Salsa-Dancing, Hard-Hitting Journalist Mom

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Maria Hinojosa

Our Daily Lives page present excerpts of women’s autobiographies, essays, letters, journals, diaries, oral histories and testimony with the hopes our readers will respond to the authentic emotions and ideas, see a connection to their own lives, and write email us a note. Women’s Enews will post selected reactions from our readers for all to read.

This month, Our Daily Lives brings you an excerpt from “Raising Raul” a book now available in paperback. Written by Maria Hinojosa, a mother, CNN correspondent and host of National Public Radio’s “Latino USA,” the book documents the dilemmas an “Azteca-New Yorker-salsa-dancing, goddess-worshipping, hard-hitting journalist, Ivy League-educated, Chicago-raised barrio-living woman” faces when raising a son with a loving stay-at-home visual-artist husband. In this passage, she has just returned from a business trip to Seattle.

When I went to get Raul Ariel out of bed at six in the morning, he smiled and hugged me. Everything was fine until he saw his father come down from bed and then I heard Raul Ariel call him something that pierced a hole deep into my corazoncito.

He called his father “Mama.”

What?

Raul Ariel said it over and over again. “Mama, Mama!” and he stretched out his arms to German. We looked at each other in shock.

“No, Raul Ariel,” German said gently. “Yo soy tu papa. Ella es tu mama!”

“Mama,” he said again, holding on to German’s huge shoulders.

I got into the shower, turned on the water, and started to cry. But I can’t cry, I say to myself, and try to stop, I’m supposed to be on the air today!

On the subway to work, gazing into nowhere, I think about who I can talk to about this. Forget calling my tias or my primas. I would be the laughingstock of Mexico. Nothing could be more shameful.

To make things worse that first day back at the office I had to work late. I called German and told him to keep Raul Ariel up until I got there. The cab ride was an interminable forty-five minute slow hike.

By the time I arrived home, running up all five flights of stairs, Raul Ariel was exhausted and cranky, and when German handed him to me he began to wail.

German was upset with me. “It was stupid to keep him up just so that you could see him. Poor little muchachito.”

Rub it in, why don’t you, I said to myself. That’s what you get for having a husband who is a real co-parent. He gets to have opinions about everything.

Before I had my baby, when I would see dads walking with their strollers down Broadway, I would look at them and think “How nice.” My feminist side would applaud them.

But I had forgotten how severely disconnected my feminist side was from my mujer side. Real mujeres have children who know the difference between moms and dads. And dads were not supposed to be moms! Y ya!

The next day, Raul Ariel called me Mama a few times. A sign of progress. But he still called German Mama, too.

That night, after I put Raul Ariel in bed and German was in the kitchen, I called [my doctor] Mark and confided in him what was happening.

“It’s only natural for Raul Ariel to want to be comforted by the person he sees the most during the day,” he told me. “And what’s important is that Raul Ariel knows that he is being loved, which he is.”

“I know that Mark. But the problem is that it is just not supposed to be this way.”

“Maria, there is no way it’s supposed to be anymore, It’s all uncharted territory from here on in. And besides, do you want to raise your kids the same way your mom and dad, wonderful as they may be, raised you?”

“No, but that is my point of departure.”

“Exactly! Departure. Say adios to it baby, cause that ain’t what’s happening in the future. I know you know that. That is what your whole life is about.”

“Yeah, you’re right,” I said, and took a deep breath. I could hear German in the kitchen making our favorite meal–queso frito, yucca and plantanos maduros, and ensalada. I do have the absolutely best husband in the world, I think to myself.

On Saturday I took Raul Ariel to the Central Park Zoo and watched him laugh at the barking seals. We sat on the curb and watched the skaters zoom down the park road. And then we danced to the congas at the rumba when they sang for Yemanya.

By the end of the weekend, Raul Ariel had stopped calling German Mama and instead gave us both a new name–“Ma-Pa.”

How fitting. It was the perfect way my son had decided to teach me about learning to live with the reality of a different kind of family–a family with parents who were equal partners and equally in love with their son and with each other. And with their work.

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