Bebé Plus Me: Article of Faith

"We would be honored if you would be Baby L's godmother," Lil' Sis' asked, the two of us choking up. My baby sister's prayers were answered when she was blessed with this perfect little girl.

Immediately, I accepted, as I had when Big Bro and SIL called 7 and 6 years ago with their request to be godmother to their daughters who were born virtually back to back.

So what really is a godparent I wondered back then, besides an opportunity for Hallmark to print yet one more type of greeting card? My anxiety about the authenticity of my faith, always lying latent, punched through. As godmother, I am entrusted with raising my goddaughters in the Catholic Faith should anything happen to their parents. Me: a Chreaster Catholic who steps foot inside a church on Christmas and Easter more inspired by Mami's bribe of Colombian brunch of arepas and huevos pericos after Mass than promises of salvation.

Plus my on-again-off-forever relationship with Super Jew likely placed me closer to excommunication.

And then there was the time I "stopped talking to God." Only thing is my adolescent rebellion didn't realize cultural habits are much more stubborn. Default mode is as solid and uncompromising as dogma, every plea to the Universe prefaced with "Diosito, please..." followed by: ¡Doh, I'm P.O.ed at you!" Then a pagan, religious-baggage neutral, "Mother Earth, por favor..."

I walked up the heavy stone steps of St. Matthew's Cathedral in downtown Washington, DC--the majestic church where President Kennedy's funeral mass was solemnly celebrated. This house of God was where I found my spiritual home Sundays at 5:30PM when I arrived from Providence five years ago, reaching for my brass ring.

Then, everything I believed in--job, love, who I was and wanted to be--blew up.

My major pillars crumbled.

With arms flailing, legs thrashing, I gasped for air.

Messy, disheveled, with insomnia, wrinkled, fragile, wobbly, I survived.

My faith didn't.

I made it--if not through St. Peter's pearly gates--to a conference room with a round table and two chairs just a few steps from a matching office desk and a few bookcases. A lightning bolt still had not thundered down from the heavens to prevent this ambulant heresy from soiling the Church and innocent Baby L.

Bebé + Me: Baby L

I sighed, more like holding my breath: my mission was simple, getting a piece of paper that proved I am a Catholic "in good standing." My ultimate Reform, the Restoration of my Lost Faith would have to wait--perhaps a lifetime.

Father Regan pushed his glasses up the ridge of his nose. "Hi, Viviana.  Welcome."

"Thank you Father," I said as I met his warm blue eyes.

We sat across from each other--the table, my MacBook Pro, my broken belief separating us. Before this man of the cloth, I bared my confusion, frustration, anger, disappointment, and feeling of abandonment that came rushing out, bitter tears dampening our safe harbor pleasantries about fast-lane DC life and the clingy summer heat.

What am I going to answer when Baby L. is old enough to ask me: why do bad things happen to good people and committing selfish deeds seems to end, not in punishment but reward?

How am I going to help her reconcile the temptation to make this world Heaven through self-promotion and hypocrisy, as opposed to living in a suspended spiritual state of grace, waiting--waiting--waiting for a world to come that may never?

How am I going to reason that "God working in mysterious ways" is one code she'll never crack?

No "My child" ever came, confirming my hunch that several times a day, Father Regan hears the beep-beep-beep of the spiritual dumpster truck backing up, unloading on his shoulders metric tons of guilt and rebellion.

Instead, Father Regan quietly listened.

Between us, silence settled. I felt lighter but not relieved. Lifting my burden--my frayed Faith weighed down with the concrete blocks and shackles of disillusionment--seemed as impossibly unattainable as turning wine into blood, bread into body.

"Will you come to confession, not to ask God to forgive you which he will, but for YOU to reconcile with yourself? That's what most people don't understand about the holy sacrament of confession: understanding that there is absolutely nothing you could have done that is unforgivable in God's grace but that confession will pave the way for you to forgive yourself," revealed Father Regan.

"No," I answered. "I wouldn't know where to start."

"Viviana, no matter how long it takes, He'll wait for you to be ready," assured the priest.

Then, he smiled and compressed the Church seal on a sheet of off-white paper, a proof of faith not quite--but almost--snow white perfect, a certification easier to secure than my belief.

Originally published on August 9, 2011.

Bebé Plus Me: The Power of One

Blogger-in-Chief's Note: This post was first published on November 3, 2011 to celebrate the 1st birthday of Baby L.  Lil's Sis' reflection of the challenge and wonder of watching her first and only baby grow in her womb, in the world, and always in her heart, plus the gratitude to los abuelos, especially Mami, is a tribute to all the women whose sacrifice and love are the bedrock upon which our our families and neighborhoods thrive.  On this Mother's Day and every day, thank you!

“Where did the time go?,” a cliché that sums up my total disbelief as my little miracle turns one.  I am an emotional wreck as I reflect on every moment and milestone leading up to Baby L’s birth and now her first birthday.  She has changed our lives and made it better in ways we never could have imagined which you can read by clicking here to read previous Bebé + Me posts.

I have watched her every move through eyes clouded by proud tears or eyes made wide by my smile braced by a dimple of love and another of admiration.

Her first smile--you know the one she held, not a passing cheek contortion that could accidentally pass as a grin.

Her first imitation of our sounds.

Saying mama although now she only says dada.

Her first giggle, which came much after she burst out laughing with her big beautiful brown, twinkling eyes.

The first time she discovered her fingers fit perfectly in her “doggy brother’s” nose (like the good boy and Big Golden Retriever Bro that he is, he just sighed, nonplussed by her non-stop curiosity.

Treasuring the first time she pulled herself up to stand, clutching the coffee table with her little hands.  Soon, that action, like so many others, will become a reflex, a sign of how quickly she is growing.

So I write--and can forever--because I don’t want to miss anything.

I write because I want to document everything.

I write because I'm afraid I’ll forget.

The Wise Latina Club's Baby L Turns 1

Without sounding like a starlet accepting an Academy Award, I have a few people to thank for not allowing me to disappear during Baby L’s first year in a sinkhole of exhaustion and insecurity:

El Husband.  Baby L is your world and you have become the man I always knew you could and ultimately would be.  To watch the bond between father and daughter, automatic since she was born and growing with each day, has humbled me.  She adores you and doesn’t try to hide it, as she will in many years when she crushes on a high school boy.  Pure, unadulterated love. Thank you babe.  You are our (including the Golden’s) rock.

Mami & Papi, por todo, gracias.  Where do I start?  How about: we would not have survived Baby L’s first year were it not for your love, support, amazing meals and unsolicited parenting advice dating back to 1950s Colombia which is 1850s the rest of the western world.  There is no libro (hat tip Papi) or guide better than your brujería, all the old wive’s tales that have tenderly nurtured our seedling family, starting with enchumbando--tightly swaddling--Baby L to living the Happiness Mantra of un niño bien comido y limpio es un niño feliz (Translation: Fed and changed diaper = Happy Baby).  Baby L’s face lights up when she sees her ya-yos, the name she babbles when she sees her abuelos).  So blessed that you two are in her life!

Baby L.  Thanks for making me not just a mother, but a Mami, a direct blood line to my own and her madre, ad infinitum--the biggest compliment anyone could pay me.  Every day, I am grateful for the blessing of YOU.  I love you more than you will ever know.

On your first birthday, ¡Feliz Cumpleaños!

What were your feelings as your baby turned one?

Bebé Plus Me: The Nanny Diarios

Apologies for dropping off for so long!  I've been trying to get my groove, balancing Baby L, marriage, the Golden Retriever, and returning to work.

This has been my toughest decision with a hefty side serving of peer pressure.

I decided to go back to work, which meant finding a nanny.

Immediately, I started to feel the judgment, making me feel like I was in the 1950s and not 2011.  Even Mami (who worked her whole life!) said, "una mamá pertenece en casa con sus hijos."  Well yes, Mami, a mother belongs at home with her kids, but it's not the only option. I'm choosing another way.

But how do I find someone with whom I will entrust Baby L, the most important thing in my life?

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As a former Catholic school girl, I learned to not steal or covet something in someone else's possession.  But surely it wouldn't hurt to hang around our building's lobby or the mail alcove and chat up the nannies, right?  Maybe a family is moving or a parent is quitting a job to stay home and Presto! My nanny problema will be solved.

I posted on Golden Gate Mothers Group, this awesome San Francisco based mom's group that's an oasis in the desert of new motherhood.

Our first choice was an "all-business" Brazilian woman who had worked with a family in our building for 8 years, but who couldn't stay with them because they were moving.  Enter: scheduling issue.  I would need her in 5 months and she needed a job now.

Then we interviewed a sweet and warm Latina, big bonus because along with Mami and Papi, Baby L would be immersed in Spanish.  But when she saw Biscuit, our 95 pound Golden Retriever (he also gained "pregnancy" weight and is now on a diet), she ran to the steep San Francisco Hills.

I looked at the calendar.  Gulp. I'm 4 weeks away from going back to the office, and nada.  Will el Jefe lose it when I show up with a baby in a Björn?  I looked over at Baby L and couldn't swallow the big lump that had formed in my throat.  I'm a terrible mother, I thought, and dug my teary face into hers.

You have mail.  I opened the email immediately: "Hi, I'm an Irish woman...

Not bad.

"...with 16 years of child care experience."

Excellent.

"I especially love babies."

YES!

She came over.  She took Baby L into her arms, gently raised her over her head, and cooed to her.  Baby L broke out in smile.  So did I, except that I felt a pang.  Would my little girl see this woman more as her mother than me?

We checked her references.  Everyone raved.

The criminal background check: squeaky clean (Mami conducted her own background check which may or may not involve chanting to la Virgen and praying for signs.  What?  A Dove?  A Raven?)

El Husband who is a serious, tough guy liked her.

She came over the week before I went back to work so we could all get used to each other. Baby L, always my blessed happy baby, smiled, raised her hands, tested her lungs with little screams.  Biscuit took up his new spot--anywhere near the Irish Nanny.  I had to run an errand and leave my baby, for the first time, with someone who was not El Husband, Mami, or Papi.

I can't do this.  What if this woman is acting and grows impatient at the first sign of fussiness?

What if something happens?  Baby L can't tell me what's going on.

Mami flips out: "I'm going to come over every day for a month to observe La Nanny."

"OK, let me get this straight," I say as I grit my teeth,  "You're going to observe the nanny observe my baby?"

"Jes," Mami responds with her arms crossed and one foot in front of the other--her over-my-dead-body-language.  "I'll bring a book. I won't get in the way and I can make dinner so  you won't have to."

I escape Mami's wheeling and dealing to Walgreens to buy something I don't need like TicTacs.  I call my big sister.

"Hey girl!  I was thinking about you," Vivi sings into the phone.

[Silence]

"Helloooo??  Dropped call?" she asks.

"No," I squeak collapsing into a tsunami of water works.  "What if Baby L is traumatized for life?  Mami is turning into the ultimate Nanny Cam and is going to move in to stalk the nanny.  I'm the worst mother ever!"

"Yeah you are.  NOT.  Look, you've gone down the list.  Everything checked out, right?" she asks.

"Yes," I answer.

"And if there's any comfort in this, millions of women work and their kids turn out OK.  You're not the first melting down, and you won't be the last," Vivi rationalizes.

I guess so.

I returned home.

"She's a doll, this little lassie," the Nanny declared in Irish brogue, as she places Baby L in the crook of my arm.  My little girls eyes lit up when she saw me.  Biscuit came bounding up, his tail wagging, his snout gently poking the baby's foot.

Maybe I'm not The World's Worst Mother.  Maybe everything, maybe I'll, be OK.

Bebé Plus Me: To Go Back to Work or Not to Go Back to Work. That is the question.

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Before Hamlet famously declared "to be or not to be," Mamis have been struggling with the decision to go back to work, if we can afford it, or stay at home.  Two of my closest friends had their daughters within months of Baby L.  One has decided to go back to work, the other is staying home.  Which way will this new mom go?

I never identified as a turbo-charged career woman, à là Carly Fiorina or Meg Whitman who scaled to the top of Silicon Valley giants.  After crunching the números, El Husband and I realized that because of good money decisions, plus working our colas off for years, we have the option for me not to work, and our family will still come out financially ahead.

No brainer, right?

¡Wrong!

I love Baby L more than I will ever by able to express with words or gestures.  But I discovered another “love” during my 4½ month maternity leave--I love my company and where I am within our group.  Even though I don’t want to be a CEO, I really enjoy working and contributing to my team.  I also couldn’t ask for a better Jefe--he’s considerate, supportive, and respectful of his team.  I think the compassion he’s shown to all his employees, particularly the working parents, is influenced by his deep religious beliefs and that he’s a dad to three kids.

So El Husband and I decided that I would “test” the work waters.  If my boss hasn’t turned into a male version of The Devil Wears Prada’s Miranda, if the group dynamics haven’t become a techie take of “The Office,” if El Jefe lets me work from home one or two days a week, then it can work.

But now I’m dealing with finding a nanny and the non-stop water works for the feeling and judgment that I’m a bad mother for even considering not staying home with Baby L.

For the Mamis out there, how have you dealt with Working Mother's guilt?

Bebé Plus Me: Breast in Show

¿En serio?, I thought, as I vaguely heard the din coming from the Tube. The latest  episode of the Big Boob Debate pits Michelle (with two L’s) against Michele (with one “L”)--the Democratic first lady and Republican Minnesota Congresswoman. Seriously? Is breast feeding as black and white as these latest faces fronting the breast feeding V. formula sides?

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Of course, I assumed I would exclusively breast feed Baby L. I am a healthy, active woman whose own  Mami breast fed her children. My extensive reading had prepared me for everything:

  • the sharp pains felt when Baby L. first latched on: Ready.
  • the nutritional value of colostrum: Check.
  • the tighter bond that would be cemented between us: Awesome.
  • torching through calorías to help me lose lbs’s: Bonus.
  • i-Pad app to help me track in color-coded glory her progress. Downloaded.

Then la realidad. In part because I had to have a c-section. Baby L was in breach position (we like to say our little miracle came to the world “standing at attention”), making my milk slow to come in.

And wasn’t Baby L supposed to latch on with no problem?

The show had begun: No time to feel like a failure. Baby L had lost weight at the hospital. Solution: Formula so that my baby wouldn’t starve, and a “lactation consultant.” And to get whatever breast milk she could, I became a “pump-a-holic”.

¡Move over Madonna circa Blond Ambition World Tour! I had the strapless bra with the cones. Baby’s L’s white noise was the pump’s eek-eek-eek that hummed throughout El Condo at all hours. ¡Virgen Santísima!, marveled Mami, noting these devices didn’t exist when we were born.

My home had become a pressure cooker: the weekly calls from the lactation sadist, I mean consultant:

“Are you trying hard enough?”, the Marquesa de Sade soothingly asked.

Lil Sis’: “Umm. I’m chained to that hospital-grade pump all day!”

I could hear her rapping the desk with her ballpoint pen: “If you rely too much on formula, your body might not produce. Are you yielding milliliters or ounces?

Maybe the decimal system will produce a better number for my droplets, I wondered, as a stray tear splattered onto a Madonna cone. “Listen lady,” I tightly whispered. “Bless your heart. I know you’re doing your job. But I think feeling awful for supplementing my baby with formula, when we all know it’s OK, isn’t conducive to making me flow like the Iguazú.”

Mami resolved to melt through my lactation freeze with her home cooking: “Mijita, ten fé en tu madre que para algo he estado sobre la tierra tantos anos.” “Yes, I know you’ve walked this earth FOREVER, but none of these foods are medically proven to stimulate breast milk,” I wearily offered.

Before long our kitchen was filled with oatmeal, pecans, and apricots. I sprinkled parsley in everything. Our fridge was stocked with beer and malt (non-alcoholic)!

Then the skies parted. I’m not sure what happened, how, or why, but one morning, I woke up and realized, I was the boob. I decided to stage exit left from this show.

I now watched Baby L latch on and it no longer felt stressful to me.

I started to produce more milk, maybe helped by Mami’s culinary hocus-pocus.

I became confident: I thanked the Marquesa de Sade and informed her I would no longer need her help.

I dropped off the pump at the hospital.

To all the mamis out there, including the Michel(l)e’s, our reality wasn’t black and white. We chose the gray area: Breastfeeding and formula is our combinación perfecta. Find the perfection combination for you.

Bebé Plus Me

¡Hola Wise Latinas!

Welcome to the first entry of Bebé + Me. I am Lil’ Sis, a Latina, college-educated professional in her late 30s and first time mom to Baby L. I am writing about all the teje maneje as Mami says, the ins and outs, and my reactions, to becoming a new mom. The journey here was long, filled with some dips and the highest of highs—our Baby L. I’ve had to figure out how to navigate my identity–who I thought I was, who I am, and how El Husband’s “I”, and my “Me”, with Baby L…became a WE.

The Wise Latina Club's Lil' Sis' Bebe + Me: Baby L

Baby L was born three months ago. Leading up to the big day, I had always thought I’d be the pregnant lady that would have EVERYTHING organized, especially because unlike Viviana, I have always been super organized.

Excel spreadsheets?

Post Its?

I should have patented those ideas years ago!

Bebé+Me Lesson #1: Know that just the act of thinking how things ought to be will trigger Murphy’s law, guaranteeing the exact opposite happens. With my crazy work schedule, it was a race to the finish line: maybe we really didn’t need the changing table right away. Our aching backs resented that decision. The home repairs weren’t finished on the scheduled day, leaving El Husband and I to sleep on a defective, deflating Aerobed longer than expected.

When the day finally arrived, all my nerves finally kicked in. El Husband did all he could to keep me calm. He had done the male version of “nesting.” He had electric blinds installed. He bought an extra parking spot in El Condo. Forever the level-headed executive, he calmly told the men that they could finish when they wanted, but would be docked $100 each day of delay. He also read Father’s First Year in preparation for Baby L’s arrival.

I also couldn’t have imagined this moment without Mami & Papi. They did what they have always done with their children. They devoted themselves 100% to helping us and to not missing even the most seemingly insignificant development. They staged their interviews of every doctor, nurse, orderly, security guard, custodian, even other patient’s visitors from the waiting room. Despite her severe sciatica nerve pain, Mami slept on the hospital cot when El Husband had to make an emergency run to the office. Mami and I chatted over TV, hospital food, and feedings that were at once painful, but joyous as I saw Baby L seeking me out for mother’s milk and warmth. My parents took in Little Yellow (at 90 lbs. he’s not so “little” anymore), our 2 year old Golden Retriever, and gave him the love we were focusing on Baby L.

I wonder what Mami and Papi were really thinking the day Baby L was born, which is the day their baby girl became a mother. I believe the tears I saw rolling down their cheeks lined with the sacrifice and hard work of immigrants was in part their feelings of pride washing over them. I can only hope El Husband and I will be the good parents to Baby L they were to me.

What's the most valuable lesson you can pass along to new mamis?