Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Half A Century For Tido

In a faraway place today, in Cape Verde today, my dad turned 50. It is officially the first time I feel any of my parents have a bonafide grown up age that I can share with the world. My whole life my parents had the "obscenely young" thing going on. My mother's 46--I'm thirty, yes it was legal in Cape Verde at the time. Or rather, it didn't matter. Or rather, it wasn't illegal. Anyways, they got married and did the whole wedlock thing. Not that it helped any of us three to try and be a nuclear family. Growing up with them was like sharing a college dorm with your two older siblings. For the first 6 years, we were in fact, in a college dorm situation, although it was a very tiny duplex, in a college town in Belgium. Having licked my wounds in that regard, having super young parents is cool now. Fun. The space between 30 and 40 (the new 30!) and 50 (the new 40!) gets to be minimal in many ways and in a profound way, the fact that they and I can cover common ground now makes up for a lot of fucked shit in the past. People with fucked up childhoods and parents who fuck up never get over it. It's not in the plan that you would get over it--just like I guess one doesn't get over DNA. Fucked up childhoods are like emotional DNA, in a way. Inheritance. A concerted effort to re-invent the relationship with the parent once you're strong enough--enough to deal with them without further bruising yourself up against their issues (not easily done at all)--can be very rewarding. If you come to that task having had a child yourself then it's even more rewarding. On the one hand, now that you are a parent, you realize you can never forgive them for some of the shit they did, but on the other hand you realize, from the places inside your motherhood, that when we are busy passing judgment on humanity, humanity just happens. Your parents--the bastards, monsters, manipulators, cruel inflicters of hours and hours of therapy that they are--are just as human as you are. And as a parent you too become just as humanly capable of fucking up as they were. And if you sit with that, and you look them in the eye, there is a familiarity there that is central to your existence. Whenever a person can catch a glimpse of where they came from and find that thread, even through all the bullshit, then the world is good that day. So despite a HUGELY significant amount of stuff between us, today I was in a position to genuinely get excited about my dad's birthday and call him and share in that moment in his life. Having turned 30, I think I finally grew up, and today, he says, so does he. (A cool aside is that I am the spitting image of my father, in physical appearance, for better (great legs without playing the soccer he plays!) and for worse (chubby belly without drinking all the beer he does), as well as temperament: my dad likes things nice and easy and preferably, very funny. I get my charm from him. I love my father. His name is Jose Carlos Santos Monteiro, a.k.a. Tido, and he is 50 today.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Coming Unhinged

My colleague Tina, who I would like to describe as a Lady Par Excellence (think of that as you will), was part of a conversation many of us were having about marriage. The others were married, I was the separated one, and we were talking about fights and conflict. And everyone was offerring anecdotes. T's anecdotes were brilliant because they were straight out of a black version of "War of the Roses" or something. Her argumentation tactics had flair, they had angles and personality. They went beyond all of our meager attempts to control our respective mates. Her shit worked--it was, well, it was hardcore. Brilliantly so. That the words were coming from an irreproachably groomed and poised woman only made the thing sweeter to hear. Here's a paraphrasing of my favorite anecdote from her.

"Like that time I took the doors off the hinges? "
Congregation responds in unison: THE TIME YOU DID WHAT?
"Yeah... Well we were arguing and it was getting all heated and you know he is all about toning it down and not liking cursing and loudness and whatever. And so you know he said he didn't want to continue the conversation. Was not going to. Was like T, you know I'm not talking anymore. So he went into the room and closed the door. On me, while I was talking. So the next day I went to the super Mr. Robinson and was like, can you please come here and take my bedroom door off the hinges and put it in the basement until I tell you bring it back? Thank you. And I did, I had the door taken out and when he got home I told him. I said, you DO NOT close the door on me when I am speaking to you."

I don't know what that's called, that quality, and I know it is often lampooned as a black woman predisposition but it's not as widespread as the stereotype suggests, nor is T the stereoptype in that sense of the angry black woman--though we joke about it a lot at work, she and I. There is though, in women like T, a real genius to behold. And like genius, it's not always on point, sometimes it's off and sometimes it's bad. But it is genius. She took the door off the hinges to inject the oft uttered phrase "dont you close that door on me!" with real weight and consequence. She exhibited a complete independence from the status quo expectations about what a woman can and cannot do--one simply does not unhinge doors, you know? But why not--if really that is what she felt was needed to do? That's liberating. In her liberation she changed the whole landscape: don't just say shit that don't mean shit. Having uttered many myself, I can tell you that nothing's more pathetic than a woman's ultimatum when it turns out to not be... an ultimatum. So to me T is some kind of superhero in many respects.

Thursday, July 06, 2006


Would it be okay if I just took a moment to say that raising a kid (especially by yourself or by yourself for the most part) is very very very very very very very very very hard work sometimes?

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

St. Elmo's Fire

It’s hard to keep up with my son most days. On any given day he will do an original modern dance choreography and make me laugh harder than anyone ever has—the laughter and the dance are not related, he’s quite good at free movement. Yesterday was one of these days where things just kept coming at me.

First he had to wear his Darth Vader black cape when we went to the store, only he was not Darth, he was actually Robin, of Batman and Robin. But upon arriving at the store, he thought best to be Jack Sparrow (from Pirates of the Carib), and do the Johnny Depp created, semi-gender bending Jack Sparrow walk: if you know this walk it’s like a ditty bopping drag cape swinging kind of a walk. Often imitated I bet, never duplicated, except by my son.

Then he wanted to know from me whether when one dies and goes to heaven, who decides.

“Mama, does God decide or do we decide to go God?”

“Uh, you know what I tell you about these things, nobody’s really sure but I think God does.”

“I think we do.”

“Really, why?”

“Cause we’re the ones dying, duh. But Alfonsina says God does cause sometimes we get sent to Hell instead.”

Damn you Alfonsina and everybody that answers childrens deep questions before their parents have a crack at them! Even if you are children as well: damn you. Damn you to hell.

Then he came out to watch the fourth of july tv special when Elmo came out to sing with Vanessa Williams. Then something horrible unsued. And I will now try and do a play by play.

“Come watch Elmo!”

Sees Elmo on TV being A-D-O-R-A-B-L-E, in his fourth of july outfit, on a trycicle, singing a song.

“I KNEW IT. I KNEW IT! I knew he was real. You see? I always knew it!”

“No actually he is a puppet. He can be next to real people but he is still a puppet.”

[Ok, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking WHY WOULD I SAY THAT?! Well it’s because I forget sometimes how old my son is, what can and cannot be told. I get all caught up on how smart and deep he is sometimes—hello, he is asking about who decides death!—and am also used to answering his questions. It was like an automatic correction type thing, it wasn’t like a Santa Claus is fake type thing I was doing.]

My son rapidly goes up close to the tv, turns around and says victorious:

“Nope. See? He has no strings on him—told ya!”

And of course, because the world is a foul, foul place that eats children’s dreams, just as he says that he watches the image pull up close to Elmo, and his little under-hand wires are clear to see. And my son literally falls apart. I mean, like his pet died. He cries, violently, and runs to his room, where he sobs:

“It’s not fair. It’s not fair. Now I know… It’s not fair.”

So I had to go and apologize to him for telling him. And then apologize to him for Elmo’s not being real. I have never seen my son crying like that over anything at all. It was heartbreaking. And part of me almost was like "and while we’re at it, neither is Santa,", just so I would never be in this sad and depressing broken innoncence moment again-- but I didn’t. I really don’t think Santa is a convincing story anyway, or one he cares about. I mean, if Santa doesn’t exist, who cares, the gifts still come. But Elmo being real was a deep need. Elmo not being real was like the sun not shining and things not being and it really hurt from a place of loss. How the hell would I know that, not being my son and not being almost 6? I have, like any good parent who gives a damn, a profound love for Sesame Street, an almost sick adoration for Elmo himself, and a general pious religious obsession with PBS Kids and all that they do. Seeing my son cry so hard, the hardest he’s ever cried, because Elmo was not real got me thinking about the genius of Sesame Street all over. Because as adults we “get” what it is that moves kids but there is a whole other surface of meaning that we don’t get, that brilliant people who create for kids do get. And it is truly a brilliant skill that they have. I knew my son and all little kids loved Elmo, but I had no idea. [And, this also made me realize, that I don't recall a time in my life where something"of the innocent" like that was ever broken, and not cause I had a happy childhood either...]