This spring, I was honored to participate in our local Listen To Your Mother Show. Listen To Your Mother gives motherhood a microphone in 41 cities across the U.S. with more than 500 amazing stories told to a live audience. If you missed your chance to see me live, I’m excited to share that all of the Listen To Your Mother videos have been released!
Check out my video and go ahead and browse the other videos to hear incredible stories featuring powerful voices that capture all facets of contemporary parenting. To watch the other 12 stories from the women I shared the stage with in April, click here to see the entire San Antonio playlist.
The Language of Love
I was laying there on the operating table after a grueling 32-hour labor that ended in a C-section, ready to finally meet my baby girl. I’d been dreaming of this moment my entire life. I was born to be a mother. At two years old, I nursed my baby dolls alongside my mom nursing my little sister and at twenty two years old I got married and was one step closer to my goal. Five years into my marriage and nine months of impatiently waiting later, I was on the brink of meeting the sweet and perfect soul who would make my dreams come true.
When the midwife held up my fresh-out-of-the-womb baby over the curtain for me to see, I was overcome with emotion. “Who is that white baby?!” I gasped in utter disbelief.
I now know that nine months of soaking in amniotic fluid will turn just about any baby white, but at the time, it was quite a shock. Not because my husband isn’t white, because he is. But these genes, these Dominican genes…they run deep. My mom was a single mom raising three kids and it wasn’t uncommon for someone to assume she was the babysitter. She may have birthed each one of us, but my dad had an obviously unfair advantage on the Punnet square when it came to our physical characteristics.
The dark hair, the tanned skin, the flat nose, the forehead that takes up a little too much real estate and the distinctive gap between our front teeth. We all have it.
These physical characteristics have been passed down for generations as far as we can remember. It’s how we know we’re family. My dad used to joke that if I wanted to know what I was going to look like when I was all grown up, all I needed to do was look at a picture of his mom. Fast forward 30 years, and the jokes on me.
My grandmother, Abuela as we called her, lived on the beautiful island of the Dominican Republic and came to visit us a few times a year while I was growing up. Her visits meant matching outfits for me and my sister, baseball gear for my brother and lots of shopping. A love of shopping may not be an actual genetic trait, but I most definitely inherited this from her.
She always came with a long list of random items she needed to take back home for a cousin or an uncle or a cousin’s uncle. We’d go to Kmart to find a toaster, a cordless telephone, at least three purses, a lifetime supply of pantyhose and a few extra suitcases to carry all of her necessities back home.
Her visits also meant we got to eat. As a trained chef, there was no shortage of food when she was around. We may have had to eat beans for breakfast and some questionable ingredients, but I’ll never forget the sweet and meaty smell of her Ropa Vieja, a braised beef dish, simmering on the stove. With a somewhat unappetizing name that means old clothes, Ropa Vieja does share some qualities with its namesake. It’s familiar, expected and completely overdone, yet we wouldn’t have it any other way.
After my grandfather died, Abuela spent more time with us here in the states. I spent my teenage years frustrated with some of her old-fashioned ideas like the time when she made me cook and serve a three-course meal to my boyfriend or the time she didn’t want to drive me to a friend’s house because it was Thursday night and her Telenovela was on.
It wasn’t until my college years that I started to appreciate Abuela for who she was as a person. It was in the cool breeze of an early morning yoga class on a cruise ship that I realized, becoming Abeula was my destiny. In a quiet Zen-filled moment somewhere between a chaturanga and a downward dog, Abuela succumbed to the relaxation and farted. Uncontrollable and completely inappropriate laughter ensued and like two misbehaving schoolgirls, we were promptly asked to leave the class to regain our composure.
Out in the middle of the ocean, in the vastness between her home and mine, we started speaking the same language. With 18 years of memories between us, our relationship was missing the most basic form of connection because we we couldn’t understand each other’s words. I thought Abuela’s broken English and my elementary knowledge of a few Spanish phrases would keep us from ever having a real conversation, but it turns out that bathroom humor is universally funny and laughter is a language that requires no translator.
Abuela became one of my best friends. Between the lines of our half-understood spoken words, she taught me everything she knew about life. Wash yourself every day. Cook good food, but don’t get too fat. Drive slow- very slow. Give until you have nothing left to give. Black is slimming. Smile at strangers. Stand up straight. Never say no to your husband. Raise your children well because they will be all that is left one day.
Two weeks before I became pregnant for the first time, Abeula died. Although her English improved with practice and I spent several years taking Spanish classes, I’ll regret that we never got to have a deep and true conversation with the nuances found by speaking in one’s native tongue.
But somehow when you’re family, language seems to matter less than love. Our hearts were bonded at the genetic level and while looks aren’t everything, I know that she would be proud of me for carrying on these Dominican genes because that white baby is now a dark haired, tanned skinned four year old with a flat nose and slightly large forehead who I’m praying will have a gap between her teeth. If I want to know what she’ll look like when she grows up, all I have to do is look back in a photo album. I’ll show my little brown girl a picture of Abuela and tell her she has big shoes to fill.
The opportunity to share my story with an audience of friends, family and complete strangers was once I will never forget. Everyone has a story, and I hope you’ll consider sharing yours too! Subscribe to Listen To Your Mother to find about next year’s events and audition information. I would love to cheer you on!