Searching, Following, and Embracing Discomfort

This week I have found myself trying to embrace discomfort and the unknown. The last couple months I have focused on coming to terms with things in my life, work, and relationships that were not part of my plans or timeline. It has been a time of sadness and grief. But it has also been a time of renewal and regaining a new sense of who I am. One of the biggest things I’ve tried to push past is how uncomfortable endings make me, especially endings that were not in my plans. As a wise friend and adviser told me, you have to look at endings the way you look at a sunset. They are sad because they represent the end of a day, but they are beautiful too because the moon and stars come out right after and you see the world in a new perspective under this kind of light.

I also heard a similar message when I went to church this week. It had been a month since I had attended. While I consider myself to be more spiritual than religious, I do find comfort and a lot of wisdom in messages I hear at church when I combine them with the other things I practice to feed my spirit like hiking, meditation, yoga, and the like.  The message I heard then was this: “God’s light may not always come dressed in comfort but it will always be cloaked in love.” A third place in my life this week that is making the case for me to embrace the my discomfort of the unknown. I have felt a push to search and follow this idea of discomfort even though I have no idea what the future holds for me. Is that scary? Yes absolutely. Am I going to do it anyway? Yup.

The thing that has kept me grounded in my discomfort during this time of shifts has been finding a way to connect with my intuition. People refer to intuition by many names/terms – really all it is is that gut feeling you get when you know you are doing something that aligns with that matters most to you. Your feelings, your values, your wants, you needs. Its the inner voice that tells you to keep going even when you don’t know what the rest of the path will look like.

Those of you who are like me, serial planners and control freaks, may struggle to listen to your intuition/gut. I know I certainly do. Its hard for us to go with the flow and trust ourselves when we put so many borders and barriers on growth. Things like time, age, knowledge, having gone to far down one path to pursue another, fear, all of it gets in the way of truly trusting ourselves and our inner voice. However, over time I have learned to develop a practice for having conversations with my intuition. Ways to let my inner voice, my gut know that I am listening and that I will trust it if it sends me a message that is too loud for me to ignore. That practice looks different for everyone. For me, I know my intuition is speaking to me when:

  • I get the urge to write something that is so intense it interrupts my day (work, a conversation, a drive, etc). I have come to understand that when this happens it is my gut speaking to me.
  • I have a vivid dream that I can’t stop thinking about the next morning. I do what I can to research every possible type of symbol, person, animal, or even words that are said in the dream. I know it has a message and I work to find out what it is.
  • I get an intense feeling somewhere in my body – a chill, an ache in my shoulders, a soreness in my neck, anything. Our bodies are amazingly well connected to our intuition. Setting the simple intention/habit of saying “what is my body trying to tell me in this moment” has done wonders for me to open up the lines of communication to my intuition and to trust myself more.

As I have incorporated these practices into my life, I have gotten beautiful messages from my intuition. Things that I work to listen to in my daily life and capture as wisdom that can be shared with others. Below is one such message:

Search and Follow Without Borders

This message came to me after months of feeling frustrated about my life, my future plans, and the unknown of it all: “Search and follow without borders, heart because your world is free and bigger than the bag where you store your fears.” As someone who tends to air on the type A/planner/control freak/risk averse side of the spectrum this was a hard piece of wisdom to take in. So much of what I was doing up until the day this came to me months ago was rooted in parameters, deadlines, and fears. It was clear to me that I was putting borders on what was possible for me in my life and in my future. My intuition knew it and found a way to interrupt my day to tell my brain the same thing.

I put this quote over a photo from a trip I took last summer to Sedona, Arizona and posted it on my Instagram not to long after it came to me. On that trip I visited a vortex to witness a sunset. When this picture was taken, I had just hiked up mountains and a big rock. I was tired and not feeling well (I have asthma and hiking sometimes takes a lot out of me). The entire time we did the hike my asthma was acting up, I didn’t think I was going to make it, and I wanted to turn back. I figured I had seen enough why keep going if I am going to feel like crap when I get to the top? What is up there anyway? When I got to the top something magical happened. I found a rock that formed perfectly to the shape of my butt. It was the weirdest thing I had ever experienced. I got to the top out of breath and desperate to find a place to sit. I picked a spot to sit and catch my breath. Then my face lit up as I felt my butt melt into the grooves and crevices that were on the ground. Crevices that seemed like they were made specifically for me to sit on in that moment. I caught my breath quickly and began to meditate. I expressed gratitude for the beautiful scenery and sunset I was witnessing. This experience of finding the butt-shaped rock made the whole inconvenience of climbing the mountain worth it. Had I not stuck with it I would have never known what it feels like to sit on a rock that was made for my behind! I would have never know that there was a place meant for me to be at an exact moment in time. I could have easily surrendered to the fear and discomfort I was feeling. I could have put a border on what was possible for me in that experience. But I did not. Because I did not I learned something, saw something, and felt something that has stayed with me ever since. One day I plan to go back to Sedona to sit on that same rock and see if my butt has changed.

This week as I move through more personal and professional challenges, the words above came back to me. I felt compelled to share them here. So many times we let fear get the best of us. We put parameters and borders on the things we can/cannot do. We let those things get in the way of feeling truly free to live our purpose and move about the world. This week I invite you all to the same challenge I have invited myself to: embrace the discomfort of not knowing. Be curious about what is possible if you search and follow your intuition, your gut, and your heart without putting borders or parameters on it. The world truly is bigger and way more full of surprises if we allow ourselves the opportunity to embrace it without fearing our fears. Sometimes the things we are afraid of can be the best things that ever happened to us. Facing and pushing through fears and failures and discomfort can also be a gift. So push through this week and see what kind of magic you will encounter. You too may find a spot that you were meant to be in.

So this week I invite you all to embrace a bit of discomfort. I invite you to follow a path that feels right even if you’re not sure where it will lead. I encourage you to not put borders or limitations on the things you think you can and cannot do. I invite you to let the world surprise you with a gift meant especially for you at the moment you are meant to have it. Send me a note if you feel inclined to share how it goes. I’d love to know.

Thanks for reading.

-D

 

Learning from Divorce

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I have not posted in some time. So much has happened in the last couple of months that I have no idea where to begin. I know I have to start somewhere so here it goes: I am going through a divorce.

It happened for lots of reasons. There are two sides to every story including ours, blame we can both share, responsibility we can both take, things that both of us said, and feelings that neither of us said but the other clearly felt. All of it secondary to the truth of this moment which is that my marriage has ended. I have been through a set of challenges in the last year and this is yet another hurricane added to that crazy mix. The year 2018 has tested me in ways I could never imagine. I had to put a lot of work in to heal, to reflect, to be different, to stop doing some things and start doing other things. All of this in the name of creating the life that will best serve me.

One day six months ago, I woke up realizing I had finally come home to myself. I felt a love and acceptance for myself – flaws and all – unlike I had ever felt before. This was a process that took a long, long time. I felt grounded and changed in the best possible way and moved into my life showing up differently. I accepted that it was not my job to fix what was broken in other people, including my partner before they met me. Knowing that it was not my job to do their work was liberating. When it came to my partner, I realized that focusing on healing him was equal to me not trusting his strength. It was me not giving him the space to figure out his own feelings and take control of his personal growth. Me trying to do it for him, or even tell him how to do it, for many years was what was making things worse – for me, for him and for our marriage. It was not fair to either of us. This is one area where I know that the impact of my actions didn’t match my intentions. So I made the commitment to let go and look inward. To focus on my inner work in order to manifest the outer changes I wanted to see in my life and my marriage. I started to trust that he could heal himself. Though I wanted a role in his journey, I could not appoint it to myself. I needed him to define it for me. So I put my faith in his wisdom and resourcefulness during our conversations, interactions, and arguments. I focused on the one thing I could control and the one thing I had been putting at the end of the line of my priorities for years: healing myself. I believed this was the only way for me to be a better partner. To do the work necessary to heal from my past traumas and all my shit so that I stopped projecting it onto someone else. I started reflecting and doing the painful, methodical work that never ends in order to truly know myself. Perhaps in my going inward to do this work, I made my partner feel abandoned. This is one of the things, among many, that I take complete responsibility for. Perhaps me making this decision in this way was one contribution I made to the end of my marriage. There were also a host of other factors that got us to this point but that is not a story I will share here.

What I will share is this:

One day we had a conversation that changed everything. In this conversation, a word I never thought would be in our vocabulary is uttered: divorce. I felt like the floor was pulled out from under me. Everything changed immediately. At some point, I had hoped the rough patch in my marriage would end. I had hoped we’d come out of it as the best versions of ourselves. I had hoped we’d meet somewhere in the middle ground of our opposing perspectives. I had hoped both of us would be forever changed by the experience. I had hoped that through this we’d feel a deeper sense of love, respect, and admiration for each other. I had hoped that our resilience would help us navigate this storm and leave us stronger as a couple. I had not hoped for a divorce.

I fully own and acknowledge I was not a perfect partner but I loved my partner with all I had. I loved through all the ups and downs one should love their partner. And on the days when it was hardest, I remembered that love was a choice, not a feeling and gave it all I had. It just so happens that what I had was not what he needed and what I needed was not what he had.  Maybe, as a very wise friend told me, we both already took what we needed from one another without even knowing it and this is just what comes next. 

Maybe going through the extremely emotional transition of unmerging our lives may allow us to still do some of the things I had hoped for. Things I know we hope for each other.  I pray each day that is the case. Though it did not come easy, I have accepted this divorce as a gift. I am holding on to the notion that we will both be in a better place as individuals after all of this. Though, truth be told, holding on to that each day is one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to learn to do. Every day I work to see the wisdom and lesson of all this instead of the negativity. As with everything else, learning to embrace a new normal means having good days and bad days. This transition is hard for both of us for different reasons. At the end of the day hard is hard – it doesn’t matter why.

We simply were not meant to be in that better place together. However, there are things we were meant to do together: we were meant to meet when we did, to share laughs, to conquer challenges, and to witness each other’s personal and professional growth. We were meant to teach one another the hard yet inspiring lessons about who were as people. We were meant to push one another to consider what type of partners we wanted to be, needed to be, but ultimately could not be for each other. We were meant to be a mirror for one other revealing the sides of ourselves that were lovable on some days and a pain in the ass on others. I am grateful for these lessons because I would not have them to learn from at this moment had we not met.

As I am building my new life this is what I am choosing to hold on to. Not anger, not resentment, not hurt. However,  I am human and these feelings do visit me from time to time. I take my cue from Rumi’s Guest House poem, I welcome them in and know that they are messengers holding for me a new reflection or lesson. They remind me of the things that were meant to happen. They give new reflections of the woman I was in my marriage and who I want to be as a partner to someone in the future. They remind me of the lesson of what I am worth, what kind of love I want, and what type of boundary I need.

I had been told that one of my superpowers is duality. All my life I have been able to feel and understand things that are opposition or contrast to each other with ease. This process of divorce has been no different. I would argue that people who go through this experience nothing but contrasting feelings the entire time.  I have felt sadness and joy, anger and love, fear and hope, grief and relief – that is the duality of divorce. In the midst of those feelings, this poem flowed from my hands and heart. I share it here in hopes that those who need it can find it, those who have been through this can relate, and those who may also be going through this in the future can know they are not alone.   

The Duality of Divorce

Divorce

Once the word is uttered

It takes up all the space

A constellation of painful clarity

A blessing and a curse

A double-edged sword

Cutting me deeply with one end

Cutting me loose with the other

Tears flowed out my eyes

Tears of sadness in one eye

Tears of joy in the other eye

Part of me afraid to let you go

Part of me longing to be free of you

An ending and a beginning

Part grief part relief 

Swimming together one last time

Clinging to fear and hope and possibility

Saying goodbye to one chapter

Saying hello to another  

 

Thanks for reading.

– D

 

Abuelita Wisdom: Broken Dolls & Wholeness

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My maternal grandmother, mi Abuelita Kika has been a source of inspiration to me my entire life. She lived in a small house that my dad built in Mexico. For a good part of my childhood, summer vacations were the time my family and I would travel to Mexico. After a couple of days of travel, we’d arrive in Herreras, the small little town in Durango where my parents were from and mi Abuelita Kika lived. She passed away when I was about 10 years old so I didn’t get to spend a lot of time with her. However, she was a central presence in my childhood and her spirit has been a source of guidance throughout my life.

She was a strong, fascinating, and incredibly resourceful women. She was devoutly religious with thick silver-gray braided hair who always wore an apron and kept bottles of tejuino (a boozy fermented corn drink) under her bed. She was short in stature, fierce in presence, and always walked with purpose and expediency. Her eyes conveyed wisdom and answers even when she didn’t say a word. When she spoke, the tone of her voice was equal parts love and sass. She could sternly discipline one grandchild and give gentle words of affection to another in concurrent breaths. When we’d finally arrive at her house after our days of travel, I looked forward to her calling out for me, “donde esta mi prietita?” (where is my little brown girl). She’d give me a big firm hug and I would take in her smell, a beautiful mixture of charcoal, cinnamon, and pinol (pine scented floor cleaner).   

My absolute favorite thing about mi Abuelita Kika was that she had the most unique doll collection I had ever seen. She collected broken dolls and discarded doll body parts from the trash or where ever she could find them. She spent her spare time being a doll doctor – mending the dolls and attaching new limbs to the ones with something missing. Some dolls had heads that were too big for their bodies while others had mismatched arms or legs. Mi Abuelita Kika would make sure each doll had a head, body, arms, and legs with whatever was at her disposal. She would make them clothes and hats out of old rags, socks, or tablecloths. Finally, she would give each of them a name – Tomasita, Enedina, Ursula, Milagros – to mark their new life and purpose.

At the start of our visits, she’d walk me over to her cabinet. She’d pull a little silver key out of her apron and open up the mirrored door to reveal the carefully arranged choir of dolls. They were creepy and beautiful. Each one a work of art and testament to mi Abuelita Kika’s ingenuity and care. She’d invite me to pick a few to play with and keep safe during our visit. I would pick only 1 or 2 of them and she’d always invite me to pick more until I had about 5 or 6. I would cradle them in my arms and carefully take them over to where I had set up my toys to begin the cultural exchange between her dolls and my Barbies. I would sit on the floor and play with them for hours – their handmade rag clothes juxtaposed with the pink synthetic Barbie ones. Mi Abuelita Kika always sitting nearby watching me use and enjoy her creations.

When I was 7 years old, I recall one instance where I was playing with one particular doll who really caught my eye. She had caramel colored skin that looked like mine, long brown hair, and a lacy tan dress. As I was playing with her and one of my Barbie dolls her head fell off. It rolled away from me revealing a piece of wood wedged into her body that was used to keep her head attached. I freaked out, worried that mi Abuelita Kika would be mad at me for breaking the doll. I felt terrible for not being delicate and careful with her.

Mi Abuelita Kika was standing nearby and saw the whole thing. She bent down and grabbed the doll head from my hands. I apologized profusely to her for messing up the doll. She quietly grabbed the doll’s body and wedged the head into the wood right back to reattach her. Then she gave the doll back to me and said, “ya mira no pasa nada.” (“there see, nothing is wrong”). Not wanting to keep playing with her, I apologized again and asked her to put it back in her cabinet so it wouldn’t happen again. She said, “para eso son las muñecas” (“that’s what dolls are for”) and gave her right back to me. Then she said “tu nomas juega” (“you just play”). The doll’s head fell off a few more times that summer while I played with her. Each time I would take her to mi Abuelita Kika to put her back together and then I’d go back to playing remembering her words of reassurance, “ya mira no pasa nada” and “tu nomas juega.”

Reflecting back as an adult now, I am sad that I don’t have any of her dolls with me to admire. All I have is the wisdom of this memory. Her treatment of these dolls makes me think of Kintsugi, the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with gold. The philosophy behind this technique is to showcase and honor the breakages as part of the object’s history instead of hiding them. In her own way, mi Abuelita was practicing doll Kintsugi. In place of gold, she used rags, socks, and spare limbs all of them intended to honor the life the dolls had before her and turn their flaws into a collage of beauty and resilience.

As I work through all the things that make me feel broken in life – grief, depression, anxiety, and infertility – I remember mi Abuelita Kika and her dolls. I remember the wise message behind her practice of mending these dolls to make them whole again. I realize that wholeness is not about never being broken. Wholeness is about being able to say “no pasa nada” and putting yourself back together over and over. Wholeness is about taking the things that broke you, dressing them up, giving them a place of honor, a new purpose, and sharing them with others so they too can see what makes you unique. On the days when I have felt the most broken and incomplete when my struggles with anxiety make me feel like I keep losing my head, I think of mi Abuelita Kika’s dolls. I breathe in her words, “ya mira no pasa nada” as I figure out what piece of me needs to be clumsily reattached today. I hold her call to action of “tu nomas juega” in my heart and go on about my day, ready to stop and reattach whatever breaks in me once again.

Mi Abuelita Kika taught me that broken things can be mended, made whole, and treasured. The piece of wood wedged into the neck of that doll is part of her story just like my anxiety and depression are part of mine. There are many things in life that will make you break and that doesn’t mean you stop playing. Wholeness is a commitment to pause, reattach, and keep playing in your life and your purpose until something else inevitably comes up again. There are days when this is not easy to do because the idea of reattaching and continuing feels insurmountable. But I have come to understand that wholeness is about remaining committed to that cycle of playing and reattaching, no matter how long it takes me to actually do it. So to honor mi Abuelita Kika, I work to find wisdom in the moments that break me. I work to say “no pasa nada.” I work to give my scars a place of honor in my being. To remember they are part of my story and part of what makes me beautiful and worthy of love. To tell myself that they are the thing that gives me strength and builds my resilience so that I never stop playing. Gracias, Abuelita Kika for that beautiful lesson in how to heal and be whole.

What is your favorite piece of Abuelita wisdom? Send me a note I would love to know.

Thanks for reading.

-D       

 

 

Life: Roller Coaster or Conveyor Belt?

This poem came to me after a spirited debate I had with Glen several months ago about what life is. What it feels like. What it truly is all about. We didn’t settle it but we did land on a question that I have been contemplating ever since: Is life a roller coaster or a conveyor belt? I even made a craft project about it!

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Some may say that the answer to this question is about perspective, but for me, it was also about something more. I agree that there is something to the conventional wisdom that life is all about how you choose to view it. Cup half empty or cup half full, etc. etc. etc. However, as someone who is indecisive, I constantly feel and hold opposite feelings, truths, and perspectives at the same time. I have learned to openly embrace my “duality superpower” so this wisdom just doesn’t work for me. And something just kept gnawing at me about this question. Something asking me to dive deeper. Something that was calling me to explore and unpack this question in a way that makes sense for me.  The result of the unpacking and deep dive was this poem.

Life: roller coaster or conveyor belt?

Some days life is a conveyor belt.
Bland. Beige. Boring.
You focus on refinement and replication.
It’s all a copy.
Some of it you but not all of it.
You surrender.
You duplicate.
It gets old quickly.
The repetition is comfortable but it stifles your mind.
You walk away.
You break free.
You see a glimpse of yourself.
It’s liberating until it’s scary.
These days life feels like a roller coaster.
Fast. Full. Frantic.
Unpredictable and undeniably out your of control.
The twists scare your mind.
The turns churn your stomach.
Shivers rise from your feet to your eyes.
All you can’t control overwhelms you.
You freeze.
You tense up.
You worry.
Then one day it dawns on you:
Isn’t a rollercoaster just a bigger, loopier, more colorful conveyor belt?
The bright colors hug your eyes.
The wind caresses your skin and runs through your hair.
You are surrounded by weightless beauty.
You surrender.
You reflect.
You create.
You choose.
And you break free once again.
This time forever…

Sidenote: I also feel like perhaps there is an in-between place, something that is not as boring as a conveyor belt and not as loopy and unpredictable as a roller coaster. Perhaps a merry-go-round? Its circular and repetitive but not as boring. Colorful and not as loopy. All of these options are just bigger, loopier, and more colorful versions of one another. What they all have in common is their circular nature. Its like Pema Chodran says, life is just a series of things that come together and then fall apart over and over. So the main difference here is really just decor. If there is anything that my obsession with HGTV has taught me, its that decor is always the thing that makes a room or home come together or fall apart.  So for me that is what life is. A series cyclical decor changes that I am at choice to make. They each bring with them perspective, purpose, and sometimes boredom. There is also growth, wisdom, and movement in each. The notion that these metaphors for life (the conveyor belt, the roller coaster, and the merry-go-round) are all just bigger more decorated versions one another feels liberating to me.

What do you think? What metaphor best describes the way you see life? Send me a note. I’d love to know! Thanks for reading.

-D

My Favorite Mexican Dad Expressions

My Four Favorite Mexican Dad Expressions

My dad, Mi Apa, was my hero growing up. He embodied the perfect combination of creativity, strength, wisdom, and playfulness. Like mi ama, mi Apa had a very unique and special way he did and said things to show his love for me, my siblings, and his grandkids. On this Father’s Day, I am finding myself reflecting and appreciating some of what I consider to be mi Apa’s greatest actions and sayings. Here they are, in no particular order.

1 – What he calls it any time he builds, fixes, or makes something…

Invento Agrícola

Translation: An Agricultural Invention

What it means: A thing he built, made, or fixed.

My dad is a carpenter by trade. For many years he worked for a lumber company as a master craftsman building beautiful doors and windows. The creations that his skilled and calloused hands made over the years are no doubt hanging in many fancy homes in rich neighborhoods all over Los Angeles. In addition to his door and window skills, he was also a determined self-taught handyman who made it his mission to build or fix anything in our home for the sake of improving it and ensuring there was room for our whole family. The first time I saw a wall being built was because I watched mi Apa do it. The first time I saw how cement was laid out to make a driveway I watched mi Apa do it. The first time I saw a person crawl under our house to fix a plumbing issue I watched mi Apa do it. The first time I saw tile being installed I watched mi Apa do it. He approached every project with a mix of focus, uncertainty, and determination to figure it out no matter how many days and trips to Home Depot it would take. And he always did it by any means necessary. We knew he was gearing up to build or fix something when he’d utter the words, “voy hacer un invento agrícola” (“I am going to make an agricultural invention”). 

As the years went on and me and my siblings grew up, moved out, and bought their own homes his “inventos agricolas” spread into our homes. It is clear that my dad’s love language is acts of service for his children via his “inventos agricolas.” When my sister wanted to build a covered patio by her pool – mi Apa built it for her. When my brother wanted to add an extra bathroom to his house – mi Apa built it for him. When my niece wanted her own “casita” (little house) to play in – mi Apa built it for her. And when I want to cheat on any Pinterest project – mi Apa builds it for me. Since I have moved out, each year I have added a new “invento agricola” to my home. I now have a beautiful and curated collection of items that remind me every day of mi Apa and his love for me. The refinished bright yellow thrift store dresser that is now my TV unit, the wood entryway bench that I still haven’t decided what color to paint, the restained dining table where drink my morning coffee, and the new small rolling pantry he just built for me a few weeks ago for my tiny apartment kitchen are all centerpieces in my home. I admire them daily like art pieces in a museum. All made perfect and beautiful with my dad’s skilled and calloused hands. Anytime I see a new idea on Pinterest, all I need to do is call him and utter the magic words, “¿Apa me puede hacer un invento agrícola?” (Dad can you make me an agricultural invention?) and he jumps to my craft/project rescue ready to give me another crafty art piece for my collection.  

2 – The thing he says when it’s time to go out…

Tirar Rostro

Translation: “Let’s throw face”

What it means: Let’s go for a walk around the block.

That’s right mi Apa throws face not shade! He and mi Ama have lovingly cared for many of my young nieces and nephews until they were old enough to go to school. After years of doing this, he has become a toddler whisperer. Every morning my young nieces and nephews look forward to him uttering their favorite phrase “Vamos a tirar rostro” (“Let’s go throw face”). When he says it they prepare for their daily morning adventure. They climb into the stroller, or go-cart, or whatever other “invento agricola” my dad has come up with to transport them around the block (like a giant wooden cart lined with cozy carpet with a built-in table that he uses to both transport the kiddos and feed them). Then they literally go out to throw their smiling faces all over the neighborhood. They stop methodically at various checkpoints to wave at neighbors sitting on their porches and greet the different dogs in the neighborhood. Each checkpoint includes elaborate backstories about the people and dogs they see. Where they are from, who named them, how they got here, how they are related to people in the family, etc. All the elaborate details made up by my dad. All told in the same rhythm and with the same words each day until the kiddos can recite them back from memory. All filling my nieces and nephews with delight. In turn, their laughs, smiles, and giggles fill mi Apa with the same.

3 – The thing he told us when he thought we needed to calm down and have some self-control…

Burro Sin Mecate

Translation: Donkey without a rope

I heard this one a lot as a young 18-20 something who was trying to balance school, a social life, and family obligations. I was in college, making new friends, going out, working different jobs, never home, and never communicating with my parents. I was the youngest and at that point, perhaps mi Apa felt like he was losing me. His baby, as he called me, became an adult from one day to another and it just happened too fast. He’d say “estas como burro sin mecate” (“you’re like a donkey without a rope”) or “no seas burro sin mecate” (“don’t be a donkey without a rope”) all the time. When I’d wake up and leave the house, when I would miss a family gathering, or when I would come home too late from work, school or being out with friends. It was repetitive and filled with worry and love. These words made me roll my eyes at him many times. Yet the message of this funny saying was never lost on me. I felt his words deep in my core. I knew that these words translated to a simple message: I miss you, I am worried about you, and I want you to be safe. But the deeper message, the one that is still with me to this day, is a reminder not to wander around lost in life. To not wander too far and to not get carried away with my own young, invincible, immaturity. It was a message saying calm down, don’t get too crazy, don’t lose yourself in dumb shenanigans, and have some self-control. This phrase was a call to action from mi Apa to stay wise and focused on what was important – my studies, my job, being a good person, being grounded in my values and identity. A donkey with a rope has a job to do, a place to go, and a purpose to fulfill. Mi Apa wanted the same for me. Thanks to him and this phrase, I have never forgotten who I am, where I am going, the work I am supposed to do, and the purpose I am meant to fulfill. Through different chapters in my life, my ideas around these things have grown and evolved, but the wisdom of this phrase and the sage advice he’d give along with it has never left me. I heard it, I took it to heart, and every day I strive to lead a life that emulates the aspiration of being a burra with a purpose.

Hope you all enjoyed celebrating your fathers, father figures, or mothers pulling double duty today. What are your favorite dad/parent expressions? Those things they do or say that seem a bit wacky but convey the love, humor, and wisdom that only a parent could? Send me a note I’d love to know!

Thanks for reading!

-D

 

Brain vs Body: Big Questions and Mid-year Reflections

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It’s June! Summer vacations, bathing suits, and BBQs are upon us. It’s also the middle of the year. This combined with the news of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain deaths have me in deep reflection about the first half of 2018 and my own struggles with mental health. The end of 2017 really kicked my ass. I ended the year in a lot of pain, grief, and need for healing. I desperately needed to get away and reflect. In his infinite wisdom, and despite my reservations about lack of a plan, my hubby pushed us to take a two-week road trip from Los Angeles to Seattle and back over the winter break. It was a beautiful drive and beautiful experience for our relationship and for my healing journey.

We ended up spending New Year’s Eve in the Bay Area visiting a friend we hadn’t seen in a long time who happened to be in town while we were passing through. She was hosting a vision board party which we joined. This was very new for me. I had never done this type of intentional vision-boarding before. I had certainly made collages in the past but they were just to make something fun never to set intentions. It was a fun and creative exercise. I enjoy making artsy things. In fact I always get the urge to make something when I am feeling stressed, sad, overwhelmed, or in need of clarity. I find it very therapeutic to do things that fully engage my hands in a creation process – cooking, crafting, writing, knitting, etc. A vision board was just never one of those things I ever got the urge to make. This was the first time that I had ever spent a New Year’s eve setting clear and mindful intentions for the following year. We ended up joining the gathering by chance after other plans fell through. I was in a room full of amazing women who all committed that their vision boards would inform actions and decisions in the next year.  I was so grateful because being in that space was exactly what I needed. Sidenote: Shout out to my amazing friend Kirstin for being the inspiration for this post! <3

I had no plan or idea in mind. At that moment, I relied solely on my hands, my intuition, and my connection to images or colors to make this vision board:

 

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Vision board for 2018 made on NYE December 2017

 

The result was a small collection of intentions, mantras, and one promise I wanted remember during the year. The Intentions: I make time for joy, balance, and heavenly peace. I will see the wonderful in life and practice gratitude. The Mantras: I live and love fully. I am brave, whole, and strong. The Promise: I will make my family miracle happen.

At the start of 2018, I felt grounded in holding these things in my mind and heart. While I was ok for a little while, a lot of things happened during the early part of 2018 that made me lose my focus. First I had my 35th birthday. While this was worthy of celebration it also was a reminder that the runway on my optimal childbearing years is getting shorter. The sadness crept back in as I began to worry about undergoing IVF and all the uncertainty around that began to feel insurmountable. Weeks after that, my last living grandparent passed away. Another hard hit for me and my family. I was still grieving my miscarriage and now grieving the loss of the strong and beautiful soul that my grandmother was. I launched Off The Clocker. I started blogging and coaching clients. All of which was mixed with excitement, fear, and insecurity about building this as a blog, brand, and business. Things at my day job were also busy and going a mile a minute. The stress of projects, events, and deadlines left me feeling like I had nothing left at the end of every day.  All of this grieving, sadness, excitement, and stress was happening all at once.

During this time, all of my self-care activities stopped. I didn’t want to take care of myself because I was still angry with my body after my miscarriage. I stopped going to therapy. I stopped hanging out with friends. I avoided family. I was fueling myself with thrifty mint & chip ice cream, chocolate chip cookies, and Popeyes chicken and calling that self-care. I was hiding my depression with fake laughs. I was numbing myself with Netflix binges. But the truth was that I was sad, in pain, and grieving deeply. I was feeling hopeless, worthless, and anxious all the time. I stopped thinking about myself, my mind, and my body. I started to feel like none of it mattered. Like I didn’t matter. During workdays, my brain was trying to pretend like nothing was wrong. When I was at home alone it was telling me that I was horrible and that no one else would get it. My body was like, “OK. You want to do this for a little while? Fine.”

Things only got worse. Days felt like competing for roller coasters that I was desperately trying to control but I couldn’t. At some point, the anxiety and depression that I had been suppressing my whole life got way too big for me to ignore. I was getting up everyday trying to pretend like nothing was wrong. Trying to run away from the shame I was feeling about my own mental health issues. The brain is great at helping you pretend, but you can’t lie to your body. Faking it was taxing and exhausting and I felt that all over my body. It was in my skin, my cramping hands, my headaches, my racing heart, my back pain, my neck, my arms constantly shivering, my stomach feeling like it was on a rollercoaster that I couldn’t get off of, and my tears that would come seemingly out of nowhere. I did my best to hide it all in when I was around people. Then one day my body had enough and just said, “No! You aren’t doing any of this anymore. You need to stop.” The way it happened was a blur. One day I just couldn’t get up, I couldn’t stop crying, I couldn’t put on pants or get out of bed. I couldn’t make my body fake it even though my brain wanted to so badly. My body chose to stop in protest against my brain’s wishes. My brain wanted to go to work, to ignore the sadness, to project manage my way out of grief, to pretend nothing was wrong, to laugh off at the stress. But my body was not having it. My body wanted me to stop, to slow down, to heal, to think, to grieve, and to remember who the hell I was again. So, I surrendered and let my body win that battle with my brain. For this first time ever in my life, I stopped everything to fully focus on my healing. I had to face my anxiety and depression. I had to deal with and let go of the guilt I felt about letting people down. I deal with and let go of the shame I felt about being surrounded by blessings (a home, a job, an education, a husband) and yet not being able to shake the sadness and hopelessness. I had to deal with all the shit that got too big for me to ignore. In the midst of my stopping, I turned to creativity to capture what I was dealing with and feeling. I wanted to capture the overwhelm and fear in that moment as a visual reference point. The result was the digital collage below.

 

sadness collage
Digital collage made as an homage to my healing April 2018

 

This journey of healing has been long and slow but it has taught me a lot about what happens when the body gets tired of being ignored. It becomes an advocate protecting you again the darkness in your brain. A darkness that is easy to believe and rationalize because of our brain’s great ability to make hopelessness make sense and disguise the judgments you have about yourself as universal truths. This combined with working in fields that are dominated by the brain’s talents like project management, ignoring stuff, and pretending makes it easy to lose ourselves. But when the body gets tired of being ignored it will do things to wake you up and make itself heard and understood. It will make you feel so sick you can’t get out of bed. It will send pain to places in your body you’ve never had pain before. It will not let you sleep. It will give you heart racing panic attacks in the middle of rush hour traffic. It will make you burst into tears in the middle of a workday. It will give you splitting headaches. All of this is what happened to me. There were so many messages my body was sending me to let me know that I was not ok. Messages I ignored until I just couldn’t ignore them anymore. It happens to a lot of us.

So now here I am thinking about the next 6 months. I am thinking about all the ups and downs that have happened. Thinking about how the dark side of mental health impacts so many – from your neighbors to brilliant famous people. I am in awe of the wisdom and fury that my body has within it. Wisdom to tell me what it needed in a million different ways and the fury to assert itself when my brain wanted to continue pushing me towards the darkness. I have tried to see through the pain of this to find the wonderful things I can be grateful for. I am grateful to the friends, family, and others who have offered their support in big and small ways during this time. From texts to calls to showing up on my doorstep with froyo or pan dulce – it all helps, it all matters. I am grateful to my hubby Glen for his patience and support during this time. I have not been an easy person to be around but he has found ways to lead with love, to be here for what I need, and to have my back in situations when my courage is tested. I am grateful to myself for focusing on my healing by coming back to yoga, writing and sharing my stories, extreme crafting, and getting back into my kitchen to cook. I am grateful to my doctor and my therapist who continue to remind me that my mental health is important. That my healing is a process and that I am worth it.

I have kept my mantras at the top of my mind. This in itself is a challenge I have to work at daily. I live and love fully when I laugh with my hubby, see my family’s gifts, play like a child, or sip my morning cafecito while listening to birds chirping outside my window. I am whole, brave, and strong because I am doing the inner work to remember this daily. I am working slowly towards making my family miracle happen by getting my health right. I am nearly done with the Whole30 and am working on my next health project. I know that a healthy body and a healthy brain means healthy eggs and the best chance for success when we start IVF later this year. In the midst of all the darkness and challenges so many beautiful things have emerged. I have made the time to find joy and start to create the balance I need. I am still working on getting to heavenly peace, but I see glimpses of it on the horizon.

All of this reflection is also bringing up some big questions that will be informing the rest of this year:

  • How do I need to be to keep my brain and my body on the same team?
  • How can l be a better partner and listener to my body?
  • How do I make sure my Higher Self stays in control?   

I may make another vision board or craft of some sort to help me answer these questions. Perhaps new intentions or mantras will arise. We shall see. To all of you out there struggling with your mental health: I see you. You are not alone. Healing is not easy but you are worth it.  

This month, I invite you all to join me in reflecting on the first half of 2018. What have you learned? What kind of relationship do you have with your brain and your body? What does your healing journey look like? What are you grateful for?  What big questions are you pondering that might inform the rest of this year? Send me a note if you feel inclined to share.

Thanks for reading.

-D

 

The Wisdom of Cooking on Whole30

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I am 10 days into the Whole30 program and have been documenting my cooking adventures via my Instagram. The Whole30 is an eating plan meant to push a “reset button” on your health by eliminating processed foods, alcohol, sugar, grains, legumes, and dairy from your diet for 30 days. Being on the Whole30 has been very challenging but I have greatly appreciated how much clarity there is in the restrictions. This clarity is precisely the type of tough love I respond to. I decided to try Whole30 after having been told by my doctors in my struggles with anxiety and depression and in my preparation for undergoing IVF later this year that my diet is a factor in my healing and potential success. So I said ok, let me try this restrictive but very clear thing to see if I feel better.

I attempt to get through each day by answering a simple question: how can I still have a good meal and get my food needs met when there barriers and restrictions? So here I am 10 days in thinking the same daily mantra: “Ok. I can’t have this. I can’t have that. This does not mean I can’t have a good meal!” It is an overly optimistic thought that doesn’t always work to keep my spirits up. I have felt my share of darkness and sadness over the food I can’t have. Food that I crave and miss. I have resorted to doing weird stuff to scratch the food itch. On day 4, my hubby and I were on our way out to dinner and I asked him to pull over at the Popeyes Chicken we passed on the way to the restaurant so that I could smell the fried chicken grease air. We parked behind that Popeyes for 5 minutes or so until I got my fill of that delightful smell. At home, I am a resourceful enough cook to still make yummy stuff in the midst of these limits.

For the last 10 days, I have been cooking up a storm. Making stuff I used to buy in the store from scratch and trying to create similar compliant versions of the things I miss, like fried chicken. My kitchen has never been messier, warmer, or more fragrant. The book and people who have done it say that Whole30 is supposed to change your relationship with food. Maybe that is right. In my experience in the last 10 days, Whole30 has changed my relationship with my kitchen and with myself.

Since starting Whole30, I have reconnected with the wisdom of my home. I have been reminded that my kitchen is the heart of my house. A heart that I had been ignoring for quite some time. It has felt really, really good to use this space. To spend more time here. To be standing, making, and doing things with my hands like making salmon patties, mayonnaise, and almond milk all from scratch. To get to impress my chef hubby with my skills and creations. Whole30 has reminded me that my relationship with food is about the process of cooking. The memories that certain meals evoke, the lessons certain dishes have to share with me about my life, and the gifts I see in myself when I cook.

I am not a classically trained chef. I am a simple home cook. I really love to cook with instinct and intuition. I grew up being influenced by cooking. As a kid, we didn’t have cable we just had the regular basic channels. On Saturday mornings, when all of my peers might have been watching Nickelodeon or Disney channel shows, I was watching PBS cooking shows. Shows that that starred chefs like Jacques Pepin, Martin Yan, Mary Ann Esposito, and others. People who were talking about food that knew nothing about. Food that seemed so fancy to me because all I knew about was Mexican food staples like beans and tortillas. Every week these show would cook with things like Cornish game hens, eggplant, ricotta – things that my family would never eat. Their knowledge and excitement about food and cooking drew me into these seemingly boring shows every week.

On his show Yan Can Cook, Martin Yan would frantically and excitedly chop vegetables with a huge cleaver. He had this energy that flowed through him that was contagious as he’d grab a new vegetable and then just start hacking at it. He was making noises I had never heard a chef make before and just having the time of his life. Jacques Pepin projected expertise and love of classic cooking techniques. He would take his time explaining every step of a dish in great detail. In one episode where he demonstrates how to make an omelet as he is whisked eggs while also talking about the pan, browning butter vs not browning butter, and what type of stove was best. The lady from a show called Ciao Italia, Mary Ann Esposito, was a cook, historian, and storyteller rolled into one. She’d make something and talk about where the food came from, how it was traditionally served, for what occasions, and why dishes are called what they are called. All of her food was served with a side of wine, history, and facts. 

I grew up seeing all this on television and at the same time seeing parallels in my own kitchen at home. As I watched Mi Ama (my mom) cook every day I saw how she too brought energy, technique, and story to her cooking. She would hum to herself as she moved around the kitchen. Her hands would move gracefully as she’d cut onions, chiles, tomatoes, and other things. It looked like her fingers were doing a dance on the cutting board. She was particular about the equipment she needed and liked to use. She had certain techniques she’d do, many times in hiding so we wouldn’t see her cooking secrets. She also had stories and reasons for why a certain food was cooked on certain days or occasion. Stories about how her mother taught her to cook. Whatever she did to reinvent the leftovers from dinner the day before into something totally different and delicious was always classified information. We’d get nothing but a mischievous smile and an “I don’t know what you’re referring to” look from her whenever we’d ask or taste the food and wonder why it was so familiar.

As a kid, all of this culinary influence was swirling around me. I was not old enough to cook. My mom would constantly kick me out of the kitchen because I had long hair and she didn’t want it to get in the food. So I would sit on the outskirts of the kitchen and watch my mom move through the kitchen and make things just like on those chefs on the PBS cooking shows. I was like a sponge. I soaked up all the information, habits, styles, and energy that I observed from my mom and the chefs on my TV.

Once I got old enough and tall enough to see the stove I was off making my own meals. I would experiment and throw things in a pot and embody the mannerisms of my mother and the chefs I saw on TV. I was too young to have my own cleaver but I did what I could to recreate Martin Yan’s signature frantic chopping moves with a steak knife and a lot of gusto. I grew up and married a chef. He also has had so much influence in helping me refine the things I do in my kitchen. Things like knife cuts and when to use citrus, salt, herbs or spices. I, in turn, have taught him what is possible when you have limited ingredients, no plan, and a bit of imagination to create delicious meals out of seemingly nothing. Cooking was the thing that taught me how to be present and in the moment in a way that I had never experienced before. Cooking is my meditation. Cooking is how I practice following my instincts and taking action from a place of creativity.

All of this is what is coming up for me as I am on day 10 of the Whole30. This process has forced me to go into my kitchen way more often than I ever have in the last year. It has made me think of more than just food as I stand in my tiny kitchen trying to figure out my next meal. It has made me think deeply about my journeys through self-healing and towards self-love. I am feeling inspired and hopeful about this process because it has been about so much more than food for me. Yes, Whole 30 promotes a restrictive diet based on eliminating certain foods. But it is also about learning about the difference between needs and wants. It is about engaging with the idea that some things we love to mindlessly consume may potentially be causing us some unknown or unseen harm. It’s about learning how to let go of things to see what can emerge in their place.

Whole30 has shown me what is possible when I commit to thrive in spite of limits. I have seen how I can be creative in the midst of restrictions. It has given me the evidence that I can let go of things that I want or think I need. Because wanting and having these things in my life may be harmful. In the food place its cheese and pasta and bread but beyond the kitchen, the lesson can still apply. In life, it can be toxic relationships, challenging situations, guilt, shame, obligation, and grief. Things that my mind holds on to that have been harmful to me in my journey to heal and learn to love myself again. If I keep having them, feeling them, and eating them any way I will continue staying in the same hard, sad place.  

There may be a moment in time when situations force us to get creative about what really matters.  Moments that force us to deeply ponder what it is that we really, truly need. Situations that can force us to be creative to find new ways to meet our needs. Ways that better honor yourself, your life, and your health. If no weight loss comes to me while doing this restrictive 30-day experiment that is OK. This process has given me something more valuable. It has connected me to my kitchen in ways that I didn’t know I could be. It has made me understand what makes me the cook I am. It has reminded me of who inspires me in the kitchen, in life, and why. It has helped me learn to appreciate my creativity and resourcefulness. Most importantly, it has helped me translate and apply the lessons of this diet into my emotional healing and journey to more fully and deeply love myself.

So this week, I invite you all to get in your kitchens and cook. Make something delicious. Make a memory. Make a mess. See what wisdom it evokes for you, what it can teach you about your story, your family, or your life. Send me what you come up with. I would love to know.

Thanks for reading.

-D

 

My 4 Favorite Mexican Mom Expressions

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May 10th (10 de Mayo) is Mexican Mother’s Day and for me and my siblings (and many other Mexican families in the US) that means double the acknowledgments, appreciations, and celebrations for our mommas.

I am grateful to my mom (Mi Ama) for so many things. Her wisdom, her love of cross-stitch that gave me my love of extreme crafting, her cooking, her prayers, and her gift with words. However, most of all, I love her random and hilarious expressions and exclamations. Every mom has them – that group of phrases and sayings they say all the time for many situations that end up becoming part of your vocabulary. Phrases that evoke a feeling or situation that don’t always make sense when translated. Phrases that are a gift and a reminder of your roots when you catch yourself saying them as an adult.

Below is an homage and token of my appreciation for Mi Ama (and all the mommas out there just like her) and her sayings. She had many and here are my top 4 of my favorites:

Number 4: The thing she said when we got a phone call from anyone.

una criatura

The Literal Translation: A creature speaks to you.

What it means: Someone is on the phone for you.

As the youngest of 8 siblings, we had a lot of people in the house getting phone calls. Our phone was in the kitchen. When it rang mi ama was usually the one who would pick in in the midst of multitasking. With so many kids in the house and so many things she was always in the middle of when she’d answer like cleaning, ironing, cooking, sewing, or watching the news she didn’t have time to say, “who is this?” and then remember the names of people. So instead it was “¡Te habla una criatura!”

“Criatura” was always for the familiar voices who’d call often (the teen year bffs who we’d each spend hours on the phone with). There were of course other variations on this which included: “Te habla un sujeto” (A subject speaks to you); and “Te habla un/una siervo/a” (A servant speaks to you). “Sujeto” (subject) was for the guys who’d call me or my sisters. “Siervo/a” (serf/servant of god) was for any other stranger or voice she didn’t recognize. No matter the variation, it was always yelled and loud enough for the caller to hear. Once I got to the phone, the conversation always started with having to answer the same question: “What did your mom just call me?”

Number 3: The thing she said when we didn’t want to eat her food.

Pues coman sorbete

The Literal Translation: So eat sorbet!

What it means: Fine then starve! (aka: You hurt my heart)

Like many Latina mothers, mi ama’s primary love language for us was food. She’d spend hours in her day cooking for us. Waking up early to make big pots of coffee and make a stack of breakfast burritos for us each to have. Making different options in the middle of the day to feed and satisfy all the different preferences for food we each had for lunch. Cooking dinners in bulk for us to have plenty of servings and leftovers to take home, have later, put in burritos the next morning, feed our friends who would come by. She was constantly in the same cycle of cooking then cleaning. Over and over. All day every day. All for us. All of the time.

When any of us get home or come visit her version of “how are you?” or “how was your day?” or even “Nice to see you” is always the same: “Ya comiste?” (Have you eaten?). That question is always followed by her lovingly and proudly listing all the delicious food that she cooked that is on the stove waiting for us or all the “tinguitos” (leftovers) in the fridge that could be reheated if we don’t like today’s options. When we say yes, she proudly and lovingly watches as we serve ourselves and enjoy the result of her work, effort, and love for us. When we’d say “no thank you” or “I ate already” or “I am going to eat something else that is not your cooking” a snappy response immediately follows. ¡Pues coman sorbete! It always makes me giggle when she says it because sorbete means sorbet. Sorbet is fancy ice cream. We NEVER had ice cream of any kind in the house. We got our ice cream from the paletero like all the other kids. Yes, sorbet is delicious but mi ama’s cooking is MORE delicious and made with more love than anything else. So when we said no, “¡Pues coman sorbete!” is also code for “you hurt my heart.” Because we know this, we always follow our no with an apology, a couple of nibbles of what she made, and packing up a to-go plate for later.

Number 2: The thing she said when she wasn’t liking people’s mess.

que el señor lo reprenda2

The Literal Translation: May the Lord rebuke him/her/it/that.

What it means: That’s too much and I don’t like him/her/it/that.

Mi ama is an active and very devoted Catholic. She prays daily, always give us blessings, has lots of opinions and thoughts about the ways things should be, and constantly rebukes the stuff she is not down with. She has done a lot of work to be BFFs with the lord and it shows. When we didn’t want to go to church with her on one of the many days of the week she’d go? ¡Que el señor las reprenda!” When my sister and I would loudly argue over who was going to do the dishes or vacuum or some other chore? “Que el senor las reprenda!” (sometimes followed with a splash of holy water). When we played music that is too loud and too rock and roll-ish? “¡Que el señor te reprenda!” followed by turning off or lowering the music. When we watched a show that was too violent or graphic? “¡Que el señor los reprenda!” followed by turning off the tv or changing the channel. When someone was walking down the street wearing something too dirty/messy/revealing/inappropriate/weird? “¡Que el señor lo/la reprenda!” followed by a disapproving head shake. When Don Francisco was getting to handsy or flirty with the models or contestants on Sabado Gigante? “¡Que el señor lo/la reprenda!” followed by her getting up to go do something until the segment was over. When the news shows footage of violence or injustice happening somewhere in the world? “¡Que el señor lo/la reprenda!” followed by her sharing her concern. When politicians are on TV promoting policies that are unfair, saying stuff that is out of touch, or being morons? “¡Que el señor lo reprenda!” followed by her sharing her opinions and expectations on what these leaders should be focusing on. Be it bad manners, pop culture, fashion, foreign policy, or politicians – mi ama always has something to say and something to rebuke. I get my opinionated nature from her and every now and then smile when I catch myself rebuking the mess in the world.

Number 1: The thing she said instead of cussing at us or herself.

Ay Animal

The Literal Translation: Oh animal!

What it means: Oh shit!/ Oh Crap!/Oh F*ck!/Oh Dammit!/other things worth exclaiming about

Mi ama is not a person who ever cusses or says profanities. Never once in my life have I ever heard her say any of the Spanish cuss words many of us know and love. However, that doesn’t mean she doesn’t feel them. As the folks at Pero Like demonstrated, “Ay” is an expression with many meanings. “¡Ay Animal!” is mi ama’s twist on this. When one of her grandchildren is playing in an unsafe way and/or not heeding her warnings? “¡Ay Animal!” followed by her telling them to move, get down from somewhere, listen to her, etc. When she goes to the store and forgets to buy the thing she went to go get in the first place? “¡Ay Animal!” followed by the story of the thing she forgot to get. When she was looking for something that was in front of her face the whole time? “¡Ay Animal!” followed by a self-deprecating comment. When she burns herself cooking? “¡Ay Animal!” as a loud scream. When we burn ourselves eating food that is too hot? “¡Ay Animal!” followed by her laughing at our expense. When one of us has a brain fart, does something silly, or does something she doesn’t want us to do? “¡Ay Animal!” followed by her poking fun at our flub, lecturing, or rebuking us. When we startle her unexpectedly? “¡Ay Animal!”  When she loses her balance and almost falls but doesn’t? “¡Ay Animal!” When one of the grandkids falls and she is comforting them? “¡Ay Animal!” said tenderly followed by a hug. When she wants me to get her something but can’t remember which one of her kids I am? “¡Ay Animal!” said nicely followed by her eventually saying my name with a “see I know your name” look on her face. Like the F word in English, this expression is linguistic silly putty used as an exclamation to convey a range of feelings and emotions. Tone, volume, and body language make this phrase the most magical and most used by many in my family. It’s by far my favorite alternative to the F-word and my favorite term of endearment for family members.

Feliz Dia de la Madre to those of you celebrating your mommas today. I am forever grateful for mi ama helping add so much color and innovation to my vocabulary and ability to express myself. What is your favorite mom-ism? Send me a note. I’d love to know!

Thanks for reading!

-D

Why Backyards Are Magic

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A few days ago I stopped at my parents’ house to say hello as I was running errands on a weekday afternoon. I entered through the back door and found four little people (3 of my nieces and 1 nephew) playing, yelling, and laughing in the back patio. A regular occurrence as my parents who have been retired for many years babysit lots of my nieces and nephews during the week. The kids turned to notice me and asked a series of questions: what I was doing there? where was my husband? Did I bring my dogs? The interrogation was quick once it was clear there was nothing interesting about my visit (i.e.: no fun human jungle gym of a husband for them to climb on and/or no furry animals they could chase). As I made my way into the house, they each yelled a series random declarations in my direction at the same time including:  

  • “I’m 1!”
  • “I’m swinging!”
  • “We made a mess!”
  • “I don’t have shoes!”

On my way into the house and just a few feet from the play area, I passed a table. It was covered by a crooked tablecloth, surrounded by out of place chairs, and topped with four partially eaten bowls of sopa de fideo. There were scattered toys laying on the floor next to it. Laid out on the orange tiles as if it were making a path through the doors and back out on the cement patio where the little ones were playing, giggling, jumping, and laughing. Four little people in a backyard relaxed, full of joy, and a great time. Running around things, climbing on things, and making memories.  

I sat in the kitchen chatting with my parents and catching up on life and adult things. Every few minutes our conversations would fade out. The sound of children’s giggles and the percussion of little feet running around the kitchen table would fade in. It was beautiful to notice all the magic that was taking place as I sat and observed what was happening in the house, between my parents and the kids, and between the kids themselves. It was the magic of being taken care of by your abuelos. The magic of being able to grow up having your primos and primas as your childhood friends. A magic that is invisible to those who see it as just part of their day. I had witnessed this magic many times before at family gatherings held at my parents’ house, the home where I grew up. Yet, I had never noticed and fully appreciated it until that moment when I saw myself in it.

I felt that way when I played in that same backyard as a child. Thirty years ago that backyard was a source of daily magic. The magic of having that lovingly prepared bowl of sopita de fideo on the table waiting for me to eat for lunch. The magic of being able to spend hours playing in that tiny backyard and never feeling time go by. The magic of being able to use your imagination to make a game out of anything you could find.

I remembered how we once found this long white dress in my mom’s storage closet one summer. It was an old floor length first communion dress that belonged to one of my older sisters. Me, my sister, and Crystal, one of my childhood friends, used it to play Little House on the Prairie. We’d fight over who got to wear the dress, put braids in our hair, and be Laura Ingalls. All of us always wanted to be Laura. The other characters we ok too but no one was as fun as Laura. Mary was older and less playful (spoiler alter: eventually goes also blind which is quite the acting challenge for a child to embody), Carrie was the little sister on the show and didn’t talk, and we never had a boy to be Albert. We’d pretend that my parent’s backyard was Walnut Grove.

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Source: http://littlehouseontheprairie.com

Every morning we’d watch the reruns on television. Then we would take to the backyard for the rest of the day to act out the plots of our favorite stories for hours. Taking turns wearing the long dress or trying to find suitable costumes in my mom’s closet that could give us the old school prairie look. Making bonnets out of towels or pillowcases. Whatever we could find. It got us in trouble since we kept getting my mom’s towels and linens dirty. But it was magical.

Watching my nieces and nephew that afternoon brought me back to that all that magic. To its beauty and simplicity. I can’t remember the last time I felt that kind of magic as an adult. I sat for a while there just watching it all unfold. Four kids, one tiny backyard, and endless amounts moments full of fun and mischief being created. Moments full of urgency from all the fun that needs to be had. I noticed how small this yard looked to me now that I am an adult. The same space that felt so big and infinite when I was a kid. A space I would spend hours in having the time of my life. Imagining things. Acting things out. Being creative and joyful and playful. That is what I saw my nieces and nephews doing now. I couldn’t remember the last time I felt those feelings so freely as an adult.

It was beautiful to see that so much has changed in my life and yet some things are the same. Sopita de fideo is still the best childhood comfort food there is. My parents’ backyard is still as full of possibility and fun for little people as it was for me when I was a kid. It is a place reminds me of where I am from, how far I have come, and what my family’s legacy is. And that afternoon it was a place where my nieces and nephews reminded me of the importance that play, joy, and creativity have in making memories. It was a lesson I needed to remember in the midst of challenging times when I let the pressures of being an adult get the best of me. A lesson that many adults forget once jobs and stress and other life things get in the way.

So this week, I will be taking my nieces’ and nephew’s lead to play, be joyous, and be creative. I will make some fun memories in their honor. I may also make another big batch of my mom’s sopita de fideo to help it along. I invite you all to do the same. If any of you want my mom’s sopita de fideo recipe let me know. I will be glad to share it. Here’s to making memories.

Thanks for reading!

-D

 

The F Word and the Lentil

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Photo by @insta_glen

Six months ago, I found out I was pregnant. I was so excited. We had been trying for years and I was running out of answers when friends, family, and relatives would ask me when I was having kids. I broke the news to my husband, ordered all the books on amazon, downloaded the apps that tell you how your baby is progressing. All of it. Then one day it all went away. I felt a pain. I ignored it. It got worse. I freaked out and went to the doctor. Then the rest was a blur. That day the app said our baby was the size of a lentil. Then two days later the baby and one of my fallopian tubes was gone. All that was left was me, my husband, and our grief.

Since then I have struggled to grieve the loss of the beautiful and tiny heartbeat that lived inside of me for just a few weeks. A heartbeat that I saw for less than a minute before I was carted off to have it surgically removed. It took them days to find it and when they did, they didn’t even give me a moment with it. A moment to just hold hands with my husband to look at it and just say “Fuck. We made that.” Our love made a tiny life.  We made a life and the urgency of a medical procedure took that moment from us. We didn’t get to take a moment in the midst of our sadness to just admire it. All that was important was saving my life. I wanted my humanity acknowledged yet all that was acknowledged was my medical issue.

I have struggled to heal and function in my day to day life after the trauma my body endured when that little piece of me was removed. I understand that it was done to save my life but rational thoughts don’t make pain go away. I have struggled to make peace with the idea that my path to being a mother is now paved with this pain and fear.  I have felt sadness, anger, and guilt at myself and at my body. I have felt like a failure as a women because my journey to becoming a mother will need the help of science. I have struggled to accept that my life has a new f-word: fertility.

I am now on a path towards healing that is not always easy. Each day I attempt to find clarity in my trauma to see past my pain. Little by little I am learning to see the wisdom in my body. I am learning to admire my scars as badges of my resilience and reminders of my power. Reminders that even if it was only for a few weeks – I created a life. I felt a heartbeat inside of me that was not mine. It just took root in my body in the wrong place. Like it just was on its way to my uterus and it decided to park in the first parking spot it saw in my fallopian tube instead of trying to find a closer spot. Of course my kid would do that. That is exactly what I do every time I go to the mall and its crowded – park in the first place I see even if its way farther than where I am supposed to go.  All important reminders that I will need to give me strength, dignity, and grace as we begin our IVF journey. 

There is a feeling of exclusion that I feel when I get told by people “oh, you’ll understand when you have your own kids.” A casual but painful reminder that in our community fertility is a norm that does not apply to me. A reminder of a club that I am not part of. But I am part of a lot of other clubs. The club of 1 in 8 women who struggle to get pregnant. The club of women who have miscarriages and suffer having to grieve in silence. The club of people this week who are taking a pledge to share their story and post about National Infertility Awareness Week and encouraging others to Say The F Word.

So to all my fellow Fertility Warriors out there – I see you. I support you. Thank you for reminding me that I am not alone.

Thanks for reading.

– D