I was sitting on my mother’s lap; I must have been six or seven years old. She wasn’t running around disciplining my brothers, or arguing with my grandmother, or with her boyfriend. She was holding me, giving me the gift of her presence. I remember feeling safe and wanted, not dismissed or hurried. Like most children do, I started to talk, to ramble off about anything and everything I found amusing or curious. I had my mother’s undivided attention, and that was my opportunity to be visible – to shine!
La Patita was one of the many childhood songs I grew up loving by Cricri, Francisco Gabilondo Soler, the most recognizable singer of children’s songs in Spanish. It’s a song about a mother duck who loves and cares for her ducklings – the quintessential nurturing and protective mother.
I decided to create a new story using La Patita as my character. I don’t remember what my story was about, but what I do remember was the intent look in my mother’s eyes. Her gaze as she looked at me with admiration and kindness.
The next morning, I awoke to a yellow inflatable plastic balloon, the kind you win at fairs, in the shape of a leg, on the sofa. La Patita is also a colloquialism in Mexico for a little foot. When I saw it, I felt a surge of hummingbirds beating through my veins. It had been a reward – for spending time with my mom, for the story I created, for being special.
And then thoughts of unworthiness, camouflaged by questions, settled in like the desert scorpion settles into the sand dunes. Had she gotten it for me? Where did she know to find it? I had just told her the story the evening before. Did I deserve it?
Something deeper than my thoughts knew it was for me. I’ve held on to that feeling my whole life. The way I held on to the smell of the strawberry and grape scratch-n-sniff stickers on my school awards that hung in my dad’s office; or my very first staff ID, which my grandmother carried in her wallet so she could parade it around and say, “My grandora es a ticher,” in the Spanish syllables she never relinquished.
La Patita sparked a storyteller inside of me. The storyteller who came to believe she was worthy of telling her story.
“La Patita, de canaste y reboso de bolita, va al mercado a comprar todas las cosas del mandado. Se va meneando al caminar, como los barcos en alta mar. La Patita va coriendo y buscando en su bolsita centavitos para darles de comer a sus patitos. Porque ya sabe que al retornar toditos ellos preguntaran, Que me trajiste mama qua qua. . . ”