Tres Generaciones

This is a picture of my grandmother, my mother and I. My grandmother is 97 years-old and as you can tell from the spark in her eye, she is a firecracker. Lately, she is causing us some worry because she insists on living on her own.  She is independent, stubborn, resourceful and very loving. She has created many happy memories for me and her other 9 grandchildren. I think a lot of what my mother learned about being a mother, she learned from my grandmother.

This is my mother before she married my dad. My mom is the one who looks like she is 12 years-old and too young to be in Vegas with her girlfriends. She has always looked younger than her years.  When I was growing up I don’t think my mom ever weighed more than 110 pounds soaking wet.

In her late 20’s my mom met and married my dad. They started their family right away, with 3 kids  born 17 months apart. I don’t know how she did it. She says there was a time when my older brother, my younger sister and I were in diapers at the same time!  Eight years after my sister was born my dad said he wanted another boy. My mother agreed and 9 months later my younger brother was born. I don’t know how she did that! (Well, I do know how they did that, I just don’t like to think about it.)

When I was growing up my mother was in constant motion. Like many women of her day, she was a stay-at-home mom.  She made it look effortless. On our birthdays she organized parties for us and would invite the entire neighborhood.

We didn’t have bounce houses, clowns or magicians. We had my mom who would organize the games.

She was a soccer mom before there were soccer moms.

My mother didn’t just support my brother’s in their sports, she also supported me and my acting ambitions.  Here she is at one of my play productions, standing by while I sign autographs.

My mom wore many hats, including a barber hat.

Here she is in her laundress hat.

She rarely complained about her many household tasks, except when it came to do laundry. I didn’t understand why she disliked doing laundry for a family of 6. Now that I have my own family and my own endless pile of laundry, I understand.  But, at least I have a clothes dryer. Our family didn’t buy a clothes dryer until I was almost 13 years-old!

Something else happened when I was around 13 years-old, I suddenly knew everything there was to know about life.  Even though I still didn’t know how to do my own laundry, cook my own meals, or even pack my own school lunch, I knew more than anyone in my family, including my mother. Especially my mother. I would never stay home and raise children. I would work in show business, I would become a writer, or maybe even a lawyer. Thanks in part to my mom’s love and support,  I have had a turn doing all those things.  But wouldn’t you know it? I have also become a mom. Like my mom, I have two boys and two girls. Life has played a joke on me.  But my mom isn’t laughing. She is still here, supporting me, loving me and taking care of our family.  It’s something she learned from my grandmother, and something I hope I have learned from both of them. So, to my grandmother, and my mother…thank you and Happy Mother’s Day!

My Labor, His Day

This post was originally published on September 2, 2013.  Today, it’s also Labor Day and my son’s 21’s birthday, so I am re-posting it.  Happy Birthday Nico!

This year Labor Day has a special meaning for me. That’s because today is my son Nico’s 15th birthday. 15 years ago today he was born after an excruciating 27 hours of labor.  That’s right, 27 hours. If I had a blog back then, heck, if I knew what the internet was back then, I might have blogged about it. I may have written about it like other mommy bloggers memorialize their children’s birth stories. It probably would have served as a lesson for all those expectant mothers who are so wedded to a “birth plan” that they throw good sense out the window, ignoring the advice of their obstetricians, friends and even their own husbands.  Since I didn’t have a blog back then I couldn’t post my son’s birth horror story for all the world to read. No worries, the events are burned in my brain enough that today, 15 years later, I can recount it all. Spoiler alert: it all ends well, which is why I am posting this on my son’s 15th birthday.

Nicolas, or Nico as we still call him, was expected to make his arrival on August 16, 1998. I knew that the date was accurate, since I had been charting my fertile periods for months.  I was excited and nervous about the birth, but relieved that my pregnancy had progressed so well, even after two previous miscarriages. As soon as I got past the 12 week mark I began to let myself think about the childbirth experience I wanted.

I read about the different methods and resolved to have a natural, low intervention childbirth, the Bradley way. My then-husband and I enrolled in a Bradley birthing class.  We did the homework, including focus exercises, practice birthing positions, massage, and we even wrote a two page birth plan. The birth plan included instructive  phrases like “non-intervention” and specific instructions for the music we pre-recorded, the non-use of medication, and even that the baby would immediately placed on my chest when he was born. I never even thought to include words like epidural, fetal monitor, episiotimy, or, c-section.

I took my leave from my law office four weeks before my due date and spent the time nesting and resting. August 16 came and went. All the while I noticed every twinge, cramp or ache, and thought, “This was it!” But every little cramp and turned out to be a false alarm.

Every other day I would visit my doctor who would monitor the baby’s heart rate. And every other day he would tell me that we could induce labor. Every other day I  refused. I was determined it would happen naturally.  As the long, hot days of August wore on, I became more and more uncomfortable and more and more anxious to speed things along “naturally.” I read all I could about inducing labor and even tried a few natural remedies–herbs, a restaurant that was famous for its spicy salad dressing known to induce labor, acupressure, even S-E-X. (Ugh). Nothing worked.

Finally, on August 31, 15 days past my due date, I went into labor. I was awakened from my sleep at about 3:00 am., with excruciating back pain.  I was definitely in labor but the contractions were still about 20 minutes apart.  I called the doctor and she said I was in early labor and to call again when my contractions were closer together.  This was it! The backache was painful but I managed it with all the exercises I’d learned in my Bradley classes.  “Here we go,” I thought, until around mid-day when my contractions  seemed to stop.

We went to the doctor and he said I was definitely in labor but I still had a ways to go.  We went home and tried to get things started again. Walking around the block, stretching, squatting. Finally, around dinner time we went out to Thai food and I ordered extra spicy, recalling that I read somewhere about capiscium helping to induce labor. I called a mid-wife and she recommended I try an enema. Yeah. No thanks. I wanted things natural, but not that natural.

That night I went to bed feeling tired, frustrated and anxious. Shortly after midnight on September 2, I was awakened by back pain, more intense than ever.  For the next four hours I managed the pain using my Bradley exercises. About 5:00 am, my water broke and I realized there was meconium in the fluid! The dreaded baby’s first poop in the embryonic sack. Everyone had warned me about this and I didn’t listen.  I panicked and we called my doctor and Bradley instructor. She came over immediately and tried to calm me down. I could hardly stand the back pain as she explained that it was likely that my son’s head was putting pressure on my spine, causing the back labor.

My husband drove us to the hospital during morning rush hour traffic while I tried to manage the back pain and now full-blown contractions by facing backwards in the front passenger seat, draping my torso over the top of the seat.  It seemed to take forever to get to the hospital, which was normally 25 minutes away.  After I was admitted to the hospital things seemed to happen quickly even though I labored another six hours without pain medication.

Finally, after about 24 hours of labor, I was so exhausted I could no longer focus and concentrate, I broke down and asked for the epidural. I cried, not because the needle hurt, but because of my disappointment in myself. Then I cried because I was relieved to be free of the pain of back labor.  At last, the pain was gone and I was able to sleep.

An hour later I awoke to the sound of alarms beeping and nurses rushing into my room. The doctor examined me and said my cervix was swollen. He inserted a fetal monitor inside me and attached it to the baby’s scalp. So far, I had gotten every medical intervention I tried to prevent!  The doctor told me that after all my labor I was still only 4 centimeters dilated and I would need a cesarean.

I cried again but this time because of of fear for my baby’s health. They wheeled me into the surgery room and 20 minutes later my son was born. He was  a perfectly healthy 6 ½ pound, 21 inch long baby.  I heard the doctor say that he had a short umbilical cord, and and perhaps that was why he never fully descended into the birth canal.

Raising Nico over the years, I have come to know that his delayed arrival and prolonged delivery was a signal to me. Nico has always done things on his own time, at his own speed, sometimes to my great frustration. I can grow impatient with him when he doesn’t act as quickly as I expect, and  moves more slowly than my own frantic pace.  But then I realize, this is who Nico is.  As he moves through life with his own deliberate stride, he reminds me to slow down. His own way of being in this world helps me understand that not everything is planned and fully executed on my timetable, or under my control.  I am also reminded that he is a thoughtful, careful, and loving son, and I wouldn’t want it any other way.  He is definitely worth the wait.  Happy  Labor Day to me and happy birthday to Nico.

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Tres Mujeres

Watching my three older kids become young adults has been hugely rewarding, and of course, leaves me a little wistful for their childhood days.  Olivia, our oldest at 23, is now living and working in Bogota, Colombia, after being awarded a Fulbright fellowship to teach English at a prestigious national university.  After completing his sophomore year studying abroad in Salzburg, Austria, and traveling independently throughout Europe, Nico is now back at the University of Portland, excited and focused about his newly declared major in Political Science.  Erica, ever the free-spirit, has decided to forego college and is getting her real life education working a full-time job, living with housemates and (largely) paying her own expenses.  They are, for the most part, “adulting.”  Not long ago, Olivia asked me what I was doing in my life at  her age. I thought about it and realized that my own experience at “adulting” looked very different from hers.

When I was 23 I was working at my third full-time job in the 18 months since I graduated from college. My first two jobs, a receptionist in a commercial production company, and a mailroom clerk for a major television network, left me uninspired, bored, and with little income.  I lived with my parents throughout college and continued to live with them after graduation, but my $250 a month car payment, gas, insurance and all my personal expenses, rapidly cut into my $800 per month paycheck.  When a local television network called and offered me a job making a whopping $320 per week as a production secretary, I jumped at the opportunity.  With the extra money and chance to do some real television production, I finally felt that I was launching my life.

One year later, in an even bigger leap into adulthood, I plotted my escape from my parents’ house and made the fateful decision to marry my college boyfriend.  I loved him enough and we had similar interests so I ignored the doubting voice in my head and dismissed it as pre-wedding jitters. Looking back, I realize that the marriage was a way for me to break away from my parents and assert myself as an independent woman. I find it ironic that I subconsciously believed I had to marry in order to declare my autonomy.  Our newlywed years were marred by sadness and loneliness because I was often left alone, missing my family while my husband worked day and night launching his own business.  Four years later, when I found out those long work hours also involved my husband’s extra-marital affairs, I immediately filed for divorce.  I escaped that marriage a little wiser, a little older, and feeling more liberated. With a marriage and divorce between my parents’ house and my new life, I was firmly planted into ADULTHOOD.

Perhaps that is why I chose not to return to live with my parents when they offered me a place to live while I mended my bruised heart and ego.  Instead, I lived in a series of sub-let apartments while I re-invented my life and applied to law school.  When the sub-let apartments dried up and as I was faced with an enormous amount of law school student debt, I moved in with my then boyfriend for the first year of law school.  My last two years of law school I lived with a classmate, juggling school, a part-time job and my relationship with my boyfriend.  After law school and passing the bar, I married and I landed a job in a small law firm. Finally, I was making enough money to pay my student loans, buy a house with my husband, and indulge in some adult-scale luxuries.

One of those luxuries was the purchase of my first “real” piece of art.  Our law firm had a local school district as one of its clients, and some of the attorneys became friends with the teachers and administrators.  A teacher at the school district was also an accomplished artist who painted in one of my favorite styles of Mexican folk art.  My colleague offered to host an art show to help him further his art career. I attended the show and fell in love with one of the paintings.  The work, entitled “Tres Mujeres” (Three Women) with its bright colors, bold lines and feminine images made me feel happy and nostalgic.

Even though I was making a decent salary, I had a $900 monthly law school loan payment, and paying over $300 for a piece of art was a real indulgence.  I splurged and brought home my new symbol of adulthood. My husband loved the painting too and we proudly displayed it in our newly painted dining room.

The painting has become even more meaningful to me since I first bought it.  When my second husband and I divorced and we divided up our personal property, I quickly claimed the painting.  The painting still hangs in my dining room, but that is one of the only things unchanged since I bought the painting.  In this third chapter of my adult life, I am married to Juan, I am almost done raising four kids, and I am excited at the opportunities and challenges as I contemplate my retirement from my legal career and pursue writing.

As I re-launched this blog, I looked around my world and scoured the internet for an image that would be a good representation of me and this blog. I couldn’t come up with anything until Juan looked at the painting and suggested it.  Of course! Tres Mujeres.  Three women. The woman I have become over the years, through three distinct phases in my life.  The painting, purchased when I saw it as a symbol of my ascent into adulthood, has become an image of my own life and a reflection of who I am as my own work of art.