Xavi’s Fantastic Fourth Birthday

On ring bearer duty

On Monday night, just a few hours before his fourth birthday, I rocked Xavi in my arms like he was still a baby. His long, tanned legs and arms reaching well over my lap. He was crying softly and I had no clue why. We had done our normal bedtime routine. We brushed our teeth together, I read to him a bit (lately it’s been a few chapters of the Baby-Sitters Club graphic novels), we said prayers, had a little bit of water and gave each other bedtime hugs and kisses. I don’t know what made him so sad as he couldn’t really speak through the tears to tell me. All I knew was that I couldn’t console him as I had when I was a baby with nursing, rocking, songs and shushes. It almost made me cry.

Break from dancing (his favorite) for a picture

I couldn’t help but think how fitting, that on the eve of his fourth birthday he let me hold him like a baby again. This isn’t rare though, since Archie arrived, Xavi acts like a baby and jumps in to my lap a few times a week. But this was different. The tears and emotion weren’t faked.

Thomas hats for all the pre-schoolers

In the morning, the tears were gone and Xavi was back to his energetic self. He was super excited too because after talking about it for weeks, it was finally his birthday. He was four!

They see me rolling

Despite the momentous occasion, our Tuesday didn’t change much. Xavi and Archie still went to daycare. Xavi wore the same 3T birthday shirt he wore last year. He’s definitely grown, but more in height than overall weight. We took some mini cupcakes and party hats to share with his friends. After work, we came home and had dinner. We FaceTimed with my mom and Lori so they could watch him open some presents (train related, of course). He opened up some Cars toys from me and Sean. And then got the big gift, a new bike from my mother-in-law, Eula. He’s already taken the bike out a few times and I know he’ll make the most of the remaining months of nice weather riding in our new neighborhood.

***

Mixtape cover (November 2016)

As Xavi has grown from baby to toddler to pre-schooler, I keep coming back to this quote that struck me when I read Ruth L. Ozeki’s All Over Creation in 2014:

Time plays tricks on mothers. It teases you with breaks and brief caesuras, only to skip wildly forward, bringing breathtaking changes to your baby’s body. Only he wasn’t a baby anymore, and how often did I have to learn that? The lessons were painful.

I don’t think it’s ever going to stop feeling incredibly relevant.

Celebrating Xavi’s fourth birthday didn’t leave me with that same melancholy of the first, second or third birthdays.  I may miss baby Xavi, but I also have a very active and mobile Archie — still a baby, at least for four more weeks — to keep me on my toes. I’m also excited to see Xavi make friends in our new neighborhood, learn to ride his bike, starting school and keep meeting more milestones.

Archie cameo!

After Kenton’s funeral, Xavi wanted to play with the soccer ball that Kenton got specifically to play with him.

What made me emotional was looking at the photos from previous birthday celebrations and thinking about who we have lost in such a short amount of time. This is the first birthday where my father-in-law, Kenton wasn’t there to celebrate with us. For the first birthday, they came to LA to visit us, and we celebrated the second and third birthdays in Long Island at their home.

Blowing bubbles for Grandpa Kenton at the cemetery

So, yeah… I guess those lessons of watching your baby go from tiny newborn to little boy can be painful. Lately, it’s not the child growing, but what is changing around him that hurts.

Still, I can’t be too sad. I have a healthy, happy little boy who surprises me every single day with how much he’s learning.

Happy birthday, Xavi. I love who you are right now, but also can’t wait to see the breathtaking changes to come.

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Ninety-seven

Birthdays were always a big deal for Papá Chepe and late July meant celebrating in some way. There were the big parties just for him complete with the tamborazo. But he wasn’t above sharing the occasion and neither were we, his nietos and bisnietos. 

At my quinceañera in 1995 we celebrated his 75th birthday with a cake and a song. I actually stole his birthday, so it was only fitting. In 2014, At Xavi’s first birthday we had a cake and piñata for Papá Chepe. It was extra special that year as we were happy to have him survive the stroke and be recovering well at home. I wasn’t there for the 95th and 96th. I sang Las Mañanitas over the phone and sent gifts. Last year it was a polo with the university logo. My dad sent me a picture of Papá Chepe at the small gathering/party family they had planned wearing it. He looked nice. I didn’t know that would be my last chance.

Yesterday, July 29th, would’ve been his 97th birthday.

I spent most of the day amidst boxes as we are moving again (locally). But there were moments I spent outside under the trees and enjoyed the breeze on the steps of our new building. It reminded me of how much Papá Chepe and Mamá Toni enjoyed afternoons under la mora – the mulberry tree – in our front yard. The breeze and shade felt best there. If you were lucky you’d get to relax in the hammock and get a paleta when the paletero came by. He also would’ve smiled with amusement watching Xavi ride his Thomas train down the walkway. He definitely would’ve laughed when Xavi took the slight curve too fast and fell into the grass (he was okay).


I really wish my celebration included some of Papá Chepe’s favorites: la Marcha de Zacatecas, his omnipresent Tejana, a 40 oz bottle of Miller Lite High Life, and birria. But that can come later. For now, I’ll just recall all the amazing birthdays I got to celebrate with him. There were a lot. And for that I can only be grateful.

¡Feliz cumpleaños, Papá Chepe!

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Carlos & Luz: 40 years of making it look easy

july231977

I wasn’t there 40 years ago when my parents exchanged vows in front of their family, a huge wedding party, and many more friends. Their union was blessed in Assumption Church in Boyle Heights. The church itself had a role in bringing them together as they met as part of the active youth group.

2016 September

I didn’t hear them say the words that first time. I came around a few years later and since then, I’ve seen how they’ve lived those vows. And I took it for granted that they had a strong marriage. They made it look easy while also raising four children, taking care of their parents, maintaining relationships with family and friends, and being involved in school and church activities.

It’s not until I got married and then became a parent that I’ve really understood how hard they’ve been working at living those vows.

2016 October

So, on their ruby anniversary, I’d like to simply say congratulations and thank you. I must sound like a broken record, but I will never stop being grateful for getting you two as parents.

Happy 40th Anniversary!

Previous posts marking my parents’ anniversaries:

30
32: This one has a lot of photos I scanned including one of my favorite photos of Papá Chepe.
35
36: They looked SO glam at my wedding

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Adjusting two years later

May and June were a trip. Literally. Early in May, we went to NYC for Eric and Sandrine’s wedding. Sean and Eric grew up together and have been friends since first grade. Naturally, the wedding was full of old friends and tons of fun. A few weeks later we were back in New Jersey for Charlotte and Andy’s wedding. Again, we reunited with many good friends Sean met through and old job and on a football team in NYC.


Finally, on June 16th we attended Andrea and Jon’s wedding in Battery Park Gardens. There were great views of the Statue of Liberty and ferries. And again, more great friends we hadn’t seen in a while. Sean is a popular guy with lots of friends in NYC.

The weddings were all a ton of fun whether we had the boys with us or not, but a few things kept coming up:

a) There were a few friends who didn’t know we no longer lived in LA. This wouldn’t have happened if Sean and I hadn’t taken a hiatus from blogging. Right?

b) We kept having to try and answer the question “So, how do you like Ithaca?” without whining about missing friends and family.

I can deal with snow in April, humidity and rainstorms in the summer and a paucity of decent Mexico food. The distance from family and still not having many friends here makes it hard to say, “We love Ithaca!”

I miss out on a ton in LA. If you’ve read my blog for a while, you know I have un chingo of tías, tíos and primos. We are close too and in LA there was always something to celebrate (birthdays, anniversaries, baptisms, graduations, etc). Also, I’ve been missing out on the current baby boom despite adding my own 2016 baby. I’ve only met two babies from the 2016-17 crop. There are three I haven’t met. One (my niece!!!) is due in August.

I know I’m not the only one who misses California. Just a few days ago we surprised Xavi with a trip to the Sciencenter. On our way there he kept wanting to know if the surprise place was California where he’d see tía Lori, grandma Luz, grandpa Charlie and some friends. He loves the Sciencenter but I still felt guilty that we can’t take him to California more often. At least Archie is too tiny to unintentionally guilt trip me. I do enough of that when I think of how he hasn’t had the same interaction with grandparents, tías and tíos that Xavi had as a baby.


And then there’s just feeling bummed about our social life. In February, Sean got me the perfect Valentine’s Day gift. He knows me well. I was impressed and happy until I realized that in order to play Selena Lotería I’d need to go to a social activity or have friends over for a game night. And bright red MAC lipstick? I had no occasions at time for getting all fancy. Ni modo.

See?! I told you I was whiny.

But there are perks. We are driving distance to NYC and Long Island. This means that we were able to attend all three weddings for longtime friends. If we lived in LA we wouldn’t have been able to afford the back-to-back trips. Xavi and Archie do have a grandparent and a loving uncle nearby.


There’s a bittersweet silver lining. My father-in-law, Kenton, passed away in January after battling cancer for several years. When we lived in California he was well enough to travel, but that changed in recent years. Being a 5-6 hour road trip away meant we got to see him about once a month and thus he got to spend more time with Xavi and got to meet Archie.

So, I can’t whine but be thankful for the way things work out.

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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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Chepe & Archie

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 was’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.


For most of those first forty days I was staying under the same roof as my mom. I was mothered by my 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.

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