31 May 2013

Araña Mama - A Mommy-festo (Part 3)

(Continued from Part 1 and Part 2)

(Photo by Kevin Miller)
I sailed across the Pacific in a rowboat. Which is to say, from week 8 to week 20 of my pregnancy, I felt almost perpetually seasick. I lay on the couch, eyes closed, trying to ride out the heaving of my living room floor. Suddenly, fierce hunger would propel me to the kitchen, where I would frantically stuff myself with whatever seemed tolerable. Baked tofu. Grapefruit. Yes, pickles. The little beast inside of me satiated, I would reel back to the couch, hoping to keep the food in its proper place.

My second trimester, I got poison oak during a hike. I smeared the rashes with Chinese medicine, covered them with gauze, and taped it down. The rashes persisted—eventually I realized I was having an allergic reaction to the tape. My third trimester, I had a sinus infection. In May 2008, I had my daughter.

It is so commonplace as to be trite, and yet at the same time it is profoundly true: Nothing upended my life as completely as becoming a mother. I say “becoming” because I did not transform into a mother all at once, when my daughter emerged from my body and started her life separate from me. Rather, pregnancy was a process of metamorphosis for both of us. I am still becoming: as my children grow, they force me to grow along with them.

The threads of my life converge on the moment of motherhood, then expand outward as my children take their steps away from me into their own futures. The complexities of my body—my womanhood, my racial mix, my queerness, my health and sensitivities—inform my parenting every day. Parenting puts a new focus on these issues as I struggle with the heritage and legacies that I pass on—intentionally and unintentionally—to my children.

Nuestra ofrenda (Photo by Anoosh Jorjorian)
The global crossroads of my body are reflected and compounded by the global crossroads of my city, Los Angeles, which gathers people from over 140 countries. My cultural vocabulary has expanded to include Nowruz, the Persian new year; Día de los Muertos; and the Japanese Buddhist festival of Obon. I eat tacos sprinked with kim chee. My kids are growing up dancing to jarocho, Bollywood music, K-pop, salsa, mbalax, and whatever Ozomatli is.

In trying to convey the multiple themes of this blog, I wanted to name it after halo-halo, the Filipino dessert that brings together fruit, beans, shaved ice, sweet rice, condensed milk, tapioca, coconut jelly, and sweet potato—an unholy messy mix of things that synthesizes into a divinely sweet, complex, textural pleasure. I floated it with my audience: my friends on Facebook. Their reactions indicated that halo-halo seemed too culturally specific, inaccessible, and therefore limited in the marketplace of English-language blogs. I also would have to cope with unwanted associations with the English word “halo” (pronounced differently from hälo-hälo), as an accoutrement for angels and as a first-person shooter game.

Giving up on Halo-Halo Mama feels like a betrayal in some ways. In the past two generations, my family has given up our linguistic ties to our ancestral homelands. While Tagalog/Pilipino is the national language of the Philippines and, in many ways, the lingua franca of the diasporic Filipino community, Ilocano doesn’t have same the political and cultural authority to hold a place amongst global languages. Western Armenian’s status is even more fragile, now listed officially as an endangered language.

My grandparents, raising their children in the post-World War II era, pushed for integration into American society and so raised their children monolingually, in English. My parents nonetheless became bilingual—in Spanish. My dad, fervently opposed to the Vietnam War, joined the Peace Corps in 1969 and served in Costa Rica, and my mother joined him in 1971, although they weren’t yet married. In the earliest recording of my voice, I am counting slowly, “Uuuuunoooo, doooooos, treeeees...” And so our culturally specific languages gave way to two of the dominant global languages: English and Spanish.

I pass this on to my children. For days, my daughter has been chanting the Spanish nursery rhyme: “Un elefante se columpiaba/sobre la tela de una araña...” The image of a spider’s web has stuck with me (possibly because I hear it dozens of times a day). I saw my experiences being spun out of my body, weaving together in a pattern that can be elegant as an orb, or haphazard as a cobweb. In this blog, I hope to tie together, tangle, and unravel these threads. I may descend into a bit of tarantellism. But I also aspire to be as wise, gentle, and dedicated as that most famous spider mother, Charlotte, who has also been a fixation of my daughter’s.

(Photo by Kevin Miller)
A mommy-festo is not a manifesto. I have no fixed purpose, no clarion call. I have scattered thoughts engendered by toddler-induced parental ADD. My natural disorganization is enhanced by chronic sleep deprivation. Just think of this journey as taking a walk with a small child. I don’t know where I’ll end up, but I’ll find interesting things along the way—and poke them with sticks.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for sharing your story, it's very interesting to read. I always like reading/finding out about others' experiences. I was initially drawn to your site by your Armenian name (via an article on Salon), as I spent four years in Armenia, first as a Peace Corps V(PC) olunteer and another two as a "private citizen" who got married to an Armenian I met while in PC. So we have some overlapping parts of us. My daughter is growing up bilingually in English and Armenian. :)

    Thanks again for sharing your story and for writing such a good piece on Salon.

    From Colleen, made "Kisa-Hye" by Marriage and PC :)