Tag Archives: Linda

Parents

Growing up is absorbing work.  One minute your only concern is to convince your parents to give you dessert whether or not you have eaten your assigned allotment of brussel sprouts, and the next you have to fashion a self that will stand the time honored tests of middle school, puberty, young adulthood.

As we diligently construct ourselves, what we might miss is our parents growing up too.  They transform from the parents of giggling (or scowling) little babies into the parents of adults.  Fellow grown-ups who hold jobs and create families.  Who know things and think things as peers.  But who are still their children.

It can’t be easy.  Remaking yourself is a Herculean task in and of itself, but to do so out of such necessity and following the schedule of the tiny creature that was once your baby…

I’ve seen the pictures.  I know my parents were my age once.  I’ve finally looked at those photos and discovered, “my god they were younger than me.”  They were two young and loving kids who wanted armfuls of babies (well, Linda wanted, but José was game).  They are now older, loving grown-ups with a small army of adult friends who happen to be their progeny.

My parents have with dealt this involuntary transition with remarkable aplomb.  I think there were some rough patches, but Linda and José have what I can only describe as grace.  Their children have aged and demanded to be taken seriously, and whatever else they may have had going on, whatever ideas about themselves they had fashioned over two decades or so of parenting little kids, they have indulged us.  They have accepted our adulthood.  We can all be adults together now.

We can all be open and honest like peers.  They still hide things from us to protect us (or some similar instinct) because they still want to shelter us from what they can.  It isn’t hard to do.  We have learned to take them absolutely at their word (for the most part).  We don’t pry or wonder.  Maybe this is because we are selfish and self-centered, but I’d like to believe that, just as they accept us as the personalities we are, we accept them as the parents they want to be.  We are keen to let them be the magical wonder-adults they were when we were little.

We love that they are our friends, colleagues in the work of life.  But equally we still love that they are our parents, who can say the right thing and fix what is wrong with ease.  From moment to moment they may not know if they will need to dispense fraternal commiseration or coddling and reassurances.  What hard guess work!  They are our parents, and they do it remarkably well.

Oh, how she sings

I sing when I do yoga.  Not demure incantations in Sanskrit, I crank CCR and wail along.  Death Cab for Cutie makes me bounce through sun salutations, The National helps me delve into the depths of my hips.  With Simon and Garfunkel I spill into the sweet ache of a forward bend.  Yoga is supposed to be all about linking breath with movement and at home I’m terrible at this.  Probably because I’m yodeling the whole time.

I have never been one to sing around the house or really belt it out in the shower.  I loved singing, and as a kid I think I had a nice voice.  But I was shy.  Shy and convinced of my own inadequacy.  I established that I would sing in front of others when I was certain that it would sound amazing and they would heap praise on me.

Once in awhile I would tentatively sing along with the radio in the car.  No response.  I sang a little louder.  No heads turned, no eyes widened.  My breathtaking talent remained insufficiently developed.

Like most adolescent emotions, my thoughts on song were confusing.  I waited with bated breath for recognition of my natural talent, but when I was asked to sing something or praised by my meager fan base (read: parents) I revolted.  Don’t say anything!  I’m great, I am (or could be?), but I’m not ready to burst onto the musical scene quite yet.

One night, heading to the room I shared with my little sister, I heard a melody.  My mom, singing Raquel to sleep.  She sang softly.  The low notes faded into whisper, her voice cracked ever so slightly at the higher notes.  It was so beautiful!  And so sweet.  Why couldn’t it be like that for me?  Gently singing something as simple as a lullaby. Why couldn’t I just raise my pretty little voice to the sky and tenderly, unselfconsciously, tease out a tune?

With the melodramatic mind of the pre-teen girl I bemoaned the burden that made me unable to participate in such small pleasures.   Tender lullabies could never be for me;  I would have to hit every note perfectly or resign myself to silence!  I nursed this strange, paralytic need to be sensational.  I was so isolated in my powerful expectations for myself.

What I missed out on over those high-strung years was the joy of singing.  These days my husband faintly rolls his eyes as he maneuvers around his wife, singing and contorting herself in the middle of the living room.  I am perfectly OK with this.  It matters very little to me that I sometimes make up words or can’t actually harmonize.  I’m having fun!  What a novel idea!  Life is not a performance, the preparation for a test.  It just is.  And hell, I’m going to caterwaul to my little heart’s content.

“As he stood on one leg, like a big stork bird”

Before I had ever heard of yoga or something called “tree pose” I stood casually with my left foot  (always the left) pressed against the thigh of my standing leg, watching Mom make us our Sunday pancakes.  I stood like this because my mom read us the story of Ki-pat, who stood on one leg as he watched over his herd on the dry Kapiti Plain, waiting for rain to revive the grasses and feed his herd (Bringing the Rain to Kapiti Plain).

Every night the four of us would pile onto one of our beds for a bedtime story.  We rotated between the girls’ room and the boys’, and we took turns picking the book.  Sometimes Mom would read us two.  We loved our books and the nightly ritual of listening to the familiar words and seeing the familiar illustrations of our well-worn picture books.

I am the oldest of four, eight years ahead of the youngest, so the books were always well below my grade level.  Literary prowess wasn’t the point.  Eventually we graduated as a group to “chapter books.” We would try to get an extra chapter out of her when things were getting exciting, but even after Mom insisted that it was time for lights out, those of us with more advanced reading skills never tried to sneak a peak to find out what happened next.  It never occurred to us.  We wanted to experience the story together.

Whatever muscular references I have now for tree pose, balancing on one foot will always make me think of the dry plains of Africa, just as overstuffed armchairs will always make me think of a little girl saving change to buy her mother a present (A Chair for My Mother) and having the heat on in winter will always make me imagine a retired piece of construction equipment living in my basement (Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel).  These are the legends and histories of our private family culture, informed by our books, the movies we watched and re-watched (no TV), the games we played, the puzzles we designed, all guided and inspired by the loving and creative mind of my mom, who established (not on purpose I think) our rituals and encouraged our imaginations.

I am conscious in my yoga practice of trying to cultivate balance.  I do poses on both sides, force myself to stretch the stiffer, less cooperative leg.  Tree pose remains much easier on my right leg.  I don’t mind this.  In fact, I like the idea that years of standing in the kitchen like the big stork bird has created a permanent imbalance in my body, that childhood memories have imprinted themselves onto my bones and musculature.

More important than any ideals of well-roundedness or symmetry is the thought of a physiological badge, linking me forever to the little tribe of children, huddled close and listening to the gentle rhythm of their mother’s voice.

Speaking in tongues

As a kid I figured that one day I would speak Spanish.  I listened and understood much of what my parents and their friends were saying, and I studied dutifully in my Spanish classes in school.  With the same surety that I would one day feel like an adult (PS, I don’t) I knew I would speak Spanish.

My father’s native language is Spanish and when my mom, brilliant and in love, started dating him at age 15 she just taught herself the language like the rest of us teach ourselves to jump rope.  She doesn’t even have a gringa accent.  She works in Peru and most people simply assume she’s from another Spanish-speaking country.  My own acquisition of the language did not go quite so well.

When we moved to Brazil when I was 16 I learned my first Portuguese words in the airport passport control line, “bem vindo,” welcome.  My Portuguese quickly outpaced my Spanish.  Not only was I surrounded by it more than I had ever been with Spanish, but I really loved it.

I wanted to love Spanish.  I thought I did, or could.  But it wasn’t love, just grasping at something that I thought was supposed to be my cultural birthright, the life raft that would float me through the sea of pale Texan faces where I did not belong.

Not that I belonged in Brazil.  My social stiffness stateside doesn’t go away when I go south of the border.  It might even be worse in Brazil, where my natural demeanor is in stark contrast to the culture of rhythm and music and warmth.  I am not white, Anglo-Saxon, or Protestant but I am as priggish as they come (I mean honestly, who uses the word “priggish”?!)

But something about Brazil hugged me close and murmured words into my ear that I wanted to understand and speak back.  I studied Portuguese and just reveled in the cadence of it, which seemed intuitive to me.  The more I learned, the more comfortable I was making mistakes and asking people to explain things to me that I did not understand.  Why waste time being a shy perfectionist when there is communicating to be done?

Last week I went to Peru.  It has been a decade since I studied Spanish and almost as long since I attempted to speak it.  And lo and behold, I can understand airline instructions! Ask for directions! Carry on a conversation for over a half hour with a random stranger!  Negotiate my way through a clotted airport line to make my flight on time!  My Spanish was slow, shaken painstakingly from my brain like so many grains of sand found tucked into every conceivable crevice after a day at the beach, but it was there.

It was comforting to know that even after I had abandoned it like an ungrateful child, Spanish still lingered in my mind, waiting calmly and patiently to serve the marvelous purpose of sharing thoughts with other people.

I had always wanted to speak Spanish because I thought it would give me something.  But over the last decade I’d experienced what it was to enjoy another language, to just try (sometimes in awkward tenses and misplaced nouns) to share thoughts with another person without worrying whether or not I sounded smart enough.

I won’t ever speak Spanish fluently.  But that doesn’t really matter to me so much these days.  As a kid I thought Spanish would solve problems for me by bestowing me with an established cultural history and ethnic identity.  I thought it would be “cool” to speak another language.  I thought the speaking of a foreign tongue would imbue me with a magical confidence in myself that I did not yet possess.

But that isn’t really the point, is it?  Knowledge and new abilities are not neat tricks that you perform for personal glory.  Our perceived skills are not anywhere near as important as the heart and motive we bring to our actions.  It is more important to reach out with what we do know than it is to scheme for the personal satisfaction of knowing even more.

My adventure into my long-lost friend Spanish was fun and peaceful.  It felt grown-up.  I am confident in my ability to do what I can do, confident in my understanding of what I cannot.  I am grateful for the former, I am grateful for the latter.

You ruined my life!

If you have ever met me or one of my siblings before you’ve probably heard us say this.  With a weird lisp, “you woo-wined my life!” and a petulant stomp.  We quote movies and TV shows incessantly (Arrested Development is really applicable to almost any life situation), but this line is from our cousin who was wound pretty tight as a little kid.  He threw a fork at his mother in a restaurant once.  We greeted his outbursts with a combination of amusement and concern.  One day, during a family vacation, he found a stick and decided to beat Ben around the shins with it.  Naturally, Ben took the stick and threw it away.  “You woo-wined my life!” howled the red faced monster, the prominent vein in his forehead straining against the skin.  We giggled.

My mom tells me I’m ruining her life all the time.  I explain to her why we can’t buy certain brands or eat certain foods.  “You’re ruining my life,” she sighs.  But even far away from my disapproving gaze she still can’t bring herself to buy most varieties of fish anymore.

My parents’ well-developed environmental consciousness pre-dates my own discovery of environmentalism.  Mom gardened with native plants and composted.  My father put bricks in the toilet tank to use less water with each flush and collected water from a dripping shower faucet to pour on the house plants.  We were raised in a household of “waste not want not”.

It was inevitable that once I stopped eating meat (for reasons both moral and environmental) my family would ask why.  In fact, extended family gatherings can sometimes feel like extended opportunities to parse my dietary decisions.  My answers range from comments about the ethically ambiguous meat industry to remarks about the environmental impact of raising large animals for food.

“Pigs are as smart as dogs,” I tell my mother.  She looks at Roxie, her achingly loyal and splendidly handsome rescued Shepherd mix, and pork is off the menu.

My mom has always been a foodie, before that title became a trendy thing to photoblog on tumblr.  She has always loved to cook and to try new foods.  She has always appreciated simple, quality elegance over the all-you-can-eat buffet.  What is ruined for her is the ability to indulge in such refined pleasures with abandon.  She can’t just eat a delicious meal without wondering how the animal was treated, what chemicals were used, what impact the industry has on the lives of the human beings it employs…

As you might be able to guess, I can actually take very little credit for this.  When she sighs about things being ruined, my mother is expressing her nostalgia for the “ignorance is bliss” days.  This has next to nothing to do with me.  She is the one who seeks out seasonal produce, the one who works with poor farmers in Latin America, the one who despairs of being able to keep on top of changing rules of farm-raised versus wild caught fish.  Sometimes, for a few moments, I believe her that I am taking something away from her and if I could just keep silent I could let her live in happy peace.

But Mom doesn’t want that.  More than blissful ignorance she really does want the world to be a better place and for us all to do what we can to get us there.  I’ll probably keep updating her on how bad things are.  I can’t help it; I am an inveterate pain in the ass.  Even if I don’t tell her she’ll find out anyway.  But I also see the hopeful world my mom sees and I want to live there too.

We aren’t ruined, but we are aware.  It’s hard to get used to.