I'm in the midst of a visit from Grandmutter, my husband's blood mother, and her 16 year old son, Husband's half brother, who we'll call Tio Brudder. They are visiting from NY, upstate now, but they were born and raised in the Bronx. It has been a hair-pulling and hilarious stay with a touch of touching. Neurosis romps freely in our house, with the visit; I cock my head sometimes, baffled by its extent. I feel a little guilty about bloggin' 'bout her behind her back so I'll just list some things - balanced with positives -- so it doesn't seem like I'm talking shit on her that much because you have to admit that unless your whacky in-laws or own family members are abusive and deserve to be cut off completely, you can't help but feel some twinge of affection towards their quirkiness.
* Grandmutter is a Jehovah's Witness. She converted about 30 years ago, but Jehovah's not the one who cranked her full-tilt neurotic. No, that's something she's cultivated and nurtured all on her own. To be honest, and much to my relief, she hasn't busted by balls in years about religion. (Sorry, Lord, that I used balls in that last sentence.) I used to get lectures about how saying "Bless You" after sneezing was pagan (as is most everything, didn't you know), but now I don't even hide the Buddha statues in the garden. During this visit -- and this is big -- I didn't even bother to take down my vejigante masks that I gingerly hand carried home from Ponce. She probably just shrugs and thinks, "What do I care that she's going to hell. I tried." Positives: She's not busting my balls with Jehovah guilt.
* She is so strangly over protective of her children that I overheard my husband saying on the phone, "My mother is here with her 16 year old toddler." Tio Brudder is 5'9" with size 12 feet, but when I told Maya to take him to the corner store not a half block away, Grandmutter blurted, "Oh no - he's not used to crossing the street by himself!" He whined in a deep baritone, "Ma! I'm from the Bronx!" I said, "He'll be fine. Maya will hold his hand." Positives: Hmm, I'll stick with what Husband said, "At least they'll have each other when they're old."
* In the over-protection category, the last time my husband visited her a couple years ago, he told her he was going to the local school to run the track. She said, "I'll take you." He said, "I'll find it fine." And she wrung her hands. Husband left, iPodded and content. After two laps he looked up to find his mother sitting in the stands, watching him. My husband is not drenched in, how you say, sensitivity, so Jehovah aside he yelled out, "What in the hell are you doing?" Positives: You can't beat a story like this. I thank her for the fodder.
* She often recounts tragic stories. Like, she'll read about a California freeway shooting -- no matter where -- and ask if that's the highway we always drive. She'll wonder if we heard about the baby that was kidnapped/killed/burned/strangled/abandoned? She is drawn to the morbid and constantly retells tragic accounts with an eerie lack of emotion. Positives: She's cautious? And concerned about our well being? She's continually warning us about Armageddon and that's nice of her.
* She beats me to the punch in the kitchen. She gets there before I can and whips up salty mediocre meals. She cooks rock-hard pancakes that make the girls look at me from across the table, pleading with their eyes for me to get my ass a-cookin' before she does. She boils broccoli until it's beige-green, wilting and sad. Years ago Husband told her, "Look, we like cooked broccoli with a little crunch still in it. Ma, this is gross.” Then he mashed his fork easily through the stalk. She said in a dramatic Bronx drawl, "Oohkkaayy, fine." Every time she cooks broccoli she says, "This isn't overcooked, right?" What am I gonna say? Positives: She was the type of mother that cooked a meal every night for her family and always put a vegetable on the plate even if it was mushy and only laced with one lingering vitamin. I respect her for that.
* She has, however, left my spice cabinet in disarray. My stuff is all out of order. This is my own neurosis brewing for sure, but it's bumming me out. Not to mention the fucking juice glasses filled with pork grease that she leaves like shit bags on the kitchen counter. MUY MUY BUMMED ABOUT THIS ONE. My husband requests pork when she visits since I won't cook it. I would like to say my kitchen is off limits to such practices, but I know he craves certain dishes now and again; dishes that are hard to shake from the Puerto Rican pallet. I never craved the meat: pernil (swine shoulder), alcapurrias (40 types of meat stuffed in a fritter thing) and many others. I only crave the general sabor/flavor of the food that is easily made vegan and put to good use in converted PR dishes. Positives: Culture is being kept alive? I advocate veganism with a light hand. I like to think of my influence as subtly powerful; with kindness and good cooking. When I met my husband over a decade ago he gladly ate steak and a stick of butter with some potato on it every night. Now -- and here comes the positive -- he eats about 50-60% veg and red meat maybe once a month. He's 25lbs lighter and I'll have him around longer. My not-so-secret goal is that he'll be vegan in another 10 years to which he says, "Could happen." This is thrilling coming from the handsome hard-head.
* Along with grease bombs and dead animals, some how boxes of Oreos and Frosted Flakes and Capri Suns are in my pantry. When Grandmutter visits alone, she doesn't buy that crap. Tio Brudder demands it and she caves. My poor girls watch him eat an array of shit, but I let them have tastes for dessert if they ask. Last night I watched him eat an ice cream sundae with a Dr. Pepper chaser. Maya and Mina don't even try to ask for that kind of combo. They ignore it completely much to their credit. Positives: Maybe the girls are subconsciously rubbing off on him? Maybe he'll discover another vegetable he likes while he's here in Cali?
* Tio Brudder is a good kid. He used to be an annoying a-hole, but now he's pretty good. He hasn't been able to shake his special brand of complaining -- nasally and unrelentless -- but he's much better. Maya used to really not like him at all, but during this trip he pulled her aside and apologized for not always treating her nicely in the past. That's huge, I say, for anyone especially for a 16 year old. I cut him miles of slack because of that. That's way positive.
* When Grandmutter and I are alone, we hold long, relaxed conversations about health and food. She asks me questions and writes down recipes. We stroll the farmers market. During the first day of her visit, we talked a lot about chemicals in food. We talked about my old teflon pans emitting toxins while we cook on them. Like most people, I have a mismosh of pots and pans collected over a lifetime and not upgraded in many years. It's on our list though, isn't it? "Some day, buy a beautiful set of (pans, knives, dishes, embroidered napkins . . .)" I came home Tuesday from work to a big box on the table wrapped in shiny purple paper topped with a bow and a card. The card read, "To my daughter-in-law, you are a very good mother and wife. Thank you for always being kind and loving to us." And in the box was a gorgeous set of stainless steel pots & pans. Husband said she made him drive her to a couple different places to find the right one.
And that's the pay off, right, of having family? You think their purpose is to get all on your nerves until you realized that they think highly of you and love you even when they don't say if much (or for the first eight years), and you think it's not going to matter, but it does. I grew up with no siblings, hardly any family. I spent a lot of time alone, in my mind and lonely. And sometimes I think pork shit bombs in the kitchen are the biggest fucking deal or that the constant monotone eastern droning/complaining is going to poke holes in my ear drums until all the bustling and noise and air mattresses taking up every inch of my small space converges into a happy and warm mess. I’m glad they’re here.