TGIF! Gratuitous Kid Picture Edition

Balancing raising children while holding down a job is a challenge even from home, but I am so grateful for the flexibility.

After participating in a live tweet chat with the White House for my work, I shot off an e-mail to my co-workers and then helped chaperone Ari’s class on a field trip to the Lawrence Hall of Science in Berkeley. Initially, Ari didn’t want to participate in the structured activities — he hates transitions! —  but after a little coaxing I found him enthralled and even raising his hand to participate in the discussion. Whew!

A wonderful instructor by the name of Yolanda led the kids in fun, hands-on projects to study the different layers of the Earth and then the properties of rocks. Ari and his class were really into it. I was also astounded by how much they knew considering I’d forgotten a lot of basic geology after the test years ago. :)

Then it was back to the grind, which included picking up the kids in school, shuttling Eli to swim lessons and cramming work in between. It is exhausting, but I am enjoying myself. Any items of inspiration you’d like to share?

Have a great weekend all!

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I Am Thankful Edition

BERKELEY, Calif. — I am sad that I am not with my parents and siblings in New Hampshire, but also grateful to spend the time with my second family here in California. Seriously, our friends here have been our lifeline. They have stepped in to care for our children, have helped us create many fond memories like parents’ game nights, and our children are growing up together, giving them “cousins” and roots right here in California.

Yesterday, Ari and Eli’s school had “Grandparents Day” or “Special Persons Day”, which means the kids get to show the special people in their lives what they do in school, do a craft with them and then enjoy early dismissal. Because my kids’ grandparents live far away, typically, my sister comes every year to represent our families.

This year she was in New Hampshire so I invited some of our dearest friends to join the kids at school. They were (pictured above) our nanny — now family friend — Guillermina, SusanG of Daily Kos and her daughter Micaela. The kids were stoked. They didn’t want their special people to leave and they were happy to leave school early.

Afterwards, Markos, the kids and I enjoyed lunch together. We went home for a couple of hours and then the kids and I joined friends from the school to go ice skating. I am so grateful for my husband, my children, our family in New Hampshire and El Salvador and our family right here in California. I am so grateful for Erika, Gloria and every one of you here at MotherTalkers. My life is so much richer because of all of you — all of my “villages.” ¡Feliz día de acción de gracias!

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Happy Birthday, Ari!

We celebrated my guy’s 8th birthday on Saturday. I chuckled when he told me that he wanted a soccer-themed birthday “every year.” This is the same guy who has had a Bakugan-themed party, a Transformers one, Star Wars, Space and Elmo, among other themes.

He really is into soccer, insisting on playing it every opportunity he gets. He loves watching it on TV. Therefore, it made sense for him to have soccer-themed balloons, plates, napkins, and piñata at the party:

This year he asked for a cake from Whole Foods. I was surprised as I always buy him one of those cartoon spray-painted cakes from Safeway. He must have been inspired by his school field trip or a friend’s mom’s visit to the supermarket. Personally, I don’t shop there, opting to walk to Berkeley Bowl, which is closer and cheaper. I gave it a try, and let me tell you, that cake went fast.

It wasn’t that it was small — the cake was much deeper, taller than anything I’ve bought at Safeway — but it was filled and topped with real seasonal fruit. And it was delicious. It also cost about the same as a cartoon-sprayed cake the same size from Safeway: $60. I was surprised by that.

Until next year, ¡Feliz cumpleaños, Ari!

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Gratuitous Kid Picture Edition

Please allow me my bragging mom moment. :)

Most recently, I attended a “fair” in Ari’s second grade class. They completed a unit of inquiry on self, in which they wrote their autobiographies in Spanish, presented a math project, in which they had to measure their foot and that of a loved one, and painted self portraits.

I am so proud of Ari. Yes, he really is a talented artist:  

His writing in Spanish is pretty good, too. He wrote everything from how he was named after the filósofo Aristotle to how much he loves his fish. He mentioned his parents, but not his sister. Hmm.

Seriously, I am incredibly proud of the mature, astute and loving young man he has become:

What amazing and cute things have your children done lately?

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The Thin Line Between Choosing Your Battles and Raising a Spoiled Brat

Can I say that Picture Day is a source of stress in my house every year? Not only does Eli have strong opinions about what to wear and how to do her hair, Ari is the complete opposite. Not only does he insist on wearing his school uniform — as opposed to the shirt and clip-tie I buy for him — but he refuses to comb his hair, which he never does, by the way. Thankfully, he has short hair, otherwise he’d look like a crazy guy.

I had it. Eli was cooperative this year, but Ari and I had a fight that caused him to receive his first tardy slip this school year.

As expected, on Picture Day he wore his school uniform. When I started brushing his hair, he walked away and sulked. “Ari,” I said, “I ask you once a year to comb your hair!”

Markos, who is tired of hearing this fight every year, jumped in. “Ari, if you don’t listen to your mom, you don’t get playdates for a week!”

Ari started whining when I brushed his hair. “Ow!” he said.

Then I lost it. “Ari, you are so spoiled! Papi and Mami have responsibility up to here,” I motioned with my hand, “and you can’t even comb your hair once a year. All the family in El Salvador, Honduras and Puerto Rico are going to get these pictures. I am not going to pay for pictures that look like crap. Next time you ask me for something, I am going to say, ‘I don’t feel like it.’”

I was pissed.

When I got to the school, I vented with another mom who had the same issue. Her daughter was crying and also late for school. The mom told me, “I’m a hairdresser and my daughter looks homeless!”

We got into a discussion about how we try to pick our battles, but in this case we are paying for these pictures. Are kids that protected that they can’t comb their hair once a year? Jeez.

Ari, by the way, was punished in that he was not allowed to pick the movie and snacks for our regular family movie night on Friday. We tend to pick a movie — Netflix on demand — as a family. Eli got that reward, which made her gloat.

MotherTalkers, how would you have handled this situation? How much responsibility should be expected of an almost 8-year-old?

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Gratuitous Kid Pictures!

This past weekend, Ari’s best buddy Jude spent the night. The next morning when I got up to make them pancakes, they alerted me that they planned on opening their own pancake restaurant.

They created funny names for the pancakes like “happy slug”, drew up menus and decorated the pancakes themselves:

What cute things have your kids done lately? Feel free to post your favorite pictures from the summer!

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Cute Kid Moments Edition

I can always tell what Ari is studying in school based on the conversations we have in the car. Here is how one convo (in Spanish) went last week:

Ari: Mami, do you know what’s dangerous?
Me: ¿Qué?
Ari: Un huracán. When the storm hits, it blows so hard that it knocks down houses! I saw it on the Internet.
Me: Oh yeah. Your mami grew up in Miami, Florida, where we had hurricanes all the time. Thankfully, we had a strong enough house that it didn’t fall.
Ari: Do you know what I want to be when I grow up?
Me: ¿Qué?
Ari: I want to go where the hurricanes are — but I will still live with you! — and make the houses out of brick.

Yeah, that’s my seven-year-old, who by the way, is now reading chapter books and running off to class in the morning without giving mami so much as a look. Sigh. For the first time since I’ve been a mother, I am starting to feel — and tell other moms — that the time “goes like that” and snapping my finger.  

Where are your kids developmentally? Have you witnessed any cute kid moments lately?

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Holiday Medley

I hate to brag, but I feel so well-rested. Doesn’t sleep feel like this indulgent luxury when you’re a parent? My idea of a good time? A meal prepared by someone else, a glass of red wine — and sleep!

As a kid, I remember my grandmother, who always battled insomnia for as long as I can remember, imploring us to nap, telling us that one day we would consider sleep a gift from God. Lord, was she right.

On Christmas Day we did something we have not done in a long time…nothing. There were no people to visit, or guests to entertain, or work to do — at least for me. I even let the dishes and laundry pile up. It was great.

The kids got everything that they wanted so I used the time they spent playing with their new toys to read for pleasure and sleep. Oh, and I was in my pajamas all day. Heaven.  

As is typical in many Latino households, we celebrated Christmas Eve, or Noche Buena, as opposed to Christmas Day. We had our big meal and went to mass on December 24. In my family, we have adopted American Christmas in that we open presents December 25 in the morning, but then we do nothing else. I can think of many a Christmas in which we’d go to the movies and order takeout.

As always, our Noche Buena was busy. First, the kids had playdates in the morning when they asked if they could bake cookies for Santa. I admit, I had a moment of panic that reminded me of our Katie’s reaction when her daughter wanted to make bread.

Like Katie, I am not a baker. I love the kitchen and pride myself in being a decent cook, but I am not a baker…at all. My mommy confession for the day: prior to Christmas Eve this year, I had never baked cookies. Heck, I’ve never even made brownies. I know you can buy them ready-made in a box, but I wasn’t convinced my cookies would be as easy to make or as pretty as the ones on the box.

“Why don’t we buy Santi Clos cookies?” I said to the kids. “There are so many beautiful ones in the store.”

“I want to make my own!” both kids echoed.

I immediately thought of our Katie. I took a deep breath. She did it. I can do this, too, I thought.

I bought flour I never heard of, but the packaging said it was for cookies. I also bought tubes of colored icing and sprinkles. Except for these round cookie cutters I use to make empanadas, I did not have anything else to shape the cookies. So we molded them with our hands. Here were the results — the plate on the right were Ari’s masterpieces:


And they were good! We were so proud of our cookies that we showed them off to everyone we video-chatted with. I know, I am a dork.

That evening the kids and I attended mass. I invited DH to see Eli, who was an angel at our church’s Christmas pageant. He declined, but I was not upset because I have always respected our differences in religion and we have many friends at our church who are like family to us, some who attend without a spouse for the same reason. Plus, DH offered to cook our Noche Buena meal. I always cook for all holidays, so I was thrilled to have the night off. Here is Eli, by the way, spreading her wings as an angel:

After mass, the kids and I were starved and we were thrilled to return to a warm home and hearty vegetarian meal. DH really outdid himself with a lentil loaf, a tomato and onion garnish, and cranberry bread. After the meal, our stuffed selves laid in front of the TV to watch Elf, one of our favorite Christmas movies.

The kids went to bed at 10 and surprisingly did not awake until 8 the next morning. I heard them get up when Ari tip-toed to the living room and exclaimed, “Santa came!”

After ripping through their presents, the kids spent the day playing with their new toys. Here are pictures of the kids playing with their new Wii games. Eli wasted no time putting on her new Princess Tiana dress and then her Tinker Bell outfit.

Happy holidays all! How was your weekend? What are you up to this week?

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The Kos Holiday Photos Are In…

First of all, my Thanksgiving with my brother and his girlfriend was wonderful. So wonderful that I did not check my laptop for anything. I just enjoyed their company, going site-seeing, going out to eat, and playing cards late into the night. I was left feeling like our time together was too short, and I wish that they lived closer.

The kids really miss them as both my brother and his girlfriend had boundless energy and would entertain them for hours. For the first time in a long time, DH and I would curl up on the couch to watch TV while the four of them played. “Would you like to move in with us?” I half-joked.

I was glad to see that the feeling was mutual. My brother and Jenny loved California and promised to visit us regularly. In the meantime, I plan to make a trip out to New Hampshire after the busy holiday season, probably at the end of January or beginning of February. I refuse to let so much time elapse in between visits.

And we had so much to be grateful for this year. Not only did we have each other, but Markos and I celebrated our 10th wedding anniversary on November 24. (We have been together for 14 years, 10 of them married.) Funny story: on the 24th we were driving around San Francisco with my brother and Jenny when I got a text from my mother, “Happy Anniversary!” I read it out loud to everyone in the car. DH responded, “I was waiting for you to remember our anniversary!”

“Oh eff you,” I said, “you TOTALLY forgot our anniversary!”

“No, I remembered and it took your mom reminding you.”

Everyone was cracking up. Yup, that’s what happens when you are with someone for over a decade and have small children. LOL!

Since I got my act together early this year, yes, I will be participating in this year’s MT holiday card exchange. In the meantime, here are some of my favorite family pics from our holiday photo shoot at the Albany Bulb in the San Francisco Bay Area:


We also had a bunch of combination shots taken: Markos and Ari, Markos and Eli, me with Ari and me with Eli:

Of course, I have yet to mail out the cards, and I have barely made a dent on my shopping list. Every year, I intend to buy presents throughout the year so I am not stuck going to the malls the last three weeks of December, but I just can’t do it. It seems like the only time I go to a store is if I need something. Otherwise, I don’t go.

The good news is our Christmas tree and indoor decorations are already up, something we did as soon as my brother left. It helped us fill the void in the house.

Where are you in the hustle and bustle this holiday season?

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