Tag Archives: Perspective

When white privilege isn’t white: Confessions of a complacent Latina

On Saturday, March 25, 1911, there was a fire at a garment factory in New York City. Within less than 30 minutes, the fire had claimed the lives of 146 mostly young immigrant women. I’ve been so moved by this tragedy since first hearing about it, felt so connected to the personal stories of these women, that it inspired me to write my first novel. So on Friday, March 24 of this year, I was taking an early morning bus from DC to New York to attend the commemorative events.

Shirtwaists carried in honor of the victims.

I arrived at Union Station an hour before my bus and headed straight for the restroom, which was occupied almost entirely by homeless women, doing what we all do when we first wake up in the morning. Brushing teeth, fixing hair, looking in the mirror; some were putting on makeup. Bags with their few possessions sat open on the floor nearby.

Now, I know homeless people “live” in bus and train stations, and it’s obvious on the most basic level that they’d use those restrooms. Still, it was jarring to me. I didn’t feel like being confronted with an uncomfortable reality before six o’clock in the morning. And I wasn’t just confronted with it, I was sharing the bathroom with it, competing with it for space in front of the mirror before I’d even had my morning coffee.

Crowd gathered outside the historic factory building at the Corner of Greene Street and Washington Place to honor the memory of the fire.

Facing uncomfortable realities is a ubiquitous part of life. But it’s somehow become a daily occurrence in the nightmare shit show that’s descended on our country since last November. It’s constant, inescapable.

And I must confess, with due self-awareness, that I’d spent the past few years of my life in a state of relative complacency. Sure I’m Hispanic and have at times encountered some real doozies in prejudiced stupidity … you’d be surprised if I told you the source of it sometimes. But as a Puerto Rican, I’ve been a US citizen since birth. I am very assimilated, and my hometown for the past 20 years has been Washington DC, a known “coastal elite bubble.” My son attends a bilingual school among many other children of diverse ethnic, socioeconomic, cultural, and gender-identity backgrounds.

I knew these past several years that things are far from perfect. I’d just been sufficiently untouched by bad stuff that I didn’t (need to) sweat it too much. For all my education, travels, so-called sophistication, for all my pursuit of diversity and my righteous outrage over systems that oppress the underprivileged, even as a woman of color, I’d embraced the safety of a life where my privilege was hardly ever questioned, much less threatened. I liked things that way, took them for granted.  I didn’t ignore the undercurrents of egregious inequality everywhere, but I did, for all practical purposes, choose to remain silent about them.

A lot of folks have articulated well how the recent election has awoken a bunch of us out of our complacency. That it’s a good thing this is happening. Like the beautiful essay We were made for these times, which inspired the quote that appears at the top of this post. It’s all so true. If we all waited for injustice to affect us directly before we spoke out for what’s right, the wrongs we humans inflict on one another would never be righted.

Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world all at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach. … It is not given to us to know which acts or by whom, will cause the critical mass to tip toward an enduring good.
What is needed for dramatic change is an accumulation of acts, adding, adding to, adding more, continuing … One of the most calming and powerful actions you can do to intervene in a stormy world is to stand up and show your soul. Soul on deck shines like gold in dark times.”

It’s just so easy to get bogged down, too. By outrage, powerlessness, uncertainty about what to do next. Every single day —EVERY. DAY.— I alternate between feeling grateful and determined to stay woke, and longing for the familiar comfort zone of the harbor I had known.

Back in the ladies’ room at Union Station, I noticed the homeless women were getting themselves ready to look just like any of the other travelers waiting to board a train or bus. I saw some again outside the restroom, and it worked well, they completely blended in. Had I not seen them in a more private moment, I’d never have known they were homeless.

In fact, I realized I’d seen one of them before, on a previous trip. My train was delayed, she was sitting next to me at the gate, and thinking she was a fellow traveler, I’d asked her if she was also waiting for the same train. She snapped and yelled that no she wasn’t, then grabbed her bag and stormed off. I remember feeling rather stung by her unkindness.

But you know, I’d just spent the morning doing the same exact thing as those women, dressing for a part. In my case, the part of an educated, moderately sophisticated urban wife and mother, an Americanized Puerto Rican who teaches Spanish, who reads, writes and travels. And please-god let me look the part of someone who’s written a story worthy of being read by more than 20 people. Most of the time though, I don’t know what the hell I’m doing and I suffer from crippling impostor syndrome.

Every year, volunteers with street chalk visit the homes of the fire victims throughout the city, and write a commemorative message on the sidewalk. This was my first year participating. It was humbling, and an honor.

So, I could profess to feel a deep bond with women who perished in a fire over a hundred years ago, but bemoaned having to share a bathroom with homeless women on my way to honor the century-old tragedy? And this is what it boils down to. I’ve embraced, for decades, a sense of empathy in abstract, in theory, removed. Injustice hadn’t touched me in any real sense, so I could toot my own political correctness horn but remain generally silent about it. This is what we refer to when we talk about white privilege, or privilege in general, and why we need to keep talking about it. It’s something that I, even as a person of color, have been guilty of.

Something’s shifted, though, within me. It’s baby steps. One day at a time. But it’s true and irrevocable. Because our mutual destiny is inescapable and “tied in a single garment.” The homeless woman who yelled at me? I wasn’t exactly kind to her, either, on our second encounter. But she absolutely is my fellow traveler. So were the women in the restroom that morning. So are you. And remaining silent as though the plight of less fortunate sisters and brothers here and now isn’t mine and ours to bear is simply no longer an option. And so maybe I will look back on this time, and I will be grateful to my intolerant, unkind teachers after all.

Share this:
facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterest

Back to School

My son Eric started first grade last week. You’ve all seen the funny memes, gifs, and videos of parents doing a gleeful happy dance when school resumes at the end of summer. For some reason though, I really don’t feel that way. So I thought I’d break it down a little to understand why.

backtoschoolmeme

First  –and I know I’m speaking as an at-home parent–  I like going at least a few weeks with absolutely nothing structured to do. I loved lazy summers as a kid, loved them as an adult before parenthood, and love them still as a parent. We get to sleep in and take a long time eating breakfast, no lunchbox needs packing, no running out the door, we travel, go out for the day or stay home … we just get to hang out. (And yes, there’s also a lot more TV. So what? It’s summer!) Why would I be in a hurry to be in a hurry every morning again? For the most part, I’m really, really not.

There’s also the part where I miss him and feel nostalgic, plain and simple. I’m sure it’s not unique of me to feel occasionally sentimental about the passage of time. You’ve heard it before: It goes so fast. And the feeling tends to hit me the hardest at the start of a new school year. When we turn a year older or mark the beginning of a new calendar year, we do celebrate, but then we go back to our relatively unchanged routines. A lot more changes with each new school year.

june192016 090cropped

Kindergarten graduation in June.

For instance, Eric graduated kindergarten in June. But it’s not until I see the new crop of kindergartners and their parents at school now that it really sinks in. There are new teachers and new classmates. He has a locker now instead of a cubby. He’s literally moved up one floor in the school building. He knows he’s one of the bigger kids now and very proudly displays a lot more independence in many different areas.

So between laziness and nostalgia, I love summer and feel less than thrilled about back to school.

And yet …

If researchers were to conduct studies on when even the most well-meaning parents are most likely to lose their patience with their kids and, shall we say, speak to them in a slightly raised tone of voice, I suspect they’d find a correlation between this phenomenon and summer, particularly its final weeks. I think both kids and parents get stressed knowing school’s about to start. No matter how much we love our school, there’s anxiety over change and the unknown.

Obviously, it’s all the togetherness, too. Let’s face it, Eric’s used to not being with his parents 24/7. And that’s a good thing. An important thing. My kid honestly doesn’t want me around all the time, and by the end of a few weeks of that, he’s probably ready to spend several hours a day where I don’t see or mediate most of his actions.

July 2016 073

Hugging it out in Venice, Italy this summer.

From my end, the more we’re together at home in the context of a daily routine, the greater the danger of me believing the terrible delusion that I can control all the influences my kid is exposed to, and that in the degree to which I control that, I can rest assured that he’ll mirror back and validate me and my values. I think plenty of parents, stay-at-home moms especially, are vulnerable to this. In the first week of school alone, Eric has come home saying some things that make me want to ask him where he heard it, who said it and in what context, what he said in response, and what he thinks about it all. In other words I’d thoroughly dissect everything with him. Then I’d tell myself it’s so that he has a chance to discuss and process it. But I’d bet that a good eight times out of ten, I’m doing it just so that whatever he’s exposed to goes through the filter of Mom, and I once again have the illusion of control.

So with everything Eric says that comes from school, I try to stay aware, and check myself first. If it’s something that could compromise his safety or ethics, I pursue it. If it just threatens me and my delusions of control over my kid, I rein it in. His knowing I’m not a needy hovering parent is at least as important as knowing I’m there whenever he needs me.

aug282016 561

More summer fun!

So, do I celebrate back to school? Yes and no, I guess.

Parenting someone so young and sweet is so much more precious that I ever imagined. And the separation we experience every year at back to school, more so than at birthdays or New Year’s, reminds me all too keenly of how crazy fast these years are moving. My heart aches a little. The tug is real.

But there’s something to be said for making it through another school year and summer together. It’s not a flippant reveling in having him “out of my hair” again though. Yes, there’s relief that the end-of-summer jitters have passed and the year has started out well. Yes, I do better when I have some time to myself for a few hours five days a week, and he does better when a portion of his time and interactions with people and with information aren’t controlled by his mom. Most importantly though, my boy is slowly yet assertively making his own way in the world. I honor that. That, I celebrate.

 

Share this:
facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterest

A short to-do list, because YOLO (sort of)

It’s been a month of milestones in our little familia. My son started kindergarten at a new school that we’d been hoping to get into since before he was born. He’s been adjusting well and we are loving the community. I turned 40, and have returned to teaching (college Spanish) part-time. But I want to share with you two “smaller” parenting firsts that happened yesterday, and the things they made me think about.

iPhone photos Sept 5 15 1221

Yesterday was the first time since starting my new day job that my husband wasn’t home in the hectic final minutes before we have to be out the door in the morning. I had to get my son to school, and had to be at my job by 8:40. After being a stay-at-home mom for 5 years, this made me feel like quite the independent working parent: It was So Damn Stressful. And that’s with an only child and teaching just two mornings per week! More importantly? I believe with all my heart that single working parents who still manage to be present with their children are the greatest unsung heroes of our society. Hats. Freaking. Off. I bow to you. That’s all I will say about that for now, even as I acknowledge that no words can do justice to my deep and abiding awe for these superheroes.

Yesterday was also the first morning I dropped my boy off for school at the curbside, instead of parking the car and walking him in. The school’s driveway is a few feet away from the entrance, and there are adults lined up to help escort the kiddos from the parent’s car into the school. Full disclosure, I had trouble sleeping the night before. What if, in those few feet between my car and the school entrance, someone intercepted him? What if, once inside, he didn’t go straight where he was supposed to go? Are kindergartners really ready for curbside drop-off? What if it made him upset, and made me late for class?

iPhone photos Sept 5 15 1248

When we finally pulled into the school driveway in the morning, the school principal happened to be there. She walked over, opened his car door, and with a huge warm smile, offered her hand. He went so happily and proudly with her, I had to call him back just to give him a kiss goodbye and wish him a good day! (I also wanted to give her a hug.) I drove off to work basking in a soft wave of relief and of pride in my big boy, and only the slightest stirrings of “he did make inside, right … ?” It was a small milestone, but a milestone nonetheless.

As a fervent believer in reincarnation, I don’t subscribe to the old adage of You Only Live Once in a literal sense. That said, this lifetime is the one that matters to me now, and boy is it a precious one. After delving into deeper questions on the passage of time in my previous post, this time I got to thinking about more practical aspects of the question, what do I really, really, really want?

I prefer talking about to-do lists over the idea of one big bucket list. For example, I’ve started thinking about an empty nest to-do list. Oh sure, that’s roughly 13 years away. And you know what? I remember 13 years ago like it was earlier this morning. So I have a good sense of how fast the next 13 will go, and I want to at least have a plan when the time comes. Part of the plan is to travel more with my husband. Also, if I haven’t had the opportunity, to learn/perfect more foreign languages. I will research and write more books, hopefully (in theory at least) at a faster pace than now. I’m also looking forward to binge-watching all the TV shows I keep hearing about which I never have time to watch. (Was Mad Men really that good? What about Downton Abbey? No spoilers please!)

11154595_372946372911657_8540060621515770627_o

Our little familia riding the London Underground from the Natural History Museum to the British Museum (April 2015)

But enough about stuff down the line. Assuming good health, what do I really, really, really want in the years ahead of me now? Here are some things, in no particular order.

  1. Research and write more stories (and be less scared about pursuing publication)
  2. See Ireland’s Cliffs of Moher
  3. Eat “freshly” smoked salmon in Alaska (and Norway)
  4. Learn to make handmade pasta … in Italy
  5. Have a Thai massage in Thailand
  6. See the Danube River separating Buda from Pest
  7. Shower my family with crazy wicked fierce lovin’
  8. Eat street food in Vietnam (my palate is more excited about this than my heartburn-prone gut is)
  9. Amsterdam: Pay my respects at Anne Frank’s hiding place, and ride a canal boat … and a bike
  10. Learn to knit?
  11. Eat a Belgian waffle purchased from a street vendor in Brussels
  12. Dance more
  13. Sydney Harbor
  14. African safari
  15. Learn more about wine
  16. Walk on the Great Wall
  17. Edinburgh …

Sensing a trend here? Yes, with me, it often comes down to travel. Beautiful, restless, put-a-stamp-on-my-passport-NOW-please, Wanderlust. By the way? I hope to do most of these things with my beloved husband and our sunshine boy. And I’m leaving a lot (like, all of the Americas) out. Not to mention the many places we want to take him where we’ve already been! It’s okay if we don’t do all these things. But I believe we can do some –even many– of them. What’s not okay is to not even dream them. I’ve never been shy about dreaming big, and it has never led me astray. Dreaming big and loving big, that’s the plan.

9231501

This brochure for a trip to Thailand and Bali came in the mail recently. My son and I spent that afternoon poring over the details, and it was the best day-dreaming conversation we’ve had … so far!

Share this:
facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterest

No more Miss Nice Girl (My turning 40 manifesto)

iPhone photos Sept 5 15 757 w words 2

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged. The summer felt both long and drawn out, and short and sweet. It’s Saturday of Labor Day Weekend as I start this post. On Tuesday I’ll be 40. Friday is the anniversary of 9/11. A week ago the world lost Wayne Dyer. That made me pretty sad. Then a few days later, our human family lost a young Syrian boy named Aylan, and I swear, my heart –like so many others’– turned to shards. I tucked my own little boy into bed the night after those wrenching haunting photos appeared, then cried tears of gratitude (for our safety), denial, shame, angry powerlessness…

All this hand-wringing on the eve of one’s fifth decade really gets a person thinking. I can’t take on the weight of the world. SO WHAT CAN I DO?  Well. In my own small way, one thing I’ve decided to do in honor of my 40th birthday is to stop being nice.

Listen, I’ve been nice long enough. Nice paired with judgmental. Nice while prone to comparisons and competitiveness. Nice and secretly angry. And you know what? No. I’ve also been on the receiving end of similar types of niceness. Nice plus condescending? Oh, yeah, always a doozy. And how many times has someone been perfectly nice while slapping me with a terrific underhanded insult? Like I can’t tell? Please. Stop it-just-STOP IT!

stop b n w

It’s not that “nice” is bad. It’s just so ubiquitous and tired. It conjures (for me, at least) comfort zone complacency and stagnation. It is all too often used as a front for self-righteousness and passive-aggressive derision. Plus it’s on a steep slippery slope to inane flattery without substance. And I want off  the damn slope!

In the face of bad stuff happening in the world, what’s the stuff that matters? What have four decades of living and loving and wins and losses taught me? Nice doesn’t cut it anymore. I want to strive for depth, authenticity, empathy, love. I don’t want to compete with you. I want the light in me to see the freaking light in you. And I want to tell the TRUTH about it all.

The whole, “If you have nothing nice to say … ?” Meh. I’m not a big fan. My kid is being taught about kindness, love, intention, about saying what he means and meaning what he says, and owning it. I don’t want him to settle for inserting some prepackaged PC response on cue. I want him to give a genuine shit! About the planet, his place in it, and how he coexists with its fellow occupants.

Also? I’ve never been softer (and I don’t just mean in my midsection) or sappier. I’ve never felt a greater urgency to say “I love you,” usually with a hard squeeze, to the people I love. I cry a lot more easily. There’s a space somewhere in my heart that I’ve only just begun to uncover in the five years since becoming a mom. I have a feeling this space runs deep, and I want to both nurture it and draw from it. I often look at my boy and say, “If you could see what I see every time I look at you … !” And once, after hearing it enough times, he finally said, “What, Mom? What would happen?” I love that he made me finish the thought. So I did; I said, “You would always, always know that you are good enough, and worthy of love, exactly as you are.” I fret often over whether he knows he is precious and beloved. I mean, does he really, really know it? I want to plant as many kisses on his sweet, soft face as I possibly can before he decides it’s uncool to let his mom do that.

iPhone photos Sept 5 15 924w words 2

I want to remember to thank my husband every single day for being my best friend and cheerleader and the best imaginable co-parent. Ever. I want to try to yell at idiot other drivers less. I want to keep smiling, hell I want to smile more. I’ll probably share more cheesy Facebook memes with positive messages and lighthearted silliness. Why? Because I refuse to give in to cynicism. These four decades have hardened me in some good places and softened me in other very important ones.

I will continue to assert my faith in the good in humankind and in the power of love. I resolve to align myself, as much as possible, with things that are good. Not perfect or (god(dess) help us) superior. Not PC or ceaselessly angrily militant for one cause or another. Just good. Loving. Authentic. It’s not likely that I’ll be housing refugees or marching in protest against this and that. But I do promise to cultivate truth and peace in my world. And I pray that for now, that will be enough.

Share this:
facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterest

Wanderlust

wanderlust1

Of all the unexplained compulsions in human behavior, wanderlust has got to be my favorite. I blame my parents. In my early childhood in Puerto Rico, when my father was in medical school and my mother was the sole bread-winner for our family of five, they still managed to scrape together enough money to take us to Disney World a couple of times.

Orlando (1977 & 1979). I’m the youngest.

Later, in the three years we lived in Albany, NY while Dad was a resident in rehabilitation medicine, we’d pack the five of us into the family car, and set off for Manhattan, Toronto, DC, and many other places. There was never a lot of money, but my parents understood well the importance of expanding our horizons. So I learned early on, for example, that eating food from a grocery store–rather than a restaurant–for at least one meal a day is an excellent way to save money on a trip.

Roadtripping in the early 80’s

Upon completing his residency, my father moved our family back to Puerto Rico, and made a vow: That one day soon, he’d take the five of us to Europe. The year was 1985.

In summer 1987, la Familia Falcón embarked on a three-week tour of Europe. And that was it. THAT WAS IT! Before the trip, I thought historic sites in Europe were these boring, abandoned places, visited only by a handful of rich eccentric types. It was confusing that my parents wanted to take us there. But I quickly “got it.” There’s a whole world just beyond my own, awaiting exploration. There are people very different from me … and ultimately not that different. The world is terrifically big and wondrously small. It’s okay to see things differently, and to think and be different from my previous beliefs. Magic is real, and wealth isn’t a pre-requisite for it. It’s possible to be many miles away from home and still experience a powerful sense of belonging. These were just a few of the lessons learned.

The Falcón’s at the Roman Colosseum (1987)
My parents have made good on that 1985 promise many more times than their children or grandchildren could have dreamed.
Madrid (2006)
And they sent each of us on plenty of solo adventures, too.
Clockwise: A summer in England (top two on the left -1992); semester abroad in Spain (1994); camel ride in Egypt (1999); eating pizza sold by weight in Verona (1999); Santorini (2000).
Imagine my delight when I met my husband David, and learned that he suffers from the same travel restlessness as me. Soon, we were engaged, and the adventures continued. Which brings me to the present(-ish), and to my point. Mark Twain said it best.
Oh please, please-please, SEE the world as much as possible. It’s one of the best things you could ever do. And with enough planning and flexibility, it can also be done on a budget.
After we had our son Eric five years ago, our travels definitely slowed down. We are now a very frugal single-income household. Last year we had hopes of visiting Spain on the 20th anniversary of my semester abroad there. Alas, the expense would have been unwise; we didn’t go. Yet David and I continue to agree that any extra money is set aside so we can see our country and the world as a family. Both he and I count travel–and a love of reading books–as the most profoundly enriching experiences of our formative years. This is precisely what we dream for Eric during his childhood. Not surprisingly, he is a natural little wanderer like his parents.
This world map with color-coded pins for places dreamed, planned, and visited is one of the best Christmas presents David has ever given me. (2013)
When we returned from a 12-day roadtrip to Canada and New England last summer, the moment Eric realized we were done travelling, he sat down on the family room floor, and cried, “But where are we going tomorrow?!” Here’s a picture from our trip to London when he was a year old.
Did you know you can fit your stroller–opened, with your baby strapped in–into the backseat of London’s famous black taxis? He loved that! (2011)
Guess what? We’re thinking of taking him again in just a few weeks. David has a work trip. Eric and I could tag along. This trip has been over a year in the making, and we have never thought longer or harder over a travel decision. Among the factors to consider? 1-I’d be alone with Eric in London, not seeing David until the very end of the day. On the other hand? 2-I could be alone with Eric in DC, doing our routine stuff, not seeing David for an entire week. Only one of these options gets me eating scones with clotted cream and jam … in friggin’ England. Yeah, I like what’s behind door #1 better. Do I still wonder if it’s the 100% sensible thing to do? All the time. Our finances are a far cry from when we had two incomes and no kids. Just in case, don’t tell Suze Orman on us, alright? Not to mention my anxiety-prone self is coming out full force, conjuring fantastically awful mental scenarios about things that could go wrong. (I am a superior catastrophizer.)
But we’re still seriously considering it. With David’s expenses covered, the trip would be a fraction of what it would cost for the three of us. There’s this wonderful phenomenon called tax refund. The curiosity and wonder of a five-year-old child are like lightning in a bottle. For me, besides the chance to give my boy an invaluable experience, it’s also an opportunity to overcome an anxiety. And a priceless reminder that the world is still within reach and a relatively safe place, no matter what dire news stories tell us; that it is ours to experience and love; that I can go on travel adventures long after my carefree “younger” years, this time, as the mom. I still don’t know how my parents took their three kids on all those trips. Sometimes, it occurs to me, they must have decided to just go for it. Life is short. There’s a time for prudence … and a time for scones. This time I want the scones. I hope you will find whatever your metaphorical “scone” is, and go after it. Dream it, map it, plan it, and go. I’m telling you, it can be done, and it is WORTH IT.
You see, I’m not kidding when I say we love to travel. Here’s a sampling of some of our pre-parenthood trips. Clockwise from top left: Toledo (2003); Grand Canyon (2003); Paris (2004); Ireland (2007); Innsbruck (2008); and Maine (2008).
Share this:
facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterest

Am I a Feminist?

feminism

Yes. No. I don’t know.

A bit of background.

I grew up in a pretty traditional Hispanic family. I enjoyed Disney princesses and all things girlie. I was scared of the term feminism because some men in my family thoroughly discredited the concept, and dismissed feminists as angry man-haters.

I also loved playing with my older brother’s toys, which were about 100% gender-specific. And I got into plenty of trouble for straight-up scoffing at things I saw and heard that simply made no sense to me, like a wife always (always) preparing her husband’s plate for a meal at family gatherings, or men making macho pronouncements about their macho superiority and authority. I saw so many husbands being mothered by their wives (with apparently no one seeing anything wrong with this), that I vowed to never get married. Naturally, as I grew up, I started to wonder whether maybe I was one of those “man-haters” that had so scared me as a young girl.

One thing that made my original nuclear family awesome was that they supported–indeed, they championed–its female members in achieving high-level education. My mother, sister and I are all doctors (sister is physician, Mami and I are PhDs). It was in large part thanks to this wonderful support that I finished my degree in Spanish Linguistics before age 30, and before I was married. This made me feel pretty bad-ass at the time. I lived alone for seven very happy years during graduate school in DC. During these years, I also got to see the world a bit. Alone.

The pyramids in Egypt; cappuccino in Florence; wine on a gondola ride in Venice; the Parthenon in Athens.
Eventually, I was pleased to realize that not all men are grown children. Then one day, I fell in love! My husband David and I did “shack up” before getting married (though, after I read some of the research at the time, not before getting engaged). While most people wouldn’t bat an eye at this, if you’d known me growing up, you’d know that this sort of decision could set many an eye to batting. Upon becoming a wife, I kept my own name–don’t care much for calling it my “maiden” name–instead of taking my husband’s name. Why? Simple. Thank you, Daniel Day Lewis.

I like that David talked to my father to discuss with him his intention to marry me. Of course it’s absurdly traditional, yet it didn’t make me feel like either man’s property. Maybe because I know I am no man’s property, and that these two men love me very much. Could it actually be that simple? Oh, I also love that my mother was a little p.o.’d that the phone call to “ask for my hand” was addressed to my father and not her. And when we were married, I did kind of look like a princess at our big fat Puerto Rican wedding, which we held in a church.
DSC01140

May 2005

Obviously, my marriage is traditional in one important sense: It’s between a man and a woman. And there are other traditional elements when one looks at it on the surface. I cook and bake and plan parties in our house. David typically deals with plumbing and electrical issues, takes out the trash and recycling, and shovels snow. These happen to be our respective strengths. But the balance between tasks has always been equal.
Four-and-a-half years ago, we had a baby boy. When I became pregnant (biggest shock of my life!), I always thought I would go back to work before our son had celebrated his first birthday. And then, I didn’t. And this is just us, okay? But David and I determined that we wanted one of our baby’s parents to be the person who spent the most time with him in his early years. Given our respective salaries (I was working as a Spanish professor, he’s an attorney), deciding who stayed home was a no-brainer.
I would make the same decision in a heartbeat if given a do-over. Once again, though, like the choice to keep my own last name after getting married, I am in no way making pronouncements or statements by means of this choice. It was a simple case of two spouses discerning what their gut told them worked best for their family, and acting on that. Thankfully, and very importantly, we have a choice in the matter to begin with.
Now. I don’t know how parenthood impacts the roles of each parent in same-sex marriages (hallelujah for that, by the way). But here’s something I think a lot of married hetero moms like me can tell you: There is no bigger game changer and gender role divider in a marriage than having a kid. Boom. It’s crazy. This recent article is an excellent example of the apparent inevitability of this dynamic.
No matter how awesome a husband is at washing dishes, changing diapers, doing laundry, being there when the kid is sick (and in this regard, I have hit the PowerBall in the husband lottery), you’re the mama. Robert DeNiro’s prosthetic “manaries” in Meet the Fockers were funny. Ha ha. But only mamas can do the nursing. My kid looks to Daddy for rough-housing, and to Mamá for …  well, softness. And once the mom makes the decision to stay home? Fuggedaboudit.
The single most important reason why I am able to be an at-home wife and mom without feeling like a doormat is because of the kind of husband I have. Because I’ve always felt like his equal. And there is not a minute of his time outside of his day job when he takes for granted that I will be the parent on duty. This is key. This is critical. Therein lies my jackpot.
My loves in November 2010.
The thing is, my current uber-traditional family role still compels me to reevaluate the issue of being a feminist. And I’m not even sure of the answer right now. Let me break it down a bit more.
 
Gloria Steinem is one of my all time personal heroes. Any time I see a man acting like a baby, or pontificating (ugh, ugh!), I have to actively remind myself to breathe, in order to curb the sudden and urgent desire to smack him someone. Articles like this one make my stomach churn. I have been judged and chastised my entire life, by both men and women, for being too opinionated and assertive.
On the other hand, I’ve also been referred to as “floofy” on account of my taste for girlie things. And I was recently teased by friends because I liked receiving flowers from my husband. The latter two were by women. Striking a nerve on both sides of the equation? Now there’s something I find interesting.
Some of my favorite Gloria Steinem quotes.
But then I’m further confused by mixed messages. Like some married women not wearing wedding rings, and others straight-up rejecting engagement rings as barbaric. And apparently, they’re not barbaric because of unjust and violent diamond mining practices (this is actually a conversation I would be interested in having), but because of the old, awful, misogynistic trends associated with marriage and engagements back in the day. Way back in the day.
Wait, what? It’s based on this that we’re rejecting engagement rings? Please. Then why get married at all? If we were to really examine old practices and how they’ve been used to oppress women over the ages, no thinking woman ever would willingly get married to a man, much less leave her body open to the possibility of making a baby. Who, after all, gets to dictate the terms of what an object like an engagement ring symbolizes for two grown individuals in the 21st century?
Then there’s the wedding ring itself. Once, many years ago, I asked a married woman why she doesn’t wear a wedding ring. Boy, did she pounce! Something about how she shall not wear shackles because she is no man’s slave. Let me tell you something. This is a woman I love and adore, and have done most of my life. She is one of the kindest people I know. But ring or no ring, she does very little outside her capacity as daughter, wife, and mother, and her life basically revolves around the needs of the men in it, with no pursuits of her own, not even a “coffee can plan” down the line. It breaks my heart to say it. But who cares about whether or not you wear a piece of metal around your finger? I’m left scratching my head (more like shaking it) at the utter pointlessness of making statements for statements’ sake. Empty words, man–I mean woman! Here’s an idea. How about we lighten up, and get smart about picking our battles? Okay, that’s two ideas, but you get the idea.
I now, finally, understand Wayne Dyer’s frequent statements about how we should focus on being for things rather than against them. He is likely referring to the reactive “anti-” types, the very same types who seem fixated on making statements for statements’ sake. You know them, ’cause they’re all over social media. And there’s almost always something riling them up. I’ve noticed this particularly among particularly cynical women–this blog post is, after all, about feminism.
An example. Any time that “good feelings” are too readily available, such as the warm and fuzzy feelings associated with fall or the winter holiday season, or romance, such good feelings are rejected almost on principle. I think–I think?–these women view “feel-good,” or anything pleasing on an accessible, simple level, as incompatible with critical thought and/or intellectual sophistication. Which leads me to wonder, is cynical the new cool? Oh dear. If so, I am hereby cementing my status as uncool for life. That’s okay. With the exception of a very short-lived and confusing time in the fourth grade, I’ve never, ever, been one of the cool kids. All I know is, I grow weary fast when gratuitous reactivity distracts from the stuff worth fighting for, and god(dess) knows we women still have plenty of worthwhile battles to wage.
Another example. A lot of feminist women are dead against being asked by men to smile while they are, say, walking down the street. I get that. And I don’t. I remember being the target of cat calls one time when I was taking my baby for a walk in our neighborhood. I mean, this was very disrespectful and crude. Make no mistake. I laid into that guy like Hannibal freaking Lecter. That said, I like to smile. And I once asked a man to smile, and that got me an expedited passport for a trip to Mexico (the story is here).
My point is, there are enough mixed messages that I don’t always know where I fall on the question of feminism. It’s a question, like so many others, that can’t–and should not be–oversimplified. Clearly.
For now, my plan is this. I will continue to be the cook, baker, event planner, and travel agent in my household. I will also be the parent who is consistently home when our kid comes home from school. Most of my decisions in the foreseeable future will be conditioned by the needs of my family. I will also continue to go by the family name I was given at birth. And I will continue to pursue my writing and other passions. I will not become a martyr mother. Furthermore, I will not mother my husband. What is up with that?! And I will fix a plate of food for him mainly in direct proportion to him doing the same for me. Next time I’m in the presence of a pontificating narcissistic male type, I will actively remember to breathe. Next, I’ll remind myself that smacking the offender is never rarely the answer. Most times, not even trying to set him straight will be worth it. Instead, I will endeavor to recognize the equality and full humanity in him, too, in the spirit of Gloria Steinem’s quote above. And maybe then I will know I’m a true feminist!
Share this:
facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterest

The Midnight Poop

Pet peeve: When parents with one or two generally healthy, thriving children overstate the sacrifices of parenthood. My theory is moms do it more than dads. You know, the type who love to say, I’m a mother! like that explains all there is to know about them. Like motherhood equals that they never finish a sentence or a book or a movie, or get any sleep, anymore. Sometimes an entire meal for them is nothing more than the scraps left by their children. Worrying is a superior way of being. They wear their self-sacrifice like a badge of honor. I refer to them as Martyr Mamas.

Here’s a real doozy I heard one time: “A friend of mine went to brunch over the weekend. <Chuckle> Obviously he’s single. I mean, brunch? Ha. It must be so nice to be able to go to brunch! I don’t even know what that looks like since I had kids!”
Okay. Let me tell you what it looks like. You get in the damn car, and you go to brunch. Have a mimosa, maybe it’ll help you lighten up a little bit–consider having your husband or a girlfriend drive if, like me, you are a lightweight. Oh and guess what? Kids like brunch, too!

Last week I was in Puerto Rico with my four-year-old son, visiting my parents and siblings, and all of my boy’s cousins. My husband David stayed home in DC, working. A terrible, terrible habit I fall into whenever I’m not with David is I go to bed wayyyy too late. Last week was no exception.

Thursday was night three and I was dragging my Puerto Rican behind, feeling loopy and irritable from lack of sleep. Finally, at midnight, when I realized I was falling asleep with my finger resting on the screen of my e-reader–something I don’t recommend–I decided to put it down and call it a night. My son was in the room across the hall from mine. I still use a baby monitor at Mami and Papi’s house because it’s a large-ish concrete house where we sleep with all the doors shut to keep the AC from the individual units contained in each room. I thought I heard my son stir in his bed across the hall, but still fell asleep hard and fast.

One afternoon, he asked to go to bed for some quiet time. I gladly crawled into bed with him. The “nap” lasted about 45 seconds.

Then I felt the door to my bedroom open. “Caca,” was all my typically crazy-verbal boy said before heading to the bathroom. It was past midnight, and I suspect he was pissed–pun?–about being awoken by a call of nature when he, too, was exhausted from all the family fun that day. Naturally, I got out of bed to help him. He was loopier than me at that hour (this is saying a lot) and cried the whole time, that’s how bothered and inconvenienced he was. I understood the sentiment perfectly. We wrapped things up quickly and he was asleep again roughly 1.25 seconds after his head hit the pillow again. Mama, on the other hand?

What if this was the start of a tummy ache? Wow, even with the monitor on, I really can’t hear him get out of bed or leave his room, until he’s in my bedroom. What if he slipped all the way downstairs and past locked doors and dark rooms downstairs, and ended up in the pool? Damn it, we have yet to sign him up for the next round of swim lessons. That’s probably bad parenting. Ugh, that was a nasty big green iguana by the pool this afternoon. I wonder if it’s in my bedroom right now? [NOISE] What the hell was that?! My baby with a tummy ache? The iguana? Which one’s more upsetting? Good question. I have good ones like this sometimes. Did I say something unkind about that person during the conversation I had with Mami earlier today? I can’t stand the way I feel after I think I’ve been unkind. Boy, single moms are super heroes. I’ve been solo parenting my only child (who’s pretty darn easy going) for three days, and I feel so tired! I’ve got three new issues of O Magazine that I haven’t read–this never happens–and I haven’t even opened the one I brought on this trip. Man, parenthood is so exhausting–Wait! Shit. So there may or may not be a tummy ache, or perhaps an iguana that sneaked upstairs to my bedroom, and now I’ve turned into one of those Martyr Mamas?! Ugh!

These were just some of the thoughts I had in the hour(s?) I spent awake after the midnight poop. My boy, meanwhile, slept like a freaking log (no tummy ache, thank God(dess)!) the rest of the night … until he burst into my room again at 7AM. This time he was fresh as a cucumber and ready to face the day, asking (I think, I was mostly asleep and don’t remember) whether Abuela was awake, to see if it was okay for him to move on to her room as he continued on his top-o-the-mornin’-to-ya rounds. Needless to say I was not nearly as chipper.

At a mall in San Juan.

But I got over myself soon enough. Mercifully, even through the snipping (sorry, familia), sleep-deprived haze of the day, perspective reasserted itself. I wasn’t sleep-deprived because of motherhood: I was a fool who was going to bed too damn late! If I haven’t read O Magazine lately, it’s because every minute I don’t spend wife-ing or parenting, I’ve spent working on my novel. In truth, most of the time, I manage to finish movies and books and conversations. Maybe not in one sitting, but still! I don’t declare, I am a mother! in that tone that implies that martyrdom and disappearing as an individual are my methods of parenting. The midnight poop made me tempted to feel like motherhood is nothing but a succession of sacrifices, but ultimately, that’s just not the case!

Would you believe it, sweet boy was polite enough to go to the bathroom right before bed the following night! As I tucked him in and kissed him goodnight, I thanked him for pooping, and told him how much I love being his mama, that I was having a great time with him on our trip. Then I thanked life for him. And for the opportunity to visit my parents. And for my parents themselves, whose love and generous spirit never fail to draw and envelope all of their kids and grandkids. Life is good. Poop is good. And parenthood? Oh sure, it’s tiring. It is the hardest work I’ve ever done! I never had to be so selfless, and I worry way more than I should. Also, though–cliché but true–I have never been happier. Parenthood is by far a greater gift than it is a burden. Do not let anyone tell you otherwise. And guess what. I still go to brunch, too!

Share this:
facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterest

Honestly? I think you’re crazy. That’s okay–so am I.

(https://www.facebook.com/MarkTwainAuthor)
Since last fall, I have spent most weekday mornings in the cafe section of a Whole Foods store near my 4-year-old son’s preschool, writing or reading while he’s in school. This is his last week at this school before starting PreK at a new school in a different neighborhood. That makes it my last week working in this setting on a regular basis. The cast of characters I have met there these many months includes two individuals, fellow “regulars,” who have given me a lot to think about. (Okay, I do a fair amount of staring. But that’s what makes me a noticer, and being a noticer is part of what makes me a writer. Right?)

First, there’s a gentleman who works somewhere in the neighborhood. He routinely comes in around mid-morning, buys a pastry with a pint of whole milk, and eats it in the cafe area. He likes to say hello. When we were still in the phase of simply nodding a greeting at one another, I thought he was Middle Eastern. Then one time, he stopped to talk to me, and spoke Spanish. Ah, so not Middle Eastern, then–things aren’t always as they seem. In hindsight, I thought that time that he’d gotten a little too close for my comfort zone when he talked to me. You could say that was a red flag.

Second, there’s the woman with the crossing guard vest. From where I sit at a bar-type space on a second-story mezzanine overlooking the store, I see people in the aisles, browsing and shopping. One day, months ago, I saw a blond woman wearing a crossing guard vest much like this one.
I thought, aw, must be a mom who just finished volunteering at drop-off at her child’s school–how nice! The woman bought her food, brought it up to the cafe area, and sat down just a few feet away from me. She got out one or two electronic devices, got on her phone, and proceeded to get into an argument with someone. Loudly. Even though I had my earphones in, I could see her gesturing pretty angrily, and she was being loud enough that I couldn’t help looking up from time to time. One time when I looked, she held her hand up to my face, the way I’ve seen celebrities do with paparazzi, and started waving it and blocking her face from my sight. She was saying things I couldn’t quite hear over my music, but she definitely wasn’t keen on me looking at her. I did one of those deals where you look over your shoulder to make sure the person is “talking” to you, you know? She definitely meant me. It startled me. I did my best to look away apologetically, while also feeling the burn of being unjustly scolded. I wasn’t the one making a scene! The image I’d created of her then shifted to, mom who just finished volunteering at her kid’s school, and who is likely going through a very bitter divorce. Her belligerence was jarring, but I decided to try compassion–we’ve all had rough times. A few minutes later, she’d turned her anger on different folks sitting near us, at which time I took her attack on me a bit less personally.
Meanwhile, the Hispanic (not Middle Eastern) man who likes to say hello to me continues to get a little too close each time. A few times, he has sneaked up behind me, and touched me in the middle of my back. It causes me to jump in my seat. I reeeeally don’t like that. Exchanging a few hellos doesn’t mean a person gets to touch me–maybe that’s just me–and certainly not in that way.Thank goodness the perch where I sit allows me to see who’s coming most of the time. I’ve recently taken to looking over my shoulder when he is paying for his food and approaching the cafe. Now I don’t even remove my earphones to say hello. I simply nod my head and mouth the word hola. Because boundaries. Yeah, back off, amigo.
The poor “angry” woman has continued to be a regular as well. She is impossible to miss, on account of the bright yellow vest, which she never removes. I’ve joked to myself–in moments when my kindness instinct is low–that she must even sleep in that vest. She makes her way up and down the aisles, confronting and berating strangers left and right. Is she a volunteer mom? I’m not so sure anymore. I’ve also realized, after seeing the way she’s laid into other people, that holding her hand up to my face the way she did that time was letting me off easy. In fact, she’s never bothered with me again, but of course, I’ve gotten good at avoiding eye contact. And she continues to be on her phone often, having some kind of agitated discussion with someone on the other end of the line …
A few Saturdays ago, I was at Washington’s Union Station, waiting to board a train to New York City. I bought a bagel and coffee at Au Bon Pain for breakfast, and hurried to my gate. As I passed the Au Bon Pain window, something caught my eye. Bright, neon yellow … The woman in the vest! She was sitting in a chair, surrounded by several bags very full of things (they did not look like the luggage of a typical traveler…), looking disheveled. Sleeping, in her vest. It stopped me in my tracks, took my breath away, broke my heart. She’s homeless?! But she shops at Whole Foods! Her hair looks well groomed! She sits with an ipad (or is it a laptop?) and talks on her cell phone for hours, and they always seem like very important conversations!
Nothing–nothing–is as it seems.You want to know what I think? I think we are all a little bit crazy. I think there is a “crazy” continuum, and we’re all on it. And just like there are functional alcoholics and addicts of different types, most of us are simply functional crazies.
From the beloved Disney movie Up. (Quotesandmovies.com)
In fact, most of the time I revel in my quirks. I mean, normal is boring, right? Who wants to be normal?And then, I remember my post partum depression four years ago. That wasn’t quirky. In fact, it put me much further along the continuum than I care to admit. And so do moments of anxiety and irrational fears, both of which are exacerbated by me being the type of mom who fiercely embraces worrying like it’s a measure of the caring. I know that worrying doesn’t equal caring. But hey, I only remember to know it on good days. Mercifully, good days far outnumber the not-so-awesome ones. But then I have lousy ones, too. And you know what those teach me? Patience, with myself and with others. Tolerance. Fewer instances of such self-absorption that I believe my woes are somehow more unique than someone else’s. Because I remember that everyone else struggles, too. Everyone experiences loneliness, fear, feelings of inadequacy.I talk about my depression all the time now, as though to prove that I am one hundred percent over it. The truth? Even four years later, I feel ashamed of it; even though I know better, I feel as though it was something I did wrong. That is the terrible power of the stigma.I think that the line separating me from someone who’s gone over the deep end is not only very thin and blurry, but it also moves all the damn time. There but for the grace of God go I–there but for the grace of God goes any one of us.
As sobering as the above statistic is, I wonder how many studies take mental health into account in this reality. I haven’t done any research, but I suspect that a lot of people–people we know–are not just one paycheck away, but possibly one deeply traumatic experience away from reaching a devastating point of emotional instability that is very difficult to come back from. One tragic illness or loss, and there’s no telling who could easily snap from functional to dysfunctional.
I’ve continued to see the woman in the vest–always in her vest–at Whole Foods after I saw her sleeping in the train station. She’s looked well put together, doesn’t have a bunch of ambiguously-homeless-looking bags with her, and is walking the aisles, shopping and confronting as she goes. So, is she homeless? No idea.
I do know she’s troubled. I’ve been troubled, too. Everyone has. So who are we to judge anyone, no matter how worse off they seem compared to us? It’s all an illusion.These days, I find myself in a bit of a(n internal) tizzy over my little boy starting a new school next month, and the sadness over saying goodbye to his first preschool and a teacher he loves. I know it’s only PreK, but it will be the first time that he’s in school all day, five days a week. And it feels a little bit as though he might as well be moving out of the house. I mean, it seems like only yesterday I found out I was pregnant! I look at him and still see my baby! Have I raised him properly enough to “release” him to the world on a full-time schedule? Without our afternoon quiet time, will I still get to cuddle with him? Oh God–PANIC–is this The End of the Cuddling?!See? This is me being over anxious. I bet some of you will think, “Tsk-tsk, the kid probably picks up on her anxiety; she shouldn’t feel this way!” That’s fine. I’m okay at not externalizing it when he’s around. And I would go insane right this minute if I had to control every damn thought I have, lest my child pick up on some of the bad ones. The best I can do is be aware and keep trying. Humor helps, too.

Change is a big deal, man, and an anxiety factor for many of us. I tend to experience many of life’s milestones through the filter of very, very raw emotion. And I believe firmly that this can be a great strength, not just a weakness. (As I bragged told about in a previous blog post, I was taught this personally at a workshop with none other than Alanis Morissette!) The good news is, for all my griping and over-analyzing, I rarely stay stuck. Common sense, growth; they win most of the times. Thank God(dess).

So I’m not at my strongest right now. So what? I’ve been worse. I’ve also seen worse. Being hung up on the past … ? Geesh! Yes, I’ve seen much worse. See what else I just did there? I judged. Am I exempt from the impulse to judge? Pfft, hell no. And because I’m pretty much taking everyone else down with me in this blog post, I’m going to venture to say that neither are you. Listen, we can’t all be Wayne freaking Dyer.

I embrace my crazy self. I work through my anxieties with exercise, meditation and prayer, healthy eating, gratitude, love. I’ve been in therapy, and could be again one day. And did I mention humor? I try to educate my judgmental self. The good news about moments of weakness is they afford me the sort of compassion that keeps my judgy side in check. But make no mistake about it. If the the gentleman in question at Whole Foods manages to sneak up on me and touch my back again, I am not going to hesitate to channel the troubled mystery woman in the vest and let him have it, thus, in the course of one action, enforcing an important boundary with one individual while eliminating the illusion of separation from another. And the thin blurry line is on the move once again. I think that’s kind of interesting, don’t you?

Share this:
facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterest

Why am I doing this again? Aspiring author journeys back to New York, NY.

“Don’t buy the fuckin’ hot dogs. Don’t … Don’t buy the fuckin’ hot dogs!” The woman stood a few feet away from the hot dog cart. With the unmistakable rasp of a heavy smoker, she warned frazzled-looking tourists as they walked up to it to buy lunch outside a subway entrance near Manhattan’s Herald Square. “Big fuckin’ cockroaches all over the fuckin’ hot dogs.” And yet folks kept buying their hot dogs from the vendor, who looked disgruntled but otherwise unfazed. The woman recoiled and turned her head in dismay, as though there was someone beside her in support of her crusade. “Ugh!” Her face conveyed the distress of someone whose sincere concern for the greater good of another goes unheeded. “Can you believe this? They’re buyin’ the fuckin’ hot dogs!” she lamented to no one in particular, before taking a long drag from her cigarette.

This was last Saturday at lunch time. I was in the City on another one of my research trips for my first historical novel, set in New York City in 1911. My train from DC had pulled into Penn Station less than an hour earlier. New items on the agenda this time were seeing some of the buildings where workers at the Triangle Waist Company once lived, visiting the Brooklyn gravesite of the six victims of the fire who remained unidentified for nearly a hundred years, and hoping to meet with Triangle historian Michael Hirsch.

I had made an inquiry about the victims of the Triangle fire on Facebook, when I heard from someone named Michael Hirsch. Where had I heard that name before? Oh, right, I’d seen his name here:

And here, as one of the producers of this HBO film:

And oh yeah, he was the researcher who single-handedly uncovered and confirmed the names of the six once-unidentified victims. You could say I was pretty excited at the prospect of meeting him.

Nevertheless, this time I was significantly less exuberant than I’d been on previous trips. Gone was my I’m-writing-a-novel! cockiness enthusiasm, ironic given that this was my first trip after actually completing the first draft. The enthusiasm had given way to a raging why-am-I-doing-this-again? funk. The past weeks had been spent waist-deep in novel revisions, and at least elbow-deep in the funk.

More and more people asking me if I have a publisher (no), an agent (no), or if I have “workshopped” my novel (no) or am “working with someone” on it (um … no). Then I talk about self-publication with enough people to realize that the stigma around it is still very prevalent. Don’t think I haven’t thought that these beloved, passionate projects of mine may never really see the light of day, let alone earn enough money that I can be a writer full-time while also affording to take my kid on a few trips during his growing-up years, then send him to college one day. Besides (whines the funk), does the world really need another novel about the Triangle fire? What makes me think I have anything to add to the stories that have already been told? Finally, I was bogged down, as I often am, by the knowledge that while I am not earning a paycheck, each one of these trips costs my family money, and I–still!–feel a degree of guilt about leaving my 4-year-old son for a couple of nights away.

I slept less and less in the nights leading up to the trip, until I barely slept the night before. This was the state in which I was confronted with the woman and her anti-hot dogs tirade. It bothered me. I hurried past her and down the stairs into the subway. Two minutes later, I got stuck in one of these damn things.

(Photo from http.nybydzine.tumblr.com)

This time I didn’t even have luggage!* After swiping my MetroPass twice (and feeling a little ripped off), I was finally in. It was after 1PM, breakfast had been in DC around 7AM, and I was lightheaded from lack of sleep and the train. The wait felt endless, and the ride was cramped and sweaty. I’d forgotten how uncomfortable my beloved City can be during summer. And I was starting to fear that it was my beloved City no more, that I was turning into one of those people who find it to be too much.

Lemme tell you about a glistening, sweaty subway ride.
I was on my way to historic Seward Park Library in the Lower East Side. It was a place where immigrant women (men, too) living in New York one hundred years ago had access to books, and I’ve set a scene in my novel there. But first, I needed lunch. And finally it came, at a place called Cafe Petisco, across the street from the library.
Falafel pita with fries: Extraordinary in both flavors and textures. The pink dipping sauce was especially inspired. And when the check came for a whopping $8, I knew I’d found a new favorite place in the City.

And it came with a side of interesting conversation. Cafe Petisco is the sort of place where you sit thisclose to the person at the next table. The woman next to me was an Australian living a couple of blocks west from where we were, apparently, in the heart of Chinatown. “I am the only English-speaking round eyes on the entire block.” Her words. For the past two years, she has rented a room in a 5-room apartment full of Chinese people, including entire families. I wasn’t certain of the number of people in her apartment. But she did tell me that when her flat mates stock the fridge up with fresh groceries, she has opened the door to find seafood so fresh it’s still moving, and has been startled by chicken feet falling out of one of the refrigerator shelves. I wanted to hear more, while also wanting to reserve the right to hit the Undo button if it got too weird. I asked whether she can have friends over–mostly, my curiosity had to do with a specific kind of guest … the type that might be inclined to spend the night, tú sabes. She said she probably could, but hasn’t felt the need to these two years. All she knows is she pays less than $700/month (utilities included) to live in Manhattan and she is saving loads of money.

In the 30 minutes we sat together, my new friend drank two Bloody Mary’s and a coffee. I paid my check and headed across the street to the library in a bit of a haste, realizing only too late that, at least in the context of my mildly weary state, I had indeed crossed into too-weird territory in my conversation with the friendly woman, who was now probably tipsy (if caffeinated).

Left, Seward Park Library at the turn of the 20th century (photos courtesy of New York Public Library). Right, the library as it looks today.

From the library, I made my way up to the East Village on foot to meet Michael Hirsch. No tequila was involved, and I had plenty of cold water to keep me hydrated. (*See previous blog post for a bit of context on the topics of subway with luggage, and tequila.)

My meeting with Michael Hirsch at Veniero’s Pasticceria, and our stroll around the East Village, did not disappoint. Talking to him is like getting the inside scoop on the garment workers’ strike, Triangle, and the fire, with plenty of nuance and countless poignant details about the lives of the workers.

Piragüero outside the site of the Clinton Street building where a 35-year-old widow from Russia named Julia Rosen lived with her children in 1911. She and her son, Israel, worked at the Triangle Company. Both perished in the fire.

An after-dinner stroll around Bryant Park and the New York Public Library brought the day to a close on a decent note.

But when it came time to leave the hotel Sunday morning, I suddenly didn’t want to. There was a Harry Potter movie marathon on TV, and I thought, how often (not counting illness) do I get to just lie in bed and watch TV? I could take a mini-vacation! I just didn’t feel like dealing with the City. Could New York’s energy, which I’ve always so proudly reveled in, be getting the best of me? And what if I got lost on my trip to Evergreens Cemetery in Brooklyn ?

Still, I couldn’t not go to Evergreens. If I did nothing else, I would go to the cemetery and pay my respects, then I’d spend the rest of the day in the hotel if I still felt like it. So I got over my boo-hooing self, and hopped on the L train to Bushwick Avenue and Aberdeen Street. The cemetery was deserted. It was beautiful, sprawling, old … I got lost about 5 minutes in. It was also very overcast and windy. I tried my best to keep various points of reference in sight so that I wouldn’t become deeply scary-lost.

I also tried flagging down the lone security guard making rounds in a large white sedan; no joy. A small voice inside my head taunted that I should never have left my hotel. Yet I knew even then that I was exactly where I needed to be. I felt at peace, and I knew I’d find the gravesite. After several more minutes (with my husband on the phone reading from Google Maps), I did.

It had started to rain; this brought to mind accounts I’ve read of the burial of the victims in 1911. Countless stones sat atop the base of the monument, placed by previous visitors, and I instantly felt less alone, even though there was no one else there. The only sound, aside from the rain drops, was the subway rumbling in the distance every few minutes. It was a powerful, unforgettable moment. I said a prayer, and felt duly ashamed of my self-pity earlier in the morning. As more people began to arrive to visit other graves, I made my way back to the subway for the ride back to Manhattan with a very full heart. The rain cleared, and the Manhattan skyline came into view.

The rest of the day was spent in the West Village. I stood at Greene Street and Washington Place a good long while, making notes of different details I hadn’t noticed before about the building that once housed Triangle.
I like to think that talking to myself while pacing back and forth and taking notes on this street corner confirmed my place among New York’s eccentrics.
Afterwards, I visited Our Lady of Pompeii Church, where I’ve also written a scene–and where I took the chance to say a quick thank you. The final stop was the Merchant’s House Museum, taking more notes for my novel, in addition to snapping photos of mirrors throughout the home. Why? Read my book!  🙂

Crossing Broadway that afternoon, I overheard a man say to his friend, “My mom always says you can have comfort or courage, not both.” I knew I’d heard that phrase before; two minutes later, Google told me where. Of course it was Brené Brown! The quick search revealed another really good one.

I only headed back to my hotel to get showered and dressed for dinner. Along the way, I noticed a disheveled woman on the subway fighting with an MTA attendant about her MetroPass. It seemed she had swiped it, but hadn’t been able to enter. “It’s unlimited!” she insisted. Then, to no one in particular, she loudly decried, “They’re trying to stop me because I’m bringing people to Christ!” I smiled to myself. Not in the spirit of mocking the poor woman. One thing I love about the Big Apple is the keen reminder it offers that we are all the same. I may not be bringing people to Christ, but I have plenty of experience getting stuck entering a subway station. I did not hurry uncomfortably past this woman. That’s when I knew I got it again, that we’re all the same. I was back on track. At dinner, I treated myself to an outstanding mofongo at a Puerto Rican restaurant called Sazón.
Tried so hard to finish it …
Upon returning to my hotel room at the very end of the day, I got really comfortable, and watched the final installment in the Harry Potter movies. Afterwards, I had my first real night’s sleep in several days. It had been a good day. A very full, fast-paced New York day. I no longer felt ashamed of the discomfort I’d had previously. After all, one of my fears was realized; I did get lost by myself in the big old cemetery on a gloomy day. And yet, I was okay. So instead, I blessed my vulnerability and the realization that it hadn’t been the end of the story. I had walked through that vulnerability and come out stronger on the other side. Noted. I still have no publisher, no agent, etc., but I’m going to keep walking through it…!
An ad on the subway … Really?! Ah, I love this City.
Share this:
facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterest

My ode to the everyday mundane

Let’s see. What did I do on Thursday?
6:15AM. Meditated for about 20 minutes before getting up and going to the bathroom.
7-7:45AM. Spent some time writing. My first novel is nearly complete, but it has been harder to see real progress writing in 30-45 minute spurts per day. Still, I’ll take it!
7:45AM. Made and ate my delicious breakfast.

Fresh lemon juice being squeezed in my water. Maple syrup, vanilla, and cinnamon in my oatmeal as it cooks. Puerto Rican coffee brewing. These are the comfort smells I bask in every weekday morning. And the sun coming through the windows this morning was glorious, too.

8:30AM. Walked into my 4-year-old son’s room with a huge smile on my face, telling him how delighted I was to see him, how much I love him, how precious he is to me.
8:33AM. Walked out of son’s room and closed the door while he threw a bit of a hissy fit, refusing to get out of bed, demanding cocoa rice crisps for breakfast. I had made oatmeal. Not happening, buddy.
Went back in his room a short while later, struck a deal with him, and got him to calm down.
8:40AM. Helped him get dressed, came downstairs.
8:45AM. Started a load of laundry.
8:50AM. Served my son his oatmeal with berries for breakfast. Sat and played with him with his globe and world map. While he happily devoured his oatmeal.

The button for Spain on the globe isn’t working well. Should I read anything into this? I can’t help laughing every time he complains, “Spain isn’t working!”

9:30AM. Baked a batch of oatmeal chocolate chip cookie bars, with the help of my sweet boy. These guys I live with have an incredible sweet tooth. As much as possible, I try to have something homemade every week to satisfy that. Just because they have a sweet tooth doesn’t mean they should eat crap. Wait. Did I just sound a little bit like Gwyneth Paltrow? Poor woman’s had a rough week. Yet I still like her.

One bowl. No sifting. No electric mixers. And you should have smelled it baking–holy mother of G. See that little hand in the upper right hand corner, stealing a few chocolate chips? Two minutes later came the question, “Now can I have cocoa crisps?” For about the 20th time. At 9:30 in the morning.

10AM. Washed all the dishes from breakfast and baking.
Absently answered yes when boy asked if he could use his scissors to practice cutting up a piece of paper. Realized later that the piece of paper was a to-do list that my husband and I started back in February. We had gotten through most of the things, but there were a few items left to check off.

Who needs checklists anyway.

10:30AM. Began to make dinner. Tex Mex pasta salad with corn and roasted shrimp. Allowed little man to watch Finding Nemo in Spanish. Kept mum when he declared repeatedly that Dory is Nemo’s mom. He has not watched the opening scene of the movie. We’ve tried telling him Dory is a friend. He insists she’s his mother. That’s okay for now.

Wish I’d had lime and black beans. Still though …! And it was dinner for two nights.

11:30AM. Washed dishes from dinner prep.
12PM. Heated up rice for boy’s lunch. Heated up a veggie “chicken” patty for me. Ate lunch together while playing some more with the globe, and trying to talk on the phone with my parents.
12:45PM. Washed lunch dishes, while, again, trying to talk to my mother on the phone.
1PM. Folded laundry.
1:25PM. Sat down with my after-lunch cup of green tea. Played with my son a little more. Talked to him about weekdays vs. weekend days, and who’s who in our family. (“La mamá de Mamá se llama Abuela Norma,” etc.) This week he can’t get enough of maps, calendar days, and family trees. It’s an improvement over last week, after his trip to the hospital (documented in previous blog post HERE), when he wanted to have entire conversations about vomiting.
2PM Took the boy upstairs for his “naptime/quiet time.” Sometimes he sleeps. Those are the only times he is quiet. Spent some time singing and cuddling with him, practicing more words and spelling. Thought about how I will miss our afternoon cuddles once he starts school full time.
2:45PM Laid down in my own bed for my own bit of quiet time. Half-meditated. Half-napped. Half-tried not to be mad at my boy for being so loud while he played in his room. Hang on, I’m up to thirds now, not halves. Oh whatever. At least he was staying in his room!
3:20PM The little man actually fell asleep. Wow, that means I have a bit more time! Came downstairs. Began blog post. Downloaded and sorted all the photos I took for it. Treated myself to this.

The secret is to use a lot more chocolate chips than the recipe calls for. That way it looks like very little dough with a gooey, dense chocolate filling running all through the center. I think I nailed it.
Worked on photos and blog post for about an hour, while in the background (on the TiVo), Oprah interviewed Eckhart Tolle.
4:55PM. Got boy up from nap. Watched Dora the Explorer.

5:30PM. Awesome husband came home. I decided to forgo the day’s workout.
6PM. Washed and dried my hair. Good thing I had saved up my energy for that.

You think this hair happens naturally? Actually, it looked nicer before I got rained on. Ah well.

6:50PM. Ate delicious pasta salad with a glass of white wine.
Loved watching my guys enjoying the oatmeal chocolate chip bars.
7:30PM. Continued work on blog post while husband washed dishes.
7:55PM Placed Amazon order for robot-themed thank-you notes, for the gifts my son received at his birthday party last weekend.
8PM. Went upstairs. Put away clean laundry and laid out clothes for son and me for preschool Friday morning, while husband gave boy his bath.
8:15PM. Sat with husband and boy while they read Nemo together. Laughed with them every time Dory speaks whale. Nemo is popular in our house this week.
Said bedtime prayers.
8:55PM. Felt like winding down after boy went to bed, so I watched some TV. Celebrity Ghost Stories. Oh yeah baby.
10:30PM. Teeth brushed. In bed. Wrote in my journal. Read from the novel I am currently reading, Orphan Train, by Christina Baker Kline. Realized how much I am enjoying the book, wished briefly I felt a little more awake at that hour. But hey, I was the one who chose watching Celebrity Ghost Stories over reading Orphan Train, thus reasserting that balance where low-brow just beats out high-brow stimulation at the end of most days for me.
Tried saying a more few prayers/having a few more thoughts of goodness before falling asleep around 11 o’clock.

Somewhere along the way, I also wrote several emails and texts. I also wondered how my living room got to be such a mess, when it was tidy just one week ago. I never left the house. Had little contact with people outside my family. I had very few adult conversations, and the few that I had did not have any particular depth or sophistication. I wore sweats all day, until I “upgraded” to jeans for dinner, after my shower.

Why am I sharing this? I don’t think an average day of mine is any more interesting or busy than yours. Taking a note from Eckhart Tolle, I think that trying to be interesting is kind of like trying to be good, or witty or sophisticated or PC and tolerant. There better be something there to back it up, or people eventually notice. So I try to not try. And I know you’ve probably been subjected to the occasional Aren’t-I-fahscinating Facebook post by someone you know. I have, too! Nor do I think myself superior for choosing to be at home full time; let’s please not go there.

March hasn’t exactly been an uneventful month in our family, with a series of health crises and scares. I’ve talked about some of them, and some I haven’t. My day was nothing more than an average, routine, busy day at home. It was gloriously uneventful, and for that I am grateful. That’s all!

Oh. Of course I caved and let him have cocoa rice crisps. It was his mid-morning snack. After baking, before Finding Nemo, seated at the table. Take heed, boys and girls. If you change your tactic from whining to asking for what you want ever so politely and sweetly, over, and over, and over again, you’re likely to have much better luck getting it!

But wait! It’s Saturday afternoon, and I am writing these lines two days after I started the blog post. So. This happened yesterday.

Remember how my boy and his globe with the malfunctioning Spain button have been inseparable? Well, he accidentally dropped the damn thing on his foot. Noooo! Ugh, man.

So far, no urgent medical intervention has been required. Not that it won’t be; I plan to take him on Monday if it still looks and hurts this bad. Hey, at least we avoided the ER this time! And until Monday, we are keeping the kiddo off his feet, and keeping the toenail clean, with plenty of ice on. It’s a rainy weekend in DC. Good for staying at home on the couch. Guess what movie is playing downstairs–first in Spanish, now in English–at the close of this blog post … ? We are now a household with varying degrees of proficiency in English, Spanish, and Whale.

Share this:
facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterest