Voice

How do I explain to my daughter how and why perpetrators of sexual assault and  harassment are put forward as leaders? How do I explain the continued objectification and abuse of women? I don’t have simple answers.  But I can write and reflect. I began this piece over a year ago. Given what’s happening in our country right now, it’s fitting to revisit.

I began writing personal essays while in college. My column, Mujer Hollering, became my way of expressing my views on various issues on campus and in my life through a personal lens. I wrote about issues of gender, ethnicity and culture. I was committed to being a woman with a voice and reflecting on how we are treated and perceived. It was challenging at first.  When you are conditioned by family, culture and society to be a woman in a specific way, having a voice of challenge and opposition is controversial and misunderstood. But I didn’t let that stop me.

Last summer, Luvvie Ajayi shared the following story on Facebook.  A dancer with a social media presence was approached online by one of her followers. He sent her pictures of himself and asked her about his physical attractiveness. When she didn’t respond because she was traveling, he became angry. He tried to video chat with her multiple times. When she still did not reply, he began to send her messages.  Lots of messages. He took back his initial compliments of her beauty. He called her fat, ugly, and boring. He questioned her credibility as a dancer since she allegedly had a “bulging belly.” This was a one-sided conversation; the woman was not on her phone or her computer when this transpired. When the dancer finally saw the exchange, she posted it to social media. The man was horrified. He told her he was humiliated because he was being questioned by family and friends.  He claimed strangers were harassing him. He told her he feared the story going viral. As one of the thousands who shared this post, we ensured it did. Like they sang in Chicago, he had it coming. Don’t start none, won’t be none.eb8306a4be1a7c593bb5696676c1a9b4112e85c7.gif

I haven’t forgotten this story because the familiar narrative struck a nerve. I could relate to the dancer’s sense of bewilderment when she discovered this garbage on her social media page. This is the sort of nonsense we can be subjected to when we reject unwanted advances. God forbid we’re not compliant in the harassment. Harassment is not romance. There is nothing romantic about being commanded to tell someone how good-looking he is. If a woman is not meek, then she is a b****. I’ve known many women who have been physically threatened or even physically attacked because they said no.  Women have the human right to safety, to our own space, and to enjoy ourselves without anyone imposing on us. Let us be! Yet the reaction is often anger. I don’t want my daughter subjected to this rage. I’m going to continue to teach her to be a strong woman who can confront these situations and people. Parents of sons, raise them to honor women.

Mujer Hollering is still here. I’m going to continue to raise my voice for my sisters and for our daughters. So speak out however you can, in intimate social circles, on social media, or at the polls.  Women will not be silenced.

 

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Rest and relief

Dedicated  to Michael Goncalves and the loved ones we have lost to suicide

Early in June, I had a day at work that left me drained, overwhelmed, and maybe even frightened at how low I felt.  I really felt the need to go back into therapy. That difficult moment did eventually pass. I spent decades working on strategies to self-regulate, to care for myself, and to deal with some of the challenges that I face.  I call upon that learning, training, and experience whenever I feel weak. I am grateful to be able to do so for myself.

This past June we lost fashion icon Kate Spade and celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain to suicide. This week I lost a former student to suicide. Those deaths made me reflect on my own journey with depression and mental illness.  I have been open about my own struggles with anxiety and depression. I don’t talk about them as much in recent years because they’re not as central to my current experience. There may be times in the future when I face grief, loss, and other challenges of middle age.  My mental health has been foremost in my mind for the greater part of my adult life. It took me years to achieve that level of self-awareness.

The mental transformation that I have undergone took years.  There are times like that summer afternoon when I will feel as if all my progress has evaporated in moments. Suddenly my negative self-talk and  negative self-image will resurface. I may be healthy now but that doesn’t mean my negative self-image still isn’t there. I spent years loathing myself. That part of me still shows up now and then, those thoughts, those ways of seeing and perceiving the world. They don’t go away because of therapy or, for so many people, because of medication. Those negative thoughts and beliefs are some of the ways my mind responds to challenges.

I am thankful for all the work I put in for my mental health. I have known my therapist for half my life. There were times when I saw her once a week. I also took part in support group for three years.  I completed intensive work in various behavioral therapies.. That work was necessary and continues to be instrumental in my life today. I would not have made it through in my profession and in my personal life. I couldn’t be a parent today.

As we grapple with suicide, we are more open to discussing mental health.  It’s important that we recognize we are not professionals. We can’t take the place of professional help.  Some may think having good friends and a loving partner may be all the support needed. That could be. However, I know I needed my entire circle of family and friends supporting my journey, a great therapist, and my entire medical team involved. I am religious so my spiritual life and practices also changed and deepened. Working on my mental health included work in all areas of my life. It was a process.  I learned that I needed routine, discipline, and physical movement. Becoming mentally well took a monumental effort. I needed patience and faith that what I was learning would work. I had to have faith life was going to get better.

It hurt my heart when I learned of Anthony Bourdain’s death. I never met the man but I have read his books and he was fun to watch on TV. We used to joke we would have our own show, Latino couple traveling with toddler. It was easy for us to look at Bourdain and say that he was living the dream.  I was devastated when I learned my former student had died. I think about how he was always smiling, how sweet and happy he seemed. I won’t ever truly know anyone’s story or pain. We each have a journey and unfortunately some end in tragedy. Even though I don’t know what these men experienced, I remember my own struggles. I remember how sad, angry, frustrated, low, and miserable I felt. I remember wanting relief. I won’t ever forget. Those memories keep life in perspective.

I wish those we’ve lost to suicide rest.  I wish everyone grappling with mental illness relief. If you have been blessed with a truly healthy self-image and mind, be grateful. For some of us, it’s a daily effort to be well.  I hope to keep my eyes, ears, and heart open to others.

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*National Depression Screening Day is October 11.  Learn more at Stop a Suicide Today

Vacation mode

For many years, I was afraid to not be busy. I associated little activity or staying at home with being depressed or letting anxiety overwhelm me. I still worry about falling prey to negative emotions, thoughts or behaviors. But they’re not the scary monsters they once were. Now I can have a low-key day or several without self-diagnosing a period of depression. This summer vacation has been a good balance of busy and calm. Certain routines have been put on hold like my 5 a.m. wake up time, daily praying of the Liturgy of the Hours, and making time to write on a regular basis. For a long time, my daily schedule and those regular routines felt like a protection from feelings of sadness and worthlessness. I’ve gotten away from that magical thinking. I know those are normal feelings that I will experience. I know I will be able to work through them.

Free time is a luxury I don’t often enjoy. My days strike a balance between being a mom, being a school principal, dance, writing, reading, exercise, socializing, and parish service. In the last few weeks, I have revisited my defunct vegetable garden and am working to revive the soil. (Que bonito, verdad?  Un simbolo de mi desarrollo) I have purged our house of numerous unwanted items. (Another analogy. I am rolling my AP English teacher eyes.) I’ve actually ironed clothing.(Can somebody tell me how they avoid ironing? I do not like wrinkles but I detest ironing.) Miracle of miracles, I have even slept in more than once. I have been up and gone back to bed and slept for two more hours. A few times, I have judged myself as being unproductive but I haven’t allowed this opinion to get me down for too long. Para que? I’ve been my own pinata too many times in my life to want to keep doing it.  Done. Nope, not today. Tomorrow’s not looking good either. I can enjoy my time however I want.

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I head back to work Monday. I look forward to making my schedule less hectic.  Maybe I’ll even figure out how to sleep in on work days.

Mom fails

Mom dilemma #3721:  Your child does not turn in a major project. What do you do? Do you email the teacher for an extension? Do you reprimand your child verbally? Do you take away their privileges? Do you blame yourself for your poor time management and cluttered environment? All of the above? Sometimes I feel like I have this parenting thing down. Other days I realize I don’t have any idea what I’m doing and I’m operating from intuition and hope.

I used to think that it was Mondays, specifically Monday mornings,  where I had my major parent fails. Nope, puede ser any day. During the work week, I deal with parents who ask me for advice about their adolescents. I’ve worked in high schools or 22 years. I have been a mother for 10(I include pregnancy). I have more experience and more damn sense being a high school administrator and teacher than I do being a mom. 

I wonder how much damage I have done. Will she fail academically? Will she end up depressed or anxious? Will she abuse drugs or sex? Will she hate me someday? Does she hate me now? I make the mistakes I advise parents to avoid.  I say things which hurt my daughter’s feelings. These mom fails make us all feel terrible.  

Parenting never gets any easier. But the love for my child gets deeper and more complicated. My little person is growing up into an individual with a mind of her own, a will I don’t want to break and a heart I don’t want to disappoint. I pray to be a better parent daily. I wish to be a good mom. I wish M could understand all the different things that go through my mind, all the fears and doubts. I wish it were simple but it never was and won’t be. I can only hope that the love I feel always guides me.

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Confessions of an unlikely dance mom

When my daughter became a competitive dancer, I struggled with the reality that I’m not your typical dance mom. There are stereotypes that all dance moms are crafty queen bee types obsessed with winning, popularity, and bent on having their child make it to Hollywood or Broadway.  I decided M would dance because she has been dancing since she was an infant. She took her first steps to a video of Michael Jackson moonwalking. She loves all kinds of music and all types of dance. I always want to encourage that. We dance because I love to dance. We dance because she loves to dance.  I support her participation. I’m not a stereotypical dance mom. I ‘m not particularly crafty though being a carnavalesco has helped with being more creative. I’m no queen bee. I was a social misfit as a young person. Those experiences have been important for me as an educator, writer and parent; they have informed the choices that I make today.

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Because dance conventions call for the right look

I struggle at the competitions and the weekend long conventions. It’s wonderful to have M take different workshops and compete with other studios. It’s hard to stomach some of the costumes like the little girl dancing in a polka dot bikini to “California Girls,” Black Swan makeup on 6 year olds, or the five year olds twerking in booty shorts.. Then there’s the choice in music.  I have been done with Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time” since the 80s. I love Johnny Cash’s version of “Hurt” but should a child do a solo to a song about heroin addiction?

Then there’s the other dance moms and dancers.  Some of the behaviors from kids or parents is inappropriate.  At our first convention, a group of moms, in matching tees and lip color, were loud during class and used profanity towards their children. One evening this year, an older girl, maybe 12 or 13 years old, walked past our dancers as they posed for some quick snapshots before their competition. She said, “ugh, didn’t I see those costumes last year?” She got the sideeye from me. Gracias a Dios I don’t show my pettiness to kids.  Her behavior can be attributed to being a teenager but I also feel that the competitive dance environment can foster some of those attitudes.

I also struggle with the lack of diversity. Children’s competitive dance is not diverse; it’s meant for those who can afford it. Sometimes this lack of diversity leads to questionable choices from teachers.  During a convention this year, there was a dance number that ended up winning high scores. It was a musical theater piece set to a gospel house song. Three of the dancers wore Afro wigs while the rest portrayed gospel choir members. While the judges and many audience members clearly enjoyed the number, I felt it was cultural appropriation.  While it was a technically impressive piece, I feel that part of teaching dance is teaching students to respect artists, music, and dance styles. The afro wigs were indicative of the lack of cultural sensitivity that I have found at these types of competitions.

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My reaction to some of this foolishness; actually it’s my daughter reacting to our shenanigans at the annual parent pizza party

So why do we stay?  My daughter has been at our studio since she was three.  Our commitment to a sense of family and community isn’t lip service.  My daughter loves her dance sisters. I love our group of moms; we are friends who are always ready to mend a costume, fix a hairstyle, or take one of the girls to the studio or home at a moment’s notice.  Ademas, my discomfort with the traditional dance world doesn’t affect my willingness to support my daughter. I will continue to help her experience these opportunities to grow as a dancer. I won’t hesitate to run home in the middle of a competition to get pair of fishnets or to wake up early on a weekend to struggle through yet another hair bun. En nuestra casa, dance is life.  

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Scenes from a fender bender

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A one woman show

 

Why are y’all texting me right now?

Did I not just say that I was in a car accident?

Now I love your thoughts and prayers and well wishes but I’m really not in the mood to answer questions

When these things occur, I want to call my mom. I want to call my boyfriend. I want to see my daughter. I don’t want to give explanations to my co-workers. Granted, that is the first place I called because that was where I was headed when all this happened.

But can we all just calm down with the texts and voicemails?

Y’all are okay. I like you. but you’re not my priority right now. I’m just saying.

 

So how is this going to work  in terms of getting ready for Carnaval? because my costume is super cute. I know I’ve been slacking on my fitness and diet. However I’m ready to eat clean and really hit the gym. I’m going to have to miss samba tonight.  I don’t know what my back is going to feel like tomorrow morning to lift weights. I really wanted to make my cycle class and boot camp this week. This is not working for getting fit for Carnaval. I can’t really do Pilates or much of anything with my back messed up. I’m hoping this is minor. I’ve been in a few car accidents like this in the past where I was just sitting there minding my own business when somebody plowed into me. I know this will be painful and stiff. As if I hadn’t already dealt with stiff joints recently. I won’t be able to turn my head. I had to be on the phone with the insurance and my medical provider before taking any kind of pain medication or icing my neck and back. This is not part of my fitness plan.

It is in these moments that I realize how fragile we are as people. I screamed at the impact. I screamed from shock and fear. It was a primal screen, the scream of a startled animal. I felt  so powerless in that moment. I didn’t know what else was going to happen. Would the impact hurt me? What happened to my car? What if that airbag had deployed? I could have suffered broken ribs or a broken nose. I cried later. I started to think about my daughter. What if it had been more serious? My life didn’t flash before my eyes. I barely  had time to even understand what had happened. I would want my life to flash before my eyes. I would like to remember every moment that’s been meaningful to me. Every moment is meaningful, even those moments when I’m incredibly weak and not my best self, like when I’m reprimanding my daughter over something stupid or snapping at my spouse over something stupid. I take it all for granted. I had a Thornton Wilder Our Town moment of realizing how precious it all is: the spilled orange juice, the dirty dishes in the sink, the dirty dishes in the sink, the funny text messages with friends, work being so tedious, steamed spinach, cold water. I don’t want to leave my daughter. I wouldn’t want her to cry or need me or miss me for the rest of her life.  I’m grateful that I’m all right because I can see M again, hold her, and tell her I love her. I can’t promise her anything because it’s not mine to promise.

On the plus side, I get some time off. God knows I’m done with the tomfoolery at work.  I’m so ready for spring break. I’m going to read and watch Netflix. I aspire to be a woman of leisure. Hand me the ice pack and remote.

The spoils

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“The river of addiction flows

You think it’s hot, but there won’t be no water

When the fire blows…” Pop Life by Prince

 

So you win

Again

you break rules and people’s trust

yet you’re never sorry

but you’re the sorriest excuse

you’re an insult

to the profession

There won’t ever be a confession

but we have our suspicions

we know you ain’t got inhibitions

you stay the object of our derision. 

Make the right decision

get your sorry self out the way

you only stay

to make us pay.

Day after day

you play a role

But you don’t fool us.

This time you got one over

and that’s not right

 

So you win

again

never accountable

never responsible

never willing to accept or reflect

You stay lying to yourself

and those obliged to listen

but you’re the sorriest excuse

you’re a disgrace

I stopped being able to look you in the face

You’re lucky I didn’t catch a case

and let hands do what mind has pondered

too much energy was squandered

trying to get you to step up

or step away

but we won’t play.

This time you got one over

But you won’t ever be right

In the mind or in your life.

 

You won

but tick tock tick tock

we will run out the clock.

If I were you I would take stock

and start planning my retreat.

The universe won’t be beat

You best get right

Or you might finally

Lose.