Sunday Offerings – Three Simple Joys

It’s a Sunday in Summer and, I confess, I didn’t make it to church today.  But, I did spend some time thinking about the following simple things that bring me joy and make me grateful.

!. Dodge Ball

Yesterday, Nico came home from a week at Boy Scout camp. He was covered in grime, and filled with stories of his camp adventures. He told me what he did each day, but when he told me about his last day at camp, his ever-deepening voice was filled with pride.

He told me that on the last day of camp, the camp staff challenged the scouts to an epic game of dodge ball. The game started out with about 30 boys playing against an equal number of staffers. Little by little, as the camper or staffer was hit by the ball, or failed to catch the ball, the player was eliminated. The game got down to Nico, the lone camper, against 3 of the kitchen staff. Nico threw the ball at one of the staffers. The ball hit the staffer’s legs and bounced off, hitting the second staffer, and both in one throw. With the game down to Nico and the last staffer, Nico threw the ball at the staffer. The staffer bent down to catch the ball, caught it, and then dropped it! The other campers who had been eliminated but were still watching the game let out a loud cheer for Nico.

The scouts won! Nico proudly told me how he was carried back to camp on the shoulders of his fellow scouts. What a great moment for him. Nico, the last man standing, triumphs in dodge ball!

2. Magical Cups

I have been helping my mom go through some of my grandmother’s things since my grandmother’s passing. It has been difficult and discouraging because she had so much stuff. We can’t just toss it out because some of it has value, even if it is just sentimental value. I took a few plant cuttings from my grandmother’s garden in the hope that maybe, in her death, my grandmother’s green thumb will have magically passed onto me. Yeah, we’ll see how that goes…

I also took these:

These are metal cups. They are the two remaining from a set which is long gone. When I was a child my grandmother would serve me milk in these cups. The milk always tasted so good when I drank it from these cups. Even though my stomach can no longer tolerate milk I wanted the cups, so my mom let me have them. Yesterday Diego, who rarely drinks milk, asked for a glass to go with his PB and J. Juan served him milk in the cup. Later, Diego asked for more milk from the cup. He said he had never tasted milk like that before. He told me the cup was “magical.”

I may not have my grandmother’s green thumb, but I have her magical cups.

3. Greener Pastures

About two weeks ago, Juan declared war on the grass. He looked at the patchy, yellow, poor-excuse-for-a-lawn we had in the backyard and said, “You and me lawn. I am going to win.” He went out and bought grass seed, lawn topper and set our sprinklers to automatic. Friday, we came home from a couple of nights out of town and we saw this:

Juan Wins!

Grass. Growing. And it is green!

Yeah. Maybe my grandmother’s green thumb went to Juan instead of me?

What about you? What simple things bring you joy? What simple things make you grateful?

What’s in a Name?

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.

Romeo and Juliet (II, ii, 1-2)

You have probably heard these lines before, but in case you didn’t read the Cliff Notes along with your assigned high school reading of this scene, Juliet is pining away, after meeting Romeo and learning he’s a Montague. The Montague’s are family rivals to Juliet’s Capulet clan. Juliet muses that although her newly beloved is a  Montague, what matters is who he is, and not what he is called. Ah, love.

We all know this is true. What matters is the person you are and not the name you are given. Unless, of course, you are a young boy with a spanish sounding name, growing up in a largely white, suburban neighborhood, like my husband, Juan Rafael. Or Juan. Or Ralph. Yes, Ralph. He became Ralph when he was in first grade and the nuns at St. Hedwig couldn’t say Juan Rafael.  Now, with a name like St. Hedwig, why the nuns felt compelled to give Juan a more English sounding name is beyond me.

Juan Rafael is a beautiful name, and sounds especially nice when it’s said with a Spanish accent. But, when my husband was growing up in the 70’s  and the nuns at his Catholic elementary school couldn’t pronounce his name, they asked him to for the english equivalent. He told them Juan was John, and Rafael was Ralph. They nuns decided to call him Ralph. He was Ralph all though elementary and high school. Even his Colombian family called him Ralph.  When he got to college Ralph took back his name and became Juan. He also changed his political party, joined MECHA and became active in politics, but that’s another story.

So, when I was pregnant with our child,  and Juan and I learned it was a boy, we began to consider names. We knew we wanted something that would translate to Spanish, but we had a hard time agreeing on anything. Then, we recalled where our son was conceived–in Acapulco, Mexico, during a celebratory wedding weekend for some family friends. The groom was named Diego. Diego. It was perfect. Not too ordinary. No tricky spanish pronunciation, but a name that translated to Spanish. We announced to my family our intention of naming our son the Spanish equivalent of James.  My dad, Jesus, loved the name we’d chosen. My dad, whose name is a popular choice among latinos, and who probably fought his own demons because of his moniker, thought Diego was a perfect choice for his only grandson who would be born of two latino parents. But then again, my father, who has a strong sense of pride in our own Mexican culture, would have been happy if Juan and I named our son after the Aztec ruler, Cuahtemoc. My mother wasn’t too sure of our choice. She asked me, “You’re really going to name him Diego?” Yes, I really am.

When our son was born, he did not look like a “Diego.” He looked like, well, a red, squishy faced, hairy little monkey.  One day I sat down to nurse my little monkey and turned on the TV.  As I  changed channels I came across Nickelodeon TV and I I saw this:

What? A kid’s show with a little brown-skinned explorer boy with jungle animals as his friends, named Diego? The show was “Go Diego Go.” It was kind of cute, but still obnoxious enough that I suddenly began to doubt my choice of moniker for my little monkey. How often would he be teased about his name? Would the theme song follow him onto the school yard and beyond? Luckily, I had been living under a rock and didn’t realize how popular the show was. It was a favorite among the pre-school set. By the time Diego entered pre-school, the name had a certain cache to it. My mother even came around, and told me that Diego’s name suited him perfectly.

I felt very pleased with myself about the name we had chosen. I even celebrated it when I planned his 3rd birthday party with a Go Diego Go theme.

One day, not long after Diego entered kindergarten he came home telling me about the friends he’d made. There was Ben, Ethan, Chris, Matt and a little boy with a biblical name, Oshea. Diego asked me why couldn’t he be named something else. Something more simple. Why couldn’t he be called Ben or, even better, Oshea?  Sigh.

Sunday Offerrings – A Day at the Races

Today we went to at a Cub Scout event, the Soap Box Derby. The Derby is an annual event where the boys race homemade cars. The boys steer the cars with their feet as it goes along the slightly downhill, winding course. In case things get a little scary on those hairpin turns, the boys use a hand brake to slow themselves down. The runs are timed and the boys compete against each other.

Diego’s Cub Scout pack is a really nice group of families and boys. I like the cub scouting program because I think it helps to remind boys about what it means to be a kid. The kind of kid who plays outdoors in the water on hot summer days, goes camping, and takes hikes though the woods. Sometimes my boys become so hooked into the video games and television they forget about going outside and playing around. Today, they were reminded of that.

And I was too.

My "pit crew" readies me for a race.

But Diego did much better than I did.

Here’s my attempt:

Obviously, Diego did a lot better than I did!

3rd Place Finish!!

All Creatures Great and Small, Except Slugs

All things bright and beautiful,

All creatures great and small,

All things wise and wonderful,

The Lord God made them all.

-Cecil F. Alexander, 1848.

I am generally okay with most creatures great and small, except for three small things, roaches, rodents and slugs. But, Diego loves all creatures great and small, especially slugs.  Diego once picked up a slug and excitedly let it crawl on his forearm. He held it out to me and told me, “Here, Mommy, if you let it crawl on you it tickles and leaves a shiny mark!” No thanks.  I first wrote about Diego’s love of slugs here, my first blog post ever.

Diego loves to explore the wilds of our backyard and capture animals and insects. He has a fascination with these creatures, as I suspect most boys do.  In fact, I am sure as most boys do. My other son, 12 year-old Nico’s pet…

Spike the Bearded Dragon.

Spike, perched on my shoulder.

See? I really am okay with most creatures great and small.

So, it does not  surprise me or creep me out when Diego occasionally asks for a jar or a box of some kind to house his roly-poly pets, insects, or whatever. It does, however, creep me out when he asks for a jar to house his pet slug.  He did this the other day, while I was in the middle of making dinner,  otherwise known as throwing food on the table for the kids to inhale.  I absent-mindedly gave him a clean glass jar without a lid. I told him we could punch holes in foil and use it as a cover. I did not see what he did next,  but I have since learned that he promptly placed “Sluggy” in the jar, without foil, and put it in our TV cabinet in the family room.

The next day I got a phone call while I was at work. It was our babysitter, Marian Poppins.

MP: Hi Diana. Have you seen Diego’s pet slug?

Me: What? What pet slug?

MP:  The one he said he put in the jar you gave him. He said he  put the jar and the slug inside the TV cabinet.

Me: Oh. My. God. I didn’t know he was going to put a slug in that jar, and I certainly did not know he would bring it in the house. Please find it!

MP: Okay, we’ll look for it.

Later, I checked in with her and asked if she found the slug. She replied that they looked all over and could not find him, or her. (Do slugs have a gender?)

I have not walked barefoot in my house since.

Lunchtime Stories, An Epilogue

Two weeks ago today my grandmother died.  I haven’t really been able to write about it, because it’s taken me awhile to process it all.  Even though she was 97 years-old and had lived a long, full, life, and I knew she was declining physically, I wasn’t ready for her to die so suddenly.

I have written about my grandmother before,  here, here and here, and I have finally added her own story to this blog, here. Last March my grandmother fainted while my mom was with her. My mom called the paramedics and my grandmother was admitted to the hospital. They conducted all kinds of tests, including an ear-splitting MRI.  While she was getting the MRI,  I was allowed to stand next to her and pat her feet as she was slid into a tunnel of bright light and screeching sound.  The test was intended to determine if something happened inside her brain. In the end, the doctor’s had one diagnosis– she was old. She may also have been dehydrated. The remedy was for someone to be with her, making sure she was eating and drinking fluids.  But, the doctors didn’t know my grandmother. She was independent, feisty and above all stubborn. My mom tried to get her to move in with her and my dad. She refused.  We hired some people to come to my grandmother’s and take care of her. No way. She kicked them out. We hired Meals on Wheels to provide the food and a daily visit. She didn’t eat their food and barely acknowledged the visit. In the end, we all realized it was futile. She was not going to accept our help, and the only thing that would make her happy and keep her alive was to let her live her life on her terms. Independently. She said she didn’t want to be a burden on anyone, yet sometimes it did feel like a burden, the worry and care-taking that was involved in letting her live alone.

About a month after her hospital stay we had a family meeting to discuss how we could take care of grandma. My uncles, my mom, my brother and I each agreed to visit her once a week and bring food and sit down and have a meal with her.  My day was Friday. On Fridays I went to her house for lunch, or I would go over after work. We would sit together and I would eat with her.  I would bring her food I knew she liked. Fresh pineapple, a pastry, coffee and donuts. The salt-free, healthfully prepared Meals on Wheels would go untouched. We would visit. I recorded her stories, and I would sometimes sneak a photo of her, because she did not like having her photo taken. She probably hated getting her picture taken as much as she hated doctors.

Even though I spent nearly every weekend with here when I was a child, it had been years since I spent so much time with her on a weekly basis. Sometimes, it seemed like an inconvenience to have to drive to see her and race back to my office, or visit her on my way home from work on a Friday evening, when I was anxious to start my weekend. But, I did it and with each visit, I felt happy about the time we spent together, and glad that I had taken the time to see her.  It’s funny, I thought I was there to take care of her, but really, I think she was still taking care of me. She would protest when I would get up to wash the dishes, throw out her trash or do any household chore. She would make me feel cared for, and I would leave feeling loved, and grateful for the time we spent together.

On the last Friday I spent with her I could tell something was wrong. She seemed tired and weak. Usually she was anxious to go outdoors and sit on her patio so we could visit. On our last visit I asked if she wanted to sit outdoors in the warm sun. She said she would rather stay inside. When I asked if she felt okay, if she was tired, she replied, “No honey, I am not tired, I am old.” I tried to take her picture but she wouldn’t let me. When she wasn’t looking, I did it anyway.

The last picture taken of my grandmother, two days before she died.

The day she died,  I was at work when my dad called to tell me that my mother had arrived at my grandmother’s for her Monday visit.  She found my grandmother. She had probably died at night, alone in her house, the way she wanted. I left work immediately and went to her house where my parents and my uncles had gathered.  I was sad that she was gone, but I also felt at peace. These past several months when I visited her, took her for drives, brought her donuts, those visits allowed me to have peace in this sorrowful moment. I knew that her insistence that she live alone, as challenging as it was for all of us, created an opportunity for us, to spend time with her, to care for her, and for her to care for us. As sad as it is to imagine her spending her last few moments alone, I know that dying in her own home was what  she wanted. It was the reason she had so fiercely resisted all our interventions.

She did things on her own terms. And so,  it seemed fitting that during the funeral mass, my cousin surprised the priest when he read a poem by Emily Dickenson, instead of the New Testament scripture that was pre-selected and indicated on the program. The organist missed her cue and the deacon kept looking through the program to see if he’d missed something. Even I didn’t know what was happening since I had never heard the Gospel According to Emily Dickenson before. But, when it dawned on me what my cousin was doing, I laughed and thought how much my grandmother would have loved that.  The priest seemed equally exasperated when, as the mass was ending, and it became apparent the priest wasn’t going to allow time for my prepared eulogy, my father yelled from the first row, “Wait! There’s a eulogy!” The priest just threw up his hands at that point, and I sprang from my seat to get to the altar before I lost my window of opportunity. The priest didn’t seem to know what to do with us, these grandchildren who wanted to do things in their own way. I know that’s probably the way my grandmother would have wanted it too.

My grandmother in earlier days.

My son, the ….?

This is what Diego recently said he wants to be when he grows up:

1)  Scientist – I am so proud!

2) Spy –  No doubt, influenced by his recent multiple viewings of The Spy Next Door, Spy Kids and Spy Kids II. Thank you Netflix.

3) Assassin – Okay,  I think it’s time to cut him off from Halo and the X-box.

4) Judge –  Perhaps it has something to do with his dad and I being lawyers, because I am not even sure he knows what a judge does.

5)  Cop –  Doesn’t every boy  say this sometime in their life?

6) Vice President – Really? I don’t even know what to think about this.

A Hairy Situation

It’s summer and around here that means it time for summer haircuts, for the boys. When Nico was younger, and before he had an opinion about his appearance, he would  get a buzz cut for the summer. This was a good solution since he has a head of hair that becomes a soggy mop after swimming, and a wool coat during our long, hot days.  Now that Nico is older,  he still gets a shorter cut but he does not like the shaved look, so he no longer gets a buzz cut.

However, since Diego is only 6 years-old, I figured that I could still have some say about his hair. Boy, I have never been more wrong about anything in my life. Maybe it’s the influence of his older siblings, or maybe it’s the Justin Bieber and Big Time Rush look, but Diego has definite ideas about his hair. He did not want a buzz cut. No way. I didn’t realize how much his hair meant to him, until this weekend.

Juan had to run some errands and decided to take Diego with him so they could stop and get a haircut.  First, they went to the pet store. The pet store had its usual weekend dog and cat adoption fair. And as usual, Juan sent me a text which read “Can we get her?” and attached a photo of one of the dogs.   Our dog,  Mischief , died last November, and our family has been missing a dog in our lives.  But right now? Life is really busy, we may travel on a vacation.  I texted Juan back. “Cute dog, but not now.”

Moving along, Juan’s next stop was Supercuts. Juan told the hairstylist that Diego needed a summer haircut. The hairstylist talked with Juan and another hairstylist and they agreed they would use the buzzers at a level 3, but somebody forgot to tell Diego. I am sure if they had,  he would have told them he didn’t want his hair short.  By the time the hairstylist began buzzing the top of Diego’s hair, it was too late. Diego was mortified. Juan thought it looked cute and smiled at him. This was absolutely the wrong reacation because Diego understood Juan’s smile to mean he was laughing at him. Then,  the meltdown started. Big, fat tears rolling down his face. Sobs so thick he choked on them. The hairstylist tried soothing him. Juan tried to calm him.  When he realized it was past the point of no return, he carried Diego out of there and drove home.  On the way, Juan called me in a panic. He warned me to tell the kids at home not to say a thing when they got home. I went outside and met them in the driveway. Diego’s eyes were swollen, and he was hiccupping from his sobs.  He refused to get out of the car, even though it was 90 degrees outside. I promised him he could go through the back door and bypass his sisters inside. We got him in the shower and he continued to cry,  curled up in a ball on the shower floor. I could not reason with him. Finally, I told him he had three choices:

1) Stay in the bathroom until his hair grew out.

2) Act like his haircut was not big deal and then  others would not think it was a big deal.

3) Wear a hat.

He considered number 1 but decided since he could not play x-Box in the bathroom, locking himself inside was not a viable option. He completely dismissed number 2.  He decided that number 3 was the best option, but only if he could wear his army hat.

Of course, I agreed and brought him the hat.  (He has not taken that hat off yet, even in church.)  Juan had also told Diego that he would take him back to the pet store and look again at the dog he had seen earlier. Juan promised to buy Diego ice cream too. (I know, it’s a lot. Don’t judge me.)  So, between the hat, and the promise of ice cream, we finally stopped the haircut meltdown. Oh, and  that return trip to the pet store? Well, let’s just say that even though I knew we’d eventually get another dog, I thought we should wait a little while longer. But, how could I have said “Not now” to this face:

And this face.

Meet Molly.