Saturday, December 27, 2008

Autism's Night Before Christmas

I came across this poem through an on-line support group in the King County area for parents of kids with Autism. I felt that it embodied pretty much all the challenges and joys of raising a child with Autism. It's the most heart-breaking thing to watch your child struggle with the simplest tasks but it also gives you the most overwhelming joy to witness (and maybe help a little) his success and achievements...even if they are small ones. As this year comes to an end, I can say that although Autism was not welcomed in our family, we're all better because of its arrival. We're all a little more patient, a little more tolerant, a little more understanding and a whole lot more compassionate after the "boot camp" we have gone through preparing for this life-long battle. We did have an awesome Christmas holiday and now it's on to the new year and to all its new challenges and rewards. BRING IT ON 2009, the De Armas are ready to roll!

The Night Before Christmas, from the world of autism
A Walk in My Shoes
C. Waeltermann, 2007

Twas the Night Before Christmas
And all through the house
The creatures were stirring
Yes, even the mouse
We tried melatonin
And gave a hot bath
But the holiday jitters
They always distract
The children were finally
All nestled in bed
When nightmares of terror
Ran through my OWN head
Did I get the right gift
The right color
And style
Would there be a tantrum
Or even, maybe, a smile?
Our relatives come
But they don't understand
The pleasure he gets
Just from flapping his hands.
"He needs discipline," they say
"Just a well-needed smack,
You must learn to parent.."
And on goes the attack
We smile and nod
Because we know deep inside
The argument is moot
Let them all take a side
We know what it's like
To live with the spectrum
The struggles and triumphs
Achievements, regressions….
But what they don't know
And what they don't see
Is the joy that we feel
Over simplicity
He said "hello"
He ate something green!
He told his first lie!
He did not cause a scene!
He peed on the potty
Who cares if he's ten,
He stopped saying the same thing
Again and again!
Others don't realize
Just how we can cope
How we bravely hang on
At the end of our rope
But what they don't see
Is the joy we can't hide
When our children with autism
Make the tiniest stride
We may look at others
Without the problems we face
With jealousy, hatred
Or even distaste,
But what they don't know
Nor sometimes do we
Is that children with autism
Bring simplicity.
We don't get excited
Over expensive things
We jump for joy
With the progress work brings
Children with autism
Try hard every day
That they make us proud
More than words can say.
They work even harder
Than you or I
To achieve something small
To reach a star in the sky
So to those who don't get it
Or can't get a clue
Take a walk in my shoes
And I'll assure you…
That even 10 minutes
Into the walk
You'll look at me
With respect, even shock.
You will realize
What it is I go through
And the next time you judge
I can assure you
That you won't say a thing
You'll be quiet and learn,
Like the years that I did
When the tables were turned

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

A New Experience: Christmas at Home

I haven't been away from home, per say, that many times...More like "never." When I say "home" I am not referring to a geographical location, since becoming an unwilling immigrant with my family, twenty years plus ago, left me without a place to call home early in life. What I'm referring to here is to the virtual haven my parents created for me and my siblings - no matter where we were, it was HOME, as long as we were together. Even after I got married and left my parents house, the tight unity of our support system was always there, to keep me safe, to keep me secure, to keep me grounded. After moving away from Miami last year, I always had that feeling of being "incomplete" and a sense of not quite belonging, until last night. I found myself last night making plans for Christmas Eve dinner and asking my daughter, Rebecca, which traditional holiday dish (Nicaraguan or Cuban, or both!) she would prefer to eat tonight. My Cuban husband had already asked for my mom's chicken and pork holiday stuffing - Nicaraguan, no less! - Surprisingly enough, Rebecca did not have a favorite; as a matter of fact she told me she did not remember any specific dish at all. I was shocked, but not as shocked as to find out how little I knew my almost teenage daughter! Eating with family, immediate and extended, during the holidays is a must for us Latins, so in Christmas, we always ate at my parent's, then at the in-law's and then made the rounds to see as many relatives as we could in one night. Even when we hosted Christmas at our house, probably twice or so, the food was brought in by our parents, siblings, cousins, relatives and friends (no complaints from me there) !!! Now, after eating almost a dozen of those big family dinners, my oldest kid could not remember what food she ate - What's worse, she told me that everything in her life before the move is slowly becoming a big blur. I know that any psychologist would say that Rebecca's defense mechanism was kicking in to help her cope with the trauma of such a big move and part of it might be true. One thing is for sure, this move has been difficult for all of us, but it has also provided some positive opportunities for us to improve our family relationship. I feel that Raci and I have been given a chance to create our own "haven" for our kids. Don't get me wrong, having the strong back up of a Latin family IS awesome but this new "set-up" has empowered us to build our own "haven" for our kids. I'm making sure that Rebecca and the boys DO remember what we eat, when we eat it and WHY we eat it. They will remember because I am taking the time to share our traditions with them, to involve them and most of all to enjoy them - just like our parents did before.  After this chapter in our lives is over, I know the five of us will be at "home" wherever we are, as long as we remain together.

Speaking of memories, here is my favorite singer, singing my favorite Christmas song:

Sunday, December 21, 2008

The "Miser Brothers" and Many More!

We have been snowed in for many days now (five and counting) and although we bought chains for the van, the previous experiences trying to drive on the snow/ice have been too frightening to try it again - I'll wait until the snow melts a little to venture out in the streets. Because of the snow and the snow and let's not forget, THE SNOW, we have been forced to spend hours and hours at home and after a while you start wondering what to do, besides eating, of course! The kids played outside in the snow for the first few days but when the temperatures dropped below 20F I did not let them play outside anymore - sorry, I am still afraid of the bad colds of last year that ended up turning into pneumonia! Hopefully, the temperatures will get higher as of tomorrow and the kids will be able to play in the snow, AGAIN. To say the least, we have played everything, from board games to Wii games to pretend play but my favorite part has been to watch Christmas movies with the kids. We have watched the classics and the new ones and I even tried to force "White Christmas" on them...that didn't fly but it was worth the try! After a few activities together, we kind of disperse about the house, just to meet again to share a meal, three times a day - that has proven to be pretty cool - and then, there we go again, off to enjoy each other and re-discover who we are and what makes us a family.

The snow is even bringing us closer to our faith and our traditions. In an effort to get creative I decided to introduce the kids to the "novena" of Baby Jesus so Victor, Frankie and I have prayed together and sang "Villancicos," Christmas Carols in Spanish, awaiting the birth of Baby Jesus on Christmas Day. Singing and making noise with our maracas and tambourines fill our hearts with joy and puts things into perspective, especially for me. Instead of getting grouchy and complain about the snow, I have to admit that being forced to stay at home with the family for a looooonnngggg time - longer than any hurricane had kept us indoors before- has made me thankful for the opportunity to kick back and relax, wondering what the next game will be and what to make to eat!
Yeah, I have to admit that a white Christmas does look very pretty but after so much snow this week, we could use a visit from Mr. Green Christmas himself: Mr. Heat Miser!

Our Advent Calendar with a backdrop of snow


Our street covered with snow

Icicle formed outside our bathroom window

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Frankie Is Still A Baby or The Potty Training Story

I couldn't really decide on a name for this blog entry. I've also had a really hard time finding the right angle to post our most recent adventure with Frankie.

The truth is that potty training, "cold turkey style" (pull ups out and underwear only), has been a different and trying experience for everyone in this family but mostly for the incumbent, Frankie, also known as Rudolph, Santa, Candy Cane, Frosty, Lolly Pop and lately "Baby Bear." He is taking on every make-believe personality he can just to stay away from being "Frankie," a.k.a., the boy who needs to grow up and stop using pull ups. Mr. Multiple Personality is trying to be slick and has decided that wearing underwear is not for him, although it implies being a big boy, usually his ultimate goal following on the steps of big brother Victor. This time, Frankie is choosing to remain a baby. I tend to believe it has been the "hard work" involved in using the potty that has convinced him not to grow up, at least for now....but then again, who wants to? I know, I don't, and I am pretty sure most of you don't want to do it either! Today marks a week of the beginning of our "intensive potty training," three-day extravaganza, which we were able to pull off with the help of our lovely elves from the UW Autism Center. After the party was over, the weekend was crazy and this week has proven to be no less than insane so far. The three-day stuff was intense but it was also fun; we played tons of games and enjoyed the holiday season together...movies, pizza, stories and of course accidents but most of all, we really enjoyed helping Frankie take the next step in his growing process.

One big helper in the potty training this week and the reason why Frankie is now "baby bear" instead of just "baby," has been "Big Mama Bear" (see above slide show). Mama Bear is busy using the potty, besides doing some cross dressing on the side (wearing Frankie's underwear). She also has an incontinence problem (needs to go all the time) AND is dealing with constipation (ALWAYS trying to do #2) so she spends all day on the potty. Frankie is responding pretty well to sharing the bathroom with Mama Bear and I think we are getting close to accomplishing our ultimate goal! The big red bin full of goodies is working out great for positive reinforcement and avoiding accidents but we've had to resort to the heavy duty stuff to inspire Frankie to do more: WALL-E toys/movie, along with some help from the Monsters Inc. boys.

Frankie's potty training is still a work in progress so we can't really say we are all done yet. Incidentally, it just crossed my mind that we, as adults, are rarely ever done growing, adjusting and/or evolving - we are always dealing with some sort of training, emotional or physical, at one point or the other. Frankie's choice to remain a baby, human or cub, does not seem like such a crazy idea after all when you realize how much easier it is to say NO to change than conquering your fears. In the end, it is all better when it's all done!

Saturday, November 29, 2008

This Christmas

This Christmas will be different. I vow to make it a meaningful one, involving the children and experiencing this season through their eyes. This morning, I got up early to set up the Christmas tree - about the only thing I did by myself, so the kids could decorate it whatever way they wanted to. Raci had to work in the morning so this became our little project while he was out. I made up my mind to not care if the ornaments were unevenly distributed, more on the bottom than on the top. I didn't care if the tree-topper, which was Rebecca's job, ended up being sideways. I let Victor decorate the chimney mantel and Frankie got all the Christmas stuffed animals out and about the house. I did not care about changing out of our pajamas and if we eat breakfast sitting on the living room carpet - crumbs and all. This was my moment with my children and I enjoyed it to the max. Early in the morning, before Rebecca and Victor got up, Frankie told me all about Santa, his elves and the reindeer. He told me that he really loved Santa. When Rebecca and Victor got up and the action got started, we had Christmas music playing and we practiced singing the lyrics of our favorite tunes....the day was magical. When we were done, the house was shinning.....I can always count on the gloominess of Seattle weather to make the Christmas lights look even brighter - I tell you, there is always a positive in anything, if you look hard enough! The highlight of the day was the discovery of an old "vintage" Rudolph that belonged to Rebecca when she was a toddler...She shared the story with her siblings and their eyes were shinning! Rudolph has become a real treasure for them!

It has been a hard year away from our loved ones and the place we call home. This Christmas, once more, we will be by ourselves during the holidays but at the same time, we will enjoy each other more. To end this year, we have a list of things planned from greeting Christmas Ships at the beach to attending tree lighting celebrations; from drinking hot chocolate in the morning to having eggnog in the evening; from having breakfast with Santa to attending Christmas day mass; from Nutcracker school field trips to experiencing "snow" in a mall; from parade to parade; from Downtown lights to Zoo-lights! We are going to do all the merry stuff we can and we are going to enjoy each moment!

When we were putting together our nativity set, the kids asked lots of questions about Jesus - I told them the story of Christmas once more and I know their little hearts were rejoicing.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

A Special Feast

Our second Thanksgiving in Seattle is over and it has been a "special feast" and I am quoting Victor on this statement. When I was done cleaning up tonight after dinner was over and our guests were gone, Victor came up to me and said: "mom, we had all these people over and our house was full...it was a very special feast, just like the whos in whoville!" I was thankful as I often feel, to be able to see life through the eyes of my kids. They still see things with the eyes of the innocent, so uncomplicated and real. After hearing him say this, I realized that we are not alone, although we are not near our loved ones, God always provides the way to show his love to us. This Thanksgiving we borrowed a family, the family of our very special friends - friends who have been our "life line" during this hard move. We had the pleasure of hosting Thanksgiving for them and their family and although they felt we were doing them a favor by having them over, in reality, we were the ones receiving the favor. Because we were hosting them, we worked hard, as a family, cooking and baking and cleaning together and we enjoyed the experience so much, like we had never done before. If we had not asked them over, we would probably had gone out, to a restaurant, in an attempt to forget that we are far away from home; instead, we decided to be thankful for what we have instead of missing what we feel we have lost - it seems like it was the best choice after all!

Its' been said that giving is how we receive. Today, on Thanksgiving day, we are thankful for everything we have received but most of all we are thankful for being able to give and then receive, twice as much the amount given. It has indeed been a "special feast."

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Brotherly Love

The first "I love you" from Frankie has been for Victor. His brother, his friend and playmate - truly, he deserves to be told how much he is loved by his little brother. I must confess I am a little jealous since I could have bet the first time he'd say "I love you" would be for me but I was wrong and Victor took the prize. I am not even sure why Victor started to cry last night, either he got hurt or was frustrated about something but the bottom line is that he was having a major meltdown. Frankie started to look worried and wanted to comfort his brother and he told him, "I love you, Victor, don't be sad" - It is the most wonderful thing I could have hoped to hear from Frankie and not only did he initiate this affectionate moment by himself but he was able to make Victor feel better right away. Victor came running to me in the laundry room, from where I had heard the whole thing, and told me Frankie had said "I love you" to him. My husband, who was in the room at the moment, also pointed out that he had witnessed the little "miracle" take place. All of us were pleased because we knew once Frankie reached this milestone, we could expect a lot more of "I love you's" for the rest of the family too. Regardless of the fights, the bickering, the pushing and pulling and the competition for attention, I am starting to see the true bond shared between my two boys; the bond that will be tested by time and the turns their lives will take. My only wish is that the love they feel for each other now grows and keeps them from ever feeling lonely or sad because no matter what, they will always have each other.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Animal Farm


For the past year, I've had the strange feeling that I was living in a ZOO but I am convinced now that I do live surrounded by animals, at least farm animals that is! Recently, the kids have been pretending to make different animal sounds to communicate with each other (????) and after fun "trials and errors," each one of them has developed their own "alternate ego." I am not sure how this happened but I have been informed that Rebecca is the parrot, Victor is the horse and Frankie is the chicken. I have also been told that I must refer to them as parrot, horsey and chicken, just like the do when talking to each other. I am not sure if I am just too tired to fight the three of them on this one, since they ARE ganging up on me, or if I just find the whole thing too cute to make it go away by a mom's decree. I am so happy that my kids are finding common ground regardless of their age difference (especially with Ms. Rebecca) and that Frankie can join in participating on an extended "pretend" game with his siblings. As for Victor, it makes him so happy to lead Frankie on the game and count on the big sister's approval, that he is glowing with pride. I am sure that they will all get tired of the game after a while and it will go away in due time so I will just enjoy it while it lasts and pretend I am not so happy with the farm noises in the house... Here is where I draw the line: as long as they don't make me go to the feed store to get our groceries, they can cackle, neigh and cluck all they want!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Meowing for Milk

Raci has been out on a business trip for the past five days (and we still have four more to go!) and our bed has been invaded by three little creatures...the most interesting one of these creatures is a smiley cat named Frankie. He meows for milk in the morning and asks with a smile if he can have milk "pleeeeeease....meaowwwwww." It's so cute I can't say no! He reminds me of that sneaky cat from Alice in wonderland...I don't think I ever learned his name but I couldn't forget the "grin" - it was unique! Well, my cute little cat Frankie is pretending to be a kitty cat with purrs and all asking for milk at all times, including crazy times before my alarm goes off but who can't say NO to a smiling kitty? Not me! specially when the lovable feline goes right back to sleep after his warm milk is gone. I have no problem with that....One milk coming right up!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Rocking Monkies


It's official, my kids (and me too) have become groupies of the local band going by the name of "Recess Monkeys." I am not much of a follower of bands and definitely NOT a follower of the run of the mill bands for kids that seem to require loud color outfits, bright make up and big hair (aka doodlebops) to get kids interest. Also, I am really scared of the creepy-looking, middle-aged men (aka, the wiggles) who wear a uniform and do choreography while they sing. No, I don't think I've ever taken my kids to any "live" performances of such groups or bought any kids music CD's that were not Barney, classical kids stuff or those prepacked collections of kids songs. Well, all that has changed after we met Recess Monkey. This band is made our of normal-looking people (arguable but at least they "look" normal enough!!!). They are fun, energetic and their music is actually good...really, really good! They are teachers, so they have a "day job," although they are probably going to quit soon based on how well they seem to be doing, but most of all they are refreshing. They have great appeal to all ages, from birth to probably 99. I was mostly surprised at how much Frankie liked their songs, which by the way we had NEVER heard and now, after pretty much 72 hours, we are starting to know by heart. During the concert, Victor and Rebecca seemed to be enjoying the experience but Frankie was "static," dancing, singing and going all the way to the front to cheer them up after each song. He also followed directions as the band asked the kids to jump, dance, do a "conga" line around the library and ultimately, asked them to climb onto imaginary monkey bars. Frankie followed each and every one of the instructions and enjoyed himself to the max! It's hard to believe that less than one year ago, Frankie wouldn't even answer to his own name...Today, he is a rock-concert-going fan who is able to participate and join in the fun with other music-lovers of all ages. It's amazing that all the hard work is paying off so soon and that Frankie might just be able to kick autism in the butt!
Rock on Recess Monkey and THANK YOU FOR THE MUSIC!

Frankie with Recess Monkey posing after the concert. He couldn't get over his band cool button!



Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Fart Portraits - Christmas 2008

OK - Let's be honest: We all giggle when we hear the word "fart." Adults (read: Parents) don't talk about it in front of the kids but we have a million jokes we can tell each other related to the issue. Loud farts are hilarious but yet we try not to laugh - kids do laugh at them and they laugh LOUD so I guess "fart noises" could be considered the secret-mega-weapon for photographers dealing with difficult kids. We experienced this super-duper kid-magnet technique recently when we went to take family pictures for our Christmas cards. When the photographer at the studio resorted to this "technique" it really worked like a charm! Although she didn't actually farted on demand, her "fart noises" won the kids over in a flash. This woman got Victor to stop twitching and cooperate with her and she got Frankie to look at the camera with a smile. They both followed her every instruction and they posed for her, sat down, knelt down, took a gift from Santa's hand, opened an empty box pretending to be in awe and would have probably stood on their heads if she requested it...All because she made nonstop fart noises! The entire situation was so crazy that Raci, Rebecca and I had to smile too...the result: TOTALLY AWESOME family pictures that we'll treasure for years to come. Nonetheless, we will probably always remember her loud fart noises and will never-ever, stop making the connection between "farts" and the "smiles" we sport in our pictures. Hey, the way I look at it, if our kids look like a million bucks in all the pictures we ever take of them, I don't care if the photographer actually farts for real!!!!


The End.



Our AWESOME Fart-Portraits for this Christmas. We had a good time thanks to some very loud fart noises. Chill out, it was only gas!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Who is Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?

November 4th - Election day!

My son Victor also casted his vote today but not for Obama or for McCain but for the Big Bad Wolf. He told me that he had heard the wolf's side of the story at school today (The Three Little Pigs) and then he was asked to cast a vote for either the pig or the wolf. After "careful consideration," he decided to vote for the wolf. He did believe that it all had been a tragic misunderstanding. He also told me that most of his friends voted for the pig and thought the wolf was lying but that he stuck to his guns and casted his vote for the wolf. I personally tend to believe the wolf was not entirely truthful in his account but I do respect the guts it took for Victor to stand by an unpopular decision. I was happy to see he was excited to cast his vote and make his voice heard and I was proud to realize my kid has found his own voice and is not afraid to vote accordingly. I trust that we all had the courage to get out there and vote today - whichever way we decided to vote, as long as it got done!

Here is the account of the wolf on the three little pigs case for your enjoyment:

SOMERSET PA (AP) -- A. Wolf took the stand today in his own defense. This shocked and stunned the media who predicted that he would not testify in the brutal double murder trial. A. Wolf is accused of killing (and eating) The First Little Pig, and The Second Little Pig. This criminal trial is expected to be followed by a civil trial to be brought by the surviving Third Little Pig. The case has been characterized as a media circus.
His testimony is transcribed below:
"Everybody knows the story of the Three Little Pigs. Or at least they think they do. But I'll let you in on a little secret. Nobody knows the real story, because nobody has ever heard my side of the story. I'm Alexander T. Wolf. You can call me Al. I don't know how this whole Big Bad Wolf thing got started, but it's all wrong. Maybe it's because of our diet. Hey, it's not my fault wolves eat cute little animals like bunnies and sheep and pigs. That's just the way we are. If cheeseburgers were cute, folks would probably think you were Big and Bad too. But like I was saying, the whole big bad wolf thing is all wrong. The real story is about a sneeze and a cup of sugar.
THIS IS THE REAL STORY.
Way back in Once Upon a Time time, I was making a birthday cake for my dear old granny. I had a terrible sneezing cold. I ran out of sugar. So I walked down the street to ask my neighbor for a cup of sugar. Now this neighbor was a pig. And he wasn't too bright either. He had built his whole house out of straw. Can you believe it? I mean who in his right mind would build a house of straw? So of course the minute I knocked on the door, it fell right in. I didn't want to just walk into someone else's house. So I called, "Little Pig, Little Pig, are you in?" No answer. I was just about to go home without the cup of sugar for my dear old granny's birthday cake.
That's when my nose started to itch. I felt a sneeze coming on. Well I huffed. And I snuffed. And I sneezed a great sneeze.
And you know what? The whole darn straw house fell down. And right in the middle of the pile of straw was the First Little Pig - dead as a doornail. He had been home the whole time. It seemed like a shame to leave a perfectly good ham dinner lying there in the straw. So I ate it up. Think of it as a cheeseburger just lying there. I was feeling a little better. But I still didn't have my cup of sugar . So I went to the next neighbor's house. This neighbor was the First Little Pig's brother. He was a little smarter, but not much. He has built his house of sticks. I rang the bell on the stick house. Nobody answered. I called, "Mr. Pig, Mr. Pig, are you in?" He yelled back."Go away wolf. You can't come in. I'm shaving the hairs on my shinny chin chin."
I had just grabbed the doorknob when I felt another sneeze coming on. I huffed. And I snuffed. And I tried to cover my mouth, but I sneezed a great sneeze.
And you are not going to believe this, but the guy's house fell down just like his brother's. When the dust cleared, there was the Second Little Pig - dead as a doornail. Wolf's honor. Now you know food will spoil if you just leave it out in the open. So I did the only thing there was to do. I had dinner again. Think of it as a second helping. I was getting awfully full. But my cold was feeling a little better. And I still didn't have that cup of sugar for my dear old granny's birthday cake. So I went to the next house. This guy was the First and Second Little Pig's brother. He must have been the brains of the family. He had built his house of bricks. I knocked on the brick house. No answer. I called, "Mr Pig, Mr. Pig, are you in?" And do you know what that rude little porker answered? "Get out of here, Wolf. Don't bother me again." Talk about impolite! He probably had a whole sackful of sugar. And he wouldn't give me even one little cup for my dear sweet old granny's birthday cake. What a pig!
I was just about to go home and maybe make a nice birthday card instead of a cake, when I felt my cold coming on. I huffed And I snuffed. And I sneezed once again.
Then the Third Little Pig yelled, " And your old granny can sit on a pin!" Now I'm usually a pretty calm fellow. But when somebody talks about my granny like that, I go a Little crazy. When the cops drove up, of course I was trying to break down this Pig's door. And the whole time I was huffing and puffing and sneezing and making a real scene.
The rest as they say is history.
The news reporters found out about the two pigs I had for dinner. They figured a sick guy going to borrow a cup of sugar didn't sound very exciting.
So they jazzed up the story with all of that "Huff and puff and blow your house down"

And they made me the Big Bad Wolf. That's it The real story. I was framed. "

Monday, November 3, 2008

Mama Mia!

Mama Mia! that's the new phrase Frankie has been using to address me. At first, I thought it was a one-day thing but it has lasted over a week. This morning he tapped my shoulder and said "you are Mama Mia" - it was soooo funny! I responded repeating that back to him with a question, "I am Mama Mia?" I asked and he said, "YES!" Victor claims he taught him to say this but he has never called me that before and Rebecca says he is copying this from her singing the ABBA song but I have never heard her singing it. Everyone wants credit for Frankie's smart remark but I am not sure who gets the medal on this one. Either way, Frankie reached so many milestones with this phrase - he has been able to identify me with the expression and today he used pointing, eye-contact, name recognition, answered a question and all with a great smile in his face....in my book this deserves a loud MAMA MIA!!!!!!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Thank you Lord for our Daily Pumpkin!


Autumn is in full swing in the Pacific Northwest and we newcomers have "to do as Romans in Rome" or is it as Washingtonians in Washington?  whatever the case, we are adapting and enjoying every bit of it.  It's not like we don't have pumpkins in Miami but our kids here are taking a worshiping attitude toward these pumpkins since the beginning of the season....I am not sure if it's the weather, the smell of pine trees in the air, the color of the leaves or just a little bit of everything that makes this time of the year a true "harvest time" for all, farmers and city dwellers. Well, for us city kids there is always the chance of a field trip to complete the experience.  Recently, Victor and his class had the chance to go to a real farm nearby and pick their own pumpkin (kid sized and all) from the pumpkin patch.  The patch looked more like an Easter egg hunt field but I am not complaining, they made it easy for the kids and it was lots of fun!  Frankie and I tagged along and recruited my sister, Gaby, who was visiting at the time; Ms. Rebecca is too grown up for preschool field trips, so she said, so she did not come along in our adventure.  Frankie and Victor enjoyed every second of the foggy day, petting the animals (I wasn't happy with that but I took my antibacterial so it was all good), learning about farming from our "tour guide" and of course, picking their pumpkin.  I loved how Frankie followed Victor's lead interacting with other kids in the group and the "social ritual" of the field trip experience could not have been more fulfilling than it was - we scored great and even got pumpkins to prove it!

Friday, October 17, 2008

Dragons and Knights!

The picture speaks for itself....somebody is not happy to be the dragon in this story!  Believe it or not, a minute before this picture was taken the "dragon" was happily chasing the scared knight but when the knight decided to fight back the dragon did not like it - not one little bit. Regardless of the chase, the pouting and the lack of princess (Rebecca) in distress, I adore this picture and it represents what I have to look forward to every morning; days full of imagination, role playing and childhood games!  Although I am not sure if  given the choice I would have chosen to lead this kind of life, now that I am deep up to my neck in it, I don't think I would have trade it for any other choice.  Having the time to re-discover each holiday with my kids and enjoying every small thing through the eyes of a child is just priceless and I am thankful to God for allowing me to be a kid again!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Pink Beads


Got my mammogram today and I am so happy I don't have to do more this time.  Yes, since the first time I had a mammogram I have been going to the dreadful second and third and the occasional biopsy.  I have gotten so used to the process that I couldn't believe the doctor when she said, "everything is OK, see you next year"  - I could hug her!  OK, I did hug her!  She probably thought I was crazy but I didn't care - I do not have to deal with this until next year and that is worth celebrating.   

So, in honor of Tia Orfita and to celebrate the news, I got some pink beads today at the grocery store while getting my usual stuff.  Our local Safeway (pretty much like Publix for you Floridians) is always raising money for this or that and giving you all sorts of colored beads for your donation.  Of course, October is breast cancer awareness and the pink in everything is kind of getting on my nerves - I don't like pink but I don't like cancer either so I am coping. Regardless of my aversion for the color pink, I am proudly wearing my beads today and if I could, without getting too weird, I would tell everyone I encounter today that my mammogram was perfect - for the first time EVER!  No, that would be too weird even for Seattle standards;  I will just wear my beads and enjoy the news inside my heart.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Barry B Boots

This morning was a typical Fall Seattle morning, gray, rainy and very windy.  As soon as I opened the garage door, my three kids ran to put on their shinny rain boots that did not get to be used enough last season.  Although this year we had a great Spring and a glorious Summer, my kids were itchy to wear their boots and I must agree, they are fun to wear!  Unfortunately, we were experiencing not only changes in the weather but also in some body's shoe size, Frankie's boot did not fit and this was the beginning of the end of my pleasant morning so far. Of course, there was no way Frankie will put on sneakers after trying on the boots, especially after Victor and Rebecca were sporting their boots, so after about 10 minutes of feeling like the worst mother in the world - how could I not foresee this drama??? - I secured a barefooted Frankie in his car seat and headed for the school rounds with the mission of hitting the store right after to take care of Frankie's boots.  We went to our favorite department store to find the same type of boots Frankie outgrew and I was surprised to find out he needed boots two sizes bigger than the ones he currently had - WOW, no wonder he was screaming "ouch, ouch" so loud this morning!  After much searching, I was able to find the new size on the same color, navy blue and red, perfect match for his coat - I felt like a great mom again!  Sadly, I was not able to enjoy this feeling for too long because it was interrupted by Frankie's discovery of the "Barry Boots."

"Look, look!" he cried "I want Barry Boots, Barry Boots!"  Of course, I was hopelessly lost and had no clue of what he was referring to....Who was this Barry? By process of elimination and with the aid of his very good pointing skills, I was able to figure out what Frankie was asking for.  He was talking about this hideous black boots with yellow tips, the loudest boots on the rack and that, by the way, did not match with ANYTHING my son had hanging in his closet, let alone his very nice navy blue coat.  Even though I was not even remotely thinking of buying those boots, I wanted to find out more about the connection Frankie made of the boots and this mysterious fellow named "Barry" - could he be a fireman?  The boots did resemble firemen boots so I continued to ask Frankie who Barry was.

No, it turns out it was not a fireman; "Barry B Benson," is the main character of   "The Bee Movie" and by the way, his closet is full of black and yellow sweaters.  The story put a big laugh in my heart and I had to take the horrible boots and walk to the register to pay for them.  Yes, I bought the ugly boots.  I had just been witnessed to two wonderful miracles that took place in this local store, on a windy, grey and rainy Seattle Fall morning.  First, I had just found out that my son was not color blind - and don't laugh because my father is!  Second and most important, my son was using his long-term memory, coupled with his imagination and exercising his creativity to connect this cartoon character he loved with a pair of boots in a store. 

As far as I am concerned, Barry B Benson does not wear rain boots in the movie - he wears sneakers; furthermore, Barry, as well as most bees, can't fly in the rain so there would be no point in marketing his character in children's rain boots, right?  Regardless, my son will wear his "Barry Boots" with pride because they are one of a kind - he picked them, he named them and they are very special, just like him.  As for me and my wounded sense of fashion, I will turn a blind eye at those loud yellow tips and think:  Black and Yellow, fellow!  Perhaps that will help.


PS:  Victor wants Barry Boots too!

Friday, October 10, 2008

The Toilet Dialogues


Lately, my family seems to be centered around the potty.  I am in a mission to potty train one of my children for the first time and re-train another!  Yes, I know I have three but the middle one is actually OK, at least for now.  

Lucky for me, the subject of my "first time" potty training efforts is Frankie.  This is the same little boy who was born the very day he was scheduled to arrive (all on his own) and decided he was done breastfeeding at seven months.  I am beginning to think that he is deciding to become a big boy all on his own...once more.  We started the potty training with a "potty" chair but this was not good enough for him so we moved on to a ring.  You can anticipate that the ring was not going to be good enough for him either so he took it off and now he sits on the toilet, balancing his little bottom as he tries to keep the "stream" inside - thank God for this!  This past week, he decided it was time to  "produce" for mommy every time I sit him down to potty.  Of course, he is not asking to go yet - get real, the kid is two years old and A BOY!  Still, I am delighted to celebrate each success with lots of high-fives and loud cheering!

Now, here is the other reason for me to hang around the toilet, Rebecca.  My poor daughter will kill me if she finds out I am writing about this - she is already mortified as it is, just to be seeing a urologist at the very difficult age of eleven.  I can't help to find it so funny that not only do I have to remember to sit Frankie at the potty but I have to help her keep a "voiding" diary for her doctor too, under very loud protest, by the way.  Here I am, running all over this house (with FOUR bathrooms) making sure Frankie goes to potty and Rebecca keeps her log.  It seems like Rebecca needs to be re-trained because she is waiting too long to go to the bathroom and her body has been now programed to function this way.  I guess a mother's job is never done and although you might think your kids are ready to go on their own, you can never anticipate that you might have to re-live those days again!  Sorry, no time for blogging a lot these days; I am too busy keeping up with the toilet dialogues :-)

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Fall stillnes after a reflective Summer

I was reminded by a good friend that I don't write enough about Rebecca. If I would have started this blog last year, most probably my entire blog would have been ABOUT Rebecca.
My first born put me through it last year with her school transition and the pain and suffering we went through together, made me feel like a fifth grader again...If I would have competed in that program, Are You Smarter than a Fifth Grader?, I would have probably won! Just to put it in practical terms I am now on a first name basis with her teacher and we exchange friendly e-mails once in a while. At the time, I thought she was looking for attention since so much was going on with Frankie and our daily activities revolved around his evaluations, therapies, doctor appointments and so on...now I think it might have just been a whole different story.


For the second time in her short life, Rebecca faced a life-changing event and my little girl grew up, along with all the pains that accompany the process. The last time she had to deal with a big change it was after losing her grandfather when she was seven and we had to go through just about six months of grief counseling for that.  This time, the symptoms were a little more subtle so I almost missed them. Fortunately, I could relate in so many ways to this change since I myself had to leave my country at seventeen and faced a different language, a different society and had to leave all my friends behind. I know a little bit about young dreams being broken and feeling your whole world is crumbling down on top of you head. Although I knew back then that moving was for the benefit of my entire family, I still had this bitterness inside for a while that made me want to be an only child.


After the drama of the horrible school year we endured with Rebecca, we decided she was not going to Miami for vacation as we had agreed when we first moved. We felt she needed to understand that her behavior during the year had not earned her such a privilege so we went ahead and grounded her. We were probably wrong to do this but at the end, a Summer with my daughter proved to be the best one for both of us. In the midst of lunches at the beach and at the park, along with afternoon walks, I learned to understand her better and to respect her feelings. Most importantly, I made the transition from treating her like a child to treating her like a teen; I was able to see through the soul of this precious being I call my daughter. On the other hand, Rebecca learned how to express herself in ways other than acting up and learned to trust me and speak her mind with respect. She learned that her needs are as important as those of her brothers and I learned to make sure she does not forget this. She is not here anymore as part of the "family move" but she has bought into the benefits of having a better education, of having mom at home and knowing that her brothers, specially Frankie, can look forward to a better future because of all of us pulling together as a family.


This school year has been wonderful so far and she has earned a few cooking classes on the side. To our surprise, instead of asking for a cooking class, she asked us to register her in a "babysitting" class sponsored by the red cross. She said she wanted to learn how to take care of her brothers and what to do in an emergency. I tell you, sometimes I think she is the adult and I am the kid - I don't think it has ever crossed my mind to learn CPR - I figured if I had an emergency I can always call 911!!!! Well, Rebecca did go to the course and is proud to display her certificate card on her wallet. Our little girl grew up.


These days I don't write so much about Rebecca because she is back to being a quiet soul, gentle and kind. She doesn't like the lime light and is contempt with being in the background, just tagging along to whatever the rest of us decides the course might be for our pack. Sometimes, more than I would like, I might just lose her in the shuffle of this crazy household but I do make an effort to remember to spend quality time with her like blow-drying her hair, doing each other's toe nails and just being girls. She can watch those dreadful Dr. Who episodes with her dad but that's entirely another blog entry!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The memory of trees

The other day I drove through one of the streets of my daily routes and the trees were all yellow! When did this happen? Well, I guess I can ask the same thing of the year all together...where did it go? Just a little bit ago I was looking forward to the "glorious" Seattle Summer that everyone was telling me about (which was indeed, glorious!) and now I am digging out recipes for Thanksgiving day! Nonetheless, Autumn brings so many wonderful changes along with its changing leaves....the cooler weather, the comfort foods and Halloween, my daughter's favorite holiday. This season, I can't help but to remember my dear aunt, Orfa, who is not in this earth anymore but lives on through The Memory of Trees.

A long time ago, when were all still living in Nicaragua, la Tia Orfita was lucky enough to travel to the United States in connection with her work for the department of education. I will never forget her stories of the changing leaves in Washington DC. Through her stories, my 10-year-old-child imagination could see the yellows and the browns and how beautiful Autumn was in the far away lands of the north. Later on, after I moved to Miami, I still could not have the chance to see those changing leaves because of Miami's tropical weather. Whenever we traveled up North, I would miss the leaves and only got to see naked trees. La Tia Orfita traveled again, this time to North Carolina, again in Autumn, and the stories of the trees continued. She loved this scenery so much and described it with such joy that it was impossible not to fall in love with those burning red trees and yellow leaves although I wasn't 10 anymore.

La Tia Orfita is gone now but I remember her every time I see a tree with yellow leaves. I feel her soul when I admire the wonderful sights of the Fall season. After almost thirty years of the first time I heard from her about the great process of nature that is Autumn, I have finally watched with my own eyes, the wonderful festival of color of the changing leaves. I am enjoying every minute of this season as much as I enjoyed listening to my aunt's stories. The wait has been worth it.

Thank God for Autumn and thank God for aunts like la Tia Orfita.


Click below for a video of Fall paints/pictures around Seattle as well as some of Tia Orfita's pictures along with the sound track from Enya's The Memory of Trees.

video

Thursday, October 2, 2008

If New York is a Melting Pot, Washington is an Applesauce!

This morning, my husband said to me that we have taken so much from this State...more than we can ever give back. He is right. Sometimes I feel like we are on a "gimme-gimme" rampage and our hands are just full of blessings. From the very moment we moved here last year, we have met kind people ready to make our lives easier and better. I am sure that people in this city do not see themselves as we see them, but for us, Miamians - coming from the land ruled by the "every man for himself" motto,- it's still puzzling to see how involved people are here and how strong this community is. I often wondered where the secret lied in building caring citizens, who work with one another regardless of their background and beliefs but I think I have found the answer. The secret might just be found in making apple sauce.

Recently, Victor participated in making applesauce from scratch with his preschool class at the Shoreline Children's Center. Now, don't be fooled, it was not just any applesauce, it was a group effort and it was just delicious! All children were to bring one apple and participate in the process of peeling it, cutting it, smashing it and cooking it together with the rest. The result of their individual contribution, a "diverse" apple sauce, was shared and enjoyed by all members of Victor's home room (and some lucky parents too!). There you have it: An applesauce made with all kinds of apples (gala, granny smith, red delicious, etc) and sweetened by the pride of preschoolers who were delighted in making something so delicious, together. At the end of the process, this awesome applesauce belonged to ALL but was made from each one's individual apple. What a wise lesson of community involvement! One apple can't give you much applesauce but 30+ can definitely provide you with a big pot! These children are 3, 4 and 5 years old and are already being taught the importance of working together. No wonder Seattle kids grow up to be empowered citizens in charge of their own destiny, with a clear community vision and a strong desire to be involved.

By coming up with exercises like this one, Victor's teacher and her assistants have taught our son the way into becoming a responsible child, eager to learn and share his knowledge with his peers but most of all, he has learned to be kind, compassionate and proud to help others...this is more than I can ask from ANY school curriculum.

We are lucky to have moved to Washington and become some of the apples of this awesome applesauce!




Victor waits his turn and takes a shot at using the apple peeler during the "apple sauce" hands-on Project.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Bunny Catcher

You might be fooled and think this is an attachment for my hand held mixer but it's not. Nope, it's a "bunny catcher" as clearly stated by Frankie this morning. I didn't even know I had such an artifact tucked away in one of the kitchen drawers but judging by the clever use of it, I am considering E-Bay at this point!


The whole thing's got HUGE proportions for me because it made my day, my week and probably my last three months! Frankie is actually starting to pretend, to make believe and he is using his imagination - this time, spontaneously and without a prompt. He dogged out the "catcher" from the drawer and held it up for me to see it, then he looked straight into my eyes and exclaimed, "look, it's a bunny catcher!" and then went on telling me a story of how the bunny jumps and gets away from him but he runs after the bunny and catches it with his handy-dandy "bunny catcher."

If I would have not had the year I've had, I would probably think this is not a big deal but considering that I have been working so hard to get my kid to do things that are supposed to come naturally to him (eye contact, pointing, taking turns, sharing and so on), milestones like the "bunny catcher" are worth blogging about!!! During those really dark days of the initial Autism diagnosis, when we lived one day at a time, completing one task at a time and hoping for a miracle, I never thought I would see the day when a mixer attachment would become a "catcher"; furthermore, I never imagined how this would make me so immensely happy. It feels that the dark times are far behind us, yet it's only been seven months. The Frankie we enjoy now is not the quiet little boy who used to stare at the floor and into space but he has become this "chatter box" who does not stop talking, building complete sentences and expressing his likes and dislikes. We have gotten our son back and there is no limit to the amazing possibilities the future holds for our special child...He is now part of this crazy family, fighting like the rest of us to get a word in at the dinner table.

Just now, while I am typing this entry, Frankie is sitting next to me and he points at the picture exclaiming again: "Look! the bunny catcher!" and I look and smile because this catcher is the most valuable thing we have in this house...who else can say they own one?

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Cowboy Mice and Fantasy World

I know they look like Frankie and Victor but in reality they are cowboy mice singing the song from Cri-Cri, "El Raton Vaquero." Along with launching my campaign for teaching Victor Spanish with the help of the "Hooked on Spanish" software, I am reading nighttime stories in Spanish to him AND playing my Cri-Cri CD'S in the car and during playtime. So far, I think Victor is becoming more comfortable with the language and is putting sentences together but what he really, really enjoys are the songs from Cri-Cri. I never thought that he would get into them because of the somewhat elaborated lyrics and his limited understanding of the language but I guess the magical world of my childhood still does have an appeal to young children today. Even Frankie joins in, humming the tunes of the songs and shouting one or two words in Spanish. Rebecca watches from a distance but I know she is mumbling along the songs she knows - eleven is a horrible age! The plus side of this process has been how much I have enjoyed re-discovering these songs (I remember ALL the lyrics) and getting that happy-go-lucky feeling in my heart when singing them out loud with my children - it's priceless. Some of our favorites are "El burrito esta llorando," "La marcha de las letras," "El raton vaquero," and lately, they also like "Cocuyito Playero." It's great to be able to share something with my small children that I hold so dear as are the memories from my childhood games. So many games played to the songs of Cri-Cri blasting from my Mom's record player (LP'S!!!) and my brothers and I running all over the house singing "El raton vaquero" and other classics...I can't ask for more out of life than experiencing these moments with my children and building awesome memories that I know they will hold as dear as I hold mine. Thank you, Mr. Gabilondo Soler for creating that special world of fairies, talking animals and great stories where the children of yesterday, today and tomorrow can let their imaginations run wild and enjoy the magical time that childhood is. I know I am back in that world every time I sing these songs in my heart.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Beans taste like salad!

"Beans taste like salad, you should try them, everyone go ahead and try them!"  These were the very excited words from Victor when trying out organic grown beans brought in by a classmate from his family garden in Shoreline.  It was a great experience for Victor and for Frankie, who joined the class as a guest, to touch, smell and taste produce grown without pesticide and with the love and nurturing of a family's hard work.  Frankie's favorite was the "huckleberries" he called "baby grapes" -  they tasted kind of tangy but kind of sweet.  There were apples, beans of all colors, radishes, tomatoes, turnips and different types of berries.  It was amazing to realize that growing your own greens is actually possible for city dwellers and you don't have to own a farm to do so.  I was sharing with one of the moms that not only I don't have a green thumb but that my thumb is so deadly, it should be called a BLACK THUMB!  Everything that has roots or leaves and that gets touched by me dies so I have resorted to plastic plants - sorry kids, they are not that tasty!  - and that's the extend of my gardening experience.  Thea, the mom I was talking to, said that it was easier to grow outside stuff than inside stuff because someone else takes care of the watering for you....I wonder who that someone else may be but I think she meant GOD since it's always raining in Seattle.  Who knows? Maybe, with the help of God this crazy family from Miami might become so evolved that one day  we can grow our own fruits and vegetables...that would be something worth writing about!  In the mean time, I will get my stuff from the grocery store and make sure they are organic-enough!


Victor and Frankie examine vegetables and fruits grown in an organic garden.


Victor is heading for the apples and Frankie discusses the taste of "huckleberries" with one of Victor's classmates.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Recycling & Adapting

You don't know "GREEN" until you move to Seattle.  This is the typical collection day line up for Seattlelites: BIG BLUE CAN (recycling), BIG GREEN CAN (compost - ???) and small black can (regular garbage), ah, I forgot to tell you that collection day only happens ONCE A WEEK. For us new comers from the Magic City, this set-up was pretty strange -  we didn't even know what compost was (how do you even begin to do that!)  because the garbage disposal was our best friend - and we never, ever had enough stuff to recycle inside that BIG can.  Every Tuesday (collection day), the black can was overflowing and waiting to be emptied to be filled again and again.....I endured this drama for about six months until I decided we needed to get a BIG BLACK CAN, despite the probable dismay of our neighbors and the horrible certainty that we ALONE, were the cause of global warming.  The guilt did not last too long because I could handle the shame easily but not the garbage smell inside our garage - NO WAY!  So, as we were the only house on the block with a BIG BLACK CAN, a half-way empty blue can and of course, NO GREEN CAN, everyone knew we were the people who came from Miami, pretty much a synonym with "waste" at this point!

After almost a year now of living in Seattle, we are faced with a new challenge:  the big black can (which costs $10.00 more per month) is now half-way empty.   Well, little by little we have learned to REDUCE, REUSE AND RECYCLE (this is the motto of CleanScapes, our collection company) and although I don't go grocery shopping with a reusable canvas bag, YET, we have done away with our Styrofoam plates and cups (!!!!!!!!) and are actually washing our dishes - unbelievable, I know, but it's not as bad as I thought it would be and our daily lives are now consistent with what our kids are being taught in school.  We still get plastic bags at the store but it's only so we can put our garbage inside and throw it in the big can....now, I hear that's not necessary when you "compost" your garbage...it turns out the secret is to use biodegradable bags, provided by the collection company, and use them to collect your food scraps and throw them inside the green can (the one we DON'T have) and let it just become a big old mess - smelly and horrible looking but very, very good for the environment - go figure!  Well, who knows, I might just give it a shot and get a smaller black can (AGAIN) and get a green one to produce our own disgusting worm-feeding pile of garbage and contribute to the efforts of cleaning up the planet - or not.  One thing is for sure, I am getting rid of the BIG BLACK CAN because I am not paying $10.00 extra to have it half-way empty!  I am definitely into saving some GREEN $!

Moona

"MOONA"  That's the new word in Frankie's vocabulary and for those of you not familiar with "Spanglish" (mix of English and Spanish) it would mean either moon or luna, depending what language you are speaking.  Of course, it's not a real word in either language - at least not one that Cervantes or Shakespeare would accept anyway - but it's real to Frankie and now to me too.  Frankie used this "combination-word" when playing with a shape sorter and he found a purpple half moon; right away he yelled,  MOONA!  These days, I take what I can get when it comes to Frankie using words, ANY kind of words, especially if it makes perfect sense and if it's accompanied by "...it's missing a piece and it's in the island."  Of course, this is word approximation but close enough that I understood what he meant.  Over the weekend, he watched the Moonlight Rescue episode of Diego and it dealt with the moon being hit by a falling star.  The moon broke into a few pieces and some got scattered in the nearby islands. Diego sets off to find the pieces so the moon can shine again and he can help the baby turtles find their way into the sea.  Blah, blah, blah, I know it's boring but it's made for kids so deal with it!  Bottom line, Diego refers to the moon as LUNA and of course this stuck with Frankie, unfortunately, somehow it mixed with MOON, which was a word he was already saying before he watched the Diego episode.  I tried to explain to him that "moona" was not the right word for moon but he wouldn't budge!  Like any Hispanic mom, I don't want my kids to forget their heritage and I am trying really hard for the two little ones to learn Spanish and for Rebecca not to forget it - it's not easy when the grandparents are not around to bail you out AND when you are not living in Miami anymore, where EVERYONE and their mother (and sister and brother and cousin, and neighbor...) will speak to you in Spanish!  Sooooo, in order to compensate for the lack of "Spanish speakers" around my kids, I guess I have been TIVOing too many Diego's and Dora's at this point.  I am afraid I have created my own household edition of "Spanglish" syndrome for my kids but who cares? Frankie will grow up and I can explain things better for him to understand the difference between the two languages.  For the time being, MOONA will be part of his games and I will enjoy every minute of it!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Center of the Universe

I have discovered the center of the universe: I am THE CENTER and the world revolves around ME. This statement sounds "politically incorrect" coming from a mother; shouldn't my kids be the center of my universe? perhaps, my husband? As a good christian, I am told I need to be the last and the servant of all in order to be the first and that's exactly what I have been doing for most of my adult life but mainly during the past 11 months.... Unfortunately, I don't feel like I will ever come first and most of all, sometimes I feel I don't even exist. Somehow I get lost in the midst of the errands, chores and responsibilities and being the servant doesn't seem like such a good idea anymore. I was recently reminded by Paulo Coelho, Brazilian writer, that in order to help others, you have to help yourself and find balance. In one of his books, "The Witch of Portobello", Coelho tells us that in finding ourselves we need to locate our "center" and incidentally it is not our heart or the brain but the belly button. The belly button???? Who thinks of this humble body part, unless you are taking a shower and are making sure is getting cleaned properly? After I read that book, the mental picture of the belly button as my "center" stayed in my head...I couldn't make the connection at the time but then again, Coelho says you don't reach ANY level of self -realization without silence and I tell you, silence IS golden (for real) in my house, and like gold, also very rare!


In my constant search for balance and self-worth, I strive to have at least one moment of praying time during the day (or night) and establish that connection with a higher being but most of the time I am forced to find God in the ones I share my life with and this is more real than any rosaries I pray. I have, with the help of Mr. Coelho, discovered that the center of the universe is revealed to me by connecting me with my loved ones at light speed! In one split second, I can share their triumphs, their failures, their wishes, their hopes, their very souls. My kids came from my "center" and I came from someone else's and so life gets passed on through that hole in our middle....We are all connected with the Universe and the creator of it, through the miracle of life and the love that makes it possible. After this revealing moment in my life I can now stop feeling like the servant and more like the rock that keeps everyone grounded. Although at this time in my life, my own personal goals are "on hold", I feel like I am still growing and evolving and that I have found my center, with the help of those who I provide balance for: my family.

I AM the center of the Universe with God, Raci, and our kids; with all the good and the bad, the ordinary and the extraordinary, the spiritual and the mundane, we are one but also individuals...the center of our own universe.

Thank you, Paulo, for introducing me to a very important part of my body: my belly button!