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.

Firsts

It’s Monday, the 18th day of NaNloPoMo, and I am feeling a bit uninspired.  I looked at today’s writing prompt to get me going.  The prompt is to blog about a post you didn’t publish. I have a couple of those, but not many. Actually, I have many more unwritten posts that I probably won’t be able to publish, for the same reasons I haven’t written them.  The subject is too raw, and the stories are personal not just to me, but to others in my family.

I looked through my blog posts marked “private” and I found this one. When I wrote it my heart ached for my step-daughter.  I felt so helpless, like most parents feel when they see their child sick or sad. At the time, I wrote the post for myself and yet I knew that I would not be able to hit “publish” because like my other unwritten, unpublished blog posts, the subject matter was still too fresh.

Now, after reading this post, I feel enough time has passed that I can finally hit “publish.”

 

As parents, we’ve experienced many “firsts.” We had a first in our house last night. Our first daughter, with her first love, experienced her first broken heart. As parents, it was one of those times watching your child hurt and realizing you can do little about it, except offer some comforting words and the comforting food of a cheeseburger, fries and chocolate shake.We’ve all been there.  But, somehow seeing your child go through it makes it so much more painful. As we talked about her heartbreak, I found myself amazed at her level of maturity, insight and sensitivity.  The tears rolled down her face and she sobbed, feeling bad for being the one to break the news and knowing that in doing so, she may have broken a heart and ended a friendship.I have been on both ends of the spectrum, and in my opinion it is worse to be the one hearing the message, than the one delivering the message.  Maybe that’s because when I was the messenger I wasn’t as attached to the person, or maybe I just wasn’t as sensitive as our 14 year old daughter. I was also amazed, stunned actually, that we were talking about it. She doesn’t share her feelings easily, so perhaps it’s a testament to the amount of pain she felt that she was able to share it with her dad and I. Or maybe she just has a more open relationship about these things than I ever did with my parents. It could also be when I was a teen, I under-estimated my parents and didn’t think they would understand.

As much as it hurt to see her suffer, I also felt gratitude. I felt grateful that we have such an insightful, loving daughter.  Grateful that I felt close to her in sharing such heartache. Grateful that she confided in me, her mom and her dad. Most of all I felt grateful in knowing that this too shall pass and as beautiful and wonderful as she is, she will experience love again. This is one thing I know to be true. I am grateful to her for reminding me of that too.

 

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!

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?

 

Ending the School Year with Parenting Highs and Lows

The school year is just about over. With that comes all the year-end ceremonies, recitals, and our first ever prom. This year, the year-end festivities were filled with highs and lows. First, the highs:

The graduating 8th graders at Nico and Erica’s school were assigned to write an essay on Mary and what she means to them. (They go to Catholic school). The top 10 essay writers are selected to be readers as a special mass honoring Mary. Nico’s essay was selected and he did me proud reading from the church pulpit.

 

Doing a reading in front of a packed house.

 

On the day of the special Mary event, the 8th graders process into church all dressed up, and the girls wear crowns of flowers in their hair. Erica looked beautiful and Nico looked great.  They both looked so grown up.

 

 

Nico and Erica’s 8th grade graduating class performed a salsa dance at their Spring recital. The 8th graders rocked the house. 

Olivia was presented three awards at her high school awards night. As a top student in three subjects, she took home awards in Theology, Art History, and U.S. History.

Olivia with certificates in Art History, U.S. History and Theology

 

Olivia attended her junior prom. Not only is she bright, but she’s beautiful.

Ready for the prom.

 

Diego got his own chance to shine in his school’s musical production of Annie, Junior.

 

Diego in his school musical, Annie, Jr.

 

Diego’s open house at school gave us the chance to see how much progress he’s made reading. It made me feel good about our decision to retain him, since he is now right on track with reading and writing fluency.

 

Diego shows off some of his school work at his open house.

 

With all these highs, it’s hard to believe that I could still experience lows. But, I’m keeping it real on this blog, and that’s why I’m telling you that raising kids is no picnic. Sure the rewards can be great. (See above). Especially, when you see your kids accomplishing things, growing into interesting, bright, people, or when I witness how they interact with their teachers, other adults and even their peers. But, often when they interact with us, the parents, we experience the brunt of the downside of raising teens.

Our teens with their demanding school schedules, extra curricular activities and social lives keep us running around non-stop. Add to this crazy schedule, the feelings of entitlement that my teens can exhibit and it’s enough to make me feel resentful. When their schedules make them less than willing to help out around the house, my resentment gets fueled to the point of anger. It is not pretty. Anger and impatience led to some pretty heated discussions throughout these last couple of weeks. So, coupled with the highs, I had some pretty low lows.

It was enough to make me want to turn in my parenting card. And it was enough to make me forget about these moments when I was so proud of them for all their accomplishments. It was enough to make me forget that once upon a time they needed me and their dad, and as their parents we were the center of their world. It was enough to make me forget how sweet and loving they used to be. As I was feeling the resentment and picking up dirty laundry (again) from the floor in the boys’ room, I spied this:

Diego's latest entry from his "secret" diary.

Transcription: Today was a great day because I got to play on Club Penguin and today I got to make a volcano out of paper mache and like every day I have to go to church. Waaaaa. But the best part of today I got to spend time with my mom and dad. 

Yes, three of my kids are teens, and I have one who is 7 years old. In addition to being a consistent source of fun and laughter he also reminds me of the joy of parenting. He reminds me that I am enough for him. I don’t need to drive him to a movie, take him to a sports practice or stay up late quizzing him for an exam. He reminds me that even though I am in the midst of teen turmoil with the older kids, I also get a front row seat to watching them grow up. He reminds me to stop and enjoy those moments when the kids make me proud or show kindness and consideration.

Soon, as they find their own way, they will find their way back to me and their dad. When they do find their way back it will not as the dependent children they were, or the sometimes entitled teens they are, but as the independent, mature people adults they will become. In the meantime, I will try to stay focused on the prouder moments they give me, and when I feel like I am about to engage in a rant against their self-centered behavior, I will remember them when they looked like this:

Once upon a time...