Grandpa Stories

I’ve been thinking a lot about my grandpa lately. I’ve written about my grandma, mom, dad, aunts (including one I didn’t even like all that much), and my younger brother but have only ever mentioned my grandpa in passing. To say he was a character would be an understatement. My grandpa was born in Puerto Rico two years before the Jones–Shafroth Act gave Puerto Ricans American citizenship. He grew up very poor and had to stop his education at the second grade becuase his mother couldn’t afford shoes for him.

He left Puerto Rico sometime between the 30-40’s to NYC. He worked in factories and eventually met my grandma. Coincidentally, they were both from the same town in Puerto Rico, except grandpa was a “jibaro” (a country person) and my grandma was from “el pueblo” (the city). He was trigueño, with what he called “gingy hair” (he meant kinky, but could never quite get it right), and a big nose. That nose! If you want to tell who’s related to him, you’d look at our noses. My mom, my brothers and I all have that nose. I hated it so much when I was little because I was bullied over it. When he went places, it’d take forever to leave because he’d strike up a conversation with anyone. He spoke English to us a lot and I regret not being able to mimic his accent. It was the best. He always wore a guayabera with either a trilby or bucket hat. His favorite cologne was Brut. Which is funny to me now, because a lot of people hate Brut but it always reminds me of grandpa. He was the reason I liked wrestling when I was little. He loved baseball. His favorite team was The New York Mets. 

But anyway, I’ve written about my experiences with child abuse. My grandma was very old school in her thinking. Children were to be seen, never heard. And anything could be a punishable offense, worthy of a few smacks. Grandpa, however, never yelled or hit me. In the 16 years I knew him, I only ever got angry with him once. This isn’t to say he was perfect. The man was incredibly sexist and anti Black as hell. I’ve had to come to terms with these things while also remembering the good things about him. It’s been tough but doable.

So here now, I share some of my favorite grandpa stories

The Godparents who came to Dinner:

When my younger brother and I were little, we used to eat the chicken before the rice and beans. That would always upset grandma. After the billionth time of eating the chicken first, she yelled at us. Grandpa, who always defended me when grandma would get on me, told her to leave us alone. Grandma walked away angry and then grandpa told us: 
When he was little, his family was very poor. One day while he and his brother were eating lunch, his godparents visited. His mom didn’t have anything to feed the guests so she took the chicken off the kids plates.
The moral: Always eat the chicken first because you never know when company will come and take it away.

Brothers are the Worst:

When he was about 7 years old, his brother traded him a nickel for his dime. His brother convinced him that the nickel was worth more because it’s bigger.

The moral: Brothers are assholes and it was OK to be mad at my brothers when they bothered me.

Killer Cows:

When I was about 7 or so, I asked my grandpa about his dad. I knew a lot about his mom but nothing about his dad.

Grandpa: I don’t know much about him. He died when I was a baby.
Me: I’m sorry. How did he die?
Grandpa: a cow killed him
Me: *imagines a cow holding a gun* uh how?
Grandpa: cow kicked him
Me: oh that’s a relief.

 (I thought I had to worry about killers cows)

 

Damn, Ju Cheap:

Every day after school, I’d buy myself a malta and a bag of peanut M&M’s. Grandpa was on a strict diet and wasn’t allowed candy. But that never stopped him from asking me.

Grandpa: What you got dere?
Me: Candy
Grandpa: Can I have one?
Me: Grandpa, sabes que no puedes. Tienes diabetes y te hace daño. Los doctores no te dejan.
Grandpa: Ah, eso cara’ de papa no saben na’. Give me one.

So I’d give him one or two and then, without missing a beat in his accented Enlgish, “damn, nena ju cheap”.

This is one of my favorite memories of grandpa. He always knew better than the doctors and he had the biggest sweet tooth. He always had candy and pudding stashed away and he always shared with me. You will understand then why coupled with his not yelling or hitting me, I liked him better than grandma.

Grandpa died in 2005, by that time I was already living in NYC. I hadn’t talked to him in about a year. He developed Alzheimer’s and talking to us would make him sad and then grandma would have to spend the rest of the day comforting and reminding him why we weren’t in the house.

We went back to Puerto Rico for his funeral. I tell people that it was like the Godfather had died. The whole town was there. People I had never met knew who I was because in Puerto Rico, people can tell who your people are by your “pinta”, basically what you look like. I didn’t go up to grandpa’s casket right away. I couldn’t. If I did, his death would become real and then who would tell me all those silly stories?

I wished I had asked him more about his childhood in Puerto Rico and his time in NYC before meeting grandma. He lived a long life; he was a few months shy of his 90th birthday when he died. I miss him every day. His stories live on in me and I’ve told a few of them to my daughter. We’ve looked at old pictures. She also has his nose.

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Gender Policing Children

I’m writing this becuase I am sick of the constant gender policing my daughter goes through. She has an Avengers lunch box. She got it for her fourth birthday. It’s one of her favorite possessions, but every few days she comes home from school sad because people keep telling her she likes “boy things”. She gets the same type of comments when she wears her Batman jacket. The conversation usually goes like this:

TJ: I’m not going to take my lunch box to school anymore. Everybody tells me I like boy things.
Me: Do you like the Avengers? Are you a boy?
TJ: Yes. No, I’m not.
Me: Alright then. You’re just someone who likes those things.
TJ: They’re what makes me, me.

We have a similar conversation every few weeks. It gets exhausting.
TJ also loves a lot of feminine coded stuff, like Barbies and My Little Pony. Her favorite Disney movie is Frozen. She prefers dresses and skirts over pants. On days when she’s completely femme, there are people who are surprised becuase they’ve seen her with “boy things” in the past. These people seem to forget that children are actual people, and just like people have varied goddamned tastes.

I went with her on a field trip and the amount of gender policing that went on was mind boggling.Some girl classmates were playing and a little boy came by and asked if he could get a turn. One girl told him no because it wasn’t a boys’ game. I told him he could play. The game? Wizard of Oz match three.

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Screenshot of a board from The Wizard of Oz Match 3 game

 

Another boy said he didn’t like flowers because they’re for girls. At one point I was sitting on a blanket with a bunch of girl classmates and one another boy sat down with us. His mom came along, grabbed him while saying, “why are you here with all these girls. They’re all playing girl games. Go play with the boys”. The girls were telling me about school.

I’m constantly told not to judge parents who restrict their children’s play based on perceived gender. Frankly, I’m going to judge you. You’re raising your child to believe in harmful stereotypes. Stereotypes which lead to trans and gender non-conforming people getting harassed and killed. We have states trying to ban trans people from using public restrooms. All because we reduce people to their genitalia. Then your children spread these bigoted thoughts and make children like mine afraid to express who they are.

If gender is so innate why are cis people so afraid of a boy who plays with dolls? Of a girl who loves trucks?

I’ve seen a lot of cis parents claim that Target making their toy aisles gender neutral is silly because gender isn’t a big deal and the people asking for these things are overly sensitive babies.

You wanna know who are the overly sensitive ones?
Cis people who can’t handle their son wanting a Barbie. Cis people freaking out about which bathroom trans people use.

Apparently gender while being so innate is also very fucking fragile and anything could make children go into gender questioning chaos. And if that child tells their parents and the world they are trans, they can get killed for it. But yeah, keep making it sound like people asking to pee in peace and gender neutrality in media are the bullies in this.

Victim Double Standards

CN: SA, CSA, domestic violence, corporal punishment

As a child, I was beaten and put down constantly. Anything I did, wore, or liked could be subject to ridicule. Any sign, imagine or real, of disrespect was met with a the buckle of a belt, a shoe or the calloused and hardened hands of my grandma. The people who should have been my protectors were my first abusers. So I grew up with low self-esteem and at 15 attempted suicide. In my late teens, I met my first boyfriend. He’d become my daughter’s father and the reason I deal with PTSD now.

People would ask how I could end up with someone like him. After a lot of therapy and introspection I figured out why. As I child, the messages I received were that I didn’t matter. I wasn’t important and never would be. I deserved the beatings and verbal abuse I got. After years of hearing that and hearing the messages I got from society , I finally understood my worth was very little.

So, this guy comes along and doesn’t call me names. Tells me I matter, well, that was new and I wanted more of it. But the reason he chose me specifically was because I was so starved for love and affirmation. Once I was “his”, he could reveal his true colors. Ok, but why did I stay? Because I had been conditioned since childhood to accept this type of treatment. Who was I to ask why I was beaten? Didn’t I know it was done out of love? I deserved it because I made the abuser angry. I needed to be reminded of the rules and who set them. (Aside: isn’t curious how the reasons people give to justify spanking children are identical to the justifications of spousal abusers?)

I didn’t like it. In fact I fucking hated it. But instead of hating my abusers, I hated myself for being so horrible that people needed to beat me. It was the same message I got as a child. It was just a different person saying it now.

“Oh you can’t blame your childhood! You’re making yourself a victim.” That’s what I was met with when I explained why I stayed.

“He was abused as a child. The abused will abuse.” This was also said simultaneously and no one noticed the double standard.

I was aware of the abuse he endured. He told me in the beginning of the relationship, which I now know was his way of trying to bond with me, to make me easier to manipulate. See, he understood me, I thought. 

So, why is it that I can’t say my childhood made me an easier target for abuse but he can justify his abuse of me with the abuse he endured as a child? Why is one OK and the other not?

Since news broke that Milo Yiannopoulos was uninvited from CPAC and the release of his book was cancelled over his comments regarding pedophilia, I have seen several people try to defend him. I’m not linking to anything by that guy. You can google him yourself. It’s bad enough he’s even being mentioned here but for the purposes of this post, he has to. One defense, I saw over and over was that Milo was a victim of CSA. The reasoning of “the abused will abuse” shows up again.

It’s very unfortunate that he lived through that. No one, I mean no one, no matter how much I hate them and their beliefs, deserves to be abused in that way. But having a fucked up childhood is not a justification for being an abusive adult. And yes, his transmisogyny, racism, sexism is all abuse.

Hearing that “the abused will abuse” made me think I would eventually become a monster. It would be inevitable that I would become like my abuser. While I know it isn’t true it’s still scares me.

The powerful or the privileged (or their supporters) can say , ‘I had a bad childhood” and all is forgiven. The marginalized and weak say, “I also had a bad childhood” and they’re met with derision. Ask yourself why that is.

Dads and Low Bars

September 20th is “Dads take your child to school day” at my kid’s school. Because apparently the bar is set so fucking low that a father doing his goddamn job gets a special day marked in calendar.

When I first saw this in TJ’s folder, I was annoyed but I left it alone. I wasn’t going to mention it to her because I didn’t want to upset her. She hadn’t noticed it and I preferred she didn’t know about it. Fathers are a touchy subject here.

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September 20th AKA Lowest Possible Bar Ever Day

 

Then today she comes home with this. Cue TJ feeling left out and sad because she’ll “miss out on the fun” because her dad isn’t in her life.
Way to make my child feel like shit, school. Great job.

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First off, why does any child need a male role model? What can a man teach a kid that a mother can’t? What do we need to celebrate? That dad actually showed up for once?
Second, can we stop with the gender bullshit? Some of the people who would fall in those categories aren’t necessarily male.
Third, dads literally NEED an invitation to fucking do their job?
Fourth, where is my breakfast for doing my job?

“Photo opportunity” is goddamn right.

Why isn’t there a day like this for moms and other female role models? Because moms are expected to do all the emotional and manual labor. We’re expected to do all the chores, take the kids to and from school. It’s all about gender roles and stereotypes. Moms are competent and dads are bumbling buffoons. It’s why we have “jokes” like this:

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No, your husband is just a lazy piece of shit and needs to fucking do his goddamn fair share.

 

This is ridiculous. Good fathers should be offended by this. They should be offended by a culture that expects so little of them. They should call this shit out. They should be the ones calling out deadbeat dads.

I’m so sick of shit like this. I sound bitter because I am. Parenting isn’t a part time job, it isn’t something I can decide to do or not whenever I feel like it. It’s constant UNPAID work.

What about children who do not have fathers, or who’ve recently lost whoever it was that played the male role model in their lives? How is any of this inclusive? All this does is other kids without male role models and gives undeserved praised once again to dads just for showing up.

Do better, school. Do better, society.

Children and Boundaries

CN: brief mentions of SA, CSA, use of the word r*pe uncensored

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I recently saw the above image on Facebook. Long story short it’s talking about not forcing children to hug people that they don’t want to. To give children a choice and a say in how and when they interact and show affection to known adults. It explains that by teaching children they have a right to say no, that lesson could keep a child from being abused, or it gives them tools to be able to speak up about it.

While most of the comments were positive there was one commenter who balked at the notion of a child not hugging a grandparent, for example. They basically implied that teaching bodily autonomy in the form of hug refusal could lead to intimacy issues or emotional divides. They questioned what kind of family is it that would respect a child’s wishes to hug or not be hugged. They alleged that unless the child is Autistic or has some sort of other sensory issue then that child should always hug someone even if they don’t want to. Otherwise it is disrespectful.

Now please explain this to me: how is it respectful of me to force my child to hug someone she doesn’t want to? Is my child not worthy of respect?

The same person said that the idea of children having boundaries is silly because something about being potty-trained, so that obviously  children do not have the cognitive ability to make boundaries.

This person kept going on and on about respect. When I was little my family forced me to hug a certain family member. That didn’t teach me respect. It taught me I had no say, it taught me that anybody had a right to my body. I do not find it a coincidence that I’ve been raped and sexually assaulted. I was taught not to say no. Is that what we want to teach our children?

If I want to model good behavior to my child, if I want to teach them that they have bodily autonomy, if I want them to grow up to be people who respect others’ autonomy; then childhood is the perfect time to do so. It is in childhood when you set the foundation for who they will become as adults.

This goes back to an older post I wrote in which I said that as a culture we do not respect children. We don’t see them as fully fledged people with ideas and dreams and hopes of their own. We don’t think of them as people who can have opinions, wants, dislikes and likes. We see them as carbon copies of ourselves but they’re not.

If we want this current generation of children to grow into compassionate, emphatic adults then we need to teach them that they have value; they have worth. That they have bodily autonomy and that they have to respect others’ right to space and privacy.

We cannot tell them (whether through words or actions) that they are not worthy of respect. As parents, educators, as elders we owe it to our children to show them respect because otherwise,  why should we expect them to respect us?

Se Llevaron La Luz!: Blackout 2003 and Reflections

It’s been 13 years since I left Puerto Rico with my mom and brother. It’s also been 13 years since the Blackout of 2003.

We were out shopping when all the stores went dark. At first people thought it was just on that block. Then we found out all of Southern Boulevard had lost power. We kept walking and found the train station, that’s when we found out there was a blackout so we could not get on the train. A few people were worried it was an act of terror. After all , 9/11 had happened less than two years prior.

Honestly though, my brother and I did not understand the problem. The light was constantly being “taken away” in Puerto Rico. The blackout was sorta welcomed to us because it made us feel at home. Growing up, it was a very common thing to yell, “se llevaron la luz!” out the window to alert the other neighbors that the power had been cut off the in the neighborhood for a while. We did the same when they’d cut the water supply.”They” being the Autoridad de Energia Electrica de PR and  Acueductos y Alcantarillados.  We’d go days without both so we had no problem dealing with the blackout.

Recently I’ve been thinking how much things change. When we moved to NYC I thought I’d never get used to all the noise and people. I’d never get used to swaying of the trains or the bumpy rides on buses. Everything was bright, loud and steel.

A childhood friend is visitng. They’ve never been to NYC. The bus and train ride home was hilarious. It reminded me so much of when I get here. My friend was looking at everything with such wide-eyed amazement. And I was telling them about the City and the “rules”, how New Yorkers  are. I told them they must have a NYC pizza because we are the best at it. They were asking so many questions and I was able to answer them.

I miss the coqui’s song. I miss how starry the sky is at night in El Campo. I miss the beaches.

I’ve never really felt at home in the States. Visiting Puerto Rico is always great but then I’m reminded of all the religious motivated bigotry on the Island; all the machismo etc. So, I feel too Latina for the States and too Americana for Puerto Rico.

But I’m starting to realize I have the best of both worlds.

I get to have New York City’s big slices of pizza and my friend brought me Puerto Rican candy. So, it’s a win-win.

Dad Jokes

So there’s this new thing that fathers are doing called the Cheerio Challenge and it’s about who can prove who’s the biggest tool  funniest dad.

Ever wonder why there is such a thing as “dad jokes” but not the mom equivalent? Because dads are allowed to be silly. Dads are allowed to do this type of shit and not have people question their parenting ability. It’s why we have goddamn parades for weekend dads but condemn single moms. Seriously, look at any story about a single dad and you’ll get bombarded with comments on how “selfless” and “wonderful” the dad is. Look at stories about single moms and you’ll find comments questioning her ability to parent. They’ll wonder why she’s single. Single dads (or dads in general really) get praised. Single moms get scorned.

It’s why people went gaga over Chris Hemsworth baking a cake for his daughter. Seriously? He baked a cake. Clearly, he’s wasting his talents on acting. Get that man in culinary school!

It’s why we say dads are babysitting their children while mom is away.

Google “dad jokes” and you get this:
dad

Google “mom jokes” and you get this:
mom

So, do we see a difference?
Dad gets to be silly and fun; we wink at each other over how ridiculous dad is but we never say, “hey fattie, stop the jokes and get in the kitchen and feed your kids. Look pretty while you do it, toots”

The mom results are all a bunch of racist, ableist, sexist jokes at the expense of mom.

Getting back to the Cheerio Challenge: Yes, it’s cute and it’s silly, but as a single mom I really wonder what the response would be if this had been started by moms.

I also have to wonder why the fuck you’d risk waking your baby! Parents know that when baby sleeps, we can try to relax. Emphasis on try. This just seems like an incredibly inconsiderate thing to do. Because we also know how labor is usually divided in households with both parents, we can then extrapolate that mom ends up doing most of the emotional and physical labor while dad gets to waste cereal on a challenge to prove how big his dick is  how funny he is.

Fathers, doesn’t the fact that you get praised for doing the bare minimum bother you? Think about it: society is basically saying your mediocrity is just fine. You don’t need to improve; to strive to be a better parent. Doesn’t that offend you? Society doesn’t expect the best from you. It’s much like how rape culture dictates that all men can’t control themselves. We know that isn’t true. So why not do better; be better? Disrupt the narrative that fathers merely babysit their kids. Make people let go of the notion that we shouldn’t expect fathers to be fully involved in their children’s lives.