How To Survive October 31

Costumes and Candy

El Halloween is here and it can be a stressful time. Costumes and candy is something we do all year round, but en Halloween, it really was a dread to me as we were raising our children. 

When I was chiquita, I loved that candy season, a pillowcase full of all kinds of dulces that of course, I ate in moderation. That’s right, no cute plastic pumpkin basket, a sturdy pillowcase to contain all my loot was needed, besides, like every other holiday, mi ama was a minimalist when it came to holiday paraphernalia. What I didn’t know was that October 31 most likely stressed her out too. The whining and the nagging for stuff for that day rained down on her usually a couple of days before Halloween.

“Ama, can you buy me a costume like Lil Debbie’s?” A bruja costume? All the little girls were witches

Ama, we’re having a party at school, will you buy cookies? 

“Ama, what costume can I wear? I have to have a costume

“Ama, do you have enough candy for the kids that come to our house?

“Amaaaa, I don’t know what to wear for Halloween.” (read that in the whiny voice)

“Ama, can I use your _____ for my costume? I’ll be careful with it.

“Ama, can I go trick or treating? (this started around kindergarten age)

“Ama, Patty doesn’t want to go with me. (I had to bargain with Patty with candy I didn’t have yet)

Then it was over and she was left with the aftermath of too much candy and cavities lurking, waiting to pounce.

Then when I grew up, or when I turned 18 and became a Christian, Halloween became the “holiday of witches and goblins” Hijole! No more Halloween as I knew it. Pero luego, my pastor turned it into a tool for evangelism. All of a sudden, my church was out on the streets on trick or treat day, maximizing the opportunity to bring the Gospel to the streets. Y pues that was great for me as a single young woman, we created street dramas and introduced a “Haunted House” with a Gospel message, they were scary! I had a great time sharing candy and the  message of Jesus, a win, win situation. Pero! Then I grew up some more.  I got married and had kids and they learned about costumes and candy, hijole! 

I found myself slowly unraveling in my resolve to not participate in Halloween like the world did. If I dressed my kid up, was I a compromising Christian? Was I partaking in the devil’s schemes? Would I confuse my kids? What would Jesus Do? Esperate. I’m not mocking or dwindling this issue down to a “silly notion” this was a real fight within me, I was frustrated that I seemed alone in this stand I was making. 

 Here’s how it went down through the years as we raised our kids.

  • At school if Halloween fell on a school day, I didn’t dress them up, but la maestra always had back up costumes for those poor little kids who didn’t bring a costume from home. My son Jonathan, in his first year of school, asked if he could wear his cowboy boots, vest and hat to school that week of Halloween and I confess, I knew what he was doing, but I also knew that he loved to dress like a cowboy all the time, so I let him. I think it was Daniella who told me how “terrible” it was for them to be singled out as the pobrecitos, poor little kids who were denied the costume experience on Halloween. Everyone felt sorry for them.
  • At church, while the adults evangelized the kids had fun at a small church Harvest Festival we moms organized. Pero! No witches, ghosts or scary costumes were allowed. We even tried bible characters, but as creative as we mom’s got, the kids all looked alike! Once in a while a mom stepped out and dressed her kid like the Balaams donkey who talked in the bible. Like my ama, I was “the minimalist mom” with costumes. I knew how to work with what you already had at home.
  • The adolescent years were tricky. Three  kids in the mix had whittled down my resolve. The secret discussions about Halloween always happened between my kids, they planned without me and I was always impressed at their creativity. Emery was the master at pushing for what he wanted. He worded and timed his requests for help  for optimal results. Y pues, I remembered how I plotted as a kid during Halloween.

  • By the fourth kid, I was hands on in planning out costumes for Thomas. Daniella, his “little mother” was creative and resourceful, y pues we had a good time. At this point in parenting I realized that trick or treating and costumes were the least of my parenting battles. They were harassed by temptation and peer pressure at school and at church. They were facing the reality of God’s pressure. 

En conclusion:

Halloween isn’t so scary to me anymore. We buy candy to share, appreciate the creative costumes and take the opportunity to share the message of Jesus. As far as surviving, just keep the main thing, the main. Porque sabes que? Even on October 31 Jesus is Lord!

Ama Heard Me Crying

I was having a quiet moment with my daughter, por supuesto que we were talking about very important matters, when her ears perked up, I could see in her face that she was making a calculation about something in her head. Then as I heard my grandbaby crying, her youngest son who’s not so baby, she put her attention back to our conversation. I had already put on my “Ama al rescate” cape. I was ready to rescue him. I said “Don’t you hear?” She calmly responded “yes, but I can tell he’s not hurt, they’ll work it out” A pos si! I’d forgotten that a mother can recognize and distinguish the different alarms her child sounds. And usually she knows when to run to him, or when he’s safe and he must figure it out. Hijole! I was all tangled up in my “rescue cape” Don’t get me wrong, I know moms (me) who have missed the cry for help or were too slow, but God helped us. Thankfully, in todays story, my Ama arrived to pull Fernando out of his mess!

The American Dream

Para mi familia, coming to “El Norte” was a slow process that began in Mexicali Baja California, a border city. This is where many other  immigrants began their pursuit of the “American Dream. My apa worked across the border and my ama probably worked harder at taking care of their growing family. They went to live in a colonia where housing and plumbing wasn’t very personal and definitely not cozy. The need for housing intensified as people were arriving. One “solution” to the growing population and daily needs was to build shared outhouses in the colonia. Everything in my sheltered inexperienced mind is grappling with the idea of leaving my house to use the bathroom. Pero pues, I’m trying to understand the logic behind this solucion. Gracias a Dios, that children are different. They’re resilient, they see most things as adventures.

Un dia, while my ama was busy, the kids were out playing. Fernando was out in the colonia playing ball with his friends, he doesn’t remember if he was playing soccer, but he was hard at play. Y de repente! That’s how it is with latinos, every story has an “all of a sudden!” element. They all noticed the BIG hole in the ground and curiosity got a hold of them. After having raised three boys myself, I can attest to the fact that boys like to take curiosity to another level! After some speculation they concluded that the ollo was for the new outhouse that was coming soon. They peered into it, they sized it up and one another and put out the challenge. “Who can get out of the ollo?” They all decided they could easily, no problem. Right here, I’ll embellish Fernandos story, because he doesn’t remember, and I have faced 3 little boys who ALWAYS did everything better and faster. Is it possible that Chapparro was too eager to top all the other boys? Por supuesto que si! And before he knew it, they were all daring him to prove it. He faced that hole and the dare, I can only imagine how much time he took ruminating about the act of the big jump. For sure the voices of his friends echoed in his mind. “You can’t do it” “Tienes miedo” and then, he was in the hole. When he looked up, his friends were gone and he was stuck. A hole that was all of a sudden an insurmountable height, maybe five feet high, he was about 3 ft high himself. Panic struck him as he realized that he couldn’t get out, forever trapped in the newly dug outhouse hole. It took him no time at all to sound his alarm. “Ama! Ama!” No response. Panic gripped him and his voice went up a notch “Ama! Ama!” and the tears gushed as he cried “Amaaa! Amaaa!” The ollo was closing in on him as he screamed for ama. And then she was there, relief flooded him. 

The Board of Education

When he was out of the hole, his relief lasted a moment because he had to face ama and answer the questions. “Porque hiciste eso?” She would never understand his need to prove himself, but he would have to learn quickly that he must stay away from dangerous scenarios. And for that short quick lesson the ‘board of education’ was needed. Fernando says that one of his grade school teachers referred to the paddle for disciplining like this. Ya se, this is a sensitive topic, so I’m just sharing facts, ama spanked him as needed, y pues all of her children felt the “board of education” as needed. She didn’t beat or abuse him, she loved him. The lesson of not following the crowd, or listening to the voices of foolishness would be ongoing lessons that everyone faces.

Gracias a Dios that my ama learned how to discern those different cries we let out as we experienced life and came to our rescue, aid or encouragement as needed. It’s pretty special to watch a mom in action when her child cries out. I have a beautiful friend who sometimes will hear her kids cry and doesn’t follow the crowd of moms who sometimes apapachan, you know hover and immediately pull their child out of their distress, without giving him/her a chance to work things out and learn their own boundaries and establish them. This fiesty latina, will hear and recognize their need and choose not to be anxious for them. 

Whether or not a mother hovers about and runs to every cry, or picks and chooses which cry is a genuine emergency, the main thing is that a mother hears her child’s cries. 

My Middle Child

According to the Birth Order character trait mold, my middle child should have been one that avoided conflict, looked for the road that was smooth and avoided conflict. Hijole! My middle child broke that mold! This is my birthday shout out to my hijo!, his birthday is coming up next week, his golden birthday.

He was for five years el “baby” enjoying his papis shoulder. Everywhere we went he was seen carried by his daddy. It was a cozy time for him,  but one day, all of a sudden, he was squished into the middle position, his daddy was carrying his little brother. He would have to fight for his turn on daddy’s shoulder now. Today, I’ll brag about my middle child. He is a sweet little brother and a great big brother. He is a grateful son who honors his parents by his godly choices. 

How can I describe my son to you? I want to paint the beautiful picture of what I see, what God sees. Pero, he’s the watercolor painter, not me. 

One of the ways I love to commemorate the gift of my children on is by remembering the day they were born. Unforgettable experiences for sure. Pero, pa que me hago! I love talking about my inheritance any chance I get. Fíjense, these are just a glimpse of my roller coaster ride with this child of mine:

Emery is a tardy kid, he manages to make people wait. On the day that he was born, I pushed for two hours before he realized it was time to make his grand entry. It was more like he was prodded out. 

Emery was a quiet child, until he was not. Some of our friends wondered if he could talk, they don’t anymore. He said what needed to be said for his “rights” to be considered. His little voice would chime in with, “I don’t agree” when plans were being made. His two older siblings say that he got away with way too many things.

Emery was my one child that went to preschool, because the doctor prescribed it. His pediatrician was worried that he was much too clingy to me. He warned me that kindergarten would be a nightmare for him if I didn’t get him started in preschool. Perhaps we were both clingy because when I dropped him off, we both cried. 

Emery clung to the ‘baby’ title as long as he could. Even after Thomas, the baby, was born, he still had the ‘power’ to influence me before the verdict was pronounced, “caso cerrado!” When the case was closed and I said no, he found a loophole. When the verdict had gone in his favor, he asked for more! 

Emery makes a friend easily. Una vez, when he was a young teen, I had to intervene with a friendship and bring a healthy separation, hijole! You would think that I had condemned him to a life of banishment! He used all his “debating skills” Ya se! A real Mexicana would have squelched that right down, con la mirada! You know that look that warns you to stop while you’re ahead. Pero, Emery Greene, he’s something else. That day, he cried at the injustice of my mothering, and in secret I cried too. Pero mira, it all worked nicely, he established good healthy friendship boundaries.

Emery is confident in our love for him. He loves us, he trusts us and appreciates us. I wanted to say “Emery loves me” but it felt a little narcissistic. Es que, somehow, through the years this pushy middle child of mine has not been repelled by this strong Latina woman and he’s pulled me, su madre,  into his circle of most confidant friends.

En conclusión: 

I said to myself, I hope que todo el mundo sees, just how blessed I am! when I put on that “madre culeca” robe and tell you about my blessings, it’s because the Bible says “let the redeemed of the Lord say so!” 

Feliz cumpleaños a mi little flaco: Benjamin Emery Greene. Like my cuñada Mary says “Que te valla bien y Que Dios te bendiga y te cuide” May It go well with you, May God bless and keep you.

Thankful for my Ama

I am thankful for the short 22 years I had with my Ama. She gave a lot for her family, and it’s only in hindsight that I can see the trail she left behind so that I could follow it to find my way. Isn’t it always the case that afterwards we see better? She was a daughter, sister, friend, wife, in-law, mother and grandmother. Looking back makes you see and regret what you missed, it makes me sorry for all the things I didn’t do to make her life easier. I’ve definitely regretted  the attitudes of ungratefulness and the sassy disrespect. Ahora si, I understand un poquito what she must have felt with the weight of her decisions. If only I could tell her all the decisions, sacrifices and labors I’m grateful for. I am praying and believing in God for the opportunity to say all this to my Ama in person one day. Cómo dicen por hay, “Practice makes perfect” I’ll start now:

10 Reasons I’m Thankful For My Mother

  1. For coming to El Norte with my apa. You left so much behind. You left your ama, not knowing when you would see her again. You followed your heart with your ama’s blessing and big brother backing. I remember those days when you spoke about your big brother El Chino. The one who stepped in when your father died. He protected and guided you and took care of you. I remember the respect and grateful heart you held for him and I remember your yearning to be near him again. 
  2. For coming to America, my fathers dream. You gave up much of your culture and comfort to follow him, you gave him all your love and brought it into a new home for him and your growing family.
  3. For insisting on “En esta casa se habla espanol” I’ve managed to retain my Spanish although some might call it my spanglish.
  4. For raising us with some tough boundaries. Thank you for not letting us bully or manipulate you into compromising our safety and our future. 
  5. For persevering in your marriage. When things got difficult and you wanted to throw in the towel, you didn’t. I am eternally grateful for your willingness to establish la familia Zepeda.
  6. For teaching me the unseen side of homemaking. You worked hard and cooked with love in your kitchen. My flaco is thankful too.
  7. For opening your heart and home to your in-law children. Even though you and Ben didn’t speak the same language, your hospitality communicated your acceptance. Your kindness took away my fears.
  8. For keeping us connected to our extended family. I’ve learned so much about you through them.
  9. For believing in me. You always saw good things from me. Yo se que I was a selfish little teenage brat and an insecure young adult but you thought differently of me. Mom, I can’t wait for you to meet my kids- they are great! You would be an abuela clueca with all your beautiful grandchildren and great grandchildren. 
  10. For pointing us to the God of the Universe. Teaching us that our hope rested in the author of our lives. Gracias, that you embraced the things I learned in my born again experience and you rest in peace today. No me canso, I wait patiently (most of the time) for that blessed hope when I see you again ama. 

Mil Gracias Ama (A Thousand Thanks Ama)

Questions for Ama:

I have some snippets of stories told about my amas life, like puzzle pieces. But the puzzle is incomplete. I have so many questions I’d ask her if she were with me today. Those details that mostly us girls are interested in. Ama? What was your wedding ceremony like? Was there a celebration on such a grand day? Ama? What did you feel like the day you knew you were having your first baby? Did you ever think you’d be away from your mother? What did you think when you found out you were having your 9th baby? The questions multiply as I experience things she experienced too, the latina in me creates novelas with such climatic endings. 

Feliz Cumpleaños 

Although I wish I would have had more time to forge an adult relationship with her, I am so grateful for the years and memories I do have. She lived her life in love with her family and it showed by all she gave up. This coming week is her birthday and I wanted to remember her again. Ya sabes, birthdays are for celebrating. Imaginate, God took some time to form and shape us and it’s nice to appreciate Him for that on our birthdays. I’m grateful He shaped my Ama and that He chose her to be my mother to shape me. 

Don’t Get a Red Card for Your Parenting

Do you have any parenting regrets? Those early years go so fast and the firstborn can often be a guinnea pig receiving all the mistakes first time mothers can give.

As I was frantically looking for my wedding day photo with my ama, going through picture after picture, my eyes scanned the images like flashcards, or flash photos, a lifetime on fast forward. Despite my worry at not finding that picture I couldn’t help smiling, remembering and even yearning for all the days gone by. 

Then my eyes were arrested on a memory of one of my kids’ birthday celebrations. Once again the regret of that day creeped up on me. How can some things be so vivid so many years later? It was no big deal to him, he enjoyed himself and he forgave me 😊 but the lesson I learned that day affected and changed me. 

Parenting gives us too many opportunities to respond quickly. All kinds of images conjure up verdad? Here’s one: A friend once told me that in her third trimester of pregnancy she was at a pool party, things were great until a toddler fell into the pool, hijole! And what happened? Everyone froze! Seconds ticked by in slow motion, but she immediately jumped into the pool and pulled that child out and saved a life. Mil veces! Thank God that her big belly didn’t slow her quick response. As parents we need that, but the quick response I’m talking about is with words and judgments, asi es. 

Sometimes people, that means me too, tend to be quick with words and responses, not stopping to consider a situation more closely. This can be costly or hurtful. Here’s a lesson I learned as a newbie mother. 

Although I was new at parenting I recognized that follow through was critical. Follow through meant your word was reliable. If you said you would do it, then you should. Maybe I was incredibly strict with this because God had delivered me from habitual lying. It was no longer my habit. So how does this apply to parenting? Bueno, God really helped me teach my first born and later my other kids that lying was sin, an ugly violation which only led to bigger lies, problems and unnecessary hurt. What I said to my kids I meant. If they were misbehaving and I threatened with a certain consequence, I followed through, I needed to be careful with my words verdad? Mira lo que paso, 

My 5 year old was starting kindergarten and it was nerve racking for all kinds of reasons I conjured up. At his Spanish Immersion School, he was going to learn Spanish since his mother was miserably failing at teaching him. No me juzguen, don’t judge me, just hear me out. Although I speak, read and write Spanish well enough, it’s not at the forefront of my mind. Acuerdense, I was born and raised here in the United States. Besides, in our home; the Greene household, we spoke English. Needless to say I needed help if I wanted my son to learn Spanish, so off to the immersion he went.

Spanish Immersion

 Immersed in Spanish, like when you get dunked in the pool was my 5 year old at school. Teachers, aids, administrators, most all adults spoke only in Spanish, he was lost in a sea of spanish words. For Kindergarteners communication was mostly charades and facial expressions for survival in those first few months. 

Good Card-Bad Card

The other thing they got immersed in was color coded behavioral cards. Each teacher; Senora o Senorita, had her own “code of conduct” color system. It might have been like this: green, yellow, orange and red cards. Every child started their day with a the green card for good behavior (no association with my name 😏 ) As the day wore on and infractions happened a child would get warnings for disrupting and get their card changed to yellow. If they continued to digress, they would be demoted to orange. Finally, after several warnings a child would get the dreaded red card. Shame! Shame! Daniella called it “the walk of shame” as the guilty child had to walk up the aisle while all eyes were on him or her and change the card under his or her name to the repulsive red card. Only if it wasn’t too late in the day, he or she might be able to regain the good conduct green card.

The Red Card

After getting over his nervousness of a new environment Jonathan was enjoying his independence, maybe too much. He tended to talk to his new friends in English, at the wrong times and with no volume control. He tends to be loud like his mother, a naturally booming voice. (I must say that today he is a good preacher :)) Pues ya te imaginas! It got him in a lot of “red card” trouble. La Maestra had already pulled me aside on Open House night to tell me about Jonathan’s talkative ways. I tried all kinds of threats and disciplines to get him to change “the error of his ways” By the time March rolled around, I was tired of the red cards. I must tell you that Jonathan when he was confronted by the teacher about disrupting, if he was guilty, he admitted it. He didn’t wait to be found out, he always disclosed the truth about the red card even though he knew he would get in trouble, he didn’t want to be a liar. Those red cards became his thorn and my nightmare!

My son’s birthday was around the corner. How could a red card put such a gloomy outlook on a birthday? February was closing in on us and the red card taunted me one Thursday afternoon. Como pues? I said to my not so self-controlled 5 year old “If you promise not get a red card for the next few days we’ll have your birthday party, otherwise we won’t”  What did his birthday have to do with the red card? At that point I wasn’t asking for a green card (no pun intended) I was asking for any color but a red card. 

The race was on. Red was chasing him through the class room but he finished the week with no red stains. It worked! Then it didn’t. He stepped off the bus the next school day and he wasted no time in telling me about the latest red card. We both cringed at the ugly truth. 

Que iba hacer? Birthdays have always been a “Let’s have a big party” occasion for me. Invite friends, family and have a great feast and fun. Everything was set and the invitations were out. I had to cancel, Jonathan got a red card and the judgment had already been pronounced, there was to be no party. Porque dije eso? Why had I threatened to punish him like this? Really? No birthday Party? Oh God, I was wrong to speak without thinking. I truly am not sure which of us was more sorry. 

I took him outside to the backyard and there I explained as best you can to a 5 year old that his birthday party would be cancelled. For a moment I think he believed his day would be erased from the calendar, then he realized he wouldn’t have friends over. The piñata and the candy wouldn’t be used and worse still, was all the gifts wouldn’t be lavished on him and he was sad. I cried because I regretted my words. I got a red card that day.

En Conclusion:

I did follow through and cancel his birthday party that year, we quietly celebrated his birthday with pizza and cake. His amigito Richard came to dinner that evening. 

Dios Mio! I learned a valuable lesson that day in parenting, beware of loose cannonball words and foolish empty threats because what you say matters. Thank God for His mercy, my son grew into a man of God. He’s using that powerful voice as a preacher today.

Pastor Greene and his proud Mexican-American Mama


Me imagino, that every parent has that “lesson learning” parenting occasion in life that makes you stop when you feel the pinch of reprimand and you recognize, “O.k. I’m not going that way again” Andale, tell me, what have you learned from your kids? Have you turned that “red card” day into a lesson learned and a profitable tool?