The First Tears of the Year

Today, I saw the first tears of the year.

Not mine, although I shed them pretty easily these days. Pregnant = a tad Emotional.

They were my father’s.

I have only seen my father shed tears a few times. One of the more memorable times was my wedding day.

It was almost time to walk down the aisle. Everyone left the dressing room to line up. It was just me and dad. We paced around the room quietly and finally sat down on a bench in the middle of the room. Our backs were turned to each other slightly. I looked over at him to say something, anything to break the awkward silence, and then I saw it. A tear on the corner of his eye. I looked away. But it was too late. My eyes were welling up with tears. I looked up at the ceiling and tried to think about something else so the tears would dry up. I had been just fine until then, when I realized how big this really was for him, and not just me.

Somebody came to get us at that moment. We choked the tears away as we walked down the aisle. He kissed me and handed me off to my future husband.

There have been other moments of joy of course. Too often, however, my father’s tears have been brought on by the passing of a close loved one.

My uncle, Julian Rigoberto Valdes Sanchez, passed away almost 8 years ago after a short battle with cancer. He had been sick for months before doctor’s could arrive at the right diagnosis. But, it was too late. I believe he had just one chemotherapy treatment, and then he was gone.

We visited him at the cemetery today. He would’ve been 83 years old.

My uncle was a natural teacher and leader, although many might have only seen him as a servant.

He was a simple, God-fearing soul. He didn’t care about the luxuries of this world—things he knew he couldn’t take with him. He cared about people, his friends, his family.

Tio Rigo did not know how to sit still.

Whenever he came to stay with us for a couple of days, he could never just kick back and relax. He was always in the yard, uprooting weeds, replacing old plants with new fresh ones, arguing with the gardener about the right way to trim the rose bushes. If something needed repairing he just got out the ladder and got to work. We didn’t ask him to do it, it was just his nature.

He was noble and kind, and very wise, but in a quiet unpretentious way.

I remember one day when I was about seven. He was trimming the palm trees in my parents backyard. I wasn’t much help, but ever curious, I hung around the yard, and watched him work endlessly.

He came down from the ladder after cutting a palm branch. He had a nest in his hands. Cute, except it was a rat’s nest.

There were 5-6 little babies just squirming around blindly. I knew he was going to kill them; my father was terrified of rats.

“Please don’t kill them, Tio. It’s not their fault they were born rats. They have as much a right to live as anything.”

Thinking back, I don’t think he was as shocked as he should’ve been by my reaction. He told me he would just release them somewhere else. There was always a goodness and a sincerity in his eyes. I don’t know what he really did with the nest, but he loved and respected me enough to let me believe he would spare them. He was a hero that day.

Another time, many, many years later, one of my pet turtles died. Mr. Turtle, who was actually a Mrs., was 5 years old. My husband had given her to me when we started dating. She was obviously very special to me. I buried her in the backyard, even made a little makeshift cross with some twigs to mark her little mound. It was really very silly.

But, a couple of days later, I walked outside and found my uncle kneeling down in front of Mrs. Turtle’s tiny grave. He was praying. I couldn’t believe it. It was something anyone else would’ve just walked past and ignored, but he took the time to acknowledge it. He lowered himself on his knees to pay respect to my pet.

That was my uncle. He never presumed himself to be above anyone or anything. He was a humble servant, son, brother, father, grandfather… my uncle.

“Not many people can say they had a brother like Rigo,” my father said looking away from my uncle’s grave. We slowly walked away.

My father has lost other siblings, and he has suffered dearly with each passing, but Tio Rigo, I think, was something more. A father figure perhaps, rather than just a brother.

And I can’t imagine losing my father.

A Happy Meal?

Several months ago, I took my daughter to Mcdonald’s after a doctor’s visit. (Probably NOT the healthiest option, but it made her smile after getting some routine bloodwork.) It’s not called a Happy Meal for nothing.

She unpacked her happy meal, chicken nuggets, fries, and a cheeseburger with no pickles.

Using the fries as teeth, she pretended to be a vampire. I snapped a picture for posterity, (Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter) and laughed at my silly little girl. Sofy giggled and all the fries fell out.

“Now you do it, Mommy.”

Suddenly, there was a loud grunting and whining from across the room; someone was pounding on one of the tables.

Everyone turned to stare at a tall hairy boy, maybe six foot, late twenties, at least 250 pounds. His tattered white t-shirt was a size too small; his shorts fell slightly askew below his waist. He wore heavy looking, black laced up shoes, like those you might put on a child whose feet turn inward. His dark black hair was as untamable as his spirit.

He was a giant compared to the woman next to him who tried ineffectively to appease him.

Her brown hair, pulled back in a short ponytail, was highlighted by whites and greys. Her skin was the reddish brown of someone who might toil under the sun all day, like farmers, construction workers, or beggars. She reached out and placed her callused hands on his, shushing him. The dirt under her fingernails contrasted sharply against the boy’s pale white skin.

Her eyes looked up at him, but past him as well, pleading for the boy to calm down.

His squinty eyes looked confused, and he gnawed at his balled up fists as he continued to moan in in-compliance.

People were staring, including Sofy, who seemed frightened by his loud outbursts. His pounding rattled the chairs around his table.

“It’s not polite to stare,” I reminded her and reached out for her little hands.

“Mommy, what’s wrong with him?”

I explained that some kids are just born different: speech impediments, physical abnormalities, mental handicaps, and so on.

“It’s very sad and nobody’s fault. And it’s not nice to stare at or make fun of someone because they are different.”

The boy grew more upset until an old man, his father, finally came over with a tray of food. The man took off his dirty Yankee’s cap and brushed his hand through his thinning, and also greying, hair. He had the same burnt skin as his wife. He needed a haircut and a shave. His jeans were dirty and torn at the heels from dragging. His belt had grown too big for his waist, and you could see where he had added extra holes and cut off the excess.

He was a third of the size of the boy, but he calmly motioned the boy to take a seat. After some quiet negotiating, the boy listened and sat next to his teary eyed mother. He and his mother shared a 10 piece nuggets meal, a burger and fries. The father had asked for a cup for water; he went to the soda machine and got some fruit punch for himself. That was all.

Perhaps he had already eaten?

I felt so blessed to have not one, but three, happy and healthy children. I couldn’t begin to imagine the struggles they were going through, physically, emotionally, and monetarily.

We picked up and headed for the door. As I reached the door, I looked back for one last look at the depressing situation that I was leaving behind, that which they couldn’t.

The old man looked up at that moment, and I realized I had seen that face before.

**********

A few days before, I was waiting at a traffic light when I noticed a beggar walking down my lane. He held up a cardboard handwritten sign.

“I HAVE AN AUTISTIC SON. I CAN’T FIND WORK. HE NEEDS FOOD AND SPECIAL CARE. PLEASE HELP.
GOD BLESS.”

I was so angry. How could this lazy man pretend to have a sick child in order to get pity and charity from other hardworking people.

He’s probably gonna get drunk, or buy drugs.

Needless to say, I didn’t open the window. Although I’m always inclined to give money to the homeless, I thought I was going to teach him a lesson.

**********

I never thought I would run into him and his Autistic son at that McDonald’s, and see first hand the circumstances he so poignantly described on cardboard.

Now, whenever I see him, I always ask about his son. I give him what I can.

I don’t know how he got there or why, but I’m not supposed to. I’m no one to judge or determine worthiness…

What we receive is not ours to keep and hoard, it is His for us to give.

Ecclesiastes 6:12 NIV
For who knows what is good for a person in life, during the few and meaningless days they pass through like a shadow? Who can tell them what will happen under the sun after they are gone?

Proverbs 11:24-25, 28 NIV
[24] One person gives freely, yet gains even more; another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty.
[25] A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.
[28] Those who trust in their riches will fall, but the righteous will thrive like a green leaf.

Proverbs 3:27-28 NIV
[27] Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to act. [28] Do not say to your neighbor, “Come back tomorrow and I’ll give it to you”—when you already have it with you.

**********

This post is in no way intended to indicate that Autism is necessarily a sickness or a weakness, or that people with Autism can’t function normally, and live happy lives.

The boy in the post had other problems and limitations which weren’t caused by the Autism.

This is a portrayal of events that actually took place from my point of view, and I have no expert knowledge about Autism.

In no way is this post intended to offend anyone with Autism, nor anyone with relatives who have autism.

Church

Recently my daughter’s teacher asked me if we go to church?

My son and daughter attend a private Christian School, and I wondered hesitantly if she was asking because one of them had done something wrong.

But then I thought, I do go to church everday.

Every morning when I wake up and thank God for another day; and I pray that I will be a good person and do the best I can to do His will. I also pray that I’ll win the lotto, AND promise to share the winnings.

Every time someone asks me for help or advice, and I can sit, listen and we work together to find a solution.

[1 Corinthians 14:26 What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up.]

When my dad tells me stories about his past experiences, situations he faced, and how God helped him get through when he was certain failure was at hand.

When I give money to the homeless lady, not knowing where the money will go, but certain that’s as far as my job goes.

Every time I go over the homework with my kids; when they happily recite their weekly bible verse from memory; when we read; when I watch them play together or help each other out; when they pick up their room. That last one happens… sometimes. Besides, cleanliness is next to Godliness… Isn’t that one of the commandments?

When I lay down with each of my three kids at night and pray with them.

[Matthew 18:20 For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.]

My youngest doesn’t really know what she’s doing, but she puts her hands together and says thank you for everything from Mom and Dad, to pollitos and papitas.

When my family gets together on saturday nights, despite our differences of opinions and lifestyles. Family always comes first, THEN cigars, whiskey and pork rinds.

When I lay down in my bed at the end of a long day and pray for family, friends, work (Please less work); when I give thanks for all I that I have; when I look up a verse on my bible app, or read a short devotional.

There’s an app for everything! iChurch? J/K O_o



Without a doubt going to church has its merits. It reinforces what you believe, reminds you to practice good habits. At times, the message speaks to you, like it was specifically tailored to your struggles that week.

But if you listen, God is speaking to you all day long, through the people and situations you endure, at work, at school, at home, even in your dreams; in every opportunity that you are given to be like Him.

I guess I could make time to go to church, but I don’t want to dedicate just one day, morning or afternoon to be open to God’s message.

**********

Rather than go into that long explanation, and fearing the awkward silence had already lasted longer than a second, I replied, “No, we don’t go to church.”

“Really? I thought most certainly that you did. Your daughter is so sweet, and the way she talks about God, I just can’t believe it. She is just such a sweet little girl, and a joy to teach. You are obviously doing a good job.”

[Proverbs 22:6
Direct your children onto the right path, and when they are older, they will not leave it.]

I gave myself a good ol’ pat on the back and thanked her.

No saber es no entender.

Hoy participe en un evento para la comunidad-El Poder de Saber. Un evento desarollado por Telemundo y apoyado en parte por la cadena de tiendas Valsan.

Se repartieron mas de 1,100 mochilas llenas de materiales escolares para niños de sexto a doceavo grado. El evento enfocaba en estudiantes de estas edades, en particular, porque a esa edad muchos pierden la esperanza en el sistema educativo y dejan los estudios, sea por razones de salud, familia, o monetarias.

El Poder de Saber es una campaña que apoya los muchachos para motivarlos a continuar su educaion y, al menos, terminar la secundaria.

—–

Es el ultimo fin de semana antes de comenzar el nuevo curso escolar.

La reparticion de las mochilas seria de diez de la mañana a dos de la tarde, pero a las 8:45 de la mañana, ya habian varias personas esperando y preguntando sobre las mochilas. Algunos preguntaban con bastante anxiedad porque en los dias designados, no habian obtenido los vales necesarios para recojer una mochila.

Los que no obtuvieron vales tenian que regresar en la tarde para obtener uno, en caso de que sobraran algunas mochilas.

Muchos esperan hasta el ultimo momento para conseguir los materiales escolares, y no es por vagancia. La realidad es que muchas de estas familias no saben con que van a cenar, mucho menos como van a comprar algo tan sencillo como una libreta.

Por lo general las personas entendian las reglas.

-Se repartia un vale por cada niño de sexto a doceavo grado.

-Un adulto deberia acompañar al niño para obtener el vale, y luego para entregarlo en cambio de una mochila.

-El o los niños deberian estar presentes en el momento de recojer la mochila.

La mochila contenia libretas, una carpeta, composition books, lapices, y boligrafos-materiales basicos, pero esenciales.

Una señora se acerco a la mesa con sus dos hijos. Su blusa empapada en sudor, y sus cachetes rojos de esperar en la cola bajo el sol.

Entrego el vale y agarro una mochila para su hijo mayor. Enseguida el se la engacho en la espalda y se viraron hacia el parqueo.

Pero, parece que le salto alguna duda a la madre, y se viro de nuevo hacia la mesa.

“Las mochilas son para los niños de sexto a doceavo grado solamente, verdad?”

“Si señora,” le respondio la encargada de cambiar los vales por mochilas.

“Ok. Gracias.” En el momento que la mama contesto, el niño mas pequeño salio de atras de ella.

Ella le puso la mano en la cabeza y le restrego el pelo cariñosamente. “It’s okay,” le dijo.

Se despegaron de la mesa, y la encargada continuo a colectar los vales.

“Esperate!” Les dije, pero no me escucharon.

La coordinadora de la mesa me miro y entendio enseguida.

“Niño! Ven aca,” le dijo, a la misma vez extendiendole una mochila.

El miro a su mama para aprobacion y luego se acerco.

“Como tu te llamas?”

Apenas se escuchaba su respuesta, pues estaba apenado.

La coordinadora continuo,”Esta mochila es para ti. Portate bien en la escuela.”

El niño agarro la mochila sonriente y se acerco a la mama, quien lo abrazo a su lado.

“Muchas gracias,” dijeron y salieron caminando.

No habian caminado mas de diez pies del parqueo cuando la mama paro. Los hijos se viraron y le preguntaron,”Mama, que pasa?”

La mama se tapo los ojos, pero las lagrimas se veian correr por su cara.

Ella no podia hablar, ni yo que la estaba mirando.

Pero, ella no tenia que hablar, sus lagrimas lo contaban todo.

Anonymous Pain

What follows is the story of an anonymous girl.

We will file it under fiction, because it must be, fiction.

More people should tell their stories.

************

Years later, everyone smiled as if nothing had happened, as if she had kept her secret.

Her heart sank each time.

She did not wish him ill, but it was a dagger that plunged deeper with each passing day.

******

She was 13 or 14. She had stayed home with him, while everyone else went to the airport to pick up a visiting family member. It was a joyous occasion, as they had never been able to visit before, and it was suspected that they might stay permanently.

She sat on the bed in her sister’s room, and watched television, while eating Eggo’s. It was about 9:30 at night, but it’s never too late for Eggo’s.

He waltzed through her open doorway, in his brown loafers, red sweatshirt and cargos, with his foolish grin, and Black on the rocks in hand. He stared at her glassy eyed.

She felt her cheeks redden as he approached her; she fixed her gaze on the tv, and took another bite. The syrup, or the knot building in her throat, made it difficult to swallow.

He stood by her side and leaned in close to her face. The smell of whiskey and the bristle of his unshaven face made her wince. As she moved away, he placed his hand on her thigh. She stopped chewing. Her hands shook as she held the plate nervously, but she was otherwise paralyzed.

“Give me a kiss,” he said.

She shrugged him off and said,”No, what are you talking about?”

He turned to face her and persisted, all his weight bearing down on her leg.

“Just a lil’ kiss, right here, on the cheek.” He slurred and pointed, then puckered his lips.

She put the plate down on the bed, and got up, pushing past him. She quickly crossed the hall to her room, and dead-bolted the door behind her.

She sat on the bed and tears moistened her cheeks.

What had just happened? Was she overreacting? Did she misinterpret him?

He knocked on her door.

“Open the door. I’m not going to hurt you. I was just playing.”

He knocked again, but she remained silent.

It was not the first time she had felt that sickening feeling in the pit of her stomach.

******

One time, he and his family, her family, had been over, and he had asked her to give him a back massage. Young and naive, she was proud to show off her skills and began to karate chop across his upper back.

Everything was fine, as she pounded away on his back with her fists.

“Sit on my back,” he suggested.

“Where?” She asked, obviously having misunderstood back for bed.

“Sit on my back. You know, so you can get a better angle.”

She was maybe 12 or 13; young, but old enough to know this didn’t feel right.

“I’m kind of tired, actually. Sorry.” She apologized to him, and walked away to the kitchen where she knew others were talking and snacking.

******

She thought she had been imagining things that first time, but this was something different.

Once the family got back from the airport, she ventured out of her room to welcome the visitor.

Everyone was so happy.

He acted like nothing had happened; wouldn’t so much as look at her.

I’m not gonna ruin everyone’s happiness when nothing happened. They’re just gonna think he was joking around as usual, anyways.

******

She was a month away from turning 17, when her parents went out of town for a week.

He and his family always stayed with her and her little sister while their parents were out of town. He had always been like a big brother, like the son her parent’s had never had.

She wasn’t feeling well, and signed herself out of school early one day.

He was at the house when she got there, checking in on some work that was being done in her parent’s yard.

She sat outside on the patio and looked at the progress they had made. There were 2 or 3 workers clearing weeds, planting new trees, and pouring fresh mulch. She sat on a rocking chair to enjoy the refreshing springtime breeze.

When he spotted her, he went to the patio and sat across from her.

“What are you doing home early?”

“I wasn’t feeling well,” she said, overlapping both hands across her stomach. She was already starting to feel worse.

“How’s your boyfriend? Gonna see him today?” He asked, rocking casually.

“He’s fine. You know I can’t go out ’til my parents get back.” She frowned at him thinking, “you’re supposed to be the adult here.”

“I could teach you things.” He leaned forward, speaking more quietly now.

“About what?”

“I’m sure you guys kiss. Do you do anything else?”

“What?”

She hesitated, but then was certain of what she had heard.

“What kind of question is that? It’s none of your business.” She felt more uncomfortable now, but the workers were around so she still felt safe.

“Don’t be shy. I can show you how to do everything. We can go to a motel, right now. I’ll be gentle.” He reached out for her hand, but she pulled it away from the arm of her rocker just in time.

“I have to go.”

She got up abruptly and headed for the door.

Where’s my backpack? Where are my keys? She scanned the room frantically, blind.

The door closed again behind her, and she turned to see him steps away.

<strong>There, at the end of the counter, my keys. She reached for them just as he reached for her arm.

She tried to pull away, and stared at him, her heart pounding in her chest. He gripped her forearm tightly.

“Come on. I promise it won’t hurt. Nobody has to know.”

“I would never do that!”

She shook her arm free and ran for the door. She drove off crying. She just drove and drove.

She drove, until she knew someone else would be home.

******

A couple months after, she worked up the nerve to tell her family.

They believed her, but…

There must not have been enough harm done?

Maybe they all didn’t know the whole story.

Maybe it didn’t matter.

She never saw him again, except now again through the ills of social media; but many of her family did.

And she suffered in silence…wondering all the time if she did right, if she was right, and if they knew it?

Perpetual Intern

Valsan was born in the back-room of a bodega 67 years ago.

My grandfather had several bodegas in Cuba circa 1940s. My father often retells the story of how he was born on a sack of sugar in the back of one said bodega. My grandmother, who worked quietly and faithfully by my grandfather Jose’s side, told the midwife to start getting the conditions ready because she felt she would be giving birth soon. “Getting conditions ready” meant filling a metal tub with hot water, gathering whatever scraps or towels were available, and clearing a table or floor area in the back.

In this case, my grandmother lay back on some sacks of sugar, sweating and breathing heavily. She bared down, holding her legs back, and pushed. The comadrona (midwife) received my father, Ruben Agustin Valdes, into this world on August 28, 1946. My grandmother Carmen, whom I was named after, put my father to her breast immediately. Nowadays, and specifically in the U.S., we are asked if we WANT to breast feed; but, in her time, as well as present day Cuba, you prayed for the milk to come easily.

It was not the first time a new born was heard crying from the back of the bodega. My father had 6 brothers and 3 sisters, of whom 4 brothers and 1 sister have now passed.

My dad says, Abuela Carmen was back to work the next day, but I can hardly believe it.

******

Like many Cubans, my father and his siblings made the difficult decision to leave their parents and other family behind to pursue a better life in America.

I was born during a short stay in Puerto Rico after my parents first left Cuba. My father worked as a salesman, and later started a company there with his brother. After about a year, my father felt he had learned enough about sales and merchandising, and decided it was time to go to the U.S. and start his own business there.

He would travel weekly to New York to buy merchandise. Often, he’d return the same day because he did not have enough to pay for an overnight stay at a hotel. More often than not, he would leave the house in the morning with only a tostada and cafe con leche in his stomach, and not eat again until he returned. If he had ten dollars in his pocket, it was to buy Cuban bread and croquetas for my mom, my sister and I, and the rest to reinvest in the company.

My father visited local vendors at flea markets and small strip malls to sell to them. Little by little, his clientele grew, until he was able to open his own post in the strip mall. It was between 400-800 sq feet. Valsan sold earrings, bracelets and necklaces, sunglasses, coin purses; many items, but wholesale only. Eventually, with God on his side, my dad’s hard work and discipline paid off, and he moved to a larger location where he also began to sell to the retail public.

******

I have been working at Valsan all my life.

I wasn’t born in the back of a bodega like my father, but most of my earliest memories are of watching cartoons in the office, or Jeff Smith on The Frugal Gourmet*, a cooking show that aired after Sesame Street, or was it The Muppets.

*Yes, I googled the name, I was only 3 or 4 then. None of it stuck, anyhow; I’m a terrible cook.

I remember when we got our first compute—the black screen and green letters, and all the professionalism it represented. I was always eager to play secretary, but I was forbidden to explore this obscure version of Windows.

Instead, I kept myself entertained with the green chalkboard behind our secretary’s door, erasing some important delivery information or other factoid, to doodle trees, clouds and rainbows, maybe an unruly squirrel. The work of an 8 year old is never done.

I only “worked” on the weekends or holidays during the school year, but over the summer I was there almost every day.

I had many “friends” at work. Of course, I was too young and naive to realize they were sort of obligated to be nice to me. But anyhow, I “helped” everybody. I was particularly handy at testing out the toys. A lot of them came with those small annoying “try me” batteries that often wore out before the toy left the shelf.

I helped the secretary most of all, when she had nothing to do. We would play circulitos. Basically, your goal is to connect 2 dots during each turn, until you complete a square. Then, you initial the square, and the most squares wins. She never “let me win”, and I’m grateful for that.

Christmas and Mother’s day meant lots of work and big sales, but were usually followed by a slower season which meant personnel cuts. I recall one January, clasping my hands together and begging my father,”Papi, please don’t fire Mary. She’s my friend.”

I don’t know if it was my somber look, or if he really had no intention of letting her go, but Mary’s been with us for about 20 years.

As I got older, I got more and more involved in the day to day operations, like the register. Customer service was not my forte. I was a magnet for belligerent customers who wanted to return something used (that was working perfectly fine), or who had some other “important”, yet unfounded suggestion.

“This is cheaper at…”, “Everything here is crap”, or “You only have two cashiers?”. Mind you, there were, literally, 3 people in line at the time.

What I could never understand, but was unequivocally grateful for anyways, was the fact that despite their complaints, they still handed me money.

******

Between schoolwork and homework, Monday through Friday, and work-work on the weekend, I was “overworked”.

I once argued that it was against the law to make me go to Valsan, because I was a minor, and I couldn’t be forced to work more than x amount of hours. My father, who was driving us to work at the time, glared at me through the rearview. His look was worse than a swift kick in the pants; I dropped the issue…for the moment.

I had already decided I was going to be a lawyer. Apparently, recalling some Charles Dickens novel, I would stand up for minors and uphold the child labor laws.

I didn’t want any part in the wholesale or retail business my parents had built from the minivan up. Who wants to work six or seven days a week, even on holidays, and day-a-way hurricanes? Apparently, we weren’t Jewish, Christian, Catholic, or Muslim. Atheist, I suppose; although, I often heard my dad say,”Gracias a Dios.

Over the years, as the business grew, we went from staying at my uncle’s house, to a 2/1 townhouse, to a house-house where my sister and I each had our own room. My dad had progressed from a large red Ford van to a sleek black four door Mercedes.

Thankfully, we always had enough of what we needed, and were blessed with many things that we wanted.

My complaints consisted of,”Why do we have to work?”,”I wanna stay home and sleep,” or “Can’t I go to the beach with my friends?”

My father was very strict with my older sister and I; although, I got permission to do more than she did. Like I said, in my heart I was already a lawyer. I argued with my father on the why’s and when’s of my social life. Each time, I was ready with several points and examples to back my case. If I had been a little more computer savvy, I could’ve prepared a compelling PowerPoint on my Gateway.

I often failed and cried from frustration, but other times, my logic and or perseverance won him over.

I was very clear on one thing—I was NOT going to be a slave like my parents. I was going to be a famous lawyer and make the “real money”, not work all the time, arguing with customers over nickels and dimes.

All along my father told me I could study and work wherever I wanted.

******

Today, I am president of my own Valsan location. My older sister also runs one of our six locations. We are involved in almost every aspect of the business—schedules, payroll, accounting, advertising, purchasing, pricing, etc.

Our youngest sister handles the social media aspects of the business, website development, and other marketing tools, in addition to sharing many of the tasks I mentioned before.

My father is still the head honcho. He works from our headquarters, where my sister and I grew up playing hide-and-seek-and-knock over as many boxes as you can in the warehouse.

I visit that location 2-3 times a week. On those days, I am basically, my father’s intern. He does everything and nothing all at once.

My father used to do everything, whether it was carrying boxes or writing the checks. Eventually, 30 boxes became 30 pallets, and 30 pallets became six 53′ containers. Valsan went from a strip mall kiosk, to six locations amassing over 150,000 square feet of retail space. Now, he does more of the managing than the hard labor, and the mental stress is definitely much more exhausting.

It is pretty unnerving being with my dad all day.

“Get me this, fax that, call so and so, bring me those, take me there, walk with me, listen to me, tell me, sit with me, did you email so and so, what did they say,” and so on. The “right now” is implied, and usually comes while I am mid-meal, walking to the bathroom, or completing one of his other requests.

The other day I burst out in laughter, as he interrupted my bite into a sandwich, to ask me to make a call. I said, “You’re messing with me, right?”

His genuine look of confusion when he asked me “why” led me to believe he is completely unaware of the level of stress he so easily, albeit inadvertently, imposes.

******

Recently, my father, two employees, and I walked through Miami International Airport towards the terminal where we would soon be departing to Los Angeles, where we purchase a large portion of our goods. My father walked ahead of us with his hands behind his back retelling some anecdote from his entrepreneurial past. He was walking slowly, yet we struggled to keep up, listening intently like interns doing rounds. I wanted to write down everything he was saying. To absorb every piece of information regarding work, life, or other, that came from his mind.

******

Everyday that I am with him, trying to juggle ten tasks at a time, trying to learn from him and impress him all at once, and still listen for his next instruction or piece of virtue; all the while, I wonder when I’ll get to take a break for lunch.

And I hope, I can have lunch with him.

Pity Cat

If you utilize any form of social media, then it’s very likely you have encountered the Grumpy Cat meme.
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But…I bet you’ve never seen the Pity Cat meme…
20130523-003611.jpgOk. That is a really cute, sad kitty, but we all KNOW a Pity Cat.

They thrive off your pity and NEED your attention. Yet, rather than get attention by doing something positive, they focus on all the “bad” things that “happen to them” and ONLY them.

As with Grumpy Cat, we often enjoy drama and BS, like Maury and Caso Cerrado, more than we enjoy hearing good uplifting stories.

Pity Cat is often motivated by other Pity Cats through likes and friend requests across the social media board. Some “likers” probably really DO sympathize with Pity Cat. After all, they are sad, annoying, and pathetic.

I warrant I’ve had my fair share of whiny, complaining, “I need a vacay, NOW!” type of post; however, for the most part, I refrain from bombarding timelines.

Side note: I do need a vacation, and I’m taking one this weekend!

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YES!

Typical posts from Pity Cat consist of:

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Ohhh, damn. Traffic, huh? The cars must’ve magically dropped out of the sky and surrounded yours.

We LIVE in Miami! There is always traffic, and yes, an overpopulation of hispanics—Cubans to be exact. And I LOVE IT! In fact, it’s a little off putting that one day, when there isn’t traffic, someone honking at you, or cutting you off, and you actually get somewhere on time. If you DON’T like the traffic, or us “Cubans”, please move away.

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Bills? What are those? Oh, you mean like phone, light, & water bill, rent, car payments, insurance, food expenses, and so on. You’re right, you deserve to win the lottery; nobody else has to work long hours or pay bills.

How about the infamous…

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You know what? I will go over there right now to watch your kid, so you can have that drink!

Put. Down. The bottle! It’s called, Sarcasm!

It really might be 1 drink, but how big is the glass? Or perhaps, just a couple of innocent glasses of wine. After all, leading doctors recommend wine with dinner, right? It really doesn’t matter what they are saying now-a-days; doctors change their minds every time they go to the bathroom. Stop hiding behind statistics, and the latest pill pushing medical reports. It’s like adding “LOL” at the end of a rude or sarcastic message, it doesn’t hide your disdain…unless the person is an imbecile.

#JustSaying #WinkyFace #SmileyFace ❤

Let's face it, it's never 1 drink. You either think you have more tolerance than others, or believe that you know when to stop. Seriously though? I don't know about you other moms, but my kids do NOT sleep through the night, and they are 6, 4 and 2. When it’s not a bad dream, random fever or episode of vomiting, it’s one or more of them asking “mommy, can I sleep with you.” So, what do you do then, that “one” night when you and the bottle finish each other, and your kid wakes up crying, sick, or just scared, and you don’t…

Guess what, Pity Cat? Everyone has tough days, and bills to pay, mouths to feed, and mucho trafico throughout. Stop Winening! (spelling intentional)
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If you think you NEED to drink every day to get the “edge” off, you’re an idiot!
20130523-015923.jpgLOL
::remember to insert smiley face to take the edge off::

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The Jackpot

“Mommy, can I ask you something?”

Sofia begins 5-6 conversations a day with that question.

“Sure,” I say, quickly pondering what outrageous interrogation will ensue.

“Is it hard to be a Mommy?”

This was the second time in the past week that she had asked me. The first time, I responded with a lot of Uh’s and Um’s, but this time I was more prepared.

“Well, sometimes it feels hard, because I’m tired from work, but you guys make it easy, because you are so wonderful. Why do you ask?”

“When I’m a mom, I’m gonna have 6, or 4, or 5 kids.”

I was glad to hear that response, because I didn’t want to frighten her away from her dream of having so many children.

Women aren’t easily motivated nowadays to have one kid, let alone 6, or 4, or 5.

9 months of swelling, indigestion, and 20 to 60 pounds of weight gain—yes, I gained 60 pounds throughout each of my 3 pregnancies, on a 5’1″ frame, you could say I “got around; then a long, tedious, painful labor and delivery—with or without an epidural, it bites; 30 to 45 endless nights, of crying and crankiness, and not just you, the baby is adjusting to living outside your body, as opposed to the water world they inhabited for 40 weeks; 40 torturous nights without intimacy, where you think, “I’ll never say no to sex again!”—that doesn’t last; add on the throw up, poop, pee, and other things you can’t identify that babies spew all over you; and all of a sudden, before your baby is even walking, it’s settled. You’re done. “One baby is more than enough!”

You’re right! All of that does sound awful; but there are rewards in between. Sweet smiles and giggles; gentle tugging at your hair while they nap; eyes that bat softly to sleep to your lullabies, despite your awful singing voice; and when they start talking, it’s all over.

That first time they call you Momma or Daddy, it’s like hitting the 600 million dollar PowerBall. Ok, I know it probably seems like there’s NOTHING better than hitting the 600 million dollar PowerBall, but I feel that becoming a parent is like buying a ticket and winning the jackpot every day.

So, when Sofia asked me if it’s hard to be a mommy, I quickly answered no. I don’t mean to lie to her, I just don’t want her to fear motherhood and all the responsibilities, sacrifices, and spit-up it throws at you.

What is the right answer to that question?

I don’t know, but kids don’t know that you don’t know. So, just give it your best shot.

Tonight, I lay next to my curious daughter, after reading a story and praying. She said “Mommy, can I ask you something?”

Third time’s the charm, I thought. I was ready with my fairytale response about motherhood.

“What is it, Sofy?”

“Mommy, what’s a solar eclipse?”

Mouth agape, I blurted, “Go to sleep!

Quality versus Quantity

Every morning, without fail, my two year old asks, “Mommy, you going to work?” She looks up at me with those big brown droopy eyes, and frowns with genuine concern.

It breaks my heart every time I answer, “Yes, Vicky.”
I feel guilty to leave her when she pleads: “I wanna stay with you”, “I wanna work, too”, “Mommy, don’t leave”, “Mommy, I miss you.”

I feel like I’m abandoning her and her brother, failing them, by not being able to grant them this one wish.

This morning, she woke up and came to my room as usual, sniffing her giraffe blanky. “Mommy, you here?”

“I’m in the bathroom,” I said from my vanity where I was doing my makeup.

“Mommy, I sit too?”

I scooted over to the edge of the chair so Vicky could sit next to me. She adjusted the lighted mirror so she could see herself.

“Mommy, it’s my turn.” She took the blush brush from me and began to apply “Honey Lust” M.A.C. eyeshadow to her cheeks. I handed her a small eyeshadow applicator, and she selected another color which she commenced to dot madly below her brows.

“Mommy, I pretty?” She batted her long eyelashes at me and pouted her lips.

“Your beautiful!” I said squeezing and kissing her cheeks, and I meant it.

“And you know what? Your going to work with me today!”

She didn’t really say anything at first, but her eyes gleamed, and she sort of squealed. She held her face in her hands, and said excitedly, “I have to get dressed!”

I had promised my older daughter, Sofia, that I would leave work early to pick her up from school and take her to the mall to eat Johnny Rockets. So, I figured I’d make it a “take your daughter to work day”, as well.

We went to my office for about two hours, then came home to meet up with my sister so we could pick up Sofy and go to the mall together.

My husband and son were outside throwing around the football when we got there. I watched through the glass patio doors as they played catch. The goofy smiles on their faces as they chased each other across the yard; my son’s laughter when his dad grabbed him by the waist and lifted him high up in the air; the pure joy in their expressions made me want to stay and join them. I reached for the handle, but hesitated.

I was on my way out to spend the afternoon with my three girls–Sofy and Vicky, and my little sister Marta. She is seven years younger than me, so I always felt more like a momma, than a sister.

The boys needed their horseplay, and the girls needed their shopping and pampering, and eating at the food court, of course. I decided not to interrupt their bonding, and instead set off to pick up Sofy.

Sofy was really excited to see the three of us waiting for her by her locker. She got out of the line, pointing at us so her teacher could see we were there to pick her up. She grinned from ear to ear as she showed off her little sister to her friends and teacher.

“This is Vicky”, she said, smiling proudly as she introduced the mythical creature they had heard so many stories about.

“Mommy, can we go to the park,” Sofy begged in front of her classmates and teacher. I wouldn’t say no anyways, but when one of her best friends chimed in that he was going to the park, too, I quickly agreed.

Yes, one of her best friends is a boy, and he’s a cutie too. Needless to say, I’m in a heap of trouble when she gets older.

We watched the girls and Sofy’s classmates chase each other from tree to tree, just like the squirrels. I pushed Vicky on the swings, while Sofy played on the see-saw with her friends. The whole while Sofy smiled and laughed giddily, with that same emotion Vicky had expressed earlier that morning, and like Gaby while playing with his dad. If there is one commentary that is unanimous amongst people that know my daughter Sofia, it’s that she always has a beautiful smile on her face. You can’t fake that unwavering happiness.

At the end of the day, I suppose every parent fears that they don’t spend enough time with their kids. But, I firmly believe that the quality is just as important, if not more so, than the quantity.

Tentacles

My son and oldest daughter drew these pictures of me.
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You may have guessed my 4 year old boy, Gaby, drew the one on the left.

“Mommy, it’s you. You have 14 legs.”

If you count, there are actually fifteen tentacles, which is good because that means I’ve got at least one arm. I look like I belong a thousand leagues under the sea. I don’t know if he’s comparing me to Ursula or Oswald. In any case, I suspect I look fat.

Sofy gave me brown hair and nice big eyelashes—those are real, by the way. I’m also wearing what appears to be a red robe. Am I a disciple? Am I late for supper?

I’d never compare my self to Jesus or even esteem myself in the same league, but you have to admit, there appears to be a biblical reference here. Mary Magdalene? Perhaps. My middle name is Maria. Interestingly enough, my daughter didn’t give me any feet at all. AND, I also have only one hand in her drawing.

Should I be concerned about these too completely contrasting images? Despite the age difference and creative development of the artists, I can’t help but read into it. On one hand, I could be pretty speedy with all those feet. I could potentially get a lot accomplished, except I’ve only got that one hand. On the other foot, (I’ve only got the one hand) I ain’t goin’ anywhere without feet. But, I do have hair, full red lips (at least a bottom lip), and a flattering red robe that was hip circa 33 AD. AGAIN with the one hand thing. I’m probably hiding candy from them in the other.

What their drawings also have in common is a big smile. Phew, that’s a relief. More often than not, I find myself rushing the kids to get dressed, or brush their teeth; scolding them for tattle taleing, biting each other, yelling or making a mess with the toys. I begin to worry they’ll think I’m always mad, at them. It’s hard to keep a happy face at the end of a strenuous workday, but they have been anxiously waiting for me to get home. And they are happily obedient, as long as I devote every waking second to them.

It’s hard to divide your attention equally with each child, so I try to read and pray with them collectively each night.

Tonight, I read them a short book about the rainforest and some of its native inhabitants. Sofy was all ears, asking questions about the animals beyond the stated facts. For the most part, I couldn’t answer, and I wouldn’t make the answers up either.

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Parenting Tip: Kids are like elephants. (I never quite understood this phrase so I googled it) They never forget anything you say to them, so try your best to always give them true and simple facts, and peanuts if they’re not allergic.

While I was reading about Orangutans, my youngest, Vicky kept interrupting me, “Mommy….Mommy, I’m! Not! Sleepy!”

“O! Kay!,” I’d say and continue reading despite her unhappy disclaimer.

“Mommy, can I have leche? Two leches.”

“Yes, Gaby, as soon as I finish the story.” I proceed to read about the Toucans, Lemurs and Tarsiers, careful to show them each pictured animal before reading its name and factoid.

“Mommy, I’m scared,” Vicky whined, covering her face with her blanky as I started reading about the Green Tree Python. Sofy helped assuage her fears by adding wide eyed, “Those are REALLY dangerous.”

“Mommy, can I sleep here,” Gaby asked.

“Sure, climb up to bed.” Sofy has a bunk bed; although Gaby has his own room, he sleeps on the top bunk for the most part.

“No, I wanna sleep here,” he groans and points to the floor next to Sofy’s bed.

I want to argue against this, but it really can’t hurt. I try to let them enjoy the silly, harmless, though sometimes messy, things that seem to bring them such genuine joy—i.e. Play-Doh, bubbles, camping on the floor in your sister’s room.

“Mommy, I’m not sleepy,” a less energetic Vicky insists.

“Vicky, just count sheep. Count ten sheep like this, 1 sheep, 2 sheep, 3 sheep.” Sofy demonstrated, but yawned after 5 sheep. Is this actually working?

I finally wrap up the story, and prepare a makeshift sleeping bag on the floor for Gaby.

“Ok, everybody, let’s pray.” I thanked God for each of them; for daddy; “for Abuela Gladys,” my son interjected; “for ALL the family, Gaby,” Sofy corrected; I thanked Him for school, toys, crayons; “for M&Ms,” Gaby added excitedly, “and the new house!” We prayed for Mima’s health, for “Daddy ’cause he has a cough”, and “for Nicole’s hair to keep growing”.

Every night, Sofy prays for her friend who was diagnosed with cancer at the beginning of the first grade year. Thankfully, Nicole is in remission. Sofy was very excited when she saw that her friend’s hair was growing back.

When everyone seemed satisfied that we had prayed for, and been thankful for EVERYTHING, they still weren’t “sleepy”.

“Okay, I’ll sing you guys a song.” Nobody made a peep, so I started in right away.

Twinkle Twinkle is an obvious favorite for them, but I have several songs I enjoyed singing to them as infants, and even now. The Beatles, ‘A Hard Day’s Night‘; ‘The Way You Look Tonight‘ as performed by Frank Sinatra; and ‘Somewhere Over The Rainbow‘ from The Wizard of Oz, are my personal favorites.

By the time I’m done singing, Vicky and Sofy are fast asleep. Gaby, quickly gives up camping, and shadows me as I first carry Vicky to her bed, then head to my room to shower and go to sleep, or rather, to write this blog.

He sits quietly in the bathroom until I am done with my shower, even though he can lay down with his dad who is already in bed.

“Mommy, can I sleep with you?”

“Of course,” I say wrapping my tentacles around him.

“I’m going to drink my leche and go to sleep, so I can snore like daddy,” he says grinning from ear to ear.

I smile and quietly say a quick prayer, “Dear Lord, Please don’t make me share a bed with the Predator AND Chewbacca. AMEN.”