Dancing with the Dead: My Own Día de los Muertos Celebration

Last week was Dia de las Muertos. This is centuries old holiday which originated in in Mexico and is currently enjoying a surge in popularity. The holiday honors loved ones who have died. Celebrants typically build a three-tiered altar called ofrendas and decorate with symbols as marigolds, papel picado and photographs and favorite foods of the deceased. On November 1 and 2 it’s thought that the veil which separates the living and the departed is thinner, allowing the living to experience the presence of the deceased. Even though it sounds eerie or maybe a bit morbid, I really like this holiday.

I love the decorations, the foods and the tradition. I don’t think of it as eerie but see the holiday as an opportunity to remember my grandparents, my cousin and others who are no longer here with me physically but remain a part of my life.  One year I put together an altar and another time I joined in a local Muertos celebration. This year I was so busy I didn’t build an altar or join one of the many events around Los Angeles.

This week I had to go to a meeting just down the street from the cemetery where my grandparents are buried. The meeting ended and I decided to stop by the cemetery and say hello to my grandparents.  The cemetery was filled with flowers, especially marigolds whose strong scent is believed to help guide the departed to earth.

A beautiful day for a visit to the cemetery.

A beautiful day for a visit to the cemetery.

I stopped at the flowershop and bought a bouquet to bring to my grandparents. I thought I knew where their graves were located but I couldn’t find them so I went to the office to get a map.  Since I am, as my husband likes to say, “directionally challenged,” I wandered around lost, even after I had the map.  There were so many graves and no landmarks. Frustrated, I paused under a pine tree. In my frustration I asked my grandmother to help me find her and set out again among the graves.  All of a sudden I felt something inside my pants pricking me.  I must have looked ridiculous as I squirmed around and hopped up and down until a pine needle fell out of my pant leg. My grandmother must have had a good laugh at my expense.  Then, a cemetery groundskeeper approached me and asked if I needed help. I don’t know if my grandmother heard my plea, or the groundskeeper was just drawn to me by the sight of my ridiculous gravesite dance! Whatever. I finally found my grandparents’ graves.  I put out the flowers, said hello and was reminded of all the good times I had with them.

Even though missed missed the actual date, I celebrated my own Dia de los Muertos, laughing and dancing with my grandparents.

Saying hello to the grandparents.

Saying hello to the grandparents.

How do you honor your ancestors?

Homecoming

It was a big night in our household. Nico, my 15 year-old sophomore is at his first “formal” dance. It seems like yesterday when we celebrated his first real homecoming.

Grandma holds Nico when he comes home from the hospital.

Grandma holds Nico when he comes home from the hospital.

Tonight he’s celebrating at his high school homecoming. How did this happen? It seems like yesterday when he was dressed up looking like this…

Two years-old and looking dapper in his Easter suit.

Two years-old and looking dapper in his Easter suit.

Tonight, he dressed up looking like this…

Looking good. (He really does have a date, but I didn't get her permission to use her image.)

Looking good in a new suit.

He even shaved for the first time just for the occasion. Wahhhh!

Lately, we have been affectionately calling him Shaggy, like the character from Scooby-Do. His baby face has been looking scruffy with peach fuzz on his upper lip and scraggly chin hairs.  Today he used the electric razor he got as a birthday gift.  Now, his baby face is clean shaven. It’s bittersweet for me because I remember when his baby face looked like this:

That face. I die.

That face. I die.

This week, after three years of orthodontia, he had his braces taken off.  Even though I feel a bit melancholy about all the changes, I am happy and proud. He is a wonderful son. Thoughtful, kind, respectful and very loving. I’m excited for him to attend his first dance. I hope he has a great time. Still, you can sure that I’ll be waiting up till he comes home.

 

 

Tres Generaciones

In memory of my grandmother and in honor of my mother on this Mothers’ Day, I am re-posting this. I miss my grandmother everyday, especially today. I am mindful everyday, especially today, of how thankful I am for my mother for all her love, guidance and support throughout my life. Happy Mothers Day to all the mothers and  to all who act in mothering, nurturing ways.

My mother, my grandmother and I.

My mother, my grandmother and I.

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!

Experiencing Love in Holy Week

For the last two years on Good Friday, I published a post written after I attended the afternoon Good Friday services at my church. You can read that here. This year, I am unable to attend the afternoon services, but I will attend this evening’s Tenebrae Service. A lovely, candlelit service where we wait for the mystery of the resurrection.

Last night I attended another one of my favorite services of the year, Maundy Thursday. The Maundy Thursday service is the ritual foot washing, service among those congregants who wish to participate. The service reminds us of the caring and loving example that Jesus showed his disciples when he washed their feet. This foot washing service makes some people uncomfortable. I understand. I love this ritual but it took me a bit to become accustomed to it. Even the apostle Peter felt uncomfortable having Jesus wash his feet.

I sat in the pews with Juan and listened to the sermon in preparation of the foot washing, when I heard the rector say something which kind of startled me. He said, participation was greater than belief. He explained that one could be “religious” and believe in the mystery of the cross and the resurrection, but that was not greater than participation. He went on to say that Jesus gave us an example of participation when he washed his disciples feet, when he broke bread and served wine to the apostles during his Passover meal. Jesus gave us an example of participation when he did all of this on the last night he was alive, and when he told his followers to, “love one another as I loved you.”

I sat in the pew, moved by the prayers, the hyms, the dimly lit church and I watched as others in around me got up from the pews to have their feet washed and wash each others feet. Juan leaned over and said, “I want to be like Peter. I don’t feel like getting my feet washed.” I smiled at him and nodded. I understood how Juan, and maybe Peter felt.

This year Holy Week arrived before I was ready. I didn’t have a chance to get a pedicure. My toe nail polish was a mess, my feet were callused. I really didn’t want to wash anyone else’s feet either. Then, I thought about the photo I had seen earlier in the day. The photo of Pope Francis washing a woman’s feet and kissing them. So humble. So loving. How must that woman have felt?

Pope washes feet of young detainees in Holy Thursday ritual - Getty Images

Pope washes feet of young detainees in Holy Thursday ritual – Getty Images

Juan and I left our pew and walked to the foot washing station. I knelt before another parishioner who was seated before a basin. I introduced myself to her and one of the acolytes brought me a jug of warm water and a clean towel. I knelt down before the woman and poured the water over her delicate feet. I rinsed them, using my hands. I thought about what it meant to participate in this religious ritual. What it meant to be a servant, and care for others the way Jesus demonstrated to us. When I was done I dried her feet and we switched places. The acolyte brought us clean water, a dry towel, and an empty basin. She washed my feet, gently, carefully. It seemed to take forever. All the while I was aware of how uncomfortable I felt. Sure, I get pedicures, but this was so different. I could tell by the care she took to wash my feet that she was doing this out of love.

Perhaps that’s why the particpation part of religion is so important. I could have sat in the pew and prayed, sang hyms and gazed at the beauty of my surroundings. I could have looked on as everyone else particpated in the foot washing. I might have stood by while everyone else experienced love and demonstrated love. But, I woud have missed out on fully experiencing the most important message of day and Jesus’ lesson to us all, “love one another.”

 

Looking Backward at 2012– Moving Forward to 2013

I can’t believe 2012 is coming to an end. It sounds cliche, but the time flew! When I look back at my last blog post for the end of 2011 I realize how anxious I was to bring on a new year. 2011 had its own challenges so I was happily looking forward to starting anew. That’s the thing about blogging, it keeps me accountable to my own life, and my own words. In reviewing 2012, I can honestly say it was better than 2011, it many ways, but it was not as good as I hoped it would be.

There have still been the regular stresses of living with teens, which seem to be amplified when you factor in the multiple households that come with our blended family situation. The living arrangement that I hoped to return to hasn’t materialized–Erica still lives most days with her mom and Olivia is full-time with us. I miss having the consistent routine of shared custody, (that’s an oxymoron). The transitions we experience when Erica returns for all too brief periods, are difficult, especially for Diego, who misses his sister’s regular presence.  But, Olivia seems to have benefited greatly from living with us full-time. She finished the important junior year in high school with exceptional grades, and seems content. At least, as content as any 17 year-old anxious to leave the nest and escape her parents’ clutches. The fact that Olivia is now a licensed driver helps to ease her restlessness and gives her some independence, at least temporarily until she sets off to college in the Fall.  She’s already been accepted to two of her top colleges and is waiting to hear from a third. 2013 should be a good year for her.

Olivia earned praise for her hard work this year.

2012 marked a huge transition for Nico and Erica. They graduated from junior high and have started high school. Both are finding their way through the academic challenges of Freshman English and Algebra I and they are loving the social life and “big pond” experience they have gained moving onto high school.  Having spent 9 years at the elementary school and junior high with essentially the same kids, they are both enjoying maintaining friendships with some of their former classmates who are attending the same high school, and they are thrilled to be making new friendships too. As for me, I love seeing them expand their universe with new friends, and new experiences. I know 2013 will be an enriching year for them too.

Erica and Nico at one of the last events of Junior High.

For Diego, 2013 will probably be more of the same,  I hope. After all, he is only 8 years old, and I don’t expect a new calendar to rock his world too much. He’s (finally) in the second grade, and happy to be there. His Spanish is improved, and he is a strong reader.  He consistently drops in a Spanish word or phrase when he talks to me or Juan, and he is proud of his expanding vocabulary. I am convinced that sending him to the Spanish immersion program in our public school district was a good idea. Sure there have been things he’s missed out on not attending the Catholic school that his older siblings attended, but he is gaining a language. How can you beat that? We manage to help him fill in the gaps with his participation in our church childrens’ choir, soccer and little league baseball. He’s looking forward to moving up a division in soccer this year. So, for Diego 2013 should be just fine.

Diego enjoyed his first season of baseball in 2012.

As for Juan, I think 2012 was a very satisfying year, professionally.  He was rightfully recognized by my alma mater,  Loyola Law School and the Criminal Courts Bar Association for all the hard work he did on a case involving a wrongfully convicted defendant. He was in his element this political season, since he loves politics. He followed all the pundits and devoured all kinds of blogs, and news shows during the elections.  His two worlds collided this year, when our boss, the District Attorney for Los Angeles, did not seek another term, and we had to elect a new top prosecutor. Ultimately, we are very happy with our new DA, and look forward to the changes in our workplace that a new administration will bring. I think 2013 will be a very good year for Juan too.

Juan earned the Ignatian Award, in service towards others.

When I started writing this post I wasn’t sure how it would go. I realize I didn’t have any time this year to write my regular Christmas newsletter, like I have done in our 2006 Family Newsletter, and in 20072008, 2009, and in 2011, so I wanted to write a kind of retrospective on the year, but there is just too much to say. That’s another perk to blogging, I can post another day. For now, for me, 2012 had some high points, and some very definite low points. It wasn’t the year I hoped it would be, but it wasn’t a year to frown upon either. I think 2012 was probably a transitional year–one which I hope will lead me to an even better year in 2013. Happy New Year. 2013. Bring it!

How was your 2012? Are you looking forward to a New Year?