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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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Feathery thing

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“Hope is the thing with feathers

That perches in the soul…” Emily Dickinson

I am blessed that I consistently receive reminders of  why I work in schools. Motivating young people is what I love the most about my work. I love school(I always have.) I love literature(I always have.)  The best part of my job is giving young people hope.

During Lent, I realized one of my students is an aspiring author. I thought it was important to let the student  know that the principal is an author too. The student was in need of motivation. To see a face light up? Que bonito! It was wonderful. When I saw the student again later in the day, I encouraged continued self-expression and to consider creating a blog. I talked about my favorite bloggers turned bestsellers, Luvvie Ajayi and Ta-Nehisi Coates. The student didn’t know who they were and was impressed by their successes. It was important for me to stop being the stuffy principal and share something about myself. I also offered to be available to discuss writing.

I’m working closely with a group of students who are disengaged and disconnected from school. Their attendance is poor. They are not in good standing but they all want to work part-time. I know that the rules about good standing. I’m a rule follower and a rule enforcer. I’m a principal. Rules are important. A few of my staff members are much more black and white about this issue;a few have even voiced criticism of my willingness to be flexible.  But I want to get these kids back in school. Internal motivation is the ideal. I will promote extrinsic rewards if it’s going to motivate kids to come back to school. I cannot withhold encouragement and hope. I could have easily said,“ you guys cut too much school“ and sent them away. My non-negotiables are fighting, defiance, and drug abuse. If a student promises to return to school if I help him or her find a job, how can I say no? What kind of teacher and leader shuts the door on students?  

Part of what I do is give hope. That is at the core of the work that I do. I give these young people opportunities following the example of my own stellar teachers and administrators. I wasn’t born a principal or a teacher.  Shoot I wasn’t even born an English speaker. It’s my turn now to be not only an adult or authority figure but a human being who wants young people to be successful . In the words of the inspiring Harvey Milk, “you have to give them hope.”  

On service

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What do you want of me Lord? Where do You want me to serve You?

Where can I sing Your praises? I am Your song. “Servant Song” by Jess Viray

Last Holy Thursday I wrote a reflection on being a servant. I pondered Jesus’ willingness to do challenging tasks such as washing his apostles’ feet, curing lepers, and hanging out with society’s outcasts. He explained how all of these tasks or actions were in line with his vision and mission. My mission and vision are about empowering others to become the very best version of themselves either through academic or personal growth. I am not always willing to do the difficult tasks such as forgiving myself and others, empowering myself, or taking time to truly serve.

I resist mercy. One of the audiobooks I enjoyed during Lent was Anne Lamott’s Hallelujah Anyway:  Rediscovering Mercy. I have enjoyed rediscovering Ms. Lamott. She is hilarious. I enjoy her honesty, wit and self-awareness. She has me cackling at times. I especially like how often she owns her pettiness and schadenfreude. I’m right there with her. These aspects of my personality are hilarious but they continue to stop my path towards holiness. So long as I am willing to catch a case for taking off on one of my enemies or even someone who merely annoyed me, I am not living out who I truly am. This is why I continue to pray for the strength to forgive myself for my flaws and to forgive others more readily.  

For many decades, I resisted doing things for myself. Like most people, I usually sacrifice self-care due to work or family. I have gotten better over the years about self-care and self-development. But it often takes an illness or an injury to get me to slow down and truly listen to myself. Like most leaders, I am my own worst critic. It is very challenging to not see failures as personal. Being good to myself continues to be a process.  

I miss having opportunities to serve. In the past few years, I joined colleagues and students  to serve at Glide Memorial dining room during Advent and Lent. While I consistently volunteer for organizations that are personally important to me like Girls Inc, I also need to serve the homeless.  I need to make service an integral part of what I do again. I need to make the time.

I am working towards being a servant in all aspects. Being a servant is not self-serving. It requires humility, dedication, patience, and strength.  

Morning meditation

20180405_105215“Morning has broken like the first morning…”

During Lent, I had a goal of getting back into praying the Liturgy of the Hours.  I had not done so in about a year until Good Friday. I finally prayed morning prayer. I prayed it every morning for years. Most of the time, it was therapeutic. Sometimes it was sustaining. A few times reciting the prayers kept me afloat. I cherish what it did in my life. Because it is an old friend, I can resume as if I had never stopped. But because time has passed, I see it with new eyes and a deeper understanding.

The morning prayer is set up the same way every day I follow the shorter Christian prayer which consists of morning prayer, evening prayer, and night prayer. It opens with the invitatory psalm, usually Psalm 22 but there are others.You recite an antiphon that changes depending on the day. This is followed by two psalms and a canticle from an Old Testament prophet, again with antiphons that are fitting to the season or the feast. There is a short reading, sometimes from one of the prophets or a letter of Paul. Then you recite the Canticle of Zechariah with an antiphon, prayers of intercession, the Our Father, and a concluding prayer and a blessing . Some of these prayers I knew by heart; I’m sure with more recitation I could I could do it by memory

The Canticle of Zechariah has always been one of my favorites. It comes from the Gospel of Luke which is my favorite gospel. It is a song of joy following the birth of John the Baptist and recalling the history of salvation. The lines that consistently strike are the ones that say, “ he promised that he would save us from our enemies  from the hands of all who hate us.” Sometimes those words make me cry. That is what happened in my life. I have been burdened by people full of self-loathing and hatred of others. I have had to fight back against their toxic poison. I prayed for deliverance. I prayed for their conversion. But mostly I prayed for God to prevail and to keep me safe. He did. He always has. I am forever grateful.

Morning prayer may only take about 15 minutes but it is a wonderful time of serenity and silence. When I recite these prayers, I enjoy peace and stillness. I definitely need more of that in my life instead of the usual piles of folded laundry or checked work emails that I tackle weekday mornings.  So far during the Easter season, I have been praying the Liturgy of the Hours daily. Those moments of quiet reflection are much needed and appreciated.