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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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.

Privacy and Abuela

Privacy, bodily autonomy, personal space isn’t a thing for older Hispanics.

When I was little and there was company coming over grandma would yell at us to clean our room. It didn’t matter that it was clean. No, it had to be immaculate. It had to look like two small children (my younger brother and I) weren’t occupying that space.

If it wasn’t cleaned to her standards, she’d close the door. I’d ask why and I was told, “you know how people are. They might open the door and then see the mess.”

I heard this again when mami was teaching me how to cook rice and she’d arranged the rice in a neat mound in the pot when it was done cooking. I would never do that. She’d tell me to. I’d ask why and she’d say “presentation is important because people might open the pot”

I mean who the hell would care if the rice wasn’t arranged nicely? I only cared about it being cooked properly. (When I was learning, I always added too much waer and it would end up “amogollao”)

Who were these nosy ass people judging me about my unmade bed and messy rice?
Family, of course.

I learned family had a right to everything about me. I got my first period when I was 11 and my grandmother called everybody to tell them that “el gallo ya canto”. I got calls from my godmother in NYC congratulating me on finally becoming a “Señorita”.

I lived with my mom, my grandparents and my two brothers. My tio M* lived with is until he died when I was 8. The room I shared with my mom and younger brother was the master bedroom of the house. It had its own bathroom, but no door, instead it had a beaded curtain (no kidding!).

Grandma would walk in the bathroom all the time. It didn’t matter if I was showering or on the toilet because “we both have the same stuff”.

Sometimes, when I had the room to myself, I’d close the door. Grandma would yell at me because “decent young ladies” don’t close their doors. I was 12.

Once a boy who liked me walked me most of the way home. We passed by several older people who knew my grandpa (in our town people knew who you were by your “pinta”. They could tell who your “people” were by your coloring!)
I knew they would have all sorts of stories about A’s* granddaughter walking alone with a boy. So as soon as I got home I told my grandma that a boy from my class (and I made sure to emphasize how much I did not like this boy) had walked me part of the way home. Because if I didn’t tell her, she’d hear about it next time she went into town and I’d get yelled at.

I was forced to hug and kiss relatives I didn’t want to. I’d be shamed into doing it.

I told myself I would be different with TJ. For the most part I am, but then I have company come over and even though my apartment is clean, I start freaking out because a child’s messy room will be used as proof of how “malcri’a” TJ is; how shitty I am as a mom.

I know it’s all bullshit. I know that the people who matter won’t care about that stuff. I mean, a lot of this privacy and bodily autonomy stuff is tied into a lot of social justice issues and most of my friends are social justice minded. So rationally I KNOW that my 6 year old’s messy room won’t be a big deal. In fact, a child that age should have a messy room.

But in the back of my mind, I hear my tiny but scary grandma telling me to clean up. It’s the same voice I hear whenever I try to ignore abuelitas in the street when I have my earbuds on. It’s the same voice who tells me to keep my legs together when I’m wearing a skirt. It’s the reason why even though I’m an atheist I still ask my grandma for “la bendición”.

Because old habits die hard and disrespecting abuela is a no-no.

Note: Initials were used to protect family’s privacy (take that nosy family!)

Tall Barbie: A Review 

Previously I had reviewed Curvy Barbie. Today I review Tall Barbie.

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Barbie Fashionistas, Fab Fringe (image is of a Brown skinned doll, she is black long sleeve top with floral print on, she’s wearing blue shorts and black booties. Her hair is red and in a curly Afro.

Original Barbie is 11.5 inches tall. This Barbie is about 13 inches tall. One of the reasons I wanted to buy this doll was because unlike most Barbies, she has short hair. Plus, she’s sporting a curly Afro!
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In addition to the new body types, Mattel has also added new face sculpts. This doll has a wide nose and full lips. Her eyes are light brown and she has a medium skin tone.

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Tall Barbie comes accessorized with black Booties and a white wrist watch

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Mattel will be releasing other tall (and curvy) dolls with fashions but for now, these dolls have to make do with the outfits they’re wearing. Tall Barbie does fit into Original Barbie’s clothes but since she is a few inches taller, the clothes are a bit shorter.
Original Barbie can fit into Tall Barbie’s clothes but as you can see above Original Barbie has a thinner waist so Tall Barbie’s shorts a bit big around that area on the Original.
Tall Barbie also has wider flatter feet but she is able to wear Original heels, however because her feet are flatter she isn’t able to stand upright with them on.

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Tall Barbie wearing Original Barbie heels. Because her feet are flatter, she ends up leaning forward when wearing these.
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Swapped outfits

Like most Barbies, Tall Barbie is not articulated.

Just like Curvy Barbie, Tall Barbie has been a big hit here at home. TJ and I are both tall and we both have curly hair. TJ is thrilled to see a doll with features closer to hers. My daughter has named her Savannah.

 

 

Remembering my Tia

CN: domestic violence, child abuse, death

 

I’ve been thinking a lot about one of my aunts. I’ll refer to her as Tia through this post. She was one of my grandma’s older sisters. We used to visit her once in a while when I was little. I remember she was always very soft spoken. She was also very short, about 4′ 9″, so I didn’t find her intimating like I did other adults. Although, my grandma was just a few inches taller, she scared me because she was tough and she was the disciplinarian in our house.
There was always a sadness about my Tia that I now recognize as my own.

Anyway, we’d go see her and her husband; my “uncle”. We’ll call him Pablo. He was this big guy, and the inside joke between Mami, grandma and I was that he was ugly and apparently my grandfather did not like him. That was the sense I got from the other adults. They didn’t like Pablo. I didn’t like him. Where as Tia was shy and timid, Pablo was loud and brash. Tia was a tiny wisp of a person and Pablo was big; about 6 feet and 200 pounds. About the only thing bigger was his mouth. I don’t remember exact conversations with him but he was that one uncle everyone has that no one likes to see.

I always regarded Tia as a nice woman. I had a lot of tias growing up, and while I didn’t see her much I did enjoy it when I did. She was nice to me. She always gave me juice and she seemed interested in what I told her. I didn’t get that from other adults.

Once I became taller than her, around my 8th birthday, everybody would joke about how much bigger I was than Tia. I was a bit self conscious about my height. Mami, grandma and all of the other women in my family were short. Along I come and I’m this palm tree. Tia never made me feel bad it, unlike my grandmother’s other sister.

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My classmates would call me “Palma”. No, really.
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I feel you, Tom Selleck.

 

Once I left Puerto Rico when I was 14, I didn’t see Tia again for another two years. When we went back for my grandpa’s funeral, I saw Tia and went to say hello. By this time I was a whole foot taller than her. Pablo had died about a month before. I gave her my condolences and she said “ay, nena. Está bien.” She seemed relieved and I didn’t understand it. I asked my mom and she explained that Pablo was “malo“.
I knew she meant that Pablo had been abusive. At that time I didn’t understand domestic violence. I knew she had dealt with it because that what was she was supposed to do.

I didn’t see Tia again until I returned to Puerto Rico with my baby daughter TJ, three years later.
By this time, my Tia was living with my grandma. Tia was bed-ridden and her memory was going. But she remembered me. “Ah, yes. You’re my sister’s granddaughter. La nena grande”, (the big girl).
She would try to play with TJ. She was still her usual quiet self. She had two children. Of course, her son rarely visited her. Her daughter would come over every day but she’s a nurse. She couldn’t afford to put Tia in a home and my grandma would never allow that.

I would sit in the room with her watching television. I’d leave the room and leave the TV on. She’d call me to ask to turn it off. I’d tell her I had left it on so she’d have some form of companionship. She would insist. So, I would turn it off. The whole day would pass and Tia was content spending it in silence. I asked grandma about it. She finally told me everything.

Pablo was abusive to Tia and the children. Pablo hated noise and demanded the children be silent. He didn’t let Tia watch television. She’d only listen to the radio, set to the station playing “Canciones del Ayer”. These were old Spanish language ballads.

By now, I had been through my own abusive relationship. I finally understood my Tia. Then I realized that the sadness I sensed in her, was familiar to me because I felt it. I remember my Tia’s sad eyes and recognize them as my own. I felt closer to Tia after that.

Our vacation was over and we said our good-byes. She wasn’t sure what was going on, but she wished me a safe trip. “Dios te cuide, nena”
Tia died a few weeks after.

I remember my Tia and wonder what kind of woman she could have been had she never met Pablo. I remember the soft spoken woman who didn’t say much but when she did she never had an ill word to say to anyone. I remember the woman who would call me “nena” and always had something kind to say to me. I remember her and I wished I had known her better. I realize now that she was strong. She endured and survived Pablo. She protected her children.

I remember you, Tia. I wish the world had been kinder to you. I hope I leave this world a kinder place for people like us. I wish I had known you better, but I’m glad I met you.

Gracias, Tia.

Feminist Awakening

CN: ableist language, sexist double standards

Ariel India recently released this commercial:

It reminded me of my childhood. Seeing my grandma get up at 6AM every morning and tend to the chickens, the dog, the cat, her grandchildren, her husband. She’d cook every meal, every day. She’d served my grandpa who was always in his rocking chair in the living room in front of the TV. When everybody was fed, she’d go downstairs and start her chores. She’d water the plants, start the laundry, she washed a lot of it by hand and used and old wooden board and scrub brush to get tough stains out. If the cars needing washing, she’d wash them. She was the one who painted the house when it needed a fresh coat.
She drove my grandpa around.

Sometimes, she’d climb up on the roof to sweep up. Many times I saw her walking along the edge of the house to clean the windows. My brothers never volunteered to help her. I would sometimes volunteer but most of the time, she told me to help. I needed to learn this stuff anyway since I would be a wife when I grew up.

My grandmother would be running back and forth, and my grandpa would yell to her to bring him some water. I asked mami why he couldn’t get it himself. She told me not to ask him or grandma because I’d get in trouble. Then she explained that she wondered the same thing when she was my age, that she even told her father to get the water himself. Grandma hit her becuase mami was being “disrespectful”.

I noticed the disparity in the chores I and my brothers got. My older brother didn’t do anything. My grandma did everything for him. To this day, he doesn’t do his laundry or serve his own meals.
My younger brother had a few chores but once he was done he could go use the PlayStation. Once, I cleaned the room and bathroom I shared with my younger brother. So mami said that my brother had to clean the bedroom windows by himself. He thought that was fair.
So, there I am playing some Namco game and in comes grandma yelling at me and calling me lazy. I explained that I had done my chores. She made me turn off the game and help my brother wash the windows.

In kindergarten, we had a large classroom and at the back was the play area. One side was “the house”, it had a bed, a kitchen, table and a small sofa; the other side was “work”. It had tools and hard hats and work vests. I never liked playing house becuase it wasn’t fun to me. I had these chores at home, when I’m playing I wanted to get away from that. So I went over to the “work” side. The boys there told me I needed to leave becuase “girls do not play with tools”. I told them my grandpa had taught me how to use tools and mix cement. I told them they were “stupid” and went back to the house. One boy comes over and asked one of the girls for some juice. I tell him he could get it himself. The girl was “busy” washing dishes.  All the boys and girls told me that that’s how marriages work. And so they made me the baby, becuase babies don’t speak. After that I spent play time a the art table.

I didn’t know the word feminist. I just knew that the way I was treated, the way I saw women were treated was unfair. I didn’t learn the word feminist until I was in my teens. And then I realized, ‘THAT’S ME’. I had always felt like maybe there was something wrong with me becuase why couldn’t I just play along like everyone else? But no, I was fine. There was a word for what I was and discovering it was a life changer.

Curvy Barbie: A Review

In a previous post I talked about Barbie and representation and Mattel’s new line of dolls. In this post I’m reviewing one of the curvy dolls.

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Barbie Fashionistas, Dolled Up in Denim
(image is of a brown skinned doll, she has long brown hair, she’s wearing a blue denim dress with a white lace blouse over it. her shoes and necklace are both red, she is curvier than the original Barbie)

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Upon first seeing her I noticed she seemed thicker than in the pictures I’d seen online.
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(four images of the same brown skinned doll, the images show different close up shots of her body)
Her thighs almost touch and I cannot tell you how happy that makes me. A doll with thunder thighs! Her body is thicker than the Original Barbie and she definitely is hourglass shaped.

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Her face mold is beautiful. Her eyes are soft brown, her nose is small, her lips are full. Her hair is brown with golden blonde streaks. The lacy white top is removable!
The white top has Velcro in the back to take it on or off. The dress has stretchy straps and it can slipped on and off.

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Like most Barbie dolls, her joints are not articulated.

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Left to right: Curvy, Tall and Original

This doll is for my daughter. I asked her what she thought of her. TJ says the new doll is very pretty and that sheʹs glad they’re making different shaped dolls. She told me she noticed the doll is bigger than her other Barbies. So, we talked about fat acceptance and why I don’t view the word fat as pejorative.
TJ has named the new doll Serena and is already introducing them to her other dolls. Curvy Barbie has been a hit here.

Like I mentioned before I noticed the doll was thicker in person than online. This was something another friend who bought Curvy Barbie had mentioned to me.
I think she could be fatter, how great would it be to have a fat Barbie with a big belly? One who isn’t an hourglass shape? But this is definitely a start.