Drowning From The Inside Out: The Stigma Surrounding Early Pregnancy


Written by Amy Lopez

There is an unspoken rule in Hispanic households: if you’re feeling something, hold it in. Don’t let yourself be seen as weak. It is not going to make anything better if all you are doing is pouting.

That’s how I used to feel.

How I still feel sometimes.

I was valedictorian of my high school in Southern California. I also won the Gates Millennium Scholarship my senior year—the only person in my class to receive it.

I was entering my freshmen year at University of Southern California with an academic scholarship that would leave me debt-free by the time I graduated.

I had everything figured out. Or so I thought. The second semester of my sophomore year at USC, I found out I was pregnant. I was 19 years old.

It was not the great shock for me that society and media make it out to be. I had missed my period for about two months, something that was out of the norm for me. There was no, “How could this have happened?” moment for me. Sure, there was a chance that when I went to the clinic, the test would come out negative, but when it read positive, there was not much surprise.

Nor was I shocked by the reactions I got from people.

I was not a stranger to teenage or unplanned pregnancies.

Coming from a low-income community, unplanned pregnancies were talked about at my high school and occurred occasionally. Plus, being the daughter of one who gave birth to my oldest brother at the age of 17 and then to me at the age of 20, I was not foreign to the topic. But I had mixed feelings about it.

It was always the same story when it came to the unplanned pregnancies at my high school.

The girls stopped coming to school. They always said they were coming back but most never did. Perhaps they lacked the support from school staff. Maybe they were unsure of how to balance their new role with the ever-present demands of school. Often, their boyfriends started working and the girls would spend their time at home, becoming accustomed to maternal life and all it entailed.

It’s what my mother had done. She’d given up her peak years to take care of my three brothers and me. It was not until we were significantly older that she finally decided to go back to school to become a teacher, a goal she continues to pursue to this day. Still, it was her hiatus that always bothered me. Why couldn’t she have still gone to school and taken care of us? Why did she wait so long? When I got pregnant and heard the reactions, I realized why: It was easier.

No longer was I the wunderkind valedictorian who was going to take over the world.

People heard I was pregnant and it was almost as if they were giving out eulogies rather than congratulations or morale boosters. “She’s so young,” they’d say. “She had such a bright future. She worked so hard in high school. It’s a shame.”

Fueled in part by doubt and adversity, I was inspired and motivated to finish school. I was determined to continue. I could not let people be right. I was not doomed to fail.

Every day I went to school, and my anxiety increased as my belly grew. I began to realize that I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I was exhausted. I would drive to school, park, and walk to class in a sleep-deprived state. I was not in the best state health wise. I was tired and scared that I would not have the strength to carry this load. Not just going to school and graduating on time, but parenthood itself.

This is where it began. What it really feels like to be a young parent. In addition to the typical worries of students my age, I began to wonder if was going to be a good parent. The feeling would eat at me. I had so much homework as it was, how was I going to balance a child as well? What was I getting myself into?

In most communities, venting brings one response: “Well… you should’ve used protection,” or “You had a choice.” And this is true.

As young parents, we do have a choice to make. A difficult choice to make that has been debated at federal levels for decades. For some, abortion is a simple procedure. For other, an anguishing option. But there are many of us that immediately feel a connection to what is already growing inside of us.

Here’s the kicker: while one decision is politically debated about whether or not it’s a personal choice, the other is a life-long commitment that is forever viewed as the wrong personal choice. The choice to parent young.

Because as young parents we could have “been smarter about contraception” or made an alternative choice instead of creating struggles. This is what the media tells us. This is what society tells us. It creates a feeling of drowning from the inside out.

It is making a sound choice about our parenting and our plans, only to have someone tell us “you’re so young. You don’t know what you’re talking about.”

It is sharing my pregnancy news with family and former close friends and hearing, “When are you quitting school?”

It is going to school, raising my son and being asked by family members why I’m so focused on my homework. Why is my son crying while I’m on my laptop trying to finish a news package for my journalism class? Why did I even choose to go into journalism? What kind of earning can you make in that field?

It is being told by numerous people that you’ll have help at a moment’s notice, but always being denied help when you need it most.

It’s taking finals while trying to put your child to sleep.

You try to come up for air and realize that the baby years will pass. School will end soon. All the while, you’re still treading water. The drowning feeling never goes away. But you learn to adapt.

School finishes and work begins. Instead of having class hours to work around, you now need a full 9-hour babysitter for your children, and daycare isn’t cheap.

Even when you have reached “adulthood,’’ you have already been a parent for years. It sets you apart from the parents who had their children at a socially appropriate age. You never really fit in anywhere.

You fall into a specific category, constantly trying to make sure you don’t drown from the steady influx of stigma. It is difficult to parent under the scrutiny of everyone around you, when you are doing the best you can.

The suffocating stigma must end. We have a right to parent with dignity.





Five Ways My Teenager Has Influenced My Parenting Style

So, my oldest son Elijah, is nearing his 18th Birthday, which means he is almost an adult. In many ways, he is already like a little adult. He drives himself to work & school, manages his own schedule, and has an active social life outside of the family. In addition to this man-child, I also have three younger children who are 12, 8, and 4 years old. Basically, I have children all over the developmental spectrum. But the manner in which I parent the younger three has gradually shifted as my eldest grew and taught me a thing or two about mothering. Things that once seemed important to me when Elijah was little, are trivial matters to me now. Over time, I’ve also learned to place more importance or other aspects of parenting that I didn’t give much thought to when I started this journey some 18 years ago. When you have an almost-adult at home, it changes the way you view your other children. Elijah is a walking reminder that my little ones will only be little for so long. That’s an obvious clique, I know, but one that is hard to comprehend in it’s entirety when you are cradling your first newborn and time seems to be standing still. Here some are the things I’ve learned as a parent of a teenager:

1) Our children do not belong to us.                                                                                      When my Elijah was little, I spent a lot of time dressing him up, showing him off, and delighting in the fact that he showed interest in the fads and hobbies I introduced him to. I can’t say I thought of him as a possession, but I certainly felt a sense of ownership over the little guy. Not so much anymore. Though I can see that many of his attitudes and beliefs about the world are a reflection of the home in which he was raised, he also has a mind and will of his own. As he should. Soon, very soon, he’ll venture on out of the nest and into adulthood. The days in which he was my default sidekick are a thing of the past. This realization is constantly on my mind as I watch my younger children grown into their own unique personalities, and it gives me the patience & perspective to deal their increasing bursts of autonomy. Yes, they are in my keeping now. But someday soon they’ll be independent of me with lives of their own. Last week, Elijah randomly text me during the middle of the day asking me if I was busy that evening & if I’d be willing to accompany him to his friend’s soccer game. I wistfully remembered the days in which I made all his plans and accepted invites on his behalf. Then I smiled, and cleared my schedule for the evening. When your teen invites you somewhere, you accept. Graciously.

2) No matter how cool you think you are, you’ll never be one of them.                         I had Elijah when I was 17. Which now makes me 34 years of age with a 17-year-old kid. Which means I sometimes fool myself into thinking I’m still kind of hip in terms of pop culture & trends. But boy, do teenagers have a way of humbling us. Soon after Elijah entered middle school I realized I will always be ten steps behind in terms of what’s “in”. Though we largely share the same taste in music, fashion trends, and some aspects of pop culture, my son still views me as out of touch & jokingly refers to my friends and I as “old.” He cringes every time someone asks if I’m his sister. In his own subtle way, he has reinforced the fact that he values me more as a parent than as a friend. Because I’m not his peer, nor does he want me to be. I’m here to enforce rules, impart wisdom, and provide guidance. And every now and then, he’ll hint at how grateful he is for the relationship we have.

3) Be mindful of your screen time. What are you reaching for?                       Teenagers are really into their electronic devices. But I’m sure you already know that. I preach moderation, and have always put limits on screen time though it’s sometimes difficult to enforce, especially as they get older. I’ve filled their days with a multitude of alternative activities including outdoor excursions, trips to museums, libraries and other such places in an attempt to show them the world beyond screens. But still, when he’s not playing baseball or at work/school, that teen of mine has his smartphone in hand almost always. A while back, we were talking about what a clingy toddler he was, and I quipped that he now reaches for his phone more than he reaches for me. Minutes later, the profoundness of the statement hit me. What do my younger children see ME reaching for? Am I more likely to be holding a device, or their hand? I’m already self-conscious about this, as I work with families on a daily basis, and I constantly see parents with faces in screens while their children attempt to get their attention. But this conversation prompted me take a hard look at my own behaviors, and make a concerted effort to put the problematic ones in check. Have you reached for your child today?

4) YouTube can be a great teaching tool.                                                                          Speaking of screen time and technology, I’ve noticed that Elijah and his brothers use YouTube for all sorts of things besides watching pointless viral clips for entertainment. They’ve taught themselves everything from how to repair a bicycle, to updating smartphone software, to creating their own incense holders. After watching my son plunk away at the piano keys using a YouTube tutorial video, I got an idea. That week, my toddler suddenly developed an aversion to teeth brushing. After a few nights of literally holding her down while struggling to clean her teeth amidst thrashing and flailing limbs, I decided to take a more logical approach to her dental hygiene. The next evening, right before bedtime, I sat her in front of the computer and searched for images of  “toddler tooth decay.” Video after video popped up of children with teeth in varying states of decay. I explained to her why it’s important to brush her teeth, and showed her the cavities that form when we don’t. She was cured. That night, she willing opened her mouth for her nightly brush, without a peep. I’ve used this method for other things as well, including the time my two youngest began complaining about seat-belts and booster seats during a long road trip. After watching a video of crash-dummies being ejected from cars during an accident, they smartly made the decision to stay buckled, noting that it’s far more comfortable to be strapped in than to be injured in an accident. Kids are pretty logical. When we began to show them the reasons behind our rules, you’d be surprised at how well they cooperate.

5) In the end, your influence does matter (but there is no magic formula).                                        Just as we spend 18+ years watching over them, they are observing us as well. As Elijah enters adulthood, I can clearly see the way he is a product of his parents, step-parents, and extended family. All of our collective habits, hobbies, conversations and attitudes are downloaded into our children’s brains during their formative years, and they without a doubt influence the people they become.  Here’s the catch: it does not necessarily mean  they are doomed because of certain circumstances or redeemed due to others. I’ve been working in the field of education for 15 years, and during that time have worked closely with hundreds of families. I’ve met children who have come out of “broken homes” to become grounded, whole, and productive young adults. On the flip side, I’ve seen children from affluent two-parent, religious households slide into depression and addiction. And in between those extremes I’ve witnessed a wide array of stories play out which have lead me to believe that there is no magic formula to raising a child. But there is one thing that continually arises as I hear the individual accounts of children and their families: we internalize the realities of our childhood. We absorb the environments we are raised in. But we come out of them with our own unique understanding and strength. And no one, not even our parents, can predict what that will look like when all is said and done.                                                         

Opportunities, Chance Encounters, and A New Style

"And these children that you spit on as they try and change their worlds are immune to your consultations. They're quite aware of what they're going through..." -David Bowie

“And these children that you spit on as they try and change their worlds are immune to your consultations. They’re quite aware of what they’re going through…”
-David Bowie

When I walked into the salon, I noticed her first. A blue-eyed, curly haired brunette of a toddler, with round cheeks and the unsteady gait of a child who is first leaning to walk. She waddled past me, under grandma’s watchful eye, and I gave her a smile because that’s the right thing to do when one is acknowledged by a baby. The mood of the place was light-hearted as the stylist tied up my locks and draped a giant bib around my shoulders. We chatted a bit about the Academy Awards, and the comedic genius that is Ellen (even though- in all honesty- I didn’t watch any of the actual show, but I’m pretty good at playing off those sorts of things off given that my social media feed was full of the Oscar highlights pertinent to the conversation). Within a few minutes, my attention drifted to the young man who was seated directly behind me. His stylist laughed as she cut inches off his hair and joked that he’d no longer look like a recovering hippie. “Your mom has been trying to get you to do this for years!” she teased, “You’ll barely recognize yourself when I’m done with you!” I sideways glanced into the fun house of mirrors around me until I got a clear look at him. Cute kid. Probably a year or two older than my oldest son….maybe 18 or so? He flashed an endearing smile as  the finishing touches were put on his new shortly cropped style, and he reached for his phone. His teenage brother sauntered over and whistled…”You’re going to take a selfie?” he laughed. The kid in the chair threw his head back and grinned, “Nah, man, I’m not about that life. You’re going to take it for me. Then it’s technically not a selfie, it’s a portrait.” Something about the entire interaction made for a feel-good Monday night moment…the excitement of the stylist to reveal her finished work, the good-natured joking between siblings, the Parisian  jazz playing in the background accompanied by the happy squealing of the toddler  in the lobby area. I found myself smiling.

As the young man got up and dusted the excess hair off his flannel, the toddler turned and looked at him, confused. Her grandma swooped her up and walked her toward him, “You don’t recognize your clean-cut daddy?” she asked. I watched as he reached for his daughter, and caught a glimpse of concern on his face when she squirmed in grandma’s arms to turn away from him. “Baby, it’s me…It’s still me!” then, under his breath, “I knew this was going to happen…” His mom kissed him on his cheek and reassured, “She’ll get used to it by tomorrow. No worries, handsome.”

Just then, the man in the chair next to me leaned into my space & shook his head, “Scary, isn’t it? Just one of those accidents, that ends in, well…a kid having a kid.”

This happens to me quite often, by the way. Someone openly passes judgement on young parents in my presence. We are all aware of the viciousness of the mommy wars, but I honestly believe that harshest criticism voiced on topics such as the breast/bottle debate, co-sleeping, discipline, and parenting styles, is saved for the online forums where anonymity (or at the least the guise of it), allow people the luxury of making an ass of themselves without fear of face-to-face conflict. Not so when it comes to parenting teens. I’ve nursed 4 children to toddler-hood and can count on my hands the number of times anyone has had the audacity to approach me about my choice to breastfeed. (Actually, it’s one.)  In contrast, as a teen parent, I was often made to listen to the passive-aggressive criticisms of family acquaintances, school personnel, and random insignificant people who thought it their duty to inform me of the ways I damaged my life and that of my son. Anyhow, I don’t care to dwell on that, and in instances such as today in the salon, I’ve even learned to deliver curt comebacks informing the tongue-wagger that as a former young mommy, I do not participate in conversations that perpetuate the stigma surrounding teen parents.

Anyhow, the tenderness in which that young daddy reached for his daughter lingered with me this evening. The comment of the other salon patron did too, but it did not irritate or anger me in any way. The juxtaposition of the two events spoke to me. Left me brimming with motivation.

You see, I’m going to let you in on something I’ve been rather tight-lipped about for some time. But I believe that speaking about it openly is the first step toward it’s materialization. An opportunity to revive a young parent mentoring program has fallen into my lap. As of current, there is an absence of non-secular teen parent mentoring programs available to youth in Sacramento county. This program would fill that void. I was in attendance at one of the trainings provided by the non-profit group that would ultimately host this new endeavor, and  was still feeling hesitant about whether or not I’m ready to take on a project of such scale. At the end of the training, a young women approached me, as she’d heard that I was entertaining of the thought of taking over the teen parent portion of the program. She told me of how she’d given birth to her daughter at 18, went on to graduate from college, and is now set on a doctorate program. In addition, she wants to mentor young moms. I feel invested in this opportunity,  and it hasn’t even taken off yet.

I’m going to need a team of supporters. We’ll need mentors. We’ll need grants. And a clear program mission. But the young parents are out there. And chances are they are  looking for some sort of guidance, or community They may be in need resources. Or a helping hand, a listening ear, a friend.

If at least one family is positively impacted, would it not have been worth a shot?

On Your 17th Birthday

elijah 2

Sunday, January 26th, 11:22pm

Oh hey there, Son!

Did I tell you I found my high school transcripts the other day? Well, If I didn’t, it’s because I was a little embarrassed.  And shocked, really, to see that I had a 0.50 at the end of sophomore year. Yep. You read that right. Nearly 3.2  grade points lower than your GPA was in 9th grade. One of the many reasons why I am so darn proud of you, you hard-working, motivated student, you. And, of course, you know the story…along came little you, and I was inspired to turn my slacker ways around and begin putting a little effort into my studies. Because I knew you were depending on me.

By the way, I want you to know, Elijah, I was not the only parent of yours who stepped up when you came to existence. Your dad did the same. Since day one, he worked for you. Even at the young age of 17, he diligently showed up for work at the restaurant down the street, so that he would be able to contribute to your needs. Not that that was a particularly easy task, as the job was tedious and boring at times and didn’t particularly pay well. But day in and day out, he worked-in that job and in many others….and continues to work to this day for your little sister, your step-mom, and of course, you. I read a quote the other day, in J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan…you may remember it: “There are many different kinds of bravery. There`s the bravery of thinking of others before one`s self. Now, your father has never brandished a sword nor fired a pistol, thank heavens. But he has made many sacrifices for his family, and put away many dreams.”  Putting aside one’s needs for the sake of another is no small feat. Yet your dad was able to put much aside in his efforts to be a good father to you. I want you to know that.

And so, you grew, and we grew, and suddenly I was in college, where I found out I was a pretty good student after-all. A 4.0 student to be exact, and I was getting rather confident. Except when it came to my math skills. I don’t know why, but I had a hang up with math. I thought I wasn’t cut out for it. So when it came time for me to take statistics to fulfill transfer requirements for the CSU system, I was a little freaked out. The first day of class, you were having a rough time saying good-bye to me as it was also your first day at the college’s preschool. Separation anxiety was in full effect. I lingered a little too long to comfort you, and was late getting to class. The instructor gave me the eye as I hurriedly seated myself while mumbling my excuse about having to drop my son off and I’m sorry it won’t happen again. But it was too late. I knew she wasn’t impressed. I was red in the face, and feeling quite intimidated as I flipped through the syllabus that day. “How in the world am I going to pass this course?” I wondered.

I vocalized my concerns to a gentleman I had befriended in another one of my classes…an older man by the name of Wayne. Wayne was smart and generous and well versed in the ways of the world. He listened to my concerns and offered to help tutor me, as he had taken the exact same course the semester before. But more importantly, he advised me not to doubt my ability to ace the class, if I so desired it. “But I’m not GOOD at math stuff!” I protested. “We’ll see, ” he responded. As it turns out, I didn’t need much tutoring…I took some of Wayne’s notes early on, and studied them furiously during class breaks and late in the evening long after you were asleep. And to my surprise. It all began to make sense. Not only did it make sense…I found that I loved it. Loved it. I began looking for statistics in everything I read. In the newspaper, in the magazine articles, and in the peer-reviewed research that was assigned reading in my other classes. I ate that stuff up. And I aced the class. I remember when the final scores were posted, and afterward we all stood in the hall comparing our standings…I had the second to highest grade in a class of 38 students. And I never had a complex about math again.

Statistics. I thought a lot about them back then…about who I was destined to be, and more importantly, what was in store for you. At the time, I was hyper-aware of what the statistics said you’d become, being that you were the son of teen parents. The cautionary tale went something like this: likely to be retained a grade, likely to drop out of school, highly likely to become incarcerated. That, my son, is what the statistics said.

But you’ve written your own story, haven’t you? I cannot take full credit for the young man you’ve become. You’ve been blessed with a community of people who have loved, encouraged, and supported you along the way. Your accomplishments are a reflection of all of them, and of your parents…but in the end, it all comes down to you. You’ve done this for yourself. And you’re not done yet.

For you, childhood is waning. You are doing amazingly well in all your courses. You are well read, thoughtful, and organized. You’re a dedicated baseball player, and a responsible sibling to your brothers and sisters. I’m so very proud of you.

And soon, you’ll be choosing majors, and schools, and careers…you’ll learn to juggle jobs and friendships, finances and hobbies…and there is much for you to learn.

But most importantly, I want you to remember that your success is not only for you.  As you climb the ranks, and make your way into adulthood, be ever-mindful of those around you who may need encouragement, or information, or support or advocacy. Life’s most humbling moments can often be witnessed in the little ways in which we help one another—in simple ways such as offering tutoring or notes, an encouraging word, a kind gesture, a friendship.

You, Elijah, were given the gift of a sharp mind, quick wit, and a compassionate heart. The three don’t always go hand in hand. And this is why I’m convinced that,

Someday…somewhere… someone may sit on their couch, late in the night, listening to the clock tick-tock away (as I’m doing now) and writing about the ways in which you impacted their life. You may never know the full scope of your actions. Or perhaps you will. But either way, it will have been worth it.

Rest now, little one. The world awaits you when you wake. And there is so much for you to do…

With Love,


P.S. Mr. Wayne Maytum, if you ever get around to reading this…thank you, sir, for believing in me. The image of your warm smile stays forever in my memory.

Living up to Ideals

The tick, tick, tick of the biological clock...

The tick, tick, tick of the biological clock…

So, this past week Gallup released a poll revealing that 58% of Americans said that the ideal age for childbearing is  25 or younger. Enter,  social media debates. For days now, I’ve watched my newsfeed explode in response to this survey, and I braced myself for the argument I’ve come to know well. The one that suggests that the older a woman is, the better parent she will be. “Do you even remember what you were DOING at age 25?!” screamed one irate blogger. “I’ll give you a hint…think round the clock parties, frat-boy chasing, and all around debauchery!”

Pardon me, but do you know what I was doing at 25? Giving birth to my 3rd child. By choice, I might add.  So while some of you made  habit of stumbling home from clubs at 2 am, some of us were in the routine of nursing our infants back to sleep during that un-godly hour. It’s all good…don’t judge my lifestyle and I won’t look critically upon yours. To each her own, right? And don’t you dare for a second feel sorry for me, or my children. I wouldn’t have it any other way. And I’m pretty sure— based on the way my children happily embrace their lives every day— that they wouldn’t change it either.

My first child was born when I was 17, and my last at age 30, and I can tell you this much…that feeling of protectiveness and profound dedication to each one of my children was the same as a teen as it was a grown woman, once they were placed in my arms all squalling and naked and helpless. And it’s here that I always feel as if I have to add a side note: the one that assures the reader that my children are socially well-adjusted, empathetic, scholarly young citizens in the making. And even if they weren’t, it wouldn’t necessarily mean that the age of their mother was a contributing factor to their hypothetical failure to thrive  (But that’s another topic in and of itself).

These kinds of polls serve no purpose, really, except to stir up a slew of debates that are constantly circulating in the world of motherhood. Debates on age, education, financial stability, marital status, and how these play into the public perception of the “ideal” parent.

It’s provocative to say that, biologically speaking, the ideal age to have a child is at 17 when a women’s  body is at the peak of its fertility. In terms of social parameters, no one would go out on a limb and declare that having a child at 17 is a good idea. But all that aside, it’s impossible to pinpoint a perfect age for one to embark on this amazing journey called parenthood. Perhaps you weren’t ready to set your life aside for another when you were 25. Consider for a minute that some of us were. And maybe think about that the next time you go spewing your ageist notions of who the ideal parent is, for the rest of us to hear.



Identity Foreclosure

26 years old, attending to my 3 children. Monterey Bay, California. 2006

26 years old, attending to my 3 children. 2006. Monterey Bay, Ca.

During my 12 years in college, I sat through many courses and took part in countless academic discussions. There are a handful of classes I remember quite vividly, including one particular child development course  during which I had a profound epiphany about my self-identity. I can recall the moment rather clearly, right down to the outfit I was wearing and the classmates who were sitting around me that morning. The course content we were reviewing was Erik Erickson’s developmental stages, which describe human development as it occurs throughout the lifespan. I was tired beyond belief that morning…my second son was suffering from yet another ear infection, and I had spent most of the night cradling him in an upright position, as that was the only way he was pacified.  That would have been fine, if I were a horse. But sleeping upright is not my normal mode of op, so by the time the alarm clock sounded, I was seriously hurting. Somehow I managed to drag myself out of of the house, assignments in hand, and drop my oldest off to kindergarten before battling the mess of morning traffic, darting across campus in search of the shortest coffee-house line, and into my seat at the lecture hall all before 9 a.m. One of my single, childless classmates began complaining to me about how hard it was for her to balance college social activities with school work and  I resisted the urge to drown myself in coffee to escape her petty complaints, or at the very least inhale  caffeine into my lungs to resuscitate me from my zombie state. Thankfully, that wasn’t necessary because we immediately launched into a debate that brought me out of my sleep-deprived stupor. That morning, my professor introduced us to the concept of identity foreclosure. In short, people in identity foreclosure have committed to an identity too soon, without ever having thoroughly explored their other options. We usually think of identity foreclosure in a negative sense; as in, the person who has settled for less than they might have been. We assume that this clipping of the wings is something unnatural and restrictive. But that day, as I wiped the sleep from my eyes and glanced around the university campus, I realized that for me (at the time, anyway), foreclosure was my biggest asset. 

According to Erikson’s theory, my life was foreclosed upon the day my son was born. Gone were the days of normal adolescence, typical high school life, and the freedom of youth. I was a mother. And though I was also still daughter,  sister,  friend, and student, it was motherhood that consumed my every waking minute. There was no time for youthful exploration…heck, I could barely find the time to shower. And when I did get a moment of “me” time,  it just wasn’t the same. I realized this the first time I tried to leave my infant son at home and go for a girls night on the town. While everyone around me carelessly laughed the evening away, I found my thoughts were with my baby. Was he eating okay? Would he fall asleep without me? Did I pack him enough diapers? Did I remember to leave an extra set of clothes? During a bathroom break, the girls  around me were busying themselves in front of the mirror, reapplying lipstick and whatnot while I quietly dipped into a stall to make sure my nursing pads were still in place. I just couldn’t quite bridge the gap between normal “social” teen, and young parenthood. So I kinda skipped out on it altogether. The social teen thing, that is.

For the remainder of my high school years, and most of my undergraduate college life, I threw myself into role of mother, student, and significant other. There was little room for anything else. But you know what I realized that day in class? That wasn’t necessarily a negative thing.  It allowed me to focus strictly on my family & studies without being distracted by the enticing “what-ifs” we sometimes get caught up in when we allow ourselves to wonder what might have been. You see, unlike some people who have children later in life, I never struggled with the feeling that motherhood cramped my style. Motherhood WAS my style. I owned it. I thrived in it. and I’m certain my children have benefited because of it.

I was chatting with a couple of mothers the other day who had their children later in life, and they were reminiscing about “the good ol’ days,” you know, the ones where they got to sleep in till noon, take off on spontaneous weekend trips, never worrying about babysitters or child-imposed curfews. The days before the tiresome task of care-taking for little children became the center of their universe. My “good ol’ day” fantasies circulate around the years I had only ONE child to manage, as opposed to four. There were never any weekend whims or lazy mornings to look back on longingly.  Since 16 and on, my life was about compromising my needs to meet those of my child’s.  And for me, that’s okay. You see, when my other children came along, I never felt suffocated, or resentful, or nostalgic for easier times. Does that mean I never get stressed, or weary of the day-to-day demands, or frustrated when my kids do things like pee their pants in the middle of a crowded department store on the day that I happened to forget  to bring a spare change of clothes? Absolutely not. I’m human, after all, and parenthood is not for the weary. I have my moments of impatience, and exhaustion,  and maybe even the occasional meltdown. But it is always with the underlying understanding that this is who I am. This, is who I was meant to be.  Did I mention that my other job is that of teacher? Yeah. I’m in my element when I’m nurturing children.

So here’s my latest realization: Someday my children will all be grown, and when I am retired, I will no longer be in the classroom with students. Which is why, I’ve just recently embarked on a new kind of soul-searching. One where I define myself apart from the role of mother, and teacher, and baby whisperer. It’s been a little over a year now, and I’m beginning to see glimpses of who I am during moments of quiet solitude. When I’m alone and free to do whatever I please. When no one is tugging at my pant leg begging for a juice box, or shouting across the playground, “MomMomMomWatchThisWatchThisWatchThisMooomAreYouWatching?!?”

I’m reveling in the fact that I’ve got a new lease on life, and the possibilities are endless. Whoops. Did I say lease?

What I meant was, I’m about to own this sh*t. 



How to Stop Stressing

Proud 2 Parent

Some think that the end is just the end, but really it’s a start to a new beginning. Stress is a very common thing and boy does it have your mind going! And stressing over the little things is even worse. Stressing is waste of strength. I say don’t stress it, just use it to open a new door and when you start doing that you’ll see that you was stressing over was nothing. You can do anything or turn any situation around if you but your mind to it here’s a few tips to help you.

1) Try to think of whatever you’re stressing about as a positive.

2) Try to think of was to fix the problem or preventing it from happening again this way you know what to when or if this lil problem comes up again.

3) Write it out. Some people who stress tend to…

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Battle Scars


Our interaction was brief, no more than 2 minutes in a typical Saturday scheduled with events and appointments during which my children and I managed to squeeze in a visit to our neighborhood park. And I can’t stop thinking about her… a comment about the heatwave, a genuine smile directed at my daughter, a polite “maybe we’ll see you here again…” as she worked to buckle her cranky toddler into his stroller. And as she turned to wave to me, I saw a dark bruise on the underside of her arm, the size of a large thumbprint. My eyes trailed to her forearm, where there were a series of faint, linear cuts. Self- inflicted? By now her son was in full-blown fit mode, back arched and hollering, and she shushed him with the promise of ice cream and a chance to play video games with dad when they arrived home. And she was gone. But her image lingers in my mind.

Every now and then, I catch a glimpse of it…the faint trace of scar about a half-inch long, on my left wrist right under my ring finger. I hardly think of it now. It serves no purpose but to remind me of a period of youthful hopelessness during which I was somehow convinced that my worth was tied to the boys I was dating. This one’s name was Bryan. He was tall and fair-skinned with hazel-eyes and an inviting grin. The trace of freckles sprinkled across his nose gave off an appearance of innocence, when in reality he was anything but. At 15, he was already on a path of self-destruction that included run-ins with the cops, voluntary homelessness, and sadly, methamphetamines. Like several of the other boys I had dated, he made a habit of exerting power through hurtful phrases and a heavy hand, and he could literally destroy  & re-build my confidence all in one day. But I adored him. Our time together was short…it began in early autumn and ended before the last leaf touched down on the cold winter pavement. Thankfully. But as always, my hindsight offers me a much clearer picture of a disaster averted, though at the time of our parting I was devastated. I remember there was another girl (isn’t that often the story?), and she happened to be a friend of mine. I consoled myself with Jack Daniels and my friend’s word that she would never pursue a relationship with him. And in my stupor, I found relief in hurting myself. Hence, the scar. The first, and last time I ever took comfort from the endorphin rush of self-harm. I was 14 years old.

These are not easy memories for me to recall, though it’s interesting for me to look back and see how, by the age of 15, I had silently vowed to myself that I could never put up with regular overt violence in my relationships…although up until fairly recently I did learn to tolerate (and engage in) bouts of covert conflict marked with verbal taunts and emotional stalemates. I know this is a common enough story that I’m willing to bet many of you reading this are nodding your heads, perhaps remembering a time that your broken heart lead you to depression, or self-medication, or injury. Or maybe it was none of these. Maybe your heart lead you to remain in a destructive relationship, and convinced you that a familiar suffering was better than the unfamiliar fate you’d endure if you somehow managed to walk away.

     We acquire many scars in the name of love; some are emotional, some are hidden & self-inflicted, others are visible to all. It takes an incredible amount of bravery to remove yourself from a situation that you have grown accustomed to. Or to admit that you are locked in a destructive pattern of interaction, either emotionally, physically, or verbally. The statistics on abusive relationships and related trauma in our country are sobering. Several studies have noted a co-occurance between dating/domestic violence and self-injury. And many sources estimate that 1 in 3 women have at one time been a victim of dating/domestic abuse. One in THREE. Which basically makes violence against women one of the most pervasive human rights crises in the world.

 If you are trying in vain to hide the battle scars of your hidden war, know that you are not alone. Know that voicing your struggle is the first step toward freeing yourself from it. Realize that, even if you feel completely isolated, there are people waiting in the wings who will support you are you take your first steps on different path.

 I regret not having said something to her. Not to pry or ask questions. But to offer friendship. A phone number. A bridge into our neighborhood network of strong, supportive women, many of whom have experienced similar misfortune at one point in their lives. If we happen to cross paths again, I will not hesitate to reach out…

Sister, you are stronger than the weight of his words. You are whole even in the absence of his presence. You, are a work of art to be admired and protected from defacement—be it from the hands of others, or your own.

Mother, love is not allowing your wings to be unwillingly clipped, even if you convince yourself it’s for the sake of your children. If you live in constant conflict, your little ones may benefit more from seeing you in flight than watching you wither in captivity. True, a nuclear family is worth is weight in gold…but a peaceful home is priceless.

Daughter, as I held you tenderly during your most vulnerable times, so should he respond to you with gentle touch and soothing words. Never expect less. Never settle.

And most importantly; Sons, with your hands, exhibit kindness. With your eyes, respect. With your tongue, honor. With your heart, love. And seek out a partner who will do the same.




Classroom Musings; On Immigration & Families

A reunion between mother and daughter from opposite sides of a massive steel fence at the United States-Mexico border. Originally printed in the New York Times.

A reunion between mother and daughter from opposite sides of a massive steel fence at the United States-Mexico border. Originally printed in the New York Times.


In matters of truth and justice, there is no difference between large and small problems, for issues concerning the treatment of people are all the same.  -Albert Einstein


               I have to admit, at the very beginning, she perturbed me. She would linger in the classroom for long periods of time, closely watching over her granddaughter Naya, and assisting her every maneuver, all the while quietly observing the actions of other parents, students, my aide, and myself. I welcome family volunteers graciously. For the teacher who is willing to maintain an open door policy (within closely monitored district requirements, of course) there are countless rewards once a solid relationship is built with your helpers in waiting. Anyone who has ever been in charge of multiple children at any given time, can tell you that crowd control is easily undermined by extraneous factors such as tiredness, hunger, bright colors on the wall, lint on the carpet…you catch my drift. In addition to maintaining some semblance of classroom management, teachers are also expected to execute tasks such as the facilitation of learning and stimulation of young minds. No sweat, right? Especially when you have a supporting cast of volunteers who are eager to help prepare crafts, staple copies, and set up small group activities. My volunteers are a God-send. No joke. And so it was that I reluctantly decided to accept Naya’s grandmother into the classroom with open arms. Well, not quite.

            You see, I’m ashamed to say it, but It took some time for me to warm to her. And, to be fair, I think it’s accurate to say it took a while for me to grown on her as well. I was irked by her over-bearing nature, and she was skeptical of me, the young-ish teacher with skinny jeans & a tendency to break out in spontaneous song. She would indirectly question my reasoning behind taking the children out to recess on cold winter days. Or my practice of encouraging the children to do things independently such as opening their own milk cartons, or working through peer conflict before I swooped in and rescued the situation. She was a classic helicopter grandparent. Protective to the point of stifling. But as months went on, she eased up a bit. And Naya became more confident and outgoing as a result. She was also extremely helpful in the classroom;  whether it was sweeping of floors, wiping mouths, or serving lunch plates…she was quick to fill in any void she saw. As a result, the classroom schedule and transitions were as smooth as could be. Around the second half of the school year, she began to smile, and talk, and even joke. And I started to genuinely enjoy her presence.

             Then, April came, and suddenly Naya stopped coming to school. After waiting a few days to hear from her family regarding her absence, I called home. Naya’s grandmother picked up. There had been a family tragedy. A car accident, and her grandson had died, a day before his 20th birthday. Needless to say, she was devastated. When they returned to school several weeks later, Naya requested to draw a sidewalk chalk picture for her deceased cousin so that he could look upon it from his new home in Heaven. So we did. My aide and I also listened as grandmother broke down and told us the details of the accident. And about her daughter’s inconsolable grief. And how precious and short life is. We cried with her. As mothers. But mostly, as  friends.

            Last week, as we prepared to close the classroom for the summer, Naya’s grandmother and I stood on the school yard watching the children work themselves into a feverous state of excitement over the impending summer break. I glanced over in her direction, and for a second, realized how far we had come since September. And out of nowhere, she began a story…”You know, I left my daughter in El Salvador when she was about Naya’s age. Not just her, my other daughters also. My youngest was 2 at the time. It was the hardest thing I ever had to do…” And for the next half hour, she recounted how she had left her improvised country to come to the States in search of a better life for her children. She came alone. With nothing but the clothes on her back, and a small picture of her daughters that she carries with her to this day. She found under-the-table work as a house cleaner, and sent nearly all of her earnings back home to her daughters who were in the care of her mother. She did this for 7 years, until finally, with the help of her American born husband, she was able to bring her children to the U.S. for good.

              Suddenly, all the times she spent hovering around Naya made sense. The way she coaxed her to finish all her food, the manner in which she fussed over her clothes, her hair, her school work. The way that she worried for every single cough, sneeze, and yawn. It was all justified.

            Justice. It’s a word I think of often. I contemplate how it applies to my students, as they work their way through a school system that overemphasizes test results rather than learning processes. I ponder the way it manifests in daily interactions between school staff and parents who are visibly uncomfortable on the school campus; be it because their English is limited, or they are unsure of their role in a formal educational setting, or perhaps because their own experiences in school were negative enough to prompt them to shy away from the environment as a whole. But I can tell you what Justice is not. Justice is not represented in a worldwide system that ruthlessly places profits before the needs and rights of a human being—a system that looks the other way when national policies such as NAFTA outright cripple a country and it’s ability to support it’s own, then responds with laws that criminalize people who migrate for the sake of their survival and that of their families. Justice is not present in a political environment that labels people “illegal.” Justice is not represented in a classroom where a teacher refuses to call a child by their birth name, on the basis that ‘Jorge” in English is ‘George.’ Justice means little to a mother who has nothing but a faded snapshot of her children to keep her going, day after day, night after night, as she toils away in a foreign country that never welcomed her in the first place.

               I do not like to make sweeping generalizations. But I am going to make one now. I have been teaching in one of the most diverse cities in the nation for the past 12 years, in both the public and private sectors. I’ve taught children who were born into affluence, and those who live in extreme poverty. And this I can say with certainty: 9 times out of 10, the people who have consistently been willing to do the grunt work (the wiping of noses, mopping of floors, scrubbing down the grime, and sanitizing of rugs after vomit incidents) are immigrants. Whether its the grandfather who immigrated from a war-torn Vietnam and now helps tend to my classroom garden, or the Iranian born mother who lovingly zippers the jacket of each and every student as I usher them out the door to recess, or the Cantonese-speaking auntie who kneels (without flinching) on the dusty cement to tie the shoe of an active student—these people deserve justice. But there’s more. They also deserve our utmost respect. 

               The battle over immigration rights continues in this country, as it always has, and perhaps always will. In the strategy room, there are politicians and pundits and activists each with their own agendas. All of them motivated by a different cause. And on the front-lines, there are men and women like Naya’s grandmother. Naya’s grandma, who joins her granddaughter in class everyday because she was not there to do it for her own daughters. Like Hanisa’s grandfather who gently held the hands of an angry student and told him, in broken English, how hate is the cause of all problems, but the solution to none. Like my grandmother, Guadalupe, who worked the cotton fields of Texas while bearing the weight of a small child on her back. Laws will be written, policies changed, and slogans coined. But all that aside, the collateral damage of the war on immigration remains the family. And to me, that is a high price to pay.

(For my Father, Jose. Happy Father’s Day. And for my Nana Lupe, for going through hell and back to bring him here…)

Roles & Realizations: Mother’s Day 2013


“there are different ways to make a family. It just takes love.”

Several nights ago, my youngest children came home from an evening with their father a little later than expected. It was a school night, and I was irritated that they would be getting to bed late, thus making it likely that the morning routine would be difficult– as it is much more challenging to wake a tired child than it is a well rested one. The drop-off exchange was curt,  and as soon as I closed the front door behind him, I began directing each of my boys through their nightly routine…”Isaac, get in the shower, Jacob, make sure your homework folder is in your backpack!” As I turned to my littlest one, I saw that she was already bathed, and in clean pajamas, all she needed was to be tucked in. I instantly felt relief (one less task to be completed in an already rushed night), then, a profound sense of bitter-sweet gratefulness. “Who brushed your hair, Ava?” My daughter turned to me with those wide, round eyes of hers and answered, “Sarah.” I held her little head against my cheek and took in the scent of her freshly washed hair, holding back tears. “That was very nice of her.” And I meant it.

Since my ex-husband and I seperated, I have considered many things in regards to our newly aquired roles as co-parents. But until recently, I had not given much thought to the notion that someday, I would likely be faced with with the task of turning over the mothering reins, should he begin a new relationship. 

Before I continue, I want to reiterate what I wrote in an earlier post regarding our split…the decision to separate was ultimately made by me. Though in recent discussions, my ex-husband has also expressed his feeling that the split was a necessary move in light of our ongoing struggles. But with 14 years of history & 3 children between us, life after break-up has not always been easy. That said, the one part of this that has been much less trying for me than one might expect, is my acceptance of his dating. Simply put, my one desire in the aftermath of our spilt is that we come out happier and more balanced than we were before. If that means finding love with another person, so be it. 

So when my children began  coming home from their dad’s, chattering about Sarah and her daughter—whom they adore, by the way— I began to come to terms with the fact that there was a new someone in my children’s inner circle.

Im sorry, but initially, I was not as graceful about this new development as I’d like to think I was. It brought about feelings of defensiveness that I quickly had to put in check. There is nothing productive that comes from being at odds with your ex’s significant other, especially when there are children in the picture. 

When I picked up my little ones from their dad this evening, I brought along a small gift for the new woman in their lives. Not only is she the mother of a young daughter, but she has also bravely taken on the task of welcoming my three little ones into her life, into her home, into her heart. 

This Mothers Day, I am humbled, as I come to accept that there will be another set of hands to care for my children when I am not around. Another voice to soothe them, another shoulder to bear their weight when they fall asleep after a long summer’s day in the sun. It’s challenging…but in a strange way, it’s not. I have always lived in a community where women step in to support each other in the role of mothering. Sisters, cousins, friends, neighbors…they have all played a part in the rearing of my children. 

But the smell of an unfamiliar shampoo in my baby girl’s hair awakened the realization that there is a new mother figure in the cast of caregivers. A significant one. And I’d be lying if I denied that the thought alone can bring me to tears. But I also speak the truth when I say that I wish her the best as she becomes accustomed to this new reality of ours.