At the End of a Life (a Reflection)

I remember as a little girl that going to Grandpa’s house was always proceeded with a lecture about behaving.  This was out of the ordinary for us, as we were always so well behaved.

Just kidding.

I am sure that people talked about us the way I’ve heard people talk about other big families.  Six children.  Loud.  Unruly.  Traviesos. 

We didn’t have a television, so Grandpa’s house was a real treat!  We would wait until one got up the confidence to ask if we could watch tv.  We would play by running around the circle that was created by a bar in the kitchen.  We would stare up at the huge grandfather clock and the swords hanging above the fireplace in wonder.  After all, who has swords in their house?

Jacinda, the littlest, would crawl in the space of the coffee table.  And the rest of us would with glee get glasses of ice water, kool-aid, or lemonade.  Any excuse to fill our cups with the ice from the freezer door ice maker.

Grandma Carol would make delicious treats: casseroles, peanut butter balls covered in chocolate, cookies with M&M candies pressed in the top…

I can compared us then to my nieces and nephews now, and I see such similarities.  We must have been such brats, and yet we always had some kind of treat waiting for us.  I know that was largely Grandma Carol.  She was more tender when Grandpa was still perched on his throne as the king of our family.  That’s what it felt like! Not because he was unkind to us.  I never remember Grandpa being unkind.  But he always had “a chair” that was his!  And as the patriarch, there was a level of aloofness that even children could recognize.

You know what I think?  Grandpas and Grandmas shouldn’t have to be “bad guys.”  They should get to enjoy their grandkids then send them back home.  Grandparents should get to fuss at their own children for their unruly children, with their grandkids blissfully unaware.  And parents should be conscious of the difference in tolerance of older people.

I haven’t been there for each family reunion.  I don’t get to see the ups and downs of waging wars on health like my family does.  I get to see differently–as if observing my parents and grandparents age through a series of photos rather than in real time.  I get the yearly visits (if I am lucky), and reminders to email.  I get to see the tenderness of an old man, without much of a memory of who he was before.

I hate the photo that was chosen of my Grandpa for his obituary.  That’s a man I don’t remember–one I have only heard stories of in whispers of virility and pride.  I love the picture I have in my mind: my Grandpa sitting in his arm chair, waving us over for hugs, or cradling his great-grandchildren with unspoken tenderness.  I see him in my father’s face, the best parts of him there, kindness and gentleness that multiplied with age.  At the end of a life, it’s the kind memories that matter most of all.

A Letter to My Youngest (on the Brink of her First Birthday)

img_4658Dear Little Jo-Jo,

My sweet, rambunctious, bien traviesa daughter… it is hard to believe you will be one in two weeks.  And at the same time, it’s hard to believe that you haven’t been part of our family forever.  You sure did take your time getting here–and we waited anxiously for your arrival.  I should have known then that you would be stubborn and ready to take us by storm!

I love seeing you light up, my love.  Your face is like a thousand suns when Sissy and I come home from school.  You twinkle and scream Dada! across the meeting when you see him glance your way.  Even other people you see in the street, in meeting, at the store… they can’t resist your charm!  I hope you stay this friendly forever.

img_4581Sissy sure does love you too, but sometimes it may not feel like it.  And you know what, sometimes you agitate her to the point her patience!  I just watched as Sissy arranged her toys, then walked outside.  As soon as she turned her back, you ran over to the little table, grabbed the Barbie, and proudly took off with her.  Poor Sis didn’t even know what was going on when she walked back into the room–but you did!  Oh! you little tootie!  I hope you and your sister will always be this inseparable!

 

Papi says you won’t let him rest during the day, and I tend to believe him.  He said you stand at the door and scream at him until he brings you outside to his work area.  And then when it is time to rest, he swears that you won’t sleep without him cuddling you.  What a cuddle bug you are!  I love seeing how you look at your Papi, and I hope that adoration last forever too!

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You’ve filled parts of my heart I didn’t know were empty, little girl, with your rat-a-tat-tat feet and your toothy smile.  And I sure do look forward to another year with you in our lives.

Love always,
Your Mama

 

A Lesson From My Child: Go With It

Last week we left our friends and family again to make the trip back home to Mexico.  As I sat in the airport listening to another announcement of a flight delay, I looked at Allie.  There she was:  happy as a lark, playing with her baby doll, and wearing a smile.  I decided then that I would try to be more like her.  It’s a good thing I made that plan early in our trip–because we arrived home a full 24 hours after we should have.

The thing is, life doesn’t always go the way we plan, but everything has a way of working out.  It often doesn’t work out the way we wanted, but what does that matter in the end?  This has been a common theme of this blog.  I make plans.  They don’t work out.  I make more plans.  They don’t work out.  Then I get surprised by the better ending to a chapter in my story.

Today we came home from school, and Victor was away working.  It is nearly 100 degrees here, and I became a little frustrated.  Allie was digging in the bag, then she looked up and said, “Nope!  No key!”  When I asked her if she would like to go get a special drink at Starbucks, she said, “Oh, yes! That sounds good!”  I love that my sweet girl is too young to complain about the heat, being locked out, Mama not being responsible, etc.  She just goes with it.

Often we hear people talk about seeing the world through a child’s eyes–my little two year old has taught me the most important lesson.  I haven’t fussed at my husband, complained (out loud), or pouted about not being about to get inside our house until 7 tonight.  I am just going to go with it.  After all, if you can’t change it, you might as well accept it!

Food is My Love Language

I have a friend who always tags her foodie pictures with #foodismylovelanguage.  And I get it!  Because there are a few of us who show others how much we love them by feeding them every opportunity that arises.

I love preparing special meals for our visitors–surprising whomever I can with a meal from their homeland.  I had a game night for Minnesotan friends from work where I made Tatertot Hot-dish.  Ick.  They loved it.  I didn’t.  When our visiting worker from the Dominican Republic vetoed Italian food, I cooked an all day affair which turned out to be Sancocho.  Sometimes I like to ask if anyone wants something special–and I have whipped up everything from chocolate chip cookies to cornbread and beans.

I don’t just cook foods from other places for other people though–often I will think of someone, then cook a food that reminds me of them.  For example, I have been really homesick for Chiapas lately.  I normally visit there during the summer months, but we are skipping our trip this summer.  What came out of my kitchen as a result was black beans and salsa–which we ate with tortillas and fresh cheese.  I roasted the onions and peppers on the stovetop before adding the blacked parts to my tomato pulp (procured by “shredding” the tomato flesh on the cheese grater).  The more time consuming the project is, the more time I have to think on them!

This morning I made homemade cinnamon rolls–too many!  I still have a pan of cinnamon rolls sitting in the kitchen!  There’s a gallon of iced tea on the counter-top, and buttermilk just waiting for some biscuits to be made tomorrow.  Our basil plant needed to be cut back, so I made a friend’s pesto recipe a couple days ago (and shared the frozen pesto leftover with another friend who stopped by to visit).

I may not be able to be all the places that I am thinking of today: Virginia, Tennessee, Chiapas, etc.  But each memory inspires something new to happen in my kitchen.  Memories of those places are taking over my mind–and dancing across my plate.  Oh, yes! I do believe that food is my love language too!

Shop ‘Til You Drop

Wow!  I had such an adventure this weekend!  A friend and I took a shopping trip across the border to McAllen, TX.  They have these buses that leave on Friday evening, take you shopping all day Saturday, and return you on Sunday. Whew!  It is as exhausting as it sounds!

I came back home with my bank account significantly lighter, but my suitcase was back breaking heavy!  As you travel from shop to shop, you stop and fill up your suitcase.  I nicely fit in my suitcase some clothes for my family, new toothbrushes, tooth paste, pistachio pudding, an electric water kettle, new sandles, a new face regime from Dillard’s, party supplies for Ale’s birthday, 9 porceline ramekins, 7 new books, some toys to give out for daycare birthdays, and way more than I can remember!  Basically, now I know this is a legit operation, I don’t have to stress in the summer to get my suitcase packed properly with purchases for the year!

You can tell by this picture that it was a rough trip…



More than anything, I was so happy to come home to my sweet baby and husband.  It was like Christmas showing off what I found for them!  I am already planning a return trip–well, when I recover from this one!

A Letter to My Exes

Dear ________ (Insert Ex-Boyfriend’s Name),
I am writing this letter to thank you. It occurred to me today that, without you, I wouldn’t be the woman I am. Your choices, while at the time were heartbreaking, have led me down a path that has been lined with sweet-smelling roses.

See, _______, I was young when I met you. I didn’t have much confidence in myself as a woman. The one thing I did have confidence in was my brain. It didn’t take long for me to realize that you were smarter than me. More worldly. You spoke about travesty and human rights, and I listened. My heart grew to love people that spoke other languages. And my desire to travel the world became a number on the bucket list that you critiqued. “Why would you put this on your list?” you questioned, reading “Swim with dolphins.” “This one is good,” you continued, adding a star beside, “Run a marathon.

The thing is, while breaking up with you never crossed my mind, it was always on your mind, ________. I was a bandaid. You held me tightly to keep from bleeding out, and I learned another important lesson. Stitching up one’s wounds can leave you with your own scars. Scars are a sign of strength though, and in giving to others, I learned take what I needed along the way. That wasn’t robbery–merely a silent system of bartering. You taught me that no matter the pain, sharing a father meant that we forgive. Family ties made in heaven can’t be broken along with hearts.

And broken hearts, __________, they may never completely heal. But that is okay. Because without being broken, I may have never made the choices that led me to where I am. You inadvertently taught me to trust in God with each painful lesson I learned in not trusting you. Praying for you was easy, _________, because I saw you in each Proverb I read. Praying for you was easy, because I knew that if our relationship wasn’t forged in heaven it wasn’t one that I needed. Praying for you was what I did every time you ran across my mind–and that was easier than crying for you, pining for you, waiting for you…

See, dear ___________, I look upon my time with you fondly. It was with you that I learned more about me. This letter, written from that cracked and bruised heart, is to thank you. Cracks and bruises aren’t anything to be ashamed of. You gave me courage, because being broken was never an option. I woke up this morning with a grateful heart. I snuggled my baby, kissed my husband, and sat down with the workers to eat breakfast. My life is different than it was when I was with you, ____________. It isn’t the thing that dreams are made of–because never did I dream a life like this.

When I say, I wish you the best, please know that I am wishing you the same pleasure with your families that I get from mine.

Thank you,
Jania

Footnote added February 13, 2015 FYI: While I never thought my exes would ever read this, it isn’t anything I am ashamed of. It isn’t written to one ex in particular, but rather references several of my most memorable boyfriends. It isn’t a note declaring my undying love, but rather this letter was inspired by my realization that without my exes, I wouldn’t be here (in Mexico with my family).

Happy Thanksgiving!

What I am thankful for:

10). Work
I love that I get paid to promote literacy. Which means if ever I need to read something no one thinks it is strange to walk in my office and see me with my nose in a book!
9). Selflessness
Our workers just walked out the door after spending the night with us. I won’t see them again until February or March. I appreciate what they do…
8). Land of my birth and the land of my choice
‘Merica and Messico.
7). Health
<I watched a video clip about this teenager with MS. She would run into the arms of her coach at the end of racing long distance. I take for granted my health–and I don't do enough to take care of my body.
6). A strong mind
Learning is what makes me ‘tick.’
5). My family
Supportive, somewhat crazy, so loving
4). A healthy and happy baby
Despite her newly found ability to throw hissy fits, she is a happy little girl. Rarely sick. Smart as can be. My treasure.
3). A loving husband
More loving when he is fed… Glad God led me to him and him to me!
2). God’s plan
So much better than my plan for myself.
1). Jesus’s love and sacrifice
No words needed.

Three Years Beyond My Dreams

Yesterday my family and I went to meeting. My little punkin sat (mostly) quietly playing with her sticker book. We visited with our meeting–eating yummy tostadas. Then we came home to a restful afternoon where Ale played alongside of us until bedtime. The house was full with sounds of her singing and chatting. It is hard to believe that is my life…

It is hard to believe.

It is hard to believe that it has been three years since my life turned upside down. Three years ago I was in a state of bewilderment. I didn’t know what the future planned, but my heart was already drawn to Mexico.

It is hard to believe that once I felt like my heart was cracked in two. And now it is swollen with love for my little family.

It is hard to believe that once I thought my school days were over. And now I am doing what I love–promoting literacy!

It is hard to believe that I felt so at odds with where my “place” should be. And now our family makes up 1/4 of our little desert meeting.

It is hard to believe that I once packed up my possessions into my little truck and left the place I called home. And they are still packed–in “storage” with my parents as I have found that “home” really is where the heart is.

I remember when I left Northern Virginia for Tennessee, I said, “Goodbye” with trust that if things were meant to work out, they would. I remember praying for guidance, direction, and strength. I remember feeling so broken, but so strong through prayer.

How grateful I should be! God has led me on a journey beyond my wildest dreams. He has taught me the importance of faith and trust again and again. He has built something from nothing with my life–and with humbleness I know that something is because of him.

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The little one who stole my heart…

April Fool’s Day is NOT Funny

Wow.

I feel like the worst teacher in the world.

This is probably top of my charts on bad teaching moments.  It’s up there with the time I stood on a chair and yelled at my class.  It’s up there with the time I accidentally sent home the wrong end-of-the-year testing results to my class.  It’s up there with… eh.  It’s high.

We decided this morning to pull an April Fool’s Day joke on our students.  We each switched classrooms after lunch, and pretended that we had been placed in that class as the teacher for the rest of the year.  We talked about what would be different: no art, no P.E., no recess, lots of math, etc.  Then we left, had a laugh in the hallway, and returned to our own classes.

To tears.

My poor babies.  I feel like the biggest meanie in the world!  They had NO idea it was April Fool’s Day.  They had no idea what April Fool’s Day is.  They couldn’t understand why we say such a mean broma.  I tried to smooth it over by teaching them jokes like, “Your shoelace is untied.”  “There’s something on your shirt.”  “Mom, I have detention.”  That helped.

But I still feel horrible.  I think I may need to bake some cupcakes tomorrow.

April Fool’s Day is no joke, people.  Not in Mexico.