Lately, I can be seen shuffling around like a homeless schizophrenic, mumbling to myself over and over, “It’s just a phase. It’s just a phase.”
For the past few weeks, my daughter has transformed into the kind of girl nobody wants to hang out with.
She has pretty much ruined every holiday event or special occasion.
There was Christmas where I watched in horror as she shredded open gift after gift barely pausing between to assess the present. When she finished she whined, “I want more presents to unwrap.”
I tried to convince myself it was just some kind of OCD obsession with the thrill of unwrapping.
She practically cried when I offered her Cinnamon Buns for breakfast, then downed two of them within minutes, sending her off on a sugary high, shrieking and bouncing around the house like a crackhead kangaroo.
She spent hours in separate “time outs.”
I asked her what her favorite gift from Santa was. (Santa, you know, the “guy” who bought all the presents, wrapped all the presents, decorated the tree and stealthily stuffed stockings when “he’d” rather have been sleeping.) Her response: “The kitty, I guess, but it was the wrong color and I didn’t get the doll carriage I wanted.”
This sent me off on a tear-filled, mimosa-fueled afternoon followed by a splitting headache and sweaty nap.
On New Year’s Eve, we used the Netflix fakeout countdown for the kids during which my daughter whined that she wanted to watch Batman instead.
Afterward, we partook in the Cuban traditions.
We were each eating our 12 grapes when Alma proceeded to drop 2 of them, 1 of which was never located. A slimy grape is currently curled up in our carpet maliciously awaiting a middle of the night barefoot run for a glass of water.
She refused to put pants and shoes on with her pajamas, despite the fact that it was super cold outside, because she wanted to “be Tinkerbell.”
We walked around the house with our suitcases in order to ensure a 2015 filled with travel. Of course, our neighbor walks out in a vest and tie on his way to celebrate New Year’s the way normal adults do. I can only imagine how ridiculous we looked traipsing through wet grass and dog shit with our luggage, wearing pajamas.
We get back to the front door and Alma starts fake-crying because she was under the false impression we would be walking around the whole neighborhood.
We go to dump our bucket of water out the front door to wash away all the crap that’s happened in 2014. Alma is throwing a fit because she wants to do it herself even though the Popcorn bowl is so heavy, she would end up on the sidewalk in the puddle.
Last night, I managed to sneak out of work early because we had short newscasts on New Year’s Day. On the drive home, I am cheerful despite writing about sons decapitating their mothers and boyfriends nearly strangling their girlfriends to death. There is no traffic, it’s not too hot and I am arriving home before the sun sets.
So, we decide to take the kids out for pizza. After the 30 minute drive, we discover the restaurant is closed. Alma commences whining about how all she will eat is pizza, so we end up at chain Italian restaurant that shall remain unnamed.
I always planned to be the kind of parent that would NEVER let their children play on computers at the dinner table… until I ended up the kind of parent with kids that jostle me perpetually, ask “why” repeatedly and don’t allow me to eat a single bite of food without arguing with me about something.
So, I let Alma play with her Leapad. Instead of enjoying herself quietly, she’s demanding that I watch what she’s doing, take part in what she’s doing and talking over the Comicon, Dungeons and Dragons playing waitress who is trying to take our order.
Halfway through our overpriced, undercooked pasta, the little boy in the booth behind me stands up and projectile vomits spaghetti all over the floor.
The C-team staff starts to mop it up and then leaves little wet spaghetti pieces on the floor right next to me and the stinking mop and bucket right behind my husband.
My main resolution this year was just to detox, not for the entire year, but long enough to avoid feeling pickled post holidays.
January 1st and I’m making a Moscow Mule so I can suffer through putting my daughter to bed.
We’re coloring together and she’s wide-eyed and crazed, intentionally coloring hard and outside the lines.
She stays up too late on her computer. I take it away and tell her to sleep.
When it’s finally time for me and the husband to go to bed, he turns off the hallway light and I heard Alma yell, “MOM! MOM! Turn on the light! I can’t see!!!”
She says it like we’ve offended her sensibilities by turning out HER light when SHE is trying to stay up until midnight the day AFTER New Year’s Eve.
I cry myself to sleep while browsing Facebook, looking at people wearing their fun New Year’s Eve hats, drinking champagne, their children grinning and still joyously and gratefully playing with their Christmas loot.
It’s just a phase. It’s just a phase. Until… it’s not.
I am a horrible cook.
It has only taken me 34 years to figure that out. Over three decades and the straw that broke the camel’s back was dished up by my ungrateful children.
Last night, I made meatloaf, mashed potatoes and corn. The meatloaf is my mama’s recipe which I tweaked with a little Paula Deen diced tomato action.
As always, I serve the family first, then dish myself up a colder, congealing version for myself.
As I am making my plate, I hear my daughter say (before taking a bite) “I don’t like this!”
My husband says, “Me neither.”
I walk over and give Huck a bite and ask if he likes it. He shakes his head no.
Meatloaf is easy, but it takes a long time to cook so it’s already after 7pm and my family is boycotting my food.
I speed down Hillsborough Avenue, tears streaming down my cheeks to buy a Hot ‘N Ready cheese pizza.
I return to cheers of, “Mommy’s back with pizza!!”
I guzzle red wine, hold back tears and choke down my food with resentment.
It was not bad meatloaf.
It had peppers and onions.
That was my great failure, the unholy insult to their digestive tracts.
I have made spaghetti with real homemade meat sauce, chicken quesadillas, pineapple teriyaki chicken, sweet and sour meatballs, fried rice with honey teriyaki chicken, pesto pasta and just about anything else I can think of that children and a carnivore husband will consume and they think it’s ALL CRAP.
The real burn?
I actually think the shit tastes good. Maybe my tastebuds are busted.
It’s not just that the kids are picky or my husband has a profound aversion to vegetables.
They adore HIS cooking. Ropa Vieja, black beans and rice, Picadillo, Bistec Empanizado, beef stew… I could keep going. It’s all Cuban and it’s all amazing to the kids.
I happen to have already OD’d on Cuban food and prefer the more bland white folk meals, preferably meatless.
I think casseroles are cool.
I think I’m DONE cooking.
Boston Market, baby! Fish sticks and Mac n’ cheese. Hot ‘N Ready and breakfast for dinner. (cereal, because it doesn’t require a frying pan)
So, you’re probably wondering why this is a topic that would make me cry like a little bitch and shrink down into invisibility, diving into a pit of black, sticky despair.
I have come to the realization that I am old.
I am not a skinny, hot young thang anymore. I am all grays, crows feet and stretched out waist bands.
I am Renee Zellweger’s after picture without the plastic surgery.
I am not a driven, dedicated Journalist.
I am the guy wearing jeans and plaid, guzzling caffeine and just trying to get there on time.
I am not a quirky, acerbic, offbeat, indie chick with great hair.
I am a MOM.
That is my great accomplishment.
Just cause you squeeze them out like a champ (I really was quite fantastic at pregnancy and childbirth) doesn’t mean that you are an ace at being a parent. That’s now apparent.
I can control my temper, I kick ass at storytime, I am the ultimate caregiver when it comes to boo boos, vomit and general malaise.
But, I grew up thinking that if you can’t cook, you don’t belong in the kitchen and if you don’t belong in the kitchen, you might want to consider choosing a career-driven life over procreation.
So, here I am. Welcome to my mid-life crisis. I am 34 and suck at everything.
Well, at least everything anyone would ever notice.
I’m a voracious reader, a real bibliophile. So, there’s that.
Good to know I truly excel at something that won’t ever put a dime in the bank or benefit anyone other than myself.
I’m starting a support group: Mom’s Who Can’t Cook, or Do Just About Anything Else Well.
(p.s. I threw away all of the leftover meatloaf, tupperware and all. It was all I could do to keep from burning it in the backyard.)
All Corsa vacations are preceded by a moderate disaster.
One time we had to rush our French Bulldog to the emergency vet for a costly, time-consuming overnight visit that resulted in a diagnosis of “bad gas.”
Another night before leaving on a trip, my husband’s car stopped working.
Stomach bugs, pink eye, even a massive “bomb” dropping onto the hood of my car from the monkey puzzle tree in front of our old bungalow. It never fails.
This time, I take the dogs to get their vaccines so they will be up to date for a week at “camp” and the vet notices my Boston Terrier has a hematoma on his ear that will need to be drained.
Tack on 300 more bucks to what was already a hefty bill and my last day before vacation will be spent rushing him to and from the vet. (not to mention he will be wearing the cone of shame while being humped by strange dogs. Double shame.)
That night I also get ridiculously sick. So sick I call in to work at 3am. Yet, my boss text messages me at 6 in the morning and basically begs me to come in anyway.
I am miserable.
I haven’t washed my hair.
I can’t speak.
I end up leaving early to go to an after-hours clinic for a Z-pack.
While in recovery, I somehow develop a massive swollen gum in the space where my 4th wisdom tooth would’ve been… if I had one there. (but, I don’t) Now, I am kicking off my vacation with wicked jaw pain.
We’re on Cuban time, so my husband and I race around packing and dressing the kids (no small feat) (they have small feet) but then have to sit around wasting time for hours until the rest of the clan is ready to go.
Even then, we must depart in a group.
We’re going in separate cars, but it’s the soldier’s creed. No man left behind.
Anna Maria Island is beautiful and quaint, the vacation house ideal.
There’s a lagoon-like pool with a sometimes operable waterfall and a minimal amount of beach sand collected on the bottom.
We are two blocks from the beach.
This should be a great vacation, except for my aching jaw, endless stream of snot and the sensation I have plummeted instantaneously into the 1950’s.
I end up trapped in a bedroom with two insane children hopped up on VACATION, jumping around the bed we’re all expected to share while my husband is downstairs watching the World Cup.
Maybe it was the fear that this was going to become the anticipated routine.
Maybe it was the burgeoning revelation that the entire trip was secretly orchestrated to coincide with the World Cup in order to torture me.
Maybe it was all I could do to keep myself from racing through the home with a burning bra, but I stormed downstairs and demanded the keys to the car to go for a drive.
The next morning after being pummeled all night long by bony elbows and knees, awoken by the sound of my son grinding his teeth in his sleep and the pain in my whole face… I’m still ready to tackle my pre-women’s suffrage duties and help cook breakfast for the house of 12. (My family, my in-laws, my sister-in-law and her boyfriend, her two kids, his two kids and one teenage friend of her son)
I remember that they cook their scrambled eggs with oil while I opt for butter or butter spray so they’ll probably find mine bland and inedible. I decide to go for the bacon and start to get the pan when my mother-in-law says, “You need to put it in the microwave first.”
I mentally throw my hands up and avoid cooking bacon for the rest of the trip.
The next day at the beach, Mother Nature valiantly came to my rescue.
I am obsessed with sharks. Terrified of them, adore them, secretly hope and dread for encounters with them.
The very first time I am watching my mother-in-law wade in the water with my daughter on her hip, I spot something unusual a couple of yards behind them. It looked like something pointy and dark sticking up out of the water.
Then there were two.
They were moving.
I walked toward abuela Corsa and made a hand motion for her to come toward me.
I could see clearly now there were at least two, possibly three sharks in the water.
I didn’t want to be “that guy” that shouts “SHARK!” and terrifies everyone at the beach. But, then again my mother-in-law is embracing my precious cargo and this scenario is like an unimaginable nightmare.
I remain calm even as my mother-in-law continues to demand to know why I am telling her to come to shore.
Other people see them too, so I have confirmation. These were not dolphins. I know what dolphins are. In fact, we saw some of those later in the day. Completely different swimming behavior.
The same day, we also watched a manatee lumbering along in the shallows.
Late afternoon, the summer storms roll in and I am watching them from our balcony. Billowing, fast-moving, dark clouds. Swirling, hinting at circulation. Palm trees whipping around like witches on broomsticks.
God bless you Mother Nature, you have shaken me from my stress-induced stupor.
The days that followed were filled with moments of joy, stress, hilarity and a healthy dose of awkward.
Perfect example of the latter: One of the said extraneous children along for the trip is about 9 years old.
He’s soft-spoken to the point of being irritating and even more bizarre than I was as a child.
He’s also a bit sneaky.
He and his sister appear to have some kind of arrangement that allows them to cheat and win at card games, hide each others’ crimes and possibly bury bodies in the backyard unnoticed.
At one point, my mother-in-law shouted that she saved me a piece of cheesecake.
Within a matter of seconds, I watched the boy grab the last piece and stick it inside an orange Dixie Cup so nobody would know he did it.
The night before I watched him go for some cheesecake in the freezer and when he saw me watching him, he rushed to open the freezer and put it back but his chicken-like arms were too weak to open the door.
He squeaked out a strange animalistic cry of frustration, like someone squeezed a rabbit REALLY hard.
To add insult to injury, a short while after he purloined MY piece of cheesecake, he shit it back out in the bathroom ATTACHED to our bedroom.
He is a Junior, so they call him “Tito.”
He shall henceforth be known as Cheesecake Tito to me.
Here’s another good one: In the afternoon, my husband was on the beach mercilessly teasing my sister-in-law and mother-in-law because they have decided they believe mermaids exist. Their scientific proof was viewed on a television show.
That night we’re playing Apples to Apples with the whole family with the exception of my sister-in-law’s boyfriend. He’s apparently holding some kind of grudge because he lost a game years ago to me over the definition of “The Big Bang Theory.”
So, while we’re playing we hear the sound of harmonious singing pouring from the open door to his room. It was like the bewitching melodies belted out by sirens, the ones who lure sailors to their deaths. The mermaids!
So, my husband says “He’s in there, unfurling his mermaid tail.”
I don’t know why, but this made me laugh so hard I almost peed my pants.
I am a chortler. Maybe the occasional guffaw slips out. I NEVER laugh that hard.
I was crying, I was speaking in tongues, I was HAVING FUN.
Then there was the moment we were waiting for the trolley near a church and the truly Cuban members of the family decided to pose for a picture.
We ended up in Downtown Anna Maria Island, which for the record, does not exist. We were meandering down neighborhood streets looking like lost Okies drenched in sweat.
But, there were magical moments.
I watched my daughter discover the joy of being slammed by waves, overcoming her perpetual fear of the ocean.
I saw my son kick around a soccer ball with the big boys until sweat was dripping off his little melon head.
I saw sharks, I laughed until I cried and I drank more beer than seems humanly possible.
Yes, I was impaled nightly by little kid limbs. I spent much time trapped in bed watching PBS kid shows on the lousy cable while everyone else screamed about the World Cup downstairs.
I got a sun rash and gained five pounds. (my weird tooth issue resolved itself after days of gargling salt water)
But, it’s still the best vacation we’ve had with the kids since they were born. Good enough that my poor son is still grieving.
I am too.
I’ve learned the dirty secret to potty training and parenting in general.
My daughter has an entire closet packed with My Little Ponies from her toilet training days. It wouldn’t surprise me if the mere mention of Rainbow Dash made her want to tinkle.
We just started trying to potty train my son and thankfully his vice is infinitely cheaper. Chocolate!
We just happen to have a lovely stash of leftover Easter candy (in a Halloween bucket) to inspire him to ditch the diapers.
My daughter is cheering him on because she knows she gets the consolation piece of chocolate whenever he pees on the pot.
Is it worth potentially spending several weeks with insane children hopped up on sugar in order to be done with diapers? Absolutely!
If I never have to change another blowout diaper, I will be a happy lady. My son’s dirty diapers smell like spicy thai food. It’s no joke.
I have to say, Huck has been taking the transition like a champ. He will squeeze out a couple of drops on cue if it means he gets a chocolate egg.
I do wonder if this means he will someday be 30 and using a restroom, bewildered by a sudden urge to eat something sweet.
It doesn’t hurt that he gets to rock Buzz Lightyear undies during the process. He looks ridiculously cute in them, with one exception.
The other night at dinner, my daughter growled in disgust and pointed at my son’s crotch and said, “His hoo ha is out!” (Hoo Ha being the best name I could come up with for her private parts)
Why in God’s name would they make underwear for toddlers with a hole in the front for their junk to peek out?
It was like, “Hey guys, what’s for dinner?”
We’ve been calling my son’s private part his “piton.” (pee-tone) I won’t say what it means, but porn stars have them… apparently Robin Thicke as well. It’s something most English speaking people won’t recognize as a “dirty word” and it doubles as a compliment.
There was an equally disturbing sight on Sunday while the kids were playing with the water table in the backyard and I noticed Huck’s piton popping out of the top of his swim trunks. I guess maybe he really does have a piton.
Back to bribery. It has become my go-to technique.
The other day Alma was having a major meltdown at Target. For the first time, she was scanning the aisles for anything she could potentially want and demanding I buy it. We ended up with a My Little Pony watch she can’t read, some new undies that sag off her skinny behind and a pink rubber lizard.
I had no idea that lizard would become a supreme being to her. It was from that weird little dollar section at the front of the store. You know, where they stock crap for kids that will break within a day.
Within an hour of getting back home, Alma is sobbing hysterically because she lost her pink lizard. Tears streaming down her face for that useless, lead-tainted, neon pink Chinese piece of rubber junk.
I spent forever hunting for it. So did my husband. So did Alma. (while hiccuping through tears)
The end result? Mommy heads back to Target to buy a one-dollar lizard. (and a bottle of Prosecco)
I get back home and instead of embracing me with gratitude she says with the attitude of a teenager, “Cut the tag off.”
I leave her watching My Little Pony with the evil lizard to start laundry and lo and behold, the original pink lizard was in the washing machine.
It’s now a slightly gooier, perpetually sticky version of it’s newly acquired sibling.
I guess it’s better than what I imagined to be the impending end result…. my dog shitting out a half-digested glob of neon pink.
What have I learned from all of this?
Don’t take the kids to Disney.
Don’t promise a day at a water park.
Hit the dollar section at Target and stock up on extra holiday candy. The cheap solution to parenting.
Little known facts I’ve learned from my Cuban familia.
1. Titties are an acceptable topic of conversation. The use of the words “titties” or “tetas” is also acceptable.
2. If you are embarrassed for people to see you in your pajamas, breastfeeding or if you refuse to eat food they provide, you lose your Honorary Cuban card.
3. Traveling in herds is preferable.
4. Baby genitalia are cute and/or funny.
5. All meals must include rice.
6. All meals must be followed by Espresso.
7. If you do not own and/or use a pressure cooker you are NOT Cuban.
8. A trip to the beach requires a moving van. (and a POD)
9. Holiday dinners are preceded by a heartfelt speech during which other family members can mock you or take pot shots.
10. If you can’t stand up for yourself, stand somewhere else. You do not belong.
11. Cuban time does exist. You must turn your clock back a full hour when planning.
12. It ain’t a real party without a pinata.
13. Yellow rice is actually orange and best cooked with PBR.
14. Forget everything you knew about Thanksgiving turkey. You’ve been doing it ALL WRONG.
15. Don’t ever insult a Cuban woman’s cooking, even if it’s Bacalao and smells like rotting, farting flesh.
I just started on the HCG diet again.
I like to disaffectedly refer to it as the Help Control the Gut diet.
I won’t bother describing it. It works, removing fat from all of the right places during an insanely short amount of time.
It sounds awesome, if you don’t mind being perpetually exhausted and on the verge of passing out.
There are a plethora of subversive ways my life plots to derail the diet.
I go to my mother-in-law’s house and the evening begins with beer, nachos and queso. My father-in-law doesn’t even ask, just hands me a beer. I mean, when do I EVER say no to a beer?
My daughter asks me to blow on her nacho cheese which means I will inevitably have to touch it with my tongue or lips to be sure it’s not too hot. Biggest tease ever.
Thankfully no one notices I am steadily chugging water. I had no idea you could grow to HATE water.
The endless course meal moves on to toasted bread with olive spread. My mother-in-law asks me if I like sun dried tomatoes. I say yes, but I won’t be having any because because I am back on the dreaded diet. (She is aware of how said wretched diet works)
She says, “NO, no, no. I cooked all of this food. You are going to eat. No, no. You have to eat.”
I never know how to respond to statements like that. “Uh, no?” Awkward, awkward, awkward.
Then I get to watch as everyone eats rice and chicken along with assorted goodies, the kids sneaking Hershey’s Kisses and cookies.
Yesterday, I meet my husband and the kids at our favorite waterfront dive for lunch and he immediately slides a beer over and says, “This is yours.”
So sweet, yet so evil.
I had to push it back and instead choke down a drink with Club Soda that tastes like lighter fluid and is actually a “cheat” on the diet.
My daughter is great at sharing. I am so proud and so sick of her trying to force-feed me gold fish, fish sticks and mac n’ cheese.
Now, the world begins to conspire against me. We turn the clocks ahead an hour. My son is up late coughing and crying because he’s sick. My daughter wakes up from a nightmare at midnight demanding milk.
I drive to work, eyes half closed drinking black coffee. (which is allowed, but no other food until noon)
This means I am still falling asleep at work AND the coffee is shredding my stomach.
At lunchtime I have to walk past the vending machines to get to my pathetic portion of meat and veggies in the fridge. I NEVER notice the vending machines until I am on this diet. Now, I would stab a bitch for a corn chip.
Newsrooms are notorious for cakes, cookies, cupcakes, chocolate and everything bad. People just plunk it down on a desk for anyone to take, free of charge. Today, no naughty free crap trying to lure me away from the diet. But, someone has already offered me a Watchamacallit.
So, I sit here lips burning and fingers sticky from peeling an orange. I hate peeling oranges more than most people hate cleaning the toilet.
I have already started dreaming about carbs. I literally dreamed I was eating Tofu Woon Sen. It’s just vegetables, tofu and clear noodles… a meal most would consider “healthy.”
For me, it’s one more pair of pants I have to abandon forever to the widening abyss of items to donate to Goodwill that is my closet. It’s a living, breathing, gaping chasm, hungry for more.
But, not as hungry as I am right now.
I’ve never done crack or heroin, but carbs can’t be that far behind. I would eat uncooked grains of rice or raw pasta. I would snort bread crumbs.
Keep me away from all sharp objects.
Here’s me before having kids:
“I’m not going to be one of those parents who won’t travel because it’s too difficult with children. I’ll just take an umbrella stroller, a Baby Bjorn and we’ll hop a flight to Barcelona.”
Sounds like a joke, but it’s not. We seriously considered taking a trip to Spain the year our daughter was born. We checked out hotels with cribs you can rent and planned day trips to a beach nearby.
We weren’t just naive. We were morons.
Our first trip with our daughter was stressful, but tolerable. We simply visited my mother in South Carolina and drove to see my Dad and his wife in North Carolina and then flew back home.
We weren’t anticipating conceiving our second child with so much ease, so that was the last relatively simple trip we will EVER take in our LIFE.
The next vacation was to Key West with the entire Cuban Cluster. (See previous post)
We figured if we just packed like champs, it would be a breeze. The Cluster drove. It’s just a short flight from St. Pete to the Keys. We figured that would be better than driving for several hours with screaming, miserable kids, right?
We found ourselves in the airport parking lot, what seems like miles from the terminal with two small children, two hulking car seats, one massive stroller and three big bags packed with all of the crap you could possibly need. What could you need during a four-day trip to Key West? Diapers, wipes, formula, sunscreen, tons of clothes because they will destroy them all with vomit, pee and poop, medicine, (because all children inevitably get sick the day before a vacation) books, toys and blankets. By the time we figured out the logistics of just checking in, which was nearly impossible, I was drenched in sweat, my blood pressure was through the roof and I just wanted to go back to work.
Even if your kids don’t scream and cry on the flight, they will wiggle, kick and even laugh too loudly. They will want food and milk and the one toy you forgot to pack.
Key West was sweltering and you have to walk everywhere. Slather the kids in sunscreen, walk a marathon and then you can’t even get blitzed because you’re with your whole family and oh, yeah … the kids are there. Nothing like watching the whole rest of the world have a blast on vacation while you suffer.
While middle-aged women with frosted hair are guzzling Mojitos, you’re in a muddy bathroom without A/C trying to change a diaper on the floor because restaurants just assume nobody would be stupid enough to bring a baby to Key West.
Our children simply can’t hang with the idea of sleeping somewhere different. My son was probably six months old at the time. If he could’ve talked he would’ve been saying, “This f&^ing Pack ‘N Play is a bunchabullshit.” He woke up every single hour. We took turns, but when it’s that frequent ain’t NOBODY sleepin’.
My daughter slept in bed with us, but only when we would sleep with her. It was an 8 p.m. curfew, the next two hours spent staring at the ceiling, getting kicked repeatedly and wondering why we ever had children.
Trips around town were strung together by a series of meltdowns. A store accused my daughter of breaking a maraca that probably cost .10 cents to make. My husband and I took turns consoling my hysterical son during dinner at a fancy restaurant. A lunch was ruined by my daughter screaming for no apparent reason.
My amazing mother-in-law did watch the kids for an afternoon, so the rest of us could go snorkeling. I had a blast, but my husband and sister-in-law nearly barfed on the ride back to shore.
But, that all didn’t stop us from trying to go on vacation with the kids again. And we decided to drive!
That’s a story for another time.
To say marrying into a Cuban family was a culture shock would be an understatement.
I’m not making a blanket statement about all Cubans, just sharing what I’ve learned about MY Cubans.
Prepare yourself to be offended. Most topics that white people would consider gauche are not only acceptable topics for My Cubans, they are the preferred ones.
When I was expecting my son, I was regaled with stories about how huge my husband’s balls were when he was born. And tales of his cousin swallowing shit when he came through the birth canal.
I was encouraged to breast feed in front of the family. “It’s natural,” they said. Maybe in Africa, the remote parts where they don’t have DOORS.
The other day during lunch at Chili’s, the first hot topic was foreskin. My poor teenage nephew looked like he was going to shrivel up and die in the pan of queso.
The second hot topic came about because I was being harassed again for refusing to eat Bacalao. (See previous post.) This led to an anecdotal reference to a Cuban song about a guy who smells something delicious cooking in the kitchen, which turns out to be women boiling their underwear.
My mother-in-law randomly told us the other day exactly how many times she had diarrhea. When you look at her in shock, she says, “What??”
Oversharing is considered casual conversation, which means I probably seem like a stick in the mud. In reality, us white folk are probably too hung up on what other people think about us. My Cubans are right. This is the real and quite literal crap that happens to all of us.
Now, let’s talk about kissing. I remember when I met my mother’s British friend in Miami at an outdoor market, and he leaned in to give me the customary South Florida kiss on the cheek. I stretched backwards like Keanu in the Matrix.
I have a very definite body buffer zone. Burst it and you shall die. What I didn’t know when I met my husband was that it’s actually a required kiss on the cheek every single time you meet and again when you say goodbye. Cuban families are not generally small and they tend to move in clusters. It’s a lot of kissing.
Which brings me to goodbyes. The world’s longest, most drawn-out goodbyes. Over the phone, in person … doesn’t matter. Goodbye will lead to discussion about the next time you’ll see them, what currently ails them, what the week will hold and how’s the weather.
I’ve learned that when my Cuban family yells, they’re just “passionate.”
When my children are behaving like brats, they just have “strong personalities.”
My Cubans will never let something go, like forcing a daughter-in-law to eat stinky fish.
But, they don’t hold grudges. Family is family forever, no matter how often they screw you over. They have what most consider an “indomitable spirit.” (Which has to come from living in a country where survival is dependent on being resourceful and resilient)
My mother-in-law told me about how the government only issues you one bucket in order to wash your newborn baby. One bucket per family. When they fled Cuba, they gave their bucket to a neighbor and the government took it back within days.
One thing you will never be in a Cuban family is bored. (Unless you’re my 15-year-old nephew, who thinks that almost everything is boring.) Or hungry. You’ll definitely never be hungry.
Bacalao is the bane of my existence. When you think about in-laws, it probably conjures up thousands of other points of contention. But, you’re probably not married into a Cuban family. That makes it sound like they’re the mafia. Close enough.
So, if you don’t know what bacalao is, it’s basically codfish. The best way to describe it is going to be offensive. There’s no way around it. If you have small dogs, you’ll understand. If you don’t have their anal glands expressed, the result is what my husband refers to as “fish ass.” That’s what bacalao smells like. When I walk into my mother-in-law’s home on a Friday and that’s what she’s cooking, it’s like getting smacked in the face with a wall of fish ass.
I have politely turned down bacalao numerous times. I love tilapia, salmon and any kind of shellfish, but keep your anal gland, fish-ass bacalao away from me.
If you don’t know Cuban mothers, they don’t take no for an answer, especially when it comes to food.
The last time I turned down bacalao, I heard my mother-in-law “oooh” and “ahhh” over bacalao like it was some kind of aphrodisiac for an hour. She shouts (because when you’re Cuban, it’s all shouting) “Try it! You’ll love it! You don’t know if you don’t try it!”
When the other family members catch wind, it’s the same argument all over again from them. From my kid’s tia, abuelo … even my nephew chimed in recently.
My sister-in-law’s boyfriend made bacalao fritters. All I could think was, ‘Don’t try to hide fish ass inside breading like it’s some kind of crab cake. Don’t insult crab cakes like that!’
I feel compelled to say that my mother-in-law is a phenomenal cook. I’m not just saying this because she might see it, which she will. Her yellow rice, which is actually orange and made with Pabst Blue Ribbon, is one of the best meals I’ve ever had. It’s not far behind the lobster ravioli I had at some fancy schmancy restaurant in New Orleans. Her black beans and rice is only rivaled my husband’s. (He adds more vinegar, which is “white people” for AWESOME)
My kids prefer her to food to mine on any given night. In fact, if it weren’t for my mother-in-law, I am sure my children would literally never consume protein. But, seriously … I have never been so pressured to eat something I have no intention of eating.
I told them, “I’m like a vegetarian, except the only thing I won’t eat is bacalao.”
I just know I’m gonna get hosed. She’s gonna sneak that crap fish into some kind of lasagna, casserole or some other irresistible white people food, damn her! I will spend the rest of my life trying to sniff out fish ass in every single thing I eat at my mother-in-law’s.
If only there was some way to pay her back with some awful white people food.
But, really, what can you do with bologna and mayo that is so awesomely offensive?