My oh my, life with my Mãe


My mãe runs a tight ship. The tightest of ships.

The house is always clean, the yard is always swept, and you’d better think twice about coming home with dirty feet (the latter of which, I must admit, I’ve learned the hard way through daily experience).

There are certain expectations in her house: the fire should be started before 6:15 every morning to ensure hot bath water, you don’t leave for school without washing at least your face and feet, and you don’t sit down for dinner without taking a full bath first. Chinelos (flip-flops) are to be worn around the yard and taken off at the door, but guests are never allowed to remove their shoes upon entering. Saturdays are for washing clothes, Sundays are for cleaning. Tea is an important part of the morning routine, and you had best leave yourself time to sit down and drink it before you even think about leaving the house.

Now, I’m not much of a rules person. I never have been and probably never will be. I’m going to go ahead and credit that to growing up with parents who mostly turned me loose to play outside, gave me the space to figure things out on my own, and always encouraged to think divergently—thanks Bern and Maria! Guidelines are cool, but when it comes to harsh instructions I think we could all just do without. That being said, these past 4 weeks have been both hilarious and frustrating.

Why aren’t you eating more dinner, filha? Don’t you like my cooking? Yes mãe, you’re a great cook, I’m just not that hungry right now. You’re not hungry? I’m hungry, just not THAT hungry. I normally don’t eat this much at home. But you liked it? Yes mãe, it was great. As good as bejia? You like bejia, don’t you? This is where I start to panic as I realize she knows that I ate a fried bean sandwich that morning when I went to the market with a friend. It’s now 6:30pm and quite obviously not the reason I’m eating a light dinner, but it was the perfect opportunity for her to let me know that she knows. Busted.

Did you take a bath yet, filha? No mãe, not yet, but I don’t think I have time. You didn’t take a bath? You need to go take one. I know, mãe, but there isn’t enough time before class starts. You have time, filha. But if you want to go to school without a taking a bath… This is where I give up and take a bath. Mae Beatriz is a force to be reckoned with and has the most powerful side-eye you’ll ever experience. I’ve reconciled with the fact that I will perpetually be 10 minutes late in the morning.

Filha, why are your feet so dirty? Every day you come home with dirty feet. How do you think that makes you look? And me? If Peace Corps sees you like this they will say “Oh! Beatriz’s daughter is so dirty!” And then they will think that my feet are dirty. Go wash them. Can I set my things down inside, mãe? Just wash them now. What I really want to say is that walking around dusty, rocky streets in sandals is hard to do and dirty feet are unavoidable…but I know this is irrelevant to her. This issue begins and ends at the present state of my red muddy toes. While her fear is largely irrational, I submit and rinse my feet and deal with the fact that they will never meet her standards.

Did you have your tea yet, filha? This inevitably follows the same pattern as the morning shower discussion, which will always end in me sitting down to drink tea despite the time. With this addition I will now perpetually be 15 minutes late in the morning.

Take a bath? Now? Yes! Now, before dinner. It’s a little cold, mãe. Can I just wait until morning? And go to bed with dirty feet? The water is already warm. First take a bath and then after, eat dinner. She poses this as both a question and a statement in what might be her trickiest move yet. The day comes full circle in this discussion as I do my best to form a logical argument that gets me out of a bucket bath in the dark, but alas I will almost always lose. At least my feet will finally be clean…

I try to pull the wool over my mãe’s eyes more often than I’d like to admit. It’s at least once a day. Once more, I’ve learned the hard way that my mãe knows everything. And I mean everything. I don’t know how she does it, but before I get the chance to tell her about my day she already knows where I’ve been and what I’ve done. I’m an 8 year-old trapped in a 22 year-old’s body who’s trying to outsmart her mom…life is weird at the moment.

But, with all that said, Mae Beatriz is great. She’s patient, understanding and strong in every sense of the word. Emotionally, physically, spiritually and in character. She works (literally) from sunrise to sunset every day to provide for her family. She puts herself aside to make room for all those under her roof. I may never understand all her rules, but I think I’ll learn a thing or two along the way about living with conviction.


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