Monday, March 7, 2016


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 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.