Vanessa Gonzalez Kraft tries to balance her traditional Mexican-American cultural heritage and Catholic identity, personified by her grandmother La Lupe, with her roles as a young wife and mother.
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We’ve all heard that life is a great pilgrimage. But a pilgrimage to what? The pastor of a church here in Austin has in his email signature line “Working to beat hell”. That’s what I hope my pilgrimage is. To heaven. To God. To Infinite Love. Sometimes we have to make specific journeys to find this more deeply, though.
I’ve been lucky to find some great friends and to find love in these communities but there is something different about feeling the love of family. It’s a different connection; a blood connection; a connection that is part of you. I know a lot of people probably don’t feel this all the time and I am one of them. Family relationships can be complicated and messy sometimes.
I have a huge extended family with 14 aunts and uncles and countless cousins and everyone in everyone else’s business. They aren’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination but I love them dearly. I’ve always felt on the outside of them but have always really ached for their approval and affection.
Whenever we go back to El Paso to visit La Lupe and the fam I always feel like it is a pilgrimage. A pilgrimage to find God through my family. To find love through my family and hopefully grow from it.
A pilgrimage is usually a journey with obstacles and challenges because that really is the only way to grow. Our pilgrimage started with an hour and a half flight with an 11 month old. About 200 Gerber puffs later we arrived in El Paso where it was already 91 degrees at 8am. Now remember, my family doesn’t know about the new baby, yet.
We got to La Lupe’s house where we stayed the next 4 days. We chit chatted over breakfast of huevos con chorizo and pan dulce. Tried to get Olivia down for a nap to no avail. All the while I’m trying to figure out how to tell La Lupe I’m pregnant. A lot of family had come for breakfast to see us so I decided to wait until we were alone. Finally, around lunchtime it was just La Lupe, my aunt, and I watching futbol.
Me: “So, I, uh, just wanted to tell you two that I’m expecting, again.”
Aunt: “Oh. Well, I guess my two are about the same amount apart.”
La Lupe: “What? Ay mija, you can’t handle one, how are you going to handle two?”
We joked about names for a couple of minutes and then went back to the futbol game. Not bad. I felt a kind of lightness of heart to finally have that out. And as the days would progress La Lupe told me stories about how she dealt with having 8 kids. These are some of my favorite stories and I love it when she tells them. Kind of like hearing how your mom and dad met. Stories that you could listen to over and over again for years and never get tired.
As I told more of our family I got lots of different responses, mostly jokes:
“Oh, wow. You’re trying to outdo your cousin (who now has 5 kids)”.
“You trying to set a record or something?”
“You’ll change your mind about a big family after the next one. If you think one is hard…”
“What do you want, a baseball team?”
After a few days we went to a must-stop place whenever we’re in town, a local taquería called El Taco Tote. There were about 10 of us there at a bunch of tables we had pulled together passing around pico de gallo and corn tortillas. Another one of my aunt’s and I got up to refill our drinks. Since I had her alone I decided to let her know the news. “Hey, I wanted to tell you that I’m pregnant again.” I stood there waiting for the jokes to come. And there by the soda fountain I found what I was looking for. Love.
“Ahhh, Nessie!” she squealed as she hastily put down her cup, spilling some soda onto the counter and giving me a huge hug. “Congratulations! That’s great!”
I almost cried I was so thankful for her response. Despite all the jokes about the new baby and our return flight being delayed, that moment made it all worth it. That’s why we all go on pilgrimages and deal with the hard stuff, because we get moments like this. Even if they happen in unlikely places.