Last week, my mami fell ill and was in bed for a day and a half. Since my dad has dementia, he’s unable to help in such circumstances. Thankfully, my Tía (aunt) was staying at my mom’s house and was able to help mami out a bit before calling me to come over on the second day. I rushed over and took my mom to the doctor. The day turned out to be a long one full of running back and forth around town, so Tía decided to buy take-out for dinner for everyone. She kept stressing to me to be sure that I ordered some extra food to bring home for my husband. She said, “I know you’ve been running around all day and haven’t had time to go home and cook.” It was very thoughtful of her, really, but this led to a couple of other conversations which now make my husband and I laugh.They are true examples of the cultural differences we deal with in our marriage and the lessons I inherited from my not-so-modern-thinking (ahem, old-fashioned) parents.
The “Quieres comer?” Syndrome (Do you want to eat?)
That same night, my husband ended up meeting me at my mom’s house. As soon as he walked in the door, Tía began to let him know about the food we brought home for him and also let him know of extra food there was. It was something along the lines of “We got you chicken, but there’s some pork here too. There’s also plátanos [plantains], bread, and more beans if you need more.” My husband was taking a moment to hold our baby boy for a bit and talk with our daughter first before sitting down to eat, so he said thanks and continued with his daddy moment. About five minutes later, he again was reminded about his food and this time, warned that it might get cold. This is typical of any day he goes to my mom’s house, regardless of whether it’s my mom or Tía (as was the case this time) doing the “sit down and eat” routine. This is also typical of many Latino households who no doubt will ask you “Quieres comer?” and urge you to sit down and eat the minute you walk in the door.
No Permission Needed
Still another incident occurred that same night. As my husband checked on my mom to see how she was feeling, she said to him, “Thank you to you and Melanie for everything today.” My husband quickly responded by saying, “I didn’t do anything! I’ve been at work all day. So, thanks to Melanie.” As he walked away, my mami says to me in Spanish, “Hay que darle gracias a él también por dejarte.” (I have to thank him too for letting you.) I immediately snapped at her saying, “Letting me? Mami, I’m not asking for permission!”
My Day Involves More than Just Cooking
The next day, I was back at my mom’s house and took her to another appointment in the morning. By the afternoon, I saw that my mom was settled, had help from my Tía, and was going to take a nap for the afternoon. So, around 2:30 pm, I began to say my good-byes and announced I was leaving. My Tía asks me, “You have to get home to cook, right?” After the comments from the night before, I was already irritated with the abundance of old-fashioned thinking regarding cooking, marriage, and my role as a wife. So, this new comment added to the fuel. I politely responded to her, “No. Actually, I need to get home so I can get some work done.” In my mind, though, I was thinking, “Really? Is cooking all that is on my family’s mind? Who in the hell starts cooking dinner at 2 pm, anyway?“The irony was that at the same time, my husband was busy ordering pizza for the night since he was off from work early that day. (Our daughter had previously declared it to be pizza night that day.)
But, I was so aggravated at the moment that I momentarily forgot that this is the way my mom and aunts were taught. This is the custom and the manner in which they believe they need to take care of their loved ones. And, there’s nothing wrong with that if it works for them.
Reflecting on Costumbres (Customs)
Earlier this week, I approached my mom and laughed about the comments with her. I told her how my husband and some friends of ours reacted upon hearing these stories. She explained to me that her abuela taught her and her sisters to be this way. They were taught that they should have dinner ready by the time their husbands came home from work.She said many women even cook a heavy meal by noon in order to eat an early dinner. Mami further explained that her abuela would say, “Si puedes, come tú primero antes que él llegue del trabajo. Así, si él llega enojado y no quiere comer rápido, tu no te quedas átras sin comer por esperarlo a él.” (If you can, eat first before he comes home from work. That way, if he comes home angry and doesn’t want to eat right away, you don’t get left behind without eating while waiting on him.)
I was amazed by all this. While my mom taught me to cook and did emphasize the need to “take care of” my husband and family, she also didn’t take it to the level her abuela did. I suppose with every generation, customs remain, but also evolve. I am actually very grateful for the lessons my mom gave me. There are many great values in the way she raised us and how she grew up that I can now take from and make my own. And, while I will teach my daughter and son many of these same customs, they will be tweaked to accommodate our current style of living. They can each then take the lessons from my husband and I and make them fit their lives should they have their own families one day.
What customs or old-fashioned lessons did you inherit?