Maya leaves for college on Thursday. And I’m getting sentimental. I know what I’m feeling has been felt since the first kid left a cave, but I thought I’d share an essay I wrote almost 11 years ago when Maya was 11 and Mina was 6. It’s a nod to those times when they were young balls of manic energy and when they still looked to me a thousand times a day for support, guidance, and love.
November 16, 2005
I make everything involving Maya and Mina seem like a dreamy cake walk, like raising them is the easiest thing in the world. And though I hold illusions – like any mother – that they are perfection, I want to make it clear that raising them is an exhausting, never-resting vigil. My day looks like a bowed reed. I hide the cracks well.
Last night when I finally got into bed, I looked back on the day, a typical, uneventful Tuesday. I looked over at Julio who was already conked out and I thought: It’s like wrangling tornadoes daily. I’ve only contained them with sleep.
It started as usual at 6:30am. This is the exact moment the action begins. Maya shoots out of bed like a spring that’s been squeezed into a box for 10 hours. She’s off and running from the moment her eyes open. Mina, however, is sloth-like and nonchalant. “Five more minutes,” Mina says. Five More Minutes became her life’s jingle when she entered kindergarten. The bartering and coercing begins: “You get 5 more minutes if you jump up the next time I call you. JUMP UP, like a—“ I want to be creative and fun to mask my stress about time “like a crazed rabbit. Jump!” Mina thinks this is funny and may actually do it. But it’s a crap shoot.
Maya has showered and is singing her 45th round of “Feliz Navidad” at volume 8 out of 10. I can barely take it. But as I brush my teeth, I hum, “prospero año y feli—” AARGG. “Maya, seriously, how many more times will you sing that song? Like, 5 more? 6? Just give me a hint so I know that there’s an end in sight. MINA! FIVE MINUTES IS UP.” It’s been ten.
Maya switches to a made-up chant that goes like this: “Who’s the batman. You’re the batman. Who’s the batman. You’re the batman. Who’s the batman. You’re the batman. . . .” And on and on. I clench my teeth. But I can relate because once in junior high I got a big, fat zero on a math test because I couldn’t stop chanting, “How. Now. Brown. Cow. I said, How. Now. Brown. Cow. I said — .”
I’m making their lunches and I’m singing, “Who’s the batman” and I realize Mina is nowhere in sight. I go into their room and she’s on her top bunk staring at the ceiling. I’m relieved that her t-shirt is on at least.”Dude, snap out of it. We gotta get going.” She looks at me like, wtf.
I check in on Maya who has one side of her hair braided, the other half is wet and laying on her shoulders. She is now doing a Who’s The Batman dance in the mirror in different genres of dance with accompanying facial expressions. “Nice dance,” I say. “Now stop dilly dallying because the bus is coming in 10 minutes.” I have to say “dilly dallying” for fear that HURRY THE FUCK UP will escape my mouth. Mina Check: She is under Maya’s covers now, on the bottom bunk, with our dog Lupe in a head-lock cuddle. Me: “WHAT THE–?” Mina scurries out of bed recognizing my tone. Lupe shakes her off. “Socks. Shoes. Teeth. Now.” Though I’m crazy rushed, I still say this with a Scottish inflection like Mike Meyers in So I Married An Axe Murderer.
There is always a point in our morning routine where I have to talk myself down. I have to will patience on myself like I’m shoving on a sticky, rubber bathing cap, ripping hairs as I pull it on. I have to remind myself that they are just carefree kids not little manipulators calculating their test against my strength. This happens many times a day, the wrestling game with the patience bathing cap.
“What do you guys want for breakfast?”
“Waffles please,” they say in sweet chorus.
The word “please” softens me, allows the bathing cap to slide on smoothly. “They’re great,” I think. Lunches are done, backpacks packed, everyone relatively clean and combed, waffles and fruit in baggies, shoes on, dogs on leashes. 7:18 and we’re ready to walk to the bus stop, almost on time. Mina stops to run back to her room for I don’t know what. “God, ¡VAMONOS!” I yell.
“Oh Mami can you read and sign this?” Maya says.
“What? No,” I say, “We’re leaving, girl. The bus is coming.”
“It’s due today.” Maya says.
Mina says, “I don’t want waffles.”
I contemplate if “tough titties” is appropriate to say to them. Maya hands me a dense, two-page packet from the PTA about some student council horsecrap.
We’re walking to the bus stop; Maya quickly, Mina dragging. The dogs are bananas. They scatter in all directions thrilled by outside smells. They run this way and that like they’re feral until my legs are mummified by the leashes. Lupe shits in the middle of the street as we cross it. I don’t understand this. We are a yard away from grass. Carmen steps in the shit, possibly on purpose. I see the bus lumbering up a half a block away and the girls kiss me and sprint towards the stop. I wave to them with the PTA packet still in hand.
I then go to work and do amazing and brilliant things until 5:00.
Tuesday is my day to pick up the girls instead of them riding home on the bus. Tuesday is Library Day. The plan is to go to the market after I pick them up, eat something and then head to the library for homework and reading. After 15 minutes of gathering them and their shit from all corners of school, and after saying farewell to every single friend and staff member as if they will never return, we are finally off to the market, where I barely survive. Taking both kids to the market is like herding rabid cows. Aisles are not big enough for these two. They want to play tag in the wine section. They horde samples. They bump into other people with impromptu, creative jumping games. If I allow them to push the cart it’s a guaranteed ruptured achilles. They reenact scenes from school elaborately as I catch knocked-off boxes from the shelves. I make them hold onto the cart, one on one side, one on the other. “GGgrrr, walk!” I yell behind a locked jaw, “Like stiff marchers.” They walk. They march. Then they’re high stepping. They’re dancing, doing a jig. They’re po-go’ing. They’re hanging off the cart like side-car racers tipping the basket into a turn. If I have to concentrate on a label or directions to a recipe, I make them sit down in the aisle. Fuck it. It contains them for 2 seconds. Until they are rolling on the ground tackling each other knocking into a chips’ display. I am laughing but I say, “Have you guys been in public before? I mean, for real?” They are dumbfounded, like, What do you mean? I let them make their own salads at the salad bar. They are surprisingly focused. Mina’s salad is made of egg yolks, peas, carrots and sharp parmesan cheese. Maya’s salad is a sample of every item at the bar. We get to the check out and Maya asks the clerk — and this scene happens every single time we’re in the store –, “Can I bag?” Clerk, sweetly, “Sure.” Maya, to me, “Paper or plastic, ma’am?” “Paper, please.” She is quite good at packing a bag now. The clerk always offers her a job. This is part of the scenario. The bill is paid, bags are packed and Maya says in a feigned baritone, “Would you like help to your car, ma’am?” Me: “Why yes, yes I would.” “I’m helping her to her car,” she tells the clerk with a wink.
We eat in the car like a pack of homeless ladies because they don’t want to sit at the tables outside the store for some reason. We talk and laugh and eat. We make the food talk and we eat chips in different ways, like a wood cutter or like the Cookie Monster. Inevitably, they spill some shit on the seats that will smell up the car for the next 48 hours. Then we walk to the library and the girls hide behind every pole and tree because each car is their “enemy foe.” At the library it’s a series of Sshh’s and Do Your Homework and Yes, I’ll Read That and No, You Can’t Kick Box the Magazine Rack. My own writing and reading go untouched.
At home, they run around and square off in extreme Tae Kwon Do battles, until someone’s crying. They jump on the bed and chase the dogs and nag each other. They get to watch one show a night and they demand that I sit between them. If I’m physically closer to one or the other, they go to blows. The whining drives me nuts. We watch That’s So Raven, quite possibly the funniest show on TV. And we talk about the themes and scenarios of the show. We talk about every theme and scenario that comes to mind. They beg for cereal and candy and apples and Luna Bars. They fight over what book I should read them. Then the Go-to-Bed Dance begins. I’m exhausted now so the bathing cap is sticking together and shrinking. I have to “Do Their Pillow” because I showed them how Bugs Bunny used to fluff his pillow to perfection. I have to sing Fly Me to the Moon twice because I’ve been singing that song every night since Maya was in the womb, and they both need their own version. There’s a couple “I’m scared of my dreams” by Mina which are easily soothed. Finally, I announce, “Guys, I’m so tired and I have to do stuff still. Can you just chill now?” Maya says, “You’re the best, Mami.” My heart pangs. “‘Cause I’m a push over?” I say. She laughs, “Pretty much.” But they hug and kiss me like there are a million other reasons, too.
I leave. Two more bathroom runs. A couple more hugs. They bicker from their bunks over something. And Papi walks in and says, “QUIET.” And they are obedient angels under his command.
The tornadoes are wrangled once again. Until 6:30 the next morning. In a few, short hours.