Friday, February 23, 2007

It Wasn't All Doomsday

When we arrived at the Orlando Convention Center for the tournament, which is the size of a small, unknown planet, we drove blocks and blocks to find the parking lot. Our assigned lot was surprisingly full so we parked in a dirt lot across the way, carnival style. Emerging from this lot were droves of people, half of whom were dressed in what seemed to be super-hero costumes. It was ten in the morning, sunny and breezy, and if you're not actually a super hero, lycra tights and leotards can be unforgiving in the morning light. I could only identify one or two characters. The rest were dressed for the inhabitants of their world only. The MegaCon Animation/Comic Book/SciFi/Gamers convention was happening just down the hall from the TKD tournament. Our eyes rolled to the back of our heads from the luck. We blew off Maya's weigh-in for over an hour just to get caught in the tide & awesomeness of this scene. I refrain from saying Freak Show because when the MegaCons see parents padding their children and sending them into a ring to get their heads kicked in, they may also mumble "freaks" under their breath. Here are a couple key things I learned in an hour: No matter what size or shape, no matter how much you are ridiculed at home, it is more than ok to put on your well-designed and madly expensive costume here. This is your safe, happy place. In the MegaCon world, contact lenses are key; white-out ones, ones that make your eyes look like a cat's, black ones, any color ones. Fangs are big too. And lycra. Lycra was the material of choice. If you are going to dress, play the part. Crawl around on the floor if that's what your character does. Stick your sharp, pointy talons in your mortal enemy. Do not do MegaCon half assed.

Here are a few pictures. My mom took a billion more, but you get the gist here:

Look out Maya! The breast resting on your shoulder is bigger than your head. I love the stoic, reading cat.

I said, "Strike a pose, boys." But these guys weren't laughing. This was very serious stuff and those kevlar vests with their names embroidered on the back cost more than my hotel room, all four nights. Right after this photo, another guy requested a photo with them, but this guy knew who they were because as soon as they nodded, the guy knelt before them and put his hands behind his head. The guy with the gas mask pointed his fake (?) semi-automatic weapon at his temple. Fun was had by all!

I love them just coming down the escalator. See? Super Heroes (or Thai princesses) are just like us!

I'm not sure if Marvel Comics has a Nipple Girl, but if so, here she is. Check out the metal wings on Purple Face Man.

This was hot.

So, this character is just walking around, about to buy a soda, swinging the machete casually and I say, "Can I get a picture?" And she instantly posed like this. You know this person --and all the others -- practiced all week their signature, Megacon pose.

Here was their signature pose.

I bought one of these costumes for home.
I'm bummed that I didn't get a photo of the Princess Leia Dance Off. A very lean and tall girl was dressed in the Jabba the Hut slave costume where horns spiraled around her breasts and where a long, parted loin cloth left us taking bets if she was actually wearing undies or not. Someone in her entourage put on a ravey version of an Indian song. Another guy stared twirling illuminated balls. It was 11am and I guessed the the E had just kicked in. A guy sporting fangs, cat contacts, devil horns and a shirt that read "Doesn't Play Well with Others" -- which popped up every few seconds revealing his man muffin top -- started to dance. He knew every Hindi word and every nuance to the song. Princess Leia joined in with legitimate belly dancing skills. Then a guy passing by in baggy shorts, a baller's physique and a cap on sideways entered the inner MegaCon dancing circle. He CripWalked, booty bounced and shook it like a salt shaker to the industrial beats along side the slithering Princess Leia. When a 10 foot tree walked by -- it looked like a real live tree! -- my heart couldn't take any more goodness. We pressed on to the weigh-in.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Dust Off

They bow. Maya is in the red chest guard, the girl from Minnesota that stands two inches taller in blue. They bounce, they wait. A small flurry of kicks leaves one point on the board for Minnesota. They bounce, they wait. They fake, then another exchange. 2-0. Round one is already over. The second round is the same. They bounce. Maya scores weakly. 2-1. Maya aggravates a foot injury she got last week when she smashed her pinkie toe into a wall during a game of tag. She's limping and frustrated. End of round two. She's near tears in her chair. Her coach sends her in for round three. Bounce, wait, exchange. 2-2. A quick squab and the board suddenly reads 4-2 for Minnesota. I didn't really see how. 30 seconds are left, but Maya has not yet mastered a perfect sense of time in the ring. She doesn't chase the girl until ten seconds are left. Then the match is over. Maya has lost in the first round. Disappointment floats down on us like a shaken-out sheet. We don't accept that it’s over, or we prolong the announcement that it is. Four months of fundraising and training and build up for six teeny minutes that leave me scrambling for sincere words of consolation.

We walk down the middle of a long hall. Uniforms and warm ups and spar bags dotted with foreign flags are strewn near the walls of the hall. As we walk, Maya slides off her head gear leaving her bangs mat against her forehead. She pops out her mouth guard. To the right we see a man-sized boy laying on his bag, on his back; his hands are clasped and resting on his face. His eyes are open, wet. He doesn't believe it's over either. A girl passes us grimacing. She's carried by two of her teammates, ice bags atop both feet.

In the lobby, Maya's teammates stand huddling over her and they chatter encouragement. Her coach plays up the injured foot, and Maya kneels, slowly and methodically peeling off the rest of her gear. She starts to fold it. "See that bruise? That takes weeks to heal." "Next time, Maya." Maya wraps her shin guards together, then her arm guards. "This is a great experience. It's a huge international tournament." "That girl was tall." Maya looks up and nods. She places the smaller pads inside her chest guard and ties them tightly together. "Every experience matters. Every practice matters." This is when the world of an elite athlete and an eleven-year old girl clash. The closeness of the two, nearly converging and harmonizing, wash over her and slip away. Not this time. It all happened too fast.

We don't talk about it again until the next day. It was better to wait for sincerity. I told her I was proud. This was one tournament in her gradual road to where ever she wants to take this. Champs win and lose. I am most proud that she wants to keep going. That's the hardest part. I told her she inspires me. She said, "You're my hero, Mami" just like in the movies, and emotionally I was done for the night.

At Disneyworld, the ticket lady sat in her tiny, individual booth. We speak to her through circles in plexiglas. She says, "Are you vacationing?" Maya says, "We were here for the Taekwondo tournament." "How'd ya do?" The lady chirps. Maya unleashes her booming fake-announcer voice and says loudly, "Oh, I lost in the first round, thank you!"

My husband couldn't make the trip to Florida because of work. I have felt 100% homesick 100% of the time because of it. I have had no comfort or grounding for myself. In the shitty hotel room, I spent hours awake in the dark feeling lonely as one of my girls tossed beside me. They alternated who slept in my bed for the night. I wondered in the orange hotel shadows what the fuck I'm doing with my life. My fortieth year has so far been the hardest in which to stay buoyant even if it feels the furthest from the hardest times in my life. My mother stayed in a room that connected to ours. She has been nothing but sweet and giving, but I can't seem to kick the habit of feeling diminished around her. I feel invisible and unimportant. It's nothing that she does now. It's residual, I understand. Why didn't that vaporize? Why didn't that get stamped out in our years of healing? I feel a little lost right now because of it. I thought it was all ok now.

I've spent too many days out of the embrace of home. Four nights in an orange box room with bare-thread carpet burned in two places by an iron. Four nights in a square box bed with cardboard pillows and prison-starch sheets and an aqua ceramic lamp with a cigarette burn in the lamp shade. All those nights freefalling in my invisibility and my mediocrity. Four days straight I told my champ to fight on, dust off and fight on. And I'm lagging. I'm pushing her forward, but I'm losing steam for myself. I'm desperate for a word from home.

Post Script: I wrote the above on a plane within the twelve hours it took to get home. We got in at 2am , but I am home now. I am showered, I’ve been snuggled. My mood and sense of hope are nearly back to normal.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Love Rules

Wednesday night, we invited three of Maya's friends over for a lil' Junior High Valentine's Party/Give-Your-Parents-A-Date Night. We served pizza and cupcakes. It was kind of a manipulative move on my part because I wanted a close-up look and listen on Maya's friends. I wanted to get a better feel for who Maya's hangin with. I also couldn't help planting some self-love seeds in other girls other than my own. Stuck in the cupcakes, I posted handmade heart signs that read: Love You. Be True. Dream Big. Make Peace. Have Fun. Be Kind. Speak Up. Be You. Live It Up. Love Rules. The girls were young enough not to roll their eyes and flick the signs to the ground, which I considered a victory for my propagandous strategy. Hearing one of the girls yell, "I want the Dream Big one" warmed my ulterior-motive heart.

These girls, including Maya, are all-round good kids and solidly funny. They played American Idol which made me guffaw a couple times. Their sense of spoof was spot on. I let them crank call a couple boys; though they didn't really ask. They just did it even though I was a few feet away. They played Truth or Dare and dared each other to lick Lupe's paw and sniff Mina's shoes (death-defying) and eat a dog kibble. The girl that ate the dog food did so without any hesitation. She said, "What? It's just dried vegetables and chicken. Yum." "And pork shavings!" Maya yelled. The girl is Muslim and her face fell white. "Oh no. I can't eat pork!" When I yelled out that there was no pork in our dog food, she munched away relieved. The only dare I halted was when Maya said, "I dare you to hump the doorknob," which is a decent dare, but Mina was part of the group then. I told Maya in private, "Ix-nay on the humping doorknob dares in front of Mina. I mean, you didn't have to hear the words hump this or that when you were seven." Maya said, "Got it."

I only interjected my propaganda twice more. Early in the evening, an 11 year old, 5'8" Venezuelan stunner named Mica announced that she was fat. Standard, tired young-woman territory, but I told all of them that speaking poorly of oneself is not allowed in my house. Maya, as color commentary, yelled, "Yea, none of that! See? I told you. Don't talk bad about yourself."

The other time was when they started judging each other. "Let's rate our hair, eyes, lips and body, 1-10," a girl suggested. I listened to the game for a little while until I heard some 7's and 8's and sensed some hurt feelings. I walked over and said, "Girls, let me just say that you should always give your friends a 10. Secondly, we all look very different." It was like the UN up in there: Venezuelan mix, Puerto Rican mix, Tibetan mix, Moroccan. "We're all different sizes and quite frankly, you are all gorgeous and you should consider yourself nothing less." They looked at me with absorbent eyes. They nodded and said, "Ok." I said, "Ok, no more speeches!" Then they went back to singing solos, good and goofy.

We leave for Florida this morning, for Maya's tournament. I think I'm excited. Everything is so whirlwind and I haven't had a chance to pump myself up about it. The bake sale went swimmingly and I raised more than half of all the expenses including some cash money we kicked down to Maya's coach for making the trip too. A couple weeks ago my mother decided she wanted to come to Florida as well to cheer on Maya. In the past this suggestion would have seized my heart frozen, but she and I have been on an unprecedented trail-blazing healing path this last year. Real forgiveness happened this year. It all feels miraculous to me. I welcome her company in Florida and I've never said such a thing in my life.

Go Maya - I'll talk to you folks later.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Self Portrait Challenge - anniversary

We have an ability to start a vacation immediately. No winding down, no gearing up. We hit the road and not one more thought of work piles or dish piles or endless tasks snuck in. Miles of desert and a big, fat skyline relaxed us. The girls read and played games. I read and daydreamed. By the time the girls were dropped off and as soon as we spotted the Luxor light beaming into space, our vacuum was sealed. This was us for two days.

We were gonna go to the spa, but lounging in the bed in the middle of the afternoon watching college hoops felt more luxurious.

During Sunday breakfast at the downstairs diner, we read the paper. I ate oatmeal. He ate an omelet. My hair was in a ponytail. Jeans, tshirt. Sneakers were back on my feet. He leaned over and said, "Mami, last night at the club did you really have your hand down my pants?" I flipped the paper down and stared at my coffee cup. I played back events. Then I put my forehead to the table and laughed. "Holy shit," I said. He put his section of the paper back up to his face and peeked around it one more time, nodding.

I had just gotten out of a long, hot shower that had no time constraints. A child had not yelled my name once. I put a towel on my hair, around my body too. Husband came in and handed me a box. A year ago, I had pined for a particular ring, which is uncharacteristic because I am not big on jewelry. Or at least not asking for jewelry. I had seen it in a magazine, but the handmade ring sold out quickly. None were on the horizon either. But he found it this year. It's a tiny band of rose gold. Etched in teeny script is reads, soulmate.

On the drive home, I showed the girls the ring. Mina blurted, "Look Maya, it says 'soul man'". This made us laugh for miles. But it doesn't take away my private pangs for my little ring. Or the fact that the tiny word states big truth.

More B&W portraits aqui.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Cupcake is the New Black

I woke up sometime last week from a loud cupcake buzz. They're everywhere all of the sudden. What happened? Did I accidentally get involved in a tidal wave trend? Damn, that wasn't my intention. Kind of deflates the fun. I heard one cupcake shop owner say, "Cupcakes are not trendy. We are revitalizing an old tradition." Isn't that the same thing? Maybe I should bring back the taffy pull. Open a Taffyeria. Be the first one to "revitalize" that tradition.

I gotta say, ALL the fun isn't gone. Not at all. They're still precious and perfect and beautiful and delicious, the cupcakes. And cupcakeria is still fun to say. Even if cupcakes get thrown off the runway by next fall, I'll still have the love. Heck, I still wear gauchos.

Tomorrow, we're off to Las Vegas. Road trip! We're dropping the girls off at BD and Sanne's house, who live in Vegas, and then Husband and I are going to yuck it up on the strip for our 9th wedding anniversary. I gotta say, 9 is better than 8. And 8 was better than 7. How does this happen? I don't know, but I'll nurture the shit out it until we're in our 80's groping each other to the humiliation of the general public. He just smells so good, and his hands are magical, and his black-eyed stares can still jolt my stomach. He's just so damn sexy. And he loves me and is good to me, which are the best tools in his sexy bag. For our Vegas trip, we saved up to do it upscale. I'm not a downtown, penny-slot, jean-shorts, plastic-drinking-cup-in-my-hand-at-all-times Vegas girl. I'm a high-fallutin’, fancy-pants Vegas type. Even if I have to save all year to lounge one day in a spa like I'm a goddamn regular, that's fine with me. Siegfried and Roy and All-You-Can Eateries? Hell no. I'm going swanky or room service. And I suggested we see Zumanity which is the racy Cirque du Soleil show. My husband's eyebrows rose when I suggested that. I said, "They're pretty much naked and writhing around in the regular show so what could be the big difference?" I may eat those words later considering I'm somewhat of a pornaphobe. I've decided I'm gonna bust out my best Sophia Loren/Dorothy Dandridge gear. And wear red lipstick. And a push-up bra, which I do not need. Usually I'm trying to strap the girls down, keep them on the DL; they can be such greedy attention getters if I let them. But the booty? I let her shine all she wants even during my every-day life. No strapping her down. She's got a will and a sway all her own.

Nine is down-right confident. Nine feels like an accomplishment. Nine is still sporting a leopard-skin pencil skirt or wearing his jeans just how I like them. Nine is red lipstick and sweats. Nothing is ever home free, but he and I? We’re a lock.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Self Portrait Challenge

Tomorrow may never come.
For you or me, life is unpromised.
Tomorrow may never show up.
For you, for me, this life is not promised.
I ain't no perfect man.
I'm trying to do the best that I can
with what it is I have.
I ain't no perfect man.
I'm trying to do the best that I can
with what it is I have.
Put my heart and soul into this song.
I hope you feel me.

Umi Says by Mos Def (another iPod crush)

Other February black and white portraits at
Self Portrait Challenge.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Buddha in the House

Hey, this is Buddha, y'all*. Mina asked for "her" for Christmas; like, really pleaded because she understands things that the rest of us don't. Buddha showed up in her Christmas stocking because Santa's cool and open like that. Buddha has already been to second grade Show N Tell. Buddha and Mina kick it.

So, when Mina saw this, she PLEADED again and again, because no other house was good enough for her friend, Buddha -- who is nicknamed "Flower", if you didn't know. Mina spent the weekend decorating it. She got little wooden animals too because a Buddha house is not complete without a farm.
This is Buddha hangin out with her other best friend, Ramona The Pig.

I just held the hot-glue gun. Mina told me what to do.

The dog and sheep's side of house.

Cow grazing on a pink bush in the back.

This is Buddha's house. Respect it.
*This, in fact, is not Buddha, y'all, as one my brilliant readers pointed out. This is Kuanyin, y'all. I told Mina that I had mistakenly called the statue Buddha and that it is a girl just like she had said. Mina said, "Mmhm, I knew it. But Kuanyin's hard to say. I'll call her KuanKuan."

Saturday, February 03, 2007

The Devil's Arithmetic

For an upcoming book report, Maya and the students in her sixth-grade English class had to choose a book about a culture other than their own. Because the book seemed to be about a girl's adventure through time, Maya chose a book called The Devil's Arithmetic. The girl in the book does travel through time; on Passover night she is transported back to 1942 Poland just as the Nazi are making their round ups. Maya enjoyed the book, but connected more to the girl and her personal adventure rather than comprehending the gravity of the situation. I explained more in depth what the Holocaust was, but who really understands six million people extinguished?

Last night, Maya and I watched Paper Clips, a documentary about a middle school in Tennessee that took on a Holocaust project. The school knew very little diversity in their area and they sought out to understand a group of people that were not white, christian Americans. The teachers read books about the Holocaust and looked on the internet and did their best to explain to the kids what had happened. The kids reacted much like Maya did at first, empathetic without deeper comprehension. Until one kid asked, "What does six million mean, what does it look like?" This sparked a years-long journey to collect six million paper clips to better understand what a devastating amount of people that is. In the film, there are many, many powerful and heart-crushing moments and by the end Maya was crying in huge, gulping and whooping cries. "I didn't know," she cried. "I didn't know it would be this painful to know about this." It's one thing to read about the significance of the chimney smoke in a book, quite another to hear a 70 year old man weep as he retold watching his own mother and brothers billow from a chimney.

And I say this again, there are not many things harder as a parent than having to introduce them to the evils of the world. It reels in her mind still, what would cause such hatred and intolerance, and it hurts me to see that innocence and trust peeled away. It's absolutely necessary too, this introduction, because it doesn't go away, those pockets of evil, and she needs to know to never be influenced by it and to never tolerate it.

Not far from us, there is a Museum of Tolerance and I asked Maya if she wanted to go check it out. She's not sure right now. She said, "What if I cry like that in there?" I said, "I'm sure many people cry like that in there. It's not meant to make you feel good. It’s there to remember it and to squash intolerance, spark compassion." She said, "Can I tell you next week if I want to go?" Of course she could. She was born all tolerance, all compassion. She can tell me whenever she's ready for the next round, when it's a little less raw.

Friday, February 02, 2007

iPod Crushing

I would be fearful to say aloud that I have a crush on Fela, even if it were true. I think he's the type that would come back from the dead to explore the possibilities. You have a crush on me you say? And then I'd be locked in a basement wearing nothing but rain boots and a collar because that's what Fela likes to see me in. From what I've seen and felt from him, even from a distance, this is my guess anyway. On a side note: Fela once married 22 women at once, which was deemed as sexist and degrading. I thought it was more like a performance piece, his own statement ironically against African polygamy. When he went to jail in the midst of his all-out war with the Nigerian government, he divorced at 22 and denounced the practice as sexist.

King Sunny Ade is also in my new iPod rotation and I'll crush on him all I please, just like I did back in the day. I've also seen him in concert; 35 piece band, swaddled and queen-like backup singers and dancers -- not like Fela's resentful and grunting crew -- and Sunny, beautiful and sparkling. There's a long scar on his cheek, scuffing up his perfect face just enough. His voice is slight and sweet; his band so controlled, on point, the slide guitar makes the heart sway. I was told over 20 years ago that Sunny Ade was the Lawrence Welk of Nigeria. Who gives a shit! I happily don't know the nuances of Nigerian culture enough to be jaded; I don't know what's dorky and not.

Ah man, you know who's on after Sunny? One of my smoldering, darker crushes, Stevie Ray Vaughn. When I first saw him on TV, shaded by his hat, swollen jaw line, miscapped teeth (I have a thing for fucked up teeth) and eyes rolling back in a heroin haze, I blazed a hole in the tube's glass. His licks were so sad and meaningful. But what did me in was when I peeped just the head of his full-chest peacock tattoo. I was a goner. When he died, my boyfriend at the time, El Conguero, said, "Good. Now I don't have to worry about him anymore." Which just told you volumes about his personality.

Music is good. And life is good. And notice I didn't say upcake-cay once in this post.