I haven't done a Leaping Thought Wednesday in quite a while but today I felt like it. This one is built up of heard, observed and lived stuff.
1. My mother said she felt someone feeling up her foot underneath the dinner table. She and my father were attending a thousand dollar per head fundraiser in the Reagan era so, it stood to reason that she'd be flanked by a Texas oil millionaire on her right and one obscure, minor, but very rich Arab Royal, on her left. From the positioning, it was clear the Middle Eastern Croesus was the culprit.
What are you doing? she asked.
Trying to feel if you have bunions through your shoes.
Because women with bunions are great lovers.
My mother's response?
For you sir, I have no bunions!
2. Before I ever knew what my husband was all about, in those heady days of early romance when hopeful lovers want nothing more than to decipher the cryptographic meaning of every gesture, every eye-twinkle that is directed our way; when we are so very liable to spend hours re-playing and decoding the possible subtext of every haphazard smile and touch, I made a terrible and tactical mistake... I let him know I was falling for him.
3. He looked so hungry standing there. Oh, not the hungry of food mind you but, the I want something very badly kind of hungry. And what he wanted was her of course. That was patently obvious from the looks he was giving her. Had she been a food morsel, the "morsel" would long ago have been devoured. For her part, she looked like she couldn't wait to become his meal.
4. I never set out to be a bubble-wrap kind of mother. I really didn't. I'm intelligent enough to understand that over-sheltering can be counterproductive even, self-defeating to my desire to protect my son. In other words, I know that by constantly insulating, I might be exposing him to more harm. The problem is that there is no ruler by which to measure whether you are overdoing it until, hindsight is kind enough to give you a clue.
5. Newly arrived in Washington, at one of the first functions I ever attended in my mother's stead, my father introduced me to the dry-looking Brazilian Ambassador. Embaixador, may I present my daughter Milena to you? The man was so hard of hearing that he misunderstood. Your girlfriend Milena you say? Smiling widely, he shook my hand vigorously, Prazer em conhecê-la senhorita! and then he moved on before we could correct the mistake. For the rest of the evening I was the object of speculative looks and amused glances whenever I called my father "father."
6. We were going to die. I knew it. My mouth was so dry I could barely manage the whispers of entreaty I directed at my mother. Mami, please! stay here! please! Don't say anything...
Separated from my father and the other protesters, we had managed to run into the building's interior and close its metal gate behind us. The young man who'd been chasing us stood on the other side, dressed in the dreaded uniform of the paramilitary police. I could tell he was stoned out of his head. Like many in Noriega's army were wont to do in those days, he'd taken drugs before being sent out to attack the protesters.
My mother was so high on the adrenaline and anger of the moment, that I knew she was about to confront him. Probably tell him something to the tune of what a disgrace to his country he was. As if he would have cared for her browbeating, when all he wanted was to wield the power he thought he'd been given via the machine gun in his hands. Only the thought of what she might incite him to do to us, specifically me, stopped her in the end. I think that is perhaps the only reason we went home unhurt that afternoon. After a moment of staring tensely at each other, something else caught his attention. And just like that, he was gone. Off to try and shoot someone else for the day.
7. Of course I knew next to nothing about satellites when the job was handed over to me. Neither did anyone else there for that matter. But the conference had grown to such proportions, our list of luminaries who'd been invited to attend was so grand, that everyone was given extra tasks to handle. My own extra was the satellite feed. Desperate for some information I could present at the coordination meetings, I called every contact I had for help. Anyone who could explain coordinates to me or who could tell me how we could beam the feed live to all of the Latin American TV networks, was someone I wanted to talk to.
The flirty guy at the television station was the one who gave me the infamous term to use. "You see," he said, "We'll just have to place the truck with the dish outside, on the left hand side of the conference building and then we'll run a cable straight to your video camera. That way we'll be able to hit the bird with the cleanest signal possible." The bird? I asked. The bird, he clarified, was our satellite. Oh! I see - even though, I really didn't. And so I used the "hit the bird" term during my meetings in order to try and seem like I knew what the hell I was talking about. In the nature of how information trickles down without people knowing anything of what something might mean, I was stopped in every corridor for the next three days, to be questioned on our ability to shoot, trap and/or smack the bird.
The silky, silky softness of the palm of your hand and the sweetness of having you place it against my cheek when you want my attention in earnest.
The little hollow in the back of your neck that for some reason always smells uniquely of you and milk.
The giving plumpness of your still baby cheek. I wouldn't stop kissing it ever if things did not have to get done.
The way you say "I duv you mami" because I duv you the same way back my janum san. With everything, I love you. With all that and more. Were I stripped away of all that can be taken, that love would still remain, unaltered, always there, only for you.
Yet another oldie for you because I'll be going out of town for a few days. This post in particular is very apropos of what has been keeping me from posting less regularly lately. I originally wrote it around the holidays last year when I was just a newbie to blogging and there was almost no traffic coming to my blog. This makes me feel confident that it has not been read much. For the moment we have visiting family and I've been trying to practice what I preach (without much success). You'll see what I mean after you read this one.
Both my husband and I come from extremely tight-knit families. Our immediate relatives are our parents, still together after 48 and 40 years of marriage respectively and our siblings (we have one apiece). To this nuclear group, we add an extended array of familial relations - aunts, uncles, first cousins, second cousins, grandparents etc.
Were this amount of relatives not enough already for most modern families, my own particular branches of the proverbial family tree are swelled further in numbers by the varied troupe of friends which my parents, sister and I, have had the good fortune to incorporate over the years. Many have become as dear to us as our relations connected by blood.
When Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton's book "It Takes a Village" came out more than a decade ago, I never managed to read it but I remember thinking how amazingly clear the concept behind her title seemed. I understood the village part more than well. The woman who sits here before you writing this post is like a still in progress puzzle which is built of impossibly little pieces put together by events, by strangers, by actions but most importantly, by family and friends.
I am a product of my village and to continue the cycle, my village, itself a product, is something I continue to shape as it shapes me. Never did this obvious truth stand out so blindingly as when my son came into this world.
Few events can disengage us from the vanity of our self-love as having a child can. Few events can jerk us out of the selfishness of the me, as bringing a baby into life. All of a sudden, you care more for what is in the sphere of your existence because you sense and know the power it has to equally affect your child.
In the last few weeks, because of the holidays, my husband, my son and I, have had the enormous good fortune to be inundated by visitors. Two sets of grandparents, plus an aunt and an uncle to my son have left their mark in more ways than my eyes and ears have been able to record. They have given of themselves to my little boy as only loving relatives can, and like a flower, truly, he has bloomed. While I rejoice in witnessing his burgeoning awareness to relationships other than that which he shares with his father and myself, my heart breaks for the interruption this invaluable experience will suffer at their eventual departure.
I consider my son's awakening to the loving family unit one of more important foundations that we, his parents, can provide him with in life and, for that reason I feel keenly how our geographical separation from our families impoverishes his existence. We are introducing him to the same family that forged us into who we are but I know that he will never experience that life-shaping link to the degree that we ourselves enjoyed.
Because of my son, I value my family more deeply than I thought myself capable of. Because of him, I honor my village and guard it so zealously now that some of its most important elements are not within immediate reach. In my moments of deep introspection - you could call it prayer - I thank everything under the stars for all I have even as I find myself wishing for more, not for me, but for him, my little boy who deserves all I can give, all that we can give to him. The very best village life can build. I wish that with my whole heart this New Year's day not only for my son, but for every child that comes into this world.
Because nobody but Cce and Carissa seemed to have read this and probably you too HPKT, I'm re-posting something I wrote back in the day for this blog while I attend to my visiting family. I'm sorry for the recycling. Sometimes, it must be done. Milena.
Cartoon by Cathy Thorne at www.everydaypeoplecartoons.com
24.7.365 Parenting Through Osmosis and Experience
Now through Eternity Semester
Instructor: Prof. Mother
Office Hours: Monday-Sunday from 1 a.m to midnight
Teaching Assistant: Mr. Kid
Office Hours: Monday-Sunday from wakeup to conk out
Substitute Assistant: Mr. Father
Office Hours: Sporadic
This class takes an in-depth look at Parenting with a special focus on how-to techniques. The course will begin with a survey of life before the children. This includes a brief look into the things you used to be able to do and will never get to do again until you are too old to enjoy them and then won't want to do anyway because of the problem with the bad back and that pain in your knees; followed by a primer on how to forget everything you thought you knew about having children before you actually even had them (in class we will burn What to Expect yada yada ya) and, will move on to procedures for coping with the discovery that you are no longer an adult but a watering pot.
Mid-way through the first semester, we will delve right into lessons for a variety of important early parenting issues such as: Handling practices for radioactive poop and how to not get peepee on your clothes; sex and life (you got a lot of the first one and now see how you ended up, so try to do the best you can with what's left for chrissakes), gravitational ramifications of feeling 50 lbs lighter but still 100 lbs heavier than you were before you had a child, as well as study Buddhist meditation exercises that help to short-circuit the impulse to clobber your partner. This will be followed with written assignments on the following subjects: the joy of child play, the child that plays in you, how to recognize when your child is toying with you, the pseudo-joys of insomnia, advanced playing methods (the hours upon hours technique), the nirvana of motherhood and creative cursing for when the non-stop playing gets to you. Finally, the course will place significant emphasis on the importance of having couple time while building with toddler Lego, adjusting to unfair practices in the allocation of parenting tasks and some lesser-observed tenets of child rearing will be discussed at length. Amongst them, is the child, the child? And if so, where oh where is the adult? (hopefully with the watering pot); the fundamentals of quantifiable future monetary applications for the time you are investing in your child now and, how this might pay off for you later (the Tiger Woods example); finally a cursory look at some obscure methods for dealing with unscheduled role reversals - how to recognize the signs and pretend you are still the parent.
Throughout this course, students will read all they can of the assigned book list (it won't help so I wouldn't even bother, but hey! it's your time to waste), and engage in the writing of short, rant-filled letters where you will mock abdicate motherhood for cathartic purposes. Said letters will be torn up or burned in class every once in a full moon. We will go on field trips to the Zoo in order to observe the daily living habits of Tasmanian Devils and hard to catch little monkeys. We will apply often to oracles, palm readers/greasers, God, strangers, close relatives and circus clowns for bribing, experimentation and guidance purposes. As a frequent testing method we will rely on the Wall Progress Technique. For this, you will be required to run full throttle at a brick wall (no safety equipment allowed) and wait for the wall to stop your progress. Pop quizzes will be handed out more often than you might think. Don't try to prepare. There's no point. You either pass it or you don't.
There will be no end of term examination as there is no end of term. Dropping out of the course is not allowed and this is a no-credit course though you are still expected to pay for it. Grading will be conducted with the assistance of Mr. Kid and the least helpful of the clowns. No excuses will be accepted for not handing in your assignments. No medical dispensations will be considered either. Dying is an option but, are you sure you wanna go that route?
This course is primarily intended for the novice but undergrads, grads and even post-graduate students (I know you think that's you - but I'd recommend the self-delusion course being taught down the hall) are accepted here. We are a Pro-Mundi Beneficio (look it up) institution and the course reflects the University's credo that all shall be committed and straight-jacketed, that in God we trust because we believe that a parent's love frees even as you lose all your life's savings. Welcome to the circus students! I am looking forward to grading you.
Photo by cora
I've always been proud of my name. Well not my first name really but my surnames? Most definitely. I have many. In Latin America, like the wearing of a precious coat, we carry the names of our forbears with snobbish conceit. Though there is an inherent element of elitism in the whole stubborn exercise especially when in this modern age we tend to compress, shorten and acronym most every word into nothingness - not to mention unintelligibleness - we Latins continue to cling to the names of our ancestors for reasons of pomp, more often than not remembrance and quite likely, a frequently misplaced sense of amour propre.
Let's backtrack here a second. Why don't I like my first name? Well I like it now, but not as a child growing up and it was because of the nickname of course. I was always frumpy Mili to my intimates and knowns. I mean really! Mili? That's like an old maid name I reflected; what your retired neighbor calls her Daschshund or the little parakeet she keeps in the pink cage. There's nothing sophisticated about a Mili and I, most definitely, wanted - sophistication.
In my 30-student high school class, there was a Tatiana, a María Cecilia, a Michelle and a Carin. Those were sexy names. Why couldn't I have been called any one of those? With passion, I so wished they were mine. Up until my teenage years I envied my sister and her own nickname. At home we called her Alexa or Alex. I was so envious of Alexandra's 'informal' name that when my Confirmation came around, at that precise moment when the priest asks you for the name you have selected in this, your second baptism, I said the name I'd wanted and refused to divulge to my mother for weeks. It was my choosing. I stood by my choice.
"What do you wish to be called for your second name?" The priest intoned.
"Alexandra," I replied.
I heard my mother's outraged gasp crystal clear down the nave of the church, but I kept my eyes trained on the priest and stuck to my guns. The uproar I caused was only beginning to die down when my little sister said loud enough for the Pope in Rome to hear:
"Mami? Does that mean that I will have to choose Milena when my own confirmation comes?
In a voice filled with my own doom my mother replied: "Certainly not! and 'Milena Alexandra Castulovich Montes, del Rosario, Caballero y Urtunduaga will get what's coming to her when we get home!"
Photo by figlioDiOrfeo
Yesterday, while I was in the initial throes of exchanging information with a new friend I’ve made, she posed an interesting challenge to propel the ‘getting to know each other’ process – Tell me ten facts about yourself that I cannot find in your 'about' page, or that you do not normally tell others about – After taking quick mental stock of what I have told on this blog (a frightful lot), I concluded that it was an easy peasy task. After all, I haven’t even begun to tap the hoard of my odd little quirks for the reading pleasure of the Internet world. The way I view it, I am a mass of charming oddities, a Kilimanjaro of achieved peculiarities and furthermore, I have worked hard to become this problematically, thorny, me. What’s the use of keeping all this (complication) perfection to myself? So I began by telling her that:
1. I wake up everyday at 5:20 to sweep and mop the hardwood floors of my home.
2. I iron everything. The sheets on my beds, the pillowcases, towels, my husband’s silk shorts, my own unmentionables...
3. I love to clean silver, I have a lot of silver in my house, it is all very shiny.
4. By the end of the day, I will have swept and mopped the floors at least three more times. I have a toddler and that should explain everything.
Are you noticing what I did as I sputtered to a halt on number 4? At 40% of my to be completed list, all my Freudian-slipped particulars were about cleaning and/or stuff related to neatness. Hmmm… #5 was to have been how 99% of my son’s toy sets have all their parts intact, because I find it impossible to put away any of his playthings until all their pieces have been accounted for, but I stopped myself just before breaking down about the MIA medieval catapult that’s still the bane of my existence, and wrote this instead:
5. I like to skip rope.
6. I nearly drowned in the sea once (but not twice). ;-)
Again I stopped. I have to admit that I really really wanted #7 to be about how I cannot abide streaky glass which is why my Windex and I are the best of chums, but I held a steady course away from neat freak-o confessions.
7. I was a narration and voice-over artist and I recorded for TV commercials that were run on MTV and CNN Spanish all over Latin America.
8. My father is currently making a political bid for the Presidency of my native country.
At number 9 the straight lines syndrome wanted to sneak in. Anybody whose eyes bug out when they clap their peepers on crooked stuff should recognize this one.
Real number 9:
9. If a frame is hung askew, my internal leveler must see the matter immediately rectified,
But I held it at bay with a completely unrelated admission.
Alternate number 9:
9. I hate sad endings. I used to pay my friends to first go and watch the movies I wanted to see so that they could tell me if the ending was sad. A positive on the “sad” issue and that put an end to my desire to see the movie. That’s how I can’t claim to have seen “Like Water for Chocolate or Steel Magnolias.” I hate movies where characters I might like, die off.
By the time #10 finally rolled around, I felt positively exhausted with the exercise. More appropriately, I felt bad about hiding my true nature. After all, if somebody wishes to like me, they should do so with the grounding knowledge of my obsessive compulsive self. My personality is firmly anchored to certain cleaning and ordering urges and it is too late to teach me new tricks. There is nothing wrong with that, right? Isn’t everybody a bit like me? Here's how I polished off my ten facts however:
10. I don’t know how to play chess.
What I should have said:
10. Bev: It is best you know this upfront - I'm a little strange.
I want to hear one of your quirks. Tell me.