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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Eulogy for Papá Chepe

Today my family laid Papá Chepe to rest. I couldn’t be there for the wake and funeral. I wasn’t there to sing alongside dad, Lori and Danny nor there to pray the Rosary. I didn’t get to see Adrian serve as a pallbearer and didn’t get to hug my mom as she crumbled in tears. I couldn’t hug my tías, tíos and primos and share funny stories over a bowl of menudo. But I was there to see him just six weeks ago and that makes me feel at peace.

Still, my parents knew I was sad I couldn’t attend. To help me feel included, my mom and dad asked me to write the eulogy as they know how much I love to write. I was tremendously honored and drew on Papá Chepe’s own words from our interview as well as one of my mom’s favorite stories.

Lori read the eulogy and added some words of her own. We couldn’t sing together this time, but this was close enough.

***

I love the hat

When I started writing this eulogy I focused on the facts of José Ureño’s life – or as I knew him, Papá Chepe. The first draft was filled with many dates and numbers. 1920 – the year he was born in Ciudad Juárez. Two – his age when his parents, Apolonio and Cecilia, moved back to their native El Cargadero. 1943 – the year he married Antonia Saldivar.

José Barrios Ureño

1944 – the year he first came to the United States to work as a bracero in Salinas. Eight – the number of children God gave him.

Ureño Saldivar family, 1968

Familia Ureño Saldivar

1956 – the year his older sister Margarita sponsored his immigration. Three – the number of homes he had in El Cargadero, Tijuana and East LA. 71 – the number of years he was married to Antonia before she passed away. 96 – his current age.

Cousins being silly

Those numbers and facts are important, of course. But they don’t tell enough of the story of José Ureño’s life and why we loved him so much. Nor do they illustrate how much he loved his wife Antonia and the beautiful large family they were blessed with.

Tu sonrisa se te ve muy bien...

They do not tell us about his smile that reflected a personality full of joy and happiness. They do not tell us how much he loved God and the strength of his faith. And they don’t tell us how much he gave to others.

These stories, I hope will tell you.

Six years ago I had the wonderful opportunity to sit down with Papá Chepe and record a conversation about his life. He told me about how he came to marry Antonia. From a young age, he had always admired the Saldivar family for their kindness. Many years before, Apolonio worked for Leonardo Saldivar and Juan Saldivar, Antonia’s grandfather and father. One day, Sr. Saldivar asked Apolonio why he always wore the same huaraches. Apolonio responded, “Why, these are the only shoes I own. I can’t afford anything else.” Sr. Saldivar told his son Juan to buy some good shoes for Apolonio the next time he went to Zacatecas. The Saldivar men kept their word and Apolonio got new shoes. José learned this story at a young age and thus knew Antonia was from a good family.

60th anniversary

But courting her was not easy. She didn’t have much time for boys with housework and caring for her brothers who saw her as their mother. Plus, she had great respect for father. In those days, girls didn’t come out to flirt with boys and José couldn’t just send her a text message. The only way to see your sweetheart was to wait for her at the bailes. Messages were passed through the girl’s trusted male relatives, like a cousin or brother. And even if you did go to visit her, it wasn’t guaranteed that you would get to see her. This happened to José once. He rode his horse two hours over the hills to el Rancho de Aguas just to see Antonia. But when he arrived, Antonia came to the window to say she couldn’t come out to because her father was home. And so, José rode all the way back to El Cargadero. He told me this is why he likes the song “La Feria de las Flores” which has a line “en mi caballo retinto, yo he venido de muy lejos.” It was quite the romantic gesture and even though she couldn’t see him that time, he won her heart. Antonia and José married on January 30, 1943.

Papá Chepe and his older sister, tía Antonia

Papá Chepe was a very giving and generous man. He and Mamá Toni helped so many with no expectations of getting anything in return. They both knew that they had been extremely blessed. It was this giving that he was most proud of late in life. One day he was in church here at St. John Vianney and heard Padre Roberto speak about the needs of Hogar Calasanz, an orphanage in Tijuana. They were running out of space for all the children. At the same time, José and Antonia hadn’t been able to sell their home in Tijuana. So he decided the best thing to do would be to donate the home to the orphanage. The only thing he wanted was for the home to be called San José.

La casa amarilla (yellow house)

My mom tells me a story that illustrates Papá Chepe’s great faith. Many years ago, El Cargadero was plagued with a severe drought. Many of José’s peers hired well-educated engineers to help them find a place to dig a well. Papá Chepe entrusted God for this. He built a well in the garage of his home of El Cargadero.

Papá Chepe checking up on something

The well was an abundant source of water. It never dried. Other Cargaderenses would come to José and ask him which engineer had helped him find water. José’s answer, was always “El de arriba” (the one from above). His peers didn’t believe him and accused José of being selfish and not sharing his good fortune. But that just made José repeat himself. It was God who helped him. And because it was God who helped him, he would always share the water from the well with anyone who asked. As we’ve said, Papá Chepe and Mamá Toni were very fortunate but also giving.

Cuatro generaciones

A few weeks after Papa Chepe’s stroke in January 2014, I learned that San José was the patron saint of a Happy Death. It’s said that since San José was with Mary and Jesus when he died, he died happy. In that scary time when we didn’t know what was going to happen, this knowledge calmed me as I knew how devoted Papá Chepe was to San José. But that was not Papá Chepe’s time to go. The stroke brought our family closer together. It showed us that the selflessness and love he had always shown in caring for his own family came back tenfold.

chepetonidisney

In the days before and after Papa Chepe’s passing I was reminded once again of San José. Papá Chepe led a happy life filled with family and love. As he took his last breaths, he was surrounded by his family, those who loved him so, so much. And soon he’d be with Mamá Toni again. What couldn’t be happier than that?

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Papá Chepe and Undying Love

I wish somebody had told me love does not die, that we can continue to receive and give love after death.
From “Resurrections”, by Sandra Cisneros in A House of My Own: Stories From My Life

Papá Chepe

Papá Chepe passed away yesterday afternoon.

He took his last breath surrounded by family. We knew his passing was imminent but expected to have a few more days. Lori says it was quite peaceful and I want to believe he had a “happy death” as he was a devotee of St. Joseph, the patron saint of the dying and a happy death.

bodapapachepe1

I’m like my family, at once devastated and at peace. Can we really be sad when we had him so many years? As cousin Nancy put it, it feels selfish to want him here with us forever. It’s only fitting that he should rest after 96 years and reunite with Mamá Toni.

Mom and Papá Chepe are not the kind to pass up dancing

I’m finding solace in the knowledge that I got to visit just a month ago when we already knew his health was declining. While I was in LA he was alert and in good spirits. He ate the delicious food my mom and aunts made. He met Archie and even took his turn watching over Archie while I ate or played with Xavi.

Meeting baby Archie

On the night before we left, I said goodnight and goodbye to Papá Chepe. Our flight the next morning was early and we wouldn’t want to disturb his sleep and make him emotional. I said adios and went and cried in the room where I was sleeping. I knew it was likely that that would be the final time I would see him.

Meeting a newborn Xavi

Honk honk

Xavi helps Papa Chepe with his writing exercises

But just as that memory is fresh and raw, I have so many other beautiful memories with him and Mamá Toni. I feel so lucky that we got to dance to his favorite songs and I have an interview recorded whenever I just want to hear his voice. I have my family and their memories, always filled with smiles and laughter. I have my posts here and photos and the love that does not die.

Mama Toni and Papa Chepe

I know I will never cease to feel Papá Chepe’s immense love. I still feel it from Mamá Toni and I know that my family will continue to be watched over by them, nuestros angelitos.

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