Friday, November 30, 2007

El Día de Mi Suerte

This morning when I woke Mina I said, "Mina, time to get up. Look, it rained last night." Mina bolted up and looked out the window. "Mami!" She said. "Today is our lucky day. Our ancestors came!"

She's been reading a story this week with her class about the Tewa Native Americans. The story's about a man, the head dancer of his town, who teaches his grandkids and other kids how to dance a prayer; or more that: Dancing is prayer. The story explains that rain is lucky, and it's a sign that our ancestors are visiting us. Mina's morning proclamation and full absorption of the story touched me a lot.

I can't say that she's coasting through third grade though. Modern-day third grade seems to assign a tremendous workload and requires an ambitious, must-learn schedule. But what do I know? I come from an era of smoking/drinking pregnant women and when kindergarten was state-funded babysitting. Mina and I welcome the work still; we're plugging away, but her teacher said she struggles. My heart sank when I heard because, of course, I think she's doing great. Man, am I labeled as Mina's Crazy and Blinded Mom? I do love her teacher though. We talk a lot and he certainly has a good grasp of Mina's personality. He told me that though she sometimes has a hard time or sometimes she spaces out in class, that sometimes she says things that aren't just a couple steps ahead of the class, but twelve steps ahead. He said, "She kind of perplexes me because there's nothing specifically I can put my finger on." He told me to keep working with her ("the best thing for her") and we'd see how the year pans out. Mina seems to think she's doing great too. At least she and I are on the same page. Sigh.

And she understands when the ancestors come.

When Mina was four years old, I had a tshirt made up for her that read "deep". I should just keep getting it in larger sizes. Man, I love that kid.

I feel better, in general. I still have lingering blahziness, but when a little bright face surrounded by matted sleep-hair yells through the early grey-light of a gorgeously rainy morning that IT IS OUR LUCKY DAY, it's hard not to believe her. Cleansing is lucky, right?

Coincidentally, I have been overlistening to a particular Hector Lavoe song this week. His songs are encased in a cemented sadness. They are ironic and doomed and I can't stop replaying them right now. "Pronto llegará, El día de mi suerte, Sé que antes de mi muerte, Seguro que mi suerte cambiará . . .Y ¿cuándo será?" (Soon my lucky day will come. I know before I die certainly my luck will change. When will that be?)

Mina said today's the day. I'm going with that. Today's the day.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007


I recently admitted to my friend Ma that my drug of choice is hope. I'm addicted to it. I crave it in my literature, in movies. It better be in my morning cup of coffee. To me the sparkling lift of possibility is a high like no other. Ah man, let it never cease to wash over me.

But some days - not often -- I run low. Sometimes I'm dry. I wade around in What's-the-Point genuinely, if only briefly, perplexed and lost. I wonder if hope is as detrimental as any addiction.

When I feel dry, I don't scramble to feel better. I just let it flow through; run its course. I suppose it's ok to be weighed down for a little while. I think of the sparrow. It's one of the few Christian-isms I held onto after I escaped the church. His eye is on the sparrow. It supposed to mean that if god can keep his eye on the sparrow than surely he watches me, but I take it more to mean that maybe when god feels dry, he looks to the smallest of things.

Mina ran into the room on Sunday from just getting dressed. Her hair is near her waist now and as she stumbled into the dining room, long strands caught light and bent in mid-air around her, her bangs wisped up. She was laughing because she was losing her balance, pushing too far forward as she ran. I froze that frame and pasted it like a stamp behind my eyes. Last night at dinner, Maya was breaking in a new Real Food Daily waitress. Maya was charming and on. She cracked a corny joke and turned to me with a raised eyebrow and a smirk. This morning, before dawn, I watched my husband stand before a mirror and button a crisp shirt that glowed grey in the darkness. He yanked at the bottom of the shirt and futzed with the cuffs for a long time. When I made the Thanksgiving pies, I cut the shortening into the flour, and everything else fell away. The pastry expanded and filled my entire vision. It was a living universe. Trace flour was smeared on the counter, the dough cupped and cradled. The heels of my hands knead in only clear intention. I push in love. I push in care. I am thankful.

These are sparrows. When I can think not before or beyond them, I feel a high cusping.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Photobooth Friday, 12 Year Old Stylie

I don't get a chance to contribute much to Photobooth Friday, but Maya brought this home from her school Halloween carnival. Maya's in the back and in the forefront are two of her closest homies, Palmo and Lindz. This is a glimpse into Maya's fast-approaching independent life; hanging with her girls, free from mami and family. All naturally cool and fun and secure on her own. This picture, for some reason, makes me feel alright about it all.

More photobooth friday brilliance AQUI.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Tell Your Girls to Call for the Ball

I was speaking to a young mother of a two year old girl last week. She confided that her daughter hangs out with too many boys; she is not maintaining her girly-girl ways. "What next?" the mother said, "She'll want a baseball mitt for Christmas?" I smiled and checked my watch. What year was I in? I said quietly, "I hope she wants a baseball mitt." My smile confused her.

Over the weekend, Mina had a play date. The mother wanted to come over so I could give her baking tips. That sounded fun to me. She brought all three of her young daughters. The mother then spent a lot of the visit dogging her girls. The middle girl, from what I've seen, is a real kick in the pants; a five year old firecracker with strong opinions and not shy about speaking up. She is secretly my favorite of the three. I think she's special, but her mom used words about the girl within ear shot like "grates on my nerves" and "we'll always butt heads". Taken aback I said, "That's the type of girl that'll do great things." The mom asked sincerely, "You think so?" The oldest girl is in Mina's class and has a mild, sweet temperament. The mom relates more to her personality, which she clearly told me a few times. This older girl is also a stunning height, head and shoulders above her class. The mom told me she hopes she doesn't end up like one of those "amazon women with size 10 feet.” I sighed. "Maybe she'll be a great athlete." Rising up in me was a dislike for this woman that I didn't want to feel. I just wanted to tuck her girls away; maybe keep the middle one for myself. We also spoke about how she was so impressed that I could pass baking on down to my girls. This was funny to me because that hadn't really occurred to me. I think of baking as a love that I developed late. In no way do I look at it as a necessary skill that my girls should learn. I told the mom, "Hmm, you know, I don't bake often with the girls. When they really want then I do." She said that she felt it necessary to pass down cooking skills to her girls. I said the only thing I would make them learn how to cook was beans, but I'd do that if I had sons too. All Puerto Ricans must learn beans, boys and girls. My husband certainly knew how to cook beans when we met. There were a couple awkward silences during the visit. We were cordial and I tried hard to still like her. When they left, she apologized that her girls were so wild. I said, "Huh?"

A few months ago, my company hired an outside sales rep, who has since quit. He was a bulldog of a guy; aggressive with an agitated vibe. He never looked at me in the eyes. During one sales meeting, I asked him questions regarding our customers and he would answer my male higher-up instead, which I thought was astonishingly strange. The discussion switched to strategies of how we would pitch a new, reluctant customer and the rep suggested that they fly me in for a personal visit. The conference room erupted in approving laughter and brow-raised nods. I smiled and looked at my hands. In fifteen years of brokering -- even in the fray of this boy's-club industry -- I had never been talked about that way, to my face at least.

Last month, in Maya's P.E. class, there was an invitation for boys and girls to try to make the Elite Running Club. Runners would have to beat a fixed time for the mile, and if they did they earned an Elite Running Club t-shirt and their photo would be hung in the PE office. The time Maya had to beat was 7:30. On her first try, Maya missed the time by ten seconds, but she was determined about trying again the following week. I said, "That's great, Maya. I think you can make it." Then I asked, "Which girls made the time?" And Maya said, "No other girls tried out." I looked at her as she casually took books and a binder out of her backpack. I said, "Not one other girl tried out?" She said, "Nope." I said, "Did a lot of boys try?" She looked up, "Yea, there were quite a few." I said, "Of all the girls in your school, you were the only one that wanted to make this? Why?" Maya said, "I dunno. They didn't want to get all sweaty before lunch. They thought it was stupid." I felt we were on a greased hill sliding back down. The following week, when Maya ran a 7:28, beating the time, I made a huge deal of the Elite Running Club. I told her she was inspiration to all the girls at her school because not only did she make it, but she had gotten out there and tried.

My heart sank, however, for all the girls I see from her school be-makeup'ed and heeled and fiercely fashionable. They strut around self consciously, masked by a You-Go-Girl era only to be devoid of real empowerment. It's just not the same as speaking well of ourselves, of other women, of our daughters, is it? It's not the same as flipping off our heels and jumping in the game because we're able, because it's fun, because we want to see exactly of what we're capable. I hope we all get a baseball mitt for the holidays.

Here's the sleeping dream I had last night; kind of on topic:

I dreamed that I was in a park playing a pick-up basketball game of three-on-three. I handled the ball most of the time. I drove on my defender to the baseline, pulled up and shot. The ball spun off my fingertips perfectly. I felt the adrenaline of shooting when a person guards you. I felt completely on fire. The ball cut through the basket in a perfect back spin that rubs against the net and make a sound that every shooter craves. On the next play, I drove the lane. I saw the opening clearly. I spurt past my defender and attempted a lay up against a big guy in the middle. I missed the lay up, but I felt so pumped that I knew I'd make the next one. I strutted to the top of the key and called for the ball.

I woke with a start, thrilled. I hadn't felt that good about basketball since I really used to ball the dudes up.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

(Little) Girls Talk & Baking and I Are Sitting in a Tree

Mina picked up Papi's new Details Magazine featuring a smoldering photo of Jonathan Rhys Meyers on the cover and said, "Those are beautiful eyes on that man." Maya and Mina then had a ten minute conversation, between each other only, about how beautiful he was. No other word was used; simply beautiful. Mina then said while still staring at the photo, "He's more beautiful-er than Papi. But Papi is more handsomer-er." Maya agreed, "Papi's handsome. This guy? Beautiful." Watching their taste in boys (and men) develop has been a gas. Maya has tended to crush on the skinny, short geeky boys, though now she seems all over the map with who she thinks is attractive. Chris Brown is her number one, along with every other tweener and teen. A young Elvis? Not so much. Wiry, effeminate Benji from So You Think Dance? Hot to Maya. Mina on the other hand has been consistent about her love of the pretty and slick boys, a complete opposite of my taste or Maya's. The guy that's always portrayed in movies as the great looking asshole? Yea, that's the guy Mina likes. When we watched So You Think You Can Dance a couple years ago, she was ga-ga over Dmitry, the gorgeously pretty Russian dancer who had a severe hip swiveling problem and who kept his shirts unbuttoned to his navel -- and not just for dance competitions. Oh, we find this so highly amusing -- now; coming from an eight year old. I hope I find it as funny in eight to ten years.

Speaking of mad crushes, I'm not sure what's up with my affair with baking. Neither of us is really talking commitment. But it's love, or obsession. With all my other passions, I've had a plan, a solid direction whether they ever materialized or not. Even with brokering I've known what I wanted out of it. (My new brokering plan involves the word "exit.") But this obsession with baking has no attachments. Maybe I've tossed around the idea of "side biz" and maybe I've prepped myself for that if that's what this is, but honestly I don't know what I'm doing or what any of this all means. It's liberating to let the obsession be boss.

Twenty years ago, I used to bake a decent budín de coco (coconut bread pudding). It was an easy recipe until a coworker suggested that I caramelize sugar and glaze the top, which seemed complicated and extreme at the time. But I thought I'd give it a fumbling try anyway. I took a glass pyrex dish, put sugar in it and put it on a burner set at high. As the sugar started to ball up, the dish shattered with an extreme pop and I watched a large shard of glass flip up in front of me and tumble down below until it stabbed me in my big toe, standing on end in my skin until I pulled it out. I still have the scar. I spent the next hour scrubbing tiny balls of cemented sugar off my boyfriend's floor and cabinets and stove and walls.

But now, the Art of Baking -- the nuances and the finesse, the sense not to put glass on a burner -- all comes spontaneously natural. I have no idea why. I can't wait to practice new things. After Día de los Muertos I thought I would not want to bake for a while, but after a day I had to try something else. I couldn't wait. I think about baking an embarrassing amount of time during the day. It's like I've contracted a viral baking disorder.

The Pastry Princess came up with this beautiful idea for a cupcake: Pumpkin Seed Brittle stabbed in a cupper. I thought I'd give it a vegan whirl. I omitted the chili powder from the brittle and used a chocolate cake laced with pumpkin pie spice. The icing is plain vanilla "buttercream" sprinkled with the pumpkin pie spice. I had to caramelize the sugar to make the brittle - gasp - and I am scarfree after the fact. Because of my new disorder no doubt. Hey, here's to all of our shit-against-the-wall late-blooming obsessions.