M turns 8 in two months but I’m already planning her party. Actually, we started planning her party in April, a full five months in advance. I have a list that breaks down guest list, location, and favors. No, no soy one of those Pinterest moms. My gluing skills are limited to dance and Carnaval costumes. While I love to cook, this year we’ll be offering all-American burgers and chips. Like every frazzled parent I know, I sigh and say I’m done with the big birthday parties every year. Then the cycle starts anew.
As a child, my parents always threw us huge parties. My dad’s entire soccer team and their families, my godparents and my brother’s godparents and their kids, and any relatives would come. There would be tons of Peruvian food, a giant sheet cake, a piñata for the kids, and dancing to salsa and merengue. Because I was an introvert, I found all the people and activities overwhelming. But memories were made. Like the time the big boys decided to tightrope walk around the fence in the backyard and were threatened by the mean next door neighbor Or the time we realized we could Tarzan swing across the garage. I especially like how happy my mom and dad always looked. And still look. Because you best believe mi mama isn’t letting a birthday go by without some sort of gathering.
Celebrating my 44th. Notice the look on my mom’s face(she’s on my right).
Unlike me, M doesn’t seem uncomfortable at her birthday parties. In fact, she says she loves the attention, the little diva. Ever the assertive leader, M has helped pick a theme for her celebration from the time she was 4. They have been often been tied to a favorite TV show. Lately they also incorporate her Halloween costume (yes, we are a family of planners.)
Yo Gabba Gabba Dancey Dance Party
Princess Costume Party
Wonder Woman party
Wizard of Oz theme. Notice her tee. Her dance recital had the same theme. Why not stretch out a good theme?
So while I may balk at the work and expense that goes into planning birthday parties, I do love the memories we’ve shared. They are moments that remind us of what truly matters.
Some of the best memories aren’t recorded on film. My brother and I were recently discussing one of the memorable moments from our days watching Cal basketball. We had gathered on Sproul Plaza to cheer on our NCAA-bound Cal Bears. Each player had his chance in the spotlight. Then one of the weaker players stood up. The crowd began to boo and jeer. The poor guy kept a grin on his face. Bless his heart.
These were the days before cell phone cameras and social media. But those images are as fresh as if they happened yesterday.
When M was two, we made our first road trip to LA with her. On our drive home, she entertained us with a giggly rendition of a favorite from our Music Together classes, “John the Rabbit.” These were the days before I had gotten hooked on Facebook and Instagram. There is no video but Rambo and I will always treasure that sweet serenade.
This weekend, M and I went to Fairyland to watch her friends dance. As sometimes happens, the phone battery died. Instead of focusing of taking photos or being distracted by the news feed, I simply watched her. I got to see her natural smiles, how she interacts with other children, and how she loves to play outdoors. Those moments were ours.
I look forward to lots of dead phone batteries this holiday season and in the next year.
Are ringing through my opened ears Inciting and inviting me. Limitless undying love, which Shines around me like a million suns, It calls me on and on across the universe” The Beatles
This morning, it feels like a hundred years have passed since you died and yet it seems I talked to you last week. As a matter of fact, I talked to you on Sunday during that last mile of my ninth half-marathon. I asked you to help me do it. I told you I wanted to quit. Every time I want to give up on something, whether it is running or work or any other challenge, I talk to you. In death as in life, you continue to be a coach. You push me and I am grateful.
My world has changed so much. I am the happy mother of the most amazing child. She knows you as her uncle in heaven. I know you would have liked her.
I am still teaching across the boulevard for the cross town rival. While it is a dark, demoralizing time for most teachers, and I can’t lie and say I don’t struggle with low morale, I still love what I always loved: the kids, the books, the conversations. When I get too assistant principal with my students, I try to channel you and be more of a coach and more of a kid.
The greatest change is that I embrace life. Life used to be such a struggle for me. It is ironic that I had to lose so much before I could finally love this great gift of life. I am humbled and grateful.
I know you are well. I like to picture you driving that gold Camaro down the Pacific Coast highway, blasting LL Cool J.
Alma Mater An echo of “America” Inspired, as always, by Allen Ginsberg
For Cliff and Nicole
Alma Mater I’ve given you my all and now I’m nothing. Alma Mater, May 9th, 2007. I can’t stand my tender heart. Alma mater when will the drama end? Go screw yourself with your tenacious grasp on my throat. I’m over you don’t bother me. I won’t write this poem till I’m in the right frame of mind.
Alma Mater when will you be whole again? When will you rock me in your arms? When will you shake the disease of ignorance? When will you be worthy of your thousand scholars? Alma Mater why is there blood on your blacktop? Alma Mater when will you send the villains to Hell? I’m sick of your weakness. When can I come back and receive a loving welcome without guilt or regret? Alma Mater after all it is you and I who are the problem, Not the powers that be. Your neediness is too much for me. You made me want to be a saint. There must be some other way to make things right. B is in heaven. He will never come back. It’s sad. Are you sad or is this some sort of practical joke? I’m trying to come to the point. I refuse to give up my obsession. Alma Mater stop pushing. I know what I’m doing. Alma Mater the stone fruit is ripening. I haven’t prayed the rosary in months. Every day somebody gets murdered in the streets. Alma Mater I feel sentimental about the kids by the trees. Alma Mater I used to be a liar when I was a kid and I am sorry. I talk trash every chance I get. I sit on my couch sometimes and stare at the black and white photo of the Immaculate Conception statue from St. Joachim’s. When I go to church I get distracted and never pray enough. My mind is made up there’s going to be trouble. You should have seen me reading Dostoyevsky. My therapist thinks I’m better. I won’t say goodbye yet. I have flashbacks and see ghosts. Alma Mater I still haven’t told you what you did to that boy who overdosed on heroin.
I’m addressing you. Are you going to let your future be dictated by the machine? I detest the machine. It grinds good people into dust every week. Its gears roll on like millstones, roll over good intentions. I dream of the machine imploding some day. It tells me about inadequacy. Administrators are inadequate. Teachers are inadequate. Everyone’s inadequate, especially me. It occurs to me that I am Alma Mater. I am always talking to myself.
Public opinion is rising against me. I haven’t got a BP exec’s chance. I’d better consider my natural resources. My natural resources consist of two citrus fruit trees roomfuls of clutter three unpublished novels a mind that can go 200 miles an hour and 32000 hours of psychotherapy. I say nothing about the parents I have failed to call nor the dozens of ungraded papers who live in piles on my desk under curriculum binders. I have banned the snap of gum; chips are the next to go. My ambition is to be famous despite the fact that I’m not photogenic.
Alma Mater how can I write a catalog poem, and an ode, in this gray mood? I will continue like Steve Jobs my stanzas are as innovative as his iGadgets more so they’re all different gender identities. Alma Mater I will sell you stanzas $10K a piece $1000 down on your old stanza. Alma Mater remember Brett Haagenson Alma Mater remember John Hilmer Alma Mater we won that National Blue Ribbon School award Alma Mater I am one of Kemo Sabe’s AP kids. Alma Mater when I was fifteen my parents threw me a quinceanera but in our garage and I danced the waltz with all the Peruvian dads but none of my school friends showed and no one understood my secret pain the crying bouts in a dark closet the sting of an Exacto knife on wrist but you found me drew me out through words shook my hand put me on the front page of the Record. Everyone was so proud. Alma Mater you really don’t want to stop fighting. Alma Mater it’s those with authority. Authority power and money. And power. Power wants to dissolve you. Power is power mad. It wants to rip our spines out of us as if we were fish. Power wants to change us. Power wants us to be Stepford people. Power wants us to function like a copy machine factory. Power wants bureaucracy running our lives. That won’t work. No. Power pretends we fails our kids. Power pretends we don’t respect black and brown families. Ha! Power makes us all work eighty hour work weeks. Help. Alma Mater this is quite serious. Alma Mater this is the impression I get from reading Facebook status updates. Alma Mater is it true? It’s true I didn’t want to work like the horse in Animal Farm or stand by passively, I’m short and mentally unstable anyway. Alma Mater, I’m walking.
I met Don at the Endup several years ago. I don’t quite remember why or how. I think Housewife and I were carrying on as usual, walking the runway or dancing the Hustle or hooting and hollering for the house music. In any case, Don found me amusing, all 4’11” of grin and crazy dance moves. We became friends instantly, sharing a cocktail or beer over gossip. Don had a lovely voice, one he was too modest to show off very often, and he loved to dance. He had hung out at the Endup since the days of disco and he knew a good groove when he heard it. Like the many men and boys of the club scene, Don was a familiar face, someone I could trust to keep me from getting jostled on the dance floor.
During the dotcom upheaval of the late 90s, Don took a job in Germany. That summer, I journeyed there, crashing at Don’s place. It was my home base as I took the train to Belgium, France, Holland, and different cities in Germany. Together with Don, I partied at one of the best clubs I’ve ever experienced and went to my first rave. I learned a few words in German and learned to embrace traveling alone. Once Don returned to the States, I drew away from the clubs as I dove into straight girl singledom but Don would send me Christmas cards and tell me about the ongoing club scene.
Today, the DJ gave me the bad news that Don passed earlier this year from complications from pneumonia. I am sorry Don is no longer with us but I know he is on that dance floor in the sky, that he’s probably chuckling at someone’s silliness, that he is gracing another place with his affection and good nature.
A veces pienso que todo fue un cuento que escribi. Que fuiste un personaje que invente y que el fin de la historia fue un desenlace que se me habia olvidado. En fin, ya no existe ni el uno para el otro. Resultamos ficcion.
Que dirias si supieras lo que me sucede? Que he sido transformada completamente. Que mi universo es otro. Que la magia que nos fascinaba, la del cine fantasmagorico espanol, el de las fotografias chinas en el museo, la magia de las pesadillas y los presentimientos, es real y al borde de ser revelado. O quizas ya ni me conocerias?
It was a no-joy-in-Mudville moment. Babo’s crestfallen expression said it all. Our 5 Latino beer buzz had worn off and in 14 seconds, we saw our hopes to be Number One vanish. Now Cal is down to Number 10/12.
Cal football means a lot to my crew. It is a time for camaraderie and family. A time to reminisce on the good old days of Wolf House parties and kegs and the new old days of showing up at Chuppie(Chicano and Yuppie=chuppie)tailgates with paper bags in hand and drunkenly debating whether or not to approach Ben Braun. We stick with the Osos Dorados because we are proud and loyal.
I was pumped up about yesterday. I had broken my fast from alcohol at the SF Greek Food Fest a few weeks ago but Homecoming was going to be a return to my legendary shenanigans. Dutifully, I filled my water bottle with Peruvian beer and then Lisabet and I took on the 24 oz. Coronas. By the time, we took a break at Hillel House, I was singing the chorus from “Pedro Navaja”, “la vida te da sorpresas, sorpresas te da la vida, ay Dios!” as strangers lauded me for my customized shirt.
The game got to be more of a nail-biter as the game went on but the Bears held on. And then they lost it. We lost it.
But rankings and losses aside, Cal football games will continue to be the stuff of stories. This fall has already had some classic moments: devilish South Central offering me a sip of snakebite at Raleigh’s, the Army parachuting into the stadium(now that was a shoot me now moment), me passing our section because the Army recruiting table distracted me, some random white guys telling me “You look good standing next to the Axe,” Slim telling us hilarious anecdotes about the Gamma’s drunken escapades at Mario’s La Fiesta(and Lisa’s comment “how come Mikey is in every story?”), and me running back and forth between the games at Alma Mater and the Cal vs. Oregon game on TV in my friend’s classroom.
Sera hoy la quinta noche que duermo con la luz prendida?
I’ve been sleeping with my light on since Thursday. La Peruana’s hubby showed me an email forward on his new high-tech phone. It was supposed to be funny but I didn’t laugh as the nasty face of a possessed Regan from The Exorcist glared at me to the awful tune of the movie theme song. I didn’t laugh at the threat of pubic lice if the message wasn’t forwarded. Instead, I wondered if I wouldn’t have nightmares.
Those images and that music always cause old fears to surface. I go back to what worked when I was six(and until I was 11), the comfort of a bright light bulb and my ability to sleep, despite brightness and heat.
I’ve had no nightmares. My dreams are lucid. But I have been too exhausted to grab the tape recorder. Or maybe I am afraid to remember.
On a Sunday afternoon, after we have had brunch, we cross a gravelly parking lot. You tease me as I stumble in my brown slingbacks. You wonder if I’ve forgotten how to walk in heels, though these are lower than what I usually wear. You reach for me suddenly, pull me towards you, kiss me passionately, as we stand beneath the canopy of endless blue sky. I am startled. “What was that for?” “I just wanted to give that to you.” “I thought you weren’t a PDA kind of guy.” “I’m not.” My heart twirling around and around like a little kid trying to make themselves dizzy. Your hand is warm and holds mine tightly. I want the moment to last forever. I relive it often. # On a Monday afternoon, after we have talked about how we feel and where we are going, we sit in a rental car in the parking lot of a military post store. You stroke my hair over and over, look into my eyes in a way no one ever has. I feel small, young. Our final kiss is ardent. My heart feels like it’s taken a leap off a high mountain peak. You touch my hair again, give me “one last hug.” I watch you walk away as tears fill my eyes. Why didn’t that moment last forever? And will I get to relive it?