You can do better

I’m really happy there is finally some representation of ethnic families with sitcoms like ABC’s “Blackish” and “Cristela.” Most weeks Blackish makes me laugh until I cry. Culturally, though, I relate most to Cristela.

While I don’t find Cristela’s mom’s character entirely believable as a first-generation American, I can appreciate the lessons she teaches.

Tonight’s episode especially hit home with me.

natalia

ABC’s Cristela’s mom Natalia (Terri Hoyos) defends a difficult parenting decision. (Source: Cristela FB page)

In this episode, Cristela’s mom, Natalia, reveals she had not entered Cristela, now a 20- or 30-something legal intern, into the gifted and talented program when she was a little girl because “people like us” didn’t belong in “fancy programs” like that. Basically, they would have been aiming too high, beyond their social status.

Cristela’s character eventually comes to appreciate her mother’s decision, made out of the desire to protect her. Natalia was, after all, a single mom doing the best she could for her young family.

This struggle triggered something in me I totally didn’t expect – a belated appreciation for my mom’s determination to ensure my best possible future.

It actually set off my tear ducts.

[Cue high school memory scene.]

One time, in high school, I came home with less-than-perfect grades – mostly As, with a couple of A- and a B+. I was so excited to show my mom! She would be so proud.

“You can do better.” That was her response.

What??? I can do what??? You mean, that wasn’t good enough?

I carried this disbelief, the shock and the sense that I’d disappointed my mom for – well, let’s just say it went on far too long.

What I didn’t realize then that I realize now – and, truly, especially after watching Cristela tonight – was that my mom was pushing me to aim higher.

Nothing at all wrong with protecting one’s kids from ridicule and humiliation. My mom, however, was willing to take that risk – taking me with her – of not being accepted for being different (which, by this age, I was pretty good at).

As someone who had to leave school at 12 to work and support her family, she knew working harder would grow both my character and my capacity. She knew I could do better.

My mom has never done anything less than teach me to be strong, have faith and, in the face of difficulty, get back up and dust myself off.

As we approach in a few weeks what would have been my parents’ 60th anniversary, I can’t help but be grateful for her strength and endurance since losing my dad nearly 30 years ago.

She remains my best girlfriend and biggest cheerleader. Even today, the way she lives her life is a reminder that we can always do better. So I will.

Fear, too, is a story

There’s been a lot of talk about fear lately – of overcoming fear to find your voice, be yourself, etc.

In the end, says novelist Karen Thompson Walker, fear is just another story that propels imagination.

If we approach fear – one of a number of possible stories –  with the “coolness of judgement of a scientist,” Walker says, we can face it with more clarity, as one of many choices, and make better decisions.

Take a listen to Walker’s illuminating perspective.

A picture worth a biography (or four)

cabello-kids-being-themselvesI found this photo the other day of my brothers and me, plus a couple of our cousins, during one of our visits to South Texas from the Midwest. Vintage 1975 in every way.

We were in my grandma’s kitchen, where pretty much where all socializing took place.

Times haven’t really changed much, have they?

Only a handful of years later, we would move there, and I would spend a lot more time in that kitchen watching Chespirito, Sábado Gigante or whatever telenovela was blaring from Grandma’s TV.

The funny thing is, this snapshot perfectly captures our personalities.

My oldest brother, Noe (Spanish for “Noah”) is in back, holding our younger cousin. Noe has always been the quiet, loving caregiver and nurturer, taking his love for babies and kids from our dad.

In front, from left to right: My brother Edgar, looking sly (as usual), is eyeing whatever Eddy is about to bite into.

And me, in my Ernie-and-Bert shirt, well, I’m posing for – I don’t know, another camera? My only explanation I have is that one of my aunts used to call me “Miss America,” and I was probably working hard to live up to her prediction. (The closest I ever got was Barbie-doll boot camp at Pan Am. We know how that went.)

Behind me is our other little cousin, about 2 years younger than her brother Noe is carrying. I suspect she’s standing on the oversized, bell-bottomed pants Noe is undoubtedly wearing. Which can only mean one thing: platform shoes.

Grandmas & girl power

Wasn’t planning on writing about this today but I do want to be intentional about sharing the “big things” I learn through researching my family’s history. I mean, if we don’t learn about our future by remembering our past, then why spend all this time looking at dead people?

One thing that has jumped out in the last few days is the suffrage and increased liberation of women during the period of time I’ve been researching – late 19th to early 20th centuries.

From my paternal grandmother’s entrepreneurial spirit, her ability to capitalize on new technology to create a business and her marriage choice (as well as my maternal grandmother’s), I’m learning that both of my grandmas took the opportunity to express important life choices under great pressure.

It turns out both of them had been committed to men for marriage before they actually married my grandfathers. Same story, different family: both ended up marrying for love – and eloping.

Love this one: One of my grandmas was given the choice between a piano – you know, something big to win over her heart – if she chose not to marry my grandfather, an illiterate ranch hand (whose father had been shot while playing music in a nightclub) for whom she had immense compassion and, eventually, love.

Last I heard, my grandfather wasn’t made up of a big, wooden box and 88 black and white keys.

What Poor Mexican Gone really means

Weekends are for fact-checking. In fact, I’m thinking of using them to write more about my family’s history, since I have more time on weekends to do research.

I’m more fascinated every day by how the world, as it evolved, was a macro image of things happening in my own family and in the fast-changing Mexican and Mexican-American cultures.

For now, I got one fact wrong – an important one. And I love the correction!

Today I learned that the “poor mexican gone” saying didn’t come from my my mom’s mom, although she was known for making up some pretty funny ones.

It turns out this phrasing came from my paternal grandfather – my dad’s dad.

So what started as this:

Cuando hitty con un cartucho
No come back
Cuando de repente pún
Poor Mexican gone

Actually meant this:

When you pull the trigger [on the gun],
The bullet doesn’t come back
When it hits the Mexican,
He doesn’t come back [either]

I love that, as facts come together with more clarity, the surprises keep coming, rearranging the pieces of this puzzle.

As with many things in life, sometimes it’s just not as important to see what it all looks like in the end, when the journey alone has so much to teach us. I’m grateful for the rich lessons along the way.

(A) Weed by any other name…

I’ve noticed our cat, Fritz, getting into more fights lately.

We thought at first it was because we’d rebuilt a fence backing up to our alley, which he doesn’t climb well but neighbors’ cats can get over with relative ease. Maybe that makes him a little cranky and he kicks into protector mode.

kitty-weed

Witness the happy side of kitty weed, and the pudgy underbelly of my cat, Fritz.

We often forget, however, the volume of wild (?) catnip growing in and around our yard – even in the winter. We call it kitty weed. I think the feline guests know that’s what it is, too.

Maybe the last homeowners planted it to get some four-legged traffic in the yard.

But what they may not have intended was causing trouble in the neighborhood.

After the latest bout between Fritzy and an uninvited guest this evening and a little snooping into where that noisy, howling battle took place, it occurred to me his visitors may be coming for companionship, but more likely for the kitty weed.

True story: This is now the second cat we have that has gotten hooked on weed. We accidentally detoxed our last cat – a story for another post, perhaps.

Do you and your team complement each other?

I confess, I’m an assessment freak.

I like to know “how I’m doing” and where I stand – sometimes on my own, other times as I compare to others. I just like to learn more about how I’m wired so I can be better in whatever I do.

Also of interest to me is finding out what makes other people tick and how they’re wired. Most of the time, I like to sit and listen to them and hear them talk from the heart. You learn a lot when you let other people tell their story.

But often you just don’t have that kind of time.

Take job interviews, for example. If you’re lucky, you get maybe an hour to get to learn first-hand whether a candidate is compatible with you and/or your team. That’s not a lot of time, especially when you’re covering technical skills and other competencies.

I remember trying to get a read on potential hires during interviews. I’d ask a few Either/Or questions to candidates to get an idea of how they operated and, consequentially, how we might work together. Not that everything about us is either/or, but we typically know what we like or don’t like.

That’s all I wanted to know. So my questions went something like this:

Which is your preference:

  • Fast-paced or slow?
  • Details or big picture?
  • Dreamer or closer?
  • Starting or finishing?

If the candidate and I were wired similarly (fast, big-picture, dreamer, starter), chances were good the combination wouldn’t work as well as it could. We might get along socially, but why have two starters when you could start well and finish well – with a really strong closer? So I typically went for my opposite, or at least more of a complement.

For what it’s worth: In my experience, visionaries or big-picture folks can report to each other pretty peacefully, as can details people. And details people seem to work well when reporting to a big-picture person. Just not vice-versa, for some reason.

What do you think? Have you experienced the same?

One theory I have is that the latter combo can be less-than-ideal due to the vastly different languages visionaries and details people speak. It’s like apples and oranges.

Of course, if you like apples and oranges, I suppose you can always make smoothies.