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No, I don’t want to watch YOUR children

One of the best parts of getting older is recognizing what your boundaries are. Not that Latinas always recognize that very gringa word. But knowing what you should and can say yes to and what you can’t say yes to is such a big step in becoming the grand vieja you were meant to be.

Here’s a big boundary for me: watching other people’s children–or even more precisely–watching dominant culture raised children–because I don’t have time to deal with kids whose parents raised them to be entitled brats and since in a mixed room of goodly and badly behaved children you can’t pick and choose, I just flat out don’t watch other people’s children.

Which isn’t the same as saying I wont have my kids’ friends over because thankfully they know who to bring over and who not to (which really translates into they bring over quiet, respectful kids who I don’t need to entertain). Even if they aren’t quiet, they know to go outside.

My daughter is in a community theatre musical at the moment. Which is awesome. I love that she’s branching out; l love that she’s having new experiences. But there’s at least 10 children in this production and she’s the only one I’ve ever seen sit still for five seconds and listen to the director. The stage moms of these minions seem unbothered by their children’s boisterous behavior, and that’s fine for them. It appears that come showtime, those moms are taking shifts backstage and wanted to know what day I wanted a shift. I had to tell them. Sorry, I don’t watch other people’s children.

I’ve been around these rehearsals enough these last few months to know that most of those kids are unruly and need a chancla thrown at them. I can’t imagine any worse way to spend the evening than in a green room with the cast of Fame wannabes who don’t know how to shut the fuck up because no parent has ever told them to (I just dated myself). Watching dominant culture children brings out the worst in me. I want to tell them with TED talk powerpoints about poverty and hunger and flies on children’s faces how very entitled they are with their trivial issues.

I want to make them suffer and to be—well, less entitled dominant culture Americans. But that’s not socially acceptable. One of the mothers was pressing me and I finally just said, “Well, you see, I hate children.” “But you have children.” “Yes, but mine are well-behaved and don’t need a babysitter backstage. I’ve trained them.”

She looked horrified. And of course, that was judgmental on my part. It always comes as a big surprise to these mothers when normal people are like you know what? I don’t really like to hear kids screaming indoors and jumping off counter tops. They aren’t being creative like you think they are. They’re just being assholes. I’m sorry, I don’t care if little Ashley and Cody are the center of your universe. They just look like future oppressors to me. I saw them not wash their hands before delving into the snack food tray.  You are raising them to be extras on a Disney channel sitcom pilot that never airs and I want no part of that.

So I compromise. I promise to bring homemade cookies and healthy snacks and leave them behind the Green Room so they can snack while they pretend to be Siamese children speaking uncomfortably broken English for the King and I. Oh colonialism, you never die, do you?

So no. This Latina mama wants no part of watching your children–especially for free. It’s not an even trade when yours are bouncing off walls and mine is sitting reading a book. But if you want to pay me to coach you on how to be a Latina mom with kick ass well-behaved and respectful and smart children, my rate starts at 50 an hour. You can give me a call.

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The Gardener

My Mexican grandfather was a gardener. He was one of those men who pulled up to white men’s houses in an old aquamarine Chevy truck filled with three different kinds of lawn mowers, all sorts of clippers, bag to cart stuff away. He worked in threadbare button down shirts and old pants, not jeans. To see him hunched over working on a landscape he looked more Yaqui than Spanish, his skin leathered and reddened by the sun. But when he came inside his own house and took off his shirt and stood there old Mexican man style, his skin where the sun couldn’t reach was alabaster white. The space between the box spring and his mattress was stuffed with 20s and 100s dollar bills and he often grinned a wry smile at what he was able to pull off.

He had some of his clients for over 30 years by the time he retired. He didn’t speak much, which led them to think he couldn’t speak English—which wasn’t true at all. He was born on this side of the border after his family made the trek north from Juarez. The aquamarine truck was the only one he ever bought for his business and long after the paint job faded and a few rust spots formed, he still drove it steady, working on the engine on the weekends. The white people mistook the truck for poverty and wanted to help him out from time to time.

One sold him a Cadillac for cheap when his wife tired of it.

One gave him a bedroom set when his wife ran out.

He brought back in his truck all sorts of things that the rich men in Sierra Madre and Pasadena didn’t want. Sometimes it was as simple as stuff with the tags still on them, still wrapped in their plastics, items that were no longer fashionable and never needed in the first place. He let the broken things go to the dump. I always had the idea that they watched him from their windows and felt good about themselves giving their stuff to the needy, feeling like they did good deeds. He was probably illegal and you know how they have those huge families.

My Mexican grandfather was a gardener whose wife never worked a day in life; they had three children—one of which, my mother—hadn’t spoken much to them since 1978, married a white guy, didn’t speak Spanish anymore. It’s a thing that happens. One of his girls was a good one—she and her husband drove the two hours from the Inland Empire to do old neighborhood things like rosaries for old dead neighbors, and sit in waiting rooms for the dying the way Mexican families do. The third did her best to keep the white people smug in their stereotypes: seven kids, signs of the cross, unwed mothers, a stint in jail. But no one ever needed a hand out.

We run this funny line, my mother and I. We’re the workers that take work to heart. People employ us and we bust our asses to prove that we are worthy of respect. My mother keeps her world meticulous and orderly so she’ll never hear the words, “dirty Mexican” again like she heard them in elementary school and sometimes by hear teachers. My Mexican grandfather instilled work ethic and a sense that it is necessary to travel around with your own hot sauce because of American family restaurants. We are proud of this heritage, I think.

And then there’s the other part—the part of us that doesn’t want to admit peasant stock. The part that doesn’t want to admit that we’re not descendants of kings on the road to the kingdom but on the side of the road with dirt and dust in our faces incapable of reading the signs.

We’ve mired ourselves in this education we’ve opted for. This English language. This moving of 744 miles away. We are a Mexican gardener: a man used to being ignored and talked down to, a man who keeps his many lives private from anyone he works for. A man whose pride is always in check.