Author Archives: cindylu

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.

thanksgiving

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.

christmasiou

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.”

***

marchadezac

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.

intro

intro2

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.

The boy is mine

wrap

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.

bjornwtf

“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.

leafs

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

nye1314

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.

Lucky Thirteen

Prince Charming

It’s been a good year. Well, better than good. I’m loathe to exaggerate, but I’d say the year I became a mother has been the best. It’s the year love, family, blessings, husband, partner, work and being grateful took on more complete meanings. It’s the year I met Xavier.

I took your glasses

I look forward to more tender and silly Sean and Xavi moments.

Selfie at daddy's work

And selfies. Always selfies.

Happy new year!

The Baby’s First Noel

Santa's littlest helper

When I was a kid my parents always went all out for Christmas. As a result, I have dozens of memories of large family gatherings, visits from Santa, oohing at the nativity scene and Santa’s village my parents painted and set up (and tried not to break), singing Las Posadas and eating more tamales than one can count.

As an adult I became pretty lazy about the holidays. Some of it had to do with associating the days on/after Christmas with the passing of my grandparents. And some was just being burnt out from finals and a busy fall quarter.

Someone got a new hat.

Now that I have my own little family, I realize I need to step up my game. I want Xavi to look forward to singing carols in English and Spanish while Grandpa Charlie strums the guitar.

How do I get on the good list?

I want him to be excited when Santa Claus shows up to the Christmas Eve party.

Lights!

I want to see his eyes light up with awe and elaborate light displays and rush to play with the new toys Sean and I picked out.

First Christmas

I can’t wait for those moments, but for now Christmas is just awesome even if he almost sleeps through Santa’s visit.

Our family

Merry Christmas from our family!

Intensity

Three weeks after Xavi was born, we took him to my cousin Bea’s birthday party in Whittier. I was tired and frazzled about what to wear, but I wanted to get out, see my family and give them a chance to meet the little guy. I fed Xavi and maybe 30-40 minutes later, we got going. We instantly hit traffic on the eastbound 10 freeway. Xavi got upset and hungry and started crying. No amount of soothing or Happiest Baby on the Block trick would work. Xavi was hungry. I was stressed and so was Sean. I didn’t know if we’d make it to Whittier. After about 10 miles and barely getting to Downtown LA — less than half way to our destination — I told Sean that we should exit in East LA, find a place to park and I’d feed him until he calmed down. He agreed and followed my directions to my aunts’ apartment complex. Four of my aunts and their families all live in the same building. On a Saturday afternoon, I figured someone had to be home. If no one was home, I’d hang out in their driveway and feed Xavi there.

A few minutes later, we parked and walked up to apartment 1. Tía Angeles answered the door to find me with a screaming newborn and stressed husband. In my pocha Spanish I explained that we were on our way to Whittier for the birthday party, but had to stop because the baby was hungry and really upset. She rushed me in to one of the bedrooms so I could nurse the little guy. Xavi instantly calmed down and after nursing fell asleep. I thanked tía Angeles and greeted my other aunts, Chabelita and Isabel, before leaving to our final destination, Whittier.

Not excited about 4 month checkup time

The rest of the car ride was uneventful. Traffic cleared up on the 60 and Xavi, now with a full tummy and moving car, fell asleep. I’d read about people going for a drive to calm down screaming babies, but didn’t know the car ride itself could be the cause of the screaming. Previous car rides had been short and without much traffic so Xavi remained relatively calm. Obviously, I had a lot to learn.

I’ve always been annoyed by LA traffic. It’s different now. Annoyed isn’t strong enough to describe my intense dislike. I’ve noticed this with other things too. Weekends are better now that I know they’re my two full days with my little family. There are more and bigger cracks in the sidewalk now that I’m pushing a stroller over them. Laughter — Xavi’s, especially — is more contagious. Love and appreciation for my husband and family has grown exponentially. Sleep is more appreciated.

Life is different with Xavi. I like that — as long as he’s not screaming in standstill LA traffic, but I have a feeling that’ll happen again. And again.

Envy and perspective

Note: I wrote this a few weeks ago while still on maternity leave.

Years ago Lori told me about a conversation she had with our mom.

Mom: I want Cindy to hurry up, get married and have kids so I can quit my job and be her babysitter.
Lori: Do you only want to be Cindy’s babysitter? What about me?!
Mom: Oh, I didn’t think you’d want me to watch your kids because we clash a lot.
Lori: Of course I would. You raised us and did an awesome job.

Mom, me and a box of KFC

I don’t know if I was even seeing anyone at the time, but I remember thinking this arrangement would be awesome. I could work and still make sure my future child was with someone I trusted and was great with children. Not only had my mom been a stay at home mom and raised four children, she had also worked in primary education for several years with special needs children. Oh, and this was way, way, way before I even had a clue about childcare rates in Los Angeles.

As awesome as it would be for grandma to be the babysitter, I knew it was unlikely in my case. My parents need those benefits attached to my mom’s job. (Dad is self-employed.) My in-laws are both retired but live in New York, so that’s out of the question too.

Throughout pregnancy I kept thinking of that conversation. I was so envious of friends and cousins with this arrangement. As I prepare to go back to work and figure out our childcare plans, the green-eyed monster returned especially as I stared at our budget spreadsheet.

And then I thought about what I do have and what I am grateful for.

A healthy, happy Xavi.

An engaged and fully committed partner in parenting
It’d be too sappy to enumerate the many ways Sean is the partner I need. I have no doubt his love, support and help will ease the transition.

Grandparents!
While neither set of grandparents can be full-time caretakers, they have been immensely supportive and loving. My in-laws spoiled their first grandchild with several of the big ticket baby items. We’ll be seeing them soon too. My parents have been around at least once a week to visit Xavi as well as help Sean and I with things we don’t get to as new parents (household chores, bringing prepared meals). As soon as we’re ready to leave him, they’ll jump at the chance to babysit too.

I was lucky enough to get to know all four grandparents. Xavi has four grandparents and two great-grandparents. Lucky kid.

Siblings and extended family nearby
It was super nice to have my siblings drop by during maternity leave just to visit or help out with Xavi for a few hours. There’s no shortage of people who would jump at the chance to babysit him if we need a night out.

Science Poster Day 2013

A job
I like my job. I miss my co-workers and the students. I’ve seen them a couple of times since July at the closing dinner for one of the research programs and a staff appreciation bowling outing. My job is generally stress free and rewarding. More practically, I don’t work crazy hours and have a short commute (for LA). I can’t forget that I also have excellent benefits. Health insurance should be it’s own category.

Maternity leave
I’ve been off for the better part of three months. Most of my leave has been paid even though I wasn’t able to use my short-term disability insurance (I set it up wrong when I was hired in my current position). Fortunately, since I’ve been employed at the university at least part time since 2006, I had a lot of sick, vacation and comp time saved up. I could have taken off about another 6 weeks but we can’t afford to be a single income family that long.

A rent-controlled apartment
This is big. We have plenty of space for our little family and short commutes to our workplaces. While I sometimes complain about our neighbors, the neighborhood is nice, generally safe, walk/run-able, and is kid-friendly.

Options
Jaclyn Day’s post on childcare and maternity leave really hit home.

They [46 million people in poverty] are the mothers and fathers who have few options and who can’t make the “hard” choices about breastfeeding, childcare and what elaborate decorations to have at their child’s first birthday party, because there may be no choices to be had.

Our budget might be tight, but we’re still quite privileged. I’ll keep that in perspective as I make another big transition.