Category Archives: Familia

Incomplete tamalada: On missing Mamá Toni

On the morning Mamá Toni passed away, I sat across the kitchen table from tío Beto. Oddly enough, food came to mind. Not just any food, Mamá Toni’s famous red chile pork tamales.

“Now who’s going to make you your tamales,” I asked my uncle, the eldest — and some might say favorite — of Mamá Toni’s sons.

He gave me a half smile and thumbed the folded up napkin in his hand.

“Pues, Chilo,” his big sister, my madrina (godmother) and the eldest of the Ureño Saldivar children.

By default, the little things Mamá Toni had done to take care of her son had been passed on to Madrina Chilo. Her tamales were just as delicious. She used the same unwritten recipe as Mamá Toni.


Mamá Toni and Santa Claus

Christmas in my family means tamaladas held a few days before Christmas Eve to prepare dozens of tamales. I used to help. As a kid, my job was to painstakingly remove the cornsilk from the cornhusks soaking in a tub of water. Inside, the women of the family would laugh and gossip while spreading the hojas with masa. Mamá Toni was in charge of spooning in the guiso, a stew-like red chile and pork filling. She also did the folding. Later, I’d get to join the crew with spreading the masa, but never doing any of the final steps. That was for the pros.

In recent years, Mamá Toni took more of a supervisory role in the tamaladas. Madrina Chilo was in charge. I tended to miss them thanks to work and school on the other side of town.

Nevertheless, I had no shame in partaking of the benefits. I ate my share of tamales, and then some. They were delicious and perfect in every way. The right size, the difficult balance of spiciness to add a kick without making you cry (important for a chile weakling like me), neither too try nor so moist that it crumbles as soon as unwrapped, and never stingy with the amount of meat in each individual tamal. They were best the next morning, heated up to a crisp on the comal.

I took those tamales for granted, but Sean didn’t. He had never eaten tamales before moving out to California and dating me. He loved Mamá Toni’s tamales and would gladly take leftovers of the pork. The compliments filled her with pride and she got a kick that he really liked Mexican food.

Christmas 2013 with Mamá Toni

I caught myself thinking that Mamá Toni would be at the tamalada this year. It’ll be the first Christmas without her. I don’t know if I’m ready for that.


Mamá Toni's altar

The day of Mamá Toni’s funeral everyone in the family wore purple, her favorite color. The pall bearers — the eldest sons of each family — wore the same eggplant shade. Everyone else wore something between lavender and violet. Xavi wore purple too. And I pulled out all the purple dresses in my closet that no longer fit me and lent them to my cousins and sister. Three people wore my dresses. I like purple a lot too.

There were flowers, lots and lots of flowers. I wondered, who will take care of these arrangements and make sure they last for days. Mamá Toni was a pro at keeping flower arrangements looking fresh longer than anyone I knew.

The Mass was celebrated by Mamá Toni’s Fr. Roberto. He’s currently assigned to a parish in Seattle, but fortunately he was able to be in town for the services as it coincided with a conference. As Mamá Toni’s nephew and godson, Padre Roberto added a very personal touch to his sermon. I don’t think anyone could suppress the tears when he spoke about how much good Mamá Toni did throughout her life, almost all in partnership with Papá Chepe. I wasn’t around at the time, but in the ’60s and ’70s, Mamá Toni helped her brother Mateo (Roberto’s father) emigrate. Her home in East LA was a temporary residence for many family members and friends immigrating. Most of my family is very removed from the immigrant experience either having never experiencing it or it being decades in the past. Fr. Roberto’s sermon was a nice reminder of how much Mamá Toni had done for her siblings and their families. After the burial and reception I told dad, “Your eulogy at the rosary was very nice, but Fr. Roberto’s was amazing. I know it’s not a competition.”

At the burial, I stood in the shade out of the hot sun next to dad, Lori and Danny. We reprised our Mosqueda mini-tradition of singing at the funerals of our loved ones. We did it for tío Joe, tío Johnny, our neighbor Dale and now Mamá Toni. My aunts, uncles and cousins let go of doves while we sang and others placed flowers on the casket. Later, dad would tell me likes singing and playing guitar during the funeral services because it keeps him busy and focused on the task rather than the grief. I know what he means because I do it too, but I also sing because it’s another way of showing my love, saying “goodbye” and finding comfort with my family as we sing together.

Following the burial, most of the family went back to the church hall for a reception. Sean and I went to my parents’ to allow Xavi to nap. Tía Josie and my cousin Patty were already there taking care of Papá Chepe. Later that evening more family came over to begin the novena. The final rosary on November 7th would be even more crowded with family and friends joining to pray for Mamá Toni’s soul.

(I’m kicking myself now for not writing more about the services two months ago when they were fresher in my mind. The words were really beautiful.)


It’s been two months. It really doesn’t feel that long.

Mamá Toni, the matriarch

Lori, Mamá Toni, me

I heard a car idling outside at 4 am. Who idles at 4 am? I wondered. Was it my dad? No it couldn’t be. It was way too early even for my dad. I didn’t even bother looking at my phone. After a couple of minutes Sean stirred and eventually went to the door. It was my dad.

He was an hour early for his 5 am appointment. Two days before I had arranged for dad to give Sean a ride to the airport. On Tuesday morning Sean learned that his close friend of 12 years, Kevin, passed away suddenly. Sean booked a flight to NY to attend the services. Although I got to know Kevin too, I opted to stay home due to the expense. I enlisted my dad for a ride to the airport to save money on a cab or shuttle.

Sean got dressed and ready. He came back in to the room and said, “Your dad wants to talk to you.”

I walked slowly out to the living room and saw dad in the dark. He gave me a hug.

“Mija, I wanted to tell you. Mamá Toni is now in heaven. It just happened right now. At 3:05.” He drew me in closer. “She went away very peacefully. We were monitoring her.”

Oh. This was the second time in 48 hours I had been informed of a death after just waking up. Kevin was 36, his death was sudden and unexpected. Mamá Toni was 92 and for the past 8 months or so we knew she was quite ill. On Sunday when I saw her last, she stayed in bed all day and woke intermittently to greet the many family visitors who stopped by. We knew her death was imminent and the team of family nurses and caretakers (dad, mom, aunts, uncles and cousins) were working diligently to make sure she was as comfortable as possible.

“I wanted to tell you now, in case you want to come back with me after I take Sean. She’s still there, we haven’t called the nurse and mortuary yet.”

“Yeah, I think I’ll do that.”

I had already planned to take Xavi to spend a day or two at my mom’s while Sean was in New York. There’s more space for him to run around plus I could get a little help when I needed it. And there’s the bonus that he cheers up Papá Chepe and everyone else.

Oh. My heart sank. Papá Chepe.

Dad seemed to read my mind.

“He hasn’t woken up yet. We haven’t told him.”

I told dad we’d get ready and go back to Hacienda Heights with him. I wanted to let Xavi sleep a little longer. Sean hugged me tight and offered to cancel his trip but I told him no, he should go to Kevin’s funeral and see his friends. We would be okay and I wouldn’t be alone. I did ask him to pack up some things for Xavi.

Once dad and Sean left, I couldn’t go back to sleep. I lay with Xavi at my side going through all my Flickr photos tagged “mamatoni.”. There are over 200. Most are from the past 10 years when I first got a digital camera.

Tres generaciones

There are dozens at the January anniversary parties, birthdays, and holidays.

Dad and Mama Toní on Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters

Adrian finally gets a dance with Mamá Toni

And then there are the oddball ones of her riding Buzz Lightyear Astroblasters at Disneyland or Adrian dancing kinda crazy with her. (That one isn’t goofy, but I love their expressions.)

60th anniversary

And there are the heart melting ones of her kissing Papá Chepe or holding a newborn Xavi.

Mamá Toni and newborn Xavi

She adored Xavi.

Mamá Toni, the matriarch

My favorite is the one above, which I titled “matriarch” from Mother’s Day 2006. Her face is fuller, her hair shows no grays (she still insisted on dying), she’s in tan rather than her signature lavender. I love her “let me tell you” expression. And mainly, I like that she’s somewhat smiling. It wasn’t easy to get a photo of Mamá Toni smiling.

When dad returned I got ready. I drove my car and he followed behind. Xavi woke up in the transition from bed to car seat. I sang to him on the way to HH. “You Got A Friend In Me” was tough. I cried for Mamá Toni and Papá Chepe and for Kevin and Sean.

We got home to find several cars and aunts and uncles sitting soberly having coffee and donuts. The door to Papá Chepe and Mamá Toni’s room was closed.

When my aunts opened it, they told me they had just told Papá Chepe. I went in to the room. He was being consoled by my mom and her sisters.

Mamá Toni was in her bed at the other end of the room. I touched her head and gave her a kiss. She felt cool but just looked like she was peacefully sleeping.

Papá Chepe was crying in a low wail. Really, I think the word “llanto” is more fitting. Llanto implies utter heartbreak and loss. And that’s what I imagine he feels after losing his wife and partner of 71+ years.

Someone asked if he wanted to see Mamá Toni, to touch her. He nodded yes and soon their two beds were side by side. Mamá Toni was on Papá Chepe’s left side, the side he can still move freely. He held her hand.

“We are here for you, your family is here and will continue being here,” my mom told Papá Chepe.


Over the rest of the morning more family members arrived. The funeral director and his assistant came a little after 9 to take Mamá Toni. And we paused to say the first of our goodbyes over the next week


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

I’ve been at my parents’ house since Thursday morning. Family members and friends have come to offer condolences and others are busy planning the services for next Wednesday and Thursday.

It’s nice to be around my immediate and extended family at this time if only for the distraction. The house is far from being lonely, but Mamá Toni’s absence is impossible to miss.

Mamá Toni's health has been rapidly declining over the last few months. In August she was still moving around with her walker (which Xavi loved) and watching Xavi play. She hasn't been out of bed in 3 days, but is still greeting family members who come to

I don’t think that feeling will go away anytime soon. Mamá Toni and Papá Chepe have been part of my home since I was 9 years old and they were always part of family gatherings. It’s tough to think of home without Mamá Toni.


I’ve written about both my grandparents many times over the past 13 years of blogging. I know some of you will feel like you know Papá Chepe and Mamá Toni too. Or maybe you met them at some point.

Thank you for those who have prayed for my grandparents in these recent tough times. I deeply appreciate it. Please continue to keep us in your thoughts, especially Papá Chepe.

One year, two shifts

Family photo for my birthday

It’s been exactly one year since I returned to work after a 3 month maternity leave. It was a tough morning and the week leading up to my return was filled with anxiety.

I don’t cry when I leave to work anymore and there are no balloons in my office. I settled in to a new routine, pumping in my office stopped being awkward, and I liked commuting by bus because it gave me some time to myself to read or just stare out the window.

These days my schedule has changed due to my fitness class. I leave to work later, occasionally I’ll get some morning play time in with Xavi. Sometimes he doesn’t even wake up before I leave. And then there are the mornings where he cries a little as I leave. It’s not a full on meltdown, but it still makes me feel guilty. I feel better knowing he adores Lupe, his babysitter. (He runs to her when she arrives.)

New hairstyle

Aside from my schedule, the other big change is that I stopped pumping in September. I was down to one pump a day and was planning to stop after Xavi’s birthday but didn’t want to affect nursing at home. He shows no interest in weaning and I’m cool with that. Anyway, one day I just didn’t get around to pumping and felt okay. If I have an extra long day, I’ll still take the pump. (In that first month when breastfeeding felt like the hardest thing ever, I didn’t imagine that at almost 15 months I’d still be gladly breastfeeding.)

This is one Friday 4:30 pm meeting I'm happy to take.

I stay later on the days I workout to make up the time. Sean is typically home first and he brings Xavi out for a walk to meet me. It’s my favorite part of the day to see tiny Xavi walking with Sean toward me on the sidewalk. Sometimes they’re already on the corner and I can hear Xavi’s happy screaming when he spots me getting off the bus from across the street.

Once we are both home, Sean starts dinner while I nurse Xavi. Afterward, we sing (current favorites are “Puff the Magic Dragon” and “Little Black Raincloud”), read, play hide-and-seek, go out for walks to checkout the neighborhood dogs and play with his plethora of toys. I also do a lot of chasing to make sure he stays out of the kitchen. He moves surprisingly fast. At least he’s a noisy walker/runner so I know when I need to hustle.

Someone loves cheese

After dinner Sean takes care of bathing Xavi and I start cleaning up in the kitchen, making lunch with the leftovers or getting ready to put Xavi to bed.

Then we go to bed and I read a little before showering and getting my stuff ready for the next day.


Xavi OOTD: Polo pleated khakis (via grandma Eula), Yankees polo onesie, Stride Rite shoes.

I marked my anniversary of being a mom + full-time worker bee by staying home with the little guy. Lupe is visiting family in Houston so Sean and I are taking turns staying home. Today we went to the doctor for a checkup, had a long afternoon nap, walked around the neighborhood to check out Halloween decorations, practiced climbing the stairs and met up with Sean on his walk home.

Celebrating into the nineties


In older photos of the grandparents, Papá Chepe is typically the one smiling and laughing as he pokes or tickles Mamá Toni in an effort to get her to crack a smile. I don’t remember know why she had the giggles in the photos above from Mother’s Day, but I think they’re cute. It was one of the first times in a while that they’d sat beside each other.


A month after Mother’s Day, Mamá Toni celebrated her 92nd birthday. She shared her day with Lori who was celebrating her graduation with a small reception. Papá Chepe’s 94th birthday is today. He’ll have a cake at Xavi’s birthday party and his very own horse piñata — his request, according to my mom.


I guess when you’re the patriarch and matriarch of a large family, you get used to sharing your special days. Nevertheless, I’m glad that we can still celebrate these days with them.


Grandpa and Xavi

Less than a week after Papá Chepe’s stroke, I sat with mom in the kitchen, in the same chair grandpa typically sat in for his meals.

“What’s the likelihood he’ll be leaving the hospital any time soon?” I asked tentatively.

Mom sighed and shrugged her shoulders. Papá Chepe was still in the ICU. She listed some of the key reasons why he’d be under professional medical care for the foreseeable future. There was still fluid in his lungs, his blood pressure still got dangerously high and due to the stroke he could not move his tongue nor right side of his body. Thus, all nutrition was taken in via IV.

A recovery at that point seemed like a long shot. Coming home? That was a dream.

Over the next seven weeks, Papá Chepe stayed in the hospital. He was moved from ICU to the second floor for less critical patients. A week or so later, he was moved to a larger hospital a couple of miles away, but still in Whittier. When Sean and I visited Hospital 2 we were glad the lady at the check-in desk gave us a map. I surely would have gotten lost otherwise. Family members continued to take turns staying overnight and those who lived out of state flew or drove in to visit. There were less people in the waiting room, but it still felt like a mini-reunion at times.

On March 7th dad — self-appointed update sharer — sent a message starting with GOOD NEWS!! . The extra exclamation mark and all caps were warranted because after a meeting with hospice care and a home health care service, the extended family had unanimously decided to bring Papá Chepe home.

He ended his message with a request for assistance as the family readied our home for Papá Chepe.

I immediately replied.

Me: Amazing. Let us know how we can help. So happy!!!

Dad: Bring Xavi.

I asked dad how soon the move would be. He made it seem like Wednesday of the next week, Monday at the earliest. That weekend several family members gathered to start making my parent’s home more amenable for Papá Chepe’s needs. A dozen people worked from morning until night to get everything ready. The room that my grandparents shared would now be only for Papá Chepe and Mamá Toni and her bed had been moved to my brothers’ old room.

On Monday afternoon the bed and supplies were delivered. At 3:00 an ambulance transported Papá Chepe from Hospital 2 in Whittier back to the home he hadn’t been in since January 21st.

I wasn’t there when the medics wheeled Papá Chepe in on the stretcher. Instead, I saw the homecoming via Adrian’s phone. He took a short video of the dogs, VR and Daisy, circling around the living room. Daisy barked, which she always does with strangers and even family members. She’s funny like that. VR was quiet, but he knew something was happening. In the video, Adrian holds his phone in one hand and picks up VR with his free arm so he can Papá Chepe on the stretcher. Adrian said he was scared by the stretcher.

Over the next few days, Papá Chepe’s team of “nurses” — also known as half a dozen of my aunts, uncles and cousins — signed up for day and night shifts and received a crash course from the professionals on the basics.

I considered going that Monday, but mom said it would be better to go the next day.


Tuesday started off bad for me. I drove to work to save time, but was sent to a parking structure on the other side of campus and then stupidly locked my keys in the car. Fortunately, I’d taken out my phone, pump and wallet before I closed the door. I found out a few hours later that my roadside assistance had expired (confusing since I just used it in July). Sean helped me out and agreed to leave work early, go home and pick up the spare set of keys and take the bus to campus. I left earlier than planned for my hair appointment and got turned around in my own neighborhood thanks to some construction roadblocks. Still, I got to my appointment on time, got my hair colored for free (!) and was feeling much better when I got home. Sean and Xavi were ready to head out and visit Papá Chepe.

Any feeling I had of having a no good, very bad, horrible day changed as soon as I arrived at the house and brought Xavi in to see his great grandpa.

Papá Chepe seemed a little tired, but was glad to see us. He looked Xavi over, seemingly surprised by how much he had grown in just a couple of months. I was just glad to see him home even though it was a much different home.


St Joseph's table

Papá Chepe has been home for over six weeks. On the 19th, over two dozen family members crammed in to the living room and kitchen to celebrate a special Mass in honor of St. Joseph’s day, or el día del santo de Papá Chepe since he shares his name with the saint. Also, the Ureño family has always honored St. Joseph and a frame with his image has been passed down for a couple of generations. Over the past few years, we’ve celebrated the day with a Mass and a fundraiser for HOCATI, the Tijuana orphanage that Papá Chepe and Mamá Toni donated their home to 4 years ago.

I couldn’t help but think that in January I was sending text messages to my parents and brothers about how I had recently learned that St. Joseph was the patron saint of a happy death because he died with Mary and Jesus by his side. This time, I was thinking of how lucky we were to still have Papá Chepe and was even more amazed that he was sitting up in a wheelchair.


Cuatro generaciones

Dad and mom frequently send pictures to family members of Papá Chepe at home doing normal, everyday things.


There’s one of him outside with sunglasses and a paperboy cap. Mamá Toni is at his side. There’s another with Papá Chepe in the wheelchair taking VR and Daisy out for a walk. A third shows him enjoying the warmer spring days in the backyard he used to meticulously tend.

Got your nose

My favorite, naturally, is any photo of Papá Chepe and Xavi. Every time I see those photos, I’m so thankful that he’s home, that our family can care for him there and that each day he’s getting a little better.

Once again, we are so thankful for the many prayers, good wishes and thoughts.

Four weeks later

I was in Wal-Mart near my parents’ house when a man stopped me.

“Mija, how is your grandpa doing?”

I tried to place him. He wasn’t a neighbor. Could he have been someone my parents know from church? Maybe I did know him and just didn’t recognize him as he had aged. My parents go to weekly Mass with my grandparents and surely their friends at church knew about Papá Chepe’s condition.

I didn’t know what to say so I just said he was doing a little better, he was stable.

Still, it was weird.


It’s been 4 weeks since Papá Chepe’s stroke and heart attack. His condition has improved somewhat. After a week he was moved from the ICU to another floor where patients were in less critical condition. The following week he was moved to another hospital in the area and handled the move well. The group text message updates from my dad go from daily to once every few days as there’s less pressing news on his condition.

We try to visit on the weekends. Every visit feels like a mini family reunion which is bittersweet. For the past ten years, we’ve been gathering every last weekend in January to celebrate the grandparents’ sixty-somethingth anniversary. This year was 71.

Whenever we visit, there’s no shortage of aunts, uncles and cousins in the waiting room to watch Xavi as Sean and I go to visit my grandpa. He looks less startling than he did in those first few visits. His arms are no longer bruised from the IV needles and there are less machines humming and beeping around him. He still holds our hands and if awake, he’ll stir and acknowledge our presence. Last time, while showing him pictures of Xavi on my phone, he took the phone from me and then placed it against his chest.

Mom: Do you want to cry?
Me: Huh?
Mom: I was showing Papá Chepe the calendar and saying, “es muy bonito el niño, no?” (The boy is really cute, no?) And he would nod, “yes.” Then he took the calendar from my hands and brought it closer to his face so he could see better. Then he placed the calendar over his heart and left it there.

Sometimes he’s cuddling a “get well” teddy bear at his side and it reminds me of the stuffed snake and mongoose he used to place beneath the rear window of his old car. He liked his odd, creepy animals.



Mamá Toni is mainly in good spirits, especially when Xavi is around. She asks for him as soon as he wakes up and dances/bounces him until her arms tire.


Thanks to all who offered kind words, thoughts and prayers. We really appreciate it.

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.

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.

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.

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.