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06 Oct, Thursday
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Montreal Families

Mom reunited with kids after 8 years

Caroline Tugas got the best Christmas present of her life on December 14; actually, she got five precious gifts. On that day, the 45-year-old Filipino mother drove to Dorval airport to pick up her husband, daughter and three sons. She hadn’t seen them in almost eight years.

I sat down and spoke with her the day before her family’s arrival. “I haven’t been able to eat or sleep for the past four weeks,” she said. “I keep trying to imagine what it is going to be like at the airport, I don’t know how I’m going to react when I see them and I don’t know who to hug first.”

Tugas is one of the many women who leave their families behind to work in Canada (often six days a week), send money home for food and other bills, and go through the long, arduous immigration process. It usually takes about five years, but her file was more complicated because her family had owned a business that went bankrupt and some suppliers had sued them.  Whenever there are legal issues involved, it takes longer for the immigration application to be processed.

When she went to pick up her permanent residency papers in October, she told the Canadian immigration employee how thrilled she was to finally have everything approved. He told her that he was very happy for her and that he “would do everything in his power to get her family here before Christmas.”  True to his word, her family’s visas arrived in the Philippines on November 16.

“When my phone rang at 4 a.m., I knew it had to be my husband calling with good news,” she said, her eyes filling with tears. “He jokingly apologized for disturbing my sleep but he thought I would want to know that the visas had arrived. I went on Skype and the kids were all jumping up and down and one of my sons was screaming ‘Oh my God, is this real, is this actually happening?’”

Tugas says it does, in many ways, seem unreal because there have been so many painful years apart and it has been an excruciatingly long time since the day she had to say goodbye to her family.

Her husband and she decided immigration would be the best option because both of them became unemployed after they lost their business and they couldn’t find work. “There was no money for food and I knew I couldn’t put my kids through school, so we explained to them that I would have to leave for awhile and they would eventually join me in Canada.”

She said her kids found it very hard to accept; her 5-year-old son hid in a corner of a room because he couldn’t bear to see her leave.  And her daughter pleaded with her not to go.
Tugas says being a devout Christian has been her guiding strength during all the tough times for her and her family. “I would tell my kids that God is taking care of me in Canada and he will take care of them in the Philippines and one day we will all be reunited.”

One of the hardest aspects for Tugas is that she has missed being able to parent her kids through their formative years – her sons are now 19, 14 1/2 and 13 and her daughter is 16. “It has been so hard not being able to see them grow up,” she said. “If you don’t guide them in the early teenage years, they can get into trouble and go wild.”

For many years after she left, Tugas would call her family only once a week because long-distance charges were so expensive. But then in 2009, she says she heard about something called “Skype” and it allowed her to once again become an engaged parent.

“I bought a laptop for my family with a camera and sent it over with someone who was going back to the Philippines,” she said. “Since then, we have Skyped at least twice a day.  I tell them to make sure they brush their teeth before bed and to do their homework. I keep it on when I’m cooking in my apartment and sometimes my kids just like to sit and watch me walk back and forth in the kitchen — they are just happy to see me.”

Anticipating their arrival, Tugas recently moved from a one bedroom apartment to a 4 1/2 in Cote des Neiges.  She says she is very grateful for all the support she has received over the years. This includes the family who sponsored her, members of her church; 20 of whom volunteered to help her move and friends who have also given her winter coats and other items of clothing her kids will need. She also received a generous cash gift from her colleagues at the Oncology Department of St. Mary’s Hospital (where she works as a cleaner).

Life after the family’s arrival

I chatted with Tugas about a month after the family’s arrival to find out how everyone was settling in.

She says she was bursting with excitement at the airport when she saw that her family’s flight from Toronto had landed. She watched eagerly as droves of people came through the sliding doors but then the numbers dwindled until everyone was off the plane. They hadn’t arrived. They weren’t on the flight they were scheduled to be on!

“I was angry but I tried to stay positive because I knew they would be coming eventually; an Air Canada representative told me they might have been held up in customs in Toronto and were probably on the next flight,” she said.

Sure enough, they were on the next flight and there were many tears of joys and laughter as Tugas threw her arms around each and every one of her kids and husband.

On their first night in Montreal, she cooked her family Won Ton soup to warm them up (they aren’t used to such cold weather) and then a traditional Philippine noodle dish and a big cheesecake for dessert.

She says there was a lot of noise; everyone wanted to tell stories and talk about what it was like to be on a plane for the first time. It was almost 2 a.m. before everyone could calm down enough to close their eyes and go to sleep.

Tugas says that life is very busy now but she welcomes the chaos. “I didn’t get to be a mom for eight years so I’m happy to do all the laundry, cook and just take care of my family.”

It was, indeed, a very magical Christmas for this family.

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