Monday, March 11, 2019

The Girl Who Eats Canned Spinach


I went to a Catholic elementary school run by strict Belgian nuns, and we could not leave the cafeteria until we ate everything served on our food tray. Once a week, they served warmed, canned spinach with our meal.
The spinach tasted nothing like the way my grandmother made it, but I ate it. I gulped it down in three or four bites and it amazed my table mates. I told them we ate it at home so I was used to the taste.
Now, my real problem began the day I ate the spinach off my friends’ trays so we could go play outside. As soon as the nun monitoring the cafeteria turned her back, my friends ate something off my tray I didn’t want, and I ate their serving of spinach. I only did it for two of my table mates, but the word spread.  
On the next Spinach Day, kids followed me to my table.  I was suddenly very popular, and as soon as the nun marched off to the other end of the cafeteria, my friends and an army of others who only knew me as The Girl Who Eats Spinach, begged me to take their serving. The food on my tray disappeared and I ended up with a mound of spinach. I had no choice but to eat it if I wanted to leave the cafeteria, but when others attempted to give me more, I snapped at them. 
The following Spinach Day, my tray became the spinach dumping ground. No one asked if they could do it; they just dumped their spinach onto my tray, covering all the other food in a green mound of warmed-over yuck. I snapped.  I flung spinach at all the trays around me. I yelled so loud that it alerted the nun monitoring the cafeteria that day.  
Sister Mary Godzilla swooshed over in her robes, took one look at my tray, and realized what had happened. She called the cafeteria ladies over and made sure that everyone around me who did not have a serving of spinach on their tray got a fresh, new, generous serving. Some groaned their innocence, insisting they had already eaten their spinach, but she didn’t care. She stood over them and watched as they ate their spinach. As for me, she asked if I wanted a clean tray of food, and when I said no, she smiled at me and let me leave the cafeteria.
I went from The Girl Who Eats Spinach to The Snitch Who Got Us into Trouble, but I didn’t care. I never offered to eat anyone’s spinach again, and no one dared to ask, obviously thinking I might snap at any slight provocation.  
One Spinach Day not long after, I turned in my empty tray to the custodian and he nodded toward a little boy about eight years old sitting at a table by himself. Sister Mary Godzilla had just walked away from him, and he was crying. The custodian and I made eye contact, and I gave him a nod. Keeping an eye on Sister Mary Godzilla, I nonchalantly walked over, picked up the kid’s fork and ate the glob of spinach on his tray in two bites, then walked away into the sunset, like the good guys in westerns. (cue: cowboy music)
Yes, I have a gift. I am one of the few who can eat canned spinach, but I choose with whom I share this gift.   



Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Swimming Underwater



The university where I got my BA required all students to take a semester of swimming in order to graduate.  I had been to the beach on occasion in my nineteen years on Earth, but I was from south Texas, desert country, and few of us knew how to swim.  I waded.  I let the waves splash me.  I had no idea what to expect from a “swimming class.”
While the other students took off like fish, I had to learn how to keep my eyes open while holding my breath under water. The college instructor required me to come in every day and she would help me learn the basics. I went from scared-to-death tadpole to swimmer in that one semester. To get my PE credit, I swam twenty laps across the school’s Olympic- sized pool, demonstrating a different swim stroke with each lap.  I did twenty dunks in the deep end where I had to plunge myself downward, hit the pool bottom, and shoot upward to catch my breath before going back down again.
It was the most frightening experience I had ever faced, but I had no choice if I wanted my college degree.  I had to do what I was afraid to do.
Life is like that – full of frightening experiences that give us no choice. In order to survive, we have to learn how to swim, whether we want to or not.
The death of a loved one was not new for me. I was at the bedside of my grandparents, my brother, a grandson, and my father, and held their hands and prayed for them as they took their last breath.  I was there, in the deep end, water up to my chin, no choice. 
We knew our mother’s passing was inevitable, but still nothing prepared us for the day itself, the loss of our mother. We each faced the same vast deep ahead of us, and we each reacted to the onslaught differently.
Like the little fish in the child’s movie, I kept swimming. I learned to go on, day by day. The days flowed into weeks, the weeks into months, and now I get to count her passing in years. Like that swimming class I took so long ago, I force my eyes open, I hold my breath, and I learn to swim underwater.
I just keep swimming.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Why I Wear Purple


One whole year.  My Mom has been gone one whole year.
She passed away late on a Friday so we had plenty of time to plan her memorial and burial for the next weekend. She had a lot of family and she was among the last three of her generation, so we knew folks would need time to plan their travel if they were to say their goodbyes.
The following morning after she passed away, I rifled through my closet for all and anything that I owned in purple.  My mother loved bright colors and among her favorites was purple. She had been a great fan of the actress Elizabeth Taylor, the beauty with the violet eyes, so my brothers, sisters, and I decided we would wear purple to her celebration.
We met the following Monday to plan her funeral and afterwards I went shopping for more purple or violet to wear.  It was near the Easter season and I figured it would be easy to find nice things in that color, but it wasn’t, so when I wasn’t planning details for her memorial, I went shopping.  I only needed a few items to get us through the next week.
I cannot describe how it felt each morning when I donned a purple or violet t-shirt to go with my jeans or leggings. I made sure to wear amethyst earrings or a bracelet. When I found something in a shade of purple, I’d jump on it and bought several to share with my children and with my siblings. Purple became a constant reminder for me that Mom was still with us. 
We had the visitation and rosary on the Friday, a week later.  We had her funeral Mass and burial the next morning.  Everywhere we looked, her family wore bits of purple, and we spent the day celebrating my mother’s long life.
The day ended and we all headed home. I took off my purple and changed back into my usual gray tee and blue jeans. It was time to let Mom go. She was with her heavenly Father, but HoneyBunch called me to come see the evening sky. It had been a beautiful, clear day, and as the sun set, the clouds looked like the skirts of a grand lady as she leaves the ballroom. They were a rich purple and violet.   
Mom was signaling her good bye.

Monday, February 11, 2019

A Choice is Not a Regret



My grandmother and I had a very special relationship. She’s been gone thirty years, yet there isn’t one day that I don’t remember her in some way. Sometimes, it’s a recipe, or how to do a chore, or a saying, but she is right there, next to me.
She lived with us since before my birth until she passed away in her eighties. As a child I resented having a third parent, but somewhere in my late teens, we became friends, almost like comadres. She would share details of her life to me and I would learn from the many sacrifices she endured.
Her father died when she was twelve and almost overnight, she, her mother, and siblings went from being well off to being dirt poor. My grandmother ended up working for the woman who used to be their laundress.  She married young but my grandfather was no better off than she was, so my grandmother worked as a live-in maid and my grandfather worked as a laborer, doing odd jobs and going off for months to do migrant work in the northern states.
He rarely sent home money to help house and feed their children, so the burden landed on my grandmother. Sadly, he was an alcoholic, so even when he made good money, it never made it home to my grandmother and their family.
My grandmother told me that my mother and her other children learned to hide what little money they had in the house because my grandfather would spend all the money he earned on alcohol, then he would come home to steal whatever money they might have. My mother, her older sister, and their three younger brothers often went hungry, so as soon as they could work, they did odd jobs to earn some.  They would hide most of it in a tin can that they buried in the ground while they kept some out where my grandfather could find it.
My mother’s siblings grew up.  The three brothers joined the service and moved away.  My mother married and soon after her sister did too. My mother invited my grandmother to come live with us when I was a baby, and my grandfather would come visit us occasionally.  He would stay for a while, only long enough to squeeze money off my grandmother and my mother. My mother would refuse him but my grandmother would give him some. Having learned from her children, my grandmother knew to hide her money and only show him the amount she could afford to lose to him.  
Toward the end of her life, I asked my grandmother if she regretted anything.  I thought I knew what she would say, but instead she said, no.
She said that at any time, we have a choice to change our lives.  If we don’t, then we cannot “regret” our choices. We accept our lives for what they are and move on. She advised me to live my life with no regrets. She said if I didn’t like my life (at the time, I was struggling with my first marriage), and I had given it my all but it still wasn’t what I wanted, then I needed to change my life.
At the end, I should look back and have no regrets. I miss that old lady every single day of my life.

Monday, February 4, 2019

How to Respond on Social Media



Being on social media nowadays reminds me of the school yard playground when I was a kid. Pretty much everything went unnoticed by the monitors unless a fight broke out or someone ended up taking a spill off the jungle gym.
To survive, you had to learn to look out for yourself. Dust yourself off and keep walking.
Why are we so attracted to this medium?  Is it for entertainment and news, to keep up with friends and family, to build a brand and sell a product, or has it become so much a part of our culture we cannot look away?
Whatever the reason, you have several options in order to survive the social media playground. You can play it safe; you can read and not post or respond. You can choose what you read, deleting posts you find offensive.  You can unfriend and block “friends,” especially those who continually criticize and taunt you, thereby keeping only those who agree with you.  
Or you could jump into the fray. You can post or respond, but remember once you do, you make yourself visible to the schoolyard bullies. You might have to defend yourself, especially if the topic is controversial. 
Before you do, let me suggest a few things.
1.     Read the whole post, not just what shows on the feed, but click on the link and read the whole post, all the way to the end. Follow it to its origin, even if it takes you to the Internet. Double and trip check its sources. Sometimes the thumbnail that was posted on social media is incorrect and intentionally malicious.
2.    Learn which news sources and “fact checkers” are reliable and trustworthy.  Examine their facts and sources.  Be skeptical of those who rush to be first to report and post “news” before sources and facts have been double checked.  News on social media nowadays is a mix between scandal rag and propaganda, so don’t trust it without checking it for yourself first.
3.    Know yourself. You don’t have to confess it on social media but know what will trigger you into a response before tempering your words. Admit your biases and prejudices. Admit that your religious, political, and personal experiences affect how you “see” and feel things. Take a breather before responding.
4.    Weigh your words. Attack the policy or the statement and NOT the person. Keep to the high road, though they probably won’t. In that case, do not get into an argument with them. Ignore them or delete them. Everyone has an opinion on social media and they are not here to listen to someone else’s.
5.    Learn to distinguish fact from opinion, emotionally charged words, politically incorrect and hurtful words, and NEVER resort to name calling.
6.    Remember that facts can easily become gossip, gossip becomes rumor, and rumor leads to slander and libel. Repeated enough times, lies morph into “facts,” so don’t fall for the trap of spreading gossip or rumors because it feeds into your narrative.
Remember, in the famous words of Pat Benatar (ending with levity here), “Love is a Battlefield;” so is social media.  It can get really ugly out there if you chose to take a chance in its playground, so defend yourself with the truth.