Just Roll With It

Cristian and his Godfather relaxing in the yard.
Cristian and his Godfather relaxing in the yard.

Responding to and meeting challenges is a big part of life, because you are constantly thrown curveballs.  Since Labor Day Weekend Esther and I have faced our fair share, making us long for something simple, like a sleepless night with a cranky baby.

Over the past years my Mom cared for Dad—putting her life on pause and neglecting her own health.  56 years of marriage makes you do that sort of thing.  During Dad’s illness, Mom and I spoke about her health, and maintaining the house as I drove her to and from the hospital and nursing home.

Eighty-five years old and restricted to a walker, those tasks are considerably tougher than they were five-years ago.   The neighbors helped, sweeping sidewalks, shoveling snow, and bringing in trash cans.  While much appreciated it’s not the sort of thing one can expect done on a consistent basis.

After many conversations with Mom and Esther both separately and together, we decided it was best if Esther and I moved in with her to.  Moving in with your mother at 51 is never an easy proposition—moving with a wife, baby and 18-year old dog, is a reality show in the making.

After Dad passed away in July, we started the twofold process of packing our apartment and decluttering Mom’s house—no small task. I come from a family of pack rats—it’s in our DNA.  My old bedroom looked more like an oversized walk-in closet than Cristian’s new bedroom.

Clearing a home after someone passes away is never easy—especially if you are doing while keeping an 11-month old baby entertained.   Fifty years of memories needed to be dealt with, old clothes, old pictures, and just plain old junk.

Moving day was the Friday before Labor Day Weekend.  Our team of friends and family (those who didn’t go away for the long weekend) squeezed the contents of our two-bedroom apartment into an already cluttered house.  It was like recreating the set of Sanford and Son.

Cristian’s room was priority one.  One group unloaded the truck moving things into various rooms, the garage and the backyard.   A second group reassembled the crib and looked for boxes marked “Baby’s Room.”

Chico enjoying his new front yard
Chico enjoying his new front yard

The first day was the roughest.  Boxes and packing bins were piled high everywhere creating an obstacle course.  I worried about the boxes in the backyard, many were covered but some weren’t.  Fortunately it didn’t rain.

Sitting in the basement on a third of my disassembled couch with a slice of cold pizza and a beer watching Chico navigate his new environment, I got twitchy wondering if we could put things in order. Making things worse my godmother called with bad news, her 18-year old grandson was killed in a car accident.

As usual Cristian provided stress relief after a chaotic day.  Peeking in on him he looked up from his stuffed animals, giving me a Hi Daddy smile.  Watching the baby play in his new room with Mom, reminded me why were doing this.

406

When Esther and I planned the move, we knew there would be adjustments.  I love Mom but she’s old-school and a little blunt—sometimes more than a little.  At times her concepts on parenting differed from ours.  We came to help, but never lost sight of the fact.  We were in her house, not ours.

A main priority was maintaining normalcy in Cristian’s life while we adapted to our new environment.  This meant, not missing his My Gym classes, exploring new parks for him to play in and devoting time to him before during and after the move.

Esther and Cristian playing in the park
Esther and Cristian playing in the park

The rest of the weekend was a blur of boxes, bins, and garbage bags.  The stack of boxes shrunk as things took shape.  More than 70 bags of clothes were donated to the Salvation Army and I filled an entire donation bin—one of those huge containers one sees in your local supermarket parking lot.

Over 100 bags of trash and stacks of discarded cardboard boxes, and recycled items, ensured I’d become fast friends with the garbage men.  Maintaining the relationship Dad forged with them over the years was important, because months of dumping, organizing and decluttering still remain.

The house has a finished basement with a separate kitchen and bathroom.  We set it up as our apartment, with a newly constructed play zone for the baby—The Cristian Zone

In the reassembled "Cristian Zone."
In the reassembled “Cristian Zone.”

Tuesday night Esther, Mom, Cristian and I drove out to Eastern Long Island for my cousin’s wake.   It’s sad when someone dies so young—you wonder what might have been.

The next morning, Esther went to work while Cristian and I took another trip out east for the funeral.  Leaving the church for the cemetery, my phone rang.  A neighbor named Valerie had more bad news—this time about Mom.

Mom’s had issues with varicose veins for years.   I planned on asking for a referral to a specialist during her next round of doctor’s appointments—we never got the chance. Valerie and my cousin Annie were visiting when Mom’s vein popped, spewing blood, a lot of it.  She also fell out of the chair she was sitting in, crashing to the floor.

Valerie called an ambulance and escorted Mom and the paramedics to the hospital.  I called Esther, and asked if she could meet them at the Emergency Room.  Turning the car around I hurried home.

Thanking Annie for her for help and wrapping Mom’s leg as I took her home. I then dropped Cristian off with the babysitter before heading to the hospital.  Esther updated me on Mom’s condition-which tests were run which still remained.  When I finally saw Mom, she was literally white as a sheet.  She lost about a pint of blood and the doctors debated whether or not to transfuse her.

Bob joined us in the ER—the three of us listened as doctors updated us on her condition.  After spending most of the day in the ER, Mom was admitted to the hospital and placed under observation.

The next two weeks were spent visiting Mom in the hospital and consulting with doctors amazed at the lack of common sense.  During my first visit I was sent home for her walker.  Isn’t a walker something a hospital provides?  I guess not.

Although Mom looked better, she still didn’t look right.  Hospitals seem in a rush to discharge patients before they get sick—I thought treating sick people was a hospital’s function—silly me.

Two weeks later, Mom was sent to a rehab facility to regain strength and balance.  Cristian and I visited every morning—it was therapeutic for Mom and her roommate.  Mom’s room was a popular destination during our visits, nurses, aides and physical therapists stopped by to play with the baby.

During a visit Esther’s phone rang.   Her facial expression told me, it was bad news. Her aunt called from Puerto Rico informing her of an uncles passing.   He was only a few years older than me.  This was our families fourth in the past year—that’s too many.  I wondered if the Grim Reaper has the family on speed dial.

FullSizeRender (81)After a month in the hospital and rehab facility Mom was sent home, we were happy.  When she was away, Esther and I felt like children left alone while their parents were on vacation.  Fortunately for all involved, I didn’t do the Risky Business Dance.

Since Mom returned home I’ve worked with social workers, visiting nurses, and home aides and we’ve had appointments with specialists, managing her care.  When it gets overwhelming, I look at Cristian. His big smile and bigger personality tells me, take a breath and just roll with it.

Share This:
Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedin

Happy Birthday Cristian

1st Father SonI can’t believe it’s been a year already.  A year ago I spent the night in a hospital room keeping friends and family updated via Facebook posts as nurses induced Esther—it didn’t work.  It turn out, Cristian like his parents is stubborn.  How stubborn we didn’t know at the time.

At 1:26 pm Esther gave birth to a 9 pound 3 ounce   21.5 inch boy, whatshisname.  We hadn’t agreed on his name yet.  Asking me to calm our crying and unnamed son, by speaking to him, I put on my best Darth Vader voice and said, “Son I am your father.”

The first few weeks were a blur or feedings, diaper changes and friends stopping by to see the baby.  Sequestered in our apartment like jurors on a trial while we took turns watching Jeopardy, napping and playing with our new son, the memory still makes me smile.

father-son-chill

I dove headfirst into my stay-at-home dad crash course.  I was introduced to the Sprout Channel, Peppa Pig and Sid the Science Kid and scrambled like a contestant on a gameshow folding laundry, sterilizing baby bottles and grabbing a quick shower while Cristian napped.

In March we enrolled Cristian in My Gym, a children’s fitness center giving him a chance to meet other babies socializing him through structured activities and giving me a chance to compare parenting notes with other parents.

The many faces of Cristian
The many faces of Cristian

Esther and I were amazed as out son grew from a fragile newborn to a chubby cheeked toddler.  His smiling face every morning made us forget the, sacrifice, sleep deprivation and occasional blowout.

As Spring arrived my time was split between caring for my son and managing my father’s healthcare first in a hospital and then in a nursing home.   My blogging suffered as my world was turned upside down, but Esther and I insisted on keeping as much normalcy in Cristian’s routine as possible.  My Gym classes and trips to the park were sandwiched between hospital visits.

Family Selfie
Family Selfie

Cristian will never know the joy be brought his grandfather during his last days or how much his cheery demeanor helps grandma cope with Dad’s loss.  His days consist of playing, crawling and general mischief. His electric smile and big personality changed Mommy and Daddy’s lives in ways we couldn’t comprehend a year ago as we anxiously monitored his vitals as nurses induced his Mommy.

Happy Birthday Cristian!

Cristian and Me

Share This:
Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedin

Going Home

Dad in the mid-50's
Dad in the mid-50’s

Preface – This is a personal post.  It’s long and doesn’t quite fit the theme of this blog.  Some of the content appeared in previous posts.  It’s a very touching story about someone who meant so much to me.

These past weeks were rough—after three months of fighting Dad passed away due to pneumonia related to Pancreatic Cancer.  I’ve written about him, here and here and am comforted by the fact he died in his sleep of pneumonia before the cancer got him.

Dad had been in out of hospitals over the past ten years.  His procedures included a pericardial stripping , hip replacement, and a gall bladder removal—complications put him in the ICU for two weeks after he developed sepsis

When a doctor explained the details of a lung biopsy needed because of years of abestos exposure on job sites, the doctor stressed the recovery period would be painful.   He then asked Dad when he wanted to schedule the procedure, Dad’s reply was classic.  “Can we do it now?”

Mom and Dad celebrating Bob's second birthday party
Mom and Dad celebrating Bob’s second birthday party

My father was no stranger to death, his older brothers Manuel and Francisco died serving in the Spanish Civil War when he was a child.  His father passed shortly afterward of a broken heart.  He spent many years on merchant ships and freighters surviving two shipwrecks—he was one of only three who survived the second one.  Dad cheated death so many times, I wondered, how many lives does he have?

The past few weeks are a blur of funeral arrangements, phone calls and memories.  Some knew him as the man who installed a door or helped them put a new roof on their house.  Others knew him for the backyard barbeques he hosted and the huge spreads of grilled meat and sardines, homemade wine and sangria—but many knew little about him.

A familiar site, Dad working the grill.
A familiar site, Dad working the grill.

Jose Priegue was born the youngest of five children in 1926, in El Freijo, a small village in rural Spain.  Like his brothers he learned a trade, carpentry, at a young age, out of necessity.  Building and selling rowboats brought in money helping feed and clothe the family of seven.  Home Depot didn’t exist in the 1930’s so Dad and his brothers cut down trees and dragged them home for the wood needed before going to school.

In 1946 he was twenty years old.  Spain’s economy was still recovering from the Spanish Civil War and Europe’s was recovering from World War II, so he joined the Merchant Marine.  When he left home my grandmother told him, “Go find a better life for yourself, but remember if things don’t work out, you always have a home to come back to.”

With Mom and their Godson
With Mom and their Godson

So he went and travelled the world collecting experiences that would be told after Christmas dinner and many summer barbeques after a few too many glasses of wine or with a glass of cognac in his hand.  Bob and I didn’t fully appreciate stories of his many trips through the Panama Canal, or time spent in Pre-Castro Havana or arriving in Argentina a few days after Juan Peron was overthrown until we were older and had a few of our own life experiences.

After ten years of sailing on freighters Dad settled in Camden New Jersey where he caught a break.  A friend named Viña needed people for a project he was working on—The New Jersey Turnpike.   Viña  found him, and others like him offering jobs and giving a few a place to live, but there was a condition.

Dad and the others were what would be referred to today as undocumented aliens. Viña had a work visa and wasn’t going to jeopardize his status.  His condition was this…if immigration officials came looking for any of them, he wouldn’t hide them, he would give them up.

Sure enough one night there was a knock on the door and Dad and two others were taken away.  Dad’s saving grace was he had a bank book and pay stubs with him.  He insisted every employer withhold taxes from his paycheck, although he wasn’t a citizen, he enjoyed the benefits of this country and felt it was the right thing to do.  On that night it made a difference, the immigration agent realized this was a hard-working guy who needed a break, and let him go.

5678998For years he told us stories, Dad loved a good story, about working on the Jersey Turnpike but he never told us what he did.  Years later Bob and I took Dad to DC for a weekend trip so Bob asked him.  He helped build the concrete forms for 23 bridges.  I could see that, he was like a mountain goat, totally fearless when it came to heights.

Dad never forgot Viña’s kindness—in fact he paid it forward.  During his wake an older gentleman named Serafin came to pay his respects.  Walking up to Bob and me he told us, “I owe your father a tremendous debt.  When I came to this country he was the first person who helped me out.  He found me a job and got me into the union.  I saved my money and was able to start my own company.  My grandson started working for us last week.”

Growing up our home was a popular stop for newly arrived Gallegos.   Dad was from Galicia, the region in Northwest Spain sharing a border with Portugal.   Those from Galicia are known as Gallegos. Of all the stories I’ve heard over the past weeks, Serafin’s touched me most because this was part of Dad’s legacy.  Over the years he made many phone calls vouching for carpenters, plumbers and electricians with employers and union reps while Mom served them a home-cooked meal.

From Camden he moved to Spanish Harlem, it wasn’t his first choice—it was out of necessityHe quickly found out Spanish Harlem was a safe haven because immigration officers were afraid to go up there.

Dad with Raymundo
Dad with Raymundo

Expatriates usually find others from their part of the world.  In Spanish Harlem Dad met another Gallego named Raymundo, who is an important person to our family.  Raymundo is Bob’s Godfather, and when he married, Dad was invited to the wedding.  At the reception he was introduced to a charming bridesmaid who captured his attention, but there were two problems.  First, she was with a date, and second he was not very confident speaking to women.

A few weeks later, when she and her boyfriend broke up, Raymundo called him up and told him, “I know you like her and the boyfriend is out of the picture.  If you’re still interested, this is your chance, get a move on.”  To make a long story short, Bob and I call this charming bridesmaid, Mom.

Mom and Dad married in 1959 and moved to Brooklyn.   After starting a family Mom and Dad moved to Queens.  He built the house Bob and I grew up in and where Mom still lives in 14 months of weekends and vacations assisted by a crew of skilled Gallegos.  Serafin and my Tio Francisco did most of the brickwork and half the roof.

Working hard to provide for his family, he worked overtime, and worked many side jobs rarely taking a vacation.  We weren’t like the other families who went to Lake George or Disney every year, Dad saved his vacation time.  When we took a vacation he made them count, taking us to Puerto Rico or Spain for six or eight weeks.  If you asked him he would say his favorite was taking us to Spain in 1970.

Dad with his niece Marilola, taken during the 1970 vacation.
Dad with his niece Marilola, taken during the 1970 vacation.

I was six-years old in 1970 so my memories consist of running through corn fields, feeding chickens, and riding in an oxcart El Carro de las Vacas with my aunts.  I also remember meeting my grandmother, Mama Maria and how much she spoiled us.  He always said bringing his kids to Spain so his mother could get to know them was the best gift he ever gave her.

Besides vacations, he had a family to raise.  This was before parenting books, websites or blogs.  He was old school, he was our father, not our best friend.  He didn’t give us everything we asked for, but we lacked for nothing.  He taught me that actions are more important than words.  Anyone can make a flowery speech, he backed it up.

I remember how proud he was when Bob joined the Navy and making him promise not to get a tattoo before he left for basic training.  Years later when Bob and his wife Alicia were building their dream home, he insisted on installing the kitchen cabinets, he didn’t trust anyone else to do it.

As for me, he had my back when I changed my major from business to photography.  Before my senior year, one of my professors let me use his studio for a photoshoot.  For a third-year student this was like hitting the lottery.  I needed someone to help me bring props from home to the Manhattan studio, Dad, drove me in.

This trip was everything he hated, after work he liked to watch the evening news with a beer and unwind, but off we went.  We headed to Manhattan on the Long Island Expressway in rush-hour traffic to the Midtown Tunnel.  In those days there was no E-Z Pass so you had to throw quarters into a basket to get through the tollbooth.

I handed Dad ten quarters and he missed the basket.  Rushing out of the car and scooping up quarters because we didn’t have any more amid the sounds of honking horns, and screaming motorists was rough.  I could only imagine him venting to Mom when he got home.

Driving through the tunnel, he turned to me and said, “You picked a field I know nothing about, so I can’t help you.  If you were a carpenter or electrician I could teach you and introduce you to others who could look out for you.  Just remember this, if you need me for anything, I’m there and remember you always have a home with us.”

Dad with Katie
Dad with Katie

Dad became a grandpa when my niece Katie was born, he waited 74 years.  Two years later a second granddaughter, Jenny was born.  Bob and I immediately noticed he was different as a grandfather than he was as a father.  This wasn’t our strict old-school father, he was a doting grandpa.  He adored his granddaughters spoiling them like our grandmother spoiled us but one thing was missing—a grandson.

As he got older Dad didn’t like receiving gifts, Christmas, Birthday, Father’s Day—his response was always the same.  “Why are you wasting your money, I don’t need anything.” So last year on his birthday, I gave him a gift he could appreciate.

Dad meeting Cristian for the first time.
Dad meeting Cristian for the first time.

Taking him to a doctor’s appointment I told him, “Esther was having a boy—you’ve got your grandson.”   Words weren’t necessary—the smile on his face is my second favorite memory of him.  My most precious memory of him was putting Cristian in his arms so he could hold his grandson for the first time.  His smiling face showed me how precious a gift it really was.

As you get older, things are taken away from you, that’s how life is.  First your doctor may tell you to cut down on the red meat, or wine.  Then you are no longer able to do tasks you were able to do when you were younger, like fix a leak in the roof.

I remember when the roof leaked, Mom convinced Dad, who was in his late 70s to let Bob fix it.  She reasoned, “he’ll come by on Sunday, bring the girls, we’ll barbeque and have fun.” Dad agreed—a little too quickly.  So when Mom left to do some grocery shopping, Dad took out the ladder.

I arrived late but remember Dad sitting at the picnic table in the backyard, with Mom on one side and Bob on the other side reprimanding him.  He had a mischievous look on his face that said, “five minutes more and I would have gotten away with it.”

4270

Then your friends and loved ones start passing away.  Over the past ten years I’ve attended too many wakes and funeral masses.  Some losses hit harder than others but none are easy.

Dad loved a good story so it’s only fitting his funeral gave us one we’ll be telling for years to come.  Leaving the church the skies became cloudy and turned dark gray upon arriving at the cemetery.   The light drizzle we felt upon getting out of our cars became a driving rain storm.  A friend later told me in her country they believe if it rains during a funeral, it’s God’s way of acknowledging receipt of a good man.

Huddled together under umbrellas we listened to the priest’s final prayers, but because of the slippery conditions it wasn’t safe for anyone to climb onto the platform and place roses onto the coffin.  The family took turns tossing them towards the casket but they all fell in the mud.  It was bittersweet but due to the circumstances understandable.

Mom sat with my Godmother in Bob’s car holding their roses during the rainstorm.  Restricted to a walker, she was unable to make it through the mud to the gravesite. Looking at us upon returning to the car, we knew exactly what she wanted.

Turning to me Bob said, “Mom asked us to do this, so let’s do it right.”  Taking their roses we marched through the heavy rain and mud without umbrellas.  Climbing onto the platform we placed our roses on his casket and said our goodbyes to Dad.

Although I’m sad Dad is gone, I comforted that he’s gone home.  Home to the parents he loved, home to the brothers whose lives were taken too soon, home to the sisters who doted on their baby brother.   I’m sure he’s sharing wine and sardines and swapping stories with those who passed before him.

625659

I remember arriving at my uncle’s home during vacations.  After the hugs and kisses on both cheeks, like they do in Europe, Dad told his sisters, nieces and nephews, I missed you.  We are going to have a great time but remember one thing, I won’t be here forever.  There will be a day when I have to leave.  When that day comes I don’t want to see any tears because we were lucky enough to share this time together.  That is as apt an analogy for a six-week vacation as it is for 89 years of life.

 

Share This:
Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedin

My First Father’s Day

Dad with Bob (left) and I (right) in 1972.
Dad with Bob (left) and I (right) in 1972.

It’s Father’s Day, that Sunday in late June when fathers around the world receive gifts of ties, cheap cologne and handmade cards then crack a few beers and fire up the grill to celebrate.

In our family, Father’s Day evolved over the years.  In grade school, Dad usually got a card, made in school as a project.  When we got older, Bob and I chipped in and bought him a gift, which usually was placed into a drawer or closet, never to be seen again.

As the years passed Father’s Day evolved into backyard cookouts of sardines, a Spanish thing, grilled shrimp, Italian sausage and juicy steaks, chased with lots of wine.   As the family grew, Bob became a Dad, the spread of grew as well.   You never left Mom and Dad’s house hungry.

Dad watching Cristian play.
Dad watching Cristian play.

This is my Father’s Day as a member of the club but my mind is not on traditional gifts of cards, polo shirts, ties or scratchies, scratch-off lottery tickets, the traditional Puerto Rican gift for any holiday, or backyard cookouts, it’s on my father.

Two months ago Dad was diagnosed with Pancreatic Cancer.  A month ago, he was given two weeks to live.  A priest gave him last rights and funeral arrangements were made, but he’s still here.  That doesn’t surprise me—he’s always been a fighter.

I’ve spent the past two months in hospitals, talking to doctors and fighting with supervisors when I felt he wasn’t getting the proper care.  I’ve dreaded late-night calls, those were usually bad news.  “We are moving him to new room and putting him on oxygen” or “we need your permission to resuscitate him if it’s necessary.”

The only bright spot of the past two months has been bringing Cristian to visit Abuelo in the nursing home. Seeing the glint in Dad’s hazel eyes and the smile on his face gives me unspeakable joy.

Although I love my son, my first Father’s Day is will always be bittersweet because I know it’s my Dad’s last.

Dad with Katie
Dad with Katie

 

Share This:
Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedin

Fathers and Sons

Dad with his sons I'm on the left my brother Bob is on the right. This taken around 1984.
Dad with his sons I’m on the left my brother Bob is on the right. This taken around 1984.

I haven’t posted lately, 25 days to be exact.  That’s a major no-no for a blogger.  The ideas are flowing but the words haven’t made it to the keyboard.  Writer’s block is rough, but it’s more than that, my mind is elsewhere.

Watching your parents get older is difficult.  Mom jokes about how their lives are spent in doctor’s waiting rooms.  Over the past few years I’ve spent too many hours at doctor’s appointments, following up on test results and sitting in hospital rooms listening to beeping machines after yet another procedure.

I’ve spent two consecutive Monday nights sitting next to Dad’s bed in the emergency room waiting for a room to become available.  Long Island’s hospital situation has gotten bad.  I posted about Dad a few weeks ago.  Since then I’ve spent hours thinking about the kind of father he was and wondering what kind of father I’ll be to my son.

A family picture taken when we celebrated Mom and Dad's 50th Wedding Anniversary
A family picture taken when we celebrated Mom and Dad’s 50th Wedding Anniversary

During Esther’s pregnancy, we spent countless hours talking about how to raise Baby Priegue. Comparing values and opinions—we planned what we wanted for him and what to expose him to.

We enjoy an active lifestyle, so running and bike tours were an automatic.  Teaching him about his culture, a love of reading, museums and all forms of music were high on the list.  An ideal day will be a five-mile race in Central Park followed by a trip to the Museum of Natural History.

Cristian's first visit to a museum, when he's older, we will take him inside.
Cristian’s first visit to a museum, when he’s older, we will take him inside.

My Dad is my gauge for fatherhood, an old-school parent, who was our father, not our best friend.  He didn’t give us everything we wanted, but we lacked for nothing.  Dad taught me actions are valuable than words—when we needed him he was there for us.

A few days ago a friend advised me regarding parenting.  He said do what your parents did, and fill in whatever was missing.  That’s a tall order but I’ll give it my best shot.  I owe it to both my father and son.

Share This:
Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedin