The “Yo Lo Hacia Todo y Sin Ayuda” Mom
Maria Elena Lamas is the mother of three children; Bebo 32, Adriana 30 and Andres 24.
I have the pleasure of calling her Mami. She’s my best friend, my roommate, and the person I ask for advice the most. She is an old-time mom because she gave birth before iPads were considered a danger in child development and because her memories of motherhood seem to be distorted. She reminds me constantly that although she’s proud of me, I’m a “poquita cosa.” She’s done it all folks, and apparently without help.
Here is our Q + A:
Q: You are the queen of reminding me you did it all with no help. I guess my question is, how?
M: Ummm…I had no choice, and when you have no choice…I mean you watched videos, went to the park, I would confine you to a corral (play-pen) and I would do my thing…which in those days was watch tv or read a book. Remember, in those days there was no instagram or internet. A lot of times I would suck it up and go to the park. I would take you to the park every single day. And it wasn’t that fun because I was the only mom there—lots of kids went with their nannies.
A: So, no help at all….?
M: I mean, I had my mom once a week because she worked. I also couldn’t fathom leaving my kids with a stranger. Kuky never offered. (Kuky is my aunt, my mom’s sister). Now she’ll say “oh you never asked” but she was always partying. Cabrona.
A: Were you lonely?
M: Not really because I hung out with Bita (my paternal grandmother) or with Lupe and Ale (my aunts—dad’s sisters) and that was my group. We would hang out with the kids. I didn’t really want mom friends. I had a neighbor that would come over y se me metia a la casa y no se iba. She was calva and I think also a Buddhist. After a while I started to think she had peste. I couldn’t take it.
Q: How old were you when you became a mom?
M: I was 25 years old when I had Bebo. (Bebo is my older brother).
A: Did you feel like you were sooooo young?
M: At the time I didn’t think I was young and I didn’t feel it, but in hindsight yes. I didn’t care who had kids around me because my sisters in law did and that was my world. You don’t know certain things when you’re young—you think later that you would have known more about nutrition or punishments or that sort of thing. All I know is that I wouldn’t want to be in my 50’s with a 16 year old running around.
Q: You had C-sections, how was that? You were in the delivery room for both of my births so let’s compare and contrast.
M: Oh—c-sections are terrifying. I guess what you know isn’t terrifying, it’s what you don’t know. It was terrifying because it’s an operating room. And you know they’re going to give you an epidural and you don’t have contractions and it hurts. I had two spinal taps and an epidural and I found them both to be painful but the spinal tap is worse. You feel like your body starts at your chest. And you know that they’re opening you up because you’re not stupid.
A: How did you feel that my labor and delivery with Santi and Joaquin was?
M: Omg it was beautiful and peaceful.
(My mom didn’t have a choice with c-sections. She was way passed due with Bebo and when he was born, he was a whopping 11 lbs 7 oz. )
Q: Ok. I bottle fed Santi from day 1. Joaquin was 100% breastmilk for 3 months and 2 days. What did you do?
M: Bebo got a few weeks.
A: Why did you stop?
M: It was very painful and Bebo would fall asleep on my boob and stop sucking. I had to gently wake him up. I had no idea what quantity, if at all he was getting and I needed to “know” in terms of ounces. This was very frustrating at 1 or 2 in the morning because I was so tired. So I started giving him formula. So it was really two reasons: the pain and the frustration of not knowing how much milk he was drinking.
A: In the hospital, did they pressure you to breastfeed or was it not like that back then?
M: Not at all. Neither did my pediatrician–he was all for formula. That’s why I gave up!
A: And with me and Andres? Straight to formula?
M: There was no pressure at all. Straight to formula because of the previous experience and also with you I was worried that it would inconvenience Bebo. He was only 2 and very close to me. I thought if I was going to be stressed about breastfeeding you It wouldn’t benefit you anyways. It would defy the purpose. So when they asked me in the hospital, I said no and asked for the pills they used to give to stop breast milk.
A: Oh you’re so lucky! They don’t give them anymore.
M: Pobrecita tu. Whatever happened, I did it in the best interest of my children. I loved you both dearly and I wanted the best for you. I was under so much pressure when I had you because Bebo was at home alone with Abuela and you know how attached we can get to our toddlers. You were born in the holidays (my birthday is December 15) and I wanted everything to be perfect for the holidays and for Bebo. The hospital didn’t provide me with a private room for the first night of my very painful c-section.
(As the mother of two children, I can completely identify with this feeling of wanting to make sure your first born is perfect and having no negative experiences. Joaquin was also born around the holidays and my goal was to make Santi’s life continue as if nothing had changed. It was hard because I had a newborn I loved and I couldn’t neglect, but my goal was to make sure Santi had a perfect Christmas. And it truly is a double edged sword, because while I know Joaquin didn’t notice and won’t ever remember his first few weeks home from the hospital, and while I wanted to be with Santi, I still felt like a bad mom because I had to choose.)
Q: I think time has distorted your memories (example: me sleeping the night at 2 weeks old). Do you agree? I mean, you always seem to remember the nice and fun parts and not the sad and “I think I may die today” parts…
A: You have always made it a point to say that we all slept the night at 2 weeks…
M: Yeah because Dr. Casas said that as long as you weighed 12lbs I didn’t have to wake you for middle of the night feedings. (Bebo was born weighing 11 lbs 7 oz, I was the smallest at 8.5 lbs and Andres was closer to 10lbs). So I wasn’t waking up to feed you but I was waking up to shove the tete in your mouth. I let you guys cry it out…en el medio de la noche si. But that feeling of being pissed off—todo se te olvida de verdad.
A: Do you think that now it’s easier?
M: I don’t think it was easy for anyone you know. It’s just that the mind has an incredible ability to erase the bad and you only remember the really really bad things that happened. Like at 5 months Bebo started sleeping in our bed because your dad needed to go to work and it was easier to just have him there than crying in another room. And he didn’t sleep alone again until you were born. Increible—once you were born le dije “Bebo, tienes que cuidar a tu hermanita” and that was it.
Q: Do you think it was easier to have kids in the 80’s and 90’s with none of the technology we rely on today, or harder?
A: (She took a longggggggggg break to think before answering)
M: It wasn’t harder or easier, just different. We didn’t have the internet but we had un corral. I would put you in the corral all day and you guys would play or watch videos. Te ponia el video de Barney todo el dia. Abuela decia “vamos a poner tugether” that’s what it was called. I mean, no one plays with their baby 24-7, y las que dicen eso son unas anormales.
A: You had a third baby 6 years after me—how was that transition?
M: Easy transition—the easiest. I mean, I had you and Bebo to help me. It was perfect.
A: Do you recommend the domino effect (one right after the other) or to wait?
M: Wait! You’re young enough (I am 30) that you can wait and you’re going to want a baby. And the older ones can help you out. You’ll be at a different stage. Right now you’re in hell (I am) but it’ll get easier. I know I savored it more because I knew it was my last baby.
Q: Super important question—when does it get easier?
M: Ugh…when they go to school. I would say around 4—ya cuando tienen tarea. 4 is a beautiful age—it’s definitely better than 3. A los 3 años todo es “whyyyy Mami, why this, why that???” They’re asking a lot of questions so they’re annoying. They’re super cute and innocent but annoying.
Q: Is it possible to have a favorite child?
M: I don’t think so. I think you have at some points in your life…when they’re babies definitely no favorite. When they’re older you have more chemistry with one. Because you like the same things or whatever. Maybe they’re less passive aggressive or whatever, so you have more of a connection. It may seem like you favor them but you don’t. The baby is always the baby though. Ya tu quieres a tu hijo diferente. No more lastima or ternura…when they grow up it’s different.