Category Archives: Familia

Xavi is two

TMNT

Xavi is two years old*. That feels weird yet natural to write. It’s not the time that’s passed, but the way we measure it. We’re no longer saying his age in months when people ask.

My son has changed a lot since we first met him that sunny Thursday afternoon. He’s no longer the tiny newborn who nurses frequently and is swaddled to sleep. He’s a bright and silly toddler who says a lot without using many words. He’s obsessed with trains and freaks out when the train rolls by a block away.

And while he is bigger and more active, there is so much that doesn’t change. I still want to cuddle him even if he can wriggle free in two seconds flat. I stare at him while he sleeps amazed that Sean and I made such a beautiful creature. I still send poop emoji because dirty diapers are still an event. His hair still gets him lots of attention and comments and his smile and giggle are the best sounds ever. And he still loves my singing and listening to stories.

***

Ride On

We spent Xavi’s birthday at my in-laws’ house in Long Island. From a two-year-old’s standpoint, it might’ve been the best day ever as it was filled with his favorites and he was spoiled by 1.5 sets of grandparents (my mom was in town).

The word has spread that he’s a bit obsessed with Thomas and Friends and trains in general. My mother-in-law bought him a train he can ride on as well as an iPad. Xavi now officially has the newest iPad in the family. The big train and smaller trains joined Xavi’s collection of Thomases (Thomi?) that my mom helped grow by bringing some of the magnetic trains he left behind in LA and buying him new trains.

2nd birthday

After exploring the stairs at grandma’s we walked down the street for a block party. It was the perfect weather a neighborhood block party. Xavi had a good time trying to stay upright in the bouncy house and playing with water, two more favorites. I was a little squeamish about seeing him play with a water gun, but he’d rather just pour out water from a cup and splash water.

He also had a small birthday party. It was a low key affair compared to his first birthday bash. Eula invited over some friends from the neighborhood and church. She cooked up a bunch of delicious food and we played in the backyard and tried not to get eaten alive by mosquitoes. Xavi played bubbles and soccer with his grandpa. I don’t think he’s ready either for El Tri or the Reggae Boyz squads, but if there was a selección nacional team for chasing and popping bubbles Xavi would surely make the team.

And last there was cake! Who doesn’t love cake.

The perks of being a small toddler.

We returned to Ithaca on Sunday. Xavi had one last awesome experience. He got to sit on a Harley-Davidson motorcycle during a rest stop. The very kind bikers kept calling him a little girl — he gets that a lot thanks to the long hair — but the only thing that bothered him was when I took him away.

Oops. Sorry little guy.

*And a couple of weeks. I’m a little late in posting this.

What a trip

Sunday: family leaves the LA apartment together and begins nomad life by staying with my parents in Hacienda Heights

Monday before sunrise: Sean and my dad begin the drive to Ithaca

Monday evening: I finish cleaning out our apartment and turn in the keys

Thursday 12:35 pm: LAX to JFK (flight 1)

Friday 1:00 am: Reunite with Sean and my dad in Syracuse

***

I was a jumble of nerves the last few days in California. First, I was nervous for Sean and my dad as they traveled a few thousand miles. They sent regular updates and photos of pretty sites in Utah and Colorado. Still I was worried as that is a lot of miles. Second, I was worried because Xavi was still a bit feverish and I didn’t now if we’d need to make a trip to urgent care part of our to-do before we fly out list. Luckily, baby Motrin helped and he was better by Tuesday. Third, I was nervous about trying to fit everything in our suitcases and backpacks. I realized as I cleaned out the apartment that we were too disorganized and should have made better use of the moving truck. Xavi and I really didn’t need all the clothes we hadn’t packed in boxes. Fourth, I was nervous about saying goodbye to Papá Chepe, my siblings and mom. It’s one thing to leave your able-bodied siblings and parents. I know I can call/Sykpe/FaceTime. I know they can visit. But it’s different with my 95-year old grandfather. Even before the stroke, the trip would’ve been rough for him. Plus, I knew that in recent weeks he’d been sad when my mom or siblings brought up our move. (Yes, I felt guilty.) Fifth, I was worried about the flights to New York. We’ve traveled to NY twice with Xavi. The first time was when he was 9 months old and not yet walking. The second time was in March. He was okay on both trips, but those were direct flights with two parents. Even if he was an angelic toddler, I’d still need to consider the logistics of lugging around our bags plus the bulky jogging stroller.

Last what if, for some reason, we arrived in Syracuse before Sean? Who would pick us up at the airport?

***

Xavi's first drum circle

Rather than sit around feeling my stomach tie in to knots and as I freaked out, I kept busy with chores like laundry, eating my mom and aunts’ delicious food and finishing packing. Xavi played with all the toys his grandparents have spoiled with and splashed around in his kiddie pool to stay cool. We also went to the library for a kids’ program about drums of the world. Xavi wasn’t really in to it until he got to try out the drums like the other kids.

Pool time

On Wednesday night, Danny cooked a gourmet meal for us. I was crabby, hungry and rather rude as Danny took a few hours to prepare everything (sorry, brother). I was annoyed because ordering out would’ve been just fine and less work for all involved. Now I’m thankful that he went through the trouble since it’ll be a while before I get one of his gourmet, professionally plated meals.

***

On Wednesday night I finished stuffing our suitcases. I decided we’d gate check the stroller which would help free up an arm and would check the roller bag I usually use as a carry on. I needed my hands free.

The next morning I tried to keep cool as I said my goodbyes to Papá Chepe, Lori and Adrian (he wore sunglasses to hide the dust getting in his eyes). Danny loaded up the Jeep and drove my mom, me and Xavi to LAX. I’m usually okay to be dropped off at the curb, but this time I needed them with me all the way up until we were separated at security. Plus, I just wanted to delay the goodbye and the inevitable tears.

Outbound...

It was bittersweet. I missed Sean and wanted to see him again, but at the same time I knew that our move was tough on both my nuclear and extended family. We are super close both figuratively and literally. I felt the benefit of their nearness as we prepped for the move and I could count on them to come by to bring a meal, paint or entertain Xavi. My mom gave me and Xavi a blessing before we went through security and I choked back the tears. I needed to keep it together.

Flying makes me hungry

As soon as we got to our gate we took care of business (diaper change and getting lunch) and then it was time to board. Xavi and I were sitting in JetBlue’s Even More Space seats. They’re pricey, but well worth the extra space for toddler who doesn’t want to sit still. Even though Xavi still qualified as a lap infant, I knew he needed his own seat just for the space (and not to bug out neighbor). He fell asleep for a little bit and then played calmly. He even got a compliment from the man who was sitting in our aisle. We arrived on time to JFK and then waited for our next flight to Syracuse. Our flight was delayed and the delay ultimately took longer than the actual flight. Xavi had a good time running around the seating area at the gate and up and down the concourse but got fussy when I made him stop. He needed to sleep and nodded off even before our flight took off.

Last people at baggage claim

We arrived in Syracuse and met up with Sean and my dad. It was so good to see them. We were reunited and it felt so, so good.

Dad flew back to LA the next morning and then it was just me, Sean and Xavi hanging out in a hotel in Syracuse. On Sunday we drove south to Ithaca where we stayed in a new friend’s spare basement studio apartment. The next morning I started my new job.

We kept up the nomad/living out of a suitcase life for another week while we waited to move in to our new apartment (July 2nd) and have our things delivered by the moving company (July 4th).

A month later we’re pretty much moved in but still need to unpack some boxes of items we don’t use daily. I’ve settled in to my job and we’re getting to know our new town. More on that later.

You can’t take it with you

In my post announcing my new job and move to upstate New York I mentioned that I’ve never really moved. I’ve changed residences and gone from childhood home to dorm and then to an apartment with a few roommates. Then I didn’t leave because I was still working or going to school at  the same place. I even got an award highlighting my residency. 

Gag award from 2004 - kinda painfully true

That was only six years in Westwood. Eleven years later, I’m finally leaving and it’s not easy in any way, but I’ll focus on logistics.

Since I’ve been at apartment since 2000, I’ve accumulated a lot of stuff. I’ve done a couple of purges, the last being when Sean moved in and I wanted it to feel like our place rather than my place.

While I have lots of stuff, I don’t have much practical knowledge of how to move. I’ve been doing a lot of googling and bugging the company my job referred me to for relocation services. Sean did the cross country move once and he knew a couple of things:

1. It’s not cheap.

2. Purge, purge, purge. Because #1.

We are in the middle of #2 because we received our [discounted] move quote and had major sticker shock. I’m fairly certain our household goods cost less than the price of moving them.

We are discarding older furniture that isn’t worth moving and selling some of the stuff that is in better shape. Xavi gets to keep his furniture and is doing less purging.

Up for grabs

We are also trying to lighten our load by giving away or selling books. 

Up for grabs: mainly fiction. This list was longer but my teacher friends had first dibs.

Education and sociology: I bought a lot of books during grad school. I shudder to think of what was spent versus what I actually read. These aren’t all up for grabs as I’m keeping those focused on methodology and student development.

Chicana and Chicano Studies books: some of these are banned in Arizona schools!

Sean's up for grabs books

Sean pulled some books too, but they’re not on GoodReads.
If you’re local and want a couple of books or know of a good place to donate, let me know. 

Xavi gets baptized

Godparents and parents

Sean and I have a lot to do in before we leave LA. One of the things that seemed most urgent was getting Xavi baptized.

It was never a question that he would be baptized. Sean and I promised it a few times in preparation for a Catholic marriage. It’s customary to baptize children as infants. I was baptized before I was a month old. Mexicans throw big parties to celebrate this with food and “bolo.” The godparents throw out coins and there’s a mad scramble to pick them up. It’s like the piñata candy melee but more people join in because who doesn’t need some quarters to do laundry or to add to the piggy bank?

Proud grandparents

My mom kept bugging me about it and I shrugged off her exhortations because we hadn’t decided on godparents. It’s not an easy decision. Being a godparent means a lot of things, but I didn’t want it just to be an honorific. I wanted Xavi’s padrino and madrina to accept the responsibility to be co-guides of Xavi’s faith journey.

So, while I was helping a group of 17 teens prepare to be fully initiated Catholics – that’s when you’ve been baptized, and done the sacraments of Reconciliation, First Holy Communion and Confirmation – I was delaying the first step of that process for my own child. Oh, irony.

When leaving LA became a reality in early May we needed to make a decision.

Baptism style

Sean and I picked Danny and Lori to be Xavi’s padrinos. Xavi asked them on Mother’s Day with little notes saying, “will you be my padrino/madrina?” Of course they said yes, and almost cried. They’re both ecstatic just being uncle and aunt to their first nephew, now they get to do a little more.

We rushed through the process of selecting a church, picking a date and taking the preparation class. We were able to get in last minute at St. John Vianney in their parent and godparent preparation class. Sean and I go to mass at SJV about once a month and it still feels like home when I see lots of familiar faces. That happened during the class too. Two of the four couples leading small groups were friends’ parents.

Last Wednesday we took the course and I was reminded why I chose Danny and Lori and what I want Xavi to learn from them.

Trío Mosqueda Campbell

I was pretty shy as a kid but Danny was the opposite. He took on the trailblazer big brother role with gusto and I was grateful for it. I joined all the activities he did up through high school. I even chose trombone because Danny played trombone. Having him there made everything easier and less daunting, even if I was mainly known as Danny’s Little Sister. My big brother’s willingness to get involved extended to church activities like altar serving, choir and youth group (yup, did all three). He also made all the church ladies love him. So, from Padrino Danny I want Xavi to be willing to get involved and share his talents. I want him to get that first born sense of responsibility of being an example to your younger sibling(s) or cousins.

Madrina Lori and Padrino Danny

Xavi has three uncles, but only one tía, Lori. I know she relishes that role. As my only sister, we have a very close relationship and complement each other. Lori has a beautiful singing voice and we harmonize quite well together. We join dad and Danny in our small family choir at funerals for friends and family. Aside from offering up her voice, she also reminds me that prayer can take many forms. On her trail runs she prays for those who cannot run and reflects on the beauty in our surrounding environment. I want Xavi to learn from his Madrina Lori that it’s important to share your voice and other talents. Also, prayer can take many forms.

Xavi gets baptized

As for the actual baptism, Xavi didn’t behave as well as he usually does in church. He was squirmy, “talked” a lot (he says ma-ma now!), sat on the floor and cried at different parts. We’ve heard kids scream “nooooo!” in the middle of being baptized, so at least it wasn’t that bad considering he was teething and we cut his nap short.

Not up for picture time

He was definitely the loudest (and oldest) of the six babies being baptized. He also had the most hair and was the only one who didn’t do the traditional baptismal gown. Do they even make those in 2T?

Proud grandparents

Adrian and Alexis

We kept the celebration small since the day before my parents had already hosted a party. My cousin Angelina threw a party with a King Taco truck and mariachi to celebrate her daughter Star’s confirmation and son David’s First Holy Communion.

Kisses for Xavi

We’re thankful Xavi so many strong examples, hopefully that shines through in Skype and FaceTime.

Los Angeles, I’m yours (for now)

“You need to leave California, Cindy… I know you don’t want to, but you’re going to need to, especially when you start looking for a job. There are no jobs here.”

I wasn’t thinking of my former advisor’s words when I decided to apply to a job in New York. Nor was I thinking of them in the video conference interview or day-long interview on site. And it didn’t come to mind as I waited to hear back from the review committee and weighed the pros and cons of a potential move. They came back to me after making my decision.

Five years after my advisor told me I needed to leave California and I pouted about it, I am finally leaving, now it’s with my little family.

On May 1st I made up my mind — like a lot of high school seniors waiting until the last minute to choose a college. Rather than submit a statement of intent to register I would soon sign an offer letter accepting a position at a university in New York.


I bought the hoodie after my interview. I figured even if I didn’t get the job, Xavi could build up his collegiate wardrobe. No need to only wear blue and gold.

It’s a big change for me and my family. We’ll be going from LA to an area with about 6% Latino population. I’ll no longer be in the land of 70 degree January days. My parents, siblings and most of my extended family won’t be a short drive away. I know they’re happy for me, but if Xavi was my grandson/nephew I’d be sad about no longer seeing him every other week.

Career wise it’s also a big change. I’ll go from a very selective public university that I’ve been at for 16+ years as either a student or staff member to a more selective Ivy League university that I’ll need to learn a lot about. I see myself carrying a map as I walk around campus, just like the tiny freshmen.

I’ll still be in STEM education for underrepresented minority and disadvantaged students, but with greater emphasis on the E in that acronym. My position will also come with more responsibility.


His face when he heard about the cold and snow.

I’m excited about this new opportunity but also fretting over the move. I don’t know anyone in Ithaca except my future co-workers. Sean, Xavi and I will leave an awesome support network (read: free babysitting from grandparents), extended family, lots of friends, co-workers and jobs we really like, our neighborhood and comfy apartment, and a church I’ve begun to feel at home at thanks to getting involved with the confirmation program.

I’ve only moved twice but I don’t think going from home to dorm and then dorm to apartment shared with college roommates really counts. It’s certainly much less daunting than a cross country move. While I’ve spent a lot of time in New York, it’s been in NYC or Long Island. Ithaca is 4-5 hours away from our New York City/LI friends and family. Last, we’ve been lucky to have the transition to parenthood smoothed out by having family nearby. I joked about the free babysitting, but that’s just one perk. It’s even better to see Xavi playing with his grandparents, aunts and uncles, and bringing a smile to Papá Chepe’s face with his silliness. On the bright side, Xavi will get to see his NY family more often.

I’m making a list of all the things I need to do (and eat!) in LA before we leave in June. We’ll certainly be busy, but mainly I want to spend the last few weeks at work leaving my boss, coworkers and replacement in a good position. At home, I want to make sure Xavi gets plenty of quality time with his LA family.

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

laughinggps

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.

lorigrad

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.

chepe0514

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.

Homecoming

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.

Twins

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.