May 10, 2017 by Marlena Maduro Baraf
We begin by sorting and piling up the tiny cardboard pieces. Emily searches with her eagle eye for textures—the folds of fabric in a velvet gown. Brushstrokes. Hair. Kelly looks for like-minded colors; I, for the straight-edge pieces. Daydreaming, one of us will catch sight of a perfect interlocking pair in the chaos of the box. “First One!”
During school break in December, our sons and their families land at our small house in New York. The rooms fill with children’s voices, Lego parts and Barbies. We eat serial breakfasts that last all morning, bake walls and roofs for the gingerbread houses the children will decorate with miniature candy, and manage to subdue any uncomfortable disagreements among the children or adults. Inevitably, someone has brought a 2000-piece puzzle, and during the visit, Emily, Kelly, and I lock ourselves in mind-numbing togetherness at the glass coffee table in my living room.
Emily and Kelly are my DILs. I’m their MIL. I have two daughters-in-law, two sons, and four grandchildren. Until recently I didn’t use the shortcut DILs; I learned this from the young. When Kelly said two years ago only half jokingly, “My MIL would not want that,” I got a surprising hint at the filter through which she was seeing me.
Could it be that the discomfort between in-laws lies in the name? Mother-in-law becomes not-like-mother, mother-once-removed, mother-to-beware-of…. Same for DILs.
August 5, 2016 by Marlena Maduro Baraf
The D.J. at the end of the room has been instructed to open with “The Yellow Rose of Texas” and to play tía Adelaide’s old favorites. I look up. You can’t avoid looking up. The ceiling is as tall as a palm tree. We are in Casco Antiguo, the old, colonial quarter of Panama City where buildings date back as early as the 1600’s. My American husband and I took an Uber so as not to drive the narrow brick roads in the dark. The venue for the party is a bank built in 1904 that had been involved in the financing of the Panama Canal. Family have helped Adelaide with the preparations. Her sister-in-law, Connie, 92, brought Adelaide weeks before to taste the food and to approve the flowers.
When she called me in New York several months ago, tía Adelaide had said, “I invited all the people I care about. Will you come?” She’d insisted on a party on her 99th the year before, “in case I don’t make it to three digits.” I’d flown in for that too. It’s not every day that a family member becomes a centenarian.
Since Adelaide arrived in Panama in 1935, the Jewish community has changed dramatically. Our group—Kol Shearith Israel—is the smallest, descendants of Spanish-Portuguese Jews who arrived in Panama in the 1850s. There are now three Jewish congregations and six synagogues with a total of 15,000 members, the majority families of Sephardic Jews who emigrated from Arab countries—and from Israel after World War II. In recent years there have been waves of immigrants from Latin American nations in periods of trouble: Colombia, Argentina, and now Venezuela.