May 10th (10 de Mayo) is Mexican Mother’s Day and for me and my siblings (and many other Mexican families in the US) that means double the acknowledgments, appreciations, and celebrations for our mommas.
I am grateful to my mom (Mi Ama) for so many things. Her wisdom, her love of cross-stitch that gave me my love of extreme crafting, her cooking, her prayers, and her gift with words. However, most of all, I love her random and hilarious expressions and exclamations. Every mom has them – that group of phrases and sayings they say all the time for many situations that end up becoming part of your vocabulary. Phrases that evoke a feeling or situation that don’t always make sense when translated. Phrases that are a gift and a reminder of your roots when you catch yourself saying them as an adult.
Below is an homage and token of my appreciation for Mi Ama (and all the mommas out there just like her) and her sayings. She had many and here are my top 4 of my favorites:
Number 4: The thing she said when we got a phone call from anyone.
The Literal Translation: A creature speaks to you.
What it means: Someone is on the phone for you.
As the youngest of 8 siblings, we had a lot of people in the house getting phone calls. Our phone was in the kitchen. When it rang mi ama was usually the one who would pick in in the midst of multitasking. With so many kids in the house and so many things she was always in the middle of when she’d answer like cleaning, ironing, cooking, sewing, or watching the news she didn’t have time to say, “who is this?” and then remember the names of people. So instead it was “¡Te habla una criatura!”
“Criatura” was always for the familiar voices who’d call often (the teen year bffs who we’d each spend hours on the phone with). There were of course other variations on this which included: “Te habla un sujeto” (A subject speaks to you); and “Te habla un/una siervo/a” (A servant speaks to you). “Sujeto” (subject) was for the guys who’d call me or my sisters. “Siervo/a” (serf/servant of god) was for any other stranger or voice she didn’t recognize. No matter the variation, it was always yelled and loud enough for the caller to hear. Once I got to the phone, the conversation always started with having to answer the same question: “What did your mom just call me?”
Number 3: The thing she said when we didn’t want to eat her food.
The Literal Translation: So eat sorbet!
What it means: Fine then starve! (aka: You hurt my heart)
Like many Latina mothers, mi ama’s primary love language for us was food. She’d spend hours in her day cooking for us. Waking up early to make big pots of coffee and make a stack of breakfast burritos for us each to have. Making different options in the middle of the day to feed and satisfy all the different preferences for food we each had for lunch. Cooking dinners in bulk for us to have plenty of servings and leftovers to take home, have later, put in burritos the next morning, feed our friends who would come by. She was constantly in the same cycle of cooking then cleaning. Over and over. All day every day. All for us. All of the time.
When any of us get home or come visit her version of “how are you?” or “how was your day?” or even “Nice to see you” is always the same: “Ya comiste?” (Have you eaten?). That question is always followed by her lovingly and proudly listing all the delicious food that she cooked that is on the stove waiting for us or all the “tinguitos” (leftovers) in the fridge that could be reheated if we don’t like today’s options. When we say yes, she proudly and lovingly watches as we serve ourselves and enjoy the result of her work, effort, and love for us. When we’d say “no thank you” or “I ate already” or “I am going to eat something else that is not your cooking” a snappy response immediately follows. ¡Pues coman sorbete! It always makes me giggle when she says it because sorbete means sorbet. Sorbet is fancy ice cream. We NEVER had ice cream of any kind in the house. We got our ice cream from the paletero like all the other kids. Yes, sorbet is delicious but mi ama’s cooking is MORE delicious and made with more love than anything else. So when we said no, “¡Pues coman sorbete!” is also code for “you hurt my heart.” Because we know this, we always follow our no with an apology, a couple of nibbles of what she made, and packing up a to-go plate for later.
Number 2: The thing she said when she wasn’t liking people’s mess.
The Literal Translation: May the Lord rebuke him/her/it/that.
What it means: That’s too much and I don’t like him/her/it/that.
Mi ama is an active and very devoted Catholic. She prays daily, always give us blessings, has lots of opinions and thoughts about the ways things should be, and constantly rebukes the stuff she is not down with. She has done a lot of work to be BFFs with the lord and it shows. When we didn’t want to go to church with her on one of the many days of the week she’d go? ¡Que el señor las reprenda!” When my sister and I would loudly argue over who was going to do the dishes or vacuum or some other chore? “Que el senor las reprenda!” (sometimes followed with a splash of holy water). When we played music that is too loud and too rock and roll-ish? “¡Que el señor te reprenda!” followed by turning off or lowering the music. When we watched a show that was too violent or graphic? “¡Que el señor los reprenda!” followed by turning off the tv or changing the channel. When someone was walking down the street wearing something too dirty/messy/revealing/inappropriate/weird? “¡Que el señor lo/la reprenda!” followed by a disapproving head shake. When Don Francisco was getting to handsy or flirty with the models or contestants on Sabado Gigante? “¡Que el señor lo/la reprenda!” followed by her getting up to go do something until the segment was over. When the news shows footage of violence or injustice happening somewhere in the world? “¡Que el señor lo/la reprenda!” followed by her sharing her concern. When politicians are on TV promoting policies that are unfair, saying stuff that is out of touch, or being morons? “¡Que el señor lo reprenda!” followed by her sharing her opinions and expectations on what these leaders should be focusing on. Be it bad manners, pop culture, fashion, foreign policy, or politicians – mi ama always has something to say and something to rebuke. I get my opinionated nature from her and every now and then smile when I catch myself rebuking the mess in the world.
Number 1: The thing she said instead of cussing at us or herself.
The Literal Translation: Oh animal!
What it means: Oh shit!/ Oh Crap!/Oh F*ck!/Oh Dammit!/other things worth exclaiming about
Mi ama is not a person who ever cusses or says profanities. Never once in my life have I ever heard her say any of the Spanish cuss words many of us know and love. However, that doesn’t mean she doesn’t feel them. As the folks at Pero Like demonstrated, “Ay” is an expression with many meanings. “¡Ay Animal!” is mi ama’s twist on this. When one of her grandchildren is playing in an unsafe way and/or not heeding her warnings? “¡Ay Animal!” followed by her telling them to move, get down from somewhere, listen to her, etc. When she goes to the store and forgets to buy the thing she went to go get in the first place? “¡Ay Animal!” followed by the story of the thing she forgot to get. When she was looking for something that was in front of her face the whole time? “¡Ay Animal!” followed by a self-deprecating comment. When she burns herself cooking? “¡Ay Animal!” as a loud scream. When we burn ourselves eating food that is too hot? “¡Ay Animal!” followed by her laughing at our expense. When one of us has a brain fart, does something silly, or does something she doesn’t want us to do? “¡Ay Animal!” followed by her poking fun at our flub, lecturing, or rebuking us. When we startle her unexpectedly? “¡Ay Animal!” When she loses her balance and almost falls but doesn’t? “¡Ay Animal!” When one of the grandkids falls and she is comforting them? “¡Ay Animal!” said tenderly followed by a hug. When she wants me to get her something but can’t remember which one of her kids I am? “¡Ay Animal!” said nicely followed by her eventually saying my name with a “see I know your name” look on her face. Like the F word in English, this expression is linguistic silly putty used as an exclamation to convey a range of feelings and emotions. Tone, volume, and body language make this phrase the most magical and most used by many in my family. It’s by far my favorite alternative to the F-word and my favorite term of endearment for family members.
Feliz Dia de la Madre to those of you celebrating your mommas today. I am forever grateful for mi ama helping add so much color and innovation to my vocabulary and ability to express myself. What is your favorite mom-ism? Send me a note. I’d love to know!
Thanks for reading!