Friday, January 29, 2010

On My Mom's Retirement

Set me a task in which I can put something of my very self, and it is a task no longer; it is joy; it is art.

Bliss Carman

My mom was always a good artist. Anyone who comes from the Armendariz family is a good artist. Not just in the just the usual way - our art manifests itself in many different means that are nonetheless art. For example, my cousin Yvonne (an Armendariz) has a unerring eye for beauty and can compose beautiful photographs that make you "feel" what she saw through the camera's lens. It just comes naturally to her. My brother Oscar can design web pages with logic and balance. His desire for detail and ability to see and create in bits and bytes what no one else can see makes his work unique and sought after. He has that extra "touch" that one cannot put a finger on. Art after all, is not meant to be esoteric. It should be felt by anyone who is in contact with it. It should inspire and enable one to feel what the artist is feeling. Art is something to be shared.

My mom started out her education in the traditional way. After high school, she went to Art School. When I lived at home, she used to keep a large white Samsonite suitcase filled with old photographs and love letters which she would share with me from time to time. We would look through the memories, and after a while put the suitcase away. Rarely, would we ever get to the bottom of the suitcase where she had stored her portfolio of sketches. Though I may have glimpsed them once or twice, they are etched in my memory. They were a fleeting view of my mom's talent. The buds of a gifted designer. To this day, I know that her skill was extraordinary, and that she would have gone far had she continued on with her education and pursued a career in anything she chose.

But she chose to have a family. For better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, she got married, and to my gratefulness had two kids: me and my brother. She was the best stay at home mom a kid could ask for. We were happy and well fed and well educated and well loved. At some point, I can't remember when because it didn't make a difference in my secure little life, she took on a job as teacher's assistant. I know she did, because that's when her stories started. Some time when I was in grade school.

She was very happy and would come home and tell us about her kids and the principal and the other teachers. I learned about one teacher who was timing her pregnancy just right to make sure that her baby was born under the right sign in the right year at the right time. I think my mom found this amusing, but logical. I learned about the different people my mom admired. She was so happy, there wasn't anyone I can recall that she did not admire. I learned a lot about character through my mom and her experiences at school. I learned how she thought and how others thought. She was always very opinionated and enthusiastic. My mom is a good storyteller.

As the years went by, she formed many beautiful friendships. She came across quite a few fascinating and interesting people from all walks of life. Her stories were rich and colorful. The people she worked with were inspiring and quirky - all around characters worthy of a thick absorbing novel. Every day she would come home with something fun to share. These people helped form who I am as I listened and became inspired by these artists in their own rights.

Not only were there stories about her co-workers - the teachers and the teacher's aides - there were stories about the children she worked with. Their bravery in navigating the harsh high school world with their special abilities; their unique personalities; their triumphs and despair; the love their parents had for them; the love they lacked. There were the ones that didn't get so much of it, but had enough guts to continue on and pass that test or get to that prom whatever it took.

How fortunate my brother and I were to receive the complicated and colorful tapestry of stories that my mom wove throughout the years as she worked in the school system. I don't think I ever heard her complain about going to work once. Her life was fulfilled in spite of certain setbacks that tried to get her down - that tried to get us down. She was unsinkable. She rode above it all with joy and excitement every day. Her work was her art. She put her whole self into it, and received back a hundredfold. It overflowed to me and my brother.

So now though the canvas has changed, it is not time for her to put her palette, her brushes, her her quill, or her notebook aside. She has the rest of the world to paint. There are more stories for her to tell. Her home is her new studio. The world is her new classroom brimming with untold stories. She needs to get out there and bring them back to us. We demand it of her. Her capacity to show us the details that can be missed by the ordinary eye is the heart of her artistry.

How fortunate we are to know her and have her share her world with us!

Friday, December 18, 2009

You would think that after having 3 little girls, I would have my mothering instincts filled and overflowing. But after having Colin and Timmy over the other day, I find that there's room for more. When Colin called me Mommy, my heart skipped a beat. And when Timmy would crawl over to me, sit, and raise his arms for me to pick him up, my heart skipped another beat. My favorite moment of the day was cradling Timmy he drank his apple juice. He was completely relaxed and just melted in the crook of my elbow. I could have sat with him for hours.
No way do I want more children to raise, but it's nice to know that I don't feel like "I've been there and done that". I've been lucky to be a stay at home mom. I don't feel that my kids are growing too quickly, and I don't wonder where the time has gone. I get my fill of motherhood pretty much by 6pm, and that's okay. There is something to being sated rather than yearning. I know what that's like too.

Friday, December 11, 2009


I'm not one to buy too much canned food. I try to keep things fresh and simple for meals. I look at the conveyor belt in the supermarket as a canvas of sorts for the things I have chosen: Grains, meats, vegetable, fruit, dairy - milk, bread, cheese, eggs. If I can keep the junk out save for the occasional box of cookies (which I usually don't buy because I bake), I am happy with my classic combination of groceries on that belt. I imagine the checker giving me an internal thumb's up as my choices fit for a children's story book illustration roll past and under the scanner.

Canned foods are, however, a necessity. They are geat to have on hand in a pinch. Campbell's Chicken Noodle soup is wonderful to heat up and put in thermoses when I have no idea of what to stick in the girls' lunch boxes. They love it. I need to have my Pet Milk on hand always, because what if I want a cup of coffee (decaf please)? Only Pet Milk as a creamer will do. It reminds me of my grandparents. When Grandma would run out of regular milk, she would make my hot chocolate with Pet, and though it didn't taste quite the same, I loved the improvisation. It's the flavor of my childhood. I am lost without cans of Pet Milk in my cupboard.

Libby's Pure Pumpkin Puree is another must have. Pumpkin pie, pumpkin bread, pumpkin cookies, pumpkin empanadas - every home needs it. Stewed tomatoes for spanish rice, maybe throw in some canned peas, Ortega Chili for casseroles, Las Palmas enchilada sauce for the times (mostly always) when I don't want to use real New Mexico chili powder for the real thing. Besides, the kids are too small for the spiciness of the real thing, so the cheat of Las Palmas is acceptable in my (maybe not my mom's) book.

See, my canned choices are important. I don't have a ton of room in my pantry, so I have to be sure that what is in there is going to be used. No canned bread, no canned german potato salad, no lentils, no boston baked beans (but I love Trader Joe's Cuban Black Beans), no turkey chili, and definitely no Menudito or canned tamales are to be found in this house. So when the subject of the school canned food drive came up this week, I kept quiet.

In spite of my best canned food scrooge efforts, the girls are motivated philanthropists, and it was only a matter of time before Emme started scouring my meager stores. She came to me on Monday and sweetly asked for a can. How could I refuse? Sure. I gave her a can of Swanson's chicken broth. She stuck it in her backpack. I put my finger to my lips while pointing to Celeste who hadn't caught the charity bug yet.

Tuesday, Emme asked for another can. "Can I have two cans?" she asked, again sweetly. "I get little check marks next to my name for each can I bring in, and Om already has 20." Hmmm...I grudgingly look in my cupboard and hand her a can of Wolfgang Puck's cream of mushroom (great for casseroles) and a forgotten can of Dynasty Water Chestnuts. "Thanks Mom!" She sticks them in her backpack and is off. Wednesday: 2 more cans and Celeste finally catches the drift. "Hey Mom!" She frowns. "I need to take in cans too!" I offer her a can of diced tomatoes. It's starting to hurt. "But Emme is taking two!" Okay. One of my Pet Milks go into her backpack. No worries. Two more cans of Pet left for me.

Thursday comes and Emme goes in for the big guns. She convinces her dad to help her store 8 cans - Eight! - of my precious, well thought out supply into her backpack. I turn my head and walk away, thinking of the shopping I am going to have to do to replace this stuff. Or worse, what if I run out of salsa and need that can of El Pato, and it's not there anymore? Luckily, Celeste seemed uninterested. Until this morning. "Mom? Today is the last day of the week, and I would like to take in some more cans for the poor. May I have a few more?" I tried to mask a pained look, but she caught it. Her sensitive face fell and she said, "It's okay. I won't take anymore if you really need it." I bent down to her, ashamed that I am so selfish with my bounty. "No sweetie, the poor need it more than I do."

I hand her my pumpkin puree, my last two Pet Milks, some sweetened condensed milks (great for magic cookie bars), and my Trader Joe's Cuban Style Black Beans. I watch her stick them all into her backpack and stagger toward the Minnie Van with her similarly burdened little sister.

I take a look into my clutter free cupboards, and am delighted to be a part of the giving.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Convos in the Minnie Van 11/09

We had the pleasure of spending some time with Celeste and Emme's teachers this afternoon for parent conferences.

We learned that they are doing well, and are good students. (I also learned that Celeste needs to work on not passing notes to her friends. I found this utterly delightful, because I worry about her being such a serious child. Of course, I agree that note passing and whispering in class is not a good habit, but still, I'm happy that she can be naughty once in a while.)

We decided to take our superstars out to dinner to celebrate their accomplishments. While I drove the Minnie Van to the latest greatest new diner (Dad following in his car), I praised them and told them how proud we were of them.

Then Emme started to cry.

"Mommy, I'm crying, but I don't know why." I could see her in my rear view mirror wiping tear after tear from her beautiful face.

I asked, "Does something hurt?" I was sure I didn't say anything to hurt her feelings, but I questioned anyway, "Did I say something wrong?"

"No, no." She answered, still weeping. "I don't know why I'm crying. There's no reason for me to be crying. I just am."
We all let her have her personal space, and enjoyed the ride to the restaurant listening to music.

We arrived at our destination. I parked and unbuckled the girls from their seatbelts.

Climbing out of the van, Emme jumped into my arms and smiled at me. "Mommy I know why I was crying now." She was radiant. "I was happy. I was crying tears of happiness."

Celeste, who has experienced this type of tears many times while watching Cinderella, or Hotel for Dogs, or even Breakfast at Tiffany's with me - we have shared some good happy cryfests, she and I - pumped her fist in the air.

"I knew it! I could tell those were tears of joy."

Emme laughed her bubbly laugh. She was thrilled to have become a bonafide member of our emotional ranks.

Arm in arm, we all marched off to join Daddy at Bob's Big Boy.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

My Theological Beauty

Emme, with her sunny disposition and sense of humor belies her deep sense of self in contrast to her sister who is very serious, thoughtful and gifted with natural integrity.
Since I have the privilege of raising this dual natured child, I know her well, and am careful with how I teach her what I am supposed to be teaching her.

When she was around four years of age, she asked me, "Mommy, what happens to us when we die?" I gave her my best. "Emme, we are like caterpillars on this earth. We go about our business, and one day, we wrap it all up and take a very long rest. When we wake up, we find that we are transformed into something wonderful. Just like the caterpillar has no idea he will become a butterfly one day - something completely different - we have no idea what will happen to us. But I guarantee you it will be just as awesome."

Emme took that explanation to heart, and has been satisfied since. However, she is so in tune with the spiritual world that she comes to me with some questions that stump me and are not so easily answered.

Celeste was having anxiety problems, so I took her to the park and talked to her while Emme and Brooke played. We talked out the things that were bothering her, and I taught her how to meditate. I gave her a scene with animals and grass and water and showed her how to relax her body and give in to being one with God. She loved it. Happy and relaxed, she joined her sisters while I sat on the bench and supervised.

Eventually Emme came up to me and asked, "Mommy, what were you talking about with Celeste?" I explained that we talked out Celeste's problems and used meditation as a way to relax. "Would you like to try it?" I asked. "Sure." Emme agreed to it. I took her through the same routine, the park, the animals, the water, but Emme didn't buy it. "So what did you think?" I asked her. "Mom, all I saw were animals, grass and water. I didn't see God. When I want to see Him, I pray." Everyone is different, so I told her that that was wonderful.

Emme then looked up at me with her clear eyes and asked, "Mommy, do all prayers come true? Because every day, I pray for Chloe to be able to walk." I did not know how to answer this. If she had not thrown in her Chloe prayer, I would have answered 'yes'. But I don't know if she will ever walk. I dug deep. I didn't want to lie, but I believe in miracles, and I believe in prayer, so I told Emme the same. Emme was satisfied once again and ran off to play with her sisters.

Recently, the girls were chatting with me and asked, "What's a conscience? "It's the little voice inside you that tells you right from wrong. Sometimes cartoons show it as a little devil on one shoulder and a little angel on the other shoulder." We discussed these little characters and different ways our conscience shows up. Ultimately, we decided it's knowing the difference between good and evil.

Again, Emme looked at me with clarity in her eyes and asked, "Did Adam and Eve have a conscience?" I was stunned. What a good question. I was quiet, and she went on, "Because my teacher said that before they ate the apple, they didn't know the difference between good and evil." I thought and decided that they didn't know the difference because there was no evil around to make that difference. Emme accepted that idea as pretty good, but I wondered, "Did they have a conscience?" What a funny thing to ponder.

Then, last night, I wasn't even looking, but I found this quote by Emanuel Swedenborg "Conscience is God's presence in man." That was it. Adam and Eve didn't need a conscience because they were in God's presence.

I can't wait to tell Emme.

Thursday, April 16, 2009



Celeste, regarding a foil-wrapped creme-filled chocolate cake confection: Mom, why do they call them Ding Dongs?

Monica, thinking hard about why they call them Ding Dongs and coming up empty: Because they look like hockey pucks.


Emme, holding a foil-wrapped creme-filled chocolate cake confection: Why do they call them Ding Dongs?

Celeste: I dunno. Because they look like hockey pucks?

Saturday, April 11, 2009

My Newborn Baby Brooke

I think it was a few days after we had brought her home from the hospital. Her fingernails were already growing out so quickly. They were, as all newborn fingernails are, razor sharp.

I pulled out some clippers from one of my baby kits to trim her tiny fingernails. She must have been at the most, one week old. She was relaxed until I hit the quick of one of her fingers. Oh! It must have hurt because she howled so.

Really wanting to get the job done, I tried to finish after she calmed down. She wouldn't let me. She kept pulling her little hand away with more strength than you would believe a newborn would have.

All I had left to trim was her thumbnail. I gently took hold of her little hand. She balled it into a fist. I opened up her fist and then, quick as a wink, she popped her thumb into her mouth.

First Battle of Wits - Brooke versus Mommy:
Brooke 1 - Mommy 0