The Goddess of Admonishment, La Reyna de las Regañonas

24 Apr

We received a visit this week from the mother of all finger-waggers. She is bound for some kind of title in the Guinness Book of World Records for the most scoldings dished out per minute, a record carefully maintained daily throughout an entire lifetime. She could win an award for most creative admonishments, since she can even find a way to put innocent babies to shame. Here in Mexico, we call this kind of person regañona, a scolder. But this is an understatement; she is the Goddess of all Scolders.


The best part about this situation is that while this person is related to me through marriage, she is not my mother-in-law. Every time I see her I spend the entire next day saying Hail Marys to the Patron Saint of In-Laws, to thank her for blessing me with a mother-in-law who is not Tia Meya. Also due to her being an Aunt-in-law, I can actually enjoy her company and love her. Behind all the rebukes is a shining star of auntly adoration. You just have to look hard behind the reprimands and critiques.


This lady’s toughness has  nothing on Tia Meya. But my aunt-in-law is much more attractive, always formally dressed, plus she’s got a big, big heart.

And perhaps, after all this time with my in-laws, I’m starting to see how scolding is another way to show affection. I should have known that Tia Meya liked me from that first time she laughed at me. I was just visiting Mexico, trying to wash my clothes by hand in the concrete washboard. She came up and all but snatched the clothes out of my hand, telling me something like, “You’re totally clueless about this, huh? Go, go.” She shooed me off as I tried to babble about my lazy style of washing by hand in Paraguay, that yeah, I’d done it before. “Go make yourself useful with something else. You’re gonna have to extend your visit by a few more weeks at the rate you wash clothes.” And she did it all for me. 


She’s a character, and a good one at that. So usually I can take her barbs and critiques with a grain of salt, but this time around it had been too long between visits and I forgot to not take it personally for a minute. The baby had a cold and she was telling me to put Vick’s Vapor Rub on his feet. “I’m out of Vick’s,” I told her. “Julia,” she told me sincerely, “you should always have Vick’s Vapor Rub around. Why don’t you have Vick’s? It’s really useful. You should just keep it stocked in the house.”


“Yes,” I told her calmly, “I agree. It is very useful. That’s why I normally have it. But since I also use it regularly, it runs out. So I don’t have it now.”


“I know but you should keep it in the house all the time. You need to stock it.”


“Yes but I’m not a pharmacy. I have to go out and buy it when I run out.” We could’ve gone for several more rounds like that but Conan distracted us with something, since he’s more expert at this situation than I am.


She’s very old school in her ways, and one constant point of contention is how we dress or otherwise take care of the kids. This time, like every time, she blamed our underuse of socks for the baby’s cold. “Julia, don’t let his little feet go around on this cold floor! No wonder he’s all snotty! Put some socks on that child, please! It’s hurting me just to watch him!” Never mind that it’s 80 degrees and that Khalil won’t even keep socks on his feet when it is actually cold. If you say something like that, though, she just shakes her head sadly, telling you it’s still you’re fault- if you’d have gotten him used to socks from day one, you wouldn’t have this problem. Sigh.


Our pet cat was the other major problem this visit. Tia Meya has decided that the cat is the obvious culprit in Lucia’s asthma. Furthermore, nobody should even have a cat for a pet because it’s just gross and wrong. According to her, cats eat all your food and leave their hair on your kitchen table, among other complaints. “But don’t listen to me! Go ahead and get more cats and see how your kids breathe then. Don’t come to me when the kids are in the hospital from all this cat hair!” And when you try to explain what the doctor said, or give some other kind of reasoning, she cuts you right off, with “Déjalo, vaya,” which is the regional equivalent of her saying, “Nevermind! Do whatever! You wait and see!” Oh, dear, Tia Meya.


Often there’s not even time to argue, though, because she zips around like a bee pollinating flowers. Instead of making honey, however, she’s busy questioning you and everything you’ve done or haven’t done (possibly while she’s also doing some random chore that she sees you’ve left undone.) She comes in to your house, gives you a hard time, and runs out the door, off to scold someone else. “Ya me voy,” is her theme song- Im leaving– she announces as soon as she’s inside. If she walks in on you with a sink full of dishes, she’s guaranteed to say something like, “Look at all these dirty dishes! So many dishes! How can you stand it?! How’d you even make all these dishes dirty!” As she’s scolding you, though, she’s washing them for you. And then she’s gone. If she walks in on you doing chores, she’ll tell you how you’re doing it wrong. You’re using the wrong kind of cleaner, or you shouldn’t be washing dishes with cold water like that- it’ll be the death of you. “And I’m not going to stand around and watch you killing yourself like that,” she’ll shake her head at you and off she goes. “The good thing is,” she told us the other day, “I’m sure I won’t be here the day that Khalil brings the whole table down on top of himself with this seat you all put him in!” Even though the seat was designed and safety tested for use with babies, with the sole purpose of attaching the seat to the table, you will never convince her that it’s okay once she’s decided to criticize something.


She doesn’t even always mean what she says; she just has some compulsion to give everyone she cares about a hard time. Even babies are not exempt from her wrath/affection.  When Lucia was just a couple of months old, Tia Meya would come in and scold her about nursing. “Ay, ay, qué cosa comes?! Deja esa chichi, vas a acabar a tu pobre mama!” (My goodness, what are you eating?! Leave that breast alone, you’re gonna finish off your poor mother!) Mind you, she’s 100% in favor of breastfeeding. But if she hasn’t told you what you’re doing wrong today then it’s like she hasn’t even seen you, no matter what age you are.


Scolding is not optional for her; you can’t escape it no matter what you do. If you’re cooking something she’ll say, “You’re just now cooking lunch! My goodness, I’ve had lunch ready for two hours already! You guys like to suffer around here.” If you’re not cooking then she’s wondering aloud what in the world are you doing with yourself? It’s a miracle you’re even still alive, the way you may or may not get around to cooking lunch. If she arrives and you’ve already had lunch then she’ll surely criticize you for eating too early. There’s no pleasing her.


It’s not really about criticizing you, although I have no doubt that she truly believes her way / the traditional way is the only correct way to do things. Conan comes from a large family of women who believe that scolding equals love. Not all of his mother’s 7 siblings are women, but the majority are, and boy are they a majority to be reckoned with. They are the type of women who are constantly working, constantly pushing themselves to get it all done. They don’t take time to have fun or relax until all their work is complete. And they believe that everyone else should be like them, too, although they’ll go way out of their way to take care of everyone around them. So Tia Meya washes the dishes while she smilingly chastises you, because really she knows you’re busy and she wants to help. Or she brings you something she’s cooked, under the pretense that it’s so you’ll have something decent to eat, or you’ll be able to eat at a reasonable hour, according to her standards. She could never just do something nice and admit that it’s because she’s a nice person. No, there must be finger-wagging involved or it wouldn’t be Tia Meya taking care of you.


So I try to just remember, scolding is love in this family. The more of it they dish out, the more they care about you. So look out for Tia Meya in the world records. Say a prayer of thanks on my behalf, that I lucked into the most diplomatic scolding sister of the family to have as a mother-in-law. And if you’re ever down here in southern Oaxaca and you find yourself being attacked by too many regaños from critical old aunts (or your mother-in-law, God forbid), just tell them “Déjelo, vaya!” Because at least then they’ll laugh at you, probably tell you that you said it wrong, and you’ll know that they like you. What more could you ask for?


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