Niña Malcriada

I’m in a waiting room surrounded by quiet gringos. All of us do our best to spread out, to give each other as much personal space as possible. We stare at the TV in the uppermost corner of the room, flip through magazines, or play with our cellphones. We don’t talk.

The automatic doors whoosh open and a Latino family comes in. A father, a mother, two young daughters. They are speaking at a normal indoor volume, but not in the hushed tones of people who don’t want to be overheard. They’re speaking Spanish. They glance around the room, even making eye contact with me, before continuing on, unaware that I understand every word of what they’re saying.

I hold my magazine a little higher to hide my smile.

After signing-in with the receptionist, the husband and wife discuss who will go back to see the doctor with the youngest daughter and who will wait in the waiting room with the older daughter. The wife seems to be a good ten years younger than the husband. She rakes her fingers through her hair while snapping her gum. She adjusts her big sunglasses on top of her head and checks each ear to see that her jewelry is still there. She plays with her cellphone, twists the shiny ring on her finger, and then pulls out a makeup bag from her purse – she ignores the children. The husband, a tall, handsome man with wide shoulders and salt-and-pepper hair, tends to their daughters. The little girls ask their father for a snack and it is he who opens the diaper bag and gives them one while his wife, with her legs crossed just-so, touches up her nail polish.

The family’s surname is called. The father stands, hefts the little girl into his arms, and walks dutifully through the door that the nurse holds open. The wife blows on her nails and looks bored.

The older daughter sits across the row from her mother. She holds a plastic toy horse in her hands. The mane and tail are hopelessly tangled. The little girl puts her arms down at her sides – opens her hand and drops the toy horse onto the linoleum floor. Some in the waiting room look up to see what caused the clatter and then look away. The mother puts her makeup bag back into her purse and then pulls her cellphone from the pocket of her tight white jeans with careful fingers, so as not to ruin the fresh polish.

The little girl lets her whole body go limp, and slides from the chair to the floor, her dress getting caught up on the seat and showing her underwear. I smile at her. She stares at me, hard, neither smiling or frowning. Her eyes are a warm fiery brown, and her black curls are as hopelessly tangled as the mane of her toy horse.

She turns to her mother.

“Mamá, yo quiero un juguito,” she says. The mother says nothing in response to her request for juice.
“Mamá, yo quiero un juguito,” she repeats, this time standing and patting the diaper bag which held the snack her father had gotten her earlier.

“No,” the mother answers, without explanation.
“Porqué no, Mamá? Tengo sed. Quiero un juguito de la bolsa, Aquí traemos—”
“No,” the mother answers again, as she types a text into her cellphone and shakes her leg impatiently.
The little girl stomps her foot, crosses her arms over her chest and then slides back down to the floor.
She mumbles in Spanish that she wants her father to come back because he would give her a juice.

The mother tells her to be quiet.

The girl is quiet… but only for a moment. She looks around the room, at all the gringo faces. In accented but very clear English she tells her mother, “I hate you! … and you’re ugly!”

The gringo faces look up at the little girl and her mother, surprised, amused. The mother mumbles in Spanish – calls her “malcriada.”

The little girl smiles in satisfaction, picks up her toy horse, and tries to work her fingers through the tangles in its hair.

Image source: Melissa Venable


  1. Love it, great writing as always. Don’t you love the everyday theater we get to observe when no-one knows we are listening? It’s like always being ‘in’ on the secret.

  2. I like the way you described both cultures’ behavior at first. Anglos do value personal space and try to not get noticed… and for a lot of cultures, the more the merrier and you interact with strangers.

    • Unfortunately, NOT fiction. This happened a couple weeks ago. Trying not to judge because I know we all have our days, though from just the short observation, it looked to be status quo for the family. Who knows.

      It was sad and yet I was amused at the same time that the girl was clever enough to know that she needed to switch to English to properly embarrass her mother.

  3. Primero let me congratulate you for your excellent writing. Very descriptive. I felt like I was sitting with you right there in the waiting room. What a different experience from the waiting rooms here in my Mexican small town, where everyone strikes up a conversation.

    My heart breaks for that little girl. I’m just glad she has a great dad. (No se por que, but I imagine the mom was wearing two-tone lipstick: dark lip liner and lighter lip gloss. LOL)

    • Thanks so much Leslie.

      The man did seem to be a good father – so one good parent out of two is better than what some get.

      Again, don’t want to judge the mother too much because she may have been having a self-absorbed sort of day and maybe she isn’t always like that. I really hope not.

      As for her lipstick, LOL. I didn’t get close enough to check it out but what you imagine might be entirely possible :)

  4. Ay it almost made me cry! I felt so bad for the little girl! But I was really happy for her cleverness on how to get back at her mom.
    Like you said, not judging, but still… qué mamá es esa!!!
    Loved the writing Amiga, buenisisisima descripción.

    • Thank you, Sue. It’s strange to want to laugh and feel sad at the same time – but life is complicated like that.

    • Well, the nurse called my surname, but sometimes people still assume just based on my appearance that I don’t speak Spanish – So who knows what they thought!

  5. Beautiful writing, I could picture the entire scene and I felt sad and smiled at the same time upon finishing the snapshot into that moment.

  6. Who paints their nails in a waiting room?!

    I cannot stand it when parents don’t pay attention to their children. It’s one of my biggest pet peeves!

  7. I keep thinking about this post.

    I always thought the word ‘malcriada’ was a funny one. My mind translates it as “raised badly” which I think shows more fault on the parent, than the child. How true in your story.

    I never use the word myself :), and I cringe if I ever hear it used about my kids.

    • The irony of that word when a bad parent uses it makes me laugh.

      I definitely don’t laugh when Suegra uses it on MY children though – since it feels like a double whammy – an insult on my children and an insult on my parenting.

  8. Impressive Tracy! Loved the detail of your story and the flow of your words. Made me feel like I was right there with you and it was kind of a twist at the end… with the mother being the malcriada and not the hija. Nice how you did that :-) Estoy sonriendo because this story was warm and fuzzy, while at the same time being funny and very entertaining.

  9. This was beautifully written. Of course, I totally sympathize with the little girl. Since I felt like I was there with you, in my head I said to the mother, “Malcriada? Pues mira quien la esta criando.”

  10. Love this anecdote. Who knows, maybe the chica had already had her allotment of juguitos for the day! But it sure is fun snooping when no one knows you can understand them.

    My niece works at a preschool where 90% of the children speak Spanish as their first language. She’s got an interpreter with her most of the day, but knows enough Spanish to hear some very funny things. The kids are always pointing at her locker and asking her what’s in there. “Que tienes?” etc.–hoping for a treat. Somehow, it’s funnier in Spanish from the mouths of babes. Like all kids, they’re very direct and always playing her for a treat!

  11. Sad story. I hope that isn’t part of their regular routine, but what a clever girl. She knew just how to bring attention to the situation. I’m glad at least her father was nurturing and although the girl might have been poquita mala, at least she knows how to speak her mind.

    Loved your descriptions…such a familiar setting and mood. :)

  12. Yes, the mom seems horrible but I can’t help think how spoiled that girl sounded in my mind, “Mamá, yo quiero un juguito…” I so wish this was fiction, but sadly there are parents who clearly should have reconsidered taking on that responsibility. Tracy, if you ever become published, I will be one of the first ones standing in line for a book! I love your beautiful style pros.

    • Catalina, it’s hard to know who was more spoiled, the girl or the mother. That’s why I just like to observe and usually try to reserve judgement. I’m sure my family doesn’t always look happy and functional to strangers who happen to catch us at the wrong moment. But for sure, there are definitely people who shouldn’t have become parents and I feel sorry for those children.

      And thanks so much for your kind words about my writing. It means a lot to me to know people enjoy my writing that much. Gracias, amiga.

  13. Sin palabras. Haces bien en tratar de no juzgar. The whole “caras vemos, corazones no sabemos.” Thanks for sharing.

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