Today was Cristina's birthday and it amazes me to see the wonderful young woman she has become. I remember the first time I met Cristina.
She was this small, shy, little girl who was going to the Junior Trooper program during school vacation week with her younger brother Jose, and my three older boys.
At the time, her Dad and I were just work partners and best friends. Dating each other was the last thing on our mind, never mind being married! To each other!
After the week was up and my boys came home they kept talking about Cristina and what a tough little girl she was. Eric in particular was taken aback by how hard she worked and how physically strong she was for a tiny peanut of only nine years old.
Unbeknown to me they had exchanged phone numbers and addresses and had promised to stay in touch; boy did they ever stay in touch!
Later on when Mel and I started dating we decided to take all our kids camping to see how they got along and if we actually had a chance to make our families work.
Remember the camping trip that can be a book by itself? Yeah, this would be the one!
Imagine our surprise when Cristina's face lit up as she walked into her dad's condo, rushed over to Eric, punched him in the arm and very happily said,
"What up, Fajita?"
What's up? Wait who the heck is Fajita?" That's what I wanted to know!
My boys were shocked to realize that their little friends from the Junior Trooper program were Mel's two oldest kids!
Talk about a small world! There were almost a hundred kids in that program that week, yet our kids became inseparable instantly while they were there!
Needless to say they got along great all week during our camping trip.
I was instantly drawn to Cristina because of her sweet, shy nature and big sad eyes.
The divorce had taken its biggest toll on her especially, because she never wanted to hurt anyone's feelings.
She adored her Dad, but loved her mother deeply and she felt torn thinking she had to pick sides.
At the beginning of my relationship with her dad she did not know exactly how to relate to me.
Slowly we started doing things together like baking cookies, sewing, creating arts and crafts and doing chores together.
We formed a good relationship.
Every weekend when they came over Cristina would spend hours in my closet playing dress up with all my clothes and shoes.
I would let her use my make-up and jewelry.
At first she was really surprised that I did not mind her using my things.
I told her I used to love doing the same thing when I was little and my mom would get mad at me for touching her things, so I had decided that if I ever had a daughter I would let her use anything in my closet that she wanted.
Some of the best memories I have with Cristina are of the two of us, with Jess in tow, playing in my closet!
I sewed her first communion dress and we made her veil and crown together.
Anytime we got too close I could see she felt guilty and conflicted.
Almost like she was being disloyal to her mom; as much as we tried to tell her she didn't have to feel this way or pick sides, Cristina's love for her mom, at times made her feel otherwise.
After Mel and I had been married for almost a year his ex-wife created some conflict with my husband and Mel's kids got drawn into it.
Because she was angry, she would not let the kids come spend time with us for almost three months.
It wasn't until Mel threatened legal action that we were able to have them come over again.
In those three months a lot of damage was done to my relationship with Cristina.
I was somehow blamed for the whole fiasco and once again I was the evil stepmother!
Cristina was hurt feeling that we had abandoned her and had decided to put a wall up that has stayed up for years and honestly, I did not blame her.
It breaks my heart to think about it, because in a lot of ways Cristina will never understand how much she means to me and how much I love her as my own.
I guess those are things that, maybe someday, she will understand when she has kids of her own.
Throughout the years we have had a cordial relationship, but since that incident I decided to take a back seat because I did not want to create anymore conflict in her life than she already had to deal with.
Deep inside I cry at times thinking of the close bond we could have had, if adults could act as adults and let kids express what is truly in their hearts without interference.
I know that I will never get those lost opportunities back, but at least I can hope to look forward to new memories to be created in the future.
Even with all that happened, I still love Cristina dearly and know that in her own way she cares about me too. I also know that she is an unbelievably beautiful, smart, and gifted young woman; who is going to do amazing things in this world.
Cristina has a way of leaving her mark with every person she meets because of her caring spirit and sweet demeanor!
Happy birthday, Mia girl!!