Family Vacation in Colombia: A Wish Come True?

I am writing this somewhere over Mexico, en route to El Salvador. My final destination is some two hours after that, Medellin Colombia. Why Colombia? Well, you might recall, a little over 3 years ago Juan and I traveled to Italy for my 50th birthday, and as part of my list of 50 Things to Do Before 50.  Juan didn’t have a list of 50 things he wanted to do, but he liked the idea of taking a birthday trip. We considered all sorts of destinations to mark his milestone birthday—Argentina, Spain, or perhaps even Portugal? They all sounded like wonderful and romantic locations for the both of us to get away. Ultimately, his birthday wish was to travel to Colombia. The country of his parents’ birth, the country where he spent many happy summer vacations of his youth, and the place where found solace when his first marriage ended. So here we are traveling on, appropriately enough, Father’s Day. It’s an appropriate day to begin this trip because the second part of Juan’s birthday wish was that we take this trip with all four of our kids. He wanted to experience Colombia with our kids, and show them how special this country is to him, and introduce them to the extended family who live here. You know that adage, “Be careful what you wish for, because you might just get it?” That’s kind of how I am feeling.

Blogging somewhere over the Americas.

Blogging somewhere over the Americas.

If I sound like I am anxious about this trip, it’s because I am. Not since our disaster of a family vacation in 2008 have I ever dared to think we would all travel together for any extended period of time. That year, I spend an inordinate amount of money and time planning a week-long vacation at a beautiful resort on the Mexican Riviera. I had high hopes that the kids would spend hours on end in one of the four resort pools, complete with a lazy river and water slide. They would occupy themselves while Juan and I lounged poolside, reading and sipping tropical drinks. Instead, one of us spent the majority of time sleeping in the darkened hotel room, others complained of heat, humidity, foreign food, and the lack of internet, some of us got the “Turista” and the balance of the time we spent trying to pretend we were enjoying ourselves. The week ended with a major meltdown where some of us ended up flinging clothes at each other and the rest of us couldn’t wait to get home and back to work again.

A happy moment before the turista hit and the vacation imploded.

A happy moment before the Turista hit us and the vacation imploded.

Here it is eight years later and we are trying it again. This is not to say we haven’t all been together for any trips. We did a short camping trip with friends who ran interference among siblings, and we took a vacation with my extended family.  There were enough adults to act as referees, allowing us all to get away relatively unscathed. That is, until the ride home from the airport which ended with an embarrassing teenage temper tantrum, and my parents racing to their car so they could drive themselves home to their peaceful retired life.

This time around I am trying to manage expectations and yet I still have hope this vacation will be different. The “kids” are not kids anymore. They are almost 21, 18, 17 and 11. Olivia just got home yesterday after a semester in France. Maybe her travels abroad and maturity will enable her to roll with the punches and not throw any at her sister. Erica has gone through a lot in the last year, and she has learned techniques to help her regulate her emotions. Now, If she could just put the techniques to use when she feels triggered. Nico has always flown under the radar, and acts with the neutrality of Switzerland during most family conflict, even when he knows better than to stay silent. With only two months left before he leaves home for college, I hope he can find it in himself to speak out instead of going along to get along. Diego is just the right age to enjoy this vacation with the siblings he loves, and not so old that he doesn’t want to hang out with his parents. I am also excited to see how fluent he has become since finishing his elementary school education in a Spanish language immersion program. As for Juan and I, we know that with the kids being the ages they are, this could very well be the last time we vacation together as a family. I just hope that we all get along well enough that none of us regret Juan’s birthday wish.

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Ready for take-off. Who looks more nervous?

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.

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.

Treasuring the Treasure Hunt

When I was about 12 years old my family went on a road trip to visit relatives. My cousin and her family drove in their van along with us.  During a particularly boring stretch of highway 5 I asked to ride with my cousin. We sat on the floor in the back of the van, (without seat belts) and amused ourselves by telling stories, and playing games. One of the games we played involved giving each other the chills. My cousin taught me a rhyme that went like this:

Going on a treasure hunt,

Going on a treasure hunt.

Up goes the snake that bites,

Down goes the blood,

Cool breeze.

Tight squeeze.

Now,  you’ve got the chills.

As she said the rhyme my cousin tapped my back (treasure hunt), pinched my neck (snake bite), blew on my spine (cool breeze),  and squeezed my ribs (tight squeeze). By the time she traced her fingernails along my back and uttered the words, “Now you’ve got the chills,” my skin was covered with goosebumps.

When I became a mother, I learned that bedtime rituals are an important part of helping kids transition to sleep. I made sure I performed the typical rituals of bathing, brushing teeth, and reading books. Now that my youngest child is 9 years-old he takes care of most of these rituals himself. But one ritual my son Diego will not ever let me miss is the Treasure Hunt.

Every night after he has completed his bedtime hygiene he tells me, “Come on Mommy, let’s go.” Then, I follow him to bed where I squeeze in next to him and begin the Treasure Hunt. Using  my longish fingernails, I tap, pinch, blow, squeeze and trace my fingers on his back.  Diego not only gets goosebumps, the hair on his arms stands on end. Some nights I am so preoccupied or tired that I beg off doing the Treasure Hunt, and suggest his dad do it instead. My husband, the nail biter, is a poor substitute.

Last week, on a night when I was so busy I still hadn’t finished the dinner dishes by 9:00pm, I grumbled that maybe he should ask his Dad to tuck him into bed. Diego’s face appeared so crestfallen that I was promptly reminded that these rituals wouldn’t last forever and the dinner dishes could wait. I lay down in his twin size bed and began…”Going on a treasure hunt….” When I was done I heard Diego shudder and saw his arms covered in goosebumps.  I laughed softly, happy I made time for this moment. These times will pass all too quickly. Then, we had this exchange:

Me: What are you going to do when you’re all grown up? I’m not going to do the Treasure hunt.

Diego: Why not?

Me: Well, you won’t be living here and you may be married. Besides, your wife might get jealous.

Diego: She won’t be jealous. You can do the Treasure hunt on her too.

It worked! He's asleep.

It worked! He’s asleep.

Do you have any special rituals that you do before bedtime?

My Labor, His Day

This year Labor Day has a special meaning for me. That’s because today is my son Nico’s 15th birthday. 15 years ago today he was born after an excruciating 27 hours of labor.  That’s right, 27 hours. If I had a blog back then, heck, if I knew what the internet was back then, I might have blogged about it. I may have written about it like other mommy bloggers memorialize their children’s birth stories. It probably would have served as a lesson for all those expectant mothers who are so wedded to a “birth plan” that they throw good sense out the window, ignoring the advice of their obstetricians, friends and even their own husbands.  Since I didn’t have a blog back then I couldn’t post my son’s birth horror story for all the world to read. No worries, the events are burned in my brain enough that today, 15 years later, I can recount it all. Spoiler alert: it all ends well, which is why I am posting this on my son’s 15th birthday.

Nicolas, or Nico as we still call him, was expected to make his arrival on August 16, 1998. I knew that the date was accurate, since I had been charting my fertile periods for months.  I was excited and nervous about the birth, but relieved that my pregnancy had progressed so well, even after two previous miscarriages. As soon as I got past the 12 week mark I began to let myself think about the childbirth experience I wanted.

I read about the different methods and resolved to have a natural, low intervention childbirth, the Bradley way. My then-husband and I enrolled in a Bradley birthing class.  We did the homework, including focus exercises, practice birthing positions, massage, and we even wrote a two page birth plan. The birth plan included instructive  phrases like “non-intervention” and specific instructions for the music we pre-recorded, the non-use of medication, and even that the baby would immediately placed on my chest when he was born. I never even thought to include words like epidural, fetal monitor, episiotimy, or, c-section.

I took my leave from my law office four weeks before my due date and spent the time nesting and resting. August 16 came and went. All the while I noticed every twinge, cramp or ache, and thought, “This was it!” But every little cramp and turned out to be a false alarm.

Every other day I would visit my doctor who would monitor the baby’s heart rate. And every other day he would tell me that we could induce labor. Every other day I  refused. I was determined it would happen naturally.  As the long, hot days of August wore on, I became more and more uncomfortable and more and more anxious to speed things along “naturally.” I read all I could about inducing labor and even tried a few natural remedies–herbs, a restaurant that was famous for its spicy salad dressing known to induce labor, acupressure, even S-E-X. (Ugh). Nothing worked.

Finally, on August 31, 15 days past my due date, I went into labor. I was awakened from my sleep at about 3:00 am., with excruciating back pain.  I was definitely in labor but the contractions were still about 20 minutes apart.  I called the doctor and she said I was in early labor and to call again when my contractions were closer together.  This was it! The backache was painful but I managed it with all the exercises I’d learned in my Bradley classes.  “Here we go,” I thought, until around mid-day when my contractions  seemed to stop.

We went to the doctor and he said I was definitely in labor but I still had a ways to go.  We went home and tried to get things started again. Walking around the block, stretching, squatting. Finally, around dinner time we went out to Thai food and I ordered extra spicy, recalling that I read somewhere about capiscium helping to induce labor. I called a mid-wife and she recommended I try an enema. Yeah. No thanks. I wanted things natural, but not that natural.

That night I went to bed feeling tired, frustrated and anxious. Shortly after midnight on September 2, I was awakened by back pain, more intense than ever.  For the next four hours I managed the pain using my Bradley exercises. About 5:00 am, my water broke and I realized there was meconium in the fluid! The dreaded baby’s first poop in the embryonic sack. Everyone had warned me about this and I didn’t listen.  I panicked and we called my doctor and Bradley instructor. She came over immediately and tried to calm me down. I could hardly stand the back pain as she explained that it was likely that my son’s head was putting pressure on my spine, causing the back labor.

My husband drove us to the hospital during morning rush hour traffic while I tried to manage the back pain and now full-blown contractions by facing backwards in the front passenger seat, draping my torso over the top of the seat.  It seemed to take forever to get to the hospital, which was normally 25 minutes away.  After I was admitted to the hospital things seemed to happen quickly even though I labored another six hours without pain medication.

Finally, after about 24 hours of labor, I was so exhausted I could no longer focus and concentrate, I broke down and asked for the epidural. I cried, not because the needle hurt, but because of my disappointment in myself. Then I cried because I was relieved to be free of the pain of back labor.  At last, the pain was gone and I was able to sleep.

An hour later I awoke to the sound of alarms beeping and nurses rushing into my room. The doctor examined me and said my cervix was swollen. He inserted a fetal monitor inside me and attached it to the baby’s scalp. So far, I had gotten every medical intervention I tried to prevent!  The doctor told me that after all my labor I was still only 4 centimeters dilated and I would need a cesarean.

I cried again but this time because of of fear for my baby’s health. They wheeled me into the surgery room and 20 minutes later my son was born. He was  a perfectly healthy 6 ½ pound, 21 inch long baby.  I heard the doctor say that he had a short umbilical cord, and and perhaps that was why he never fully descended into the birth canal.

Falling in love.

Falling in love, after a long labor, and birth experience which didn’t go according to plan.

Happy and healthy at 4 months old.

Happy and healthy at 4 months old.

Ha! Now I know that Nico’s delayed arrival and prolonged delivery was a signal to me. Nico has always done things on his own time, at his own speed, sometimes to my great frustration. I can grow impatient with him when he doesn’t act as quickly as I expect, and  moves more slowly than my own frantic pace.  But then I realize, this is who Nico is.  As he moves through life with his own deliberate stride,  he reminds me to slow down. His own way of being in this world helps me understand that not everything is planned and fully executed on my timetable, or under my control.  I am also reminded that he is a thoughtful, careful, and loving son, and I wouldn’t want it any other way.  He is definitely worth the wait.  Happy  Labor Day to me and happy birthday to Nico.

Nico and I celebrating his 15th birthday.

Nico and I celebrating his 15th birthday.