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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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!

Battle Hymn of the Paper Tiger Step-Mom

Recently there was a lot of furor over the book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mom. It was a memoir that featured the tyrannical parenting style of a Chinese American mom and the clash between raising kids in our permissive Western culture of  self-esteem-as-paramount, and the Eastern culture’s value of hard-work-and strict-discipline as the key to successfully raising children. I have not yet read this book, nor can I say that I personally subscribe to any of these philosophies, although I must admit I have a lot of respect for the Tiger Mom who can pull this off and not cause her child to go into therapy over it.

There is one philosophy I do value in parenting, and that is consistency.  I am not saying I can’t be flexible, or that I am perfect, but I do believe that consistency is very important in parenting.  In most two-parent households, no doubt there are parenting disagreements, but it’s usually best if the parents maintain a show of unity and consistency.  What happens when you are in a co-parenting situation with four adults, three households and four kids? Chaos sometimes reigns over consistency.

As a step-parent, I know that I have no real ability to discipline my husband’s kids. My role is chiefly to support my husband in his parenting.  And, in a case like ours, where all the parents are generally amicable, I also support the girls’ mom in raising the girls. Even though I am not supposed to be a disciplinarian, I am sometimes asked to help out with enforcing rules. But truly, it’s the bio parents who should have complete authority.  And when the girls have been grounded for misbehaving, and I am asked, along with their dad,  to carry out their punishment and back up their mother, that is also my responsibility.  Even if it means that I feel like I am being punished too because I have to keep the girls housebound over spring break, a time when they would otherwise be out with friends, at the beach or having fun.  But in the spirit of consistency we carry out the punishment over our custody period, even though we were not the ones to impose the punishment.

We try to be consistent even though it means that the girls will complain and harp endlessly about how UNFAIR life is that they are in LOCK DOWN.  And so, for several days, I turn a deaf ear to the petitions, the cries and complaints about the grounding, just to be consistent. But our girls are stars on the debate team. Their dad and I are lawyers. They know that sometimes, if you plead enough, or if you take your case to another venue, your pleas might be heard, your request might be granted. They know that chipping away has proven effective, and if they chip hard enough, they will break your will.  Today, when we woke up, one of our girls showed us a text that had come in overnight from her mother, long after we had gone to bed, and long after we told our daughter to go to bed. The text read, “Sure, you can be ungrounded.”  This, after we were expressly asked to” ground the girls through the weekend.” Now we were being told by our daughter that she was ungrounded? What happened to backing each other up? What happened to consistency?

Needless to say, I was frustrated. I was going to keep my frustrations to myself, but then my husband encouraged me to write about it. I am sure I am not the only one out there with experiences like this. I know it happens all the time in blended families, and even in nuclear families.  When I decided to write about it,  my husband suggested the title. He was frustrated too, so I knew he was not referring to me as the “Paper Tiger Mom.” But now that I have just written the post, I can see that as the step-mother with no real authority, I too am the “Paper Tiger Mom.” What about you, do you ever feel like a paper tiger parent?

Spelunking in the Lost and Found Box

At the beginning of the school year I bought Diego two hoodies and a new rain jacket. His public school has a uniform policy so the hoodies complied with the policy and were blue and grey and free of any logos. I thought that  three new jackets, coupled with the two that still fit from last year would be enough to get him through the winter months.

I figured he had at least one to use, and one to lose. Diego, however, took this literally. Too literally, because this morning as we made our usual dash out the door I asked Diego where his jacket was. He looked at me blankly. “Well, I left it on the playground and I can’t find it.” I went to his closet, hoping to find at least one of his 4 other jackets. What was I thinking? Good thing we live in Southern California and we aren’t experiencing frigid temperatures like the rest of the country. Diego made do with his long-sleeved uniform shirt.

I rushed him into the classroom just as the tardy bell rang, and rummaged through the classroom closet, hoping to recover a lost hoodie. No luck. I walked outside to the deserted playground hoping to spy a lone hoodie hanging from the money bars or abandoned on the empty field. Nope. This meant only one thing. I headed towards the school cafeteria, wishing I brought my rubber gloves and shower cap. I knew just where I needed to look, the Lost and Found Box. When I saw the box, I gasped.

There was not just one box..

There were TWO.

Two big boxes overflowing with blue, and grey jackets and an occasional non-regulation, illegal logo laden jacket.  I got squeamish at just the thought of having to pick through those boxes to find Diego’s missing jackets. I thought maybe it would be easier to go buy some new ones, but my cheap thrifty side would not allow it. I tried to keep my breakfast down as I picked through the box. Almost immediately I spied last year’s hoodie. It was easy to find because, in desperation, I allowed Diego to wear it to school even though it was both white and had a logo. Next, I began my Where’s Waldo quest trying to find the navy blue and  grey hoodie. As I dug towards the bottom of the box, I tried to keep my thoughts from racing about all the germs I was being exposed to. Then, I spied it! I found the grey hoodie! I could tell it was Diego’s because his name that I had written on it had not completely faded. Two down, two to go and one more box of bacteria laden, germ infested jackets.

I kept thinking about all those jackets carrying who knows what kind of mites or possibly, (gasp) lice. As I plowed through the second Lost and Found box I came across–could it be? His rain jacket?  Similar style. Same color. No name. Wrong size.  The rain jacket was probably lost forever, gone into the vast universe of unmated socks and missing clothing.

 I took another breath and dove back into the box,  this time emerging with a blue hoodie in Diego’s size 7! There was no name on it but I took it anyway. I don’t remember if I had the foresight to put his name on this jacket, or if the writing had faded enough preventing me from seeing it. I figured this was karma. Maybe,  in the cosmic universe of Lost Clothing and Un-mated Socks, this was a way of rewarding me for braving the dark, germ infested depths of the Lost and Found Box.

Wacky Wednesday

I have been Erica and Olivia’s step-mother for 8 years now and there are a couple of things I have come to know about them. One of the things I know is that the girls are fascinated with the supernatural, and Olivia in particular, loves scary things.  For a while now Olivia has wanted a ouija board. She asked for one for Christmas but her dad and I refused to get her one. (Something about wanting a device to communicate with ghosts and the celebration of Christ’s birth really didn’t sit well with us.) Anyway, Olivia’s Christmas wish was recently fulfilled when she received an ouija board from a friend. It is the Milton Bradley game version, but it is  a ouija board nonetheless.

The second thing I have come to learn about the girls is that they do not like to share. They do not share anything, clothes, electronics, even food.  Sharing is simply not part of their culture. Rather, the girls “trade.” And the trade doesn’t happen unless it is the result of a hard-fought negotiation that works out to the advantage of each girl.

Another thing I have learned over the last 8 years, while my kids have attended catholic school, is that every February, the school has spirit week. Spirit week is part of Catholic schools week. During Spirit Week the kids dress up in a particular theme. For catholic school kids this is big fun, since it means they don’t have to wear their school uniform and the theme usually involves some kind of fun activity for the day.  So what is the point of me knowing these things about Olivia, Erica and Spirit Week at catholic school? I am glad you asked.

This morning Erica was taking an unusually long time to get ready. When she emerged from her bedroom she was dressed in bright purple sweater, turquoise tennis shoes, and she had her hair done up into two lopsided ponytails. I thought about telling her that her ponytails were crooked, but we were so late already I decided against it. Erica also came out carrying a big shopping bag with another sweater stuffed on top. Our conversation on the drive to school went something like this:

Me: What’s in the bag?

E: My lunch and supplies.

Me: Really? What kind of supplies?

E: Stuff for spirit week.

 Me: Oh. What kind of stuff.

 E: Stuff.

 HMMM.

 Me: What is today’s theme for spirit week?

 E: Wacky Wednesday.

Me: Oh. So that explains the lopsided ponytails, and colorful clothing.  (But wait, why did she need a second sweater?)

 Me: Why do you have a sweater on top of that bag?

 E: I might need it. (From the girl who will wear a tank top in cold, rainy weather.)

 Me: What’s really in the bag?

 SILENCE

 Me: You might as well tell me what’s in the bag because I am going to look inside anyway.

 E:  It’s a ouija board.

 Me: Olivia’s ouija board?

 E: Yes. She told me I could take it to school.

 Me:  Really. Olivia let you take her ouija board? And you think it’s a good idea to bring a ouija board to catholic school?

 SILENCE.

 I made her leave the ouija board in the car. She’ll have to participate in Wacky Wednesday without a oujia board. Tomorrow it’s Letter day. Erica’s letter is Q. She’s going dressed as a question mark. Sigh.

Mommy Melt-Down and a Teachable Moment

One of the most important jobs I face as a mother of two boys is to help them become men. Independent, strong, sensitive, caring men, who are good, capable citizens, and can cook, clean, and do their own laundry.  One of the jobs I face as a parent in a blended family, and co-parenting with the other parents is completing and communicating the hot lunch order.

Let me explain.  Our shared full-custody with the Nico’s dad and Erica and Olivia’s mother has evolved to a week on/week off arrangement. When the kids were younger we would split the week between the two houses. Now that they are older, the kids want to stay longer periods of time at each house. Nico’s hot lunch order form is submitted to the school on my off-week. I never know if his dad has ordered it during my week. The hot lunch order for Erica falls on my week. I order it for her, and if I can remember, I email the order to Erica’s mom.  I am pretty organized but, it can sometimes feel like a Herculean task to keep the lunch orders straight.  So, on days like today when the lunch order slips through the cracks, and I am frantically trying to make breakfast, and I am making last-minute alterations on Nico’s too tight uniform pants, because he left his other ones at his Dad’s house, the atmosphere is ripe for a melt-down. A Mommy Melt-down.

Nico is a wonderful 12 year-old boy. He is loving, kind, smart and funny. He moves at his own pace, but sometimes that pace is not fast enough for me.  When, 10 minutes before we were supposed to leave the house, I realized he hadn’t gotten himself dressed, we couldn’t figure out the hot lunch order and he came back empty-handed when I asked him to get the bread out of the refrigerator, I lost it. I reverted to parenting from the 1960’s. Humiliation as a motivational tool. When Nico’s eyes filled with tears, I dug deeper. “Why are YOU crying?” Ugh. Not one of my finer parenting moments.

How many times did I hear that as a child and know that no matter how hard I tried to keep from crying, those words only turned on the water works even more. Here I was parenting in the same style I had grown up with. My parents are loving, good people. But parenting as I was growing up was  different from today. I don’t even think they used “parenting” as a verb. I think it was called disciplining. Haven’t you seen Mad Men? So, in this New Year, where I try to have more compassion, faulting him for his tears, not living up to my expectations, isn’t exactly compassionate is it? How can I expect him to always remember the hot lunch order or his uniform, when I  have trouble in the shifting between two households? If he can’t find his way around the kitchen, and assert some self-sufficiency, whose fault is that? Mine. (Well, his Dad’s too.)

I need to do a better job.  When I am in the kitchen cooking, he can help.  And if the uniform pants don’t come back from his Dad’s or the hot lunch order isn’t communicated, I need to help Nico figure out what to do to fix it. Sure I can take it on myself, but then I am not doing my job either because I fail to teach him to do things for himself.  I will be setting myself up for another mommy melt-down when he doesn’t behave like the self-sufficient, independent young man I expect him to be but have failed to help him become.

Tonight, I will sit down with Nico and tell him I’m sorry for this morning’s meltdown. I will tell him I love him and what I expect of him.  I don’t think this would have been part of the 60’s era parenting style, but it’s a new era, and for me personally it’s a new year, a year in which I try to live out compassion in all that I do.

Freaky Friday

Have you seen this movie? It’s the Disney tale of a teenage daughter and her mother in classic parent/teen conflict who experience a body switch for a day to help them understand each other. That part about the parent and teen conflict? That is my life lately, and it is not easy to write about. The past few weeks I have posted about the fun times in my life, and called those posts “Fun Fridays.” This Friday is not fun. In fact, it’s completely not fun. 

Yet, as difficult as it is a parent trying to negotiate your way through teen drama, the Freaky Friday experience let’s me catch glimpses into my own painful experiences as a young teen. That terrible trying-to-fit-in-I-want-to-hang-with-the-popular-girls-please-cute-boy-like-me-stage.  It reminds me how it felt to go home to parents who couldn’t’ possibly understand what it meant to be in middle school and feel the peer pressure and the academic pressure to keep up. How it felt to be the only one in the universe with parents who were so strict and old-fashioned that I couldn’t wait to get out of their clutches. As I am witness to all her teen anguish it pains me to see her hurt, and yet I find it hard to overcome my own resentment and impatience at her self-centered, disrespectful behavior. It’s even more troubling for me because I am only the step-mother, and my role is limited.  I am there to support my husband, her father, in raising her. My own mothering instinct kicks in and I feel the need to discipline, and intervene so that I can maintain some degree of calm in the midst of this storm, and protect the rest of the household. 

I feel badly for her, guilty about my own feelings of impatience and anger, sad for my husband who is doing the best he can, loving her in this storm, and feeling unloved in return.  I almost wish we could have that Disney moment.  A moment filled with clarity after the parent and daughter, having  switched places and after returning to their own bodies, each gain valuable insight and a deeper appreciation for each other. But our own version of this movie has just begun.  Even though her father and I have been through our own adolescence, and we should be able to understand her, in the heat of the battle we forget what it’s like. And because, she is still weathering her own adolescence, and has yet to experience the “joys” of parenthood, she cannot understand how it feels as parents to be deemed irrelevant and considered the cause of all that is wrong in life. 

In the Disney movie the mother, played by Jamie Lee Curtis, and the teen daughter, played by Lindsey Lohan, work out their differences and you are left with the impression that they will have a good relationship. But, I fear what every parent of a teen must fear, that in real life it may not always work out so happily. Look at Lindsey’s life now? I only hope that this too shall pass and my Freaky Friday experience works out like the Disney film version.