Embracing the challenges & blessings of a blended & bicultural Samoan family

Archive for the ‘In Laws’ Category

If I could speak Samoan

Salt Lake City July 2011

If I could speak Samoan…..
…She would know how embarrassed I am when Pule says “NO!” to her A L L  T H E  T I M E

…We could talk about ways to address the situation together

…She might understand how much I respect her

…I would ask questions about MM’s father and their life together, even though he passed away many years ago.

…She would understand that my saying “no, it’s okay” means I want you to relax and continue to heal from when we almost lost you.  Instead it translates that I don’t like the way she does it so please don’t do it.

…She might understand how much her help with the simplest of things means the world to me

…We could discuss the challenges of our cultural differences

…I would ask more questions about MM’s childhood

…She would know how much I need her help

…I would also teach Pule Samoan so she would be proud of the two of us

…I would tell her how much I wanted to know my BIL more, but didn’t have the chance.

…she might realize how much Pule enjoyed the morning walks that no longer exist

…I would let her know that I’m not keeping Pule from her, that I want her to take her from me and bond as a grandmother.

…I just might be able to communicate my sadness in knowing Pule is not like the grandchildren she lives with and who look to her as their MaMMa.  The miss her and ask for her all day long, where my daughter says “no” to her all day long.

I imagine us having long chats, with hot drinks in hand, about her home, MM, her family, her life-lessons or her concerns about her grandchildren.  Unfortunately we have reached some tension in the home that is not understood, and may not be resolved until her next visit.

I had projects in mind, lots of blog posts to schedule, client campaigns to coordinate, recipes and menus to coordinate through the winter, a bedroom to clean, an office to organize, and so much more.  However this trip has been cut short and my Mother In Law asked to go home.

This visit was unlike any other visit where she stays a minimum of a month.  I am embarrassed, sad and frustrated by our language barrier.  Learning Samoan is no easy feat (although there are far fewer words and letters!), but I want to do my best to show her how much I appreciate and love her son…as well as her.

Sometimes it really helps me to pour my heart out, especially knowing this is for Pule to read someday.  Hopefully when she does read it she will be able to speak Samoan…

Don’t take it for granted if you can speak your MIL’s language. Even if you don’t get along with her, or you have other challenges in your relationship with her.  Appreciate the fact you can speak the same language.

**originally published October 12, 2011. 

Finding common ground

Geraniums, Spring 2012

My MIL has been visiting for the past month or so.  I honestly love it when she comes to visit, but I also have much apprehension about it.  Especially since Pule has been born and because of my feelings from the last visit.

When my MIL is here I try to find the balance of her need (notice I didn’t say her desire) to take a break and yet to keep her busy.  When she is not with us she is with my SIL caring for 7 children ranging from 3-18.

Her idea of needing a break is just getting away from it all.

My idea of her taking a break is to rest and relax.

That drives her crazy, so I have surrendered my idea of “break”.


This is the best time of the year for her to visit as Colorado is on the cusp of ushering in Spring.  One day we might have 75 degree weather and everyone itches to plant flowers.  Even the nurseries temp you buy pulling out all the flowers to the curb “please! Come and buy me…I’m so beautiful!”.  I don’t give in.  I have learned never to plant anything into the ground until after Mother’s Day.  We have been known to have snow on Mother’s Day.

So for my MIL visit this time, I decided to find common ground where I could and chose to start with gardening…but with a twist.  She planted seeds into pots that she would bring inside every night to avoid the frosty nights we still have.

Sprouting Seeds, Spring 2012

We also went to the store and found a beautiful geranium.  She continues to comment how beautiful it is.  Her seeds are sprouting and before she leaves on Monday I just might break my rule and put them into the ground with her.  Because this is our common ground.  She has been preparing the dirt for them just next to the grass we planted last year.  Sifting through and pulling out the rocks while I rake and feed our lawn urging it to return.  The time we would spend doing this together far outweighs the inconvenience of covering them should we get another frost.

This is something we can do together while Pule plays nearby.  It was very important for me to find a common ground for us during this visit.  Gardening seemed to be something that worked for us.  In the winter it’s watching The Price is Right and America’s Funniest Home Videos.  And I think Pule is enjoying it as well.

We also will cook together.  Although, at times, this requires some translation by MM.  We have gotten much better at figuring out what the other person is trying to say, but not always.  For a little humor, you might enjoy this post titled: I Don’t Want Her to Fire Me!

I hope that when she leaves she will remember this visit over some of the others.  Even though very few words are shared, I am all to aware that actions can speak much louder and more clearer than words.  I do believe we grow closer together after every visit.  Even the more challenging visits strong bonds can begin to grow.

A month ago I had my blog featured and had a link to the post: “If only I could Speak Samoan”.  It created a lot of comments and it was brought to my attention that it’s not just language barriers that can be challenging when it comes to communication.  I thought I had it hard, but I have come to realize it may be easier for me than many others who are challenged to communicate in English with their MIL (or anyone for that matter).

Do you have to find common ground when cultivating some of your relationships? What advice could you provide?

When your Mother In Law almost dies

When your Mother In Law almost dies

We got the call late Thursday evening.  My MIL was being rushed to the ER.  My 12 year old niece found her passed out on the bathroom floor in a pool of blood.  She made the right phone calls, her mom (who was in CA at the time) & 911.  It saved her life.  Had any more time passed and things would have looked much differently.

I’m a bit challenged to know exactly what I want to write today because the past 5 days have been a whirlwind from the perspective of a Daughter In Law, wife, mom, auntie, Sister in Law, and minority in a family of Samoans.  I am looked to for communication with the doctor, yet am not able to talk to my MIL. I have to rely on others to translate.  I am not an immediate family member who has authority to step in.  I can only guide my husband with questions to ask and suggestions as his mind may not be as clear as it should, given the circumstances.

Emotionally I was at the end of my rope.  Without going into details, I was being pulled into wanting the best for my MIL, needing to support & respect MM, while also keeping in mind the emotional state of the children who were with her when she passed out.  I was being looked to as the strong one and yet I was failing that too.  Juggling all the balls at the same time wore me out…and still does.

I reached the point that I determined for myself I needed to stop suggesting and just “be” and “do”.  It’s hard to be at that point, but it was something I had to figure out.

This weekend opened up my eyes more to cultural observations that I made with my family.  While I cannot say “I never signed up for this”, I CAN say, “I signed up for knowing I would face cultural family situations, but you never know what to expect till you are face to face with them.”

All these words do not give these past 5 days justice for what occurred, and honestly you probably don’t want to read everything that I faced, but for my sanity and desire to “log” what I can I am writing something.  This cannot go not written about or not noticed.

What I do know is that because of many people praying, the strength of my husband, and the power of a “fast pumping” blood supply, my MIL is still with us today.

The main medical lesson learned from this past weekend, if someone in your family (or friend!) cannot speak or read English, don’t assume they know what over-the-counter meds they are taking.  Make sure they understand the dosage limitations.  Especially if they don’t live with you and you don’t know what they take when they are not with you.

These three images is what got me through the weekend, along with seeing my MIL’s smile when Pule went running towards her as they wheeled her from the ER to a private room.  Even the youngest seem to understand.  Apologies for the resolution on these, they were taken with a phone camera…wasn’t prepared to do much picture taking!  Blessings to you this upcoming weekend….

Enjoy your loved ones, embrace cultural differences, take deep breaths, and say a prayer or two…I have witnessed that they do work!

Yet-to-be-named Pule update

Yet-to-be-named Pule update

Our dearest Pule!
What a crazy July we have had.  Today it comes to an end, and I am hoping for a slower August.  We just returned from our visit to Salt Lake City to introduce you to your Auntie and cuzzies.  We had yet to meet our youngest niece who is now 2, and they had not yet met you either, so it was a trip well over due.

Once again, you did a great job traveling on the airplane.  We also realized how much of MaMMa’s girl you really are…well at least her aspect of routine! By our third morning you were up and ready to go by the hotel door looking for us to have breakfast in the lobby.  If we were not ready to go you made sure to inform us of where and when.  Each morning it was the same thing.

Some monumental highlights of our trip

  • visiting your Uncle’s grave
  • 4 visits to In and Out Burger (we were quite surprised with how many locations they had)
  • MaMMa learning how to make your Dad’s favorite Samoan dessert, Pani Popo (I’ll have a post on that just by itself with pictures and a true Samoan recipe…that would be without measurements!)
  • Dad bbqing for extended family who happened to be visiting at the same time we were
  • Overtaking the hotel pool with all the kids
  • Intervention of a few family issues & situations (I never said we went on a vacation…we called it a trip)
  • Most importantly, my fears put aside regarding the impact of your cousin’s behaviors that I have witnessed in the past.  There used to be a lot of fighting & yelling, but the children who were the instigators have grown up.  You were loved and spoiled by each one.
  • You were a little jealous when your dad and I played or held your 2 year old cousin.  However she was just a jealous when her mom and grandma gave you some love.

Here is a splash of photos:

SLC was so hot…and I thought we had been hot back at home, but nope…it was hotter.  Thank God for more places with AC.  One day we wanted to treat all the kids with a trip to the zoo, unfortunately us adults were a bit miserable, but the kids seem to be unscathed by it.  I’m looking forward to you having even more exposure to the zoo once I purchase our annual pass to our local zoo.  Not sure what to do one day? That’s okay let’s go to the zoo!
You seem to really enjoy the animals, which is awesome as your MaMMa has a soft spot for them, especially the baby ones.  Capturing photos of you with the animals was a bit challenging, but we seemed to get a few to share:
The elephants was one of our first stops.  I must admit, I can make a pretty good elephant impression and you really like it when I do it.  I think this time when you saw them in person and I did the impression that it finally clicked what I was doing.  The next time you saw one I think you were trying to make the trunk with one hand, but not sure how I got it through the other arm.  I’ll teach you.
I love this picture of you Pule, and the lion just seems to be playing it cool on the other side of the glass.
The misters were a cool welcome to the adults, and you totally loved them too!  You were soaked once dad walked out of there.  Your cousin was not too thrilled with them though.  You tried to comfort her when she got too upset being underneath them.
Ah, the giraffes! Such beautiful and elegant animals!

Baby girl, you traveled so well.  Your dad and I are so proud of you and the flexibility of your sleeping habits (I think your routine habits are more of when you are awake & not needing to sleep!).  Just think…only 9 more sleeps till your Grandma comes to stay with us for a bit.

before & after (part 5)

Ok, I know… I’m sorry.  I promised this post yesterday and I failed you.  Honestly, I didn’t have it in me to write it yesterday, added with the fact that I was not home and didn’t have access to the photos.  Hopefully it is worth the wait though…

I will warn you.  This is going to be a lengthy post.  If you skip to the end (which is the best part) I understand, but the story behind ending is part of the bigger story.

If this is your first time visiting FFPMaMMa, then welcome!  I’m so glad you are here and hope you make yourself at home.  I am currently in the middle of telling the story of MM (hubby) & me.  How we met, dated, engaged, and all the in between stuff. If you would like to catch up you can do so here:

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

Fast forward just over a year…

July 2, 2007
Walking through the freezer section of the grocery store.  I was gathering groceries for my Monday evening dinner date with a friend. You know, there are moments that happen in your life and you remember exactly where you were when it happens.

I couldn’t understand him at first and I said “what”?

“He’s dead!  My brother is dead!”


I don’t remember what I said next.  I just took off…the groceries ended up on some floor display in the store.

I remember him saying something about him waking up dead.  I made sure someone was with him so I didn’t keep him on the phone

I was about 15 minutes from his house and in that time I made two phone calls.  Through my own garbled voice and without any information I called my sister and mom “please pray and I’ll call when I know more” was all that I could fumble out.

What do you say? What do you do?  I prayed myself while doing my best to keep my eyes on the road.  ”Lord, give me words, strength and discernment to know what MM needs”.

Thankfully we have incredible friends who stepped in and were able to help me in knowing what he needed.  People came over to make food & clean the house.  MM just needed me near, knowing I was there, holding his hand and allowing myself to mourn as well.

Just the previous April I had the incredible pleasure of visiting MM’s brother “AP” in Snowmass, CO.  Every year Snowmass hosts the National Disabled Veterans Winter Sport’s Clinic. An amazing site to see disabled  men and women skiing down the mountain with volunteer guides.

AP had suffered injuries from an IED a few years before.  Lost many of his men in the explosion.  After numerous surgeries, his injury that crippled him the most was the PTSD.  Severely.  He would have horrible dreams night as well as episodes of confusing reality with past situations.  A situation where he was not comfortable with his mom coming to visit him.  He never knew if he might cause her harm at night.

I remember phone calls MM would have with him.  I would usually be able to tell what was going on as MM would slip between speaking in Samoan and English.  AP was usually more comfortable speaking in English as that was his day to day language and seemed to be easier for him.

“he just didn’t wake up this morning” MM told me.

AP was currently at one of the VA hospitals in CA.  He would be admitted off and on depending on how he was doing.  He had just been arrested due to confusing a middle eastern taxi driver with the Taliban he had encountered overseas.  He was released to the authority of the VA staff for further treatment.  Usually he would meet up with the nurses to work on his physical therapy and when he neglected to show up that morning they went in to check on him.  No pulse.  Once we finally received the autopsy from the coroner it stated that he had died from an enlarged heart.  And oddly enough, it was not until a year later it was stated he died as a casualty of war.

10 short days away was our upcoming visit to CA to visit with him again.  That trip was now sped up for us to leave only 3 days after the 2nd.  There was going to be a lot of paperwork and details to take care of.  The rest of the family was in UT.

This was going to be my plunge into the Samoan culture of burring the dead, as well as the US Military and the incredible detail of honoring family who have fallen.

I did some research before I left so that I would have some idea what to expect, but it really didn’t offer too much help.  I knew that there would be specific gifts given and monetary donations to cover the costs.  Yes, the military was covering the burial costs and all that, however with the Samoan culture things are a bit different.

People come to pay their respects over about a week’s period of time.  If an appointed Chief or Elder is not present, then usually the eldest male family member takes charge of all the event planning and authoritative decisions.  The pastor and church family are invited one evening to pay their respects as well as other family and friends.  Every night the house was full and meals were served.  The main gathering place in the home is cleared of most furniture and the floor is covered with “fine mats”.  The women cooked during the day while the children would serve everyone in the evening.

When people came to visit there were specific gifts brought and that would usually include money and a fine mat to present to the family.  Depending on the family presenting the fine mat, it would be received and possibly would be returned.  This is all out of respect.  The family in mourning would keep some mats to be given as gifts.  Gifts to the pastor, friends and family who sacrificed time and money. When a fine mat is presented as a gift it is usually from a previous event and thus they continue to be passed around.  To me this represents the tight community that the Samoan people represent.

During our time in UT, MM would bring the family together for an evening meeting.  Discussing the next day’s activities, who would be visiting, and a time to read scripture.  The children would serve us and then come and join us.  I will be honest, learning to sit and be served by the children was probably my most difficult thing to get used to.  I slowly began to understand that this was how traditions were passed down to the next generation.  The youngest one learning was about 5.  If the children were too young to help they were kept downstairs and watched by a few of the youth.  Keep in mind that I am talking about 15 kids here.  As one learned and grew, they would then help the younger ones learn.  Pretty amazing really.

There is so much detail that I could include in this post, but for time’s sake as well as your eyes, I will cut it short and allow the photos to tell the story…

This is a series of pictures prior to the funeral service

The day prior when AP was delivered to the church from the street for the viewing, there were no police blocking the street where the hertz was parked and blocking a lane.  AP’s death was getting media attention. A pedestrian, who was also a veteran, called into Salt Lake City mayor’s office complaining that there was no respect for a fallen soldier by not providing someone directing traffic.  The day of the funeral we saw 12 police motorcycles parked in the middle of the street and one parked behind the hertz prepared to direct traffic when he was brought out of the church and loaded back into the hertz.  Amazing what one phone call can make. The 12 police motorcycles also escorted 30+ vehicles approximately 25 miles to the burial site

One challenge I was assigned to was video taping as much of the week as possible.  This included the first viewing when he was brought from CA to UT for the family…with the open casket.  For me personally I have always struggled with an open casket ceremony.  To top it off having to video tape it and catch photos with the family and AP was very uncomfortable for me.  I explained to MM that I thought this was intrusive and he had to explain to me that this was very normal.  Their way of capturing final pictures & moments with their loved one.

I have lost a few loved ones.  Ones close to me.  I’m used to meals being provided, condolence cards received, possibly a viewing, the funeral then a reception following.  However, having a week long morning till evening of food preparation and visitors in and out of the house as well as 3 different ceremonies was a lot for me to take in.  Included, most of it all was in Samoan.  I wish I could say that I am so glad to have experienced this cultural opportunity, but that is not true.  I greatly appreciated the experience I had, but I would take knowing AP over that experience.  Since then I have visited 3 other Samoan funerals, I’m well acquainted now, thank you very much.

Now for the story you are all waiting for…I know you thought you had read enough, but I think you will understand that this experience played a very large role in the next event.  And who to better tell it that my own beloved MM.  He wrote this for a book a friend of mine put together for us.  The only editing I have done is adjust the names.

The original plan was to POP the question to Leah on Thanksgiving Day of 2007, if and when I receive Mike’s (Leah’s dad) approval, permission, and blessings.  

But because God called my dearest brother USMC SSG “AP” to come home, I had to adjust and change plans. I stop thinking about what’s next in regards to my relationship with Leah. Now I have to take care of business in hand.  My brother died the week before I planned to tell him about asking Leah for hand in marriage and I wanted him to be my Best Man in my wedding, but unfortunately it did not happen.  

I prayed and prayed and prayed to God to use this unfortunate circumstance to reach out to my family and friends, especially my daughter “BH” and my nieces. In the midst of celebrating my brother’s life, God revealed a plan within me. 

The day after we place my brother in his resting place, Saturday July 14th 2007, I asked my sister  that I needed her help with my plan. I told her my original plan about asking Leah’s hand in marriage and about our brother’s involvement. Now the challenge was to go shopping without Leah. So I told Leah I need to spend some private time with my sisters and that we will be back, and of course it work. Sulu and Maggie went with me. 

Later in the evening, everyone was told to be at my Mom’s apartment for prayer and dinner.   I then picked up Leah from the hotel and drove to my Mom’s apartment. When we got there I again told Leah that Sulu, I, and the girls (daughter and nieces) have to leave to pick some stuff up and we’ll be back. I notice the disapproving look and disappointing body language from Leah ,but it did not change anything. (I was praying for God’s help through out all this). (Leah’s comments: I was told we were going to have dinner, but come to find out everyone else already had. Then Maea decides to mention that he has to run an errand TONIGHT with Sulu, so dinner will have to wait.)  

After we picked up the ring, I called Mike and asked for his permission and blessings for Leah’s hand in marriage. I explained that I did not want to have this conversation on the phone, but since this a rare occasion that my family are all together in one place, I wanted to take advantage of the opportunity presented to me. Mike shared and expressed his emotions and most important to me was that he approved. 

On our way back to the apartment we made a stop at Starbuck’s and did not buy Leah a drink on purpose.  (Leah: everyone else in the car got one!) Leah was HOT with me when we got back but she did not lose her composer. (Leah: By now it is close to 9:00 pm and I have been WAITING PATIENTLY for Maea so we can have dinner.) 

We then gathered in the living room with Leah and I sitting on chairs while everyone else were on the floor. I then led our prayer meeting with the hymn “It is well” in Samoan version. Afterward, I acknowledge everyone for their help and how they handle themselves by smiling and celebrating AP’s life.  I also acknowledge the support , love, prayers of friends and families who were not with us. 

Especially Leah’s parents & sister’s family. I then acknowledge Leah with all she has done for me and my family. Words can not express how grateful and thankful I am to God because of Leah. She is a blessing to me from God. 

In front of my mom, sisters, cousin and her husband, nieces and nephews, and my dearest daughter “BH”, I got down on my knees and ask her “Will you be my wife?” and Leah responded with tears “What did my DAD say?” …yup…that was her response…I did not tell her what DAD said but I just said, “What do you think?”  (By this time everyone was yelling…”Well, what’s your answer?”) Leah then said with confidence and tears….YES!

Yep, you read that correct.  I asked what my dad said first.