New York Challenged: Ay Mamá! Even Muggers Can’t Compete With My Mother’s Will


or Mother’s Day, my mom gets her photograph published in the paper. (Photo courtesy of Cecilia Weddell)

I wanted to write this column about my mom because Mother’s Day is right around the corner. A few things you should know about my mom: She was born in Mexico and she married a gringo from California, who is now my dad, incidentally. My mom works the graveyard shift as a nurse (graveyard shift is probably a poor term to use in the medical field), and she loves Netflix. I think those are the basics. I thought this was going to be easy to write, but I just realized that I’ve never been great at understanding what my mom thinks is OK to tell people, and what she thinks I should keep to myself.

There are a few things that make my mom especially entertaining. One of the things I love about her is that she still occasionally pronounces some words wrong. The other day my dad told me that my mom kept talking about people who put “buttocks” on their faces. He was confused and probably a little disgusted, before realizing that she was talking about Botox. I also like that she sometimes pronounces the word “turtle” like “tootle.” She acts upset when we laugh, and says, “Oh, whatever!” but she knows that it’s cute. I think she does it on purpose.

That’s another thing I love about her. She’s so full of contradictions. She was the little girl in Mexico who grew up in a farm town but was terrified of cows. She’s the lady in the passenger seat of a car on the freeway, screaming and cringing at every lane change, yelling at my dad because he’s “trying to smash her” when he drives alongside a trailer. Despite her constant state of nervousness, she’s remarkably calm in tough situations.

My dad told me that they were once at dinner with eight other people and an old lady started choking on her food. The woman kept coughing and wheezing, and everyone looked at my mom, the nurse, for assistance. My mom kept eating, and said, “If I can still hear her coughing, she’s fine. If she stops, I’ll do something.” That was probably a little startling for most of the people at the table, especially the old lady, but sure enough, she stopped choking a moment later. Everything was fine.

Another time, when I was 10 years old, we drove from El Paso to Las Vegas. In case you didn’t know, it’s one of the ugliest, most boring trips you can make. Naturally, I started trying to find ways to pass the time. Long story short, I wrapped a seatbelt around my neck in several complex knots (because that’s what fifth-grade boys do) and couldn’t get it off. I started turning purple. My little sister saw me and started crying silently, which didn’t help anyone. Finally my dad saw me in the rearview mirror, and slammed on the brakes, which tightened all the seatbelts. He ran to the back of the truck, looking for a knife to cut me free. My mom, meanwhile, just told me to sit quietly and breathe slowly, while everyone around us was yelling. She got me free after a few twists and tugs. After hugging me, she called me stupid and then hugged me again. Now everyone jokes that if I’m not constantly being entertained, I’ll hurt myself.

Then there was the time my mom got mugged in Mexico City, in 1987. She called my dad, crying, and told him she had been robbed on the sidewalk. He asked her where she was calling from, and she told him she was in the apartment. My dad was confused. “How did you get inside?” She had convinced the mugger to give her back her keys. “But how did you get home?” She also convinced the mugger to return her student ID, which had a subway ticket hidden behind it.

My dad asked, “Well damn, did you get the money back, too?!” No, she said, he took her purse with a tube of lipstick and a peso in it. But when he tried to take her wedding ring, she pretended to have trouble getting it off her finger, until an approaching couple on the sidewalk made the mugger nervous and he fled. That mugger probably got a real job after that. I always feel sorry for the bad guy when I hear the story. He didn’t know he was the underdog.