Tag Archives: sibs

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.

Hair

I have great hair.  No sense beating around the bush.  I wake up in the morning with a fabulous mop of tousled, dark curls.  My complete lack of skill with womanly primping means that my ‘do is unimpressive most days, but that’s not the hair’s fault.  The raw material is there.

photo credit: Erin CT

I’ve gotten a little bit better with product use and such.  As with most things (physical and mental), it was worse in middle and high school.  I grew up in East Texas.  Meteorologically, the heat and humidity are just awful for curly hair.  Culturally, it isn’t much better.  My little sister admits that when we lived there she used to wish she were white.  She wanted a cute blond ponytail like all of her friends I guess.  And her hair, black as it was, at least was straight.

I never actually wanted to look different.  In my mind I fantasized about growing up to be some kind of exotic beauty.  The wind would catch a soft lock and blow it across my face and suddenly I was a foreign princess, striking and mysterious.  What did it matter that it was really a plume of frizz set on top of an awkward kid in ill-fitting clothes?  That’s what fantasy is for.  Out in the real world I resigned myself to just being weird looking.  I wasn’t ugly, so I counted my blessings and turned imaginary heads.

I had my mom straighten my hair once for a school play.  I found it curious and intriguing to realize how long my hair actually was…but then when I got to school my friends were so impressed and excited.  I was appalled.  My hair was curly!  How dare fashion and society suggest that I should spend hours of my life blow-drying reality into submission?  How dare these people with their straight hair suggest that somehow I could be improved by looking more like them.  They should all get perms and leave me in peace.  Maybe I would have been prettier with straight hair, but just as I had no dreams of getting a nose job to flatten out the bump in the middle of my face, I had no interest in “correcting” the thick mop that, for better or worse, was mine.

I’ve made myself sound very strong and self-possessed.  I wasn’t.  I was a kid, like any other.  And like so many dorky teenagers I had visions of being “popular”.  I don’t know exactly what this meant to me.  I found the popular crowd to be by turns intimidating and repellent.  I never looked at a cheerleader and thought, “oh yeah, we’ve gotta be friends one day.”

Nor did the football players or other classic male heroes of the school-aged set do much for me.  While I may have been intrigued by a boy here and there I don’t even remember actually desiring a boyfriend.  Jesus, then I’d have to go out to a movie or something with said boyfriend, and therefore tell my parents I was going to a movie with a boy!  Even my mom noticing that some kid my age was talking to me at a family barbecue made me want to throw on a habit and get me to a nunnery.

My inner monologue has always had a snide take on my social failings.  I offered myself absurd explanations for how things worked.  A nice shirt from XYZ trendy brand, now people will like you!  Plucked that single, unruly eyebrow hair, problem solved, you are now beautiful!  I would say these things to my reflection in the mirror then snort at the absurdity.  Maybe deep down inside I wanted it to be that easy.  But that easy to what?  What did I want?

The vague adolescent longings didn’t explain themselves to me at the time, but in retrospect I think I just wanted confidence.  I wanted to feel good about myself.  Movies and my peers taught me definitions for “cool” and “pretty” that had no room for a book-worm with dark skin, dark hair, wry humor, and a knack for getting As.   But then, I guess I didn’t want to be cool and pretty badly enough to get over being really lazy about messing with my hair.  (And as a teenaged girl, cool and pretty are really all you’ve got.)

I wasn’t a sloppy kid; I just refused to get into the hair and makeup thing.  Beauty had straight blond hair and no amount of good conditioner was going to make that grow out of my head.  So why bother?

During my late teens and early 20s I slowly, really painfully slowly, started to realize that there were people out there (besides my parents) who thought I was attractive.  At first I was highly suspicious of these people.  I wasn’t ugly enough to be made fun of by this kind of behavior, so what was the end game?  Once the idea of diversity really being a thing and not just some slogan finally fully digested I started to pay more serious attention to my hair.  It was nice hair!  Thick, healthy, shiny.  After a mere two decades of life I embraced the idea that a smidge of attention could make my hair really gloriously lush.

For Christmas a couple of years ago my husband got me some fabulous hair product that he didn’t realize was marketed to African-American women.  It was great stuff, and he wasn’t concerned about the racially specific marketing.  He often refers to my “ethnic hair”.  I love that.  Really, I do.  It sounds vaguely like he’s being offensive, but it made a light bulb go off:  I have ethnic hair!  Not failed, white-person hair, hair that is big and dark and curly on purpose.  What a revelation.  One that, even now, I have to repeat to myself, just to make sure the sentiment really sticks.

“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.

“I have given you my soul; leave me my name!”

No one, myself included, noticed that the first four letters of my name spell “anal” until I was in college.  Not a single friend, not either of my brothers.  Seriously, you can’t fake naïveté like that.

My brother got called “Beaner”, a hilarious elementary school play on his name (Ben) and our assumed ethinc origin (Mexican).  Despite the fact that Ben has fair skin and green eyes and our father is from Paraguay (a state in Mexico maybe?), I think the teasing bothered him.  First graders don’t like to be teased.  His middle name, Andres, or as they say it in Texas child-speak “Undress, ha ha ha!”, didn’t win him any points either.  Poor Ben.

The first family-wide blow came when I was in 11th grade.  Pfizer had just launched a magical new drug with titillating warnings like “for erections lasting more than four hours seek medical attention immediately.”

Viagra.

We Villagras could hardly celebrate the suddenly vigorous blood-flow of middle-aged penises around the nation.  It felt heavy.  I loved my name!  I had never wished to be a Jones or a Smith.  Even Garcia or Lopez felt too generic, too firmly rooted in an identity (again, presumably Mexican) that didn’t actually apply.  Villagra was strange, un-spell-able, un-pronounce-able, and ethnically ambiguous.  It required explanation, just like the long-winded story of who we were and why we all ate such weird food at home (abbreviated explanation: Mom likes to cook).

The coming of Viagra was my first encounter with permanent, irreversible destiny.  Our name was ruined.  We joined the ranks of families called Lipschitz or Gaylord and men named Dick.  I clenched my teeth and waited for the furor to peak and fade, but the cultural priaprism never died down.  The stupid blue pill with most of my last name printed on it was here to stay.

Then we moved to Brazil, where all of the teenagers we knew were having so much sex themselves that they had no time to worry about the older generation’s sexual dysfunction.  We were granted a few years respite by a sweeping, tropical hormone surge.

By the time it was pointed out to me that my first name was just as easily understood as Anal-ia as it was Ana-Lia (the way it is pronounced) I felt inured to the pain of being a marked woman.  I shrugged it off with the same coolness with which I now explained the spelling of my last name, “Viagra, with two Ls in the middle.”  I could have handled being called Rectum Erection at that point with the haughty defiance of Marie Antoinette.  Mock as you will, this is my name.  It may be imperfect, but it’s what I started with, and the hell with you and your awkward giggle if you think you can take it away from me.  This is what my parents felt in their tender little hearts when they looked down at their fresh, cone-headed first baby, and I’m sticking with it.  My mom says I’ve always been stubborn.  And that first babies frequently have cone-heads.

Your name really has very little to do with you.  Someone who has never met you before slaps a label on you and calls it a day.  More loving, perhaps, but same essential procedure that got us a bunch of “Indians” living nowhere near the Indian subcontinent and a “New World” that has been on this planet just as long as the Old one.  My loyalty to my own moniker is a combination of sentiment and a deep appreciation for the meaninglessness of it all.  If “a rose by any other name” and all that, then what the hell do I care what you call me?  Why waste precious brain waves wishing for a new name when my name doesn’t actually make me feel differently about myself?

Someone asked me when I was about to get married a few years ago if I was going to change my name.  “To what?” I asked.  It took me a few moments of wondering if this person thought I’d make a great Mandy before it dawned on me that we were talking about my last name.  It had never occurred to me to change my name.

I am aware that the last name given to all of my siblings and me is my father’s name while my mother is our lone Fitzgerald.  Regardless of the paternalistic traditions that got me here, the fact is that I spent close to 30 years with this name.  We’ve struggled together, Anal Viagra and I.  Just because this dude I met and decided to marry happens to have a different name doesn’t compel me to try to match.  We don’t wear matching clothes either, although that would undoubtedly make us look more like a “set”.  I don’t think it occurred to Aaron to ask about my name changing either, though he faked indignation that he wasn’t offered Villagra.

Very clearly Western spiritual leaders/yoga masters/etc sometimes go by Eastern names.  I’ve heard that some yoga teacher training programs include the bestowing of a traditional name at the end.  I guess I can appreciate why the symbolic re-making of your Self might begin with casting off the name that was pinned on you blindly out of a baby book years ago and instead selecting a label of deep personal meaning.  But having defended for so long a name that suffered numerous social hits, I must say that I love my name as it is.  The deep personal meaning comes from rejecting the yearnings for “something better” or for perfection and just embracing what I have.

I love my name because it is what my parents decided they wanted to say every time they called (in love and in frustration) their oldest child.  I love my name because it looked pretty when I learned to write it in looping cursive in elementary school.  I love my name because it sounds strange and exotic, matching perfectly the vague out-of-place-ness I always feel.  I love my name because when push came to shove and the other kids made fun of it I went on loving it.

I had other moments in my life when I was every bit one of the lemmings that young people too often are.  But when fate, the biomedical industry, and silly teenagers made fun of my name I shrugged it off.  I experienced one of those glorious, proud moments when really, truly, it doesn’t matter what they think.