A Duck Is A Duck was the first book I ever read in Sister Mary Ann’s First Grade Class at St Brendan Elementary School in Miami, FL. I loved that book. So simple. So classic. No explanation to be made. A Duck Is A Duck. How can you argue with that logic?
When we were kids my dad may have been driving us through South Beach, which was a very frightening place back then filled with old folks sitting in rocking chairs facing the beach just rocking their last days away, and the derelicts of society-pimps, hos, druggies and ducks. Ducks-or as my father used to say Patos.
Patos is Duck in Spanish. It is also slang for gays. For example, a trani sashaying down Ocean Drive would elicit a “tremendo pato” statement. We quickly came to understand that a man with feminine tendencies was a Huge Duck to my father. A masculine woman was a Tortillera or, loosely translated, an Omelette Maker.
So, what came first- the Pato or the Omlette?
I guess I have pondered this lately as there seems to be so much stir about gay marriage, having to explain to your kid about gays, religion vs non-religion, breaking the law in the name of God and the list goes on and on. It is baffling and often enraging as that is not my God they are describing.
My parents never explained to us about homosexuals. Shit, my parents have never uttered that word! Pato, Torta, yes! But homo-sex-ual? Jamais! Never! Clearly we got that they were different and elicited an entertaining response from them but they never chased the response with a descriptor, an explanation, an opinion or a judgement. They simply made sure we knew that the most important thing is to “Love One Another”. After all, A Duck Is A Duck.
The Mamalogues, July 11, 2015
I grew up in Miami, Florida. My parents are Cuban and, though I’ve never set foot on Cuban soil, if you know anything about my culture you will understand that I am Cuban.
Shit is a big deal in our culture.
If someone is lying or an idiot- he is full of shit.
If you look bad- you look like shit.
If you look good you’re hot as shit.
If you’re lying you’re eating shit. As in don’t eat shit with me, man!
And if you’re stuck up you think you’re good as shit.
The best one is- when you’re really, really upset- say you were just cut off by a souped up 1985 corvette in Little Havana you yell – Come Mierda.
Which is loosely and dispassionately translated as Shit Eater.
So it’s No surprise that this Cuban girl’s monologue is all about shit. Poop, doodies, turds, merde, Mierda, caca. Emphatically or loosely- no pun intended- shit rules!
Nothing says love like finding baby shit under your nails during your first date night post baby…
On the drive there…I smell her. I swear I do. I smell her every time I move my hands. Oh my god I can’t do this. Are you sure she’s ok? Really? There! Did you smell it?
After sitting at the table still baffled by my keen sense of smell I see it. There’s something under my nail. Oh sweet Jesus is it? Oh God it is!
I. HAVE. SHIT. UNDER. MY. NAIL!!! Oh my god it’s a sign. We have got to go. Now. Let’s go let’s go. I can’t let someone change her. Remember what they said? They said do not under any circumstances allow poop anywhere near her vagina. Do you know how hard it is to clean her and not get any in there? No, you do not because the poop? The poop is all mine! My department! And this babysitter has no idea either. I used a Qtip yesterday for God’s sake. Hurry up or she will be infertile from getting shit in her vagina and after all this you are damn right I want her to experience motherhood-shit under fingernail-and all! Let’s go! Wait, let me chug my Cosmo. Ok! Fuck the bill! We need to save her vagina!
I was the last one of all the girls I grew up with to get married and have babies. I was 36 when I had my first child so while I was changing poopie diapers my girlfriend were worried about prom dates and preventing poopie diapers in the months ahead.
My pregnancy announcement- yes, pregnancy announcement! (It’s true..)
I waited years for this. I hosted bachelorette parties, bridal showers, bought a bizzilion hideous bridesmaid dresses, hosted baby showers and fixed more canapes than I will ever admit. Those were followed by baby gifts, baptism gifts and endless upon endless days as a single, kid-less, Cuban female at Chuckee Cheese celebrating another kiddie birthday party. You are damn right I gave them 9 months to syphon money from their rich husbands for my kid’s gifts!
So the announcement…Me, pointing at my belly with the headline “It’s payback time, Bitches and forget Babies R Us. I’m registered at Tiffany’s, Saks and Nordstrom.
When my daughter was ten days old I figured we were three days late to begin Basic Training. This kid was going shopping! So I went into her absolutely- jam-packed-with designer-pink clothing-closet and pulled out my favorites. A Baby Marc Jacobs onesie with a matching jacket and hair thingamajig and a blanket my friend brought back from Spain hand knitted for her royal highness by his great aunt. I dressed my live baby doll and packed the car up for a day (yes, I thought a day!) on the Country Club Plaza shopping, having coffee and visiting with my mom who of course flew in four weeks prior to my due date to not miss the royal birth. (I am not kidding. My mom and grandmother lit candles to all the Catholic saints praying someone would knock me up!)
First stop…Pottery Barn Baby because-Look world! I finally have one too! We do not so much as cross the threshold into that store when my gorgeous and gorgeously attired offspring makes a sound from her bottom that literally freaked me out, stopped me dead in my tracks and had the people around me turn and look right at me. I looked into the stroller to confirm that it was still my beautiful baby doll and not Pumba from The Lion King in there and I could not believe my eyes.
There was something liquidy and bright yellow that I swear looked just like her poop coming up on her back, going into her hair and starting to stain the hand-knitted, straight from Spain blanket. I immediately made a beeline with that stroller knocking down everything and anyone in my path to get to the bathroom in the back of the store. My mother following belting out instructions in her Ricky Ricardo accent the entire time.
I get to the bathroom and Oh My Lord! There was poop in her hair, up her back, on the stroller, around her neck, on the blanket and- the Marc Jacobs Baby attire- oh no not the MJBA!! So I did what any new mom would do. I picked her up, set her on the changing table and, through my full blown snotty cry told her it was ok and Mommy would clean her up. “It’s ok baby. You didn’t know it was Marc Jacobs you were getting full of shit”.
I turned to my mother said (Exorcist voice) “Get Me Scissors”. And right there in that bathroom comforting my precious, shit-filled angel, I committed a mortal sin. I cut that Baby Marc Jacobs off that girl, threw it and the blanket in the garbage, changed her, cleaned her, put her in a fresh diaper and cried tears of joy that I had conquered that shit! Until my mom said……(insert Cuban accent) Ceci…I am looking in the diaper bag and I am not seeing another outfit. FREEZE! What do you mean another outfit, Mom? “Well, jew no, a, como se dice, back up out feet”. No, I don’t jew know! When you leave your house in Marc Jacobs there is no “back up out-feet” necessary, Mother”!
$45 dollars and two hours later (because after she pooped she had to eat) me wearing a shit-stained shirt and my baby swaddled in only a blanket ala Baby Jesus and not Marc Jacobs, we made it out of Pottery Barn baby to find that the Basic Training had been on me.
Through all that, wippee after wippee, kind word after kind word, I realized I was so deeply, truly, movingly in love with my daughter that even her shit did not stink.
I do not know of any mom who did not ponder how they would ever be able to love their second child as much as they loved their first. Yeah you hear all that b.s. about your heart expanding and all that bullshit, but really? How can it be?
My son was born at 36 weeks-8 pounds, 21 inches and in full respiratory distress. Yeah, it happens in 20% of white babies and this kid apparently did not get the memo that he is 50% Hispanic. To say that my love for him hit me like a ton of bricks is an understatement. He was sick and I would have done anything for him. Anything that is except change his diaper- no way, no how, no shit!
The NICU is intense. That’s a whole other monologue but…after days of being told that I should cup my hands and not stroke him, that my smell sent him into distress, that the best I could do for him was watch from the window and pray—into the Mommy Waiting Room comes the lady from Poltergeist. You know…the one who says “Carol Ann stay away from the light”. Yep. That one.
Poltergeist nurse says…”Are you Baby Redmond’s mommy?”
Yes. Yes I am—I respond heart racing and my head screaming “what the hell happened that they are sending the lady from Poltergeist out to get me”!
“Why hello I am Bunny. Baby Redmond has a dirty diaper and I thought you might want to come in and change him since I know you have not been able to hold him”. “Ummm…dirty diaper? As in poop?”
“Well, yes. I believe he has a nice doodie in there which is a great sign that his bowels are working and he is eliminating waste”
Head screaming again “holy shit his bowels were NOT working? What the hell is she saying to me? Doodie? Doodie? No wonder Carol Ann ran to the light! This woman is a fucking freak!”
I responded…in a voice two octaves higher than mine because I have this problem that when people speak weird or have an accent I imitate them without even knowing it!—“Well, see Bunny, I never changed a diaper until I was 36 years old. They gave me a class here so I could do it properly and not get shit into my daughter’s vagina- which is a big issue for me, Bunny.
Baby Redmond has different equipment and, well, I need another class you see, Bunny. He is suffering so much and if I get shit in the wrong place I will hurt him and leave him sterile and he will hate me.
No, No, No, Bunny, Let. Go. Of. Me! No I do not need a hug. No I am not depressed. No, Bunny, I am freaking out that my baby can’t breathe and is now sitting in his own shit while the lady from Poltergeist is debating whether or not his mother is mentally competent. I am fine, Bunny. Go Get that doodie Bunny. GO!
My son was a fine artist. Every time I pulled his diaper off he would spray the walls with pee. I would laugh so hard trying to cover his weaner up while holding him on the table that it would get everywhere. One day he was particularly cranky. I, of course, thought of Bunny and wondered “how do I know if his bowels stopped working?” You see…I am shit obsessed!
As I was grabbing a fresh diaper that kid Jackson Pollak’ed all over the wall of his bedroom. I swear if I had a canvas I could have sold that shit for millions! There I was with a shit smeared wall just looking at my son smiling. He got that doodie right out. He was happy and I could care less that I had a masterpiece to clean up. I looked in the mirror and had a lovely Cindy Freakin’ Crawford mole on my face. And though I wished I had turned into a super model as God’s reward for the shit cleaning-my mole smeared. Yep. Shit on the face.
As I smiled I thought…Who is this woman in the mirror?
I am not sure if my youngest child ever really pooped. I was too busy chasing after the other two to log away poop memories for her. But there is one that has stayed with us. As I was wiping her one day when she was feeling sick to her tummy I said “Oh baby, you have diarrhea . She said, No, Mommy. I have Pooperias. So at our house its pooperias.
Which really is much more relevant since it incorporates the word poop and who the hell knows what diah really is anyways right?
My good friends will tell you that you might be sitting having a glass of wine with me on the couch and hear a random “Marlin, wipe my butt” coming from my youngest child! She is 8 for Christ’s sake but still calls for back up.
Because that one -that skinny little redhead you see- that one poops like a man!
She calls herself “The Little Master”
The other day scanning through my Photo Stream I came across a picture of a ginormous turd in the toilet. Once I found the culprit my darling baby girl says “Mom, it was so huge I thought it was picture-worthy. Besides, my brother wasn’t home and we have a competition as to who makes the biggest turds”. And you know what, I am good with that because as long as the boy’s bowels keep working I am all good with a turd docudrama on my Photo Stream.
By the way…my youngest calls me Marlin as often as she calls me Mommy. It started when she was 4 and right after her dad and I separated. We were watching Nemo and she said “from today on I am calling you Marlin”. I said “Why baby?” and she said “Because like Nemo you’re all I’ve got”. Damn right I will wipe her ass until she is 21 if that’s what she wants!
Nothing joins us more than shit. I mean think of the first time you pooped after you were married? I used to wait and go at the McDonald’s on i70 on the way from Kansas City to Topeka. I’d wave at all my Mexican friends and say “Buenos Dias. Voy al bano!” My ex-husband thought I just did not poop. “My wife? No she does not poop. Never once has she pooped in the last year. Girls just don’t poop”. Damn, straight, Skippy, in that department I am still a virgin. No pooping here”. That is until you deliver your first kid of course. And then it’s…We will never speak of this again!
So, before this really goes down the shitter, you have probably caught on that there is more to all this than 50 ways to say feces.
This shit is about being vulnerable and discussing the undiscussable with those you love.. It is about the transition into selflessness that is required of all mothers. The point where shit stops being shit and you actually smile about it.
Shit like love is raw. It is real. It is uncontrollable. It changes in form. At times it is solid and other times it just liquefies right before your eyes. Sometimes it just happens and other times it takes work to get it out. You just can’t control it. It can happen when you least expect it and you just have to pull over and take care of it. It can take two pieces of toilet paper to clean up or half a roll. And it can leave you hurting for a day or two. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, you just coast right by and shit is actually pleasant, a real relief. A big win.
And then there are those times that it is so spectacular that you have to take a picture of it and show your brother because…“ You Can’t Make This Shit Up”.
I have been in love with brands since I could remember. I have always been particularly fond of brands that were a true representation of Americana-what the Gringo kids would wear, drink, eat, buy.
As a matter of fact, a brand set this whole crazy fun career of mine in motion. During the 1989 Grammy Awards telecast, Pepsi featured the Puerto Rican singer Chayanne in the first advertising spot in Spanish language to be broadcast on national television without dubbing or subtitles. I was watching and the first thought I had was-Wow! I can’t believe that though Coke taught the world to sing Pepsi did it in Spanish on NBC! I knew right then and there that I wanted to dive into the mind of consumers and get them to buy something in the language of their preference. That, my friends, is multicultural marketing in a nutshell and, though the term had not been coined, I wanted to bring Gringo brands alive in Spanish!
I had a notebook of brand translations:
Burger King- Have It Your Way; Tenlo de tu manera (es-cuse-mi?!)
Coke- Is It/Es “it” (because It does not translate O-kaay!)
KFC-Finger lickin’ good (until abuela kicks your ass)/ Para chuparte los dedos (as long as abuela is not around to kick your ass)
Charmin- Don’t squeeze the Charmin/No aprietes le papel de inodoro (gross)
But I digress…All of this really leads to my fascination with Hallmark cards. One of my lifelong sister friends will tell you that after every silly fight-and some included hair pulling-that we had as little kids, after every teenage squabble over stupid stuff like why I choose not to eat veal, and every adult real live drama, I have sent her a Hallmark card. Hallmark-when you care enough to send the very best. Hallmark-a beautifully written English language sentiment that helped translate “dejen de comer mierda y haganse amiguitas otra vez” in a more eloquent and appropriate manner. Hallmark, in their non-committal, way less passionate, flowery and unaccented language was always the solution to the problem.
Every day in the news and politics you read about the threats of immigration. It is terribly difficult for me to understand the idea that immigrants could be a threat- our parents will remind us of the days not so long ago when there were signs on buildings in Miami that said No Dogs; No Cubans. But there’s one belief in particular that really blows my cabeza. “They will take our language and our culture away from us. This is America. Speak our language; eat our burgers!”
When you look at Miami-our 305-our home-our Cuba- you see the prefect blend of Yours & Mine making Ours. There’s Cuban coffee for $50 at the café window and three doors down there’s a Starbucks charging $3 something for a Frappuccino. And the same people drinking both! You see a sign for Arepas at the corner and the iHop right behind it. We wear guayaberas and Keds. We drink Budweiser, Iron Beer, Coca Cola and Jupina. We have our pastelitos after our pilates classes. We are an example of the growth, prosperity, independence and codependence of cultures in the most beautiful form of all.
And so I wonder…why are we not seen as an example of what happens When You Care Enough To Send The Very Best? When you open the doors to educators and physicians, teachers and administrators. When you educate their children and infuse as much pride and passion in them for a country they will never set foot on as they have for the country they were born in. When you create a new and richer cultural experience for all who have been fortunate enough to live it and those who yearn to experience it fireworks happen!
Our culture is going mainstream. Pitbull is on the radio. Yuca Fries on the menu in Northern Indiana (I shit you not!), Bustelo in markets across the Midwest. Modern Family and Sofia’s accent famous on national TV. That’s a great reason to celebrate this weekend and a great reason to open our arms, our hearts and our doors and “let the sun shine in” so that everyone can enjoy life “good to the last drop” while we “share a Coke and a smile” reading a card from our bestie who 43 years later still “cares enough to send the very best”.
Feliz Dia De La Independencia-Happy Fourth of July
The answer to the question “where are you?” from becomes progressively more complex as you move from place to place. I grew up in Miami, lived in LA for a couple of years, moved to Kansas City for 13 years and now I live in Indiana. However, when I am asked “where are you from?” that answer never seems to feel truthful nor does it satisfy the person asking the question.
That’s because I am Cuban. I speak Spanish-fluently. I speak English with an ever-so-slight Miami twang and bust into a ripping roaring Ricky Ricardo accent at the drop of a black bean. “Americans” are perplexed by how I speak. And when I say that I am from Miami and my parents are Cuban I often get the “but you don’t look Hispanic” commentary. Jess, jess, I an Hiss-pah-nick! Forget going into the educational mumbo jumbo about how the islands were colonized by Spaniards who were trying to convert the natives that had come from Africa and therefore many Cubans have roots in Spain let’s just stick to the facts.
My children are very proud of their heritage though they don’t speak a lick of Spanish. Yes, yes, yes I am flagilating as I type. I did not teach them Spanish because, frankly, I got too damn tired of conjugating verbs all night trying to translate back and forth between the babies, their father and I. In the end, I should have taught them and left him in the dark as, in hindsight, he had left me in the dark about lots and lots of things. But that’s another story for another day. Hay Dios mio, pa que fue eso!
So, the kids, no Spanish except a clear understanding of all the cuss words. Couple of years ago at school they asked, class by class, if anyone was Hispanic. In the third grade a blond, blue-eyed little girl raises her hand and says “I’m Cuban”. In the second grade, after the same question, a dark-haired boy with panty-dropper dark eyes raises his hand and says, “I’m Cuban”. As if that did not have the administration in a tizzy, when they get to Kindergarten, from the front row pipes up a red-head and says “I am Irish on the outside but Cuban on the inside” as she shakes her oh, so, skinny, Gringa bottom!
What is the point of all this? I am starting a blog and you are obviously reading it. If you keep reading it you should know what is my core. My core is that, although I have never set foot on Cuban soil and this little seed was made in Miami and born in the USA, I am Cuban. Being Cuban is my essence, my brand architecture, my positioning statement, my unique selling proposition. It is who I am.
So strap on your see-bells and get ready for a helluva multicultural humor-infused ride through my wild and crazy bilingual brain. No RSVP required. Que RSVP, ni RSVP?!! Come right in and drink a chair.