Punch Buggies, Invisability and Random Musings of 11 Year-old Boys

Punch Buggy Red! No punch back!

Image by Kevin Bedell via Flickr

I am missing my boy, who is on vacation this week with his dad. I am re-posting this, originally posted in July 2010.

Come home soon Nico!

There’s a commercial on TV which shows people punching each other when a volkswagen automobile drives by.  If I did not have a 11 year-old son I think the significance of this commercial would have been lost on me. You see, right now one of Nico’s favorite pastimes is yelling out “Punch Buggy” and hitting any innocent bystander in the shoulder, whenever he spies a Volkswagen Beetle.  It really grows quite tiresome, especially when driving around with a 5 year-old Sponge who absorbs everything his older brother says, and another 12 year-old girl, who thinks she is way beyond her 8 month younger step-brother. The “Punch Buggy” game borders on downright dangerous when one is transporting a van full of 11 and 12 year-old boy scouts from camp, while negotiating hairpin turns down a single lane mountain road.
Still, once I had safely descended the mountain and was able to eavesdrop on the conversation going on I really began to appreciate how funny, and how fleeting these moments are. After Nico and his fellow scouts finished telling me the story of how they completely fooled another boy scout troop into believing that they were from New Zealand because they spoke in (really terrible) accents throughout the camp session, N and company began humming portions of soundtracks from Star Wars, Indiana Jones, and Jaws. This, of course, was a nice segue into a conversation on Invisibility. It went something like this:
Nico: What if there was such a thing as complete invisibility?
Boy Scout 1: Well, how would we know if anything was invisible since we couldn’t see it?
Nico: Well, we could see it in the pre-invisibility stage and the post invisibility stage.
Boy Scout 2: But what if it was always invisible?
Boy Scout 3:…with an invisible skeleton.
Nico: I think we would have to use x-ray vision goggles.
All: Cool!
One of the great things about being a parent who carpools is catching glimpses of your child as he relates to his peers. Sometimes its disturbing. Sometimes it reminds you of your own lost youth. Sometimes, when the child you are transporting is a boy it makes you realize how different boys and girls are. I am pretty sure that I have never heard Erica or her friends talk about invisibility and punch buggies. Then again, maybe the absence of the Punch Buggy game between Erica and her friends is a good thing!

My Father’s Story

This is my father when he was a boy.

He was born in an area near El Paso, Texas, called Smeltertown.  It was called Smeltertown because of the smelt from the nearby mines.  I don’t think the name of the town is very appealing,  but, when I was little I would hear stories of his childhood, and I would think that Smeltertown sounded like a fascinating place.

Sometimes my dad’s childhood stories were tales of his struggles growing up, being raised by his adoptive mother, and his adoptive grandmother. My dad’s mother died when he was just months old.  His mother’s cousin, and her mother, raised him in Smeltertown. They made their living, in part, selling masa to make tortillas.  My dad worked alongside his adoptive mother and grandmother.

My dad's mother, cousin, and aunts.

My father was raised by these two strong, independent women.  They loved him and cared for him, but  were strict disciplinarians with him.  The only male presence, my father’s step-father, was largely absent.  When my dad was a teen they came to California and settled in a pretty rough neighborhood in East Los Angeles.

Dad, circa 1950, Belmont High School, Los Angeles.

He stayed out of trouble and eventually joined the army, which gave him more discipline, and offered him greater opportunity.

Dad in the Panama Canal Zone, 1953

My dad got out of the army and lived the single life, until he met and married my mom. They started their family right away, with three kids born in just over 4 years.  When my dad became a father, he had very little personal exposure to what being a father in a nuclear family looked like. Nowadays, they call that “modeling.”

Family Dinner, circa 1978.

But the lack of “modeling” has not deterred my dad. He learned a lot along the way. We have learned a lot along the way together too. Sometimes the lessons were rough. But, always, we knew he loved us and took care of us. And always, along the way, we have built new memories and created our own stories.

He took us on family vacations.

Family vacation to Vancouver, Canada, circa 1977. (Dad's not pictured because he was the photographer!)

Many times these vacations involved one of his favorite activities, fishing.

Vacation at Mammoth Lakes, California. Circa 1970.

Another Mammoth Lakes vacation.

He sang us songs.

Canciones de mi padre.

He coached my brothers in sports.

He has become a devoted grandfather.

Dad and Nico and Diego all dressed up.

When I was little people would comment how much I looked like my dad. I would cry because I thought they meant I was chubby and had a mustache.

Dad and I at my college graduation, 1986

But, now I understand that they meant we had similar features. Today, I know that my dad and I are similar in ways beyond our physical appearance, and even beyond some of our similar behaviors.  My dad and I share a similar understanding, and appreciation for each other. We have struggled. We are flawed, but we love each other. He is my father. I am his daughter. We are familia.

Happy Fathers Day, Dad.

50/50 Friday – Week Two

This week was really busy, filled with several celebrations. Luckily, I am fairly good at multi-tasking, so in addition to celebrating, I accomplished a few more things on my 50/50 list.

My family got together to celebrate my parents 50th wedding anniversary this week, by going to an Italian restaurant.  The restaurant had a decent wine list but everything was priced pretty high. The restaurant also had a fairly cheap corkage fee, so my brother went to the wine store next to the restaurant and picked up a couple of bottles of nice wine. Even with the corkage fee, buying the wine and bringing it in was cheaper, than if we ordered from the restaurant’s wine list, and we enjoyed some pretty good wine.  We enjoyed the wine so much that after dinner Juan went back to the wine store and picked up a couple more bottles to enjoy at home.  The next day we opened up this bad boy and enjoyed a glass with dinner. Light, crisp, with hints of pear and grapefruit, it is a perfect summer wine. I give you Number 20 off my list:

On our wedding anniversary, Juan and I went out to see my all-time favorite musical.  Pre-kids and, consequently, when I had more disposable income, I used to be a theatre geek. I first saw a production of Les Miserables in the late 80’s. It has stayed with me all these years.  So when I heard the production was touring again, I knew I had to see it. Juan bought us tickets and we saw it this week. My husband, who has been known to bring a book to read at the theater, even enjoyed the show. I love the music, the story and the message of redemption in this play. It was a great way to celebrate my anniversary, and still check off Number 47 from my list.

The last thing I accomplished this week was trying out a new recipe from this cookbook.

It was not easy to find a new recipe to prepare this week. Between all the celebrations and my busy work week, I was all about convenience.  Tonight, I promised Diego I would make breakfast for dinner, so it looked like, unless I could find a new way to make pancakes, I wasn’t going to be able to work in a new recipe this week. But, pancakes for breakfast just didn’t sound good to me, I wanted something more, but something easy, and something like breakfast. So of course, I chose to make what any self-respecting Mexican mama would make, Chilaquiles.  I made Chilaquiles Veracruzanos. These are a little like enchiladas, but the tortillas are crispier and the sauce is usually lighter. They can be served with an egg on top and are usually great for an early breakfast after dancing all night. In fact, one of the most memorable plates of chilaquiles I ever enjoyed was at 3:00 am , following a wedding reception. The wedding ceremony took place on an Acapulco beach, followed by dinner and dancing all night. The happy couple then treated their guests to a Mexican breakfast of chilaquiles in the pre-dawn hours.  Somehow, every time I make chilaquiles I feel like I should be eating them as the sun comes up.  But,  tonight I had to be content with eating them for dinner. They were not as easy as I hoped, and I had to improvise some of the ingredients, but they were still really good. I will definitely make them again.

I used leftover chicken and cut some tomatoes. I didn't have a fresh ancho chili, so I used chipotle chilis. A bit spicier, but it had a nice smoky flavor.

Frying the tortillas took the most time, but makes all the difference in the texture and taste.

Chilaquiles topped with avocado. Buen Provecho!

I am Butter Pecan. You are Chocolate Chip? Or, Still Surprising Me After Eight Years Married.

Eight years ago today we were married. I woke up next to you on our wedding morning and you surprised me. You excitedly asked me, “Do you know what today is?” I thought, “Of Course!” It’s the day we will marry. It’s the day when you and I will become husband and wife. It’s the day when we will officially become a family.” But,  you were thinking of something else. You told me that the KISS/Aerosmith concert tickets went on sale that morning. Yes, you surprised me. And you made me laugh.

You surprised me later that day, before we were getting ready to walk down the aisle. When one is marrying a man who already has two young girls, and the bride has a young son of her own, the wedding isn’t just for the bride and groom, it is for everyone. It was a ceremony so we could formalize this thing called “blending a family.”

The room where we all waited before ceremony started, was filled with commotion. My parents, your parents, the kids, the photographer, the bridal coordinator. When I thought my head would explode with all the excitement, you surprised me again. You told everyone that you wanted us to be alone. The room cleared,  and it was just you and me, and the kids. You took charge of the room and took control of the moment. And me, the micro-managing control freak that I am, was happy, relieved to have you in charge. And then, you gathered us together, and we held hands in a small, family circle. You led us in a prayer together and asked God to bless us, bless our marriage and bless our family. That could have been our wedding right there, in that moment– I felt it was that special.

During the ceremony you surprised me again. We did not write our own vows, so I did not expect it when, in the middle of our ceremony, you asked for some time to speak to our guests, the small group of friends and family who joined us that day. I didn’t know it was coming, but you told them our proposal story. You told them how you proposed to me that night in New York in a carriage in Central Park. And then you read to them, as you had read to me, the poem you wrote, inspired by St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. I didn’t know you would do that during our wedding ceremony, and so, predictably, I wept. Predictably, you had your handkerchief ready to wipe my tears.

Later, I think we both surprised the kids when we asked them to join us in front of the altar,  and we gave them silver medallions that were in the shape of family circled in an embrace. I think we surprised our kids when I made promises to Olivia and Erica to care for them and support them, and when you promised the same for Nico.

That day, was filled with surprises, and laughter and love. But it was only the beginning. Last night, when we took the kids out for ice cream, you asked me if I could guess your favorite ice cream. I am embarrassed to say that I could not, even though you knew what I flavor I would order, before I even ordered it. I guess I was surprised you knew that I was Butter Pecan, but I was even more surprised to learn that you were not Pistachio, nor Coconut Pineapple, but Chocolate Chip. I like that I am still learning things about you. It makes our life together a little unexpected, even if it only is ice cream.

I know you joked that you wanted to start your own blog to write about the things your wife doesn’t know about you, but I hope that blog won’t have too many posts, because I think I do know you–at least the important things about you. Like the way you care for our family, how much you love us, the strength of your character, your goodness. Beyond these things, I hope we will still find new things in each other. I think it will keep things interesting. I look forward to many more years of love, laughter and surprise.

Happy Anniversary.


You might also like, Happy Un-Anniversary to Me.

A Birthday, a Graduation and an Anniversary*

We all went to church today and celebrated another special holiday in the church calendar.  It was Pentecost, the birthday of the Christian church.  So, in addition to our usual worship service, where the kids often assist as acolytes and I assist giving communion, the service had a festive flair.  There were flags during the procession, incense, and  birthday cake and a jazz trio on the lawn after the service.  Even the altar looked festive because it was  adorned in the color for Pentacost, which also happens to be my favorite color–red. Underneath our albs many of us wore red, including me.

Red shoes

With me and the older kids participating in the service, Juan and Diego sat by themselves in the pew.  Juan kept Diego entertained by letting Diego draw on  on pew cards. Diego drew the same thing he always draws:

A Christmas scene

When Juan asked him why he always draws a Christmas scene, Diego said he would draw something else. And he drew this:

Easter scene drawn by Diego

I guess he doesn’t know how to draw a Pentacost scene.


After church we had another celebration to attend, graduation.  Diego graduated in cub scouts today.  He graduated from a Tiger cub to a Wolf cub.  The ceremony is called “bridging” and marked by the boys from his pack crossing over a bridge. We took a picnic lunch to a local park and celebrated with the other families. How quckly time flies. I remember when we were at the same park watching Nico bridge as a cub scout. Now Nico is  a boy scout and working his way up in rank.


Diego goes from a Tiger cub to Wolf, and trades his orange scarf for a yellow one.

After all that you think we’d be done with our celebrating. But wait, there’s more. We all went out to dinner to celebrate my parents 50th wedding  anniversary.  Through their  50 years together my parents have managed to raise four kids, have 9 grandchildren and share some wonderful, and not so wonderful experiences. Through it all they have stayed comitted to each other and our family   We like to joke that my we don’t know how my mom managed to do it.  As if to prove our point, my dad told us his own joke tonight.  He said that my mom saw him crying on their anniversary. When my mom asked my dad why he was crying, he told her that  50 years ago my grandfather caught my dad and mom together and, with his shotgun aimed at my dad,  my grandfather asked him to either marry my mom or go to jail. My dad jokingly recounted how he chose to marry my mom.  Again, my mom asked him, why he was crying. My dad explained,  he was crying because he realized that if had chosen jail, he would be a free man now.


My parents on our recent trip to New York

*This post was inspired by the post, Blessings, Tonys and Zombies, in Accidental Stepmom. Check her out.

Summer Strategizing

We had a beautiful weekend here in Southern California, but instead of spending it outdoors, I spent a lot of it indoors, with this:

What is it? Well just a snapshot of how I have to plan our summer.  For many,  summer is about long, lazy days filled with sun, swimming, and NO SCHOOL. But for others, like myself, summer also means endless weeks  that need to be filled with summer camps, summer school or childcare.  With four kids and three separate households, this is no easy feat.  To make matters worse, my summer strategizing has become increasingly complicated since my kids have grown older and they no longer want to spend the day crafting key chains and swimming. My teens would rather do something targeting their special interest, like sleeping, video gaming, sleeping, watching TV and sleeping.  With the exception of 6 year-old Diego, this is the first summer when I will not be sending them to day camp, while Juan and I are at work.

After a lot planning, scheduling my  summer in weekly increments, and coordinating with the other parents (Nico’s Dad and Olivia and Erica’s Mom) , we have decided that the older kids will take a summer school class or two and then spend the rest of their time at home. Now, my vision of “kids at home” is probably vastly different from what they think they will be doing.  I plan on giving them a list of chores, including dinner preparations, requiring them to work on their summer homework packets and reading lists, and then when this is done, they’ll have some time to “chill.” I am sure this will go exactly as I am planning.

One thing I do know for sure, is that even though my summer planning requires a lot of coordination, this year is a bit simplified because I will have all three older kids going to one location. ONE LOCATION! This is huge.  With one high schooler, two junior highers and a first grader,  the regular school year means we have three different schools and three different drop offs and pick ups.  This summer the older kids’ classes are at ONE campus. Yeah, this should be easy, right? Well, it is easier knowing that I will have one stop, but that would be too simple.  It turns out that the classes for the kids are all at different times.  One of them even the has a 2 hour break in the middle, and the others are done at different times.  And unfortunately, the campus isn’t close enough to our house to make it easy for everyone to come and go according to their varied schedule.  I spent a lot of  time this weekend considering  routes to school, planning how I could rearrange my work schedule options and strategizing about schedules and transportation. Bikes? Buses? Walking? Carpool? And what about those weeks when the kids are in the other parent’s house? Yeeesh. It’s enough to make me wish for year-round school or at least the good old days when they were content with making key chains and crafting lanyards.  Maybe an afternoon of sleeping,  video games, sleeping, TV and lazing around the house isn’t so bad after all?

A Change of Light in the Gloom of June

Around here I can usually tell it is June because of the gray skies,  known as June Gloom, the blossoming Jacaranda trees, and the inordinate amount of end of school year activities, family birthdays and anniversaries. This week I noticed the trees were filled with purple flowers, the cool,  grey mornings required a jacket, and there was nearly a daily occurrence of birthdays, school assemblies and a very special kind of anniversary

Ten years ago this week, Juan and I made plans to spend a Saturday afternoon at the beach with our kids. It seemed like it should have been summer already, but instead,  the overcast skies signaled the beginning of June Gloom. Still, we had young kids and wanted to keep them busy,  so Juan invited me to join him and the girls at  the beach.

Nico and I at a beach play date with Juan and the girls.

Juan and I had become friends through work . We supported each other through our sometimes messy and often painful divorces, and since our kids were close in age we would sometimes get together for weekend play dates. Juan had already asked me out for a date,  and even though I thought he was kind, funny and found his obsession with the rock band KISS to be a bit quirky,  I didn’t feel the romance, so I declined.  We agreed we should just remain friends.  But, something changed that cool, overcast June afternoon. I saw Juan in a different light. The way he played with his daughters; the way he flew kites with my son; and the spontaneity and lightness of the day made me see him in a new way, outside of being a serious lawyer. Perhaps if I had known that several months later he would show at my door looking like this, I would have changed my mind earlier.

He showed up looking like this one night, after attending a KISS record release event after work.

But I digress.  That evening, after we ended our afternoon beach play date with the kids, Juan and I spontaneously decided to go to a party given by one of our co-workers, at a Karaoke bar, in Koreatown. I think we both must have felt the desire to prolong our day, and not part each other’s company. Juan insisted on driving me to the karaoke bar.  When we got to the party, we drank something we now refer to as “Korean Lemonade.” Whatever it was, it was tasty, and strong. And it helped Juan lose some of his inhibition and get on the Karaoke stage with friends and sing. When I saw him up there singing, something clicked. (And, it was definitely not because he was a good singer.) I started to think, maybe, despite my injured heart, and his poor rendition of Bohemian Rhapsody, I should go out with this guy.

Really? Should I go out with him?

That Korean lemonade made Juan feel more than just brave–it also made him feel like couldn’t drive home.  I drove his car back to my house.  Juan must still have been feeling emboldened by that lemonade because he asked me for a kiss. I said yes. Was it the beach day, the Karaoke, the lemonade, or was it just a shift in my heart that allowed me to take a chance on this lawyer-dad-KISS-fan? Whatever it was, I am glad the sun came out in the midst of the June gloom, and the light changed enough for me to see Juan in a new way.