Yo era un estudiante terrible

spanish homeworkTranslation: I was a terrible student.

Not back in high school (though I wasn’t stellar), but for the past ten weeks when I went back to the high school for Beginning Spanish.

I wasn’t good. Not only was I not good at Spanish. I wasn’t a good student.

Last fall, we were in Spain with our good friends, Dave and Vicki, and we struggled with the language. Not so much Vicki, but the rest of us. We didn’t have problems communicating, but we could never really carry on a conversation. Those cab drivers who wanted to know about Donald Trump? All I could say was “el loco, no bueno.”

I wasn’t the kind of guest I wanted to be. I couldn’t offer much more than a greeting, a gracias and a dos cervazas por favor. Spain was so incredible, I wanted to delve deeper into the culture and community, which could only happen if I made an effort to speak, listen and learn. It made me hungry (literally) to revisit Mexico and Latin America. I began dreaming of long term stays in charming hillside towns, shopping, eating, drinking and writing…in Spanish.

Vicki had an idea that we could take Spanish classes through Adult Ed, at our local high school. I had an idea that we could have weekly margaritas with our besties. Also, delicious meals of tapas, paella and sangria, bantering in Spanish, and planning our next trip. We would become bilingual, and perhaps I would be much more interesting in Spanish than I was in English. In my brain, this was all very reasonable and possible.

The first class was weird. Here I was with my boyfriend husband, sitting in my daughter’s classroom. I recognized the handwriting on the board, the daily prompts, the books, maps, posters and the Star Wars light saber. It was a back to the future experience and it was kind of freaky.

Steve and I sat with Dave and Vicki, and each couple shared a textbook. We didn’t go out for margaritas after class, but we made an attempt at homework that week. We felt optimistic. We committed to texting only in Spanish. Of course that lasted for three texts before I gave up.

The next week things got a little harder, and we put off the margarita date again. We congratulated ourselves for trying something that was challenging. Except this week we waited to do our homework until dinner, right before our next class.

I wasn’t prepared. And I was  a lousy, inattentive student. I texted my daughters. I checked my Facebook and Instagrammed. I mocked Vicki for being diligent (sorry Vick!) and an over achiever. I watched the clock. I made up stories about my classmates in my head.

The next week I let Steve do the homework, and except for a few pathetic attempts on my part, that’s been our pattern. I tried to supplement with the Duo Lingo app, practicing while I was on the bike at the gym, or when I wanted an excuse to not do the dishes. I contemplated quitting at week 7.

How does one say “ugh” in Spanish? (Google translate claims it’s “uf”)

Last night was our final class. If this was a graded class, I suspect I would have earned a D. While I thanked the teacher after every class (that I can do) I never even learned her name (and that I’m not proud of).

But I did learn a few things.

School is hard. High school must be really hard. I have a super short attention span. Phones probably don’t belong in classrooms. If I want to learn Spanish, I probably need to move to Spain. Or spend more time on Duo Lingo. Or do my homework. Also, I have the cutest boyfriend.

Last night we finally went out for Margaritas after class and it was awesome, especially after a Tuesday night. Clearly we should have been doing this every week. Learning requires some extra sustenance, you know? Remind me next time I try adulting in another language.




magic in the hands of children

Here’s a story about sharing magical moments and why we should let them be.

one small nest

Last week we were at a small (kind of funky, but really lovely) resort on Tomales Bay. We spent lots of time on the postage stamp-sized beach, and got to know the other families around us. One evening we were visiting with the aunties, and their clearly cherished 6-year old niece ran over with her treasure…a tiny nest. We ooohed and aaahed, and I snapped some photos. With both conviction and wonder, coolest auntie declared it the beginnings of a hummingbird nest. Practical auntie agreed, and made sure cherished niece didn’t hurt the nest, so it could be put away and saved. Cherished niece was proud of her discovery, and ran (“careful, careful”) to the patio to show her grandparents.

New to the beginnings of hummingbird nests, and despite the lack of any dirt or twigs, it was easier to believe than to challenge coolest auntie. I took a few more pictures, and a few more sips of wine.

A few minutes later, the boy cousins ran over with their own nests. Three of them.

three small nests

The boys had made the nests, with the weeds and their thumbs, and their imagination. Which was magic, indeed. Conjured by children, shared with adults.

Kids making up stuff, magical and otherwise. It might be best if we stay out of the way of such impressive work.

Unless ooohs and aaahs are required, of course.


when one’s identity is mistaken

Oh, this is messy isn’t it? This Rachel Dolezal story is fascinating and confusing and weird. I tried to ignore it, but it’s a “can’t look, can’t look away” train wreck of a news item. I am still digging through the layers of lies she told, including fabricating hate crimes as part of her job (ugh).  A white person can be passionate about equality for others, even coming from a place of privilege, though I am conflicted about being a leader of the NAACP (I am not sure I’d feel great about a man in a position of leadership for NOW). I’m not conflicted about the lying…that’s pretty horrible.

But this isn’t about that. It’s about the blurry, messy case of shifting identity. I watched my Facebook and Twitter feeds blow up…the same people who were calling Caitlyn Jenner a hero for believing she is a woman, were calling Rachel crazy for believing she is black. I don’t think they are the same thing, but both might (possibly) be cases of people who didn’t fit into the body/culture/family/circumstances to which they were born.

Putting aside the lying (again, I get that this is the part that made this such a lightning rod), it made me think about the messy nature of identity. I’ve appropriated (or misappropriated) identities I wasn’t born into, albeit in a minor way. I was born and raised in Southern California, though I always knew I belonged in Northern California and moved here when I was 19.  If you’re from California, you know there is a very real line and distinction. I identify as a graphic designer … I think and see like one, and I have owned a design studio for 30+ years. However, I have no design skills. I am 57 and “rubenesque” and should be shopping in Lane Bryant, but insist on Old Navy with my daughters. I have a difficult time saying I am a writer, though I write daily and I believe I am one. I just don’t claim it. I  went to three colleges, but if you ask, I will just tell you about one of them.

I know these are small, barely noticeable issues. But they remind me that most of us are imposters in some way, at some time. There’s a reason why “fake it until you make it” is a cliche. All of us knows what it’s like to not fit in, and I hope we have all had the feeling of finding our true family and tribe.

What if that tribe, that place where you finally felt you really belonged, wasn’t open to you because of how you looked, or your history? Would you make changes … perhaps small at first, but then enough so you could belong? What if this was the only place where you belonged?

I’ve seen people become enamored with all sorts of cultures and want to move/dress/learn/be part of that other group. I’ve known kids who thought they were animals, and one fabulous little girl who insisted she was Dorothy from Wizard of Oz. I know a transgender child. I know people who have had face lifts, gastric bypass surgery and many (most) who dye their hair. I’ve known plenty of folks who lie by omission, or who embellish the truth. And I’ve know many more who don’t claim their painful pasts.

We change our language, our religions, our names, our homes, our bodies. We’re just trying to find that spot where we can be who we know, in our hearts, we really are. If we are lucky (and privileged), we can find that sacred space without hiding or lying.

All of us, adjusting, just trying to fit in. To belong and be loved.

I’m not excusing Rachel Dolezal for lying. I know that racism in America is very real and painful, and I will leave it to those wiser and more articulate to sort this out (like this…read this). I don’t know why Dolezal did what she did, but calling her names, punctuated by WTF, isn’t helping. It’s just adding to the noise.

Identity is messy and it’s important, and that’s the truth. Lying…well, that’s another thing.