NYRican in LA: Malagradecida or Just Missing "Home"?

PHOTO: Happy birthday and Mothers Day strawberry pancakes for Mamita Mala from her daughter.Courtesy Maegan Mamita Mala Ortiz
Happy birthday and Mother's Day strawberry pancakes for Mamita Mala from her daughter.

This past birthday, my 36th, was my first in Los Angeles. My dear friends Karla and Jun-Fung offered to take me out to dinner and tried to coordinate around whatever my pareja planned. Except I didn't know what he had planned. I'm not the type to set expectations but one thing I learned from this year is maybe that I need to, or at the very least have a conversation about traditions with my pareja since we obviously had different ideas of what a birthday/holiday should be like and celebrated.

My boyfriend didn't grow up with a lot of fanfare around birthdays or holidays. When I asked him about it, he could only remember one small party with friends and a cake. He admits to not being close to the remaining family he has, his two brothers andn sister who live many states away.

I have many years worth of birthday memories. Every four years my birthday and Mother's Day fall on the same day. Even when they don't, they are always within a week of each other meaning one set of gifts, one set of celebrations. This never really bothered me though because ever since childhood there has always been a celebration, even if that was just a cake and singing happy birthday in an apartment decorated with finds from the local 99 cent store. I've even been known in the past to wear a crown all day because, why the hell not?

Since so many people on my mother's side of the family have birthdays in April, often there was just one big celebration at my abuela's apartment in Jamaica, Queens where all the tias and cousins would pack it in and share a huge Valencia cake. At my father's house sometimes I would get a candy corsage and be treated to dinner at a nice restaurant and a Broadway show like Into the Woods, Grand Hotel, or Driving Miss Daisy. Even for my 7th birthday, when I was sick with the chicken pox there were people singing "Happy Birthday," blowing of candles, and public readings of heartfelt-albeit-cheesy cards. Last year, my dear friends hosted a small dinner party for me in the Bronx, complete with laughing over Turquoise Jeep videos on Youtube and over proof rum drinks.

This year, grateful that I wasn't working retail on my birthday, I woke up to kisses from my pareja, as well as to a book on the radical labor history of Los Angeles, and tickets to the Hollywood Bowl won at a raffle to benefit the wonderful organization Los Angeles Community Action Network (LA CAN). My pareja had also bought me a really nice shirt from my girls. My little one made me a bracelet and a card at school and my older daughter woke up early to cook me strawberry pancakes. From NYC, my mom sent me some clothes, jewelry, and a card. My friends did take me out to a lovely dinner in Old Town Pasadena, complete with singing, candles and cake. And really that should have been enough but why didn't it feel that way?

I admit to feeling a combination of jealousy and sadness when I called my mom and she told me she was going out to eat with my sister and see Cirque de Soleil. I missed being with them on their birthdays, just two weeks earlier. Even when it was just us three, we made these days special. Here on the Boyle Heights/City Terrace border, we bbq'ed lunch, and then my pareja and I went to look at washer/dryers for the new hookup we just got at Casa Montemala. Pobre paraje mia did try for a meal out by driving me to the local winery, with me dressed in my new cute shirt, but of course being Mother's Day and without reservations, the place was crowded and he doesn't do waits. We did drive to a Highland Park bakery to got a cake which we shared with the girls after we made my older daughter's favorite dinner, stuffed shells.

I put away all the dishes, put the kids to bed and before I knew it, I was falling asleep in bed. My pareja apologized for the day not being what I hoped for and I felt really shitty for making him feel shitty. We have a home that is undergoing renovations to make it ours, lovely kids, wonderful friends. We are healthy. We have food to eat. That should all be more than enough.

What is it about childhood nostalgia and made up holidays though that make us want and expect more? My friends on Facebook even have a thread to gripe about crappy gifts and wishes not said and not met. I'm not quite sure if my disappointment stems from being far from the family with whom I have shared so many good and bad memories, wishing my boyfriend was a little more thoughtful and mindful, or a little bit of both.

My pareja's 40th birthday is coming up this summer. I asked him what he wanted and we will likely host something here in our casita with his friends. I hope it lives up to his expectations because he, like everyone, like me, has them even when we don't verbalize them.

Maybe part of reaching middle age means learning to get past those expectations though and being in the moment, enjoying what is in front of us. We certainly have much to enjoy and celebrate. We're all still learning though.

Follow Maegan "Mamita Mala" Ortiz as she chronicles her adventures as a Nuyorican in LA, including how she got her nickname, her young daughter asking if she can be Chicana when she growns up, being grateful for not having to smell her vecinos, her musings on different Spanglish accents and slang, and the story of how the self-proclaimed original "Twitterputa" fell in love and ended up here in the first place.