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.

Celebrating Thanksgiving in a Blended Family

This was originally posted last year but I thought I’d share it again. This year I am again hosting Thanksgiving dinner, and this year Nico won’t be with us to celebrate. He will be joining his dad and his other family and Olivia and Erica will be with us. Somehow we’ve gotten off our schedule. I guess it’s one of the downsides of being in a blended family. I’ll be thinking of Nico as I give thanks for the many blessings in my life. Happy Thanksgiving to you and your families.

Over the river and through the woods,

To Grandmother’s, Mother’s, Father’s,  house we go….

I remember singing that song during a holiday recital when I was a young girl in elementary school. The words to the song were very personal to me because they reminded me of celebrating holidays with my own family. My grandmother, who died this past June, was the matriarch of our family, and during the holidays, my extended family of uncles, aunts and cousins, would gather at her house to celebrate. It did not matter that she had a small house, her kitchen lacked a dishwasher, and a reliable oven, her house became the meeting place for our family gatherings. It was only in the last several years, when she was well into her 90’s, that we stopped gathering at her house, and Juan and I took on the job of hosting Thanksgiving dinner for our large, extended families.

Even though hosting Juan’s family and my own extended family means a house full of people, and a sink full of dirty dishes, I really do enjoy having everyone gather at our house. I love creating and maintaining the family traditions that go along with hosting the traditional Thanksgiving meal. However, in our blended family, creating traditions can be a challenge, because, unlike the song I learned to sing as a child, we don’t always know who house our kids will be going to for the holidays.

In our house, like most blended family households with joint custody, our kids share the holidays between our house and their other parent’s house, alternating every year. So far, we have managed to keep the kids on the same schedule, so that when Nico is with his dad, the girls are are also with their mom. This means that we have to be resourceful and creative to keep the traditions throughout the years, even when we are not all together. I remember the first Christmas that Nico and I spent apart because he travelled out of state with his father. Nico was three years-old and excited to be going on a plane to see his grandparents. I was single, home with my parents and broke down in tears at the sound of his voice on the phone. I still cannot think back to that time without feeling sadness and loss. These days I still feel a loss when Nico is not with me on a holiday, or when we can’t be together as a family, but I know that the kids have to experience these holidays and celebrations with their other family as well, and their lives will be enriched by it. I try not to let my own sadness spill over into their own celebrations, and I try to carve out some time for us to celebrate as a family, even if that celebration may not happen on the actual holiday. For instance, in the past, I have made a mini-Thanksgiving dinner for just the 6 of us. We celebrated early because the kids were going away for Thanksgiving day. On another occasion, we celebrated an early Thanksgiving and during a spontaneous moment of good will we invited the other parents. It made for an impromptu blended family portrait and it captured a moment in our family history.

Our 2007 early Thanksgiving celebration with the kids and all their parents.

This Thanksgiving will be one of those times when we won’t be together on the actual holiday. It’s an exceptional year, because typically this would be a year that is “ours.” However, this year, the girls will be celebrating with their mother and her family. I am happy for them, since they have a lovely family on that side, and for this they have a lot to be thankful. But, they will be missed by our extended families, who are gathering at our house. Nico will be with us, and of course, Diego is all ours. This year when we gather to eat we will feel my grandmother’s absence, and the absence of Olivia and Erica, but our hearts will be filled with gratitude for all the blessings in our lives. Blessings of health, home and family–in whatever form that comes in.

 

Yes Diego, There is a Leprechaun

Today is St. Patrick’s Day. This holiday is not a big celebration in our house. When I was growing up the only thing we did to celebrate this holiday was wear something green so that we wouldn’t get pinched at school. For some reason, Diego had it in his head that St. Patrick’s Day is a big deal. Last year, after picking him up from kindergarten he excitedly told me that he couldn’t wait to get home to see what the leprechauns had left him. I had never heard of this before, but he told me that in school he learned about leprechauns and their magic. I quickly called Juan on my cell phone and discreetly told him about Diego’s belief. I asked him to stop and buy something “lepruchanish” on his way home and beat us there. I breathed a huge sigh of relief when I saw Juan’s car in driveway. Diego made a mad dash out of the car and went inside. He discovered some green candy and a box of Lucky Charms, and was delighted. Whew!

Fast forward to his year. It has been a very stressful month (hence, no blogging). I was surprised to learn it was already St. Patrick’s day. Luckily, Diego’s school uniform polos are green, so getting ready for the big day was easy. On my way home from work I had to stop at the drug store. While checking out I remembered to pick up a couple of boxes of Lucky Charms. When I got home I presented the kids their leprechaun gift. They were pleasantly surprised and proceeded to open the box and begin snacking on them before I could finish preparing my Irish/Mexican dinner, corned beef tacos. After dinner was done, the dishes washed and Diego ready for bed, he came to me with tears welling up in his eyes.

“Mommy, the leprechauns didn’t come. I left them clover and they didn’t bring me anything.”

“What?” I asked. He took me to his room and there in the corner, on the floor was a cup filled with water and a few weeds that could be mistaken for clover.

I was stunned. I did not know what to do. In a panic, I reassured him that the leprechauns hadn’t finished with their day yet and maybe they would come after he went to sleep. I told him to put the clover outside so they could find it. He seemed convinced,even though he thought it might be better if he left it inside and he stayed awake to meet them.

After he fell asleep I went to the grocery store and roamed the aisles looking for something “lepruchanish.” Damn. Chocolate bunnies and Easter baskets already filled the aisles. Finally, I found a little green stuffed bear in the floral department. I added some green Powerade and green sour apple candies. I asked the grocery clerk for some gold dollar coins and when I got home I polished the coins with my jewelry cleaner. They looked like newly minted bullion, fit for a leprechaun! I put it all together in a leftover green gift bag and left it outside with a note, next to his clover.

This morning, Diego was up earlier than usual and ran outside to see if the leprechaun had come. He was thrilled! His 13 year-old sister rolled her eyes and looked at me skeptically. Now, maybe I was just played by a 6 year-old, but maybe not. How long until he starts rolling his eyes and becomes an unbeliver? I don’t think I have much longer until he stops believing in the magic. So, for now, yes Diego there is a leprechaun.

Blogging from the Big Apple

I have been on vacation in New York. That is, if you call flying across the country with three kids, and two septuagenarians to attend a college graduation and family wedding, a vacation.  Don’t get me wrong, I love my family and I love to travel, but vacationing with a large family, to attend assorted family events makes it more family than vacation.

In the interest of economizing I booked our flight on a red-eye from LA to JFK.  I tried to prepare us all for red-eye flight by packing neck pillows and blankets.

Waiting to board the red-eye to NYC

We were scheduled to arrive in the city that never sleeps at the sleepy hour of 5:30 a.m. I thought  this was a good idea since it could  save us a few hundred dollars by not having to pay for the extra night in a hotel.  I figured that if we could check into our hotel early we could  rest and freshen up later.   I am also the kind of person who can sleep anywhere, including an airplane, and who needs sleep anyway?  Well, maybe my 70+ year-old parents and my kids could have used some.

Asleep at breakfast.

So much for my planning.  But,  eventually we did manage to get into our room shortly before noon, and everyone promptly went down for a long nap. Finally, about mid afternoon,  we headed out to explore the city. We stopped at Rockefeller Center.

In front of 30 Rock

And Diego and Nico stopped at the Lego Store in Rockefeller Center.

We strolled down 5th Avenue where my parents visited the Waldorf Astoria…

My parents, being the good Catholics that they are, wanted to visit the beautiful St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

Juan, being the Apple Fanboy that he is, wanted to visit his cathedral…

We ended up at Central Park for a carriage ride.

The family in a carriage at Central Park

Diego in Central Park

Then took the subway to Times Square, where we took more pictures  and saw ourselves on the Jumbo-tron.

There was much more on our list that we wanted to do, but time,  money, and energy prevented it. So, we ended our first day in the city with a meal at Juniors and their famous cheesecake.

On Day Two in NYC we had planned on heading out to Ground Zero, and having an early lunch in Little Italy and then take the 1:00pm tour of the Statute of Liberty. I had the foresight to book the Statue of Liberty tour online months ago, but wasn’t able to book the tour to the inside of the torch since it was sold out until August!  What I didn’t’ have the foresight to do was account for the inevitable delay that occurs when you are traveling with such a large and diverse age group like mine. Let’s just say that traveling with my family is  a lot like herding cats. I also did not plan on it taking nearly an hour to get from the upper East side to financial district in our rental van. By the time we arrived at our $45 (!) parking lot we had to sprint to make it to the ferry that would take us to Liberty Island.  We finally managed to board the ferry, and had a great memorable  time touring this landmark in the rain, wearing our trash bags rain gear.

The kids made all kinds of inappropriate jokes as their brother posed under Lady Liberty's nostril.

It was a foggy, rainy day at Liberty Island.

Running low on energy and time, we had to skip the Ellis Island tour and headed back to Ground Zero where we took in the very moving exhibit at the World Center Tribute Center.  By the end of the tour we were all feeling pretty drained so we thought some authentic NY style pizza was in order. Unfortunately, we couldn’t find anything that looked like an authentic NY pizzeria so we ended up at a little hole in the wall that had only two bar stools and a standing eating counter. After two days of walking the NY sidewalks, our feet were tired, and even though next door there was a Papa Johns Pizza  with plenty of seating, we were unwilling to compromise comfort for “authentic” NY pizza by the slice. This “experience” finished us off and we limped back to our van so we could make the 2 hour drive north to the Hudson River Valley to attend the graduation of my cousin from West Point the next morning.

The graduation ceremony was very inspiring, and was a nice educational tie-in to the previous days sites we had visited.  At the conclusion of the ceremony the graduating cadets throw their hats in the air and the kids attending are allowed to enter the field  retrieve one. Erica, Nico and Diego each got a hat. Inside the hat, the cadet had written their name and included a message of inspiration and/or money. Erica and Diego both got nice notes in their hat and Erica got $50!  I promptly told her she could use the money to buy her own NY souvenirs, since NYC has to be the most expensive place for a family vacation!

The rest of the weekend was spent with family, attending the ceremonial pinning of lieutenant bars on my cousin overlooking the Hudson River at Trophy Point, and a celebratory brunch at the historic Thayer Hotel.

Sunny skies at West Point’s Trophy Point.

My cousin gets her Lieutenant bars overlooking the Hudson River.

On one of our last days we were supposed to attend my cousin’s wedding at 2:00pm at the West Point Catholic Chapel.  However, someone forgot to inform the bride and groom that NY state law requires the marrying couple wait 24 hours after getting the marriage license before getting married. Since my cousin got her marriage license on her wedding morning, the priest refused to marry her. Oops! With some last-minute scrambling and frantic phone calling, an unofficial wedding was rescheduled for the guests at 2:45 at a protestant chapel.  The official Catholic wedding would take place the following day,  after the requisite waiting period, and after we left for our trip home.

Once the happy couple’s ceremony was concluded, we proceeded to the official reception with an official open bar.  My kids cleaned up real nice and everyone had a great time.

The other wedding guests seated at our table remarked how well-behaved our kids were, and asked how we did it?  I revealed our secret. I told them that we pinch them under the table any time they start to misbehave. Actually, I was pleasantly surprised that after over four days of traveling and sight-seeing my kids were still getting along pretty well and they remembered their table manners. And I was even more surprised,  shocked actually, at how grown up they suddenly seemed…hanging out at the bar ordering Rob Roys and Shirley Temples and dancing all night.

Whose son is this?

Diego worked it all night long!

All in all it turned out to be a good trip. But, after all the coordinating of travel plans, schedule snafus and family obligations, I am ready for a REAL vacation. One that involves me, and a beach,  and a drink that isn’t named after a 1940’s child movie star.