One of my great delights living here in El Salvador is watching my eight-year old daughter Adriana grow up. It’s wonderful to be home all the time and to be able to witness her social as well as physical growth. I marvel at how eagerly she learns from her mother the things that mothers in this culture teach their daughters almost from their birth.
Today as I watched 18-year old María and 20-year old Juan helping Margarita prepare some 300 tamales as deftly as Margarita herself, it gave me a feeling of pride when Adriana took her turn at the table. She made as perfect a tamale as her big sister made.
She seems capable of doing so many of the things that women do. She likes to sew doll clothes from scraps. She cooks some dishes Ive taught her to make using the microwave. She can catch, kill, and butcher a chicken. She sweeps and mops the house and is pretty good at keeping her room organized and clean. I’ve seen her hold the little girl across the street when she was less than one-year old just as the girl’s mother does.
Another part of the joy is seeing how responsible she can be. She seems to be seeing “work” as I see it, something to be done. She’ll take over some chores if she sees me doing them. I don’t know if my dusting or washing dishes comes into conflict with the culture’s gender roles or if she just wants to please me. Either way it makes me feel confident that she’s heading in a good direction.
She also likes to make sure I see her doing good things. She has a certain look on her face when she brings the dried dishes tray into the house and begins to put them away. I’m sure the smile on my face is a kind of reinforcer. I’ll tell her in English, “I love you, little girl.” and she’ll get a bit of a smug look as she puts the silverware where it belongs.
While so much of the time she can be mamita, little mother, she’s still got plenty of little girl in her. I left the computer for a while and when I returned to continue writing this, I suddenly felt something pressing against my ankles. It seemed to me that Duke the Wonder Dog was outside and he wouldn’t be under the desk unless there were fireworks exploding outside. I looked down and she snuck out of the open side but got stuck between the desk and my guitars in the corner. She waited until I moved the waste basket before pulling herself up with a laugh.
She’s come out so much since I first got to know her as a four-year old pre-schooler in my English class. She was a shy little doll then. She almost never spoke but would let me pick her up and give her hugs just for being adorable. She was always everyone’s favorite playmate through kindergarten.
She knows how easy I am to manipulate even though I’ve let her know I’m on to her coyness and sly trickery. She’s clever but not malicious. She likes to be busy and I admire that. Her brother, Luís, is almost eleven. He loves work. He could watch other people doing it for hours. He’s so lazy he can’t even stand up without leaning on a wall, door post, or column. He doesn’t see work even if it hits him in the face. He’ll do it if I point it out to him, but if he can get out of the house without making his bed, putting away his toys, or gathering his shoes from the middle of the floor he’ll do it. He gets his praise when he volunteers or even when he does what he’s told to do. But he doesn’t have the sense of responsibility that his little sister has.
They’ve both been mommy’s kids since birth. I account for that when I have to step in if either should be arguing with Margarita. Luís has more “no’s” in his vocabulary and intonation than a two-year old. Adriana rarely argues with her mom and never with me. I sometimes wish I had a trade or skill that Luís and I could do together just as Margarita and Adriana practice homemaking together. Adriana helps Margarita with her food preparation business. Since she sells from the driveway or from the curb, Adriana will set herself a chair at the table and, if not playing with a doll, she’ll help her mother with the customers. She can do just what her mom does and take the cash as well. She’ll even deliver orders to people at home who have previously placed an order. Luís has to be cajoled into helping if he’s needed.
I’ve been trying to remember how it was when I was little. My sister Sally is eight years older than I am. I’m sure she must have cared for me as a baby. I can’t say I remember her changing my diapers, feeding me from a Gerber’s jar in my high chair, or getting me dressed and tying my high-top shoes. My earliest memories go back to when I was about six. I had dropped out of kindergarten for being too immature. The following September I re-entered and was put into 2nd grade. It must have been about then that my mother started working. My sister had to catch the high-school bus but she cooked the cereal for our breakfast. I think my mom packed my lunch box. Sally probably picked out my school clothes and may have tied my shoe laces and put on my galoshes if it were raining or there was snow. I don’t know what other chores she may have had. She studied a lot and had her girl friends over. But I don’t remember her in the kitchen with our mother or washing clothes. She must have helped our mother. I just don’t remember.
Ha, ha! I just caught my little angel ripping off Santa Claus. The mayor is touring the neighborhoods with Santa and some of his helpers handing out toys to the kids. Adriana got a doll handed to her by big brother Juan, one of the helpers. She ran to the corner and hid it. Then she approached another helper empty-handed. Yeah, she got another doll. I started to speak to her and she told me, “Shh!” Now she’s got the nerve to show me her beautiful dolls. She’s a Salvadoran, alright. But she’s precious and she’s mine.