Thursday, January 31, 2008

TEG's week off

A long time ago, a friend of mine married her boyfriend in a whirlwind. They met just when he had signed up to join the Navy (literally, a few days later), and thus had very little time together before he went through basic training and shipped out. She had thought she could handle it; even relished the romance of it all. “I'll be able to visit him in so many places!” she gushed. “And the Navy takes care of basically, well, everything!”

So, they got married by a Justice of the Peace our first year of college (saving up for the Big Catholic wedding of their dreams, which they finally had about four years later), moved to Virginia, and my friend's husband, newly flushed with matrimony, left her again.

It didn't take her long to become discontented.

“He's gone all the time! I'm here all alone!” she would wail on the phone. I tried to be sympathetic, in spite of my conviction that she had rushed into this (she hadn't—they are still together over fifteen years later). But, well...she knew this, right? He hadn't hidden it from her. I still hated to hear her crying.

Finally, she called to tell me, triumphantly, that her husband was getting honorably discharged due to her depressive episodes when he was gone. Basically, they had convinced the authorities that she was so unstable without him that she might actually harm herself. I remember thinking that she had apparently sabotaged something he had ostensibly wanted to do (well, at least before he met her) and was apparently proud of this fact. Frankly, I thought she had been a trifle, well, hysterical about the whole thing.

I was reminded of all this tonight when I realized that it was Thursday. TEG's week long vacation is almost over.

I would be happy to convince any possible authority to let me have him for longer.

Oh, friends, it's been WONDERFUL. He's spent so much time playing with Madam, filling the house with her shrieks during their elaborate games, patiently honoring her many requests to “do stuck” together on the couch, his dark head balanced lightly on her pudgy little legs while they read together. And he's reading again, about passions he's had since we first met, and hasn't been able to explore because he's been so busy. He's let me sleep in, sneak out to meet Jessie.

Best of all, the tense atmosphere that too often pervades the apartment is gone—that feeling that the roof is too close over my head. He hasn't had to bark, “I'm busy!” at any of us all week. He hasn't had to fight off a clinging, crying toddler as he went into the next room to make an important phone call. I haven't gone gray(er) worrying about her noise level during said important phone call.

But now, it's all coming to a close, and it's making me a little teary eyed. I know he needs to work; I'm grateful that he works so hard, enabling me to stay home with the Madam full time. But...the intense, driven way he works, that start-up, 24/7 instability---after four years of this, it's wearying. I miss him already, and I dread to see how Madam reacts to the return of the old way, especially now that she's had a taste of something so very much better.

So, I remember my old friend, and I think I understand her better now. She did know what she was getting into. She just didn't know that she couldn't quite handle it.

This isn't what I came here to write, but I guess it's what I wanted to say.

More cheerful post tomorrow.


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Tuesday, January 29, 2008

I dub it...Patry Francis day!

I wasn't really going to blog about Patry Francis today. I told myself that she had so many other amazing bloggers and writers in her corner, helping her celebrate and publicize the paperback edition of her book, The Liar's Diary—what could I add to the discussion? In the grand scheme of things, my voice is very small. So I would sit on the sidelines and cheer for the important players on the field.

And then I realized—how utterly un-Patry like of me. She is someone I deeply admire in part because she has insisted on putting forth her words and her vision—even when she was a working mother struggling to balance the needs of her children with her writing. Even now after the diagnosis she received—an aggressive strain of cancer.

Last year, she fulfilled a long standing dream and published her first book, The Liar's Diary, a psychological thriller about how the friendship between two women exposes dark secrets at the heart of their lives and families. Throughout the process of getting the book written and published, Patry shared much of her experiences and wisdom on her blog, Simply Wait. Those of us who are still writing, still dreaming, still hoping, found a champion in her...someone who had some of the same limitations, the same (or more) responsibility, the same STUFF that makes up a life, and who still realized her dreams through her talent and her tenacity. She's such a vital presence in our creativity community, always ready with encouragement, humor, wit, perseverence, and breathtaking writing.

Patry has shown me that it doesn't matter about the size of your gift, or your audience, or your voice.

It just matters that you open your mouth, pour out your words, and sing.

So, everyone, go out and support this amazing woman and writer. Go buy a copy of the newly published paperback of The Liar's Diary.

You'll be so thrilled that you did.


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Sunday, January 27, 2008

Sunday Scribblings: Misc. people (a story in a letter)

These dolls from here.

Dear Mami,

I wish that you were reading this in English. Then maybe you could have a taste of what my life is like, Mami—spending the day listening to words that sound just like wearing a coat in winter. Like footsteps on the concrete. But then again, it would mean you having to go all the way to the Plaza Grande, dragging your skirts in the dust, asking for translations. Not that it would be so hard, not these days. I wish it had always been so. Then maybe it wouldn't be so hard for me right now.

“It's so important to us that Thalia grow up knowing her culture, and I don't just mean 'Dora the Explorer' you know? These are the years to learn—it never sticks when you get old like us, huh?” Doña Rosa had said to me, in blessed Spanish. I nod, not sure what to say. Surely Doña Rosa knows that I am spending every night sitting up in my room, tracing my fingers over every word in the dictionary, trying to absorb the smooth letters through my skin. Circling all of the unknown words in that little book of cartoons that Tomas gave me the last time I left. Six months, and there are still more circles than not. “And I told Pedro that if he'd grown up in my pueblo, he'd know the Delgados are known for being excellent teachers.” What good is it being a Delgado who teaches when I cannot learn myself?

Still, it is good that Doña Rosa remembers. It helps me remember myself.

I try to remind her that there is so much more I can do than just take care of Thalia and the house. Thalia is a placid child, content to sit in her little red rocking chair and watch me moving around the kitchen. And the house itself—luxury looks different in los Estados Unidos. It's clean, spacious, all the surfaces hard and shining. All of Doña Rosa and Don Pedro's recuerdos from home, the straw filled dolls, the framed flags, the clay pots—they seem to be swallowed by the smoothness, the glow of these American things. They look extra.

Doña Rosa is so tired after a day at work. “It is not easy to make ends meet,” she says. “People think once you get here, you are saved. But they are wrong.” She sounds angry, as though I have accused her of this myself. “It's not like home.” I mention. “No, she says again. “Not even like your home.” This brightens her, and she loses some of the harsh tone when she asks me to help her in her private office. I am excited as well. This is what I have been angling for since I arrived. Work that will feed my mind, the way you always did it, Mami. Delgado work.

“Please sort these bills into piles, and then I'll ask Pedro to file them.” She showed me how to recognize each bill and match it to others, without knowing the words. Like the card game we used to play.

We worked in quiet, equal silence. Every now and then I would hold up an envelope, and she would tell me, “Just put that aside.” When we were done, that “aside” pile was rather large. She swept them all into a folder marked, “Misc.

“What does this mean, this word wrote here?” I was proud to ask her in English, but she made no comment on that. She was too busy making notes on a pad, a pencil between her teeth. “Oh, it means miscellaneous.” I waited.

“Uh, its just important paperwork. It's important.”

I filed this away. It seemed a useful word.

The other day, Don Pedro came home from work all excited. It seemed he had invited a new friend home from work. Bob. The man mooned around as though he was preparing for his Quinceñera, the joy flushed on his face. “Bob says not to worry about cooking anything special. Bob is a very understanding man. He is an important man at work. He does not often go out to people's houses. This is a very good thing for us, Rosa.” Of course, Doña Rosa left me detailed instructions for what dishes I should cook, and as soon as she got home, without even removing her coat, she began lifting the lids off of the steaming pots, and then she starts chopping the vegetables for her special sofrito. She was pleased when I complimented her on it later. “Even the Delgados don't know everything, right?” She said, smiling big as she went up the stairs to get dressed.

I was bathing Thalia, elbow deep in two year old and soapy water, when Don Pedro walked in, pulling his tie straight around his neck. Six months, and he is still hesitant around me. He averted his eyes as though I was the one taking the bath. “Uh, Nilda...” He began. “Perhaps you would like to go to Carmen's house tonight? Or even to a movie?” It was not a question.

“Of course, Don Pedro.” I was not surprised, but it does not feel good to be asked, all the same.

Well, Mami, I decided to make a night of it. I called Carmen and we made arrangements to go to the Rinconcito and then the Copa for dancing. We were both going to speak in nothing but English and enjoy ourselves as though we belong here. I have heard that Miami is a beautiful city, and I am sure it looks better when you are not in the backseat, next to a screaming baby.

Tell Tomas that I did my hair the way he likes it—dance floor hair, all swirls and dips and spins. I only wish he could have seen it.

I could hear their voices carrying up the stairs as I stood there, wondering if maybe I should just go past, quickly, towards the kitchen door. But I was curious about this Bob man. So I went down, directly into the living room, where they all sat, balancing drinks on their knees.

He immediately stood up. “ didn't tell me your sister was here.” He was very tall, with blood energy reddening his skin and gentle blue eyes and hair almost white, like the sun over the water at noon. I took the hand he offered, but couldn't think of anything to say. Sometimes this English feels like a funnel, like all of my thoughts are being drained through a too-small hole.

“No, that's... that's just Nilda. She knows my wife's family. From home.” He made the introductions, while Doña Rosa just looked at me and said nothing, loudly.

I'm not sure how it happened, but Don Pedro offered me a drink and I took it and sat down on their white couch, careful with my wine.

They spoke in English, and I felt pulled along by it, always a few ideas behind. But finally, Bob turned to me and asked me how I liked “the States.” Usually I just smile when someone asks me if I need to say it in English, but something about his blue eyes looking at me, so was the 'courage of the red dress' like you always say.

I wanted to say something to help them, Don Pedro and Doña Rosa, something to thank them for their kindness and impress this nice American man.

So I opened my mouth and I said, “They are very misc. people.” Silence. Bob looked confused, “Mixed?”

“No, misc...miscellaneous people.” And, ay, Mami, somehow I lost control of that word even as it passed through my mouth, and it came out like Spanish, like English, like everything other than what it should be. I flung it down like a dead fish at the table, and it just lay there, stinking.

Bob smiled like he'd forgotten how to stop. “I don't see what you mean.”

“Important. They are...important people at home.”

I already knew I was wrong, but it was too late. I couldn't do anything about the twist on Doña Rosa's face, or the way Don Pedro's face looked white like playa sand. So I smiled and threw my hands in the air, like a surrender, and just then Carmen came and honked the horn and I escaped.

Before I closed the door to her car, I heard Doña Rosa saying, “Poor thing...not very well educated, you know. Trying so hard. She teaches Thalia, but I think Thalia teaches her so much more!”

And we still went out to dinner, where the sounds of Spanish all around us was like a balm. But I begged off dancing; told Carmen what I said. She patted my hand and told me what the word really meant. Different people or things, from a bunch of places, not all the same.

When I got home that night, Don Pedro was waiting by the door. You charmed Bob, he said. He thought you were funny. Then he said, “You is's not good right now, Nilda. We have no extra anymore. You understand...”

And of course, I do.

Because I know I am extra, because Don Pedro and Doña Rosa are miscellaneous in this new land.

So I need to look here, hard, or you will see me sooner than you think. And I know we can't have that. We also have no extra.

Wish me luck, querida mama. And tell Tomas that his mami misses him more than words can say. In either Spanish OR English.

Tu Nilda
For more misc. tales, go here.

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Wednesday, January 23, 2008


Madam has discovered a foolproof way to defuse any tension that might ever arise between us. She looks up at me, smiles beguilingly, and says, “Mama.”

Seriously, it always works.

I watch her “reading” her books to her Doggie, using the same inflections I do, and I feel myself lightly tethered to the earth, like any errant wind would be able to lift me up by my pride and send me into the stratosphere.

We rub our noses together, hers a tiny replica of my own, and I tell her, “You are my life.” She considers that for a moment, then says, “Yes.”

Lately, I have been thinking about what it would be like to have another child. Of course, I have all of the standard worries, “Can we afford another child? Do we have the energy?” but the main worry is always, “Can I love another child the way I love my Madam?” I know that I would be a smarter, more confident mama—there are so many things I would do differently. I squelched a lot of my instincts, in favor of what the books said, or TEG, or my parents. As a result, I have chosen what I would consider a very high-maintenance parenting experience—we cosleep. Madam still nurses. She wakes up repeatedly through the night.

I do not think I would do these things in the future. And yet...I have learned to love the difficulties. I still look down at Madam's little nursing head and smile. We hold hands through the night.

Perhaps we love those who prove to us that we can do what we had formerly thought was impossible.

In that case, I don't think our second child, when and if we have one, will have much to worry about.

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Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Not much

For the past week (what is that you say, it's only Wednesday? Surely you jest...) I have been reading what I like to call “mom-help” books...a lovely subset of self-help that aims to help mothers get back in touch with their inner pre-mommy selves. It's a lovely idea. Really, it is.

So why have I been sniping at Ariel Gore, “Oh, sure, easy for YOU to are obviously naturally creative and also younger and more energetic...” and Vicki Iovine, “Your YOUNGEST kid is six? You are in the gravy, lady”?

Because while I agree with the books that I CAN be a mama and a writer, lover, thinker, and I CAN roar, at the's taking all of my energy just to be a mother. Every day is a fulcrum, and I feel so perilously perched at the top, trying to throw my weight to balance. I can always feel when things are sliding into anarchy. I just can't seem to do anything about it when it happens.

I realized I just want to be told, “Hey, it's OK to put those ambitions aside for a little while and zone out. It's OK to not be able to do everything, even to not WANT to.”

This brings me back, as all things do, to my writing. Lately, dragging myself to the keyboard at the end of another exhausting day (seriously, toddlers are exhausting in a whole different way from newborns...I didn't know that!) is just...well, it's not happening. And I have been feeling so guilty about that, skulking around, redoubling my efforts to read or work on my character sketches or...something, anything.

Yesterday, as I rocked Madam to sleep in the dark, singing the 90th verse of my version of Old MacDonald, I started to cry with the weight and the guilt of it all. Of wanting to want to write, and knowing that I just did not. Knowing that so many other mothers have done it so well. Knowing that I have said that I couldn't, and then I could, but knowing that finally, no, really, I just can't. And a sentence flashed across my mind.

I can't bring myself to force myself to do one more thing.

All day, I drag myself through cooking and cleaning and Madam-care and more cooking, more cleaning, more laundry. Keeping Madam quiet while TEG works, and talks to clients on the phone. Grocery shopping. Madam's activities. And then, at the very end of my day, I don't want there to be still more to do. Especially something which is not fulfilling or rewarding me much lately.

I am tired of arguing with reality. This is my life, right now. TEG is frenetically busy. Madam needs lots of care. And, well, someone needs to clean the bathrooms and do everything else, and that someone, by default at the moment, is me.

So, I'm taking a break. Not from this blog, or from my journal. Just from any effort to write anything fictional until I can get my head back together and start to enjoy it again, even a little.

It feels like the right decision, it does.

Even if it makes me want to cry again, a little, when I think about it.

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Sunday, January 13, 2008

Sunday Scribbling: Date

From here.

Where I grew up, we didn't date. Oh, not that we were chaste, at all, just that we didn't go through the whole John Hughes suburban ritual, complete with Breakfast Club postmortems and Sixteen Candles ends. Nobody asked anybody out for any sort of dinner and a movie (at least not so I remember). It wasn't our thing, dating. It wasn't our language.

Instead, we had our own rigid hierarchy in teenage relationships. First, there was “going with” as in, “I went with her.” While this might suggest dating, it actually was more akin to desperate sweaty gropes at the playground after dark. Then, if you went with someone more than a few times and continued to enjoy it, you might pursue “seeing” that person. This was exactly as breezy as it sounds—maybe you would see the person in the hallways and say, “hey,” perhaps even share a cheek-kiss before the warning bell reeled you towards class, its strident tone indicating that it knew you were up to no good. You could “see” many people at the same time (well, if you were a guy, alas the double standard!)

After an indefinite amount of time, you might slide towards the holy grail of our high school couplings. You might be officially “going out.” And no, this wasn't usually celebrated by an date either. This just meant that you were now boyfriend and girlfriend, exclusive. This was the end.

I allowed myself to be pulled through this rite because this was just the way things were. Sure, I tried to put my own rules out there. I usually managed to skip the pointless “seeing” phase (I was a good girl; if I went with a guy more than a few times, I liked him enough to move straight to going out. Usually). But...I really wanted to date the way the people in my movies did. It seemed like the way we did relationships was the way we did everything...haphazardly, sloppy. Why couldn't we WORK hard enough to make something tangible, put in the effort like the nice suburban rich kids? I wanted romance, swelling music. I would have settled for pizza and a VHS tape.

Most of my high school relationships revolved around the band, and I can trace the trajectory of each one through the schedule of football games and practices and band competitions we always lost, those long rides home on the bus, the couples claiming the back seats. Our horizontal bodies hugged by the Naugahyde seats that were always ripped, pieces of stuffing rising up like smoke. Eventually sitting up, dazed, staring out the window together, watching the unfamiliar landscape streak into our hometown.

This was always the source of much discussion---who ended up in those back seats, and when, and why. I was as involved as everyone else, but I always held a piece of myself back. See, I knew this was all temporary, however vital it seemed at the time. I knew that there was a larger world, where guys came to the door and met your parents and brought flowers. Where the buses were modern and whole. Where bands rehearsed as passionately as we gossiped and won awards at the same competitions where we placed fifth, if at all. I knew that eventually, I would figure out the secret of living and stop being ashamed, stop feeling wrong and half-assed.

I just had to wait.

Sometimes, if I really liked the guy I was going out with, I would gently approach the idea of going on an official, mainstream culture date. And sometimes, if he really liked me back, he would agree.

But somehow, those dates were never quite what I wanted. The easy natural conversation we always had would freeze up, leaving us to make strained small chatter about the food, or, um, about the football team, or um...nothing, usually. We couldn't shake the feeling that we were playacting at something that needed to be Serious, and that we were doing it Wrong. Sometimes, I would catch my Boy standing by the pay phone near the men's bathroom, fingering his dollar bills, looking clutched and sweaty in his hand. There was something beautiful about his attempt to please me, but I didn't know enough to see it back then. I just knew that it didn't look right, it wasn't Hollywood enough. It wasn't like those dates that I imagined those suburban band kids would go on, polished and cinematic.

It's taken years for me to see the rightness of what was right in front of me. To be proud of speaking my own language, relishing my own history.

But I won't lie. When TEG showed up at my house that first day and shook my father's hand, it was more than FINALLY right. It was better than any movie starring Molly Ringwald.

Of course, it wasn't a date. We were already going out at the time.

For more dates, go here.

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Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Can mothers think?

In her essay, Can Mothers Think?, Jane Smiley talks about the dearth of great literature written from a maternal point of view. She points out that much of the celebrated books written by women have been written by daughters, women who have never had children. Of course, much of that has changed. Jane Smiley, Alice Walker, Ursula LeGuin, Toni Morrison. All daughters, all mothers, and all fabulous writers. In fact, Smiley talks about how motherhood actually improved her creativity and thought--added urgency and richness.

Of course, it helps if you start out being Jane Smiley.

This happened to me as well. The first year or so of Madam's life was probably the most creative time of my life. I was writing again, after years of only thinking about it. I could play with ideas and characters while I tended to her. I started this blog. It was good.

But the title of the essay continues to haunt me, though, because I've been having a bit of trouble thinking myself lately. Madam is so active, so engaged, so fully PRESENT that it takes all of me to deal with her—my energy, my body, and especially my mind. I find myself missing those drowsy (well, comparatively) infant days where I could be with her even while I daydreamed about my latest story, or blog post. Now, every nerve strains with attention, all of the time. Life has become a tense, operatic thing, like a war, or a flood.

Madam: Where Doggie? Doggie? DOGGIE! (prepares to fling herself on the ground to protest this cruel separation from her Beloved).

Doggie is produced.

Madam: Ah! Doggie! Kiss! Kiss! (falls into rapturous joy. until the next crisis.)

It's like she's gunning for a toddler Oscar.

And I am tired. Sleep, never easy here at Chez Madam, has become naught but a distant memory.

Mothers...share your secrets. I seem to have forgotten how to do this whole “balance” thing. I ADORE my Madam, and I am thrilled at everything she is. In fact, sometimes when she is finally asleep, I catch myself using this precious non Toddler time to think about...well, her. And how much I am enthralled by her. Trust me, I know how lucky I am to be with her as much as I am. It's great, exhausting, all-encompassing fun. So much so that even when I am not with her, I can't seem to transition back to myself. And I have a delicious new idea taking shape—a new story. But...I can't ever seem to work on it. Late at night, I have to remind myself to think about it, at least. And then I feel guilty, like I am abandoning my little brain people, and possibly myself.

I miss my mind. And I miss your minds. At the end of almost every day lately, I barely have the energy to lift the lid on my nifty laptop. So I am horribly behind on every blog I love. But there is hope for the future...TEG is toying with the idea of taking some much needed time off. I can barely contain my excitement—writing time! blogging time! Coffee with Jessie (and possibly even Emmie or herbal tea [finally] with Kate)! Sleep, sweet blessed non-toddlerized SLEEP!

Oh, and maybe TEG and I will even get to spend some time together. It could happen.

So...this post doesn't do much to further the idea that THIS mother thinks, although obviously I agree with Jane Smiley that mothers can think.

After the toddler years.

(PS: I started this post last night after Madam went down. I was interrupted five times in an hour, and finally finished it now--at 1:03pm CST)

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