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Introducing Chengu, our reptilian sidekick

A couple of weeks ago the three of us were outside with Luki playing catch (which, with a 15 month old is a lot more like fetch: we throw him the ball, he runs after it, and then brings it back to us over and over. He’s such a good boy! Yes he is!) when our neighbor stopped by to chit chat. And, while Ton Ton was engrossed in training our offspring for what he hopes will be a future in the MLB, the man who lives next door causally mentioned to me that he and his parents were going to be traveling to India for a month. And did I know they had a pet turtle? No? Well, they do, and its name is Chengu. And when he called the airline to ask if Chengu could travel across the world with them, he was told that reptiles aren’t allowed to fly. And he had no idea what he was going to do with poor, little Chengu, his companion for the last eight years.

And then he mentioned that the purpose of the whole trip is for him to find a wife. And the thought of a turtle ruining his chances of eternal bliss warmed my cold as stone, animal hating heart, so, without even consulting my husband, I found myself saying “of course we’ll take care of Chengu! I’m sure Luki will love to have a pet around.”

And that is how we became pet owners for a month.

It hasn’t been bad at all. And Luki really does love that damn turtle. Every morning and evening he waves hello and good night to little Chengu and he even kisses the glass of the aquarium where he lives. This kid and his crazy, incomprehensible love for non-human creatures. I just hope I don’t end up with dogs instead of grandchildren.


The other day I was on Skype talking to my mom and noticed that Luki was chewing on something. It was neither snack nor dinner time so I asked Ton Ton to please check what was in our child’s mouth. Big E heard me and started on one of her diatribes about how we need to pay more attention to the baby! one day he is going to choke on something dangerous! does she need to get on a plane back here to put order in our house? blah, blah, blah.

Meanwhile, Ton Ton looked in Luki’s mouth and, after realizing that it was jut a cracker our son had picked up off the floor, he said loudly so that Big E would hear:


I could have logged off Skype and would have still been able to hear my mother’s horrified screams.

Oh, Chengu… where have you been all my life?

Your grandpa was awesome! Week #40

Dear Luki,

Recently your grandma left on a trip. She is trying to rebuild her life, to create new routines, to figure out how to be a functioning, productive human being without your grandpa. It’s hard. I wish you could have seen your grandparents together so that you could understand how much of a close unit they were. How dependent they were on each other. How much they could accomplish together. Without him, your grandma feels like a cripple.

And yet, as disabled and incomplete as she feels, she is taking decisive and significant steps to find a purpose out of this tragedy. She left her home, her comfort zone. She left the place that holds every tangible memory of your grandpa. She left you, the one person that has alleviated her pain more than anyone or anything else.

We keep in constant touch. And she is doing really well. But sometimes, she tells me, she stops to think about how quickly everything changed and it makes her sad. I know how she feels. It breaks my heart to think about what things would be like if that day in November had just been another regular day in November. To imagine your grandpa here, tickling you, singing you songs, putting you to bed at night. The way things were supposed to be. It’s devastating to think about it.

But as I look back at the life we lived with your grandpa, I realize that he always had a profound understanding of how quickly everything can change. Of how invaluable the present is. And he encouraged us, always, to take big, bold steps. His biggest dream was to see us fulfill ours. So, while the wives of other newly arrived immigrants took factory jobs, he encouraged your grandma to go to school. Not later when they had more money or were better situated in the U.S., no, she started school right away. And when she hated her job as a high school teacher, he supported her in becoming a professor. It didn’t matter that she made less money at first, or that she didn’t have the same benefits.

And now, as your grandma faces this daunting task of figuring out life without him, he still has her back. I believe that she left because she knew that he would want her to. Because she learned from him to worry little about “what if” and more about right now.

Because, Luki, right now is all you got.



Here I go again

So I’m going to make a conscientious effort to blog more often. Because I really, really like it, and I miss it, and I haven’t filled out any of the baby books I got at my shower, so this is the only place I’ll be able to look in when Luki is eighteen and he asks me why he’s got random spots of discolored skin on his chest and back. (No, it has NOT gone away yet. I think I may have stained my kid for permanent!)

Anyway, I guess you’re wondering why I stopped blogging so much. And to be honest, I really don’t know, but if I had to guess, I’d say it’s a bunch of laziness sprinkled with a dash of my-toddler-sucks-up-all-of-my-time and a squirt of Ton-and-I-have-become-obsessed-with-watching-House-Hunters-every-night.

The thing is, though, that blogging is good for me. For my mental health. And this whole time that I haven’t been writing, well, it’s been on the back of my mind, stressing me out. So, last night I set the alarm on my phone for half an hour earlier and put the phone in our bathroom so that, when it rang, I had to get out of bed to turn it off and, since I was already up and in the bathroom, I jumped in the shower with my eyes closed.

I’m using that extra half hour to blog. We’ll see if it works. I won’t make any promises because, well, sleep, particularly my sleep, is a very powerful thing. And I may end up taking naps on the toilet.

For now, let me get you caught up on what’s been going on here:

1. I guess I never really finished telling you about our trip to Venezuela. I’m not going to go into detail because I don’t really remember the details anymore, but know that it was fun, and exhausting, and that, at one point, Ton Ton had to bribe a machine gun toting police officer. We weren’t doing anything illegal. Ton Ton was just driving his mom’s car without a Venezuelan driver’s licence and we got stopped at a checkpoint. Then the officer mentioned that he was “really, really thirsty” and asked us if we had any ideas on how we could resolve the situation. I had some ideas of my own, i.e.: a long and colorful lecture on ethics and the DISASTER that is Chavez’ government, but Ton Ton quickly handed the extortionist a bill and we drove away.

2. Big E is on a trip for three months. I will tell you more about it as things develop, but she is doing great so far. We talk on Skype every day so that she can see Luki. It’s all she really cares about. Luki loves it and has started referring to my computer as “abu.” (That’s short for abuela, the Spanish word for grandma.)

3. Luki is 15 months old. We took him to the doctor for his regular check-up yesterday and our physician actually used the words “extremely stubborn” in reference to our child. He wrestled the nurse when she tried to weigh him, smacked the doctor when he looked in his ears, and kicked the technician who administered his shots. I’d say “extremely stubborn” is too mild of a description.

4. But that seems to be a re-occurring theme with my son. Words always seem to fall short. Words like incredibly sweet and outrageously smart and completely hilarious. Because when he’s not kicking medical professionals, he is blowing kisses to everyone he encounters. Or picking out the duck and the bear and the horse and the goldfish in his favorite book.

5. Or making this face:

Your grandpa was awesome! Week #39

Dear Luki,

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.



Your grandpa was awesome! Week #38

Dear Luki,

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.



Your grandpa was awesome! Weeks #35 & #37

*I wrote this first letter (in my head) on Wednesday, September 1 while in Venezuela.

Dear Luki,

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.




Dear Luki,

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.