Since both sides of my family are crazy cheesy fanatics for the holidays, I experience every holiday like they are straight out of the movies, or so it seems. Growing up on my dad’s side of the family, we would get together with the WHOLE family. I am talking 2nd, 3rd, and 4th cousins, maybe even 5th. It was crazytown, yet fantastic.
First and foremost you have to understand that my dad’s side of he family is huge. My immediate family on that side is probably average in size, but when you take into consideration the extended family, it grows exponentially. To this day I still have not met the entire family.
Since my parents had me so young, I was fortunate enough to know my great grandparents on my dad’s side for a very long time. We would spend a lot of my childhood Sundays and holidays at their house. Christmas time on my dad’s side of the family was always an adventure, more so when my three other siblings came along because it was always a fun time trying to get everyone ready to go. When my great grandparents were still alive, everyone would venture on over to their house in Azusa, California for a fun filled day of activities. We would also go to a Knights of Columbus dinner around Christmas time and Santa, who looked a lot like my grandpa, would come all the way from the North Pole to Visit our clan. The Knights of Columbus dinner was always held at the Knights of Columbus Hall and fortunately it was big enough to fit our family and close friends. Santa would bring us candy filled mesh Christmas stockings (do these still exist?) and he’d magically have enough for my entire family. Back then no RSVP was needed so how the hell did Santa know how many stockings to bring? As an adult, I feel as though I still do not have my shit together, even when requiring an RSVP. What kind of witchcraft is that? Anyway, Santa would patiently sit there and listen to what every one of my cousins wanted for Christmas and send them on their way. When I was old enough to know that it wasn’t the real Santa, I would crawl up on to his lap, lean over and whisper, “Hi Papa”. He would then smile and give me some nonsense about how he wasn’t my Papa, but the actual Santa. I loved him more for that. He would then give me a mini candy cane with my mesh stocking and send me on my way. I am not sure if he remembers this like I do, but I didn’t realize how special those moments were until I was a little older. I will cherish them until the day I die.
Around the same time as the Knights of Columbus Christmas dinner, we would go over to my great grandparents house to do a gift exchange with my extended family. Throughout the entire day, approximately 50 people (give or take a few) would come and go. My extended family includes my great aunt and great uncle’s families. I thought that getting together with extended family was a normal thing, but as I got older, I realized that my friend’s family’s didn’t do that. I am not sure how the gift exchange was organized, but it always worked out. I always remember being shy when initially getting to my great grandparents house, but eventually I would start to play with my cousins. I think I was intimidated by the amount of kids that were there since I was used to being the only child.
As soon as I would walk into my great grandparents’ house, I would be hit with the smell of menudo and I would start to salivate. To me, the smell of menudo is like a security blanket because as soon as I smell it, I feel comfort and safety. I would be greeted at the door by my great grandma with a big hug and my great grandpa would be either sitting at the table or in the backyard doing something with the family (because they got there on time). Our family (my dad cough* cough*) would tend to arrive a little late, but surprisingly we weren’t always the last ones to arrive. By the time everyone got there we would start the gift exchange. It was the 90’s and my family is Latino so you can probably guess the wicked cool things we got.
After the exchange was finished, us kids would go play among ourselves and the parents would drink and be merry. It was amazing that we got home safely because it was a full day of drinking and eating for the adults.
I will always have a special place in my heart for the memories I have of the Christmases spent at my great grandparents’ house and the Knights of Columbus because of how much time I spent there. Once my great grandma passed away, the family rarely got together anymore. She was like a magnet that we were all pulled towards. She was definitely the matriarch of the family. As a matter of fact, both my parents families are matriarchies. Boss lady’s all around and for that I am thankful.
Who really remembers the last moment or time they believed in Santa Claus? I think for most people that is a tough question because as we get older, our memory fades or changes. I have many memories where I remember being excited about Christmas and the lore of Santa Claus, but there is only one time that I explicitly remember thinking Santa was a real person, but before I share that memory with you, let me give you a glimpse into my life during the holidays when I was a child. I had to break this into a two part post because I will be describing memories from when I was extra young and from when I was a little bit older. Either way, both deserve their own post.
I was incredibly lucky to be born into two families who love the holidays. Being the first child and grandchild on both sides of my family was pretty cool because I got to reap the benefits even more during the holidays. I was the only child around so I received double the attention and double the love. I was a very well mannered kid who rarely asked for anything so when Santa Claus came to visit, it was a real treat because I felt like Santa really understood me since he gave me everything I asked for. I miss the magic of Christmas that I once believed in as a child. I still wholeheartedly believe in Christmas magic, but it just feels different as an adult. The excitement of knowing the stockings would be magically filled in the morning and we would be eating papas and chorizo for breakfast was elating. The anticipation of christmas was and still is a gift in itself. Maybe some of that magic will come back once I have kids of my own. Growing up, I never knew what to expect at family gatherings and to this day I expect the unexpected. Getting together with family as an adult can be incredibly fun and harmonious, or it could be a complete nightmare. Either way, it was and is always a surprise.
I lived in Southern California growing up and believe it or not, it wasn’t hot as f*** in December like it sometimes is now. We were actually able to wear simi heavy winter clothes and the ski resorts got actual snow and didn’t have to make their own (and they say global warming isn’t an actual thing :p). It was actually cold enough to put our heaters on. As silly as it sounds, the sound of the heater actually triggers happy thoughts for me during Christmas time. My Grams used to live with us for a while and she had this gigantic entertainment center that was in the living room. During the holidays, the entertainment center was home to a lot of Christmas decorations. Among those decorations were our stockings which hung from the shelves instead of the fireplace. Red, green,orange, and blue Christmas lights intertwined with the decorations and stockings on the shelves, while fake cotton snow was shoved in between ceramic Santas. The reflection of the Christmas lights on the entertainment center and Christmas tree would bounce off the ceiling and twinkle all over the room. We would leave them on all night so we could hold on to the magic as we slept. I was a weird kid who liked to occasionally sleep in the living room anytime of the year, but I especially enjoyed it during the holidays. The heater would kick on and the smell of the heater and christmas tree would find its way to me, and I would open my eyes to find the bright reflection of the christmas lights dancing in front of me. I couldn’t see anything else but the lights and couldn’t smell anything else but the heater and christmas tree. It was an amazing thing to experience and it is what I think of today to remind myself of what the magic of Christmas is. When I had those moments as a child, I knew that Christmas was coming and with that came the claymation movies, Alvin and the Chipmunks (record, not movie), the music, the food, and so much more. Those were some of the things that made up the Christmas season in our household and those are the things I look forward to and hope to share with my children someday.
Most people would probably agree that the best thing about Christmas is getting together with family. While I agree that this is awesome and fun (and I definitely cherish my family and time together), one of the most special things to me about Christmas is my stocking. My Grams made all of our stockings from scratch and each one with a different pattern. Not one of them is the same. In fact, my dad’s stocking is extra long because he is extra tall. The stockings are so special to me that when my Grams was still alive, I asked her to make a stocking for Justin even though at this point in time we hadn’t even said ‘I love you’ yet. It was a big risk to take, but I am glad that I did because it was also at this point in time that her health began to decline rapidly. Because her health was failing, she gave her stocking pattern to my aunt and had my aunt sew them for her, but it is still just as special. So now Justin and our dog Juno (and subsequent dogs) have their very own Grams stocking. Why is it that we cherish things more when the people we love the most are gone?
Now that you know part of what makes Christmas so special to me, I will share with you the one memory that sticks out in my mind of the last time I believed Santa Claus was real. It was before my parents were married and I split time in between both grandparents houses. When I was with my mom, we lived with my Grams and during this specific Christmas, I was probably about three or four years old. My Grams was opening her gifts and there was a beautiful small package that was meant for her from Santa. I remember being excited for her to open it merely for the fact that my relatives were embellishing that the gift was from “Santa”. If I remember correctly, it was a beautiful pair or ruby earrings. They may have not been ruby, or even red, but I remember her getting earings and everyone was in awe. Maybe I am remembering this incorrectly because I was three or four years old, but it has stuck in my mind ever since. I couldn’t believe that Santa loved my Grams so much that he would bring her a pair of such beautiful earrings. We weren’t well to do and literally everyone on both sides of my family worked their asses off to provide, so I was surprised at such a fancy gift. The love and thoughtfulness behind such a special gift is part of the magic of Christmas I miss so much.
Live and love well this Christmas, Zoo Fam. Stay tuned for Part 2.
Sometimes, it felt like I was the only child while I was growing up because my first sibling didn’t come along until I was eight years old. Being an only child has its benefits, but it also has its faults. Sometimes it was awesome because I had all the attention, but sometimes is was exhausting because I had too much attention. I had cousins to play with, but it wasn’t the same. I didn’t have a sibling to bond with like my other cousins did and that made me feel left out and lonely sometimes. My parents probably didn’t know that I felt that way, but that is okay! They were so young when they had me, that having another child right away would have been a poor choice. One of the things that I admire most about my parents is that they were smart enough to hold off on having more kids until they were in their twenties. A lot of people don’t have those kind of smarts, especially teen parents. They waited eight years to have more kids, and by the time the second kid came along, they were 25 and slightly more mature. Plus, they had me to help out if need be and to be honest, my help wasn’t needed as much as you would think. I looked after my siblings and lent a hand when needed, but I don’t actually remember having to babysit a lot or miss out on things because I had to watch a sibling. My parents had a lot of help with all of their children and I think that if they didn’t have the necessary resources to have four kids, I might not have any siblings.
Before my sister, Tayler, came along, I had gotten used to being the only child and doing things on my own. When she came home my whole world shifted. I suddenly had this baby to help look after. What the heck was I supposed to do with a baby? I couldn’t play with it, I couldn’t have meaningful conversations with it, and I couldn’t even tell it what to do. While my friends complained about their little brother or sister, I was excited I was finally not going to be the only child anymore. I was going to have a sibling I could hang out with and talk to. Well, I couldn’t be more wrong. While I did spend time with Tayler, we were still eight years apart so we pretty much had nothing in common other than the fact that we had the same parents. I couldn’t understand the gibberish that was coming out of her mouth and it didn’t help that she was like a human tornado every time she entered a room. She was so destructive that her nickname was “Taz”. I literally had to hide all of my belongings so she wouldn’t destroy them when she came into my room. I had to hide the breakables and make sure I didn’t have anything that could spill. I was constantly picking up after her, but I loved her nonetheless. She kept me on my toes and always had me laughing. I am happy to report that she still makes me laugh, just much harder. It wasn’t until she was in high school that we began to grow closer. My advice to her was more relevant and she could talk to me about things that she probably wouldn’t talk to my parents about. Her laugh makes me laugh, not because it’s a funny laugh (well sort of), but because it is a pure laugh, one that makes me proud to be her big sister.
Three years after Tayler was born, my parents decided to have another baby. My parents decided that if they had another baby then cool, if not, then that is cool too. So I suppose they weren’t not trying. Apparently my mom was fertile myrtle because she got pregnant not with one baby, but two! Before you ask, no, twins do not run on my mom’s side of the family, it was just a fluke. There is more to the story, but that is my mom’s story to tell, not mine. When she came home from her doctor’s office, she showed us her ultrasound photo that showed Baby A and Baby B. We all thought she meant view A and view B. We were mistaken. She repeated herself, “Baby A and Baby B”. When it finally clicked, everyone was beside themselves. How the hell were we going to take care of two more babies? And yes it was “we” because we were all in it together. I was excited, but scared at the same time. I had just gotten used to having a toddler as a sibling (a devilish toddler at that), now there would be two more of them! I think my worst fear was that they would be terrors like Tayler and if they were identical I would have trouble telling them apart from one another. To my relief, several months later John and Rhyan were born.
Once the twins were born, I think I was just entering the age where I wanted my own space so I would retreat to my room a lot. I also didn’t want them in my room because they were slobbery and sticky! Never fear though. Those little monsters found their way into my room one way or another. I would eventually put a baby gate in my doorway to keep them out, but they were just so cute I couldn’t handle denying them entry. They were much more mellow than Tayler was and they would just wander about my room without really making much noise. Now they are young adults and are doing things I probably don’t want to know about. They will call me from time to time and we will talk about what life is currently throwing at us, but most of the time we text or share memes.
I think my relationship with John and Rhyan is and was more of a parent/child type of relationship than it was with Tayler because I was 11 years old when they were born. There was an even bigger age gap, so I really didn’t understand the gibberish they thought were words. It was easier to let them be on their own because the three of them had each other to play with and they understood each other. They would do their own thing while I did mine. Once again I was by myself. I think that is why I don’t mind being on my own today. To this day I don’t like large gatherings for a long period of time. Even though we are more than a decade apart, I couldn’t be more happy to be John and Rhyan’s older sister. John has the biggest heart and his care for others amazes me. Rhyan is my mighty little protector and defender and she will always have my back. Tayler is full of spirit and her humor warms my heart. All four of our personalities couldn’t be more different, yet we are the same.
Having siblings that are much younger than me is one of the biggest challenges because we aren’t as close to each other like siblings that are one, two, or three years apart. At times I was like a third parent to my siblings. I still struggle with this because I have a hard time of wanting to be a parent figure to them and wanting to be their friend and I am not sure which person they want me to be when they ask me for advice. I am pretty sure it’s the later, although I want to be both, but I suppose being their parent isn’t my job. I am sad that we weren’t closer while growing up, but now that we are older it is easier to talk to them about certain things. It is absolutely uncensored and i love it. I admire all three of my siblings and I am humbled they are mine. Even though we are separated by years in age and miles in living distance, we have a special bond and I will cherish that forever.
Pop culture has taught us how to glorify one-sided social media and TV and sometimes we forget that there are multiple sides to every story. Two of the most popular TV shows that demonstrate this are 16 and Pregnant and Teen Mom. On those shows, we get to follow the lives of teen parents, but what we are really watching is the exploitation of their struggles and failures as parents while their successes get ignored. Don’t get me wrong though, most of what they show on TV is non-sense and it’s all for ratings, but the stories we don’t really get to see and understand is that of the child who is effected. This has a lot to do with the child being so young, but also because TV likes to dramatize their parent’s lives to make a good story. In this blog it is my mission to provide a voice to those children and to other people like myself who are products of teen pregnancies. I have been alive long enough to share stories of a child born to teenage parents and I suppose I wonder if there are any other people out there like me who suffer from anxiety or other ailments from similar experiences. Most of the time we hear from the perspective of the teenage mother, but now I want to share from the perspective of the child because I feel like our voice is often overlooked.
Feeling like you are sometimes overlooked or not heard can drive you crazy, but what happens if you live with a bunch of crazy people just like yourself? Let us talk about crazy people for a minute. I’m not talking about the clinically insane (or am I?). All of our families have crazy members. My family is full of them. In fact, I am one of them. But I love them and they love me. Those crazy people are who shaped me into the person I am today. Those crazy people were always around when I was a baby and young child, but the most important thing is that they were loving and caring people who helped my parents tremendously. I come from an amazing, yet complicated background. I was born to teen parents which is tough enough, but being born to teen parents where both came from divorced families made it even more difficult. The odds were definitely not in my parents favor, but they overcame the odds in more ways than one. Both sides of my family had to learn together what it was like to raise teenagers and their infant daughter. We all grew up together and we continue to grow whether we are living near or far. When I was a kid, one of the running jokes my aunt used to tell me to try and scare me when I was acting up (which was almost never because I was a weird kid and I never cried or got into trouble) was that she was going to take me back to where I really came from. She was going to take me back to my real parents (monkeys) at the zoo (probably because I was a hairy child and my parents were crazy like monkeys). If you find this funny and want your kid to turn out totally cool like me, I have many character building stories just like this one so stay tuned! If you really think about it though, a lot of families are ‘zoo-like’. There are so many different dynamics, but it works. It is because of things like telling me that I was born at the zoo that I have a twisted and sometimes morbid sense of humor. It wasn’t always sunshine and rainbows being raised by teen parents. There were many ups and there were many downs, but I never went without and my parents always put me first. And to be clear, I had an amazing childhood, but it definitely wasn’t perfect.
It took me a very long time to mentally get to where I am today and I hope to grow even more as time passes. Finishing school in the last year and a half and finally getting my bachelor’s degree felt like one giant therapy session. Switching my major from Liberal Arts to Psychology was one of the best decisions I ever made. Not only did I grow as a person, I was able to recognize things about who I am and where I come from in a way that I have never thought about before. I have a better and deeper understanding of who I am and where I came from. I also gained a new form of respect for my parents and myself.
I used to be an extremely anxious person all the time with high levels of anxiety because I was constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop. In my adolescence and early twenties I chose to dwell and remember only the bad things that I had gone through with my parents (fights, family drama, being everyone’s therapist), but what I failed to see was that those experiences were important because my family was learning as things were happening. My grandparents had no experience in raising children that had a child themselves. Since I did know some of my family member’s deepest thoughts and secrets, I developed a lot of character and personality over the years, but I also gained a huge weight on my chest knowing the personal individual struggles of family members. I shouldn’t have had to hear the fights or known everyone’s business, but it is because of those experiences that I am who I am today. Those experiences and memories outline the conversations I have with my partner, teachers, co-workers, friends, and strangers on a daily basis. We are 100% made up of our memories and experiences. Without our memories and experiences, we would have nothing. We would be walking around mindless and emotionless. Just always remember that the experiences you want your children to have will define who they could become in the future. Don’t let your kids do asshole things because chances are they will do asshole things as adults. You are the creator of your life and the creator of your child’s life.
I am so excited to be writing again, but sometimes my words don’t work when said out loud so writing helps me express myself when words fail me. The way I speak to myself in my brain is nothing like what I sound like in real life. I feel like I am my true self when I am writing. I am 100% uncensored and honest. It is kind of like writing in a journal for the entire world to read. I may not have a million followers, but it makes me happy to be writing for those of you that are reading this and I hope that through my writings I might be able to help someone else who is going through a difficult time or that just needs a break from their norm. I want to document my life experiences to let you know you aren’t alone in your struggles. Everyone is human and has problems and if they try to tell you otherwise, then they are just lying to themselves and are full of shit.
There ARE silver linings and pots of gold at the end of rainbows, but that doesn’t come without a few storms here and there. I think a lot of people try to escape the craziness of their lives in hopes of finding peace by leaving. I did it. While some people might call it running away from their problems, I call it trying to find sanity and inner peace. When I left California I left my entire family behind, I left all of my friends behind, and I left behind all of the beautiful mountains and beaches California has to offer. But the most amazing thing I left behind was my anxiety (not all of it, but most of it…life would be boring if I didn’t have a little anxiety…said no one ever). Even though I left the crazy in California, I find myself wanting the crazy back. Not all of the time, but once in a while. I want to hug my family and friends and go to the beach. Sometimes I just want someone to take me back to the zoo.