Pottery, Leather or an Umbrella? The 9 Year Wedding Anniversary Gift

Today is my 9th wedding anniversary. The traditional gift for this anniversary is pottery. Maybe so you can throw it at your spouse? The modern gift for this anniversary is leather—hmm, much more interesting. I like what my step-daughter Erica said about this anniversary, “You’ve beat your high score!” As two people who have been married before, whose marriages did not make it much past the 7 year-itch, I know she is right on. I realize 9 years married is a drop in the bucket compared to our parents’ 51 and 47 year marriages, but I look forward to reaching those milestones with Juan. That means I will be 90 years old when I finally get the anniversary gift of gold.

When I think about the past 9 years, I am still astounded by all that we’ve shared together. I guess it really shouldn’t surprise me much, because when the groom has two daughters ages 5 and 7, and the bride has a 4 year-old,  the newlyweds have to hit the ground running. Well, forget about running, the bride and groom have to hit the ground sprinting. There’s very little time for even a water break.

In the first year of marriage alone, we began a major house remodel, living in our house as we added on 2 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms and a family room. Erica and Nico started kindergarten, and Olivia started in a new school. I became pregnant. We had to buy 2 cars, one a minivan (of course), and another when  I was in an accident that totaled my completely paid for Honda. It was a challenging year. We like to joke that the only thing we did not do was take up drinking to handle all the stress.

I’d like to say that over the next several years, it’s gotten easier and there are fewer worries, but I would be lying. I think that first year married probably set the tempo for our lives together. Life is still incredibly fast paced. The pressures of having a blended family are great. Dealing with three parenting households is very complicated. Still, I think that we have learned a lot in these years together, and while we occasionally forget we are on the same team, we are quick to remind each other. Sometimes, it feels like we have to endure so many challenges as a blended family, that the only way to get through it is to huddle close to each other, knowing that we are in it together—for the long haul.

I like what we heard at Nico and Erica’s graduation the other day, “We need to learn to dance in the rain.” Yes, we have bright, sunny days, and we have  rainy days. But, with Juan as my partner, I know that we will dance through the rain together.

Maybe I should give him an umbrella?

O Happy Day!

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...

In the House of an Angel

A few weeks ago I took another step towards saying good-bye to my grandmother. My grandmother died last June, at the wonderfully old age of 97. She died while living alone, in the house she had lived in for over 50 years. The only house I had ever known her to live in, and the place where , when I was a young girl, I would spend any weekend I could. Every Friday afternoon I’d call my cousin on the phone and ask her to meet my sister and I at Grandma’s. It was a ritual weekend for us. A weekend that began with packing our matching overnight suitcases that Grandma bought us, loading them with clothes and Barbies, and heading to Grandma’s. Saturdays we spent the day in a Barbie marathon, followed by lunch served outdoors in the patio, and maybe a trip to the grocery store, where Grandma could be easily persuaded to buying us something special. Saturday nights were spent staying up late, playing cards or Chinese checkers, watching The Carol Burnett Show”, and finally falling asleep in her spare bedroom. The house was small, but the heart of the house was huge.

Even into her last year of life, my grandmother enjoyed playing a game Chinese Checkers with her great-grandchildren.

This same house where my large extended family spent every holiday. Never mind that the tiny kitchen did not have a dishwasher, or that the dining room could only seat 8 comfortably, or even that there was just one bathroom, my grandmother’s house expanded to fit anyone who stopped by for a Christmas tamale, a bite of Easter ham, or her ambrosia salad at Thanksgiving. It was also the house with the bountiful apricot tree which shaded our small wooden playhouse with the dutch door, and the flower filled backyard which my grandmother cared for.

Helping my grandmother tend to her garden. Circa 1967.

Flowers from my grandmother's garden.

I have countless memories that were made in the house that was nearly unchanged throughout my life. Since she died, the house remained vacant, but my mother made weekly trips to begin thinning out my grandmother’s belongings. In January, we had a huge garage sale. I thought to myself, how my grandmother would have hated it. Little by little, the house emptied, until it was finally ready for the market. When it was listed by a family friend and realtor, the house sold in less than two weeks. It was a cash offer. As is. My mother, who had grown weary of the process of settling my grandmother’s estate, was relieved. And sad.

Escrow closed quickly. Suddenly, I had only one weekend to move out a couple of things that I wanted to keep. On a warm Saturday afternoon Juan and I took our van and drove to my grandmother’s house for the last time. I found the spare key in its usual hiding place. I walked inside and noticed the carpets had been cleaned, but the house emptied of furniture, and its walls stripped of photos and decor, showed years of wear. As I walked through the house looking around I felt sad yet strangely comforted. Even though the house held all sorts of memories for me, it was no longer the home I knew. With my grandmother’s passing, the heart of the house ceased to exist. Juan followed me around taking pictures of the rooms with his iPhone. I told him I didn’t need photos, but he insisted that I would want them later. He continued taking pictures, the music from Pandora radio on his phone playing. As we moved into the kitchen I began looking at it for the last time. So many meals prepared here, so many visits spent at the kitchen table, chatting and reminiscing. The last time I saw her alive, one week before she died, I said good-bye to her as she sat at her usual spot at the kitchen table, with the TV on and a stack of newspapers close by.

One last look around the kitchen that remained unchanged after all these years.

I opened the kitchen cabinets looking for anything left behind. Nothing. Not even any of her handwritten notes, or newpaper clippings she kept taped to the inside of the cabinet doors. As I looked inside the last cabinet I noticed a lone news clipping taped to the door. The words from a song by The Beatles, and on the last line, a reminder to me.

The only remaining newspaper clipping I found taped to a kitchen cabinet.

And then I became aware of the music that was playing from Juan’s iphone, “The Arms of an Angel\” by Sarah McLachlan.

It was as if she was there. It wasn’t scary, a little eerie maybe, but mostly it was, well, perfect. I had come to say good-bye to the house and walk through it one last time, but suddenly I knew that even though I would probably never return to the house that held so many memories, those memories, and my grandmother would never leave me. The memories of all that we shared would carry me through the moments I would miss her. I said good-bye to her house, but not to the memories and love that we shared in her home.

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When Being the Mother Isn’t Enough

I was 35 years-old when I became a mother. By that age, I had gone to college, finished  law school and started my second career as a litigation attorney. I was was at a point in life where I was ready to assume the responsibliities of motherhood. I was ready. After enduring 36 hours of labor and an unplanned c-section, I was anxious to leave the hospital and be with my baby.  I wanted to get home get my “mothering on.” My husband at the time, was a a part-time musician, and had a regular Saturday night gig at a not-too-local nightclub. It was noon Saturday when we arrived home with our precious bundle, Nicolas.  I had decided to breastfeed my baby, but after three days my milk had not come in and Nico was still only getting the nourishing colostrum. The lactation consultant visited me before I left the hospital and sent off with words of encouragement. I thought I had everything under control, so why should my husband miss his regular Saturday night gig. “Go,”  I said. “I got this.” Besides, since I was Nico’s only source of food, I could handle it.  So, my husband went off to his gig and I was all alone. With a newborn.

Around 9:00 p.m. all hell broke loose. The colostrum which had so far satisfied Nico, was no longer enough. He wanted to eat. I wanted to sleep. He needed a diaper change. I needed a shower.  He needed to sleep. I needed to eat.  Then, it happened, my milk came in. I had heard stories of this experience but nothing prepared me for the feeling. Suddenly, I was in so much pain as my breasts filled with milk. I had not thought to buy or rent a breast pump, because things had been going so well at the hosptial.  All of a sudden with the milk filling my breasts my baby could nor get his little mouth to properly latch on. He became more frustrated. I became more uncomfortable. He cried. I cried.  It was midnight and I was exhausted.  Nico wailed and I became desperate.  I got in the hot shower. The warm water helped me to relax and the milk flowed, and the pressure in my breasts eased. Nico was able to latch on again and nurse a bit, but we still struggled. And struggled. It was 2:30 a.m. by the time my husband came home.  He seemed shocked to see me and the baby still up. The look on my face must have said it all, because he immediately asked what I needed. I think I cried. So much for getting my mothering on.

I bring this up now because whenever the parenting road gets a little bumpy I think of that first night. How I felt so confident that I could handle it all. How, in my certainty that I was all my baby needed,  I thought I could manage. That first night home was an eye opener. It made me realize that even though Nico needed me to be his source of food and comfort, I needed help too. Nico would need more than just me alone.

Thirteen years later that little baby has grown into a loving, mostly responsible teen.  I have managed so far to get through the toddler years, survive the awkward tween years and am currently muddling through the moody teen years.  I have learned a lot along the way and I realize that I have to learn more, especially when it comes to parenting a teen boy.  Obviously our anatomy is not the same, and his experience as an adolescent boy is not something I can even remotely relate to. Right now I am in uncharted waters. Waters that involve realizing that my son, is growing into a young man, perhaps sooner than I am ready for. His younger brother noticed it too the other day. Diego told Nico, “Hey, it looks like you have a mustache.” Not quite but it was there. That unmistakable shadow on his upper lip. I have grown used to hearing Nico’s voice crack and now settle into a deeper sounding register. I see how he’s given up playing Legos with his younger brother, preferring instead to play video games with his buddies up the street. And girls. Although, he won’t admit it to me, there are girls. At least one. I have tried couseling him on “age appropriate relationships” but I fear he may be hearing “blah, blah, blah,”  instead of  my words of womanly wisdom. Perhaps this is where I need to let go a bit more. Let him know that I am always available to talk to him,  but encourage him to seek the wisdom of his father and step-father’s experience. Maybe, like that first night home, I have to  allow others to help me, and that will help my son. Maybe, getting my mothering on, means allowing others to fill in those spaces where mothering isn’t enough.

 

Outward Bound – Making 2012 a Better Year

I was going to write another 50/50 Friday post to update you on what I’ve accomplished since I last posted about my list of 50 Things I Want to Do Before my 50th Birthday, except that apart from a lot of cooking and wine drinking (numbers 19 and 20 on my list), I really haven’t done much. Besides, the cooking and wine drinking part has more to do with the holidays than anything really intentional on my part.

So instead of posting about my 50/50 list I thought I would share how my approach to the new year is going. I mentioned before that 2011 was not a very good year for me. I decided that this year was going to be better. I looked at what might have contributed to making 2011 such a bad year and I think  the fact that I focused so much more  inwardly, made me feel isolated and sometimes hopeless. Duh. 

I had begun 2011 managing a personal crisis so I felt like I needed to circle the wagons. Consequently, I didn’t nurture the connections I had with anyone. Rather than reaching out to community for support, I dwelt with life in kind of a crisis mode. 

This year I am purposefully extending myself beyond my comfort zone, reaching outward and trying to do things a bit differently. It’s only the second week of the new year and already I have a lot on my plate as a result. It’s a little intimidating but already I am finding 2012 to be a lot more promising.

One thing I have done recently is get together with more friends. Last week Juan and I took up a friend’s invitation to cook us dinner. It was a midweek invitation and something we normally wouldn’t have done. But, we did and we had a great time.  I have also made plans to go to a work out class with a couple of friends, and I am getting together with my besties this weekend. That’s a lot of socializing for me, but I need it.   I have also committed to be on my church Vestry. When I was approached to take this on, I wasn’t sure I really wanted to stretch myself this way, but I prayed about it and found myself committing to it. I don’t know how I am going to manage it all, but it’s another way to face the new year with an openness and outwardness.

As I was meditating on what the new year was going to hold for me, I found that I didn’t have a concrete plan how to implement this “open and outward” approach. This is very unsettling to me. Those who know me, know that I like some predictability. Despite my Gemini tendencies, I am a control freak  planner.  So, the idea that I did not have a plan to make 2012 more “outward and open” got me thinking. Before I knew it my meditative state was disrupted by my mind, making lists, checking off ways to improve my life in 2012. Then I stopped. I realized that, most of all I just needed to open myself up to the universe. In the midst of my meditation, my direction came to me with these words, “Have and open mind, an accepting heart, and ready hands.”  So, that is what I am going to do. I am going to keep my mind open to new things, allow myself to accept things that I may not be completely comfortable with, and prepare myself for the tasks that are ahead of me in 2012.

Let’s do this.