Smells Like Teen (Christmas) Spirit

My kids are now 7, 13, 13 almost 14, and 16. When my teens were little Christmas was a no-brainer when it came to gift giving. The biggest challenge was restraint. When the Toys R Us Big Book would arrive with the Sunday paper, or the weekly Target ad came out, my kids would circle items on their wish lists. I think most kids from divorced parents may say that Christmas is one of the few times, where divorce and remarriage works to their advantage. With three or four sets of grandparents, multiple aunts and uncles from all sides of our extended families, and two separate parenting households,  Christmas was just a toy bonanza for my kids. Beginning in December I would start fielding calls and emails from various family members, keeping track of who I told what to buy for whom.

Now that Nico, Erica and Olivia are in their teens, Christmas gift giving is still hectic, but it’s more expensive.  Gifts on their lists range from Uggs priced at $200, to Mac laptops, priced at over $1000. I hate to disappoint, but those gifts are just not happening. Sure, I can ask for family members to contribute towards these things, but with so many different family branches and varying degrees of financial resources, I just don’t feel comfortable with this. Besides, in addition to all my responsibilities, being the manager of a gift registry is something I just don’t have in me. Christmas came way too quickly this year. This year, I am stuck reaching for ideas, cajoling my kids to give me some kind of affordable gift wish list so that I can pass along the information to family members, and save a bit for myself.  I would like for my kids’ Christmas not to be a total bust and I’d like to be able to support the many relatives who want to gift them something, and experience their own joy in giving.

So, with only 10 shopping days until Christmas, and only two affordable items on Nico’s list (Hunger Games and plaid shirts), I was happy to see him looking through a catalog the other day. The catalog was from ThinkGeek.com, a site that we purchased some items from last Christmas, and which gifts he really enjoyed. When he was done looking at the catalog and marking items he wanted, I was less than enthusiastic about his wish list. How could I tell family members to spend their hard earned money on this:

Monty Python Killer Rabbit Slippers

But,  apparently people besides my teenaged geek son like them, because the site says that they are out of stock.

Nico also asked for this:

It’s a Screaming Monkey slingshot

The last item he asked for was the  infectious disease stress ball .  I found it a bit disturbing that the stress ball comes in four varieties of disease: bubonic plague, zombie virus, smallpox and cooties.

Maybe he will get plaid shirts in every color of the rainbow instead.

As for Olivia, my 16 year-old step-daughter, when I asked her for some gift ideas she replied, ” I don’t want anything for Christmas.”  Wow, the spirit of Christmas selflessness, or a surly teen? My initial reaction was skepticism, but I should have known better. Olivia is a good student, with a keen interest in politics and foreign policy, and when I watch her interact with her peers and other adults, she is very friendly, polite and respectful. However, like many parents of teens, communicating with adolescents often involves navigating through through long periods of silence or interpreting unintelligble responses of hmm or mmm. When I suggested to Olivia that maybe her relatives want to give her something for Christmas, she  replied, “Well then, tell them to give a donation in my name to Human Rights Watch.”  In these days of Christmas spending and commercialism, and as I experience these challenging teen years,  I choose to accept her wish list at face value and see it as a gift for myself.  Maybe, all our efforts spent of teaching her to be gracious in receiving and imparting the value in giving, are paying off after all. At least she’s not asking for the Monty Python Killer Rabbit Slippers.

Nightmares, Wails, and Turkey Tales

I’ve spent the past three nights staying up way past my bedtime, and it’s not because I have been out clubbing until the early morning hours. I haven’t done that since…well, never.  No, it’s because I have spent the first night, preparing for my family’s Thanksgiving fete and the next night hosting my Thanksgiving fete and dealing with the aftermath.

Because one turkey isn't enough to feed a crowd this size.

A crowd this size means 19 adults...

...and 9 kid cousins. Fun!

I spent last night, with my family sharing in our post Thanksgiving tradition, going to a local amusement park. I love my family, and I love Thanksgiving, but let me just say, I am a little tired of both. Part of this fatigue has to do with sleep interruptions that come from little boys who are homesick, and boys who have nightmares.

On Thanksgiving night, Diego and my brother’s boys, ages 9 and 6 begged for a sleepover at our house. The boys had played together all day and didn’t want the party to end. I agreed to the sleepover, thinking that they would have exhausted themselves from all the playing and eating they did throughout the day. I thought they would fall asleep quickly and sleep solidly until late morning, allowing me enough time to conquer the mountain of wine glasses and sleep in a little bit. Boy, was I wrong. It was almost midnight and I settled into bed to edit my Thanksgiving blog post. As I hit “Publish,” Juan told me thought he heard someone crying.

I went to the boy’s bedroom and my 6 year-old nephew was laying in bed with huge tears rolling down his face and drenching his pillow. Diego was fast asleep in the upper bunk. My heart broke in a million pieces and I wanted to call my brother right away and tell him to come pick up his son, but, my brother lives at least 45 minutes away. So, I did the next best thing, I crawled into bed with my nephew, brought him a tissue, and a glass of water and told him a story. He loves hearing stories about his dad and I growing up. I told him the story that I posted earlier, about nearly drowning during a family fishing trip. As soon as I began to talk about it, my nephew, recalled every gripping detail. I guess he had heard it before, since my brother likes to tell his boys stories.  My nephew stopped crying and listened intently. When I got to the part of my story where my father drops his fishing pole and runs to pull me from the water, my nephew, looked at me and said, “My dad told me he was the one who jumped into save you, not Grandpa!”  I didn’t want to crush his belief, but I had to set the record straight. I did tell him that his dad was there, and helped Grandpa pull me from the raging current. Okay, I embellished a bit, but that is how family legends grow.

It seems that my brother is a great legend teller, as I learned yesterday, when I spent another day with my family, talking about family legends, but the ghostly sort. We all went to Knott’s Berry Farm, a local amusement park. My mom came along too, and I even convinced her to get on a couple of rides.

Grandma and Diego on the Spinning Sombreros

Waiting for the Wild West Stunt Show

On the first roller coaster, Jaquar at Knott's Berry Farm

While we were all waiting in line for the roller coaster rides, appropriately named Silver Bullet, and Ghost Rider, my brother, the myth maker, began telling Nico and Erica about the many encounters he had with ghosts while growing up.  Nico, doesn’t really like these kind of stories anyway, but when you are trapped in line with other thrill seekers, you have very little choice but to talk to those around you. Nico seemed to be captivated by my brother’s tales. Combine these ghost stories and a couple of Class 5 aggressive roller coasters, and it’s bound to bring out some of your own demons. The kind of demons that appear at night, in the middle of your sleep. I was awakened at about 3:30 in the morning by Nico, who came to my side of the bed, and whispered, “I saw someone walking around in the dining room.” I was too tired to do anything about it, so I moved over closer to Juan, who was sleeping soundly. Nico, crawled into bed with us, something he hasn’t done since he was little. Maybe, it was the combination of sleeping between Juan, the heater, and my son’s skinny body and bony knee caps, but I did not sleep well. Or maybe it had something to do with the fact, that after Nico told me about his dream, I had a nightmare of my own that involved  a strange man named James Drake, who was wearing coveralls, walking into my bedroom and talking to me. Either way, I am tired. So, I am taking today the day to rest, stay away from storytellers, roller coasters, and family. Maybe I’ll even get a nap.

Giving Thanks

Today Juan and I hosted 17 adults and 9 kids for a sit down Thanksgiving dinner. Everyone just left and it’s nearly midnight. I have been working to pull this off for the last two nights. So, I am really too tired to blog much except to say what I am thankful for in this moment:
1. Advil
2. Pants that have a comfortable waist band,
3. Plastic plates that look like real china but can be thrown away.
4. To Go containers
5. Enough leftovers so I don’t have to cook rest of the weekend.
6. The friends and cousins and parents and brothers and sisters and nieces and nephews who finally left so I can get some sleep.

Good Night.

Past and Present

Yeah! You found me. It wasn’t that hard. So, now that you are here, let me show you around. Above, is my new banner. One of my favorite things in life are old pictures. I especially love looking at old photos of people in my family. The photo on the far left  in my banner is of my grandmother and my grandfather on their honeymoon. It was taken in about 1930 when they travelled to Venice Beach, California from Airzona. My grandmother was just 16 years old and my grandfather was 21.  I love this photo because my grandparents look so young and are such a handsome couple. Even though my grandmother was 97 when she died last June, and had aged so much, I could still look at her and see glimpses of the girl in the photo. It’s hard to see, but my grandmother is wearing an interesting piece of costume jewlery, which she gave to me a few years ago. I still have it and I wear it now and then.

The middle photo is of my mother, taken when she was about 15 years-old. She is wearing a Mexican folkorico dance costume, which was made by my grandmother. My mother was, and is, a very good dancer. She especially loved to dance traditional Mexican folk dances, and she instilled the love of folkorico dance and music in me too. I grew up learning and performing some of  the dances she had performed.

The other black and white photo is of my father when he was about three or four years-old. I love this photo because it’s one of the few photos I have seen of my father when he was a boy.  In this photo I think he looks like a little prince. My father was raised by his adoptive mother and grandmother. They were two strong women who supported themselves and got by on very little income. He tells me that these women always took very good care of him and made sure he was well dressed. I think this photo shows all of that.

The last photo is one of my favorites too, although not because it’s old. It’s actually the first portrait that Juan and I took with the kids as a family. It was taken about 5 years ago so it’s a bit dated, but I still love it,  if not for the mere fact that we all are looking at the camera at the right time and smiling. Do you know how challenging that is? I love that this photo captures a moment in my family’s life. And I love that this banner, captures some of the bits and pieces of my family history, merging into my own family today.

So, now that I have shown you around, I hope you feel comfortable and would like to stay awhile. Leave me a comment. Subscribe to my blog. Follow me on Twitter. Like me on Facebook. Or just come by whenever you like. I will be here, blogging about my well blended life.

 

Lunchtime Stories, An Epilogue

Two weeks ago today my grandmother died.  I haven’t really been able to write about it, because it’s taken me awhile to process it all.  Even though she was 97 years-old and had lived a long, full, life, and I knew she was declining physically, I wasn’t ready for her to die so suddenly.

I have written about my grandmother before,  here, here and here, and I have finally added her own story to this blog, here. Last March my grandmother fainted while my mom was with her. My mom called the paramedics and my grandmother was admitted to the hospital. They conducted all kinds of tests, including an ear-splitting MRI.  While she was getting the MRI,  I was allowed to stand next to her and pat her feet as she was slid into a tunnel of bright light and screeching sound.  The test was intended to determine if something happened inside her brain. In the end, the doctor’s had one diagnosis– she was old. She may also have been dehydrated. The remedy was for someone to be with her, making sure she was eating and drinking fluids.  But, the doctors didn’t know my grandmother. She was independent, feisty and above all stubborn. My mom tried to get her to move in with her and my dad. She refused.  We hired some people to come to my grandmother’s and take care of her. No way. She kicked them out. We hired Meals on Wheels to provide the food and a daily visit. She didn’t eat their food and barely acknowledged the visit. In the end, we all realized it was futile. She was not going to accept our help, and the only thing that would make her happy and keep her alive was to let her live her life on her terms. Independently. She said she didn’t want to be a burden on anyone, yet sometimes it did feel like a burden, the worry and care-taking that was involved in letting her live alone.

About a month after her hospital stay we had a family meeting to discuss how we could take care of grandma. My uncles, my mom, my brother and I each agreed to visit her once a week and bring food and sit down and have a meal with her.  My day was Friday. On Fridays I went to her house for lunch, or I would go over after work. We would sit together and I would eat with her.  I would bring her food I knew she liked. Fresh pineapple, a pastry, coffee and donuts. The salt-free, healthfully prepared Meals on Wheels would go untouched. We would visit. I recorded her stories, and I would sometimes sneak a photo of her, because she did not like having her photo taken. She probably hated getting her picture taken as much as she hated doctors.

Even though I spent nearly every weekend with here when I was a child, it had been years since I spent so much time with her on a weekly basis. Sometimes, it seemed like an inconvenience to have to drive to see her and race back to my office, or visit her on my way home from work on a Friday evening, when I was anxious to start my weekend. But, I did it and with each visit, I felt happy about the time we spent together, and glad that I had taken the time to see her.  It’s funny, I thought I was there to take care of her, but really, I think she was still taking care of me. She would protest when I would get up to wash the dishes, throw out her trash or do any household chore. She would make me feel cared for, and I would leave feeling loved, and grateful for the time we spent together.

On the last Friday I spent with her I could tell something was wrong. She seemed tired and weak. Usually she was anxious to go outdoors and sit on her patio so we could visit. On our last visit I asked if she wanted to sit outdoors in the warm sun. She said she would rather stay inside. When I asked if she felt okay, if she was tired, she replied, “No honey, I am not tired, I am old.” I tried to take her picture but she wouldn’t let me. When she wasn’t looking, I did it anyway.

The last picture taken of my grandmother, two days before she died.

The day she died,  I was at work when my dad called to tell me that my mother had arrived at my grandmother’s for her Monday visit.  She found my grandmother. She had probably died at night, alone in her house, the way she wanted. I left work immediately and went to her house where my parents and my uncles had gathered.  I was sad that she was gone, but I also felt at peace. These past several months when I visited her, took her for drives, brought her donuts, those visits allowed me to have peace in this sorrowful moment. I knew that her insistence that she live alone, as challenging as it was for all of us, created an opportunity for us, to spend time with her, to care for her, and for her to care for us. As sad as it is to imagine her spending her last few moments alone, I know that dying in her own home was what  she wanted. It was the reason she had so fiercely resisted all our interventions.

She did things on her own terms. And so,  it seemed fitting that during the funeral mass, my cousin surprised the priest when he read a poem by Emily Dickenson, instead of the New Testament scripture that was pre-selected and indicated on the program. The organist missed her cue and the deacon kept looking through the program to see if he’d missed something. Even I didn’t know what was happening since I had never heard the Gospel According to Emily Dickenson before. But, when it dawned on me what my cousin was doing, I laughed and thought how much my grandmother would have loved that.  The priest seemed equally exasperated when, as the mass was ending, and it became apparent the priest wasn’t going to allow time for my prepared eulogy, my father yelled from the first row, “Wait! There’s a eulogy!” The priest just threw up his hands at that point, and I sprang from my seat to get to the altar before I lost my window of opportunity. The priest didn’t seem to know what to do with us, these grandchildren who wanted to do things in their own way. I know that’s probably the way my grandmother would have wanted it too.

My grandmother in earlier days.