A Year in D.C.

I’m not quite sure that the cemetery they decided to rest your ashes in is actually in the center of Queens.  But standing in front of the majestic mauseoleum, I can see the Manhattan skyline. I see rows of graves on a pleasant incline, a few grand trees offering shade.  On one side of the cemetery is a Queens stuck in the past and on the other side is Queens embracing the future.  The two of you, in the center of it all.  I know you didn’t come all this way to stop here.  I know you would tell me to live.  Breathe deep and then run.  Go and don’t be afraid.

It’s coming up on a year since we left New York.  The decision to leave our life in a hectic city and try out a new, slightly less, hectic city has had it’s highs and lows.  I’m amazed at how a huge disappointment led to a year of learning, exploration, and what feels something like “Chasing the Sun” here in North Virginia/D.C.   I’ll admit, it is not the calm, wooded scene I thought we were looking for.  In fact, a few weeks after we moved here, we were visiting family in North Carolina, enjoying the silence, and hubby says, “I think we made a mistake.”

But it hasn’t been.  Not for either of us.  I gained a whole new perspective in education by working with a forward-thinking school.  It was the jolt to my teaching system that I needed.  Privileged or poor, middle schoolers are in an “all about me” stage.  I got them to see the value in their unique talents and how it makes a positive difference in the world.  

My husband left his accounting job in New York and delved into filmmaking.  Once a hobby, it is now a blossoming career.  He filmed an event recently and I asked him, “Did you enjoy it?” and he quickly responded, “I would have done it for free!”  He filmed Rita Moreno at the Kennedy Center and completed a film program at George Washington University!  Makes that ping-pong table at his old office look really pathetic.  A recent comedian commented that Immigrants have 4 career choices – Doctor, Lawyer, Engineer or Accountant.  I get why he thought being an accountant was a good idea…ok, no I don’t.  Accounting sounds boring as hell.

And the kids?  My 4 year old is studying art techniques and swimming full time.  The 2 year old has perfected his station as Daddy’s best buddy, Mommy’s sweet angel and his Big Sister’s worst nightmare.  He studies trains and dinosaurs at length and can list creatures of the Jurassic better than he can recite his ABC’s.  They’re fine even if, for a while, they kept asking when are we going home? And why does it take so long to get to Gabby and Sophia’s house now?

As I write this, I’m not sure if we are staying or going.  We hope to be going, but still no confirmation.  Staying will be expensive – it’s no cheaper to live here than it was in New York.  In fact, it is more expensive as our kids need private education until they’re both 5!  The cost of pre-school here is somewhere up there with the cost of college tuition.  But staying would mean more learning for me and more career development for him.  Our kids…I’m not worried about keeping them home a bit longer.  I can’t see my 2 year old sitting in a classroom anyhow.

Grandma, Grandpa, I can’t say I will visit you here often because, I know you’re not here.  You’re somewhere beyond the sun, soaking in the rays, hand in hand. You’re looking at me half smiling and half laughing because you already know what will happen.  Your children all left at some point.  Two joined the Navy.  Two went home to Ecuador.  The two girls off and married.  Each and everyone came back, eventually.  Even the one uncle, the one who headed off to Texas and seemed to never come back – he’s back now.  Now! Even though you’re gone.  And I don’t think he’s leaving again.  It’s not even about New York.  Screw New York.  it’s about you.  We all just want to be near you.  Someday, I will be back too.

So what has life been like in a new city?  What’s it like to pick up and leave New York after  30+ years of living there?  The series of posts to follow will give you an idea of the ups and downs of moving your family to a new city, DC, and life outside of New York.  

Grandma, Grandpa, and Mom in the 1970’s.

I’ll be channeling Sara Bareilles as we go as she seems to be singing my soul right now.

https://youtu.be/hNkmQmh3zww?list=RDhNkmQmh3zww

Chasing the Sun – Sara Bareilles

It’s a really old city

Stuck between the dead and the living

So I thought to myself,

Sitting on a graveyard shelf

As the echo of heartbeats,

From the ground below my feet

Filled a cemetery

In the center of Queens…

You said, remember that life is

Not meant to be wasted

We can always be chasing the sun!

So fill up your lungs and just run

But always be chasing the sun!

All we can do is try

And live like we’re still alive

All we can do is try

And live like we’re still alive


***Update***

Confirmed to depart for my 1st teaching job abroad on August 3rd!

The Visa & Flight Email

I am booked for a flight to Abu Dhabi tomorrow…and I won’t be on it.  Or, at least, I think I won’t.

We received the email we should have received last year:

Congratulations, you are in Group 1, scheduled to leave on or about July 19th…

I am booked for a flight to Chicago O’Hare and then overnight to Abu Dhabi.  I am scheduled to stay at the Sofitel Abu Dhabi Corniche – a stellar looking accommodation for a lowly teacher from New York.  Despite all this, I am taking a gamble and holding out for Qatar.

I can hear you shouting, “Go to Abu Dhabi, you Ninny!” and I’m up at nearly 2 am thinking the same thing…except:

  1. I’d be traveling alone.  I would need to go alone, apply for sponsorship for my family and then bring them over anywhere from 6 weeks to 3 months down the line.
  2. I would also be heading there blind – no clue as to where we will live, which school I would be placed in to work  or who I’d be working with.
  3. I would know absolutely no one (aside from the facebook groups who are all super excited about going and I’m NOT).  I don’t like going into this already jaded!

So here I am, taking a gamble.  I don’t have a flight or visa information for my job offer in Qatar, but I’m holding out for it.  It has got to be on it’s way.  I’m checking my email more often than ever before…every 3-5 minutes if you can believe it.

I’m hoping I’ll wake up and my inbox will have the visa and flight info for my whole family to travel to Qatar at the beginning of August…less than 2 weeks away!

 

Amor Eterno

She lived for 104 years.

She saw the world transform – from the mountains of Ecuador to the peaks of New York City buildings.  From radio to the television screen sizes.  She lived so many different lives – a daughter, sister, a Mother of 6, and the wife of a man who dreamed of coming to America.  She was a seamstress in New York City as so many immigrant women were.  She was strong enough to keep going, despite the small apartment, the rough subways, and the language barrier.

She is America, my Grandmother and the matriarch of our family.  She had a way of making 3 small pots of food feed everyone who came to visit – her 6 children, 11 grandchildren and, eventually, 15 great grandchildren and even 2 great-great- grandchildren!  Her biggest fan, Luis, my grandfather, always got the 1st plate. She and my Grandfather founded a family whose story breaks cultural barriers and defines what it means to be an American.  We define what it means to be a New Yorker.

But I only know the part where I came in.  The part where I know for certain that I am my Grandmother’s favorite.  How do I know this?  Because I am the one my cousins would get to ask permission to go places.  Like, if we wanted to go to the park, they’d pay me with quarters to go ask Grandma.

“She likes you, you ask.”

“She’s Grandma.  She likes all of us….”

“No, no, she likes you most because you read a lot.  You’re ‘responsible.'”

The funny thing is that I never really learned how to speak Spanish fluently.  And my Grandmother never learned to speak English at all.  Our conversations were a special type of Spanglish on both ends.

“Quiero vas a la park”

“Que?”

“The park”

“Al parque?  Si, si, via con cuidado. Before I could run off to the bunch hiding on the porch, she’d laugh and say, “Ay, La Niña Nancy no hablas Espanol.”

Off we would go, my cousins Stephanie and Omar and my sister Lisa.   Off to the park 2 blocks away, up the steep hill and stairs of death, in Woodside, Queens, New York.  We’d get Omar to push all us girls on the tire swing, we’d run like mad children, chasing each other with sticks.  We would stay there forever, but I swear we could hear her calling us to come home from 2 city blocks away.

At Grandma’s house, we would eat what she made or starve because there was no ordering out or frozen options.  Rice, beans, chicken.  Rice, soup, bread.  Rice, beans, steak.  Rice, beans, fish.  No matter what, it would always taste delicious.  I didn’t like red meat or fish at the time, but when Grandma made it, I ate it.  It had a unequivocal flavor, not even my own mother could replicate.  At the end of every meal, we would walk our plates to the sink, give her a kiss and say, “Gracias Abuelita.”  I usually called her Grandma, but after a meal, this was the tradition.  Always kiss the chef!

We would beg to sleep over Grandma’s house.  Admittedly, not because we wanted to spend more time with her, but because we wanted to hang out with our cousins.  Grandma would put us all to bed around 8 pm.  Earlier if she could, but 8 pm, when the sun was still shining through the large windows of her big yellow house on a corner in Queens.  We would just about fall asleep when we would hear the tune of Mister Softee, the ice cream truck, coming down the block.

“Ask her if we can get ice cream.”

“Quiero Ice Cream.”

“Que? Helado?”

“Si.”

“Ay, La Niña Nancy no hablas Espanol.”
I’m pretty sure the change in the tone of her voice signified that we should all get back to sleep…but I didn’t understand her at all when she yelled.  My Spanish was selective. Luckily, Grandpa would intercept and hand us all a dollar so we could all get ice cream. Mister Softee would stop right in front of their house and we’d make our purchases and hang out on the brick porch steps with the white aluminum awning.  We’d tell jokes, 


Eventually we’d get back to sleep on her plastic covered couches covered with her flowery sheets.

There are a few phrases I could exchange with Grandma, but mostly it was about “Escuela.”

“Te gusta Escuela?”

“Si, Grandma.”

“Esta bien.” and she might carry on a few minutes with words that I’m sure meant, “Getting an education is important.  Make sure you study.”

“Si, Grandma.”

She’d chuckle again and again  saying, “La Niña Nancy no hablas Espanol.”

As she and Grandpa would leave our house, she’d secretly slip me $5, $10, $20 to spend. Actually, I’m sure she meant for me to save it, but I never did.

They both came to visit us where ever we were.  In North Carolina, In Hawaii.  In Hempstead.  In my many apartments/houses.  But when Grandpa passed away in 2010, she stopped leaving the house.  She was 96 at the time and she’d say over and over, “Everyone is gone.  I want to be with them.” or something to that effect.

But she just kept going.  She kept cooking, cleaning, and sitting by her window, watching who came in and out of the house.

Until the second week of June, when she started to complain of pain in her stomach.  They took her to the hospital and the doctors said there was a tumor.  But she’s too old to have surgery.  They sent her home with a Hospice nurse and said it could be days, even weeks.

I left Virginia for New York on Thursday, the day they sent her home.  I walked into the room and my mom told her it was me.  Her only true ailment up until this point was her eyesight.

“La Nina Nancy…” she sang, slowly, and then continued on in Spanish

“She says she’s dying.” my Mom translated.

I held her hand.  She was so thin.  So tiny.

Everyone left at that moment.  Uncle Luis went to get her water.  Uncle Santiago went to answer the phone.  The kids went off to play.

And she spoke to me.  But I couldn’t understand what she was saying.  I held her hand and listened.  But I had no response.  I figured I would find a few words to say to her tomorrow.  I said, “I love you.”

And she passed the next day.

We kissed her good-bye before they took her away.  “Gracias Abuelita.”

Omar, Stephanie, Lisa and I hugged each other a little bit harder and broke down in each other’s arms.  We each took turns trying to console Uncle Luis, who took care of her every day since Grandpa died.

Eventually I made it outside to the backyard and I watched the children play.  They didn’t really have any idea what had happened.  Most of them won’t remember her at all.   But there they were, running up and down the side of the house like we once did.  Riding on a little Fisher Price horse on wheels that used to belong to Omar.  Kicking the ball out into the street and waiting for a kind stranger to return it as they walked by.  Asking for ice cream when the truck came by.

I looked up at the Yellow House my Grandfather bought so many years ago and how so many of us were lucky enough to feel like this is home, thanks to her.

I made a video using all the pictures we could find of her, but we didn’t have many of her younger years.  We played it at the funeral home and now the song, “Amor Eterno,” is forever etched in my brain.  I would have liked to find photos of her as a young girl, long before any of us came along.  But there just aren’t any.  Just a headshot of her with my Grandpa, smiling and leaning on each other.  I don’t know what year it is from, but they’re both young.  There’s the one of them both by the fence that used to surround the house.  Another of her by the train when my Mom was very young.  Maybe we’ll find more in Ecuador.


Gracias Abuelita for the beautiful home you made, the love you gave us all and the bravery you had for venturing into the unknown in hopes of giving your children the best life possible.

This is Not the End

If there is a reason for everything, then there is a reason why I didn’t go to Abu Dhabi last year. Actually, I think there’s quite a few reasons why. but that’s a post for another day.