Monday, October 11, 2010

Happy Birthday Mami.

******Long, boring, but necessary for SS and JJ*********

I always focus on Mami's birthday and have done a great job of ignoring the anniversary of her death. That is no easy task since I was the one who found her dead, was in the house with my 15 year old cousin, not something one ever gets over. I think it was September and if I really try (or ask Abu) I could come up with the exact date. Even though I am glutton for punishment I instead look forward to her birthday, and the many memories from our time together. I have not posted on her birthday before, because Mami is integral to my desire to have SS. I miss her everyday and lost count how often I shed angry tears when she passed away, and at 16 (or was it 15?) I found myself without parents.

Mami was born in Yauco, Puerto Rico, the youngest of a bunch, and lost both her parents before her second birthday. She (and her siblings) was raised by her older sister, who was barely 12 years old at the time. Her Sister J quickly started her own family, and Mami in turn took care of her nieces and nephews. That would make them my mother's first cousins and my second cousins. But because of the huge age difference they were all my aunts and uncles. Hispanic families are very loose with relatives titles. Mami and her nieces and nephews moved to Ponce when she was about 30. Uncle J had joined the SDA church, and while I never understood why, this led to their move.

Mami met Papi when she helped take care of his dying wife. Papi had two children from that marriage, a son (F), and a daughter (V). Funny, I do not know the woman's name, it just did not come up. Mami and Papi married when Mami was 35, and this led to more interesting familial ties. My mother (and her older sister) are younger than Papi's grandchildren. Even before I was aware of the nature of their relationship, I could always feel a lot of jealousy from V's daughters and the fact that their aunt (Abu) was younger.

Mami raised F's sons, Tio F(ito) and Tio T. Of course they were not my uncles but my first cousins. Their mother left their father, and their father just showed up one day and dropped the kids off with Mami. I do not have many memories of Tio F(ito), but Tio T was very close to us and was the cool uncle every child loves to have.

Mami gave birth to my Aunt A at 42, and to Abu at 44. But the real trial for Mami did not arrive until I entered this world. Mami was almost seventy, and Papi was 12 years her elder when I came home from the hospital, and the real fun began. She was at a point in life when she had raised so many children, even though she only gave birth to two. The sensible outcome would have been for her and Papi to enjoy their grandchildren but not as primary caretakers. Instead, the magic that is me gate crashed their very much deserved retirement. I cannot imagine becoming a parent at that age, but Mami and Papi never once complained and from all accounts thought of me as a blessing.

I frequently state that if there is good in me it is because of Mami and Papi. If I have made any right choices as a parent it is because of them as well. 67 and 79 when I was born is not the same as now days. Mami and Papi had a hard life, doing manual labor, and did not have adequate health care (nothing preventative until Abu became a nurse). They were old, their bodies in poor condition, but they did not think twice before they dove into diaper changing, midnight feedings, and dealing with an infant 24/7.

Mami was quite the study in contradictions. Physically frail, barely 4' 10" (and I'm being generous), but one of my brothers came up with the nickname Little War Tank (Tanquecito de Guerra). Mami was a formidable force and she did not need her size to make her presence known. When my brothers towered over her at 6', Mami simply asked them to bend down when she needed to pull their ears for whatever they did. Ear pulling was usually about their foul language. They dutifully bent down and Mami did not skimp on the pulling. More serious infractions would get them a punch on the arm. Mami had small hands, but her knuckles were bony and she knew how to use them to inflict pain. Tiny and could pack a punch, just like SS.

She was definitely the disciplinarian home and not even her baby, spoiled rotten me was exempt from her discipline. Her method of torture for me was to ask me to pick the longest leave from the nearest mango tree in our yard. She would then slowly and carefully remove the leaf, and the spine made for a painful switch when applied swiftly to the back of my knees. I am sure I deserved that far many more times than it actually occurred. She loved me with all she was, but she was realistic about my faults and would make me recognize my shortcomings.

But the biggest part about Mami, the reason why she was the first step in my journey to SS, was her heart. Mami was completely devoted to me and taught me that boyfriends and husbands come and go, but your children, no matter how they come to you, they are yours forever. This was a point of contention between her and Abu and it is why I remained in her home until the day she died.

It wasn't until years after her death, when relatives felt comfortable talking to me about such touchy subjects that I learned just how deeply her love (and Papi's) for me ran. I always thought that I lived with them by choice. Abu met her now husband when I was only a year old and they married seven years later. Abu worked full time and quite frankly that did not bother me one bit, although it was not the norm then. As far as everyone around me was concerned I had not one, but two stay at home parents. The Abus initially lived across the fence from my home. We could walk between the yards by a gate on our shared fence. Abu prepared a room for me, but I had no interest whatsoever. Again, my recollection was that I chose to remain with my parents. When the Abus moved quite a distance away, Abu created the room she always wanted in their new home. She also made it clear that I was moving with her, but it did not happen. There was no way they were letting me go, and whatever disagreements resulted (and relatives tell me there were many), they managed to successfully insulate me. That or I am simply the dumbest person ever.

Mami never once voiced her very valid concerns to me. I was blissfully ignorant until I was 13, when Abuelo placed me in a situation that could have landed me in the ER. While a terrible lapse in judgment (more on Abuela's part) I did not then, and do not now think it was intentional. It was just a dumb oversight by two rather selfish adults. By that time Mami's health had begun to decline (why filter off), and when she let out her fury on her daughter I realized her true feelings for her son in law. Mami went to her grave with the belief that it was an intentional act, and she did not take lightly to those that hurt or attempted to hurt me. I do not think I ever saw her angry until that day. That is because Mami is the only person I have ever met who truly practiced what she preached. She lived by the golden rule, do unto others... The incident was never mentioned again, and I did not bother to delve into her thoughts.

Mami had a stroke when I was 15 and she never really fully recovered. I recall going to the hospital as soon as I was out of school, and that not sleeping in the same house with her was awful. It was more like not sleeping in the same house. I had visited the Abu's home a handful of times, and although it was supposed to be my room, it just wasn't home.

Shortly after Mami's discharge she seemed to be giving up. She talked about going to be with Papi and her parents. Those statements scared the hell out of me and I'm sure they had the same effect on Abu. One day Abu was trying to coax Mami into eating without success. Abu is a devoted daughter, no question about that, she took care of her parents very well. She told Mami that if she wanted to let go, she could, but to think about me. Abu told her that I was only 15 and that she was the only mother I knew, and that I was not ready to function on my own. Mami got a second wind but lasted only one year after that conversation. It wasn't a good year, it was hell to watch her waste away. For someone who gave so much of herself to others, G0d was not kind to Mami. I have cried many tears over how I might have been a factor in her hanging on for as long as she could. Mami did not deserve to suffer so much just because I was a brat.

As the end neared, Mami became very anxious about having me near her. Abu would do the night shift because I was to attend school, that was non negotiable. Abu wanted to make sure I rested and carried on as normally as possible. Yeah, because that is so easy when you are 15 and your mother is dying. Against Abu's wishes I spent many nights laying next to Mami reassuring her that her baby was OK. Abu was not being cruel, she knew that Mami probably did not even recognize me at that point. But Mami did not abandon me when I was inconveniently born, and I sure as hell was not going to abandon her.

This is why I have never posted on her b-day before, this has no direction and I wanted to do so much better for the person who did everything for me. And she did so much.

Although she was a strict SDA, she had quite a liberal streak. Mami taught me to play briscas (Spanish cards) before I started school. Card games of any kind were not permitted in the SDA world. Not only did she break that rule, but included gambling in our hush hush games. We would play for dry beans. Titi C (Mami's niece) lived next door, was quite nosy and judgmental (also SDA), so Mami made sure our windows were closed when we engaged in our illicit briscas games. I can't wait to teach SS how to play, although I am very rusty. We had a blast and would play late into the night.

When I got myself in hot water at church by challenging the validity of Jonah actually fitting while kneeling, let alone surviving inside a whale, she refused to punish me. Mami was an elder in the church, a role model and it did not go over well when her 4 year old bratty daughter questioned the scriptures. However, she stated that she found my question (what type of whale) valid, and not disrespectful. The pastor never got the apology he demanded. I learned a lot that day about the strength of Mami's convictions.

Another church incident happened over stupid sandals. Abu took care of my wardrobe, it was summer and she wanted me to wear the new pretty sandals she chose to the church program. A decision was made that it would be blasphemous for me to be up at the pulpit with sandals. I was sent to sit with Mami, banned from the program. Mami went toe to toe with the pastor arguing the absurdity of the decision. Her first point off the gate, every depiction of Jesus and the disciples had them wearing sandals! Mami also gave the pastor a good tongue lashing over punishing a child (I was 6-7) from participating in a religious program she rehearsed a long time for. They reached a compromise, I could not sit at the pulpit during the entire program, to avoid the other church members to be stricken by lighting because of my sandals. I simply appeared and disappeared as needed. That is what Mami did, she always came out swinging for me. Maybe that long ago incident led me into my evil ways.

It is no accident that Mami was (unofficially) adopted and an adoptive mother (again unofficially), and that I am a proud adoptive mother. It was that knowledge that resulted in my decision to have SS. Mami was the first person to know when I was barely 7. I watched a PBS special on China and was mesmerized by the beautiful girls. I am sure there were boys, but all I could focus on was the girls. after I was done, I walked to Mami to make my big announcement. I told Mami I was going to have a Chinese daughter. Mami told me that if I married a Chinese man, that we would have a half Chinese daughter. But she reminded me the other half would be Puerto Rican, just like me. That would not work because first, I did not want to get married, and two I wanted a Chinese daughter, fully Chinese. Because of her religious beliefs (I'm sure she had not kissed Papi until they were married) and cultural upbringing , saying that I wanted a child but not a husband would have resulted in a lecture about morals. Not with Mami.

Instead, Mami challenged me, asked me how I planned to have a fully Chinese child, and a daughter no less, without a spouse. She told me to get back to her when I figured it out. I am sure at that moment she wondered how dumb I actually was. It took me a while, but everything I heard about my family, and everything I had experienced gave me the answer I needed. I returned to Mami and noted how she was not raised by her birth mother, how she raised many children she did not give birth to, myself included. I told Mami I would do the same, I would adopt a daughter from China. This is the part where if I was in her shoes I would be laughing by butt off at my child (I am a bad parent that way). Thankfully Mami knew better than to kill my spirit, and while not knowing a darn thing about China she congratulated me for working through that challenge. Mami smiled, hugged me and told me I would have a beautiful Chinese daughter and that I would be a great mother. Well, one out of two is not bad.

Mami kept my secret, just as I asked of her. I knew that if Abu heard about my child without a husband plan all hell would break loose in a fit of self righteousness. Turns out that out of everything she did for me, SS is the greatest gift Mami gave me. Of course there was no such thing as International Adoption when I was 7. Everyone who knew me knew that I always wanted to adopt, no secret there. But I never completely disclosed my plan, my true intentions. Then P came around and threw a monkey wrench on my no husband plan. He was the second person to know about my desire, sadly way after he should have known. It could have ended ugly, but thankfully for me, we both had the same desire. Mami, thank you for loving me, for caring for me, for taking on the church for me. More than anything, thank you for giving me the wings for my 37 year journey to SS. Happy birthday Mami, I love you.


Michelle said...

Your Mami sounds like she was a wonderful woman. I'm sorry she was taken from you so young and that she never got to see what a wonderful mother you are. Hugs.

2china4S said...


Thank you, your words mean a lot to me, because I know you miss your mother as much as I miss mine.