I am a first-generation Mexican-American daughter of immigrants. Both of my parents were born in Mexico and eventually naturalized in Texas. I have been the first to hit many milestones in my family and life. I was the first to go to college, I was the first to go to grad school, I was the first in my family to enter the world of finance, I was even one of the first Latinas in my group at a Wall Street bank.
Having left home at 18, unlike many other Latin families, my family was always incredibly supportive and I always gave back as much as I could through the years. I remember as a kid, my mom would get up at 4AM to work the morning shift at the local ER in El Paso and ship us off to close neighbors so we could sleep and get to school at a reasonable hour. I will forever be indebted to the Castillo family for their generosity as they knew my mom was working double shifts in order to pay for our parochial school since by then our mom was divorced and raising us as a single parent.
I was the first to go to college, I was the first to go to grad school, I was the first in my family to enter the world of finance, I was even one of the first Latinas in my group at a Wall Street bank.
Through the years as I built my career in Dallas then New York City, every time I would visit home I could see my madre and abuela just getting older. I often thought that someday we would all be together under one roof. It's what we do in Latino families. We don't send our aging to nursing homes, we figure out a way to care for and support them no matter what.
At that point, my mother was taking care of my grandma, so I figured I had plenty of time since they were both healthy and active. They had their weekly Costco runs to buy food and weekly Kohl's run to "aver que tienen, mija." We were seeing each other a few times a year. Either I went back to El Paso or they would come and visit me in New York. Always staying with us in our small NY apartment with my incredibly understanding husband. My husband, being white and Canadian, oftentimes would wonder (out loud) why they weren't simply getting a hotel room: "Wouldn't they just be more comfortable?"
"Of course, they would be more comfortable but that's just not what we do," I would reply. We would sleep lined up side-by-side all in one row in the living room if we had to. He would just shrug and pretend nicely to understand. Once we had our daughter, Alejandra, it became a top priority for both sets of grandparents to see her as often as possible, especially since we were only having one child in the madness and expense that is New York City. Don't get me started on the exorbitant cost of private schools in the city. I am happy to pay 52K a year for education, it's called Yale, Princeton, Harvard.
When our daughter turned 4, we knew it was time to start looking into a second home to have outside of the city. My husband was raised on a farm so he had a love/hate relationship with the city… mostly hate. I have been in the city since 2002, so I was quite comfortable with the pros and (many) cons the city offers. But I understood his need to be able to destress and breathe in the fresh country air to let his OCD run wild. So our search began. After seeing what felt like our 100th house, my husband turned to me and asked, "Why don't your mom and grandma move here? Then Alejandra can see them every weekend. They won't be around forever." I was stunned, I hadn't even thought of that, because I never thought he would go for it. But here he was offering it. I knew it would take an adjustment for my family, but they would move to Antarctica to be close to our daughter. My mom would often mention that she felt she was missing out on getting to know her on a deeper level. But Connecticut is cold and El Paso is scorchingly hot, the two places seem diametrically opposed (and not just their temperatures), would they go for it? But really?
I wish I could say it went smoothly, without any hiccups, but it was definitely a process to get everyone on the same page given we only saw each other on the weekends.
Well, it didn't take much convincing, as soon as I mentioned it, she cried out, "Le rece todas las noches a dios, mija." In other words, of course. Praying to God every night on my behalf was not something new; she had been doing it since I left home. The only time I prayed to Jesus or God was often promising I wouldn't drink that much again. Tomayto, tomahto.
I wish I could say it went smoothly, without any hiccups, but it was definitely a process to get everyone on the same page given we only saw each other on the weekends. My husband has a certain way of cleaning, and my mother, well, does not. He likes the trash taken out a certain way, and my mother, well, does it another way. He likes the vacuuming to be done a certain way, and, well, my mother does not, I mean, does it differently. It was a symbiotic dance and every Friday we came home it got easier and easier. It's a learning process we all told each other. Plus my daughter was in heaven and having a place to leave the city was a dream come true.
Then… Coronavirus happened. As we packed the car and headed to CT to what would be our last day in the city, March 9th, I thought, this is going to be an unmitigated disaster. Four strong Latinas and one white boy. What could possibly go wrong, right?
Well, nothing went wrong.
I think the somber reality of what the country and world are going through caused us to truly sit and count our blessings. Sweating the small stuff was not on the agenda. For the first time, I prayed with my mom and grandma. We prayed for the sick, we prayed for the workers, we prayed for our friends, we prayed for our family, we prayed for our cities, we prayed for those that lost loved ones. We sat and prayed.
Being together at this time has made us grateful to have one another and we are all working together so our household runs smoothly. My husband goes out on our grocery and adult beverage runs. Recently, he was so excited to tell my mom that he had managed to score the last five cans of jalapeños at Trader Joe's. This is progress.
Having four generations living full-time under one roof has put everything into perspective. Every day, we are reminded that we need to breathe and slow down.
We eat every meal together, we cook together, we try new recipes, we remind Alejandra about her class zoom calls. We see our friends and family on the Houseparty app, we've reconnected with old friends. My 86-year-old grandma is in a high-risk category and to see my husband take extra precautions to keep her safe has been overwhelmingly emotional.
You realize how much you actually don't need and what is truly important to survive. When I hear my daughter's laughter as she watches Moana with the grandmas, I feel fortunate that they won't be missing out on her childhood. My heart melts when she translates my grandma's Spanish for my husband. Our best nights are spent listening to D-NICE on Instagram live around the table.
Having four generations living full-time under one roof has put everything into perspective. Every day, we are reminded that we need to breathe and slow down. Yes, sometimes we still have to be reminded of what doesn't belong in the recycling bin and what does. No, that's not a metaphor. I mean that literally, my husband reminds us every day. Some things will never change.
This article was originally published April 22, 2020.
WRITTEN BYVictoria Flores