Worried friends and concerned co-workers ask me how we’re doing all the time. It’s an impossible question to answer, so I’ve come up with a standard response:
“Mom is back at work and that really helps. It keeps her busy, gets her mind off things. Ani is finishing up his undergrad degree at Georgia Tech. Aerospace Engineering, so he’s got his mind occupied. He’s also been coming home a lot and that’s really nice. And me? Oh, I’m fine. FINE. Totally fine.”
And it’s true. Mostly. I mean, I’m functional — I go to work and take care of my son every day, and I write in my blog, and I’m even setting foot in the kitchen at least once a week.
See? I’m fine…
Except for that split second right after I open my eyes in the morning. When I come out of the blur that is dreamland and have to consciously remind myself that he’s really gone. That the past three months have not just been a pesky nightmare.
Or when I casually hear someone say his or her age and it’s a number greater than 53. And I feel a pang of jealousy like, “How come this person, who isn’t even that nice or interesting, gets to live longer than my father?”
Or when I watch the Olympics and the skiers hurl themselves down mountains and come out unscathed. It’s not that I want them to get hurt – but it doesn’t seem fair. They fly hundreds of feet in the air and live, while my dad fell off a twelve foot ladder and died. HE FUCKING DIED. He didn’t twist his ankle or bruise his shin, he hit his head and he fucking died.
Or when I’m at the grocery store picking out limes. “The shiny ones have the most juice,” he used to say.
Or when I see a Starbucks.
Or when my mom is having a bad day. When she tries her hardest to trudge through the pain, but the pain keeps setting her back. And no matter what I say or do, it doesn’t get better. And I feel like my family will never be happy again. And I feel like I’ve lost both my parents.
Or when I wear his pajama bottoms, the really old ones with the burgundy stripes. The only item of his I kept.
Or when I make rice; eat steak; see an ambulance; listen to Luki’s laugh; need a home repair; take a shower; open the garage door; mash garlic; or hear someone whistle.
Whenever one of those things happens, I still get the urge to scream and kick and break things. To cry out, “THIS IS BULLSHIT! THIS WAS NOT SUPPOSED TO HAPPEN THIS WAY!”
But the thing about death — the thing I always knew but never understood until now — is that there isn’t a damn thing I can do to fix it. I can scream and curse and stay in bed all day; I can avoid Starbucks and banish all ladders from my presence; I can harbor ill will toward skiers and the elderly…and my dad will still be gone.
So, instead, I breathe, and I look at the big picture, put things in perspective, remember God’s plan, hold on to my child, laugh with my husband, focus on the positive, think about all the opportunities my father’s life and death afforded me.
And when someone asks, I tell them I’m fine. FINE. Totally fine.Continue Reading
Me: I think Luki is hyperactive. Every time I try to nurse him, he eats for like, five seconds and then wants to move on to something else.
Big E: Well, of course, he is overstimulated by all that technology you subject him to.
Me: What are you talking about? He doesn’t even watch TV!
Big E: You and Ton Ton are constantly on your iPhones. Don’t you realize that gives off dangerous radiation waves that hurt the baby?
Me: Luki doesn’t talk on the phone!
Big E: So? He’s still affected by the two of you doing it. It’s just like babies who live with parents who smoke.Continue Reading
I want you to know that your grandpa was a kind man. And I’m not just saying that because he always offered to pay for dinner when he was out with friends and family, or because he donated hundreds of hours of his time and talent volunteering through our church in Guatemala.
He was a kind man because he never held a grudge. Because, although he was an excellent judge of character and could always tell when someone was going to swindle him, he continued to give people the benefit of the doubt. And because he always chose to focus on the good in others instead of judging them for their mistakes.
Your grandpa taught me that to be kind means a lot more than just giving people things, Luki.
Being kind means not getting upset when your wife scrapes the paint off the brand new car while pulling out of the garage. It’s giving the colleague who took a really long time to pay for your work a second chance. It’s letting your adult daughter know that, even though you are disappointed about her decision to move in with her boyfriend, you trust that she thought things through and respect her autonomy.
Now that he’s gone, whenever I face a quandary, I find myself pondering, “how would your grandpa handle this?” And the answer is always unequivocal: with kindness.
Recently, I faced a situation that had me asking myself that question. Your grandma donated a car to someone she believed was in dire need of transportation only to find out that, after being in possession of the gift, the person decided to sell it for a profit. It was quite a crooked thing to do and, when I originally learned of what had happened, I was really upset. How could this person take advantage of my mother this way? The nerve! The gall! This is why you can’t trust anyone!
And then… I thought about your grandpa. And I knew that, instead of brooding over the incident, he would choose to laugh it off, forgive, and non-judgmentally accept that people make mistakes.
I am trying to do the same.
It’s important to be charitable, Luki, but always remember that true kindness goes far beyond generosity.
After watching the movie Julie & Julia with my mom –
Me: How amazing would it be if I could turn my blog into a book and a movie?
Big E: I really believe you could do it!
Me: Yea, maybe. Or maybe, I could become a cook like Julia Child! After all, she was much older than me when she started. I could end up a famous chef!
Big E: Uh, I think you should stick to writing. I wouldn’t want to see you with burn scars and missing fingers.
Cold, Big E. Ice cold.
I will have you know, my faithful readers, that in the last couple of weeks I’ve been doing a lot better with my new year’s resolution to cook more. Okay, I know that the original resolution was to cook dinner every weekday, but let’s face it, that’s an impossible pipe dream. Ton Ton must have put a hallucinogen in my New Year’s Eve champagne to get me to come up with that idea. So, in an unaltered state of mind, I modified my goal to the purposely vague and ambiguous “cooking more.” There is no way I can mess that up. As a matter of fact, if I make dinner two more times this year, I will have cooked more than in all my previous years combined. Great success!
Not everything has turned out perfect, of course. I made lasagna that was too salty and lacking in cheese, and I had to try my hand at yellow rice three times before getting it to actually look and taste like – well, not exactly yellow rice, but something in the yellow rice family. A third cousin perhaps.
However, I’m very proud to announce that Ton Ton and I made this recipe for a couple of friends last week, and it turned out pretty fantastic. That’s right people! We had guests at our house and offered them something other than pizza and beer, and they ate it, and asked for seconds, and did not have to go to the hospital with a case of food poisoning the next day. It was inspiring…
So inspiring that, over the weekend, we made it a point to get groceries in order to guarantee another successful week in the kitchen. As we headed to the store – the Latin American grocery store where we buy the plantains, malangas, and boniatos to make Luki’s baby food* – I called Big E on the phone.
Me: We’re headed to the Latin grocery to buy malanga.
Big E: Are you with the baby?
Big E: Please don’t take the baby in there. Do you know how dirty that place is? Have you seen the floors? Last time I was in there, I had to leave right away because the smell made me want to throw up.
Me: Ok, mom.
Big E: I’m serious! Please don’t take the baby into that pit of infestation!
I, of course, ignored her. Granted, the floors weren’t spotless and there was a unique smell permeating the air, probably because they sell things like cow tongue**, but it’s not like they had piles of feces lying around or bubonic plague infested rats scurrying by. It was fine.
A few hours later, Luki and I headed over to her house for a late lunch with some family friends. She immediately asked if I had really taken the baby inside that “putrid place” and, because it’s juuust sooo eeeasy, I responded, “Well, yea. But he only crawled around the floor for a few minutes while we picked out produce, and as soon as I saw him licking the side of the vegetable bin, I told him to stop.”
She was livid.
Then our friend suggested that she buy one of those backpack sprayers to fill with Clorox and hose down every surface Luki comes in contact with. We all started laughing, and I had this vision of my mother walking in front of us disinfecting sidewalks and grassy fields in parks before Luki could get to them, and I thought –
“Big E is absolutely right, I should stick to writing. I can’t let all the free material she provides go to waste.”
*He eats like a Cuban child. I can’t wait to send him to school with guava and cream cheese sandwiches instead of peanut butter and jelly.
**Don’t knock cow tongue until you’ve had tongue tacos.Continue Reading
“Are you going to love the baby more than you love me?” I asked jealously, my pregnant belly creating a deep valley between our bodies.
“Of course not,” he said. “Not more. Not less either. Probably the same or maybe…I’ll just love the baby differently.”
Was I serious? Was I really worried that my husband would love our child more than he loves me? Not really.
Okay, yes. Maybe a little.
A big part of me posed the question to be cute and feel girlie. In my whale-like state, I needed to hear him say “of course not, I would never love anyone as much as you.” But I also had these visions of the baby usurping my role. Stealing my hugs and kisses. Getting all the attention I so rightly deserved. After all, without me, there would be no baby.
I imagined my husband coming home from work, blinders on like a racehorse headed straight for the child, while I slowly turned into chopped liver in a corner.
Irrational, I know.
Can I chalk it up to pregnancy hormones instead of blind selfishness and egocentrism?
After Luki was born, I was too busy dodging poop missiles to give jealousy the time of day.
I really hadn’t given any thought to my pregnant delusions until this morning, when I opened my eyes and found Ton Ton and Luki spooning.
There he was. The baby placidly sleeping in my special spot, inside the concave line of his dad’s body. And, just like he does to me, Ton Ton was caressing our son’s shoulders, gently kissing the back of his neck.
As I faced this sight, this appropriation of my space and my caresses, I was surprised to find that I did not feel jealous at all. Instead, I felt loved. More loved than ever before. It’s like all the love Ton Ton gives to Luki, he gives to me as well.
Love by association.
“Are you going to love the baby more than you love me?”
Today I realize that the correct answer to the question is “Absolutely. Of course. Yes!”
Because the only way to love me properly is to love our son more and more each day.Continue Reading
There are a ton of funny stories and interesting anecdotes I want to tell you about your grandpa, and I really hope to do so throughout the course of the year. But there are also very specific memories I want to share. Memories that aren’t necessarily part of a bigger tale. Memories I considered insignificant for most of my life and that, now that he’s gone, keep coming into focus.
And it’s wonderful. To be driving home from work and suddenly be overcome by an exact moment I shared with him.
So this week I want you to know that, when I was a little girl in Cuba, your grandpa sharpened my pencils with his knife.
At the risk of sounding like the clichéd toothless grannies on T.V. who start every sentence with “why, back in my day…”, I have to explain that in the Cuba of the late eighties and early nineties, pencil sharpeners were not a household tool. I know that probably boggles your mind, Luki. And that’s why you should just take a quick second right now to be thankful — in great part to your grandpa — for being born in a land of plenty. The U.S. isn’t a perfect country by any means, and I certainly hope you do all you can to make it a better, fairer, more inclusive place — but it is a land of opportunity, of hope, and of generally accessible school supplies.
I remember. I’d take my dull writing utensil over to him, and he would slowly work his way around the pencil, peeling away layers of wood until a perfectly sized chunk of lead was exposed. Then he would delicately file the lead to make it flawlessly pointy.
I’ve never seen an electric sharpener achieve the same effect.
Your grandfather wasn’t a scholar or an intellectual and when I was growing up, it was your grandma who’d usually help me with my school work. But he did everything he could to help me succeed.
And I remember. I remember that when I would sit down to write with one of your grandpa’s freshly sharpened pencils, I aimed for better penmanship.
Sometimes the simplest things can be an inspiration to others, Luki. I hope you grow up to find and give that kind of inspiration.
Ton Ton: I have to be really careful with Luki.
Me: What do you mean?
Ton Ton: Well, I was watching Metallica: Behind the Music and, did you know that the drummer’s dad was a professional tennis player?
Ton Ton: Well he was. And he pushed his son to play tennis so much that the kid rebelled and became a drummer for one of the biggest bands in the world.
Me: I see.
Ton Ton: If I want Luki to become a musician when he grows up, I can’t force the guitar on him.
Me: Too bad you don’t know anything about tennis.Continue Reading