Rays of sunshine through the clouds

Moving forwardLiving in the Pacific Northwest, rain is our way of life for just about the entire year. Most of our year is spent in a sort of gloom — gray skies, rain, puddles, biting winds, occasionally snowing and hailing. That is, until Spring and Summer, which make the time we spent bundling up in layers and protective rain gear worth it. The flowers begin pushing through the dirt and blooming, cherry blossom trees beautify the streets with their long pink branches and petals dropping onto the ground, birds start singing, and the sun starts brightening the sky and turning it into a multi-color masterpiece.

This is the metaphor I will use for my life right now. The past two years have been full of so much heartache, darkness, and pain. Now it seems that the clouds are parting and we are feeling some warmth from the sunshine and smelling the sweetness from the flowers as they begin to bloom.

My search for a job finally ended during the last week of February. I still am in disbelief that I have been chosen to work for such an amazing place. I now work for city government and I am a full fledged civil servant. The people I work with are inspiring; passionate about the work they do and in making a difference. The work that I do is challenging in the best way possible and it is framed by a mission and ideals that I absolutely believe in. I learn something every day and I feel great about my role. Even better – the people I work with are incredibly supportive, warm, and wonderful to work with. Since day one I have felt welcomed and appreciated. I could not have asked for a better situation.

I have been accepted into the Master’s of Public Administration program. I officially start in the fall, but will be starting earlier with a class during the summer. My original intention when applying was to focus on a career in higher education, but now I am considering a career in local government because I can see the impact and importance of this work. The wonderful thing is that this degree is so well suited for government and education! I am not limiting myself in any way and my education will only make me a well informed leader who understands policy and planning. Summer session starts in mid-June. Yikes. Here we go again with the CRAZY schedule!!

I have also committed to co-chairing the Olympia Out of the Darkness Walk for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention in September. I have participated as a walker both in Olympia and in Portland since Esther’s passing and I would not normally have taken on the planning of the overall event, but the President reached out to me in hopes of finding volunteers who would be willing to coordinate the Olympia event. The Olympia walk was in jeopardy of being cancelled this year due to lack of a committee. So here I am! I am squeezing in precious moments whenever I can to look over materials, etc. Not easy but I believe in what this organization does and in the healing that happens at these events. Local news outlet Thurston Talk did a really awesome article about the event and about my journey.

Ever onward…

Life After Graduation…What’s Next??

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My first born son and I share a special moment after I graduated. One day he’ll be the one in the cap and gown… What a beautiful, proud day that will be for us.

My graduation was an incredible whirlwind. Just as I had imagined, it was full of emotion and tears, smiles and overwhelming gratitude. And there was definitely celebration.

The day was surreal and at times, sad. It was sad for many reasons. Even though I had happiness in my heart and I felt accomplished for overcoming a multitude of obstacles in this journey, I was feeling the loss of three very important family members.

I couldn’t see their smiling faces in the crowd. They weren’t there to hug and kiss. They weren’t there to say, “I am proud”…

But I knew they were there in the hearts and well-wishes of my friends and relatives. They were in the tears of happiness we shed. They were in the quiet, still moments of reflection. Even though I didn’t get the obvious signs or messages of their presence that I had prayed for, I still felt them in my soul.

Graduation crowd

Graduation crowd

Some of my most memorable moments from that day were seeing the THOUSANDS of people in attendance at graduation, looking up to see my family holding a sign calling me their shining star (shining was misspelled, a point which made me chuckle and smile), laughing during Sherman Alexie’s graduation speech, shaking Dr. Purce’s (our college President) hand as I headed off the stage, music and performances during my graduation party, getting to hug and talk to my wonderful friends and family, and the overwhelming emotion that erupted in me when I tried to vocalize just how important my husband has been in this journey with me. My cup runeth over. It was a glorious day.

Life after the B.A.

Fast forward to today, it has been six months since graduation. I had pictured this time period much differently. I had pictured an amazing job that I was excited to go to everyday and more money in our lives. The reality is not that rosy. Jobs are extremely hard to come by, even with all of the work experience, skills, contacts, and education I have. My fellow graduates are also experiencing the same difficulty finding employment, as I learned at our recent mini-reunion. It is disheartening and at times I’ve experienced periods of self-doubt and defeat. It is humbling to start over in a new career, especially during an economic downturn.

Getting my foot in the door has been a challenge but one thing I’ve realized is that I’m not done learning. To be truly competitive in this job market, I need a Master’s degree. I’ve had several discussions with friends / mentors and researched different Master’s programs. The one program that won my heart is the Master’s of Public Administration program at The Evergreen State College.

I am not going to lie. I was really, REALLY, hoping for a way to get back to Evergreen because I love it there so much. I had, however, discounted this program early on in my search because I didn’t see how it could apply to the Education field. After talking with my colleagues, I learned there are many folks working in educational careers that earned an MPA through Evergreen! I was thrilled. The more I discovered about the program, the more excited I got. The education I receive in this program will equip me with the tools to be a strong organizational leader in SEVERAL fields — non-profit, government, corporate. It broadens my skill set and focus to make me far more competitive in the job market.

So, along with an active job search I am also applying to grad school. I wake up each day reminding myself that good things are just around the corner and I have to KEEP MOVING FORWARD.

Misspelled or not, it was the sweetest sign ever.

Misspelled or not, it was the sweetest sign ever.

The Road to Graduation…A Bittersweet Reflection

A family united, walking towards the future together.

A family united, walking towards the future together.

Graduation, Steps Away

In one month I will be walking with other Class of 2013 graduates at The Evergreen State College’s graduation ceremony. I can visualize myself shaking Dr. Purce (our College President)’s hand, my heart in my throat, tears welling up in my eyes, and the overwhelming sense of accomplishment I’ll feel when I walk away from that stage knowing I have officially earned my B.A. degree. I can imagine hearing my family cheering me on, looking at my mama and seeing the tears of pride stream down her cheeks as my tears make her image blurry, looking at my husband beaming and feeling his love all the way from across the distance, and seeing my son Alejandro smile, knowing his mommy just did something big.

I feel something else too. Sadness. My heart is aching for the family members who can’t be sitting in those seats. When I look across that crowd, there will be three very important people missing…So this accomplishment, as amazing and fulfilling as it feels, also feels very bittersweet.

The road to graduation has been a long, winding road with wonderful yet distracting life events and devastating losses; many changes to my “plan of what to do when I grow up”; and becoming a stronger, empowered, analytical, articulate, information-seeking, more intelligent version of myself.

A Different Path

I remember the day that I decided to go to college back in 1997.  I was content with my life at the time. My community work with young Latinas was fulfilling. My work life was fulfilling. As strange as it may sound, up until that point I had never considered a higher education.

High school was something I survived. Those years were some of the worst of my life. I was not an ‘A’ student — not even close. This wasn’t necessarily because I lacked the mental capacity. I was just overwhelmed with trying to meet those lower-level Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs: physiological, safety, love/belonging, and self-esteem. With those needs not being met, I couldn’t even delve into the self-actualization need.

I don’t remember my school counselors encouraging me to be college bound, nor did it seem like a realistic or achievable path for me. My parents told my sisters and I to do well in school, but there was never a discussion about higher education. While other classmates were planning to go on to big universities, I was lucky to graduate and land a job that didn’t include flipping burgers. To me, that was success. I landed an internship at a public access television station where I was eventually hired and remained for ten years.

At that year’s Hispanic Youth Leadership Workshop, an annual workshop I helped coordinate, our keynote speaker was Dr. Sandra Madrid from the University of Washington’s School of Law. I remember how engaging she was during her presentation. She had the entire room charmed with her charisma and inspired by her passion. Afterwards when I thanked her, she asked me about my own career path and educational goals. I sheepishly said I hadn’t planned on going to college.  She looked me straight in the eye and told me that I deserve an education. It was one of those moments where time stood still and a light bulb went off in my head. Just those words opened up the possibility, and I asked myself — could I be a college student? Could I have a professional career like the many strong women I’ve admired from afar?

Me – A College Student!

I enrolled at Centralia College shortly after that (1998), full of excitement. It meant I had to say goodbye to many of the community activities I was doing, including my beloved Latina youth group.  But my friends supported me and gave me a wonderful send off. Had it not been for an unfortunate situation in which my identity was stolen, for which I had to drop everything and spend months visiting different court houses to clear my name, I could have finished my AA in two years. I was awarded a merit scholarship from the College President that paid for my entire tuition. I never had the chance to use that scholarship.

familypicYears went by, and as they did, life evolved. I got married, changed jobs, and had a child — well two if you count our dog Bella. All the while, I plugged away at my degree part time, moving from community college (South Puget Sound Community College) to a four year institution (Brandman University, formerly known as Chapman University). I was working full time during the day and taking classes at night. It was a very tough schedule, especially when I couldn’t tuck Alejandro into bed at night. I always felt guilty leaving him, and I felt guilty when I spent so much time studying and finishing homework when I could be enjoying precious moments with Alejandro and with Andy.

My husband was steadfast in his support. He always reminded me that this sacrifice was only for a little while and that we are building a more sustainable future for our family. I never lost sight of that goal. That was what helped me through the mommy guilt.

When an opportunity came for me to go to school full time, I jumped at the chance so I could start taking day classes. I started at The Evergreen State College in Winter of 2011. I was pregnant at the time with my second baby. It took me a while to get used to the new, self-directed, interdisciplinary, seminar-heavy program format of my new school. But I found that I really loved it and the way I was able to discover so much about so many different subjects, discuss interesting topics and learn from my fellow scholars, be an active part of a learning community, and be in charge of my own educational experience. I value my experience at Evergreen and what it has taught me about myself both as a scholar and as a person.

Personal Tragedy

David Baltazar. Beloved father. Husband. Friend. Son. Brother. 1973-2012.

David Baltazar. Beloved father. Husband. Friend. Son. Brother. 1973-2012.

Life took an unexpected turn last summer (2012) and it nearly derailed my path to graduation.

On August 14, my step-father David Baltazar died suddenly of a heart attack. Although he had a stroke earlier in the year, he had recovered very well and was living a healthy lifestyle. Nobody saw this coming, and of course there was no preparation for what to do in case he passed away. All of us were absolutely devastated — especially my mama. My family, David and mom’s friends and church community, and I wrapped ourselves around my mama like a cocoon of support.

David’s loss was felt by so many who loved and adored him. Seeing the church packed full of people who loved him the day of the funeral was a true testament to the beautiful person he always was and to the many people whose lives he positively affected. He was the best father possible to my sisters. He was an active, loving grandpa to his many grand kids. He was a generous friend. He was a true soul mate and partner to my mama. He was a genuinely honest, hardworking man that depicted true integrity. I know I will always love him and be grateful that he was in our lives.

I took a week off from school to help with the funeral and then I finished up the quarter. My head wasn’t in the class at all, so I was grateful that it was almost over and not as ‘brain intensive’ as my statistics class or I may not have passed the class.

The weeks that followed felt surreal, but we all tried to gather ourselves up and take the next steps we needed to take in our own lives just as David would have wanted. He always told us to focus on the good in life and to continue moving forward rather than focusing on the negative and the pain. More than anything he never wanted to see us hurt. Mom took David back to Mexico so that he could remain with his mom and brothers and sisters. I got ready for fall quarter. Then I received a phone call…

…And we all fall down…

Esther Salazar. Beloved Mother. Grandmother. Daughter. Sister. Wife. 1980-2013.

Esther Salazar. Beloved Mother. Grandmother. Daughter. Sister. Wife. 1980-2013.

My baby sister was on the phone and what she shared knocked me to my knees. My sister Esther, the mother of four children and stepmother to one, the grandmother of one child, sister, daughter…had committed suicide. 32 years old. Beautiful person inside and out. Needed. Loved. It was the cruelest, most unfair, most unfathomable thing I could have ever imagined.

That moment was followed by many other awful and painful moments. Calling family members. Making arrangements. Holding onto the youngest victims of this ordeal. Trying to make sense of what can never be understood. Seeing my sister in a way I never thought I would see her. Enduring hurtful comments from people who meant well.  Watching my family fall apart…and continue to fall apart.

Every time I thought about Esther and the short lifetime we spent together I just couldn’t understand…I couldn’t and I didn’t want to believe she was out of my life. My sisters and I always had this bond. Since our childhood, no matter what we went through, whether we were fighting or at different places in our lives, we always loved each other fiercely. We protected and fought for each other. This is the Salazar Sister bond…

The pain and the weight of this loss, coupled with the loss of David, has been enough to break our family up into pieces and I don’t know if we will ever be the same. This brings me to the third missing family member from my graduation, who unfortunately I cannot talk about. It is far too painful because it is still happening now. This person is a very important part of my life who has chosen a path that I hope one day she can come back from…

I am heartbroken. These deaths and the amount of damage done.  The unfortunate collateral damage and innocent victims that didn’t deserve any of this. The portrait of the family we once were is something else I mourn everyday.

The Salazar Girls, the original four.

The Salazar Girls, the original four.

How Do I Move On?

meWe are all still trying to put together the pieces of our lives. For me, I didn’t know what end was up for a while. I was emotionally raw. I was hurt, angry, emotionally debilitated, full of regret for the moments I didn’t get to have and for not being a better older sister and protecting Esther from her own demons. I didn’t want to be around people for a while.

I am so grateful I had my youngest son with me when I took the train to Oregon right after Esther’s death. Chasing after this active little one was what kept me grounded in reality and pulled me back when the pain became too overwhelming.

So this is where I was faced with a choice.

I had another two weeks before fall quarter started and only three quarters left before graduation. All I wanted was to curl up in a ball and cry until I had no tears left, but being a mom, being a wife, being a sister and a daughter, I knew I had an obligation to pull myself up. I also thought about Esther and David, and the way they supported me and were proud that I was seeking a higher education. I kept hearing them telling me to move forward…only a little bit left to go…don’t give up…

The Final Stretch

I’m so glad that I did not give up. School was a welcomed distraction for me. This particular year-long program, with these olystudyclassmates, and this particular professor, were what I needed. My classmates and I have grown into a close-knit learning community and although I did not divulge my recent losses to more than just a chosen few (including my very understanding professor), this group unknowingly became an important support network for me.

There were many difficult moments during fall quarter as I was learning how to adjust through my grief. My emotions were always just beneath the surface. I did a great job of wearing a mask of strength most of the time, and then there were moments that came out of nowhere that broke that fragile facade. I remember feeling the wind knocked out of me and being unable to control the tears during a photo lecture that included pictures of dead corpses and the writing “I just want to die…”

But I stayed. I stayed and I pushed myself to focus on learning and moving forward. I focused on the life I want with my family. I focused on celebrating all of the special moments with the people that I love. I focused on everything I could besides the pain.

andyoly

My Love, My Hero…Excuse me while I get sappy…

Through it all, my husband Andy has been my rock. If you have read my chronicles about my educational journey, then you already know that he has moved mountains and supported me every step of this educational path by accommodating my schedule, watching the kids, letting me sleep in when he could tell I was exhausted, holding my hand and pointing out my positive attributes when I felt so stupid and unworthy of being in a scholarly environment. He reminded me again and again that my education is part of OUR DREAM and that I am worthy, and I have everything it takes to succeed…

When David and Esther died, this wonderful husband of mine held me up when my legs could no longer hold me. He let me fall apart and was always there to gently catch me and share his strength. His unconditional love and support knows no bounds and I give thanks every day for allowing me the opportunity to know and love this man. I could not have ever dreamed up a more loving, supportive, amazing partner than Andy Breaux.

Without him, I would not be where I am.

Walking With My Head Held High

This journey is like any other journey worth taking; no part of it has been easy, it was riddled with blood, sweat, and tears, and the heroine of the story found herself at a crossroads at which point she nearly gave up. For my part and what I can control, this story has a happy ending.

I can say that I am unbelievably grateful for all I have in my life and for still being here. This accomplishment is not just for me, it is for my ENTIRE FAMILY. We need to celebrate and to remember that life — although it is unfair and cruel and horrific at times, can also be stunningly beautiful, warm and loving, and fill your heart with so much joy that the bad parts melt away and all you can breathe in is sweetness. I still believe that life is a gift. That may sound cliche, but when you see the dark side of life and witness its destruction, you can also appreciate the light and the beauty in the people and the blessings you have left.

graduation

My Reasons for Finishing

I did this so that my children can know that their mom put her mind to something and was able to accomplish it with hard work and determination.

I did this so that my mom, my sisters, my nieces and nephews can see that seeking a higher education is worth it and if I can do it, they can do it too.

I did this to feel better about myself in the sense that I no longer see myself as a poor student, but rather one that is accomplished, capable and intelligent.

And of course, I did this so that I can enjoy a satisfying career that makes me feel like I am making a difference in a field I love, which, I learned this past year is in the field of student success at the college level.

Life is too short to be miserable. I am determined to make each day count which means coming home each day feeling inspired, productive, challenged, and excited about my work. It also means enjoying precious moments, every day, with the people who make life worth living.

I am genuinely excited about my future – about my family’s future. My husband and I talk about setting aside more funds for the kids’ college, upgrading our home so that one day his sister can come to live with us, about simply having more options to do the things we love with our family.

Through it all, David and Esther have constantly been in my heart. I keep their love and their memory and their support close. When I walk down that aisle at graduation, I know they will be walking with me, with arms on my shoulders, and hands in my hands. I know I will feel them.

I will honor their memories by loving the people in my life, by continuing to go after my dreams, and by remembering the beautiful things they brought into this world — and those things never die.

Keep moving forward…img035 (2)

Fighting for Balance

Adventures in College

Spring quarter has come and gone. It was a whirlwind of challenging coursework coupled with a medical emergency that resulted in a diet overhaul in the Breaux household (after a trip to the ER during the beginning of spring quarter, I was diagnosed with gallstones). Now I am finished with the first session in a two session summer enrollment and feel like I can finally take a breath. These past five weeks of Statistics class was a rollercoaster the entire family was on. There were tears (mine), sleep deprivation (mine again…but I brought my poor hubby down with me…), and many, many hours spent agonizing over formulas and theories and doubting the capacity and workmanship of the brain inside my head. Now that the class is done I have joined the elite “I survived Statistics class” group and it feels…awesome…(insert the sound of a champagne bottle opening and me singing and dancing “OH YEAH, OH YEAH” like Mike Meyers in The Cat in the Hat.)

Everytime I overcome a new challenge, I learn something new about myself. Kind of like having a baby. You never really know how far you can go until you actually go there. You have to push through. Finishing my undergraduate degree as a full time mom while working part time is not for the faint of heart. It takes an endurance, a focus on the big picture, support, and major sacrifice. If I didn’t have support from my partner (my sweet husband of 9 years), I highly doubt I would be able to accomplish this rigorous schedule while raising my little ones. Thank goodness we are both on the same page about the importance of education, careers, and kids. We are very lucky that way. I thank the big JC every day for this guy. Somehow I scored enough points somewhere to have made enough of an impression on him that he ended up marrying little old me.

Speaking of which, our anniversary is coming up next week, followed immediately afterwards by my youngest son’s first birthday. It makes me think back to last year when I was still mama to one special little boy and eagerly awaiting the new baby. We had a beautiful dinner together as a trio to celebrate our anniversary and took a leisurely stroll by the lake, never thinking the next morning we would be welcoming little Julian to the family. The best present I received that whole year (besides Julian) was seeing Alejandro become a big brother. He took to that role naturally, protecting and entertaining the baby eagerly. Although life has been even more hectic with the addition of a new baby, it has truly been a blessed year and I love our new family dynamic of four +1 (can’t forget Bella, our dog).

Help for Diana

As I write this, I am also holding a lot of worry in my heart for my younger sister Diana, who is going into surgery in a few days. She has been battling for the past year to get rid of pre-cancerous lesions in her ovaries only to have them spread after a painful and expensive round of treatments. Now several thousand dollars and a worn and beaten body later, she has to have another surgery for a full hysterectomy that doesn’t even take care of the new lesions found in her liver, which are too dangerous to biopsy at the time of surgery.  I am frustrated with her level of care. As an outsider looking in, I see her fear and level of anxiety by not having things fully explained to her. Instead they offer prescribe a barrage of pharmaceuticals that are “supposed” to help…yet don’t seem to do much except offer a distraction. In addition, she wasn’t provided a full CT scan until recently, which is how the doctors found lesions in her liver. Her results were mailed to her along with a prescription for more drugs and instructions to make an appointment with her primary care physician. She told me later she just held the letter and froze, almost unable to breathe. She had no one there to explain, to hold her hand, or to simply be there for her to punch. Just a letter.

Her insurance only pays for 80% of her care, which means she is still paying thousands for past treatments which is why I started a fund for her. I’ve set the goal at $5000, to help pay for the upcoming surgery. It doesn’t pay for the full amount, but it is a start. We have been overwhelmed by the love coming from friends and family from afar, sending so much love for my sister. She needs that so much right now. Diana is two years younger than me, but she always was the protector in our family – the strong one. I know now how difficult that role has been for her because inside, she always wanted someone to take care of her. She is one of the fiercest women I know and I can’t think of anyone else more deserving for help right now. If you are so inclined, consider supporting her fund.

For those out there reading, please keep Diana in your thoughts and prayers as she takes on a battle once again starting with her surgery on the 30th of July.

It’s been 3 months already??!!

The past few months have been a blur since I started school again. It has been so many things: exciting, mentally and physically exhausting, challenging for my family, and enlightening. Now that the quarter is over I am breathing a huge sigh of relief that I can finally get some rest without fear of a looming deadline. I also feel like patting myself on the back for enduring a very gruelling quarter which also included two snow storms, one of which completely knocked out our power for nearly a week – leaving our community in a state of emergency for even longer. Scary stuff!

Several inches of snow and many downed trees created our “Snowpocolipse 2012″ in Olympia, WA.

The workload was no joke – 3 chapters of reading along with a one page journal paper each week, and six final projects: a thirteen page research paper, 4 lesson plans, and one “teaching” lesson demo. This class is a requirement for my teaching endorsement for ELL (English Language Learners, previously known as ESL). (*Olivia’s note, 5/2013. In my final year at Evergreen I had to read an entire book each week. I miss the days I only had to read three chapters!) The class content was very interesting and I walked away feeling inspired and a little more determined to take on the role as teacher. Prior to taking this class I pictured myself teaching English Language Arts to a high school class (which is the second endorsement I am working towards achieving), but now I can see myself leaning more towards teaching ELL in a younger setting, perhaps elementary school.

I also loved my professor. I am 36 years old, and this is the first time I have had a Mexican teacher. It is a special feeling to see someone who looks like me and talks like me (orale!!), yet she has this stellar education and experience. It’s awesome. I made a connection with my professor and it was gratifying when she gave me positive feedback during our evaluation meeting – acknowledging the progress I made over the quarter. Hearing her tell me that I would make a great ELL teacher made me so proud. She agreed to sponsor my Independent Learning Contract next quarter, so I look forward to working with her again.

This quarter was significant for me in many ways. As mommy to two kids, one of which is still an infant, I had to figure out how to make assignment deadlines and keep up with the reading schedule but still be a mom and wife first and foremost. I learned it was IMPOSSIBLE to study during the day when I was home with the kids. I also learned it was very difficult to concentrate on reading the text with family distractions during the evenings. I had to do my studying at night after everyone was asleep, which made for very late nights and a very sleep deprived mama. Couple that with nightly feedings of the baby and I had maybe 4-5 hours of sleep at night. I felt like a zombie sometimes but I still somehow made it work. My husband was very gracious and generously offered to take the kids on outings during the weekends. He also let me sleep in on the weekends and watched the kids so I could catch up on some sleep. I may have said this before, but my husband is THE BEST HUSBAND IN THE WORLD!!!

My next quarter begins next week. I am looking forward to it but am also bracing myself for the hard work and overwhelming schedule. I now have my eyes wide open knowing what I am in for. I have learned some lessons in how to make this process possible. I also know that I CAN do it and I have my family to motivate and support me along the way.

Here’s to a great spring quarter!

My Resolutions for 2012

As I reflect upon all that has happened this year I can only think of just how grateful I am. There were rough parts and tragic losses, but all I choose to keep in my heart are the wonderful parts – the people and the love that makes my life worth living. I have so much to be grateful for and I don’t take it for granted. Life is fragile and precious. It is unfair at times but overwhelmingly sweet at others. My father always used to say, “Take the good and leave the bad.” My version of that is, “Take the good but learn from the bad.” The heartbreaking things that have happened in my life taught me how to fight for the better, to dream bigger, and to know and hold on to the good.

Looking forward to 2012, I know there is much in store for my family and I. Our family has grown and with that so have our responsibilities. College demands will make things tough on me coupled with family and work obligations but I’ll be much closer to my end goals this time next year. It’s going to be a productive year. I wanted to come up with some good (and easily attainable) ways to make my life (and that of my family’s) better this year. Here is a list of my resolutions:

  • Meatless Mondays – The year before I had my first son, I joined PETA and became a vegetarian. My husband followed suit. Being from Latin American backgrounds, it was a huge lifestyle change and a challenge. When I became pregnant I craved red meat more than anything (probably because of the iron) and have been off the wagon ever since. These days my husband and I eat less meat and make consciencious choices about purchasing hormone-free, organic, and cage-free meats and seafoods as we can, but we often talk about the benefits of a meat-free diet. At this point in our lives we aren’t willing to do a completely vegetarian lifestyle, but committing to one day a week is very do-able and can have several health and environmental benefits.
  • Less TV, More Activities – Over the past year I have been much more sedentary than I intended. While pregnant, the baby’s weight led to sciatica pain. Everytime I walked, it was like sharp needles in my groin. I enjoyed putting my feet up, resting, and settling in to watching Netflix on the big screen. After the baby, I have found myself continuing to settle in to watching Netflix on the big screen for several hours during the day. It began because of the many hours of nursing the little guy, and other hours of holding and trying to entertain him. Now it has become habitual and I realize that now Julian is getting old enough to be put in his jumping chair to leave me free to do other things. I should take advantage of that. With that said – my goal is to shut off the television when I have the opportunity to set Julian down and do other activities with Alejandro such as playing board games, reading, or taking the whole family out for a walk. I will also need these times to do homework. The television is great but I have to see it for what it is – a distraction and time sucker!
  • Be A More Present, Inspired, and Intentional Parent – With a new baby things have been hectic and I have re-vamped my multitasking skills. I am able to tune things out and hone in on The Important and the tasks that need to be done NOW. The unfortunate side effect of this is being able to have a conversation without really listening. It takes skills, but it can happen. I call this unfortunate because when it comes to family and children, listening is one of the few things you can do as a parent to show you care. Sometimes there are so many things going on that it can’t be helped, but I want to make a special effort to be present (FOCUSED), inspired (CREATIVE and FUN), and intentional (NOT JUST GOING THROUGH THE MOTIONS). I know my kids will be grateful for this special effort on my part and I won’t go to sleep feeling mommy guilt each night if I know I tried.
  • More Date Nights with My Men – As a new mama I devote so much of my energy, my affection, and my attention on my newborn which leaves little more of Me to go around. But as a more intentional mom (and wife!) this will change. I want to commit to making special time for the two men in my life, my husband and my oldest son. One-on-one dates will be planned, and if that can’t happen then special attention and affection needs to be planned.
  • Make Myself a Priority – After baby and family, there comes me. I rarely take time out to exercise or pamper myself and this is so important. I may not be able to go out with friends every day or get a massage on a weekly basis, but every day I need to do at least one thing for myself. A happy mama is a good mama and a good wife. It’s a win-win all around.
  • Make Greener and Natural Choices – I think Andy and I do a decent job of recycling and purchasing items that are better for the environment and for ourselves, but there is so much more we can do. This year I want to be even more intentional about the purchases and lifestyle choices we make. Cancer has been affecting much of my family in recent years and I wonder whether the toxic chemicals in our products have anything to do with it. It is with the intention of honoring these family members and wanting a better life for my own family that I will be more dilligent about protecting our home and our bodies from harmful chemicals. I will also make greener choices, which includes buying locally.
  • Staying Connected – I will make a better effort to stay connected with extended family and friends this year. I am not so great at picking up a phone and calling for a chat, but I want to do more this year to keep the people I love closer and nurture those relationships.

I want this year to be one of intention, production, and hope. I wish for all the best to our friends and family in the upcoming year. If I could make one wish for all of us it is that we are finally out of our economic downfall and prosperity is upon us. Fingers crossed.

Parenting Thoughts: Reaching Milestones

This past week we celebrated my eldest son’s birthday. It was a particularly special birthday since he was turning 6 on the 6th – – a unique and once in a lifetime gem. The playhouse we asked my brother-in-law to design was finished by him and my husband prior to the birthday party. It is indeed a masterpiece. To commemorate the special year, they bought a tile number 6 and put it over the doorway. Alejandro was so excited about the house. Watching his face light up was priceless.

His birthday party was our first as parents of having a “big boy” party in which Alejandro invited some of his friends. It was an interesting experience. I felt at times that there was so much chaos and I didn’t have control or the ability to have a true adult conversation that lasted more than a minute. I felt guilty that I could not be the hostess I wanted to be with all that was going on and an infant in my arms. With that said, we both considered it quite a success and our guests had a good time. We hired the most amazing balloon artist, Adam Lee, who kept the kids immensely entertained for the first hour with personalized balloon art and a magic show. The kids also enjoyed the playhouse and braved the crisp fall weather till it got dark outside (and big mama called them inside). There was dancing. There was playing. There was laughter. All in all, it was an awesome night and my little boy had a celebration he will remember for a long time. As a family we felt so blessed that we had so many family and friends attend, even past teachers of Alejandro’s. I was so touched by the turnout we got.

Julian is starting to laugh true belly laughs often now. It’s the most precious thing and quite addicting. I find myself doing the silliest things to try and get him to laugh again. The first time he laughed when I sang “You put the lime in the coconut” with a maraca. He laughed a few times more when I sang him “Mary had a little lamb” with the maraca. The pattern seems to be the maraca – so I find any reason to shake that little maraca and sing whatever song I can to see how he will react. He seems to like when I hold out syllables and make him anticipate the next sound.

He is also starting to munch on his hands and drool more often so I know that teething is upon us. I got him a few teethers and have been working with him to hone his coordination skills so he can hold them himself. Today he actually held his teether and stuck it in his mouth. My husband and I were so happy at his triumph. This is truly something only another parent could understand. Every milestone, no matter how small, is reason for celebration.

Sweet Dreams

Lately it seems that I’ve been having nightmares more often; particularly about my kids. As a parent, we often worry about the possibility of not being able to protect our children. This worry is spilling into my nocturnal life, invading my dreams and making it very difficult to sleep. But when I wake up and see my little cherubic faces safe and sound and hear their content breathing, I tell myself it’s time to be rational and go back to sleep. It’s isn’t easy but it’s an exercise in learning how to to quiet the mind and put myself at ease.

 

Early stage of the playhouse
Early stage of the playhouse

My oldest son’s birthday is coming up soon and we are planning a great party for him. It is a special birthday since he is turning 6 on the 6th – something that won’t happen again, so it has to be special. I have asked my brother-in-law, who is an architect and contractor, to design and construct a playhouse for Alejandro in time for his birthday as our gift to him. The playhouse is exceeding my expectations and is going to be amazing. He and my husband have been diligently working on the house over the past weekend and assure me it will be done in the next week. We can’t wait. Alejandro grins from ear to ear at the mention of his playhouse. My husband and I are giddy as well since we both secretly wished for such a playhouse of our own as kids (sadly, neither of us had anything close).

The baby is really starting to show his personality these days. He coos, enthusiastically verbalizes, and smiles every day. When he looks at me it overwhelms me with so much love and pride. It is almost as if he is telling me that he loves me too. His eyes crinkle up at the sides the way my oldest son’s does and my husband’s, which I absolutely love. When they smile, it melts my heart. The other night I heard the baby laugh in his sleep, an indication that human beings laugh not because they are taught, but because it is an innate response to something they feel. I wonder what he dreams about at night? I’m so glad he is still so young that his dreams remain innocent and sweet…just as they should be.

Send in the clones…

Cloning one’ self…This idea isn’t a new one. The movie Duplicity probably is the best known Hollywood example of this. I haven’t seen a Hollywood version that explores a Mom’s need to clone herself.

Let me think this through for a minute and lose myself in the fantasy. If I had a clone…

My other Me would have the extra loving arms to hold the baby while original Me cooks a meal for my 5-year old that takes more than 5 minutes; my other Me would have the natural means to breastfeed the baby while original Me relaxes and eats my own meal at a leisurely (rather than hurried) pace; the other Me could watch the boys while original mommy and daddy enjoys some special time alone; the other Me could clean the house while original Me hugs and cuddles the kids guilt-free; my other Me could get up 3 times a night to feed and change baby’s diaper while original Me gets a full night’s rest…there are so many wonderful possibilities if I could clone myself.

Then again, would I really want to? After all,  what better job is there than being a mom? Sure, there is the sleep deprivation, the messy house, the constant multi-tasking, looking and feeling frumpy, and losing one’s self through gaining a brand new, important role. I am watching my baby grow each day, finding his own independent self through his movements and exploration of this new world. It’s fascinating! I love cuddling next to his warm little body, to feel his little arms encircle my neck, and to look into his eyes as he nurses. I love seeing his innocent and honest smile, hear his happy coos, and to be the reason he stops crying. I love seeing my oldest son watch his baby brother in delight, to reach out and tenderly touch his face, and see a gleam light up in his eyes when he sees the baby look at him with a smile. I love seeing my husband be the epitome of the ideal father – gentle, loving, nurturing, honest, fair, and a fantastic teacher.

It may sound cliche, but the benefits absolutely outweigh the negatives. Bottom line is this: I am lucky to be a mom and I know that this time is so short and precious. The challenges are really so small in comparison to what I gain in this journey of motherhood.

I also can’t thank God enough for my husband. He is the key to my sanity. Saying he is a ‘hands-on’ dad doesn’t even come close to describing what a gift he is. He goes to work – a challenging and stressful environment, then comes home and makes dinner, holds the baby so I can eat first, helps clean up the living areas, helps with the kids, fixes things around the house…and all with a loving heart and smile on his face.  He even sweetly suggested that I get a massage or go out with my friends while he watches the kids. This man is…well…how can I put it?…My Superman. Plain and simple. I still find it amazing that this man has chosen me. Not a perfect, clone Me, but real, frumpy, Mommy Me.

…the best laid plans…

So much has happened in the past two months and I have barely had time to get on the computer, let alone post a new blog. Today I find myself at a point where I actually have the freedom to use two hands on the keyboard, with my baby content and asleep in my pouch (a sling).

Julian was born three weeks early, but he was absolutely perfect in every way. My husband and I celebrated our 8th wedding anniversary on August 2nd with our oldest son, Alejandro. We had a meal at our favorite waterfront restaurant and enjoyed a leisurely stroll along the lake. It was a sweet day for all of us. That morning, at 4:45 am – my water broke! I almost went into panic mode since it was earlier than anticipated and I had nagging feelings of being unprepared (was the hospital bag packed???). We had a plan in place. After waking my husband (who was groggy but excited), I called my sister so she could come and take care of Alejandro and Bella. She insisted on coming right away even though I felt it was going to be a while till we went to the hospital. My labor with Alejandro took 18 hours so I felt we had time. Soon after I called my doula, then my midwife. Within minutes, I had contractions that increased in intensity to the point to where I had to stop what I was doing and try not to buckle from the pain. We headed to the hospital.

Everything after that went quickly and my contractions were at their peak. Painful doesn’t even describe it. It was excruciating and there were no real “leading up” contractions. We went from zero to 100 in pain. Immediately after checking me into the birth center it was clear I was in transition and the baby was coming. My doula wasn’t at the hospital yet, and the staff didn’t have time to put in an IV or hook me up to a monitor. Julian was ready! All of the wonderful planning we did with the pain relieving exercises, birthing tub, etc. went out the window. It was the most primal experience I could have imagined. No pain medication or doula or special breathing exercises. Just me…finding every bit of strength in me to get that little baby out.

My midwife (who was getting off shift just as I came to the hospital) was amazing. I am grateful she stayed later than she was supposed to. Her words were just what I needed to hear. My husband was also such a lifesaver. He held my hand and supported me in exactly the way I needed. He later told me how miraculous it was to actually see the baby being born this time (last time he was at my head). I still remember how shocked I was holding little Julian in my arms, thinking “two hours ago you were still in my belly!”

My doula got to the hospital right after I gave birth, and the shocked look on her face was priceless. There was so much more that happened after he was born and I was grateful she stayed by my side every step of the way. I lost a significant amount of blood, had 3rd degree tears, and the midwife had to continually push on my stomach to get the placenta out for nearly an hour after giving birth. It was extremely painful but at least I had my baby in my arms to distract me.

Alejandro came to the hospital later that day with my sister and her family. He was so sweet and tender with Julian. Watching him become a big brother is such a gift. This picture at the left is of their first meeting. Since then, Alejandro has only blossomed and excelled in his role as big brother. He is nurturing, kind, happy, loving, and protective. He wants to hug his brother quite a bit. No signs of jealousy – just love.

Now it is almost two months later and I am starting to feel like myself again. Granted, I am sleep deprived and I barely get a moment to myself. But I am able to walk around and do things around the house again. The recovery period for my injuries was long and painful. Only two weeks ago I still couldn’t walk for more than a block or carry my laundry basket full of clothes. I was worried before about having time enough for both children. That is still in the back of my mind but I do the best that I can just like any other parent. My husband is truly amazing and I couldn’t have dreamed up a better partner. He helps with so many important details and I am so grateful. My doula has also been an amazing sense of support. After coming home from the hospital, she followed up with several visits to our home. She helped around the house, helped with the kids, with Bella, offered advice — oh, what would I have done without her? I feel so blessed for the support I have had. I know my kids are reaping the benefits from a happy mommy.

I have decided not to go back to school this quarter so that I can focus on the kids. There is so much transition going on in this household it would have been crazy to try and expect myself to do my best with classwork as well. I want to go back in winter quarter on a half time basis. My Alejandro started kindergarten a few weeks ago and is loving it. I personally love being able to see him to school and pick him up every day. I am so blessed to have the opportunity to stay home and spend this precious time with him and Julian.