Career and Motherhood

Today my alarm did not go off. I was supposed to be at the store at noon, and I woke up at 12:30 and knew I could not get there until another 2 hours.

While getting dressed, my daughter woke up crying. She had been sick for the past few days with a slight fever due to an ear infection. My husband had been taking care of her these days that I have been working at the store. I had to return to the store because we need the extra cash.

Walking out the door, I here my daughter calling out to me in-between coughs from her room. I stopped, turned around and walked back to my daughter to carry her for a bit. I changed her diaper and rocked her for a few minutes before I started to cry. I didn’t want to go to the store to work today. I wanted to play with my daughter who was suddenly well and happy when I came to her. 

I called the store manager and explained to her that I wouldn’t be coming in today. She understood and gave me the day off.

Going back to the workplace after 15 months, I am going through a lot of emotions. I miss my daughter every second that I am away from her. She goes to daycare for a few hours per day, but it’s not the same when I feel like I am leaving her. Friday night, I came home at 8:30pm and she wasn’t in her usual friendly mood. I blamed myself for being away for so many hours. 

I am currently seeking a full-time job within my own career field, the education industry. It may not be long before I need to start working full-time. I think it’s important for a woman to be independent and work, especially if she has invested so much time in building a career. I also think it’s important for mothers to be mothers. Finding the perfect balance without shredding your emotions apart is an art. This balance depends on women’s ability to act in superhuman ways and do a juggling act in perfect harmony. 

Right now, I am typing this and watching my daughter chasing our cat. Earlier, she was dancing to the tune of Garfield. She also stole my cell phone and ran around the house pretending she was talking to someone on it. It was all hilarious. 

I am glad I stayed home and I thank God for the wisdom and strength to make that decision today. I know that I will not always be able to make this decision and I know there may be moments i will miss. There are many sacrifices that women have to make today in order to pursue careers, achieve independence and be good mothers. These sacrifices causes us to second guess ourselves, blame ourselves and peel at our psychological wellness. 

I pray for my daughter’s growth and that a smile will always be spread across her face. I pray that the bond that holds my husband and I together continues to strengthen. I pray that the efforts that my husband and I have put into our education and into building our careers will foster happiness and reward and never division. I pray that I find my balance and that I never forget that every moment is an important moment.

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Another Conversation with Mami

It isn’t often that I find good moments to talk with my mother about Islam. The first time I told her I was Muslim, we were stuck in traffic jam for an hour. We talked a lot that day. Soon after that conversation, I haven’t really found the time nor the place…nor the courage….to bring up the subject again. I am so afraid to hurt her, that I do not want to bring up a subject that may cause her confusion, discomfort…

Well, today she got stung by an insect. Her foot swelled up real bad. She said that perhaps she got stung by the bichos (insects) that give lyme disease or yellow fever. I told her I have no idea what she was talking about…She said her bones hurt and that perhaps the small insect bite would be the rotten thing that kills her…. I told her it would stop swelling if she puts her foot in a hot bath…She agreed. So, I prepared for her a water bath for her swollen foot. She threw in fresh mint. She said it would kill the bacteria. We both sat in the living room together without the television and she asked me why I wanted to leave in a week.

Me: I need to get work done…

Mom: But school doesn’t start until late September…you will be so lonely there.

Me: I know…but I think I just want to go back.

Mom: Don’t go back so soon…I will be lonely here.

Me: The truth is mom…

Mom: …

Me: You know, “we” celebrate Ramadan.

Mom: (laughs) who is “we”? and what is Ramanan?

Me: Ramadan is the month that Muslim fast, mom. Remember, I told you that it’s one of those main things “we” do besides pray and give money to the poor…remember?

Mom: Oh, yea…so what is the problem with celebrating Ramadan here with us?

Me: I am afraid you won’t understand….

Mom: Well then tell me what I have to do…

Me: You dont have to do anything. I will fast; not eating or drinking from sunrise to sunset.

Mom: So why can’t you do that here?

Me: Because you are always trying to feed me…and you put ham in my food last week… remember…?

Mom: it’s was just a little ham, hija. I didn’t know…I forgot.

Me: I know you forgot. I know you don’t know…

Mom: It was just little pieces of ham, I didn’t know. I thought you just couldn’t eat pork…

Me: Yea. I don’t eat any pig product. I don’t eat gummi bears anymore, you know…

Mom: Gummi bears? They’re just gummi bears…

Me: But they are made with Gelatin. It’s a pig product…so I don’t eat them.

Mom: Wow…gummi bears…

Me: Yea.

Mom: Well, I want to respect you “things”… So, what kind of food should I make for you?

Me: Just make a lot of rice…but without ham or pork. And beans, I like your black beans, they’re good…

Mom: Ok, just tell me what to cook for you…

Me: Ok…but remember…please, not before sunset, ok?

Mom: Will you stop celebrating Christmas with your family now?

Me: I don’t celebrate Christmas, but I will still buy you presents.

Mom: How about the Christmas tree?

Me: Yea, I guess. Can we call it a holiday tree?

Mom: Sure…(laughs)

Me:…(laughs)

Mom: How about the pork on Noche Buena?

Me: No pork, Mami…

Mom: It’s ok, I can make you some chicken on Noche Buena, so you can eat with us too.

Me: I like chicken…

Mom: Do you cover your head?

Me: sometimes…

Mom: Oh… Does it get hot?

Me: It’s hot without it…

Mom: true…

Me: I always wear it to pray…

Mom: When do you pray?

Me: Everyday…remember mom? The 5 “main things” I told you about?

Mom: Oh yea…you Muslims pray a lot. But praying is good…

Me: Yea…

Mom: Do you tell everyone you are Muslim?

Me: Some people know, some people I don’t really care to tell them anything…

Mom: Oh…

Me:…

Mom: just ten cuidado, hija. (“Be careful, daughter”).

Grand Mothers

Mi abuelita. My grandmother. She was 90 when she died. You see, she was diagnosed with cancer. My mother and I were the first ones to learn she was going to die from terminal breast cancer. She was going to die because we weren’t going to tell her. We knew that if we did, she would have tried to fight for her life. At the age of 90, she would have wanted to go into chemotherapy and fight. It was in her character to fight. She was a luchadora, a fighter, her whole life. My mother and I didn’t tell her because we wanted her to spend her last days in the comfort of our home. The doctors said she would last only days. Maybe weeks. My grandmother lasted five months with cancer. She lasted five months because her spirit was that of a fighter. Of a true luchadora.

You see, it had always been in my abuela’s nature to fight. She was born in Cuba and was the eldest of 16 siblings. She had told me that she had to be a mother to them when she was only a child herself. As an older sister, she often fought with her siblings over dolls. Dolls were a luxury in her day. She would often tell me this as a reminder to take my Barbies out of my closet where I had forsaken them. As a mother to her siblings, she also had to fight for their survival. One day she told me a story that created a permanent image in my mind of my grandmother, the caretaker. She told me that at the age of 6, she would help her mother cook. She was so tiny, she said, that she would need to stand on a short ladder to reach the stove. That’s the only image I have of my grandmother’s childhood.

My grandmother came from Cuba to Miami with my grandfather and my mother in the 60s. And they left con nada menos un cambio de ropa. With nothing but a change of clothes. Everything they had was left behind. Their family photos were left in the hands of strangers. Her wedding ring was given to one of her sisters. She tried to bring love letters between her and abuelo. In the airport, a man in uniform took them from her. The man in uniform read los versos de sus corazones, the verses of their hearts, and then threw them away in the garbage. Dejamos todo, my nina. We left everything behind. My grandmother often told me this so I would appreciate the possessions I often neglected.

My grandmother’s siblings had become her children. And I could never imagine how it would feel leaving my children behind. Mi pobre abuelita. She was the anchor of her family. Her family of 20 in Cuba, and then her family of 3 en los Estados Unidos.

In los Estados Unidos, the land of opportunidades, She had to continue being a fighter. She sewed for a living. She had a special closet in her house full of Halloween costumes that she would rent during Halloween. She also altered the fine clothes of regular customers. Usually wealthy women who would pay her a couple of dollars for a hem. But she always made enough money to buy new furniture and pay the rent. She even put a down payment towards my car. She charged five dollars for a hem. Could you just imagine how many clients she had? Could you imagine how quickly her hands worked on the sewing machine to earn another dollar?

My mother told me that abuela never grew tired of sewing. When she didn’t have customers, she would make a pillowcase out of the extra silk a client had left behind. Or she would fasten loose buttons on our clothes.

She always emphasized the importance of wearing good clothing. The family must always be dressed decentemente y presentable para visita. That’s what she taught me. She always expected company. She usually didn’t have much company other than her clients who would come and leave without a word.

Even on that unforgettable February when she was on her death bed, she insisted that we’d remove the rather offensive and imprudent backless patient’s gown. She insisted on looking presentable in case we would have visitors. As always, she didn’t have many visitors. Just my uncle, my brother, my mother and father. But as she began to lose her memory, her family became visita. We became strangers, so she nagged her nurses to dress her in her blusa rosada.

Oftentimes, when sitting in some women’s studies courses as an undergrad, my blood would boil when someone would raise their hand to make a degrading comment about the role of motherhood. I remember the ones wo called themselves “feminists” and claimed to be “liberated”. All usually wearing heavy makeup ad exposing their breasts (to emphasize their freedom). They all liked to say something like, “Domesticity! So oppressive!”   I have never accepted the rejection of motherhood as a feminist ideal. I cannot think of anyone stronger that my mother and grandmother. They both have held the world on their shoulders as wives and mothers.  While I am not a mother yet, I have never felt more empowered in my whole life as I do as a Muslim. And I was never what you’d consider “sheltered”. Gracias a Dios. Al hamd’allah. All Praises be to Allah.

My abuela was a mother. A wife. A seamstress. A cook. She took care of those around her, even stranger, as if they were her children. She took care of her husband in his deathbed; never left his side. She sewed new clothes for her family when there was not the money to buy new ones, because we had to be decente for company. She created feasts every night for dinner. Indeed, she was “domestic” and her “domesticity” stabilized us.

Originally written on February 19th, 2010