Friday, October 27, 2017

What's in a Name (Part 3)

My husband has a really long name in the Spanish tradition. There is a first name; usually a middle name, a father’s last name and they append the mom’s maiden name. So while 4 names isn’t a lot, it can be hard to get them straight when different names are used in different scenarios.

During his youth, he went by one name – a name that his family and childhood friends use and by which they refer to him. In most of these situations it was a derivation on his middle name.  When he came to the States for his associate’s degree and later for college, he referred to himself by his first name.

When I met my husband, he said his name was his middle name -  His full middle name, no diminutives or nicknames – just his middle name in Spanish.  We then got to know each other via emails. He signed all his emails with ‘Memo’. The first few times I scratched my head wondering why the word ‘memo’ was at the bottom of his notes. Was there a memorandum attached that wasn’t inadvertently forgotten? After a few instances of this, I asked him why he signed off in that manner. He explained that Memo was the diminutive of his middle name. It was what his family and friends called him. I guessed at that point, he felt comfortable enough to allow me to call him that or it was the name he was used to most.

Over time my husband found out my middle name. He used this name to introduce me to his family and friends. Now, my middle name was chosen at confirmation time as mostly a way for me to finally get another name from the one with which I was born. I only had one first name, no middle names and a surname at birth. Confirmation was a cool and legitimate way for me to put an additional twist on my identity.  Absolutely NO ONE called me by that name up to the point of my picking it out and my getting called that by my in-laws and my husband’s friends. It was used so infrequently, as a matter of fact, that even my mom later in life didn’t realize it was my middle name.


At one point my two worlds converged, my in-laws calling me Monica and everyone else calling me by my usual name. One of my friends then asked my husband ‘Who is Monica?’ He, then, had to explain the two name usage. Of course, she said ‘I didn’t even know that was her middle name!’  The reason she didn’t know this is because I NEVER USED THAT NAME BEFORE. In his way, my husband was branding me in the Spanish way, perhaps. I don’t fully know why he decided on this appellation. It’s now the custom with his family. That, my friends, is how you gain a new name. And everyone knows that customs are hard to break.  

Coming on Strong

Many of us have had this experience. I can almost guarantee that women have encountered it. Even if you have not been impacted directly by this incident, you are aware of it. It is the unapologetic spray at the perfume counter of a department store. You weren’t asking for it or expecting it. Yet it happens. And in so many ways, it is quite disturbing because it is an assault on your body not by hands but by stench.

This is how I have felt over the last few months because of someone relatively new to my team. Almost every time she opens her mouth, I feel like it is an assault to my utter being. Every time I send an email or set up a meeting based on said emails, I get a request for an agenda or am pummeled with reply all’s on what is the point of the meeting. Oddly, I almost always set up meetings after a barrage of back and forth emails on a topic. Last I checked, I add an agenda to those meeting invites based on the emails trails. I often scratch my head once I read these responses from her. I feel at times like I live in the twilight zone. Or has anyone heard the term gaslight?

So, it’s not by stench but it might as well be mace in the eyes or a little pepper spray into the throat. I am always one to take feedback/input/suggestions but I am confused because I have agendas in all my invitations. And usually I drag and drop my emails into meeting invites to give context and then write my agendas around those documents. Here I was thinking I was pretty efficient and that my meetings were self-explanatory. But, I guess not.

This is not constructive criticism on her part. It is the utter need to take me down in front of others. After all, she questions me on emails where others are addressed as well.  When she comes over and makes a compliment on my outfit, I have to scratch my head and wonder what is behind her niceness. Does she know she’s on my naughty list and is trying to make amends? Does she not realize I think her actions are suspicious? Whatever her motives, I’m not falling for them.


What is troublesome is that in a work environment you have to often play nice with people you would never want to be near! Family and work colleagues aren’t too different – you often have to be diplomatic around those you would never choose as friends. Of course, sometime you do find some good friends from the colleague pool. But I certainly don’t want to be friends with someone who plays the ‘frenemy’. 

Monday, October 2, 2017

The Cheerleader

When I hadn’t even completely registered the death of my mom, I had to face another loss. My mentor passed away almost 2 months after my mom. She, too, was battling cancer. It seemed like she was ready to beat it until something odd happened. I still don’t know how it transpired. I suppose the how is not that important. It’s the emptiness that is still there that matters. I was informed of her passing by a mutual friend. I had spoken to my mentor just a few days earlier! I had sent flowers to her a week earlier to brighten her recovery. It was not meant to be. She was so ready to fight the cancer – stare it down. But it was futile.

I first met Anne Marie when I was a young and spunky Client Service Representative. She could probably already tell I didn’t belong in the ‘business’ when she met me.  She ran a monthly department newsletter and was looking for new ‘blood’ to write some pieces. I signed up immediately as I was looking for a way to be creative at work. We connected in a breath.
I created a column of my own that became popular as I investigated issues/mysteries/questions that came up. She and I bonded over books and how illogical the world was. She was a mom at work. She encouraged me always to challenge myself (and she challenged me) and saw me doing more with my life than doing the work I was doing.

When I decided to go back to school and finish my Master’s degree, without asking she offered to write a recommendation. As my friends and I worked on a monthly zine, she read it religiously and would comment about my pieces in secret language while she walked by my aisle. When I changed jobs and stayed within the same company, we often used the interoffice mail to send each other books we recommended. We kept in touch with the company instant messaging application. When she was forced into early retirement, we emailed on a fixed basis – weekly would be my best guess although I am not certain.

While she encouraged me to do more, be more, she often downplayed her strengths. She was a nurturing individual with a soft heart for good people. She hated stupid people and those who were sycophants. Where we worked, this behavior was common and they often went hand-in-hand.

These days it seems weird to not send her an email – checking in on her or seeing what she’s reading. I find myself often texting or emailing people for the heck of it just to fill the void. It’s not the same though. Most people don’t even respond to my notes. If they do, it’s usually days later. Anne Marie almost immediately responded. If she didn’t, then something was wrong. That’s exactly how I found out she was sick.  I hadn’t gotten a response in her usual super timely manner.


It is sad to know that she isn’t reading this entry because she was a devoted follower of my blog. All I can hope for is that she’s in a good place, in peace reading a good book and checking in on me every so often in her special quiet way. 

Thursday, September 28, 2017

The Kiss

Oh, I know you are waiting for my commentary on Gustav Klimt’s influential work. But, sorry, folks, this is not about that piece of art. It is about childhood innocence gone awry.

It was a lovely, early summer morning, just after a torrential rainstorm. The clouds had quickly parted and the sky was an azure wonder. A few hours earlier we worried about a cancellation.  With the sun shining brightly and an excited child in tow, my sister-in-law and I made our way to my daughter’s ‘best friend’s’ birthday party picnic.

The sunshine peeked through the branches of the tree and we found the spot where the picnic was happening. We had to circle around a closed off area of the park to get to the festivities. As we approached, the birthday girl came running up to my daughter. They gave each other an embrace that signified years of distance. In fact they had only seen each other the afternoon before. But that’s how kids are – the purity of friendship isn’t tainted. It was a magical day with the sun streaming at angles and early spring pollen pulsed through the breeze.

On the way to the party my daughter inquired if a friend, who happened to be a boy, would be there. I said that I was pretty certain he would be as he was a class favorite. My daughter thought he was the ‘funniest’. I also thought he was a sweet, creative boy – he’d won me over with his sensitivity and whimsy – not to mention his obsession with pirates!


Moments after our arrival, said boy arrived. Enormous hugs ensued, games were played, food was eaten, birthday songs were sung, and cake was eaten. It was now time to leave. My sister-in-law and I informed my daughter that departure was on the horizon. However we couldn’t go before we said good-bye to her best friend. Said boy was about to leave as well but was also waiting to say goodbye. 

The birthday girl had disappeared to deposit an intruder turtle in a nearby stream. As she came around the bend, she saw said boy, ran up to him and planted an enormous kiss on his lips. The boy, his father, my sister-in-law and I were in shock by this mature display of affection. The father turned around to us to say, ‘Do I need to start chaperoning already!?’  The birthday girl walked away with a big Cheshire smile on her face. That is how it began and ended, friends. An innocent kiss creating confusion for all. 

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

The Tough Cookie

Relationships are hard. Probably none are harder than the parent and child ones. In the early years, parents are your role models, they guide you and teach you. In later years those models are the ones you fight against or with as you gain your own identity and independence. I had many fights and stand offs with my mom through the years, especially after my father passed as I became the substitute for my dad.

Despite those fights there were truths and behaviors that my parents, my mom, taught me that became the foundation of who I am with some personal tweaks, of course.

When I was young, I was sick and spent weeks in the hospital undergoing tests and operations. My mom was with my through all the appointments and every night in the hospital while I got better. There were times during that ordeal that I was the one who had to comfort her – telling her I would be fine and that she didn’t have to cry.

When I was about to give birth to M, my daughter, I didn’t want her to come to the hospital with me because it was in the same hospital where my dad passed only seven months before. She was still so sad and frail. But she was there and despite my fear of her passing out, she held M in her arms in utter shock of how I made it through labor. I snapped at her and said “Mom, you did the same thing three times.” But she worried about me then and about us always and that’s what moms do. She worried up to the end. Some of the last things she said to me was to make sure that I put a hat on and to ensure that we all ate.

As most of you know, I am a big dog lover. This I did not get from my mom. Or, so I thought. When I was younger, I bugged my parents for a dog relentlessly.
My mom’s responses were – these are in translation and censored:
'No!'
'Enough with the dog already.'
'Get out of here with the dog'
'When you get older, you can get one.'

Sure enough, when I was older, I got one. My mom was furious with me.

But over the years who was the one asking me to bring the dog over, who informed me we were having chicken for dinner because that’s what the dog asked for, who gave up her seat on the couch so the dog would be comfortable. She had a big heart and it seemed at times that it was biggest for the dogs.

It was also a very big heart for children. She often babysat and was a nanny as we were growing up and we got older. She often would tell me stories of what the children did and said while she was with them. She always had a sparkle in her eyes as she retold those stories. Often laughing so hard, she would gasp for air. She was very sweet and played with the kids. She did this with M too –singing to her, playing peek-a-boo and getting ‘scared’ just to hear her laugh.

She had a great sense of humor. Her sense of sarcasm was impeccable. She often tried to laugh or find humor in the smallest things. Both of my parents had that talent and I try to emulate that even through hard times.

What I am most grateful for is that despite only have a fifth grade education, she and my dad worked tirelessly so we could all go to college. We could have something that they didn’t. She rallied for both my and my sister’s education because she came from a country and a time where girls didn’t get to go to high school much less college.  She knew that education over here, in America, was the first step to a better life. Although she was physically here in the US, her heart and her thoughts were always in Italy. There’s a line in a song that goes ‘you cannot return to where you never left’. Every time I hear it I think of my mom. I probably won’t listen to that song for a while now.


She was a strong woman, ‘manufactured in a different time and place’ as many neighbors said. Through her rounds of chemotherapy, she never once exhibited the nausea or vomiting that we were told to expect. The nurses and oncologist always remarked that ‘she was a fighter – a tough cookie’. And she was. She fought hard in life, with me, with us and now she’ll go back to fighting with my dad. Dad, I hope you tuck your shirt in and that you have smoked your share of cigarettes while you had your break. Mom, say hi to my fuzzies and thank you for everything. 

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Promises to a Future Me

Instead of New Year’s Resolutions, I’ve decided to keep a list of things I promise myself that I will not do when I am older. I’ll periodically add items to the list but right now, let’s get started.

#1) I will not tell people around me to eat when I have not touched a single thing on my plate.

#2) I will not utter ‘eat’ to others when they are sitting at a table. Tables can be used for many purposes other than eating, like reading a newspaper, writing a letter, playing a board game. People do not need to eat during those activities. Tables do not always = eat.

#3) I will not answer the phone except in my own house.

#4) I will not dig through the garbage in other people’s houses and pull out things I think are still good. I will also not suggest that said garbage item might be good for someone. There’s a reason why it’s in the garbage in the first place. (Yes, one man’s garbage is another man’s gem but let’s just remember ‘garbage’ entered into the sentence at some point so let’s keep it there.)

#5) I will try to be grateful for what I have and those around me. I will remember to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ and not bark out commands to people who are hosting me.

#6) I will try my best to remember the mantra “If I have nothing nice to say, it’s best to keep my mouth shut.”

#7) I will try not to say “I want to die” to young people especially those under age of 12. It’s traumatic at some point.

#8) I will try not to pretend I have a medical degree and know more than doctors who have been practicing for years and who are specialists in their field.

#9) I will listen to said people in #8 as they likely know more than I do about health-related matters.

#10) I will not blame others for situations where I am a key participant. It takes two to tango in most situations and likely I have done something to contribute to the bad as well as the good in most things.

#11) I will remind myself of #5 repeatedly, even if I feel horrible and hate being old. 

#12) I will take a vested interest in understanding basic Biology and how my body functions or what could happen when it doesn't function well anymore. 

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

The Tea Party

Out of nowhere my daughter got the idea that she wanted to have a tea party with her Nonna (grandmother) this weekend. It was a cute idea. Except that I wasn't sure from where the thought came. My daughter always looks at me with mild disturbance and disgust when I tell her I am having a cup of tea. The one time I let her try an herbal tea, she informed me, “When I grow up, I might like it.”

Friday evening she notified me that she would like to have a tea party with Nonna. When we woke up Saturday morning, after telling me ‘good morning’, she reminded me that we needed to get ready for the party. We walked to the store to get some cookies and crackers. I informed her that a staple of tea parties were tea sandwiches. She looked at me like I was inventing this information right out of my head. She attempted a compromise by saying ‘we could have cheese on the crackers’. I will never say no to cheese and crackers so I said we would try that this time around.

We made our way to Nonna’s house. We told Nonna we had come over to have a tea party but Nonna wasn’t really up to it. So M turned to her aunt and said ‘Well, you could come to the tea party!’ Auntie seemed thrilled to be included.

I cut a few apples and pears (I was trying to have some healthy food). I put out the cookies and the crackers. I slices a few pieces of cheese while the water boiled. I parsed out the hot water into mugs (I didn’t have tea cups!) each with a tea bag. I let M’s tea brew for only a few moments while the other mugs sat the full time.

Apparently while I was preparing all the food, a few guests arrived. My daughter’s entourage of My Little Ponies and Care Bear figures were sitting at the table waiting for the snacks. They were not the most polite group. They did enjoy the cookies but thought the tea was a bit bitter. I could see they were having an influence over my daughter. She sips a tiny bit of the tea and made a face as if I had served her sewer water. Oh well, I tried. She ate all the pear and a bunch of crackers. The party posse decided that they would rather fight criminals and show their super powers so they didn’t nibble on much.


The day after the party my daughter said we should try to have a tea party again soon and invite some other friends. “Hey! Why not?” I told her. I’d be happy to have some other human interaction while enjoying some tea sandwiches the next time around. 

Monday, February 27, 2017

The Problem of Parenting


I love my daughter. I think the world of her and always want to be a model to her. But there are days, like today, where I really hate being a parent.

I accompanied her into her classroom and she walked over to her table. Her chair had been moved from where it was usually placed. She asked me why and I responded by letting her know that it was probably moved to allow all the kids to put their rest mats into the space behind her chair. She seems satisfied with that answer and began to do her morning work. I walked over to the cubby holes to put her back pack and jacket away. When I returned to her table, I saw that her table mate was pushing her chair, with her trying to sit in it, away. Of course, my daughter began to cry. This was a very obvious sign of bullying and of her table mate being shitty jerk. I went over to her and told her that we could move her chair so that there was space between her and her class fellow. She cried into my shoulder.

I told her that it was not a nice thing that had happened and she had every right to cry. But that she was a strong and smart girl and she had every right to be at the table. That she needed to continue to do her work even if her table mate was not nice to her.

As I heard these words, “lessons”, come out of my mouth, I felt fake. And I was enraged. I wanted to tell her to punch him. And if she didn’t do it, I would. I wanted to give that boy a verbal lashing that would remind him for years to come that he was a selfish and inconsiderate moron. Why was I teaching her to be docile and submissive when I didn’t feel like it made a single difference in the world? When I have learned that being ‘nice’ is code word for ‘we can treat you like crap because you won’t say anything’?

Of course I was projecting my anger onto this situation but why shouldn’t I? Here was a perfect example of someone making my daughter feel small and weak. Hadn’t this been the way things happened over the centuries. Treat those that are kind and nice in a bad way. My daughter has a big heart. I love her for that. She always shares with others. She often points out when others need help from teachers or adults. She is kind and attentive to others. But shouldn’t she be a little selfish and attend to herself first? What exactly was I trying to teach her by taking the high road? How had that worked for anyone in the history of this country, in the last few months of this world? NOTHING!

As I walked out of the classroom, I notified the teacher and the assistant of what had happened. They noticed that my daughter was crying but didn’t know the reason. So I informed them. You know what? If I can’t punch this kid in the face, I’ll report him to the authorities. Isn’t that how whistleblowing happens? After all, isn’t there an advertisement in the subways that says “if you see something, say something”? I felt slightly vindicated by my actions.

I seethed as I walked to the subway. I really wanted to punch someone. Hopefully, my desire to inflict physical pain on someone will subside. But the lesson I learned from today’s incident is that I will have to speak up more to the ridiculously cruel and inconsiderate behavior that has been so prevalent in recent years. Only if we point out cruelty will there be a hope of it stopping. So what if I become a tattle tale? Aren’t there really powerful people out there who have been whistleblowers? I’ll consider myself one of them.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

What's in a Name (Part 2)


My 7th grade teacher preferred to call every student by their last name and the title of either Mr. or Miss depending on their gender. It was disconcerting at first but became a joke to all the students thereafter. We spent most of the year calling each other by our last names whenever we were not in the classroom. Good fun, I can assure you.

By the time I went to college and studied abroad, the Miss My Last Name phase had already worn incredibly thinly on me (Thank you, 7th grade!). However, there I was in my advanced French grammar class with a seriously stern and strict French matron. She believed in the memorization of regular and irregular conjugations, correct pronoun usage and agreement and using the subjunctive. She was scary but with lovely skin and an awesome black wardrobe that was highly enviable. The sole difference with Madame B was that she didn’t call me Mademoiselle My Last Name. She just called me by my last name. All the time! Meanwhile she called everyone else by their first name.

I found myself in a quandary. How did I approach this professor and correct her when really it wasn’t that offensive? How do I tell her when I really didn’t want to get more difficult homework? I was doing well in her class, what if my confronting her made her hate me? After all, she was French and they were still mysterious to me culturally. Was this going to be the faux pas that sent me back home to the United States interminably? (Mind you, my friends loved that she called me by my last name. So much so that still to this day they call me by my last name as a joke to the past.)

Biting the bullet does not entirely capture my plan of attack. I decided I would wait after class and inform her that my last name was not my first name. As class was dismissed and people dilly dallied to leave the classroom, I waited in the back until everyone filed out. I walked up to the professor. Gave her an enormous smile and straightened my posture. I took a deep breath. She asked me if I had a question and I point blank posed, “Why do you call me by my last name in class when you call everyone else by their first name?”

Her facial muscles poured over her chin. I wondered if I raised the question in the correct French format because I honestly wasn’t sure what had popped out of my mouth. She picked up a piece of paper which I quickly realized was her class roster. She asked me “Your name isn’t A. A.?” I told her it was but that the second A was my last name and the first A was my Christian name. She understood immediately that the way my name was presented in the roster was the opposite of what it has been with the other students. My name for some bizarre reason was presented in the European fashion, last name first and Christian name second while everyone else’s name was presented with American way (first name followed by last name). She thought they were all on the paper in the same fashion. Immediately she profusely apologized for her mistake. She then added, “Both of your names are very pretty!” I thanked her and she said she would not make the mistake again. “Incidentally, you are doing quite well in class. You should have told me earlier. Of course now that I have your name correct, I will pick on you more in class!” This is exactly what I wanted to avoid! But oh well. Always be wary of what you wish!

Thereafter, she did call on me repeatedly to answer. The difference was that I didn’t feel awkwardly singled out because of my name but because I had the right answer. I also often asked questions in class to clarify grammar rules because I could see people were perplexed. By posing my comments, it helped me get fewer questions about English grammar. I saw a direct correlation to my understanding of English grammar and how that solidified my French language education.

Standing up and asserting myself instilled a confidence in me that I didn’t have before that event. It showed me that I could express myself thoughts in another language and be understood. Madame also seemed to push me harder and appreciated my confronting her. It seemed as though I gained her respect (Seemingly because who really could tell at that point).  In hindsight, I believe it did but in the moment, I was just as perplexed by her after the incident as I had been when she called me by my last name.

Oddly, once I started in the working world, I found that people often called me by my last name instead of my first name. In this regard there was no roster mistake, it showed me people don’t really care or pay attention. Often when I point out people’s mistake, they don’t even notice it. I have to explain a number of times where their error is. Sadly it’s happened numerous times – so many that I have lost count on all my fingers and toes. My retort is different these days. Instead of bothering to explain their mistake, I call them by their last names first. And when they correct me, I smarmily say ‘oh well, you have been calling me by my last name first that I thought that was the way we were communicating.” It’s impertinent but it goes both ways. If you respect me, I’ll respect you. Perhaps the reason I pointed out my teacher’s mistake was due to my respecting her or was it about respecting myself? Maybe as the years progress, I’ll figure that one out.

Friday, September 2, 2016

What's in a Name (Part 1)


My dad was a man of his word. If he told you he would do something, he would do it. There may not have been a specification of when it would happen but it was as good as done if he professed to do it. He was also a fairly simple man. He didn’t really see the need for so many words in the world. He often complained about going to the doctor because they said a lot. He also did not think there was any need for so many names.

He didn’t care if your name was Robert, Abdul or Yin. No matter your appellation, he would call you Johnny.  This was the case for males. If I remember, he was much better with female names or would just not say the name. This was startling to most people, especially if they had a name tag that clearly displayed their forename.

For instance, we were on a trip to Canada for a family wedding. We stopped at a gas station to fill up the tank. My dad rolled down the window and the attendant came over to greet us. The tag on his chest clearly displayed that his name was Mohamed. My dad, however, told ‘Johnny’ to ‘fill it up’. My siblings and I sat in the back seat trying not to crack up when we could visibly see this nice fellow was never christened ‘Johnny’.

Other examples were the many nice occasions when we would go out to dinner or to a party and my dad would tell Maurice or Steve to leave his appetizer salad for ‘after dinner, Johnny!’ Papa Luigi always wanted his salad at the end of the meal. God forbid Johnny, or anyone else for that matter, took his greens away before he was ready for them. Often there was also the request, ‘Johnny, can you bring me some ice for my wine?’ Yes, my dad liked an ice cube in his red wine. He always said that warm wine made him sleepy. As long as Johnny followed his instructions, all would be calm in the world.

The best part of all of this was that people often had trouble pronouncing my dad’s name (well, until the Mario brothers came along. After that he was famous!). There was often Weegee (rhymes with squeegee for that wonderful time in New York’s history where no car window was safe!), or Luis or even just Lou. At least those last two were in the ballpark in a way. You would think that having his name mispronounced would make him pay more attention. That was definitely not the case. My dad was more of the ‘eff you’ mentality on names, as in you are lucky I even decided to call you anything non-offensive at all. I don’t really know why I thought he would be more correct in name usage given that he would call us different nicknames at home.

There was a good decade of my life where I was convinced that my dad didn’t even know my real name. I was, after all, christened every single natural disaster imaginable by my dad. ‘Hey Tempest, come here’ or ‘Little Earthquake, bring me my glass of wine!’ My dad preternaturally knew I would be encountering name issues so he gave me an early education.