Mom’s House, Dad’s House – When Back and Forth Doesn’t Work for Back to School

Today I have a post up at Huffington Post. You might want to check it out by clicking here.

But, put on your earmuffs if you don’t want to hear a lot of divorce bashing from the commenters. I am tempted to respond to all the ruckus, but honestly, I agree, a little. Divorce can hurt kids. It’s difficult, for everyone. Staying married in an unhealthy situation can hurt kids too. It’s difficult, for everyone. I used to think I would never get divorced, but here I am. And I am doing the best I can, as I think we all try to do with our kids, and our families. So, read the post if you want, and leave a comment if you are so inclined.

Lucky 13

I am lucky. Today you turn 13.

Thirteen years ago today you made me the luckiest person on earth. Actually, 13 years ago today, you made me more than lucky,  you made me your mommy.

I was lucky,  not just because I became a mommy, but because I became your mommy.  I am lucky because for 13 years I have had the chance to raise you, watch you grow, and believe it or not, to learn from you. You remind me that life doesn’t always have to move so quickly. You remind me to appreciate our family, because I know that you do.  And even though it may not always seem like it, you remind me not to lose my temper. Your calm manner and sweetness remind me to let go of anger and pride when I am frustrated or impatient.

Someone once told me, “Mighty oaks from little acorns grow.” For the last 13 years I have been able to witness the process of an acorn becoming the oak tree. The little baby that you were– so happy, so calm, so easy going.  The toddler years were a joy even though I had some sad days because I had to learn what it meant to be a family with just the two of us. But we got through it, and we found a wonderful rhythm together. It seemed like you adapted easily, enjoying the time with your father, and then coming home for some time with Mommy. And when our family grew to include your sisters and brother and Juan, your generous loving heart, accepted our new family.

On your 4th birthday, you traveled with your dad to New Mexico to visit your Granny. I waited all day for you to come home but your plane was delayed. When your dad finally arrived I opened the door, and you were asleep in his arms.  It seemed like you had suddenly grown up. Your dad said, “I brought you back a 4 year-old.” He carried you inside  and put you in your little bed.  I looked at you sleeping there and wept with gratitude that you were home, and I was amazed that you seemed to grow up overnight.

It’s been 9 years since that night when you could still be carried in your father’s arms. It’s so hard to believe that you have grown as tall as me. Your voice has deepened and you no longer play with toys, unless you do it because your brother has bugged begged you to.  You told me you didn’t want any toys or games for your birthday this year. Instead you asked for money to save up for a computer. How responsible of you. How mature, how grown up.

I know you don’t like it when I worry about you and when I tell you how to do things. I can tell because sometimes I catch you rolling your eyes. But, then we exchange looks and we laugh because we can tell what we are each thinking. I know you probably don’t realize it, but I am happy to see you grow up. I do miss those days we shared together when it was just you and I, and those days  I would enjoy watching you play with your toys or invent some game with Erica or Olivia, but I don’t really want to go back to those days. I am happy for today. I feel lucky that I get to see you turn 13 and enter adolescence. I feel lucky that I get to see you grow up and become the kind-hearted, responsible, witty teenager that you are. I am lucky to see the acorn becoming an oak tree.

Happy birthday Nico. I love you.

Mommy Mom

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The Day We Met

Seven years ago today I met you for the first time,  even though I knew you for some months before that. I knew you when I first felt you move inside me. I knew you when I saw your blurry image on an ultrasound.

Ultrasound at 21 weeks

Throughout those months when I carried you within me, I dreamt of you. Who would you look like? What would you be like? I couldn’t wait to meet you. Even though your daddy and I had only been married a short while, we were ready for you. Your brother and sisters were excited and happy at the thought of you. While you grew inside me, we remodeled our house so that it would be big enough for all of us to live comfortably.  Soon you grew so big, I couldn’t get comfortable.

Diego and our house under construction.

When the doctor said it was time, we scheduled the appointment so you could be born.  The night before you were born, daddy and I went out to dinner. We laughed how it would probably be one of the last dinners we could have alone in a while, but we didn’t care. We were so excited to meet you and we wondered what the next day would bring.  Early in the morning, before the sun came up, we drove to the hospital. I was so nervous and excited, my heart was racing.  The nurses were concerned, but then my doctor came in and said it was okay. Your abuela, “Lala, ” called me on the phone and said a prayer for me in Spanish. I could hardly understand her because I was so nervous  and I was crying.

When I went into the delivery room, the doctors joked with me and there was music playing. I was nervous that your daddy was not going to be able to stay with me, but he did. He stayed with me until they pulled you out and took you away to examine you. You checked out great!

Diego, minutes old.

They showed you to me, but I could not hold you  right away. When the doctors finished taking care of me, I went back to my room.  I was anxious to see you again and hold you. Finally, they brought you to my room. Somebody gave you to me to hold. When I held you and looked at you, I cried again. But this time, I didn’t cry because I was excited or nervous. I cried because I was happy. I was happy to see you. I was happy to hold you. I was happy to meet you. Daddy was there and together, we held you and said hello.

Grandma and Grandpa arrived and they were happy to see you too.

Later that day, Lolo and Lala arrived to say hello.

And, at last, Nico, Erica and Olivia got to meet their new brother!

Since that day, we have shared many things. The baby years were a happy blur. It was such a busy time for you to come into our lives. We were remodeling our house, your siblings were in grade school, there were soccer games, baseball games, all kinds of activities. But you were a trooper, going places with us, never complaining. Over the years we have watched you grow into the funny, spirited, loving boy that you are. You make me laugh more than you make me cry. I love how you have such a special bond with your siblings. How you make friends so quickly. I love the way you question things that don’t seem right to you, like why some people are homeless.  I love the way you accept other things so easily, like the magic of leprechauns.

I love the way that you have brought our family closer, just because you are here. I love that you help me to live a different life–a richer life.  I love that you remind me to be patient, to be kind, to find joy in small things. I know that sometimes it’s hard being the youngest one in the family, because you want to do things like your older brother and sisters. But, there will be time for all of that. I don’t want it to come too soon. I love each day I have with you and each birthday I celebrate with you. I am so glad to be your mommy, I am so glad to have met you,  seven years ago today. Happy Birthday, my sweet boy.

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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.