Cuentos, Familia

The Beginner Zone

I tried skiing. It was fun and I think I want to do it again.

I never thought I’d write those sentences. Growing up, I didn’t know anyone who skied. My experience with snow was limited to sledding during weekend trips to Big Bear or Lake Arrowhead. My siblings got into snowboarding, but I never went because they scared me with their tales of how much it hurt when they fell. Plus, the cost turned me off. I didn’t have much disposable income as a grad student.

Seeing the kids do their never-ever lessons, I was intrigued. Plus, Archie kept asking me to ski with him.

So I signed up for the 90-minute learn to ski program last week. For $59 I got the lesson and equipment rental. While the kids had their lesson, I learned the basics.

My instructor started off by asking me what sports I play in the summer. It’s been a long long time, but I’ve played baseball and was a runner. I also mentioned that I used to roller skate and had been ice skating a couple of times. Both were good as they helped me get the hang of a basic stance and also being familiar with the weird feeling of sliding or gliding. As he assured me, having two long sticks and a bulky boot feels very weird and counterintuitive, but you get used to it.

Once I got the hang of gliding down a very small half pipe in the beginner area, making the pizza wedge, moving around on the skis, and starting to turn we made our way to the first slope, the Magic Carpet. There I’d have a longer slope to practice the turns.

Soon the kids joined me after finishing their lessons. Xavi shared his tips and Archie was excited to hold my hand at the top of the first slope. At one point I kinda crashed into Xavi who had fallen ahead of me. He was fine and getting knocked out of a ski didn’t hurt. My instructor used that as a reminder to point out how to turn in case of an obstacle. Most of all, I didn’t panic and didn’t fall. That came later.

I joined Xavi on the bigger slope in the beginner zone, the Boardwalk. I fell on the lift and had to wait for the lift operator to help me get out of my skis. At the top it looked way more steep and I said a little prayer. It didn’t help that by that time lots of snowboarders were around and they kept falling. I took the route with some gentle curves and made it down okay, but no one saw me. The next time I went down the straight part of the slope after Archie and made it okay.

We left after that since everyone was hungry and kind of tired. I was sore for a few days, but it was worth the rush of trying something new and challenging. It reminded me of the adrenaline rush from zip-lining, climbing the high elements of a ropes course, finishing a run or race and seeing great views, or rafting in the Kern River. They make me feel thankful for my body and what I can do, even as I grow older and my body changes.

The adrenaline was cool and all, but I was way more happy to join an activity with the kids. They were proud to see me try after a few weeks of being their cheerleader. That was the best part.

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Familia, Mememe

On the 9th anniversary of my 31st birthday

Sean is pretty awesome at planning birthday surprises. On my 30th birthday he flew out to LA from NY to surprise me on my doorstep. Unwittingly, I messed up the surprise he envisioned. I spotted him walking up my driveway after I stepped out to take out the trash. He was bummed, but I was still happy to see him.

Today, my 40th birthday, I got in the way again. I spoiled his plans for a surprise breakfast of chilaquiles by going out for a long run (6.2 miles!) in the morning. He still made the chilaquiles, but I had them for lunch instead. Then we watched the video he made. Sean coordinated with 35 family and friends (not counting all the kids and babies!) to sing me Las Mañanitas and send birthday greetings. I messed it up by accidentally hearing a little bit of my cousin Bibi’s greeting while he was still editing the 15-minute video a few days ago, but he played it off.

The video was PERFECT. It even included a blooper reel. Of course, I cried while also laughing and singing along. 

My sister later sent me a video of the full version of her duet of Las Mañanitas with my dad. It wasn’t the same as hearing them sing outside my window to wake me up (which they did when I turned 20), but they still sounded amazing and I get the bonus of watching it over and over.
fiesta40
Last fall, inspired by a monthly doodle challenge to draw a party scene I drew my 40th birthday party. I knew there was no chance of it happening and as July became August I started to feel down. I felt a little silly because I’ve been fortunate to weather this pandemic okay. Not having a party for a milestone birthday seemed small when others have lost so much this year including missing milestone celebrations. Then I took the time to read one of the wellness emails from work. I usually skip them, but a comment by a colleague on the article about toxic positivity caught my attention. It was what I needed that day. I realized I was minimizing my own feelings. It’s okay to be sad.
After all, I knew the party wasn’t at the heart of my sadness, it was knowing that it’d be many more months until I was in LA again and around my parents, siblings, tías and tíos, cousins, and friends. In March, sheltering in place didn’t feel hard because I had just come back from being around family for my padrino José’s funeral. But we were approaching the end of August and I knew we’d likely finish 2020 without feeling safe to travel.
I’d love to be in LA surrounded by loved ones and celebrating in person, but I know we can’t do that. The video was the next best thing.
Whether they’ve been in my life for 40, 20, 15 or 5 years, their presence is the true gift. Thank you for making me feel loved and I can’t wait for the time when I do get to see you again.
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Familia

A life update

Coming back to blogging means having things to write about. I did what anybody living in 2019 does, I crowd-sourced topics through Instagram questions. I got a lot great ideas, promised I’d use my writing muscle and then I got stuck on how to tackle one of the topics:

Life update, career goings on, how [I] stay connected to Latinx roots away from fam.

Zoey and Lori

Of course that’s a few topics, but I thought I could easily knock out the life update post. And then I struggled with writing about the birth of my niece Zoey in August 2017. I’ve always been close to my sister Lori, but seeing her become a mother strengthened our relationship.

Zoey is a joy and I wish our kids could spend more time together. Zoey’s birth was the impetus for us to take a fall trip to meet her. I got to repay my sister in a little way for all the help and support she offered when Xavi and Archie were newborns. I wore her in the same sling ring I used with my kids too and got more than my share of newborn snuggles and chest naps.

Zoey baptism and padrinos

That was the first of four trips I’d take over the next eight months (1 solo, 3 with the family). We typically don’t get out that much just because flights are expensive, but we managed with help from friends and family and a little luck.

smmay18

In March we visited for Zoey’s baptism. Sean and I had the honor of being her padrinos and it was a nice respite from the endless winter weather (we came back to snow). In April I got lucky and won a trip to LA during Mother’s Day weekend thanks to the Super Mamás podcast. The contest included a hotel stay in Downtown LA which Sean and I used for some time to ourselves.

Other things in the last 18 months:

Xavi and lego train

My kids insist on growing and checking off milestones. Xavi is now in kindergarten, has had a haircut (just one!) and is still all about trains.

Archie at 2.5

Archie is almost 2.5, has strong opinions and is way stronger than you think someone his size could be. With new milestones comes new challenges and opportunities for learning about this parenting thing.

I got to meet 20+ of the moms in my online mom group in LA last January. These women became friends as we all had babies due in summer 2016. They’re a great source of support and having some time to connect with friends was fun. During this trip I got to surprise my sister for her birthday which was amazing.

I stayed up way too late to watch the Dodgers in the World Series (twice). I should feel lucky just to be able to say this, but now I just want a championship. Being an LA sports team on the East coast is hard.

I’ve always been a fan of podcasts, but I used to be able to balance them with other forms of entertainment like books and music. That dropped off with my newfound interest in true crime podcasts. At least I can doodle and work on my bullet journal while listening.

After about four years in Ithaca I’m still trying to make it feel like home by finding my community (read: friends). I have made it a point to explore more of my surroundings and am slowly checking off things.

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Familia

Downtown to the Northeast

Still working on importing some of the photos from old posts.

Six weeks ago I posted the following on Facebook with a link to a story about a shooting at the gas station kitty corner to our apartment:

Two years ago if you told me I’d hear more gunshots in Ithaca than I ever heard in 15 years living in LA (Palms) I wouldn’t have believed you. Now, helicopters? Definitely not hearing those here.

I was awake when the shooting happened and the noise woke up Xavi. He asked “what’s that noise?!” before going back to sleep.

I truly wasn’t exaggerating. Palms isn’t the safest area of LA and more than once I saw LAPD on my block. One time they wouldn’t let me back on to my street as they searched for a suspect. I had to sleep somewhere that night, so I crashed at my friend Alfred’s couch. Another time on my way back from a run an officer stopped me and once again I had to wait. I could see and hear the helicopters overhead. I remember the homicide of a teenaged girl walking home from the high school around the corner.

I knew LA, though. I felt safe enough in my neighborhood to go for runs after 10 pm.

[Photo: No accidents on this side]

But Ithaca threw me for a loop. I should’ve done my homework.

When we were planning our move we didn’t have a chance to visit to look for an apartment. Instead, we relied on some new contacts to share leads and info about the neighborhoods. One guy, P, told us he’d ask his landlord if they had any vacancies coming up and shared info on where he lived. The location was just six blocks from the Commons. It was 1.5 miles away from Cornell and close to several bus lines. It was in our budget, furnished (a plus so we could cut down on the furniture we needed to move and thus save some money), rather newly built, had parking, no snow shoveling required, and best of all P didn’t have any concerns about the apartments or the landlords.

Sign us up!

It was fine until I realized we were three floors up without an elevator, the windows didn’t have bars and we were at a major intersection near the ambulance dispatch place and the railroad tracks (a plus for Xavi).

[Photo: This is a diesel. I want to see a steam engine.]

That summer when people asked how we were settling in, I brought up the noise. If it wasn’t the emergency vehicles, it was motorcycles, trucks and speedsters.

Our second year we got used to the noise and kept the windows closed more often. It was cooler that way and they blocked a lot of the noise. That didn’t help the crazy though. There were a couple of shootings, a stabbing and several car accidents. One collision sent an SUV in to the heavy wood planters surrounding the main door. That’s the same door I’d take on my way to the bus stop or to walk the six blocks to the Commons. The people involved in the accidents we heard were all okay.

All this didn’t make us decide to move. I liked living close to all the things. We could easily walk to church, the library, a number of parks, playgrounds, waterfalls, work, and the Commons. But for a family of four, the two bedroom apartment was too small. Plus, I really wanted someplace where the kids could play outside close by. The park a block away was fine for bubbles and kicking around a soccer ball, but it could also be little sketch. I didn’t want Xavi asking “what’s that funny smell?” or “what’s he doing?” if we saw someone smoking weed.

[Photo: Unsure about all this nature and bugs]

A few days ago we traded downtown Ithaca life for what counts as the suburbs of Ithaca.

[Photo: Good thing it’s been a few years since I read Into the Woods]

We’ve been here three days and have seen two deer, gotten a bunch of mosquito bites from being at the playground and local running/walking path, and met two boys close in age to Xavi. He’s complained about kids playing basketball outside and clamored for a bicycle.

[Photo: It’s not bedtime yet, is it, daddy?]

And you know what? I think it’s the perfect time.

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Bebe, Familia

La Cuarentena, the first forty days

Earlier versions of this post were drafted in September-November 2016. Updated for clarity.

***

The day after Mamá Toni passed away almost two years ago my mom shared an idea with me.

“I was thinking that you, Sean and Xavi should move in to Mamá Toni’s old room.”

She had it all planned out and explained that what we would save on rent and childcare — Xavi would be cared for by a tag team of family members — could go towards a down payment for a house. And we could also have a second child. Possibly a girl.

[Photo]

I have to admit, in my grief, this idea didn’t seem half bad. Then I considered a move to Hacienda Heights would extend my commute at least an hour each way. I had never moved back home after going to college, and now I was considering doing so with a family. It was nuts.

When Sean arrived from his trip to New York to attend our friend Kevin’s funeral, I told him about the conversation. He laughed at the idea.

I never told him that for a moment it didn’t seem half bad.

Less than a year later, we had moved across the country so I could take a new job.

I thought about this a lot as I considered my immediate postpartum experience with Archie.

***
Newborn Archie

Archie was born on the afternoon of Monday, August 29th. On Tuesday evening, my parents arrived in Ithaca. My mom stayed for two weeks, my dad stayed for one. All my worries about how we would manage without our support network nearby subsided. While here, they took care of me, Sean, Xavi and Archie. We were spoiled with delicious food and time to rest while they took Xavi out for fun grandparent dates at the park, library and other places Xavi loves.

At the same time, our muscle memories kicked in and we got back to caring for a newborn. Friends have said it and now I believe it. The transition from one to two kids was definitely easier for us than going from none to one. Both boys were relatively easy newborns. The toughest aspect of newborn life with Xavi was learning to breastfeed and I avoided those issues with Archie by applying the lessons from my rough start with Xavi. It also helped that Archie was a great eater. Despite this we had more frequent appointments with the pediatrician to check weight since they considered him low for gestational age at birth. Through those and his output (read: diapers!), we’ve confirmed that he’s doing just fine.

Another big difference was my anxiety over going outside or nursing in public. With Xavi I was baffled about how this would work. I didn’t go to church for a month and our car trips were limited to appointments for doctor’s visits because he hated being in the car and LA traffic. This was a huge difference with Archie. On the Sunday after he was born, I was back in church. Nursing with a cover or without was no big deal. He did fine in the car for local trips and road-trips. I even was brave enough to fly cross country with both boys. Solo. I also helped that Archie was easygoing.

As expected, I was (am) tired. However, the sleep deprivation didn’t hit me as hard as the first time. This was likely because I was used to some sleep interruptions after Xavi and through waking up a lot during pregnancy.

[Photo]

The most challenging aspect was definitely parenting a newborn and trying to give Xavi the attention he needed. Xavi became more defiant and moody. I don’t know what part of it was being a three-year-old and what part was dealing with a tough transition. Despite being very excited to meet his little brother, he didn’t show much interest once Archie was home. He said things like, “Don’t hold baby Archie! [Anyone but mom] hold baby Archie.” And more than once he told Sean, “Tomorrow, we go to the hospital and take back baby Archie.”

Abuelos y nietos

Naturally, I worried about what would happen when my parents returned to LA. How would we transition to handling both boys and still doing things like cooking and cleaning? During the two weeks my mom was in Ithaca we didn’t really worry about that stuff as she spoiled us.

Then she left and we adapted, but life didn’t return to a new normal for long.

Mom left on September 13th and less than 2 weeks later I was on a flight to LA with both boys. In the weeks before Archie was born Papá Chepe had battled lung infections and been hospitalized. When Archie was born Papá Chepe had already improved and gone home. However, a week later he was ill again. My parents were honest with me and let me know that I should come visit while I could, while Papá Chepe was still alert enough to recognize me. It was a tough decision to make. The cost was one issue. Time wasn’t as I had the time thanks to maternity leave. However, Sean didn’t have time to take off from work. If I went, I’d be going alone with Archie (definitely) and Xavi (quite likely). Was it even safe to travel with an infant who was only a few weeks old? I called our pediatrician’s office and cleared it with the nurse on the advice line. Air travel wasn’t ideal, but they made exceptions for extenuating circumstances. She just recommended I used common sense approaches to keeping him away from sick people.

And so I went because I knew I would deeply regret not saying goodbye if I had the chance.

[Photo]

On September 25th I flew out from JFK with Archie and Xavi. We spent the next ten days in Hacienda Heights at my mom’s house. Friends and family lent us carseats and a travel crib to make the visit easier.

Chepe & Archie

I was so happy to see Papá Chepe. By the time we visited his health had improved. He was alert, eating well and responsive. Papá Chepe got to meet Archie and see Xavi. During our visit I’d often put Archie in Papá Chepe’s bed so he could babysit. It was adorable, just as when he and Mamá Toni met a four-day old Xavi. Meanwhile, Xavi would play with the collection of toys Papá Chepe had available to help him regain skills he had lost after his stroke.

My parents doted on me and the boys. I was spoiled once again and didn’t have to cook or do other chores. I had plenty of immediate and extended family members around to hold Archie if I needed to eat or shower. My mom invited family over on a weekend to see us and it was like our old Sunday gatherings. And once again my parents took advantage of having Xavi in town to do fun grandparent dates like go swimming at a friend’s pool or visiting the train park.

I realized afterward that this was the closest I would get to a traditional postpartum cuarentena. I wasn’t going to move in to my parents’ home for that period or longer like my mom had proposed in those first few days after Mamá Toni passed away. That just wasn’t practical or possible for anyone involved. But the visits were more than enough.

[Photo]

For most of those first forty days I was staying under the same roof as my mom. I was mothered by by her and it was exactly what I needed to recover well and be the best mom I could be for my own children. And because of the special circumstances of Papá Chepe’s declining health I got to go home and see him again. It was a bittersweet blessing.

***

July 6th marks eight months since Papá Chepe’s passing. A few days ago, I had a dance party in the kitchen with Archie and Xavi. We danced to La Marcha de Zacatecas and I couldn’t help but miss all our dances.

Photos will be added later. Still working on that import. 😀

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