Mexican traditions, Mother's Day, Mothers

11 Things My Mom Taught Me Without Knowing


Lincoln quote on mothers

The other day I saw a contest, sponsored by the Santa Barbara Writer’s Conference. For a chance to win a free pass, one could enter a 500-word essay on the topic, “What my mother taught me.” The deadline was within a couple of days, so I passed on the opportunity, but the topic stirred my thoughts.

I began to think about my first generation mother an orphan of Mexican parents who came to the U.S during the Mexican Revolution. She taught me a lifetime of lessons, many which she probably isn’t aware of.

So, in tribute to Mother’s Day and my mom, I have a few items to mention. Some of which you might find unusual, but in many Mexican households, not so uncommon.

My mom taught me to:

  1. Appreciate Mariachi music, the old classics, where buried pain could be unleashed in the drama of the song. She also taught me how to give a ‘grito,‘ a shout to punctuate the parts of the song that called for emphasis or which resonated with the listener.
  2. Value hard work. As young teens, all of us picked walnuts, tomatoes, or strawberries on weekends to earn money to survive. We heard many a story about her picking cotton until her arms and fingers bled, the scorching vineyards and lettuce fields. The moral of the story: You do what you got to do. She survived and we would too.
  3. Value education unless you want to live your life in the fields. This is almost a direct quote we heard many times. Mom was in her 40’s, a single parent of four kids, who worked full time and went to college at night during the late 60’s. By the early 70’s she earned two Bachelor’s degrees.
  4. Cook basic Mexican food and be creative with the welfare commodities. We learned how to make a guisado, beans de olla, tortillas (even though mine looked like the map of Texas), and nopales. We also made Spam and powdered eggs with chile, Mac and cheese, and grits.
  5. Use nature’s and grocery store remedies. For a cold, use Vapor Rub and put your socks on. For a tummy ache, use the Yerba Buena that grew under our front yard faucet. For nausea, drink 7Up. For a flu, use all three and bury yourself under the blankets.
  6. Duck, dive, and discipline. Mom had a baseball arm and threw her chancla (house slipper) when she’d had it with us. I swear that thing seemed like a magic boomerang. She didn’t spank us, at least not me and my sisters, but that threat of a nalgada kept us in line. Sometimes. All she had to do was flip her chancla off and we’d start running. Same thing as hearing her say, “Where’s my belt?” although she didn’t have one.
  7. Exercise starts at home. Mom won dance contests as a young woman. Trophies, cash money, and during WW II, she won a pig. Chicharrones for days! She still dances between her TV shows for exercise and cares for 30+ rose trees, fruit trees, and numerous potted plants.
  8. Self-defense. Mom was her older brothers sparring partner as a kid. I’ve seen her fight, many years ago and in self-defense, and she’s good. She often shadow boxed with us as kids. I do it with my own. It’s play boxing, never to draw blood, except this one time when my sisters jumped me for a jelly donut (true story).
  9. The value of family. As children, we regularly visited extended family, spending holidays and Sundays together. Now all my aunts and uncles on my mom’s side have passed on. Only she remains. My cousins and their children are still in her life.
  10. The enjoyment of books. I often remember her stories of reading up in her Elm tree in front of her house. After she was orphaned she’d spend hours away from her aunt and uncle, sitting on a tree branch reading a library book. Books filled our home early in our life. My first introduction to feminism, politics, Mexican and Chicano History came from her college texts.
  11. Faith. Growing up, I regularly saw my mom pray. We had a small altar under our staircase in our home. Glowing votives, saints, the works. She believed things would turn out, even when everything around us didn’t seem to be working out.

Happy Mother’s Day! Now, what did your mother teach you?


poetry, Writing

Why I Write

Langston Hughes quote on Journal-VickieHallmark,


I cannot NOT write.

I write to tell stories about people and issues that matter, 

to me,

with experiences which may be different than your own,

or the same.

I write about the ugly & the beautiful

the abandoned & abused

the loved & unloved

the saved & the unsaved.

I write because I’m fascinated

by the hope and faith broken people

can show

in the middle of their pain

something that pushes them on.

I write because I know that

no hay rosas sin espinas

there are no roses without thorns 

I write to feel, to stay alive, 

to have hope, and because I’m grateful 

Why do you write or create?

Family, Parenting, poetry, Transition, Travel, Uncategorized

Adventure in Transition

Zion ahead
Zion ahead

The frenzy of doing often keeps my emotions out of reach, until the doing stops. Action keeps the feelings sidelined, pushed aside so I can go on without dissolving into a blubbering mess. Such is the activity of the last few days.

The preparation to move the property of two young adults and a cat, across two states, California to Colorado, was an adventure. We drove my son’s small SUV with a jammed packed U-Haul from our city at sea level past Las Vegas and up through the mountains of Utah.

It was difficult paying attention to the drive itself when my eyes wanted to take in the creamy sandstone rock formations around me. With each 1,000 feet we climbed the more lovely the mountains loomed ahead. We made it to Springdale, the town right outside Zion National Park. Zion, place of sanctuary, proved its rightful name.

The park was a wonderous distraction from driving and feeling the emotions about the move. A shuttle bus across the motel took us to the park, where we boarded a larger open air shuttle that took us to several sights, a hop on and hop off scenic trip through the park to view high monoliths of rock.  An impressive monolith, rising more than 2400 feet above the canyon floor, is the Great White Throne.

The next morning, with a full moon descending, we are on the road again through steeper mountain passes. At 7,000 feet and climbing, in 90 degree weather, the car overheated. A green sign on the road next to us said 58 miles to the next town (Grand Junction, CO).

Moon over Zion
Moon over Zion

My boyfriend knew what to do: turn off the air conditioner, let the car cool down for 30 minutes, check the engine, check fluid and oil levels. Everything seemed okay, and off we went again. At Grand Junction, we put in transmission oil, checked fluids again, ate an early dinner, and began driving again. I had to pay attention to the climbing altitude which was very difficult with the oxblood colored rocks, dotted with pine and colored blonde with Aspen trees.The moon rose as we climbed.

Nighttime driving is hard, doubly when it’s up a mountain. I drove through Vail, at 10, 800 feet in the dark, with road repair work every few miles, through winding roads of descents and ascents, checking in the rear view mirror to make sure the trailer didn’t sway. Like a pilot, I had to scan the car dashboard, checking on the engine temperature while paying attention to road signs that notified us of “careful wildlife ahead for 12 miles.”

“Sorry, daughter, if a deer jumps in front of this car it’s her or me. I won’t swerve.”

“Maaa-ooom, don’t say that,” she said.

After two hours of heightened alert, we see the twinkling lights of Denver spread before us. After a month, I got to see my son again. Hugs and kisses, not just from us but from his cat, who very uncat -like jumped and cuddled into his arms.

The next morning we went to the apartment leasing office to sign papers and get the apartment keys. While unpacking boxes, I think how long a year lease is and whether the kids will find jobs soon. I watch as my daughter sets up her household. Box by box, she removes framed family photos and covers the fireplace mantel with memories, images that will keep her family near. No mistake, this apartment is her place now. I finish washing her collection of cat mugs and then sit in a camping chair for a break.

“Mom, does this look good here…what do you think about this shelf here?”

She jots down missing items, can I ship these forgotten items to her? Space fills, blank walls burst with color. I feel on the verge of tears, a little numb, try to breathe. They’ll be all right, they’ll make their way, they’re smart. I look out the sliding glass doors to the balcony. Pine trees tower way past the third floor of their apartment. I’m reminded that this is the first day of fall. Seems appropriate.

I began to pray for my kids, to be safe, protected from evil. I talk to them about working together when it comes to the bills, rent, groceries, and household chores. To trust and rely on each other, and for my daughter not to be my sons mom but remember that they are two young adults living an independent life. I remind myself of these things too.

They’ll be here, I’ll be in California, two states between us. I think of letting go of what was the semi predictable to unpredictable, no control over their lives. I hope they will call me to help in important decisions, just to ask for my advice. That will help me through this time.

We hug. Boyfriend and I walk down the stairs, away from them. My mind floats to words, to make a poem. I scribble on paper, while tears seep onto my cheeks.

Little fingers,

small palms,

children’s eyes that look up.


Letting go

of hearing their laughter

every day,

their voices,

the parts of me.


How do you let go?

finger by finger,

loosening palms,

meeting their eyes as adults.


Another deep breath,

instills a knowing

they will be on an adventure,

making memories,



Making their own way,




Fingers slip away,

let go,

and wave goodbye.