Smile Now Cry Later

Normally I don't go all out and celebrate Halloween because its not my favorite "holiday", if you can even call it that. But I was recently invited to a costume party and needed a fun costume. 

I already knew what I wanted to be...a hardcore, gangster chola.

All I had to do was choose between the many incarnations there are of this lifestyle. Did I want to be an old skool chola with the chinese maryjane shoes, suspenders, clown make-up and mickey mouse feathered hair, baggy pants pulled up high? 

Or did I want a cha-cha type chola with big, sprayed hair, dark burgundy lipstick, Dickies, black bracelets and flannel jacket? 

What about the Lowrider car show chola with a throwback jersey, knickers, Nike Cortez, smoking black eyeliner and a pompadour? Hmmm, so many to choose from. Thanks to Gwen Stefani this style is coming back into fashion.

But from where I'm from, it never went out of style! Old english writing, oldies, pendletons, mi vida loca dots, the Virgin Mary, lowriders...its all love.

Can you tell I put way too much thought into this? 

Growing up, being a chola was a big no-no where my mother was concerned. She would not let me wear my long hair in feathers. Any black eyeliner and dark lipstick would get tossed in the trash. Those black rubber bracelets that chola's wear wrapped on their wrists?  My mom would have kicked my butt if she found out I was wearing them in school.

For the costume party, I got to wear all that good stuff that my mama never let me wear: starched Dickies, chinese mary janes (which was like walking around practically barefoot!), black wife-beater, my swapmeet belt complete with an old english C on the buckle, my three dots under my eye, crazy drawn-on eyebrows. Funny story...my kids kept coming into my room where I was getting ready and studying my face. "Ooh, you look beautiful, mama!"  

Getting geared up like that gave me a different mindset...I remember a line from a gangster movie I saw one time and a chola said, "When I put my make-up on, it's like war paint!"

And it was so true.

I was feeling mad crazy, with an attitude like I will give you a beat down if you look at me funny. I can understand how cholas want to start trouble whenever they go out in packs. You feel sort of invincible! Everyone got a good laugh at my expense--sweet, nerdy, mama Denise all dressed up like a gangster.

And just so you know, I haven't tucked in a shirt and wore a belt since junior high. That part wasn't fun...but the rest of the evening was a blast. it was fun being something totally different from myself...and to rebel against my mom. Finally.


To cut or not to cut

I just finished reading Motherhood Uncensored's blog about circumcision. Oh.my.goodness. It was hilarious. I was laughing my butt off. The blog is a little raunchy but oh so entertaining.

A woody with a hoodie. That is pure genius. That is what made me cry, I was laughing so darn hard. The mental picture is what is still giving me giggling fits.

To me and my family, the whole circumcision topic was a no-brainer. We strived to have four very natural, unmedicated and peaceful births at home (the first two hospital births we had being the reason why we decided on the homebirths) , so it didn't make any sense for us to go to the hospital and line up to get the foreskin chopped off. But that is just us. What was a blessing was having my little boys still intact, peacefully sleeping and not having to deal with any special instructions regarding their penis.

Yes, uncircumcised penises might look a little different. When I was in high school and my aunt was raising my cousins, seeing two little boys running around naked gave me the opportunity to see an uncircumcised penis in an unaroused state. Ew, I thought, it looks like an anteater! I think I hurt my aunt's feelings but her logic was, their daddy isn't, so why should they be? You wait until you have boys! I think I was used to changing the diapers of my little brother, who was neat as a pin with his little fireman's helmet. In college I took many figure drawing classes which offered up more penises than I could shake a stick at. Young, tall penises, black penises, fat penises, small furry penises and old, wrinkly penises. Uncircumcised and circumcised. You name it, I drew it. And I began to realize that regardless of that little piece of skin, the human body was beautiful. It got to the point where I didn't even notice that little detail. I think our mind is too conditioned by pornography where every penis is shiny, straight and circumcised. Its just like breasts...everyone has an idea of what beautiful breasts look like because they have seen pictures or movies of women's breasts. But those are just images being fed to you. Just like the not-so-pretty penises I had to draw in school, there comes a time when you accept a body that may seem flawed because its unlike anything you have ever seen as beautiful.

Back to the circumcision argument...I don't think it has anything to do with cleanliness (that has more to do with the man), or diseases, or visual aesthetic, or enhanced sexual prowess (that has more to do with the man! oh, deja vu.) . Its all about choice. Either you choose to have it done or you don't. Either way, it should be a well thought-out decision because your child's health depends on it.

I am happy that my son's did not have to endure a painful procedure hours after they had their dramatic entry into this world. They were already trying to cope with being outside the womb. When they are running around naked after taking a bath, I am amused that their foreskin provides a little bit of protection to the elements. The only bad experience they've had is when they are free-balling it (going commando) and get themselves caught in the zipper of their jeans. Ouch. Even I feel that.

I no longer think the uncircumcised penis looks like an anteater. It just looks like a penis to me. And thats a beautiful thing.


It must run in the family

Let's face the fact that our children absorb whatever we have going on in our home, from our attitude to the kind of music we like.

I can trace many of my own peculiar behaviors and family routines to things my parents used to do. Even though I only lived with my dad for seven years before he and my mother divorced, there are things my dad did that captivated me as a young child.

One of those things was art.

I remember my dad went to college at night and I can clearly recall him bringing projects home and working on his drafting table. I would sit on the floor and look through his albums quietly as he drew or painted. I still have some of his pieces and they are very dear to my heart even though they have seriously weathered over the years. The amazing thing is, I can look at some of my dad's work and see the clear influence of my own creativity. My dad and I liked the same type of art, we both had clean illustrator's style...even our handwriting is identical. So I wonder, was it something I inherited from him...or something I just picked up from being around it my whole life?

I have a cousin who was really into football growing up. Now that he has two sons, one of them plays tackle football. His eyes glow with pride as he talks about his son's skill, his intensity, his dedication to the game even though he is a tender seven years old. This sport means a lot to them and they go to all the games and practices. That is what he's into so his kids have fallen in love with it too.

I know of a family of eight whose father was an extremely talented musician and poet. His four daughters are blessed with the most beautiful voices you have ever heard, and they write and play their own music. His son is an accomplished pianist. That family lived and breathed music and it shows.

Another cousin's husband is really into surfing and skateboarding and his son's have been skating since they were able to walk. They go to skate parks, wear Tony Hawk and they are always talking about some trick they just learned. That is their thing.

My family's thing is art.

It's everywhere in our house. My children have grown up surrounded by their mama and daddy's art. It still amazes me how much they pick up just being around it. And I often wonder which one of my children will be blessed with the gift of creativity? They are all creative in some form or another...Noah enjoys drawing on the computer (but he hates to draw on paper) so I've got tons of his artwork saved. Diego spends his entire day drawing and writing and he has a thing for Sharpie markers--a boy after my own heart because I am obsessed with Sharpies. Cyan and Maya are a little too young to clearly see their preferences, but I know they will develop their creativity at some point soon. I've written about Solomon and his many artistic adventures.

I came home Friday afternoon to find him sitting in the garage, creating a masterpiece on the wall. I was slightly alarmed because Daddy set him up and let him use the *good* brushes and the professional Nova Color paint. No cheap tempera paint or .99 cent brushes for my son...Daddy broke out with the paint that real mural painters use. And I was amazed at Solomon's control with the brush...how he didn't muddy up the colors, how he deliberately designed and painted, how he sat back and contemplated where to put certain colors, how he sat there for four hours painting quietly. Every once in a while he would peek his head in the kitchen and let us know of his progress. At one point Michael chided him for adding too much brown and green and yellow...that he was going to make a brown, muddy mess and I told him, "He's doing fine, he'll figure it out."

And he did.
We were impressed.

I got a little laugh at how we made such a big fuss at his painting, his creativity, his obvious skills and the proud look on his face. Michael boasted, "Yep, he is a genius! Look at his design. Look at how he laid out the colors. He's gifted. Wow!" I guess you could say we are a little biased. Most parents wouldn't have gotten past their kid painting on the garage wall and there we were standing there with our heads cocked to the side, praising his efforts. I told him, "Mijo, its awesome! You are an abstract expressionist for sure! That is mama's favorite art movement." And he just smiled at me, like it really meant alot to him. You may look at it and say eh, it looks like a big mess to me. But I see huge potential for greatness and it really warms my heart to see my children developing a love of painting and drawing. Michael beams with pride whenever his children create works of art because I know he sees some of himself in it and it makes him feel good.

So to your family it may be music, football, karate, skateboarding, dancing, Jesus...whatever you are passionate about, your children will be as well. All families are unique and different. There have been times when I wanted to fit in and get my kids involved in activities that other kids around them were...but ultimately I have to be who God created me to be, to be the type of mother He called me to be, to let my kids grow into the type of people He wants them to be...to just be us.


La Bamba: My other favorite movie

Lest I get my beaner card revoked for loving a movie with an all-Caucasian cast (Grease), let me talk about my other favorite movie in the entire world, La Bamba. When it came out in 1987, I was a nerdy freshman in high school with big, lacquered hair.

La Bamba starred Lou Diamond Phillips in the story about legendary 1950's Latino rock'n'roller, Richard Steven Valenzuela, better known to us as Ritchie Valens. You see, back in the 1950's, a vato with a last name like "Valenzuela" couldn't even dream of getting his records played on mainstream American radio stations. My family came out in masses to see this movie to support it. We were brown and proud! For one thing, they had an almost complete Latino cast which was practically unheard of in those days when Bill Cosby ruled TV. Another draw for us was the fact that Los Lobos performed the entire musical score for the movie...and any self-respecting Latino from East L.A loved Los Lobos because they were Just Another Band From East L.A.

To see brown families up on the big screen made me feel good inside. To see tortillas being rolled...chorizo con huevo being eaten...families working together picking fruit during the season to make ends meet...multiple families living together in one house...the paleta man...drunk uncles tearing up the house...hard-working single moms--that was so familiar to me and it was all love.

I got the biggest kick out of the scene where Ritchie Valen's agent Bob comes to his raggedy little house to see if he was interested in recording. He pulls out this card and starts speaking to his mother in Spanish and she stands there and listens, then responds to him in perfect English. Then when Bob walks over to Ritchie and starts speaking to him in Spanish, Ritchie says, "I don't speak Spanish! I've never been to Mexico! My music is my music." I could totally relate. One of my biggest handicaps in life is not being able to speak the language of my culture. There was some humor in the movie and my cousins and I used to repeat it back to one another all the time (Come on Rosie, take a hit man! Put a little mota in your love life). But for the most part, we sat in the movie theater in awe because this movie was so true to our lives.

Now, before this movie I had no idea who Ritchie Valens was and how he died, but the story was so beautiful and sad that I will never forget it ("Ritchiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiieeeee!"). But what I will take away most from this movie is that I was able to feel good about seeing brown people living life, breaking down stereotypes and feeling passionate about what they do.


Grease is the word

If there is one movie that I have seen over and over again and can never get sick of, its Grease.

For the love of all things holy, that movie is my favorite. It gives me this giddy feeling that I can't seem to control. Just last Saturday night, I walked into my mom's house and my little brother was watching Grease in the other room.

I heard, Grease is the word that you heard its gotta groove its got feeling and my mind instantly felt scrambled. I was still engaging in conversation with my family but my mind was on that movie!

I was six years old when it came out in 1978, and I can still remember my mom and dad taking us to the drive-in to see it. Back in the old days, the child-friendly movies played first, then the adults could watch their movies during the second feature. By that time the kids were supposed to be blissfully asleep in the backseat.  


I can go down the list of movies that I shouldn't have laid my innocent eyes on all while I was supposedly asleep in the shell of our yellow Datsun with Hawaiian curtains that my mom lovingly sewed. We had a mattress back there so my little brother and I could lay down and sleep but we never did. Let me tell you, I saw Animal House, The Exorcist, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Saturday Night Fever and Apocalypse Now, to name a few. I either closed my eyes and peeked through my fingers or my mom would check and see I was awake and she would make me sit up in front and lay my head down on her lap, where I would fall asleep.

I think I received a majority of my sex education watching those movies I wasn't supposed to see.

But, back to Grease. My little brother Eric and I could sing all the songs. He loved Olivia Newton-John and I adored John Travolta. To this day if I hear Summer Lovin', I get this excited, happy feeling go through my being.

The dance scene where everyone does the hand jive and Danny ends up dancing with ChaCha DeGregorio--that is just the best.

Oh, and the bonfire scene where the Pink Ladies "introduce" Sandy to Danny Zuco is pure magic. I also love the slumber party scene with the girls in their pj's drinking some wine with their Twinkies.  

Look at me, I'm Sandra Dee, lousy with virginity! 

If that didn't make you want to grow up to be a hoochie like a Pink Lady I don't know what could.

There were a few scenes that my mom just hated like any good mom would, like the make-out scenes, when Danny is doing his Grease Lightening dance and says the word tits, and my most favorite saying that my brother and I used to say to each other every chance we got, "Bite the weenie, Riz!" And who can forget the last part of the movie when Sandy comes out in that leather suit she had to be sewn into...and Danny sings, "I got chillllsssss, they're multiplyin'!"

I loved John Travolta in that Letterman sweater, the baseball uniform, when he was wrestling in P.E., in his black pants, black muscle shirt and black leather jacket--anything would do because he was that gorgeous. I think he is the first actor to inspire lust in the precocious little six-year-old mind of mine. The scene on the first day of school where he's talking to this girl against the wall and he's got a cig hanging from those pouty lips and he is rocking those sideburns...love.

I think Grease just represents a time in my life when I was young, carefree, innocent, I still had two parents in the same house, my mom was home when I got out of school and everyday felt like summer vacation. Its a good feeling to have. I know I can always count on that movie to bring me back to that place.


Its tough bein' a social butterfly

Duuuuude. The past couple of months have been insane for me and my family. It seems every weekend there is something we have been invited to, have planned to do, have to do. I don't doubt this will end until the 1st of the year. I'm already tired. Now, let me just say that all these events are things that I actually want to be a part of. They aren't chores to me...if they were I wouldn't bat an eyelash for backing out or canceling. Some events are even scheduled on the same day. Come on, people, consult with me before you send out invitations. Just kidding.

I can't remember the last time we just farted around the house all day, literally. The next few weeks look like this...a vow renewal, family birthday party (with relatives we never see so we are being pressed to attend), a day at Oak Glen (must.have.apple cider float), sister-in-law's birthday, stepson's birthday, Halloween party for the kids, Day of the Dead art opening, costume party, hubby's birthday dinner, then the Marriage Getaway. Then I have about a week to breathe then its a month of three birthdays and Thanksgiving. I'm drowning here! Its enough to make me want to hit the bottle.

I am grateful that I have wonderful friends, wonderful family...and people I love to spend time with. That is what I am going to choose to focus on.


Mama, don't let your babies grow up to be taggers

What is your first thought when you see tagging in your community?

What about when someone admits they are a "tagger"?

Do you think, those little punks desecrate my beautiful community! They need to get a life and stop vandalizing other people's property!

Right off the bat it has a negative connotation. You have visions of nicely painted tract homes and a tag on the concrete wall like an eyesore...or a ghetto liquor store with tags all over the side of the building. Either way, it isn't pretty. I went to college in Los Angeles, East Los, to be exact. Tagging was everywhere. Graffiti just became a part of the landscape in my mind's eye.

Last Saturday at breakfast, my son Solomon asked me, quite innocently, "Have you ever been a tagger, mama?"  

Excuse me, son?

Without contemplating why he would even ask me a question like that, I told him no and just waited until he turned his head to ask his daddy. Actually, I've been waiting for the past twelve years for this question to be asked.

You see, my husband is a graffiti artist.

You could also call him a writer.
A vandal.
An old skool bomber.
An aerosol artist.
A street artist.
And yes, at one time, a tagger. 

Either way you wish to phrase it, this is what has consumed the man that I love throughout his life.

That is how a young kid from the inner city strived to make a name for himself, to earn respect from his peers when it wasn't readily given to him at home.

If he threw up his name on billboards, buses, school yards, trains, fences--even hanging off a freeway sign, that was how he was going to get some fame, even if it was in his little part of the world.

I have grown accustomed to Michael and his love of all things graffiti. In that same vein, he has taught me to love it as well. There have been countless graffiti mags, sketch books, spray can tips in the laundry, late night phone calls from other graff heads letting him know what was up with his crew, battles, paint spots and b-boy events.

I am not shocked to see my husband fiending over the sound of the little ball jiggling in the spray can...to the glazed look on his face when he stares at all the clean trains lined up for miles on the traintracks by our home. Its not unusual to see his latest creation on the driveway, the concrete fence in our yard, the side of the shed, the inside of his studio/garage, his truck...even the side of our house.

Our children have grown up seeing their daddy painting, and they have a deep love for graffiti styles, the extent of their spray can experience being the numerous computer programs and games where they can paint trains and walls. We have always explained to our kids that graffiti isn't a crime if they paint on a legal surface and that it is a legitimate art form.

But the photo albums with Michael standing in a dirty alley with spray cans littered all over the floor, grabbing his crotch...and the picture of him hanging off the side of a building by one hand, that is put way, way up on the shelf in his studio where no child of ours can see it and say, "Oooooh, thats cool, Dad!" And should they find it one day...your guess is as good as mine as to what we will say. I will file it away with the other questions we are dreading our children asking us, such as have you ever used drugs, and did you have sex before you were married?

But Solomon never turned to his daddy and asked him about being a tagger. We both breathed a sigh of relief and carried on with our Saturday. Later, as I was working around the house, I called out for Maya. She didn't answer me, which didn't surprise me because she likes to play this mischevious game where I call and call her and start to panic and she is sitting in the closet giggling. Diego told me she was outside with her brother Cyan so after hollering for them to come inside, my eyes were not prepared to take in the sight before me.

My daughter walked in with green spraypaint all over her shirt. Cyan had the same, only his L.A. Dodger cap had also been sprayed on. At first, I thought they had got into Michael's paint but when they both told me, "Solomon did it," I went outside to investigate.

Oh, my dear sweet boy Solomon. He did do it.

I had another discussion with him about the graffiti, and how he didn't have permission to paint on the wall...and his siblings' clothes...and his brother's hat.


What I found most interesting was that he not only painted on daddy's wall, he also attempted to tag a few letters of the alphabet. When I took Michael out to see it, I could see him fighting a huge smile.

"This isn't funny!" I whined.
"That's my boy! Look at his can control!" He boomed.

Great, I thought, he is proud of it. As they were walking away, I heard Michael scold him for painting over his piece, which is a huge diss in the graffiti world. Ahem.

Lest you think graffiti art is done by nothing but punks and social deviants, let me assure you there are many well-known graff heads who have made a name for themselves. I will readily admit, as an artist myself, I didn't give them their propers. I studied art, yes, but I didn't recognize graffiti art as a true art form.

Just call me bourgeois...or boojee, as Michael often calls me.

Did you know that some of the most up and coming, visionary, fresh, and innovative art out there today is coming from graffiti artists? Its beyond a little scribble on the concrete wall with a black can....its unlike anything you've ever seen, post-modern, huge, dramatic full-color pieces with saturated color that you can only get from spray cans. Artists like Siner, Retna and Man One are taking over today's art scene.

Much respect to those artists who are creating wondrous, beautiful and lush works of art, even if they started out as a little kid with drippy boogers and a mama threatening to smack that behind.


Under the Sea

So Disney just opened "the vault", whatever that means. My mom bought my girls their Little Mermaid the day it came out so its been on and poppin' with Ariel and Sebastian, about two times a day.

I love this movie. When it first came out, my little brother was about four years old and he was absolutely obsessed with it. He knew all the songs, he watched the video for hours on end, he even used to hang an orange towel on his head and pretend it was long hair and he would play like he was Ariel all afternoon.

Yes, I was a little concerned that he would grow to be a fruitcake.

He used to beg me to draw mermaids all the time. One day, I decided to draw a fat mermaid. Or voluptous, I should say. He got so upset. Like mad, even. Mermaids are NOT fat, he cried and ripped up the drawing. Are you kidding me. I still tease him about that, and he's a ripe old sixteen years old. Thankfully, he didn't grow up with issues and isn't fruity at all and he's a decent, God-fearing teenage boy, into girls with long hair (like Ariel!), his razor phone and myspace. I called him yesterday and left a voicemail of Ariel singing from the movie. I don't know when, I don't hoooooow, but I know something's starting right noooooow. He called me back, "Ha ha, very funny, Dee!" But interestingly enough, he had our mom buy him his own copy of Little Mermaid.

So I was really getting on my kids' nerves because I already knew all the songs and I sang them loud and obnoxiously during the whole movie, even when I wasn't sitting in the livingroom with them, but walking throughout the house doing whatever I was doing. Stop it, mooooooooom. They just need to get over it. They never let me have any fun!

The minute Ursula came onto the screen, I knew what was going to happen. I have four boys with alot of testosterone. And Ursula is a sexy beast. She may be an octopus but she owns it. My boys noticed her big curves immediately. Then Solomon said, "Hey, Mama! You look just like Ursula!" And they laughed hysterically. Now that I didn't expect. But I will take it as a compliment because Ursula knows how to work that big booty.

I puked. And paid bills!

Yes, this is why I am up at this insane hour (5 am). I realize most normal folk have to get up at this hour to get to work everyday. How do you do it? People ask me all the time how I care for six kids everyday but thank the good Lord I don't have to get up at 5 am to do it. You know, it would be good for me if I did because I would be able to get so much more work and school done. But then the thought of how much more work and school I would be doing is kind of depressing. But the cool thing is I got to pay my bills in absolute silence. I could hear my own thoughts. I could balance my checkbook without having to stop a million times to break up a fight or clean somebody's smelly butt or hand out snacks and juice and totally forget I was even balancing a checkbook to begin with. Wow. Who knew?

Oh yeh. I puked. That is the reason why I am up so freakin early. After group last night, we all went to eat at CoCo's. Me and Rachel ordered some tortilla soup but after about three spoonfuls it was clear that it was some booty soup so we sent it back and chose chicken and wild rice instead. It was delish. Then we had a piece of pie. Nothing out of the ordinary. So why I was dying all night with heartburn I don't understand. Michael was trying to drag his butt out of bed and shutting off the three alarms clocks (yup, I said three) he needs to be able to do that when I jumped up, ran to the bathroom and started projectile vomiting all over the toilet. Ew. And what was my thought the entire time I am puking? I'm going to have to clean all this puke up and I just bleached everything yesterday. ..daaaaaang. I do that to my kids when they are sick, too. Instead of feeling sorry that they are sick, I am worrying about how to get the vomit smell off their mattress or how many loads I am going to be stuck washing. That, or I am yelling, "Throw up in the trash can!! Here! Here! Bend over! Noooo, not all over the floor!" Yes, I should win a mother of the year award.

My dear husband. He does not get grossed out when I am puking. He stood behind me and rubbed my back and brought me some water. How sweet. If he was puking I probably couldn't have even stood outside the bathroom door because just the sound of his puking would have made me puke. Then I would be pissed by the thought of having to clean his puke off the toilet. Ew. Some more ew.

I know it is customary to have a picture in your blog but considering my content, I think I'll pass today. You understand.
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