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¡Como los Chivos Sin Ley!

by Henry Suarez

Mira, ahi estaba llamando una tal Karina. ¿Quien es esa muchachita?

Una niña de mi clase, Mami.

Bueno mas te vale que te ponga para tus estudios y deje tranquilla a esas niñas.

Coming home from playing football, this is how mami greeted me at the door. As the mother of three boys, she was always suspicious anytime a girl would call the house. In this case, Karina was calling about a group project. Still, it immediately put mami on high alert. She would threaten us with a pela if we got a girl pregnant. Our hypothetical girlfriend would also get a pela. She assumed the task of punishing both of us in this theoretical teen pregnancy.

The first time I brought a girl home, she and my dad were friendly enough. They had her over for dinner and enjoyed some small talk. They then read me a sermon about not allowing this relationship to affect my grades when she left. Grades that were not good anyway, but I guess they wanted to make any point. Mami followed it up with a one-liner the next day before leaving for work, "Mira, mucho cuidado lo que tu anda haciendo con esa noviecita."

She's very protective of her boys. She takes personal offense if we say something negative about ourselves, as though it reflects poorly on what she's done as a parent. Worst of all is when my brothers and I fight or if we aren’t speaking for any reason. You see it in her eyes, the pain of her babies being offended by another one of her babies! All she says is "Mis hijos, los hermanos hay que cuidarlos."

One thing that can't be denied is that she can throw down in the kitchen. Growing up, our house was the go-to place. We always seemed to have some hungry ass friends, more than happy to come over for a bowl of whatever mami was cooking. My dad would always complain about the noise level, especially when trying to take an after-work nap. To mami, though, having a house full of kids always seemed to bring her joy.

Even if we came over with more kids than there was food, she would quickly whip up some more food or pull out the leftovers. Mami is the type that cooks extra just because, so there's always leftover food. "Pa que falte, que sobre!" The thought of letting a kid go hungry was upsetting to her. It's a must that everyone leaves the house with their stomach on the verge of exploding. The plates that she puts out for people are ridiculous. It's a mountain of rice and like half a pot of beans.

This seemed like the best of both worlds because it allowed us to hang out, and she could rest easy knowing we were safe. She's a worrier by nature; she constantly worries about where we are and whom we are with. She never liked the idea of us spending much time in other people's homes. "Uno nunca sabe de lo que otra gente son capaz." By that logic, wouldn't other parents wonder what went on in our house?

Hanging out in front of our building, the night would constantly be interrupted by the creaking sound of our bedroom window, followed by "Henry, Ariel ya suban." One night she popped her head out the window, exclaiming:

¡Mis hijos ya son la 1:30, suban que es un dia de semana!

We were already teenagers at the time, and it was during summer break. Either way, that time didn't seem accurate.

I replied, "Mami, mueva el reloj y mire la hora de nuevo."

¡Bueno, las 11:30 no son hora de estar en la calle, suban!

There was no arguing at that point; we had to head upstairs.

Arriving at home, late at night and usually drunk, we could see her as we came through the door. Standing in the kitchen doorway in her bata, she'd start her interrogation. Asked if we were drunk. Telling us to go wash off the smell of romo.

She's the type that won't fall asleep until the last one of us arrives. I'd be out partying and get a text from her saying, "Mi hijo, ya ven a tu casa." A grown man getting texts from his mom about when I'm coming home... serves me right for living there until my mid 20's.

Like any typical kid, I would find some of her ways to be overbearing. Now that I’m a parent, I have a greater appreciation for what she was going through. You want to ensure that your family is safe; there is no greater duty.

Much of what goes into my mother's parenting method comes from the void she felt as a child. The attention and the care she provided us were what she longed for. Had she gone out at night, there likely wouldn't be anyone worrying about her whereabouts. Meanwhile, she was unable to sleep until we made it home safely.

As is often the case in DR, mami wasn't raised by her parents. "Mira muchacho, yo andaba de casa en casa, como una ectera." At 12, she arrived at the home of my grandmother's sister. This aunt and her husband helped retrieve her birth certificate and enroll her in school. As she recalls, "Ahi fue que yo por fin vi la gloria."

Mami, a reference book for refranes, got one for almost every occasion. She discourages late-night snacking: "Come lo que vas a comer ahora, y cierra con broches de oro." Whenever we look messy, "Tu parece una gallina mata a escobazo." If we did things without permission, we'd hear, "Ustedes andan por ahi como chivos sin ley." If she finds something to be overhyped or lackluster, she says, "Es mas la sal, que el chivo." She loves to say, "Me hice la chiva loca" to describe when she has played dumb or feigned ignorance. Goats seem to make for great use in phrases.

I have battled weight issues my entire life, and mami is the first to say, "Hijo tu tienes que rebajar un poco." I'll mention that I'll be skipping dinner to do some intermittent fasting. She's then worried, "Pero no es pasar hambre tampoco." Anytime I go on a diet and lose substantial weight, she wonders if I haven't done some irreparable damage and won't be able to stop losing weight.

Mami is also the type to check in daily. We speak almost every day by phone. Even if it's just to see how my commute was to work. Of course, for me, it's easier to send a text, but she responds to texts with a call. She calls nightly to see about her granddaughters; the only problem is she calls when we're putting them down.

¿Y las mujeres, ya se durmieron?

¡Mami! Estamos en eso, la llamo ahorita.

Si, si esta bien mi hijo.

At this point, shame on me for even picking up. In my defense, though, she and my dad are at an age where I see the call, and immediately I'm worried. I also can't send a message saying, "La llamo en un ratito" because she'll just call again.

My greatest vulnerability is my children and what could happen to them outside my care. Finding good childcare is an enormous challenge; trusting them is no easy task, and reasonable pricing is unheard of. When our daughters started school, my parents volunteered to help with drop-off/pick-up. My wife and I greatly appreciate the assistance. The fact that my parents do it for free is a blessing. The folded laundry is the cherry on top.

Alas, some things come along with family that one wouldn't get from hiring a stranger. Having my middle daughter point out that "Abuela dijo que esas galletitas son para las niñas y no para ti," for example, or when I go for a second serving of food and my oldest daughter exclaims, "Dice abuela que tu no tienes necesidad de servirte mas de una vez," seems like a bit much. It's absolutely unnecessary; she's trained my children to shame me in my own home.

While I could do without the judgment, it truly is great to have her around the girls. She always tells me of their adventures walking to and from the bus stop. Meanwhile, the girls always fill me in on their afterschool meals.

“Papi, abuela hizo pure de papa, pero el tuyo es mejor.” Abuela doesn’t know her recipes have undergone some changes.

I benefitted from having parents who were present and caring; that nurtured me into the man I am today. My mother wasn't as fortunate; she suffered through many difficult moments but overcame unimaginable odds. Her nature as a protector has been to guide her children and ensure they had what she never did.

For this, I am eternally grateful. Words will always fall short, but they're a start.

¡Gracias mami!


Henry Suarez is a Dominican-American writer, born and raised in Corona, Queens. He now resides in Westchester, NY, with his wife and daughters. His writing focuses mainly on the immigrant experience, growing up bicultural/bilingual, and his journey through fatherhood.

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What a wonderful and heart warming piece, loved your daughters commentary hahahah

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