Thursday, January 1, 2015

Because it's my year to review

I clicked on the Facebook year in review. It wasn’t all bad. As a matter of fact, it featured postings and photos relating to my samba school, my beautiful, loving tribe that truly deserves a piece of writing dedicated to them(2015 seems a good time to do so). While I smile when I remember all the dancing, laughing, and celebrating we did, I realize that the story of my year is much more complex. Facebook may have some matrix that detects the number of likes and comments; I know better.

In terms of my personal growth and the strength of my family, 2014 was a challenging and therefore inspirational year. We have weathered illness( and major surgery)and the death of loved ones among other troubles. I learned a long time ago that my attitude in trying moments is in my control. I can choose to love, smile, pray, breathe, be.

The following are seven photos from last year. I look forward to another year of love, unity, and peace.  
Great America Dance Day 2014 : By then, I was on my third round of antibiotics and within two weeks I would be hospitalized for emergency surgery. Pero ni modo, my baby comes first. I love to watch her dance so this day was no different. 
Photo by Elise Evans.  Look closely at my right shoulder. I am wearing Mr. Backpack. I had to make my final payment on my Carnaval costume even though I knew I most likely wouldn't be able to wear it. So even though I was sad, angry, and exhausted, I was happy to see my dance family practice. 
Mr. Backpack: gone but never forgotten

Photo by Rambo. The Four Generations photo he had planned since we decided we were going to Peru. 
My family at the most beautiful place on Earth  
Photo by Soul Brasil Magazine.  San Diego Brazilian Day Parade.  I finally did get to dance with my samba community.
My inspiration

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The mommy fail that wasn't

Some of the best memories aren’t recorded on film. My brother and I were recently discussing one of the memorable moments from our days watching Cal basketball. We had gathered on Sproul Plaza to cheer on our NCAA-bound Cal Bears. Each player had his chance in the spotlight. Then one of the weaker players stood up. The crowd began to boo and jeer.  The poor guy kept a grin on his face. Bless his heart. 
These were the days before cell phone cameras and social media. But those images are as fresh as if they happened yesterday.

When M was two, we made our first road trip to LA with her. On our drive home, she entertained us with a giggly rendition of a favorite from our Music Together classes, “John the Rabbit.” These were the days before I had gotten hooked on Facebook and Instagram. There is no video but Rambo and I will always treasure that sweet serenade.

This weekend, M and I went to Fairyland to watch her friends dance.  As sometimes happens, the phone battery died.  Instead of focusing of taking photos or being distracted by the news feed, I simply watched her. I got to see her natural smiles, how she interacts with other children, and how she loves to play outdoors.  Those moments were ours.

I look forward to lots of dead phone batteries this holiday season and in the next year. 

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Confessions of a domestic goddess

I hate housework. Once in a while, I’ll take initiative to scrub a floor or wash windows but usually that happens because I want to punch someone. I’m no fighter. I may fantasize about throwing a hook; there’s a 99.9% chance I will scour toilet bowls instead.  But these moments don’t happen on a daily or weekly basis. 
My mother and my suegra disapprove, sometimes out loud.  This does little to motivate me. I visit friends’ homes and feel slightly embarrassed when I think of my own house.  I take note but I don’t take notes. I could allow Rambo to hire a housekeeper. I could keep a calendar, make a chore chart, or set up reminders on my phone.

We’re not headed for an intervention on Hoarders. We team up to take care of the basics. We make an extra effort for visitors and parties. But I never hesitate to postpone housework. In my mother’s house, chores were a weekly Saturday routine. The majority of the day was spent on vacuuming, cleaning floors, dusting, doing laundry. In our house, exercise and outings are the usual Saturday plan. There's a dicho in Spanish, "Como es la mujer, asi es la casa." Why should I, as a mother and a woman, be defined by how clean my house is? I  have so much more to offer my daughter. 

I chose sanity and happiness over duty a long time ago. M is happy, healthy, and thriving. I am, too.  If housekeeping is my weakness, I accept it.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Mananitas for my mentor

"A las muchachas bonitas se las cantamos asi..."

Feliz dia, mujer,
Tu, mas que nadie, have been my mentor
though we've spoken only three times in the past twenty-five years,
through your wisdom, your poetry, your stories, tu voz.
The first time I read your work,
I thought I was reading my own.
Tu eres maestra
and I am always your student.
Though my life has led me across dance floors
and into my own little casita,
though my obra maestra sleeps with dolls and teddy bears,
I know that deep within me, my own books wait,
my own voice draws strength.
You sowed those seeds and
someday they will bloom
like girasoles.

December 20, 2014

Happy birthday, Ms. Cisneros!

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Costume jewels

“’The We People. They never say I. They say, “We’re going to Hawaii after Christmas” or “We’re taking the dog to get his shots.” They wallow in the first person plural, because they remember how shitty it was to be a first person singular.” Michael Tolliver in Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin

I became one of the We People seven years ago during the Halloween season.  Perhaps that is why Halloween, for all its commercial and sugary elements, has become a big holiday in our house. True, there isn’t a decoration on our porch or in our front yard. But I start planning my costume in July, based on M’s choice for the year. I’m proud of our mother-daughter bond and I enjoy celebrating in this way.
I often tell people that it’s hard for me to remember life before M. I have memories, some vivid, others fuzzy. 
Halloween 2007, two nights before I met Rambo 

There were moments of adventure and fun but also of loneliness and confusion. My little girl really did change my life, our lives, for the better. First person singular was formative; family is foundation.  Who I have become, as the result of being a parent, makes me proud.


To all of you who did couple or family costumes, I wish you more happy memories.  

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Red Letter Daze

“Gimme a ticket for an aeroplane
I ain't got time to take a fast train
Lonely days are gone, I'm a-goin' home
'Cause my baby just wrote me a letter” The Letter by the Box-Tops

“You can ruin our reputation and our life with a few well-chosen words.” Marquise de Merteuil in Les Liasons Dangereuses by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos.

Letters, in spite of modern technology, social media, and pop cultural shifts, are still powerful means of communication. Letters can build up or discredit. Letters of recommendation can secure your ability to win that scholarship or get an interview. Love letters can intensify a connection between two people.  There are so many types of letters that differ in purpose. Letters of support . Letters of reprimand.  Dear John letters. Letters to Santa. Letters of resignation.  Letters to the editor.  Chain letters.  The list is varied as are the reasons for writing letters.  How can one to two pages of words truly capture and/or present a situation or an individual? 

I recently had to write an important letter and though I consider myself “good with words”, I found myself at a loss on what to write. As someone who spent a greater part of my career teaching young people to choose and to read words carefully and most of my life writing as an outlet, I now felt overwhelmed by my writing task. I agonized over words and phrases at first. Then I pushed forward, the printed word expressing opinions and emotions in ways I rarely do in person, as it tends to do. Nunca he logrado ser una persona sin pelos en la lengua; only through writing have I been able to truly express my thoughts fearlessly. With this particular letter, my purpose was to support someone with whom I have a great relationship. It is less challenging to write well of others when you think highly of them. If I dislike or fear someone, I may want to soften my words but why?  What do I gain by not being clear and concise? Why spare the person's feelings if their negative behavior has prompted a negative response? 

It’s been a lifelong journey for me to learn to speak my mind openly and aloud. There are situations when I would prefer to write a letter.  Ironically, I may have an opportunity in the next week in which I will have to do both.  I will wear red that day.  

Saturday, September 20, 2014

All I really need to know I learned watching The Exorcist

“Especially important is the warning to avoid conversations with the demon. We may ask what is relevant. Anything beyond that is dangerous. He’s a liar. The demon is a liar. He would like to confuse us. But he will also mix lies with the truth to attack us. The attack is psychological, powerful. So don’t listen. Remember that. Do not listen.” Father Merrin to Father Karras, The Exorcist

For most of my life, my fear of evil understandably overwhelmed me. From my childhood ponderings about good and evil to my adulthood grappling with evil in the people I encountered in my personal life, I often felt passive and powerless. I often felt as if I had barely escaped a terrible fate. Working as a teacher and administrator in environments where violence was a harsh reality, I began to realize that societal evil could be battled through strength of mind and heart. If I could be stable, focused, and compassionate, I might be able to reach those affected by the negativity and hatred in the world. An incident with a particularly memorable student helped me reframe my thinking and lessen my fears. (Half-hour with the Devil, 2006) Changes in my personal life helped build my strength.

But evil ain’t goin’ nowhere. It’s everywhere. In  Ferguson.   In Oakland. It might even sit across the table from you at work. I come to the table, both literal and figurative, with all kinds of experience and training. But some people and the situations they create require a different set of skills and more importantly, a unique mindset. So I go back, way back, to a moment that shaped me. I go back to the movie that has had a strong impact on me, The Exorcist.

Lately I have realized that the horror film offers some practical advice. In preparing themselves to face a monstrous demon, the two priests must strategize.  The veteran exorcist(for y’all who haven’t watched and dissected this movie dozens of times like I have, the title refers to the man with a tough job, not the poor girl victim)mentors his younger helper. He points out that even conversation can kill.   

Y alli lo tienes. Because if you’ve read this far, you know I’m not talking about the movie. The advice given can apply to any situation in which you meet with someone who takes actions that purposefully hurt you or others and whose words are weapons. Speak your truth and shut out their negative energy. 

I played this clip three times yesterday, once on my desktop and twice on my phone.Do Not Listen from The Exorcist 

I played it before I went behind closed doors with my mentor to confront evil.  We walked out safely. But the battle has just begun. 

Perhaps I should acquire some holy water.