Happy Pride, Ecuador

Last June, I had just turned off the light to go to sleep when I received a Whatsapp text message from my mother’s sister, my Tia N who lives in Ecuador.

My Tia N is my mother’s older sister and one of the most loving people I know. When I visit her in Ecuador, she doesn’t hug me when she greets me. She squeezes me so tight all while planting multiple kisses on my face and calling me her queen. “Mi reina bella!” she says. This is a woman who makes you feel like you are the most important person in the world, even when surrounded by the mother who raised her and the children she gave birth to. That’s my Tia N, so filled with love that she needs to squeeze it into you.

Her text message to me on that night felt like one of her squeezes. It radiated love and it rid me of any drowsiness I had been feeling in the darkness of my bedroom. It was a few sentences that basically said “mijita, I see you and it pains me to think that you went through this process on your own.” As I read, I realized I had accidentally come out to my family in Ecuador through an essay I had posted on my website about evolving the coming out conversation. In that essay, I had very clearly stated that I was very much so a queer woman.

Coming out to my family in Ecuador through this essay was not my intention. I didn’t even realize that they would read my essay or that they even could, considering my cousins in Ecuador speak Spanish. I did not realize how much English they could actually understand and read. Similar messages of love and support appeared from my loved ones in Ecuador one by one. One of my primas wrote a simple comment underneath a picture on Instagram “Te amamos prima!” My other Tia R who lives in Spain sent me a message on Facebook assuring me that she loves me no matter what and that I am allowed to love whoever I please. There was so much love from my family that for a moment I wondered why I hadn’t told them sooner.

Then I remembered.

I did not come out to my loved ones in Ecuador because I was afraid that I would lose them. There was not a lot that made me think differently. I assumed that they would not accept me because of  Ecuador’s commitment to Catholicism and conservative laws regarding women and the LGBTQ+ community. Most of all though, I had noticed something on every trip there that did not seem to go away, not even with age.

I observed that many young boys and men, would use homophobic slurs, jokes and language during casual conversation as much as they used  high frequency words like “and” or “but.” “Marica, menestra, frutilla, meco” were words that came out of their mouths so easily, that telling them to stop saying it was a full-time gig when I was supposed to be on vacation. I realized putting members of the LGBTQ+ community down was an Ecuadorian boy’s number one punchline when making fun of other boys. Throughout my life, I’ve realized that it’s not just an Ecuadorian boy problem. Using derogatory terms to describe gay people in Ecuador goes beyond age and gender. I’ve heard a multitude of people use these terms.

Yesterday, same-sex marriage was legalized in Ecuador. Today, I feel proud of the Ecuadorian couples that fought to make this happen in our country, a country that is filled with beautiful queer people but also a silencing toxic masculinity that keeps our love behind closed doors. I am also feeling for the young boy or girl who is sitting with their family watching the news while their loved ones call queer people words like “maricones.”

Laws are powerful but language can also be so incredibly debilitating and silencing. It kept me in the closet until I was 28. Today, I celebrate my Ecuadorian LGBTQ+ community.  It’s also a perfect moment to remind the country I was born in and the country I was raised in to think before your speak. Rid yourself of language that so often disempowers perfectly capable and beautiful people.

Happy Pride, Ecuador.

 

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Love-As I Remember It

When I was a little girl, my father came home on Valentine’s day with two single roses for my grandmother and me. Each rose was bright red and accompanied with a tiny teddy bear the size of a rose petal. Our gift came protected by shiny clear plastic that would never be protective enough to overpower the nature of a rose’s death, but it was still pretty enough to cause hope and a smile.

This is Valentine’s Day as a I remember it. My father, his mother and me.

Years before we moved in with my grandmother on Herkimer Street, my dad and I were my grandmother’s neighbors. My mother and father had a short marriage, one that I remember only in bits and pieces. They were both beautiful together. My mother- young, curvaceous, vane and beautiful. So beautiful that when she walked on Myrtle Avenue one day on her way to her job as a travel agent, a man she did not understand recruited her to model his store’s clothes at a street fair.  She barely understood him but skeptically accepted, too young and naïve to understand that this could have actually been a scam. It wasn’t. She showed up the day of the street fair and took his direction by paying close attention to his body language and the few English words she understood. At the end of the day, the combination of her beauty and risk-taking wonder got her hundreds of dollars in cash.

Physically, they were the perfect match. My father went to the gym and lifted weights even though his job as a construction worker did more for his body than a trainer could ever do for him at the gym. His smile was as big and as infectious as his personality. Together, my mother and father were eye candy for strangers to stare at as they walked down the street. Eye candy for people to smile at  and admire when together they lifted me, their toddler, over a puddle, each holding onto one of my hands on our walk home from the subway.

That was my first family as I remember it. My father, my mother and me.

Aside from my parents helping me avoid stepping into a puddle, I cannot remember much they ever did collectively. Sometimes, we would sit on the couch in our living room and the sun shined brighter into our apartment than the love they shared for each other. I yearned for their love to shine as bright as the sun.

I wasn’t allowed to watch novellas as a small child but in Ecuador, my grandmother watched them all of the time so I had an idea of what love should look like. I knew it was two people staring into each other’s eyes telling each other “Te amo” and kissing each other because they just couldn’t help it. My one memory of my parents showing affection to one another was a scene from my own production, probably inspired by some novella I shouldn’t have been watching. I smiled at them and mischievously said “okay I’m going to leave the room so you can give each other a kiss!!” I hoped the only reason they didn’t kiss was because I was in the room. I peeked and they gave each other one small peck. I forced a smile of triumph but even then I knew that they probably just did that for me. They did that to instill in me a small ounce of false hope that everything was okay.

I might have convinced myself that everything was okay if I had not seen my mother hysterically crying on the bathroom floor after a shower, covered by a towel that could dry the water on her body but not her sadness. I might have believed them if I hadn’t heard them yell at each other at the dinner table, always disagreeing about whether I needed to finish my plate of food or not. My mother insisted I didn’t have to eat what I didn’t like but my father thought otherwise. “She cannot waste food!”

My parent’s divorce was finalized in 1996. I was six years old. At that point, my dad received full custody of me during a very ugly divorce. Each of them confidently asked me to say their name in court when the lawyer asked “Who do you want to live with?” The day I was scheduled to go into the courtroom, my grandmother picked me up early from first grade but they didn’t let me go in. I still don’t know why.

By the time the divorce was final and the custody battle settled, my mother had fallen in love with somebody else. He is the man she would later marry and eventually have three boys that would begin towering over her in height way before they even reached puberty. She found true love in marriage and a family.

My father would go through occasional flings, having one meaningful relationship that ended when I was in college. Today, he spends half the year in Ecuador surfing his heart out, seeing his friends and the other half of the year working in New York City as a construction worker making enough money to spend half of the year in Ecuador and the other half in the house he bought in Queens where his mother lives. He found true love in life.

I would go through life trying to figure out how to love and failing miserably many, many times.

I had my first crush in kindergarten. Even then, I was able to imagine what I wanted in a relationship. I wanted affection. I wanted to be happy. I wanted to be a team. As I grew up, I daydreamed about my crushes and I dancing in the kitchen while cooking dinner. I imagined staring into their eyes and giving them a peck that wasn’t just for show. In my relationships, I imagined the opposite of the only relationship I’ve had right in front of my eyes-my parents short and painful one. I wanted one filled with love. I found them. I found relationships filled with love but in addition to that love, I had a very undeveloped and immature understanding of what love actually means to me and what it looks like.

Throughout the past year, I have worked on truly understanding my patterns in relationships and why. I’ve worked really hard on naming the negative and extremely hurtful behaviors I’ve had in relationships and have taken active steps to smash them down. I’ve read books on how to love in healthy ways and watched videos on how to fight in healthy ways because conflict is inevitable. I’ve also realized that while many of us have incredible examples of what healthy love and fighting looks like, so many us just don’t. For me, the love I grew up with after my parent’s divorce wasn’t unhealthy but it was the love between a grandmother, her son and granddaughter. The only example I had of lasting marriages and relationships came from the movies and distant relatives.

This all has an impact on the way we view and enter relationships. So today, as we celebrate this day of love, I challenge you to take a look at how you love and how you fight. I believe that is what makes the difference between a love that lasts and a love that doesn’t.  And, I want yours and mine to last.

Happy Valentines Day, especially to every person who has ever challenged me about the way I love and the people who have loved me while I figured it out.

 

Writing as Healing

I saw him during his last summer alive. He wasn’t the same anymore. He had aged ten years from the last time I saw him, two years before and he could hardly speak because his stroke had paralyzed part of his face. Before I got on the plane back to the States I thought about taking a picture with him but his stroke had also paralyzed his smile, his happiness.  He seemed so sad while I was there and I selfishly didn’t want that memory captured in a photo. I just hugged him goodbye. He sobbed and I did too because we both knew this would probably be the last time we hugged each other.

On my way to the airport, I nearly asked the cab driver to turn around. “I need a picture with my grandfather,” I kept telling myself but I was also afraid that he would just tell me “no.” I stayed quiet. An hour and a half later I was on an airplane and there was no turning back.

My grandfather died a few months after the last time I saw him. I thought about that fact that I did not have a picture with him from my last trip to Ecuador. I texted my cousins on our group text trying to find comfort in the fact that I was so far away from all of them. I kept thinking that I should have made the cab driver turn around so I could hug him one last time, give him a kiss on his forehead and get a picture with him. But I couldn’t. All I had from the last of our interactions was purely tucked away in my memory.

Memories can be painful but for me, memory has also been healing and transformative. When I was separated from my family at five years old, my memory is all I had. There were some pictures and some phone calls but none of that did the job of preserving my relationship with the family I had spent nearly every day with. For thirteen years before I finally saw them again, I depended on my memory to hang on to the trust and love that I had for my family even though I hardly knew them anymore. When we reunited, I knew very little about them or how they spent their days, but the love and the trust was still there and it was stronger than I remembered.

When my grandfather died, one of the first things I did was dig through my creative writing folders from college to find a memoir I had written about my childhood in Ecuador. There were two paragraphs dedicated solely to him. I sat at the end of my dining room table alone while I read and cried what I had captured about him through my writing. I read what I wrote with no judgment about my grammar or the way I had expressed myself. I just read what I wrote feeling grateful that I had these paragraphs to go back to as I mourned him and remembered him. I typed up each word from my memoir into a new document on my computer and posted it on the very website you’re reading from today. It was the first time in about five years that I shared something I wrote. Not just something I wrote, but a piece of writing that I spent time rereading and getting feedback on from others. It was something I crafted.

Over the past year, I have crafted more pieces of writing than I have in years. There are pieces of writing that I haven’t shared on my website and others that I have. Making time to write again has been empowering and comforting.  After obsessing over not having a final photograph of my grandfather, I found comfort in words I had written about him from my youth. Today, I find comfort in knowing that I have the power of capturing a moment, a person or an experience even when there is no camera or the time is not right for a flash.

Cheers to all the writers who experience healing through writing. I share this again in memory of my grandfather: Excerpts from “When I Had Shoes”

 

Change Can Become Home

It wasn’t long before I moved to New York City that I fell in love with it. I was five years old and I got butterflies at the sight of the skyline at night. Papi would proudly point at it, smile really wide and say “That’s your city! The best city in the world!” My eyes twinkled like the hundreds of tiny lit windows that covered the twin towers. The city sky was starless but the city was still bright. New York City will forever be my home.

Today, I have two homes. I never thought I would say that about Colorado.

I moved to Denver without ever visiting.  I flew into Denver at night and when I saw the Denver skyline, I flickered my eyelids in disbelief. My head tilted. “That’s it?” I asked. “That’s the city? Those 6 little buildings?” The answer to all of these questions was yes.

I was on the corner of 13thand Sherman Street walking to Kindness yoga for a class when I stopped to feel my emotions. Denver did not feel like home yet. I questioned why I came here. I stood there and looked around at my unfamiliar surroundings. There was a cold breeze but the heat from the sun made it feel like I could take the box of summer clothes I had put away back into my drawers. There is nothing more powerful than the sun here, not even Colorado’s winter snow. Here, I still feel warmth on the coldest days.

Behind the historic buildings in Capitol Hill and the brand new apartment buildings downtown, the Rocky Mountains sit as Denver’s backdrop. The mountains stare right at me on my way to run an errand, on my way to work, on my way to somewhere I don’t want to be. They remind me that they are there and are not going anywhere.

One of the best decisions I have ever made was choosing to live somewhere outside of New York City. When I decided to leave, there were a lot of people who said things to me like “okay, see you in a year.” People really thought I would come back fairly quickly. When I got here, I was unimpressed the first time I saw the city. I thought I would leave soon too. In the daylight, I began to explore and would find gems within the city I could connect to. I felt the sun almost everyday. I stepped on the mountains I could see from city streets. I camped, sat around fires and stared up at more stars I have ever seen in my life.

I ended up living just blocks away from 13thavenue and Sherman Street. Walking toward that corner today, I feel at home. The yoga studio that I remember searching for has become my go-to. The restaurant below the studio has become the place I take most of my loved ones the moment they land on a visit. When I walked around there almost six years ago, I thought people knew I wasn’t from there. I felt conspicuous and out of place.  That vicinity today represents growth and transformation. It brings me comfort to know that change always begins to feel better, so much so, that change can begin to feel like home.

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New Year, New Way of Goal-Seting

When I was a little girl, my dad would give me a pen and paper and we would sit down in our living room to write down my new year resolutions. One resolution I made every year was that I would stop being so chatty in class because well, I LOVED to talk. I talked so much that after every parent teacher conference my dad would tell me that my teachers loved me “BUT,” he would mimic, “she cannot stop talking.” After winter break, I was ready to be the quietest child in the room. I tried so hard and replaced my chatting with wide eyes and deep breaths because I REALLY wanted to talk. And then one or two days later, there I was interrupting my teacher and talking to my classroom bestie again feeling like I could breathe again.

A couple of months later my dad would come home from parent teacher conferences and we were having the same conversation we’ve had since kindergarten. “Pamela, you’re doing great in school but you have to stop distracting other kids in class.” “Okay, papi. I’m sorry. I’ll try my best.” I tried my best but over and over again but I just couldn’t stop talking.

Each year, I revisit this ritual of creating resolutions for the new year for myself. Throughout the years, my approach has changed and in the last year I have a new way of approaching New Year resolutions.

At the beginning of each school year, I’ve asked my students to engage in creating resolutions for the new year. Usually the prompt asks them to state something they would like to learn this year, something they want to learn or get better at and finally, one academic goal. Most years, I’ve had them set these goals, write them down and we have displayed them outside on the bulletin board for everybody to see. I could not tell you what my students accomplished with their New Year resolutions because once they’re set and hung up on the wall for people to see, I have not always revisited their goals with them.

That brings me to one of the most common patterns I’ve experienced with New Year resolution. We set them and most of the time, we just forget them. In light of this pattern, memes like the following have appeared…

 

To be honest, they crack me up. Like, I’ve read these on my phone and have laughed so hard that I slap my knee and the knee of whoever is next to me. Yes, I hit others when I laugh. It’s a problem.

I don’t want people to be discouraged because as funny as these memes are, I don’t believe in them. I believe in setting goals for ourselves and I believe that the new year is a perfect time to rejuvenate, reenergize and reflect. You won’t be a new you but I do think you can be a better you. For a lot of us, the holidays means spending time with loved ones that energize us and make us feel our best. It’s a time where some of us indulge in food, experiences and travel that we don’t always get to enjoy so why not also use this time to set some goals for ourselves?

At the beginning of 2018, I tried something I little different. I still wrote a general list of what I wanted to accomplish for the year but I had one overarching goal. My main goal was to practice discipline and monthly goal-setting and reflection. At the end of each month, I sat down and reflected on what I accomplished and set goals for the next month of what I wanted to accomplish and continue in the new month. Before I moved out of my apartment, I had a visual of the goals I accomplished each month.

My goal was to develop and grow as a person. My goal was to make sure that I was investing in my goals so much that they became habit and a part of me. Since the beginning of last year, I always have a book I’m reading although this upcoming year, I want to be better about prioritizing reading. This year, I am so much better at sitting down to write and putting what I write out there. The goal is to create a continuous year of growth and reflection. I hope the guide helps!

Guide to Setting New Year Resolution and actually sticking to it.

  1. At the beginning of 2019 create a general list of everything you would like to accomplish this year(hobbies you want to continue, health and fitness goals, professional and personal development goals, traveling goals, writing goals, new things you would like to try)
  2. The next day, sit down and set goals for the month of January that you can focus on and prioritize. I would usually set 3 goals for the month. If you would like, set a SMART goal. Use my friend’s Nia’s blog post on setting SMART goals to do this (SMART Goals) This is extremely helpful because it helped me get invested each month.

Ex) My priority this month will be reading, exercising and skiing. I am going to read two books by the end of the month. I am going to schedule and attend at least 3 work outs for each week of January. I am going to go skiing at least two times this month and continue practicing!

  1. At the end of the month, sit down and reflect on what you accomplished. Display it somewhere if you like visuals. Ask yourself: What did I accomplish this month? You can stick to your priority goals but you can also add something you were grateful for like an unexpected trip somewhere or visit. If you did not reach your goal, you can adjust for the new month or write down why it was difficult to reach.
  2. Create 1-2 new priority goals for the next month.Your priority can stay the same as the last if you are not feeling like its complete habit yet.

Ex) I’m going to continue to read at least one book a month. I will continue working out three times a week. I will continue skiing at least twice a week. This month, I am going to practice cooking new healthy recipes.

  1. Continue going through these steps each month.

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Checking Your Privilege is Not a Bad Thing

I was ten when I reached my life’s peak (I’m kind of kidding but I’m also kind of not kidding). I stood on stage for so long at my elementary school graduation that my feet started to hurt. My time on stage began with my valedictorian speech and ended with Papi meeting me at the side steps of the stage because I couldn’t carry all of my trophies and certificates all by myself. Talk about Adelle at the 54thAnnual Grammy Awards.

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When I say “killin,” you say “it.” KILLIN.

IT

KILLIN.

IT.

I remember preparing for my speech. I sat at the one massive Windows computer we had in our classroom during a lunch or some special period that I was allowed to miss to work on my speech. It took me a couple of days to type the speech I had originally drafted with pencil and paper. I typed with my two pointer fingers, you know, like a little girl from 2000 who couldn’t even imagine what technology would look like eighteen years later. I tried my best to focus on typing while two or three of my teachers hovered over me saying things like “wow, otra nena Latina y bilingue getting valedictorian.” They were so proud of me because out of all of the fifth graders in my elementary school, I scored the highest scores on the New York statewide exams and a perfect score on Language Arts. I was proud of myself too because five years before I didn’t speak a word of English and now I was sitting at a computer typing a speech that I was going to recite in front of my entire graduating class, my teachers, principal and their families.

In a historically underserved Brooklyn neighborhood, my school did not have the adequate resources to serve all of their children. What I remember most though were the teachers who worked every day to ensure that we all stood tall and proud no matter where we came from. My teachers taught me to be proud of my culture, my language and myself. With this pride, I graduated high school and college even though the road to both of those places wasn’t always easy. I was taught to see beauty in a neighborhood where parents didn’t believe in letting their children have sleepovers at a friend’s house or riding their bikes around the block. “It wasn’t worth taking that chance” is how my father replies when we laugh about how I would rollerblade three feet away from him on our block and he would already be saying “ya pamela, regresa.” My neighborhood was alive with music, talent, potential, rich conversation and fun but also drugs, violence and poverty.

I learned the word “determined” in my first-grade classroom. We had five new vocabulary words on our vocabulary chart and my vision tunneled in on that one word. I remember thinking that’s what I wanted to always be. For a really long time I thought my determination alone got me to becoming the valedictorian in fifth grade and later on in life, I thought my determination alone got me to my first day of college. I did not understand why so many of my friends were not in college with me. I believed they had not been determined enough. I believed they didn’t try hard enough. But then, my first year of college, I learned the word “privilege.”

When I began to critically analyze society and myself, I learned that many different factors impacted my life and people’s perception of me. I began to understand the privilege behind my light skin and something as simple as my experience with daily family dinners. I began to understand that my determination in isolation was not why I was able to pursue higher education and social/financial mobility unlike many of the people in my childhood neighborhood.

The more I learned about my privilege, the more I wanted to use it to ensure that communities like my own were set up to excel rather than fail. Understanding my privilege gave me a lens that prevented me from judging the people around me and understand the opportunities that I have had that others didn’t. It helped me understand that the challenges so many of my peers faced had little to do with their willingness and everything to do with narrow minded perceptions society had of them.

The more I learned about privilege in academic spaces, the more I also came across people who did not have the same response as me. This has been especially true when speaking about “white privilege,” a concept which clearly states that being white is an advantage. I recently came across an article titled “Why I’ll Never Apologize for My White Male Privilege.” In this article, Tal Fortgang writes his critiques on the concept of asking people to “check their privilege” and takes the time to analyze his ancestry. He writes about his Jewish ancestry that included fleeing Nazis, extreme health conditions in concentration camps and sacrifices his father made to work and get to where he is today. Throughout the articles Fortgang recognizes the privilege that was passed down to him but also urges people the following:

“But far more important for me than his attributes was the legacy he sought to pass along, which forms the basis of what detractors call my “privilege,” but which actually should be praised as one of altruism and self-sacrifice. Those who came before us suffered for the sake of giving us a better life. When we similarly sacrifice for our descendants by caring for the planet, it’s called “environmentalism,” and is applauded. But when we do it by passing along property and a set of values, it’s called “privilege.” (And when we do it by raising questions about our crippling national debt, we’re called Tea Party radicals.) Such sacrifice of any form shouldn’t be scorned, but admired.”

Time and time again, I have come across people like Fortgang. People who believe that checking their privilege is erasing their history and the struggles that existed before their success. People who do not recognize that different people face different opportunities. I worry that people will stop checking their privilege because of interpretations like Fortgang’s which are more common than not. I worry that people will stop listening at the sound of the word “privilege” because they feel offended. I worry that people will begin defending their story before truly understanding it.

Being privileged is having an advantage. Some of us are made up of more advantages than others. Being privileged does not erase determination or drive although it does elevate your efforts. Privilege also does not erase your story. My experience with white privilege does not erase my determination. It does not erase my Latinidad and the experiences that come with that.  It does not erase the sacrifices my grandmother made when she left her country. It does not erase the sacrifices my father made when he did the same and then again with me, a five-year old daughter that hardly knew him. It does not erase my struggles with trauma and immigration or learning a new language. It does not erase my bad-ass fifth grade graduation experience. What recognizing my privilege has done is made me a better person. It has allowed me to better understand the opportunities I’ve had that have brought me to where I am and where I am not today. In this new year, as you continue to figure out how to be better, start with checking you privilege. The right way.

An example of how not to respond when somebody asks you to check your privilege.

http://time.com/85933/why-ill-never-apologize-for-my-white-male-privilege/

An example of somebody who gets it.

http://time.com/89482/dear-privileged-at-princeton-you-are-privileged-and-meritocracy-is-a-myth/

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A Home Within Me

“As you practice building a home in yourself, you become more and more beautiful.” – Thich Nhat Hanh

The home within myself is as safe as my childhood bedroom, as sacred as my grandmother’s voice and as firm as my block on Herkimer Street.

The dim light from my desk lamp and the lavender scent arising from my newest candle transformed my bedroom into a sanctuary. My body was in a natural chair pose with relaxed shoulders and mindful breathing. There was no yoga teacher coaching me into a deep state of relaxation but it didn’t matter; I was relaxed when I sat down to complete one of my first therapy “assignments.” My journal was just a few pages old and the last entry was written more than five months prior to this moment. I had a pattern of bombarding the pages of a marble notebook after a break-up and then hiding it in a place where I only picked it up again to read the entries that reassured me of how far I have come in my healing. This time I picked up my journal and it was different. I wasn’t going through a break up. I was simply sitting down to write a journal entry in response to a very simple question: “What activities do you enjoy doing? What makes you who you are?” I knew what I liked to do but I realized as I sat down to write that I loved to write but had not done it for months. I loved to do yoga but I had not consistently invested in an exercise routine. I loved to dance but I only danced when I was  drunk.

Answering that simple question (What do you enjoy doing and what makes you who you are?) was a vital step in finding a home within myself and becoming the best and most beautiful version of me. This is a forever work in progress. This simple question and the answers I wrote down in my journal set me up to rediscover my strengths, my passions and myself at a time where I hardly recognized myself. I had lost myself. In my case, I completely lost myself in my career as a teacher.  I was living my life with the goal of surviving rather than thriving. I was getting through the day as best as I could without mindfulness and intentionality. I was unbalanced, often not giving myself or my loved ones quality time because I was too busy working and feeling stressed.

For some it’s stepping into parenthood for the first time, a new relationship, a new job or responsibility that causes them to disconnect from themselves. I have had friends who are new parents tell me that they no longer feel like themselves. I have watched some friends disengage from friendships or activities they once loved after falling in love. I have also seen people in my life commit wholeheartedly to their jobs to the point where they are spending Saturdays and Sundays working rather than going to the work out class they once wouldn’t miss.

I am not judging anybody for this because obviously parents love their babies and babies are demanding. People love their significant others and balancing relationship, friendships, work and life isn’t easy. And finally, jobs are competitive and it’s so incredibly important want to do an exceptional job. My goal is not to judge you. It’s actually to say…I get you. We all have different lived experiences. For some of us reengaging in activities we love demands time or money and that is not an easily fixable thing. What I do know is that rediscovering what makes us who we are and continuing to explore ourselves takes practice and practice doesn’t happen without trying or entertaining it. You don’t need money to sit down and think about it and reflect on it and I believe that you have the power to prioritize ten minutes for yourself to think about it.

If you find yourself in a situation where you are saying to yourself any of the following statements, I want you to stop and give yourself ten minutes to think about it, reflect on it, maybe write about it and then decided if it’s something you want to change.

  • I don’t even recognize myself anymore
  • I don’t know who I am
  • I don’t even remember the last time I (insert that activity you love)
  • I don’t even remember the last time I saw (insert that person you love)

Like Thich Naht Hanh expressed in his book “How to Love,” building a home within ourselves is what makes us the most beautiful- and I don’t mean physically.  In a society that demands so much of us, being in touch with ourselves needs to be intentional and mindful. I believe that taking a moment to reflect on what you makes you who are is the first step in reconnecting with yourself and building the most sacred home within you…the kind of home that stands tall despite the huff and the puff of your live’s version of the big bad wolf.

 

 

You Are Who Your Friends Are

My queerness used to be like dough. It was soft and easily manipulated. I didn’t have a name for it and the way I defined my sexuality kept changing as I tried to figure it out. When I sat in church, I prayed it would go away. When I met girls in middle school who wore rainbow belts and called themselves bi-sexual, I thought that’s what I was too. When I fell in love with a boy in high school, I thanked heavens for making me straight again.

Today, my queerness is like concrete. It is a part of my identity that is firm and secure and does not change based on circumstances or who I am with. It is a part of me the way my arms are a part of my upper body and my hips are a part of my legs. My queerness is a multi-colored disco ball and queer people are the reflecting lights. The only time I feel like I can almost touch my queerness is when I am surrounded by other queer people in spaces created for queer people. These spaces rain glitter, live for Whitney Houston’s best hits (I mean, all of her songs are hits, wouldn’t you agree?), and projects a feeling of safety that I am unlikely to feel anywhere else unless I am surrounded by queer people like me.

Community is defined as “a group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common.” I believe that we are the best versions of ourselves when we are surrounded by people who activate the parts of ourselves that make us who we are. When community is absent, that is, “people who have a particular characteristic in common” with us, that’s when I think we feel the loneliest. That’s why six years ago when I moved to Denver and had no queer friends, I felt unfulfilled and really sad. That’s why today that I am no longer going into work every day as an elementary school teacher, I am missing conversations and connection with fellow educators. And that’s why today and every day for a while now, I’ve been asking myself “what do I love about the community I’ve built and what am I missing?”

Growing up Mami would always say “you are who your friends are.” When I was thirteen, I rolled my eyes at this because she mostly used it to get me to stop hanging out with kids she didn’t want me to hang out with. At 28 though, I get it and it’s this saying that is helping me define and create my community. When I envision my intentional community, I see people who energize me, share common experiences and passions and people who make me feel the most in touch with myself, my values and my identity. My community loves and cares about other people just as much as I do. My community are people who share similar experiences and culture. My community are people that would treat my family well. My community are people who my grandmother and father would be proud of.

The path toward building community isn’t always easy and I am still figuring it out. If you are working and reflecting on the community you want in your life, consider asking yourself the following questions as a way to get started:

  1. What are the parts of my identity that make me who I am?
  2. What kind of people make me feel the safest?
  3. What are three of my non-negotiable values I need in a person I consider a friend?
  4. What does my community look like?
  5. What does my community sound like?
  6. What does my community feel like when I am with them?
  7. Who is already part of my community?
  8. What do I need to do to further develop my ideal community?

 

Baby Stepping Out of Routine

***I want to recognize the privilege I have as a college-educated woman, a person with professional experience, access to resources, English-speaking and able to read. My ability to step out of my routine is a privilege within itself. Everybody is in different circumstances and has a different process. This is just mine.  If fear is what’s holding you back though, read on!***

As babies we are crawling bundles of joy. Shortly after, we evolve into walking bundles of terror! At least that’s what mami says happened with me. I can see it now. Pamelita working on her first steps, falling repeatedly and getting back up. So close to being able to walk wherever she wants and away from whoever she wants. She takes her first steps and loved ones hover over her cheering her on. There is no judgement, very little concern and an overwhelming amount of joy.

Every time I experience transition and change in my life, I feel a connection to myself evolving from a crawling baby to a walking toddler. I cannot remember my first steps and I definitely don’t remember how I felt but I can only imagine based on stories I’ve heard and children I’ve experienced taking their first steps in the media and in real life. “It’s like learning how to walk again. You fall and get back up until you reach your goal.” The metaphor works so well when compared to life, which is why it has been overused by so many of us and labeled a cliché.

Right now, I am in transition. If you are too, you are not alone. If you are considering a change, I am here to maybe help you own it, trust it and love it.

It’s as if I am falling constantly and getting back up on my way to taking my first steps. There is transition, growing and evolving within myself, just like when I learned how to walk. Except this time there are a mix of emotions and responses from my loved ones and society. Learning how to walk is expected. Society accepts it and honors it. When we step away from what society, our families or loved ones expect of us, the cheering on quiets down. The hovering isn’t always joyful. Sometimes it’s judgmental and at times hurtful. It doesn’t matter if the transition involves evolving into another version of ourselves, like learning how to walk. My decision to stop pursuing full-time employment, put a hold on my career and move out of my beloved apartment goes against the social norm and the clear path that has been paved for me. People around me are concerned and truthfully, I am too sometimes. That’s okay.

I won’t go into detail on why I decided to take an unfamiliar road to an unknown destination instead of the clearly paved one but it goes a little like this: I did not love my job anymore, applying to jobs and not getting call backs sucked, going through long ass interviews for mediocre jobs felt like a waste of time, I loved my apartment but I could no longer afford it without a job. Have you heard this narrative before? I’m sure you have because it’s common. That “clearly paved road” is LONG as fuck and at times, stressful as fuck, debilitating and strenuous. I decided to take a break from it. Take a different way, one that I have complete control over, one where I can take a break under a tree on a sunny day and not worry, just for a moment. And one where I can actually take a moment to figure out what’s next without the stress of a full-time job, paying expensive rent and having somebody else dictate how to use my time.

For the past five years, I have had a stable income, home and schedule. I have found comfort in waking up everyday knowing what to expect. I’ve realized that my family has also found comfort in knowing that I was teaching everyday, getting a consistent paycheck each month and going home to an apartment at the end of each work day.

For the past month, my life has been far from routine. Even though it’s uncomfortable at times, I CHOSE this life and I can already feel myself evolving in a way I never have before. I am using resources and tools I’ve only used during expected transitions, like going away to college and moving to a new city for a job. I am practicing, acceptance, adaptability, persistence, dedication and navigating challenges as gracefully as I can. I am practicing community in a way I’ve never had to before by really seeking their support during difficult situations. If you are feeling afraid to step out of your routine, I am here to say that I don’t blame you but also, you can do it.

Below are some of the skills and experiences I’ve been able to practice and participate in after stepping out of my routine.

  1. Budgeting: I have never really had to budget. I mean, I probably should have but I never did successfully. Since my income is less and inconsistent, I have had to commit to analyzing my income, expenses and budgeting in a way I never felt necessary. I feel comfort in knowing that if I am ever in an unwanted or unplanned situation, I will know how to stop spending money in the areas I don’t need to spend money on.
  2. Self-employment: I stopped looking for full-time employment and decided to create my own schedule. I am currently working part-time as a nanny and have two tutoring clients. I have a little more control over my schedule and flexibility when needed.
  3. Gratitude and Community: I have had so many so many people in my life step up with support providing me with resources that might useful for me and even offering their space for me to live in at inexpensive pricing.
  4. Graduate School: I actually have time to apply to graduate school and look into the programs I want to consider. I don’t have to worry that I won’t have any time in the world.
  5. Traveling: At the end of January, I am spending a month in Ecuador with my dad- a trip I haven’t been able to do with him for more than eight years. I get to visit my family and work on a project I’ve been wanting to develop forever.
  6. Goal-setting: I have never had so much time to actually think about what I want without stressful distractions. Applying to graduate school, writing more, developing my tutoring skills, developing an online store on Teachers Pay Teachers and considering a move from Denver are only some of the goals I’ve been able to work on.
  7. Trusting my own process and journey: The most challenging part of being in transition is quieting the judgments and confusion around me from other people about what I am doing. The second hardest is trusting myself, my process and journey without always taking the advice of people that love me and care about me. I am taking it day by day and practicing how to stay focused despite the noise happening around me.

If you are considering stepping out of your routine, I suggest practicing quieting the voices that will tell you it’s not the right choice. Prioritize what you want one step at a time. Take it one priority at a time and use your time wisely and the way you’ve always wanted to use it. Remember that money is necessary but you have so many skills and resources to pull from in order to make what you need to make. Express what you might need to your community because they might be able to help. Search for resources that will make this transition easier- health care resources is an example. Finally, own your process homie…just like you owned your first steps.

let it flow

Thank for sharing @firstloveyou

Children and Feelings

When I was a teenager, I was a complete nightmare. I had an attitude that made my grandmother’s face go pale and a toughness that very few people could break through. All of my feelings and the trauma I experienced as a child had transformed into concrete.

As a teenager, I really didn’t know how to identify what I was feeling. I understood when I was angry, sad or nervous but I don’t think I used the word anxious to describe what I was feeling until a couple of years after college when I decided I wanted to see a therapist to manage my stress, sadness and what I later realized was anxiety. In the last two years, I have focused deeply on my emotions, past relationships, my past in general and have worked with my therapist to analyze my experiences and understand myself a little better. It’s a work in progress of course but I’ve definitely made progress and I am very grateful for the opportunity to work through my feelings and situations with a professional.

Emotional validation and affirmation is not just present with my therapist. I have family and friends who work really hard to listen to me when I’m speaking and help me navigate through difficult situations. I know that in my youth, there were adults in my life who I felt listened to me and were curious about me. There were adults in my life that made me feel heard and those were the adults that have impacted me in a positive way. I often wonder what my life would have been like before therapy if the people in my life consistently encouraged positive emotional development in my youth?

My friend Jill recently posted a wonderful resource from the Gottman Institute advising adults on the different ways they can validate children. Instead of telling our children to stop crying or being dramatic, what if we got down to their level and helped them process what they were feeling? What if as adults, we activated our emotional IQs to model for our children how to be sensitive and smart about their emotions? Could this lead to a generation of less angry teenagers? Of adults with less trauma to unpack?

Feelings. Kids

 

As a classroom teacher, there were so many instances when I did not say the right thing and I definitely did not make room to hear my students. There were more instances when I did truly try my best to hear them out and that’s when I was most successful.

Below, are a couple of the responses I really love from this poster.

  1. It’s ok to be sad:This simple line teaches our children that feelings are not wrong. It teaches children that they don’t need to be ashamed of what they are feeling.
  2. I will help you work it out:This recognizes that they are children. They don’t have all of the answers and that’s why we are there. We are there to help children navigate what they are feeling, name what they are feeling and address what they are feeling in appropriate ways.
  3. I’m listening: What better way to help a child express themselves then to listen to them and ask them about what they are going through? This teaches children not to bottle up their emotions.
  4. I hear that you need space. I want to be here for you. I’ll stay close so you can find me when you’re ready: I really love these three responses because it empowers a child to speak their truth at a young age. Some of us as adults really benefit from being close to somebody else when we are upset. Others like to hide behind closed doors when they cry. I am definitely somebody who hates to cry in front of others and so I understand a child who needs space when they are upset. Giving a child the opportunity to get themselves together teaches them that they don’t need to deal with it right away and that you will be there to talk about it when THEY see fit, not you.