When I think of how hard it must have been for my mother to raise me, I think of the one time we went to the state fair in Juarez. There was a band playing some very loud music, and there were a lot of people dancing and having a good time. Mom and I rode some of the rides and looked at some of the exhibits. But then I got the urge to go to the bathroom.
This was almost 25 years ago, so bear with me. I don’t remember all of the details. What I do remember is going into a men’s bathroom and seeing a long line of dudes in jeans and cowboy shirts and hats. They were all at the urinals. I walked into one of the stalls, and I remember feeling a little sick at how filthy it was. But I had to pee, so there was that…
When I walked out of the stall, this big, huge man in a police uniform was waiting for me. “¿Eres Paquito?” he asked. I nodded my head. “Vamos a lavarte las manos y a llevarte con tu mamá.” He then helped me wash my hands and took me outside to mom. Apparently, mom had grown inpatient at waiting for me. It took me that long to go in, choose to use the stall, and then actually go. So she grabbed the first police officer she saw and sent him in after me.
I’ve been thinking about that episode a lot as I go to and fro with Baby Ren. I’m lucky that there are plenty of places with family restrooms around, but there is going to come the time when I will have to make the decision to take her into a men’s bathroom with me for her to do her business, and it’s going to be awkward.
That’s not the only thing that I’m worried about. I’m worried about all the other lessons that I will try to pass on to Baby Ren but will probably miss the mark because of our gender differences. In today’s world, that should not be a problem, right? But it is. We still live in a society where, for the foreseeable future, there are going to be marked differences in the roles of men and women, and in how society will treat her versus how I’ve been treated not just in terms of gender but in terms of race and ethnicity.
Baby Ren tans well in the summer, and that’s about it. She is very light-skinned right now because the sun sets at 4:45pm and she is indoors due to how cold it has gotten. If you put her next to a white baby, she has about the same skin tone. It’s her dark eyes and big, thick eyebrows that hint at her being more Mexican than American. So she’s going to have to learn to navigate the seas of how others will perceive her. Her Mexican cousins and friends will likely see her as being white. Her white friends and relatives will likely see her as being Mexican.
Yet another thing for me to teach her.
I have the luck to have my wife help me with all of this, of course. I value her opinion greatly when it comes on how we’re raising the Baby Ren. In trying to teach resilience, we’re allowing her to make her own mistakes and hopefully learn from them. Just the other day, she pulled a chair on top of her and was caught under it. She whimpered a bit as she tried to get unstuck, and I stood by to help her should she really get in trouble. But I softly talked to her and said, “I know you’re stuck. But you can get through this. I believe in you.”
She did. Like a little Supergirl, she lifted the chair and wiggled her way out. Then she ran to me and jumped in my arms. And that’s who I want her to be in life. I want her to learn to get out of trouble — physical or otherwise — and come out happy on the other side. And, all the while, with us on standby in case things get really hairy, but not in a “helicopter parent” kind of standby.
She’s going to have to make her own choices, and some of those choices will land her in trouble. Others will help her be better. Even others will help the world a better place. And they will always be her choices, influenced by us only in the way that we raised her. Influenced by me only in how I can model and encourage certain behaviors from my limited understanding of the universe and the role a man plays in it.
Good character or bad, she’s going to change the world.
René F. Najera, DrPH
I'm a Doctor of Public Health, having studied at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health.
All opinions are my own and in no way represent anyone else or any of the organizations for which I work.
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