Home for the Holidays

As my last entry was 5 months ago, a lot has happened so this will be a rather long read, hopefully, enjoyable for you. After a quick two week visit in San Francisco, Lola and I celebrated our birthdays and the major holidays here on Guam. We embraced different traditions and spent our time with loved ones we don’t usually get to spend it with. Lots of fun was had, while some real sadness was there, too, since Manny wasn’t with us. We’ve done our best to stay present, to enjoy our time with our family here, but that doesn’t take away from the reality that we are incomplete on a daily basis. Every tradition, every holiday, every major celebration has had our trio together, until this year. Of course, it’s one year out of what we hope will be many years, but still…it’s there. There was also the absence of my two grandmothers that was felt. I didn’t bake sugar cookies on Christmas Eve nor did I attend 9 nights of nobenas with all day prepping to celebrate the Feast of the 3 Kings- a first for me in my years of coming home for the holidays.

Lola turned 3 years old in October, got 3 different cakes and painted pumpkins (super fun!) for this birthday. Though much smaller than her previous two San Francisco parties, the same amount of love filled the rooms as it does out there. Her face lit up as grandparents, uncles, and aunties sang both verses of Happy Birthday in the kitchen, while they, too, were experiencing the same special feeling of being altogether to celebrate this incredible girl. Since she didn’t know CHamorus sing 2 verses, she blew the candles out prematurely. Later in the month, the little Tinkerbell was treated to a fun Halloween. She started at Papa’s (my dad), then we picked up Nana (my mom) and went trick or treating in the two neighborhoods I used to go to (Perezville and the Ada compound across from St. Anthony). Even though Manny and I took Lola around last year, Lola’s a different girl now. No longer is she timid and clinging to her parents in the presence of strangers, or even riding in a stroller. This time around, she carried her own canvas bag, walked to every house, got excited by the many types of decorations and lights, and greeted each person with a clear, “Trick or treat” or “Happy Halloween”. It was a really fun night together, and I couldn’t help but feel so safe knowing so many of the families at the homes we visited. We don’t get that in San Francisco, at least not at that scale in a neighborhood.

In November, I celebrated my 34th birthday. It was pretty special, as the last time I had a birthday here I was 16 years old, a junior in high school, and playing volleyball in the DODDS Far East tournament we were about to win. That was a special time in my life, and the memory made me all too aware that I never imagined living in San Francisco for 12 years after four in New York City, taking a sabbatical year, having (only) one child, and having the incredible, diverse friends from all around the world that I have today. Turning 34 on Guam helped me see how much I’ve experienced and grown since then, too. And, for all this I am grateful.

To help keep our spirits up in spite of the separation, I focused on having projects to do with Lola to prepare for the major holidays. Our Tree of Thanks creation turned out so well that I look forward to continuing the tradition in the years to come. Lola and I spent just under a week painting a 6 foot tree, cutting out leaves, and glueing them down together. There was a lesson in there for me on releasing some creative control when collaborating with a three year old: you can paint or put some leaves over “mistakes”, or you can just leave them alone because no one really notices. Seems so simple now, but it sure didn’t feel like it then. The perfectionist teacher in me really tried to explain “outlining”, “spacing” and “symmetry” for about 20 minutes before surrendering to my co-creator’s approach. For Christmas, I decided Lola should have a tree. Well, actually, she asked for the tree. She picked everything out-the tree, the lights, her first ornament, and the window stickers. She was so proud of her decorating that whenever anyone came home, she ran to them, told them to close their eyes, and yelled “Ta-daaa!” while revealing the 3-foot magic tree. I saw my girl changing before my eyes, able to keep her focus on everything for more than two hours. Seriously, magic. Even though I had a terrible flu on Christmas day, Lola still had her chance to experience the joy of starting her day with the family at mass, visiting relatives, eating tons of food, and opening presents. She’d rip off the wrapping and squeal, “a box!” without knowing what it was–she’s still so innocent and it melts my heart.

New Year’s Eve was busier than normal since I became a godmother for the first time to Proa Kamalen, my girl Jerusa’s girl. In the morning, we went to mass, the baptism, and the lunch, then came home to take a nap before everyone came over for dinner and fireworks at midnight. It was a great night, really. It was pretty much family, with lots of food and lots of shots, while the little kids played with one another. And, with the our backyard directly in front of the beach where the fireworks are shot, we had a perfect view. Lola stayed up till 1:30am, beating out a few young ones and 20-somethings.

As I wrap up this first entry of 2018, it is clear to me how lucky I am to not only be on sabbatical, but to also spend it on Guam. I mean, logically, I knew it would be special, but experiencing it is different. In January, my uniform consists of jean shorts and a tank top, two to three times a week you can find us at the beach, and while those winter trade winds are blowing we’re spending more time on the patio reading, bike riding, talking, and playing. I see my mom every single day, my dad a several times a week, my LG cousins watch Lola twice a week when I go to my CHamoru classes, and I get to see friends more often because finding a sitter (in the neighborhood) is pretty easy. I’m just about halfway thru the sabbatical, and I’m really enjoying this whole not having to work lifestyle. More than a life of leisure, it’s really because I have all of this time to get to know Lola, to truly see who she is as a person and I just so enjoy her! I didn’t realize how much I was missing in her development when I went to work because…well, because I didn’t know what I didn’t know. She is funny, imaginative, a natural storyteller, friendly, independent, resourceful, and still sweet as pie. Of course, she is my daughter, so she is also demanding, super talkative, strong willed, and eats a pretty good variety of food (can’t forget the desserts). Thank goodness she’s got Manny’s calmness and love of nature in there, too. When she gets upset, she walks away to a quiet place to breathe and feel better. And, if she finds a snail or gecko nearby, its sure to lift her spirits instantly!

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