Eighteen.

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Elijah,

I promise you I won’t launch into a big sappy monologue, because I know how that bugs you. Also, I certainly don’t intend on writing you a letter on each and every anniversary of your earthly debut. This is your last public birthday post (I reserve the right to pen a few sentimental words every now and then in years to come, but I’m sure you and your siblings should be used to “mom’s birthday musings” by now).

The purpose of this letter, is to formally write down an account that I’ve told many, many times aloud but as of today, have yet to immortalize through written word. It is the story of how I chose your name.

When I was about 3 months pregnant with you, and just beginning to remerge from the hell that was hyperemesis gravidarum (aka severe morning sickness), I had a vivid dream.

Life during that time, was odd. Our family was going through some difficult times, completely independent of our circumstances. Things were challenging- for everyone. I felt like I was in the eye of a storm…watching all the chaos around me, yet grounded in a sort of calm certainty. I knew we were on the path we were meant to be on.

Anyway, one night, I dreamt I was at Nana & Tata’s house. The mood was still, almost too still, in the surreal sort of fashion that only comes in dreams. I walked into the back hallway toward the bedroom, and paused outside the door. There was an unearthly light radiating from the window facing the backyard. It brightened the entire room…Nana’s bedspread, the wooden dresser, the crucifix on the wall…all of it was illuminated in a glow that I can only describe as warmth. I walked into the room. And there you were. 

At the time, I didn’t even know you were going to be a boy. I didn’t know you at all. But in my dream, there you were…a boy. A child. You extended your arms toward me. I tried to remember every detail of your face at that moment. Your eyes, nose, mouth…

Your mouth. It was upturned in the sweetest smile. You opened it to speak….and this is what you said:

“I have come to save my people.”

I woke up.

Upon waking, I remember being filled with an incredible peace. The kind that comes with knowing that everything is going to be alright.

I knew, from that moment on, that you were going to be a boy. There was something else I knew: That when you mentioned “your people,” you were referring to your family. Long story short…your birth did save us. Your presence in our family healed many rifts. It brought us together in the ways that only a child can. You reminded us of what matters.

So what’s this got to do with your name? Well…upon waking from that prophetic dream, we knew you needed an equally fitting name. And so, it was decided. Elijah.

A simple story really, but significant to me. Just as all our moments together have been simple, really…but they all add up to an incredibly significant life.

Yesterday, I stayed up all night with you following your birth, my face against your tiny face, amazed that we were finally breathing the same air. Yesterday, you were clinging to my leg as we walked into new places together. My little sidekick. Yesterday, your nose was pressed up against the glass window of the preschool, watching a hail storm with the wonder of a small child. I stood on the walkway for a moment in the rain, and waved at you. Yesterday, you giggled in delight when I showed you that if you stir syrup into warm milk, you can make hot chocolate….you fell asleep on my lap, stuffed animal tucked under one arm, hand in my hair. Yesterday, you skated away from me at open house to join your peers, only glancing back to tell me you’d meet me in the parking lot when the festivities were over. Yesterday, I walked up to DMV with you so that you could obtain your license, and your newfound freedom. Yesterday, you texted me late at night to tell me not to wait up. I did anyway…  

Yesterday, you fell in love. Yesterday, you planned a post-graduation trip with your buddies, sans adults. Yesterday you applied for colleges, some of which are far away from this little house you call home.

Today, you are 18.

I am proud. I am honored. I’m in awe.

And because I feel a major bout of sappiness coming on, I’m going to leave you with the words of a book that we’ve read together many times. A perfectly reasonable book to revisit on a day like this. A book, called Someday….

One day I counted your fingers and kissed each one. 
One day the first snowflakes fell, and I held you up and watched them melt on your baby skin.
One day we crossed the street, and you held my hand tight. 
Then, you were my baby, and now you are my child.
Sometimes, when you sleep, I watch you dream, and I dream too…
That someday you will dive into the cool, clear water of a lake. 
Someday you will walk into a deep wood. 
Someday your eyes will be filled with a joy so deep that they shine. 
Someday you will run so fast and so far your heart will feel like fire. 
Someday you will swing high – so high, higher than you ever dared to swing.
Someday you will hear something so sad that you will fold up with sorrow. 
Someday you will call a song to the wind, and the wind will carry your song away. 
Someday I will stand on this porch and watch your arms waving to me until I no longer see you. 
Someday you will look at this house and wonder how something that feels so big can look so small. 
Someday you will feel a small weight against your strong back. 
Someday I will watch you brushing your child’s hair. 
Someday, a long time from now, your own hair will glow silver in the sun. 
And when that day comes, love, you will remember me. 

– alison mcghee

Happy 18th Birthday, son.

Love, Mom

Why I Chose to Be A Young Dad at 18 and How You Can Start Even If You Aren’t Ready

EYF Podcast Artwork

By Joe Chavez

This one is for all the young dads out there. In this episode, we share how we, as young parents (especially young dads), have a “choice” to play a role in our young families life. We will then cover some crucial areas where I, myself, struggled with when first starting out as a teen dad. Lastly, we’ll offer you three thoughts that should erase any doubt whether you are ready or not to be a young dad.

Thanks for listening
And don’t forget to checkout www.empoweringyoungfamilies.com for more inspiration, content and support to help you start smart as a young parent.
 


In this particular episode, I hope to explain:

  • That early fatherhood is a choice, one I made at 18 years old,
  • Things to watch out for when stepping into this new role,
  • How you can find purpose in being a young dad even if you think you aren’t ready.

Summary

I found out I was going to become a dad when I was 18 years old. I never really knew my father and I surely didn’t plan to have kids young.

Like many guys that have kids young, we aren’t thinking about the future, but what happens when we get a girlfriend, a “one night stand,” or a girl we just met pregnant? That’s the one reason I started this entire movement. There is an absolute need to know how to “Start Smart” as a young parent.

Regardless of what point you are in your life, you always have the potential to start off on the right foot. When you have a child young, it doesn’t have to signal the end of your future or your dreams and it certainly isn’t the end of your life as you know it. It is the beginning of a new chapter, of an entire new season of your life. While it may not make complete sense at first, you’ve just got to give it a little time, taking small steps toward being the dad you want to be for your little one and trust that both you and your child will be better off than if you just choose to run away from the whole entire situation, instead.

You have a unique opportunity to be present in your child’s life. Take advantage of it. It’s a gift.


Items Mentioned in This Podcast

We All Have A Choice

After all, you could just abandon your young family. That easy path is always available to you. But having the choice makes doing the noble thing, the responsibility of leading, loving and providing for a family all the more rewarding. It is tough, no question about that…

Let’s take a look at some of the reasons you might want leave, so you can better understand that it’s normal to feel like you do:

  1. Feeling Inadequate
    So you feel like you are not ready to be a dad and that all the goals you might have had for your life are dead. Ok that’s a bit harsh but that’s what it feels like at first. Trust me when I say, the added pressure to take care of everyone and everything but feeling unqualified and inexperienced to do so is entirely natural. But it will also end up motivating you to focus on the things that will bring you closer to the place where you need to be. You’ve got to trust in your ability to grow into your role no matter how far you are from where you want to be. Just give it time.
  1. Feeling The Pressure
    Feeling the demand from a baby and mom. This is normal but don’t trick yourself into thinking that you need to focus all your energy and attention on their needs. You are better off bettering and maintaining yourself so you can better support your young family. It’s easy to obsess over the things you are failing at as a young dad and the fact you aren’t sleeping well won’t help. It’s a trick; don’t fall for it. I am not suggesting you ignore your family’s emotional needs; instead, I am advising you to be a leader through every single conflict and sleepless night you go through. Stay focused, young dad.
  1. Feeling Trapped/Less “Me” Time
    At first your time gets cut in half. Yes, you are going to have to change diapers, sleep less and be annoyed because you are still trying to find out what the heck you are going to do with your life. Trust me, it gets better. Give it six months and, as you adjust, I am sure your love for your family will overshadow any feeling of being trapped. Also, it will only be a matter of time until you adjust to having less time for yourself as you learn to make the best and most of your time as it becomes more and more precious with each passing day.

Some of the Things I Struggled With As A Young Dad

  1. My Relationship With My Wife
    I didn’t realize that my communication sucked. I found out pretty quickly once I was sleep deprived and all over the place. Luckily, we had great friends close by and they helped us through a tough time in our marriage.
  1. Priorities

    I was putting a lot of emphasis on things that I thought were important. Then I felt like crap and really guilty when they didn’t work out as I would imagine them doing so. My intentions were always to improve things for my family. Sometimes, that part of it didn’t matter.
  1. Taking the Lead in My Household
    You are the head of your household. Make it count. When I first became a young dad, I was scrambling between the expectations of others and my own perceived obligations and I wasn’t aware that, in addition to it all, I also needed to lead my household; or what that even meant to begin with. I thought that was only for men like pastors, presidents and football coaches.
    I soon discovered that someone is always needed to lead. I volunteer as tribute.

Take Action
*Today

Take 15 minutes to think about why you are capable of being a young dad:

  1. Write down the one thing you rock at that sticks out most to you.
  2. Write down the one thing you can improve at that sticks out most to you.

*The next couple months

In the next three months, focus on the thing that you can improve at and keep doing the thing you are already doing well; block out the noise of negativity and self-doubt.

Ready. Set. Go.

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You can connect with Empowering Young Parents or follow Joe on social media:
http://www.twitter.com/empoweryoungfam

http://www.instagram.com/empoweringyoungfamilies

A Memory, Nostaglia, & Foolish Games

1 - Sac City LRC

Sacramento City College, 1998.

The day I truly took interest in him, the quad was blanketed with leaves, leftover remnants of the previous night’s wind storm. I was caught up in a momentary fit of nostalgia (autumn evenings do that to me), and was walking briskly across the campus over the red and yellow pathway. He was ahead of me, backpack slung over one shoulder, novel in one hand. He glanced back toward me and grinned. “You’re in Fryer-Smith’s class, aren’t you, kiddo?”

“Yes, I am.” I answered a little too formally. He asked my name. I already knew his.         His name was Joey.

“Yeah…I thought that was you. You usually have your face buried in a book.” I smiled, pleased that he’d taken note.

I was 18 years old with a toddler and had recently completed high school on independent studies, meaning that I’d basically spent the past two years of my life in solitude as I balanced motherhood and schoolwork. Social life was minimal. Dating life was non-existent.

That first semester of junior college was like a re-birth for me. I emerged from the cocoon that was my high-school experience, wrought with memories of personal rebellion, social missteps, and school failure. Suddenly I found myself in an environment where I was free to completely re-invent myself. My reputation didn’t follow me, and neither did my previous school record.

Now, here I was blossoming into a 4.0 student and social butterfly. Every day was a dizzyingly entertaining mix of new faces and ideas. I was in love with my budding identity. And along with my academic success and new-found social sweetheart status, came a refreshingly improved dating scene.

I was completely unprepared for that. Whereas in high school, the majority of my boyfriends had been poster kids for the “bad-boy prototype,” the guys who pursued me now were of a different nature entirely. They came to me with their minds full of goals and ambitions, and hands full of sonnets. I swear to you, that first semester I spent nearly as much time swooning as I did studying.

But as the days grew cooler and shorter, I found myself spending the majority of my time with Joey. We were as different as could be. He was returning to college after years of living the quintessential California dream. Coastal living, surfing, and reveling in the glory of uninhibited youth. He was nearly 10 years older than I was. I was fresh out of 12th grade, with all the responsibilities of an adult, but none of the experience. Despite this, we shared a love of literature, philosophy, writing and coffee. For months, we met for late night discussions in the library during which we mulled over the writings of Nietzsche & Darwin. We attended a baroque quintet concert at the Crocker Art Museum, and convened for afternoon reading sessions along the Sacramento River. He introduced me to Kerouac’s On the Road, and I tried to convince him to consider reading the works of Peter S. Beagle (I’ve always had a soft spot for fantasy). I knew I was in over my head when he invited me to dinner with his family. We dined at a Thai food restaurant and afterward had dessert at the family home in Davis. I met his brother and his brother’s longtime girlfriend. His father was a lawyer, and that night I learned of Joey’s plans to transfer to UC Berkeley to pursue a law degree (Which he eventually did, followed by a graduate degree from a prestigious east coast school). Everyone was friendly, and overall the night was lovely. But my youth and inexperience were obvious to all, and it showed in the overly kind way that they humored me. It was the first time I felt unequipped in the world of adulthood (though it wouldn’t be the last).

The week before finals, he invited me over to his house for dinner and a movie. No one was home that evening but us, and I stayed late into the night. I talked about my son that night, perhaps a little too much, because in the end I think it highlighted the fact that no matter how bright, charismatic, and “datable” I was, I was the mother to a very young child. I was a package deal. And though I was largely inexperienced in the dating scene, I knew that this fact alone was a deal breaker for most.

I saw him once more after that, and the interaction was cordial and brief. The evening of our class final was a rainy one, and when I walked to the parking lot that night, I didn’t even bother pulling out my umbrella. I sat in my car for a while, watching the windshield wipers push away the water drops as quickly as they fell. Jewel’s Foolish Games was playing on the radio. And though I felt the tell-tale euphoria that every student experiences after finals are completed, I also had the sinking feeling that something important to me had ended. It’s funny the small details we remember.

You’re always the mysterious one with
Dark eyes and careless hair,
You were fashionably sensitive
But too cool to care.

I tell this story now because I think of it as one of my life’s many lessons. A story to tell my children later during a discussion of relationships and infatuations. Soon after the “Joey Semester,” I came across a poem by Veronica A. Shoffstall that I’ve retuned to time and time again over the years. It continues to move me to this day.

This morning, as I slipped on my peacoat while taking in a long sip of coffee and simultaneously searching the counter for my keys, my mom shared with me that she’d recently come in contact with a former beau with whom she’d once been intensely obsessed with. He’d shown only a casual interest in her, and at the time she was crushed. Now, decades later, she’s realized how profoundly different they are in all the ways that truly matter. She mused about the potential misery she’d avoided on account of his indifference.

And that’s the way life runs it’s course. In the present, we can never truly grasp the reasons why we face the trials we are given & the rejections we are subjected to. If we’re lucky, we’re blessed with the hindsight that brings everything into perspective. But often, we’re not. And in the latter case, I choose to hold tight to the belief that there is always a higher plan, even if we can’t make sense of it. And if that plan is never revealed, at least it makes for an interesting story to tell, years later when time has graciously dulled our feelings, and the only things remaining are a few recollections, scattered across our memory like leaves on a walkway…

 You Learn

 Veronica A. Shoffstall

After awhile you learn
the subtle difference between
holding a hand and chaining a soul
and you learn that love doesn’t mean possession
and company doesn’t mean security.
And you begin to learn that kisses aren’t contracts
and presents aren’t promises and you begin to accept
your defeats with your head up and your eyes ahead
with the grace of an adult not the grief of a child.
And you learn to build your roads today
because tomorrow’s ground is too uncertain for plans
and futures have ways of falling down in mid-flight.
After awhile you learn that even sunshine
burns if you get too much so you plant your
own garden and decorate your own soul
instead of waiting for someone to bring you flowers.
And you learn that you really can endure
that you really are strong
and you really do have worth
and you learn
and you learn…

Why Teach

Preschool me. 1985.

Preschool me. 1985.

“You can be anything you want to be…”

We’ve all heard it. We may have uttered it to someone else at some point in time. It’s an incredibly overused clique. A phase we say in an effort to uphold the fairytale of the American Dream. It’s a well meaning thought, but at one point I stopped believing it.

I was around the age of 14 when I decided I no longer subscribed to the  “everything you want to be” promise. My grades in 9th & 10th grade were horrendous. As in, a 0.5 GPA horrendous. I was unfocused, unmotivated, and unlikely to graduate. Some of my teachers had given up on me, as did many other adults in my life. I could see it in the sideways glances they gave me every time I arrived late to class. I could read it on their faces, hear it in the tone they used when speaking to me. But there were a few, who continued to treat me as if I had potential. One of them, Mrs. Callahan, was my literature teacher during freshman year. I think she saw through my act. She might have had a hunch that, even though I feigned disinterest in class as we decoded verses of Romeo & Juliet, I went home at night and poured over the pages of that tragedy, rewriting passages that spoke to me in the lined pages of my spiral notebooks. Though I failed to turn in my assignments, I’m sure I did well on my tests. Maybe it was because of that that Mrs. Callahan treated me as if I had a chance, but I think there was probably more to it than test scores. She took time to check in with me, and to offer after school help, which I sometimes took her up on. I remember how her validation made me feel, during that tumultuous time in my youth. It made me feel respected, and worth the trouble.

Fast forward three years: I was a mother and a Senior in high school. I was on independent studies. My grades increased dramatically, as did my focus. I was a determined student who began expressing my desire to go to college, despite my circumstances. Still, very few took me seriously. But my home studies teacher did. Mr. Coombs worked patiently with me as I inched my way toward graduation. He advised me to enroll in Jr. College, then transfer to a University. He beamed in the audience as I received my high school diploma. And I took his advice. I went on to Sacramento City College and eventually transferred to a University.

My path into early childhood education (ECE) was not an intentional course when I first set out on it. I enrolled in a few child development classes so that I could become a better parent. My original plan was to take the pre-requisites needed for a nursing program. But I soon discovered that early childhood education was what interested me most. So I continued with it, and eventually applied for an early childhood program director permit with the California Commission on Teaching Credentialing. I pursed both an undergraduate and graduate degree in ECE. At age 26, I landed my first job in a school district, and have been teaching ever since. 

Lately, due to various factors including the uncertainty of funding for early childhood teacher salaries in my district, I have been considering pursuing a multiple subject (K-8) credential. Over the summer, I met with many of my past advisors to discuss my options. I was taken aback by some of the responses I received.

“Don’t waste your time on that. If you’re going to go back to school, get into another field.”

“With your level of expertise, I’d consider administration. You’re too bright to remain in the classroom.”

“Have you thought about teaching higher ed, or public policy? You should.”

I mulled over these responses for several weeks, wondering how we, as a society, got to this point. This place where teaching at the PreK-12 level is considered a second-class profession, something that is undesirable and unrewarding. I thought of the hundreds of students I’ve taught over the years, and the families who continue to return to my classrooms to visit and update me on their progress. I thought of Mrs. Callahan, and Mr. Coombs, and Mrs. Garcia, my 1st grade teacher who surprised me by attending my graduation party when I completed my M.A.

And though I’ve entertained the idea of teaching college students, pursuing a career in policy, or joining the ranks of administrators, I ultimately listened to my heart, and applied for a credentialing program. 

My loyalties do not lie with test developers, or administrators, or policy makers who have never stepped foot into a classroom. I’ve pledged to serve families, and the students they are raising. I’m ever so grateful for the educators in my life whose belief in my abilities fueled the drive to complete my goals. 

I can be anything I want to be. 

 I choose to be a teacher.

Baby Bookworm, 4 years and counting…(Happy Birthday, Ava Ixchel)

(This is a Re-post of an earlier blog that was temporarily deleted) Originally dated July 28, 2014.329376_2357434422614_1759145749_o
Gallery

Bright beginnings. Ava Ixchel, age 2.

Bright beginnings. Ava Ixchel, age 2.

I walked to the library today, with Jacob & Ava. It was too hot to stay in the house, so we trekked a few blocks away to seek relief in the cool confines of our neighborhood hangout.

When the double doors opened, a blast of cold air hit us, followed by the familiar smell of…books. Refreshing. The kids ran ahead of me (as it is practically their second home), and I paused for a moment to glance at the flyers of upcoming events posted in the foyer. A sign announcing the library’s 4th birthday hung centered on the bulletin board and caught my eye immediately.

Four years old.

The year 2010 saw two of my life dreams realized during one deliciously hot summer. First, on July 30th, my daughter was born. My fourth child, and only little girl. Second, a library opened four blocks away from our home.

I was in heaven.

I remember the day the library opened. It was nearly a month after Ava was born, August 28th to be exact, and the older children & I were restless with cabin fever. Those of you who have had a nursing newborn can relate, I’m sure. You are a prisoner to the baby’s sleeping and eating schedule for several months and that usually makes outings a little tricky (that’s an understatement).

Those of you who have grown up in the triple-digit Northern California valley heat can also relate…there are days that it is nearly impossible to venture outside, mostly because the temperatures are darn near suffocating.

So there we were, in late August, reeling from the stuffy summer air and the demands of an infant schedule, and suddenly we are presented with a viable alternative to house arrest. And it was in the form of an air-conditioned, kid-friendly palace full of reading materials, mural covered coves, and computers. And books. Lots of books.

Perfection.

We headed over to the opening festivities, little newborn Ava in a baby bjorn on my chest, and the kids at my side, library card applications in hand.

In the past four years, we’ve spent countless hours in that library. Ava especially. When I had to go back to work, her Nana would take her to the children’s events they offered during the day…baby/toddler playtime, children’s story hour, and kids sing-a-longs. Both Nana & Ava forged friendships during those times at the library…friendships that continue to thrive to this day. In fact, Ava met her first official best friend at one of those gatherings.

Some days, when I would get home from work, I’d pack up the kids and  backpacks, and we’d head to the library to tackle homework, research, or just to steal a few quiet moments before the dinner/bedtime madness hour began. Ava would happily tag along, toddling her way in and out of the children’s area, dragging board books into the study rooms, and babbling away as I attempted to sneak in a few pages of pleasure reading to detox from the duties of parenthood.

If you were to pull my library records from this period, they’d tell a story of their own, I’m sure, as our list of checked out books included variations of everything from How to Get Baby to Sleep Through the Night and Fostering Healthy Sibling Relationships to Easy Meals That Don’t Require Mom To Lift a Finger, and Ways to Keep Your Sanity While Juggling Career and Motherhood.

As I looked through Ava’s baby photos the other night, I realized just how central a role the library played in our lives during these past four years. It has been a place of respite and recharging, exploration and entertainment. It’s safe to say we all grew up a little in the comfort of that space.

Happy Birthday, Pocket Library.

And a very Happy 4th Birthday to my daughter, my love, Ava Ixchel. May your year be filled with blessings and books galore, little mama.

In the children's reading area

In the children’s reading area

A random Tuesday night at the library. I think she was almost 6 months old here

A random Tuesday night at the library. I think she was almost 6 months old here

With big brother Isaac at the measuring wall. My intent was to do one of these every month. Well, it never happened hahaha

With big brother Isaac at the measuring wall. My intent was to do one of these every month. Well, it never happened hahaha

Checking out the board books selection

Checking out the board books selection

The ever popular Second Saturday lego block party event

The ever popular Second Saturday lego block party event

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Toddler Playtime with Nana

With big brother Jacob. Another random school night.

With big brother Jacob. Another random school night.

Peering through the "kaleidoscope" window

Peering through the “kaleidoscope” window

Getting chummy with a Burmese python

Getting chummy with a Burmese python

Doing homework? Or trying to, anyway

Doing homework? Or trying to, anyway

Meeting new friends

Meeting new friends

Tech savvy

Tech savvy

Proud (almost four-year-old) girl with her new library card.

Proud (almost four-year-old) girl with her new library card.

Legacies, And the Prices Paid. #Ferguson #TamirRice #EricGarner #JohnCrawford #BlackLivesMatter

Memorial for Tamir Rice

Memorial for Tamir Rice

“A riot is the language of the unheard.”    -Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

I’m agitated tonight, as many of you are across the country. I have stacks of papers to attend to and lesson plans to write, but my mind is with the thousands of people across the nation who are in the streets tonight, in protest, in search of answers, solutions, and justice.

I am a Latina. I identify as a woman of color. This is the personal lens through which I view the issues facing my community and nation. I was born in Southern California and raised by Chicano parents who are socially conscious & activists at heart. I was weaned on stories of a time when my grandfather and his friend were chased down and threatened by two drunken white sailors during the Zoot Suit riots of 1943 simply because they were Latino. They barely escaped with their lives. I was told of how my grandmother  walked along the Main Street of her little town, past signs in store front windows that read “No Dogs or Mexicans Allowed.” I heard tales of my father’s frustration in the early 80’s,  when he was passed up for a promotion into a management position, later to find out that someone on the hiring panel assumed he had cheated on his exam because, “How could a Latino score that high?” Perhaps they overlooked that fact that he held a perfectly legit Ph.D.

I still remember the night my mother came home from my back-to-school night and recounted the audible gasps in the room when the new 2nd grade teacher was introduced. Some of parents got up out of their seats in apparent disgust. She was a first year teacher. She was black. The year was 1987.

Somewhere between my upbringing, college courses, and real-life experiences, I was discouraged from using broad frameworks of understanding when contemplating societal issues and their many intricacies. And because of that, the newsfeed in recent weeks has been so incredibly unbearable. As we’ve watched events of Ferguson unfold, John Crawford killed in a Wal-Mart,12-year-old Tamir Rice gunned down in a play yard, and Eric Garner’s justice denied, we’ve simultaneously been flooded with soundbites/images/memes/explanations that seek to oversimplify the profound complexity of the issues at hand.

In the past few days there’s been a running dialogue in my mind, as I answer the statements of those who believe that the recent events are nothing more than a handful of isolated incidents followed by overblown reactions of rowdy citizens. Some are insistent that we are living in a post-racial time. That the race problem is all a figment of some hyper-active collective imagination. So tell me, how does one even begin responding to ignorance?

Racism is real. And if discussing it makes you uncomfortable, imagine how it feels for those on the receiving end. The ones whose daily interactions are shaped by it. The ones whose lives are impacted by it in the most insidious of ways. Racism is real. It is not some imagined problem manifested in the minds of those who can’t let go of the past. It was not erased when segregation was outlawed. It was not magically eradicated the day we inaugurated a black president.

No…racism is alive and well. It is the ugly legacy left behind by forefathers who believed that the worth of a person of color was somehow less than theirs. It was this belief that allowed them to justify the enslavement, lynchings, prejudice, hatred, and fear of entire groups of people. It has been passed down through generations, and penetrates our institutions and communities in red states and in blue. It becomes glaringly apparent during times such as these, as evidenced by internet trolls and cable news hosts taking liberties to spew vile over-generalizations and stereotypes in their efforts to justify the deaths of fellow citizens. It is the responsibility of all of us to call it out if we can, and fight back against it whenever possible.

In the two decades since the passage of momentous civil rights legislation some things have changed. Some have not. While it’s true that the personal racial attitudes many Americans have improved for the better, the ideas and prejudices from before still persist in the hearts of many. And while legal segregation ended, coupled with the expansion of social interchange and voting rights, the systematic and pervasive character of racism in the United States persists. Law-makers, judges, authorities, gatekeepers and landowners are disproportionally white, and if you think that doesn’t have an effect on the way things are run, the opportunities given, the advancements denied…think again.

Racism goes hand-in-hand with domination, and provides the social and philosophical justification for debasing and degrading people on the basis of color. It is sustained by both personal attitudes and structural forces. It is both brutally overt and invisibly institutional.

Every now and then, I like to think I have the luxury of being able to push thoughts of race to the back of my mind for a day or two at a time. I live in a city that, in 2002, was determined by TIME magazine to be the most integrated, diverse region in the nation. Sometimes I think the residents here get spoiled into thinking that our reality is the norm. It’s not as if we don’t have our share of issues here, it’s just a little easier to overlook sometimes. But it doesn’t take long before I am reminded of the ways in which race touches our lives on a daily.

A few weeks before the non-indictment of Darren Wilson, My two eldest boys and I traveled up toward the California/Oregon border for a weekend trip. We stayed at a hotel that provides a complimentary breakfast for its guests. In the morning, we joined several dozen other families–all of whom were white–in the dining area and began to eat. Within minutes a restaurant staffer approached our table and asked if we were paid guests at the hotel. People stared. Without a word, I left the room and made my way to the front desk, got a copy of our room statement, and brought it back as “proof.” She turned around without so much as an explanation. We were the only ones singled out that morning. Other than being irritated and a bit embarrassed, no real harm was done to us. A small price to pay for traveling to a small town, right? For being brown?

For others, the stakes are much higher:

The price Tamir Rice’s mother paid certainly was. She lost her son.

John Crawford’s young children lost their father.

Eric Garner’s widow lost a husband.

Michael Brown lost his life.

Racism is real. This is how is manifests in our world. This is the price that is paid.

This is how we respond.

Not one more. We can’t breathe.

In Solidarity.

On Functionality and Punchlines

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“A little rain never stopped anyone…except of course those who never learned to dance through puddles…”

The other night my ex came by after work to drop off some stuff for the kids. The kind of belongings they always carelessly leave behind: that one crucial page of homework, the stuffed animal they can’t sleep without, or the warmest jacket they own (the night before the temperature happens to drop 10 degrees). It’s a good thing we live 4 blocks apart from each other.

On this particular evening, he walked in to find me running around the kitchen, attempting to balance a phone between ear and shoulder, while halfway  participating in a conference call. I might have been simultaneously loading the dishwasher. Or perhaps I was finishing yet another load of laundry. Actually I think I was doing all of these things. What I do recall though, is that there was a half chopped pile of vegetables on the counter waiting to be thrown into the chili which was patiently simmering away on the stove. I nodded toward the cutting board and he instinctively jumped in, finishing what was left of the dinner prep and confidently putting the lid on the pot while muttering a few cooking tips under his breath. This was the kind of thing that used to irk the hell out of me. Not the help, of course, but the constant need to correct whatever I was doing. Nowadays, it doesn’t irritate me in the least. In fact, it’s become a running joke between us, and I often find myself looking over at him during our interactions and thinking, “You know? I’ve really come to like this guy.”

Sometimes it takes prolonged distance to learn how to appreciate someone all over again. Years ago (long before ex and I separated) I had picked up a copy of Iris Krasnow’s “The Secret Lives of Wives“, which explores the many ways in which women find happiness in their relationships over the long term. The wives interviewed tell of everything from separate summer routines in order to maintain space and individuality, to open relationships and affairs. But the passage that I remember most was the one in which the author almost jokingly states,”I am like many aging wives, content for two days, sulking for four, frequently perched on the flimsy line that separates love from hate from a fistfight.”

Yes, oh yes. We knew that feeling well. And I despised it. No one wants to live in a state of constant fluctuation between frustration and contentment. Married or not.

Prior to our split, I had never known adult life as a single woman. And to be fair, at 22, he was almost as young when he met me. This isn’t me saying that people shouldn’t commit when they are of that age, or that couples aren’t capable of overcoming some of the obstacles we faced in our relationship. This is simply me stating that, for us perhaps, we didn’t have the space, opportunity, and freedom for growth that we both needed in order to self-actualize.

Now that we do, we’ve become better parents, and co-parents as a result. Which, if you ask me, is a really nice perk as it makes all interactions much more pleasant. We both trust each other’s parenting choices and decisions, as we know that we act with the children in mind. We’ve learned to check in with each other frequently throughout the day in order to remain on the same page as to their comings and goings, upcoming events, and small daily triumphs. There is no arguing, or resentment, or battles over insignificant things. Thankfully, we’ve moved past that. And I do mean thankfully.

Sometimes I start to think about how unconventional our situation is. It might, from the outside, seem impossible and foreign. But a few weeks ago, during a family reunion, I turned to see my parents (who have been divorced for 13 years), waltzing away on the dance floor. My mom’s head was tilted back, mid laughter. My dad wore his giant cheesy smile, the one that indicates that he’s about to drop a groan worthy punchline to some variation of a joke we’ve all heard before. I watched them dance past tables filled with extended family—all of whom are unique and non-traditional in their own way— and I realized why it’s perfectly normal for me to proceed in this co-parenting relationship the only way I know how: with love, and laughter, and cheesy punchlines to get us through.

You know, some parents get along much better when they don’t live together. They don’t fight all the time and they can become better people. Much better mommies and daddies for you. And sometimes they get back together. And sometimes they don’t, dear.

-Mrs. Doubtfire

Children- Khalil Gibran

"Mother & Child Sleeping"  -Diego Rivera

“Mother & Child Sleeping”
-Diego Rivera

By far, one of my favorite poems of all time:

And a woman who held a babe against her bosom said, “Speak to us of Children.” And he said:
Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts.
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as he loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable.

7 Days of Gratitude

“If the only prayer you said in your whole life was, 'Thank you,' that would suffice.” -Meister Eckhart

“If the only prayer you said in your whole life was, ‘Thank you,’ that would suffice.”
-Meister Eckhart

I hit a slump last month. The kind of slump that could potentially suck the life out of joyful moments and leave you lying on your bed, staring at the ceiling & struggling to find the energy to get up and seek out the happiness in the day. This type of downward slide is not necessarily characteristic of my naturally optimistic, hopeful nature. But I have known these vicissitudes of spirit before. And typically I’ve known what I need to gain traction and catapult myself out of them. This time felt different. As in, “I really need a new mindset” different.

Have you ever got to a point in your life when you feel like you’ve made so much progress that you mistakenly fool yourself into thinking that you should be able to slack off a bit and take a well deserved rest? Kind of like the well-loved Aesop’s Fable “The Tortoise & the Hare?” Well, in retrospect, I think that in the last few years my mindset has been that of the Hare. Like, “I’ve put in so much effort and work, I deserve to be lazy for a bit.” Well lazy may have turned into sloppy and a bit careless in day-to-day interactions, mindfulness, and things taken for granted.

Enter: Universe.

So here I was, a bit shook up. And definitely humbled. And grasping for a way to get out of my slump. In a moment of clarity I realized that, in addition to other things, I had also become sloppy with my thoughts. Our mind can be tricky and extremely dangerous at times. And if we allow ourselves to be undisciplined in our thoughts, they can easily begin to take on a life of their own. I’ve found that, for me, this is when my fears, anxieties and angers began to take root in my consciousness. And I despise being controlled by those things. I was in desperate need of a plan.

During one of my early morning runs, I decided to approach the issue of my runaway thoughts much like I’d approach a marathon: I needed practice. I needed strength. I needed training. I decided that, for one week, I would actively work to push away each and every negative thought that crept into my head. It didn’t matter if that thought was about me, or someone else, or life in general. I would replace it with a positive. Sounds simple, right? Well. Not so much. You see, we get into these patterns called habits. And yes, you guessed it. They are pretty hard to break. But my goal was to focus on the positive. Nothing more, nothing less.

Day one I woke up to my daughter’s nose pressed up against my neck, her arm thrown around me. I listened to her breathing as she slept. I ran my fingers over her little hand. My mind drifted to her brothers- all three of them- who were resting peacefully in their rooms. Healthy, secure, safe. The morning light made its way through the window. I took a deep breath. “Thank you…” I whispered to no one in particular.

Inhale love…exhale anger.

Day two found me driving to work after a hectic morning. I was rushing to make lunches, sign homework papers, and iron shirts before jumping behind the wheel to open the doors of my classroom. Of course, my car was on empty. As I hurriedly pulled into the gas station, I centered: I work less than 7 miles from home, in a career that I love, with co-workers I adore. My work allows me to pay for food to make lunches, and buy the clothes that I ironed this morning. My work gives me purpose, and the ability to give back to my community. “Thank you…” I found myself saying silently.

Inhale gratefulness…exhale ingratitude

Day three began with a mad dash to the airport. My ex (the father of my three youngest children) offered to drive me so I wouldn’t have to spend money on a taxi. I gladly accepted. As we made our way along the freeway, I contemplated how far he and I have come. And it made me happy. I boarded the plane to Texas that day feeling certain that all things in life eventually come full circle. Not necessarily when we want, but when life sees fit. And if we’re attentive, we’ll take notice. And maybe we’ll even learn a lesson or two.

Inhale the present…exhale the past

Day four I woke up in a beautiful suite with floor to ceiling windows, overlooking a sunrise on the Colorado River. I had the entire bed to myself. I rolled over onto my stomach, rested my chin in hands, took in the view, and smiled.

On days five & six, I had to put forth constant effort to silence the negativity that was trying to work it’s way back in. All those worst-case scenarios, things owed to me, innately sad thoughts that were begging to be dwelled upon. It took a concerted effort not to give them the attention they craved. I picked something productive to think on instead. And I stayed with it.

Inhale confidence…exhale doubt

On day seven, I stepped into my grandparents kitchen in the clothes I had traveled in the day before. The coffee was brewing, and my Nana was absent-mindedly nibbling away at a piece of bread while reading the morning paper. I was well rested and vibrant, on a natural high from the amazing days I had spent in Austin with group of women who are my allies in advocacy and close friends. I had a thoughtful conversation with my grandfather. I went for a long run up in the hills of my hometown. It occurred to me that I felt completely centered and whole. And I attributed that feeling to the week I’d spent mindfully rejecting negative thoughts, and embracing all that is good and positive in my life.

It’s been two and a half weeks now, and I keep waiting for this feeling to leave me. But it hasn’t yet.

“Thank you” has become my daily mantra. My prayer to life and the world around me. And it’s been an incredibly calming affirmation. Simple, yet powerful. Overall, this way of gratefulness is becoming second nature. I’ve become hyper-aware of every beautiful sight, pleasant interaction, and pleasing sound. And somehow this awareness makes the less tolerable aspects of life seem less grating. I don’t know how long I can maintain this state of peace, but I think I like it well enough now that I will actively find a way back to it should I lose my way again sometime down the road.

Healthy Teen Network Conference- #NoTeenShame in Austin

On Tuesday, October 21st, the #NoTeenShame mamas descended upon Austin, Texas to recieve the Spirit of Service award at the Healthy Teen Network conference. We traveled from Massachusetts, New York, Maryland, New Mexico, Florida, & California.  Night one: We spent the evening getting to know each other better, as it was the first time all of us have been together in one place! Up until this point, the majority of our collaboration has been mainly through innovative virtual platforms, and late night conference calls.

From left to right: Marylouise, Natasha, Consuela, Gloria, Lisette, Jasmine, Christina

From left to right:
Marylouise, Natasha, Consuela, Gloria, Lisette, Jasmine, Christina

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6th street shenanigans. Bonding w/ the Zoltor.

6th street shenanigans. Bonding w/ the Zoltor.

Out on the town

Out on the town

Day Two: We were treated to a delicious luncheon, and were presented with a beautiful award which we briefly entertained shipping from coast to coast every year, ‘Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants’ style so that each of us gets a chance to house it. In the afternoon, we were able to get in a productive strategic planning session, where we outlined our goals & steps for the future, among other things. Evening came with the chance to explore the city, feast on some amazing food, visit the State Capitol, and get a taste of the 6th street night life. There may or may not have been some bull riding.

#NoTeenShame be like...

Spirit of Service award, Healthy Teen Network conference

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From left to right: Christina Martinez, Marylouise Kuti, Natasha Vianna, Pat Paluzzi, Consuela Greene, Lisette Orellana, Jasmin Colon, & Gloria Malone

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My big cheesy happy smile

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Marylouise ❤

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Our awesome name tags

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Strategic planning session in full affect

Strategic planning session in full affect

It's work, but it's fun work

It’s work, but it’s fun work

We also to manage to get in a small group therapy session. Some tissues were needed :)

We also to managed to get in a small group therapy session. Some tissues were needed 🙂

We kinda like taking pictures

We kinda like taking pictures

Strategic planning session moved downstairs because, food.

Strategic planning session moved downstairs because, food.

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Marylouise + Twitter

Some selfies were taken...

Some selfies were taken…

Okay, who am I kid

Okay, who am I kidding. Lots of selfies were taken.

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Sisterhood ❤

At the State Capitol

At the State Capitol

So exciting!

#NoTeenShame be like…