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.

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.

One Year Home-a-versary

It has been a year since my daughter and I left the shelter after five years of homelessness.
I cannot believe it’s only been one year. We got used to things pretty quickly which surprised me. After all, I was so used to being treated like an animal, being carted off to different shelters, nothing more than a number to the State, that I thought not having to deal with shelter life would be a major adjustment.

Since I already wrote about the differences between shelter and apartment living, I’d like to make this post a thank you letter to everyone who helped me get in here and continues to help my daughter and I. Some are named and others I’ve used initials for because they’ve asked/I don’t know how they’d feel about a public shout out.

First I’d like to thank Angie Jackson and Ania Bula for helping me with creating and sharing my fundraiser.
I was hesitant to make one at first because I was afraid no one would help. I was afraid poor shamers would question why I was asking for money. I’ve seen it so many times before. Angie and Ania helped convince me and they then helped share the hell out of that link.

I’d like to thank my online group of women and NB friends for always listening to me whine and complain and cry about everything in my life. Why you all haven’t gotten sick of me is a mystery.

Many thanks to Sally S. who drove down to the City when I left one of the many shelters (I was being transferred to another) and helped me move my things. If not for that, the shelter would have thrown away everything which would have meant that when I finally moved into this apartment my daughter and I would have had to start over.

Which brings me to thanking KH, ALS, JF, IDT, SG, YR and many others for the lovely housewarming gifts they sent us.

I’d like to thank all of these wonderful people and their friends (strangers to me) for sharing my fundraiser and story. If not for them, I wouldn’t have been able to raise the money to pay off the apartment fees. We were able to come up with the money in about a day!

I was honestly flabbergasted. I could not believe the outpouring of support we received and continue to receive. I feel so lucky to have such wonderful people in my life. People who love my daughter. Our first Christmas here, some friends sent us gifts and my daughter was over the moon.

My friends helped keep me sane while I was dealing with getting the apartment ready. They offered their support, ideas and advice.

I’d like to thank several of my artist friends for encouraging me to keep up with my own art. So, thank you to the Artful Scientist, Ania (once again!), AG, CW, APV for seeing the beauty in what I do and telling me. As you know, sometimes we’re our own biggest and harshest critics.

To my fellow single mom friends, thank you for reminding me I’m not alone. Thank you for staying up with me when I was worried I was somehow messing up my kid’s life.

Finally, I’d like to thank my mami for always helping any way she can. She’s the Sophia to my Dorothy and I’m proud to be her daughter. She’s a great mom. I love you, mami.
And special thanks to my daughter TJ. She has been such a trooper. She’s gone through so much in her short life but she always manages to stay bright and bubbly. I love that about her. She’s my favorite person and I’m lucky to have her call me “mom”.

All of these people (and so many others I didn’t mentioned becuase they’ve helped in so many different ways, it’ll be a way longer post)  are always there to remind me to take it easy. To be gentle with myself, reminding me I’m doing the best I can as a person, mom and friend.

Thank you all so much again. I’ll never feel like I can thank you all enough.

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I just feel like my heart is going to burst because it’s full of rainbows

 

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.

Mourning a Rando's Dick

CN: t-slur

A man messaged me on a dating site to let me know how much my feminism was a “dick killer”. How as soon as he saw my picture he lost interest and would rather “fuck a hole in the wall”. How he thought I was interesting until he saw “feminist”, how he thought I was a “tr*nny”. And again reminded me how much of a “dick killer” I am.

Oh how will I ever go on? I have hurt this man. He was so confused. How dare my uninteresting face made him look at my interesting profile until he saw that dreaded F word.

I know this man’s pain. Many times I have walked into baseball stadiums to loudly tell every one how much I hate that game.

I once bought a cheeseburger and then angrily demanded my money back because of how much I hate them.

This poor man.

How will I ever go on knowing the hurt I caused this man? How will I ever go on knowing he won’t fuck me?

Tis truly a sad day him.

Let us all mourn this man’s dick’s death. RIP, dick. RIP.

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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!)

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.