, massage and nails. I had to train him to wait patiently on those occasions too,” says Jen.
Jen grew up in Santiago City in Isabela, a northern province in the Philippines. Her degree in Occupational Therapy from the University of Perpetual Help in Biñan, Laguna led her to the US, where she practiced as as a pediatric occupational therapist from 2001 to 2011.
“But after having a child in 2008, I started losing interest in working with other people’s children and only wanted to focus my energy on my own child,” narrated Jen. She then worked at nursing homes and discovered opportunities in outpatient clinics. Opening the clinic was Jen’s answer to the demands of single parenthood.
“Currently, I am working with the elderly population with arthritis, osteoarthritis, carpal tunnel syndrome, falls, fractures, and muscle pain,” she says, emphasizing the rigors of her profession. “Occasionally, we have adult patients with fracture, tendinitis, nerve injury, and stroke.”
Jen says going to the US wasn’t really in her bucket list. In this Q&A, she talks more about coming to New York, taking care of her baby who was born with a cleft lip, and enjoying dates with his little boy.
What brought you to New York?
After graduating from college in 1999, I took the US board exam.
When I got the result in 2000, I felt more sad than happy. I was alone in my room so I couldn’t really jump for joy. I thought to myself “so what?” I didn’t have a job so what’s the use of a US license? My whole application process for the US OT certification was an adventure in itself. Every form just made it by the deadline.
Then I was informed of an employer from Georgia. It didn’t work out but there was another employer from New York and everything was a breeze, including getting my US working visa.
How did NYC welcome you?
I arrived in New York on August 28, 2001, barely a month before 9-11, with only $200 in my pocket. Everything was just exciting.
It was not hard to cope with living in New York. The city is so diverse that I didn’t really feel out of place. I just needed to learn to speak louder!
I have always been independent so I really did not feel homesick. I made a lot of new friends and those friends have become my family here. Somehow I feel like I was meant to live in New York. I love NY!
What do you two love about the City?
One of the things I love about New York is the four seasons we have. The season pretty much guide us with activities to do. So far, my son has learned to ride the bicycle over the summer, now he’s on to skateboarding. We also go skiing or snowboarding in the winter.
Toughest and loveliest memory?
Having a baby. It will always be my loveliest memory, but the tough part was my baby was born with a cleft lip, and insurance issues made it hard for me to find the best surgeon right away, add to that the severe eczema that delayed the surgery.
We were able to get a great plastic surgeon from one of the top hospitals, and the surgery went well. However, I have never felt as hopeless as when I had to make sure my son was okay after surgery, and of course taking care of the severe eczema.
How hands-on you are with your son?
One hundred percent. I have to teach him everything from school work to sports, good manners, religion, even the gross and silly stuff that boys do. I have to teach him basic skills according to his age.
And I am still literally hands on with slathering thick layers of moisturizers on his whole body morning and night because of his severe eczema.
What do you like about motherhood?
What I like about motherhood is that it gives me a sense of purpose. It was an answered prayer, except I forgot to pray for a husband (laughs). I keep wanting to be better everyday, so I can be the best mom for my son and so he can have a good life.
I am not perfect, of course, it’s hard to stay calm all the time with everything that’s on my plate, but motherhood is the best thing that happened to me.
And it has improved you.
Now I am more ambitious, take on more challenges, and aim to be more successful in my career and it’s all for my son so he can have a comfortable life.
Where do you usually spend your weekends/holidays?
How we spend weekends/holidays keep changing. But the bottom line is that it needs to be balanced.
We’ve done museums, parks, zoos, circus, and kid shows on weekends, as well as swimming lessons, basketball, and karate.
And then there are times when we just stay home and have a quiet weekend, catch up with laundry and clean up, or just cuddle.
Tell us about your recent trips.
Our recent holiday was a trip to Mexico on Thanksgiving. We were also able to go to London one summer, two years after opening my new clinic so it felt really good to be able to finally take a break.
At the moment, our weekends are spent on tennis lessons on Saturdays and religious education on Sundays.
But our favorite thing to do on weekends would be to go to the movies!
When not busy in the clinic, do you stay connected to the Philippines?
I stay in touch with my family through Skype & Viber. I am also able to keep in touch with my childhood friends, thanks to Facebook.
What does 2016 have in store for you?
I am praying that 2016 would be another exciting year for me and my son. More travels, steady work, and hopefully we’ll be able to buy our own home.
Written by: Ai Macalintal. Ai couldn’t stay in one place for too long, so she’s always walking, traveling or changing address. She’s been an editor in Singapore and has written for Aussie magazines, but penning stories about the Philippines delights her most.