All posts by lamamitamala

The Mudanza Chronicles – Cajas y Maletas

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Vivo entre cajas y maletas. In between addresses and the limbo closes in week by week, day by day.
The countdown clock is at two weeks. Two weeks and 10 hours till a one way flight to Los Angeles, CA. There is no turning back now. At least not without a great loss. The tickets are non-refundable. But I’m making this sound all too sad, moving my kids and I cross-country, away from the city where we were all born and raised to a city where we have no biological family ties but we have many people who love us.

Pero las cajas. The packing. I gave up many of my things when I had to leave my Corona apartment so we’re down to books, clothes, and toys now. But we certainly have a lot. Especially books. So far I have already sent three huge boxes via United States Postal Service and there is at least another box or two to go. I chose USPS media mail for my books because it was the cheapest way. A huge ass box weighing almost 40 pounds cost me about 20 bucks. Not bad. The problem with media mail is that if you send a big ass box it will likely get open to be inspected. The Postal Service wants to make sure you are really sending media. Now I will admit that I am not the best packer/shipper in the world and that a box of books traveling thousands of miles is gonna take somewhat of a beating but the condition my books have been arriving in are ridiculous and clearly some books have been lost along the way.

The last box of books I sent arrive with less than half the books I sent. These were sacred texts. They didn’t look like much. Mismatched spiral and composition notebooks mostly. Inside the cover of each an index of what’s inside :life events , important people, places. Timelines and histories of my life. I have been journaling en serio since I was in high school the early 1990’s and I’m not even going to know fir sure what is missing till I arrive in LA but upon seeing how much was lost I cried. My well meaning but not always emotionally tuned pareja suggested I watch some You Tube videos on how to properly pack books for shipping. I told him I appreciated the advice but didn’t want to hear it. I wanted to mourn.

Yesterday I called the USPS to file a claim. Not only were so many things missing but some of the things in the box weren’t mine. Two hard drives and a bottle of generic acetaminophen I’m not hopeful but I’m less sad and there is still so much packing left to do.

Loose Teeth and Blue Green Streaks

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There are a ton of milestones happening in the Mala household.
Last weekend, 14 year old Mapu asked for my help in putting blue/green streaks in her hair, which meant with her dark, thick hair, a two step process involving bleach. Some parents and teens may find it strange we went in on this together and that Mapu came to me for help with something most parents find out about AFTER the fact. But luckily for both of us, we have an open enough relationship that she knew it was something I was willing to do with her. After all, when she was in elementary school I was the ever present PTA mami volunteering at school events, creating a translation program for non-English dominant families, and chaperoning school trips with a variety of hair colors: hot pink, fire engine red and varieties in between. The combo of my style and mouth even caused the school principal to advise my daughter, in front of me, to not end up like me when she grew up. I’m kind of proud that she is rebelling a little.
Two days ago my five year old walked into our bedroom with her fingers in her mouth. She was showing off the fact that has not just one but two loose front teeth. She yelled, jumped up and down and promptly started rattling off the impact this had in her life. According to Poroto she was growing up and the tooth fairy would come. This was a sign that 5 years old was getting closer to 14 years old and eventual adulthood and,
“I can then do whatever I want!”
I won’t front. I teared up a little, not just because yes, it was one step in growing up but also because I wished it was as easy as she made it sound.

Reflections Upon Turning 35

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I turned 35 this weekend. When my mom was 35 she also had two kids, one was five like my younger daughter. Except the five year old, me, was the older daughter, my sister was 2. I at 35 have a five year old and a daughter who will be 15 in four months. Like my mother when I was five, I am single mami. Except my mom worked full time and had her own place, our own place. At 35, I struggle to balance mami’hood with working from home as a tutor and as a writer. I had to give up my apartment because I couldn’t afford it any more. At 35 I live with my two daughters in the same room I did when i was 5.

Perhaps it’s not fair to compare myself to my mother. I was a very young college drop out mom and she was an older mom (back then) who used her college degree in fashion to work in retail when her marriage didn’t work out. But I guess we always try and measure up against someone, have a point of comparison.

I don’t know if I had any expectations of what life would be at 35. So I don’t feel disappointed in myself. While life hasn’t been easy, I have two amazing kids, am on the precipice of a huge change in my life, and have a better sense of who I am, what I deserve, and what I want. I just don’t have it at 35.

35 isn’t what is used to be. It may be nearly midlife (although the healthy women in my family live to close to a hundred) but really I see and feel it as a new start. I am learning about building real, honest intimacy with another person, I am learning about making decisions, taking risks, taking charge, taking responsibility, and claiming my place in this world. Some people never do that in a lifetime. Now it is all about focus and discipline. Not wasting time or energy on people, things, experiences, emotions, fears. This means trusting other people but trusting myself above all else.

I trust that this 35 year of my life will be all about open heartedness and always pushing myself to move forward. I trust that I know how to do this and that I got this because it’s about damn time.

An Absence of Poetry

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No rhyme, prose, rhythm. This April, National Poetry Month, has been a quiet one for me. I’ve written one what can be barely be called a poem and the one performance this month wasn’t really poetry either. I just haven’t been feeling it. The day to day has been clouding my inspiration. It feels hard to find beauty or the beauty of tragedy among the chores of mami’hood and my own poor attempts to keep it all together.

I’m not alone. So many of my rwoc friends and mamis also are struggling to segment their lives, dreams, visions, and losses into lines and stanzas. But the meter of their own daily struggle is stronger than the pen, el teclado, vocal chords. No se what is going on pero por lo menos for me and I’m pretty sure for others that our heart is keeping track, recording for when we are ready.

Not Gifted Nor Talented but sure as Hell Brilliant

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Last week I took the ChileRicans to Los Angeles for Easter Break and to meet their soon to be house and hood in City Terrace. Meanwhile in New York City, life went on. At least to the extent that the New York City Department of Education sent out the results from Gifted and Talented Testing.

Now, I didn’t take this test too seriously. Poroto, had just turned five when the exam was given in January and had been in a two and a half hour a day Pre-K public school class for less than four months. We did one practice test so that she wouldn’t be surprised and that was it. I didn’t stress about the first of many test she would be subjected to in her academic career. In fact, I felt kind of fucked up about my decision to sign her up for the test. Was I one of those mothers? You know the kind who worry about if their pre-schooler will get into an ivy league college.

I’m not really one of those mothers but the sad truth is that the current education system requires our children to participate in high stakes testing in order to advance so I saw no harm in introducing her to the idea of testing in as stress free a way as possible. Which wasn’t that possible.

Do they want me to read? I don’t know how to read.
Do they want me to write? I’m just learning to write my name.

These were the questions 5 year old Poroto wanted to know. When I assured her that she didn’t have to read or write, just answer some questions, look at pictures, and puzzles, she was OK. It helped that her closest friends were also taking the test. One of these friends was being prepared quite extremely. After drop off when her mother and I would walk a little together, she would ask what preparations I was engaging in with Poroto for the test. When I told her we weren’t really, she seemed shocked and then began to list all the books her and her husband were using and how they had spent $500 or so on test prep materials. Wow. Even if I took the test as a serious determining factor in the future of my kid, I certainly did not have $500 to spend on test prep materials. Hell I don’t even have $500 in the bank.

Test day itself was uneventful. Poroto wasn’t nervous when a stranger to her teacher took her in a classroom in an unfamiliar school. I think the parents who sat in the auditorium were more nervous. I typed away on my laptop watching the minutes and the doorway. By the time she came back, her father had joined me in vigil and he took her for their usual weekend visit and business carried on.

Was the test hard?
Do you think she did well?
Did they tell you the results?

The $500 test prep parents asked me the Monday following the test. I didn’t have much to tell them since I hadn’t seen the test, hadn’t pressed Poroto for details or asked if any of the questions confused her. I wanted the experience to be a Saturday morning activity. As for the results. Well those wouldn’t come in the mail for months and I was not going to be waiting by the mailbox for them either.

Last week I received an email informing me that Poroto had not qualified for placement in the gifted and talented program. I didn’t tell her. I didn’t tell her father. They wouldn’t know what it meant or didn’t mean anyway. In fact, aside from a tweet I made yesterday, I haven’t told anyone till now. I sure as hell didn’t tell the $500 test prep mother who told me how her daughter had been offered placement and now her dilemma was if she should send her 5 year old to attend kindergarten in a top yet controversial school in Manhattan, an hour’s commute away, or stay at a closer school with a good reputation. I reassured her that with support and love her child would turn out fine regardless of where she went.

You have a point

I have a point.

This afternoon, as I made last minute suggestions to nervous 3rd, 5th, and 8th graders on the eve of their state-wide high stakes English Language Arts exam, my five year old was making a model of the life cycle of the butterfly out of this sticky slime she received in one of her Easter baskets. She proudly explained the egg, the caterpillar, the chrysalis, and the butterfly in all it’s slimy glory displayed on a wood table that would certainly be stained.

My point exactly.

Mami’hood Lessons : Delayed Gratification

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An important lesson for kids as they move out of toddlerhood and into preschool age is delayed gratification. You can’t always get what you want when you want it. This has been a hard lesson for the five year old in the Mala household. My constant single mami work from home presence has come to mean that most of the time Poroto gets what she wants when she wants it. It also mean that I am a horrible disciplinarian and boundary maker. If I’m writing and poroto wants to play, I’ll usually hit save or put down the pen and play. If I’m tutoring and she wants a snack or a drink, I will continue my lesson on solubility while preparing a bowl of cereal or sticking a straw into a juice box. Hell even my 14 year old has come to think that I am always available. When he comes home from school and I am tutoring she will announce how her day went, ask for a snack and to use the computer. I usually pee, shower and shit with the bathroom door open so I can field questions from my kids. I don’t have a separate office space I can lock myself into when I am on deadline. I’ve really failed at setting and sticking to boundaries and teaching my kids that they are not the center of the universe.

Amazingly, my children’s expectations of getting what they want, when they want it at home, hasn’t transferred itself into their classrooms. I will admit that I wasn’t so worried about it when my now 14 year old started school. She has a fairly chill personality and a go with the flow attitude. My now five year old is a different story. Before she started Pre-K, I imagined getting an endless stream of teacher’s notes and phone calls. I envisioned dreading parent teacher conferences and getting called into the principal’s office. I underestimated my energetic five year old’s ability to distinguish between someone who wasn’t playing like a teacher and someone who wouldn’t follow through, like me. My five year old is thriving in Pre-K. She follows directions, plays well with others, and moves from one activity to the next with ease. Once she comes home however, it’s a completely different story. So maybe her bubbly personality isn’t the problem but my inability to hold firm is.

Growing up there were a ton of boundaries set up for me. Most of them relating to expectations around grades and privileges. As long as I did well in school and stayed out of trouble, I could hang out and do other things. It helped that I liked school and studying. Yes, I was a nerd and was rewarded for that. But there were also boundaries that didn’t make sense. Like how my sister was allowed to throw violent tantrums that disrupted my sleep and ability to do homework to the point that I had to move out. There were guilt trips for writing instead of accompanying my mother on walks. I witnessed boundaries being set out up in front of me to respect but I was never allowed to create my own or taught how to do that. So no has been the hardest word for me to utilize. I take on too much. Swallow too much. Allow my time, space, work to be disrespected and I’m teaching it to my kids. Not a good pattern.

I especially allowed many boundaries to be ignored in most of my past romantic relationships. Wanna call me drunk at 3 am? Sure I’ll wake up and spend hours on the phone with you even though I am a single mami to two kids and have to wake up early to take them to school. Want me to do some work for you for free and without me getting any credit or acknowledgement? OK because I want to show how much I love you and respect the work that you are doing. This goes double if you are a radical man/woman of color. I will then seethe silently and quietly mourn the death of my own creative work.

I am trying to change that pattern in my current romantic relationship. When my partner and I are in different time zones, which is most of the time, it’s easier to demand respect for my boundaries. I can slip into my routines of writing and mamihood. I go to bed early and wake up early. Sometimes this means conversations are hurried and light. We are both busy people with commitments and we respect that. Sometimes there are moments of jealousy or neediness on both sides but we work through them. And I will admit that I still ere on the side of sacrifice meaning interruption in the name of a good relationship, which is not a good habit. When we are in the same time zone it gets tricky. I usually feel so bad about all the time we are apart that when I am out of town visiting him or he is in town visiting me, I drop everything. I don’t write everyday. I try and tutor less even though that is my main source of income. I feel like I have to entertain my partner constantly and be accessible all the time. Instant gratification.

But what happens when you have an adult who wants instant gratification and a five year old who wants it too? I felt like I was smack in the middle of this question during my partner’s last visit here. It was a slice of semi-reality. My older daughter was away with my mom and sister but I was full time parenting my 5 year old. My partner, who is a great father to his own teen son and amazing with my 14 year old, has some work to do with my five year old. I feel like he’s not used to an energetic five year old and he’s not used to dating a single mami. Hell people I have dated have no idea how to handle the single mami thing, especially regarding how much time and energy it takes to solo parent. I also know that it is really hard for me to accept help and experiencing him set boundaries with my five year old drove me to tears at times. OK many times. To me a lot of the boundary making felt harsh and made me feel like a shitty mother. I mean you’ll have to excuse me, the current election cycle has made the fitness of single mothers into a national issue (again) so I’m admittedly sensitive about that. Plus I’m not sure that any of us : my partner, my five year old, and me, have really figured out how our new family configuration will look like and how that getting to a good place for all of us will be a learning process that will take each of us out of our comfort zones. Perhaps that is the biggest lesson in delayed gratification.

Here’s to working towards loving endings.

Single Mami’hood and Sexuality Under (Wed)lock & Key

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Yesterday two states, Michigan and Arizona, held their Republican presidential primaries and my womb apparently is on the campaign trail. At the last GOP debate in Arizona, all of the candidates took a lot of time to blame single mothers, especially brown single mothers, for many problems in the United States. The mainstream media, including a front page New York Times article, has fallen in line attacking single mothers of color and our kids for the poor state of the economy, crime, failing schools and the threat of nuclear weapons in Iran. Ok maybe not what’s happening in Iran but the arguments are just as ridiculous.

This revived attack on brown single mami’hood is just another front of a war of anti-Latino sentiment. It’s root is that same that led to anti-immigrant laws like SB 1070 in Arizona and HB 56 in Alabama. It doesn’t take a big leap to move from targetting anchor babies to calling my being a single mother of two a “social catastrophe”. It’s not hard to say that poor brown people with uteruses shouldn’t choose the type of families they want to create when in some states it has already been determined what books shouldn’t be put in the hands of our youth.

As Bianca Laureano points out one of her recent RH Reality Check columns, the cultural and sexual habits and values of Latin@s are still read through old, racist narratives like Oscar Lewis’s La Vida and  Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s The Negro Family. Rich Lowry, who was given a whole page to trash brown single motherhood in the same issue of TIME that highlights the power the power of the Latino vote, cites the Moynahan report as just the beginning of how a problem of “the underclass” (people of color) has climbed outside the realm of race. In other words, brown loose morals are catching. According to the editor of the National Review (full disclosure : I went to high school with the online editor of the NR), us poor, people of color just aren’t following the example of the upper classes who cling to marriage as a class rite of passage. Marriage, according to Lowry, is a way to climb the social ladder, if only we poor single moms would get on that ladder and find ourselves a good man. Lowry goes so far as to suggest a public service campaign in favor of marriage mobility with First Lady Michelle Obama as its spokeswoman.

There are quite a number of problems with the arguments presented by Lowry and by all who point to single mamis as the downfall of modern society. The whole family model relies on the invented notion of a whole, nuclear family that only really exists in the realm of 1950’s sitoms. I took enough sociology and history classes to know that The good ole days were never that good. The family model we are expected to aspire to leaves out extended families and families of choice including LGBTQ families. The assumption is that because I don’t have a ring on my finger that my kids are not inside a warm, loving home with multiple people caring for them. It assumes that the only legitimate relationship comes with a certificate. It assumes that it is better to be in marriage that contains violence than it is to be single it also assumes that women of color don’t have a right to control their sexuality.

It’s not that women of color have more sex than white women, it’s that the state has always intervened to control when and under what circumstances we will have sex and what the outcomes will be. Slavery, sexual violence via colonialism, forced sterilizations, rape, forced abortions, forced child birth, childbirth in chains, non-consensual medical prosedures and experiments have all been used as ways to control our allegedely uncontrolable sexuality. Women like me, unmarried women who haven’t achieved a certain academic or economic status, women who aren’t white – well we are just expected to keep our knees locked unless told or forced to do otherwise. Enjoyable sexual experiences are not for us.

We, women of color are blamed for having children out of wedlock and then having those children have more children. Forget the fact that according to a recent report by The Guttmacher Institute
the teen pregnancy rate dropped by 37% among Hispanics. The fact that the rates of teen pregnancy among black and Hispanic teens remain 2–3 times as high as that of non-Hispanic white teens isn’t blamed on a failing healthcare system or a failing education system (have you seen what passes for sex ed?). It’s blamed on our hot blooded culture. A large body of research has shown that the long-term decline in teen pregnancy, birth and abortion rates was driven primarily by improved use of contraception among teens. But instead lawmakers like Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO) want to pass laws that limit access especially to poor people of color.

I am sure that many would love to use my picture, my life, my story as a poster for what not to do. A Nuyorican twice single mami, without a college degree, struggling financially. It’s easy to give a white man like the editor of the National Review a page in a major magazine about my poor values than to ask someone like me how I am making it. It’s easier to have a major magazine run a feature on how important my vote is as a Latin@ than to confront the reasons why my vote is more important than my right to decide when and what goes in or comes out of my body. It’s easier but that doesn’t make it right and it doesn’t mean that while people are trying to lock my knees together, I should lock my lips.

Moving Through Death and Disappointments

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An ex of mine became a believer in the message behind the book The Secret. You know, believe something is yours and it will be. Your thoughts can manifest things into reality. While I never really bought into this and thought he had been smoking too much weed, one of the things I really tried to engage with in February was positive thinking and countering negative self-talk as soon as it came up in the back of my head. While I think that it takes more than positive affirmations to change your life, I’m sure that buying into a “woe is me” mentality isn’t healthy.

So I reminded myself everyday that I’m a good mami. I’m a good partner. I’m a good writer. That there is enough time for me to do what I need to do. That there are enough resources for me. That my next home would have an avocado tree. That I’m a good daughter and that I deserve to have good things in my life.

But then sometimes life has other plans.

My titi, the youngest of my mother’s remaining sisters, was struggling with cancer that was quickly worsening. Hospital and home visits were spread among various family members until she passed away, exactly three years to the day that her mother died, a month shy of three years since another sister passed away from cancer. Dealing with death and the morbid logistics of death are hard enough. Throw in dysfunctional family dynamics. All I wanted to do was sleep but that is not an option with two kids and a long distance relationship to tend to.

So I pushed on. I didn’t make it to the next round of a fellowship I applied for. One writing gig I got excited about didn’t pay. The other writing offer I celebrated as a validation was put on hold because of the state of print journalism.

My relationship with my pareja is wonderful but so hard. My kids are great and doing well in school but my five year old never seems to shut up and my 14 year old is lazy.

Enter more negative self talk.

I don’t want to believe that I have a black cloud hanging over me or that everything in my life is destined to be hard/a struggle but damnit it sure as hell feels that way.

But I do have two more fellowships I applied for. I’m still healthy. I am loved and there’s a house with an avocado tree waiting for me.

Loving my Self From the Inside out

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One of the things I have been working on during the new year is loving myself more.

Not in “that” way, although that could be part of it.

What this has meant is confronting some of my blocks, patterns, and behaviors.

One thing I have been doing is getting better at expressing my needs and saying no. Sometimes this leads to arguments and there are some people that I have issues drawing boundaries with because of trauma and fear of violence. I am confronting relationships I pushed aside because of resentments and I am working on being clear in my current relationships. A work in progress but a work.

I have been paying attention to my voice – that running conversation I have with myself everytime I do something. My voice usually is telling me there is never enough time, I’m not educated enough, cute enough, worthy enough and a million and one other scripts it learned from not the easiest of childhoods/adulthoods. This voice has led me to do alot of shit half assed and not follow through. So I have been working on developing new scripts : telling myself that I do have enough time etc. and so on. And not to sound cheesy but it does help.
With some loving encouragement I submitted two fellowship applications based on a long history of media and mami worklife. Even if I don’t get the fellowships, the process of stepping back and looking at my lifework was extremely empowering and affirmative.
I’m ready to apply for another fellowship this week and even managed to draft a comprehensive outline for a dream book project that had been eluding me for years….YEARS.

I have been paying closer attention to what I put inside me. I’m not unhealthy but I have noticed that I eat out of boredom and when I am stressed. I am trying to make better food choices and also exercise more (which I have been terrible at).

I am confronting fears about my own health. The last time I got a check up of any kind was when I had poroto five years ago! Being uninsured and broke hasn’t helped but I did take the baby step of making an appointment to get a full gyn check up. Given how so many cancers run in my family, especially among women, and given a history of the state telling women in my family what they could/should do with their bodies, this simple task actually took alot of emotional/inner effort. The appointment isn’t cheap (175) but I can get financial help if I can prove my brokeassness, which is also stressful but I need to do it.

So those are most of the things I have been thinking about, working on, working with.

Notice blogging isn’t on the list. Not sure what to do with that/this part of my life.

Checking in

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I have not been doing as well as I would like when it comes to my personal goals in this new year. So far I am finding myself coming up against the same frustrations of not enough quiet time in this very crowded two bedroom apartment. My very soon to be five year old is as energetic as ever and that wonderful, curious energy is demanding. My teen has her own demands, as does my mother, especially as we balance cooking, cleaning, and caring for each other’s feelings as we deal with some tough issues in the family. My dear baby sister, whom I love, has her own demands and she doesn’t even live here.
I haven’t been writing like I should, like I promised myself I would.

I have taken some time to assess some these frustrations and how many of them are of my own making. I am not good at saying no. I am not good at drawing lines around my needs. Watching my mother in her role of information carrier regarding the state of my very sick aunt, I can easily see where I learned this behavior. We give until we are so emotionally exhausted that we shut down and shut out.

For me alot of this comes from feeling like I don’t deserve to take space/time for myself. I placed myself in this role of young single mother twice so I should deal. What the role of a big sister/older daughter is and should do is followed as if in a script, not according to my vision of how these positions should play out in a way that feels good. I even see it in my relationship with my partner. A few weeks ago it actually pained me to tell him I couldn’t do something because I was writing. I actually apologized and even as I did it it felt excessive and unnecessary.

Awareness is only one part of this. Changing patterns and rebuilding relationships around a different way of playing your roles in life is a completely different matter. I am working on it.