Mi Casa es Su Casa

This month one of my Spanish Lessons was published. This little collection of essays warms my heart and although I’m a long way from being fluent in Spanish I really love the way it makes me look at the world a little differently. This particular essay I wrote many years ago when Lalo was a baby and we were leaving Mexico. I wonder if time has made it too neat of a package now. The original draft wasn’t quite so tidy, but then the editor wanted it to be a little more explicit. So, I’m reminding myself that the meaning in an essay (or any piece of art, really) is a joint effort between the writer and the reader. So, dear Reader, I hope you will help this one come alive. Here it is, in Segullah Magazine: Casa

Berenice and I sat in chairs, facing each other. A girl, who I soon realized was the new mom, sat on her bed. My knees almost touched hers. She had her baby bundled up in several thick blankets and held him with a confidence earned through many, many hours of watching younger siblings. Yet even though she held her chin firm and “shushed” confidently, she didn’t look like a mom. She looked like a child. Her dark hair was slung into a low ponytail that hung down to her waist. She was dressed in sweatpants with grey-stained knees and a sweatshirt with sleeves that weren’t quite long enough.

La Temporada

It’s mango season again. Have you tasted a perfectly ripe mango? There might not be a more delicious thing in the world.

The first mango I ate was the first time that Dave and I went to Mexico. We went to Cabo San Lucas, in June. It was hot. Very hot. We spent a day or so on the popular, touristy beach and got our fill of margarita soaked, sun-burned, belligerently-English-speaking tourists and decided to rent a car and go to a smaller beach. The only car we could rent was a stick shift, so I got to drive. The road was winding, hugging the coast, and providing lots of blind turns. We didn’t really know where we were going but passed several small coves with beaches in them. Finally we settled on a small, white-sanded beach and for a few hours we were the only ones there.

Then, out of nowhere, like a mirage, or a miracle, a fully-dressed man came walking down the beach. We saw him from a long way off and watched as he walked toward us. What could he have? He was carrying a cooler. He stopped and offered us cold mangoes on a stick. For 20 pesos. We looked at each other–mangoes? Do you like mangoes? Are you hungry? Well, I could go for a little snack…it’s safe to eat this, right? That seems a little steep but, let’s do it.

The mangoes were bright orange and cut so that they bloomed, like a flower. They were cold and juicy and the absolute perfect snack to have while sitting on a hot beach in Mexico. If I could go back in time and hug that man, I would. He introduced me to happiness.

Yes, I’m talking in superlatives here. It’s true. And usually superlatives are the sign of lazy thinking or dishonesty. But in this case, I cannot say it any other way. A perfect mango is perfect.

I used my love of mangoes as the basis for an essay many years later. My first “Spanish Lesson.” It’s called La Temporada.

And since then, this little essay has been rejected by three different publications. So I thought I might as well give it a home here. It takes me back to a very sweet temporada indeed.

It turns out I love ataulfo mangoes. They are small enough to comfortably fit into my hand and have a bit of a hooknose. They are the color of a late afternoon sun and when they are at the peak of ripeness they ooze a little from the stem. They are heavy, full, with skin stretched tight. And inside the flesh is smooth and slippery and sweet. A big parrot mango, so called for its red and green skin, the most common kind around here, can be stringy, watery, and a bit sour, even at its peak ripeness. Not so with ataulfos. They are the perfect blend of texture and taste, sweet without being overly saccharine tasting. All this would make them treasure enough but ataulfos are also rare. They have a temporada within the temporada.

So we overdose on them. We have them at breakfast with corn flakes, mid-morning with yogurt. Then Michelle will make a mango salad with rice and beans and cilantro and vinegar for lunch. They are stir-fried into dinner and for dessert—a marvelously unadorned mango. Any time I think, really that’s enough, I remember they’ll be gone before the rainy season begins and I stuff in one more.

Consequently when the temporada is over, we have made ourselves sick of mango. I think if I ever eat another mango again I’ll throw up. And slowly, slowly the months will pass and I’ll find myself asking my fruit guy again, “Por favor, donde estan los mangos?” It’s a roller coaster of longing and loathing.

Like motherhood.

What I’m Working On This Week

Spanish Lesson: Mira

As a parent, there are childhood developmental phases that you know are coming–learning to walk, eating solid food, starting kindergarten. Then there are phases you cannot wait for–learning to wipe, comes to mind. And then there are the phases that you didn’t even know are phases until one day your child doesn’t do them anymore. Like the last time they say “back and forest” instead of “back and forth” and you feel a weird ache. Like you’ve been cheated. Someone should have told you that was the last time!

The last couple of weeks Zev has been learning to ride a bike and I’ve realized that he, as the youngest, is still in a phase that I didn’t realize was a phase with the older two. No, it’s not the riding a bike without training wheels–I knew about that one. He is in the “watch me!” phase.

Somewhere around the time the kids begin to talk, they entered the “watch me!” phase. Mae, as the oldest, had a long, luxurious beginning to her “watch me!” phase. I must have watched her climb and slide and climb and slide a billion times. Each time she was more delighted than the next and each time it didn’t count unless I was watching. Lalo, as the second child entered his “watch me!” phase a little earlier. Toddling over to me and grabbing my fingers with his own chubby, little hand in order to show me something he couldn’t quite articulate but really wanted me to see before Mae had my attention again. Zev–the youngest, announced his “watch me!” phase from the top of the stairs. He would stand on the precipice of the stairs and yell, “Zevvie, poming down!” And proceed to smiley widely as I stood at the bottom and watched him (/stood ready to catch him) as he took the stairs, one…..at….a…time.

If I close my eyes, I can almost hear their little voices. Watch this. Watch this! Mommy, watch now! Mommy, look! Their voice full of delight and pride. It’s not a question or a request–Mommy, is what I’m doing awesome? It’s a command. Mommy–you must see this now or you will miss out!

Zev still has this delight and childish pride in his accomplishments. Every shot of the basketball–Mommy, watch this! Every leap from bed to bed–Mommy, watch! Every silly face–Mommy, you gotta see this!

In Spanish, the word for look or watch is mira. It was the same monosyllabic staccatic intensity of watch or look. And now, every time I hear it, I think of this childhood phase. People say it a lot. To their kids, to adults they are explaining things to, to someone trying to park a car. And each time, I hear the echo: Watch this, Mommy!

I wonder when the other kids stopped doing this. They still want to show me things they’ve done, sometimes. Mae, will ask me to listen her piano song, sometimes. Every once in awhile Lalo will want to show me something. But he does it in a grown up kid kinda way. He plays it cool, doesn’t beg or yell and also doesn’t reveal what he wants me to see. Mommy, come here. I want to show you something.

I admit I sometimes don’t have patience for this and will say, exasperatedly, Just tell me what it is. I’m not walking into your room to see your lava lamp bubble again. I’ve seen it!


Maybe kids leave the “watch me!” phase because adults tell them in a million subtle ways–old news! I’m not watching any more. They burst that childish bubble of pride and delight young children feel as naturally as breathing. When they want us to watch, it’s not like they are seeking approval but more like they are giving us their pride and asking us not to drop it. And then, we do.

I was the middle of a bunch of kids, so I don’t remember wanting my parents to watch my every move. Perhaps I was too young to remember. Perhaps there were too many of us to give that kind of undivided attention to. But I do remember being a teenager and not feeling compelled to tell my parents about a poem I wrote that the teacher liked but also the complete elation I felt when my dad whooped and hollered and rang a cowbell (hello, Idaho!) when I spiked the ball in a volleyball game. Someone is watching!

Now I feel a little childish when I present something to my parents to see. Here’s an essay I wrote. Here’s something the kids did that was funny. Here’s something I’m excited about.

But the thing is, my parents lap it up. They are hungry for these details that make up a life.

And I am, too. Because the “watch me!” phase is about sharing delight, I miss knowing what makes my children happy. Mae, why are you laughing out loud at your book? Lalo, what is it about that lava lamp that you love?

I know what makes Zev happy these days. It’s his bike. And it’s learning a new skill that is, as far as I can tell–mind-blowing. His favorite place to ride is in the plaza, where he can do laps. The wide sidewalk full of people strolling around the plaza is the perfect place to practice his ducking and weaving. It’s also the perfect opportunity for me to practice my poker face as I try not to let on the panic I feel as he barely misses an old lady and heads straight toward a stone bench only to swerve toward the man walking a dog and ever so slightly turns to somehow make it around each new obstacle. He comes barreling toward me saying, “Mommy! Did you see you that? I did it! Help me stop, Mommy?” (Did I mention he hasn’t figured out how to stop, yet?)

After a few laps (which is all my heart can handle), we left the plaza, hand and hand, and Zev, in his elation, was struggling to find the right word for what happened.

I’m perfect! Well, I’m not quite perfect.  No, I’m great! No, I’m better than great. I’m amazing! I’m wonderful! I’m amazing! I’m somewhere between amazing and great! Mommy, don’t you think I’m amazing?

Yes, yes. I do. And I’m so glad I was watching!