If there’s something I inherited from your grandpa, it’s my terrible organizational skills. Case in point: your diaper bag. A place from which I can never retrieve what I’m looking for without first making my way through a labyrinth of mismatched socks, expired jars of baby food, diapers that are now two sizes too small, and the occasional rotten banana.
I’m messy, I’ll admit it. But there’s order to my madness and (minus the occasional rotten banana) I can always remember where I left things. Of course, whenever I go back to find the pair of pants I know I left on the bathroom floor, or the magazine I distinctly recall placing on the counter right next to the stove, they’re never there because your father decided to move them. And I spend hours trying to find them until it finally occurs to me to look in our closet, or in that magazine rack we keep in a corner. In my head, it just doesn’t seem logical for things to actually be in their proper place.
Your grandpa was the same way. Disorganized and chaotic, but always on top of his game. One of the things we all used to tease him about was his “rolodex” — a collection of pieces of cardboard, sticky notes, and scraps of paper with different numbers on them. Sometimes there was a word next to the number, like chili or pita, other times it was a few letters (perhaps initials?), many times there was nothing at all. But he always had the right information when he needed to make a call.
When it came time to pay his employees, it was the same way. Sometimes he wrote down the hours they worked on restaurant receipts or the outside of envelopes, but most of the time, he just kept track of it in his head. And he was never wrong.
It’s not exactly the best quality to have, to be so scattered. And yet, it’s also not the worst. (Although your dad would probably disagree with me there.) But in all honesty, I believe, and I think your grandpa did too, that being flawless, or at least appearing to be, isn’t something we should spend too much time striving for. Those things are cosmetic, and trite, and fleeting. Your grandpa preferred to work on more permanent things. Like his patience, and his work ethic, and his kindness, and his ability to find and give joy every single day.
Because the thing is, Luki, that occasionally rotten bananas could easily be cleaned up from the bottom of diaper bags, but I can’t say the same for decomposing souls.
There are things I want to tell you, but I don’t feel like writing them today. It’s not because I’m having a bad day and feel uninspired; it’s actually just the opposite. I spent today doing some of the things I enjoy the most — reading, hanging out with my family, and eating great food. And although writing is also on my list of “things I enjoy the most,” tonight it sort of feels like a chore. I just want to curl up next to your daddy and drift to sleep. Contented.
Your grandpa would approve. He did a lot of things well, Luki, but the one thing he excelled at was being content. His greatest joys came from the simplest things: a cold beer; a well-cooked steak; a good joke; a long nap. He relished those moments and kept them close to his heart.
And so, tonight, I don’t have much to say except: find what brings you joy and practice it.
*I wrote this first letter (in my head) on Wednesday, September 1 while in Venezuela.
We are in Venezuela right now visiting with your dad’s family. We just got back from a whirlwind two day trip to Caracas and Valencia in which we spent the majority of our time in the car, stuck in traffic. You met many, many members of your extended family and that makes it all worth it, but it doesn’t make me any less tired or cranky about the long hours in transit. To make matters infinitely worse, when we finally arrived back at your grandma’s house, we found that the power was out — a common occurrence in today’s Venezuela. There are no lights, no hot water, and no air conditioning. Needless to say, I am livid! I even asked your dad to pack our suitcases and take us to a hotel.
The last forty eight hours have been incredibly frustrating, Luki. I’ve been thinking a lot about your grandpa and how he handled stressful situations by always keeping his cool. By recognizing that he had no control over most things in life and that getting upset only made matters worse. By smiling and cracking jokes through it all.
I’ve been thinking a lot about your grandpa, but I haven’t been putting those lessons into practice. I recognize that my attitude is incorrect, but prefer to continue whining and pouting to my husband. I prefer to stay focused on me and my needs right now, instead of trying to make the best out of a bad situation for everyone involved.
It’s incredible how quickly I’ve lost perspective of things. How, this, this minor bump in our vacation has me feeling like it’s the end of the world, even though, rationally, I know that I’ve gone through things that are so. much. worse.
I know that if your grandpa could see me, he would be shaking his head, reminding me to be nice.
And acknowledging that, in this very instant, I am not making him proud makes me want to try a little harder. And that, at least, is a step in the right direction.
Not a day goes by that I don’t think about your grandpa. I think about him constantly, I imagine what it would be like if he were still here, I replay the horrific day of his accident in my head, I continue to ask why, why, why did it have to happen to my family? But at the same time, I am so amazed at the people we have become since his death. If someone had told me a year ago that your grandma, uncle Ani and I would survive and rise up from such a traumatic experience, I would not have believed him.
I used to imagine what it would be like to lose one of the people I love most. In those dark fantasies, I could only picture myself broken, tormented, unable to think, to dream, to believe in anything. Yet, the effects of your grandpa’s death have been so much different than I could have possibly fathomed.
We are still heartbroken, yes. But all three of us are carrying on, re-inventing ourselves, pursuing our passions, and believing, more than ever, in the power of being alive.
And it is because of the life he led. Because of the example he gave us each day.
When the doctors told us he was gone, despite my overwhelming sadness, I knew that I was lucky. Lucky that I had been able to share part of my life with him and lucky that, by simply being, he prepared me for that moment. I knew we would be OK, not through our own merits, but because of him.
And now, as we pursue new adventures and start out from scratch, I know that, by way of the times we shared in the past, he will guide us toward a fulfilling future.
A future in which, my biggest desire, is to give you a similar example, my son.
I had to take Luki to the doctor on Friday. Ton Ton couldn’t accompany me so I went with Big E because I just knew I was going to need an extra set of hands. My son has been a bit difficult lately, to put it mildly. He’s been teething for what seems like an eternity (and still only has 4 fully protruded teeth) and all the traveling and changes in his routine have created some exorcist worthy moments in our household.
As I expected, he did not want to cooperate with the nurse when she tried to weigh him. Instead he went into full freak out mode, flailing his arms and legs, screaming at the top of his lungs, and pushing the nurse’s hands away every time she tried to sit him on the scale. In the end, the nurse had to weigh me first and then the two of us together.
This wasn’t a regularly scheduled appointment. I had to take Luki in because, during the last few days of our trip to Venezuela, I noticed some strange skin discolorations on his chest and back as well as on his upper lip, kind of like a mustache.
After asking some friends and family and doing a bit of googling, I concluded that my son got, what is referred to by some in the medical profession as: Margarita Dermatitis. A condition often contracted from coming in contact with lime juice while out in the sun.
Although Luki did not drink any margaritas while in Venezuela (he prefers his tequila on the rocks), he did suck on limes almost every time we went to the beach. Why? Because he likes them. And the whole time we were down there he was super picky about eating, often refusing to ingest anything other than yogurt or bananas. So I let him suck on the limes because I figured he would at least be getting some vitamin C. And also because if I took them away, he would freak out and, well, WE WERE ON THE BEACH! RELAXING! If sucking on limes was going to keep him quiet, then so be it.
And this is the part where Big E says something like, “Oh, I see. You NEEDED to relax! He LIKED the limes! What’s going to happen when he starts to like marijuana or cocaine?? What if he decides he likes to jump off bridges or play with snakes?? What are you going to do then??”
To which I can only respond: How long will the snakes keep him entertained for?
Anyway, now my kid is multi-colored. He is stained. He looks tie-dyed. And even though it’s nothing serious and the doctor didn’t even prescribe any medication, it could take weeks, even months, to go away.
As I think about it, perhaps that newfound ability to grow a mustache is what’s really responsible for his recent streak of rebellion.Continue Reading
Getting there: Our flights down to Venezuela could not have been smoother. Which was shocking, really, because we flew on Avior, a Venezuelan airline with which we’ve not had the best of luck in the past. The thing is, it’s the only carrier with a direct flight from Miami to Barcelona (that’s the city in Venezuela where Ton Ton’s family lives, not the magnificent metropolis in Spain.) The last time we flew on Avior, when we got to the Miami airport, they informed us that our flight time had changed. The plane was scheduled to leave an hour earlier than our tickets indicated and no one had bothered to inform us. Fortunately, Ton Ton insists on arriving to every flight he takes three hours in advance so we did not miss the plane. Also, last time Ton Ton’s sister flew on Avior, the plane caught fire as she and her husband were boarding. I’m not even joking. They saw the flames and started running in the other direction. Luckily, we encountered none of that. All flights departed and arrived on time (even early sometimes) and nobody caught on fire.
Our first night: So after hugging and kissing the fam and toasting to our arrival, we decided to put Luki to bed. After all, it was waaaay past his bedtime. Ton Ton’s mom didn’t have a crib for him, but she provided us with a toddler bed which included side rails and everything. When we’re home, we put Luki in his crib with his special blankie (don’t forget about this special blankie, it will have a starring role in a later part of the trip) turn off the lights and let him fall asleep by himself. He never cries. And so, silly us, we tried to do the same thing in Venezuela. Except that he figured out how to climb out of that toddler bed in less than a millisecond and began to wander around the room, poking his fingers into every electrical outlet he could find. I laid in bed next to him and tried to sing him to sleep, managing to keep him still, but wide awake and asking for “more” every time I finished a song. I’m still not sure when he dozed off because I was fast asleep by then.
Our second night: We figured that if we could make it impossible for him to climb out of the toddler bed, he would go back to his old habits of falling asleep by himself. Here is our brilliant plan: we moved the bed so that on one side it was right next to the wall, and on the other right next to our bed. Our much taller bed. We put Luki in there, handed him his special blanket, turned off the lights, kissed him goodnight, walked out of the room. Minutes later, he was crying loudly. We opened the door and found him standing directly in front of us. He had climbed up onto the much taller bed, walked across it’s entire width, and climbed down the other side. We caught him trying to figure out how to work the door handle. To escape.
Beach trip #1:
Reunion: So Ton Ton had his 20th high school reunion while we were down there. I accompanied him even though I wasn’t technically invited because I just knew I’d have access to a wealth of embarrassing information. And I did, like the pictures of him at prom in a red bow tie and cummerbund and the story about the time he and his buddies broke into the high school to steal a physics exam. But my favorite part was hearing about how he used to walk around swinging his head back to get his long hair out of his eyes all day and telling people, “don’t call me Tony, please, I want to go by Slash.”
Stay tuned for parts II and III of our trip in the coming days.Continue Reading
Today is your grandpa’s birthday. I woke up this morning disoriented. For the first time in my life I have no one to sing happy birthday to on September 8. No one to wish many more years of health and longevity upon.
And it’s been one of those days when I spend an inordinate amount of time inside my head asking why. Playing it all over. Putting imaginary twists into the story to alter the ending.
I don’t cry about your grandpa as much as I used to. But today I cried. Twice. First in my office. I was on the phone with your grandma, she told me she’d dreamed about him, that she’d wished him a happy birthday in her dream. And I put my hand over my eyes and tried to push the tears back in, but I couldn’t. I didn’t sob though. But I didn’t really say anything to her except goodbye, at the end of the conversation, because I would have started bawling if I’d talked.
I cried again later when I saw some pictures of him. They were on your grandma’s dresser. Pictures of them together on vacation. They both looked so happy, so carefree, so unsuspecting of the huge blow waiting right around the corner. But they only lasted a second, my tears. Grandma was around, I didn’t want to upset her.
And now, I’m crying again. A little. So that’s three times, today.
It’s not the first time I cry on your grandpa’s birthday though. Four years ago, when he turned fifty, we threw him a huge party. We surprised him with a live band and as they came out, singing an old seventies Spanish ballad, I was overcome with emotion. Your grandpa looked so happy, we all did. And I couldn’t help the tears of joy that began to run down my cheeks.
Today, as I think back about that day I feel so lucky that I was a part of it. That we threw him such a grandiose bash. He deserved it.
And as I go to sleep tonight, I’m going to do my best to drift off to that magical evening four years ago. Because even though he is no longer here, September 8 should always be a celebration of the wonderful life he led.
I have so many stories to tell you guys! Venezuela was an adventure and it will take several blog posts to fill you in on all that happened while we were down there. From the time we left Luki’s special blanket at a relative’s house in Caracas (can you guess how much sleep we got that night?) to an incident involving the Venezuelan Armed Forces and a very nervous Ton Ton.
But I have lots of catching up to do first, with work, and unpacking, and getting Luki back into something that resembles a routine. And also, today is Wednesday, aka Your Grandpa Was Awesome Day, but it’s not just any Wednesday, it’s also my Dad’s birthday. So… I’m having a lot of feelings that aren’t necessarily about our trip. But I’ll tell you all about our trip soon, I promise.
In the meantime, here’s a picture of my kid eating fresh fish on the beach.Continue Reading