Broken tree - DNA word cloud

Divorce: Repairing the broken branches of the family tree

Mi Vida Loca

As a child of divorce, I’ve always felt that there are many things that I missed out on due to my parents’ separation, especially because it was across two countries. Mom moved us all to Chicago, while my Dad stayed in our house in Puerto Rico.

On the list of things I missed, there was of course said house, the country and culture I knew and loved, and even though there was four of us siblings—tight-knit four that we were—we also missed out on family.

It wasn’t that I didn’t have one. I had cousins in Puerto Rico, and I had cousins in upstate New York where my Dad’s siblings lived, but most of their parents were divorced too. Most of them, like my siblings and me, lived with their Moms and had few ties to their Dads (my uncles) resulting in no ties to us. The branches on our family tree were broken.

Back then I wished for the automatic and easy friendships that came with cousins, and envied the huge family gatherings my friends were forced to attend weekly for birthdays and holidays. “Don’t complain,” I’d tell them, “At least you have family.”

Now as adults, and with the help of social networking, my cousins and I have found each other and reconnected. I’ve had the opportunity to meet some of them and form the easy friendships that I always knew would be there. Though we didn’t know each other and were by all accounts, complete strangers, their entry into my inner circle was automatic—no questions asked.

As I see my own nieces and nephews grow up, I am thrilled at the love they all have for each other and the friendships they share, even often at a distance of place and age (they range from age 24 to 1 year old). And although I don’t have my own children, and some of my siblings have had their own separations, I don’t have to remind them of the importance of family ties that extend beyond divorce. We work hard to ensure that our next generation has the opportunity to forge the family friendships that last forever.

*Originally published at Being Latino Online Magazine

Siblings and I in a rare no-fighting moment

Nothing like a little sibling rivalry

Mi Vida Loca

“We found you in the alley and felt so bad for you, we decided to adopt you,” was the line my siblings and I used on each other regularly as we were growing up.  No one actually believed it, yet the person who was being told they had been adopted always responded, “Shut up, no I wasn’t” in the whiniest possible voice.

That line was representative of our dynamic.  “We found you in an alley…” spoke of our dreams being the only child, and “…and we felt so bad for you we decided to adopt you,” was our way of saying I love you and I’m glad you’re by brother/sister.

Siblings and I in a rare no-fighting moment

That’s the way it is with siblings: the deepest of love, the strongest of rage.  We can fight, screaming at the top of our lungs or give each other the silent treatment for days on end (Mami preferred the silent treatment), yet let an outsider mess with any of us, and the rest of us were front and center on the battle line, ready for war.

No one else in this world can inspire such a range of emotion in us or earn such loyalty, even in adulthood.  And the stories, oh the stories…

Sibling rivalry ILLUSWhen I was about twelve, my little brother who is four years my junior, stabbed me in the leg with a fork.  I don’t know what we had been arguing about, but the minute he walked out the door to throw out the garbage, I locked him out.  When he came back up and realized the door was locked he smashed the garbage container into the window, got in, chased me around the apartment, caught me and stabbed my leg.  Afer we calmed down we bonded over the realization of  just how much trouble we were in for when Mami got home from work.  To no one’s surprise, we met with a correa (belt) full of consequences.

As dysfunctional as that might sound to some, in my family it’s folklore: A story that has been, and will continue to be, passed to the next generation as we retell it to each other every few holidays.  “Remember when Junito stabbed Libby in the leg,” someone will say, and we’ll all laugh and start reminiscing as we’re once again united in our shared history.

That’s how it is with toda la familia:  They throw the best parties; don’t behave at funerals; argue with us; make decisions for us, yet somehow help us live longer.

Families are important to us because they instill the strong values we hold so dear, becoming a recurring theme in everything we do throughout our lives.

What are some of your favorite family stories?

When tradition is a four-letter word

Mi Vida Loca

I had no intention of putting up any holiday decorations this year. Though I’ve had my apartment since the beginning of August, I still only have what I could carry by myself when I moved in. Most of my other stuff (the little I have) is in storage. So to say my place is bare and un-lived in, is an understatement.

During a trip to Walgreen’s this afternoon I wandered into the Christmas aisle. I looked around, and quickly walked away filled with an unexplained sadness. As I wandered the rest of the store looking for the items I needed I thought to myself, “Why so sad?” A few minutes later, as I walked by the aisle again, it hit me: I missed having the holiday spirit I grew up with and had no idea where it had gone.

Yesterday was Thanksgiving, and as has become my tradition, I spent it at home. I wasn’t sad, in fact I was thankful for the time to myself. But spending the day alone wasn’t always my tradition. My traditions before the last few years were ones shared with my family. We would have a huge meal made by Mom, then the day after we put up our Christmas decorations, many left over from our childhood. The weeks that followed were spent preparing. Mom’s birthday is on Christmas day, so unlike most of our friends who celebrated on Christmas Eve, we saved our celebration until then.

Though we rarely had much money, we were able to create so many memories that I could recount with laughter and yes, even sadness today.

I don’t know when it all changed. I’m sure it was a slow progression of events. Mom converted to a religion that doesn’t believe in the celebrating of such holidays. Forced to go it on our own, my sisters and I were a bit lost. Whose house? Who is cooking what? They weren’t difficult questions to answer, but perhaps in our sense of loss, they were just too heavy to consider without a sense of sadness and maybe anger at the fact that life as we knew it had changed.

In the ensuing years we have, on occasion, managed to get it together for at least one of the holidays–sans Mom, of course– but have yet to establish the new traditions we quietly long for.

So today, as I passed the Christmas aisle again, I bravely walked in again. I said to myself, “Fuck it. Fuck what no longer exists. Today is  a new day.” I searched and searched for something, anything, to start over with. I considered a stocking, a door hanger, even a snow globe, but thinking about it that ONE item placed in my already empty apartment would seem more lonely than cheerful. Then a sign, a literal one, lights on sale.

YES! Christmas lights have always made me happy. And so I bought them and couldn’t wait to get them up. As I finished the task, I stood back just watching them glow and knew that though life has changed and the holidays of my past may never return, it’s up to me to build the holidays of the future. After all, every tradition began with one simple act.

The hair twins

“We’re hair twins!”

Mi Vida Loca

The hair twins

My nephews and niece are in town for a few days. At 5 years old, my niece’s thick mane of hair is almost to her waist, just like her Tia’s. I couldn’t get past how adorable she is in all of her sweetness and I grabbed her and said to her, “We need to take a picture together because we’re hair twins.” She smiled and ever-ready to strike a pose for a picture, she complied.

The next day we went to the park. We left the boys playing a game of kickball behind and walked hand-in-hand towards the playground. As we were walking she looked up at me, smiled and said, “I have beautiful hair.”

“Yes, yes you do” I replied.

“You do too, Titi. We’re hair twins.”

Too cool?

Mi Vida Loca

I have five nephews and five nieces. Only four of them live in Chicago. The two oldest—in their 2os—and two boys, ten and 8. Ever since I returned to Chicago from Puerto Rico (about eight months now) I’ve been heartbroken at the fact that Michael, the 10 year old, no longer wants me to kiss or hug him. He has deemed himself too “cool.”

Because I understand his pre-teen need to be cool, I try to resist torturing him with hugs and kisses in public, though it’s a different story when we’re alone or with just family. But it doesn’t matter if I catch him and am able to plant a kiss, he immediately wipes it off and though I know it’s not personal, it stings a little. I have a 24 year old nephew and a 22 year old niece so I’ve been through this pre-teen to-teen-too-cool-for-my-aunt stage before and I should be used to it, but I probably never will.

Last night my brother arrived with his kids, two nephews and a niece, ages 11, 8, and 5 respectively. I ran to the car to greet them giving them all and my brother hugs first. Michael came out of the car, walked up to me, and with nine simple words tripled the joy I was feeling. He said, “Titi, you didn’t give me a hug. I’m jealous.”  **insert Tia’s cheesy grin**

Out of the mouth of babes

Mi Vida Loca

I got to spend time with two of my favorite people today: my nephews Michael (10) and Jacob (8). To say that I love them and they make me smile would be an understatement. They never cease to amaze me with the people they are becoming. Case in point, our ride home.

Today was report card day and as we got in the car to leave the playground they said, “Wait Titi, don’t go yet you have to look at our report cards.” (My family subscribes to the “It takes a village” style of parenting and we’re all involved in all of the kids’ lives) I took their report cards, reviewed them, made some comments, asked some questions and then let them explain the details of their grades. As they shared how they had improved or how they planned to, Michael made mention of the fact that our Chicago mayor’s name,  Richard M. Daley’s, was on his report card. The conversation, strangely enough, led to a discussion about our new mayor, why they didn’t want him to win and wanted Gerry Chico. That they wanted Gerry Chico because he had better ideas, like lowering gas prices but instead other people are more worried about lower other prices even though gas prices are so high they should be the biggest concern.

My heart cried with joy. I was both amused and amazed at this conversation. I was impressed at the level of critical thinking they had done in choosing a mayoral candidate as it was much more than many adults I know. But these types of conversations are par for the course during my time with them. To a certain extent, I treat them like intelligent young men and they usually exceed my expectations. I am a proud Tia.

It doesn’t end there though. The feeling is mutual. Just a few hours earlier Michael shared that he had told his teacher that I was an editor with Being Latino. She replied something to the effect that it was ‘cool’ because my cool quotient rose in his eyes. I was finishing an article as he was telling me about his conversation with his teacher. He asked what I was writing, and I told him that it was my latest Being Latino feature for Fox News Latino. His eyes opened wide, and he said, “You write for Fox News?” I said, “Well, sort of but not really. It’s a part of Fox News.”

“My Titi is an editor AND she writes for Fox News Latino. I have the coolest Titi of all the Titis.”

Out of the mouth of babes…

I could’t help but grin as I was suddenly cool in the eyes of a 10 year old.