Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Ten-fold Commandments

When I pick her up from school at carpickup, her mood shifts quickly
from affectionately happy to stiffly indignant.

"Mom! Friend X had gum with her today and I asked her for a piece. A
piece!! And do you know what she said?"

I don't answer, but I know.

Still I raise my eyebrows and turn my head her way slightly,
silently encouraging the story.

"Mom! She said no! I couldn't believe it. No!?4 So I asked her if she
knew about the Ten Commandments, and she said no, so I told her about
the one that whatever you give you get back ten-fold."

I turn the car down our street and then aim it at the garage,
involuntarily but quietly giggling at the failure of my home-church

"Mom? Stop laughing! Why are you laughing? Nevermind. Just listen.
So Friend Y interrupts us and tells me to stop trying to trick Friend
X with all my 'smart talk' about things. And then Mom! She says that
everyone knows the Ten Commandments were just made up. Mom? Can you
believe that? Made up? They're real. They're history. Made up?!"

Zoe exhales her frustrated conclusion.

I shake my head. "Third grade sounds tough."

Zoe nodded, got out of the car and slipped back into her usual happy

sent from my iPhone

Monday, April 5, 2010

Delicate Loss

Dear Tooth Fairy,

Yes it's me again, and yes you still owe me $7 for covering you the last two times, but that's not why I am writing tonight.

I'm sure by now your Tooth Radar has alerted you that Zack lost  another front tooth today.

This particular tooth died a lingering public death in the front of my sons mouth, then suddenly

I suspect he ate it, though I can't imagine how he the boy who won't touch anything that touched a pickle could have distractedly eaten a piece of his own body.

So let this note substitute for the tooth you will not find under his pillow.

Thank you in advance for your consideration of this delicate situation, and for not requiring me to comb through his poop to produce evidence.


Zack's Mom

Ps- I have less than $2 in cash in my purse, which I locked it in my car (and explains why I'm sleeping with the keys in my bra.) Stop taking my money. I mean it.

A Delicate Letter to the Easter Bunny

(From 2010) Dear Sir or Madam,

(really, which is it? because at the Mall you were wearing an awkward calico vest that could've gone either way...)

Thank you for everything you do to spread Easter cheer. I'm sure it can't be easy to balance a big sack on your round back and then fill baskets with your tiny non-thumbed paws. I hope that you have a lovely night tonight, and that you absolutely don't forget to bring me Cadbury Creme Eggs. 

But enough of the formalities.

I'm writing to bring your attention to a delicate situation.

 Last year we had an unfortunate incident where a malted-milk-egg looking sphere turned out to be a less savory gift from you.  

Thank goodness the dirty muddy tracks leading away warned us to not sample the chocolate-looking treat.

I'm writing to ask you to please wipe your paws off and take care of your "bunny potty needs" before breaking into our house tonight.

If I had any clue how you got in (a window? sliding glass door? the fireplace? from the TV screen?) I would leave you a nice towel to clean yourself off, but as you can see,  I'm clueless about your magical bunny ways.

Happy Easter!

PS - Please give both kids the exact same amount of the exact same things in the exact same colors and flavors, or my day tomorrow will be a sugar filled day of holiday fighing hell.

PPSS -- Please , please, if you have room in your big Bunny saddle bag, PLEASE bring enough candy so I can bring leftovers to my students --  I probably won't have their exams graded for Monday and I want to sweeten their bitter disappointment. 

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Dumb Bunny

So being good Americans, we decide to be PREPARED and DRILL for tomorrow, identifying any weak spots or issues in our egg hunting strategy.

While I was writing a long letter to the Easter Bunny (asking nicely that s/he doesn't poop in my house again this year), the kids hid the 28 dyed eggs that have lived in our fridge for about a week.

I find all the eggs -- the one under the cow that looked like he was pooping it out; the ones in the window sill and under the sofa; the ones inside the folds of the blanket (already crackled and falling apart).

So then it was my turn to hide eggs. I found the juicy spots -- behind Barack Obama, in front of the bookcase,  among coloring books, on chairs.

And out they raced, throwing elbows.

He cried, she found more, he cried, she helped him.

The final tally? 16 eggs for her, 11 for him.

We kept looking.

Was the last egg by the Wii? under the coffee table? behind a sofa leg? no?

I did the only thing I could.

I called the Bunny Hotline. (My dad)

When the menu came up, I pressed option #2: "Finding Lost Eggs"

Warning the Bunny he was on speakerphone, I asked, "Please use your magic bunny powers to locate a missing egg. Um, not hidden by the offical bunny, of course, just a practice egg..."

"HI" he said in a squeaky chipmunk voice that barely disguised his New Orleans 9th Ward accent.

The kids laughed.

"Bunny? Where is that egg? Can you help?"

"HI!" he said again, in the same loud squeaky tone.

The kids laughed again.

"Bunny? Can you help me?"

"HI!" comes from the phone, again.

The kids laugh more, and Zack took the phone and said, "Hey? Are you a dumb bunny?"

I cover my mouth in shock, then whisper, "We don't SAY that!"


Zack walks away, continuing his interrogation.

Zoe, thinking maybe it was Papa on the phone, picks up the landline and calls her grandfather.

He answers her call with "HI!"

She laughs and the three of them embark on a three way conversation which I slip away from, trying to get back to my writing deadline.

Then I hear Zack shout,  " HEY, I FOUND IT!" followed by a scuffling noise and "HEY, THAT's MINE!"

They race to me and she wins because he trips and quits, laying on the floor crying.

I step over him and pick up one of the two abandoned phones.

"Papa? You there?"

He laughs.

"I shouldn't have hidden eggs today. Bad idea, huh?"

After a minute he says, "Dumb bunny."

And -- stepping over the chaos and crying and general craziness that comes with kids before every holiday -- I get back to writing.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

It Was All Great Until...

Nothing starts at the end except really good stories.

So let’s go back to the beginning.

Once upon a time, it was 1994.

I was 25, teaching Latin American History at FSU, had finished all the coursework for my Ph.D., and very very anorexic.

Students who knew me then, later told me that they were distracted by the fact my knees were wider than my thighs.

That’s the thing about anorexia. People are fascinated by it, they admire the courage it takes to starve.

I think they also wonder if maybe it’s something else making that person so thin.

Cocaine, heroine, speed. Maybe for some people it is.

But it wasn’t for me.

I couldn’t afford any of that stuff.

All the anorexics I ever met in eating disorder groups, or at the gym, have been fireballs of energy. Our secret? Caffeine. Diet coke. Tea. Coffee. They all hit you MUCH harder on an empty stomach.

Anyway, so there I was, the first day of classes.

The first day that I would be teaching college, all on my own.
My syllabus, my roster, my assignments, my room.

When I did a walk-through of my classroom I saw that there were no map tacks to hold the map of Latin America up on the chalkboard rail.

The map tack situation was very urgent, in my little world.

I took myself on an excursion to empty classrooms, planning to “reassign” a few map tacks to my classroom and found a whole bunch in a corner room of the first floor in Bellamy Buidling.

I reached. I stretched. Jumped.
Chalkboards don’t look as large when you’re a student. Now that I was right in front of one, it seemed ten feet tall.

Finally, I pulled a desk to the chalkboard and stood on it.

That’s when I noticed my audience.

He was there. With his friend.

Maybe they thought I was laughing at myself, but I wasn’t. I was laughing at them, because I caught them checking me out.


The redhead looked familiar, and I was feeling bold. Warm, powerful.

What went through me wasn’t an impulse. It was more like a command.

I needed to talk to them. So I pointed at them and beckoned them over.

God help me, it worked. They came over.

We talked. His friend left, he stayed.

We exchanged phone numbers, made a date.

I think he looks at this as the worst mistake of his life.

The beginning of the end of his happiness.

He recently told me that his life was better than fiction before he met me.


Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Eye Contact

Really, I don't know.

It could be an option, it could happen, but I don't know.

For most of my adult life I have thought about it, but not in specifics, just in vague warm satisfying generalities.

"Yes," I'd say.

"Yes," I'd think.

"Yes, definitely, yes, I'd like to see Cuba. I'd like to see it some day.... " and then the conversation would meander and land where it was headed anyway.

And now, things might be changing.

OK, yes, they are changing, but I'm still standing in the same place, my arms crossed, mercilessly biting the inside of my lip, not exactly sure what to think.

Now that it really might be an option, I'm not sure if I'm ready to visit Cuba.

With my heart? OK, yes, undoubtedly.

In books? definitely.

But to really travel there?

Actual eye contact?

That, I cannot imagine.

Still, people ask me.

Today it came up in casual conversation.

He (a grad student) was excited; he was ready to party in Cuba, speaking only English, of course.

I shook my head, our conversation to brief to bother with a polite white lie like "yes, of course I'd love to go to Cuba... How are your Finals coming?"

No, I spoke the truth.

"I'm not ready. I need a warm up..... Maybe I could start in Santo Domingo.... um, they filmed Havana there, so that's something... and after that, maybe, if I need to, San Juan. And after that, if I STILL had time, I might go to Cienfuegos, or the city of Trinidad. I don't know.....Well, actually, I'm going to see my Abuelo in South Florida, and HE is my Cuba. I mean, if he were in Cuba, I'd go find him there, but he's here -- we're all here - and I'm too thankful to ask for anything beyond how great things are right now. You know? (silence, pause, this always happens when I speak my mind )Anyway, How are your Finals coming? Oh, wait, but the way, I have this GREAT idea for my students to earn a little end of the semester cash...."

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Feliz Cumpleanos, Abuela Mia*

Querida Abuela Mia,

History doesn't repeat itself; the same thing never happens twice, but here I am, for the second time, telling you happy birthday after I already know how the circle of your life so perfectly closed itself when you jumped into the sky.

Honestly, I don't even think I need to write anything to you because I feel the twinkle of your laugher right next to my ear one hundred times a day.

Since I have nothing to give you -- besides my laughter, companionship, and some stories you'd rather I'd write in Spanish anyway jajaja -- I have a request for you.

Yes, a request, it's a new tradition.

This past December I gave Zack a scooter on MY birthday, so I've decided to proclaim it tradition to GIVE on our birthdays, and so yes, I'm asking you for something.

Your daughter and husband still sit together under the coconut tree in the backyard, feeling the silence of your absence, and wishing (sometimes in silence, sometimes with their actions) for time to move quickly backwards or forwards.

Can you please shake a coconut down on them today, maybe scare them a little?

I know they'll know it was from you (maldita), not from me (sinverguenza).

Te quiero*

Monday, October 13, 2008

The Sign, At Last

In my mind he is still the dark haired confident dimple faced baby cousin toddler I fell in love with in 1976.

The last time I sat and talked to him, I think, was back in December, the week that Abuela jumped into the sky.

He was there, I am sure he was, in our circle of unmatching chairs under the big coconut tree in Abuela's backyard.

He was there, one of us, sipping wine, watching planes go by, telling meandering family stories. It is still odd and weird to me that he is bigger than I am, but I have forgiven him for that.

Three weeks ago, after sitting under the coconut tree in Abuela's yard on a warm late summer Saturday night, he was in a terrible burning accident on I-95.

Several surgeries later, he is still in the burn unit.

I can't be there, which doesn't mean I don't think about him every day. In a pause between grading and cleaning and all the little unmemorable things that fill my days, I tape three poster boards together write a happy greetings to him across them in my finest Melissa-calligraphy.

I notice a silence in the room, and feel my children standing next to me.

"Wow, Mom." Zack barely whispers, overcome with awe.

Zoe nods in agreement. "Mom, I can't believe you can write such beautiful words."

I smile, then remind her, in my best artist accent, "Zoe, your Mommy is an artist. You have seen her beautiful paintings ....yesssss?"

She shakes her head, "Who told you they were beautiful??"

I look up from my poster, shocked and almost hurt.

She is laughing.

Now that she has my attention, she reaches for a pen, "Can I add some color to this?"

I say yes, and step back, grab my pen and -- after weeks of self-imposed exile in the desert of silence, punctuated by only the tiniest clouds of laughter-- start writing again.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

First Day, Last Day, and So On

For many years my uber-competitive super close Cuban-New Orleans-South Florida family has played a competitve ongoing game attempting to be the first wish each other "happy first day of (insert name of the month here)"

This changed, radically, when Abuela decided to jump into to the sky on December 1.

Since then, we've all limped along, hollow and determined, alternately crying, laughing and staring into the sky.

So today, I sent a new text message to my inner circle, hoping maybe I'd start a new trend.

"Happy last day of August!"

My mom replied "You got me!" then filled the rest of the lines with with news of where our Cuban-New Orleans family was dispersing to during yet another hurricane crisis.

She ended with "I miss Mami."

I texted back quickly with the words that ran across my heart, "Me too. It's like a love tatoo on my soul - welcome but not enough."

Then the tears came in their usual silent tidal wave.

I walked away from the children who were watching the Simpsons, and took off my glasses, blinded by my own tears as I tried to load the dishwasher.

My phone buzzed from its nesting place inside my bra.

It was Mom, texting me back. "You have the soul of a writer."

I know, I know, I thought.

She's been telling me that since I was four.

I don't want that soul today.

The words are too sharp, too bright, too much for me.

I reached for the strongest thing in the house -- Benadryl allergy pills-- and take two.

Hopefully the words -- and the feelings behind them -- will be just a little quieter, if just for one night.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Death by Boobs

There are three zones inside my bra, spaces not taken by the actual designated bra occupants.

Zone #1 is to my lower left.
That's where the cellphone goes.

Zone #2 is in the middle.
That's where keys (and sometimes money) go.

Zone #3 is to the right.
That's where lipgloss goes.

So today, at a birthday party for 4 year olds, my phone is in it's usual Zone #1 and I get a call.

It's not great news, a friend had a computer stolen. After a short talk and a text, I shut the phone off and return it to its warm nest.

The group of sweating parents keep scooting our chairs, leaning into the elusive shade, sweltering in the mid-day July humidity of a sunny windless afternoon.

I reach into my bra for my phone, which doubles as a clock, to check the time and gauge how much longer until I can dive into a cool shower and finish grading exams.

The phone stays dark, even when I hit buttons.

I click, tap, and shake it.


I turn it on, turn it off, blow on it.


Later, at home, I get one call. The screen works fine, I know who is calling, but I can't answer it.

The keys don't work.

It is quite dead, or at the very least, stunned and unresponsive.

This phone has walked with me through about 15 crazy months, but I am not attached to it because that is not my nature.

Already, I imagine writing its obituary -- Cause of death: smothered by boobs.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Circle and Chair

It's been a hard day, she finally said, after our conversation weaved through safer territory.

M* dreamed about Tata last night.

She came to her in a dream, young happy and vibrant, and told her to stand up for her.

And then she looked for me, to get me, and then turned around and Tata was gone.

She cried, and cried.

I listened to her painfully and bravely recount, process and release the story.

Not all of our conversations are this somber, this raw.

Sometimes we talk about children, books, random little things.

Other times our stories pull us onto jagged cliffs of memories and longing.

The mourning has not ended, it ebbs and flows, crashes and abates.

I cannot harness it, it is too big, so I ride it.

Last night, I dreamed about Tata, and she dreamed about me.

In our dream, I opened the sliding glass door and lead the kids to the backyard.

Tata was out there with a group of women standing in circle. I didn't recognize any of them, but I didn't mind that they were there.

Tata stepped away from the group that warmly surrounded her in her own dream -- her mother and sisters? her childhood friends? -- and walked towards me.

She didn't say a word, but her eyes were laughing, as she pulled a chair from the table, carried it to the middle of the yard.

Certain that she had my undivided attention, Tata sat down and playfully mocked me in a most-familiar way by making exaggerately feminine and ladylike gestures -- crossing her legs daintily, dangling her hands over the arm rests, fixing her skirt over her knees and brushing off invisible lint off her body.

As I smiled at my Tata loca sitting regally on her chair-throne right in the middle of my yard, she gestured Vamos! at me.

She cocked her head in a personal challenge, daring me to entertain her.

I shook my head.

I had to feed the kids, do laundry, and generally be a Mom (this is a dream, remember?), no time to stand around and play.

Maldita! I said to her, shaking my finger mockingly at her arrogance at appearing and commanding me.

She understood, immediately and completely, our heads nodding a unison of unspoken affection.

And then, after just barely enough time but more than I'd asked for or hoped for, Tata stood up and walked back to the circle of women.

Off she went, back to the magic of her now-eternal dream, leaving my chair and my yard and other parts of me and this world invisibly emptier and quieter.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Mother's Day 2008

(Subtitled: Death by Chocolate)

It is 11:30am on Mother's Day, and already I have filled 8 large bags with yard trash, done dishes and tried several times -- unsuccessfully -- to watch the episode of *Carrier* I Tivo'd on Friday night.

I call Abuelo while soaking Zack in the bathtub.

Abuelo answers on the third ring, sounding sad. Still, we find something to laugh about.

He and I have a long history of playing well together over the past 39 years.

We have had hundreds of hours of long talks about Cuba, money and God while soaking stamps, sorting coins, eating ham sandwiches, feeding ducks and fishing off short piers.

My Abuelo and I have always genuinely liked each other, and since Abuela left us, we have grown even closer in our grief.

Today I call to tell him to tell me Happy Mother's Day, and to report to him that since the kids haven't made me my surprise Mother's Day breakfast, I am refusing to feed them.

He thinks I'm kidding, and laughs.

"I'd bring YOU a big piece of chocolate cake & a glass of Coca-cola for breakfast," I tell him.

He laughs more. "Would you believe I had a piece of chocolate cake already today? And two Hersheys bars?"

I believe it.
I have known the man my whole life.
He is a sweet man with a sweet tooth.

Still, I pretend to be shocked.

"Keep eating like that, viejo mio, and you won't live very long!"

"I've lived long enough. I want to go see your Abuela now, and if eating chocolate speeds it up..."

We both laugh.

He speaks next. "I love you, Melissita. I mean it."

"I know Abuelo, I'll see you in a few weeks."

The kids grow impatient for my attention again, and I'm pulled back into my Mother's Day, washing the multiple Zoe-penned tatoos off Zack's milky white body, still hungry for my surprise breakfast.

Abuelo and I, both sniff a little bit while saying our goodbyes in Spanglish.

Later, while slipping a dryer-warmed robe over Zack's soapy smelling, shivering body, I make a mental note to mail my Abuelo a big box of chocolate.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008


It is about 10am.

I have already had a long day, and after a ten minute break sitting outside listening to Spring and soaking in sun, I am standing in front of the dining room table about to tackle a huge stack of essays.

My cellphone rings.


I consider completely ignoring it, but since Zack has had those symptoms lately, I can't take a chance of missing a call from his school.

I find the phone hiding under my gym bag.

It isn't his school.

It's my Mom.

I answer.


I have a new NAME for YOU! Tandalea!

(The name rolls off her tongue, ending with laayyy-yah)

Um, thanks lady, but I'm not shopping for a new name today...

Tandalea, (she repeats) don't you LOVE it?

Candelea? Princess Lea? Que lea? Que fea? I don't know.

It starts with a T like Tata. T-a-n-d-a-l-e-a, isn't it beautiful? That's your NEW name!

Mom, you already had a shot at naming me, you can't just suddenly revise it now.

She laughs. I didn't know about Tandalea back then... but now I do!

Fine. Whatever. Thanks for giving me something to write about today. Are you going somewhere?

Yes to a meeting. The airport meeting.

Well, have a very nice time, give them my best.

I will, I love you Tandalea!

I love you too, Tita Loca ~


Minutes later, while I type the story up, my phone rings again.

Again, it's my mother.

I answer the phone "Tandalea!" and she laughs. "What? WHAT!? What do you WANT from TANDALEA?"

((I keep asking what, interrogating her through her laugher. There are days when Tita's voice is ragged with grief.
Now that she's laughing, I'm sailing this kite of a conversation through every wind I can.))

Why do you DARE interrupt the famous and important Tandalea while she is trying to write?

When she finally is able to catch her breath, Mom reminds me that I haven't told her how Zack is.

He's well enough to be at school today! The Doctor isn't calling it asthma, but he gave me all these pamphlets and some websites to go to... oh, and I have to buy the nebulizer today and these ampules. We'll call the Doctor on Thursday to let him know how it's going.

You told me that yesterday.

I know. Actually, Melissa told you. Today I am Tandalea, it's like everything is new...

(Again, she laughs. Just like she used to.)

I love that name! It's like Condoleeza, so memorable.

Memorable, indeed. Now Tandalea really has to go grade voy!

Goodbye Tandalea!

I think, in that second after she spoke but before the phone went dead, I heard my mom laughing into her Blackberry, smiling into the sun.