Blogging from the Big Apple

I have been on vacation in New York. That is, if you call flying across the country with three kids, and two septuagenarians to attend a college graduation and family wedding, a vacation.  Don’t get me wrong, I love my family and I love to travel, but vacationing with a large family, to attend assorted family events makes it more family than vacation.

In the interest of economizing I booked our flight on a red-eye from LA to JFK.  I tried to prepare us all for red-eye flight by packing neck pillows and blankets.

Waiting to board the red-eye to NYC

We were scheduled to arrive in the city that never sleeps at the sleepy hour of 5:30 a.m. I thought  this was a good idea since it could  save us a few hundred dollars by not having to pay for the extra night in a hotel.  I figured that if we could check into our hotel early we could  rest and freshen up later.   I am also the kind of person who can sleep anywhere, including an airplane, and who needs sleep anyway?  Well, maybe my 70+ year-old parents and my kids could have used some.

Asleep at breakfast.

So much for my planning.  But,  eventually we did manage to get into our room shortly before noon, and everyone promptly went down for a long nap. Finally, about mid afternoon,  we headed out to explore the city. We stopped at Rockefeller Center.

In front of 30 Rock

And Diego and Nico stopped at the Lego Store in Rockefeller Center.

We strolled down 5th Avenue where my parents visited the Waldorf Astoria…

My parents, being the good Catholics that they are, wanted to visit the beautiful St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

Juan, being the Apple Fanboy that he is, wanted to visit his cathedral…

We ended up at Central Park for a carriage ride.

The family in a carriage at Central Park
Diego in Central Park

Then took the subway to Times Square, where we took more pictures  and saw ourselves on the Jumbo-tron.

There was much more on our list that we wanted to do, but time,  money, and energy prevented it. So, we ended our first day in the city with a meal at Juniors and their famous cheesecake.

On Day Two in NYC we had planned on heading out to Ground Zero, and having an early lunch in Little Italy and then take the 1:00pm tour of the Statute of Liberty. I had the foresight to book the Statue of Liberty tour online months ago, but wasn’t able to book the tour to the inside of the torch since it was sold out until August!  What I didn’t’ have the foresight to do was account for the inevitable delay that occurs when you are traveling with such a large and diverse age group like mine. Let’s just say that traveling with my family is  a lot like herding cats. I also did not plan on it taking nearly an hour to get from the upper East side to financial district in our rental van. By the time we arrived at our $45 (!) parking lot we had to sprint to make it to the ferry that would take us to Liberty Island.  We finally managed to board the ferry, and had a great memorable  time touring this landmark in the rain, wearing our trash bags rain gear.

The kids made all kinds of inappropriate jokes as their brother posed under Lady Liberty's nostril.
It was a foggy, rainy day at Liberty Island.

Running low on energy and time, we had to skip the Ellis Island tour and headed back to Ground Zero where we took in the very moving exhibit at the World Center Tribute Center.  By the end of the tour we were all feeling pretty drained so we thought some authentic NY style pizza was in order. Unfortunately, we couldn’t find anything that looked like an authentic NY pizzeria so we ended up at a little hole in the wall that had only two bar stools and a standing eating counter. After two days of walking the NY sidewalks, our feet were tired, and even though next door there was a Papa Johns Pizza  with plenty of seating, we were unwilling to compromise comfort for “authentic” NY pizza by the slice. This “experience” finished us off and we limped back to our van so we could make the 2 hour drive north to the Hudson River Valley to attend the graduation of my cousin from West Point the next morning.

The graduation ceremony was very inspiring, and was a nice educational tie-in to the previous days sites we had visited.  At the conclusion of the ceremony the graduating cadets throw their hats in the air and the kids attending are allowed to enter the field  retrieve one. Erica, Nico and Diego each got a hat. Inside the hat, the cadet had written their name and included a message of inspiration and/or money. Erica and Diego both got nice notes in their hat and Erica got $50!  I promptly told her she could use the money to buy her own NY souvenirs, since NYC has to be the most expensive place for a family vacation!

The rest of the weekend was spent with family, attending the ceremonial pinning of lieutenant bars on my cousin overlooking the Hudson River at Trophy Point, and a celebratory brunch at the historic Thayer Hotel.

Sunny skies at West Point’s Trophy Point.
My cousin gets her Lieutenant bars overlooking the Hudson River.

On one of our last days we were supposed to attend my cousin’s wedding at 2:00pm at the West Point Catholic Chapel.  However, someone forgot to inform the bride and groom that NY state law requires the marrying couple wait 24 hours after getting the marriage license before getting married. Since my cousin got her marriage license on her wedding morning, the priest refused to marry her. Oops! With some last-minute scrambling and frantic phone calling, an unofficial wedding was rescheduled for the guests at 2:45 at a protestant chapel.  The official Catholic wedding would take place the following day,  after the requisite waiting period, and after we left for our trip home.

Once the happy couple’s ceremony was concluded, we proceeded to the official reception with an official open bar.  My kids cleaned up real nice and everyone had a great time.

The other wedding guests seated at our table remarked how well-behaved our kids were, and asked how we did it?  I revealed our secret. I told them that we pinch them under the table any time they start to misbehave. Actually, I was pleasantly surprised that after over four days of traveling and sight-seeing my kids were still getting along pretty well and they remembered their table manners. And I was even more surprised,  shocked actually, at how grown up they suddenly seemed…hanging out at the bar ordering Rob Roys and Shirley Temples and dancing all night.

Whose son is this?
Diego worked it all night long!

All in all it turned out to be a good trip. But, after all the coordinating of travel plans, schedule snafus and family obligations, I am ready for a REAL vacation. One that involves me, and a beach,  and a drink that isn’t named after a 1940’s child movie star.


Lunchtime Stories, Chapter 2

This week I again went to visit my grandmother during my lunch hour, although it wasn’t to gather more research for my Historias page. This time I went to visit my grandmother for something more serious, but necessary. My grandmother is 97 years-old. She is feisty, and independent, and grows more stubborn each passing year.  She insists on living on her own, in the same house she has lived in for over 50 years.  She continuously rejects any offers from her children to go and live with them. She would rather live in her own house, on her own terms, rejecting  her children’s offers to clean her house, weed the yard and do any needed repairs. Plumbers, handyman, electricians have all had the front door slammed in their face as my grandmother turns them away when they are summoned by my parents to go to the house for necessary maintenance. In her mind, my grandmother, the one who sewed clothes, cooked meals, tended to a  garden and upholstered her furniture– in her own mind she is still capable of doing all of these things, on her own. In truth, and in fact, she is not. 

This week, when I arrived at my grandmother’s I was greeted with the same  cry I usually receive, “Que Milagro!” Never mind that I have been a regular weekly visitor lately. It’s still a miracle when I go to see her. Then she always asks for the children. “How are my Diego, and Nico? What about that Erica?” I don’t bring them often enough, even though I know she would love to see them. She can’t stop beaming when they are around. Luckily, my kids love her too. Diego will throw his arms around her neck, bringing me great distress that he might break her. Nico approaches her shyly at first but then hugs her warmly. Erica, my step-daughter, is not blood related to my grandmother.  Still, Erica is content to sit with my grandmother and hold her hand. Erica, who deeply misses her own grandmother since she died two years ago, once told me, “Diana, I love your Grandmother. She smells like my Grandma Lupe.”  But this time, my kids were not there. No. It was only me, and my mom, and my uncle. We were there to make sure my grandmother signed the Medical Durable Power of Attorney.

When my grandmother was 92 she broke her hip. My mother and grandmother were leaving a neighbor’s party when my grandmother lost her footing and fell to the ground. She refused to go to the hospital, until the next morning when she woke up and could not move without feeling excruciating pain. My mother had stayed the night with her. It was obvious that my grandmother needed help. Still, she would not be taken to the hospital in an ambulance. So my dad arrived and carried her to the car. They drove her to the doctor where she was told she had broken her hip. She needed surgery and recovery in a convalescent home. We all thought that would be the beginning of the end for her. But, she amazed everyone and made a full recovery and was sent home a couple of weeks after surgery. That was five years ago. Since then, my mother has constantly worried about what would happen to my grandmother when she needed medical care again. My mother can’t even talk to my grandmother’s doctors unless my grandmother is present or gives her consent. My grandmother has resisted all efforts to get her sign a durable medical power of attorney. We needed to do this, and the longer it was left undone, the more it caused my mother distress.

I was there to lend support, and because I know a little bit about law, I was there to explain to her why it was necessary. My grandmother did not like it at all. She was really mad. She told us that if she signed the document she would be sure to get sick. She asked why we always bothered her about this, and accused us of never visiting her unless it was to ask her to sign the document. It was terrible. It was painful for my mom, to be accused of not caring. My mother, who visits her own mother twice a week, and calls her twice a day to remind her to take her medication.  The notary, who we had arranged to be present for the signing, offered an encouraging word to my grandmother saying, “It’s for your own good.” My grandmother, snapped, “How do you know what’s good for me?” My grandmother’s beautiful hazel eyes dampened with tears, as she tried to keep herself from crying, resisting the idea that she would  lose control of her own medical decisions and put them into the hands of someone else.

I also fought hard to keep from crying. When I read to her the section of the document which asked if she would want extreme measures to be provided for her care, I became emotional, thinking of a day sometime in the future when my grandmother may be in need of life-saving care, but it would not be administered. When I explained what “extreme measures” meant, and how I would not want my children to see me in such condition if and when that day came, I could barely keep from crying tears for myself, and my own future adult children.

Finally, finally, we convinced her. She signed. The tension and emotion lifted in the room. The notary finished with her business and left. I started to leave and told my grandmother I would see her again soon and come for another visit next week. I told her that we would never have to discuss the document again. Next time I go to visit my grandmother it will be to talk about her childhood, her young married years, and the years raising her family and playing with her grandchildren. Soon, I will bring my kids to see her again. Diego will hug her until she nearly breaks and Erica will hold her hand, taking in her Grandmother scent.

Me and my mom, Erica, Nico and Diego with my Grandmother

Lunch Time Stories

I made another attempt at doing some more research for my “Historias” page yesterday. I went to see my grandmother and mother during my lunch break. It was a welcome respite from the gang, drug and sex abuse cases I deal with during my job in the criminal justice system.  The cases which are stories that all too often do not have happy endings.

When I arrived for lunch my mother was already there. She comes at least once a week to visit my grandmother who refuses to leave the house she has lived in for longer than I can remember.  My grandmother, of course was there too. She was a little disoriented, but at nearly 97 years-old, she’s entitled. She asked my mom three times, if the food my mom brought over was for her.  My grandmother finally stopped fussing in the kitchen, and settled down to eat her “hot cakes and sausage” while my mom and I enjoyed our Caldo de Pollo. My grandmother began to recount some of the stories from her youth with clarity and animation. My grandmother’s stories transported me to another time, when catching flu in the year 1918 was fatal, and when the death of a spouse meant homelessness and poverty for a widow with three young children under 10. I deal with tragedy and ugliness everyday in my job, but when I view it through the lens of a young 5 year-old girl who happens to be my grandmother recounting her history, it is vivid, it is real.  I listen to her story and realize that the woman she is today, the mother who has given birth to 6 children, 2 of whom did not live past one month, and another who died at 42; the grandmother who has helped to raise 9  grandchildren, but has also buried one of them; the woman whose life has given her memory filled with happiness and sadness; this woman who now has difficulty remembering how the food she is eating was put on her plate, I can’t help but think that her’s is a story with a happy ending.