The calm before…

Papá Chepe

I keep thinking about that Monday afternoon. It was so normal, so nice, and yet I can’t recall what he said, what he wore, what I told him. I certainly didn’t say, “I love you, Papá Chepe.”

The next day Papá Chepe woke my parents at dawn telling them he was having trouble breathing. Soon, mom and dad were on the phone with a 911 operator. They thought he was having a heart attack. Mom followed their directions and took 30 seconds to frantically wake up Lori and inform her that she needed to corral the dogs in a room and open the door so the paramedics could enter when they arrived. Mamá Toni stood and watched even though dad told her she needed to sit. The paramedics showed up and took Papá Chepe to the ER. Dad rode along and woke up tío Chuy with the news, soon the rest of our extended family would know. It’d be a few more hours — around 9:30, coincidentally during my pumping break — before Lori called me. I knew from her first sentence that something had happened. “It was scary, you’re lucky you didn’t have to see it.” Dad called a few minutes after. I was the last of the kids to find out. “He’s in ICU room 101, bed 6,” he told me after giving me the hospital information.

That morning, Papá Chepe had a heart attack and a stroke.


Tuesday was scary, but Monday was normal, unremarkable and beautiful. I keep trying to remember that afternoon, but even though it was just 9 days ago it’s fuzzy.

I had the day off thanks to the MLK Jr holiday and decided to spend the afternoon in Hacienda Heights. My mom had the day off as did my sister and they were happy to have me — well, Xavi — visit.

I arrived around 12:30 pm with a sleeping Xavi in tow. Daisy barked like mad but she didn’t wake the baby. VR jumped excitedly as he always does when I arrive.

I followed my mom to the backyard where Papá Chepe and Mamá Toni were having lunch. They always have lunch — their largest meal of the day — around 1 or 2 pm. I remember coming home from elementary school to Papá Chepe picking the brains out of a slow-cooked cow’s head. The skull freaked me out and he liked to tease me by slowly eating the eyeball.

But that Monday’s lunch was simpler, healthier and less gross to adult or kid me. Mom made pasta salad with tuna on a bed of baby spinach and tomatoes. It was yummy.

Xavi woke up and mom grabbed him first. She sat next to Mamá Toni who held a cracker close to him.

“Don’t give it to him! He’ll definitely put it in his mouth. He tries to put everything in his mouth.”

I remembered what Lori had told me a few weeks ago. Mamá Toni doesn’t quite understand that Xavi doesn’t eat solids yet or that he doesn’t have teeth. “You’ll have to keep an eye on her,” she warned.


Papá Chepe just watched as Mamá Toni asked to hold — well, dance/bounce — Xavi. Ever since Thanksgiving, she’s been awed that Xavi always bounces when she holds him up. “Mira, José, el sólo está brincando,” she tells Papá Chepe as if to prove that she doesn’t make the little guy bounce. It’s true. Xavi does love bouncing. He’s got some strong little legs.

Mom obliged and handed him over but sat close by since she worries about Mamá Toni’s strength. I snapped photos to send to Sean at work.

Having a good time

“We’re having a good time!” I captioned the first photo.

Dancing Xavi

Next, “Mom doesn’t quite trust Mamá Toni’s strength.”

“Ti-lin-gi-lon-gi, ti-lin-gi-lon-gi, ti-lin-gi-lon-gi,” Mamá Toni sang just as she did when I was a baby.

After eating, I moved to the comfy porch swing and sat down next to Papá Chepe. We continued watching as Mamá Toni asked for Xavi every 5 minutes — “a ver… dámelo, traemlo aquí.” Mom would pass him over but sat close by for when Mamá Toni would tire after a few minutes. Eventually, I brought Xavi over to the swing.

I can’t tell you what Papá Chepe said or when he got up to take the dogs for a short walk or if that was before or after mom and I left to Costco.

I don’t remember if Papá Chepe said anything later as Lori and I showed Xavi the fish in his tank. I asked Xavi, “Do you remember when we went with Papá Chepe to pick out the fish?” I picked Papá Chepe in the family gift exchange but kept putting off buying the fish Mom suggested. Plus, I didn’t have a tank to store the fish and thought gift wrapping them would be risky. I always have excuses for my procrastination.


On Christmas Eve I gave him an IOU. On New Year’s Eve I kept my promise and took Papá Chepe to PetSmart to pick his Christmas presents. He only had one fish left in his tank at home. I took Xavi along. We waited for a while to be helped. The lone employee in the fish/amphibian section was busy with a couple of kids and their parents and barely looked our way. It didn’t take long for Papá Chepe to make up his mind. I kept Xavi entertained by looking at the fish in the tanks, but he was getting fussy. Xavi cried the whole way and I felt flustered. I tried to explain to Papá Chepe that the baby was just hungry. Nevertheless, he was happy with his fish and even insisted on paying me back $6 since we went over the gift exchange dollar amount. I stuffed the money in the diaper bag.

Back to Monday afternoon. Xavi, Lori and I played in the living room while Mamá Toni watched on. She asked for him again. Then it was feeding time. Xavi fell asleep, it was a little after 4.

“Right now that he’s sleeping, you should leave,” mom suggested knowing that Xavi wouldn’t fuss. I put Xavi in his carseat. Lori helped me with the Costco groceries. I said quick goodbyes to everyone including the grandparents. Mamá Toni asked why I was leaving so soon and I said I had to pick up Sean from work. I gave her a hug and a kiss and did the same with Papá Chepe.


Papá Chepe’s condition has improved slightly since last Tuesday morning, but there’s still many reasons to worry about the future. He battled pneumonia and a fever. The stroke left him unable to move his right side and his tongue. He was in ICU until Monday morning. Members of the extended family take shifts day and night in being by his side. It makes me happy that he’s not alone through this scary time.

Manos de un trabajador

Sean and I went on Thursday night to visit. Xavi stayed in the waiting room with my cousin Liz as Sean and I walked in to the room. The scene was sobering. Tío Beto made room for us to go to his left side where I could hold his hand. Papá Chepe gripped my hand and I spoke softly to him. After being there for a little while, tío Beto told me, “you have a good touch. His blood pressure has gone down since you’ve been here. It’s normal even.”

A fraction of José and Antonia's 27 grandchildren and 32 great grandchildren

We were there again on Saturday. Every chair in the small waiting room was filled with my aunts, uncles, cousins and my cousins’ kids. I guess that’s what happens when you have a big Mexican family (see above for a photo of some of the grandchildren and great grandchildren). It reminded me a little of the time he had open heart surgery ten years ago. I waited for my turn to visit in the cafeteria where another dozen or so family members were eating, doing homework, playing iPhone games.

Around 5:30, I went in to see Papá Chepe with my 17-year old cousin Star. It was her first time seeing Papá Chepe and she couldn’t hold back the tears upon seeing him with an oxygen mask over his mouth and nose. His forearms were bruised from the IV tube needles and machines around him whirred as they monitored his vitals. I comforted her and thought about how I was about her age when Grandpa Bartolo passed away from cancer. Curiously, Star was born just two days before Grandpa passed. When Star’s little brother, David, joined us, I pointed out a get well poster Alexis made featuring several family photos. “Papá Chepe has all these people and more praying for him,” I told them.

Later, Sean went in with me to see Papá Chepe when visiting hours resumed. This time, Papá Chepe was a little bit more alert and turned to me as I spoke. He held my hand and his eyes fluttered. I sang to him just as Lori asked me to, played a video of Xavi giggling, and talked about how even our babysitter and her prayer group are praying for him. I told him, “te quiero.”



I hate that I can’t remember more of that Monday. I should be okay with that, but I know that it might be the last Monday I see and hear the Papá Chepe I’ve known my whole life. Still, it was just one day in hundreds of great days I’ve spent with Papá Chepe and Mamá Toni. With Papá Chepe, I’ve had the chance to record his life stories through StoryCorps. On those days when I miss his voice, I can go back and listen to the CD or mp3 from our interview. On the days when I miss dancing to La Marcha de Zacatecas, I can watch our wedding video and recall how surprised he was when the emcee announced I was doing a granddaughter/grandfather dance. Papá Chepe hammed it up.


And on the days when I miss his smile, I can look at pictures from that Sunday afternoon in early August when Sean and I introduced him to Xavi, his 33rd great grandchild.


Not sure how Adrian feels about Sean, the new brother in law

I don’t know what’s going to happen, but can only hope that Papá Chepe isn’t scared nor in great pain, that he has competent and caring doctors and nurses, that he knows his family is by his side and when we’re not, we’re thinking and praying for him. I hope he knows we’re taking care of Mamá Toni and will continue doing so. Most of all, I hope he knows just how much we love him.


Week two blurbs

A few days ago I attended a research talk for work. I was looking forward to meeting the speaker since I know he mentors a lot of our advanced students and he was born and education in Mexico. After our director introduced our guest, El Profe added a note on his bio.

“I was educated in Mexico, Canada, and now the United States. Since I came here in 1992, I like to say I’m of the pioneers of NAFTA.”

I think it was supposed to be a joke, but the audience of college freshmen and sophomores didn’t even chuckle. I was amused. Then I wondered, do they even know what NAFTA is? They weren’t alive when it was approved and some were just infants when it went in to effect on January 1, 1994.

Tierra y libertad!

They certainly don’t remember watching footage of the Zapatista uprising. Ski masks are probably just ski masks to them.

One of my favorite photos ever

I don’t know if I’ve ever felt more removed and from a different generation than I feel from this class. The freshmen are the same age as my cousin Valerie. I remember cradling her as a newborn during my quinceañera. It’s also been 20 years since my freshman year of high school. It still feels weird to be able to begin a sentence that way and discuss an event I remember vividly.


My work credit card was flagged for fraudulent activity. I was a bit baffled because the card is almost always locked away in my office. I’ve only used it a couple times too. When I called the bank’s fraud office, I found out it had been used to purchase $300 worth of merchandise at Motherhood Maternity. I grumbled about buying maternity clothes, but at least I did it legitimately. I feel bad for hoping that the thief gets bad heartburn or swollen feet.


My neighbor

I get a lot of emails that go something like this: I’m really interested in the X Program. Can you send me info on how to apply?

I have a general form email I send with links to our website. There they can find step-by-step directions on applying. However, I’d really like to reply with a link to Let Me Google That For You. I don’t because snark at work is probably not good and I’m sure I asked similar questions as a college student too. At least I wasn’t applying to a research program.

Bebe, Cultura

The boy is mine

When I was on maternity leave one of my favorite things to do was take Xavi for walks around 5 pm. We’d wander the neighborhood and then meet up with Sean on his walk home from the train station.

I’d text him: I’m the one walking the stroller.

When we encountered each other on the sidewalk, he’d smile and say “Hi family.”

Once I returned to work, I stopped taking those short walks since it was often feeding time when I got home. Plus, by the time I got Xavi ready to go out, it’d be dark and cool. I missed it.

The week before Christmas was different. I got home a little earlier and it was hardly even cold out. On that Tuesday, I put Xavi in a sweater and texted Sean about his expected arrival at the train station. Since he would be 20 minutes later than usual, I decided to meander through the neighborhood checking out Christmas lights.

With Xavi in the Baby Bjorn, we walked up and down the block and surrounding streets. I pointed out lawn decorations like inflatable Santas, reindeer and snowmen. I tried to get Xavi interested in the lights, but he didn’t seem impressed probably because he couldn’t touch them or put them in his mouth. Two streets over, we stood on the sidewalk in front of one of the more elaborately decorated homes on the block. I showed Xavi the mini Christmas trees lighting the walkway and the other decorations.

Behind us, an older man and his granddaughter parked on the street and got out of their car.

“Look, sweetie, they’re admiring our Christmas lights.”

“They’re nice! I wanted to show him the lights in the neighborhood.” I responded.

The little girl just looked at us, but the man came closer and began asking about Xavi.

“Oh, he’s so small. How old?”

“Four and half months.”

He talked to Xavi and made him giggle.

“Is he yours?”

“Yes,” I replied feeling uneasy and wondering all sorts of things. “I gotta get going. Merry Christmas!”

I walked away and toward the usual meeting-up place with Sean thinking about the comment and what I had read from other women who have mixed race kids.

A week later, I got the same question. This time, Xavi was asleep in the stroller and we were out for a late morning walk. Two elderly women stepped to the side to let me through over a busted up section of the sidewalk.

“What do we have here?” the first one said in that high-pitched ‘it’s a baby!!!’ voice.

I stopped so she could look at Xavi. They started asking questions and commenting on his appearance. How old? His name? Oh, he’s sleeping. Oh my, so much hair! He’s adorable. As they spoke, Xavi stirred and opened up his eyes.

Oh no, they’re gonna wake him up, I thought.

“Is he yours?”

“Yes,” I said while my face screamed “of course he’s mine, you nosy dimwit!” I imagine my face gave away my feelings.

“Oh, he does look like mom,” she said to her friend.

“Have a good day,” I said ready to keep moving.

I walked the rest of the way trying to figure out why I’d been asked the question twice. There were two obvious reasons:

1. They think I’m the nanny because I’m Chicana and there are lot of families in the area who employ Latina caretakers for their kids — self included. If you go to the local park, most of the adults there on a late weekday morning will be Latinas in their 30s and 40s looking after mainly white toddlers and babies. Plus, the neighborhood I was walking through is wealthy and predominantly white. The Latinos I see there are often working in construction, landscaping and childcare. (I live a 10 minute walk away, but am used to running/walking through the area because I get in some hill work. Definitely not rich.)

2. They don’t think Xavi looks like me because he’s mixed race and thus has browner skin and curly hair.

The second explanation seems more plausible in both instances. In the first, I was carrying Xavi in the Baby Bjorn and in my limited experience baby carrying seems like the domain of a mother or father. It was also evening. Second, one woman even brought up the resemblance seemingly to put me at ease and address the faux pas of asking the question in the first place.

I know mothers and fathers of mixed race children get this question. I’ve heard of moms making t-shirts saying “I’m not the nanny” and stories from parents who get scolded by judgmental strangers for speaking Spanish or another native language with kids at the playground in a “I don’t think the child’s parents would appreciate that” sense. I even thought I’d hear the questions or get the looks at one point, but didn’t think it would happen just five months in to motherhood.

I love that Xavi is a mix of our racial and ethnic backgrounds. He’ll grow up knowing he has roots in Mexico and Jamaica, southern California and New York. He’ll know rancheras and reggae, curry goat and birria de chivo, the beaches of Montego Bay and Mazatlán. He’ll cheer for Jamaican sprinters in the summer Olympics and el Tricolor in the World Cup. He’ll hear the lilting Jamaican accent of his grandparents Kenton and Eula and Spanish and Spanglish from his abuelitos Luz and Carlos. He may even roll his eyes when I say that he is Jamexican finding it corny and preferring Blaxican.

I hope he never feels the pit in his stomach when someone questions if I’m his mom or Sean’s his dad because we’re a lighter or darker shade of brown.

Getting trained early in the fine art of giving a proper side-eye.

And if he does, I hope that he brings his grade A side-eye and WTF face along with a polite, “Yes, she’s my mom…” followed by an under the breath, “y que te importa?”


The inevitable 2014 goal post

Happy new Year! Feliz año nuevo! (Don’t forget the tilde on the n!)

NYE 2013 was just as low-key as NYE 2012. Sean and I joined up with siblings, cousins and some friends for dinner and games at Adrian and Alexis’ new-ish apartment. Xavi crashed way before midnight.

For 2014, I want to do more:

Running. I miss it. I have a jogging stroller and mainly open weekend mornings so I should be able to get out there. It should also help me lose a little bit of weight without being restrictive about my diet — which I’ll have to do eventually if I want to get back to pre-pregnancy weight.

Reading. Inspired by Punk Rock Mom, I’m taking up an A-Z challenge to read at least one book by an author from every letter of the alphabet.

Writing. Let’s see if I can knock out two blog posts a week about more than just baby/new mom life. I know that’s not interesting to some people. And I do have thoughts about culture, politics, education, etc.