I Did My Best

My child, you are so precious to me.

You were created because of a dream, one born out of the love your father and I shared. I carried you in my womb for nine months. I experienced physical sickness and pain. I worried about you so much, I ached inside. I prayed that God would protect you from all the hurt and disappointment and grief I experienced in my youth, all the while knowing deep down that pain would be a necessary teacher in your life. I watched you on the screen during every ultrasound, in awe, in humility, in shock. How could I be in charge of this little person, this precious, helpless, impressionable person? Flawed creature that I am, I knew I would make mistakes. And the very thought terrified me. Still, I determined to do my best. Because I love you, my child.

Little One, you are so fragile.

I watched your mother give birth, helpless to ease her pain, unable to shoulder even an ounce of that burden. But I held her hand and I cheered her on when she thought she had given all that she could. And, together, we welcomed you into this harsh, demanding, unforgiving world. We brought you home, rearranged our lives around you. We made a promise as we stood over your sleeping little form. We would do everything in our power to make you feel loved. We would create a safe haven for you, a home you would always want to come back to. We would give you every good thing that was in our power to give and teach you every good thing our parents taught us, maybe more. We were just children ourselves, still learning what it meant to be adults. But we wanted to do our best for you. Because we love you, Little One.

My child, be patient with me.

I know it seems like I say “no” more than I say “yes.” But it’s only because there is so much out there that can hurt you and I’m afraid. I trust God can keep you safe, but I also understand that He will allow certain things to come into your life in order to shape you. Certain things that I would do everything in my power to help you avoid. I see only what’s right in front of you while He sees it all. It’s so hard to guide you down this dark road with only the light from my very dim headlights to show us the way. It’s so hard for me to let go. Sometimes I think I’m doing well, while other times I’m so sure I’m an absolute failure as a mother. But I’m doing my best. Because I love you, my child.

Little One, listen to me.

There’s so much I want to teach you, so much I’ve learned that I’m sure will benefit you. Why do you scoff and turn away? Why do you insist on doing things by yourself? Don’t you trust me? I’m trying to help, to give you the knowledge I wish my father had given me, to ease your way through this life. I’ve looked forward to teaching you since the day you were born. Please, don’t rob me of this. I want you to become a good, smart, resourceful, person and this is the only way I know how. But I can’t help you if you don’t let me. Can’t you see I’m doing my best here? I love you, Little One.

My child, forgive me.

In my exhaustion and desperation, I’ve made poor choices. Our lives are not simple; sometimes our circumstances only serve to bring out the worst in us. And I’m sorry. I’m truly sorry. You deserve someone better as a mother but you got stuck with me. Please, don’t shut me out. Every moment we spend together is priceless. I promise I’m still trying my best. I love you, my child.

Little One, understand me.

I never knew fatherhood would be this hard. I struggle to discipline you. I struggle to find common ground. I struggle to express myself in a clear and healthy manner. Only now am I realizing that my father had the same issues I’m having now. He never taught me how to overcome this because he never figured it out himself. But maybe he was just trying his best too. No matter what happens, never doubt that I love you, Little One.

My child, you are amazing.

I know it’s only by the grace of God that you flourish. You have your vices, you have your flaws, but you are also talented and smart and brave. And I’m so proud of you. Soon you’ll be venturing out on your own but I’ll be here for you whenever you need me. It’s still hard for me to let go, I’ll admit. But I’ll do my best to give you the independence you’ve always wanted. Because I love you, my child.

Little One, you’ve come so far.

You became your own person right under my nose. Stand tall but stay humble. There’s much to be thankful to God for. We had some bumps along the way; sometimes I felt like bopping you upside the head, but I’m glad I did my best for you. I love you, Little One.

Mom, Dad, I used to think you were so exasperating.

There was a certain comfort in the circle of your arms but the allure of the outside world was so very strong. I couldn’t wait to break free. But the truth is? I didn’t know what you were going through. I couldn’t understand how you felt. I could only see my side of things and I lashed out at you when I felt wronged. I can’t say how sorry I am for every angry or hurtful thing I said to you. Because I have a kid now and I’m learning that I don’t know anything about this incredibly gratifying, yet equally impossible task that is parenthood. Looking back, I can see that you were only doing your best. Thanks for that.

I love you both.

Family

It’s strange, isn’t it? How time and circumstances and distance can change friendships you once thought would last forever? You still love these people, you still care about what happens to them, but when you’re together…you can’t seem to find a common ground.

I used to be so close to my dad’s family. We lived in Mexico until I was eight, within walking distance of cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents. Even after we moved, we didn’t go very far; we crossed the border, drove for half an hour, and chose a house in that little town. We returned to my grandparents’ house monthly for family lunches, sometimes to celebrate someone’s birthday, sometimes for mother’s or father’s day, sometimes just because. And I always looked forward to it. Nana made fresh rice, beans, and tortillas. My uncles made carne asada or pollo asado (like carne asada only with chicken). My aunts brought cakes, sodas, and macaroni salad. We congregated around the table and in the adjoining living room to eat and to talk over the soccer game that always seemed to be playing on the TV.

Then my three younger cousins and I would run outside to play. We invented games and went on adventures, dared each other to try new things. Occasionally, we went back inside to watch the guys playing their video games, or we’d go into one of the guest rooms and play cards. If it rained, we’d play in the mud. If it was hot, we put on our bathing suits and assaulted each other with the hose. If it was cold, we’d bundle up real tight and chase each other until we were warm. We climbed trees, scraped our knees, ran through my tata’s field, rolled down dirt hills, rode our bikes along the canal. As we got older, we spent more and more time inside, playing card games, giving each other make overs, talking about life and boys, watching movies, hanging out around the kitchen table and listening to our mother’s talk.

The three of them made trips to my house too, for slumber parties during the summer. (This was after my sister and I were given our separate rooms.) I would blast my Christian rock music and we would dance or jump on the bed or throw pillows at each other. We’d stay up talking through the night, all four of us squished together on my bed because we couldn’t bear the thought of sleeping separately. We’d spend hours on the Slip-n-Slide in the backyard, and then wash up and play with my Barbies. Sometimes my sister would play dress up with us. We’d use sheets, rubber bands, and clips to create unique, old fashioned dresses. We’d adorn ourselves with clip-on jewelry and pretend to be princesses.

And then I started high school. I hung out with my sister, my big brother, and my older cousins more and more. I started dating and then had my heart broken for the first time. I went through a phase of depression, where the only thing I really wanted was to be older and wiser. I talked less and spent more time daydreaming about my stories, my music, my plans for the future. They ran in different crowds than I did, had mutual friends they wanted to talk about that I’d never met. They had church events and other family events they attended together that I couldn’t. Slowly but surely, this gap began to form between me and my three younger cousins. Then I graduated and moved to Arizona. I still visited home from time to time. I returned to my grandparents’ house for New Years or Christmas, glad to be among my family again. But each year my Spanish was a bit more rusty, my anecdotes a bit more awkward, and our conversations a bit more forced. I wanted to be around them. I cared about their lives and the things they were going through. I wanted to connect.

Why was it so hard?

We had something to talk about when I was getting serious with my then-boyfriend now-husband. My cousins wanted to know how we met and what our plans were. When we were engaged and planning our wedding, I had details to share. They all came, of course. They had to drive six hours one way to be there, but they were there. In the whirlwind that was our wedding reception, I got to give quick hugs and kisses. Then it was off to start married life. I’ve brought my husband for New Years these past two years. He doesn’t speak Spanish so I have to stick with him and be his interpreter. My three younger cousins shy away from him. I can’t blame them; he’s handsome and foreign. That can be intimidating.

I keep tabs on my dad’s family through Facebook and Instagram. My three younger cousins especially. They post pictures and short anecdotes that I like or comment on. We always wish each other happy birthday, sending our love and blessings. The cousin closest to me in age is going to university. The second oldest is so social; she’s always posting pictures of her and her friends going to youth group or camps or conferences. The youngest graduated from high school this year. I want to tell them how proud I am of their accomplishments, how great it is to see them flourish. I want to tell them that I still remember our adventures with fondness. I loved being their leader, despite the fact that I was responsible when one of them got hurt playing one of my ridiculous games. They weren’t just family, they were friends. And I miss them.

Most of the time, it’s easy to get caught up in my life here. I’m working, I’m going to school, I’m learning new things about marriage and being a wife, I’m writing, I’m hanging out with friends, and growing. But every day I go onto Facebook or Instagram and there they are. I can’t help but wonder: Will we ever be as close as we once were? Do they think about me? Do they remember?

Only one way to find out, right?

The blank screen

So I’ve made it. In the Dark is scheduled to be published in January of 2018 by Tirgearr Publishing. Hooray! Now, I’m waiting. My newly appointed editor is supposed to go through the manuscript with me and give me some feedback. I then have to work on revisions, turn the new manuscript in by no later than October, approve a front cover design, wait for the launch party, and promote the finished product like crazy. None of which can happen until I hear back from my editor.

What am I supposed to do in the mean time?

“Work on one of your other stories,” you might say.

Well, here’s the situation: In the Dark, as you know, is waiting to be reviewed by my new editor. I can’t touch it. Asta and the Barbarians (I submitted it to Tigearr Publishing some time ago without even realizing it) is also being considered for publication. I can’t touch it until a decision is made. I Dare You to Love Me is being considered by someone from Filles Vertes Publishing. Guess what. I can’t touch that one either.

“What about The Sentinel?” you ask.

Ah, The Sentinel. The one story I can’t seem to get right, but the one story I can’t seem to give up on. This is the story that started it all.

I was in the fourth grade, my sister in sixth. She was tough, out-going, smart, and pretty and I wanted to be just like her when I grew up. Only problem was…she didn’t like me very much. Who could blame her? I was the kid sister she had to tote around wherever she went, take care of, and share all of her things with. She finally complained enough times to my parents and they decided it was time for her to have some privacy. She moved into the guest room and I suddenly had an entire room to myself. It was a hard time for me; despite her wild temper and all the “mean” things she said to me, I still looked up to her and thought of her as my closest friend. I hated that locked door between us, a constant reminder that there was nothing I could do to make her like me as much as I liked her.

I don’t remember how or when it happened exactly but, one day, that door was unlocked. One day, she let me in on a big secret: she was writing a story. Her love of Tolkien’s Middle Earth combined with the drama that she and her friends were going through at school created a fantasy adventure unlike any other. The novel came with hand drawn maps, dress designs, banners and family insignias, and strange new creatures that my artistic sister had come up with herself. And she shared all of it with me! She wanted to hear my opinion! Over countless hours spent sprawled on her bed, listening to her read and discussing ideas, we bonded. And she inspired me to write a story of my own.

Before then, the longest story I’d ever written had been four to six pages. Each page had a few lines of story and an illustration courtesy of my sister (when she had been in the mood to play nice). This was probably why she thought of me when she needed a second opinion on her story. She knew I could be creative and she knew I loved The Lord of the Rings so I would enjoy her fantasy world. I didn’t want to copy her story. I just knew I wanted to write. So I picked out a composition notebook from the stack my mom had and put pencil to paper. The plot didn’t flow well. The villains were pathetically two dimensional and cliche. The main character was too perfect. But it didn’t matter. I was creating something and I loved it.

When I was caught up on my sister’s story or when she was having  writer’s block, I would read to her from my story and we’d work on improvements together. We still share stories and story ideas to this day, across the miles and miles that separate us. I do more of the writing and she does more of the advising now, but we’ll always have this in common; the love of fantasy. We both want to see my first story published, despite the many, many changes it has gone through over the years.

But no matter what I do, I can’t seem to tell the story right. I’ve written up draft after draft, shared it with two beta readers other than my sister, tried to listen to everybody’s counsel, set it aside for months at a time only to pick it up again and make more changes. Each time I finish, I think I might’ve finally gotten it. I send it out to my sister and my beta readers with confidence. Then they give it back with more red marks than ever. I manage to improve some things only to make other things more unbelievable or dramatic or flat or whatever. I love these characters. I love this story. I love this world I’ve created. Why can’t I weave the plot correctly? Why can’t I tell it in a way that’s…whole and real and not cliche?

Thinking and writing about it now, I want to try again. But I know the moment I open up the document and stare at that blank page, it’ll all come swarming back to me; the problems, the criticisms, the questions that still need answering. The very long story that still hasn’t been told. And…

“…the blank piece of paper wins.”

Uuuugh.

There are three other works in progress I could focus on. I could write a sequel to In the Dark or Asta and the Barbarians, things I’ve been thinking about doing for a long time and just haven’t gotten around to. I’m sure I could pass the time until I hear back from my new editor. But The Sentinel keeps calling. Can I muster the strength to answer the call? Can I bear to face that blank screen again?

Another stab at poetry

She sits in the corner, quietly, meekly

Listening, seldom contributing to the

Conversations, crashing, roaring like the sea

She speaks and all listen now

Patiently, reverently, as she plods

Through an analogy or brings their attention to

Another point of view.

Sweet, kind great grandmother, white-faced

And weathered by time, docile as a doe

But stronger than bullet-proof vests used

By soldiers, and brave as any of their

Commanding officers. We played in her yard,

Drew on her sidewalk, ate ice cream under the

Porch, walked down the street to the waves

And stretch of beach there. She followed along with

A smile and a cheerful heart, despite being weary

With age. She crawled over the floor on knobby knees,

Joining our dolls in adventures, enticing us to come

And play together, despite disagreements. Back

Oh, I’d go back if I could, fleeing from

This world without great grandmother’s

Driveway, a path through rose bushes tall as hills

Leading to sanctuary, leading to a place of

Laughter, food, and fun. Now she lives high

Up in the sky, away from the water,

The people, the places she loved.

She’s at peace, although, we all

Live with our grief, large

Ever-present clouds looming above.

Still, day by day I find

Those clouds dissipating.

Steadily they make their reluctant retreat,

Lightning seething across a sky after a storm.

And the memories, precious, heartbreaking,

Lovely, remain.

So children…

I’ve wanted to be a mother since I was fifteen years old. I know, I know. I’m weird. Normal girls at that age are thinking about boys, school, their friends, and the latest gossip. Well, I was mostly invisible to boys, I wasn’t too crazy about social gatherings, my friends didn’t attend my school, and gossiping about others has never appealed to me, so the only thing left to really think about (other than books and movies and my stories) was the future. At fifteen, I knew I wanted a big family. After all, I came from a big family. Being an introvert and a bookworm wasn’t such a bad thing when I had three siblings to hang out with. I knew having all of us kids must have been hard on my parents, but I also knew that they wouldn’t trade us for anything.

At fifteen, I knew what kind of man I wanted to marry. Having just broken up with my first boyfriend, I decided I didn’t like heartbreak. I didn’t like feeling like I wasn’t good enough for someone, like I was stupid for letting my guard down, like I had completely misjudged this person I once claimed to love and know everything about. I decided I wasn’t very fond of this thing called dating. It was fickle and unreliable and temporary. I wanted something more permanent. I wanted a husband. After only one year in high school, I knew none of the boys there were husband material. Call it instinct, call it very good observation skills, call it whatever you want, I just knew my future husband was not the guy sitting next to me in Biology. (There was a time when I wished he was. My sophomore Biology partner was a year older, Hispanic, into dirt bikes and adrenaline rushes, and thought I was cute. I might have been able to convince myself that he could have been my future husband if he had any interest in God…No regrets, though.)

Sure, I crushed really hard on a few guys and almost started dating two of them, but in the end I couldn’t see myself marrying either of them. Both had admirable qualities, but I had made a list of attributes I wanted in a husband and I was committed to sticking to it. (I went over this list repeatedly, adding things as I grew up, erasing things that I realized weren’t very realistic.) I prayed about it all the time, asking God to give me the strength and the patience to wait for my perfect fit. (I hope I’m not starting to sound holier-than-thou; I have a point here. I promise I’ll get to it quickly.) Anyway, God was faithful and did eventually introduce me to the man I’m married to today. Believe it or not, he has everything on my list, including some habits and qualities that I never knew I wanted. He also comes from a big family and has wanted to be a father for as long as he can remember.

Because we both feel so strongly about it, the subject of kids came up early in our relationship. (I learned three things about my husband in our first month of dating; he liked to travel, he wasn’t afraid of anything, and he wanted children.) Shortly after we got married, we compiled a list of house rules for our kids, just because we wanted to be prepared and on the same page about some things. (If you haven’t noticed yet, we’re very weird. That’s just who we are.) The older we got, the more real this concept of being parents became. Witnessing hissy fits at the grocery store, being thrown up on while volunteering in our church’s nursery, over-hearing bratty kids in the line at Chipotle, and watching movies starring lazy, disrespectful kids has done little to dissuade our desire to have children.

I was told once that if I waited for the day when I could afford children, I’d never have any. I’m sure whoever said that was half-joking, but I’ve spoken to several more parents since then and they’ve all seemed to reach the same consensus: there is no perfect time to have kids. Still, I was raised by a very logical, realistic father who always thought carefully about things before doing anything life-changing. (This instinct, his sweet tooth, and his stubbornness are some of the things I inherited from him.) My husband and I have needs that should be met before kids enter the picture. My husband’s truck has lived longer than any car either of us has ever owned; it needs to be replaced. We’ve started setting money aside and building up our credit for the day it finally craps out on us and we’ll be forced to replace it. I’m eight credits away from finishing my creative writing program and being done with school (at least for now). Thirdly, my husband is trying to get into the police academy because his current job is sucking the life out of him. Plus, a larger paycheck would be nice. I figured it would be wise to wait until we’ve accomplished these three things before trying to have children, and my husband agreed.

And then last week he tells me, “I’m ready when you are, babe.”

Cue panic attack.

Suddenly, there are lots of reasons not to have a child. I’m too young. I haven’t published a book yet. What if I’m a terrible mother? What if the child comes before my husband gets a better-paying job? What if we can’t pay the bills and are forced to move back into an apartment? After living in a spacious house for eleven months, we’ve accumulated some extra things and I really don’t want to have to rent a storage unit. I don’t know how to talk to children! Bring on the spit-up, the poopy diapers, the sleepless nights, and the endless screaming. I can deal with that. But a talking child, who is old enough to reason and make their own deductions, will be able to tell that I have no idea what I’m doing. What if I say the wrong thing? What if I drop the kid? What if I ruin his life?

Suddenly, I’m not ready.

Or am I? My mother was nineteen when she had my oldest brother. My dad was the only one working for many years. Mom stayed home with us. We didn’t have much, but we always had something to wear and we never went hungry. If God could take care of us then, He can definitely take care of us now. Sure, I have a hard time interacting with other people’s children, children who can take one look at me and sense the uncertainty. But it might be different with my own child. My mom said the wrong thing once or twice and she dropped me as a baby, and I turned out all right. She made mistakes and she didn’t ruin my life. I’m pretty sure if I try my hardest and I love the snot out of the little person who comes out of me, I’ll be a good mom.

I’ve never been so confused.

Should I or shouldn’t I?

I’ve been praying about this ever since my husband brought it up last week. I wish God would just tell me what I should do. He does that sometimes, makes the path that I should take crystal clear. And then, at other times, He leaves it up to me. I feel like He’s doing that now, like He’s saying, “You’ll be okay either way. You decide.”

Ugh. It would be easier if He just told me what I should do. Then I wouldn’t have to have this same argument over and over again in my head. I’ll keep thinking about it and praying about it. Who knows? Maybe I’ll even write another blog post about it. Sometimes, it just helps to think out loud.

 

Malcolm in the Middle

We all grew up with those shows that our mothers disapproved of, especially those of us who grew up in conservative, Christian homes. For a lot of my friends, it was SpongeBob. Their mothers thought the show was stupid, that it would make their kids stupid, and anyone who watched it was stupid. My mother watched a few episodes of the show and came to the conclusion that it was harmless. The topics and themes being discussed in each episode were innocent and silly enough that she was confident they wouldn’t mentally handicap us in the future. (Now, I have some friends who point out all the sexual innuendo that was underlying each episode and I’m horrified. Still, I stubbornly believe that if you watch SpongeBob with the innocence of a child, it’s a decent show about friendship and adorable sea creatures. At least, the first few seasons are. I stopped watching after season 6, I think…) What SpongeBob was for most mothers, Malcolm in the Middle was for mine.

Francis, Reese, Malcolm, and Dewey were always getting themselves into trouble, hurting each other, hurting the people around them, or financially crippling their parents in one way, shape, or form. They were disrespectful to pretty much everyone; they couldn’t seem to behave even in front of complete strangers. My mother was convinced their terrible behavior would somehow rub off on us kids. It also bothered my mother how much Hal and Lois had sex on the show. She admitted that it was important for a married couple to continue being intimate throughout their married years, especially after they had children. She just didn’t like the fact that they showed us the passionate make outs and the half naked clips.

Despite her reservations, Malcolm in the Middle always seemed to air before SpongeBob did, right after we came home from school. So when we turned on the TV to watch SpongeBob, we usually caught the last few minutes of an episode of Malcolm. I ended up seeing enough of the show to realize that it had its moments of hilarity but was, essentially, ridiculous. I’d never known a family that was as disruptive as theirs. I didn’t think it possible in the real world. Plus, if we caught a scene with the parents making out, we could always change the channel and check back later to see if SpongeBob had started. In reality, it was not as big a deal as my mother made it out to be. But she is our mother. She is always going to try to protect her kids from the big bad world, and I’m thankful for that even if it does make me roll my eyes or think her a little silly at the time.

Now, as an adult, I’m watching Malcolm in the Middle with my husband.

It all started after we finished the latest season of Dr. Who. It was rumored that a tenth season would be coming out, but there wasn’t anything posted on our favorite streaming site. We were caught up with Hawaii 5O, had already finished Sherlock, weren’t really in the mood for Supernatural or Burn Notice, so we started brainstorming. What shows were readily available? What shows were we curious about? What were we in the mood for? Somehow Malcolm came up. I think it was thrown out there as a joke but, after thinking about it for a bit, we thought: “Why not? We’re adults now. We can watch whatever we want.” (Always a surprising realization for me.) “Plus, if we don’t like it, we can always stop watching,” we reasoned. So we started the show.

It turns out, we really like it. (Sorry, Mom.)

My husband grew up in a house full of boys. They weren’t nearly as devious as Malcolm and his brothers, but my husband can relate to and appreciate a lot of the shenanigans the boys get into in the show. I mostly laugh and shake my head, and murmur, “We’re not going to do that when we have kids” or “We’re not going to let our kids get away with that” or “If my son does anything like that…” or “I hope we have girls.” It’s both nostalgic and educational…now that we’re adults.

I don’t think I could really appreciate this show as a kid. I couldn’t relate to the boys because my siblings and I were “good kids.” I couldn’t relate to Hal and Lois because I had no idea what it was like to be a parent. (I don’t have kids so, technically, I still don’t know what it’s like to be a parent but after many a late night conversation with my mother, mother-in-law, and other relatives with young children, I’m starting to get a better picture of what parenting is going to be like.) The things the parents go through on the show (being bullied by a car salesman, freaking out because they misplaced their paycheck, wanting to get away and do something nice for themselves only to have the event ruined for one reason or another) are things I can relate to now because of my life experiences. Now, I can watch these kids get into trouble and wonder how my parents would have handled a similar situation with me. Now, I can watch these kids plot against their mother and wonder how I can avoid having that kind of relationship with my future kids. Now, I can wonder at the things little boys think about and look forward to the random thoughts or actions or ideas of my future sons. Now, the things happening on this show are relevant to me.

Isn’t that funny? This show is supposed to be for kids and preteens, but here we are, enjoying it as adults. It’s still pretty ridiculous how much trouble Malcolm and his brothers get into, and I sometimes wish we had less information about the parents’ sex lives. But I can handle it now because I’m an adult. It’s kind of cool how a show that’s been over for almost ten years is still teaching and making people laugh today.

Adulting

The baby shower was going to start in twenty minutes and I didn’t have anything to wrap my present with. I had some tape, a bow, a lot of colored tissue paper, and a plethora of “Merry Christmas” gift bags, and that was pretty much it. I’d just been to the grocery store that morning and had remembered to snatch a card, but somehow I’d forgotten to get a gift bag. Fortunately, my sister-in-law (who was driving us both to this event) graciously offered to stop by the 99 cent store on the corner. I hopped out of the car, ran in, snatched the biggest baby gift bag I could find, and zipped into the check out line. Once outside, I stood at the curb and waited for my sister-in-law to come around the parking lot. I hurried up to her car when she was near enough, tucking a stray curl behind my ear.

That’s when I caught my reflection in the passenger’s side window.

I don’t see myself as an adult. I may be twenty-two years old but, physically, I’ve looked exactly the same since I was fifteen. I’ve had my own car, my own apartment, my own bills, and my own job ever since I was nineteen. I’ll be celebrating two years of marriage this May. I live in a four bedroom, two bathroom rental house with a husband, a very old, very fat tabby cat, and a hyperactive miniature Australian shepherd who can’t produce tears. (We still don’t know why. She was very sick with an unknown illness for the first six months of her life and we’re thinking all the different medications we had to give her might have damaged her tear-ducts somehow, but we can’t prove that. We should really get her to a dog eye specialist but we don’t have that kind of money, so we have to resort to giving her eye drops three to four times a day. Yes, we love this dog.) I plan meals and manage finances while balancing 30 hours a week at the office and 9 credit hours per semester.

I have goals for the future which involve finishing school, becoming a published, well-known author, and helping my husband the police officer raise our four kids. It all sounds very adultly, right? And yet, I still see myself as that fifteen-year-old girl who thought Twilight was the greatest love story ever told and didn’t know anything about the real world.

So when I looked into that car window and saw a young lady, all dolled up and ready to attend a baby shower, I blinked in surprise. Because, for a second there, I actually looked like an adult.

My husband believes we never really grow up. We might physically change and become more responsible as life demands, but that little kid lives on inside of us. Sometimes its voice is loud and its influence is strong, while at other times we can suppress it more successfully. With all the “adulting” memes out there, I think he might be right. I find that I feel the youngest when I’m geeking out about Star Wars or when I’m daydreaming about The Magical World of Harry Potter theme park or when I’m listening to the kind of emo music I used to listen to as a teenager or when I visit my old haunts in Mexico. That little kid inside me sure loves to throw a fit when the alarm goes off at 7 a.m. But then there’s the voice of reason, the voice of the Adult, reminding me of all the things I have to get done and how much work will pile up if I listen to the Kid and simply pull the covers over my head.

If I take a good look at the choices I’ve made throughout my life, I can honestly say that I’ve listened to the Adult more often than I’ve listened to the Kid. My husband often has to tell me when it’s time to relax or take a break or set the schedule aside and just hang out. Indulge the Kid. So why don’t I feel like an Adult more often?

Good question…

I think it’s because of the conviction that I don’t know anything. All right, that’s not entirely true. I’ve been in college for three years and have worked for three different establishments, and have read more books than I can count. After all that, I should know something, but every day I encounter new things. Every day it seems I come across an article, a person, a conversation heard in passing, or an event that reminds me of just how much I still have to learn about life, love, politics, insurance, government, taxes, credit, education, literature, creative writing, finance, morality, the Bible, my family members and friends, even my husband. There are still topics I don’t understand. There’s still stuff in this world that I haven’t discovered yet. It leaves me feeling like a child who’s still figuring it all out.

Sometimes I have to wonder: will I ever feel like an adult? Will I ever feel like I’ve got this life thing figured out? A part of me would like to have the answers to everything. It might make life simpler. But another part of me hopes that I won’t ever reach that point. Because what is someone supposed to do after they’ve discovered everything there is to know? Maybe that’s why it’s so important the keep that little kid around. After all, without it’s sense of wonder, humility, and discovery, how are we supposed to grow?

The charred stump

We visited my grandparents in Mexico for New Years.

My family has done this every year for as long as I can remember, and my husband supported the tradition even after we got married. New Years in Mexico is a time of eating tamales and sugar cookies, sipping hot chocolate by the bond fire, playing Mario Kart and Super Smash on the Wii, watching well-loved movies with Spanish subtitles, and waking up with a jolt when the firecrackers start sounding at midnight. (For those of you who can stay up until midnight, I envy you. I haven’t been able to stay up past 10:30 pm since I got married. I think it’s made me officially old.)

The first time I brought my husband to Mexico to meet my extended family, I took him on a walk around the village. I spent the whole time pointing at landmarks and telling him stories of my childhood, all of which he patiently listened to and chuckled at. The second time he crossed the border with me, we found ourselves taking another walk. This time there was more silence between us as we each breathed in the moist air and simply enjoyed the scenery. It became our own little tradition of sorts. This New Years was no different. Despite the fact that it had been raining on and off for the past three days and the dirt roads had turned into mud rivers, we headed out of my grandparents’ house to uphold tradition.

We tried to stay on the drier parts of the road, the parts that were made up of more sand than dirt. But after a while the mud began to stick to the bottoms of our shoes and accumulate. We slid several times, reaching out with desperate hands to grab a hold of each other and steady ourselves before we could end up on the ground. Slowly but surely, we made our way around the fields and to my old, old, tree. (See previous post). Instead of the welcoming sight of pine-like needles and wrinkly, old bark, I saw a partially demolished hill and a charred stump. I stood there for a minute, blinking at the sight and trying to understand. The hill literally looked as if a giant had taken a bite out of it. The black stump and withering branches sat off to the side and at an angle, as if they had been carelessly shoved aside.

I can’t explain the grief that suddenly struck me between the eyes. It was just a tree, just a shady spot I used to escape to whenever I needed a quiet moment to myself. But it was also the place where I did all my deep thinking and dreaming as a kid. It was the place I always retreated to when I came to visit as an adult. After greeting the aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents, and spending some time indoors…I came here. Now it was gone. My husband took me in his arms and said he was sorry. All I could think to say was, “Many of these trees were my friends, creatures I had known since nut and acorn. They had voices of their own…” (Lord of the Rings reference, for those of you who have no idea what I’m talking about.) Only a few tears escaped but the sorrow remained. This place, this village that was always supposed to stay the same, was changing. It had been for years but that change had been subtle. There was nothing subtle about this.

Where will this introvert go to think and reminisce the next time she visits Mexico? I guess she’ll just have to find another tree to sit under. But it will never be the same.

A short story for ya

When the world becomes far too large, I jump into the car and retreat to the safest place I know; a village thirty minutes south of the Mexican-Californian border. I know the road well. The two lanes are separated by a faint line of white paint stretched over crumbling gravel and exposed earth. To my left, the mom and pop shops that experienced their grand openings when I was a child advertise their discounted merchandise on faded signs. To my right are the gas station and the textile factory. Then comes the billboard announcing the new neighborhood of duplexes, with all the latest features of the year 2000. Even with the outlandish gate of metal and stone surrounding the property, rows upon rows of perfect, cookie-cutter houses can still be seen painted in various colors.

As a child, I was ignorant of the poverty consuming the land I loved. I saw the barren miles of soil that separated one town from the next, and thought it normal. Different from my home across the border in the US, but normal for the country I was born in. I saw the cluster of buildings constructed around the only highway, inhaled the smog that trailed into the car even with the windows rolled up, waved at the people riding in open beds of pickup trucks, and found nothing wrong with any of it. Why would I? It had been this way for as long as I could remember. That meant things were the way they were supposed to be.

Visiting as an adult, I’m struck with grief.

Once on the highway, the road becomes smooth. The buildings trailing along on either side are more in number and better in quality. But it’s only for a few miles. Then traffic thins. It’s just me and the road again. I get off the highway when I see my exit, cross the bridge when it appears, and enter the village called Tamaulipas. It’s always quiet here, even on New Year’s Eve when everyone is lighting bond fires, sipping hot chocolate, and sharing tamales with their neighbors. The occasional firework will crack through the air or explode with a single boom, but once those fade, the silence remains. Each modest home is separated by a yard or some trees. Only two homes stand beside fields, one of which belongs to my grandparents. I park my car along the iron fence and climb out.

My grandmother loves plants. It’s evident simply by looking around the property. Some flowers grow from the ground, some grow in heavy pots and sturdy planters, and others in cracked, colorful buckets or old commodes. A vine stretches over the roof of her front porch and falls gracefully down the side, like a green waterfall with white flowers.

I fell out of the tree in the front yard once. My father told me not to climb it because it was dangerous, but I didn’t listen. My grandfather saw me disobey and promised not to tell, knowing I’d learned my lesson in the fall.

More trees, wild shrubs, and bushes grow beside the house. I used to race along the walk separating the wall from the greenery on my bicycle, imagining I traveled on horseback through a dense forest. Citrus trees line the west side of the property better than any fence could. There I had many a jungle adventure with my cousins.

My father said there were once cows and horses on this property, but they were sold long before I was born. The chickens remained for a time but were also, eventually, sold. Blackberry vines used to grow up the side of the coop and over the roof. My cousins and I would climb up the vine, scraping palms and bare feet as we raced to collect the sweet berries in the summertime.

Today, only the dogs remain. There always seems to be at least five. They flock to my grandmother from places unknown. She feeds them scraps from her table even if she’s never seen them before.

Some things stay the same no matter how much time passes. My grandmother still hangs clothes on a line. They flap and wave at me with the help of the whimsical breeze that always seems to be blowing. She still has the thirteen-year-old watercolor painting of sunflowers my sister gave her for Mother’s Day hanging up on the fridge. Every awkward, horrible family portrait we ever sent her still sits in a frame or in her hutch, telling the story of our development. The battered radio broadcasts the same station while she makes fresh tortillas at five o’clock every morning. Despite being “retired,” my grandfather still wakes up early to tend to his crop. He drops in for lunch at noon, returns to his work, and then comes trudging in after sunset, covered in dust and sweat. Every few years the furniture is rearranged or the house is painted a new shade of creamy yellow or a new appliance finally replaces the one that should’ve been thrown out long ago.

And yet, as I’ve grown up, I’ve noticed the almost magical appearance of things that don’t seem to belong here. Like the landline and the flat screen TV for example, or the laptop and the internet that I suspect were installed to accommodate the needs of our ever-growing, ever-changing family. They’re too strange for me to acknowledge. Most of the time, I pretend these new toys simply aren’t there. The antiquity and simplicity of this place must be preserved.

I don’t remain indoors for long. I can’t seem to fight the call of this land. I walk the well-worn path through the citrus trees, to the edge of my grandfather’s field. I give the tractor repair hangar a wide birth. Because of the sharp machinery, I was prohibited to play near the hangar as a child. The instinct to skirt by remains. I follow the field around the property of an unknown relative, past chicken coops and barking dogs chained to stakes in the ground, to the natural canal that cuts through the village. The earth is different here, dry and powdery. Little puffs of dirt erupt at my feet each time my shoes make contact with the earth. I hike along the bank to the old, old tree.

I don’t know what kind of tree it is exactly. Its bark is rough, with crevasses and fissures running up and down the trunk. Like the weathered face of an ancient, wise man. Its branches are thick and strong, but the leaves are strange. They’re long and thin, like the needles of a pine tree, and they hang down low. Like wispy locks of hair that get caught in the wind. Its roots are firmly buried in the loose, chalky earth, reaching deep into the core of this land. Its trunk curves out and up; its shadow falls over the field. With today’s technology, I’m sure I could look it up by description and find its true name. But it will always be my old, old tree. I crouch at the tree’s base and take in my surroundings. The quiet is deepest and purest here. The breeze hissing through the strange pine-like-needles is all I can hear. From this vantage point, I can see what was once my whole world.

This was it. All I knew. There were times when I’d come here and squint against the glaring sun, hoping to see what lay beyond the horizon hundreds of miles away. Did the field truly go on forever as it appeared? Or was there, perhaps, something greater that lay beyond? At my most adventurous, I imagined myself packing a bag and simply running until I discovered the answer. But then I would realize just how far from home I’d have to go. Home was here, where I belonged, where I would hopefully stay forever.

Unfortunately, this thing called “life” happened. This wonderful, monstrous thing took me away from everything I knew and farther than I ever imagined I would be brave enough to go. Sometimes I’m proud of how I turned out, of the places I’ve dared to venture, and the decisions I’ve made. But the world is never completely discovered and life is never truly figured out. Sometimes I need to return to what was simple, safe, quiet.

I take a deep breath of earth, sunshine, and memory, and rise from the base of that old, old tree to begin trekking back to my car. Because I can’t stay forever. I can’t go back in time. I can only move forward. As I reach the bank of the canal, I can’t help looking over my shoulder. I can almost see the shadow of a little girl, sitting in the shade of her tree, fearfully watching the horizon, arms wrapped tightly around her knees, bare toes curled against the loose dirt. Waiting for life to start.