Mary, Mother, Queen of Scots

Back in October on a blustery day in Scotland, I entered The Great Hall of Edinburgh Castle. I soaked up the lavish details of the lushly appointed space with its wood-paneled walls and impossibly intricate carved roof. It was stunning.

What really drew me in though was a woman posing as Mary Queen of Scots at the far end of the hall. She greeted a crowd of visitors and put on a little show before inviting the crowd to approach her for a photo op. I got in line and waited my turn. At last it was time. I was finally going to meet my mom.

Let me explain.

I went to a Montessori school for two years as a kid where students were placed in one of three rooms depending on their learning pace in lieu of traditional grade levels. Blue Room was for pre-school age kids and students that needed a little bit of extra help. Orange Room was for kids learning just as expected for their age. Purple Room was for kids that were learning at a more advanced pace.

I was originally placed in Orange Room like most kids were, then was bumped up to Purple Room a few weeks later. At first, I was pretty pleased with myself. I’ve had a strong dose of Hermione Granger in me since I could talk and even at age four was a perpetually hand-raised know-it-all. I knew I was smart. Contrary to what you’d think though, I was also quite shy; I was very conscious of my Spanish accent, how little English I spoke and of the fact that I was one to three years younger than most of the other Purple Room kids. My excitement gave way to nervous hesitation.

Thanks to a fantastic and patient teacher and friendly classmates though, I found myself really enjoying Purple Room. That was until a couple of weeks later during reading time. We were split off into pairs and I was matched up with Antoinette, a girl a few years older than me whom I found intimidating as shit. She was pretty with gorgeous brown skin, long legs, and excellent reading skills, all things that she appeared to be very aware of. That in turn made me very aware of my chubby, pale-skinned, ESL awkwardness. But hey, maybe she’d be nice to me.

Nope. My stomach went even colder as she glared at me in a way that made it clear she was less than pleased to be stuck with me. Then she went and picked out the book that we were to read together. This chick went and grabbed some history book with words way beyond my reading level and sneered at me like, “Ha, that’ll show you to think you’re hot shit.” She made me go first and rolled her eyes every time I stumbled on a word I didn’t recognize, laughing each time my little Mexican mouth pronounced the “sh” sounds as “ch.”

Right when I was set to unleash the waterworks, Antoinette grabbed the book from me and let out an exasperated sigh. “Here, just let me read it,” she huffed as she yanked the book from my lap. I just nodded and blinked back the tears, thinking I’d spare myself any more humiliation by just letting her flex and read to me. That’s when she skipped ahead a few pages and began to read me the story of Mary Queen of Scots.

I don’t remember half of what she read, either because I didn’t understand that shit or because I was concentrating too hard on not wetting myself. I snapped to attention though when she asked, “So, do you ever miss you real mom?”

Huh? Me confused. I looked at her, she looked at me, and when I didn’t say anything back, she smirked. “Oh, you don’t know do you? Mary Queen of Scots was your real mom, but she betrayed her country and got her head cut off for treason and no one knew what to do with you. That’s when the people you live with now decided to take you, because your real mom is dead. I am so sorry.”

Santa Madre. I managed not to cry or clock this girl, but only because I was in cold shock. I sat there rigid as this monster kept reading like she hadn’t just shattered my little soul to pieces. Again, I was four years old. I didn’t get that this Mary Queen of Scots chick lived and died centuries ago, or that I wasn’t Scottish, or that kids lie. I absolutely, positively believed that I was adopted and my real mom’s dome had been chopped off for treason, whatever the hell that was.

I held it together until I got home, then yelled through tears, “You’re not my real mom!” as I walked in the door. My mom listened to my hysterical story and by the grace of God did not just dunk me in some holy water and write me off as possessed. She calmly brought out the baby books and photographs. My actual newborn photo was a weak link in the chain of evidence since I legit looked like a different baby one month later (see exhibit A below - where did all that melanin go??). Subsequent photos made a stronger case: ones of my mom as a kid that I would have sworn were of me, one of my dad and I side by side where it’s plain that I got my chin from him.

Newborn Me.jpg

After an hour or so, I was 99% satisfied with my mother’s Little Girl, You Best Believe I Birthed You presentation. She advised that I ignore Antoinette in the future, lest she try to convince me that Zapata was my daddy. I don’t remember her being in my class the following year and I’ve always low-key wondered what became of her. I mean, isn’t that some sociopath shit to tell a younger student that she was adopted because her real mama’s head was chopped off?? Anyway, I wish her well and I hope she knows that I’VE MOVED ON.

Ha. That’s coming from the girl who almost three decades later waited in line to get a photo with a Queen Mary stand in. I guess maybe I needed to see her for myself, you know, just to be, like, super sure there was no resemblance.

After the photo was taken, I sat on a bench to laugh at its absurdity. I mean, look at the thing. I look like a lumpy mess on account of the bajillion layers I was wearing to shield me from the nippy wind and I’m trying unsuccessfully not to smirk. Still, it’s one of my favorite photos from the whole trip. When I look at it, it reminds me that not too long ago, I stood in a castle that overlooks one of the most beautiful cities in the world, the castle where the very queen whom I once believed to be my treasonous mother had lived and reigned for some time. I went on to visit the café where J.K. Rowling wrote Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, drank real Scotch whiskey (and choked on it, peat is no joke). I walked the Royal Mile and climbed Arthur’s Seat. I explored the Scottish Highlands and roamed the Isle of Skye, trying haggis and black pudding and almost getting blown away by the wind.

So take that, Antoinette. I win.


Cheerio Girl

Buenos Diaz! Can you believe it’s December already? It’s a little hard to believe considering I live in America’s Finest City and the weather has been in the high 70s and low 80s for most of the fall. We just last week got some cooler temperatures at last, including a couple of spots of rain that lasted all of 48 hours and backed up our traffic for just about as long.  Usually I complain about this sort of warm-weather-winter thing because I like my holidays a little less on the tropical side.  Really though…. It ain’t so bad living in paradise.

Today’s blog post was inspired by a friend of mine (who so happens to be a bitchin’ stylist in San Diego’s East Village). My girl Briana has somehow managed to pop out four adorable children by the ripe age of 30 and has perhaps even more impressively managed to stay, if I may say so, real as f*ck, even as she rides around in her swagger wagon Toyota Sienna. I went to see her just a couple of weeks ago and she reminded me of a story she’s told me already once before but that never gets old. To be perfectly honest I forget most of the details. All I remember is that her second youngest, a sweet and innocent little toddler, upon making his first black friend, proceeded to walk up to the child, lick his face and yell out, “Mmm! Chocolate!” I just about wet myself. Out of the mouths of babes, I tell you. The innocence, the simplicity… it slays me.

So this blog post is in homage to that simplicity, a flashback to my own childhood. It’s a trip down memory lane to when things were simpler and when I was still a nerd, just a slightly smaller one. I hope these little stories will serve as a happy interlude to your day and perhaps inspire you to view the world as you did as a child. Without further ado, I give you: Cheerio Girl.


Once upon a time, I was but a wee little toddler, chubby-cheeked, white as snow, and with bangs for mother-effing days. I loved books (duh), Barbies and this raggedy stuffed dog, and I really loved to dance around the living room all dang day. I LIVED in particular for the VHS tape of Madonna’s The Virgin tour.  It was my jam.

I can actually recall these days quite vividly. I’d open my eyes, wipe the sleepies away, brush my teeth with bubble-gum toothpaste and then get dressed. Usually I chose a tshirt and pants, but if I was feeling particularly festive I’d throw on about 20 bangles and this sweet get-up that consisted of a crop-top with bottoms that looked like a skirt with leggings underneath. My grandmother used to sew back in the day and sold her goods at a local swap meet on the weekends. This particular outfit was one of my faves, so I’d happily model it at her swap meet stall if I got to take it home with me afterwards. Picture me walking up and down that asphalt with attitude in a variety of colorful 80s prints. Uh huh honey.  

So I’d put this sucker on and make my way to the living room where I would carry out the sequence of steps my mother had taught me to do on my own and not bother her for: “Press ‘On’ button on TV and VCR. Press number ‘3’ then ‘Enter’ on TV remote for Channel 3. Put tape in VCR. Press ‘Play’ on VCR.” Then the magic began. I believe the opening number was “Dress You Up,” where Madonna started off at the top of a small set of stairs and descended them two or three at a time whilst striking something akin to a Heisman pose. She was decked in a very colorful concoction of lace and studs and fingerless gloves and did that classics 80s arm-swing move as she belted out the chorus. Naturally, I followed suit. I twirled, I spun, I toe-tapped and sang my little heart out song after song after song.

I loved Dress You Up, Holiday (CELEBRATE!!!), Into The Groove and Lucky Star; I had signature dance moves for each that often left me dizzy and exhausted. My absolute fave however was towards the end of the tape. Right when Like A Virgin was about to wrap, I’d haul toddler ass to the kitchen and pour some Cheerios into a Ziploc bag then run back to my spot in front of the television screen in perfect time for the next number to start. I’d pop little handfuls of cereal in my mouth and dance furiously in place as the verse built up to the chorus. Then came my moment, so I screamed at the top of my lungs: “Cause we are living in a-a Cheerio world, and I AM A-A-CHEERIO GIRL! You KNOOOOW that we are…” Yeah. It was another cool five or six years before someone took the time to correct me, and I didn’t accept this correction quietly.

In telling this story to a coworker a few weeks ago, I made an interesting connection: I apparently felt compelled as a child to tie my snacks in with my chosen activities. For instance, I was really obsessed with a cartoon on Nickelodeon called David the Gnome. David was a little gnome doctor who lived in a forest with his wife Lisa. He had an awesome sidekick fox named Swift who would take him places when other gnomes or animals needed healing, and Lisa would always bake them a loaf of bread to take on their journey to save the world.

I thought this loaf of bread much resembled a particular type of pan dulce (Mexican sweet bread) called a puerquito, a golden brown pig-shaped pastry that tastes somewhat like gingerbread. Since we often had this in our house, I felt the need to bake one up to coincide with the loaf Lisa baked for David. By “bake,” I mean I’d use every ounce of my strength to heave our toaster oven from the lower cabinet onto the counter and would then place my puerquito in said oven for five minutes.  I’d take care to carefully pull it out with oven mitts when the timer went off and blew on it to make it cool enough to touch- even though I never actually turned the oven on or even plugged it in for that matter. I’d then sit in front of the TV and munch on my little pig while David and Swift went off to save the day. If there was no puerqito available to me, I’d settle for ripping the guts out of a loaf of French bread, smashing it and molding it into a smaller loaf and putting that in the not-turned-on toaster oven. I’m aware the loaf of bread was already, well, a loaf. But the guts were my favorite, so… leave me alone.  

I also had a food-related Cinderella-watching ritual. Remember that scene from Disney’s Cinderella where she’s doing her chores and goes out to feed the chickens? I was absolutely convinced that she was feeding them teeny tiny pieces of American cheese. So yes- I’d pause the film just before the chickens were fed and make my way to the kitchen. I’d grab a Kraft American single, peel off the plastic and then fold that cool, clammy slice over and over, creating little cubes that I thought looked just like the chicken feed. I’d pull out my shirt, or dress, or pajama like Cinderella did to her an apron and place my cheese cubes there for easy access. Cinderella tossed her feed to the chickens, I tossed cheese to myself and sang along with Gus Gus, Jaq and Cinderelly.

I could go on about my weird food obsessions, like how I freaked the hell out when my mom gave me cream of wheat for the first time because I thought she’s tracked down the fairy tale people and gotten the recipe for porridge (which I thought was a mythical food of sorts). But let’s talk instead about how inquisitive a tyke I was. I was that kid, the “but why?” kid. I was every bit as hell-bent then as I am to this day on finding a way to know things. For example, I asked my mother to explain what a maxi pad was. She bought them on a regular basis, seemed to try hide doing so, and these times were something she used and I didn’t. Naturally, I demanded to know what they were for and why they were only intended for adult use. My mother went with the little-white-lie route and told me they were really durable tissues for grown-up ladies. Fine. That sounded plausible. I mean, why would my mother lie?

It was most unfortunate (for my mother, anyway), that not soon after this incident, a gathering of women found itself at my parents’ home. My mother was hosting a bridal or baby shower, I believe, and one of the women in attendance sneezed. I’d been playing quietly in a corner when I heard this call to service, this opportunity for me to save the day and show how well I pay attention. I popped my head up like a mischievous meerkat then darted to my mother’s bathroom where I grabbed a “durable tissue for grown-up ladies,” peeled the plastic off that bad-boy and slapped in on my palm. I ran back out into the living room and beelined it for the woman who’d sneezed and with my arm stretched straight out and in front of me beamed, “Here you go!” Mama dearest walked in the room holding a tray of beverages and mustered every bit of her strength not to drop them or keel over from embarrassment.That’ll teach her alright.

So remember kids: sometimes made-up lyrics are just better. Fancy cheese is great but American just does the trick sometimes. Bread  of all kinds is amazing. Porridge is a real thing. Maxi pads are stupid. Don’t lie to a kid who remembers shit.  

Bookishly yours, 

P.S. so when I said I had bangs for days...

Ale looks thrilled. and hey- bangs!

I like Easter eggs. and bangs. 

Me, a fake turlte, and my bangs. 

Ballet and bangs. Lots of bangs. 

Mother-Daughter bangs! This *may* just have been the maxi pad day....