Friday, April 8, 2016

Vince

Vince - One day old

My first born son, Vincent, was born at 1:56 in the morning on April 9, 1985. I had been in labor all day and he finally emerged, a ten on the Apgar scale – a perfect birth.

He was the most beautiful baby I had ever seen –  bright and peaceful, a son I didn’t deserve.  I held him in my arms and cooed like someone had given me the moon and the stars.  While was grateful for this new joy in my life, I was also a bit terrified.  What if I messed it all up?  What if I wasn't good enough to be a mom?

Vince grew quickly and displayed remarkable curiosity, taking forever examining books, globes, shapes, Legos – anything around.  It was the easiest thing to see about him: his fine mind.  

Mario and I  loved reading to him - an activity he could sit through for hours on end. He eventually caught on and was reading before he entered kindergarten.  His teacher accused me of pushing him in his first year of school.

Preschool Graduation - 1989
“Remember to let him be a kid,” she said, in true condescension.  “He has all the time in the world to learn at his own pace.”

“I don’t push him,” I answered, truthfully.  “He taught himself.”

She didn’t believe me and went through a lengthy explanation of how phonetic structure was impossible to learn by osmosis...blah, blah, blah. 

Whatever.

Eventually, Vince's power to teach himself new things took him in directions I wasn't prepared for.  He found trouble quickly and loved laughing about it later.  He listened to loud music; had colorful friends.  During his teen years we struggled and I wondered how to take control of my son; it was clear to me in no time that Vince was becoming his own man.  Almost immediately after he turned eighteen, Vince left our home.

The young adult years were rough, but God has a way of redeeming everything.  He met Rikki, our daughter-in-law, who seemed to appreciate him just like our family. I was present for the birth of his first child- a girl named Scarlett.  At one point, after I held her (the compulsory Grandma turn) I handed her back to him.  Rikki's cousin had been snapping pictures and I now have this one as a memory of that day.  It is one of my best memories - and images.

 Last year, Vince and Rikki moved from New Mexico back to California with Scarlett Star - a true replica of her father.  It is so good to have them near!

More and more of my prayers are now that I understand my own children – like God does.  So I now listen closer, knowing that I am not their only teacher. 

Every April 9th, I celebrate Vince and the way he changed my life.  He’s a good father, a hard worker and a fabulous cook --who  can make menudo just like my grandma's.


Today he turns THIRTY-ONE! 

I don’t care about getting older; no part of it scares me.  What I want out of life is to truly love and understand people for who they are - especially my kids.   I love Vince and he has taught me to enjoy many things – tolerance, respect, genuine love of people...even gaming. Even if he weren't my son, I’d still love hanging out with him. 


Vince, Rikki and Scarlett
Happy Birthday, Vince.  You used to be my baby, but now you're a man - and a Daddy.  I pray that your day is all you want it to be.  




Monday, March 7, 2016

Mom


Today, March 8, is International Women's Day.  It is the perfect day to tell you about the most important woman in my life - my Mom.

Her name is Jennie - an Americanized version of her given name, Juana.  She was the fifth child of seven, born to Ignacio and Juana Gonzalez, farm workers whose native tongue was Spanish.  She once showed me the first picture that was taken of her - a black and white snapshot of her and twin sisters when she was six years old.

"My first picture - and I was with my sisters," she told me, laughing.

"Oh, Mom," I said, indignant. "You have no baby pictures?  No single shots of you?  Where are you here?"

My Mom pointed to the bottle she held in her hand.  "We were going to feed the lambs.  That was our job, and they were so hungry they used to almost knock us over!"

She told me these stories without bitterness, about being raised in a poor family with a lot of love. She was born fifth and juxtaposed to her twin sisters, Molly and Emily; the spotlight was rarely on her.  That is, until she became Tracy's Tomato Queen.

That's the second black and white photo I remember: this time of my mother in her early twenties, a beauty queen sitting on top of an elephant, smiling broadly with raven-black hair.  "I had never even been on a horse," she laughed again.  "Now I was riding an elephant on Main Street!"

Then came the pictures of her wedding: the same beauty walking down the aisle with my father, the proud groom.  Then came oodles of family shots: Disneyland and Swiss Family Robinson.  Easter, Christmas, Softball, Mom pregnant and shopping; pregnant and cooking. Five children, like stair steps, one right after the other.  I was born second and refused to suffer the fate of my mother's childhood with too few pictures.  From a young age I made sure that my picture was taken- a lot.  

She took pictures of all of us, and soon the woman behind the camera disappeared from the film again.  All of her children in different sporting events, in their school uniforms, several surrounded by a sea of cousins.  I still have pictures of myself  at each prom, each speech team banquet, each event that I deemed important.  Mom even took the first picture I ever had with Mario – in front of the family room curtains before our first date.

The snapshots of my mother (or the lack of them) speak about who she is- unselfish, caring, the woman behind the scenes.  She gives inspiration to all of us, being a woman of deep faith and courage.  She is known as a sweetheart, but she has more grit and courage than most people I have ever met.  She has always been there.  She has been the unmovable stalwart, the unflinching love, the beautiful architect of her home. 

Today is her birthday – I’m not supposed to share her age, but she looks fabulous (and is fabulous) at the age she is.

Last weekend we hosted a birthday party for her, where all of her children connected at our house and celebrated her life.  Afterwards, they all  went to see Mario in the play, “ Man of LaMancha”, a long-time favorite of our family.  To think that my parents prepared me for the life I inherited is amazing – a sign of God’s incredible providence.

Mom (second from left) surrounded by family - as usual.



Happy Birthday, Mom!  I love you more than words can say – and for a writer, that’s hard to admit.  More than words can say….


My Mom with her twin sisters again!!
Auntie Emmy, Mom and Auntie Molly last Saturday, before leaving for the play


Sunday, March 6, 2016

Lauren

Lauren tries on my glasses
Thank you to Hannah Joy Photography


Our son David and his wife Lennae have three girls in their family: Laila, Lilli and Lauren.  When people ask me what they're like, I sometimes say that they remind me of the girls in Despicable Me, the animated movie about an over-sized Eastern-European super- villain who has his heart melted by three orphans.  The girls, Margo, Edith and Agnes are sisters, but all have different personalities Margo, (like Laila) is the eldest is parental, protective and precocious; Edith (Lilli) seeks danger and adventure in her everyday life; and Agnes (Lauren), the youngest, is a shining example of all that is magical with childhood.

Agnes, Margo and Edith

There is something special about the baby of a family.  They are well-protected and learn confidence from family.  Lauren is trusting, hopeful, and filled with gigantic expectations of life.  Since she is the baby of the family, all of the love trickles down to her and she is consequently very loving herself.  The last time I visited them, Lauren and I had a game: passing a simple ball back and forth to one another without dropping it (we ended up getting very close to 200).  The simplicity of the game did not throw off Lauren, who was always thinking of how we could improve our record.  We must have tried this game six or seven times before I left.  I was so happy that she wanted to play with me – something I could actually do.

David and Lilli hold Lauren, only two days old.  
Lauren turns seven today.  

I still remember the day she was born – at home in a hot tub (my daughter in law had all her babies in the tub).  David and Lennae had two small girls already and I openly wondered about the addition of that third child.  Most young mothers can tell you that the third child is officially juggling .  I worried that the kids (David and Lennae) might be overwhelmed… with so much work.  There was little I could offer to help –we were living in South Africa.



We were living in Johannesburg when Lauren was born; she changed everything.  We had said goodbye to our family and moved halfway across the world.  I wasn’t sure how to process the birth of one of our granddaughters from such a distance.  Getting the pictures via email filled me with admiration, love and emptiness.  I wanted to be there to at least hold her, but it was near to impossible.

By the time we moved back Lauren was four years old and she barely knew us.  Grateful for her parents, who built toward us, we began the business of reconnecting.  Only one problem – we lived in Cali and the kids lived in Kansas.  We visited Kansas and spent good, purposeful time “giving the kids their rest” and selfishly kidnapping the girls to take them to fun places that we could remember later  as shared experiences.  Whenever we are together, Lauren wants to listen to my stories – she tells me some of her own.  She loves play of any kind and always invites me to be part of her world – a sparkling, glittery wonderland. 
One of Lauren's selfies, taken in January

Last visit she asked me if I wanted to tape her as she did “her funny dance”.  Of course I agreed and got my camera ready – she danced, like a whirling wind sock arms flailing toward the sky,  knees bouncing toward her chin.  I watched it, just today and remembered her beautiful, young  joy. 

There is a line from Dispicable Me, where Gru is putting the girls to bed and Agnes says something adorable.  He looks at her, sadly and says “Never grow up, Agnes.”  It is a temptation of a parent to not want the baby of the family to grow up.  It is even a greater temptation for the grandparent – to wish that the treasured child would stay golden forever.  As with letting go such futile wishes, I have learned how to be a long-distance Abuela.  So much of the experience is built on prayer – and I pray constantly for my grandchildren.


Happy Birthday, Lauren.  As you do grow up, may you take all of this family love with you and bless the world as you have blessed our lives.  You are the sparkles in the air, young lady.  

Sunday, February 21, 2016

LaMancha


1.  Miguel de Cervantes was  a poor playwright who lived during William Shakespeare's time.  Although he was not as well-known (or as wealthy) as his legendary contemporary, he was as industrious.  Within his lifetime, Cervantes wrote more than fifty plays that we know about; none of them were successful.  In 1597 he was put in prison for “offenses against His Majesty’s Most Catholic Church”, and escaped death by his wits.  When he was 58 years old, he published what is arguably the greatest novel of all time: Don Quixote, a work that drained him of his strength and saw him to the grave in 1616.  He died within ten days of Shakespeare, but his burial place is unknown.  Passionate, yet poor and discouraged, Cervantes died as he lived—fairly anonymously. 

2.  Dale Wasserman was a screenwriter for Hollywood in the 1950’s when he wrote “Man of La Mancha," for television.  Looking at the script, some assumed that it would be an adaptation of the great classic Don Quixote –Wasserman knew it was not.  “What sort of man was [Cervantes]?” wondered Wasserman.  “Soldier, playwright, actor, tax-collector, and frequent jailbird—who could suffer unceasing failure and yet in his declining years produce the testament which is Don Quixote?”  Using pieces and scenes from Don Quixote’s  pages as well as  Miguel Cervantes' life, Wasserman crafted a play that has endured like no other.  His friends, Mitch Leigh and Joe Darion wrote the music and lyrics to the famous songs ("The Impossible Dream", "Dulcinea" etc.) and they were on Broadway.  Man of La Mancha ran for six years straight on Broadway and continued in other cities with many members of the original company.  (Interesting bit of trivia: LaMancha's director, Albert Marre, ended up marrying the lead actress, who played Dulcinea - Joan Diener).  This month La Mancha celebrates its 50th anniversary; revivals will be performed all over the world in more than 30 languages.



3. Shev Rodgers was a Broadway actor that was cast as lead muleteer, Pedro in the Original Broadway cast of  “Man of LaMancha”.  

In addition to this, Shev was also the understudy for Richard Kiley, who played the lead role of Don Quixote/Cervantes.  Shev was born to be on stage and enjoyed the life of an actor, no matter how tenuous it was.

Shev was my father-in-law – and Mario is his son.

Shev and Mario - 1987 
“I have clear memories of my summer of 1966 in New York City,” Mario told me not long after we met.  “I saw La Mancha 29 times in two months, I was practically a member of the cast.”  Shev was larger than life, and was married to Alice, who many of you know is an important part of our lives.  

When I met him in 1987, he seemed like a normal father to me.  I didn’t know him as a stage actor, only as the father of a man I was hoping to marry.  It wasn’t long before I saw him on stage in San Francisco, where he was back on the road with “La Mancha”, playing Pedro and cracking his whip.  The stage transformed him and I stared awestruck, not at Shev, my father-in-law, but the scoundrel lead-muleteer, Pedro, whose voice boomed through the theater. 

Shev played Pedro more than he played Don Quixote, who he constantly understudied for.  He once did a newspaper interview where he was quoted as saying he didn’t want to be Pedro anymore; he wanted Quixote.  Every artist knows that feeling: to be given the chance to shine at what they’re good at.  Shev was good on stage, and he worked until he couldn’t. 
When he died in January 2005 I grieved him like two men: my father-in-law, who wrote beautiful letters and loved his family, and the struggling actor who lived for the stage, but was never as successful as he hoped to be.  In many ways, my father-in-law reminds me of Miguel de Cervantes. 


4.  Mario Rodriguez is my husband.  He is, without a doubt, the best guy I have ever known in my whole life.  

Why does he belong in this story?  

Other than being the son of an original Broadway cast member, Mario is going to be part of a "Man of La Mancha" performance for the next four weeks.  At the invitation of our friend, Adam (who we go to see in every community theater production he is part of), Mario auditioned for “Man of La Mancha” at the Davis Musical Theater Company.  

Mario was cast as one of the scoundrel muleteers,  and he will be performing in his very first stage performance – EVER! 

I  am very proud of Mario, who is a little on the shy side.   To be a child of actor parents, like Shev and Alice were (Alice still is) is not easy -- you share your parents with the stage.  Mario wasn't interested in pursuing a career in the performing arts; he never had a desire.  Happy in a career in law enforcement, Mario’s dream has really been to live a life for God.  

But really...here it is, the 50th Anniversary of Man of La Mancha, our favorite theater group is putting it on, and our friend invited Mario to audition?  It’s like all the planets lined up and an invitation on a silver platter was delivered to our door.  

This coming Friday, Mario will get dressed in Muleteer costume and step onstage to sing his heart out at Davis Musical Theater Company.  

I can’t wait to see him...

Man of La Mancha is truly a unique musical with an incredible history.  Especially to our family. 


Sunday, January 24, 2016

back


The day I returned to school (last Tuesday, January 18) it was pouring rain.   I dashed from the parking garage to my new statistics class and got pretty soaked.  Most students were like me, but many clever kids had hoodies or umbrellas.  I forgot what one of those looked like (thank God for rain!)

I nestled into a brand new classroom and looked around.  Here I am again, I thought.  I just turned fifty three and I could be everyone’s mother, I’m sure.  Still, I am here and my competitive streak starts to come out, wondering if I can be the top student in the class. 

Then, I come to my senses and remember this is an analytical math class.  Hopefully I will pass.
Last semester I carried nineteen credits – and I didn’t blog.  Homework sucked up my time and I put my nose to the proverbial grindstone .  I read and wrote constantly and came away with all A’s – again.  I am determined to do my best and that means prioritizing what I’m writing. 

This semester I am carrying less units – I have eighteen.  This means five classes, two of them honors courses and one that is six units all by itself (STATWAY – my statistics class).  I type this before I hop in the shower and head off to bed.  . 

Tomorrow I return – and I’ve got a lot of nose left to push toward the grindstone.  I am determined to do my best , and that means being ready. I have my clothes set aside, my lunch packed and my backpack filled with books and completed homework

Amat Victoria Curam -- Victory loves preparation.


Sunday, January 17, 2016

MLK




We Americans worship heroes we barely know.  We follow athletes because of their sports statistics rather than their character or what they stand for.  We elect presidents because they can argue persuasively in debates, even when we don’t know much about their lives or lifestyles.

Martin Luther King is an exception.  He is an American hero that wanted to be known.  He had the most incredible family roots and beliefs that he communicated powerfully through the written and spoken word.  While he was known for his letters and speeches, there is still enough about him that remains a mystery.  

Today, I celebrate his birthday by re-publishing this blog.  These are surprising bits of trivia about Martin Luther King that I hope you enjoy:


1.  Martin Luther King was not his real name.

Michael was born in Atlanta in 1929, named after his father, Michael Sr. When he was only two years old, Michael Jr. (our beloved MLK) went with his family to Europe. Michael Senior was so profoundly affected by the person of Martin Luther, the great reformer,  that upon his return to the States changed his name to Martin Luther King, Sr.  and his son’s to Martin Luther King, Jr.


2.  He came a powerful and spiritual family.

His father and mother were both ordained Reverends and respected leaders in the Atlanta community.  They shared a home with his maternal grandparents, the Reverend and Mrs.  A.D. Williams.  

While the Kings were known for their virtue, they were also seen as radicals, embracing equality not only among the races, but among the sexes.  The King men were staunch believers in the power of Jesus Christ and the Bible and believed in living according to the word of God, which teaches nothing less.  They led Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, right down the street from their home. 


3.  His call to stand up for the civil rights of a nation started in childhood.

As a black child, Martin Jr. was introduced to the world his own black parents had to live in – a world that was racially segregated.  It really didn’t matter that his parents were educated; the American south had enforced laws about the separation of blacks and whites. 

Etched clearly in King’s memory was  a family trip to buy new shoes.  Little Martin was excited at the prospect, only to enter the store and be immediately ushered to the back exit. 

“No coloreds.” The store owner said to them, angrily.  

Martin learned on that day that blacks were not allowed in most restaurants, on public beaches or swimming pools.  They couldn’t drink from the same water fountains as white people and couldn’t use the same toilets. 

While these experiences were commonplace for all blacks in the south, it started a fire in Martin's heart.  This event began to shape King's passionate crusade for righteousness.


4.  He graduated high school at 15. 

MLK skipped both 9th and 12th grades (some historians have him skipping the 11th), and enrolled in Morehouse College, a prestigious private, all-male, black university in Atlanta. He graduated with a Bachelors degree in sociology at age 19. 


5.  He thought his wife was brave for taking him on.

After Morehouse, King completed seminary and was introduced to Coretta Scott, a woman whose wit and vigor was an incredible match for his. 

As much as Martin is celebrated, Corrie (what he called her) was as well.  A brilliant thinker, gorgeous in physical appearance and social graces, Coretta was also known for her voice: a mezzo-soprano.  Her voice, Martin said later, was angelic and worshipful. 

On the night they wed, the newlyweds were denied entrance to their hotel (supposedly booked knowing it was a whites-only place).  The couple decided to spend their wedding night at a Black-owned funeral home.  It was only the beginning of many stands for justice they took together.



6.  He’s called “Dr. Martin Luther King” because he was a PhD.  This title was not honorary.

After marriage, King became pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama, when he was twenty-five years old.  He then began doctoral studies in systematic theology at Boston University and received his Ph. D  in 1955. 

He was just getting started.


7.  Rosa sat down and Martin stood up - in that order.

On a December,1955 evening in Montgomery, Rosa Parks rode the bus home seated in the fifth row, which was permissible.  It was, after all, the first row of the "colored section".

It was standard practice that when the bus became full, the seats nearer the front were given to white passengers.  This happened and the bus driver asked Parks and three other African-Americans seated nearby to move: “Move y'all, I want those two seats!"

Three riders complied, but Parks did not.

The bus driver threatened to have her arrested, and Ms. Parks said he had every freedom to do that.  She wasn’t breaking any written law; she was just uppity and he called her bluff. 

Upon hearing of the arrest, King and his colleague (Ralph Abernathy) organized a city-wide boycott intended to cripple the financial legs of the bus companies.  A staunch devotee of nonviolence, the men were adamant that no one should lose their cool.

Martin wrote to the city with the organized plan of protest: Black passengers should be treated with courtesy. Seating should be allotted on a first-come-first-serve basis, with white passengers sitting from front to back and black passengers sitting from back to front. Negro drivers should drive routes that primarily serviced Negroes.

On Monday, December 5, 1955 the boycott went into effect – it was the beginning of organized non-violent protests across the south.  Martin was at the forefront of a revolution. 


8.  He was a man determined to be seen and heard.

From 1957 until his death in 1968, King gave over 2,500 speeches; he traveled more than 6 million miles; and  he wrote five books and countless articles published in newspapers and magazines.
Upon seeing him deliver his “I Have a Dream” speech, John F. Kennedy, amazed and open-mouthed, turned to his chief of staff and said, “Damn, he’s good!”

My favorite writing of his (besides the PERFECT “I have a Dream” speech) is the letter he wrote from an Alabama jail to the surrounding clergymen.  This portion resonates the most in my soul:
“We have waited for more than 340 years for our constitutional and God given rights. The nations of Asia and Africa are moving with jetlike speed toward gaining political independence, but we still creep at horse and buggy pace toward gaining a cup of coffee at a lunch counter. Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say, "Wait." But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six year old daughter why she can't go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five year old son who is asking: "Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?"; when you take a cross county drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading "white" and "colored"; when your first name becomes "nigger," your middle name becomes "boy" (however old you are) and your last name becomes "John," and your wife and mother are never given the respected title "Mrs."; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and are plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of "nobodiness"--then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience…”

9.  MLK set his face towards Jerusalem.

Martin had two heroes:  Jesus Christ and Martin Luther.  Both men were killed in the middle of their ministry, for their beliefs.   Martin seemed to recognize the same would be true for him.

After many, many death threats and his own people warning him to “go underground for awhile” Martin eventually made peace with the destiny he had – to die for the cause worth dying for.  On April 3, 1968 (the day before he was assassinated), he preached at the at Mason Temple in Memphis, Tennessee:

“Well, I don't know what will happen now. We've got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn't matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don't mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people will get to the promised land. And I'm happy, tonight. I'm not worried about a thing. I'm not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”


10.  Martin’s heart betrayed a life lived at full speed.

King was assassinated in Memphis when he was 39, after two other attempts on his life.  The details of the assassination are sketchy, but it alleged to be a conspiracy.

 At the hospital, one of the attending doctors noted during his autopsy that King “had the heart of a 60-year-old."  A heart that was tired; overworked and stressed – beating in the man that championed respect and nonviolence.


Martin, we hardly knew ye…





Friday, January 15, 2016

love

A special thanks to my guest blogger, Alicia Rodriguez for lending this piece to Brazen Princess.  All text here is copyrighted and reserved to Alicia Rodriguez 2016






Love has been the ultimate definition of multiple misconceptions of our generations. 

We have tried to define it, excuse it, ignore it, and some even pretend to excuse their psychotic, overbearing, and jealous tendencies by using it as an excuse. We have lost the true meaning it holds and always has held. 

This simple, complicated word that is misconstrued and over used and under achieved is the reason we drown ourselves believing that it is just one simple thing. 

Love is flawed. 

It is an invented word, created by man, defined by man, and throughout the years, it has become Latin. A language lost in the shores of our minds. There is no true definition for it as it has many sub points, different types for different people. Love isn’t just between partners, children, or family members. People love their animals, books, actors, or their favorite artichoke dip. Does this mean that love is similar to the word I or you? NO… 

Because the truth seems to be retracted from the necessary definition of love. Our minds can only expand to the levels we allow them to, which is why my personal definition of love is that it is the one thing that allows us to expand. 

At the infinite measure we allow our minds, bodies, and souls to be at, we take that feeling, urge, emotion, and we give it to another. We allow whomever, whatever we love to take the euphoric feeling that is felt and ask no questions. We freely mask our urges with self-control and selflessly enable it to be built into someone else’s castle, expecting nothing in return.

This is just one woman's opinion of the common word which some say cannot be defined. 

Maybe it was lost in translation, perhaps it was forgotten, but one truth remains- the impact of true love could quite possibly change our world.

















All text here is copyrighted and reserved to Alicia Rodriguez 2016