Monday, April 14, 2014

Middle Child

I was the middle child in an Hispanic family, the one wedged between the oldest son and the baby daughter. A lot was excused from an oldest son, and who could resist the cuteness of a baby sister?

Me?  I was the proverbial chopped liver – lonely and abused.

I was also the oldest daughter in an Hispanic family.  I was expected to learn how to do household chores and learn how to cook. I was the little mama, the one who helps with the younger siblings.  Oh yay!

My parents had high expectations for all of us.  Both of them were highly intelligent, and they suspected the same from us, so they demanded nothing less than A’s in school.  They sometimes overlooked my brother’s B’s (cabeza dura), but I was hounded and condemned to hours of study if I dared to bring home anything less than a straight A.

My parents, especially my mother, didn’t care where or when she scolded me. Often it was out in public – in front of my friends or classmates, loud enough for everyone to hear and see.  A proud and independent child, I resented being corrected in public. It only increased my rebellion and determination to get out of there as soon as I could.

I decided I would never have children. But I did – three of my own. 

What did I learn from my upbringing?

One, regardless of birth order and how easily it can be to play favorites, don’t.  Give time and be fair and equal to all the children.  All three of mine had equal amounts of responsibilities but I also shared my time with each of them.

Two, it is okay to have expectations from each one.  An education is non-negotiable.  So is going to church. I tried to impress on my three that school is not just a social hangout; we also want a good transcript and a diploma. If A’s were not accessible, then a passing grade would do (but I knew what to expect from them).

Three, I never corrected them out in public.  We waited until we were in private – our home, the car, or the closest public rest room.  If they hoped and prayed I would forget by the time we got to some place private, their prayer was never granted.

I hated being a middle child.  I hated being ignored except for when it came to chores or responsibilities. It broke my heart to see my parents lavish attention on my brothers and sisters and treat me less. Because of it, I am aware of when it happens to others.


Monday, April 7, 2014

Believing in Angels

I cannot remember when I didn’t believe in angels.  I grew up Catholic; need I say more?.  Angels were everywhere.  Angels fill our literature, our art, our architecture, our music; but we weren’t the first to claim their existence. Long before Judaic, Christian, or Islamic beliefs mentioned angels, their existence is recorded in the monotheistic religions that preceded them.
The belief in angels has been with us through the ages of time, but have I ever seen one, with my own eyes?
I have encountered several unusual experiences, but my “angels” know I frighten easily, so they try to be a lot more subtle and subdued than those depicted in art or literature.
As a child, I suffered from night fears but a framed picture hung on my bedroom wall of a beautiful, benevolent, golden angel with a magnificent wing span protecting two small children. It kept my fears at bay. As a teenager, I carried a “holy card” with the likeness of the Archangel Michael on one side and a prayer on the other in my bible. He too had an impressive wing span, but this was a fearsome warrior angel.  With his stern face and righteous sword, he protected me from the evils of the world.
In the summer of 1998, I slipped and fell in an isolated parking lot.  I lay there on the scalding hot pavement with a shattered right kneecap. There was no one nearby, so I yelled for help. Before long a dozen people appeared.  One person retrieved a blanket from the trunk of his car and tucked it around me. A woman lent me her big, floppy purse to lean on while someone else called 911. A crowd encircled me to provide some shade from the blaring sun. They chatted with me and comforted me, some making me laugh. Later, as the EMTs lifted me onto the ambulance, I turned to thank them, but the crowd had disappeared.  When I muttered my disappointment, one of the attendants said only two people had been with me, but they took off as soon as the ambulance had arrived.  What about all the others?
Another time I woke from a deep sleep; someone had called my name. I remember feeling their breath on my face.  I was newly divorced, alone in the house, and it was late at night, but in the dark I saw a light down the hall in the kitchen area. I thought it was one of my kids, dropping by for a late night visit. As I approached, the light dissipated like when a car passes by on the street and its lights travel across the dark room inside the house.  I saw movement near the patio door, and I noticed it was unlocked.  This time I saw the form of a man standing outside my door. A stranger. I quickly turned on the patio light and the person fled. I double checked that all the doors were locked and set the alarm system. I slept on the living room sofa that night in case the person returned. That night has always baffled me. Someone called my name, wanted me awake and in the kitchen, and wanted me to know that I was in danger.

I have had too many such experiences to attribute them to luck or coincidence.  I give full credit to my angels. 

Monday, March 31, 2014

Get A Job!!!

I was in my young fifties when I decided to retire.  I dreamt of lazy mornings, afternoon naps, endless hours of nothingness.
But my husband warned me that the complete halt of my daily routine might be a total shock to my system.  He understood I wouldn’t miss the stress, the commitments, or the harassments I was leaving behind in my old job, but what about the social aspect of my life, the challenge of learning something new on a daily basis, the pleasure I got from living an industrious life.
I needed to ease into retirement, he said.
I was going from working with thousands of people on a daily basis to just him for lunch.  I was involved in the latest trends and information in my field.  I liked working and being productive. He gently told me how much he loved having me at home, twenty-four/seven, taking care of our house, making him lunch and dinner, catching up on all the books and DVDs I had bought over the years and never taken out of their wrappers, BUT he was afraid it would keep me happy for only so long before I would get bored and come to resent the confinements of our life.
I needed to “get out there,” he said.  Find stuff to do.  Make new friends.  Register for classes.  Take up a hobby.  Or start a new career. He was kicking me off the couch.  Launching me into space.  Telling me to get a job.
I resented his advice at first, but now six year later (don’t you dare tell him this), I realize he was right.
At first, I toyed with selling real estate, but soon after I got my license, I decided I wanted to dedicate all the time that entailed to something else – I wanted to write. I found several writing groups and settled into the one that proved the most effective for my needs.  I joined a diet group and a gym and never intended to make friends with the women in these groups, but they befriended me and I was hooked.
Left to my own devices I would be wasting my time on lazy mornings, afternoon naps, and endless hours of nothingness; instead my life is full. I have a weekly routine that fills my retirement with friends and fun and fulfillment.   
I got a job like my husband advised.



Monday, March 24, 2014

The Best Book Club in the Whole Wide World

We might not wear feather boas or glittery tiaras when we meet (though I am thinking of suggesting such at the next meeting), but we have the best time when we get together to discuss our latest chosen tome.
Our group formed one afternoon in the spring of 2011 and though some of the original members have dropped out or moved away, the rest of us have persisted. We have read over twenty-three books in the last three years though meeting on a consistent basis depends on a myriad of facts.  We all have two lives – our daytime filled with family, jobs, and other obligations, and our writing life with all its deadlines, some self-imposed and others dictated by legal contracts.
Though we can bake and hostess with the best, we meet in the evenings at a cool, local coffee shop.  This way we don’t have to worry about adding more stress to our complicated lives and we don’t overstay our welcome.  Our book talks usually end when the employees start turning off lights and stacking chairs onto the empty tables.
We choose a book, pencil it into our calendars, and decide when to meet next.  We give ourselves six to eight weeks because of our other obligations and remind each other as the deadline approaches.  Some read old school – in paperback or hardcover copy, but others read on their iPads, iPhones, or by audio book.
We look at each book from two perspectives.  We study plot, characters, and themes, but because we are writers, we also look at the biz of book writing – studying the craft, the market, and targeted audience.  We dig up what we can about how it sold, its book reviews, and anything we can about the author.
We have purposely covered all genres – YA, classics, and current best sellers, but because the six of us are avid readers and constantly on the lookout for hidden gems, we have read some works that didn’t sell well or ended up in the published slush pile. (Most often, we end up agreeing with the bad reviews.)
In the last twelve months, we read The Double Bind by Chris Bohjalian (because of its references to Gatsby), Into the Free by Julie Cantrell (because of its stellar reviews), and Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn and Divergent by Veronica Roth (because of their lucrative movie deals). Over a busy summer we each read a book of our own choice and shared it with the group, and in the fall we each read a different Jane Austen. It was an interesting experiment, but we didn’t get as much out of it as we do when we all read and analyze the same novel. Our next book is non-fiction, a first for us since most of us specialize in fiction.

What makes this the best book club in the whole wide world is not what I have learned about the craft and business of writing.  It is not about the bound books. It is deeper than that.  It is about the bonds we six have formed while commiserating over what we liked and disliked in the books we have read. It’s the discussions that have led to sharing of personal experiences.  It is the friendship shared over a cup of coffee (or a smoothie) and a book, a simple book.  

Monday, March 17, 2014

Love Thy Neighbor

For years I was confused by the bible verse – Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.

As a child I was scolded, both at home and at school, if I tarried too long in front of a mirror.  I was chided if someone gave me a compliment, warned against the evils of vanity, pride, and egoism. I grew up embarrassed and ashamed.  How then was I to love others the way I loved myself when I didn’t love myself very much?

Thank goodness for my stubborn streak (or better yet, my resilience); it sheltered the little self-esteem that kept me going.  It questioned why one side of the equation did not equal the other.  How come I could appreciate the innate goodness of another person and not see it in myself?

First, I examined myself, truly looked at who I was when no one was watching (or making fun of me), and I assessed what I liked (and didn’t) about the person called “me.”  I learned to nurture the good before I could nurture anyone else. I had to value who I was before I could truly value others.

Throughout my childhood I took abuse because I was intelligent and smart (two separate traits but they complement each other); I had a strong sense of right and wrong and I defended my stand; I was industrious, wanting more from life than the ordinary.  I wanted a college degree, a career, and a happy, loving life.  All three were a struggle.

Finally, I admitted to myself – vanity, pride, and egoism be damned – all this added up to one thing - I was a good woman.  My faults were outweighed by my strengths.

Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.  It is easier to give to another when you know that what you have to offer has value.  Your time, your talent, your treasure is valuable, and you chose with whom you share it. It is easier to recognize the potential in others when you see yourself in them.  You relate to their struggle and hesitancy.  It is easier to care for others when you care for yourself.


Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself is easier when your soul flourishes with love.