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The Chaos Mini-Series

Welcome to my chaotic life of FIVE small children and a traveling husband! This blog is actually a "work in progress" and serves as a loose outline for a humorous non-fiction book I strive to publish by the end of this calendar year. Each entry builds upon the one just prior to it so it is best to begin with Part I. This story begins just four short years ago when a tsunami of unfortunate, tragic and hectic events brutally pounded us one right after another. As my family and I endured and eventually overcame each wave of misfortune, we kept our heads (barely) above water and held high, eyes wide open and hearts on "stand by" as we witnessed new opportunities and blessings emerge from the CHAOS...

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Good-bye dogs, another chapter is over

So here we are, 3 weeks away from the birth of our fifth and FINAL child and we are moving again! Thanks to my colloquial Spanish, psychological insights, (and monetary enticements,) I was able to convince my domestic goddesses to stay and help us right on through the programmed move. Our daily routine consisted of spending a few hours every afternoon driving around town with realtors looking for the “perfect apartment” for a family that HATES apartment living. Sound difficult?

Because of the anticipated apartment situation, we had to put ads in the local newspaper announcing that we were looking for a good home for our “boys”- dogs. My husband was heart-broken each time he glanced in their direction knowing that at any moment they would cease to be part of our family. These dogs were his life and he was tormented by guilt feeling he was abandoning them. But there was no alternative. Two active 80-pound dogs that are used to running and chasing squirrels and iguanas all day, are not going to be too thrilled cooped up indoors laying around on a marble floor.

Nonetheless, the first parental prospect for our canine was this big-boobed free-agent model chick who came to the house to specifically “meet” one of the dogs, our gorgeous vivacious full bred white American Labrador Retriever named Izu. She fell in love with him immediately and because he´s easily won over by anyone with food, we knew that he wouldn´t suffer too much separation anxiety provided she had a stocked fridge.

The other dog, our beloved Moishe, the one we had originally rescued from a drug-addict infested condemned beach shack in Costa Rica, was already up there in years and would not be such an easy sell.

Moishe was not royalty. He did not have any papers nor an authenticity chip demonstrating his pedigree like Izu. He was a mutt. He also had a very unusual condition in that his testicles never descended and one knife-happy vet concluded that he was a hermaphrodite. We never bought into that theory for Moishe acted braver and nobler than the biggest-balled Pit Bull we ever knew.

And he was the most loyal, humble, appreciative and wise animal we ever knew. He carried himself like a full breed and was careful not to bite anyone´s fingers off when they slipped him some expensive cuts of steak under the table- unlike his expensive white “brother” who gulped anything and everything down like a ferocious savage.

Izu, the "fancy one," had a personality disorder. He could not get along with another dog. In fact, the mere sight of another dog, even in print enraged him so. As a result, we spent a great deal of money over the years paying neighbors´ veterinary bills thanks to Izu´s lack of social skills.

In hindsight, the dynamic between the two dogs probably gave way to Izu´s anxiety disorder. Moishe was a barker- he would bark endlessly at a mosquito if we allowed it. He was addicted to barking and we never understood why he never contracted laryngitis. Izu would react to Moishe´s barking instigations and go in for the kill. As a result, Moishe would come out "clean and innocent" while Izu would end up with every species of insect, rodent, amphibian and bird in his non-discriminating, taste-buds lacking orifice.

Moishe was able to tolerate and further manipulate him because Moishe was already with us when we acquired Izu as a 3-pound puppy. And due to Moishe´s innate street-smarts, survival skills and maturity beyond what is normal for a dog, he learned how to ignore much of Izu´s offenses and eventually re-direct them for his own personal advantage.

Apparently, we spent much time over the years musing about the interactions between the two. We laughed ceaselessly as we mimicked them with our "doggie-voices" as if we knew exactly what they were thinking. And we were usually right most of the time. We studied and analyzed them like two geeks in a psych lab and read their minds the way a parent instinctively knows her own flesh and blood child.

But now it was time to say goodbye.

This chapter was over and I feared for my husband´s fragile state of mind. He had become way too attached over the years and without much mental preparation, his (original) boys were soon to be taken from him...

To be continued…

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

My Drama Queens are ready to abandon me-Bracing again for change

Those nights following the break-in were eternal and not only were my husband and I unable to sleep, but the three live-in domestic employees also found themselves awake with fear at all hours of the night. These terrified adults were plagued with panic attacks that had them re-enacting those harrowing minutes of the armed break-in robbery over and over again when they were supposed to be asleep.

As a result of all the dysfunctional sleep patterns, the mood in the house changed and I smelled a total walkout. I just know "my people" and I know that when things get tough, they (the nannies) split. Each one could easily compete with Hollywood’s top box office actors for an Oscar. These performing artists will stare you squarely in the eye while swearing on their mother’s life that they will return from their day off, and the instant they step outside the door, they vanish into thin air never to be heard from again. It is a fascinating mystery.

Nevertheless, I indulged in these histrionic women´s senseless banter replete with circular arguments based upon hypothetical scenarios. The good thing is that by paying my dues listening to their theatrical monologues, I had convinced each one of my drama queens to stay until the next quincena, or pay period. I also alluded to a “bonus” for doing so, which in plain terms was no less than a flat out bribe designed to entice them into not abandoning me just yet.

I played along and allowed them to perform for me. (Knowing what I know now that I didn’t know then about American culture, in all my years in Panama, I could have produced a contest show entitled, “So You Want to Be a Soap Star.”) Upon telling them that I believed their sincerity, I´d spend most of my days secretly interviewing back-up nannies in my “office” down the street located in the bakery section of a local cafeteria.

As if this were not enough to deal with 26 days till delivery, we also began talking about moving again and finding alternate homes for our two dogs we had been raising for seven years. After eight years of fighting the conventional system which dictates that most of the level-headed people in society live in high rises, we were finally ready to give up our sprawling home spread out across almost an acre of land, and move into a “building.” Security was the new priority. We really had no other options at that time.

Once again, we were “on the move” and hustling to make “last minute” major life decisions…

To be continued…

Saturday, April 3, 2010

The System Fails Us...Part XXII

Yes, we were indeed still living in a backwards, corrupt, disorganized country run by under qualified self interested illiterates with a legal system as archaic and irrelevant as a horse and carriage on modern day I-95!

My girl was a smart and savvy cookie and despite her broken Spanish which consisted of a vocabulary of no more than fifty words, her impressive depth of knowledge of the laws protecting her rights as a minor would rival that of any lawyer. The lawmakers in all their infinite wisdom (and under-the-table bribe-taking) had decided in your typical communist, (overprotect the poor, mistreated, overburdened worker) fashion that not even a full confession could put a guilty under-aged felon in prison.

Despite her complete admission to the crime and subsequent submission of the accomplices´ names, phone numbers, addresses and details about the actual crime planning, the nanny swaggered out of the police station with a coke and a smile- a free bird.

She was just a few months shy of eighteen and was well aware that her government believed in "rehabilitation" for people like her. Shrewdly, she took advantage of the timing so that her age, domestic employment and imprisoned boyfriend all coincided perfectly to hence, create the "perfect crime."

I tried earnestly and in vain to challenge the system and even turned over all the evidence I had found in my own home including phone records of the calls this academic made from my personal home land line. At the very least, I wanted somebody held responsible for this fright that would wreak havoc in several people’s lives for months to come. The actual armed robbers were well into their twenties and they were the ones that broke in and put the fear of God into everybody, not to mention the PTSD that would ensue disturbing many nights of peaceful sleep.

Yet, once again, this brilliant system failed to protect me, "the aristocrat" (as if I were nobility worth millions,) but victim no less. The righteous judges that heard the case had resolved to dismiss all of the information she had confided during her voluntary confession because of her “tender” age.

You got it! The leads that she provided were thrown out and the entire matter died, right along with my sense of justice. I was enraged and wanted blood and vowed to hunt her down and take the law into my own hands. After all, it had failed us miserably. To add insult to injury, the so-called statute stipulated that even if she had been fired based upon the proof of theft or child abuse, for example, I still had to pay her severance and liquidation.

This was too much for me to swallow and when her mother called me to "collect" her daughter’s remaining paycheck, I just about sent her to h-ll. I told her that when her delinquent kid returns my jewelry, (that she had previously confessed to the investigators was being strutted around town in by her sister,) I would pay her last salary owed. Once again, the "apple falls right next to the tree" and her mother, totally disinterested and unapologetic unabashedly reiterated her working daughter’s "rights" to her remaining fifty dollars. Knowing that this simple gesture could get my residency revoked, get me arrested or hunted down by her other scholarly acquaintances, I chose to slam down the phone and take my chances.

To be continued...

Monday, March 29, 2010

The nannie was the mastermind behind it all...Part XXI

My hunches told me that this young kid had more street smarts than she cared to admit. She was very cool and composed, indeed, while the others were genuinely traumatized and panic-stricken. Apparently, she had slept through the entire night after the crime had been committed, unlike the others who were too terrified to relax into sleep.

When we got home we were interrogated by police officers and investigators to determine how the intruders entered if there were no signs of forced entry. Upon further collaboration and listening to all versions of how it all transpired, we were growing suspicious.

She stated that when the doorbell rang, (which curiously nobody else seemed to have heard,) she opened the door to personally tell the visitors that we were not home. What? How ridiculous of a story is that? Even any kindergartner knows not to open the door to tell an outsider that mommy and daddy aren´t home; one simply talks through a closed door. Besides, this theatrical artist apparently made a quick phone call from my house phone just before the thieves had arrived and immediately thereafter.

The next day all the housekeepers plus our dear friend were summoned down to the police headquarters to give a statement. One at a time, they left for about three hour intervals. As one arrived, the other would depart; it was a relay race of sorts minus any contact between parties while each was giving their formal account of the robbery. We sought to prevent anyone´s path from crossing for fear of a collaborated conspiracy. We trusted no one and we had good reason.

I chose to send this young apprentice the following day first thing in the morning. I wanted her to leave immediately without breakfast or coffee, fresh out of bed. Trying to think like an interrogator myself, I reasoned that by mid-morning, this famished teenager would be singing like a canary just to alleviate her starvation and succumb to her caffeine craving. I also knew she had not a dime on her, so purchasing a quick snack for herself was out of the question. Hunger would be a powerful motivator, I assumed, based on my empirical knowledge gained from observing her eat like a savage in my own home for three months!

As soon as she left to go downtown, I entered her room and scoured through her personal things. Trying not to vomit from the filth in which this conniving, heartless scavenger lived, I stumbled upon a small notepad filled with personal information, diary-type entries, and lists of phone numbers. I nervously ripped out page after page and snuck back into my bedroom to read through it all.

By 11am that morning, I got a phone call from the head detective, a woman who also smelled a rat from the minute she had arrived at my house and had spoken with all witnesses. She told me the girl, stomach rumbling and miserably uncomfortable, confessed. I told her I would be coming down to the station that afternoon to show her some interesting information that would be instrumental to her conviction. She was delighted.

Everything I found would have been enough evidence to accuse her of being an accomplice to first degree armed robbery. I was appalled that this monster had volunteered to put my four precious and innocent children in harm´s way...

They had trusted her. They cuddled up with her while watching movies at night. She made beautiful braids in their hair. My eldest daughter had even entrusted her to help care for her pet turtle Rainbow, who curiously was found dead the morning after this paid employee supposedly just changed the murky tank water.

Things were started to come together. The muffled cell phone calls she received incessantly and the "quick errands" she always had to run spontaneously. I especially always noticed her gazing and surveying everything in the house, as though she were taking notes.

It was an open and closed case, I was certain. Except for one thing, the law was on her side despite the overwhelming mounting evidence and confession....we were STILL living in a third world country, HER COUNTRY...

To be continued...

When can I have my nervous breakdown already?...Part XX

We were completely helpless. We could not get off this island until the first "canoe taxi" arrived to pick us up at 8am. We laid awake the entire night imagining the horrific scene over and over again and reenacting it to figure out how it all went down.

I assume that our friend did not want to tell us too much. She actually called my husband directly and prepped him on what to tell me word for word for fear that I go into labor. Didn´t matter much. I read it on his face from the minute he answered the phone call.

Right after she told me that the children were unharmed and had remained deeply asleep, she confessed that the thieves had kicked in our bedroom door after breaking the lock and had taken every single piece of jewelry that I owned. This was indeed my entire stock. I took nothing but my simple wedding band to our rustic getaway and left all else openly exhibited and “there for the taking” right on top of my dresser in an unlocked glass case. Serve yourselves guys. My entire collection was purchased for me by my husband because ironically, I was wiped out clean ten years before while vacationing in Key West and a robber entered into my hotel room. Aren´t I just a magnet for good fortune? What are the odds that something like that really happens?

So much for material possessions. Spiritually, I had sensed a very strange vibration to the likes of an out of body experience as soon as the words left my friend´s mouth. I felt a gigantic wave of air in the form of an exhale leave my body, like a giant release and afterward felt much much lighter. I had instantly let go of all attachment to those sentimental objects so willingly and with such gratitude for the safety of my children. After hearing that they were okay, nothing else really mattered and my spirit lightened as I detached. I had actually understood at a cellular level Deepak Chopra´s Law of Detachment.

What really did hurt the most upon later realizations though, were the captured family memories they stole by swiping our cameras, video cameras and laptops. This was painful beyond measure.

Needless to say that this was one of the longest most grueling sleepless nights of our lives and here I was again, very pregnant and not able to just throw myself onto the floor in reckless abandon. I wanted to have my nervous breakdown already and it was never the right time!

The next morning we were off at the crack of dawn waiting with heavy hearts for the native canoe captain to pick us up. Our faces said it all and actually evoked great sadness from those same people that saw us just one day before glowing with contentment. Without uttering a word, everyone knew that something devastating had occurred. And not one of the hotel employees dared to ask what it was.

We began our journey home and the irony was that we had to drive extra, extra slowly as the potholes had been converted into muddy puddles after a tropical rainstorm. Being eight months pregnant and already with contractions, we couldn´t risk me going into premature labor at this point. We had enough on our plate.

Once we arrived to the house, we were received by a terrified staff of domestic help, a friend who was clearly in shock and a bunch of law officers, insurance adjusters and various people. Miraculously, the nannies had managed to get all four kids dressed and out the door for school. They had distracted them to the point that not one child had noticed my beaten down bedroom door nor the muddy boot footprints and filthy hand prints all over the house. Kudos to these ladies who spent the entire night awake in sheer fright, experiencing physical pain from being thrown down, gagged, and with their hands tied tightly behind their backs. How they were able to feed the children breakfast and send them off to school was worthy of an Academy award.

After spending some time at home talking with everybody involved, something did not feel right. One of the housekeepers, a young girl of 16 years, who had just started with us two months before, seemed very calm and way too composed in comparison with the mental status of the others. These ladies were all ready to not only quit the job on the spot, but required serious PTSD therapy; they were traumatized. As we learned about how the robbers entered freely without a forced entry as the house alarm had not yet been activated by that time of night….it started to smell like an inside job. If this were the case, talk about “sleeping with the enemy" under your own roof, feeding and clothing them, and paying them to care for your most precious assets, your children. The thought of this made me sick to my stomach.

To be continued...

Celebrating Anniversary Number Eight- a romantic escape...Part XIX

Yes, my womb had a new tenant and this pregnancy, as all others before it, advanced just as “ordinary” as its forerunners; accompanied by the usual -nausea, wretched vomiting, dizziness and bipolar-like mood swings. I really didn´t remember what “normal” felt like anymore and had developed my own peculiar barometer for measuring discomfort.

During the first trimester, I sought to maintain my strict workout schedule, but it became more difficult as my body expanded in all directions. I tried to continue training my “client princesses,” but because they demanded so much attention which sometimes also included performing the actual exercises for them, I had to wind the business down as well.

My children were excited to have another baby to play with and my husband had just realized his dream of starting his own company. He had held onto his vision for many years. Just recently he had prepared the business plan and finally put together a team of investors and now his office was open. He was ecstatic. We were radiating happiness; finally, after so much heartache.

Through it all and despite the circumstances, we always tried to stay optimistic, at least for the sake of the children. There were no “pity parties” at my house. Our kids were generally unaware of our slew of misfortunes. Being so little and impressionable we tried to avoid as much as possible that they should absorb any of our burdens. In fact, to this day, they have no idea about most of the incidents that transpired. Why mention it now? I guess they will just have to wait for the book to come out to first learn about it all!

The months flew by and just five weeks prior to the baby´s delivery, we planned an overnight romantic escapade to a remote island off the Caribbean coast. We were celebrating our eight year anniversary which seemed so totally ridiculous considering that we had experienced so much together that it felt as though we were already married fifty years.

The logistics involved in the planning of one night away were astounding. We managed to cover it all; we had three nannies watching over the children, a gardener in charge of the dogs and overall security of the house and a very dear friend spending the night to oversee this small battalion. All doctors and veterinarians were notified of our departure (as if it were for a month,) and to receive any phone call from our loyal comrade, Madam Supervisor.

One morning as soon as we saw the children off to school, we were history. We arrived after a four hour car ride over dirt roads full of giant potholes and stones the size of baseballs. Once we got to the "ferry"- which was actually a small canoe, we were paddled across a gorgeous bay to a private island about thirty minutes from the mainland. On the island were only two hotels, ours and an old dilapidated abandoned edifice.

After we checked into our room, we rapidly changed into our adventure gear and did some hiking around the island. Upon returning to the property all sweaty and bruised up, we indulged in a refreshing swim and with the hunger of a pack of wolves, were now ready to feast. We were savouring our scrumptious tropical lunch accompanied by the proverbial piña colada and admiring the exotic birds flying freely about this boutique hotel property. The day was breathtaking and we absorbed the tranquillity of the ambiance right through to our veins. We wanted to capture this feeling forever and have it become part of our very being.

With such a positive outlook (minimally assisted by a few strong tropical beverages,)we conversed about gearing up for another round of parenthood; diapers, nighttime feedings, the whole deal. This time it would be virtually undetectable, we agreed, that an additional child was about to arrive. I mean, once you run out of hands and lap-space to hold them, it´s really all the same.

Once back inside the hotel room, we dozed on and off, tired from all the relaxing. We looked out our hotel room window and witnessed a magnificent sunset and toasted to our eight years of happy matrimony. We went through each anniversary one by one reminiscing about how we celebrated each year and remembering what we ate, what gifts we exchanged and how many children were born or about to be born at that given time.

I don´t remember at what time we fell asleep, but I do recall receiving the horrifying phone call at 11:37pm. Our closest friend, the sister of the woman who was house-sitting told us something unconscionable. There had been a break in robbery and all the adults in our house had been tied up and gagged at gunpoint. Without catching her breath, she immediately told us that by a miracle of God, the children were not touched and had in fact slept through the entire incident….

To be continued…

Me and my dear old friend, together again in the OR...Part XVIII

I get to the hospital and once admitted they perform an ultrasound to see what the heck is happening. Well, lo and behold, I was pregnant and now miscarrying. This was so odd because I was on birth control. I mean after giving birth to four children in five years, with the last one being born just three months after brain surgery, do you really think I was “trying to get pregnant?” Plus, I was strutting my new and improved Linda Hamilton physique- remember those arms in the Terminator? I wasn’t ready to give THAT up!

For me not to notice that I was pregnant is in itself an unheard of phenomenon. Usually I am so overcome with nausea and dizziness during the first trimester that I am completely inoperable and useless to others. In fact, during one of my pregnancies, I remember feeling so ill that even certain types of sounds provoked a full blown vomit attack. Unfortunately one of those noises was the sound of my own husband’s voice. I told him that he had to begin whispering during our constant bantering if he wanted to stay together in marriage. He obliged. Now that is true love!

Back to my story. When I saw my doctor, we began reflecting about my whereabouts, overall health and nutrition, contraceptive practices, (I have been known to forget a pill or two and then while panicking, double or triple up as soon as I remember.) We came to the realization that most probably while vacationing in Mexico on a post-surgery “romantic trip” where I ended up violently ill- from the one time I forgot about the ICE in my bottled water drink- the attending ER doctor had prescribed me heavy duty anti-parasite meds. I had been instructed to take them for about a month to basically destroy anything and everything inside my body.

Don´t start rolling your eyes upon reading the following as it is not just a worn out cliché, but I really do strive to see the positive in everything. This time I just reasoned that if I had screwed myself up so badly from this internal fumigation, it was better that this was happening NOW and not later. Nothing inside of me could have withstood such a brutal assault. And had something indeed survived this “cleansing,” it certainly would have emerged unhealthy.

Nevertheless, I came to terms with this rationale and accepted my ideologies about the current circumstance and once again, was escorted into the OR. I was relaxed and enjoying the laughing gas and sleep…. My doctor and his staff performed the standard procedure to detoxify my battered organs. When I awoke shortly thereafter in the recovery room, I began chatting with the nurses, trying to impress them by bragging about my past two surgeries. "This was nothing," I exclaimed arrogantly, "Thanks to a dear old friend, anesthesia."

During the week of the obligatory bed rest period- no pun intended- Father’s Day arrived. After a beautiful day full of homemade gifts, zany songs and quirky videotaping, my husband began to philosophize about how everything in life is a sign, a message in disguise... you’ve heard it all before. “I think that everything that just transpired was a message from God, Mi Amor, that we are not quite finished bearing children.” Being the good wife that I am, I bought into his hypothesis “hook, line and sinker” and two months later my womb had a new boarder, Baby Number 5.