Friday, August 15, 2008
(1950s(?): costa rica (?). my mom, claudia, or rather "cabita" as she is lovingly known to everyone . . . the songbird.)
i never really got along with my mom when i was growing up.
it wasn't until i was in my 20s--about two years after she moved back to costa rica and i was a sophomore at ucla--that she and i really began connecting.
(one of life's little ironies, huh? we had to be thousands of miles apart to finally get close . . . but that's how it was.)
and in the last decade, i've come to know, understand, and appreciate my mom in ways in ways i never dreamed i could or would.
i suppose it just took me a long time to piece together the image i now have of my mother; in my mind's eye, she is an incredible mosaic of subtly powerful moments.
when my dad died in '88, it was as though my world crumbled. i was 10 and i didn't believe in death . . . my own or anyone else's. like disney's and grimm's stories, death was likewise fantastical, unreal. but even as my brothers and i spiraled down into our grief, my mom was so poised--something i recognized even at that young age. she cried and mourned, to be sure, but with three teenage boys and a little girl to look after . . . she was so collected and composed. there was no undignified sobbing, no throwing herself onto the coffin . . .
without her saying so explicitly, we all somehow understood that life would carry on and that everything would ultimately be alright.
in fact, my mom was so calm that in my naivete, i mistook her bravery for heartlessness.
then, when she turned 65 (15 years after my father's passing), a good-looking, well-spoken, charismatic professor from the states moved into the beach house next to hers in punta leona. she'd make comments about how attractive and witty this individual was . . . so, my brothers and i sat down with her and gave her the "go-ahead" . . . but a very serious look swept over her soft, golden face, and her eyes welled-up with tears. she said, "i hope someday the four of you find the same kind of love i once had. there will never be another man for me."
my mom is nothing, if not all heart.
in the late 60s, when she and my dad lived in new york, someone on her street called child protective services to our house. people did not especially care for latinos back then . . . when the woman from social services arrived she was perplexed as to why anyone had called, for inside the humble facade of our brownstone, the woman found a spartan, but warm, inviting, and tidy space inhabited by three precocious, rambunctious, happy, and healthy boys.
at the time, my mom and dad alternated working night and day custodial shifts, respectively, at the empire state building. life was a far cry from the "american dream" . . . and so the woman offered my mother a $200 check. naturally, my mom refused. we were poor, but proud. and coming to america was not about living off of uncle sam, but rather making a new life from the sweat of one's own brow . . . anyhow, the social worker wouldn't hear of it and left the money.
taking the cash (which was a significant sum at the time), my mom paid off bills and stocked our cupboards with the typical staples for a spanish home: rice, beans, chicken.
it took my parents the better part of a year to put the $200 together again, but when they finally did, my mom went down to the welfare office, found the woman who had visited us and returned the money.
i have countless numbers of these stories . . .
about how my mom donates her time and what little money she has--always anonymously--to orphanages and convalescent homes. even now, at age 70 . . .
"never let your right hand know what your left is doing, mija."
about how she inculcated in my brothers and me the same spirit of volunteerism, sense of honesty, duty, right and wrong, dignity, humility, pride, optimism, fearlessness, belief in family and the human spirit . . . always by example.
my mother has never asked my siblings or me, or anyone else, to do something she wouldn't be willing to do herself.
feminine, funny, clever, athletic, strong, adventurous, kind, generous with all that she has and all that she is . . . first to help, first to give, first to love, first to laugh, first to believe, my mom is my rock and my idol.
you can keep your rosie the riveter, your day o'connor, your dido, your kennedy onassis, your cinderella, your she-ra, your venus, your angelou, your cleopatra, your joan of arc, your aphrodite . . . i'll take my mom any day.