Throwback Thursday

There’s a trend among social media users to post past photos  on Thursdays and tag it as Throwback Thursday, TBT or #TBT. I enjoy seeing some of my friends’ past pictures of them sporting big hair, bright makeup and leg warmers, and I am slightly amused by my own teens’ sense of nostalgia when they post photos from last school year and tag it as a throwback. When I think of TBT I am reminded of pictures of my kids when they were young and cute, or photos of me when I was younger and looked it.  Something like this:

Our first family photo, June 2001.

Our first family photo, June 2001.

This photo is in my office. Juan framed it for me and gave it to me as an anniversary gift.  The picture was taken in June, 2001. Olivia was 5, Erica was just 3,  Nico was still 2 1/2. Diego was just a glimmer in our eye. Actually, no. He wasn’t even a thought.  It was actually the first time Juan and I went out as a couple with our kids.  We had already known each other for several months and as single parents with kids of similar ages, we spent time together with our kids, taking them on outings.  But this date was different.

One week earlier, our friendship turned romantic.  All of a sudden I saw Juan in a different light and I realized I wanted us to be more than friends. He was more than willing. We spent nearly every day we could together until the weekend this photo was taken when our kids came back to us from their other parents.  That weekend in June we were invited to the birthday party of a co-worker’s daughter. The party was in the San Fernando Valley, on a sweltering day.  But, it was a perfect excuse to spend another day together with our kids, and a perfect opportunity to come out to our colleagues about our budding romance. Our friends were happy for us. I think our children were oblivious. They were getting their fill of birthday cake and ice cream. When the party ended, we did not want our day together to end.

Juan and I decided we wanted to do something else with the kids.  We wanted to escape the oppressive heat of the San Fernando Valley and decided to head south.  We drove to Anaheim to see if we could buy cheap tickets to a Los Angeles Angeles game.  After over an hour drive we were turned away because the game was sold out. Our kids were deteriorating. They were tired, hungry, sweaty and cranky. So was I.

But,  Juan sprang into action and suggested we head to Downtown Disney. The idea of anything Disney brought the kids to life. By the time we got to Downtown Disney it was dark and the temperature dropped.  Of course, no one had jackets, but we managed to scrounge through our cars and find some mismatched clothing. In this picture I am wearing Juan’s rain jacket Nico is wearing a too-small sweatshirt, and Olivia is wearing a pink velour long-sleeved shirt over yellow shorts. Erica and Juan are cold.  But we look happy. Because we were.

I remember laughing and having a good time watching the kids play in front of this fountain.  Juan began taking pictures of the kids. At that moment I remember feeling the possibility of something magical happening between us, and something special happening between the kids.  We must have projected those feelings because all of a sudden a stranger approached Juan and asked if we wanted him to take a picture of our family.  Juan looked at me as if to say, “What do you think?” I smiled at Juan, and without letting the stranger know that we weren’t really a family, (yet) we  both said “yes!”

That’s what I call Throwback Thursday.

 Do you like to post photos for Throwback Thursday?

 

Treasuring the Treasure Hunt

When I was about 12 years old my family went on a road trip to visit relatives. My cousin and her family drove in their van along with us.  During a particularly boring stretch of highway 5 I asked to ride with my cousin. We sat on the floor in the back of the van, (without seat belts) and amused ourselves by telling stories, and playing games. One of the games we played involved giving each other the chills. My cousin taught me a rhyme that went like this:

Going on a treasure hunt,

Going on a treasure hunt.

Up goes the snake that bites,

Down goes the blood,

Cool breeze.

Tight squeeze.

Now,  you’ve got the chills.

As she said the rhyme my cousin tapped my back (treasure hunt), pinched my neck (snake bite), blew on my spine (cool breeze),  and squeezed my ribs (tight squeeze). By the time she traced her fingernails along my back and uttered the words, “Now you’ve got the chills,” my skin was covered with goosebumps.

When I became a mother, I learned that bedtime rituals are an important part of helping kids transition to sleep. I made sure I performed the typical rituals of bathing, brushing teeth, and reading books. Now that my youngest child is 9 years-old he takes care of most of these rituals himself. But one ritual my son Diego will not ever let me miss is the Treasure Hunt.

Every night after he has completed his bedtime hygiene he tells me, “Come on Mommy, let’s go.” Then, I follow him to bed where I squeeze in next to him and begin the Treasure Hunt. Using  my longish fingernails, I tap, pinch, blow, squeeze and trace my fingers on his back.  Diego not only gets goosebumps, the hair on his arms stands on end. Some nights I am so preoccupied or tired that I beg off doing the Treasure Hunt, and suggest his dad do it instead. My husband, the nail biter, is a poor substitute.

Last week, on a night when I was so busy I still hadn’t finished the dinner dishes by 9:00pm, I grumbled that maybe he should ask his Dad to tuck him into bed. Diego’s face appeared so crestfallen that I was promptly reminded that these rituals wouldn’t last forever and the dinner dishes could wait. I lay down in his twin size bed and began…”Going on a treasure hunt….” When I was done I heard Diego shudder and saw his arms covered in goosebumps.  I laughed softly, happy I made time for this moment. These times will pass all too quickly. Then, we had this exchange:

Me: What are you going to do when you’re all grown up? I’m not going to do the Treasure hunt.

Diego: Why not?

Me: Well, you won’t be living here and you may be married. Besides, your wife might get jealous.

Diego: She won’t be jealous. You can do the Treasure hunt on her too.

It worked! He's asleep.

It worked! He’s asleep.

Do you have any special rituals that you do before bedtime?

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.

 

 

Tooth and Consequences

Four years ago, I experienced a #MotherFail moment. I am certain it wasn’t my first and I am sorry to say, it hasn’t been my last, but it has been a moment that has stayed with me all these years. It was getting late and past 4 year-old Diego’s bedtime. He was tired, and whiny and I was tired and whiny too, albeit we were tired and whiny in different ways. I had been cleaning and cooking all day to prepare for a party the next day. In an effort to soothe Diego’s whining, (or keep him quiet) I told him to watch TV on the family room couch until he fell asleep. I went back to doing whatever I was doing until about one hour later I heard a thump, a scream, and the sound of crying. The kind of crying that starts with a wail and then stops with a breathless silence, followed by a gasp and then hysterical sobbing.

I looked up to see Diego with blood pouring from his mouth. It was a scene right out of “True Blood.” I calmed him down enough to figure out that he was bleeding from a busted lip. I stopped the bleeding and gave him some ice to put on his lip. In another #MotherFail moment I was so preoccupied that I didn’t notice anything unusual about his front tooth. I finished the party preparations and the next day the party went off very nicely, as evidenced by the photos showing people having a good time. Evidence of my mommy neglect can be found in the photos showing Diego looking like a boxer who just went 9 rounds.

Several days later Diego’s right front tooth began to discolor. It turned a nice shade of gray. At his next dental appointment the doctor remarked that the tooth had died but not to worry since it appeared there was no infection and it would fall out on its own. Over the next couple of years Diego began to lose his teeth. I was anxious for him to lose the gray tooth, but that little dead tooth was content to stay there, rooted in his mouth. Taunting me. Reminding me of my own failing. That tooth seemed to taunt me even more when the gum above it developed a bump and caused me enough concern to take him to the dentist. The dentist diagnosed an abscess. He prescribed an antibiotic which cured the infection, prevented an emergency tooth extraction and temporarily eased my guilt.

Finally, when Diego was 7 his left front tooth fell out. At last! Soon he would be free of the right gray front tooth and I would be absolved. All would be forgotten. I waited. We went to the dentist again and the doctor took x-rays. He delivered the bad news. That tooth needed to come out and it needed to come out now. The x-rays showed the adult tooth ready to descend but the dead tooth was standing its ground. We agreed that Diego would try to wiggle that tooth out but if it didn’t come out by Halloween, one month later, the tooth would need to be extracted.

The next few weeks I resolved to get that tooth out. Every day I wiggled that tooth for Diego. Every day, when I asked him if he had a) finished his homework, b) made his bed, I also asked if he c) wiggled his tooth. Everyday he said, yes, I finished my homework, yes I wiggled my tooth, and I forgot to make my bed. At night when I would read with him he talked about his tooth. He became so anxious about the tooth extraction that instead of reading a book with him, I spent the time calming him down. As Halloween grew closer, he became more distressed. “Great”, I thought. He’s going to develop a dental phobia which will plague him the rest of his life. Good job Mom. Succumbing to Mommy Guilt, I told him that we could wait to pull his tooth out until after Christmas. In the meantime, he promised to keep wiggling.

A brief reprieve until New Years. Then his concern started in earnest. With every passing day he grew more anxious and I felt worse. The tooth, for all our efforts did not seem to be any looser. Finally, shortly after the New Year, I decided to be done with it. No more tooth. No more guilt. It’s a New Year. Time to absolve myself. I called a wonderful pediatric dentist nearby and made an appointment for the following day. I explained that Diego was very anxious and that I thought a consultation would help him through his anxiety. I told Juan about the appointment but didn’t tell Diego.

The next morning Diego woke up excited about the upcoming weekend. I told him he would be late to school that morning because we had a dental appointment. He immediately got nervous, but I told him not to worry because the doctor was not going to be able to take out the tooth that morning. That seemed to do the trick. He trusted me.

We arrived at the pediatric dental office, complete with cartoons on the TV, marshmallow and strawberry cheesecake flavored toothpaste and shelves filled with toys. This wasn’t so bad after all. Diego seemed content to sit in the dental chair watching Toy Story while the adults in the room examined his X-Ray. The doctor explained how the tooth needed to come out to allow the adult tooth to descend. He also explained why, despite our wiggling efforts, the tooth would probably never come out on its own. Something to do with ligaments around the tooth fusing to the bone when the tooth was traumatized. I was right, that tooth was taunting me.

We decided not to wait any longer. We were there, the tooth needed to come out and Diego was at ease. He didn’t suspect a thing. After all, he trusted that when I told him that he wouldn’t have the tooth pulled that day, I meant it. I told the dentist about my promise to him and the dentist said he could take the blame. The dentist recommended we not tell Diego what was going to happen until just before we started. Like a lamb to the slaughter, Diego happily climbed back into the dentist chair and didn’t even squirm when the small mask with the laughing gas was placed over his nose. He seemed calm while the doctor told him to breathe in the gas. I stood outside the room, watching Juan’s expression as he sat in the chair next to the dental chair. It wasn’t until the dentist brought out the Novocain and Diego must have seen the needle that he realized what was about to happen. He tried to grab the dentist’s hand but the assistant restrained him. The dentist explained what needed to happen and Diego seemed to relax. I guess he figured it was inevitable, either that or the laughing gas seemed to be working. In what seemed like an eternity, the dentist administered two doses of Novocain and pulled out the tooth.

It was done. Except for the long ride home while Diego sobbed and asked me “Why? ” Why didn’t I tell him? I replied that I really didn’t know it was going to happen until we got there. He said if he had known, he would have bitten the dentist and run out the door. He looked at himself in the rear-view mirror and saw his gap-toothed smile and cried anew. He was so unhappy with the way he looked. He told me that it was worse than the summer haircut he got last year. When we finally got home he calmed down enough to hear me say that the dentist ordered Diego to have only soft foods like ice cream, smoothies, and yogurt. Maybe it was the thought of all that ice cream, or the idea that he had an unexpected day off from school. Whatever it was he finally stopped crying. I began to think that maybe he won’t be scarred for life and have to deal with dental phobia as an adult. Diego’s gray tooth was gone, and with it some of my Mommy Guilt was gone too. Or, at least it will be after the tooth fairy makes good on her delivery.

Diego, after his tooth is out, and he's eaten his fill of ice cream.

Diego, after his tooth is out, and he’s eaten his fill of ice cream.

What kind of #MotherFail moments have you experienced?

 

Capturing a Christmas Miracle

Every year, like many families, we try to send out a holiday card. I’ve been doing this since Nico’s first Christmas, 14 years ago. Each year, my holiday card includes a photo (or several photos) and a newsletter. Yes, I am that kind of mom. The one who writes about her family in a yearly recap, although I like to think my recaps are kind of cleaver, since I try to write them in prose or to the tune of a Christmas carol.

I enjoy writing so the newsletter part of my Christmas card is usually pretty easy. However, no one in our family, or extended family, is a photographer, so the picture part of our Christmas card is a much more difficult task. This year was no exception. In fact, this year’s Christmas card photo was probably even more complicated since Erica now spends the majority of her days at her mom’s house, and it felt like we would need a Christmas miracle to get the entire family in one location, looking camera-ready.

On Sunday afternoon, Erica and Nico had to attend Confirmation class at our church. Then they had to meet with Olivia and the rest of their acolyte team to practice for the Sunday evening Advent church service. There was about a 15 minute window of opportunity to get a photo. Luckily, our church is directly across the street from a beautiful photo spot, the Pasadena City Hall courtyard. We all met at the courtyard about 2:30 in the afternoon. It was not the “Golden Hour” for photography, but the light was still really nice. In fact, when we arrived we realized we were not the only ones who wanted to take pictures. There was a fashion shoot in one area, two wedding parties, and about three other families all taking photos. We wanted to take a picture in front of the city’s Christmas tree but it was in a shaded area and would have been too dark. We opted for a spot in front of a beautiful fountain in the center of the courtyard.

Olivia offered to let us use an SLR camera that her mom had loaned her. Olivia was confident she knew how to use the timer. Juan told me I didn’t need to learn how to use the timer on my own camera since Olivia had it under control. Juan brought along his new iPhone 5. He also brought along a couple of TV trays, tripods and a cardboard box since we were going to need to set the shot up and then run into the picture. Talk about Amateur Hour. All around us there were professionals taking nicely staged family photos, and wedding pictures. Not us. Nope, we take our family Christmas photos using high-end equipment like this:

The photo "equipment" used to take our family photo.

Just to make it more interesting, we gave ourselves only 15 minutes to take a family portrait. As if that wasn’t enough pressure, the girls started bickering, Juan started stressing, and then Olivia realized she really didn’t know how to use the camera timer after all. Good thing Juan brought along his iPhone 5. He took a couple of pictures, one which was useable, but Erica didn’t like herself in it. At the last minute, and in an act of desperation, we asked a complete stranger walking through to courtyard if he wouldn’t mind taking our picture. Olivia set the camera focus, handed the camera to the stranger, and got herself into position. Then we all tried to look like we were in good cheer, and I said a silent prayer that our “photographer” would not run off with the camera. The stranger snapped two shots. One of them made it to the Christmas card. A Christmas Miracle.

Christmas Photo 2012

 How do you take family portraits? Do you send Christmas newsletters?