Thursday, December 31, 2009

Charles Dickens was clairvoyant (or a quick reflection on 2009)

I didn't read the whole thing, and according to Wikipedia it's about Paris and London and the plight of the peasantry or something -- but the first line of A Tale of Two Cities describes my 2009 to a T.

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times..."

In July, I had a baby. He came with the sun on a Thursday morning and changed my life forever. It was the best of times.

In November, my father died. It was sudden and unexpected and, again, everything changed. It was the worst of times.

It's been a year of absolutes. Of black and white and hot and cold. And I, who had been living life in shades of gray and treading lukewarm water, will never be the same again.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

In which Luki carries on a family tradition

I come from a really healthy, long-lasting family. My great-aunt died a couple of months ago at the ripe old age of 102. My grandma is in her late eighties and still has the hand-eye coordination to put on a full face of make-up every morning. My dad only lived to 53, but that was a stupid accident; he was in better shape than most 35 year olds. And my mom -- she eats sugar in the raw by the cupful and gets an A+ on her blood work every time she goes to the doctor.

I say all this to say: I have some quality, Grade A genes.

And then I married a diabetic.

What can I say? Some women marry into money or property, or a family business; I married into chronic (albeit controlled) illness.

Still, as healthy as my side of the family may be, we still get the sporadic cold or flu. And it is a long standing, time honored tradition for the Jardines clan to get sick only during the most special of occasions.

When I was a kid, I would always break into a fever half an hour before heading out to a birthday party. It's like I literally made myself ill with excitement. My parents were the same way -- their defenses always shutting down hours before a big vacation or the giant dinner parties they were known for hosting.

Getting sick on a random Tuesday and watching talk shows all day? Absolutely out of the question.

So I wasn't even a little bit surprised when Luki got his first cold on Christmas Eve. "He's just really excited about baby Jesus' birthday," I thought.

Poor Luki, he was miserable throughout the entire holiday, coughing uncontrollably and then getting really mad at the phlegm that was lodged in the back of his throat. He kept making this really angry face that was all -- I'M JUST TRYING TO CHILL AND SUCK ON MY TOES, WHAT IS THIS AWFUL THING THAT KEEPS HAPPENING TO ME?? -- every time his lungs tried to make their way up his trachea.

When I offered him some boob and he turned his face away, I knew something was REALLY wrong. Because boob and crack are synonymous to my kid, and we haven't been able to afford to send him to rehab.

I took him to the doctor, and she explained that he wasn't eating because his nose was full of mucus, making it impossible for him to suck and breathe at the same time. It was my job to vacuum his nostrils with an aspirator three times a day.

Disgusting yet endearing side note: My mom says that in Cuba they didn't have aspirators, so my dad would suck the buggers out of my nose with his mouth. Gross! But also, wow, he loved me enough to eat my snot!

All it took was one look at the device I was going to insert in his little nose, and Luki started to scream and flail his limbs like a crazy person. However, after being restrained by his dad and grandma, I was able to clear out his nasal passageway making it possible for him to breathe again. He is feeling much better now, thanks for asking.

So, what did I learn from this experience?

1. To thank my lucky stars I now live in a country where aspirators are a dime a dozen.


2. To never underestimate the ability to blow my own nose.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Christmas didn't suck as much as I thought it would

So it wasn't all spiked eggnog and chestnuts roasting on an open fire, and I missed my dad so much even my fingernails ached. But I survived. And at times, I even laughed and felt happy.

My mom says she gives herself a pep talk in order to complete the gargantuan task of getting out of bed every morning. She tells herself, "God took away my husband, but he did not take all that I have. He has put many more amazing people in my life."

That lady, she is so wise.

Because as much as I tried to be miserable and spend The First Christmas Without Daddy in the fetal position with my head between my knees, all the incredible people around me wouldn't let it go down that way.

Case in Point: My kick-ass husband Ton Ton who, despite my telling him many times that I had no Christmas spirit and did not want to give or receive any presents, bestowed me with a much needed brand new laptop computer on Christmas Eve. It made me happy. Happy because it's green and pretty and just the size I wanted, but mostly because he gave it to me. He gave it to me knowing full well I'd bought him a big fat case of nothing in return.

And that's how it was with everyone else. Family and friends putting on their best faces and making the most selfless of efforts in order for the holiday to be tolerable. Mom got out of bed and cooked a delicious meal so that we didn't have to resort to frozen pizza. My brother ran every errand, washed every dish, and smiled the whole time (just like dad would've done). A good friend brought cake and gossiped until past midnight.

On Christmas day, we went to Ton Ton's sister's house for lunch and she presented Luki with a stocking, his name written in glitter. Before I could remove any of its contents, my son, who has the aim of a professional baller, managed to projectile vomit inside it.

I thought to myself, "well, at least we now know how he feels about glitter" and right then, on my first Christmas day without a father, I laughed and laughed.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Christmas time

Time has been acting funny since the tragic and life-altering event of November 28. My mom keeps saying that she wants the clock to tick faster. That she feels the hours and minutes leisurely strolling by, like tourists who don't want to miss a single site of nostalgia and sorrow. For me, on the other hand, the past three and a half weeks have flown by. I am still stranded in that hospital room. Every detail of that day remains engraved in my being -- the rhythmic noise of the ventilator; the way my dad didn't smell like himself; the look of disbelief on my mother's face when the doctors told us he was gone. It is as if it all happened five minutes ago.

I recently realized that Christmas is in three days, and that doesn't compute in my mind. I just had Thanksgiving dinner with my family. My dad was there. He praised my turkey. The next day he had an accident and was hospitalized. I'm stuck there. How did all these other days sneak in? When did it become December?

Christmas, as it's traditionally celebrated here, has never been a big deal for my family. Before we moved to the United States we didn't really know anything about Santa Claus or crowded malls. In Cuba, all we did was get together for a big meal on December 24 to observe Noche Buena. When we arrived to this country right smack in the middle of Holiday Season 1992, we thought people were crazy and tacky for having giant trees with flashing lights inside their houses.

My brother was still pretty young when we got here, so he bought into the whole Santa thing despite the fact that the fat man in the red suit had never visited him in Havana. So, for the first few years we put up a tree and opened presents Christmas morning. But when we got a little older, we stopped doing all that. The celebration was limited to a big feast on the 24th.

This year, Ton Ton and I wanted to play up the holiday for Luki. We planned to get a tree and put up lights, and envisioned dozens of presents to commemorate our baby's first Christmas.

And then the terrible thing happened. The terrible thing which has put all other things into perfect focus.

My father's sudden and unexpected death has made me realize that the most amazing gift I have is time. The time I spent with him, and the time I have left to spend with others.

When we asked my mom what she'd like to do for Noche Buena, she said she wanted to spend it in bed. So this December 24th, my brother, Ton Ton, Luki and I will be climbing in there with her. Wrapping up the present. Opening up the memories time has kindly left behind.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

A SADwich

Here is a recent picture of Luki:

Hopefully the overwhelming cuteness will counteract the rest of this post, because I pretty much only feel like writing about depressing stuff. And I can't even figure out how to get all the sadness into one coherent message, so I'm just going to type up random bullets of despair. (Random Bullets of Despair, that'd make a good name for a rock band, eh?)
  • On my way to work every morning I often find it surprising that NPR makes no mention of my father's death in their morning newscast. How can the senate debate healthcare and snow be in the forecast for this weekend if my dad's not around? I realize this is completely irrational -- my dad was not a politician, a meteorologist, or a journalist for that matter, but it's so strange that the rest of the world is still spinning without him. Or maybe what's strange is that other people aren't aware of this immeasurable loss -- to me, it's so big, so overwhelming, that sometimes I just assume everyone else, even strangers, can sense it too. And so, every morning, as I listen to the news, I give myself the latest update on my father. The headline is always the same: No new developments, daddy's still dead.

  • Take my sadness, my devastating, sometimes paralyzing sadness, multiply it by 1000 decibels of grief, and you will still not understand how afflicted my mother is. One of my best friends said to me the other day that I may have lost my father, but that my mother lost her future. She was absolutely right. All of her plans and dreams of growing old together, of retiring and traveling the world, of having sleepovers with their grandkids, they were all thwarted on November 28. And my funny, intelligent, outspoken mother is disappearing behind a boulder of melancholy. I know she is doing the best she can. The fact that she gets out of bed and showers in the morning is a huge accomplishment. But I can't help but feel like I'm losing her, or at least pieces of her, as well.

  • I went to the doctor this week and found out I'm back below my pre-pregnancy weight. The grief diet. I would take the 45 pounds, swollen feet, and insatiable 4 a.m. appetite any day, over feeling like this. Hell, I would rather have Pitocin induced contractions and push out ten thousand babies with no drugs than be this heartbroken.

  • I am trying to keep my shit together for Luki. I don't want him to spend the first year of his life around a loser mom who cries every time she sees a Starbucks (my dad's only vice). It's hard, but this helps:

So there you have it. A bunch of sadness sandwiched in between the thing that has brought the most joy to my life. Right now the grief makes up the entire sandwich. Hopefully in time, it'll just be a condiment you can ask for on the side, like a pickle or some mayonnaise.

Monday, December 14, 2009

In the meantime...

This post is not about baby. If you're here to read about the contents of Luki's latest diaper, I am sorry to disappoint. Believe me, I wish I was in the mood to write about poop. I would give anything to go back to eighteen days ago, when poop was the worst of my problems -- silly, trivial, inconsequential, poop. But I can't talk about poop, not today. Because November 28 was The Worst Day of My Life and I'm still living in its shadows.

The Worst Day of My Life -- I wonder how many times I've used that phrase in the past because traffic was bad, or I left the house without an umbrella on a rainy day. It's amazing how a single event has completely sharpened my perspective. The worst thing that can happen is not getting laid off or missing my connecting flight. It's not seeing the perfect pair of shoes on sale, only to find out they're sold out in my size. It's not even having the republicans win every single election from now until the year 2175.

The worst thing that can happen is to stand in a hospital room while my father -- my young, vibrant, agile, father -- is pronounced dead by a team of doctors. Dead. As in, he will never fry plantains again, or hold my mother's hand, or check the air in my brother's car's tires before he heads back to college. Dead. As in, he will not see my son grow up, he will not be at his first birthday party or watch him ride a bicycle; he will not ever hear him say "abuelo."

Wrapping my head around the permanence of death has been one of the biggest challenges of the past eighteen days. It's so hard to comprehend that while I am on this earth, I will never see my father again. That I can't even call him for a second, just to ask him how much water I need to add to the pot in order to make his perfectly fluffy white rice.

But everything in the past couple of weeks has been challenging. I've felt a range of emotions as wide as the horizon my dad liked to stare at so much on our trips to the beach. In the same day, the same hour even, I can go from being calm and collected to feeling an urging need to punch a wall and scream until my voice is gone. I am convinced that my father is in a better place, that he is resting, that he is happier than ever, but at the same time I feel an irrational hatred for all the ladders in the world. I despise brain stems and hematomas and neurosurgeons who are trained to say, "there's nothing we can do" without expressing the slightest hint of emotion. And I know, I KNOW, that everyone dies. That we all have a beginning and an end. And I think about all the kids who have lost their fathers or who have never even met their fathers, and I feel lucky that I had the MOST AMAZING dad for 26 years. But then, I see the old men who live to be 90 and teach their great grandkids to play dominoes, and it just seems so unfair.

All of these thoughts and feelings are constantly speeding through the interstates inside my heart and mind.

One emotion has remained constant, however, and that is gratitude. The outpour of support from friends and relatives has been amazing. The family that got on the first flight down, just to hold our hands. The friends who drove to the funeral for the day, spending more time in the car than at their destination. All the people from near and far who sent bouquets of flowers. All the folk who showed up at our door with plates of food. And all the friends, some whom I haven't spoken with in years, who have kept us in their thoughts and prayers and wrote kind messages of support on this blog and on Facebook. I haven't been good about responding, but I've read all of them and I just want to say Thank You.

And thank YOU for reading this entry, despite it not being about the light-hearted and banal things I usually write. I have to believe that with your help, and with time, there will come the day when I can talk about poop again.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

It's our monthiversary! Part V

Dear Luki,

You are now five months old. I am writing this entry a couple of days late because the actual day of your monthiversary was also the day of your grandpa Uli's funeral. Your grandpa passed away. He fell off a ladder at work and hit his head very hard, so hard that his brain stopped working.

I want you to know that your grandpa loved you very much. He thought that everything you did was amazing. This past month you mastered the art of rolling over. The night before he had the accident, your grandpa kept putting you on your tummy to try to get you to sleep, and you kept flipping over and over. He thought it was hilarious.

This is also the month you discovered your feet and they are definitely your new favorite toy. You pretty much ignore every light-flashing and noise-making contraption we've purchased for you in favor of your big toe.

You were introduced to solid foods and learned to push out solid poops. You figured out that your index finger is a whole lot tastier than the pacifier I took away. You demonstrated that, when you put your mind to it, you can sleep through the night. And I don't mean 6 hours, I mean from 9:30 p.m. to 6:30 a.m.

But the most incredible thing you did this month, Luki, was exist. Because even though my heart is breaking into a million pieces because you will not remember your grandpa, because he won't be able to take you for rides in his truck or teach you how to climb a tree, your presence has given everyone in the family solace. Taking care of you has helped us keep our sanity in the midst of this terrible tragedy.

You, the result of an unplanned and unexpected pregnancy, have helped me understand better than ever that God is in control and his plans are just. That having you was not a fluke. You were sent to light the way during the darkest, most troubled moment of my life.

And the only way I can think of to demonstrate how grateful I am to have you in my life, is by aspiring to be as good a parent to you as my father was to me.

I love you,