This one’s for the girls (chinear)

Dear E.,

As you already know, the word chinear means “to baby,” “to spoil,” “to take care of.” It’s ubiquitous in Costa Rica and in other parts of Latin America. A child, or adult for that matter, who is chineado/a is spoiled rotten, but the verb chinear doesn’t have that negative connotation. It means rocking a baby in your arms, breathing in her scent, tending to her every need, even blissing out.


I’ve found myself thinking about this word quite a bit this week, which was not a good week for women in the United States. Or from the United States, like me. Or descended from it, like you.

I thought a lot about what women endure, and what we rise above, and how we nurture or neglect ourselves.

A week ago tonight, the world saw a video in which one of the candidates to be your next President boasts about doing terrible things to women. The horror of it sank in very gradually. Over the weekend, I analyzed the news in terms of what it meant for the race; come Monday, I got distracted, focusing my attention on the endless laundry list of tasks that has been exhausting and overwhelming me, weighing me down, filling me with guilt and pulling me away from you. I was at low ebb, and thought it was just overwork.

It wasn’t until yesterday that I realized that the tears I was shedding out of pure stress, the tossing and turning I was doing in bed each night, were not only because I have too much to do, but also because of something bigger. The fact that a presidential candidate could treat women like this, and that many people in our country support that, makes me feel sick. As Our First Lady said this week, “The truth is, it hurts.”

It does hurt. As the presidential debate began on Sunday and Hillary Clinton said something about celebrating diversity, you ran around the living room holding a Costa Rican flag and yelling, “Celebrate diversity! Celebrate diversity!” My heart broke down the middle, as if it just couldn’t hold my love for you, and my hatred of that video, at the same time. The thing is, this attack on women is just one piece of the puzzle, one that magnifies still further the racism and xenophobia and other types of hatred that were already clearly on display in our country. The fear and anger I have felt throughout this election are just a fraction of what many other people feel. It’s impossible to imagine.

I don’t know how we can fix this for you. We must make damn sure we elect the first woman president of the United States, obviously, but there is so much more to do, and this is too dark a time to see clearly.

But you are very small, and I am at my wit’s end, so I will start with something very small women can do. Nos podemos chinear. We can take care of ourselves.

Because as a woman, you have to be both the diva and the assistant. You have to be both the talent and the manager. You have to be both the hotshot CEO and the 50s housewife who has a nice stiff drink ready at the door at the end of the day. (Or something healthier.) (But really, a drink.) You have to be ready to defend yourself on every level, from the bra-burning, storm-the-castle kind of struggles, to the most basic: defending your time, defending your health.

We have to give ourselves the same love we give our children, with the same urgency, especially in a world as cold as this one can be.

I’m not saying women have to do everything themselves. The best assistants are great at asking for help: “I SAID, Beyoncé needs 10 room-temperature grapes NOW!” You will, God willing, have friends and parents and partners and maybe even children to feed you grapes as you journey forward. But relationships of any kind are better when there is space and light and freedom and buoyancy in them, and when you start relying on any one person to prop you up night after night, things get heavy pretty quickly.

No, you must be the leader in your own life, the gatekeeper, the boss. This is not easy, at least not for me.

Maya Angelou said: “There’s a place in you that you must keep inviolate. You must keep it pristine, clean, so that nobody has the right to curse you or treat you badly. Nobody. No mother, father, no wife, no husband” -no politician – “nobody… That may be the place where you go to when you meet God.”

I thought about that tonight as I rocked you when you, not unlike your mother, had trouble sleeping. Te chineaba, y me chineabas. Whatever consolation I gave to you, you sent back to me in spades. That rocking chair, I do believe, is the place I might go to when I meet God.

I rocked, and I worried, and I fretted, and I seethed, and I breathed in and out. I remembered how you insist on calling all women “sisters,” and I smiled. I prayed to Maya Angelou to send that velvety voice washing over all of us and straightening our spines and making us laugh, making us invincible.

I  wished for all your sisters, and men who need it, too, that pristine, clean space, and the courage to keep it so. Chineémosnos, hermanas. Let’s spoil ourselves rotten, laugh even if it’s bitter, rock ourselves to sleep, wake up ready to fight.

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