Ricardo Javier Gonzalez, a modest landscaper in West Miami, gets almost giddy when he talks about his three boys. Pictures of them cover a wall in his home and take up considerable real estate in his phone’s photo gallery.
There’s 3-year-old Tony playing dad, lugging a weed whacker almost three times his size. And 5-year-old Andy, behind the wheel of the family’s (parked) gold Nissan Quest, shades on, toy hammer in his hand. And then there’s 9-year-old Javi, grinning at the camera from an inflatable pool floaty.
“Look at him,” he says. “He’s a beautiful kid.”
Javi is a cheery little boy with big brown eyes and straight back hair styled like Dad — the gelled side part is the Gonzalez style. He doesn’t walk or talk, but he offers you a curious gaze and claps often.
At birth, Javi was diagnosed with cerebral palsy, an illness that affects movement and causes developmental delays. His first three years of life were marked by instability after his parents separated. His mother, who has an extensive criminal background, moved from place to place, only feeding Javi PediaSure for three years and dropping him off at odd hours, nearly always smelling of smoke, Gonzalez said.
Then in late 2010, Gonzalez and his partner, Arlin Perez, earned sole custody of Javi in an effort to give him a stable life with opportunities for improvement.
I want to try so the kids don’t know our situation. I want them to be happy all the time.
Ricardo Javier Gonzalez, Javier Gonzalez’s father
“I thought of making a family here but I made a mistake with that woman,” said Gonzalez, who moved to Miami from Argentina in 1999. “I met Arlin, with whom I have two kids.”
Perez interrupts. “Well,” she says, “we have three.”
The Gonzalez family’s top request is donations for their bathroom renovation. Additionally, they’d like toys for the boys. Tony and Andy like remote control cars, robots and tool sets. Javi enjoys infant toys with lights and sounds.
After the custody battle ended — Perez remembers by exact date: Dec. 20, 2010 — she stopped working and dedicated herself to Javi’s care, one that requires weekly doctors’ appointments, regimented food and medication schedules, and hours of therapy.
“Mom is very much a go-getter,” said Rosio de la Grana, the Gonzalez’s family support coordinator at the Advocacy Network on Disabilities. “She really does anything in her power to do whatever she has to get done for her family and for her son Javier.”
Dad does too: Gonzalez owns a landscaping company and has a steady group of about 30 homes he helps maintain. But the demands of Javi’s condition force him to cancel appointments often to help Perez take Javi to the doctor, pick up the boys at school, and lately, even carry a now 60-pound Javi in and out of the shower. He’s lost clients because of it, he said.
This is the hardest time we’ve ever had. I work and I work and I work, and I don’t see a way to get out of this.
Ricardo Javier Gonzalez, Javier Gonzalez’s father
Realistically, the Gonzalez’s wish list could be a mile long.
They live paycheck-to-paycheck. They cut the cable and installed a satellite to save money, but they are more often watching the buffering screen than anything else (“But we are saving money!” Perez quips). They couldn’t afford a new Christmas tree this year, so Perez’s sister pitched in and bought them one. The decorations are candy canes. There is a leak in the roof causing spots on the ceiling of Javi’s room and the living room. Tony broke a hole in the wall of the living room while playing one day, but they haven’t asked for a quote to fix it, because they know they can’t afford it.
But they won’t ask for any that. No. 1 on their list is to renovate the home’s sole bathroom, allowing them to replace the tub with a shower, which will make it easier for Perez to move Javi in and out and will free up Gonzalez, at least somewhat, to focus on his job — the family’s only income stream. They’d also like toys for the boys for Christmas.
“We are not asking because we want to renovate the house.” Perez said. “We are asking because we need it.”
“Need” is a word they sparingly use, but have had to employ more recently.
Last year, robbers broke into Gonzalez’s 1998 white Chevy van and stole most of his equipment. He needed to replace it, or lose the one thing that kept his family afloat. About $1,700 was spent purchasing a used weed whacker, chainsaw, lawn mower, trimmer and blower at a flea market in Opa-locka. The van’s right door is still creaky from where the robbers forced the entry, and it doesn’t close fully.
Then in July, the family’s 9-year-old golden retriever, Rusty, was diagnosed with nasal cancer. They spent $1,500 trying to save Rusty but ultimately had to euthanize him. Gonzalez still tears up talking up it. The kids don’t know, Perez said. They told them Rusty went to live with his mom.
“This is the hardest time we’ve ever had,” Gonzalez said. “I work and I work and I work, and I don’t see a way to get out of this.”
Every dollar is carefully administered.
“Everything we make is for the house and the kids,” Gonzalez said. “I want to try so the kids don’t know our situation. I want them to be happy all the time.”
We are not asking because we want to renovate the house. We are asking because we need it.
Arlin Perez, Javier Gonzalez’s stepmother
On a recent Friday afternoon, they were doing just that.
Tony and Andy were pulling out all their just-like-dad toys, including a plastic chainsaw, wrench and hammer. Javi was in his chair — which has his name, Javier, sewed into the back rest in blue thread — smiling from time to time and dozing off after a long day of therapy.
His dad wheeled him into the narrow, beige-tiled bathroom off the dining room to demonstrate the challenge of picking him up and over the tub into his bath chair. It’s even harder when he’s wet, he said.
From Javi’s dangling feet stood out a pair of shiny new navy Nike sneakers, bought for a steal at Ross for $20. Each boy got two pairs. Before that, each only had one pair of shoes.
How to help: Wish Book is trying to help hundreds of families in need this year. To donate, pay securely at MiamiHerald.com/wishbook. To give via your mobile phone, text WISH to 41444. For information, call 305-376-2906 or email wishbook@MiamiHerald.com. (Most requested items: laptops and tablets for school, furniture, accessible vans) Read more at MiamiHerald.com/wishbook.
How to help:
Wish Book is trying to help hundreds of families in need this year. To donate, pay securely at MiamiHerald.com/wishbook. To give via mobile phone, text WISH to 41444. For information, call 305-376-2906 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Gonzalez family’s top request is donations for their bathroom renovation. Additionally, they’d like toys for the boys. Tony and Andy like remote control cars, robots and tool sets. Javi enjoys infant toys with lights and sounds. Read more at MiamiHerald.com/wishbook