For my 11th birthday my dad bought me a hockey stick and puck and all the requisite pads and guards. I spent my afternoons after school playing roller hockey on 121st Street between Broadway and Amsterdam in a concrete playground where there is now a building. All the other players were boys and older than me. I remember women used to stop and watch, marveling, congratulating and encouraging the tough girl holding her own against the boys.
I was a far cry from the señorita que mi familia Ecuatoriana quería que fuese. Entre los 9 y 10 años, viví en Quito en casa de mi Buela donde también vivía el menor de mis tíos. I was reminded almost daily of my unseñoritaness , y las terribles consecuencias que me esperaraban, if I didn’t become one, pronto. My uncle gave me a talk one day that still haunts me, but not how he intended. Me dijo que yo era muy guapa y tendría muchos pretendientes cuando fuera grande. Pero si seguía siendo loud, tosca and eating in an unladylike manner, mis pretendientes se asustarían en la primera cita y yo nunca llegaría a tener novio. At that point in life, most of my friends were boys. We spent afternoons playing soccer in the street and they protected me from the neighborhood guard dogs. Saber que habían varones en el mundo tan cobardes que pudiesen asustarse de mi manera de comer me afectó profundamente. From that day, I made a concerted effort to become the kind of woman that sniveling pussies (as in cats, not vaginas) would never come near. To this day, my Buela scolds me about my table manners.
My utter lack of femenine propriety or concern about public opinion have served me well as a mother. Especially since exclusive breastfeeding is almost imposible without breastfeeding in public. And, as my grandmother marveled one day, mientras yo comía con una mano and held my nursing infant with the other, “Comes más rápido con una mano que yo con los cubiertos.”
Although I had always been a tomboy, in sixth grade I did go through a period of nail obsession. I would save-up money, go to the Genovese pharmacy on 46th Street and Greenpoint Ave. and buy glue-on nails. I would lock myself in my bedroom listening to Hot 97 on my boom box and painting, repainting and perfecting my nails. I might have a PhD right now if I hadn’t inhaled so much nailpolish and polish remover fumes (just sayin’). I would mix different nailpolishes into my own unique colors. Then in 7th grade, I would “borrow” my mom’s eyeshadow and lipstick and go to school looking pretty… ridiculous, that is. I don’t have a clear recollection of why I stopped those failed attempts at being a girl.
Possibly because they were useless since I could not afford to go all the way. I mean, the ghetto nails can be pulled-off if you have the whole look going: doorknocker earrings, highlights, over-gelled hair, brown lipstick with black lipliner, nike sneakers, etc. The accessories I either could not afford or was not allowed. In fact, I wore the same hand-me-down baggy black jeans from my brother every single day for almost the entire sixth-grade school year, which matched nicely with my $10 white sneakers bought from some guy with a stand on Amsterdam Avenue.
Or possibly because I knew from an early age that conventions were variable, arbitrary and that I was not born to fit-in anywhere. When I was 7 and 8 we lived in Japan, and I dreamed of having long, silky, black hair like all the other girls. I was the biggest non-fat child in my grade and I wore the biggest shoe size. My feet were even bigger than any of the boys’. At school we would be periodically weighed and measured and I remember once being told by the Japanese nurse that I was too heavy for a child my age; that I should eat less. Again, I was not at all fat, not even chubby.
Motherhood brought me face-to-face with my ugly. Me puse flaca, flaca, demasiado flaca and my fashion priority was whatever I could wear that would make it easy to breastfeed anytime, anywhere at a moment’s notice. My hair was permanently in a bun to keep my baby from pulling at it and I stopped wearing earrings for about a year and a half to prevent my daughter from ripping my earlobes. Uñas cortas y sin pintar. I needed make-up, badly. But I had my priorities straight, y verme como las mamás de las propagandas en los centros comerciales no era una de ellas. Ya sabes, una mujer perfectamente peinada, pintada, vestida en ropa de marca y sonriendo mientras balancea bolsas de compras y sus hijitos perfectos, limpiecitos, con ropa bien planchada y fashion. I had spent my life irremediablemente outside imposed ideals of beauty, or resisting conformity to conventional standards of femeninity. And if the choice was between being the best mom I knew how (including not putting my infant in proximity to toxic fragarances, nailpolishes and cosmetics) and being the best-looking mom, well, I focused on my daughter’s needs and waited out the ugly phase.
“Don’t forget to smile. Smile, smile, smile!” was an oft repeated reminder before dance performances all my life. When I was pregnant, whenever I asked specific, medical questions, my obnoxious, sexist, asshole obstetrician would draw a stick-figure pregnant woman smiling and the baby inside her smiling. “No pienses tanto. Si sonríes, tu bebé sonríe.” And then show me out the door. Both my mother and my suegra proudly told me of giving birth quietly, without screaming. “Don’t yell,” my mother told me, just as she always had, whenever I got too passionate about a subject (usually politics). My latest bellydance creation is a forty–minute performance where I smile a total of about three times and moan, groan and yell abundantly, inspired in part by my own experience of unmedicated childbirth.
So much for sugar and spice and everything nice.
Stephanie Scott is a trilingual (Spanish, English, Spanglish) Quito-based mother, dancer, artist, educator and writer. In 2012, she created a dance-theater one-woman show called Evalución from the Spanish for biblical Eve and “evolution”. She is now working on a sequel, which focuses on La Virgen, for which she created various visual art pieces that disrupt the narrative of Catholic religious art in Ecuador. Stephanie is a 2015 VONA alumna. She holds a BA in Linguistics from Georgetown University and an MST from Fordham University (both Catholic schools!) and is a former New York City Teaching Fellow. Stephanie loves Spanglish. A lot.