Reminder: Listen To Your Mother!

“A few weeks back, I alerted you to the Listen To Your Mother show, a national series of live readings by local writers in celebration of Mother’s Day.

I’ll be auditioning in San Francisco on either February 10th or 12th. No, I haven’t secured an actual spot yet. This is just one of many ways I psych myself up.

“There’s no place like a stage. There’s no place like a stage…” Do you hear my heels clicking?

I’ve refined the five hundred and eleven words of my entry until I count each one in my sleep. I’m honing it with the precision essential to nail a spot.

But until my audition in February on that stage, I’m reading my piece out loud to adjust the flow as I work to stay under the strict five-minute maximum. I’m reminded of Nana Herminia’s advice, when I’d read a book report out loud to her: “keep them wanting more”. This applied to my boyfriends as well.

Reading for a handful of minutes may not seem like a big deal, but it is another calculated step in accomplishing my goal as an author.

I grew up among a witty and bold brood of eleven where we auditioned every day for my mother’s approval. Luckily for us, best behaved was not a category my mother deemed important. Best dressed, best manners, and best Spanish ranked high, but funniest reigned supreme in her book.

A witty joke or humorous story prompted her to stop whatever she was doing and award us with the best prize of all: her laughter. My mother didn’t giggle or chuckle. She threw her entire body into a laugh until her eyes squinted. That was golden! That was the equivalent of Johnny Carson’s okay sign to an up-and-coming comedian at the end of their routine.

That’s really what I’m striving for when I submit my piece, to hear my mother’s laughter.

I’m Your Mother, Not Your Maid

KJ Dell’Antonia raised an important issue in The New York Times, Motherlode about how parents who are convinced they don’t hover may not be stepping back to allow children to step up.

Most of us have great intentions when we do for our children, what they can, in fact, do for themselves. But I believe that it’s a disservice,in the long run, not only to our children, but also to us. They should be taught from an early age and be given the opportunity to become responsible for themselves.

I understand its gut wrenching for some parents to let go. I know it was for me. I remember the prideful delight when my adolescent sons rode their bikes to Jr. Lifeguards, instead of me chauffeuring them, during the summer. I’ll admit, I followed them once from a distance and barely managed not to scream when my older son showed off, riding with his arms up in the air. They learned more bike safety than any class could offer, found the best burritos on the way back home, and got to know their community. I garnered more than just time for myself. I was rewarded by their confident swagger.

They also learned to run most of the household appliances, all by themselves, at the tender age of eight. My mother was horrified and gently suggested I hire a housekeeper. I’ll admit it took a lot of patience on my part. It would’ve been easier for me to take over and do it to ‘my specifications’, but now when I hear the sound of the vacuum cleaner or the washing machine on a weekend as I’m heading out to the garden or a walk, well, it’s priceless.

As a Latina raised in a traditional home, I was resolved that my sons wouldn’t expect me to do all of the grunt work just because I was their mother.

Now both of my teenage sons know how to buy and bag groceries as well as whip up a decent meal. I eat with pleasure whether it’s slightly charred or am not in the mood for scrambled eggs with hotdogs, again. Eating a meal that I didn’t cook myself after a long day, is a gift.

Of course, they complain and give me dirty looks when I remind them that it’s their turn to wash the dinner dishes or clean their bathroom. They are teenagers after all.  But I hear the gratification in their voice when they correct folks who assume they don’t contribute to the running of our household.

How else do they learn that they are not entitled and exempt from the every day responsibilities of life?

Spreading my wings

I’m overjoyed to announce that I’m now a contributing blogger on Mothering in the Middle and adding my voice and Latina perspective to Cyma Shapiro’s vibrant site, which celebrates midlife mothers.

It’s no secret that I’ve been on a mission to spark a discussion about Latinas and infertility and hope this venue will help light the fire as well.

Infertile. Me? No way, I’m Latina!

“I’m soon to be 60, raising teenage brothers who my husband and I adopted from Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua almost fifteen years ago. Being a Latina and native speaker definitely helped when we approached an orphanage in northern Mexico. Being a Latina also made it difficult for me to talk about it openly among my family.

I’ve noticed the same reluctance in Latinas to discuss infertility and IVF, as well as adoption. I follow many wonderful blogs where important issues concerning Latinas are showcased, but I have not yet found one that discusses infertility.

Why?…”

Read more of ‘Infertile. Me? No way, I’m Latina!’ at
http://www.motheringinthemiddle.com/?p=3607

Thanks as always for your company and support!

Blogging and the inevitable criticism

I lap up the advice from seasoned bloggers on their method of managing criticism and am secretly relieved when they admit to handling it as poorly as I do. I’d assumed these highly regarded bloggers, who have tens of thousands of followers, would dismiss the handful of criticism among the hundreds of gratifying comments. Not so!

The tips they offer range from taking deep breaths, going for a walk to sleeping on it, and consistently include a warning to thwart the overpowering temptation to respond right away.

Well, that’s child’s play for those who don’t have an evil twin sister, like I do, lurking over their shoulder prodding them to reply NOW!

I have to wrench her hands from the keyboard and wrestle her to the ground. She fights back with a seductive promise that in a matter of minutes she can compose a wicked reply to put the ignoramus in their place. How dare they disagree with me!

Sometimes I give in, but on the condition that my evil twin sister has to respond on paper, away from the computer, and the submit button. I give her diatribe ample time and don’t dare censor her bombastic remarks. I cringe while she gleefully pummels one of my followers with a thick red marker until she’s exhausted her rage. I only offer a tissue to wipe the drool off her chin.

Next, she must read it out loud to me at least three times. She laughs at her snarky remarks and pouts when I don’t high-five her skewering the poor soul. We pin it up on my bulletin board and stand back, shoulder to shoulder. I thank her profusely. She beams at me. She’s satisfied and goes off looking for trouble elsewhere.

Only then do I respond with humility and gratitude that this person is following my blog and taking the time to offer their opinion.

I find this helps keep me sane and prevents me from making a fool of myself.

I was insane…

I mean infertile.

I wrote those words without equivocation, in a writing trance when nothing else but the truth and I existed. Writing Stretch Marks required mining my past: some nuggets I held up to the light, others I’d leave in the darkness, and many required a pickaxe to unearth.

I’d already written three drafts. This revision had the additional pressure of crafting a prologue. When I’d written those last six words, I’d admitted far more than I’d ever planned on, but it was the truth and what, I believe, holds true for countless women.

When a woman wants to have a baby, heaven help anyone or anything that gets in her way.

I remember my Ob/Gyn at the time, looking at me crossed-eyed when I told her we were still trying. “Why? You’re almost forty!” I fought the urge to kick her on my way out. I changed doctors and charged ahead.

Now, looking back, she was right. Even though I was healthy and fit, my eggs were seemingly in retirement. I disregarded every naysayer and resolutely forged ahead.

I’m glad I did and went in with my eyes wide open. I expected my body and bank account to be pushed to the limits, but I was unprepared for the emotional extremes that seemed to test my sanity.

I garden at night…

when silhouettes and stars accompany my nocturnal weeding, watering, or lately, covering delicate trees and plants against the frost. I retreat outside to think without the Matrix like miasma of testosterone lurking right outside my office door and bouncing off every wall in every room. A boombox of sorts.

My sons don’t follow me either like they tend to do indoors, because there’s no WiFi in the garden.

It’s just me, my thoughts, and the stillness of the garden where there’s a wide berth for rehashing, considering, regretting, and letting go of the bits and pieces of my day.

When I caught myself talking out loud to my mother and grandmothers in the moonlight as if they were sitting at a table, drinking coffee and lighting a cigarette, in a corner of my garden, I froze.

A long ago memory of Nana Herminia swooped me up. I was still in elementary school.

My paternal grandparents lived next door to us. From my bedroom window, I had an eagle’s eye view of her garden where during the day, she wore a pith helmet to guard against the desert sun and a cigarette dangled from her lips as she tended to baby roses and olive trees.

 

Late one night, on my way back from the bathroom, I looked out my window and spotted a teensy tiny light. A speck of a glow. It moved. It stopped. It moved. It became brighter. Lightning bugs? A fairy? A prowler?

 

As my eyes became accustomed to the dark, I recognized the orange glow was attached to my grandmother. I carefully opened the window and heard the water gurgling from the water hose as I followed her.

 

When my older sister woke up, startled, I explained in an apologetic whisper that Nana Herminia was out in her garden watering.

 

“You’re dreaming. Go back to bed.”

“I swear, she’s out there.”

“Then she’s crazy. Go back to bed.”

Nope, she wasn’t crazy at all.

Vetting and The Unexpected Outcome

Earlier this week, I wrote about my dismal attempts to have my sons read my memoir before it’s published this month  – Vetting works much better than bribery.

My eldest son when armed with a mission to vet my memoir, passed on watching The Daily Show with us, and instead took Stretch Marks and went to his room. I wouldn’t have been surprised if, as I switched off lights and reset the thermostat before turning in, I had found the paperback left on the bottom of the stairs or on the dining room windowsill.

I didn’t. I also didn’t ask him the next morning.

Later that afternoon, I was so anxiously caught up in finalizing the proof and book cover design that I forgot to ask my eldest if he’d read any of it.

I didn’t have to.

“I liked it,” my eldest said. I cocked my head at him, I thought he was talking about some cold leftover he’d just wolfed down.  He laughed. “Your book, I liked it.”

“Really?” I sounded sixteen.

He nodded. “Impressive, your writing, I mean.” I took a very long deep breath and sipped some tea. My knees shook.

“I finished it last night,” he said.

I choked up and thanked him. I forgot my previous anxiety and fought the urge to channel Sally Fields during her awkward Oscar acceptance speech and blather, “you like me, you really like me!”

Instead, I started by asking what had surprised him.

Everything he’d forgotten about in Ciudad Juárez was his answer.

 

VETTING works much better than bribery!

Why I didn’t use the word vet before, and save myself a whole lot of trouble and time only attests to  the opacity of my blinders, which I straighten and tighten every morning to keep me focused on my goal–to publish my stories at all costs. And I mean at all costs. Yes, that too!

My teenage sons like the idea that their mother is a writer and a blogger as long as they don’t have to get involved. Well, now they have no choice. Family, friends, and followers  agree–they need to read VET my memoir. It’s imperative they know what I’m about to release to the public.

As soon as I used that three-letter word that the White House throws around like confetti, my oldest son puffed out and said, “Well, why didn’t you just say so?” I swear his posture straightened as I gave him the book and permission to mark it up. He wanted to know when I could take a meeting with him after he vets my book. Later on, when he abandoned  his homework and raked his hand through his thick hair as he vetted Stretch Marks, I fought the urge to dance around the dining room table. He was on chapter four! When my youngest shot him a dirty look and said, “you should be doing your homework,” I almost clocked him.

My youngest prefers reading comic books, National Geographic, and still rereads from his vast collection of Calvin and Hobbs, and so prefers to simply sign a disclaimer. When I said that wouldn’t be fair to him, he said, “I trust you, Mom.” Then he reconsidered and clarified,  “As long as you didn’t write about that time in Big Sur, remember, on Mother’s Day when I accidentally…,” as his eyebrows knitted together. I promised I didn’t. He followed me into the kitchen while I made dinner and continued, “But it would be okay if you wrote about the time we almost burned down the house, or I recycled your wedding ring, or remember when, I hid in that dollhouse at Toys R Us, and I wouldn’t answer, (pause for whooping laughter) even when you started crying.”

He was disappointed that those stories didn’t make it, but we struck a deal that I’d mark those chapters he appears in and he’ll vet those.

I’m beginning to face the music…

from my younger son, who can’t believe I disclosed something quite personal about him in my soon to be released memoir, Stretch Marks. Mind you, the story he’s referring to, happened fourteen years ago when the adoption process held us hostage in Ciudad Juárez and he was two years old.

“Thanks, Mom, now everyone is going to know!” I wanted to counter with, “I wish”, (as in, I wish EVERYONE would buy my book), but instead I stupidly replied that I’d also admitted some pretty awful things about myself. He merely fumed. There is no statutes of limitations in my sixteen year old’s world. I can almost see him hunched over, black Sharpie in hand, redacting that part and many others in the book, before my book signings.

In comparison, my eldest beamed, he clearly loves anything being written about him, good or bad. His burning question: How was Stretch Marks II coming along? I can see him, orange hi-liter in hand, marking up the good parts where he figures prominently, and selling the book at school for an extra  buck or two.

They have not vetted the entire manuscript. But really, now, how many teenagers want to read a memoir written by their mother? And, yes, I do want to know and Hannibal Lechter’s kids don’t count.

For the record, I’ve offered them the opportunity to do so throughout the dozen drafts I’ve written over the years. They’ve smiled politely when I gave them their copy to read. I forced myself out of the room as they thumbed through it, imagining them comic book enthralled as they read. I kept my promise and didn’t grill them about each chapter. In fact, I didn’t bring it up at all. So, when I didn’t find it in the garbage can, I felt victorious. Until I found it  doing double duty along with a stack of Captain Underpants and Dr. Seuss books being used to prop up a bookshelf in the TV room.

So, should I give them another chance?

More wishes…

came in through phone calls where my girlfriends had much to say, their thoughts and stories impossible to capture in any form of correspondence.

Each conversation, some brief and some a half hour-long were all steeped with memory-provoking stories which, still resulted in me crisscrossing my legs and arms. Now laughter and gratitude peppered our talks as we also  buoyed each others’ new endeavors. Right before we hung up each one reiterated their wish.

“I wish people would simply shut up and hug the other person, I mean a real hug, a nice long one where the person can just fall into you.”

“I wish more people understood, that ‘I’m so sorry’ goes a long way.”

“I wish folks hugged more.”

“I wish for people to listen to each other more.”

I also received this comment on the blog (thank you!) and wanted to share it:

“I wish for any women undergoing infertility to find a support group, online or in real life to lean on, to hear her when no one else will listen. To not feel she has to smile through her tears or be made to feel terrible because she cannot sit through another baby shower. I wish that she remember her worth as a woman is not measured by her ability to conceive. I wish that she remember that she can still plan vacations and be romantic with her husband just because without having to monitor her cycle every waking second. I wish that she not waste hours upon hours Googling for the top 10 ways to get pregnant or every crazy potion on the market. I wish she could just love and appreciate what she has in the moment and not put off enjoying her life until she can have a child.”

 

Thank you so much to all of you who sent a wish!