My First and Last Blog Post of 2015

Has it really been over one year since my last blog post? 13 months and 11 days to be exact. Looking back on these many months it’s not surprising. When I first started this blog I intended to use it as a creative space to write about my life as a mother raising four kids in a family of “Yours, Mine and Ours.” I wanted to explore such themes as blended families, parenting, divorce and remarriage, and delve deeper into my own family history, particularly my Mexican heritage. Over the last six years on this blog, I wrote about all of these things, and even had some of my posts published here and here.

As my children matured and reached adolescence, I wanted to shift the focus of my blog. I felt that some of the stories I wanted to write about were the kids’ stories to tell. This became even more complicated as one of our family members was faced with a mental health crisis which impacted our entire world. I felt I could no longer write about those funny or light hearted anecdotes when my heart felt dark and heavy. My writing did not seem authentic. I was presenting my family to the world in a Brady Bunch fashion, when most of the time it looked more like Modern Family without the laugh track.

Three years ago, as my blog started to gain some attention in the social media universe, I was contacted by Parade Magazine because they planned to do a story of the “New American Family.” The magazine was featuring the changing compositions of the American family and was going to include our blended family in the article and use our photo on the cover. I was excited about the project, and the prospect of the article generating more exposure to my blog. The kids were less excited but agreed to go along until the last minute, when our family member, displaying the emotional deregulation that would foreshadow a yet undiagnosed mental illness, refused to cooperate. Reluctantly, I called the magazine writer and told her that my family was no longer available to be the face of the new American family. I was angry and disappointed but looking at it now, I can see how difficult it would have been to depict our family in such a positive light, when the reality was so different. Mental illness began to wreck havoc on all our lives. I started to blog less and less, feeling like I could no longer write about my well blended life, when my life felt more like it was upside down and falling apart.

So, why post to my blog now, the last day of 2015? Juan jokingly said it’s because I need to justify the money I spent paying for my website server over the last year. I am posting now because it is the last day of 2015 and I want to mark it. An entire year has past without me memorializing a single event in my life or our family life. A lot has happened—both good and bad. I want to mark today as the end of my silent blog and the beginning of my authentic blog. I intend to be respectful of my kids’ stories and I also want to be honest about my story. I hope to find a way to balance both. I want to write truthfully about the experiences of my entire life—the happy, sad, funny, dark, and ordinary parts of it. Maybe that really is a life well blended.

Temporarily wheelchair bound.

10 Things I Learned After Surgery

Three weeks ago I had foot surgery. I am blessed with good genes on my mother’s side of the family, but I am also cursed with bunions, passed onto me by my maternal grandmother. My grandmother, who died at 97 years-old,  never had any health problems except for the pain in her joints and the bunions which made it difficult for her to walk in her last years.

Knowing my heredity, I was not surprised when my feet began to ache and it became more and more difficult to find shoes for my ever-widening feet. When I was 26 years-old the podiatrist recommended foot surgery to remove the bunion and correct the inward drift of my big toe on my right foot.  The surgery was uncomfortable, but not awful, and I bounced back quickly. I was up and around in a couple of days, using a fashionable orthopedic boot, and traveling for work one week later. My right big toe is now straight, has a barely visible scar and my right foot is pain-free. My left foot is another story.

My Left Foot (Pre-Surgery)

My Left Foot (Pre-Surgery)

All these years I have watched as my left big toe began to turn inward and my bunion grew more outward. Shoes and walking have become more painful. So much so, that I knew I needed to do something. The podiatrist agreed and we scheduled surgery. She warned me that I would have to take off at least two weeks from work. I protested and told her I only had a couple of weeks of vacation and couldn’t possibly be out of commission for that long. I made arrangements to be out of the office for one week and would be available to work from home during that time.  I assured my husband that although I would not be able to take our son trick-or-treating, I would be able to pass out Halloween candy, attend soccer games and drive carpool. I had been through this surgery before. I knew the drill. At least I thought I did.  Here is a list of the top 10 things I learned from this surgery:

1.  51 is Not the New 26.

When I told my very young and very pregnant podiatrist that I had been through this procedure before and I didn’t intend to take two full weeks to recover, she warned me that my body was no longer 26 years-old and it might take me longer than my intended week off from work. I shrugged off her remarks as coming from someone who didn’t understand that being a working mother of 4 means that you cannot stop moving.  Ever.  Besides, I knew what my body was capable of, I had endured 32 hours of labor, two c-sections and was driving carpool one week later!

Boy, was I wrong!  No matter how confident I felt going into the surgery, how youthful I feel emotionally and mentally, my body knows a different story.  At least this lesson reminded me that I need to continue to work on building bone mass, and flexibility.

2.  Healing is Hard Work.

Even after the pain had subsided and I stopped taking Vicodin, I was exhausted and had no energy. Walking from my bed to the recliner wore me out. I had a mental list of household chores I planned to do while I was home following surgery.  I also thought it would be a great time to write for NaBloPoMo like I have done before.  Needless to say, I didn’t get around to reorganizing dresser drawers, cleaning switch plates or blogging much.  The only thing my post-surgery body wanted to do was rest.

My view for the week after surgery.

My view for the week after surgery.

3. Vicodin and Crutches are Not a Good Combination.

The doctor gave me a prescription of Vicodin to fill before my surgery. I picked it up the week before and thought I probably wouldn’t need it since I have a pretty high tolerance for pain. Yeah, I’m Super Woman like that.  After my last foot surgery,  I only needed Tylenol to dull the pain.  After this surgery,  I could feel my foot throbbing as soon as I came out of anesthesia.  My parents brought me home from the surgery center and I immediately fell into the recliner and doubled down on the Vicodin.  Later, I used the crutches to get myself to the bathroom and nearly knocked down my father as he tried to help me navigate my way across the room.

Taking Vicodin before a conference call from home with your boss, and your boss’s boss is also not a good idea.

4.  Obstacles are Everywhere.

Ruts in the road, door thresholds, sidewalk cracks. When I began using the crutches I encountered obstacles everywhere.  It took me over a week to figure out how to ascend the two steps into my house and the step up into my bedroom.  I couldn’t attempt the steps without my husband and son by my side. I was constantly looking around for anything on the ground which would trip me up.  I would walk an extra 50 feet on crutches just to avoid a curb or uneven road. Consequently, I moved so slowly that everything I did took twice as long, and required a lot of effort.

5. Asking for Help is Humbling and Liberating.

My parents drove me home from surgery and stayed with me for the first day.  The second day I was home by myself and I spent most of it in bed, unable to move.  I couldn’t even get myself a glass of water. It was humbling because I am pretty independent and I realized I needed help, and it was terrifying since I was not prepared for a long recovery, and I had not arranged plans for my family to do without me for any length of time. I ended up calling other moms to arrange for my kids’ rides, receiving meals from a church friend, and asking my husband and children to pitch in with cooking, cleaning, and even bringing me things.  During the second week of recovery with still limited mobility, I called my mom and tried to hold back tears as I asked her to come stay with me for a couple of nights. She came and my family and I got some much-needed TLC. It was a relief for me to know that when I asked for help, I received it.

6. Knee Scooters are Liberating and Terrifying.

After the first week on crutches I ended up with aching elbows, a sore neck and stiff back. My cousin, who had endured a broken leg, recommended a knee scooter. It took some effort working with insurance but I finally got one.  The scooter allowed me to move more easily and even carry things in the attached basket.  I used the scooter when I went to the movies with Diego and his friend. I thought I’d show off my mad scooter skills, but didn’t realize that thing could go so fast. The boys yelled, “Brake, Brake!” as they watched me head towards parked cars in the sloping underground parking garage.   Diego was so excited about scooter, he begged me to let him have it when I no longer needed it.

7.  Qi is a Real Word.

So is Sup, Er, and Ut.

I’ve always loved Scrabble and during my post-op recovery period I played a lot of online Scrabble.  I improved putting down legitimate high scoring words, even if I don’t know their meaning. I even beat my husband at a couple of games.

8.  My Dog is a Good Nurse

Molly joined our family a few years ago.  She has always been a sweet dog, but her hyper, needy nature often irritated me.  I didn’t really appreciate her loving side until I had to spend three weeks home and immobile.  She sat with me on the recliner,  lay down on the couch beside me and she crawled into bed with me. When I got up to hobble around on crutches, or glide around on my scooter, she was right beside me.  She never left my side and was so protective, I was afraid I would run over her on the scooter or clobber her with a crutch.  She was such a good companion and caretaker, I know that if she had thumbs she would have gladly changed my bandages and given me medicine.

Never far from my side.

Never far from my side.

9. There Are Good People Everywhere.

Whenever I went out with my scooter or crutches, people offered to help me. They opened doors, cleared the way, reached up, bent down, just to accommodate me.  While we were in Las Vegas for the weekend, one (drunk) guy even slurred out words of encouragement and tried to fist bump me when he saw me in a wheelchair.

10. We are all TAPS (Temporarily Able-Bodied People)

I didn’t realize how much I need and rely on my physically able-body until now. Before surgery and recovery, I would become impatient with less able-bodied people as they crossed the street, crowded aisles in the grocery stores or moved, so slowly.  This experience helped me to appreciate my own physical abilities and be more empathetic to those with disabilities. It also helped me realize that we are all only a surgery or accident away becoming less able-bodied.

Temporarily wheelchair bound.

Temporarily wheelchair bound.

Making Kisstory: My Son’s First Rock Concert

This weekend was another milestone event for our family. Diego, now 10 years-old, went to his first ever rock concert. It wasn’t just any concert, it was a Kiss concert. Kiss, the band from the early 70’s, known for its Kabuki style make-up and theatrical effects including dripping blood, breathing fire, and exploding pyrotechnics, is my husband’s absolute favorite band.

Kiss fans like Juan, consider themselves members of the Kiss army and are as loyal to the band, as the band is loyal to fans. Juan has followed Kiss since he discovered them when he was Diego’s age, and has seen the band perform live over 25 times. Extreme? Maybe. I figure some men have really expensive, obsessive hobbies, like cars, golf, and fantasy football. One of my husband’s guilty pleasures is Kiss. Juan has shared his passion for Kiss with all of us in the family. I have gone to three concerts with Juan and he has attempted to recruit our kids into the Kiss army. Five years ago, Juan took the older kids to their first Kiss concert. The kids were good sports and put on full Kiss make-up. We even memorialized it in our Christmas card that year.

2009 Christmas card

2009 Christmas card

Juan was a proud papa, stopping with the kids to pose for pictures with other concert goers. The kids took it all in stride, even if Nico, then 11 years-old, fell asleep in the middle of the concert. Despite Juan’s efforts and the kids’ appreciation for Kiss, none of them joined the Kiss army.

The kids and Juan pose for pictures walking into the Kiss concert.

The kids and Juan pose for pictures walking into the Kiss concert.

A few months ago, Kiss announced that they would be performing at the Hard Rock Casino in Las Vegas. Since Diego was too young to go with Juan and his siblings before, Juan figured it was now time for Diego to get inducted into the Kiss Army. Juan bought tickets for the Saturday night concert and I made travel arrangements.

We drove to Las Vegas and did a little sight-seeing on Friday night and Saturday afternoon, then made our way back to the hotel to rest up and get ready for the big show. Unfortunately, Diego has never been a good napper, even when he was a baby, so despite being up past midnight on Friday and waking up at 7:00 a.m on Saturday, Diego did not nap. Diego was never really enthused about wearing Kiss make-up to the concert, so he just decided to wear his newly purchased Kiss t-shirt instead. Juan was a little disappointed they would go without make-up but he was still excited about seeing his favorite band in concert, and sharing the experience with his own son.

When we arrived at the Hard Rock, the place was teaming with Kiss fans. Even though we were in Vegas, an adult playground, there were several kids attending the concert. Most of them were wearing Kiss t-shirts, and several adults were wearing both Kiss t-shirts and make-up. Juan and Diego found their seats among the nearly sold-out arena. Unfortunately, the seats themselves were a huge disappointment. They were in the second to last row. Diego’s view was obstructed by a catwalk, and and somebody’s head. Perhaps it was all the hype, his overblown expectation of what a rock concert is about, or maybe just the lack of sleep, but Diego fought to hold back his tears of disappointment. Juan’s feelings were hurt, and he felt guilty about not splurging and paying for better seats. Then he felt resentful that we had gone to such lengths to create an experience for Diego which he did not seem to appreciate. Juan tried to ease Diego’s disappointment but it didn’t seem to work. Finally, Juan just tried to enjoy himself. When Kiss started playing “I Love it Loud” about 30 minutes into the 90 minute concert. Juan looked over at Diego and saw that Diego had fallen asleep!

Both Diego and Juan were subdued as we returned to our hotel room. You never would have guessed they had just returned from a rock concert. Diego asked me what he could do to make it up to his dad. I told him that his dad just wanted Diego to appreciate the effort his dad made so that they could share this experience together. Diego seemed surprised that I would say such a thing, and said that of course he appreciated it! He told his us that on a scale of about 1 to 100 the concert was about an 80 and 70 of that was because he got to spend time with his dad. For Diego, the best part of the experience wasn’t seeing Kiss live, it was spending time with someone better than any other rock star, his dad.

Diego and his Rock Star Dad at the Hard Rock.

Diego and his Rock Star Dad at the Hard Rock.

Remembering 9/11 With My Son

Yesterday, I received a message from Diego’s fourth grade teacher informing parents that her class would study the events of 9/11 using age appropriate materials. She also explained we had the ability to opt out if the lesson if we did not want our kids to participate.

Juan and I decided to allow Diego to participate but we wanted to prepare him. We began by asking what he already may know about 9/11. He told us he knew that two planes crashed into buildings in New York and a lot of people died.

Juan then showed Diego a short documentary for kids about 9/11 that he found on-line. We talked about Flights 93 and 77. which crashed into a Shanksville, Pennsylvania field and the Pentagon. Diego was surprised to learn about these other planes, and began to speculate about a cover-up. I guess conspiracy theorists start young.

Juan and I recalled for Diego what we were doing when the planes hit the towers. I told Diego that his brother Nico was only three years old back then, and watching TV when the first plane hit. Diego wanted to know if Nico was watching his then favorite film, The Goofy Movie. Interesting for Diego to relate such an epic event to something familiar to him like a Disney movie. Recalling these events with Diego last night, I decided to re-publish this post I wrote from the 10 year anniversary of 9/11:

One of the often asked questions of my parents generation was, “Where were you when Kennedy was shot?”  I remember hearing my parents talk about where they were when they heard the news that the president was shot while riding in a motorcade.  The question for this generation will probably be, “Where were you when the planes struck the Twin Towers?” It was such a tragic moment in U.S. history,  that it’s not hard to remember where one was when they heard the awful news.

I was at home, getting ready for work. I was a single mom of a 3 year-old. I woke up early,  and as usual, tried to keep quiet around the house as I took my shower, made breakfast and got dressed, while I let Nico sleep as long as he could.  When he finally woke up I turned on the TV so that he could stay occupied while I made him breakfast,  and got his clothes together.  Shortly after  7:00 am pacific time, my phone rang. It was Juan. We had just started dating a few months earlier, so it wasn’t that unusual for him to call me in the mornings and say hello.  He seemed frustrated and asked me where I had been and why I hadn’t answered the phone.  There was an urgency in his voice. He told me to turn on the TV. By this time the plane had struck the first tower.  He told me he would be right over, that he was going to drop Erica  and Olivia off at their grandmother’s house. Olivia was in the 1st grade. It was her 6th birthday and she was supposed to have a pizza party at school that day, but Juan and Olivia’s mom decided not to send Olivia to school after all.

I hung up the phone and turned on the television, just after the South Tower collapsed.  Juan arrived at my house shortly after that. I wanted his company. I did not want to be alone. Nico was still watching television in the family room, while Juan and I watched the North Tower go down from a small television in my room.  We weren’t sure if we should report for work.  Our office has a command post to call for such emergencies. We called in and were told not to come into work because of the threat level.  Juan’s workplace was downtown, while mine was just outside the civic center.  We were riveted to the television, watching in disbelief what was happening. I had visited New York a couple of times and I loved the city.  I was a native Angeleno and I lived in Southern California all my life, however, at that moment, I was a New Yorker. I felt the horror that those in New York must have been experiencing.

NYC Skyline in 2000 - Twin Towers in the background.

On the ferry from LIberty Island in 2002. The Towers are no longer part of the skyline.

Juan and I sat there all morning, watching the television reports, reliving the horror of those planes crashing into the towers.  Around midday we realized that even though Olivia had not gone to school that day, her classmates were counting on their pizza party.  Juan decided to take the pizzas to Olivia’s school.  I went with him. It seemed surreal to be walking through a grocery store picking up a cake, plates and napkins and getting pizza, on a day that America was attacked.  We went to her school and had the party. Olivia and her classmates were totally unaware of what had happened. They were happy to have pizza and sing Happy Birthday to Olivia. Olivia, with her beaming smile, was happy to be the center of attention.  Juan quietly told me how sad it was that for the rest of her life her birthday would be shared with such a horrible event.

Olivia at her birthday pizza party on 9/11/01.

Olivia's 6th Birthday - 9/11/01

After her pizza party, Juan and I wanted to do something other than go home and watch more news reports.  But we didn’t know what to do.  We decided to to a local pub, to be around other people. The pub had some other customers, but it was eerily quiet. Of course, the television was on and we watched more news reports and replays of the planes colliding. At the end of the day we had to go about our routines, picking up kids from school and daycare, and getting ready for the next day at work.

New Yorkers were dealing with the aftermath.  The President came on TV and asked us to go about our business.  The next day I went to the office. I tried to get on with business as usual. My brother was getting married 4 days later.  The bride’s grandparents from Illinois couldn’t get a flight out to the wedding. Some of the wedding guests had to cancel or make other travel arrangements. The wedding went on anyway, but even during the ceremony the priest made reference to the week’s event.  Two days after the wedding Juan and I decided to take the kids to Disneyland. We thought those wedding guests from out-of-town would want to go too. It turned out that most guests wanted to return home. It seemed like everyone else stayed home too. Disneyland was almost empty.

Olivia and Erica get an autograph from Mary Poppins in an almost deserted Disneyland.

California Adventure nearly empty one week after 9/11/01

Ten years later I can still vividly recall the days events from September 11th.  It was a day that changed America, and a day which I will probably always remember. It’s a day we should never forget.

A cross where Twin Towers used to stand.

Where were you when you heard the news that a plane struck the Towers, the Pentagon, or crashed in a field in Shanksville?

Family Movie Night

Recently, it was a big day in Diego’s life and in the life of our family. It was definitely blog worthy. Ten years ago, Diego entered our family and changed all our lives.  He had been talking about his big TEN birthday all year long. I guess he wanted to be sure that I would not forget that it was a special birthday for him. He really didn’t need to be concerned–his birthday also reminded me just how special his is to our family

I’ve written about Diego before and his special role in our blended family. Lately, the blending in our family is really a huge mess. It’s a lot more grinding, mashing and straining than blending. Last year Olivia left for college while things were tense at home. Erica has been spending most of the time at her mom’s while we try to stay connected and involved in her life. Nico is exercising his independence more and more. Juan and I are challenged to stay united and strong during these turbulent times.

On the eve of his 10th birthday, I asked Diego to tell me about some of his favorite things.  He recited a long laundry list of his “favorites.” Perhaps, in an effort to make up for the absence of record-keeping in his baby book. I promptly memorialized his list here:

Diego's Top Ten at Ten

Diego’s Top Ten at Ten

One of his “favorites” which surprised me a bit was when he said his favorite thing to do is, “Spend time with my family.”  I was surprised because for the last couple of years our family life has been so stressful that sometimes the least favorite thing for me to do is “spend time with my family.” There, I said it.  I sometimes feel that with all the chaos in our family, I am tempted run away and change my identity. But, this was about Diego, not me.  Diego loves it when we are all together, when his sisters are home and they can get along, when his brother stops talking on the computer or doing homework long enough to play video games with him, and when we can all sit down together for a family movie night.

On the eve of Diego’s 10th birthday,  Juan and I sat down and watched Diego’s birth video. One of my favorite parts of the video is when I am in my  hospital room and Juan brings the older kids into the room to meet Diego for the first time. Nine year-old Olivia bursts into tears, six-year old Erica is looking bewildered and excited and five year-old Nico is just taking it all in with a sweet smile. There’s a lot of excitement and chatter, and I explain to the kids that their new baby brother might recognize their voices. Olivia asks, “Did he think he was an only child?” I couldn’t help but burst out laughing! I laughed at the thought of how much Diego would have hated being an only child. In spite of the constant challenges we face in our blended family, Diego still experiences enough happiness that being with his family is one of his favorite things.

The next day with Olivia home from college, and Erica and Nico home from the other parents’, we all went to dinner to celebrate Diego’s birthday.  Afterwards, we went home to eat cake, and have a “family movie night” with Diego’s birth video.   The kids started laughing  at the sound and sight of younger versions of themselves, and of course we all burst out laughing hearing Olivia’s question and watching Erica put her unwashed hands all Diego’s face even when Juan told her to use the hand sanitizer! I looked over at Olivia and noticed that was tearing up and wiping her eyes as she watched her younger self weeping at the sight of her new brother.  Diego was beaming with pride and joy.  I looked at all of us, and felt joy at the sight and sound of us together and happy.  In that moment, I was reminded how this could be one of my favorite things too.

Meeting their brother in 2004.

...And Now

Celebrating with their brother in 2014.