The Drive

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I was driving home during evening rush hour after picking Carmen up from school on a seemingly uneventful weekday. She was in 10th grade. We were listening to music, moving at a fairly moderate speed and chatting away about blah, blah, blah, blah, blah…It became quiet, but I didn’t really notice until she sheepishly said, “Mom, I have to tell you something…” and nothing prepared her for the hysteria that would take over me. I mean it wasn’t that She couldn’t date or have a boyfriend; it was more about having to confront that she wasn’t my chiquita anymore. Even though I kinda knew this as she had been in full blown puberty for some time. Needless to say, I lost my marbles and let go of the steering wheel, put my hands over my face and screamed, “Oh My God!” More times than God could tolerate. Somewhere in there I could hear Carmen’s drowned out screams, “Mom, grab the wheel! Mom, please, you need to drive! Mom…!” All while trying to steer the car. I imagine this was a very traumatic incident because Carmen didn’t attempt to get her driver’s licence ’til years later when she was 21.

The Alchemy of Your Presence

In my heart I carry
the memory of
when I first me you.

I asked if you were mine;
Tita pressed you closer
to my chest, assuring me.

But as I saw you grow,
I knew you were so
much bigger than my arms;
you were for the world.

The only place you could
fit would be in my heart.

I meet you there
in the silence and
whisper blessings
carried out to you by
Grandmother
Moon.

I touch the silhouette of
your essence –
search for peace and solace
as you confront the chaos
of a world parched for
benevolence.

You are here to be
greater than the imagination of man,
to stave off the conformity
that binds us to fear.

Your purpose was carved into
the consciousness of the trees
when Mother Earth
envisioned you as her daughter
and me as the guardian
who would reverently usher you
into this world.

The alchemy of your presence
is a daily awakening of love,
a prayer answered
for the restoration of the
melody of our humanity.

To contain you is to try to
hold water in the grip of my hand,
embrace eternity in a second,
or confine the sky.

The most harrowing and liberating
lesson I’ve had to learn is,
you were never mine.
You are a gift through which
I glimpse freedom.

Dance in boundless spaces,
let your hair whirl in eddies of wind.
Grow roots from your bare feet,
let them go so deep, they go to
creation; let them be so strong
they break chains. Sing your song,
serenade the goodness in you
and fall in love the way the blossom
has fallen in love with her nectar.

Happy Birthday mi chiquita. . .

broken english

broken english

I’ve held on to this poem for quite some time, now. It pierced my soul, made me feel some kind of way when I saw it. Mostly the vast differences between the opportunities I had and the ones my mother had, so starkly highlighted in my ability to manipulate this language of global power, holding a degree in english, and her struggles and frustrations with not being able to express herself in a language as foreign to her tongue as it was to her heart.

She spent a great part of her school years working in the agricultural circuit of California, making it very difficult for her to attend school constantly, leaving her with many gaps in her learning process.

My grandmother never learned to speak or write english, and felt some of the same frustrations of not being able to navigate the basic systems of this country. Though in her later years, learning the fundamental cuss words in english, like you know, “beetch, fack you, and estuped uss-ole,” gave her a great sense of empowerment and satisfaction. LOL! And she definitely always knew what we were saying in english.

For my mother, the frustration of struggling with the english language meant a lack of opportunities to lift herself and her children out of the poverty she had met as a child. A few years ago, she joined San Diego Reads, a phenomenal volunteer organization that supports adults in improving and refining their literacy skills. For so long she questioned her intelligence , feeling inferior and insecure, and withheld so much of what she had to offer the world. She now works at the pharmacy at SDSU, has been there for 10 years, and continues to find the courage to express herself in a language that once tried to crush her under its angry syllables and hardened consonants.

The privileges and successes. I enjoy, the opportunities I have to live a vibrant and bold life, and the risks and failures I am able to endure, all are upheld by my mother and my grandmother’s (and all the women that came before them) sacrifices, humiliation, oppression, grit, and love. I am because they were. I thrive because they endured. I overcome because they conquered. I stand because they dug deep enough to give me fierce roots.

 

When Forgiving Her Mother Meant Walking In Her Shoes – Part I

Seeing her mother dote over her husband in the hospital, who was constantly readmitted for chronic liver failure due to his years of drinking, Estrella couldn’t understand the kind of love her mother felt for him. She’d never felt that kind of love from her mother. She never saw her take that much care toward her. And it angered her. She wondered why this man was more deserving of that kind of love than she was. What was so special about him that wasn’t special about her? Why was he more significant than her? Those were questions she could not answer. All she could understand was the pain the little girl inside of her was feeling as she watched her mother’s adoration for her husband.

Estrella thought she had forgiven her mother. She thought she had overcome the sense of abandonment she had experienced growing up. In reality, she was still that wounded little girl sneaking behind the door to her mom’s room hoping to catch her mom alone to get a little bit of the attention she gave to her boyfriend. To be able to sit on her lap, maybe cuddle in bed for a few moments, or even a pat on the head. Watching her mother stand so attentively next to her husband, constantly probing to make sure he was comfortable, massaging his legs, repositioning his pillows, and caressing his face evoked a surge of pain she had buried very deeply within her. Her mother had never learned to love a man and love her simultaneously. She didn’t know how to open her heart to that much love, so instead, she focused her concentrated love to whom she felt would give her the most significance in life, her alcoholic husband.

Estrella couldn’t understand why feeling loved and accepted by a man was more important to a woman than being loved by her own daughter. Juvenile Hall was full of young ladies whose mothers had preferred their boyfriends over their daughters. Mothers who made excuses for their boyfriend’s screaming and beating. Mother’s who looked the other way in the middle of night when the innocent were devoured by the secrets of darkness. Why was the yearning for a man’s touch more powerful than the vulnerability and purity of a child?

She had seen so many women in her family relinquish their dreams for a few moments of deceptive romantic love. Her aunt Martha dedicated her whole life to loving a man in secret; a man who left her to marry another woman and create a whole new family. After he married, he looked for Martha again and she became “the other woman.” For over 35 years, she saw him in secret, settling for left over kisses and caresses a few days out of the year. His pictures were all over her house and she spoke of him as if he was the patriarch of the family. She created a fictional character and brought him to life through the script she created for her life.  She’d wait for his ever-illusive phone calls the way the desert anticipates the monsoon season, hoping the next phone call would summon her to his side.  Martha’s daughter grew up in the shadows of her mother’s fantasies, and like Estrella, became runner-up to the love her mother felt for a man.

Estrella struggled with the anger she felt toward her mother.  A mother herself, Estrella dedicated her life to loving and caring for her daughter, and couldn’t imagine how a man’s love could be more exceptional than the spiritual connection that existed between her and her daughter, and yet she understood the circumstances that led her mother to find shelter in the arm’s of men.  The same circumstances that led her mother’s mother to two very abusive marriages.  Her mom’s love for herself was so lacking, so depleted that only the intimate kisses of a man could fill some of that emptiness.

While the role of motherhood can be a very fulfilling aspect of a woman’s life, it’s also a very wearing and overwhelming experience.  It comes with many rewards, but many times to the sacrifice of other desires.  Estrella imagined that dirty diapers, crying children, piling bills, and a complete neglect to self-care did nothing for a woman who was already lacking so much self-love.  The less romanticized aspects of being a mother, like the loneliness that sets in in the middle of the night when a mother feels so incompetent, or the insecurity of a woman’s worth that creeps in in the morning as she looks at the dark circles beneath her eyes and the premature wrinkles that are starting to frame parts of her face, Estrella would learn, are dangerous side-effects when a woman can’t see her self worth.  That becomes exponentially true for single-mothers.

When a lonely woman feels a man’s hands through her hair, that masculine tenderness brings out a vulnerability in her that opens her up into a Calla Lily pulsing at the verge of spring. Estrella had been previewed to that type of sensuality. She had found a man who she could be herself around. In their moments of intimacy, his fingers whispered the truth of her body and glided over the topography of her landscapes. She had felt her hair sift through his fingers like the Saharan sand. She had opened herself to someone she could be unapologetically herself with; someone who had felt the softness of her belly in his hands, and ran them over her cambers, and slopes, and dips; someone who accepted the sacred lands she had to offer. Estrella had been lonely once, and understood the yearning for that kind of love, so the rationale of a woman choosing a man over her children was not so impossible for her to understand.

Estrella’s mother had six children by the time she had turned twenty-three. Each child represented a desperate attempt to fulfill the love she was supposed to have gotten from her mother, who also struggled with her own sense of worthiness. Ironically, with each child, the emptiness and loneliness grew, leaving her more desperate for the kind of love she came to desire from a man.

Estrella wanted to, needed to, forgive her mother.  Cognitively, she knew her mother was a victim of abandonment and neglect, and could see her mother’s own struggles to liberate herself from cycles of abuse, violence, and co-dependency.  But emotionally, Estrella did not know how to stop the pain and resentment she felt toward her mother.  The wounded little girl inside of her still wanted to feel significant enough, important enough, for her mother’s love.

La Patita

I was sitting on my mother’s lap; I must have been six or seven years old.  She wasn’t running around disciplining my brothers, or arguing with my grandmother, or with her boyfriend.  She was holding me, giving me the gift of her presence.  I remember feeling safe and wanted, not dismissed or hurried.  Like most children do, I started to talk, to ramble off about anything and everything I found amusing or curious.  I had my mother’s undivided attention, and that was my opportunity to be visible – to shine!

La Patita was one of the many childhood songs I grew up loving by Cricri, Francisco Gabilondo Soler, the most recognizable singer of children’s songs in Spanish.  It’s a song about a mother duck who loves and cares for her ducklings – the quintessential nurturing and protective mother.

I decided to create a new story using La Patita as my character.  I don’t remember what my story was about, but what I do remember was the intent look in my mother’s eyes.  Her gaze as she looked at me with admiration and kindness.

The next morning, I awoke to a yellow inflatable plastic balloon, the kind you win at fairs, in the shape of a leg, on the sofa.  La Patita is also a colloquialism in Mexico for a little foot.  When I saw it, I felt a surge of hummingbirds beating through my veins.   It had been a reward – for spending time with my mom, for the story I created, for being special.

And then thoughts of unworthiness, camouflaged by questions, settled in like the desert scorpion settles into the sand dunes.  Had she gotten it for me?  Where did she know to find it?  I had just told her the story the evening before.  Did I deserve it?

Something deeper than my thoughts knew it was for me.  I’ve held on to that feeling my whole life. The way I held on to the smell of the strawberry and grape scratch-n-sniff stickers on my school awards that hung in my dad’s office; or my very first staff ID, which my grandmother carried in her wallet so she could parade it around and say, “My grandora es a ticher,” in the Spanish syllables she never relinquished.

La Patita sparked a storyteller inside of me.  The storyteller who came to believe she was worthy of telling her story.

“La Patita, de canaste y reboso de bolita, va al mercado a comprar todas las cosas del mandado. Se va meneando al caminar, como los barcos en alta mar. La Patita va coriendo y buscando en su bolsita centavitos para darles de comer a sus patitos.  Porque ya sabe que al retornar toditos ellos preguntaran, Que me trajiste mama qua qua. . . ”

Letter on Her 21st Birthday

The following is a letter I wrote to my daughter on her 21st birthday. In essence it was a reflection of the journey we embarked on together May 13, 1992.

Tita Carmen told me when you were born, as soon as you were placed in my arms, I looked at her and asked, “Es mía, es mi niña?”   You were so pure, so perfect.  I couldn’t believe I deserved something so beautiful.  What magic existed inside of me, that I could create such beauty?

That first night at home, you woke in the middle of the night, and through the glare of the moonlight, I could see your delicate face.  Your eyes were a pair of elliptically round onyx and you gazed at me in such surrender and vulnerability, I knew taking care of you and shaping your life would be the greatest mission of my life.  I don’t perceive myself as a visionary, but I know that from the moment I felt you, from the moment I met you, I had a vision for the kind of human being I wanted you to become.  You have surpassed any vision I had.  I am in awe of who you have become.

You opened up my heart to dimensions I didn’t think were possible.  I was filled with so much anger and resentment, but you came along and I began to heal.  In your presence, there was only love.  I wanted to be so deliberate and purposeful in every choice I made in and for your life.  I didn’t want to mess up the perfection you were (still are).

I wanted you to be educated – to know so much more about the world than I ever had, and I knew that the only means for that was through reading.  So I read to you with love, and hoped that you would become so much more than I dreamed for myself.  I tried to keep you away from artificial and sugary foods, so that you would learn to honor and care for your body.  I spent hours hanging out with you and talking to you, so your spirit was also nurtured.  I watched movies like To Wong Fu and The Color of Friendship with you, so you would understand the importance of inclusive love.  Later we watched movies on Lifetime and had long discussions about domestic violence, bullying, drug abuse, self-esteem, and anything else I thought at the time you needed to learn.  I wanted you to be aware of the world, but not fear it.  I wanted to give you the world, and I did, literally.  I wanted you to know that you weren’t the brand name clothes and make-up that this country wanted you to believe you were; but that you were wrapped in the humanity of every other person on this earth.  We scraped our money together, your Tita, David and I, so that you could travel to different places around the world and experience what it means to be part of a whole.

I wanted you to become a confident woman and feel beautiful in your existence.  To understand that where you came from began long before you existed in my womb. I wanted you to be proud of your heritage.  Aside from Tita Carmen, who better to introduce you to than Frida Kahlo, a woman who was not afraid to live life on her own terms, exploring her sexuality, and flaunting her Mexicanismo during a time when it was a source of disdain.  To my horror, the opening scene of the movie, Frida,which I took you to watch when you were nine, is a passionate sexual encounter between Frida and Diego.  David and I were mortified into stillness, and figured covering your eyes would draw too much attention to us. LOL!  I can’t say I always got it right, but my intention always came from a deep sense of love for you.

My vision for you was that you become a woman who would follow her heart and never compromise her happiness.  That you would learn to live on your own terms regardless of what the world insisted it wanted for you, including me.  That you measure your success, not by your status or accomplishments, but by your ability to be in touch with your spirit and listen to your inner voice.  Most of all, my vision for you was that you see in yourself the beauty and perfection I see in you.  When I see you now, I see the manifestation of the woman, the human-being, I envisioned the first time I saw into your onyx eyes.

You are now on your journey.  You have your own vision to fulfill.  My vision for you now is that you never stop transforming, that your heart continues to open so that you can continue to experience life whole-heartedly, that you embrace your vulnerability so that it becomes your strength, and that you continue to evolve into the highest existence of yourself.  Te quiero chiquita linda.  Que Dios siempre te bendiga.  Feliz Cumpleanos!

Tú Mámi.

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Letting Go

Carmen’s 20th birthday celebration – May 13, 2012.

The first time I had to let go of Carmen, the first time I realized she wouldn’t be my little girl forever was when I weaned her from breastfeeding.  Breastfeeding was the first time I experienced a spiritual connection with Carmen; it was an opportunity to sit in stillness and silence and feel as her spirit evolved in my arms.  She’d latch on with such fervor, shaking her head in an attempt to place her mouth precisely on my nipple.  She was so vulnerable, so peaceful, so innocent.   When I held her in my arms, I felt as though I was holding her heart in my hands.  It was her heart that I learned to see, that guided me to understand who she would become. I knew I was special then, because only someone special could produce such an incredible being.  For the first time, I felt that I had worth – that I had a purpose in my life.  I would watch as she suctioned in a peaceful rhythm, the same rhythm that paced the length of the seasons, the strength of the wind, the rotation of the earth, the duration of the day, and the destination of the hummingbird.  She’d set her little hand on my breast and I could feel it touch my soul.  In the act of giving, I was receiving a love so pure, so unconditional, it could only be described as God.   After birth, the act of breast feeding is one of the most divine gifts God has given to women.

She was a year and eight months when I decided to start weaning her from breast-feeding. Carmen had been asking about going to school, and I knew her heart was yearning for the learning and interaction she would find in pre-school.  But weaning her was much more difficult for me than I thought.  Before beginning the process, I researched and bought every type of bottle and nipple that was out there to buy.  I figured transitioning her to a bottle would be the most natural progression.  I also researched every type of breast pump I read about, and even rented breast pumps to find the one that was the most effective and practical.  I pumped enough milk for three days of feeding and put it in the freezer.  I filled up all the bottles and had them lined up according to size and nipple.  I was ready to begin the weaning process.  What I had not realized, was that I wasn’t ready to let go.  The first time I tried to bottle feed her, I cried more than she did.  I couldn’t handle my rejection of her – it wasn’t natural.  I could hear my Tita crying in the kitchen. Carmen never took the bottle.  My Tita took her to Mexico for a week, and only then did she (I)  learn to let go.  When I saw Carmen again, she immediately latched on to my breast, but she began to ask for her sports bottle more and more.  And I had to learn to be part of her life in a different way.

Letting go wasn’t always so life changing.  Sometimes letting go meant understanding that she was becoming her own person.  I had to learn to respect her identity and allow her to explore the world at her own pace, on her own terms.  Letting her choose the color of her shirt, the vegetables she would eat, or the book she wanted to read gave her a voice and empowered her (me) to understand the process of making decisions as a journey to her independence.   It also meant allowing her to make mistakes and not running to solve every problem for her.  It meant letting her ride her bike to school in 5th grade.  It meant riding the bus and trolley route with her so she would become acquainted with her commute to and from high school.  It meant letting her travel to Peru and hike the Inca trail when she was 14, even though my heart was fearful and I wanted to contain her when I knew she had the soul of a hummingbird.  Every time I made a decision, I had to look into my heart – most importantly, I had to look into hers.

The next time I had to let go was when she told me she had a boyfriend.  We were driving on the freeway in evening-heavy traffic talking, as we usually did, about anything and everything when all of a sudden she became very quiet and said there was something she needed to tell me.  I slowly lifted my hand and pressed the minus symbol on the volume button until the music was completely drowned by the silence.  And then, “Mom, I have a boyfriend.”  All I remember was screaming Oh My God over and over, and rubbing the saltiness off my cheeks. In the background I could hear Carmen shouting, “Mom, Mom, grab the steering wheel,” as she tried to steer from the passenger seat.  I felt so many emotions at once: fear, anxiety, joy, compassion, nervousness, hesitation, delight.  I was joyous that she was experiencing her first love, hesitant because she might get her heart broken, nervous because I might not know how to help her mend her heart, joyous because her heart was opening and taking a risk to love, compassion because I remembered what it was like to feel butterflies for someone, and fearful because she was becoming a woman.  She was growing up and I was afraid I hadn’t taught her everything she needed to know to be safe, to be happy.  I could no longer hold her in my arms to protect her.  She wasn’t my little girl anymore.  She was becoming a young woman who was exploring and experiencing life on her own.  She didn’t just belong to me and I could no longer keep her from the world .

My daughter, Carmen, left to college June 12, 2010.   I cried every day for a year.  I felt lost, without a purpose.  She had been my purpose for 18 years.  

When I was in high school, I didn’t have a vision for myself, in fact I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life . . . that is until I found out I was pregnant.  I wanted to give Carmen the world, and to do so, I had to learn how to navigate this world.  She gave me a sense of power and a will to do better for myself that I had never felt before.  All I could think was that I wanted to make her proud of having me as a mother, so with every choice I made, I looked in her eyes to make sure it was something I was doing for her, and not just for myself.  My number one priority was to be the kind of mother that Carmen could trust, feel safe with, and be inspired by.  I had suffered a great deal of abandonment in my life, and I wanted Carmen to know that I would never walk away no matter how difficult our lives; I learned this lesson because my grandmother never walked away from me (us).

Letting go of Carmen felt like letting go a part of me; the part of me that owed its life to her.  Everything I had become, I became because of her, and when she left, I feared I would lose it all – I would lose myself.  My mom calls her “agua fresca” because nothing can survive without fresh water.  She is so alive and her energy is incredibly inspiring, so I had to learn how to feel alive without her.  The one thing I was certain about was, I would not guilt her into staying, for from the time she became part of my life, I promised her the world.

Once again, I had to learn to be part of Carmen’s life in a different way.  I couldn’t make decisions for her, or even tell her what I thought she should do.  I had to learn how to listen, guide her to listen to her heart, and allow her the space to reflect and learn.  The following is an excerpt from a journal entry on learning to be Carmen’s mother all over again:

Today was Carmen’s official first day of college. She called me last night-anxious and fearful-“What if . . . ? she probed. This is what I responded – Hey College Girl, don’t forget to know your heart and understand who YOU are in the inside. Without that, nothing else you learn will matter, ’cause the truth is you don’t have to be an expert at anything if you allow your life to be the process of learning from others.

It is essential, vital, that in every experience of your life – whether it be college, career, motherhood, etc. – you never stop questioning and exploring who you are.  It is through the process of questioning and exploring that you become deeply rooted in the beauty of these experiences.  This is truly the way that one can appreciate all the gifts around us, through knowing oneself.  Learn the ways of your heart.  Anything can be justified through persuasion with a good argument.  This is why it’s so hard to make up one’s mind at times.  But, if you learn to use your heart as your compass (not your emotions, but your heart), you will learn to make up your heart and follow in the path which is true to who you are. 

I had to learn to put the phone down and trust that I had taught her enough and loved her enough that she would ultimately make the right choices for herself.  Being at a distance made our relationship even more challenging.  I had to learn to pay attention to her voice, to read in between the lines, to be patient with our conversations until she was comfortable enough to tell me if something was wrong.  I prayed so that she would have the wisdom and strength to navigate the grey hues of life.  And I was (am) always there to talk.  I miss her touch, her kisses on my forehead, her smell, but we are profoundly connected spiritually, in such a way that I can feel her inside of me everyday.

Adjusting to Carmen’s absence was painful.  But the day she referred to herself as a guest in our home, I felt my heart gasping for air.  Once again I had to learn to let go a little more.  Though I still have the gift of having her during Christmas breaks and summer breaks, it is inevitable that she will make her own home one day.  That one day she will stop staying the night and cuddling with me in bed.  It’s such a paradox to know that this human being that was once a part of me (literally), is now someone whom I must learn to let go.  The gift was never for me to keep her; the gift is that I had the honor of loving her and learning from her.  

Kahlil Gibran said it most beautifully when he wrote:

             Your children are not your children.

            They are the sons and daughters of Life’s

longing for itself.

            They come through you but not from

you,

            And though they are with you yet they

Belong not to you.

            You may give them your love but not

Your thoughts,

            For they have their own thoughts

            You may house their bodies but not

their souls,

            For their souls dwell in the house of

tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even

in your dreams.

            You may strive to be like them, but seek

not to make them like you.

            For life goes not backward nor tarries

With yesterday. 

           You are the bows from which your children

as living arrows are sent forth.

The archer sees the mark upon the path

of the infinite, and He bends you with His 

might that far His arrows may go swift and far.

Let your bending in the archer’s hand

be for gladness;

            For even as He loves the arrow that flies,

so He loves also the bow that is stable.