Monday, December 24, 2007

Merry Christmas: Faith, Hope & Love

FAITH
************
Ay Abuela,

My senses deceive me.

They tell me you are gone.

I can hear you,
but then,
not clearly.

I can see you,
only right around the corner,
just gone.

I feel your laugh,
but then,
I don't.

My body tells me you are gone,

But my soul knows better.


HOPE & LOVE
*************
Ay Abuela,

I never prayed in my life
the way I prayed
during the last hour
of your life.

Could you hear me?

Has God told you?

I was pleading with Him
to give you
the hope
it would take
to let go of your body.

God said yes,
and you exploded
into eternity,
leaving us so grateful
for your love.


***************


Felicidades!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Sister Candy

I remembered the first day Candice walked into my class.


Regal posture, long black hair, intense Cherokee eyes.


To top this off, she was wearing a red shirt which only exaggerated the power of her wisdom, courage and -- who am I kidding here? --- womanly curves.


Throughout the semester, she made nothing but A's. High A's at that.


Still -- Candice felt the anxiety so many thirty-something-mother-students are gripped with, and visited me often in my office to get clarifications on notes and readings.


That's where we laughed. Hard.


We're from different worlds -- I'm Cuban, from big cities; she's Cherokee and German, from Lakeland, Georgia, a smalltown outside the small city of Valdosta -- but we have the same laugh, the same curiosity, the same loyal devotion to just a few things.


Our talks turned more serious this past October when we both were tortured with mammogram craziness at the same time. We cried, hugged, giggled and encouraged each other. Just as it should be, right?


Then today, Candice showed up at my door before an exam, no makeup on, teary-eyed. Her grandmother had passed on, too. The same week as mine. We shook our heads in amazement.It's like the universe is serving us challenges from the same script.


But then Candice threw a curveball. She just found outher sister died, the one her father had before he met her mom.


Tears of rage, sadness and exhaustion streamed down her face as she opened her arms, "She's gone. Just gone... and I didn't know her...."


I looked at the clock over her shoulder. Three minutes until I had to give a final. No time for resolution, no time for deep questions. I hand her a tiny but wise and mind-opening book, and tell her I'll see her soon.


Because I will.


I know I will, Candice, because - in case you haven't noticed - I'm your sister, too.


And I'm right here, now, laughing and crying with you.


Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Forecast: Peaceful Waters

Mom loses her voice under stress.


Which is fine, because she has her blackberry.


This also fine because it means that people can't call Mom and constantly ask for updates on Abuela's conditions.


Being a PR/Media specialist, Mom has found a way to manage this situation.


She's issuing written updates to my father whose job is then to stick to his script and disseminate the statements by phone.


And of course, there is a protocol.


First, dad calls Abuela's other children, Milly and Vincent.


Then he calls my brother Winn. A


fter that he should call me, then other cousins.


The noon update, today: "She continues to deteriorate."


This is a particularly meaningful and appropriate analogy for a family who resides in South Florida and New Orleans.


I imagine Hurricane Abuela, once a category 5 storm with a well defined eye and winds of over 200 miles per hour, downgraded to a category 1.


Then a tropical storm.


Then a disturbance.


Then peace.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

About those Keys



So Sunday night I didn't answer the phone.


No surprise to anyone, really, because I didn't really talk to anyone all during Thanksgiving Break.


Maybe I was still dealing with Beth's suicide, maybe I was tired, who knows.


I just know I sat still in a shadow, unreachable.


I didn't answer the phone when my brother called.

He and I love each other alot. Very much.


We love each other in the "only need to talk once or twice a year" kind of way.


The last time we spoke on the phone was when my dad was in the hospital back in June.


I didn't answer the phone because I just knew it was something not so good.


Finally someone got through to me.


Abuela was in the hospital.


Cardiac ICU.

No, don't come down yet.

Just stay in Tallahassee, wait.


Great. So I did stay here.


And I made up my own rules.


If I couldn't go down there, then no one could call me with bad news.

Not until after 5pm, after teaching, after lecturing, after I was a grownup all day.


Then, of course, I'd be ready to handle it.


On Monday I threw on my lucky airport dress, and taught my AMH 2020 class then took a field trip to FSU to lecture on Teaching College History.


On my way home, I called my mom and talked to Abuela.


She sounded tired and distracted.


Of course, she's a celebrity in that hospital, probably getting foot rubs and extra morphine.


Lucky her.


I told her I loved her and that I'd see her when I drive down with the kids on December 18.


She laughed and told me I'd better bring down the keys, soon. She's ready to drive.


I think -- although I don't want to -- that I understood her, completely.


Abuela

(Originally written June 2007)

My grandmother comes from a particular class and culture in Cuban history where women were not permitted much freedom.

Girls always took chaperones on dates, lived at home until married, knew how to embroider and play the piano.

Such a cultured and protected woman could expect a fine marriage with a Papi-style husband, one who works hard, cheats only when he's out of town, takes care of all the money, and -- of course! -- drives his wife wherever she needs to go.

After fleeing Cuba for New Orleans, Abuela had to take streetcars to work in a cafeteria where no one else spoke Spanish.

Later she carpooled to work with her married daughter to a job a downtown lab where she stained and read pap smear slides.

In all these years Abuela has never ever learned to drive.

Many times over the years she's gotten angry, gotten scared, gotten some backbone and threatened to go to driving school.

When Abuela was about 75, I offered to teach her to drive.

Heck, I taught my brother, I'm pretty relaxed, and hey -- this is Dad's car anyway -- why not?

Abuela said no.

Every time I came home for vacation, for holidays, for whatever, I'd shake car keys in front of Abuela.

"OK! Vamos!"

She would laugh and say "Ay! Si! Vamos!" but she wouldn't get up.

For years Abuela has continually refused the joy and privilege of learning to drive from me.

So about two years ago I started to threaten my Abuela.

Here is the story I told her.

I'll wait until she was completely deliriously old and frail, then I'll ask her to drive me somewhere.

If Abuela says she doesn't know how to drive, I'll make up some wonderfully accurate and descriptive stories about all the places in Cuba she's driven me.

Abuela will then feel a sudden burst of confidence, snatch the keys from me and we'll be off.

Of course, when she actually does drive she'll kill herself, but that would be *fine* because her brain was expiring anyway.

Abuela and waves her hand at me, "Psssssht. I'm not afraid to die. I think it will be fun."

So when I went home this past week, I made sure to wave keys at Abuela, reminding her how much I love her.....

Thursday, November 1, 2007

French Fries and Spiderman's Daddy

We met in the parking lot of the Burger King.


Deb jumps into my car and for no good reason, we order huge amounts of french fries.


I eat mine one at a time, no ketchup.


She neatly fishes out groups of three fries, then paints a wiggly line of ketchup across them.

You know this is all about nothing. They just want one more picture of my breasts because they're so perfect. And because my health insurance is so great. That's all.

She nods, nibbling at her next bundle of fries.

We talk about almost nothing, passing time until heading to the radiology center.


She slips back into her car, I follow her.

The waiting room is unusually full.


We take seats in the way back corner, our backs to the wall, observing the room like we own it.


Two little boys dressed as unmasked Spidermen play under a table.


A teenage girl is doubled over in pain while her mother ignores her and makes small talk with a woman dressed in a horrible orange pumpkin-festooned sweater.


No one over the age of five should own anything with a pumpkin on it. Pumpkins are not fashion statements.


We agree.


Besides that, I can't talk.


I can't read.


I'm just smiling, waiting for it to be over.


Melissa Soldani?.... Melissa Soldani?


The radiology tech is not wearing pumpkin scrubs or pumpkin earrings or anything silly, which I take to be a good sign.


We're in Room #4.


She points at the door while holding a stack of xrays.


Take off your top, slip the robe on, let me know when you're ready.


I step out from behind the curtain.


She's holding up a film with pictures of my right breast, which is crazy because the whole reason I was referred was because of my left breast.


There is no small talk, no little questions about what I do or how many kids I have.


Slip your right arm out of your gown and hold on to this bar.


I follow directions, allowing her to plop my right breast onto a clear platter.


Before lowering the top of the machine, the radiology tech palpates my breast as though she were looking for either treasure or landmine.


Here it is. Feel it?


I reach over with my left arm.


Yes.


Wow.


I felt it, restraining my own surprise.


She takes an image, opens the machine and repositions it.


Before settling me in again, she steps back, holds the film up again, and again I can see a big white something that shouldn't be there.


She inserts an attachment that looks like a magnifying glass onto the mammogram machine, then compresses again.


This time I wince.


I know it hurts. That's because it isn't moving. Just hold your breath.


It's over. I get dressed.


The radiologist will be in touch with you within five days. If you don't get a call, you'll get a letter, OK sweetie?


I nod, slip out of my robe, back into my bra and shirt.


Deb is in the waiting room working on a grant.


I sit down in my same seat, sliding back so that my head is against the wall.


She can see I'm not about to talk. Or drive.


I saw something. There is something. I'm sure it's not a bad something, but it's a visible, palpable something. Wow. And I don't want to talk about it because I know it's nothing.


Deb organizes her stack of papers, looks at her watch.


I'm not ready for Halloween. I don't have candy or anything... What time do trick-or-treaters start?


I look at my watch. It's almost 5pm.


Oh, let's get OUT of here. You have to go buy candy. Sometimes they start coming at 6pm.


What are you going to be again?


Barb and I are going to wear cute outfits, drink wine and hit on the helpless and confused Daddies.


I angle my legs so that the muscles pop more defined, then twist a lock of hair in my fingers, pretending to talk to imaginary trick-or-treaters.....


Hi Spiderman's Daddy. Can I see what's in YOUR bag?...... Hello Snow White's Daddy, that's a really hot beer belly you've got going...... Whoo-hoo Ninja's Daddy, did he learn those moves from you?


She laughs.


We walk back to our cars.


After giving me a hug, Deb stands back and shouts I LOVE YOU!


I know she does, but I'm concentrating on something far more important.... remembering to throw away the Burger King bag before I get home.






Monday, October 22, 2007

All There Is

So this is how it happened, Thursday afternoon.


We got caught unprepared in a small rain shower, ducked under a tree, leaned against a large rock and watched the black-socked tourists go by.


My phone rang.


It was a Tallahassee number I didn't recognize, so, because I wasn't really available to talk, I let it go to voicemail.


I showed her my phone, and she agreed it wasn't a cellphone number.


We shrugged together, and waited to see if there would be voice mail.


Beep. The front of the phone lit up.


I flipped it open, turned on the speakerphone, and we both leaned in to hear.


It was Becky.

The radiologist would like me to come back.

Please call.


I frowned at my companion.


I thought I was completely out of the woods when they didn't call back Tuesday, the very next day.


OK, when they didn't call on Wednesday, I only thought about it a little.


By Thursday morning, I wasn't thinking about it every second of every minute.


And now?

NOW they call?

The day before the presentation?

Before Halloween Horror Night?

Before Epcot Food and Wine Fest?


Fine. Whatever.


I called Becky right back.


This is Dr. Soldani, I just got your voice mail.


Hi! Good. How about tomorrow at 2:30?


No. I'm out of town.


Monday at.... 10:15am?


No, I can't cancel class. It's World War 2....


How about Tuesday....


I cut her off. I'm only available from 3:00-4:45. That's it. That's all I can do.


OK,. (I hear click, click, some whispering) October 31, 4:05pm.


That's fine. That's perfect. Thank you.


I look at my friend.


What did they say? Why do they want you to come back?


I didn't ask.


I held my hand out to confirm that the rain had stopped.


Are you going to cry?


Me? Cry? No. But I'm going to feel this. For just a few minutes I'm going to let it go completely through me.


She stood still.


It was clear I didn't want a hug, a pat, any sort of silly pep talk.


After a few deep breathes, I lead us out from under the tree.


This is all we have. Today, here, this. Now. This is all there is.


She nodded.


And it's pretty damn great isn't it?


We continued meandering around tourists, stepping over puddles, laughing at nothing in particular.


Monday, October 15, 2007

Nerves of Steel, Purse Contents, Magazines

This morning I woke up, well aware of the date.


Monday, October 15.


The day of the mammogram.


I heard from a good source that women who forget to wear two piece outfits to their mammogram end up wearing one of those hospital gowns that allow gentle breezes to waft up their sacred Brazilian rainforest.


Forewarned, I have dressed for battle in my 2-piece red suit, the one that shows my curves in a I'm-too-powerful-to-have-anything-wrong-so-don't-cross-me way.


I have my rope pearls on, ruby ring and brown crocodile print pumps with dainty bows on the just-subtly-rounded toes.


Into my matching crocodile print brown bag I've stuffed:


  • 7 tubes of lipstick, lipgloss, lip shimmer and lip glass because it's IMPOSSIBLE to match a red suit in changing light...

  • 2 protein bars, just in case my appetite returns

  • $3.35, excavated from the bottom of my red purse.

  • The pink prescription form from my gynecologist, with it's generic stick figure drawing of a woman's drooping breasts, providing a field for physicians to sketch in any "suspicious areas."

  • The checkbook, in case there is a co-pay. And also, because I have promised myself I can buy Boston Market chicken soup and a bottle of Francis Ford Coppola's Rossi on the way home. I may or may not do this, but in the meantime, I'm unapologetically allowing myself to imagine it soothing me.

  • The lucky silver egg that I bought in Austin

  • My brown-pink-and-teal striped journal

  • very engrossing book which I decline to mention here


Yes, a book.


I hate waiting-room magazines especially ones targeting women, warning them to clean & decorate their house (cheaply and quickly!), lose weight (quickly!), teach their children manners (quickly!), fix their marriage (because that's a woman's responsibility!), and -- after home and family are all safe and perfect --- figure out what they want to do in life.


Whatever.


I already live my dreams, and the only magazines that helped me get here are the ones that published my articles back when I was taking baby steps toward finding the writer I'd buried deep under shame, pain, and habit.


That was years ago, in my own dark ages, before I realized that my writing gives me nerves of steel.


So this afternoon, while I'm standing there alone in a cold room, breasts squished between unforgiving metal, that's what I'll be thinking of.


Nerves of steel.


Living my dream, today, tomorrow, and every day.


Monday, October 1, 2007

The Big Squeeze

If I could do it again, I might have folded the referral sheet and tucked into that pocket in my purse where I stuff things I can't handle quite yet, but I need to have handy for the moment my courage surges back.

But I didn't.

Today when home, while the kids were rummaging around for afterschool snacks, I taped it up at eye level on the side of the refrigerator.

It took less than 15 minutes for Zoe to see it, read it, and ask me what was going on.

"Oh that? It's for my mammogram." Damn, why didn't I leave it in my purse?

"Your WHAT?"

"Mammogram. It's where they use a special machine to squeeze your boobies and to make sure everything is OK."

She gasped and held her imaginary breasts. "Will it hurt?"

I don't answer.

It hurts now, deep in the pit of my stomach.

Thinking about it makes me flinch, the pain more emotional than physical.

My breasts have been good to me.

I can't imagine them being part of any sinister plot to shorten my life, take my hair, challenge my virility.

"It's no big deal. If it does hurt, it'll only be for a minute. I'm tough, right? Plus, if there is anything wrong, I can get NEW breasts!"

She gasped in mock excitement. "How?"

"You know Aunt Milly? She had breast cancer and she got two new boobies AND a tummy tuck. You can ask HER how they make new ones."

I smiled and locked my teeth together, waiting for Zoe to lead the conversation.

To change the subject would raise her antenna.

To lead her deeper into this than she can understand would be dangerous.

The girl would be googling "double mastectomy" within hours, and parents from school would be calling us to discuss Zoe's "anatomy lessons" in the playground.

Zoe smiled at me, looked down at her unopened bag of doritos, and -- I imagine -- considered whether spending time on this with her mom would be as satifying as a rerun of Full House.

"Well, we girls can talk about this later."

She spun on her heels, disappearing to her room, content and secure.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Perfecto Amor Equivocado

By noon, the worst was over.

Whatever it was, it hit me hard, and as I sat on the sofa hugging my pillow, I didn't have the mental energy to watch last night's The War from PBS. It would be too loud, too bright, and I know WW2 so intimately that I kinda wanted to watch something a bit more upbeat than the Anzio campaign.

So I went to On Demand and found a wonderful, wonderful movie that was shot in Cuba, "Perfecto Amor Equivocado."

Set in modern Cuba, this story centers on the life of a famous writer, his gynecologist wife and his professor girlfriend. From the first scene I was completely absorbed by this intelligent, smart and funny film which reminded me of *Love, Actually* and *Four Weddings and a Funeral.*

Of course, those films are all set in the UK, a culture and background which emerges as an enchanting character in both films.

Modern Cuba -- beautiful, sparse, hot -- cradles this film and steals a few scenes. I know my Cuban History and I know that the US has had an embargo on Cuban since 1960. What I could never imagine was the impact this apparently the ongoing long-term embargo against Cuba has resulted in a bra shortage on that beautiful island.

Everywhere, every scene, happy women wearing clingy shirts gesticulate dance and generally go on with their merry lives completely unashamed of their jiggling communist breasts.

Shameless, truly.

Just wait until Castro dies and Victoria's Secret opens in Cienfuegos. These women can then know the glory of perfectly set -- and well behaved -- good freedom-loving breasts.
Probably the most amazing part of the film was the utter lack of technology -- especially communication technology -- in modern Cuba that cut deeply across this film, exaggerating the gulf between our cultures.

For example, the (hot professor) girlfriend doesn't know what time the writer's plane is arriving, therefore she calls his house repeatedly, and repeatedly hangs up until he arrives home and answers it himself. That's a little crazy, and very very 1955.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Wiggly

One of the big reasons I haven't been blogging this week is that I'm spending all my spare time wiggling Zoe's teeth for her and with her.

The girl has NOT lost a tooth since last October, and now, suddenly, she has four loose teeth, including those crucial two top ones which are threatening to jump out at any moment.

I can't help but imagine that when those teeth fall out they somehow activate her hormones, signalling the beginning of breasts, mood swings, crushes and door-slamming.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Dear Tita, You Can Have Everything

My Mom, Tita, has everything. A fantastic career, an-almost-remodeled home, a skinny healthy husband, four new grandchildren, children and her parents.

That's right, Tita's parents are holding on to live to see the day that Castro dies and Cuba is free.
It's a battle of wills, and my money is on Abuela.

So Tita, I can understand why you'd want to spend Mother's Day with Abuela. She's fun, she's easy to please, and you can just sit on the beach, face the sun and have quiet time with your Mom on Mother's Day.

But at the same time, don't you want to see me?
My new dresses?
Your grandchildren?
Mickey Mouse?
Bibbidy Bobbidy Boutique?
Tiki Room?
The new ride at Mexico?

If we go early on Friday May 11, we can spend two days together.
Sunday you can leave extra early, go see your Mother, sit on the beach.

Abuela doesn't wake up until noon anyway, right?

Isn't she up all night watching Sabado Gigante? Waiting to hear about Castro?

Say YES!

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Marvin's Story

I've always written things.

But there is definitely a day, a moment, an action when I became a writer.
A particular day that I remember when I began to become who I would be.

It was April 2000.
I'd finished my PhD and was teaching college while managing a coffeeshop. I thought I was becoming an artist, a bohemian, something new.


That month I had surgery for girl stuff, and cancelled class for two days.

The day after the surgery I was at home, reading the paper. Bored.
Until I saw a picture of one of my most favorite students, Marvin Scott.

It was his obituary. I was shocked. Devastated.
I cried for hours.
Then suddenly the tears stopped, I got up and sat in front of the computer and wrote him a letter.


It was a short letter - about a page - but I poured out my shock and sadness, then told him I felt so lucky to have been part of his journey. I told him that he inspired me, and that I would miss him.

When I was done writing the letter, I emailed it to the newspaper.

I have no idea why I did that. I wasn't in my right mind. But I did it anyway.
The next day they published it.

Then I wrote Marvin's family a long letter, describing how he scratched out all his answers on essay exams, rewriting them over and over. How he was never late, always there, and took time after class to shyly ask really important questions.


I wrote about our last conversation.
It was on the way to his car after class one day, and we talked about the Korean War.

Marvin was afraid he just didn't understand it, so I told him a few stories and assured him that if he'd just write down what he understood, I could review it and clarify it for him.

He was wearing a striped polo shirt, and we walked slowly that day.

I don't think I hugged him goodbye, but I wish I had.

Since then, I haven't stopped writing.

Thank you, Marvin.





Tuesday, November 7, 2006

Hide and Go Seek.... And WIN at ALL Costs

So last weekend we were playing hide-and-go-seek.

We play as teams --

1) Zoe and Zack vs. Mommy

2) Mommy and Zack vs. Zoe

but never Zoe and Mommy vs. Zack because when Zack hides by himself just stands in the middle of a room with his hands over his eyes.... then, when found, shouts "surprise! kiss me!"

There is one rule ---> My team ALWAYS has to win.

Challenge #1
Our house isn't that big.

The "good spots" all go out the window after the first few rounds.

The kids hide in the bathtub (together) the hamper (together) under the bed (together) and under the coffeetable (together, giggling)

Challenge #2
My kids are pretty small..... so they only count to 20.

This doesn't give me a lot of time to find a spot. Gotta think fast, move quietly.

Well, on Saturday, during round #4 (Zack and Zoe vs. Mommy) I found a great spot.

I slid behind the door of my walk-in closet, then got a bolt of inspiration.

Anne Frank's family covered the door to their hiding with a bookcase during their time in hiding.... so I wedged a big blue exercise ball in the closet doorway.

Ha! **Brilliant**


READY OR NOT, HERE WE COME

I could hear them look by the bed... under the nightstand.... then back out to the entry hall... they looked behind the sofa.... then I couldn't hear them anymore.

After about 5 minutes, I allowed myself to stop pressing up against the wall. I slid down to a kinda kneeling position and waited.

And waited.

Fifteen minutes passed.

Plates clacked, glasses clinked.

What the hell? Did they forget about me?

I didn't move.

I was winning the freaking game, even if they forgot it was going on.

Thirty minutes passed.

I had to pee.

Winners don't quit. Quitters don't win. I stood my ground.


Forty-five minutes passed.

The game isn't over until *I* say it's over, people!


An hour passed.

I was writing chapter 27 in my head.


What? What's that noise?!


MOM WE'RE BORED!!!!!

MOM!!

MOM!!!!!!

Mommeeeee!?

Meeeema???

MAMA?!

MOM????


I choked.
Giggled.

At last they were going to find me!!

They banged on the bathroom door.

MOMMY COME OUT! MOMMMMMMEEEEEEEEEE!

Now I'm biting my lip. Silly kids!
I win. I win. I win!!!

DADDY SHE WON'T ANSWER! MOMMY IS HIDING FROM US!!

Daddy comes into the room, gets the key to unlock the bathroom.

I hear the three of them barge into the unlocked, unoccupied bathroom.

SHE'S NOT IN THERE!

WHERE DID MOMMY GO???

Mommy?!

Melissa?

Now I laugh.

The kids walk to the closet and I jump out ROARRRRR.

They scream, giggle, cling to me like the velcro children that they are....


I'm was in the CLOSET this WHOLE time!

Why were you in the closet "this WHOLE time?"

Because we were playing hide-and-go-seek, and I WON!

How did you WIN?

No one found me!

You sat in this dark closet all this time? I was keeping the kids busy so you could write.

Oh.

Oh?

Thanks?

Are you really that competitive?

Yes.

Fine. You win.

I KNOW I WON I"M THE GRRRRRRRRRRREATEST!

And you know what?

We haven't really played the game since... I think my family is kinda afraid of me.

Which, in my little world, is *not* a bad thing.



Thursday, September 28, 2006

No Funeral, No Food Fight

One of my very favorite pictures in the world hangs above my office chair.

It's my mom, her mother (abuela) and my grandfather's sister (Josefina, aka Fifi).

I was about 7 weeks pregnant with Zoe and had flown from Tallahassee to South Florida for a little, well, let's be honest... a little shopping. And pool-sitting. General relaxation, South Florida style.

I didn't look at all pregnant, but I wanted to take a picture with my family so I shoved a pillow under my dress. Mom and abuela did the same with their shirts. Fifi sat on a chair telling us we were loco y sinverguenza.

The picture dad snapped at that moment caught 4 women laughing loudly.

Fast forward to today. Zoe gets a box from the Cuban tooth fairy, sent to my abuelos for them to forward to her. You remember the story.

I call to say thank you.

And find out Fifi died today.

Wow.

I can't even wrap my mind or heart around this yet. But I think there won't be a funeral.

The last funeral we had in the family was for Fifi's daughter, Miriam who was murdered in the 1980s. Long story, big tragedy. Miriam was only 24 and laughed like me. Like Fifi. Like all the women in our family.

So it was hard to sit quietly at a funeral. We had relatives visiting from Cuba, and it was -- well, tense. Everyone was shocked, exhausted, edgy.

My brother was eating a merangue -- and I shoved it into his face. It squished like a big old cream pie.
He retaliated with lasagne (what was it doing in Little Havana anyway???)
More people joined in our silent fight. I think there were maduros, black beans and rice, and some sort of fried meat.

My mother was embarassed, stern, angry. She managed to get us to clean up QUIETLY and several non-English speakers didnt even notice the tiny melee.

Fifi? She laughed at our food fight. Probably the only laugh she got for weeks.

When it hits me that she's gone, I'm going to cry.
A big sobbing cry. I can't do that now, alone at home with the kids.


Every time one of us dies, I think a bit of Cuba goes with them.

Friday, July 28, 2006

The Mommy Files

Almost no one sees both parts of my life.

Mother. Professor.They don't mix. Not well.

At least, not in my mind. Mothering is so... well - unnnatural to me.

I can dress the part of Mommy ( jeans or a skirt, wedge heels, and a tshirt with a purse big enough or apple juice and 2 diapers), talk the game of Mommy (put your brother down! Say hi to the nice lady! I love you, too...), and load both kids into the back of a sweltering car without losing my cool or bending too far over in a skirt (I hope).

Still, it's unnatural.

I'm not very maternal.
OK, maybe I am.
But I try hard not to be.
I've worked hard over the past fifteen years to be fair, direct, firm, straight-shooting.
Maybe that's kinda maternal too.
But I don't bake cookies.
Unless I feel like it.


I'm not very cuddly.
Right.
OK, so I like to cuddle up with the kids.
I still try to sit on my father's lap.
Nevermind.
Strike that one.

I don't really like to be the authority figure.
Oh. Nevermind, I guess I lose that round too -

I can't stand being responsible for other people.
This one, I stand by.
I hate doing the laundry for other people (and yes, KIDS are "other people"), cleaning up after other people, cooking for other people (unless I feel like it) and having to miss work because someone else is sick.

Of course, responsibility is part of the whole growing-up game, so I guess it's part of me.

I like being alone.
That's probably the hardest part of motherhood for me.
I would've made a great hermit.

Yes, when I was single, I do remember putting a lot of energy into finding boyfriends & companions to hang out with. Not live with, not be with all the time. I still had my own home, always, until the day I got married (and even 2 months after that).

No one has ever loved me like my kids do.

They stalk me.
They on the bathroom door when I'm in there too long.
(Hey, it's huge -- I have a lounge in there....)
They suspect I'm in there, hiding with a book or writing something really interesting that they can't yet understand.

They send me mail under the bathroom door.
Pictures of our family, rainbows, flowers, hearts.

They worship and praise me, stick to me like velcro, proclaim my wisdom, generosity and beauty to all they meet.

This is weird.
And uncomfortable.

I'm wondering how much longer until they become teenagers and hide in their rooms, text-messaging their friends about what an idiot I am. How oldfashioned, conservative and dorky I am.

That'll probably happen around the time I decide that my kids are growing up too fast, and that I've wasted precious years hiding from them in the bathroom, writing things like this for you.

I'll probably color pictures for them and mail it to them, under their doors.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

A Letter to Vacationers in the South

An open letter to my northern friends who visit Florida in summer.

First of all, as I keep telling you, I’m not rich. I spend less than $700 a year on clothes, shoes and makeup for myself. I don’t have the luxury to have different wardrobes for each season. I have to be strategic. Right now, it’s in the 80s and I’m wearing a skirt – ok, a skort. On top, a long sleeve featherweight pj-like, almost see through light gray shirt with a longer olive, body fitting (no, not tight) shirt over it.

I look good.Why? I have a strategy.


Hello. I see you.

I see that you bought some cute clothes for your vacation, and yes, I think you seriously believed you would lose those 5 pounds before vacation, but things come up. I know.

Here’s the thing.

Not only are those clothes a little too tight, they are also way too formal for Florida in summer.

I am not an authority on many things, but I have spent most of my life in the South.

Yes, there were 2 freakish years of exile in Boulder, but I’ve recovered from the culture shock. My time there would’ve been so much easier if someone had helped acculturate me.

Because I know what it feels like to look like you don’t belong, to look uncomfortable, and all that good stuff, I’m taking time out of my super-hip vacation to shoot a list to you.

Makeup melts in the heat.


1) Please, please, ditch the foundation. Now, this doesn’t mean that you should go bald-faced. You might be in the background of my picture, and forever I’ll be looking at you, wondering why you’re so splotchy. Here’s what you do. First, wear moisturizer with SPF. Yes, moisturizer. Your skin will get dry in the heat, and every single crack will show. Of course you won’t be standing in front of the mirror so it technically isn’t your problem. But you’re reading this because you care, so please do it!


2) Take your concealer – and if you don’t have concealer, buy some or stop reading here, because every civilized woman has concealer – and use it strategically. Dab dab here and there, cover the red spots at the bottom of your nose that everyone has, cover the blue-purple darkness that everyone has where their nose and eye meet. Then dab a bit on any other yucky spots. Cover it all with the lightest dusting of pressed powered (and if you don’t have that, buy some like yesterday) and you’ve got melt-proof foundation.


3) Go easy on the blush. If it’s dark enough to wear during the evening, it’s way to dark to wear in the middle of the day in the florida sun. Try a bronzer or a sunny shade of blush on the apples of your cheeks. The middle of the day is NOT the time to carve out cheekbones with your contour brush. It will look awful, and no one will tell you.


4) Summerize your lipstick. I’m a big fan of lipliner and a bit of shimmer gloss. Nudes, pinks, berries. Beware of corals – unless you are 100% sure you have the coloring to pull it off, you might just have a garish red-orange smile. Aim for sheer, glossy, light. But please, do wear lipstick. Something awful happens to a face when the lips look all dry and shrively, They aren’t kissable, they don’t look young and friendly, and you might ruin my pictures.


5) Give some serious thought to your eye makeup. When I watched Lake House with Sandra Bullock, I truly admired the job her makeup artist did framing her brown-black eyes in a smokey mahogany liner. In real life, regular women who try this often just end up looking crazy. A great summer daytime look is a nude sheer wash across the eye, then little shimmer in a darker color in the crease and as liner. Please please if you’re over the age 30, try to avoid dark, bright, and/or harsh colors during the day. No aqua liner, no purple smears. These evoke images of a woman drinking too many mimosas before showering and trying to pull herself together.

OK. Let’s be honest about your clothes.
1) Tight is bad. It makes you sweat in places that… well, sweating is not desirable. Really tight and white is worse. Even if you are ridiculously rich, tanned and hardbodied.

Now, really tall and lean women can pull this off, but it helps if they’re Paris Hilton. If you absolutely must wear white pants, go for some swoosh factor, some sort of lightness to them.

I personally haven’t owned white pants since middle school. And, for the record, they were tight and I word them with rainbow suspenders. So, if you want to be like I was, go right ahead.


2) A bathing suit is not a bra. If you’re over 30 and have had kids, you probably need a decent bra. OK, most of you don’t know what a bra should do. It’s simple. Your nipple should line up exactly at the midpoint between your armpit and elbow.

Unless you’re on your second set of boobs (and, hey, when I sell my book I’m buying new boobs before any other luxury purchase) you probably need a bit of a boost to get the nipples to where God herself intended them to be. Most bathing suits allow a little droopage, and in return, reward you with some great cleavage. This is all lost when you toss a t-shirt over it. The result is… well, dumpy.

Low boobs add pounds, and every freaking picture you take will make you hate yourself. I warned you, so don’t hate me, too.


3) Feet need to breathe. If you’re on vacation, plan to show some toe. But not in heels. High heels plus open toes, during the daytime, equals hooker or stripper. Not what you’re aiming for, huh?


4) How are your arms?

Have your arm muscles disappeared? Do you have arms so white that they look blue? Have you forsaken shaving for the last few months? Do you have acne on the backs of your arms?

If you can answer yes to ANY of these questions, please please please don’t wear a tank top.

We southern belles who find ourselves in this (temporary, right?) situation wear longer sleeves in lighter fabrics. Still look super cute, but you don’t’ reveal anything, well, ugly.

And yes, flabby white acne-full upper arms are an appetite suppressant.

So if you see me taking your picture, it’s only because I’m out of Trimspa and I don’t get paid again until the end of the month.

How is your hair?

Did you spend an hour blowdrying your hair during the humid Florida summer? Wow. What a waste. Summer hair is happy hair. Easy hair. If it took an hour, it isn’t happy, it wasn’t easy, and you’re probably sweaty and annoyed at the people who screamed at you to hurry up.

No one is having fun and you look bad.

Now, put on something light and comfy, smile, and be happy.

You're in Florida!

Thursday, June 8, 2006

Once Upon a Time... ( From June 2006)

Once upon a time, a kindly professor named Melissa hopped a plane (by herself, of course) to South Florida for a four-day whirlwind tour of relatives, former colleagues, and other assorted odds and ends.

I amexcruciatingly aware that several people are sitting on pins and needles waiting to see what I will write about them.


Or if I will spare them. Please!

Let's just skip Stuart. He is perfect.

If he weren't a high-powered attorney (power being measured by the type of BMW he drives and the quality of the earpiece he wears while driving it....) he would make an amazing physician. Enough said?

Then the triumverate of Lory, Anne and Jene, the three of whom look like a poster of "after" pictures for Gold's Gym. Brilliant, successful, hardbodied women who are stuck in perpetual great hair days.

My lowpoint of the wonderful evening seven of us spent together was Lory's proclaiming "I've never weighed more than 110 pounds."


It was *HER* night, so I didn't give her a swift kick.

Honestly, the woman doesn't have a smug bone in her, so she didn't deserve a kick.

Maybe a pinch.

Or a good-natured shove.

Into a pool.

Oh, Jene? Hello? Next time I order a CD, I'd like it on a CD.


Not a zip drive.

Not on notebook paper, not on a floppy disk from the 90s.

But honestly, I didn't mean to leave it at Anne's house.

So, um, burn it to a CD (there isn't a lot of room for negotiating here) or email me the playlist and I'll visit my special music place that I know better than to list here.

Anne. Anne. When I grow up, I still want to be you.


With less kids. But I'll take everything else.

And, Nancy? Is the Lucy-shower still on? Because I'm free to come down and draw obscene pictures again. But this time, I'll be adding breasts. Have you registered anywhere, yet??

Martin. You have not been given clearance to date.


You are supposed to be working 90 hour weeks, then going home. Alone. To think about how you are too busy for women. There is no woman good enough for you. None worthy of your charm, intelligence or wit. So you're going to be alone for a long time. That's an order.

Then there's Melissa, the other Melissa. Not me. I'm not making this up. I have a friend Melissa, a successful atty who -- like Stuart -- drives a BMW and can kick your ass if she has to.


I am totally indebted to Melissa for letting me slip by with something.
She knows what I mean. I owe her one.

My Dad. I spent a bit of time on my mini-vacation at home, staring into space, listening to dad talk to customers.

They don't just call about hibiscus.

They call to flirt, to tell him how beautiful his flowers are... and how big they are... and how interesting his accent is... oh my G*** it's almost nauseating how people love to compliment my dad and shower him with money. It's a good life.

Mom is doing well. I spare her my blogging. She and Abuela are sacrosanct.

So, back to life.

Except for an email I'm about to answer in another blog.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Favorite Person: Vive, Of COURSE!

Her name is Vive.

Rhymes with today. Sashay. Hooray.

Recovering cheerleader and honor student who was the epicenter of the cool crowd.

Breathtakingly honest writer.

Has a vegetable garden, compost pile, and the breasts of a sixteen year old.

Feet firmly planted in reality, eyes toward the sky.

Fearlessly following her own path, building a future with a man who is clearly her soulmate.

A person I would choose for a friend, again and again.

Monday, May 15, 2006

The Iceberg Cometh

ICEBERG: mass of ice that has become detached, or calved, from the edge of an ice sheet or glacier and is floating on the ocean.




Last night was one of those nights where I was thinking so much, writing so much in my head, that by 3:30am I was marking time until I could get up and make the words real. Permanent.

Much of what I was thinking about will go directly into the book. I
need to write them like I feel them now - raw, bare, bold. Those words are not for my blog, sorry.
But the inspiration? It was real.
As real as these words you are saying along with me, wherever you are.

My inspiration was journey I took last night, a boat ride south. Past the Caribbean, around Venezuela, Brazil, still heading south.

Drifting aimfully to find an iceberg.

It was a journey I could not explain, even to myself, and one to which I was both ridiculously and expectantly attatched.

When I finally found the iceberg that I hoped -- knew? -- would be waiting, it woke me with a bump.
I was not startled. Just grateful. I did not anchor, for fear of scarring the giant.
It was a work of art, entirely. Magnificent, beyond what I could have hoped for. At least the part I could see.

For hours I sat in my boat, chin resting on my left knee.

It was a quiet, reflective position, one that felt like the warmth I was seeking.
I should have felt much colder, but it felt like home. Safe, strong, familiar.
Icebergs are not silent. They crack and pop, like someone tapping their pen on a desk to punctuate points. I listened, listened so carefully for a word - a sign - an answer.
It mocked me, gently, because there was no question needing an answer.
So I spent hours admiring it. Combing every bit of it with my eyes, memorizing the beauty of every groove.
The smile from that dream is still bright on my face.
Maybe, just maybe, that was what the pilgrimage had been all about.

Wednesday, May 3, 2006

Flashing Gorillas, stuff like that ---

I talked to my brother for a minute yesterday. I was at work -- sorta -- laying outside on a bench, sunning my stomach, having happy time.

After commenting on the raspiness of my voice, he turned the conversation to an admission that he can't sleep, either.

That always throws me. I don't know who reads these words, althought I have an idea of the quantity of traffic. My brother's conversational curveball was the third in a week.

At a picnic on Saturday, Aron's mom started talking about book.

I was kinda dazed. I can't carry a smart conversation with small children around. Or cake. Or trees. I was in a daydreaming mood, and talking was work.

I write because I can't talk.

Because sometimes I have things to say, and there is absolutely no one to say them to.
So I just scribble them down on the blog and leave them, like a note on the table, and walk away.

Lots of times I forget what I've written, so it's weird when people bring up things I've done, like

But anyway, today is another day.

With lots to say.

Like my sudden realization that the best way to teach a kid to use a spoon is by giving them a bowl of M&M's and a very very long DVD.

Or the fact that I honestly hide from my kids. They think it's a game, but it isn't.

Yes. I have a lot to say. I'm just wondering who I'm going to say it to...

But back to my brother. What's keeping him up at night is his 3 month old twins (not identical).

Now, I'm not being competitive, but I think that what's keeping me up is a bit more interesting. Melancholy, creativity, wistfulness, and writing. Quadruplets (non-identical).

So, um, again - I WIN.

Not that anyone's counting, right?

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Practicing Hiding Eggs

Right.

So yesterday -- at Zoe's command -- we started the ceremonial "practice run" of hiding cheap plastic eggs and making the kids find them.

This is ridiculously fun, because I follow the kids and take the eggs back out of their baskets, pass them behind my back to Chuck to re-hide.

The kids think we have a gazillion eggs and after about an hour, they get tired.

Serves them right.

Because finding eggs before Easter is like putting candles on lasagne and singing Happy Birthday.

It just isn't done.

Not even by Cubans.
At least not this one.

Monday, April 3, 2006

Turning On the Gorilla

Valentines Day evening, 2006.

Long-suffering husband says "did you leave this note?"

Huh? I take a minute to respond, because if it's GOOD, I'm taking credit. I come from a family like that (Hi Dad!!).

It's a note written in crayon, taped to one of the columns between our kitchen and living room.

I have been BANNED from using tape on the walls by the "treat our new home with respect" Nazi, so I shake my head ADAMANTLY.

OH. It's a note from his step-mother, my mother-in-law directing us to look in the fridge, apologizing for missing us.

I don't read it to Chuck - I just head to the fridge.

THREE BOXES OF CHOCOLATE *and* a $50 bill.

Clearly  the $50 bill is a traditional aphrodesiac, yes?

So I liberate the cash from fridge, put it in my bra, and shove the chocolate behind the milk and OJ.

 ZOE SHRIEKS.

There is a life-sized stuffed animal in her room.

A life sized SHEEP DOG in her room, on top of a laundry-basket.
Guess what's in the laundry basket?


Enough chocolate to fuel a class of 5-year olds pushing a minivan up Mt. Everest.

I try NOT to curse.

I want to be happy for her. But my kids on chocolate are... miserably wound-up. Loud, aggressive, tearful. High, low, everything in between.

Chocolate brings out the latent teenager in them.

I get husband's attention, and direct him to grab a few bags and he shovels chocolate into them by the HANDFUL while I distract the kids who are now trying to pull each other around on the above-mentioned sheep dog.

Then Zack goes to HIS room.

You guessed it.

A life-sized GORILLA, sitting on a laundry basket full of chocolate.

He doesn't notice any of it, except for the fact that the GORILLA is holding a sheet of Dora the Explorer stickers.

I'm trying to figure out how to distract my son while rooting around for the 10 pounds of chocolate nestled under the gorilla.

Then Zack sees the gorilla, pokes it a few times, and says "Mommy, turn it on."

I wink at it.

Flip my hair.

Lean over to tell it a joke.

NOTHING.

So I slipped it the $50, wished it a Happy Valentine's day, and watched American Idol.

Monday, February 20, 2006

The High Heeled Blues

I hate wearing comfortable shoes.
I love wearing heels.
I wear them with suits, with jeans, with skirts.
They just make me feel happy. Powerful. Womanly. Rita Hayworth-y.

This high-heel habit is rather new.

I think it emerged forcefully during my sabbatical from academia, when I was in the corporate/non-profit world, and figured I should dress like Ally McBeal's (fictional) sister, the one who got the GOOD hair and big boobs.

But I see that I am still twenty pounds heavier than I was when I got pregnant with Zack, my son who just turned 2.

In my defense, I was extra-skinny and on diet pills when I got pregnant.

know, from years and years of reading trashy girl magazines, that one of the ways people stay skinny is by being active not just by working out but by marching around all day at work, talking instead of emailing, carrying paper to another building instead of sending it by inter-campus mail.

I know that. I get it. I need to do more walking. Fine. Fine. Whatever.

Like spending 12 hours a week pacing, gesticulating, performing -- in high heels -- while teaching history isn't exercise???
Maybe.
((( I guess it depends on how many donuts you eat afterwards.)))

It's HARD to be exceptionally active and walk very far most "as part of my routine" in cute high heeled shoes. I don't care WHAT you saw on Sex in the City. HIGH HEELS AREN'T COMFORTABLE.

There are many days I act like a person on crutches, planning every step, going nowhere I absolutely don't have to go -- because even the best high heeled shoes get 1) painful 2) ruined.

I'm not giving up my heels!!
I wear suits to work, and I don't know if I'm ready to be one of THOSE people who toss comfy shoes (and SOCKS! GAG!) on and go for a walk during lunchtime.

Just wearing tennis shoes with a suit officially ages a person 10 years.

Even if they're wearing J.Lo. oversized sunglasses and bopping to an ipod.

It*simply*isn't*done.