A Writer Writes...

Our lives begin long before we take our first breath.

Monday, June 3, 2013

My M. O.

My sister groans "Ave Maria" whenever one of her daughters is trying her nerves. "Ave Maria" is exactly what I groaned when Bam emailed us that her wedding would be @ 6am, upstate, in a field where they will go take off in a Hot Air Balloon after the ceremony. And could we five "Non Bridesmaids" find a purple dress.  In less than 4 weeks.

About 15 years ago, my best friend's boyfriend invited me to his little sister's birthday party.  I expected her to be about 5 since he had just purchased a "Tickle Me Elmo" toy for her.  But when he presents the doll to a girl clearly in her teens, bouncing through the livingroom and hugging it instantly, I figure she's a sweet 16 year old.

"How old is she turning?"

"18" Jose answers.

Hmm.

So years passed and I figured I really had nothing in common with this little girl. But I see her at parties for her brother Rob, the birth of my god daughter, Jelisa, her own baby shower, funeral after funeral after funeral.  She holds it together well for a little girl.

Then in January 2007, I had just bought a house in Island Park.  My bank account is empty. My fridge is empty. My cell phone is cut off. And I've just waited all day for a Verizon guy who never shows up.

I bundle up and take a 15 minute walk over the bridge to Long Beach where my best friend lives with Jose, Maria, and Rob Ordonez. But it's Maria who answers the door.

"Can I use your phone?"

She invites me inside and listens in awe as I scold the Verizon people for not showing up.

"Our guy went to your house, but left when no one answered the phone."
"What phone?!?!? He was supposed to be installing a phone line?!?!?! He didn't think to knock on the front door? Too cold for him to get out of his car?!?!"

She and Rob make me tea and listen as I practically have a nervous breakdown in their kitchen.  I listen in turn to her troubles as a nurse at Long Beach Medical.

"I have an online shopping problem" "Me too"
"Can I use your driveway?"
"I want to write a blog" "Me too"
"Can I ride with you?"
"I love sushi" "ME TOO!!!"
The Foodie Entourage is born: Me, Maria, Rob and sometimes Lex, who tolerates our excitement for food.

Sitting at the kitchen counter, sipping wine, we go on and on about our past, our dreams, and our present ailments.  Lex is off in the living room half asleep, half watching the kids.

"I've never really been friends with girls." She tells me. "But your easy."
"Please don't say I'm easy."
"Easy going.  Like Sunday morning."  She gives me the nickname Sunday Morning.

It's easy to convince me to operate a waffle iron at her son's birthday party.  It's easy to get her to act as photographer at my wedding. Six years of being there as my life flips sunny-side-up: I find a guy, plan a wedding, and prepare to be a 1st time parent.  She's always there.  A text away.

Especially when Hurricane Sandy hits and my house is gone.  The house I worked so many extra hours for.  The house my sister and I lived in and imagined being a summer home someday when we were rich enough to have a second home.  The house my husband proposed to me in - right there in our kitchen one early morning (The beautiful kitchen!).  The first house he mowed the lawn, cleaned the yard and barbecued for his wife.  The house we were supposed to bring our baby home to in 2 more months.

"Can I use your WiFi?"

Maria had just left Long Beach a month before Hurricane Sandy. Just in time to to get settled in her new home.  She opened the door and with Rob, she offered us her phone, the wifi, coffee, tea, warm food and a place to store what we could salvage.  She opened her home to another family who lost their entire 1st floor.  She reached out to whoever she could because that's just how she is.

I think the saddest part about losing the home is losing our neighbors.  All the sisters who were once a 15 minute walk or ride away are now 45 minutes and longer through traffic.


When I think about it, I don't have a lot of girlfriends either. I have two amazing sisters and younger brother and sometimes I think they're all I need.  But God really knows what we need because he puts friends in my life whether I ask for them or not.  I have friends that are so close we become sisters. We feel comfortable in each other's homes. We turn every meal into a social event.  We eat off each other's plates.

4:30 am on June 1, 2013,  I leave my new apartment in Queens wearing a purple dress, with purple nail polish on for the first time in my life.  I drive quite fast because I think I'll be late and they'll go off in their hot air balloon with out me there.  I almost hit Bambi on NJ 17.  Only for a sister I would do this.  

The field of tall grass is still wet with morning dew, but the sun is rising into a clear blue sky.  The balloon is being blown up with the roar of flames that frighten me.  And when she steps out of her car, it's just perfect.

Lex and Bam, with the hot air balloon and shining sun in the background, finally make it official!

I love you both. Thank you for welcoming me into your family and for being a part of mine.













Saturday, September 15, 2012

Butterflies in My Tummy

"Someday when you have children-"
"Ugh!  I'm NEVER having children!"

"Someday you'll have your own family"
"No, I don't picture having kids.  Too expensive"

"Congratulations on your wedding!  When are you guys going to start having kids?"
"We can wait!"

I am such a liar.

All my life (or at least my adult life) I've made it seem as though I never wanted children.  I reasoned that I wanted to travel.  I pointed out that I was not yet married.  I bragged about my love of being able to do whatever I want, whenever I want.  Most people understood my choice.  Some even envied my freedom.

The truth is, I knew from the time I was 19 that I was not going to be able to have children.  The only other person who would know this was my doctor.  No one else would ever have to know if I told them I just didn't want kids.

I was told at 19 that there were cysts blocking my ovaries.  I was told that it would be nearly impossible to get pregnant.  In order to conceive it would take effort.  Maybe surgery.  So, not impossible, but highly improbable.  But at 19, who wanted to think of putting effort into conceiving?  I took it as good news.

10 years later I switched doctors.  Or, I finally went to a doctor again.  I usually find no need to visit one unless I feel sick.  But moving to a new neighborhood forced me to list new physicians on my insurance.  I decide I might as well check one out before putting down a name.

Dr. Kastner is unlike any doctor I've ever had.  I spend 10 minutes waiting, 5 minutes on the exam table, and 10 minutes in her office to "talk."

"You're about to be 30?"

"Yes"

"Are you in a relationship?"

"Uh, I guess so"

"Boyfriend?"

"Yes"

"Long term?"

"I guess...7 years"

"Any plans for marriage?  A family?"

Are these questions legal?  "I don't know"

"So if you got pregnant, it would be a big shock, probably turn your world upside down and change everything..." she seems to mumble.  Is she taking this personally?

"I don't know.  I don't think I can get pregnant.  My last doctor said..."

"Do you get your period?"

"Maybe 3 or 4 times a year"

"Then you can get pregnant."

"Really?"

"Listen.  You're about to be 30.  You're getting to the age where having a baby can become difficult.  I'm going to recommend you get serious about what you want in life.  Lose weight.  Eat healthy.  You'll feel better about yourself.  I'm going to write you a prescription for the pill.  You need to be on it."

"I... uh... ok... thanks." I stumble out of her office in shock.  Get my life together?  Feel better about myself?  I can get pregnant?  Did she even ask if that's what I wanted?  I clutched the prescription tighter.  Why take these if she seems to want me to get pregnant?

Next thing you know, I'm watching the movie "Up" (a kids animation movie mind you) and balling my eyes out. There's a 10 second clip where this sweet couple are preparing to have a baby, but then something goes wrong and they're crying in the doctors office.  The wife takes this huge sigh of disappointment...despair....and I can't stop the tears from falling! Cartoons really are not for kids....

So I ponder my future again.   Do I want to have kids?   Or do I want to be the aunt at every family gathering who's always alone?  Will I regret not trying?

A few years later, I've dumped my worthless, long-term boyfriend, lost (a little) weight, changed my eating habits to include more veggies and take the pill as directed.  And things just start to happen.  I meet the man who is to be my husband!

He tells me he wants to start his own family.  I almost choke on the delicious breakfast I've made us.  But the lying continues, "I do too."

Is it a lie?  I've been saying the opposite for so long.  Which one is true?  Do I want kids or not?  What if I really can't have any?  "How do you feel about adoption?"

"No, I want my own kids."

"Ok."  I don't ask anything more. I'm sure he suspects something.

"Why did you mention adoption?" he asks me later on that evening.

Because I don't think I can have any kids of my own, I think.

I say, "I just think it's something nice to do.  Save a child.  But of course I want my own kids."  I can't tell if I'm lying or not.  But as he hugs me tightly, I can tell he really wants kids and I'd do anything to make it happen.

We marry in May.  On June 1st the following year, I'm walking through the grocery store and suddenly I feel very, very nauseous.

At that exact moment my best friend Denise, texts me to meet her at the park, but I can barely make it through check out.

-I wish I could but I feel nauseous.-

-Sick nauseous or pregnant nauseous?-

-I don't know.  I'm going home to lie down.-

In fact, I make an appointment with my doctor.  I've switched to Dr. Moon the previous year.  I found Dr. Kastner's need to "talk" a bit too much.  Dr.  Moon was so laid back...I swear he's from Hawaii.

After I've peed in a cup and changed into a tissue paper gown, a nurse comes in and takes my blood pressure.  I look at her for an answer.  She gives nothing away.  Dr. Moon comes in and asks me questions, but gives me no answers.  It isn't until the ultra sound machine is turned on that I get my confirmation.

There's a baby in there!

I see a fluttering heart and imagine I can see a head and limbs, but I'm really not sure.  I start to tear up.

"Aw, you're crying!"

"It's just that I never thought I could have a baby."

"Why would you think that?"

"I thought there was something wrong with me."

"There was never anything wrong with you.  There was something wrong with everyone else.  It just shows that you've found the right person at the right time."

I never imagined this.  I had no idea how wonderful it would be.  Or how effortless!  I could've stared at the screen forever (if the table weren't so uncomfortable).  I cried when the doctor left me to change.  I cried driving home.  And I cried as I told my husband.  But they were the happiest tears ever.  After he washes the dishes, takes out the trash and picks up dinner from my favorite Portuguese restaurant, we settle into our happy news.

I can't lie anymore.  I love the kicks, the flutters, the hiccups and the maternity clothes.  I love the naps I know I will never have time for again.  I love the way he holds my belly and calls it his "Bambino" even though we're not Italian and could care less if it's a girl or boy.  I'm having a baby with my amazing husband and I have everything I never knew I always wanted!


11 Years Later...

"Where were you on 9/11?"

This question has become as common as "Where were you born?" especially if you live in New York.  We tell our stories to anyone who asks and discover how connected we were to so many people that day.  You hear everything from, "I was watching from my office in Brooklyn" to "I didn't know what happened till I turned on the news" to "My brother worked for Cantor Fitzgerald."

In August, 2001,  I visited the World Trade Center for the 1st time.  Despite living in New York for over 10 years, I was finally visiting the tallest skyscrapers in New York.  My dad was working for Morgan Stanley in the South Tower at the World Trade Center.  I was ready to travel up to explore the observation deck, but he decided to meet me outside instead.  We went out to lunch to enjoy the gorgeous weather.  He told me of his plans to leave Morgan Stanley and take a position in California.  He left at the end of August to work for Centerbeam in San Jose, California.

On September 10, 2001, I took my mother to a Michael Jackson Concert at Madison Square Garden in Midtown Manhattan.  We enjoyed the night of music and entertainment, taking the Long Island Railroad home late at night.

Understandably, I woke up late the next morning and had to rush to work.  From my home in East Meadow to my office in Melville it's a 20 minute drive when I'm in a rush.  I was in such a rush that I didn't turn on 10/10 WINS as I usually do to listen to radio news.

When I walked into the office, my supervisor, Brian and co-worker Josh, were standing in the hall.  Josh immediately says, "A plane just crashed into the World Trade Center."

"Really?"  I say as I rush past him to get to my desk.  I immediately turned on my computer and my homepage being CNN.com, I got an idea of what he was talking about.  At the time, they speculated a small plane had hit the towers.  I remember dismissing the event as an accident.

A few minutes later Josh calls out from his desk, "Another plane hit the World Trade Center!  This isn't an accident..."

At that moment everyone left their desks and gathered outside Brian's office.  We listened to the news for a while, but Brian being the person he was, he wanted to hear Howard Stern's point of view.  He switched the station and Howard's voice came on.  Vaguely familiar with the radio show host, I recognized his voice, but noticed a difference in his speech.

Someone turned on a television a few feet away.  We watched in horror the video footage of what was going on in Downtown Manhattan.

The twin towers were burning. Flames...smoke...debris...papers...sirens.

I felt like I was glued to the TV.  My heart jumped when I thought of my father, who had worked there just the month before.

One tower fell.  A woman began to cry hysterically.  We continued to watch...speechless.

They told us to go home.  I remember passing Brian's office and hearing Howard Stern's voice again...I can't remember what he was saying but he was trying to make light of the situation.  It wasn't working.

Driving home on the Southern State Parkway was eerie.  State Troopers had their lights on and were standing guard at every other exit.  The lights on the emergency message boards were blinking yellow, indicating drivers tune into the radio for a special message.  I did that and heard something to the effect of staying out of Manhattan.

When I got home, my mom was there and the news was on.  We watched together as the second tower fell.  We watched the rescue efforts.  No one went to work the next day.   We watched the news all day.

In fact, we watched the news non-stop for two weeks.  We couldn't stop staring at those towers.  We watched the attack over and over again.  The smoke, the debris, the running, and soot covered cars and people...We heard stories from friends and family around us...someone they knew in the towers had either died or barely escaped.  No one tired of crying.

September 15th was my sister Natalie's 16th birthday.  We had a huge party planned at a catering hall.  No one would have been surprised if people didn't show up.  My own father had been trying to get home to us from California, but for several days, it was impossible to get a flight.  Cell phone service was still shaky.  We didn't know if he'd make it nor did we even want him flying.

That night, neighbors all around New York had agreed to set candles out in front of every house as a huge memorial.  We set ours out and looked up and down the street at all the flickering lights.  As we drove to the catering hall, we noticed everyone waving to each other or honking their horns in approval as more families put out candles.

To our surprise, very few people missed the party.  It seemed as though everyone had been indoors for so long that this gathering was just what was needed.  Before the night ended, my Dad made it from California.

Forever the Ex-Marine, the next day he insisted on heading to "Ground Zero" despite warnings for everyone to stay away from downtown Manhattan.  What made it worse is that he decided to take Natalie with him.  I watched the news all day and wondered if they would get anywhere near the site.  The news flashed the faces of people missing.  Families crying holding pictures of loved ones who haven't come home yet.  Throngs of people shouting "U-S-A, U-S-A!"

When they walked through the door, they were gray.  They were so dirty.  And the stench they carried was of death.  To this day, I fear for their health from the hours of breathing in that dust.

A month later, a letter arrived from someone at Cantor Fitzgerald requesting information on a securities class action law suit.  I stared at it, looking over every inch for about 10 minutes.  Finally I showed it to Josh.  "I don't even know how we would respond..." he mumbled.  "File it somewhere until we hear what happens with them."

I started a file.  It was the 1st and last letter in the file.  I left the company before I ever heard anything more about it.

By September 11, 2002, I had become a middle school teacher.  I feared going to work that day.  Not because I was afraid of something happening.  But I was afraid of how I would stay strong if my students were not.  11 years later, still can't stop staring at those towers...



Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Greatest Man I Know

Building a Family
He was just about 17 when he married my grandmother, America, in Ecuador.  She already had two sons, but he took care of them as his own.  Together they had four more children.

Luis made the decision to move this family of 8 to New York in the early 1960's.  They settled in Queens and squeezed into a one bedroom apartment.  Both my grandparents set out to work and put their children through school.  He worked as a carpenter and she worked in a sewing factory.  If you asked him if he missed Ecuador, he'd say, "I like it here."

They were the typical immigrant family.  Work work work, family family family, church church church.  There was no need for anything else.

Providing a Home
Eventually, my Grandfather bought his first house in Woodside, Queens.  It has 2 floors and they turned the attic into a full 3rd floor apartment.  It's a big yellow house, with brick steps, large windows and a garden where he planted little trees and flowers and roses.  And a great garage and work space in the back, for a man that loved to fix and build things. In every picture he took in front of his house, you could tell he was proud of his home.

My grandmother fondly recalls when he would meet her at the 61st train station and walk her safely home after work.  When she was sick, he took care of her.  When she needed something, he would do everything in his power to get it for her.

Jump to the 1980's and here's where I have my own memories of my grandfather.  I wrote about my first memory previously as being the morning I woke up before the rest of my family and he sat me on his knee.  He always hummed a tune that would put us to sleep (Ahsinaninanina, Ahsucasucasuca...).

Owning and Maintaining a Car
One thing everyone knows about my grandpa is his love for big cars.  First he had a big, old fashion, orange-ish farmer's truck.  Next he bought a huge, white station wagon we called "Moby Dick."  His last car was a large, luxury Dodge Ram, with a TV and VCR for us kids to enjoy as he drove us around...always taking the long way.

Anyone of those cars would still be around today if it weren't for the need to upgrade.  We kept the Ram...the TV still works too!

Builds Stuff
He knew I loved to read.  I had so may books that he built me a bookshelf of my very own to put them on display.  Whenever I won an award at school, he'd make it a custom frame.  When I wanted to skateboard like my cousin Omar, he fixed up a skateboard he found (it disappeared after I skinned my knees one too many times, however).  

One time I was crying over something and he walked into the room and said, "Why are you crying?  I'm not dead yet!" and then made a funny face with his tongue hanging out and hands flailing.  I think I choked on my tears and started laughing.  Grandpa always had a smile or silly face for me.  He'd make up songs or silly dances to get me to laugh.

Takes Action
At 14, I spent half a winter season wearing a flimsy, blue-quilt jacket instead a good, warm coat.  When I went to his house with just this jacket he drove me straight to Steinway and we went in and out of shops until I found a proper coat that I liked.  I eventually chose a red hooded coat with barrel-hook buttons.  I must've looked like little red riding hood, but he purchased it and promptly made me wear it.

One might think I was his favorite grandchild, but he did stuff like this with all his grandchildren! All 10 of us along with a whole lot of great-grandchildren!


No man is perfect.  But there are a few that come close.  My Grandfather, Luis, is one of the few and dying breed of true men.  We lost him to cancer a year ago today, but his life, lessons, and love continue to make an impact in this world.

Wonder Woman Doesn't Wait for Superman...

           "I'm a teacher"


           "Oh," pause. "So what grade do you teach?"


           "Middle School"


           "Ooooooh


It's not even "Oooooh, that must be a challenge" its like "Ooooooh, you must have been desperate to find a job."  


No, I was not desperate.


Yes, I am a teacher...to 13 year olds...in a public school...in New York City.


But the worst is:


           "I'm a teacher"


           "Nice...summers off...home by 3...every other week there's a holiday.  That's gotta be the easiest job in the world!"


             "Uh, no. It's actually one of the hardest."


There's nothing like being a teacher.  You're something different to every person in your community: educator, nurturer, disciplinarian, coach, event planner, tutor, best friend, role-model, safety-officer, resource, inspiration, facilitator, advisor, evaluator, behavior analyst, professional developer, babysitter, saint, psychic, magician! Just kidding about the last 3...sort of...


A teacher typically isn't all these things to one child; I have about 95 each year.  95 unique little people, with different personalities, issues, backgrounds and languages.  So the hats I wear switch from minute to minute...


Yet, we don't sit around complaining about the kids...each and every one of them fascinate me, challenge me and make going to work a pleasure. No, it's never the kids we complain about...It's all those people who want to tell us what to do as if we don't know any better.  As if education isn't the passion that drives us to pursue this career.


So what's not to love?


1) True: You get the summer off, in addition to a Holiday Break, Winter Break and Spring Break
   - However, I teacher summer school every year
   - I go to professional development during each break
   
2) False: You're home by 3:30
   - Only if you have kids to run home to.  I teach after school programs and stay late to catch up on grading, organizing, planning, meetings...
   - My commute to work is almost an hour when there's traffic (and when isn't there traffic in NYC?)


3) False: The Facebook Guy just might give you $100 million
   - He gave the district $100 mil.  In Newark, not New York and I doubt the teachers in Newark will ever see a dime of it.



4) True: Oprah will love you 
   - You might never get to meet her or get a trip to Australia, but its the thought that counts... 


5) True: John Legend might make a song for you...
   - Thanks  
   
6) False: You get inspirational movies made about you like Dangerous Minds, Freedom Writers and The Blind Side
   - Aside from To Sir With Love, these movies are only about caucasian people who reach out to under-privleged kids or bash teachers for choosing to teach in poor neighborhoods.  These movies ARE NOT about me.








So you wonder, why do you teach? 




September has always been my favorite month - not only is it my birth month - but because it has always been Back to School Month. I've always loved school.  I loved it as a student and I've loved it as a teacher.  Thanks to some great teachers along the way, I've become the type of person who loves learning.  






Somehow, after college, I ended up processing class action lawsuit claims.  This was incredibly interesting at first...but I wasn't learning anything...I wasn't moving - physically and mentally.


Late one night in 2002 while I was searching the web for a graduate program, this annoying pop-up ad kept appearing, so I finally decided to click on it.


Free Master's Degree in exchange for teaching in NYC for 3 years
(well those aren't the exact words but that's the gist of it)


Free is good.  I began to fill out the online application.  How hard can teaching be?  It's only 3 years of my life...





Nine years later I still love my job - a job I never new I always wanted.


Let me re-phrase that.


Nine years later, I still love working with kids - but the job is breaking my heart.


Now while my intention was to get a free Masters Degree and run, I chose to stay in a New York City Public Middle School.  I chose to work with middle school aged kids.  I chose to teach ESL kids when no one else wanted to work with them in my school.

I fell in love with my career because of these ESL students and the freedom I had to introduce them to English and New York.  I took them on 5 trips a year - The Hall of Science, the Museum of the Moving Image, The Intrepid, and Brooklyn Academy of Music.  While the rest of the kids were preparing for this 8th grade ELA Exam, I was reading Romeo and Juliet with my class.  We even did a play from the Twilight Zone...

But then the rules changed...A student living in this country for one year is expected to pass the ELA (English Language Arts) Exam. ONE YEAR?  A test that even native English speakers have trouble passing. I want to know what other countries give you a test after one year expecting a child to be able to read, write, listen and answer multiple choice questions in another language?

Well, that put an end to trips. That put an end to art and music for English Language Learners.  

We now test them every week and post their scores on a chart for everyone to see.  We test them school-wide once a month.  We do practice ELA exams so many times throughout the year, the students hardly realize when the real test comes along.  

What is it all for?  I hear explanations with words like "standards" "benchmarks" "data analysis" "data-folio" "academic rigor" and it just makes me want to puke!  It all comes down to these scores and the teacher.  If the scores are low, something is wrong with that teacher.  The teacher should be fired.  The teacher should be re-trained.  The teacher needs to be put on probation.  The teacher needs more professional development, inquiry, assessments...



                                                   *               *              *









"You would have gone to Stuyvesant,my friend Maria insisted when I told her I wish I could have gone to her high school, Brooklyn Tech.






I remember wishing I lived in the city so I could apply to schools with cool "majors" like LaGuardia High School for Music and Performing Arts, Aviation High School, or Bronx Science.  However, we lived in Long Island, where you ended up in whichever district high school you lived near.




"Why Stuyvesant?" 

asked.

"Because it's the top school; Brooklyn Tech is 3rdshe explained.

"Aw, you think I'm smart?" I had to laugh in appreciation and surprise.  After 9 years of being bashed as incompetent by the NY Post, Joel Klein and Bloomberg, I questioned my intellect.


When I hear people thanking their teachers for their achievements, I tear up.  It's so rare!  Why?



September is getting a bit harder to love each year.













Monday, May 23, 2011

10 Things You Probably Shouldn't Say to Someone Recently Engaged

When my sister was pregnant with my first niece, I always found it kind of creepy when complete strangers would come up to her and rub her belly.  Is that socially acceptable?  I almost wanted to be pregnant just so I could say to an approaching hand, "What the hell do you think you're doing?"

Turns out, the comments people make as they admire my ring gives me the same creeped-out feeling.  Seriously people, say congratulations and move on!

10) Oh my God, congratulations!  Is it real? (F*@# @^*!!!)

9)  Oh my God, congratulations! Does he have kids? (Uh, Noooo...but thanks for wondering about that...)

8)  Oh my God, congratulations!  Is he a US Citizen? (Seriously?  Is that the 1st question you think to ask?)

7)  Oh my God, congratulations!  Are you pregnant?  (F*@# @^*!!!)

6)  Oh my God, congratulations!  I can't wait for your wedding! (says the colleague who never says a word to you unless it's to point out a mistake you've made)

5)  Oh my God, congratulations!  Are you going to wear white?  (really???? does that even matter anymore????)

4)  Oh my God, congratulations!  Do you mind if I ask what his legal status is? (His What?!?!?)

3)  Oh my God, congratulations!  Does he have a job?  (Two, in fact.  Thanks so much for your concern for my financial well being :)

2)  Oh my God congratulations!  How are you going to afford a wedding?  Better start tutoring more kids! (Uh, no I'm good.  Dual income, child-free home...)

1) Oh my God, congratulations!  Let me try on your ring. (Hell no!  Do you know how long I've waited to wear it?  It'll take at least twice as long till I take it off!!!)

Luckily, I have an amazing new fiance to help me laugh through the BS and enjoy the rest of my life with :)

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Happy Birthday Omar

Grandpa bounced me on his knee and hummed a little tune that comforted children in our family for generations.  It lulled us to sleep or drowned out our tears.  On this particular morning, my family had just moved from Hawaii back to New York after 3 years of being stationed in Honolulu.  We arrived sometime in the middle of the night, so at 5 am my mom, dad, and sister, Lisa, were all still sleeping.  Not Grandma and Grandpa, however.  They woke up before the sun, ate a light breakfast and were dressed even if there was no where to go.  

That morning he was humming to me because I very much wanted to go back to sleep but couldn't.  His house was strange to me, yet he was not strange to me.  I probably would have fallen asleep in his arms if it hadn't been for the strange creature that appeared before us - a boy dressed in green pajamas with footsies, yawning and speaking in Spanish.  He rubbed his eyes and looked at me with a puzzled look.  "Hola abuelito...quien es?" was all I caught.  My Grandfather's response wasn't clear until he told me in English to wave "hi" to my cousin, Omar.  He had brown skin, long, black hair that covered his eyes and a funny smile.

Omar and his family lived in my grandparents' 3 story, yellow house in Woodside, Queens.  Everyone in the house spoke Spanish except for Lisa and I.  But instead of absorbing the language, I proceeded to correct Omar whenever he said things "the wrong way."  

"Mira, you no see?"
"It's can you see..."

It turned out that Omar and I were supposed to be born on the same day in September of 19__.  But he came two weeks early and I came about two weeks late. Despite his limited English, I looked up to him in every other way.  He could play outside without asking anyone's permission.  He had cool toys that moved if you pushed them.  He was the only boy cousin our age!

When we got a little older, Omar introduced me to skateboarding.  He was Tony Hawk and I was - well, absolutely nobody as far as skateboarding went.  He taught me all he knew and somehow convinced my Grandpa to get me my own skateboard.  We'd race each other, spin each other around, and dare each other to accomplish dangerous feats.

The "Dead End" - believed to be called that because of its steep decline into a brick wall at the end of my grandparent's block - was my biggest challenge.  Omar could ride the skateboard down the hill and swerve away from the wall before hitting it.  I was determined to do the same.

I stood at the top and watched him do it a dozen times.  He waited at the bottom of the hill and watched me skateboard down.  I lost my confidence within seconds and jumped off the board, rolled onto the sidewalk, and watched as it plunged into the brick wall.  Omar was there to help me up, but as soon as I saw the blood on my knees I began to cry.  

"What did you do to her?" My Grandpa yelled at him.  Omar explained what happened, but it didn't stop the crying.  Grandpa sat me on top of the bathroom sink and cleaned up my skinned knee.  He dabbed the scrape with alcohol (which made me scream) and then gently applied a band-aid. Omar was sent upstairs and I was given some soup.

In the summer Lisa and I stayed over my grandparents house often.  We'd get our other cousin, Stephanie, to stay over as well.  Lisa was the "baby," 9, Omar and I, 11 and Stephanie 12.  Our sleepovers were interrupted sometime around 10pm when Mr. Softee came around and blasted his ice cream tune.  "Stephanie, ask grandma if we can go outside for ice cream" we'd ask her to translate.  Grandpa spoke some English, but Grandma spoke none.  "You ask!" Stephanie would reply, but no matter who eventually asked, they always let us go.

The three of us girls would meet Omar outside and we'd sit on the steps an hour after the ice cream was gone.  "I bet you can't jump from the top step all the way down to the bottom" Omar challenged me.  He did it like an olympian so I had to try.  There were about 5 brick steps down to the concrete walkway.  I took a deep breath and jumped.  What was the point of this challenge?  Of course I would hit the bottom!  But then I fell forward and scraped my hands and knees.

"What did you do to her?!" Grandpa yelled in Spanish.  He had been sleeping so to hear me cry must have really irritated him.  But he didn't yell at me!  Omar was sent upstairs to his family and I got another band-aid.

When we got into our teens, Omar was not always home.  Or if he was home, he was on his way out. He'd come downstairs with nice clothes on and lots of cologne. He'd give us a kiss and say "I'll be back soon."  He would get to go out by himself, but we had to stay in because it wasn't safe.  We weren't allowed to go to the park.  We couldn't ride the subway or go to the mall like Omar did. We weren't allowed to cross Queens Blvd!

Until we begged and begged to be allowed to go with him.  Lisa and I followed Stephanie and Omar all around Queens.  We were trying to go to the movies but for some reason we couldn't find one that would let us in (maybe because it was rated R and back then people actually checked to see if you were over 17?).  We rode the subways, passed the park, stopped in the mall, and tried another theater. Omar jumped over the turnstiles so smoothly it looked like he magically walked through it.  He didn't need to hold on to anything as the subway zoomed and stopped.  He knew which sneakers were "in style."  I don't know if we ever got to see the movie or not, but I had so much fun anyhow.  We got home pretty late for my grandparent's standards - the sun was about to set.

"Where have you been?"  They yelled.  I didn't understand everything they were saying, but it ended with Omar being sent upstairs and Stephanie not being allowed to sleep over.  I didn't cry, but I wanted to.

We four fought a lot, but we had so much fun too.  Whether it was playing in this tiny turtle pool grandpa had, or playing "The Black Hole,"  or sitting at grandma's table laughing so hard that things came out of our noses that shouldn't, it wasn't the same when one of us was missing.

Today is Omar's Birthday and although I probably won't get to celebrate with him, I hope he knows how much I love him!  Thanks for letting me follow you around!!!  And for letting me play Super Mario Brothers...and transformers... :)