When my kids were younger I wanted to instill grand ideas; how to be a kind person, how to have empathy, how to be honest, how to have good manners. They were so little and I was so adamant.
Now they are teenagers.
My ideas have changed. I remind them to wear coats, I remind them to eat. I remind them that mistakes happen, sometimes, big mistakes happen. What path is to be taken after making those mistakes? What wise choices make themselves available? Will they avail?
Be happy, not necessarily behaved. (but don’t get arrested)
Be strong, not necessarily compliant. (but don’t get expelled)
Be true to yourself, not to society’s expectations. (but don’t break your curfew)
This part of parenting, this evolution and expansion of thought makes me wince and smile and stare out windows with glassy half-closed eyes in the midnight solitude.
Before I had kids, I knew exactly what kind of mother I wanted to be. I knew the rules, I knew the consequences. As the years go by, I know less and less. Who’s rules do I follow? What really are the consequences?
How can I know less now than I knew then?
Make mistakes, take chances. (but be safe)
Take a risk, don’t always take the safe way out. (but be wise)
Strike out a new path. (but don’t forget where you came from)
Of course, it’s just a matter of what I thought I knew. Now I really know, that I don’t know anything.
Day One — Today I’m grateful for my family. I’m grateful for my husband, for our apartment with the views of the river, for my warm safe bed.
Day Two — Today I’m grateful for my work. I get paid to pick colors and move images around on a page. That’s amazing, and I am so grateful for this.
Day Three — I’m grateful that I have good friends. I’m grateful I live in a beautiful city.
Day Four — I’m exhausted. I’m not feeling grateful. I’m feeling spiteful. Should I start a spiteful list?
Day Five — I know I’m supposed to pick something to be grateful for even though I don’t want to. I’m on day FIVE and I’m feeling done with this exercise. I am an ingrate.
Day Six — I’m grateful that I take Lexapro. Clearly, I should be taking more.
Day Seven — I’m grateful for my family. Also, I like chocolate.
Day Eight — Today I yelled at a guy in a parking lot who was sarcastic with me. I should have let it go. It wasn’t important. I’m grateful that I didn’t slap him.
Day Nine — I’m grateful that my kids are really nice people. Most of the time. My kids are teenagers and they do things that teenagers do. I’m grateful that I don’t want to give them up for adoption. Most of the time.
Day Ten — I’m grateful I can say “I’m sorry” when it matters.
Day Eleven — I’m grateful for strong black tea and pumpkin scones.
Day Twelve — I’m grateful for the sparrow that visited the table yesterday while Neve and I ate Brioche at a cafe.
We always had to talk in hushed whispers. Occasionally my grandmother would forget, her voice raising, her r’s rolling. We were strange, we were strangers.
Those old farmers, in those old Ohio fields tilled my native state’s soil and yet, I was a foreigner.
To be a first generation American is always an experience in divided loyalties. To be a first generation Latina in the 1970’s in the rural, flat expanses of mid-west corn rows, was a lesson in split personality disorder.
In the summer of 1974 we visited my cousins in Spain. We walked along cobbled-stone, narrow roads while the neighbors shouted, “The Americans are here!” to one another.
Earlier in that very year, I had started school. Dressed in a pristine, pressed dress with patent leather shoes and tightly braided hair, my casual t-shirt and jeans-clad classmates had sarcastically asked me, “What planet are you from?”
These memories float around in my mind 40 years later as I ride along Route 376 in my adopted industrial city of adulthood.
I’m riding behind a shiny red pick-up truck. A bumper sticker reads, “You’re in America now, speak English!”.
I hear my grandmother’s voice, her laugh, her forceful cadence. I see her in my mind’s eye, asking for the heads to be left on the fish at the market. And I recall the horrified looks on the faces of those meat-counter ladies at the downtown Kresge’s.
“You want the head left on the fish?”
“Si, si la cabeza, thank you!”
They would exchange a look of disgust.
But these native Americans were not Native American. Their story wasn’t so different from mine, the main difference is that it had been played out a couple generations before me. They had forgotten their own history, their customs, their language, the stories of