Sunday, February 21, 2010

Gracias a la Vida

This may sound strange (and sad), but for most of my upbringing I felt no pride or gratitude in my heritage. So many of the folks around me shared my heritage that I saw no way in which I was different from anyone around me, and it wasn't until I was well into my twenties (and away from home) that I realized that not everyone was Mexican (duh!). In fact, there are still things I run across today that are cultural things (tastes, tendencies, issues) that I don't realize are cultural until a non-Latino points it out to me. Crazy, but true. You mean not everyone crashes cascarones on their friends' heads on Easter weekend??? And not every household is stocked with pan dulce for Sunday morning??? Seriously? I have to laugh at myself. I've taken so much for granted for so long that I'm only now aware that not everyone grew up the way I did. And I'm especially aware of this now that I am married to an Indian family. And yes, I am married to the family.

But that's not the point of this rambling post. Bear with me here, cuz I already know this will be a rambling post, as I'm just sussing some of this out for the first time in my adult life. The point is this: that only in being a part of an Indian family as an adult am I able to appreciate the fact that Latinos have been in this country long enough to have created a few in-between generations, thus saving us from the generational issues that seem to plague Asian families. In fact, we've gotten so good at being Mexican-Americans, that we've been able to give a name those in-between generations: Chicanos.

I think that is what has made the cultural aspect of my life so easy while my husband's has been so fraught with familial tension and parental disapproval. Instead of seeing in terms of black and white, here -vs- there, immigrant -vs- American born, Chicanos claim their Americanness and their Mexicanidad simultaneously, unreservedly, and with great love and acceptance. I never had to deal with my parents breathing down my neck to be more "Mexican" and to disregard American culture. We are simply Mexican-American, and that, my friends, is a culture within a culture. We've somehow been able to find a middle ground for ourselves and settle down quite comfortably while embracing both aspects of who we are.

While my husband's parents insist on differentiating themselves from the "Americans" around them, I enjoy a certain amount of freedom within my culture. It's there, but it's not all of who I am. It's my heart, but it's not always my day-to-day. Sure, a certain mariachi ballad can bring tears to my eyes (Volver, Volver, what else?!), and I'll never forget singing De Colores in an overheated auditorium year after year when my parents would make their Cursillo...and of course, my earliest childhood memories are of watching my grandma make nopales in her little kitchen while Cuco Sanchez played on the record player. In other words, my heritage is close to my heart, but I'm also able to get out there and live my American life and eat Vietnamese food and listen to Reba McIntyre, and play with my non-Latino friends and not think once all day, all week, about my heritage and that doesn't make me any less Mexican.

For many Indian parents, this is impossible. You have to think about your culture when you wake up in the morning and when you go to bed at night, and when you fraternize with "Americans" you are supposed to feel out of your element, and you have a choice to make--you're either one of us or you're one of them. You can't be both. What a shame that is--I'm here to say that you can indeed be both. You can embrace both cultures for what they are--and you can embrace yourself for what you are. I'm sitting here listening to Joan Baez sing "Gracias a la Vida," one of my favorite songs, and I find that the singer and the song are the perfect illustration of what just took me far too many words to articulate.

For your listening/viewing pleasure:

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Childrens' Books Wanted!

A few months ago I wrote about wanting to organize some kind of book drive. I'd love to get books into the hands of kids who don't normally have ready access to books (sure libraries are free, but some parents don't encourage it, can you imagine?) Now that the holidays are behind us I thought it would be a great time to have a book drive! Everyone is donating in December, but people are in need the rest of the year as well.

So I found this organization, a few blocks away from my house! It is the Bay Area Crisis Nursery and they take in mothers and children who are in crisis. These people are doing great work and if I had more time of my own, I'd love to volunteer there. I also looked into Books for the Barrios (, also a great Concord organization, but they only donate to children overseas, and I'll be honest and say that my point in doing this is helping kids here in the Bay Area increase their literacy.

So...have any gently used kids' books that you'd like to donate? Send them my way and I'll be taking them all over to the Crisis Nursery in about three weeks' time. Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Mama Alice

I met her one year after I lost my mom. Six months after I had my first son. One month after moving into my new home and the post-partum blues were finally starting to lift. Her name is Alice (well, not really but I'm changing her name for anonymity's sake) and she is roughly the same age as my mom. She has two sons just like I do, although they are now grown with children of their own. Her parents were Portuguese, and I can imagine her childhood might have resembled my mom's, with her Basque grandparents. I believe that everyone comes into our life for a reason, but never have I felt that as strongly as I feel with this particular woman. She doesn't even know this, but she has made such a difference in my life.

Somehow, God (or the Universe, or whatever/whomever you wanna call it) seemed to know that I was alone and searching for a soft place to fall. I had been strong all year--for myself, for my new son, for my brother--and I desperately needed a maternal figure, a mama bear, a strong woman in my life with a sense of purpose and a sense of humor. Through various twists of fate, we ended up moving into our current home, relocating to Concord, and I joined the only community of Concord moms that I could find online--the community of St. B, my local parish. I joined the group as a shy new mom, unsure of what I would find, trying to pick up my mom's threads of faith where she left them and trying desperately to rediscover and redefine my own spirituality. I don't recall the very first time I met Alice, I just know that she stepped right in line with me and treated me as if my mom had told her all about me.

The funny thing is this: I seem to run into Alice at pretty major moments, moments that I'd love to share with a mom, a grandma... For example: Suspicious that I may be pregnant with a second child (my son N, as it turned out!), I ran to the Dollar Store one afternoon to pick up a cheapie preggo test. Guess who I should run into? Alice! I told her what I was there for (I hadn't even told my husband yet!) and she hugged me and cheered and celebrated with me, right there in Aisle 2. Fast forward 8 months. I'm on a tour of my hospital's labor and delivery ward when I hear a woman giving birth in one of the rooms. I hear cheering and shouting and realize that a baby has just been born, and I walk into the waiting lobby, when who should I see? Alice! It was her grandchild who was born the moment I walked by the birthing room on my tour that day. And then there are the regular days--days when I'm feeling spiritually dry, those tendrils of grief sneaking back into my heart, tears springing forth at a song played over the sound system at the grocery store. It never fails--I run into Alice. She smiles, she laughs, she shares a story of her own suffering, and suddenly I feel like I do have a mama bear, and maybe my mom sent her to me.

I haven't shared any of this with Alice, and maybe I should. I know she would understand. She's the type of woman who cries as easily as she laughs, and sharing feelings with her is so natural, so unshameful. She has a wicked sense of humor and a huge heart, and although different from my own mom in many ways, she is someone who would have appreciated the kind of person my mom was. One of these days I'll tell her all this. I'll tell her what a difference she made in my life at such a crucial period. I'll tell her that she makes she laugh on days that I've spent crying. Most importantly, I'll tell her how instrumental her soul has been in healing mine.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Housekeeping Fail.

Sometimes I feel like I'm digging a hole just to fill it up again. Or like I'm throwing toys in a bucket with no bottom. Something like that. To begin with, I'm pretty anal. I've become more anal over the years, and am super anal now that I am a homeowner and it's likely that we'll be here for a very, very long time. I hate clutter, I hate dirty kitchen floors, I hate sofa pillows on the floor, and I hate an unmade bed in the middle of the day. But I have kids, and I have a messy husband, and I'm fighting an uphill battle. I have to decide if I'm going to a) keep cleaning three times a day and waste my energy b) hire a housekeeper, which makes me feel weird, or c) just give it up already.

I really want to not care about how my house looks. I do. I want to not look around and feel compelled to organize and sort all of the library books, the socks, the lifecrap. But at the end of the day, a house is meant to be lived in. Books are meant to come off the shelf, laundry is meant to be worn and thrown back into the hamper, and mail is bound to pile up. I know that I can have a clean, tidy house one minute, only to have it a mess again by lunch time. *deep breath*

I suppose my New Year's Resolution this year is to give up a bit of that control. Psychologically, I realize that I'm just trying to control the uncontrollable, and I have to remind myself when my blood pressure spikes at the sight of a mess, that controlling my household doesn't mean I'm in control. To get all Freudian on myself, my messy house is not my mom's cancer. I can't control life's outcomes by straightening every askew picture frame and wiping every crumb. That is what this is all about and I'm ready to give it up, let life unfold, and let my laundry do the same.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Judgey Moms

A few years ago, when I first started this mom thing, I came across the occasional judgey (sp?) mom. You know the type--they invite you out for a play date at the park, only to compare everything they're doing with everything you're doing. But not coming right out and saying it, oh no. This is all very uptight, passive aggressive, weird conversation. Most of all, I observed these seasoned moms walking all over other moms, most of whom were new at this stuff and understandably intimidated. Which is just complete bullshyte.

I've heard a lot of talk over the years about the "Mommy Wars" (moms who argue over going back to work -vs- staying home full time) as well as what I'm going to term the "Crunchy Wars," (moms who insist that Attachment Parenting is the only way.) Well, guess what--I'm a total Crunchy hippie Mom, and I don't give a fig about whether or not another mom chooses breastmilk over formula. I'm clearly pro-breastfeeding for myself: I nursed my first son for 15 months, and my second son is still going strong at 8 months. We also chose to co-sleep: soooo much easier for those multiple night feedings. And wait--I'm not finished yet--I "wore" both kids (in a sling and in a Baby Bjorn), I make baby food from scratch, and my first son wore cloth diapers. So I think it's safe to say that I'm a pretty Crunchy Mom. Attachment Parenting works for me and I love it.

That said, one of my close friends put her son in a crib first thing, placed him in daycare so she could go back to work, and decided not to breastfeed after a few weeks of that. And ya know what? I think she's one of the best moms I know. And she doesn't read this blog, so I'm not just saying this for her sake. I'm saying it because I like doing things my way and she likes doing things her way and we're great friends. I know for a fact that her son is going to be just fine, and I don't reserve judgment for her whatsoever. Why is this such a hard concept for so many women? I don't understand it, but until women just cool it with eachother, I'm going to stick to my nursing/non-nursing, working/not working, non-judgey mom friends. (And the nice thing is--I haven't run across any judgey moms since my eldest son was a newborn--so maybe their numbers are diminishing?) In any case, say it with me, ladies: A Happy Mama is a Happy Baby!