T-Minus Zero: Thoughts on Launching My Son Into College


Today is the day. We have been planning for it for over two years now, even before my son’s junior year in high school when we toured colleges, when he took ACT prep courses and AP classes, participated in all those extracurricular activities, solicited recommendation letters and completed the college applications. It was almost all-consuming, until this May when he finally made his decision to attend a college a two-hour plane ride away.  We could finally breathe a sigh of relief.  Then, reality set in and we began to plan. Shopping, sorting clothes, packing, arranging travel.

We are on an early morning flight, bound for Portland, Oregon to move my son into college.  It takes three parents to do this—his dad, his step-dad and I.  I am almost sure my son will have the most parents to move him into a dorm suite he will share with three other young men.  With all those parents and four students in one single room it is sure to be crowded.  But I would not miss this for anything.  Never mind that despite all my planning, late night packing and barely sleeping, we almost missed the flight because we left too late from the house.  Perhaps I was delaying the inevitable?  Anyway, my husband Juan and I made it without a moment to spare.  My son had arrived at the airport with his dad and was already seated on the plane.  Juan and I found our seats next to my son, and directly in front of his dad. It’s kind of strange to be traveling all together like this, but then again, it really isn’t.  I know that all of us who have played a role in getting our son to this moment, would not want to miss it.

As I settle into my seat and calm my racing heart I hear the voice of a little boy in front of me.  From the space between the seats I can see he has strawberry blonde hair.  The passenger seated beside the boy engages him in a conversation. From the sound of the boy’s voice I guess him to be about 4 years-old. He is talking about Mickey and Minnie Mouse and coloring in a Disney coloring book. All of a sudden I am transported back to a time when I would sit with my own sweet 4 year-old blond-haired son, and read, over and over again, the story of the Tonka Rescue Helicopter.  I close my eyes and try to recall the sound of 4 year-old Nico’s voice, but I can’t. I promise myself that soon I will convert all those video cassettes with countless recorded memories into a digital format, so I can actually watch them and hear my son’s 4 year-old voice.

I look over and see my son, headphones in place, eyes closed, and realize he is the same boy who I read to all those years ago. Then it occurs to me he is not. His once blond, fine hair is now a thick dark brown, and he has grown into a young man, ready to embark on a wonderful, challenging and exciting adventure—without me.

He is ready.  I, on the other hand, may not be.  My son has been a joy to raise and I love having him around.  He is thoughtful, funny, sensitive, bright, kind and good.  I don’t want college to change that.  As much as I know college will challenge him to think and experience beyond the familiar,  I hope that the values we have tried to impart on him will sustain him.  I keep thinking there must be more I can say to him, some wisdom I can share to prepare him, but I know there is nothing else to say right now. We have talked about everything, some of it sensitive enough to embarrass him.

So we are here, about to launch this young man into a life away from his family.  I realize that we didn’t begin this process only two years ago. We have been preparing for this moment his entire life.  I look over at hm, napping, and I am glad. I don’t want him to see me blinking and squinting, trying unsuccessfully to keep the tears from rolling down my face.  He is already concerned enough about his parents because he knows this transition will be difficult for us.  I don’t want to cause him any more concern by seeing my tears.  I use a cocktail napkin to dry my eyes and I know that even though I am sad at the thought of  his leaving, I am deeply, truly excited for him.  I think that means that I am ready too.

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Ready to launch. College here he comes!

A Not So Uplyfting Start to our Family Vacation

The other day I told you that we were traveling to Colombia to make Juan’s birthday wish come true. What I didn’t say was that during the first hour– during the first 10 minutes of our trip– Juan’s nightmare also came true.

There are many things I love about my husband, but his anxiety about travel is not one of them. This is surprising because for a man who stresses about travel, we have certainly taken several trips.  To be fair, he doesn’t stress about travel in general, but what gives him the greatest amount of anxiety is everything that happens before we actually get on the plane. How should we get there? What should we pack? Where shall we stay? And most of all,  “How far ahead of our flight should we arrive at the airport?” (Four hours, thank you very much.)

This trip was no different. Even though we had worked out a lot of the logistics that come with booking travel for six people to a foreign country, we did not do any advance planning to arrange transportation to the airport. With Father’s Day as our departure day, we couldn’t ask any family or friends to drive us. The shuttles were very expensive and public transportation just seemed too complicated for six people and as many suitcases. Earlier this week I happened to take a Lyft and as I chatted with the driver, I learned that Lyft could take us all to the airport far cheaper than a regular airport shuttle. It sounded like the perfect solution, except that you can’t book a ride on Lyft in advance. For those of you who have not used Lyft, or Uber, it basically allows you to use an app on your smart phone to order a driver to come pick you up.  The fares are reasonable and the drivers are usually prompt and friendly.  There are different levels of service and since there were six of us, plus luggage in our group, I knew we needed a Lyft Plus. As Juan and I crunched the numbers we decided it made the most sense to order a Lyft Plus to get to the airport. I repeatedly assured Juan what the Lyft driver told me, “Lyft drivers are widely available anytime.”

In order to make our 1:45 p.m. departure, Juan wanted us out the door at 9:00 a.m. (I wasn’t kidding when I said he wanted to be there four hours before.) A little later than planned, I opened my Lyft app at 9:15 to arrange pick up at our house. My heart started pounding a little faster when I read, “No Lyfts available.” I refreshed the screen. Still none available. Worse yet, the message now indicated, “Prime Time,” which meant I had to pay 50% more! I broke the news to Juan and watched his face turn red and a vein in his forehead begin to throb and turn purple. Frantically, he picked up his phone and began calling an airport shuttle. He repeated the message on the phone, “No shuttles available in your area.”  I watched his face now became the color of the throbbing forehead vein. It was too late to schedule a shuttle! I began doing the math in my head. If we drove ourselves and paid for parking that would be $13 per day.  With tax that would be over $300! Luckily, Olivia, a Lyft and Uber expert, like most kids here age, suggested we order two Lyfts, estimating it would cost us the same as Lyft Plus. That seemed to calm my husband down and stop his cardiac arrest, especially when I told him that the Lyft could get to us in 5 minutes.

True enough, five minutes later our first Lyft arrived, a car without any trunk space! I watched from inside the house as Juan’s agitation grew until the driver told him that he would cancel our order without charging us, and order us another Lyft with trunk space. Two minutes later the second Lyft arrived–a Honda Civic. Juan and the driver crammed  four suitcases into the trunk and Juan left with two of the kids. Meanwhile, I waited with Olivia and Nico for our replacement Lyft. Less than five minutes later our Lyft arrived, a beautiful 7 passenger minivan! The kids and I put in our two suitcases and stretched out in comfort. Meanwhile, we sent Juan a text to tell him we were on our way and would meet him at the airport. He asked if we had leg room. Olivia and I debated if we should tell him the truth, and decided to let him know that had he just taken a breath and waited five minutes we could have been driving together in a comfortable minivan. The response he texted me looked a lot like Juan’s face did earlier:

The only thing this emoji is missing is a throbbing purple vein.

The only thing this emoji is missing is a throbbing purple vein.

Now we are here in Medellin and things are going well, for now.  The kids are generally getting along.  Juan looks a lot happier.

He’s smiling now.

Tomorrow we are venturing out in the city.  We have decided we are going to use Uber.

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.

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.