Author - Nina Cordoba

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My interests are varied and I'm likely to write anything from funny to poignant to informational, so my blogs are organized by topic. Just choose your favorite topic on the left. I'd love to hear from you in the comments section or go to Contact and email me privately if you like. Thanks for coming by!

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8/19/2011 11:15:21 AM

Confessions, Baby!

I have to admit, I gave Abbie from Don't Make Me Make You Brownies more of my quirks than I have any other character to date.

She doesn't have my basic personality. Although I have a big one, I'm so mentally and physically stressed by serious confrontation that I nearly always choose to either swallow my anger or handle sticky situations with humor.

But despite our differences, Abbie has a ton of my quirks. Today, I think I'll just talk about the one oddity women may find most appalling. Abbie has a sort of pregnancy/baby phobia, a fear of children, and is convinced she has no maternal instincts at all.

Of course, in fiction things have to be exaggerated, however, I have experienced some of these feelings myself. When I learned the ins and outs of giving birth, I thought it was the most horrific, ridiculous process ever. I didn't see why anyone would go through all that just to have a baby. I never got excited over babies the way other women did, though I always wanted to take their dogs home with me.

You'd think that raising my daughter would have gotten me past all this, but she screamed night and day as a baby until I finally understood how that whole shaken baby syndrome happened. (No, I never actually shook her.) I was so glad she was an early talker, so at least I knew what the problems were--even if she was still screaming them at me.

Anyway, I remember one particular day at a belated baby shower, where the newborn was in attendance. All the moms, and even some of the little girls, were dying to hold the baby. I sat quietly, hoping I could get out of there unscathed. But, no, after everyone else had held the little bundle of joy, the mother looked at me and said, "You haven't gotten to hold him yet!" as if I wasn't going to get proper compensation for my baby gift if I was gypped out of the "holding" part.

I didn't want to say, "I have no urge whatsoever to take that scary little load off your hands." Instead I said, "Oh, I'm sure there's someone here more qualified." Everyone laughed like I was joking. (I've found this is one of the drawbacks to being a person who jokes all the time. Even when you're trying to be serious, people don't take you seriously.) So the proud mom came over an thrust her baby upon me.

And I got the same weird feeling I always get in that situation because everyone turned and stared at me expectantly. Since I have sort of an entertainer personality, when people give me their attention, I feel I should do something entertaining. But there was this baby in my arms totally cramping my style. (Hey, I'm half-Latin and that half talks with her hands as well as her mouth.)

Since I don't have a clue as to what to do with a baby, I can't impress anyone with my awesome Mary Poppins routine. I'm a good conversationalist, but an infant rarely holds up his end of a conversation and I find that babies don't get my jokes. So once I was handed the baby, I felt completely self-conscious because I had no idea what I was supposed to do with it. Then, as usual, the baby  started crying. I think they're like animals that way. They can sense the fear.

My daughter could sometimes be soothed by my singing, but I didn't want to sing to someone else's baby with everyone staring at me. What if the baby just cried louder? Then I'd have to either give up, which is lame, or attempt to drown the baby out with my singing and hope he's impressed enough to realize I'm the alpha human and shut up.

I've also learned over the years that I'm not good with groups of children of any age. I was once left in charge of a handful of two-year olds with only my five-year-old daughter to assist me.

One of them made a poopie and I had to go into the adjoining room to change him. Seconds later, my daughter started yelling, "Mommy, they're putting glue all over the tables."

"Take it away from them," I yelled back.

"Mommy, they're coloring all over the floor with crayons!"

"Take them away from them!" I screamed as I desperately tried to get the new package of wipes unwrapped while holding the child down with one hand.

"Mommy, they're all crying because I took their glue and crayons away!"

Damn, they had me there.

But to tell you the truth, I didn't fare much better with high school kids when I was substitute teaching. As it turns out, kids that age have not yet lost their wild animal instincts and seemed to know the moment they walked in that I was easy pickins.

The one exception was a fabulous AP English class where the kids finished their work without complaint, then pulled out novels they were reading. When they started chatting, they were recommending books to each other and making ironic jokes. Of course the best part for me was that they got my jokes and then played off them with funny remarks of their own.. But that only happened once so sometimes I think it was a dream.

So, like Abbie, I never thought I was good with kids, but when I ended up tutoring reading after my daughter was born, parents treated me like the kid whisperer. Our local schools weren't teachig phonics and there were many below level readers with no learning disabilities as wall as some who did have them. I kept getting more and more referrals to the point where moms hunted me down--one in an illegal way--even after I tried to stop tutoring.

Once I went by the home of a neighbor whose son I'd tutored, and she insisted I stay and meet all her visiting relatives. When I walked in she announced, "This is the lady who taught Justin to read!"

Everyone made some sort of "Ooooo," or "Ahhh" sound and they looked at me like a bunch of Germans who were meeting David Hasselhoff for the first time.

So, like Abbie, I guess I do a bit better with children when I can make more of a personal connection. And, like Abbie, I managed to pull off the motherly duties pretty well , despite the fact that I never really felt like I knew what I was doing. My daughter has certainly turned out better than I thought a teenager could possibly be.

However, whenever I hear a woman is pregnant, instead of giving the appropriate squeal of delight, I have a flashback of the first five years of screaming, tantrums, and extreme drama my daugther put me through. (I'm obviously still suffering from PCSD--Post Child Stress Disorder.) I'm afraid sometimes my response to the blessed announcement may not be much different than Abbie's is when her sister tells her she's trying to have a baby.

My apologies to baby huggers and anyone who didn't think I acted thrilled enough when they told me they were knocked up.

Just know, it's not that I thought you'd be a bad mother or anything, I'm just scared $#!^less for you. In other words, "It's not you... It's me."

Am I the only woman in the world who's felt uncomfortable or inadequate when it comes to babies and children? Or am I the only one politically incorrect enough to admit to it?


posted by Nina 7 Comments

8/11/2011 12:21:42 PM

The Legs of God?

Since Abbie in Don't Make Me Make You Brownies takes over her sister's volunteer job as an English as a Second Language teacher while she housesits for her, I thought I'd tell you one of my favorite funny stories from when I taught adult ESL at the community college.

My classes were a little different than Abbie's because mine were full of people from all over the world, rather than only Spanish-speaking students, although I could count on my Latinos to volunteer from the first day and help me set the interactive mood I needed for the Speaking and Listening classes.

Over the years, I taught all different levels, but upper level students were the most fun because they spoke enough English so that I could learn all kinds of interesting things about their cultures and countries.

One day, my students were giving oral presentations. The assignment was, "If we were going, as tourists, to the city you're from, how would we get there? Where would we stay? What would we see or do while there?"

Most of the Latin American and Asian students came from large cities. They told us we could fly to their cities, stay in beautiful hotels, and see all kinds of cultural and historical places. My French (science teacher) student was from a beach resort town in France. His description made me want to throw on a bikini and hitch a ride with his family on their next visit home.

One of the last students to speak was a Pakistani named Iridi. We had already learned that he was very un-worldly for a young man in his 20's. He was easily embarrassed and somewhat gullible. That day, we learned why.

Now, this was quite a few years ago, so some of the details are sketchy, but the way I remember it, he told us to get to his home town, we would first have to fly to Frankfurt, Germany. Then we'd take another flight (or two?) until we ended up in Pakistan. Then we would have to take a couple of forms of public trasportation to get as close to his village as possible. Finally, we would need to walk or take a donkey up the mountain to get to the top where his village was because there were no roads. There were also no hotels (and no electricity), but he assured us that we could stay at any home in the village because they welcomed visitors with open arms.

The other students were surprised at how remote a place he'd come from. They had all kinds of questions for him, and he was happy to answer. That's when we learned that the women in his village all dressed in traditional Islamic garb and he'd never seen a woman's legs in real life until he got off a plane in the Frankfurt airport. He said it was quite a shock to see all those women walking around in shorts.

Being the "feeler" that I am, I was curious about the emotions he experienced at that moment. Was he offended? Upset because of his religious teachings?

So I had to ask, "Iridi, how did you feel when you saw a woman's legs for the very first time?"

He looked at me with with his typical sincere expression. "I thought..." He suddenly threw his hands up in the air. "There IS a God!!!"

The class roared with laughter. In fact, we had a lot of fun personalities in that class, so Iridi had just invented their new catch phrase for them. After that, any time they could work it into a conversation, someone would cry out, "There IS a God!" and the whole class would dissolve into laughter, including Iridi and me.

And, no, teaching ESL never got me arrested like it does Abbie in Don't Make Me Make You Brownies, but the fun, frustration, and interesting cultural tidbits I learned did inspire parts of both "Brownies" and Not Dreaming of You.

posted by Nina 12 Comments

8/10/2011 8:50:40 PM

Getting Sucked


Did you ever have one of those moments where you "woke up" and said, "Wait a minute...what happened to me? When did I lose myself to everyone else's needs? Where did I go?"

If you're a woman over 40, there's a good chance that, at some point in your life, this happened to you. This epiphany-slash-giant question mark happened to me several times. But then the thought would slip away because I was so sleep deprived from the baby, then small child, who wouldn't let me get a full night of shut-eye or from running around trying to do what was expected of a home-maker when I actually had my own business to run... Everyone else came first.

In the book-turned-movie Eat, Pray, Love, Liz realizes she lost herself somewhere in her marriage and may have a habit of losing herself to men whenever she falls in love. After her divorce, when she meets the hunky Brazilian, she's scared to death to make any sort of commitment to him. She's just spent the year finding herself again and he could throw a major monkey wrench into her newfound sense of "balance," as she calls it.

I would think it was just me and Liz suffering from this problem if I hadn't watched dozens (hundreds?) of episodes of What Not to Wear. It's not that I'm that stylish, it's that the show gives me something similar to what I get from a romance novel--lots of drama and/or humor followed by a happy ending.

And in half to two-thirds of the episodes, there's a scene like this: Clinton and Stacey ask the poor woman who's been nominated by friends and family, "What happened?" Wasn't there a time when she thought she was important enough to take care of?

At that point she gets a far away look in her eye as if she's pulling up some long-forgotten memory of herself and starts crying. She's spent so much time taking care of her husband, kids, parents, job, etc., she hasn't even had time to take a good look in the mirror. It soon becomes obvious that it's not just a fashion problem, she's let the rest of her dreams die a slow death. She doesn't even feel like herself anymore.

As women, I think most of us are genetically predisposed to nurturing others, even those of us who don't think we're particularly talented in the areas nurturers are supposed to be talented in.

As I've said before, when I was a little girl, I didn't dream of weddings and husbands and children in my future. I always saw myself living alone in a giant house in L.A. In these daydreams, I was a writer or someone involved in the entertainment industry in some way. The only other person who was a regular in those fantasies was the maid who cooked and cleaned so effectively that I never even saw the kitchen of that fantasy house.

Yet, when I fell in love with my first husband many years ago, it happened to me, just like it did to so many others. I got sucked out.

I've tried to trace back to the point when it started. I guess that must have been when my high school boyfriend only liked us to hang out with his friends and not mine. I obliged.

I did make sure I got a college education before we married, but after insisting he get a transfer to a bigger city where I would have a chance at a job in my field, I capitulated and went to live in the town where he worked. (I later learned he'd never really tried for the transfer he claimed he'd applied for.)

For me, though, I'm not sure any of those were as big as giving up my name. I'd never planned to change my name, yet it only took a bit of guilting on his part--as a pleaser, I'm a sucker for guilting--and I had a whole different moniker. When I became a different name, I think it solidified the idea that I was a different person and allowed me to forget the ambitious over-achiever I once was.

Most of it happened gradually, though. I tried to cook meals because I thought I was supposed to. I constantly had my husband in mind with every decision, although he didn't seem to think of me when making his. Then I had a child and the rest of me was sucked out in such a huge way, I couldn't even remember who I was in the first place.

My daughter had health problems and needed her mother, so I quit my regular job. My parents moved to town to be near their only grandchild, which was nice, except that there were now four people I felt I had to either care for or please.

I was creative enough to find a way to make money that kept me available to my daughter and allowed me to be a stay-at-home mom as far as she was concerned. I had to be all things to all people.

But I stopped playing my guitar and singing. I stopped writing songs. I stopped wearing quirky, funky clothes and started shopping at Old Navy. I lost all ambition for anything that would make me feel like I accomplished something...for me.

"So what?" You may say. "That's what I did. Isn't that what we all do?" And that's exactly my point. That is what most women do. If we're lucky, we wake up one day and start to find ourselves again, usually after the kids are pretty self-sufficient.

It occurred to me the other day that I needed to think more like a man. Instead lumping all the work, home and family stuff together and priding myself on how much of it I got done that day, I should pride myself on how much money-making work I got done--especially since I'm finally getting to do the work I love for a living--and also on how much I'm able to not do because I can either afford to pay someone else to do it and/or I delegate it to another family member.

Can it possibly work? Well, I've finally got a regular cleaning lady. And I'm sending my daughter on quick trips to the grocery store now that she has a license. And the biggest of all for me is cooking. My health condition demands that I eat well most of the time, but I loathe the process of planning, getting, and making food more than anything else on this earth. (When I say this, I mean I'd rather be required to let a snake slither across me every day--or a rat scamper over me--than deal with what's for supper.)

I remarried a couple of years ago. My new and improved husband always says he hates yardwork and hires others to do it. One day, I thought, "I hate dealing with food every bit as much as he hates yardwork, and it's an issue every day." So, I'm picking up many of our meals from the only organic restaurant in the area.

I haven't figured out a way around all the constant appointment-making for 3 (sometimes 4) people and two dogs--doctors, dentists, hairstylists, chiropractors, veteranarians, groomers, kennel. Then there's the pest control man, a/c guy, pool repairman, appliance repair/delivery people, handyman, plumber, yard guy, Uverse repairman...well, you ladies know the drill.

I guess my longterm goal can always be to do so well as a writer I can afford my own wife (or at least a part-time personal assistant).

Anyway, this whole "losing yourself" theme was the inspiration for Abbie's fears in Don't Make Me Make You Brownies--now available! Unlike many of us, who were somewhat unsuspecting, Abbie meets Rick and sees a new, different life racing towards her like a freight train and her instinct is to run for the hills. She's scared to death of losing herself, or getting "sucked out," as she thinks of it.

But, of course, me being me and all, I had to torture my heroine in the funniest way I could come up with.

So, did you get sucked out? Or were you brilliant enough to keep your balance through it all? Or are Liz, Abbie, and I the only ones who've thought about this?

Do tell.

posted by Nina 9 Comments

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