By Lorena Santana
Last Saturday night, my husband and I were home, savoring the silence. Emma, my youngest daughter, was out for the night. We’re newlyweds, second marriage for both of us, with four children altogether. We’re not used to being alone in an empty, silent house, so we twiddled our fingers, weighing out our options. Should we watch a movie? Light candles and give each other back massages? Spread out on the comfy couch and vegetate? We decided on the last option and sprawled out on the couch. I immediately went into fantasizing about my soon-to-be-written young adult novel.
The fantasy came to an abrupt end when the phone rang. Robin looked at the phone, looked at me, and rolled his eyes. The screen shone, “SeÃ±or eX.” I sighed. SeÃ±or eX is the contact name for my ex-husband (programmed into the phone by Emma). Even though SeÃ±or eX and I have done our best to co-parent, I still revert to certain bad habits when communicating with him. Why? Because SeÃ±or eX only calls me for two reasons:
- When he’s concerned about the girls behavior.
- He wants something.
He’s never called to say hello. So it’s perfectly understandable that when my phone rings and the screen lights up with “SeÃ±or eX” on it, I go straight into fight or flight mode. The hairs on the back of my neck rise, my blood pressure shoots up, and my breathing becomes shorter. The inner voices began chattering, “Ugh! No! Why me? On a Saturday night? Run away!”
I shook the voices away, took a deep breath, and slid the bar on the screen,
Pause. Someone was breathing on the other end.
The sweetest, most innocent, little voice was on the line.
This wasn’t SeÃ±or eX, it was Sofia, SeÃ±or Ex’s daughter, my daughter’s ½ sister.
She’s always called me Lolo, an endearing nickname given to me since she was a toddler.
My heart melted. “Hi Sofia, how are you?”
There was no time to exchange niceties. Sofia, being six, went straight to the point,
“I can’t find my Mom and Dad and I need to get a message to them.”
“Okay, I can probably find them.”
More silence, followed by a sigh.
“Please tell them that the chocolate machine has stopped.”
“Sofia, are you with the babysitter now?”
“Did you try to call them?”
“Yes, but they didn’t answer.”
“Is everything else okay?”
“Okay, I will contact them right away.”
Sofia was born a few years after SeÃ±or eX and I divorced. After the divorce was finalized, he met a lovely lady and remarried. I felt happy for him and did everything I could to create a sense of harmony within the family unit. Soon thereafter, his wife was expecting. Camille and Emma (my daughters with SeÃ±or eX) eagerly awaited Sofia’s arrival. They’ve been great sisters, loving her unconditionally as she’s grown up. Sofia’s not my actual birth daughter, but I love her as if she were my own. Every year, she comes to my house to make tamales (a holiday family tradition), I’ve given her surf lessons, and she’s even spent the night. What can I say? We’re unconventional.
I got off the phone with Sofia and immediately went into warrior mom mode. I was going to help help her resolve this problem. So, I composed a friendly text (with a bit of urgency) to SeÃ±or eX and his wife.
“Hope you are having a nice evening. Simone just called me because she can’t get a hold of you. Distress message: THE CHOCOLATE MACHINE HAS STOPPED!”
I understand why Sofia’s so distraught. The whole family’s invested time and energy in SeÃ±or eX’s dream of becoming a chocolatier. For years, he’s been honing his chocolate making skills with a beautiful, top of the line machine that sits in the kitchen, running at all hours of the day. His house has become a chocolate laboratory, burlap bags filled with cacao beans are on the the floor, chocolate molds cover the kitchen counter, and the smell of roasting beans fill the air. His chocolates are dark, delicious and wrapped in handmade paper. I know this because I go to his house (another one of our unconventional family habits) and he sends us chocolates every once in a while. Robin and I lie in bed, popping bean-to-bar chocolates into our mouths, savoring every bite. We’ve become chocolate aficionados, comparing each batch to the last. Lately, sweetness prevails over bitterness. I’m reminded of the novel by Laura Esquivel, Like Water for Chocolate. Tita, the protagonist in the story, unintentionally begins to affect the people around her through the food she prepares. Her emotions are so strong, they become infused into her cooking. Robin and I draw from that, theorizing that SeÃ±or eX’s chocolate is becoming sweeter because he’s becoming a kinder, softer, and more compassionate man.
Within a few minutes SeÃ±or eX responds to my text,
“Thank you. I called her. Problem resolved”
“She’s a persistent little girl. Great job!”
Relieved, I go back to my Saturday evening activities. Robin looks at me and smiles because he finds our unconventional family very entertaining. I’m flattered that Sofia turned to me during a crises but I’m also stupefied. So, I mention the scenario to Emma, hoping she can help me make sense of it.
“Mom, it’s no big deal. You’re like Sofia’s stepmother. If she can’t get a hold of dad and Jane, you’re the next person on the list.”
So, I embrace our unconventional family dynamics, add the Saturday night chocolate machine scenario into my reservoir of stories, sit back, and return to fantasyland. One day, I’m going to write a memoir and SeÃ±or Ex will become a chocolatier, his wife, a fromagere, Robin surfs world class waves, and I’ll write a best selling novel for young adults.
For now, I’d just like to pay homage to SeÃ±or eX and his chocolates. Life just wouldn’t be as sweet without them.
Lorena Santana is a parent, author, educator, and performer. Much of her work is centered around two of her favorite subjects: young adults and education. In 2014 she wrote and produced Barefoot in Baja, a bi-national, multi media project. Ms. Santana lives in San Diego, California and is working on her first novel for young adults, Guava Girl. http://barefootinbaja.com