Category Archives: Travel

Hungry in Paris (Ask and it shall be given, part 5)

The following is a true story about one of the most randomly extraordinary things that’s ever happened to me. I want to share it with you here, to the best of my recollection.

I was 16 years old in 1992 when I went on a student trip from Puerto Rico to Oxford, England for a 3-week intensive English course followed by one week travelling in France and Spain. While I’d already been bitten by the travel bug years earlier, this was my first time away from home without my family or friends. That was its own big deal.

Oxford 4

The view from atop Carfax Tower in Oxford

The host family assigned to me in Oxford was an elderly couple living in a tiny house on a street almost identical to the Dursleys’ Privet Drive in Little Whinging.

privetdrive

Left: the house I stayed in outside Oxford. Right: a photo I took of Privet Drive during a visit to the Harry Potter tour at Warner Brother Studios (London) this year.

The woman kept a padlock on the house phone, presumably to keep us student boarders from making long distance phone calls for hours and hours. She never hid her dismay when I turned down constant offers of tea throughout the day. “How can you not want a hot drink?!” (I lived in Puerto Rico where it’s 85 degrees year round!) And the sandwiches she gave me for my school lunches were either cheese and tomato, or tuna fish with butter and cucumbers. One time she asked me what I normally ate cheese sandwiches with, and turned her nose up when I answered ham.

But I digress.

When the three weeks in Oxford ended, my fellow students and I were revved for the upcoming week of straight vacation, starting in Paris. We grabbed our last packed lunches from our British host families, and hopped on a bus to London, where we boarded a train to one of England’s southern port cities (I think it was Plymouth) for the ferry boat crossing over the English Channel into France. I’m pretty sure I ate my sandwich (was it tuna and cucumbers or cheese and tomato? I can’t remember) well before I got on the ferry, and had basically no more food for the journey after that.

Oxford 12

Starting the journey

To say that the waters were choppy that day is an understatement. Though I was mercifully spared the miserable seasickness, I did witness a good number of my fellow travelers running to toilets with pale, drawn faces.

Oxford 14

The ferry boat ride

After that was over, we still had to take a train to Paris.

Oxford 15Cropped

Train ride to Paris … by this time in the day I would’ve given anything for a tuna and cucumber sandwich.

Finally, it was a drizzly early evening when we arrived at our Paris hotel. It was, in fact, dinner time, and just a few minutes too late to exchange money at a bank or at the hotel’s front desk. This was a time before you could go to any cash machine and withdraw money. Most people still traveled with travelers’ checks, the currency was francs, and none of us had any. We had a few British pounds left over, which did us no good whatsoever. Since most of us were high school students, we didn’t have credit cards, and I have a sense (my memory on this is a bit fuzzy) that some of the restaurants where we asked didn’t even take plastic.

What could we do? A group of about four other students and I started to walk around the city, trying to figure something out. We were wet, exhausted, and hungry. So we came up with a plan to approach someone who looked local, and ask them to withdraw cash for us using their bank card in exchange for pounds and travelers’ checks. It was a long shot, obviously, but we were starting to feel desperate. The first few people we asked –wait for it!– said no.

Right as we were about to give up, someone looked up and noticed the names of the cross streets where we were standing: they were Rue de la Providence and Rue de l’Espérance.

RueEsperanceProvidence2Cropped

So we figured, since we were literally standing on the corner of Hope and Providence, maybe we shouldn’t give up … surely someone would help us! That’s when we saw a pregnant woman exiting an apartment building. We approached her and quickly explained our situation.

To our shock and delight, she told us yes, she would withdraw francs for us in exchange for our travelers’ checks and pounds … on one condition: that we sit and have a drink with her before heading off to dinner. Starving as we were, we agreed. The woman went to an ATM, got out cash, and together we found a bar and sat down for a drink. I have only a very vague recollection of what she looked like, and she didn’t tell us much about herself. Funnily enough, we did learn that she was headed to the UK the following day, so she’d been on her way to the ATM machine anyway, and she was happy to take our British pounds.

She was also lonely. I got the strong sense that her baby’s father was not in the picture. Then she said something like this: “How funny that we met each other on the corner of Rue de la Providence and Rue de l’Espérance, and that we were able to help each other. See, it wasn’t just me helping you get your money, but you have also helped me by sitting with me these few minutes and talking to me, keeping me company. So in a sense, we needed each other.”

Oxford 17

Paris the next day

I think she declined to join us for dinner. Soon we completed our money transaction and parted ways, wishing each other all the best. Then my friends and I took the money to a Chinese restaurant where we had the grandest and finest Chinese feast I’ve ever had in my life. At least that’s what it seemed like in my 16-year-old mind, and who is my 40-year-old self to tell that girl otherwise? Mistaking our jadedness for wisdom is such a common blind spot among us grownup types.

This isn’t the first time I’ve encountered the kindness of strangers in France. In fact, I’ve shared the stories here, about the incident with a cash machine in Paris and the time a few years later when my husband and I were hungry in a tiny French village. Isn’t this trend kind of mysterious and amazing? But all these things really happened. And remembering them touches a place deep in my heart where my own pure goodness lives alongside my faith in the goodness of others. Call me crazy, but I think we could all stand to tap into that place more often.

This is my favorite one of these stories, though. I have no idea if the woman would remember the role she had in helping a group of hungry Puerto Rican students get money for food on a drizzly Parisian evening 23 years ago, or that the thought of her poignant generosity and vulnerability still moves me deeply and lifts my spirits every single time. I especially think about the power of asking. It’s not just that you might actually get what you’re asking for (which in itself is pretty awesome), but it’s how the act of asking for help opens the door to keep kindness flowing. And to think it happened on the corner of Hope and Providence!


 

Note: A new friend I made on this trip was a law school student, (I believe) at the University of Puerto Rico. By the time we made it to Seville, I had all but run out of money, and she lent me money so I could buy souvenirs for my family at the World Expo. I promised to pay her back, but then we lost touch completely after coming home from the trip. I don’t even remember her name! But I did circle her face in the only two photos I have of her. I would love to track her down, to thank her again and to pay her back. Please help me share this blog post, so we can keep up the spirit of pay it forward! (Or in my case, in the spirit of paying her back…)

Oxford 7WCircle Oxford 22wcircle

 

Share this:
facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterest

Grace (Ask and it shall be given, Part 4)

Confession: I, like roughly 9.9 out of 10 of you, suffer from feelings of unworthiness. Thankfully, I also believe in grace. It’s because of grace that I ultimately rarely let such feelings run the show. (There’s a reason why people always talk about saving graces.) I’ve had good reason to count the extraordinary blessings of my life in recent weeks, and I’d like to share some of them with you. Sorry if it sounds like bragging. I assure you, it’s nothing more than overwhelming gratitude. It’s a short (very short) list of some the past month’s gifts, and a story about how these gifts are helping me heal the feelings of unworthiness.

gracecropped

 

I’ve spoken before about my love for Elizabeth Gilbert, and for my 40th birthday, I decided to try to see her again at an event. After a very quick search, I saw she was going to be one of the speakers at one of my favorite places ever (the Omega Institute), just ten days after my birthday. Done, and done!

womenandpowerretreat

I also learned she’d be visiting DC one week after the Omega Institute retreat, to promote her new book Big Magic. Obviously, I bought a ticket for that, too, just for good measure.

The weekend of the retreat arrived, and two minutes after I checked in at Omega, I ran into one of its co-founders, a personal beloved hero, Elizabeth Lesser. I was tongue-tied and in hindsight feel silly and shallow (see how easily the self-berating happens?) that all I did was ask for this photo. Thank goodness I did also remember to tell her I love her and that it was an honor to be there.

9181501

Saturday morning Liz Gilbert took the stage. It lived up to every expectation. One of my favorite quotes from her talk was, “No creative act can take place until you stand in the arrogance of your belonging … against the terrorist inside your head that says, ‘Who do you think you are?'”

Later on … can you believe it? I ran into her and got to give her a hug and snap this photo!

9191501

It then seemed like an embarrassment of riches that I’d be seeing her again in DC just one week later. That week, my mother was coming into town, and I decided to try to take her with me. I felt that if I at least shared it with her, then I would feel more deserving. But the event was four days away, my husband was headed to Morocco, and we didn’t have a babysitter. It would have felt pretty lousy to go by myself and leave Mami behind, but even if I tried changing my ticket to her name, I doubted she’d go by herself. And by then I really wanted her to go. My first step was to go online and see if there were tickets left. There were, and I bought her one. (Later that same day I looked again out of curiosity: Sold out!) You know what else? I found a sitter just two days before! So, Mami and I went.

9271501

And she was as inspired and energized by Liz Gilbert’s talk as I knew she would be. My heart swelled with gratitude that things had fallen into place so perfectly.

One of my two favorite quotes from that evening was, “You need magical, mystical thinking to do creative things because it’s an absolutely irrational thing to do.” That I possess such weird and irrational ways of thinking is without a doubt one my graces in this life.

The other one was, “When someone tells you they are brutally honest, it’s rarely about real honesty; they’re asking for permission to be brutal to you.” Holy crap. I’d never thought of that before, but it’s true. I can’t stand snark disguised as sophistication; you know … that person with a mean streak who tells you you can’t take a joke? Oof. Steer clear, folks, steer clear. I know I do!

But my favorite moment of the evening came when a cancer survivor got up to speak, and offered Elizabeth an engraved bracelet (sadly I forget what word(s) it was engraved with) as a gift. Elizabeth accepted the gift, and said something like this: “I used to say no to these types of things. Then I realized, they are grace, and I don’t want to stop the unfolding of grace.” Boom. Wow. A few minutes later, Elizabeth gave the bracelet to another cancer survivor who stood up to speak. I cried.

And there it is: Grace. If nothing else, grace is what definitively inspires me to overcome thoughts and feelings of unworthiness. Because it’s not about me. None of this is about me. It’s about something so much bigger than me.

I’m not really sure how to stop the cycle for myself. The script of unworthiness seems so deeply and irrevocably embedded in me, it’s like my constant annoying companion. It happened just a few nights ago when I visited a book club as the guest author. The awesome women who asked the read my manuscript described it with words like “page-turner … a great sense of place … deeply-developed characters … ” and most importantly said, “don’t give up, you’ve got something good here.” I’m not going to tell you that I didn’t spend most of the drive home telling myself they were just being nice. Two days later, the night after some details for a new family project in the works for 2016 (which will likely involve stamps on our passports and shedding a few lbs in preparation) began to fall into place –I’m not exaggerating– thoughts of undeserving ‘who-am-I’s kept me awake for hours.

But I have now amended my script from ‘who am I to receive such gifts?’ to ‘who am I to stop them?’ Who am I to stop grace? Who the hell is anyone to dare mess with the ever unfolding poetry and dance that is grace? That’s what your “friend” is doing when s/he wants to be brutally “honest” or tells you you can’t take a “joke.” It’s what I’m doing when I dwell on feeling undeserving. Why don’t we stop the cycle, or at least turn it around? It’s not about me and it’s not about you. It’s about keeping grace in motion. Seeing Liz Gilbert for my 40th birthday taught me this. Grace begets grace. Love begets love. And what the world needs is love.

loveisthebridge

Share this:
facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterest

A short to-do list, because YOLO (sort of)

It’s been a month of milestones in our little familia. My son started kindergarten at a new school that we’d been hoping to get into since before he was born. He’s been adjusting well and we are loving the community. I turned 40, and have returned to teaching (college Spanish) part-time. But I want to share with you two “smaller” parenting firsts that happened yesterday, and the things they made me think about.

iPhone photos Sept 5 15 1221

Yesterday was the first time since starting my new day job that my husband wasn’t home in the hectic final minutes before we have to be out the door in the morning. I had to get my son to school, and had to be at my job by 8:40. After being a stay-at-home mom for 5 years, this made me feel like quite the independent working parent: It was So Damn Stressful. And that’s with an only child and teaching just two mornings per week! More importantly? I believe with all my heart that single working parents who still manage to be present with their children are the greatest unsung heroes of our society. Hats. Freaking. Off. I bow to you. That’s all I will say about that for now, even as I acknowledge that no words can do justice to my deep and abiding awe for these superheroes.

Yesterday was also the first morning I dropped my boy off for school at the curbside, instead of parking the car and walking him in. The school’s driveway is a few feet away from the entrance, and there are adults lined up to help escort the kiddos from the parent’s car into the school. Full disclosure, I had trouble sleeping the night before. What if, in those few feet between my car and the school entrance, someone intercepted him? What if, once inside, he didn’t go straight where he was supposed to go? Are kindergartners really ready for curbside drop-off? What if it made him upset, and made me late for class?

iPhone photos Sept 5 15 1248

When we finally pulled into the school driveway in the morning, the school principal happened to be there. She walked over, opened his car door, and with a huge warm smile, offered her hand. He went so happily and proudly with her, I had to call him back just to give him a kiss goodbye and wish him a good day! (I also wanted to give her a hug.) I drove off to work basking in a soft wave of relief and of pride in my big boy, and only the slightest stirrings of “he did make inside, right … ?” It was a small milestone, but a milestone nonetheless.

As a fervent believer in reincarnation, I don’t subscribe to the old adage of You Only Live Once in a literal sense. That said, this lifetime is the one that matters to me now, and boy is it a precious one. After delving into deeper questions on the passage of time in my previous post, this time I got to thinking about more practical aspects of the question, what do I really, really, really want?

I prefer talking about to-do lists over the idea of one big bucket list. For example, I’ve started thinking about an empty nest to-do list. Oh sure, that’s roughly 13 years away. And you know what? I remember 13 years ago like it was earlier this morning. So I have a good sense of how fast the next 13 will go, and I want to at least have a plan when the time comes. Part of the plan is to travel more with my husband. Also, if I haven’t had the opportunity, to learn/perfect more foreign languages. I will research and write more books, hopefully (in theory at least) at a faster pace than now. I’m also looking forward to binge-watching all the TV shows I keep hearing about which I never have time to watch. (Was Mad Men really that good? What about Downton Abbey? No spoilers please!)

11154595_372946372911657_8540060621515770627_o

Our little familia riding the London Underground from the Natural History Museum to the British Museum (April 2015)

But enough about stuff down the line. Assuming good health, what do I really, really, really want in the years ahead of me now? Here are some things, in no particular order.

  1. Research and write more stories (and be less scared about pursuing publication)
  2. See Ireland’s Cliffs of Moher
  3. Eat “freshly” smoked salmon in Alaska (and Norway)
  4. Learn to make handmade pasta … in Italy
  5. Have a Thai massage in Thailand
  6. See the Danube River separating Buda from Pest
  7. Shower my family with crazy wicked fierce lovin’
  8. Eat street food in Vietnam (my palate is more excited about this than my heartburn-prone gut is)
  9. Amsterdam: Pay my respects at Anne Frank’s hiding place, and ride a canal boat … and a bike
  10. Learn to knit?
  11. Eat a Belgian waffle purchased from a street vendor in Brussels
  12. Dance more
  13. Sydney Harbor
  14. African safari
  15. Learn more about wine
  16. Walk on the Great Wall
  17. Edinburgh …

Sensing a trend here? Yes, with me, it often comes down to travel. Beautiful, restless, put-a-stamp-on-my-passport-NOW-please, Wanderlust. By the way? I hope to do most of these things with my beloved husband and our sunshine boy. And I’m leaving a lot (like, all of the Americas) out. Not to mention the many places we want to take him where we’ve already been! It’s okay if we don’t do all these things. But I believe we can do some –even many– of them. What’s not okay is to not even dream them. I’ve never been shy about dreaming big, and it has never led me astray. Dreaming big and loving big, that’s the plan.

9231501

This brochure for a trip to Thailand and Bali came in the mail recently. My son and I spent that afternoon poring over the details, and it was the best day-dreaming conversation we’ve had … so far!

Share this:
facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterest

Wanderlust

wanderlust1

Of all the unexplained compulsions in human behavior, wanderlust has got to be my favorite. I blame my parents. In my early childhood in Puerto Rico, when my father was in medical school and my mother was the sole bread-winner for our family of five, they still managed to scrape together enough money to take us to Disney World a couple of times.

Orlando (1977 & 1979). I’m the youngest.

Later, in the three years we lived in Albany, NY while Dad was a resident in rehabilitation medicine, we’d pack the five of us into the family car, and set off for Manhattan, Toronto, DC, and many other places. There was never a lot of money, but my parents understood well the importance of expanding our horizons. So I learned early on, for example, that eating food from a grocery store–rather than a restaurant–for at least one meal a day is an excellent way to save money on a trip.

Roadtripping in the early 80’s

Upon completing his residency, my father moved our family back to Puerto Rico, and made a vow: That one day soon, he’d take the five of us to Europe. The year was 1985.

In summer 1987, la Familia Falcón embarked on a three-week tour of Europe. And that was it. THAT WAS IT! Before the trip, I thought historic sites in Europe were these boring, abandoned places, visited only by a handful of rich eccentric types. It was confusing that my parents wanted to take us there. But I quickly “got it.” There’s a whole world just beyond my own, awaiting exploration. There are people very different from me … and ultimately not that different. The world is terrifically big and wondrously small. It’s okay to see things differently, and to think and be different from my previous beliefs. Magic is real, and wealth isn’t a pre-requisite for it. It’s possible to be many miles away from home and still experience a powerful sense of belonging. These were just a few of the lessons learned.

The Falcón’s at the Roman Colosseum (1987)
My parents have made good on that 1985 promise many more times than their children or grandchildren could have dreamed.
Madrid (2006)
And they sent each of us on plenty of solo adventures, too.
Clockwise: A summer in England (top two on the left -1992); semester abroad in Spain (1994); camel ride in Egypt (1999); eating pizza sold by weight in Verona (1999); Santorini (2000).
Imagine my delight when I met my husband David, and learned that he suffers from the same travel restlessness as me. Soon, we were engaged, and the adventures continued. Which brings me to the present(-ish), and to my point. Mark Twain said it best.
Oh please, please-please, SEE the world as much as possible. It’s one of the best things you could ever do. And with enough planning and flexibility, it can also be done on a budget.
After we had our son Eric five years ago, our travels definitely slowed down. We are now a very frugal single-income household. Last year we had hopes of visiting Spain on the 20th anniversary of my semester abroad there. Alas, the expense would have been unwise; we didn’t go. Yet David and I continue to agree that any extra money is set aside so we can see our country and the world as a family. Both he and I count travel–and a love of reading books–as the most profoundly enriching experiences of our formative years. This is precisely what we dream for Eric during his childhood. Not surprisingly, he is a natural little wanderer like his parents.
This world map with color-coded pins for places dreamed, planned, and visited is one of the best Christmas presents David has ever given me. (2013)
When we returned from a 12-day roadtrip to Canada and New England last summer, the moment Eric realized we were done travelling, he sat down on the family room floor, and cried, “But where are we going tomorrow?!” Here’s a picture from our trip to London when he was a year old.
Did you know you can fit your stroller–opened, with your baby strapped in–into the backseat of London’s famous black taxis? He loved that! (2011)
Guess what? We’re thinking of taking him again in just a few weeks. David has a work trip. Eric and I could tag along. This trip has been over a year in the making, and we have never thought longer or harder over a travel decision. Among the factors to consider? 1-I’d be alone with Eric in London, not seeing David until the very end of the day. On the other hand? 2-I could be alone with Eric in DC, doing our routine stuff, not seeing David for an entire week. Only one of these options gets me eating scones with clotted cream and jam … in friggin’ England. Yeah, I like what’s behind door #1 better. Do I still wonder if it’s the 100% sensible thing to do? All the time. Our finances are a far cry from when we had two incomes and no kids. Just in case, don’t tell Suze Orman on us, alright? Not to mention my anxiety-prone self is coming out full force, conjuring fantastically awful mental scenarios about things that could go wrong. (I am a superior catastrophizer.)
But we’re still seriously considering it. With David’s expenses covered, the trip would be a fraction of what it would cost for the three of us. There’s this wonderful phenomenon called tax refund. The curiosity and wonder of a five-year-old child are like lightning in a bottle. For me, besides the chance to give my boy an invaluable experience, it’s also an opportunity to overcome an anxiety. And a priceless reminder that the world is still within reach and a relatively safe place, no matter what dire news stories tell us; that it is ours to experience and love; that I can go on travel adventures long after my carefree “younger” years, this time, as the mom. I still don’t know how my parents took their three kids on all those trips. Sometimes, it occurs to me, they must have decided to just go for it. Life is short. There’s a time for prudence … and a time for scones. This time I want the scones. I hope you will find whatever your metaphorical “scone” is, and go after it. Dream it, map it, plan it, and go. I’m telling you, it can be done, and it is WORTH IT.
You see, I’m not kidding when I say we love to travel. Here’s a sampling of some of our pre-parenthood trips. Clockwise from top left: Toledo (2003); Grand Canyon (2003); Paris (2004); Ireland (2007); Innsbruck (2008); and Maine (2008).
Share this:
facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterest

Coming to Manhattan

teaching-in-the-dark-learning-to-love-what-we-fear-23-638Tomorrow I’m going on a two-day trip to New York City, as I have done every February since 2012. I like to call it Mama’s Annual Pilgrimage (previously documented here, and here). My plan for this year is to attend a tour at the Tenement Museum, called Exploring 97 Orchard Street. This is like a dream for me. Besides that, I’m going to find a nice café (or a few different ones), and work on my whittling.
Whittling tools. If only they could help me in this situation!

Turns out the novel I’ve spent the past three years writing is too long. “Debut novels” in my genre are supposed to be no longer than 100,000 words. My first draft was–wait for it–147,000. Stephen King says the second draft is the first draft, minus ten percent. That, I can do. On draft five now, I’ve so far hacked off 10,000 words; ten percent looks well within reach. Will I get all the way down to below 100,000? Not sure. And if I can’t, odds are pretty good no agent will even look at the manuscript. Don’t think I haven’t thought about giving these pseudo-dogmatic standards this treatment. But I’ve had them explained to me recently in a way I understand (almost) better; and so, I hack away. Hacking doesn’t sound very artistic though, hence the term whittling.

In a recent Google search on book word counts, I found that A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is approximately 150,000 words, similar to my original word count. I like to look at it and think it’s what my novel will look like once it’s published.

Momentum has admittedly slowed down. It’s partly due to feeling disheartened. Also, though, recent family needs compel me to re-evaluate things. No, I’m not pregnant. But there could be change on the horizon, which will be felt on many levels within my family. The meme posted by my hero Elizabeth Gilbert on her Facebook page today couldn’t be more timely.

For the past three years, I’ve been going strong–creativity-wise–fueled to a significant degree by this sort of feel-good inspiration. I tend to dislike gratuitous cynicism. I find it so one-dimensional, and we can do so much better. Lately, though … ? How do I distinguish between good old reality check and caving to cynicism? Here’s another recent meme.

A few months ago, I would have shared this, lived by it, maybe even written a blog post about it. The thing is, though, I also think that people who think they’re above paying their dues are idiots. Was that unkind? I’m sorry. The message about being born for something greater and more profound still resonates with me deeply. I’m not trying to be unkind. I swear I have a point.
My point–aside from having fun with social media memes–is that I strive to not be an idiot. And I know that, at age 39 and a half, I’m nowhere near done paying my dues. My own practical form of dues-paying will likely–hopefully, and for very happy reasons–mean finding gainful employment again, and soon. We just can’t continue the sponsoring at this time. I’m excited about it. I’m also panicked: That if I can’t get my book down to the desired word count by the time I start a new job, I’ll have to give up on writing. Dramatic? Please. This is nothing.
Because I work well with to-do lists, here’s the plan for now.
1. Keep whittling.
2. Pack vitamins and cold meds for NYC. (I caught my son’s recent cold, because sharing is caring.)
3. Attend some super-fun writers conferences this year–yeah!
4. Find new job and start it. Resume getting up at 5AM to write/research for an hour before the rest of the day starts, and again after boy goes to bed. It’s been done before, it can be done again.
5. Love my family. Love hard, in general.
6. Write down ideas (coming fast and furious lately) for second book. Give myself permission to be excited about it.
7. Remember that life is good, very.
8. Reread the article about 12 historical women, as needed.
9. Enjoy New York.
10. Write blog post about the trip.
Share this:
facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterest

The Midnight Poop

Pet peeve: When parents with one or two generally healthy, thriving children overstate the sacrifices of parenthood. My theory is moms do it more than dads. You know, the type who love to say, I’m a mother! like that explains all there is to know about them. Like motherhood equals that they never finish a sentence or a book or a movie, or get any sleep, anymore. Sometimes an entire meal for them is nothing more than the scraps left by their children. Worrying is a superior way of being. They wear their self-sacrifice like a badge of honor. I refer to them as Martyr Mamas.

Here’s a real doozy I heard one time: “A friend of mine went to brunch over the weekend. <Chuckle> Obviously he’s single. I mean, brunch? Ha. It must be so nice to be able to go to brunch! I don’t even know what that looks like since I had kids!”
Okay. Let me tell you what it looks like. You get in the damn car, and you go to brunch. Have a mimosa, maybe it’ll help you lighten up a little bit–consider having your husband or a girlfriend drive if, like me, you are a lightweight. Oh and guess what? Kids like brunch, too!

Last week I was in Puerto Rico with my four-year-old son, visiting my parents and siblings, and all of my boy’s cousins. My husband David stayed home in DC, working. A terrible, terrible habit I fall into whenever I’m not with David is I go to bed wayyyy too late. Last week was no exception.

Thursday was night three and I was dragging my Puerto Rican behind, feeling loopy and irritable from lack of sleep. Finally, at midnight, when I realized I was falling asleep with my finger resting on the screen of my e-reader–something I don’t recommend–I decided to put it down and call it a night. My son was in the room across the hall from mine. I still use a baby monitor at Mami and Papi’s house because it’s a large-ish concrete house where we sleep with all the doors shut to keep the AC from the individual units contained in each room. I thought I heard my son stir in his bed across the hall, but still fell asleep hard and fast.

One afternoon, he asked to go to bed for some quiet time. I gladly crawled into bed with him. The “nap” lasted about 45 seconds.

Then I felt the door to my bedroom open. “Caca,” was all my typically crazy-verbal boy said before heading to the bathroom. It was past midnight, and I suspect he was pissed–pun?–about being awoken by a call of nature when he, too, was exhausted from all the family fun that day. Naturally, I got out of bed to help him. He was loopier than me at that hour (this is saying a lot) and cried the whole time, that’s how bothered and inconvenienced he was. I understood the sentiment perfectly. We wrapped things up quickly and he was asleep again roughly 1.25 seconds after his head hit the pillow again. Mama, on the other hand?

What if this was the start of a tummy ache? Wow, even with the monitor on, I really can’t hear him get out of bed or leave his room, until he’s in my bedroom. What if he slipped all the way downstairs and past locked doors and dark rooms downstairs, and ended up in the pool? Damn it, we have yet to sign him up for the next round of swim lessons. That’s probably bad parenting. Ugh, that was a nasty big green iguana by the pool this afternoon. I wonder if it’s in my bedroom right now? [NOISE] What the hell was that?! My baby with a tummy ache? The iguana? Which one’s more upsetting? Good question. I have good ones like this sometimes. Did I say something unkind about that person during the conversation I had with Mami earlier today? I can’t stand the way I feel after I think I’ve been unkind. Boy, single moms are super heroes. I’ve been solo parenting my only child (who’s pretty darn easy going) for three days, and I feel so tired! I’ve got three new issues of O Magazine that I haven’t read–this never happens–and I haven’t even opened the one I brought on this trip. Man, parenthood is so exhausting–Wait! Shit. So there may or may not be a tummy ache, or perhaps an iguana that sneaked upstairs to my bedroom, and now I’ve turned into one of those Martyr Mamas?! Ugh!

These were just some of the thoughts I had in the hour(s?) I spent awake after the midnight poop. My boy, meanwhile, slept like a freaking log (no tummy ache, thank God(dess)!) the rest of the night … until he burst into my room again at 7AM. This time he was fresh as a cucumber and ready to face the day, asking (I think, I was mostly asleep and don’t remember) whether Abuela was awake, to see if it was okay for him to move on to her room as he continued on his top-o-the-mornin’-to-ya rounds. Needless to say I was not nearly as chipper.

At a mall in San Juan.

But I got over myself soon enough. Mercifully, even through the snipping (sorry, familia), sleep-deprived haze of the day, perspective reasserted itself. I wasn’t sleep-deprived because of motherhood: I was a fool who was going to bed too damn late! If I haven’t read O Magazine lately, it’s because every minute I don’t spend wife-ing or parenting, I’ve spent working on my novel. In truth, most of the time, I manage to finish movies and books and conversations. Maybe not in one sitting, but still! I don’t declare, I am a mother! in that tone that implies that martyrdom and disappearing as an individual are my methods of parenting. The midnight poop made me tempted to feel like motherhood is nothing but a succession of sacrifices, but ultimately, that’s just not the case!

Would you believe it, sweet boy was polite enough to go to the bathroom right before bed the following night! As I tucked him in and kissed him goodnight, I thanked him for pooping, and told him how much I love being his mama, that I was having a great time with him on our trip. Then I thanked life for him. And for the opportunity to visit my parents. And for my parents themselves, whose love and generous spirit never fail to draw and envelope all of their kids and grandkids. Life is good. Poop is good. And parenthood? Oh sure, it’s tiring. It is the hardest work I’ve ever done! I never had to be so selfless, and I worry way more than I should. Also, though–cliché but true–I have never been happier. Parenthood is by far a greater gift than it is a burden. Do not let anyone tell you otherwise. And guess what. I still go to brunch, too!

Share this:
facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterest

Why am I doing this again? Aspiring author journeys back to New York, NY.

“Don’t buy the fuckin’ hot dogs. Don’t … Don’t buy the fuckin’ hot dogs!” The woman stood a few feet away from the hot dog cart. With the unmistakable rasp of a heavy smoker, she warned frazzled-looking tourists as they walked up to it to buy lunch outside a subway entrance near Manhattan’s Herald Square. “Big fuckin’ cockroaches all over the fuckin’ hot dogs.” And yet folks kept buying their hot dogs from the vendor, who looked disgruntled but otherwise unfazed. The woman recoiled and turned her head in dismay, as though there was someone beside her in support of her crusade. “Ugh!” Her face conveyed the distress of someone whose sincere concern for the greater good of another goes unheeded. “Can you believe this? They’re buyin’ the fuckin’ hot dogs!” she lamented to no one in particular, before taking a long drag from her cigarette.

This was last Saturday at lunch time. I was in the City on another one of my research trips for my first historical novel, set in New York City in 1911. My train from DC had pulled into Penn Station less than an hour earlier. New items on the agenda this time were seeing some of the buildings where workers at the Triangle Waist Company once lived, visiting the Brooklyn gravesite of the six victims of the fire who remained unidentified for nearly a hundred years, and hoping to meet with Triangle historian Michael Hirsch.

I had made an inquiry about the victims of the Triangle fire on Facebook, when I heard from someone named Michael Hirsch. Where had I heard that name before? Oh, right, I’d seen his name here:

And here, as one of the producers of this HBO film:

And oh yeah, he was the researcher who single-handedly uncovered and confirmed the names of the six once-unidentified victims. You could say I was pretty excited at the prospect of meeting him.

Nevertheless, this time I was significantly less exuberant than I’d been on previous trips. Gone was my I’m-writing-a-novel! cockiness enthusiasm, ironic given that this was my first trip after actually completing the first draft. The enthusiasm had given way to a raging why-am-I-doing-this-again? funk. The past weeks had been spent waist-deep in novel revisions, and at least elbow-deep in the funk.

More and more people asking me if I have a publisher (no), an agent (no), or if I have “workshopped” my novel (no) or am “working with someone” on it (um … no). Then I talk about self-publication with enough people to realize that the stigma around it is still very prevalent. Don’t think I haven’t thought that these beloved, passionate projects of mine may never really see the light of day, let alone earn enough money that I can be a writer full-time while also affording to take my kid on a few trips during his growing-up years, then send him to college one day. Besides (whines the funk), does the world really need another novel about the Triangle fire? What makes me think I have anything to add to the stories that have already been told? Finally, I was bogged down, as I often am, by the knowledge that while I am not earning a paycheck, each one of these trips costs my family money, and I–still!–feel a degree of guilt about leaving my 4-year-old son for a couple of nights away.

I slept less and less in the nights leading up to the trip, until I barely slept the night before. This was the state in which I was confronted with the woman and her anti-hot dogs tirade. It bothered me. I hurried past her and down the stairs into the subway. Two minutes later, I got stuck in one of these damn things.

(Photo from http.nybydzine.tumblr.com)

This time I didn’t even have luggage!* After swiping my MetroPass twice (and feeling a little ripped off), I was finally in. It was after 1PM, breakfast had been in DC around 7AM, and I was lightheaded from lack of sleep and the train. The wait felt endless, and the ride was cramped and sweaty. I’d forgotten how uncomfortable my beloved City can be during summer. And I was starting to fear that it was my beloved City no more, that I was turning into one of those people who find it to be too much.

Lemme tell you about a glistening, sweaty subway ride.
I was on my way to historic Seward Park Library in the Lower East Side. It was a place where immigrant women (men, too) living in New York one hundred years ago had access to books, and I’ve set a scene in my novel there. But first, I needed lunch. And finally it came, at a place called Cafe Petisco, across the street from the library.
Falafel pita with fries: Extraordinary in both flavors and textures. The pink dipping sauce was especially inspired. And when the check came for a whopping $8, I knew I’d found a new favorite place in the City.

And it came with a side of interesting conversation. Cafe Petisco is the sort of place where you sit thisclose to the person at the next table. The woman next to me was an Australian living a couple of blocks west from where we were, apparently, in the heart of Chinatown. “I am the only English-speaking round eyes on the entire block.” Her words. For the past two years, she has rented a room in a 5-room apartment full of Chinese people, including entire families. I wasn’t certain of the number of people in her apartment. But she did tell me that when her flat mates stock the fridge up with fresh groceries, she has opened the door to find seafood so fresh it’s still moving, and has been startled by chicken feet falling out of one of the refrigerator shelves. I wanted to hear more, while also wanting to reserve the right to hit the Undo button if it got too weird. I asked whether she can have friends over–mostly, my curiosity had to do with a specific kind of guest … the type that might be inclined to spend the night, tú sabes. She said she probably could, but hasn’t felt the need to these two years. All she knows is she pays less than $700/month (utilities included) to live in Manhattan and she is saving loads of money.

In the 30 minutes we sat together, my new friend drank two Bloody Mary’s and a coffee. I paid my check and headed across the street to the library in a bit of a haste, realizing only too late that, at least in the context of my mildly weary state, I had indeed crossed into too-weird territory in my conversation with the friendly woman, who was now probably tipsy (if caffeinated).

Left, Seward Park Library at the turn of the 20th century (photos courtesy of New York Public Library). Right, the library as it looks today.

From the library, I made my way up to the East Village on foot to meet Michael Hirsch. No tequila was involved, and I had plenty of cold water to keep me hydrated. (*See previous blog post for a bit of context on the topics of subway with luggage, and tequila.)

My meeting with Michael Hirsch at Veniero’s Pasticceria, and our stroll around the East Village, did not disappoint. Talking to him is like getting the inside scoop on the garment workers’ strike, Triangle, and the fire, with plenty of nuance and countless poignant details about the lives of the workers.

Piragüero outside the site of the Clinton Street building where a 35-year-old widow from Russia named Julia Rosen lived with her children in 1911. She and her son, Israel, worked at the Triangle Company. Both perished in the fire.

An after-dinner stroll around Bryant Park and the New York Public Library brought the day to a close on a decent note.

But when it came time to leave the hotel Sunday morning, I suddenly didn’t want to. There was a Harry Potter movie marathon on TV, and I thought, how often (not counting illness) do I get to just lie in bed and watch TV? I could take a mini-vacation! I just didn’t feel like dealing with the City. Could New York’s energy, which I’ve always so proudly reveled in, be getting the best of me? And what if I got lost on my trip to Evergreens Cemetery in Brooklyn ?

Still, I couldn’t not go to Evergreens. If I did nothing else, I would go to the cemetery and pay my respects, then I’d spend the rest of the day in the hotel if I still felt like it. So I got over my boo-hooing self, and hopped on the L train to Bushwick Avenue and Aberdeen Street. The cemetery was deserted. It was beautiful, sprawling, old … I got lost about 5 minutes in. It was also very overcast and windy. I tried my best to keep various points of reference in sight so that I wouldn’t become deeply scary-lost.

I also tried flagging down the lone security guard making rounds in a large white sedan; no joy. A small voice inside my head taunted that I should never have left my hotel. Yet I knew even then that I was exactly where I needed to be. I felt at peace, and I knew I’d find the gravesite. After several more minutes (with my husband on the phone reading from Google Maps), I did.

It had started to rain; this brought to mind accounts I’ve read of the burial of the victims in 1911. Countless stones sat atop the base of the monument, placed by previous visitors, and I instantly felt less alone, even though there was no one else there. The only sound, aside from the rain drops, was the subway rumbling in the distance every few minutes. It was a powerful, unforgettable moment. I said a prayer, and felt duly ashamed of my self-pity earlier in the morning. As more people began to arrive to visit other graves, I made my way back to the subway for the ride back to Manhattan with a very full heart. The rain cleared, and the Manhattan skyline came into view.

The rest of the day was spent in the West Village. I stood at Greene Street and Washington Place a good long while, making notes of different details I hadn’t noticed before about the building that once housed Triangle.
I like to think that talking to myself while pacing back and forth and taking notes on this street corner confirmed my place among New York’s eccentrics.
Afterwards, I visited Our Lady of Pompeii Church, where I’ve also written a scene–and where I took the chance to say a quick thank you. The final stop was the Merchant’s House Museum, taking more notes for my novel, in addition to snapping photos of mirrors throughout the home. Why? Read my book!  🙂

Crossing Broadway that afternoon, I overheard a man say to his friend, “My mom always says you can have comfort or courage, not both.” I knew I’d heard that phrase before; two minutes later, Google told me where. Of course it was Brené Brown! The quick search revealed another really good one.

I only headed back to my hotel to get showered and dressed for dinner. Along the way, I noticed a disheveled woman on the subway fighting with an MTA attendant about her MetroPass. It seemed she had swiped it, but hadn’t been able to enter. “It’s unlimited!” she insisted. Then, to no one in particular, she loudly decried, “They’re trying to stop me because I’m bringing people to Christ!” I smiled to myself. Not in the spirit of mocking the poor woman. One thing I love about the Big Apple is the keen reminder it offers that we are all the same. I may not be bringing people to Christ, but I have plenty of experience getting stuck entering a subway station. I did not hurry uncomfortably past this woman. That’s when I knew I got it again, that we’re all the same. I was back on track. At dinner, I treated myself to an outstanding mofongo at a Puerto Rican restaurant called Sazón.
Tried so hard to finish it …
Upon returning to my hotel room at the very end of the day, I got really comfortable, and watched the final installment in the Harry Potter movies. Afterwards, I had my first real night’s sleep in several days. It had been a good day. A very full, fast-paced New York day. I no longer felt ashamed of the discomfort I’d had previously. After all, one of my fears was realized; I did get lost by myself in the big old cemetery on a gloomy day. And yet, I was okay. So instead, I blessed my vulnerability and the realization that it hadn’t been the end of the story. I had walked through that vulnerability and come out stronger on the other side. Noted. I still have no publisher, no agent, etc., but I’m going to keep walking through it…!
An ad on the subway … Really?! Ah, I love this City.
Share this:
facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterest

Food lovers’ food fight

In September of 2010, our son was 6 months old when his first little tooth was starting to poke through. With the exception of a few weeks when my post-partum depression had been especially exquisite, and my husband David had to step in with formula a few times, our baby had been nursed exclusively throughout those first 6 months. We had been told that this was an appropriate age to start babies on solid foods. So, at our neighborhood Farmers’ Market one weekend, David and I bought a sweet potato to prepare for our sweet angel. I rinsed, peeled, cooked it until it was just tender, and pureed it. So exciting!

This was his reaction.

I can almost hear it, “What the hell, man?!”

Baby 1, Parents 0. Thus began our endeavor to feed our baby anything other than Mama’s milk. And then, one month in, with my mother in town, it just happened–Boom! Maybe she deployed a secret technique one evening that she was alone with him. All I know is, just like that, we went from the photo above to the one below. Baby 1, Parents 1. Win-Win! Then we couldn’t feed him fast enough.

What followed were several very happy months of experimenting and making him all sorts of food combos. When the time came for us to begin introducing our own foods to him, things started to change. Again. Maybe one mistake was to start him on bland and vaguely sweet stuff, per the recommendations of pediatricians and “experts” everywhere, before transitioning him to what we normally eat. It made enough sense to us at the time. We were rookie parents in this era of ever-increasing food allergies and unknown scary crap being put into our food. Now, I am convinced that folks who start their kids eating what the grownups eat from much earlier on have got it right.

That transition, in our case, has been an ongoing issue. When he was a baby, I had virtually no tolerance any time something new made him gag. Still, in fact. Is that so wrong? There were times when we probably gave up too quickly. I take responsibility for that. And four years in, enforcing that he eat something new or go to bed hungry is simply not happening; can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube.

Having your child help with the food shopping and preparation to get him interested in different types of food? Done, and done. He loves food in an abstract sense. And he has been exposed to a much larger variety in types of food than either my husband or I ever were growing up. These enthusiasms have simply never, or very rarely, translated to an interest in eating the foods.

Helping Mama make breakfast for dinner (with awesome veggie sausages). Trimming green beans. Declaring that monkeys live in broccoli. (Monkeys live in trees, broccoli looks like trees, it stands to reason…)
The truth is there’s no telling how different things would be based on changing a few key elements in our approach 4 years ago. These days, there are certain things that our son eats with consistent regularity. Oatmeal, fruits of any kind (just don’t try to get him to eat kiwi, kiwi freaks him out!), other cereals, rice, raw carrots, garlic-roasted broccoli, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, milk, yogurt, pretzels, anything sweet. Foods that he eats with varying consistency include chicken (only when it’s been prepared by me at home), couscous, peppers, feta cheese, olives, tortilla chips, pancakes, hard-boiled eggs, beans.

My goal? To be able to go into a restaurant and order something for him other than rice. If it isn’t the type of place that serves rice (and forget pilaf or wild), everywhere else we go, we bring his food. To that end, I spent some time one weekend bribing him with Disney videos on my phone if he would eat the chicken nuggets we ordered for him.

Feel free to judge. All these years, I have taken such pride in the fact that no fried chicken tender/nugget had crossed his lips. Eh, I was over it; now I wanted him to eat the chicken tenders!

This is particularly ironic given how much my approach to eating and cooking has changed in recent years. Home-cooked non-(or minimally-)processed foods, and no meat other than fish–and the occasional bacon. Some examples:

Cream of vegetable soup. Roasting the veggies with garlic first makes it extra special.
I have made more salads at home in the past year than I did in my previous 37 years. Raw brussel sprouts? Radishes? Never made anything with them before this year.
Fish and veggies every week, usually more than once. Sometimes I fry the fish, when we have a hankering for Baja fish tacos.

I obviously love to prepare rich, sweet, indulgent stuff sometimes, too. Using real sugar, dairy, and gluten–no subsitutes. Yet still made from scratch.

Last Christmas.
Because yum.

So you see, we eat pretty well in our house. It’s not as though we are trying to get him to eat lima beans. Boiled cabbage. Hemp loaf. Cabbage or hemp in any incarnation, really. And he has been excited to help shop for and prepare the vast majority of the things in these photos. Will not try a single one–except for the sweet stuff.

I marvel any time a parent tells me their child eats “pretty much everything.” Okay. What I really marvel at is whenever I confirm that they are actually telling the truth when they say this. But I get it. My kid won’t even eat pizza, and odds are good that theirs does. Most picky eaters will eat at least one of the items typically featured on restaurants’ children’s menus. And I have seen with my own eyes some kids who really are wide open, easy eaters. Kudos to the parents. Or congratulations on lucking out? Don’t know.

Meanwhile, we have the first of several summer trips in less than a week. Road trip to Florida. And we will likely go everywhere with our loaf of bread, and jars of peanut butter and jelly. Maybe I’ll throw a jar of Nutella into the mix, for variety. Pretty sure he’d eat a Nutella sandwich! Just don’t tell our pediatrician. And David and I will bemoan the fact that we can’t just order spaghetti, pizza, or chicken tenders off the children’s menu for him. Ah well. Ultimately, though, I’ll still be glad that he’s not eating the “chicken” tenders, that he has no concept of McDonald’s, and that thus far we have been spared the slippery slope of our kid enjoying and craving fried junk foods.

It obviously isn’t about keeping score or who wins or loses. We want him to be healthy more than anything, and thankfully, he is. We also wouldn’t mind a little more practical ease when traveling and going to restaurants and birthday parties sometimes, that’s all. Just eat the pizza, kid! But if modeling behavior is the most important way to teach our children valuable habits, then I have to believe that eventually, our sweet, highly demanding and discriminating little angel-man will indeed eat a very wide variety of foods, just like his parents do. I’m prepared to wait it out. I mean, right … ?

Share this:
facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterest

You won’t know if you never ask. Part 1, Paris.

I hate being told no as much as anyone, and sometimes I’ve chosen to play it safe and haven’t bothered asking for something. But I’ve realized I regret not asking more than I lament being told no, and some good stories have come from the times I’ve been brave enough to ask. One of these times was ten years ago–this week!–when my boyfriend David and I were on vacation in Paris. It was Easter weekend. David and I had been dating about a year and half.

We took a red-eye flight from DC to Paris and arrived in the late morning. After a long taxi ride and a good nap and shower in the hotel, we headed out to dinner, stopping at the nearest ATM to withdraw Euros. The bank was already closed for the day, but with a machine right on the sidewalk, that was fine. David got cash first, then I swiped my card, entered my PIN and desired amount of Euros (300), and waited. The machine gave me 200 Euros. Then the receipt printed, indicating that the machine had given me all 300 Euros, and that the transaction was complete.
Well … !
Shit!
Right?
Obviously we’d have to come back the next morning and try to get the rest of my money. It felt like a long shot and I was already feeling self-conscious about it, but 100 Euros, then and now, is a lot of money. What was the worst they could do? Say no, right? But I also had this bizarre fear that they’d arrest me and throw me in a French prison like Jean Valjean. (I have weird fears like that.)

Breakfast the next morning consisted of a baguette each for David and me. This was the thinnest, daintiest baguette I’ve ever seen in my life, and it had about an inch’s worth of perfectly softened salted butter spread along the inside. It was easily the simplest meal we had that entire trip, and anything I write ten years later couldn’t do justice to the beauty and comfort of that perfectly fresh crusty bread and butter with piping hot café au lait for me and hot chocolate for David. The non-English-speaking waitress was also a delight. We spent our time with her shrugging and chuckling at our mutual incomprehension, even as we still managed to understand each other on a level that we knew counted for something. Encouraged by such a breakfast, and “armed” with my ATM card, the receipt from the previous evening’s transaction, and my passport, we were ready to face the bank.

“Parlez-vous anglais?” we asked.

“No,” they answered.

I knew only a little bit of French, and the situation wasn’t super easy to explain. But once English was ruled out, we knew that our only hope for communication lay in my multi-lingual abilities. My German in college was decent so I tried that. No dice. And I’d studied Portuguese in grad school.

“Pas de portugais.”

I should say that this entire time and despite our linguistic limitations, the folks at the bank seemed genuinely interested in helping. In my anxiety, I looked at David and said something to him in English that included a Spanish word or two, probably Dios mío.

Then I hear, “Espagnol? Oui. Un peu.”

So what’s French for “Duh!” No, it had not occurred to me to ask about Spanish. But there it was, one male employee who spoke very limited Spanish.

I explained what had happened to him as slowly and carefully as I could, and watched as he translated for his colleagues. A female colleague then got up and left the room with a large key ring. The keys to the vault? Do banks still have vaults? Anyway, I assumed she was in charge. While she was away, the rest of the employees kept talking amongst themselves in French. After enough time had passed, I grew nervous and said to David something along the lines of, “Either she can’t get the vault to open, or this is the part where they confiscate my passport, cut up my ATM card, and have us arrested for trying to rob the bank, you know, go all Interpol/Bourne Identity on our asses.”

A few minutes later, the woman with the keys reemerged. She was looking at a newly-printed receipt she had in one hand. In her other hand? My 100 Euros!  Honestly, for all the misgivings we’d had, it all seemed rather easy once it was over. Something in their system probably confirmed the truth of my story. We’d been so nervous, yet all we’d had to do was ask. To celebrate, I went out and bought this hat which I’ve never worn since.

Pont Neuf with new Parisian hat.
Know what else? After dinner at a tiny, ridiculously charming restaurant on Île Saint-Louis that night, David and I got engaged! Ah, Paris in the springtime. It was a very good trip.
 
Share this:
facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterest

Resolved: I shall breathe more, and better, in 2014

Happy New Year!

Last week I went to my first yoga class of the year at my local studio, where I have found yoga bliss since summer 2012. And the place was packed! I mean, it was cozy, folks. So much so that I kept thinking, “thank god(dess) I showered right before coming.” Also I thought, WTF? They ran out of blocks, mats, and simply put, space. Then one of my friends, a fellow regular at our awesome beginner class, whispered to me, “obviously it’s a bunch of people making good on New Year’s resolutions!” Aha. Of course! It also explains why Whole Foods was abnormally packed at my usual Saturday morning hour last weekend.

I say, hurray for resolution-ers, even if the overcrowding challenges my comfort zone. On the other hand, it is true that resolving to overhaul eating and/or exercise practices rarely works. I read somewhere recently that small steps driven by loving oneself enough to want to be healthier always works better than any cutthroat, radical decision propelled by self-loathing. Common sense? You bet. Maybe it is so commonsensical that it’s often forgotten. And it’s the forgetting part that is at the heart of why New Year’s resolutions often fall by the wayside.

Goodness knows I was in sore need of returning to yoga after the great, big, mofongo binge during my trip to Puerto Rico with my husband and son. Mofongo is a sort of large fried dumpling made from green plantains, with lots of garlic and other yummy things. It’s usually paired with a stew or anything that’s heavy on moisture … and some more garlic. And I get as much of it as I possibly can every time I visit Puerto Rico. That, and bakery-fresh bread. Fresh Puerto Rican baguette-style bread is superior, that’s all.

 

Power to the mofongo

 

Happy. Happy. Love. Joy.

But another important reason why I was in desperate need for yoga upon returning to DC in the New Year was that I had left my sense of stillness somewhere in 2013, and it was time to slow down the tailspin before it really got out of control. Alas, I did not make it through the holidays this year without a meltdown. Or two…

Cookies baked by yours truly in the month of December? Hundreds.

I started the holidays early this year, with the idea that I’d be less stressed the earlier I started. Also, because I’m so excited at the first signs of the festive season that I’m eager to jump right in. I started my shopping in October because it’s a lot easier on my credit card to spread out the gift-buying than to do it all in one month. I had placed the order for our photo Christmas cards before we left on our Thanksgiving trip, and they had all been mailed out by mid December. By the time we rang in 2014 in my brother’s home in San Juan, I was feeling sleep deprived and burned out, and constantly anxious about doing and saying the right thing so that everyone had a good time.

A week or two into the New Year: Boooooom. Why did I lose control? Did I simply start too early? Maybe. But I still think the head start kept me from panicking somewhere around mid-December. What, then? Over-eating heavy foods. Poor sleep. No writing. Limited time for exercise or quietude. The stressors one typically associates with going back to spend the holidays in one’s childhood hometown. And some of the anxieties that are particular to my visits to Puerto Rico–they have to do with questions about cultural identity and fitting in, and I have a gift for making myself crazy with these questions (future blog post). It all just sort of got away from me. At some point, my center of gravity simply said, “Girl. I’m out of here.”

Arriving at my parents’ home on New Year’s Eve, we were greeted by music, dancing, and this bit Puerto Rican Christmas deliciousness in my mother’s kitchen.
I probably did too much, and gave up too much of my time. Isn’t that a wife and mother’s classic dilemma? Does it not make sense that it comes to a boiling point during an otherwise happy (very!) and uneventful holiday season?
Day 3 of 2014 found me flying a kite over Old San Juan
My husband and I spent the night of 7 January here–not a bad way to kick off the New Year, I would say
With this in mind, here are my resolutions for 2014: 1) Breathe more, and better. 2) Practice radical gratitude.

1) Whenever my yoga teacher says, “Don’t forget to breathe,” there is always a part of me that wants to say, “Um, hello? Who forgets to breathe? Wouldn’t I be dead if I did?” Of course, I get it now. Remembering to breathe is another one of those too-obvious things that make an epic difference. It buys me a few seconds’ worth of time, which in turn gets me a few seconds’ worth of perspective. Most times, those few seconds are all I need. Hell, there’s even a song about the value of remembering to breathe on my son’s favorite Sesame Street playlist. Simple monster wisdom, man.

2) Here are just a few of the things I am grateful for at the start of this bright new year. The smell of the Christmas tree in our cozy living room while Christmas music played throughout all of December. Hundreds of cookies enjoyed by many, many people I love. Mofongo. A new baby niece who has the sweetest face I’ve seen since my own baby was born. The beach. Coming home to my kitchen. Reliable heat in our little casa. Hugs, kisses, and cuddling. Slowly getting back to my book project–after abandoning the 300-plus-page manuscript for over three weeks. A hotel room in midtown Manhattan for $79/night next month (and a husband who says, “Go for it, honey.”). The 3-year-old boy in my house, who, every day, dances and sings every word to The Beatles’ She Loves You. Looking forward to getting a stamp on my passport this year, thanks to the generous gift of timeshare points from relatives who shall remain nameless here. My parents, Carlos and Norma. The health of my beloved family. Having the resources to stay healthy, and for happy reasons. The unmistakable feeling of promise.

Sticking to resolutions is challenging enough. It’s especially tricky when one is also working to slow down the tailspin after holiday turmoil, and during what–to me at least–feels like the world’s longest month, with such short, cold days. Slowly, I am recovering my center of gravity. And when I feel I am about to lose control again, I breathe, and I give thanks for those few seconds (and for the fact that January is almost over!). Then I acknowledge that seasonal affective disorder exists, and renew my vow to not bake a damn thing this month. Finally, I offer myself some kindness. Here’s to living and loving in 2014. Don’t forget to breathe!

O Magazine, January 2013

 

Share this:
facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterest