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The Horror of Mealtime

Submitted by on May 2, 2011 – 1:00 am15 Comments
Issa Mas, Abuela

Issa's abuela, Ana Maria Mayol

Editor’s Note: This is the first of five essays celebrating Abuela’s during Mother’s Day week 2011 on the Tiki Tiki. To read the other essays, visit the intro essay.

issa mas, single mama nycBy Issa M. Mas

For a long time, I thought I had two names. First, there was Issa Maria Mas. Then, and this was the one I heard most from my Grandmother — who was my main caregiver growing up — there was “Ai Dios mio, dame paciencia!”

Abuela would say that so often, it took me a while to realize that what she was really doing was pleading to God for the patience not to strangle me! Mealtimes were especially difficult for us.

“Issa, comete la comida ante que se te enfrie.”

“But Granma, I’m not hungry.”

“Te vas a morir. Comete la comida.”

“Granma, I’m not gonna die. I had lunch.”

“Almuerzo? Eso no es suficiente. Estas demasiada flaca. Comete la comida.”

“I am not too skinny. And I’m not hungry!”

“Ai Dios mio, dame paciencia!”

This could go on and on for what seemed like forever to me, until one of two things happened:

a) I would either eat some of the food just to make her stop torturing me, or b) my Mother would come in from work and rescue me from that never-ending struggle.

Option A was my least favorite solution, because no matter how much I ate, Abuela was never satisfied.

“Muchacha, no comiste nada.”

“Granma, how can you say I didn’t eat ANYTHING? Don’t you see some food missing from my plate? Didn’t you see me put it in my mouth?”

“Pero todavia te queda tanto.”

“Of course there’s still so much left on my plate, I’m one 11-year-old girl! You put enough food on there to feed a truck full of grown men!”

“Malcriada,”she would sneer at me.

It took me a very long time to truly understand the term “malcriada.” You see, “malcriada,” the way Abuela meant it, was used to remind me that I was being too sassy for my own good; a smart aleck. The funny thing is that the exact translation for “malcriada” is to say I was “raised wrong.” It was an odd thing to say considering she was the one raising me. This was merely one of the many contradictions and complexities I had to fight every day of my life.

This battle had been an ancient one. From the stories she would tell, she had been trying to get me to eat since I was a toddler. She would sit in front of my highchair and make the spoon fly around like an airplane to distract me so that she could catch me when I least expected it and stuff some food in my mouth. From what she says, sometimes I ate it. Sometimes, I would spit it out at Suki, the dog.

“Ai Dios mio, dame paciencia.”

Now, it wasn’t that I didn’t like Abuela’s food. Actually, she was a really good cook. It’s just that I think in Puerto Rico, during the time Abuela was young, they must have served food in gigantic pots, filled all the way to the top, and you were forced to Eat. It. All. She must never have gotten used to the fact that we ate on normal-sized plates in New York because she still piled on the food as if I was going to be in the desert for the next week without a meal.

No matter how many times I told her that it wasn’t that I didn’t like what she cooked, it’s that I wasn’t hungry, or that there was too much food on my plate, she still insisted that she had made me one of my favorite dishes and so I should be happy to eat it. All.

“Comete la comida, Issa.”

“I’m full.”

“Pero a ti te gusta el bacalao.”

“I know I like it Granma, I just don’t want anymore.”

“Pero si no comiste nada.”

“Granma, how can you say I didn’t eat ANYTHING?!?”

These days I can’t stop eating until every last grain of rice is gone. When I get as big as a carnival side-show act, and become a woman who is so huge that she has her own zip code, I will blame it all on Abuela. It won’t matter though. To her, I will always be “demasiada flaca.” Ugh.

Issa M. Mas is a freelance writer who publishes the site, Single Mama NYC and the resource site, Your Single Parenting. She lives in her native New York City with her son.

 

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15 Comments »

  • Lisa says:

    I loved this story. It reminded me of my abuela too. But back then, she was right – I was skinny. I guess all puerto rican grandmas are the same in their own way.

  • Carol says:

    HAHAHAHAHA!! Ay Issa! Girl. I feel your pain! LOL! Wonderful tale of our abuela with the eating! Ay, Dios. DAME PACIENCIA!
    Carol´s last [fabulousness] ..NYCityMama Joins The Hanes Comfort Crew and What That Means

  • Oh My God! You just brought back so many memories!!! Exactly like my Dominican Grandmother and I was raised by her! She was certain that I was “anemica” or at the very least that I had “bichos” amd I remember getting blood tests that would always come back normal.

    Until the day she passed, she would walk and inspect the dining table as we ate. She would add more rice and beans if you were making inroads on the already enormous amount of food you were served. Meal time was always a production because I simply did not eat a lot.

    “Pero si no comiste nada!” Oh Dios Mio! :) Thank you for sharing!

  • Tracy says:

    I LOVED this post. My Suegra uses the “malcriado” on our sons a lot – it’s always felt like a sneak-attack insult on my parenting.

    As for this “force feeding” — My mother is Anglo but I still relate to this experience. I was very, very thin as a child, (up to about the age of 8.) — My mother worried that I didn’t eat enough so I was forced to eat when I wasn’t hungry and I was also given high calorie foods.

    Well, if my mother’s goal was to fatten me up – she totally succeeded. I’ve battled with my weight almost all my life.

    Now I have my own boys. The 9 year old is really thin so there’s that temptation to tell him “Coma! Eat!” — but I don’t. When he says he’s full, he is welcome to leave the table. I hope he won’t struggle as I have.
    Tracy´s last [fabulousness] ..Latin Billboard Awards The Red Carpet

  • Unknown Mami says:

    Has “Ai Dios mio, dame paciencia” become part of your parenting vocabulary?

    Hope you have a fantastic birthday month Gemela! This is a big one for me. I’m turning 40.
    Unknown Mami´s last [fabulousness] ..THAT Person

  • I can really see you in your grandmother’s photo. If it is true about the grandmother’s cellular energy being passed down, I’m going to need to make some health changes quick!

  • Carrie says:

    This is such an iconic essay about Latin grandmothers! I loved this post from the get-go, Issa.
    You captured the experience of so many of us.

    My own grandmother — la Mama pictured in the intro post — used to make me puree filled with everything imaginable, sit me on the counter and stuff me with food — at the age of 9! I got stretch marks on my thighs that year from growing so fast from a total flaca to a slightly chubby kid.

    But, she thought I looked “enferma.”

    Ay!!!!

    The stories, the stories…

    Love Tiki Tiki contributors!

  • [...] Colombian and Mexican — through beautiful words of tribute.Monday: Issa M. Mas writes “The Horror of Mealtime” recounting funny and dramatic childhood dinner-time struggles with Abuela.Wednesday: Alexandra [...]

  • Alexandra says:

    THe same thing here.

    She called me, “larga, flaca, y amarilla.”
    Alexandra´s last [fabulousness] ..Sunday Best – Love in the Chaos

  • Monica says:

    Love it! My ‘Buelita was the best cook on the planet. She is the standard against which I measure all Mexican food. No one has been able to come close. Unlike you, though, I never hesitated to finish what was on my plate. And my mother would complain when she came in to dinner to find my ‘Buelita cutting up my food for me (did I mention I was 10?).

    Thanks for this story. I could here her speaking clearly, and she sounded a lot like some of my aunts in Spain!
    Monica´s last [fabulousness] ..A Día de los Niños Giveaway- Ladder to the Moon

  • Issa says:

    Thank you so much to all who commented here! I miss my Abuela, and writing stories about her is another way to keep her alive in my life. Well, that, and the obsession I have with food. For as long as I carry these extra 30 lbs she will always be front and center in my mind/life!!! ;-)

    Abrazos a todos!

    Issa
    Issa´s last [fabulousness] ..Ive Been Nominated For Best Single Parenting Blog!

  • Rachel says:

    Ahahah thanks so much for writing this peice. So funny but true :) I will blame it on my mami/abuela too. lol

  • Issa says:

    Thank you for adding the video, hermana!!!

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