Writers always look for the surprising in the mundane, trying to squeeze meaning from every random little moment. A lot of my random moments happened in Northern California and New York City where I spent a good part of the year visiting with one or another daughter and grandchild. Here are a few of those moments.
Moment of privacy
Back in May, when my grandson was potty-training, he recognized pooping and peeing as intimate acts—something personal to be done in private. Yet as a two-year-old, he needed and was comforted by the presence of a grownup nearby while he sat on the potty. To preserve his sense of privacy, he would either close his eyes or drape an arm over them. Once, after I held his hands to help lower him onto the potty, he grabbed my wrists and raised both my hands to his eyes and held them there. That’s how we stayed—his hands gripping my wrists, my hands shielding his eyes—until he finished his business. That was the trust he had in me in that moment of innocence and vulnerability. He’s forgotten it by now. But it’s a permanent part of my heart. One day I may write about it.
Moments of wonder
In July, I spent five sweltering weeks in my older daughter’s one-bedroom Manhattan apartment overlooking Broadway. This was after spending several days in the hospital accompanying her through labor and the birth of her daughter. They were days filled with surreal and wondrous moments, insufficient sleep, and constant thirst (did I mention it was hot?) as we fell into our roles—she as new mother and me as support team. The first two weeks were a blur, both of us up multiple times a night with the baby, and during the day, she tending to and getting to know her newborn and me running errands, picking up groceries, and preparing meals. And though the three of us left the apartment multiple times a day to be part of the world, we also existed together in our own world of wonder. I’ve written an essay about those days and hope to see it published somewhere in 2023.
Moment of spookiness
In early October, my grandson stayed with me in Seattle while his mother attended a wedding near Portland. Ilio was obsessed with all things Halloween and at night I read aloud to him his favorite Halloween story that featured black cats, ghosts, a cemetery, and a haunted house. “Read it again,” he’d say, so I read it about hundred times that night, reciting the words by heart. After he fell asleep, I turned on Hidden Brain, keeping the volume low. I’d adopted the habit of listening to a podcast at bedtime in order to keep my mind from thinking about every possible catastrophe that could befall the world and thus feed my insomnia. I eventually fell asleep, waking every so often to a completely different episode before I fell asleep again, the voices and stories mingling with my dreams. I woke when it was still dark to a child’s voice that slithered into my slow awakening: “I see dead people.”
I stared into the dark. I knew the line was from a movie, one I’d never seen because scary movies freak me out. And yet, maybe what I’d heard was real. It was three in the morning, the witching hour. I’d read about ghosts and a cemetery a million times just hours earlier as if it were some kind of summons.
Even though the child’s voice was older than Ilio’s toddler-speak, I couldn’t help but look over at my sleeping grandson. I even said his name, but he remained in dreamland. And then I thought, maybe he talked in his sleep. Maybe his body had been taken over by a phantom, and spooky words were issuing from his mouth without his knowledge or control. This is why I have insomnia, folks.
In addition to my abuela moments, I also had some good moments as a writer this past year, with words in Epilogue, Epiphany, How We Spend Our Days, International Examiner, Pacifica Literary Review, South Seattle Emerald, and the anthology Nonwhite and Woman. Thanks to the editors of these publications for including my work. Also, big thanks to Seattle Public Library and La Sala for inviting me to moderate the Q and A with one of my favorite writers, the amazing Luis Alberto Urrea in October. (Pre-order his new book!) Finally, everlasting gratitude to the Washington Center for the Book and the PALABRA Archive for the huge honor of adding recordings of my work to the Library of Congress.
I wish everyone good reading and writing and many random moments of wonder in the new year.