Thursday, April 28, 2011

An Un-Mother's Day Party

I am a 44-year-old Mexican American woman who has lots of friends, but most of them have never been married. Also, most of my friends are not mothers. I somehow manage to seek out peers who have not followed the socially prescribed life path.

Sunday, May 8th is Mother's Day in the United States, but this Sunday, I'm having a luncheon party for those of us who will not be celebrated as mothers on the 8th. Mother-reverence is universal and sadly, so is the devaluing of non-mothers. Many people believe that women with children are more important than women without them, especially those of us who chose not to have them. Our lives are considered less productive, less meaningful, less full of love and joy. Women who have not become mothers are seen as sadder, emptier people who have failed to achieve our prime mission in life.

I don't believe it. I celebrate myself and all my women friends who are not mothers, whether it's because we haven't had kids yet, have chosen not to or are undecided. There are hundreds of ways to give birth to dreams, projects, creative pursuits, careers and even ourselves. I have a full life without room for a baby, but I feel the pressure and judgment of a society that sees my uterus as "barren." For my friends who feel similarly, this Sunday's celebration is for us.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Happy Easter!

I'm re-posting this photo from last year's Easter post because it's a party cake in the shape of an instrument of horrible torture and death. And could there possibly be more frosting on this thing? What a festive-grim holiday.

Happy Easter! Fight the grimness!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Easter will be better than bad!

I don't like Easter. It seems to me like the sad little cousin of Christmas, destined to live in the shadow of the biggest American holiday. Easter has no compelling and uplifting narrative, like the story of Jesus' birth. Instead it has the story of Jesus' torture and murder, which has a happy ending that never really felt happy to me. Jesus is resurrected, which means he lives forever, but the apostles still go into hiding and build the new Christian church without him. It feels like a lonely ending to me.

Each year I try to find a way to spend this sad (to me) little holiday. This year my big plan is to volunteer. Little Brothers Friends of the Elderly serves Chicagoans who are over the age of 70 and have no friends or family in the area. They don't target the economically impoverished, but rather those whose souls are starved for companionship. LBFE provides visitors for people who never get any, celebrations for holidays and birthdays that would otherwise be spent alone and social opportunities so that elders can build a social network with each other. It's all about connection and companionship, which is pretty much the focus of my whole life. I'm hoping it's a good fit.

This Sunday is the big Easter party. I went through the volunteer orientation last month and had my background check done. They didn't find that I'm an international assassin or anything, so I'll be serving dinner to countless elders who have been escorted to a local church for food, music and -- I'm hoping -- cake. I love parties and hosting people. The one thing I always enjoyed about working as a server in a restaurant was having guests and treating them well.

As a middle-aged person who lives far from family, I have almost no experience with old people, but I'm hopeful things will go well. At any rate, as long as I'm part of a party, it'll be better than sitting at home and trying to forget what day it is.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Everything doesn't happen for a reason

Do people really believe that nothing in the world happens without some master plan behind it? Are all these people who say "Everything happens for a reason" talking about a god or some mystical dance of the allness of life or fate? And why do they think I want to hear about it?

Yes, everything does happen for a reason: it's cause and effect. The reason I got the parking space right in front of the restaurant is that some woman decided to pull out of that space exactly five seconds before I drove up. The reason my friend just happened to take a long trip with her dad exactly three months before he passed away is that that was when she finally scraped up the money to do it. I'll buy the cause-and-effect connection.

But I don't know what to do when I explain some challenge I'm facing and someone says to me, "Well, everything happens for a reason!" I imagine they think they're being comforting and optimistic, but they're assuming that I share their belief that there is a bigger purpose for everything and I don't. It's presumptuous and it irritates me, but I usually let it go.

What I have trouble ignoring is when someone says, "Well, I guess the Universe is sending you this," blah, blah, blah. Now they're ascribing agency and intention to some entity they're calling "the Universe" and that sounds even more to me like a spiritual belief system that has nothing to do with my beliefs. I want to say, "Uh, look. I don't believe in this universe that thinks and does things, okay?" Sometimes I do say something like that, but I wish I didn't have to.

Clearly, even though huge amounts of therapy and the correct anti-depressant have finally brought me peace, happiness and self-appreciation, I'm still an atheist. My personality isn't completely different, although I am more tolerant of dogs now.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Middle-age starts around 36

At the age of 44, I know I am middle-aged. I don't have a problem with this. It's only logical: middle-aged means you're roughly halfway through your life. In fact the next time someone tries to argue that being in our 40s -- or even late 30s -- is not middle-aged, I will say, "How long are you planning to live? Unless it's at least 110 years, you're middle-aged."

Punto fin.

Friday, April 08, 2011

Was I bilingual even before I was bilingual?

I'm excited about an NPR article called "Being bilingual may boost your brain power," but not because of what the article says about bilingual children having stronger executive control systems in their brains, making it easier for them to focus on what's relevant and block out irrelevant information. I'm excited because reading and re-reading this article finally gave me insight into my own dubious language abilities.

My parents' first language was Spanish, but mine was English. I was born in California in 1966 and my parents made sure that when my sister and I got to school, we'd be able to fluently communicate in English with the teachers. They did a great job.

But maybe they did it too well. My parents spoke Spanish to each other occasionally, but ours was an English-speaking household. My mother sometimes had me read from Spanish books and carefully taught me how to pronounce "tortilla" and "abuelita," so that I grew up with an excellent Spanish accent, but no ability to hold a conversation in it.

In high school I finally began to learn Spanish along with everyone else who'd always wished they could speak another language. My classmates assumed my good grades resulted from me being a native Spanish speaker, but that was dead wrong. I knew about three full sentences and several random words of Spanish before freshman year and that was it. I was learning everything right along with all the other English-speakers.

Besides those years of strictly academic Spanish, I have spoken it very little. Who would I speak it with? My world has always been white, English-dominated and in the American mainstream. Every school I've attended had a tiny number of Latinos, none of whom spoke Spanish (at least not in front of others). I'm an American with a typical American's need to speak other languages: zero. Like most Americans, I got my grades in Spanish class and never thought about those vocabulary words again.

So why can I still hold a conversation in it, decades after my last grammar quiz? Why do I always find it in my back pocket, ready to go, whenever I have no choice but to speak Spanish? If all I got was four years in high school, why was I (at the age of 44) so comfortable speaking Spanish for two weeks in South America last summer?

It's got to be the childhood I spent hearing my parents speak their native tongue, even though I had no idea what they were saying. Somehow, even though I swear I didn't know Spanish until I was 14, the language of my parents must have gotten into my baby brain, so that later when I began inserting the vocabulary and conjugations, it all fit right into some kind of predetermined cubby holes.

Is that possible? Can a language be programmed into you before you even know it? That's all I can figure since speaking a foreign language is a "use it or lose it" skill that I've kept even though I never use it. And with that assumption, I have thanked my parents for all the time they spent speaking Spanish around me, even if they weren't speaking it to me.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011


Last week Bob did some dog-sitting. He loves dogs. I don't love them, but I'm dog-tolerant and knew this would make Bob happy. Coco wasn't very interested in yoga, especially cat pose. She just liked sitting on my mat.

Sadly, Coco has gone home now.

Sunday, April 03, 2011