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.

Baby’s first racist encounter

In just four days Xavi will complete his first year of life. There will be tears (mine, no doubt) and clichés (where did the past 12 months go? Can you believe he’s one?), a (Hulk, naturally) smash cake and lots of family and friends. There will be reminiscing over a year full of firsts and reaching milestones. And we’ll look forward to ones we’ve yet to reach (without trying to rush the natural developmental process).

Most of those firsts have been pleasant, awesome even. They’re captured in pictures and text messages filled with lots of exclamation points. Occasionally there will be one without formal record. Just memories that will become the kind of story that ends with “so that happened.”

This is that kind of story.

Hanging out on campus

Normally, Sean, Xavi and I go to Sunday mass at 5 pm. It gives us time to lounge around in the morning and not interrupt Xavi’s late morning nap. During the academic year it coincided with the service for confirmation year 1 students. (I volunteered to be a catechist last summer.) Finally, I like the music played at that service. This Sunday I had to work from 4-6 so we opted for the latest morning service at 11.

We arrived at church and took our usual seats in the crying room, 3rd mini pew, second from the back. I’m new to crying rooms since I never sat in there as a kid. SJV didn’t have one, but this church does. We’ve been using the room for the past 6 months or so and have become familiar with the regulars. While it’s nice to attend mass and not worry about the baby getting too loud and fussy since the room is soundproof, it’s also worrisome for it provides a glimpse of the toddler years.

This Sunday the room was pretty sparse and we were joined by only two or three other families. The family in the pew in front of us consisted of three boys, Larry (~9), Moe (~7) and Curly (~6)*, their father and grandmother.

Shortly into the service, the children were invited to leave the sanctuary to attend a specialized kids service. Moe and Curly joined the group, but Larry didn’t want to go even when his dad and brothers encouraged him. While his brothers were gone, Xavi dropped one of his teething rings in the aisle by Larry. The boy kindly picked it up but seemed disgusted when he found it was wet with drool. Fair enough.

Halfway through the service the kids came back. The boys got out their toys. Xavi watched with curiosity and leaned forward trying to touch the toys. Rather than turn around and ignore Xavi, Moe and Curly showed Xavi their toys. Moe, the middle brother, even let him hold a Batcopter. Larry didn’t like that.

“No, don’t let him play with it. He’s a brown baby! We only like Jonathan.*”

Moe and Curly looked at Larry like “what’s wrong with you?” and ignored his plea. Larry whined to his dad, but he didn’t do anything.

Sean and I didn’t say anything, but for the rest of the service I tried to keep Xavi from touching the boys’ toys even when they offered because they weren’t baby appropriate and I didn’t want Larry scowling at us or his brothers. Xavi did get in a couple spins of the Batcopter propeller and Tumbler wheels. [Aside: Sean helped me with the proper terms.]

The mass ended and we walked out to the car.

“Did you hear what the boy said?”

“I think I did. What did you hear?”

Sean repeated what I thought I’d heard and confirmed that I didn’t hear wrong. He was sitting closer to Larry so he could hear better.

“That doesn’t even make sense. Those boys are the same color as Xavi! They’re probably Filipino too.”

“And who is Jonathan? We gotta warn that kid.”

“Well, I guess that’s another first. Baby’s first racist encounter.”

So that happened...

So, that happened…

I love curls, curls, curls

Well before I was pregnant, I thought about hair. In particular, mixed kid hair.

My hair is thin and stick straight. I’m lucky if it holds a curl for more than a few hours. I rarely do anything to it besides the occasional dye job. Styling is wash and go. I don’t bother with many products. My kid(s) wouldn’t have a different experience thanks to the other half of the genetic equation.

I thought I would have time to learn the ropes and figure out what to do. I could take my toddler to my cousin Patty’s house and ask her for lessons. Her grown children are also blaxican and over the years she’s learned to braid their hair. She even tried once on Xavi but he wouldn’t sit still too long.

I thought I got off easy when I found out we were having a boy. I wouldn’t need to worry too much about styling, the right products, moisturizing, conditioning, and the rest of the stuff whole natural hair blogs are made out of.

I was wrong.

Xavi was born with a full head of hair. Everyone said it would fall out, but it never did. Instead the shiny black, straight hair covering his tiny newborn head grew and grew. It’s spiraled out into a thick set of curls that strangers think they can touch. [Grrr.]

Not excited about 4 month checkup time

Well-meaning and curious family members also have stuff to say and ask. Have you cut his hair? No. [Aside: When I was a baby my Padrino José shaved my hair so that it would grow back thicker. Baby me would’ve been so jealous of Xavi’s curls. You know, if I cared about that sort of stuff.]

When are you going to cut it? Never! Okay, that’s not what I said, but I really have no plans to cut it. I love how big it’s gotten. However, if it starts bugging him or if he pulls at it a lot, we might have to change course.

He has a lot of hair. I know.

Reading time, 11+ months

Really. I know.

Sean does all of the work when it comes to Xavi’s hair. He gives Xavi his baths and washes his hair a couple of times a week. He combs through with an afro pick after spraying with detangler. Xavi is the youngest in the family, but has the most complicated hair routine.

Last month our neighbor filled in for Xavi’s usual babysitter. She tried Shea Moisture curl enhancer on Xavi’s hair and it looked great, just like his hair does when it’s wet. “You have to define each curl,” she told me in a text. Sean bought the product and he tried after Xavi’s next bath. We couldn’t get Xavi to sit still long enough. Oh well.

I’m fine with the bedhead big hair look.

32 Books: Reflections on the A-Z Challenge

At the beginning of the year I committed to three main goals:
1. More reading. In particular, I committed to the A-Z challenge.
2. More running. Hah.
3. More writing. Ugh.

I haven’t done so well on 2 and 3 which might explain why I finished the challenge in the first half of the year. Below are my reflections, stats (ooooh, pie charts! pretty!) and the list of books I’ve read this year. I don’t generally write reviews, but I do rate them on Goodreads.


Alarcón, Daniel: Lost City Radio
Allende, Isabel: Of Love and Other Shadows
Bolaño, Roberto: The Savage Detectives: A Novel
Cisneros, Sandra: Have You Seen Marie?
Corpi, Lucha: Black Widow’s Wardrobe
Danticat, Edwidge: Breath, Eyes, Memory
Eggers, Dave: What is the What: The Autobiography of Valentino Achak Deng: A Novel
Eugenides, Jeffrey: The Virgin Suicides
Flynn, Gillian: Gone Girl
Gilb, Dagoberto: Before the End, After the Beginning: Stories
Green, John: The Fault in Our Stars
Hayasaki, Erika: The Death Class: A True Story About Life
Ishiguro, Kazuo: Never Let Me Go
July, Miranda: No One Belongs Here More Than You: Stories
Kozol, Jonathan: Savage Inequalities: Children in America’s Schools
Lahiri, Jhumpa: The Lowland
Marra, Anthony: A Constellation of Vital Phenomena
Novak, B.J.: One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories
Ondaatje, Michael: Anil’s Ghost
Ozeki, Ruth: A Tale for the Time Being
Palacio, Melinda: Ocotillo Dreams
Quick, Matthew: The Good Luck of Right Now
Rodriguez, Luis J: Always Running: La Vida Loca, Gang Days in L.A.
Senior, Jennifer: All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood
Tobar, Hector: The Barbarian Nurseries
Urrea, Luis Alberto: Into the Beautiful North
Vowell, Sarah: Unfamiliar Fishes
Wiehl, Lis: Snapshot
Wolitzer, Meg: The Interestings
X, Sulayman: Bilal’s Bread
Yañez, Richard: Cross Over Water
Zambrano, Mario Alberto: Lotería


I’m glad I committed to this challenge and would be up for a second round. Thanks to the challenge, I found several new-to-me writers, rediscovered my love for reading, found a new-ish hobby to do in my “me time” and passed the time on my bus commute.

Naturally, the best part of the challenge was finding new writers and branching out. I mainly read fiction but I tried to mix it up with the familiar and the new. Most of the books below (75%) were written by new-to-me writers. I found some books by just scanning the bookshelves at the library and others through blogs or message boards. Melissa, la Feminist Texican, indirectly contributed to the list with her reviews. I picked a quarter of my reads after reading her reviews. I added other novels such as The Fault in Our Stars and Gone Girl since they’re currently bestsellers and I wanted to see what all the hype was about.

I found a number of new-to-me writers I’ll keep on my radar. Namely: Anthony Marra, Ruth Ozeki, Mario Alberto Zambrano and Meg Wolitzer. I’ve already found a couple of Ozeki and Wolitzer’s other novels at the library and added them to my reading list. Marra doesn’t have other novels published but I added novels that influenced him which is how I ended up reading a few novels about wartorn countries, torture and disappearances (see: Anil’s Ghost and Lost City Radio).

As with anything called a “challenge,” there are downsides. First, I slogged through at least one book I would’ve put down much earlier if I didn’t need that letter (looking at you, Bolaño). The silly thing is that some of the books I liked least were letters I didn’t even need. I either forgot that or was stubborn. Second, I put off reading books on my list because I didn’t need that particular letter.



Favorite book overall: A Constellation of Vital Phenomena

Books that made me cry:
A Constellation of Vital Phenomena
The Death Class: A True Story About Life
Never Let Me Go
A Tale for the Time Being
The Interestings (maybe, I forgot now)

Toughest letter to find: I. Surprisingly, letters like Q, X and Z weren’t tough to find. I found my X author by just scanning books on the shelf when I went to get Richard Yañez’s Cross Over Water at the library. I checked out Feminist Texican’s A-Z archive for I authors and found Kazuo Ishiguro.

Type: Mainly novels and fiction. At least one book straddled the technical line between fiction and nonfiction. What is the What reads like a memoir but “novel” is in the title.

I read the most books in the late spring/early summer. I think this was because I wanted to finish by the start of July and I stopped picking longer books.

Average number of pages: 304. Longest: The Savage Detectives at 577 pages. Shortest was Have You Seen Marie? by Sandra Cisneros at 101 pages, which reads like an illustrated poem. I added Black Widow’s Wardrobe by Lucha Corpi since I felt like a picture book didn’t really count and I still needed a C.

Format: 21 books (15 borrowed from library), 10 e-books, 1 read in both formats

Most disturbing: Bilal’s Bread. This needs all the trigger warnings. It’s also the most niche book being about Kurdish immigrants, Muslims, and gay teens. Runner up: What is the What. Can’t Valentino Achak Deng catch a break?!

Funniest: One More Thing. I laughed out loud at some of the questions for discussion that Novak includes at the end.

Most enlightening: All Joy and No Fun. So much of the chapters on being a new parent rang true.

The agony of defeat


Xavi isn’t even a year old and he’s already witnessed heartbreaking losses by Mexico in the World Cup, the Dodgers and “the Knicks’ general existence.” Sean added that last one in. At least the Kings won the Stanley Cup*, but we’re not really hockey fans.

Hopefully by the time he’s old enough to care about sports, his [parents’] favorite teams will get it together. For now, we’ll try to keep the cursing to a minimum and the celebrations not overly loud so they don’t startle him and make him cry.

[*At the expense of the Rangers, Sean’s team. So even if we were hockey fans, it’s only half a win.]


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.


A few weeks ago, I saw a friend I’ve known since childhood. I noted that her 4+ year old son was a mini-me of her husband. She then showed me photos comparing her son and herself at similar ages and the resemblance was uncanny. I found it interesting how in one moment he looked exactly like his father and then at an earlier age he looked just like his mom.

Below are photos of Xavi as a newborn and then at 7 months contrasted with photos of Sean and I as babies. I’m not sure who he favors, but it’s neat to see little bits of our baby selves in our offspring.

Sean and Xavier as newborns

You can’t tell since Xavi is wearing a hat, but he had a full head of hair at birth just like Sean. He definitely took after his dad on that factor.

Man of my dreams


I just revisited photos from Xavi’s birth a little while ago as I updated the birth story post. (The photos weren’t showing up.)

I kept thinking, he was so tiny. August doesn’t seem that long ago, but when I look at the pictures it seems like I’m looking at a different baby boy. The matted full head of hair has turned into big, gorgeous, curls. The full lips now break open frequently in to a wide gummy grin and actual sounds like “guh” and “dah” come out. The foot that was barely longer than a finger now goes into his mouth — as does everything else that fits in to his little hands. And the laughter… it’s awesome. Sean and I do all sorts of silly things to get him to keep laughing.

If Xavi was born on his due date, he’d be 31 weeks old today.

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.