Tag Archives: family dysfunction


7 Oct

I hate mess. Clutter is my enemy, and I spend an inordinate amount of time picking shit up off the floor. When I’m anxious, I don’t pour myself a large glass of Syrah—I run around the house with the Swiffer. The scent of bleach during a good bathroom scrub calms me right down.

Children react to trauma in different ways. I blame my boomer childhood (particularly my poor alcoholic dad) for turning me into a semi-psychotic clean freak. Like my father, I was born an introvert, and our family’s generational trauma and dysfunction only added to my need to find peace. My bedroom became my safe haven—an orderly space filled with light, plants and books. I could close my door, open the window wide, and breathe—away from the football game blaring on the television. Away from the cigarette smoke. Away from the festering rage of my dad.

Unfortunately, life is sometimes a little messy (actually a lot messy! Pandemic, anyone?) Let’s just say that over the past couple of years I’ve had to learn to be more flexible—to welcome change instead of resisting it.

Case in point: Two weeks ago, my daughter, Leah and her husband, Jeff moved in with us. They wanted to get out of Los Angeles, and try to save some money to buy their own home someday. We have the room; we love having them around. It was a win-win.

First let me mention that Leah leaves me in the dust with her masterful skills at organizing. She’s a diamond chip right off the ol’ block. But filling a dumpster of decades of accumulated crap, while combining two households is a massive undertaking. Then there was an epic yard sale. For several long weeks, the house and yard were a mess. A HUGE MESS.

I didn’t freak out. I didn’t get anxious. Well, maybe I got a little anxious. I repeated my mantra, “This too, shall pass,” while reassuring Leah that I was not bothered by the chaos. To be honest, it was difficult at times, but something my therapist said really turned it all around for me.

“You know,” she said, “You might want to consider that every open cardboard box, or every pile of stuff left out, or every item out of place—is a reflection of their love for you—that they feel safe and comfortable enough to move in with you. That’s pretty wonderful.”

That’s why we have therapists.

It is indeed wonderful. The house is put back together, and trash has all been hauled away. We are an organized home bursting with people and animals, but life is fuller than I ever imagined it would be (no pun intended.)

And should I begin to feel anxious, my Swiffer is right within reach, hanging from its very own special hook on the wall of our newly remodeled and organized laundry room, compliments of Leah.

A Dream Come True

26 Nov

The Mireles Family 2012

When I was a  teenager,  I used to dream of becoming famous. I pictured my face splashed across the pages of People or Seventeen and I imagined how it would feel to be adored by millions of fans. My young mind believed that my future happiness depended on whether or not the world knew who I was.

My fantasy usually involved me playing the piano on the concert stage, probably because this was the one area at which I excelled. I couldn’t dance, sing or act, and no matter how much time I spent in front of the mirror tweezing my eyebrows, exfoliating my pores or straightening my perpetually frizzy hair, even then my teenage sensibilities were developed enough to realize that I didn’t have what it took to become a fashion model.

But back then I believed that my fame as a concert pianist was the only way I would be noticed. And I had to be noticed because I believed that in order to find someone to love me I had to be extra special. If I became a celebrity, someone was bound to think I was deserving of that love.

My fantasy always played out pretty much in the same fashion: I would have just finished playing a note-perfect performance. A warm yellow spotlight would be focused on my white organza gown that floated like fluffy meringue across the concert stage. As I took my bows to a thundering standing ovation, I would suddenly lock eyes with a handsome, intelligent and witty man, and the two of us would fall instantly in love with each other. We would marry, have four beautiful children and live happily ever after.

So I practiced the piano for hours each day, thinking that for this dream to come true, I must work diligently. I kept meticulous scrapbooks documenting all of my successes and they grew thicker every year as I won piano competitions and performed in more recitals that I can remember. I believed that all of my musical accomplishments would lead me closer to turning my dream into a reality.

I kept the fantasy alive for as long as I possibly could, or at least I did until my senior year in high school when I lost the fight with the raging hormones that surged through my body. At age seventeen, I confused lust for love and fell for a twenty year-old boy who was exceedingly handsome, but who turned out to love alcohol more than he loved me. Having had lots of practice as a co-dependent with my own family’s dysfunction, I turned it into my mission to fix him.

But like an old Polaroid photograph that fades over time, the image of my once vivid dream of becoming somebody famous disappeared into nothing but yellowed paper. He and I stayed together for five mostly miserable years until I finally grew up enough to realize that I deserved better.

But our dreams often have a way of manifesting themselves in ways that we don’t expect, and about eight months later I found my future husband in a Santa Monica restaurant where he was a cook and I was a waitress. In my stained green uniform and smelling of french-fry grease, I locked eyes over a sizzling grill with one of the cooks, who just happened to be a handsome, intelligent and very funny man. He barely spoke English, was undocumented and uneducated, but he held all of the other criteria of my girlhood fantasy. So I took a chance on him, and he took a chance on me, and surprise—this part of my dream did come true.

We married and began our lives together and I never did become that famous concert pianist as I once envisioned. But I realized that maybe that this dream of fame was not what I really wanted after all. Instead, I became a piano teacher and started having children, and I can honestly say it’s been a very good life.

I even have documented proof that my life has turned out well for me. We’ve made it a tradition in our family to take a group photograph every Thanksgiving to send out with our yearly Christmas newsletter. The annual photos hang in sequential order along the hallway wall, where each year we add the newest one. As we’ve grown and changed (and we have changed a lot over the years) our history together has been authenticated in one smiling face after another.

This past Thanksgiving, our family once again gathered in our backyard to take a photo. We dressed up, combed our hair and fixed our make-up. It wasn’t the paparazzi snapping photos as I once dreamed of as a teenager— it was just my nephew trying over and over again to capture that one perfect shot. It certainly isn’t easy getting everyone to smile at the same time—especially a wiggly seven year-old, but we managed to find one or two acceptable photos, so it looks like the tradition will live on for another year.

I’m awed by the love that is evident in these annual photographs: A dark-skinned man, a light-skinned woman and four mocha children are all smiling together in one single moment in time. They are clearly devoted to each other. They don’t realize it, but they are without a doubt as stunning and perfect as any celebrity. Not one of them is admired by millions, or even the least bit famous, but that’s all right, because they are absolutely adored by each other.

And that’s the kind of fame that comes only in dreams.

1994 just after Nino was born









2003: Shortly after this photo was taken I became pregnant with Isa

2004: just after Isa was born


2006: The year Nino grew his hair long (not a good look for you, son….)

2007: With Isa bald from chemo–a year we will never forget





2012: A bunch of goofballs