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.


Ready to launch. College here he comes!

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.

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.

Blogging (Or Not) Between A Rock and A Hard Place

This blog has been silent for so long I think all my readers may have left. If you are here checking in to see if there is anything happening, thank you. And yes, there is stuff happening. A lot. A lot of shifting in my life. So much shifting that that I don’t even know if my blog is relevant to my life anymore. I used to blog mainly about my life in a blended family. For at least the last year of my life, the funny, loving and happiest parts of my blended family life changed. I began to experience loss and disappointment. These feelings made it difficult for me to access those parts of my life where I experienced laughter and love. It’s been rough. Even though I knew deep down that these raw, painful parts of my life needed to be revealed, I felt like I couldn’t do it. I thought, who wants to read about that? Isn’t that too private?

I didn’t’ know the answers to those questions. I still don’t know the answers to these questions. All I know is that throughout this period I have been struggling. But, my struggle would probably have been lightened just a bit if I had a place to share it. Sure, I shared it with my husband, friends and therapist, but I felt like I could not share it here. Somehow, keeping all the hard stuff about my life to myself, while I wrote about my “well-blended life” seemed dishonest. I want my writing to be honest, so I’ve been stuck.

Today I am leaving town to attend a blogging conference, BlogHer 14. I attended for the first time a couple of years ago and left inspired, and motivated. When I bought my conference pass last fall, I was still writing regularly. As the conference approached I began to feel like I didn’t want to go. My husband encouraged me to go. (Maybe it’s because I am easier to live with when I am blogging.) I told him I was hesitating about going because how could I call myself a blogger when I wasn’t blogging? Our lives and the material it inspired didn’t really fit into the “niche” blog I created. As we talked about it, I knew I needed to go and when I came back I needed to write about more than just the nice blended family life. As our kids have grown, my blog and my identity on this blog need to grow too. So, we created this new business card to take with me to BlogHer. It has the new tag line for my blog. I think it fits.


Then, as if the Universe was giving me an affirmation, I saw the title of one of the BlogHer sessions, “The Blogging Pivot: When It’s Time to Change.” You can be sure I will be attending that session. When I get back from BlogHer and back to blogging, I hope you’ll be here. Thanks for reading. Thanks for staying.