Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Tip GENEROUSLY during the holidays

(This message is aimed mostly at Americans and people traveling in the U.S. during December.)
To anyone who goes out to a restaurant, bar, hotel or any other place where hospitality employees are working so YOU can enjoy Christmas, TIP GENEROUSLY. Bartenders and cab drivers don't get Christmas bonuses or time-and-a-half for working on holidays. They earn the same crappy salary as always, so show them some holiday spirit. Thank you.

On Christmas morning, this woman pauses to consider the tree while she crosses the lobby of the Hyatt North Houston.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Merry Christmas Eve!

I recently downloaded the Blogger application (remember that "app" is short for "application") and this is me trying it out. I'm blogging on my tablet from my hotel room in the Hyatt North Houston, where I'm staying for the holiday. Let's see how this goes.

I tell you, waking up on Christmas Eve in a beautiful hotel is the way to go. I'm taking my time getting out of bed, idly considering my breakfast options and looking forward to hours of free time here until it's time to go celebrate Christmas Eve with family. I'm no tourist. When I'm on vacation I like to pick a beautiful place to stay and then stay in it. I have no desire to explore, sightsee or exhaust myself with activities. I like hotel rooms: reading in them, napping in them, watching movies in them, meditating or doing yoga in them and now I'll find out how blogging in a hotel room works. I hope this application is good. What do you think?

Of course the reason I'm in Houston for Christmas is that this is where my family is. We made piles of tamales on Saturday and I got to catch up with cousins I see only once a year. It made me wish, for the first time, that I lived close enough to visit more often all year long. This way, I only get a glimpse of how people's jobs are going, how big the smallest kids have gotten, which cousins go out drinking together and who I have the most in common with. I wish I had more time and money for all of that. Maybe one day, if my income grows enough, I'll be able to make more frequent trips to visit my familia in Houston.

The other challenge is that the weather here doesn't agree with me at all. I need my frigid Chicago climate. Today it's in the single digits in Rogers Park and I'm missing out on it, but it's okay. I'll be back on Thursday when the temperatures in Chicago will still be in the teens, plus the entire frozen winter will lie before me. Yay!!

So for today, life is good. Merry Christmas Eve, everyone. I will now hit "Publish."

Thursday, December 19, 2013

No such thing as a tamale

A tamal on top of other tamales.
At Christmas time, we Mexicans often become more focused than usual on tamales, so I'd like to share a public service announcement from This is what I've been saying for years: the singular of "tamales" isn't "tamale." It's TAMAL.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

First Christmas after mother's death

This will be the first Christmas I spend without my mother alive. I wonder if others have experienced anything like this with their parents: while I remember good times with my mother, she was abusive to me even into my adulthood, making me relieved when she died. My mother could be loving, funny, generous and creative, and I was very close to her when I was growing up. But when she felt threatened or out of control, she screamed and slammed things and it always felt like the world was ending. 

I miss the nice mother she could be, but that person wasn't around much by the end of her life, and she died last June in a tangle of emotions and relationships. In her last years, I could find nothing of the warm person I remembered from decades prior. Last summer my mother physically died, but the person I felt comfortable with disappeared well before that.

Even to the outside world my mother wasn't an easy person to get along with. In fact, she wasn't even in the 50th percentile of easy-to-get-along-with. I'd put her in the bottom ten. In a good mood she was great to be around, but in a bad mood she was horrible. There are many people who have trouble regulating their moods and responses (it's a main symptom of borderline personality disorder which I believe my mother had), but they can get better with the proper treatment. Unfortunately, my mother never accepted that she needed such help.

It was hard enough to have a mother whose moods were unpredictable, but she also leaned hard on me to help her cope with her life. She expected me to ease the strain of her challenging marriage, uncomfortable relationships with others and day-to-day stressors. As the oldest, I ended up cast in the role of her therapist, best friend, massage therapist and other half of her brain. Our minds and emotions were so closely linked that she'd expect me to give her the word she was looking for and I usually could. I was like another limb for her, and it was decades before I understood how damaging this relationship was to me.

To be so closely tied to a woman who was unpredictable, angry and whose love was extremely conditional, terrorized me. From a young age, I learned to walk with a very light step, as if on eggshells, at all times. My radar was always up for her mood. If Mother was okay, I was okay, but if Mother wasn't okay, alarms went off in my head and I strained to do whatever it took to make things better. Often my efforts weren't nearly good enough and her tirades convinced me that I was stupid, had no common sense and never did anything right.

When I got older I struggled to establish a healthier relationship with her, but wasn't able to. She required me to be the one she could tell all her problems to and required me to accept any amount of emotional abuse. In my 20s I had to pull away from that dynamic, asking her to tell me nothing else about my father that would make me hate him. She never understood why I needed that.

With age her fears deepened, her temper grew shorter and she never stopped acting abusively towards me. The good times I spent with her became fewer and farther between until in my 40s, I made the decision to step out of her life completely. During her final seven years, my mother and I had almost no contact at all.

Last June when I told friends and acquaintances that my mother had died, I made clear that I didn't need the usual sympathy and sad looks. I said I'd stopped contact with her years earlier, healed from the relationship, and had no more grieving to do. Her death was a relief for me and brought me freedom from this woman whose anger and bitterness was so big that she spent her final weeks inflicting yet more emotional pain on her family.

As I talked to people about my mother, I found that a surprising number of people don't mourn their mothers' deaths. I discovered that the world is full of broken mother-child relationships, and many grown sons and daughters don't feel sad at all when their mothers die. I was suprised to find that I wasn't alone in feeling glad that my mother, with all her rage and pain, was finally dead.

My parents were born in Houston, Texas and almost all of my family still lives there. But back in the 1960s, my parents settled in California, away from all family. Under my mother's influence, I grew up believing relatives should be kept at a distance, physically and emotionally. I didn't get to know my grandparents, cousins, aunts or uncles. My mother made clear to me that any alliance I might form with anyone besides her -- and this included my father -- would be seen by her as a betrayal and I would be punished accordingly. My mother, who I loved, was the most important person in my world and I was terrified of doing anything that might make her angry with me. So I had no other close relationships when I was growing up, not even with my own father.

It took years of therapy for me to realize that a mother shouldn’t require her child’s allegiance at the expense of all other ties, but even after I broke with her, I continued to have little do with my extended family. It was a hard habit to break. I didn't even realize I was still doing it until my mother's final weeks when I began communicating more with my cousins and aunts. This communication represented a huge change for me: I began leaning emotionally on my aunts, making friends with my cousins and getting to know those cousins' children (with my prosopagnosia I have a lot of trouble keeping them straight). 

Another big step for me is that this year I'm spending Christmas Day in Houston, with all those great people I'm related to. I didn't do that before because I didn't want my mother to feel envious and angry that I was spending Christmas with our extended family, instead of with her.

Now that I'm free from my mother, at the age of 47, I'm finally getting to know my family better, including my father. I had stopped visiting my parents, but now it's safe to return. My dad and I email more than ever and I'm going to visit him next month. I like him! It turns out my dad's a cool guy. I have yet to face the pain of fully realizing that I could have had this great dad in my life all along if my mother hadn't blocked our relationship. I needed a good father desperately during those decades, but it's not too late. I plan to make the most of the time we have left.

It's the first Christmas after the death of my mother and it feels good. I'm now safe to love the people in my life the way they deserve, the way I should have always been able to love them. I'm grateful to be able to enjoy the holidays without worrying about the price my mother will later exact from me. This is not a sad December. I feel great freedom and gratitude and I look forward to building relationships with the family I missed out on for so long. This is going to be a good Christmas and a good rest of my life.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Thanks for not having kids!

This is an amazing piece of writing: To the Women Who Choose Not to Have Kids by Abby Rosmarin was published on Thought Catalog on Tuesday and I'm very grateful to my post-husband for pointing it out to me. This is my favorite part:

Thank you for not succumbing to the societal pressures. I’ve known far too many parents who had kids because that’s what was expected of them. Working in childcare, you see more of this type than you wish to see. The resentment is almost palpable. They love their children — at least, they have no choice but to love their children — but every single movement seems to scream, “I wasn’t meant for this.” I’ve known too many people who grew up with at least one parent who harbored that resentment, who let that resentment dictate how they parented. I’ve seen how that influenced the way these former children are now as adults, or even as parents themselves.
I can't believe someone actually wrote this publicly. The idea that people might resent having children is so taboo, I never expected anyone to thank me for not doing it. Rosmarin articulates many excellent reasons to be grateful to those of us who chose not to have kids. You're welcome, Abby and thank YOU!

This photo accompanies the Facebook link for this article.

Monday, December 09, 2013

Kids, pregnancy and "When are you going start?"

We're all aware that it's risky to bring up the following topics: politics and religion. We also tend to avoid, by silent agreement, topics like money and how much weight someone has gained. How about we add another red flagged subject to our don't-even-bring-it-up list: when/if someone is going to start a family. It's past time for us to assume that everyone who doesn't have kids wants them, and it's definitely time to stop assuming that women who want children can just pop them out on cue. Please don't raise the topic of having children to someone who hasn't volunteered the information and don't make the assumption that we're all equally able to have the children we want.

Approximately one in three pregnancies end in miscarriage (source). Premature birth is the leading cause of newborn death in the United States. The number of women who are unable to have children combined with the number whose children have passed away, plus the number of women who just don’t want kids, make it increasingly inappropriate to say anything about when or if someone’s going to start a family.

I didn't have kids because I didn't want them. You can criticize me all day about this and it won't matter to me. But the most loving, well-meaning comments like -

"So when are you going to give Olivia a little brother or sister?" 
"Now that you own a house, you can start your family!" 

-can be extremely painful for people who’ve been through hell trying to have a baby. Miscarriages, newborn deaths and infertility can leave a woman feeling emotionally raw and defenseless against a world that never lets women forget that we're all supposed to be moms. Most women don't want to share this kind of pain, which leaves them vulnerable to your unsolicited inquiries such as:

"Do you have kids?" 
"Are you thinking of starting a family?" 
"Do you want kids?" 
"Do you want to see a picture of my sister's newborn?" 

The women for whom this topic is sensitive probably won't warn you to avoid it, so if someone hasn't started talking about children on her own, just don't bring it up. 

I can hear the protest: Stop talking about babies? That's un-American! No, it's inhuman. How can we stop talking about babies when it's the best, happiest, most fun subject ever?

Here's my suggestion: when you want to ask someone about having kids, say the question to yourself in your head first, changing the "want/have kids" part to "earn over $100,000." That turns it into-

"Do you earn over $100,000?"
"Do you want to earn over $100,000?"
"Now that you've bought a house, when are you going to start earning over $100,000?"

Sounds kinda rude, right? I believe this is how we need to start treating the topic of children and pregnancy. It's all the more important to keep in mind because you never know who might be struggling to have a family. Women who go through miscarriages or fertility problems often don't tell anyone, even close family members and best friends. Someone who you think tells you everything, might keep this one to herself, so you really can't know who will be hurt by idle how-many-children-do-you-want talk.

Sometimes even when a couple wants a family very much and truly believes they’re going to have one, things just don't go that way. Let's confine the baby talk to the people who you absolutely know like to talk about babies. If a woman has children, she'll most likely tell you all about them (and don't I know that!). If someone doesn't bring up the subject of children, just let it go.

Saturday, December 07, 2013

Pink Christmas tree!

Okay, the tree isn't pink, but every single ornament is. Pink is my favorite color and now that I live on my own again, I can do anything I want with my apartment. This photo shows enough of the room so that you can see that this tree isn't big. I wanted a tree that I (at the height of 5ft 2in or 157cm) could decorate without a step stool or tall person. This is it: my short, dream Christmas tree.

I had to use Etsy and Ebay to find those pink traditional glass ornaments. They're all second hand because the only pink ornaments currently being manufactured are plastic and I didn't want plastic. These are the ornaments and tree I ordered in August and now I'm glad I did. I chose to put my tree up right before Thanksgiving and had everything all ready to go.

I'm finding that now that most of my furniture is red (my dream furniture) it's better to have green Christmas decorations to go with it. I will take my time over the next several years building my collection of Christmas decorations, kitchen towels, tree skirt, wall hangings, etc. I'd love to buy it all now, but refuse to blow my savings on Christmas 2013. As much as I adore Christmas, I think I made a wise decision.

Friday, December 06, 2013

Christmas: don't grow up

Many people who celebrate Christmas see it as a time of great expense, thankless effort and having to get along with people they can't stand. It's a time of ill-fated expectations, endless holiday tasks and extra responsibilities. People who experience the holiday season this way dread its arrival and can't wait for January.

I don't understand them, but then I don't understand anyone who chooses to grow up, that is, have kids, establish a career, take on family responsibilities and move from being the child who enjoys Christmas to the adult who has to create it for someone else.

I'm 47 and a half years old and I've carefully crafted a life that contains exactly what I want and no more. Without children, family nearby or any dependents whatsoever, I get to make the holidays just what I want. When I was little I saw Christmas as an incredibly special day of celebration when no one could get mad at me or spank me, and I got to have whatever I wanted. I didn't have to earn it or deserve it; I just got have it because it was Christmas.

I still see it that way. Usually grown ups who get as excited about Christmas as I do surround themselves with children. They're parents, teachers and child care providers who love to decorate, wear festive clothing, see Santa and who never get tired of the same music year after year. I'm one of them, but without the kids. I've been dreaming about decorated trees since last March and have waited all year to wear my Christmas brooches and earrings again. Even though my mother died last summer and I'm going through a divorce, I'm still ecstatic about Christmas.

Whenever I see ads for holiday sales and hear the message to "BUY BUY BUY," it instantaneously gets processed in my brain as "It's CHRISTMAS! It's CHRISTMAS! It's CHRISTMAS!" In spite of  my big-brain tendency to overthink everything, Christmas makes my mind shut off and my heart go yay! Are there other adults who similarly never changed their child-like view of Christmas and just love it, even if they have no children in their lives?

I don't know what to say about people for whom Christmas is an ordeal of family abuse and ill will. I've suffered through Christmases with a histrionic dictator of a mother and I've even spent December 25th completely alone, but I know some go through much worse, year after year. I can only wish that they will one day free themselves from their destructive family members and find peace in their own rituals, making the holidays exactly as they want.

Even though many of my Christmases have been far from ideal, December is my favorite month. The anticipation is really my favorite part: I spend December in a state of blissful excitement from the 1st until the 24th. What difference does it make how Christmas Day itself goes? It's enough for me just to imagine it for 24 days. The anticipation is where the magic is for me.

This doesn't mean I don't recognize the cynicism and gross commercialism of the holiday season. When people criticize the rampant buy-and-sell mindset, I totally agree with them. I know that for many people Christmas has become a big equation with an answer that's in the red. But still, when I look at the greedy sales and ceaseless attempts to make us feel like we need another product, my response is, "Thank you soulless big box stores for reminding me that it's CHRISTMAS!"

I say: don't grow up. Don't move to other side of Christmas where grown ups stare at the stapled cardboard backing and think how ugly the season is. Stay on the glittery side where you can imagine that anything is possible. Look at the lights and the cheer. Ignore the marketing and the pain. There's nothing wrong with being happy. Maybe a lot of things aren't really possible, but just for one month let's pretend it all is.

Merry Christmas.

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

How to avoid family for the holidays (without lying)

This is a revision of a piece I first posted in December 2011.

Family gatherings are fun, pleasant and filled with love and respect, especially during the holidays. I offer the following suggestions merely as a public service for that small, practically non-existent, tiny group of people who have family they have to travel to go see, but would rather not.

1. First of all, become financially and emotionally independent of your family so there's nothing they can punish you with for not showing up.

2. If you have a job with vacation days, use them all up before the holidays and tell your family you have to work.

3. If you're flying, when they ask for volunteers to give up their seats, do it. Ask the stand-by person who's getting your seat to give you their best sob story so you can tell your family how their need was greater than yours. Then miss the next few flights.

4. Start volunteering with an organization that's active on Thanksgiving, Easter, etc. Commit to helping out on all the holidays and then tell your family it's Christmas and you can't possibly let down the children or the elderly or the botanical plants or whatever.

5. Start a serious, long-term relationship and divide your holiday time with your partner's family. Warning: this only works if their family is not as bad as yours.

6. Leave food out that is easily spoiled (mayonnaise, raw chicken, etc.). Eat it about 12 hours before you're supposed to leave. Call to cancel your visit when you're at the height of the food poisoning symptoms.

7. Establish a career in the restaurant industry. Even if your restaurant closes on major holidays, the crush of customers on the days right before and after will anchor you to the place. This also works with retail, medical and public service jobs.

8. Move to the other side of the world and don't earn enough to come back for visits.

9. For god's sake, don't have kids. Kids absolutely require you to show up at family gatherings or risk being described as someone who deprives her parents of their only grandchildren. Don't let yourself get trapped this way!

10. This is my favorite solution, but it's only for the brave and mature (like myself): tell those family members who you'd rather not see, exactly why you will not be visiting. This might include statements such as:

"Because you screamed all through dinner last year" or

"Because you're kind of a dick when you drink a lot" or

"Because I don't want to get another letter from you a month later telling me what I did that bugged you."

This won't be an easy conversation, but it will be honest and might help them look at themselves in a new way. Chances are they won't, but maybe they'll hate you and then your problem is solved next year when they avoid you. You're welcome.

Sunday, December 01, 2013

Horror movies with Christmas in them

Do you love horror movies? Are you looking for a good cinematic scare while also getting into the  mainstream American spirit of this season? I've been absolutely binge-ing on horror movies over the Thanksgiving weekend, so here's some guidance. Many horror movies that take place against a background of twinkling lights and decorated evergreens don't mention the yuletide in their synopses, so it's always a wonderful surprise when I come across a film that combines creepiness with Christmas. Here are a few horror movies with storylines that take place around December 25th I've watched recently:

The Pact (2012) - stars Caity Lotz as a woman who returns to her dead mother's home to attend her funeral. None of the characters refers to Christmas so I couldn't tell if this was pre- or post-December 25th, but there are decorations up throughout the film. Good scariness and a satisfying ending, although during just one watching I couldn't figure out what "the pact" was.

ATM - (2012) - stars Brian Geraght, Alice Eve and Josh Peck as three stock traders who leave a holiday party together and end up trapped in an ATM booth by a hooded stranger. I can see why this film was panned by many, but I liked it.

 P2 (2007) -stars Rachel Nichols as a woman on her way to her sister's Christmas Eve celebration, but who never gets out of her office building where she has worked late (patriarchal message about women not belonging in high powered jobs?). I admit, I only watched part of this because I thought it would be a spooky cat-and-mouse chase with some killer who's only revealed at the end. Actually, the wacko gets a hold of the woman early on and the rest of the movie is about him terrorizing her and her attempts to get away. Not interesting to me. (BTW: the name of the film refers to the underground parking garage level the woman parks on.)

The Clinic (2010) - Tabrett Bethell stars as a pregnant woman driving with her fiance on Christmas Eve to visit her mother. They never make it. Disappointingly, the holiday is only referred to at the beginning of the movie when Bethell is writing out a card and in one other scene where a holiday song is playing in the background, and no decorations appear anywhere. I like more festive markers than that in my horror movies. The main action of the film takes place on December 25th in fact, but Bethell is so deep in the thick of really bad things that take place on an abandoned farm that I almost forgot it was supposed to be Christmas.

You might have picked up on the pattern that I prefer movies that star women or at least have strong female protagonists. The Pact and The Clinic actually have more female than male leads, which is rare and impressive. Other horror movies I've watched recently with strong women leads are Hunger (2009) which I liked, Airborne (2012) which I also enjoyed, The Ward (2010) which ripped-off the plotline of Identity, and American Mary (2012) which I loved, but none of them had Christmas in them. If you're okay with scenes of surgery (of a sort), I recommend American Mary. The gory and twisted story of a med student who enters the world of body modification isn't jump-out-of-your-seat scary, but it's certainly horrifiying. It was great.

NO Xmas theme, but still good
If you know of horror movies that include Christmas please let me know, but not movies like Silent Night, Deadly Night or Jack Frost. I'm talking about movies that have Christmas in them, but don't use it as a major plot device. These movies won't come up on a "Christmas horror movie" search. They're billed as straight horror, but happen to have decorations in the background.

Also, if anyone wants full synopses and endings for these movies just say the word. I love reading movie summaries with endings because it saves so much time and I'm glad to provide the service (but don't want to spoil anything if that's not what you're looking for). Merry Christmas!

Friday, November 22, 2013

I hate myself no more

A month ago, I began reading Dr. Joe Dispenza’s Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself: How to Lose Your Mind and Create a New One. It explains how our thoughts and feelings affect our physical and material state. He basically says that with focus and meditation you can change anything about yourself, no matter how entrenched, and reinvent yourself on a fundamental level.  If you read his book and truly want to do this, on his website for five bucks you can download the meditation that accompanies the book.

At the end of October I began the meditation exercises, committing to meditating every day. Dispenza says to start by choosing an emotion that you want to be free from. I chose self-hatred, the emotion at the bottom of every one of my depressions. Doing some research on self-hatred, I learned that feeling hatred toward anyone will feed hatred towards the self. Oh, great, I thought, Now I’m back to my mother issues. I knew my lifelong anger towards my mother was part of this, but I felt at a loss as to what to do about it.

By Saturday night of the IMPACT weekend (an intense self-defense course I took), I felt desperate. I was sick of the critic in my head that hated me, but beating up self-defense instructors wasn’t going to help. I did my nightly meditation that Saturday, but also ended up tapping (EFT), crying and begging my subconscious to please help me stop hating myself.

The following night I dreamt about a mother being forced against her will by an employer to abandon her children. When I woke up, my anger and hatred of my mother had left me. The dream gave me the clarity to see that my mother had loved me with all her heart and had been forced to abandon me just like the mother in my dream. But instead of a job or another person taking my mother away, her personality disorder did (I believe my mother suffered from borderline personality disorder but since she was never diagnosed I can’t say for certain). My mother had no control over her emotions and reactions and never even realized she needed professional help. By the end of her life she had driven many family members away including me, but that wasn’t her intention. She was as much a victim of her disorder as anyone else and was never able to see that her relationships were fractured because of her own destructive patterns. For the rest of the day, I remembered my mother’s loving side and good moments, and I realized she had never hurt me on purpose. I marveled at the change, but had to face the truth: my hatred towards my mother was gone!

I wish I could say I continued to feel better and better that week, but Dispenza’s right: once you undo the old emotional pattern you were stuck in, a part of you will fight to put it back in place. Not upset with my mother anymore, my hatred turned back on myself worse than ever. For the rest of that week I felt self-loathing and self-disgust. I felt like I was moving backwards in my emotional growth and it scared me. I kept tapping, meditating and journaling and white-knuckled my way through the week.

Last weekend I managed to break through the self-hatred and went on to the next part of Dispenza’s meditation. After that I reached another level of peacefulness and have been feeling better than ever. I can’t explain it nearly as well as Dr. Dispenza, but I am freeing myself from the anger and hatred I’ve felt my whole life towards my mother and myself. I am doing this by accessing my subconscious so I can stop my old destructive behaviors and begin new, healthy ones.

It’s so exciting to feel good about myself every day. It’s so nice to relax into my body and know that I’m just fine just the way I am. This has been a great week and I believe that if I continue the daily meditating, the new behaviors and working with my subconscious, I will reach a new way of being. I will effortlessly love and accept myself completely, in every way. I will be kind to myself and everyone else. I won't need my old addictions like sugar and drama. Maybe. Maybe I will really do this.

P.S. Remember this story I wrote just a few weeks ago? This was an anger-driven story and I don't think I could write it today. I don't know if it's good or bad that I managed to get it out when I did.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

I prefer physical to emotional pain

I had my usual dental checkup last week and my dentist told me to see a periodontist. I've had no pain, sensitivity to hot or cold or discomfort in my teeth whatsoever, but he said my gums looked dangerously receded, so I made the appointment.

The periodontist identified only three teeth that are in danger, so those are the ones that will get the gum grafts. That means he'll take flesh from the roof of my mouth and tuck it in around the exposed teeth, like tucking a blanket in around children.

I'm not worried about the pain or the two-week mushy diet. Compared to major depression or other emotional trauma, I'd MUCH rather deal with physical problems. This kind of agony will be finite and easy for others to understand. I'll get lots of sympathy, a day off work and my life will be interrupted only temporarily. I'm sick of isolating, endless emotional struggle so go ahead, dig into the flesh of my mouth, no problem.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

IMPACT Self-Defense for Women

You can take the IMPACT Core Program in a weekend.
This past weekend I spent Friday night, all day Saturday and all day Sunday attending a weekend workshop on how to defend myself against an assailant, even though I don't live in a lot of fear about that. I've been taking public transportation in Chicago for 20 years and apparently I carry myself in a way that does not invite harassment. Still, the nightmare scenarios live in the back of my head that I might come home to a stranger hiding in a closet or wake up to find an intruder in my bed. Now that I live alone again, it didn't seem like a bad idea to take my second self-defense workshop in 27 years (the first time was in 1986 when I was in college).

My IMPACT self-defense for women workshop was damned impressive. The techniques they taught fit into two categories: 

1. Take a hard part of you (heel of hand, knee) and slam it into a soft part of him (nose, groin).

2. Leverage, which is used in basic wrestling. That's the basic wrestling that girls rarely learn.

Unlike other self-defense I've learned, IMPACT doesn't teach you how to break a guy's grip on you so you can run. IMPACT teaches you how to take a man down so he can't get back up. The techniques they teach can be used by any woman -- no matter her size -- against any man -- no matter his size. The idea is to incapacitate your attacker so you have time to safely walk away and call 911. 
It turns out that incapacitating a man isn't nearly as hard as we think it is. One of the most valuable lessons IMPACT teaches is that a big unarmed man against a small unarmed woman does not have the advantage. Girls are brainwashed to believe that boys are bigger, stronger and more powerful. As women, we grow up in fear of men for their size and muscle mass alone. We perpetuate the powerful myth that men are strong and can be dangerous, while women are weaker and more vulnerable. Because we believe that myth, 80% of assaults on women are done by a single man with no weapon at all.
Maybe it's more correct to say that the main weapon used in such cases is the man's penis, but guess what? Penises are actually very vulnerable and testicles even more so. Who knew? Well, probably a lot of women who might be reading this thinking, “Yeah, if I’m ever attacked I’ll go for the groin or the eyes. I already know that.” Fair enough. But what an IMPACT weekend gives you is the opportunity to actually practice – over and over again -- physically slamming your knee/hand/butt into another person so you get these moves in your body memory. You can’t get that kind of kinesthetic programming off a page or from a video. If a man grabs me from behind or I wake up to find him sitting on top of me, how do get my knee in the right place to slam it into his crotch? IMPACT has shown me exactly how. After the training and drilling I've been through, I have no doubt that I’ll be able to throw a man off of me if I ever find myself pinned. Sure you can research defensive moves on the Internet, but actually doing it in a workshop with an actual 250-pound male instructor gives you the confidence to know you can do it anywhere.
Besides in Chicago, IMPACT has chapters in California, Colorado, Massachusetts, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Washington DC and Oregon. This is good stuff and if you don't have $395 lying around for the protection of your life and peace of mind, IMPACT offers scholarships and payment plans. I'm doing a payment plan that allowed me to pay $100 to hold my spot, and after that I'm doing $50 a month. But you can also apply for a scholarship because they DO have money for that. They want everyone who wants it to have this information.
I don't believe taking this course has changed my life hugely in terms of my physical safety. Men don't mess with me. But IMPACT has given me the confidence to stop worrying when my office building empties out when I work late. If I'm attacked in an empty building where no one can hear me scream and I can't outrun an assailant, I now know how to take him down all by my 5-foot 2-inch self.

Tuesday, November 05, 2013


This is why divorce won't lead me back to my spinster name: "REGINA MARIA RODRíGUEZ:"

This graphic is from Slate's article Why Aren't There More John Smiths in the U.S? Do you see that name that's sixth from the top, "Maria Rodriguez?" Two thirds of my given name is among the most common in the United States. I can't stand it (but at least "Regina" doesn't show up in these statistics). Changing my last name was one reason I was glad to marry Bob Martin in 2008.

Later the article lists the 20 most frequent American surnames: "Rodriguez" is in there at #11. And "Martin" is #15. The commonness of my husband's last name is why I didn't change to "Regina Martin." I didn't think that would solve the problem of having a name that can be confused with thousands. But if you google "Regina Rodriguez-Martin," hardly anyone comes up besides me. That's better.

The rest of the Slate article does a bunch of number crunching and analysis to figure out why the name "John Smith" is far less common that it used to be. I'm not sure what that hand-wringing is about, but it makes me hopeful that maybe one day "Maria Rodriguez" will decline in popularity, if Mexican Catholics can get more imaginative in their baby-naming.

Monday, November 04, 2013

I'm perimenopausal

And now a word about menopause. According to Christiane Northrup's The Wisdom of Menopause: Creating Physical and Emotional Health During the Change, women with emotional issues they haven't faced yet often have more uncomfortable physical symptoms during menopause. She tells story after story of patients of hers who came in with physical symptoms, who turned out to have marital problems they were ignoring or an unhealthy family relationship they weren't dealing with, etc. Women with unresolved emotional pain seem to struggle the most with unpleasant physical symptoms in our middle age.

This gives me yet one more reason to work on my personal problems and painful emotions. I'm perimenopausal now, at the age of 47, and the big change is coming. I'm guessing it's maybe four or five years away. Menopause is the time at which someone STOPS menstruating. Perimenopause can last any number of years leading up to that, during which a woman can feel her body changing, but still gets her period.

For three years now I've been in perimenopause and for me it feels like this: I feel too warm all the time. They aren't hot flashes because I constantly feel this way. My apartment -- where I live alone fortunately -- is permanently several degrees cooler than most people would want. I keep the temperature in my bedroom below 68 degrees (Fahrenheit) when I sleep and in the morning as I rush around to get ready for work, I throw open windows and doors, trying to bring in the 50- or 40-degree (F) air. As I type this I'm sitting in the crossbreeze of two open windows, with windy 44 degree air blowing through. And I'm naked. I'm not kidding. I just took an AM shower and no matter how cool I make the water, I always come out of those perspiring. And no, I never get sick from doing this kind of thing.

With various kinds of therapies and support groups, I'm constantly working through personal issues, improving my relationships with others and finding the routines that make my body as healthy as it can be. I feel confident that my menopause will be quite comfortable, except for maybe this perspiration problem. It's annoying and embarrassing (everyone I know is used to me wiping my face and waving a handheld fan around), but I can live with it. There are far worse symptoms to suffer through, so I'm grateful for mine. It means I have to be careful about not offending others, but at least I don't need a winter wardrobe yet. It's autumn in Chicago, but I'm still wearing my summer tops and feeling perfectly comfortable.

Friday, November 01, 2013

The cycle of Halloween candy

Happy Day of the Dead! It's November and I love November because it's the last month before my absolute favorite month: December.

Over the next week Halloween candy will flood into workplaces all over the United States. This is the cycle: grown ups buy candy, give it out to kids, then their kids come home from trick-or-treating with pounds of candy, the grown ups drain their kids' candy bags, bring the candy into their workplaces, and end up eating it themselves. And that's the American way.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013


This is my CD cover (the photo was taken in 2005 at age 39. I'm 47 now).

My first and final album is up on iTunes right now! I can't tell you how excited I am. You can buy the whole thing or individual songs, but I encourage you to go to CD to actually purchase it because CD pays better than Apple. This is the direct link to my album:

Let me be clear: these recordings were made between 2001 and 2007. I no longer sing or play electric bass, and can't hit many of the notes in these songs now. There will be no performances. This CD is a fundraiser for my new life as a writer of memoir and fiction. I will self-publish my first ebook in 2014 and am raising cash to do that. That said, if possible please support my book writing by buying my music. I wrote all the lyrics and melodies to these songs, arranged and charted them. It's my creative writing in hummable form.

From my CD Baby description: folk-pop-jazz influenced songs written by a woman who meant every word. International jazz guitarist Neal Alger accompanies Regina, deepening harmonies and lightening accents. Electric bass and acoustic percussion fill out many of the songs. This is the perfect music to relax with when you want some positive words or are in a more reflective mood.

Neal Alger is a wonderful guitarist who has worked internationally with some excellent jazz singers. He focused for years on jazz, but now has a group that branches out into other flavors. It's called Needles in the Red (is that a great name?). I love him. Neal is a dream to work with and is amazing with that guitar.

World, I give you This Is My Going of Age which presents the songs of a middle-aged woman struggling with spirituality, self-image, relationships and the decision to live single. Actually, go to iTunes for really long clips of my songs so you can really hear them, but please try to buy them on CD if you can.

Thank you!

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Happy Halloween!

I love black frosting.
I haven't posted a cake in a while. This cake is from my favorite bakery Central Continental Bakery in Mt. Prospect, Illinois, USA. They don't have the most sophisticated website, but they have the best buttercream frosting (vanilla and chocolate) in my connisseur opinion, plus excellent cookies, pies, etc. I served this Halloween cake last night when I had some friends over. The bloody hand reaching out of the cake did not come from the bakery. I ordered it separately from Jenny Densing who has some excellent cupcake toppers for Halloween (and lots of other cool stuff on her Etsy site).

At one point I held up my pack of Marlboro Reds and announced, "Would anyone like a cigarette? Wanna step onto the back porch with me and have a cigarette? Anyone?" I had kept them in my freezer for freshness. I got two takers and very much enjoyed the quiet break from an overheated apartment that you get when you're a smoker. Okay, I was just a second-hand smoker, but still it was nice.

Maybe I'll get one of those old-fashioned cigarette cases so I can be a full hostess to all my guests, smoking and non-smoking. Yes, I'm moving backwards against the American trend away from grown up smoking (it's all teenage smokers now, right?), but call me countercultural. I encourage lighting up in my home because I just like the smell of a burning cigarette. Once I have that case, when you come to my place, it'll be like entering the Twilight Zone where it's always 1959-1963.

P. S. My songs are uploaded to CD and once they approve the files my digital album will be online and for sale. So it could still be a couple of days, but my blog will be the first to know!

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Dead music career fuels fledgling writing career

Some of you know that years ago I used to step up to microphones wearing my Fender Mustang bass on a purple strap and announce, “I am Regina Rodríguez and I sing songs I made up out of my own head.” For many years writing and performing songs was the main way I coped with depression, loneliness and general low self-esteem. Between 1998 and 2007 I wrote a lot of songs and did a lot of singing. I even developed a small (tiny) Chicago fan-base.

But in 2006 I fell in love with a man named Bob who would become my husband, and my loneliness and low self-esteem began to lift. In 2008 I stopped needing the music altogether and my music adventure came to an end. I now realize songwriting was mainly therapeutic and not a true vocation for me. (You can find posts that refer to my gigs if you look on the 2004 and 2005 pages of my blog.)

Since then the originals that I professionally recorded have been sitting on my computer doing nothing. I’ve mostly ignored my former life as a singer and turned my focus to writing, but now I'm finally going to release my first and only album (but only as a digital download). My friend and New York jazz musician Robert Cowie mastered the songs and I hired a designer from to throw a cover together. Watch this space for details on how to purchase Regina Rodríguez-Martin’s one and only downloadable album. In post-modern style, I'm announcing the end of my singing career at the same time that I present the beginning of it.

Why now? Because I hope to use this album to help fund the self-publication of my dog ebook. I’m basically using my dead music career to launch my incipient author career. What is my music like? Here's the best description I can come up with: folk-pop-jazz influenced songs written by a woman who meant every word. The instrumentation is vocals, guitar, bass and sometimes percussion. I wrote many of these songs when I was at my most depressed and lonely. Those are the most cheerful ones because I used songwriting to get myself to think more positively (it didn't work). They have names like "The Penguin Song," "Happy Are We" and "I Like Life." Others are moodier and more introspective, such as "Going of Age," "Before a Dream Is Realized" and "An Atheist's Prayer."

I'm still uploading songs and getting my e-album ready for sale, but I'll let you know as soon as I have a link where you can order. I've named the album This Is My Going of Age because many of these are the songs of a middle-aged woman struggling with spirituality, self-image, relationships and the decision to live single.

My blog readers, thank you SO MUCH for reading my blog and supporting me just by being there. I hope you can also consider purchasing my music not because it's so great, but because it will finance my true dream of writing and publishing.

Isn't it funny: I'm finally getting my music out into the world when I what I really want to do now is write ebooks. For a long time I didn't think anyone would want to hear my original songs, much less pay for them, so I never released a CD. Only now that my ego is completely unattached to this music, and I want to raise cash for publishing, am I able to reveal it. I worked hard to create the lyrics and music for these original songs, paying out-of-pocket for musicians, transcriptions and recordings. And of course I made nothing on my performances. Now my songs are going to work for me!

WATCH MY BLOG FOR INFO ON HOW TO ORDER (I should have it up by this weekend)

Monday, October 21, 2013

Ignore emailed posts tonight

To my readers who receive my posts by email: ignore the ones that posted tonight. Those are all very old posts that I wrote years ago. I was just going through my blog and realizing that I'd left them in draft form, so I decided to put them on my blog, backdated.

Especially ignore the photos of me. Those are OLD PHOTOS. Oh, that I still looked like that. Instead, I look like this. Oh, wait. This isn't bad.

Me in September 2013


Has anyone noticed this phrase that’s become popular? The phrase “Yeah, no” is interesting to me because it seems to have replaced “no” in a lot of sentences. Instead of, “No, I’m not going to be able to make it,” we say, “Yeah. No, I’m not going to be able to make it.” Or as I hear it “Yeah-no, I’m not going to be able to make it.”
Maybe it's a new way to soften a “no” answer, or maybe the "yeah" is a way to acknowledge that someone has spoken before one gives her/his true response, which is “no." Maybe it's a sign of increasing cultural wishy-washiness. I haven't figured it out, but to maintain the integrity of my statements I'm trying not to use it. "Yeah-no" just sounds confusing to me. (More on this topic here.)

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Super Fun Night

Super Fun Night is not a bad show! I don't tend to stick with shows for very long, but few impress me as this one does.

Why I've watched this show not once, but twice:

1. Main character, Kimmie, is fat and doesn't apologize for it. In fact, her fatness isn't part of the premise or the focus of any of the punchlines.
2. I actually laughed out loud a few times.
3. The show focuses on the lives of Kimmie and her two best friends all of whom are single working women with very idiosyncratic personalities and interests. They're geeks and they're great!
4. Unlike other new sitcoms (such as The Michael J. Fox Show and Sean Saves the World), the cast isn't made up of parents, children or married couples. Not only am I sick of the cliches of such sitcoms, but a unit that consists of at least one parent and one child doesn't feel like it has much to do with my life. The experiences of single women have a LOT more to do with my life.
5. Example of the humor: in the second episode, one of Kimmie's friends is on a first date pretending to be a botanist. When the geeky guy asks Marika for her favorite plant of all time, she thinks hard for a long moment, then says, "Lettuce." The date smiles and nods as if that's the best answer he could have imagined. They're both odd! And I don't mean quirky Carrie Bradshaw odd. I mean that these characters simply do not see things the way most people do.

Maybe Super Fun Night is the inevitable follow up to Big Bang Theory which broke ground by moving the bizarre, idiosyncratic characters from the sidelines to the starring roles. That's fine with me. I'm at least 20 years older than Kimmie and her friends, but I'll happily watch a show that focuses on single, culturally unusual women who do not fit the general standard of beauty. Besides the five years I spent as a wife, that is pretty much my life.

Characters Helen-Alice, Kimmie and Marika

Friday, October 18, 2013

Fictional short story (I made this up)


Dani felt giddy the day they buried her mother. She felt lighter and freer. As her family arranged themselves in the church foyer, it reminded her of her wedding day, only with a coffin and a black dress instead of a white one. As the oldest, she stood next to her father behind the casket. Her brothers and aunts followed. As much as this mimicked a bridal procession, she realized she felt happier than she had on her wedding day because her mother was dead and that – unlike her marriage – was going to last forever.

Everyone kept calling it a casket, but Dani preferred the word coffin. She and her father processed behind it as the music changed from Linda Ronstadt’s “Tú Solo Tú” to her mother’s favorite “Pescador de Hombres.” Dani felt the gaze of everyone in the crowded church, but she kept her eyes on the huge crucifix that gleamed behind the altar.

“Thank God,” Dani thought, wishing there were a better way for an atheist to express fervent gratitude. “Mother is dead. Mother is dead.”

She didn’t actually smile as she stepped along the carpet next to her dad. Or maybe she did. Dani had told herself to act sad, but it seemed a shame to hide her joy. Hadn’t Father Luís said they were here to celebrate the life of Araceli Gonzalez? Well, Dani was ready to dance.

Dani’s happiness was all the more remarkable because she spent so much of her life struggling with her mood disorder. She’d inherited her mother’s capacity for depression and her childhood was such that Dani developed chronic depression by high school. Even after she moved out of her parents’ house, she struggled with anxiety, low self-esteem and periods of self-hatred. She knew some kids recovered just fine once they got away from a parents’ abuse, but Dani buckled under the weight of memories of her mother and the awful feelings they kept alive. She had worked for decades with various therapists who helped her face her childhood pain, mourn the mother she didn’t get and build her self-esteem. Dani had forgiven her mother again and again, trying to release her resentment, but the anger never seemed to go away.

As the procession reached the front of the church, Dani noticed Amalia Cantú, one of her mother’s closest friends. Amalia looked distraught, but calmer than she’d been when she’d first arrived at the church. Upon seeing Dani’s dad, Amalia had said, “Oh, Jorge!” then wrapped her arms around him and wept. Dani’s father bore the embrace silently but when they parted Dani saw his raw grief. It lasted only a moment before he composed himself again, but it stunned her and made her feel terrible about her joy. She wanted to go to him and say, “Don’t feel bad. We’ll be so much better off without her!” But she couldn’t assume that would be true for him, so she left him alone.

Dani’s relationship with her mother had been completely different from the one she had with her father. Dani was the calming presence in her mother’s life. It was as if her mother had borne her first child to help her raise the rest. From as far back as Dani could remember she’d been aware of her mother’s panicky need to have her daughter by her side. Dani anticipated her mother’s needs, finished her sentences, did what she asked and never ever talked back. Exhausted, Dani gave her mother full massages at the end of the day. With her stomach in a knot, she listened to her parents argue, and she accepted her mother’s vilification of her father that always followed. It often felt like Dani held her mother’s hand through life instead of the other way around. She didn’t realize how it drained and suffocated her until she examined her childhood in therapy, but even then she didn’t know how to stop it.

In the years before cell phones, Dani had first established a semi-independent life. In college, she held two jobs while carrying a full load of classes. She lived near campus in a student co-op and loved her new freedom. But when her mother needed her – which was often – the phone rang, and she had Dani’s phone numbers at home, at both jobs and at her boyfriend’s apartment.

“Dani, where were you?” her mother’s voice came through the receiver when Dani got home one day during her junior year. Without knowing she was doing it, she gauged the level of emotion in those words as she put down her backpack and shrugged out of her jacket.

“I just came back from English.” Dani subconsciously slipped into her calming-presence voice.

“I’ve been calling you for an hour! When are you coming home for Christmas?”

“Daddy’s picking me up on Christmas Eve, in the morning.” College had given Dani her escape, but the campus was only a half hour drive from her parents’ home. Sometimes the distance felt like enough. Sometimes it didn’t.

“Well, the Lopez want to stop by when we’re all home and I told them I’d check with you. They’re probably going to bring another one of those huge, ugly baskets. I don’t know why anyone would want that junk. All that sugar and chocolate and fregadera. I do not have time for the Lopez in the middle of my Christmas Eve!”

Dani stayed quiet.

“I just want a nice evening at home with my family. Is that too much to ask? Why do people think everyone wants to see them on holidays? I just want to be with my family!”

Dani ventured, “Can you ask them to come after Christmas?”

“No! Your father would kill me if I did that. He’s so concerned about being friends with them.” Araceli sighed loudly. “We’ll just have to put up with them.”

Dani tried to think of a distraction and said, “Hey, I’m going to sing a solo in church this Sunday.”

“That’s nice,” her mother murmured.

“Well, it’s not a song, but I get to do the responsorial. I’ll sing and then everyone sings with me. You know?”

“I’m going to have the clean the entire God damn house just for the Lopez to drop by for half an hour. And you’re going to help me!” she threatened.

“Okay.” Dani drew a deep breath and released it silently.

Finally her mother said, “I’ll let you go. I’ll see you on Christmas Eve, along with the Lopez.”

Looking back on this from the safety of her mother's funeral, Dani thought, "I'm so glad cell phones weren't invented until I was all grown up." While her brothers seemed exempt from such treatment, Dani had no choice but to accept it. When ants invaded the kitchen, when the cat pooped on the carpet, when Dad needed emergency gall bladder surgery or when PTA members behaved rudely, Araceli’s fear and frustration sounded like this: “What's wrong with you, Daniela? Why can't you do anything right? No piensas! Nunca piensas!” 

Dani found her mother’s rage terrifying. From the time Dani was very young, her mother would hiss that she was stupid and had no common sense, and little Dani accepted it. Her mother needed her to be calm, so Dani kept up that appearance, but actually her mother's fury made her feel like the world was ending and she would become frantic to make the yelling stop. She hated herself for not being able to make her mother happy and often felt worthless.

After years of therapy and anti-depressants, Dani tried to talk to her mother about their relationship. She tried both conversations and thoughtful letters to ask her mother to please take it easy on her. She explained that she wasn't really the calm, unflappable person she pretended to be. She told her mother about her chronic depression that was triggered by stress and characterized by self-loathing, but her words didn't make much difference. Dani yearned for respect, but her mother just didn’t have it for her oldest child.

Dani’s final attempt to be a good daughter was when her dad needed hip replacement surgery. Since he’d be in the hospital for at least four days, Dani flew in for moral support. How could she not go? Tom’s high powered job never let him visit and her other brother only fought with their mother and made things worse. After a few days of her mother’s low level panic, constant need for neck rubs and demands for rides to the hospital, Dani was on edge. She was 39 years old, but her mother still believed she was entitled to treat her however she liked.

“Wait, where are we?” Araceli demanded. On the fourth day of Dani’s visit they were looking for a hospital supply store. Dani was driving while her mother navigated, but in her anxious chatter Araceli had forgotten about the written directions she held and missed at least one turn.

“We’re on the west side of Palo Alto somewhere,” Dani said “What were we supposed to do when after we turned on First Avenue?”

Her mother looked down at the directions in her hand and read, “Turn right on First Avenue. At the Mobil Station turn right on Leland. Did we pass the Mobil station? Did you see it?”

“Um, I don’t know.” Dani wasn’t the strongest driver. In fact, she’d been trying to pretend she wasn’t even in the car. She had been mindlessly doing as she was told and had no idea what scenery they had passed. She felt irritated that her mother couldn't even manage to read directions, but she couldn’t express that and knew what was coming.

“What do you mean you don’t know? Don’t you have your eyes open? Are you driving with your eyes closed? You’re supposed to know these things! I’m counting on you!” Araceli’s eyes grew furious as Dani put on her poker face. Araceli raged, “This place closes at four o’clock! Now we’re not going to get there in time and your father won’t have a commode to sit on when he gets home from the hospital! What’s he going to do then? Eh? What are we supposed to tell him? I’m going to tell him you screwed up!”

Araceli thrust the paper with the directions at Dani, who tried to look at them while keeping control of the car. “Figure out where the fuck we are!” Thirty minutes later Dani found the hospital supply place, but being trapped in the car with her screaming mother was the last straw.

It took weeks for Dani to recover. After returning home, she had dragged through bleak days, hating herself, hating her mother, and wishing they were both dead. Life just felt too hard and it felt this way all the time. Why was life so hard? She envied people the news reported as accidentally killed in car accidents or by random gunfire. She wondered why she was never in the right place for such a thing, so that she could finally just sleep and never wake up. Dani spent a large part of her 30s wanting to sleep and never wake up.

After trying to talk to her mother about how that day in the car had made her feel, Dani stopped all visits and phone calls. She just couldn't be her mother's emotional support and she didn’t want to be hung up on anymore. Did this finally make clear how difficult it was for Dani to support a mother who didn’t reciprocate? She hoped so. All that was left was an exchange of greeting cards on birthdays and holidays. During the final seven years of Araceli Gonzalez’ life, she had almost no contact with her daughter, and Dani liked it that way.

But the guilt was horrible. Dani knew she was the worst kind of daughter: one who had abandoned her mother. Even though her mother was out of her life, she stayed in Dani's head. Dani's depressive episodes were full of self-loathing: she couldn't do anything right, she was a screwup and wasn't strong enough to be the daughter her mother deserved. She felt stupid and weak, but longed for a mother who nurtured her and whose company she enjoyed. Caught between guilt and the need to take care of herself, Dani carried a burden of remorse and responsibility that she knew wouldn't end until her mother died.

The funeral fascinated her. No fewer than five priests celebrated the mass. It astounded her that her mother had given so much to the church and the community that the adoration and grief poured out: enough holy fathers to start a rock band, flower arrangements from people Dani had never heard of, very tearful condolences and loving eulogies that went on and on. It seemed that Araceli Gonzalez had been endlessly generous and inspirational and was responsible for people’s high school degrees, college acceptances and entire careers. She had volunteered tirelessly in the church, organizing clothing drives, posadas and support when families lost their jobs. She taught the English-dominant how to speak Spanish and the Spanish-dominant how to speak English. She never stopped giving to the comunidad and now the comunidad grieved their loss with one voice.

More than half of the mass was in Spanish. Dani focused for as long as she could, following the sentiments until her brain felt overloaded. As she gazed at the Virgen de Guadalupe image that adorned the coffin, it was easy to tune out the language her parents hadn’t taught her. She could only concentrate in Spanish for so long. She imagined her mother in that box, weighing almost nothing. Cancer had caused many changes, and now they were burying a tiny person. Dani had noticed the thinness the last time she had seen her. Determined to reach a peaceful end to their relationship, Dani had said mostly truthfully, “I love you and I miss you. And I’m sorry we lost so many years together.”

Araceli’s colorless hair shifted on the pillow as she said in a small voice, “I never understood that. I never understood why you did that.”

Dani pursed her lips and didn’t say, “Christ God, old woman. Did you really never get it?” Instead she just kept holding her mother’s hand. From within her mother’s reality, it must have been extremely painful to have her only daughter disappear from her life. As Dani caressed the dry, shriveled hand, she realized that her mother really didn’t have the capacity to understand how she affected others. To her mother’s wounded heart, Dani’s withdrawal must have seemed cruel and inexplicable. Dani knew her mother didn't have much longer, and pitied her that she was dying with so much heartache and so little understanding.

Two weeks later, after her father called to say her mother had passed away, Dani shed a few tears. That took about a minute. Then she took a deep breath and let the relief flood in. No more hunting for a Mother’s Day card that wasn’t full of lies. No more obligatory birthday cards. No more reports from other family about her mother’s latest bad behavior (her mother was reliably nice to non-family, but not so good to those she was related to). No more guilty waiting for her mother to die. Dani was free.

Later at the graveside burial, Dani felt even more out of sync. Unlike others around her, Dani had already wept for her mother over decades of therapy. She remembered times when her mother had been loving, funny and nurturing, but those times had dwindled until, in Dani’s thirties, the nice Araceli Gonzalez had disappeared from Dani's life. Clearly others had experienced her as nurturing and loving, but Dani felt left out of that warmth. She had done so much crying during the years she and her mother were estranged that today Dani had no more tears. Instead, she felt like a weight had been lifted from her shoulders.

The sun beat down on their heads as Father Luís prayed over the coffin, now suspended over an open slot of brown earth in Our Lady of Mercy Cemetery. There was more Spanish, more handkerchiefs pressed to faces, more eyes staring respectfully downward. Unwilling to pay any more attention, Dani looked over the crowd and wondered how many of these people had spoken English as their first language. Not many, she guessed. Her parents had lived in a very different world than the one into which they’d thrust her.

Dani and her brothers had learned English from the crib, grown up in a middle class suburb and attended a college preparatory high school in which the minorities were definitely in the minority. Her parents were raised in the barrio and had kept strong ties to the working class mexicanos in the area, especially those who had recently emigrated. Araceli and Jorge’s life sounded like ranchera music and tasted like orange rice made with chicken boullion. Dani’s life sounded like American top 40 and tasted like Prozac.

Dani’s gaze fell on the young man who had eulogized that Mrs. Gonzalez was the reason he became a lawyer. To his right was a family friend who had written a poem about her mother’s devotion to la raza. Had Dani been the sacrifice for all those people whose lives her mother had touched? Had Araceli Gonzalez been able to give and give because she’d had Dani’s strength to draw on? And if all those lives had been helped at the expense of Dani’s personhood and self-esteem, was it worth it?

"Fuck," Dani thought as she glared at the patch of grass between her feet and the grave. "Was that it? Was there some kind of twisted sick cosmic deal that I got the -- no, I can't start thinking that or I will go crazy. Fuck." She tried to pull her mind off of that line of reasoning. Better to focus on today's happiness.

After the coffin had been lowered, the dirt thrown on top of it and the flowers had followed, Dani wondered if some form of heartache would overtake her yet.  Thinking of her mother’s loving moments made Dani sad, but the sadness felt as faded as the memories. She shuffled with the rest of the congregation back to the parking lot to caravan over to a small reception. She had to respect the memory the parish had of Araceli Gonzalez, but wondered if anyone else in the world had ever felt this way on the day of their mother’s funeral.