A Memoir for Mamí

My husband and I were on our way to enjoy a rare and much appreciated childless brunch at one of our favorite local breweries. As we’re driving I notice one of those inflatable air dancers in front of a shop and quickly point it out to my husband. I told him about a little game the kids and I have with the air dancers. Every time we see one floating around we quickly turn up the radio to see which song he’s dancing to. We’ll flip through until we find the perfect song and laugh as it flings it’s arms up in the air to the music. I told my husband I hope that becomes one of their favorite memories of me and that maybe, if those air dancers are still around, they share the game with their own kids. That got me thinking about my favorite memories with my mom.

I remember the very first time I ate a kiwi.  My mother used to clean guest rooms for a large hotel when we were little. It wasn’t often but when the hotel had leftover fruit from food service they would let the cleaning staff take some home.  Sometimes she would come home with oranges and apples which were always a treat for us.  But I’ll never forget the day she came home with kiwis.  I must have been about 4  years old but I remember looking at how exotic it looked, like it came from some far off beach where beautifully bronzed bodies roamed the sand devouring the gorgeous fruit like it was caviar.  She only had two kiwis with her so she cut them in half for myself and my three sisters to share.  Then she grabbed a few spoons and showed us how to scoop out the lovely bright green fruit inside.  I thought this must be the most luxurious eating experience of my life. I was eating fruit reserved only for people rich enough to stay at a fancy hotel and eating it as they would.  By that time I had only ever eaten fruit with my hands like a savage!  This fruit, however, was special and merited flatware.   When I finally took a bite I knew instantly I’d love kiwis for the rest of my life.  I wanted more but my half was gone far too quickly.

Every time she came home from work after that day I prayed she’d have another kiwi in her bag.  A lot actually so I wouldn’t have to share mine.  She’d come home with apples, oranges, the occasional slightly bruised banana.  She came home with raisin bread once which was lovely but it wasn’t a kiwi.  The days a kiwi came home with her were like winning the big prize at a carnival. I’ll never forget that. Now, every time I see kiwis at the grocery store, they remind me of my mom.  It saddens me to think my kids won’t have that memory with my mom but I wonder what their memories will be of me.

Blowing out my birthday candles 

I’m sure they won’t remember every day happenings just as I don’t.  They’ll remember stand-out moments like vacations or birthday parties. So I try to add to their memory bank by doing things like stopping the car without warning and running through sprinklers at the park with them.  Or, by dancing in my underwear and shaking my butt until their sides hurt from laughter.  Or singing songs that seem to have no end because we change the words up with every verse.  Of course, some days are easier than others to try to build memories because, well, life, but I do try to do something fun or memorable with my kids when the opportunity arises.

Some of my favorite memories of my mom involve us laughing or travelling, or me helping her out at the grocery store or in our kitchen. The majority are pretty great memories.  I don’t really remember too many times she lost her patience with us.  That’s not to say those times didn’t exist.  Raising six kids was undoubtedly stressful.  On weeks where we struggle to make ends meet with our own three kids I honestly wonder how my parents managed to make ends meet for all six of theirs.  As an adult I can see now how they must have struggled.  But as a kid, sitting on the cooler between my dad driving and my mom making us bologna sandwiches as we made our way from Illinois to California for the first time in our lives for my cousin’s quinceañera in our conversion van while driving through tunneled roads along the Rockies, we were living the life!

And so, its in their struggle that I find hope.  Hope that even though I may have yelled at them for doing everything BUT brush their teeth for bed, they’ll remember the fun little pranks we play on each other.  Hope that for every time I ground them for not cleaning their bedrooms, they’ll remember movie nights and “Jumbo Bed”, a family favorite.  Hope that for every weekend that my husband and I had to work which meant they’d miss out on the latest Disney production in town, they’ll remember all our fun times spent in “our city” (what my kids call downtown El Paso).  Hope that for every book left unread at bedtime they’ll remember the books that were read and the funny voices mommy made for each character.  And hope, that one day, when they have babies of their own, they’ll share some of their favorite memories of me with them and then build their own.

As kids we all have different memories of same experiences so I asked my siblings what some of their favorite memories with our mom were.  One sister remembers our mom jamming the radio full blast to the likes of José Luis “El Puma” Rodríguez and Julio Iglesias.  This was definitely not one of my favorite memories because it usually meant she was using their velvety voices to wake us up to clean.  Although, it did help me remember how she always sings a half-beat behind the music.  That is one of my favorite memories.  My other sister reminded me how it  was and still is impossible to get the exact time from our mom.  If we asked her what time it was in the morning (because the only clock in the house was likely the one on the microwave in those days) she’d say “Time to get up and clean!” or “It’s almost noon and you’re still just laying there!” when it was really closer to 10:45 a.m. While at the time this memory frustrated us, it’s pretty endearing now. Sort of.

My mom is very sentimental so she keeps things that have special memories for her like old documents from Mexico, jewelry and clothing.  When my siblings and I were all finally out of the house she somehow managed to fill every closet in the house with all her dresses and blouses that weren’t currently in her daily rotation but, perhaps one day the right occasion would merit their return.   Occasionally she’ll pull out some of her older pieces to see if it’s time for their comeback.  Then, when we come over for a visit she’ll pull out outfit combinations she’s been thinking about wearing for mass, upcoming baby showers or birthday parties.   Aside from her wedding dress, one of the oldest pieces she’s kept over the years is a brown mini-dress with little white flowers sprinkled throughout that she wore in her early 20’s.  I love that dress.

My grandfather’s birth certificate 

When my brother told me his favorite memory it made me laugh because it was something I just did for the first time with my own kids.  At breakfast, where most moms would crack eggs on the edge of a bowl or on the counter-top,  our mom would line us up to crack the eggs open on our foreheads.  First, she would slowly and carefully find the hardest spot on our forehead which would add to our anticipation of what was to come. Then, CRACK! I remember it hurting for a quick second but the thrill we felt after risking potentially being showered with raw egg made it too fun to notice the quick bang to our hard heads.

This is an obvious statement but I’d be lost without my mom.  She’s the home my compass always points back to.  I have a great many more wonderful memories with my mom and plan to make many more with her.  And so, it’s to my wonderfully courageous, hula-hooping mom (yet another awesome memory), that I dedicate this memoir.  Thank you for filling our hearts with some incredible memories Mamí.  La quiero mucho.

My momma as a kid

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