El Gringoqueño

All a man needs out of life is a place to sit ‘n’ spit in the fire.

Category: Family (page 1 of 15)

Where I express my endless and boundless love for my kids through the stories of their youth. Someday you’ll all be old enough to be embarassed by these. Chuckle. I’d talk about Laura here, but she doesn’t like that… private she is.

For the Love of It

Asier: Daddy, what should I do with my Pokemon cards?

Me: I dunno, Asier. We should play…

I trailed off a bit, because I knew where this was going. Asier has been fascinated with Pokemon this past year, but his interest has begun to wain. We hadn’t been playing the card game with him. I’ve put him off. His brothers have put him off. So he’s been a little down about his whole Pokemon phase coming to an end as he begins to outgrow it.

Asier: Yeah, but I haven’t asked… it’s because I want you to play for the love of it.

Me: Asier, you are the dearest sweetest self-aware little boy in the world. I want to play, because I love you!

Coro de Niños de San Juan Sing “En Mi Viejo San Juan”

Olaia and Jaimito took part in a music festival this weekend. Their encore was this beautiful rendition of “En Mi Viejo San Juan.” Pardon the stupid wind in the microphone. I have to learn to take a better mic when I go to these things.

A Family Lunar Eclipse

We all spilled out onto the terrace, excited to see a lunar eclipse. “What is a lunar eclipse,” someone asked?

“It’s when the earth passes between the sun and the moon,” I replied. I could almost see their little brains all working out that orientation.

I snapped a picture, and by accident got a decent exposure.

Lunar_Eclipse_0006

Olaia with her telescope, I with my camera, we fiddled, and fussed over our gadgets in search of that elusive moon. A hoard of mosquitoes attacked my ankles increasing my agitation as I blindly toggled and switched buttons in the dark. Damn it, I needed to read the manual again. I wanted to capture what my eyes could not, but the camera was foiling me. Olaia scolded the boys for bumping the table as she lost site of the moon yet again.

After an hour of dancing between my camera and the pool to soothe my ravaged ankles, I got another as the eclipse was peaking.

Lunar_Eclipse_0101

By this time the boys has already abandoned their posts and gone to bed. I don’t know how to say this, but it was fun. The worst mosquito, equipment inexperience failure, in the dark with your family is better than just about anything else.

“Hey daddy, would this be the night the water benders would be weak?”

Some Recent Photos

Totally accidental latte art. It looks like stylized logo graffiti that one sees on the streets of Puerto Rico.

Totally accidental latte art. It looks like stylized logo graffiti that one sees on the streets of Puerto Rico.

Pumpkin from my latest harvest. Nice deep beautiful orange.

Pumpkin from my latest harvest. Nice deep beautiful orange.

Always nice to kick back with the wife and a 40. Class it up with a wine glass. "Colt 45, it works every time."

Always nice to kick back with the wife and a nice 40. Class it up with a wine glass. Colt 45, works every time.

Creations: Media Noches, Popcorn, and Drawing

A traditional Puerto Rican sandwich - the media noche, sweet bread, pickles, ham, swiss cheese, mayo, mustard. Yummy.

A traditional Puerto Rican sandwich – the media noche, sweet bread, pickles, ham, swiss cheese, mayo, mustard. Yummy.

Javier jumped on youtube and looked up a super hero drawing educational video and went to town. He's proud of his character. Now he just needs a super power.

Javier jumped on youtube and looked up a super hero drawing educational video and went to town. He’s proud of his character. Now he just needs a super power.

Jaimito has become my popcorn surrogate. Today's batch was the best I ever had. The student has exceeded the master.

Jaimito has become my popcorn surrogate. Today’s batch was the best I ever had. The student has exceeded the master.

Popcorn made fresh with achiote infused canola oil (for that nice yellow color), dusted with powdered sugar and Lawry's seasoned salt. Yummy

Popcorn made fresh with achiote infused canola oil (for that nice yellow color), dusted with powdered sugar and Lawry’s seasoned salt. Yummy

Lucy, the Tomato Dog

I stepped out in the morning to do my garden walk-through. I have been battling rats that like to eat my roma tomatoes (only my roma tomatoes), and since taking out the family, I do a daily inspection for critter activity. I feel like a detective, looking for flattened areas of traffic, disturbed soil, nibbles, toothmarks, half eaten fruit. What a ton of work it is just for my tiny little garden. I couldn’t imagine having to survive on it.

But today there was a new mystery. There is always a mystery. The critters of the night lead a secret existence, the insects, mice, rats, dogs, and iguanas, little forces of nature with their own agendas contrary to my own.

I almost stepped on today’s mystery.

What is this? I picked up one of the several green tomatoes scattered about. I turned it over. It was sticky and had a couple of large puncture marks about the width and size of our Lucy’s canines. The stickiness was Lucy slobber. I’d know that persistent agent anywhere.

What is she doing with my tomatoes? This is bizarre. Is she playing with them? She’s not eating them, but brings them back to the terrace. I scolded her, “Lucy, stop taking my tomatoes!” I knew she didn’t understand, but whatever.

Over the course of the next few weeks every few days, I would find tomatoes in various states of ripeness placed on the terrace. It was exasperating. I’m not the best tomato farmer in the world, so every single one counts. Stupid dog! Stop picking my tomatoes. She knew I was upset and would cower, “I don’t know what I did to make you mad, master, but I’m sorry,” she seemed to say.

She’s a good dog though, very loving, smart, and craves attention. Olaia calls her an, “attention hoarder.” And whenever I go into my garden, she trots along with me and watches. We know how smart she is, because she’s so easy to train and is eager to please.

And still the tomatoes came, rolling around in the hot sun. Maybe I’m thinking about this all wrong. Could Lucy be trying to help me? When I pick the tomatoes I always bring a handful back and place them on the terrace while I clean up. And while I’m pulling weeds and picking them, there’s Lucy watching me. Could she be imitating me? She isn’t eating or playing with the tomatoes. She delicately picking them with minimal tooth marks and brings them back to the house and leaves them. A-ha! I think that’s it. I have a farmer dog, harvest helper.

If only I could train her to only pick the red ones though… and not slobber on them.

R.I.P. Billy

He was a little chihuahua mutt that I rescued from a military installation. Some young soldiers were kicking and throwing things at him. I hollered at them and scooped up the little guy. My heart went out to him. On the car ride home, he stood up on his hind legs looking straight ahead through the windshield while he tried to bite me. I was already beginning to regret this.

He was a nervous, bad-tempered little dog. At first, I met his aggressiveness with force, but he just got more desperate and anxious. Soon, I realized I couldn’t  force good behavior on him. It sounds stupid for that to even be a revelation, but alpha dogs don’t coddle. In the pack, you either get your act together, or you get a beat down. But I realized I couldn’t strong arm him into obedience. I would have to meet him with gentleness no matter his mental state. When he got worked up in a frenzy it wasn’t good for anyone. So I tried to adopt a kinder softer stance with him. Loud voices, sudden movements, forcing him to do anything, would get him worked up and he would spin around and try to harm himself.

Also, we never did break him of the peeing on everything in his sight – inside or outside.

When we went to the park he would bark at us until we came back to get him and take him too. He hated the leash though. Another thing to torment me, he seemed to say, but I guess he preferred to be with us than to be left at home.

Once we came home to him huddled in a corner on our terrace all bloody and disheveled. “Oh my God,” I yelled, “Billy’s chewed his tail off.” He’d always hated it, it tormented him. He would catch it out of the corner of his eye and spin for the attack. Around and around and around he would go until we thought he’d have a heart attack. It wasn’t really funny, but we did not know how much it tormented him until he almost killed himself to be rid of it.

After one surgery and the cone of shame, we were nearly ready to pack it in. He was still bent on harming himself like an insane asylum patient. We had to be with him all the time, and his growling and frenzied attacks on his butt were putting us all on edge. I remarked at the time that this must be a small window into what the parents of addicts go through. No matter what we did, he wanted to hurt himself and there was nothing we could do but supervise him 24/7.

We closed our eyes for one second, and he had what was left of his tail again.

After another surgery and an infection, we were able save his life. He now had a nub. We bought him a spiky collar to go with the new tough-guy image. He seemed to enjoy not having his tail. He became a decidedly calmer dog. His hated nemesis was gone.

Soon after we moved to our new house, he developed a cough. It persisted for more than a week, so Laura took him to the vet. An x-ray revealed a large tumor nestled next to his heart, pushing on his trachea. It was so large already and in a difficult place.  “He’s already 10, let’s just keep him comfortable. If we see he is suffering too much, we’ll put him to sleep.”

He carried on like that for a little over three years. There was a moment last year when he stopped eating. I thought it was time and we discussed it as a family. Everybody was distraught, especially the little ones. They didn’t want Billy to die. Billy, so as to not let us down, suddenly started eating again. He was back to his peppy self, and we soon forgot about his little episode of sorrow.

Recently, he had been eating less and less. He’d take a few bites of food, wander over to be petted. If we petted him sufficiently he would take a few more bites. The bites became fewer and fewer, the pets more frequent. We’d have to stroke him many minutes before he would go into his kennel at night.

Today though, he didn’t want to eat. He just stayed in his kennel all day. I roused him to go out and pee this evening. He needed to go out for a little bit. He was so pitiful, but he trotted out after some cajoling.

After twenty minutes or so, I called them in. Jessie wouldn’t come, and I didn’t see Billy at all. I went out to look for him in his usual places, and I found him collapsed near his favorite flowerpots.

I wouldn’t say he was the best dog. He was soft and cute, but he was nippy, generally nervous and bad tempered. We had made a choice, though, to take care of him, to accept into our family. He taught us that love isn’t an affection, that we don’t love because of what you do or because you are smart or cute or fun. We loved you Billy, because we could, because you needed us to.

I’m gonna miss you, little guy.

Perfect Heroes

“Hey Daddy, was Jesus perfect?”

“That’s a tough question, Javier. Hmmm, I don’t know how to answer that. I’m going to say no, he wasn’t perfect.”

“Well, some kids in my class say he was perfect, but I don’t think so. He must have made his mommy mad at some point when he was little.”

“Hah, you’re right. I’ll bet he didn’t eat his apples all the time like Asier. You raise an interesting point though, Javier. I actually don’t know if perfect is even a relevant question to ask. What is perfection? Never making a mistake? You can’t be human without learning from making mistakes and learning from them. If perfection is completely living your potential, then he might have been perfect, but still, most people see perfection as just not making any mistakes. Martin Luther King Jr. wasn’t a perfect man. Some say he cheated on his wife. I’m sure he would be the first to tell you that he was a sinner. Does that make him less of a hero? He struggled and sacrificed for us all, but he had his weaknesses. If Jesus was fully human, it would follow that he made some mistakes too, but again, I don’t even think it’s relevant to talk about. Just like Martin Luther King Jr.’s life, it’s not relevant to mention his individual failings. The most important measure of their lives is their heroism.”

“Isn’t it more interesting to talk about heroes than perfect people? Perfection isn’t a goal. Heroism is the goal. Was Jesus perfect, is the wrong question. He was a hero because he made heroic choices in his life. He overcame his weaknesses, his fear, and his doubt to make a heroic choice.”

“So there you go, Javier perfection isn’t the goal of life, heroism is.”

Religión, la Familia y el Cerdo

Yesterday was the 25th of July, el Día de la Constitución en Puerto Rico (Constitution Day). It is a big holiday very much like the 4th of July in the US. We began it going to the funeral mass of, get this, the brother of the husband of the sister of Laura’s father.  You get that? It all boils down to el hermano del querido tío Benny. I call him Tío Benny too. We always gravitate towards each other during family functions and end up talking compost and farming and whatnot. I’ve learned a lot from him. So when we heard his brother had died, it was a given that we would be there.

This is how Puerto Rico is. Cousins removed – cousins of cousins, cousins through marriage… they’re all primos and we all celebrate and share together. I sometimes feel like an outsider, but still, I appreciate watching and pretending. I suppose it’s as close as this gringo can get.

The funeral mass was held for Pedro Alberto, a local school director and beloved character in the town of Guayama in the southeast of Puerto Rico. The mass was packed, the homely strange, and the words spoken few, but everyone was there, extended relatives from all branches. My wife’s parents were there. We were there with our four children.

As is my usual manner, I contemplated my place in the assembly, the upsides and the downsides. On the general downside of having a huge interconnected family, we attend a lot of funerals. There are so many extended relatives, you just can’t help but be called upon to go and show support. It’s not pleasant, certainly. Who wants to face their own mortality, be reminded of it regularly. Can’t we all pretend that life just goes on forever?

For the kids too, do we really want them to be here? Is it too hard? I don’t think it is, in fact, I think it’s good for them.  It is probably good to be exposed early, to get to know pain and mourning and the loss of a loved one, because it will find them later in life, and they should be accustomed to the process. “Javier, this is the mass for Tio Benny’s brother. I’m sure he misses him. You would be so sad if you lost one of your brothers, no?” Yes, he said, and I know he appreciates his brothers. They all hugged each other and gave each other kisses. Such cariño; it brought a tears to my eyes.

There’s an upside too, more in line with my previous post about beauty and pain. Life is beauty and pain. Living is painful, but life is beautiful. A funeral mass is the acknowledgement of that duality. There is relief for the dead; the long journey is over. There will be no more tears to cry, no more pain to endure. You are dead, you finished your work. For the living, the frailties of the departed loved one become less important as time passes, until la vida is purely sanctified and beautiful.

This mass, this ritual is the coming together to process and find acceptance, to deal with the passing and in the end to say, “It’s all good.”

When it was over, I was tired, but at peace. I thought it fitting that we celebrated this Constitution day doing something important, something that I feel is the best part of the Puerto Rican culture, la familia.

We have passed from religion, to family, and now we finish with another typical and important part of Puerto Rican culture. I will leave it here so that we end on a light note with our bellies full and smiles on our faces.

We stopped in Guavate and ate lechón, slow cooked pig on a spit, with rice and gandules, mofongo, amarillos, yuca y morcilla.

From family and religion to the tasty pig, it doesn’t get more typical than that.

Diplomat Javier

“Hey Daddy, what is this song saying?”

“I don’t know, Javier. It sounds nice, but I don’t think I’ve ever actually listened to the words.”

“I don’t like this song.”

“Is it saying something bad?” I asked, thinking perhaps he had picked up on some offensive lyrics or something.

“No, it’s just that this guy’s voice is weird. It sounds like he doesn’t have good breath control.”

I laughed. “Javier, you would know better than I. Your choir training makes you a subject matter expert.”

Javier grinned.

“But I think he is singing that way on purpose. I don’t think he can’t sing well, it’s just that he is going for the effect.”

“Well, it sounds bad. I don’t like it.”

I explained that perhaps his affected style was to convey an intimacy with the audience, a lack of polish to engage, to not set himself apart from those appreciating the song. It wasn’t a beautiful performance, I agreed, but there was something I liked about it. It hit me like a slow jam around the camp fire with friends. It did bring me in close and didn’t chase me away with vocal acrobatics.

“So Javier, you’re right, probably, but it’s hard to say who is right and wrong when it’s a question of why a person likes a song or not. Your opinion is probably as valid as mine. I like the song. You don’t. Who is wrong? Sometimes that’s the problem when people argue about things like this. We’re having a good discussion, but just saying it’s bad, probably isn’t the best way to talk about it.”

Javier furrowed his brow. I could see that he was calculating a response. He always pauses before he says something profound.

“Daddy, this guy is doing a good job of singing badly.”

ROFL

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