If I Were A Critic

It is no secret that I love Christmas. It should come as no surprise then, that when I began to see the recurring trailer for Last Christmas, featuring Emilia Clarke and Henry Golding, that I would do everything I could to watch it in theaters.

You know the one. It begins with Wham’s hit (do you even know how many times I googled who the other half of Wham was and still do not remember?! Ridic), sung slowly by Emilia who is forever the Mother of Dragons in my heart. You see her ice skating with Henry who is my second fave because Crazy Rich Asians (#duh). In four seconds it was the trifecta to convince me to throw money its way. It centering around some Christmas theme was extra. Literally neither here nor there. I was always going to want to see it.

I dressed up for the movie, by which I mean I donned my Christmas dress that sparked a movement (if you’re wondering what movement I mean, here it is: Christmas Dress Shenans), complete with accessories and my gingerbread house purse. It was the most justice I could do for this feature film. I was giddy excited and hardly noticed that our fellow attendees had an average age of 65 at the cinema. That is just what you get when you choose a Sunday morning matinee time. I have to add that it made for some interesting chuckles during some exciting trailers, but that’s for another day.

As the movie began, it occurred to me that I really had no idea what it was about. My best guess at the time is that it was a typical holiday RomCom that just happened to go straight to the big screen because of its clear A list of actors. Well, buckle up and let me add that no, there will be no major spoilers here. Just me listing out all the reasons why you need to go see it, even if you hate Christmas.

Here you go, without further adieu:

Last Christmas

Ready to watch some magic!

Within five minutes of the movie starting, you realize that Catarina (played by Emilia) is a hot mess. She works at a Christmas Wonderland, which is actually now a dream for me, perpetually wearing a green elf dress. Her accessories are now legitimate wants of mine. The boot cover-ups to make them elf shoes are the best thing ever. I need a pair like I need oxygen! She is an adorable wreck. You love her instantly, even when you are cringing as she makes continuous bad choices.

She sings. This is no spoiler, as we heard that in the trailer and when she meets Tom Webster (played by Henry), he begins to help her overcome some challenges she has in nailing auditions. And, ya know, being a better human. Suffice to say that she doesn’t want to work for Santa (she is played by Michelle Yeoh, better known as the mean, unrelenting mom on Crazy Rich Asians) (and also YAY FOR WORK REUNIONS BECAUSE I LOVE THEM even though she’s a total beezy in that film) forever, either. I mean, I personally would, but to each their own.

You see, Catarina (or Cate, as she desperately wants to be called) cannot figure out how to turn her life around or who she even really is. She is a continual screw-up. Her sister is the shining star. They can’t stand each other because they both think the other gets more attention (sounds about right, right?). She has a fledgling relationship with her mother. They are a family of immigrants. I can relate with so much of it. Well, minus the singing. I mean, I do it anyway but I don’t sound angelic like she does. Maybe I should move my eyebrows more. I digress.

Tom slowly helps her regain some confidence, reminds her how to see people (but like, really see them), and to stop taking your village for granted. He refuses to be a slave to his cell phone. He asks her to eat better. He volunteers at a homeless shelter and takes her there to see it on their “second” date. There are mental health struggles, poverty, racism, lack of accountability, struggling relationships. Even when it is being cute, the film stays pretty true to a real world out there.

As Catarina begins to find her gumption and her drive, she starts to make some selfless acts. She stops being selfish and in that process, begins to find healing, both in her, and around her. She doesn’t need someone to save her or love her. She needs to do both of those things for herself, because you are the only person you can rely on one hundred percent for those things. Tom teaches her that, too.

Is there romance in this movie? Yes.

Is there comedy? Yes.

Is there almost every single George Michaels song in it? ABSOLUTELY. Get ready to sing along.

You also walk away from it with a renewed hope. Not just on Christmas, when we are most likely to reach out and help people but, in people, in general. This movie reiterates that with kindness we can break down walls, because we never really know what people are going through. We all have battles we are fighting. And the best love story is when you begin to love yourself.

And if you have a beating heart, you will love this film.

I just know it.

lastchristmas2

I don’t own the rights to this photo.

Before it was Cool

In high school, I was lucky enough to be the vice-president (or was it secretary…I legitimately cannot remember) (or Treasurer, was that a thing?) of the Honor Society at my school. A close friend of mine was the President and somehow we were tasked with the very important job of putting on a school dance towards the end of the school year. This dance was called Tolo.

Our school, and maybe only schools up in our county call it that, but really it is a dance where historically, the girl asks the guy to the dance. I have recently learned that many other schools call this concept Sadie Hawkins. Or something like that. Honestly, none of that matters. It is a school dance, more commonly known as the dance where girls would look glam-awkward and the guys would look dapper-odd. I’m clearly talking about the good ole days, where young adults hadn’t learned how to contour and do amazing makeup on YouTube and Pinterest. I mean, my grandkids are going to look so great! And they will look back at all my school dance photos and cringe like I do. ACK!

Anyway, all the other dances were put on by very reputable groups. I know you’re probably thinking that the FRIGGIN HONOR SOCIETY must be the most trustworthy group, but you would be wrong. Children that are all-knowing should be supervised. I’ll say that forever and ever, because I was that child. Anyway, I digress. The all-esteemed president and I convened, which is what I call the planning party where I convinced her we make the theme Hawaiian Luau (I KNOW) and she listened to all my crazy ideas that were very pineapple-centric. I should add that I recently took the Strenghthfinders test, where they determine your top five strengths. I think my number two was Woo. I thought that referred to my very common WOO I will yell at random occasions. No. It is my power of persuasion. Awesome. It was in full force on this senior year night.

So I got what I wanted here. A Hawaiian party where we could make a ton of decorations and not have to wear a dress and still have fun. Definitely win-win.

I asked a friend to go with me, but not as my date. I had zero interest in him and told him I would take him to McDonalds for dinner. I was that serious.

We arrived at the party and the prezzy and I went off to handle a lot of logistical, background tasks. At least, that is what I told my friend. Really, I could see he had some hopes up and I wasn’t about to encourage that. Besides, we did have some actual duties, like reminding attendees to vote for the dance royalty. I was dreading this part.

Now, yes, I recognize that our spring Sadie Hawkins dance, or whatever you want to call it, pales in comparison to football homecoming. There isn’t a float parade or special assembly for it. There is, however, still a high school hierarchy that decides the winners. You know the one I’m referring to, if you’ve ever been in high school. The pretty and cool (those are not independent of each other) kids in the fun clique all vote for whoever is next on their list. I was never in this clique so I especially saw it and the effects it had on the very large population of students who continually feel left out or unseen.

We did our announcement, reminding everyone one last time to come over and get their votes in. As we waited anxiously for the time to run out, we chatted about who our money was on to win King & Queen. I won’t lie and say it wasn’t the preppy group. I mean, they are always good looking kids! We just knew the possibilities were a small group of people. When it was finally time we grabbed the box from the rando that had been manning that table and headed back into a private room to “count them.”

Now, you’re probably wondering why that was in quotations. It is because this wasn’t the most popular dance, and even with a pretty decent number of students there, not everyone voted. The whole process could have taken us less than five minutes and we could deliver our hula girl prizes (I might not be remembering that correctly, but this was in a recent dream so let’s go with it) to the winning couples. It felt sort of exhilarating, to know the outcome before announcing the winner to a group. I can only imagine how the committee who knows Oscar, Grammy, and Tony winners first feel. We decide (it was her, the president, because she’s a math wizard) to make piles first and then count, in the event a count was needed. You know, in case that group couldn’t pick one clear winning couple.

As we started creating the piles, I got this sudden urge to rip them all up. I didn’t, but I recognized it was there. I was seeing popular after popular and realized this was probably my only chance ever to be a part of something revolutionary at this school. I mean, if you didn’t count the recent stint of suspended days I had recently served because I had “caused too much of a scene when a fellow classmate had made racist comments to a friend.” After I continued to cause said scene I also yelled for justice. How could I be suspended for defending her and he not be defended for making the racist remarks? Right? Right. End story? We both got suspended and I was 100% fine with that.

“You know,” I said to my friend, “do we really have to count these? Who would it hurt if we picked our own winners?”

She turned to me and smiled. “Did you have anyone in mind?”

I sure did. This dance was the first time, in my high school years, that I had seen a same-sex couple attend. Two ladies, looking super cute and semi-uncomfortable, had bought their tickets and shown up. There had been whisperings for the two weeks leading up to it because it was scandalous and amazing and unheard of. I was a big fan. I wanted to tip the scales and announce them Queen and Queen.

There is something to be said about growing up in farm country. You see, over and over, the normalcy of hetero relationships was prevalent. You are raised with this confusing rhetoric that you will grow up and marry a man, but not before you get some sort of post-secondary education’ you will have children but not before you buy a house, etc. Not everyone follows the rules and they suffer harsh judgement from it, however short-lived that may be. Seeing these two ladies take each other to this dance was so brave and encouraging. It also showed that our little corner of the county had more diversity than just ethnic differences.

My co-conspirator was in my corner and it made me so happy. Not that we had to help these ladies too much. If I’m being completely honest, we only “helped” them with less than ten votes. That was what helped me push my integrity aside so fast! I wasn’t the only one who wanted so desperately to see this change! My president just had one request, that I gladly accepted.

As we took the stage to announce all the winning couples, including prince and princess, my heart began to race. I was sure everyone could hear it through the microphone, that familiar boom-boom of not following a rule. The agreement had been that I would announce the two lesser royalty and she would announce the queens. And queens they were! Amidst the looks of shock were many of happiness. They came up so gracefully and danced so beautifully right after, It was amazing and we very non-discreetly high fived as we walked off the stage.

I will forever call this my greatest achievement of high school, very equivalent to fighting against racism. The thing is, nothing ever changes unless you break some rules, I suppose.

prom

These clearly aren’t the Queens. I don’t have a pic and even if I did, I would have to find them and get permission. This works. You get the gist of it.

 

 

 

Before the End

The lunchroom of the bank I’m working at is small and cold. It feels clinical but smells like a dirty sponge. You know that smell. It’s fetid and rank. My cup-o-noodles is sitting in front of me growing cold but I hardly notice. I’m in full-on triage mode, as I call it, frantically texting whatever I can think of to keep him from entering rage mode. Except, he is already in rage mode. Lately, it is his only mode.

Things have been more volatile lately. We have only been in Hawaii for three months and it has been a constant struggle. I work out of necessity even though my take-home is only $200 after I pay daycare. It seems ridiculous but we need every single one of those dollars to almost make ends meet. As I send another scared response, a colleague walks in to the lunchroom with a meal from some restaurant nearby and a Starbucks in hand. It looks so lucrative in her hands and I’m full of jealousy but not food. My stomach grumbles, reminding me to finish my noodles. I smile at her and make small talk, all while thinking about this stupid fight we are having, where I’ve once again messed up. It’s like I’m Matilda and Danny DeVito is yelling at me how he’s big and I’m small, he’s smart and I’m dumb, he’s right and I’m wrong. That’s what he means. He’s everything and I’m nothing. I’ve always been nothing.

I don’t remember the rest of the workday. It’s the same as every other day there, I’m sure. What I do recall is seeing a text as I packed up my stuff to head home. “I picked up the boys.” It is odd to me. They are always at the sitter’s house, which is really close to the branch I’m a teller at. I usually walk to get them and ride the bus home. This is out of the ordinary. Anything out of the ordinary in regards to him is worrisome, so naturally, now I’m worried. I reply back that I’m on my way home and head out the door, fingers crossed I’m not walking in to a warzone in front of my babies again.

I miss the bus by four minutes. Two hundred and forty lousy seconds that now equate to waiting twenty for the next one. Great. I can feel my anxiety growing, making my legs and my heart tremble. Something in my gut just doesn’t feel right. I feel my cellphone vibrate in my pocket. It is a photo of the boys in the car. Are you home? I ask him.

The phone rings and I jump because I’m fully on-edge now. I shake my head to get some of the jitters out and answer cheerily, just trying so hard to not show how scared I am.

Tell your Mom goodbye, boys! His voice is eerie because he matched my fake cheer.

Bye, Mom! They all shout at me in unison. I’m so confused. Why are they telling me goodbye? I say something like that, barely get it out, actually. I don’t know what is going on but it’s unsettling and now I’m really scared. He is unstable. But how unstable, really?

I can tell he takes me off speaker phone and I hear the nervousness in my voice as I ask him what is going on. I just bought the three of us plane tickets and we are headed to the airport. You are never going to see us again. Just remember you did this to yourself. Good luck in your life. He says all of this with a calm, terrifying tone and then hangs up. I am staring at my phone, trying so hard to process. I try calling back three times but they just go straight to voicemail. I’m pretty sure he shut his phone off. I can’t breathe. I can’t think. I have no idea what is happening. All I can do is start running home. I’m about a mile and a half away, which feels like five because I’m not a runner. I don’t workout. I have no endurance or stamina, so I run with adrenaline and fear, straight to the apartment we live in. It takes me a long thirty minutes because I keep stopping to catch my breath and dial his number again. None of the calls go through. I’ve never hated my body so much as I do in this moment. I just want to be there to stop whatever he is doing.

When I arrive at the apartment I see that sure as shit the car we share is missing. I shakily climb the fourteen stairs. They take all the rest of my energy and the last bit of hope I had. If he isn’t here, neither are they. Whatever is happening right now is a new level of terror and I cannot fathom what triggered it. Yes, I made him angry but this is out of the norm. I don’t have a key to the apartment so I lean up against the door, my forehead pressed against it, and emotionally breakdown. I have no one to call, no one to turn to so I just sob. I have been trying so hard to think Hawaii was a fresh new start but every day it is feeling more and more like I’m in solitary confinement. I keep trying his phone. My call continues to go straight to voicemail. I am utterly defeated.

An eternity goes by and then I hear it. The familiar rattle of the engine of our car and I wearily look over the balcony. There they are. The four of them getting out of the vehicle and my two oldest are so excited, holding ice cream cones in their hands. Dad took us for a treat! they yell up the stairs. They are smiling and unaware of anything going on between us. I am speechless. I watch them walk up the stairs and I cannot think of one damn thing to say.

And that was the beginning of the end.

Forks and Knives

The sky is dark and ominous as I pull into my driveway. I got off work late today but maybe that’s not entirely true. Really, I stayed late, took my time shutting down and closing up shop. As I flipped the light switch to off, I looked at everything with tired eyes and tried to memorize where it all was. I drove home slowly, deep in my thoughts. Things have been so terrible, almost extra terrible, if that’s even possible, lately. My children are home and probably asleep. I think it and even say it out loud. I do that most drives. I talk out loud. I want to kiss their sweet faces when I pull in but should not. Waking them would be selfish on my part but I toy with the idea, mostly because everyone else in that house makes me cringe.

It’s July and I’m over all of it, already. Over summer. Over the heat. I can really only handle so much sun. Maybe that’s because I feel like one most days. Shining bright to cheer everyone else up, keep everyone else happy. It’s gawd damn exhausting. The thing is, if you are the sun then there are no rays left for you. I just give them and unabashedly too much. This cancer in my home is caused by me for shining without cessation. For not trying hard enough to dull it. Nobody asked for it but there I am, anyway. He repeatedly tells me not to talk to everyone who initiates conversation. It makes him blind with jealousy and I try not to. I really do. Then suddenly I’m in my driveway so I just sit there a moment. Slowly, but with purpose, I turn the key to cease the motor. I wish I had keys for my mind, too, especially right now because I know what I have to walk in to. That house is dangerous with its perpetual lava floor. There is nowhere safe for me to tiptoe in it.

Earlier, when I was making breakfast, I opened the utensils drawer. Muscle memory knows where the butter knives are to spread jam on my dry morning toast yet my eyes are drawn to the back of the tray. We have lived already in over ten places, dirt-poor gypsies outrunning his lies, and no matter where we have found ourselves, the utensil tray, this exact one, has survived just like me. Always the same, beginning with spoons. First the big spoons and then the teaspoons. Small forks and then dinner forks. Butter knives last and the spot above, laying perpendicular, is always where the steak knives live.

This is where I notice that I’m back to a weird mental spot. I recognize that it manifests first by how anal I get with where things go in the kitchen. Usually I am passive about it all. Not today. I just spent ten minutes rearranging all the canned foods to look like they do in the supermarket and moving the toaster back to the exact spot on the counter where I want to always find it. I get crazy when I feel crazy. I get crazier when I’m feeling defeated. On this particular morning, when waking was hard and showering was dreadful, I noticed that someone placed a slotted spoon in the steak knife tray. The rage beats straight through me and before I can blink, it is in my hand. I’ve seized the spoon but I don’t see it because all I see is red right now. I toss it angrily further back, behind the utensil tray that follows me like a shadow. I want it out of my view to force it out of my thoughts and I’m muttering incessantly about how it isn’t that friggin hard to just put shit where it goes. It isn’t falling on deaf ears but the in-laws ignore me. They don’t care.

All day my mind kept returning to that slotted spoon and I’m too mentally exhausted to think about why. Something else was off but I must have missed it in my anger-fueled moment. I can’t ever let my guard down there, especially right now because things were good for a shorter period this time. The bickering has increased ten-fold and his patience is nonexistent. He keeps trying to force me to take his side over my parents and frankly, I don’t want to. He’s a liar and I’m done having his back because it makes me a liar too, by proxy. Defending him is at the top of his list for how I can show him my love but piss on all that noise. I won’t do it this time.

I take the steps to the front door one at a time to buy me some aversion but there’s only three. That was a waste of energy. I put my key in the door and gingerly turn it, hearing the familiar clicks as I hold my breath. I can’t hear the tv; I make a silent wish that everyone be asleep. The door creeps open and I see the yellow glow of the screen. Damn it all.

“Good evening,” I try to whisper to my mother-in-law. She’s a witch and I physically can’t whisper and so we dance this diddy again where she shooshes me and waves her hand angrily, as if she’s batting my words away. She hates being the designated babysitter and I hate being her verbal punching bag. She responds with a pursed-lip goodnight something-or-other back at me that she probably equally dreaded but I barely hear it. I’m already in the hallway, moving towards the boys’ room. I hear her call out something about it taking forever for the three of them to fall asleep so please don’t undo all my hard work. I don’t acknowledge that she even spoke because I can’t physically choke out any more words to her so I just ninja-creep into their room instead.

They are sleeping pretty deeply, which makes me happy and sad. While I listen to their rhythmic breaths I feel a tinge in my stomach. The thing about gut feelings is that they are there for a reason and I always try to ignore them. Tonight is different, though. There is a weird vibe in the air. I hear the footsteps of the witch in the hallway. Does anyone else call their mother-in-law a witch, I wonder. Her immediate departure from the living room just confirms to me that she only stayed up to notate what time I would walk in at. They’re a team, those two. Her and her son. She reports back dutifully, all the time, on my shortcomings. I turn to the closed bedroom door behind me and mouth, “good NIGHT, bitch!” I extra scrunched my face as I silently said it. It feels good. It feels like it’s against all the rules and rebellious. I needed it, especially right now because I’m in full panic mode and I can’t hug my boys. They always help me stay grounded. They help me stay here. My heart is in my throat and I realize I can’t stay in this room forever. I tiptoe back to the hallway, gently close their door behind me. My mind is against this but my body is spent. I can’t find any more courage in me right now.

I see him on the bed when I walk in. A touch of moonlight is seeping through the blinds and I marvel at the beauty before I turn towards the beast. He’s not happy. I see that immediately, even though he never is. My mouth is somehow conversing with him but I can’t remember what I said. Small-full-of-shit-talk that I forget as soon as they leave my lips. Then I’m brushing my teeth and putting some pajamas on. This is the best bedroom we have had so far, compared to all the others. It is set up pretty efficiently, long as opposed to wide. I tenderly sit on the bed and plug my phone in and while I’m following my nighttime routine, I don’t see him get up and walk to the closet area. Or is it his dresser?

There’s a folder in his hand when I look up. They match, him and the folder. Both plain, boring and deceiving of what is inside. My eyes dart from his hands to his eyes. He is speaking but I’m in a bowl. It’s like the Peanuts cartoon where the teacher is lecturing and nobody understands anything going on. Blah, blah, blah, blah, divorce papers. Blah, blah, blah, blah, I signed them already. Blah, blah, custody. Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, you won’t win 50/50. Blah, blah, you don’t make enough to support them. Blah, blah, blah, sign them now, blah, blah, or I’ll, blah, blah, blah. I am not listening but I hear it all. This is typical but he’s changed it up a bit. It’s just enough out-of-the-ordinary that I am terrified. The words seeped in like my cell signal was weak and I’m trying hard to fill in the blanks.

I won’t leave without my boys and so he argues with me about it. I go into the hallway after some unpleasant words hurled at me with every intention of walking into their room and packing a bag and walking out. My parent’s house is close. I’ll go there. They’ll take us in, of this I’m certain. But he’s behind me, closer than I anticipated. He pulls me back into the bedroom and shuts the door.

“Sign these right now. I’m not joking or playing around. Sign these or you’ll regret it.”

I’m angry and a smartass so I grab the pen out of his hand and walk over to the dresser where his stupid, plain-face-folder is sitting and I skip straight to the last page and find my name. I sign FUCK YOU, with my back to him. I slam the whole thing shut and I shove it in his chest. He doesn’t open it to check like I expected, just mutters some lame thank you or whatever. I walk around him and exit, turn right in the hallway, away from the kid’s room. The one stupid thing about this duplex is that the hallway is a giant circle, with a bathroom and laundry room in the middle. I turn left now and walk straight out the front door, barefoot with my heartbeat pounding in my ears. My heart is literally in my throat because now I’m scared that he’ll see what I signed so beautifully, in perfect cursive. Why didn’t I scribble it, at least? Make it unreadable? I could have put anything and told myself it was fuck you in Klingon. Why didn’t I do that? Why couldn’t I put my sun away for just one minute?

The grass is burnt and hurts my feet with its sharp blades. He stops me halfway through it and asks where I think I’m going. I already signed, albeit it not my name, on his stupid forms and I feel some bravery find its way to my mouth. I say a lot of things I’ve wanted to but I’m careful because I’m not trying to have the whole cul-de-sac see the shit beaten out of me. He’s starting to yell and grabs my arm, gripping tighter and tighter as I instinctively try to free it.

I’m furious. There is a fire growing in the pit of my stomach. This happens every time. I begin to get really angry at how he is treating me and this time, I feel it behind my eyes. I’m so over this. I cannot take one more day of it. I somehow break free of his death grip and run back inside, through the kitchen and to the utensil drawer. I hoped I was fast enough because I know I can’t waste any time looking behind me like this in scary movie. I rip the drawer open and my hand automatically goes to the steak knives. I blindly grab one and in two fell swoops I throw my left arm out and turn it wrist up. I run the knife hard down it, starting at my fleshy, fatty forearm and ending at my bony wrist. I want it to be deep, straight to the bone. Irreparable. Unforgivable. Hard. Quick.

Except, it wasn’t a steak knife. It was a fucking butter knife and now it’s too late because he’s there, wrestling it out of my hands. Tears begin to violently work their way from my toes up. Uncontrollable sobs are escaping my mouth silently and I crumple to the floor. My one chance thwarted, I have no energy to stand. He throws the butter knife in the sink, leans down, and hoists me back up to standing position. Drags me to the bedroom and lovingly places me in the bed we share, all while quietly saying whatever he wants to me.

“You stupid bitch. You thought you would get away that easy? You thought you could pull some shit like that when your kids are less than fifteen feet away? This is why you’ll never have custody of them. Just try to take them from me. I’ll tell any judge about this bullshit stint you just tried to pull. You aren’t safe. You are crazy because only crazy people try to kill themselves. Just remember that when you start to think you can pull some stupid shit again. You idiot,” he menacingly says as he caresses an errant hair from my face. Tender and threatening, gentle yet vile.

I mutely watch him walk over to the folder, remove the ten or so pages from it and rip them into shreds. As he finishes, my heart sinks to my stomach as I acknowledge that he will never lay eyes on my signed masterpiece.

 

**If you or someone you know is a victim of domestic violence and don’t know where to find help, click any of the following links for help:

Whatcom County Residents: DVSAS

Outside of Whatcom County: National Domestic Violence Hotline and Website

 

Grow with me

beginningsAka – How to be a little better every day, with practice

Oh gosh. You did it. You clicked on this post to read my ideas on how to change something in your life, for whatever reason, because either you wanted to read this saying, “YOU DAMN HYPOCRITE,” and madly hit the X in whatever upper hand corner it appears in. Or because you think I deserve to give advice to anyone. Or maybe you’re just bored and it’s midnight on a Tuesday and you’re desperately crossing your fingers that this will be boring enough to put you to sleep.

Eek. No pressure.

All I’m doing is making a list of actual shit I’ve at least acknowledged as negatively affecting me and maybe that is the second step to fixing a problem. Or going to rehab. You never know!

First, put your damn phone down

Yeah, yeah. I don’t even need to explain it. You’re not continuing reading this thinking I’m going to give you some outrageous statistic that bitch-slaps you into realizing that by holding your phone, you’re holding hands with the devil. No wonder it’s called Apple.

I’m just saying, consciously recognize where your time goes. And if you’re one of those friends who thinks you don’t have a phone addiction, go ahead and pause your reading, go to screen time in your settings, and then think about whatever number of literal hours you see listed there. We can do better.

But don’t put it down yet. I’ve got more gems to share. And this is not permission to never respond to people’s texts or phone calls. FIND THE BALANCE!

Side note: my wife tells me to put my phone down a lot. Like, a lot a lot. I like to share our daily funsies but I think I’m getting better at choosing what and when and deciding when to put it away. With that said, nobody else tells me when to put my phone away and gets away with it. Not even my mother. So don’t even.

Second, listen to listen. Not to respond.

Yeah, it’s tough. I see it everyday. You ever feel like you’re talking to someone who just is not.hearing.you and you are getting frustrated? Well, brace yourself. Chances are, you have done it, too. I participated in an activity at a seminar once that I’d like to share. It’s pretty easy. Fairly eye-opening. You just need a counterpart. This helps you practice being engaged and active as a listener, which is essential for having real conversations. <– you know you’ve been a part of conversations that were really just someone else soliloquizing to you. Don’t front. Anyway, here is how it goes:

  1. Set a timer for one minute. Yes, you can use your phone that you just promised to put away more often. Don’t be an ass. So, one minute. Literally just 60 seconds, which turns out is not really an eternity unless you’re planking or otherwise punishing your body. Sit facing whoever you dragged into this exercise, not to be confused with the plank.
  2. Elect who will go first. I’m a big fan of the ole adage of saying, “Whoever raises their hand goes first,” as you shoot your whole arm into the air. It works like a charm and this activity has nothing to do with humility. You can go first. Someone has to.
  3. Hit go on the timer. The elected speaker (aka you) will speak for the whole damn minute about a recent, major accomplishment. You know, that in and of itself is hard because we are told not to boast. Eff that noise right now. You get all these sixty seconds to brag on about yo’self. Finding it hard to figure out what to say about it? Explain that. Just keep your lips moving until your duck quacks or your robot does the waa-waa-waa-WAAA-waa-waa-waa-waa. Mmmkay?
  4. While speaker #1 is talking, Silento needs to just listen. No interrupting allowed. They cannot open their hole until the duck or robot goes off. And during this time, they need to be actively NOT thinking about themselves, what to make for dinner, if there’s enough clean underwear for tomorrow, etc. JUST.LISTEN.
  5. At the conclusion of that minute, the silent listener will write down three questions to ask later about what speaker one spoke about. THREE. It isn’t that hard because you were listening, right?! Not waiting to get a word in?
  6. Next, set the time for one minute. Wash, rinse, and repeat. That means speaker two is up. Thundercats are go and it is their time to share.
  7. Upon that timer meowing or whatever, speaker one will write their three questions.
  8. Now, ask your questions. It can be alternating or all at once. Whatever feels right.
  9. Practice. Even if you think you are already a phenomenal listener, try this every now and then. Hone those skills.
  10. Revel in the fact you are working on listening better. You cannot control other people and how well they will listen. You can only set the example.

And if you don’t have anyone to practice with or are scared to ask because this is your first time and you get nervous, reach out to me. I’ll practice with you.

Sweep your socials

I know plenty of people who did or want to rid themselves of the social medias. Now, if you really want to, by all means. If you prefer one over the other, nobody says they’re beanie babies that you need to have a whole set of to matter. But if you’re just wanting to delete them because everything you’re seeing is negative, depressing, mean, etc, then it is time to evaluate who and what pages you are following. You are in control. I want to add that I also think it’s worthy to leave one or two sources of contention on your page so you aren’t oblivious to the stupid shit people say and do, but that’s just me. You do you.

Listen to the memes

Here is what I mean by this. I recently saw a quote (I know, they probably aren’t actually called memes. I’m just referring to the photo you can save that has inspirational ish on it, funny photos and odd captions that make you LOL, etc. I can call it what I want. You call it what you want), that said something to the effect of, I want to sit at tables that I’m not the topic of conversation of when I get up.

Dang. Can I get a HELLLLLLL YEAAAAAAH. Shitballs. That hit me like my fourth shot of tequila! I legitimately fist-pumped the air and felt instantly fired up! Who doesn’t want that? I mean, I was about to throw on my power hoops and my fave lipstick like it was a damn lava flower! You know, the one Super Mario eats? Watch out, lava balls coming your way!

Except, I also took a moment to think about the flip side, because being 37 can do that to you. Here you are aging, and also maturing! It’s the tits. When I reflected, I realized I’ve talked about people who have gotten up and left the table. Now, maybe my table is shorter and not full of directors. Yet. That doesn’t matter. I’ve still been guilty of this.

You hate excessive meetings? Don’t hold one after the initial one is over. You don’t like gossip? Don’t engage. Or better yet, say that. Literally say, “This conversation feels gossipy and I’m working on not doing that. I’m going to step away.” And I know that is awkward. I know it calls some people out. But damn it, I’m done tiptoeing around the boundaries I need to establish to make myself feel healthy. I empower you to do the same. And if you’re sitting there about to pop out of your damn chair because I’ve done this exact thing with you, just know this.I KNOW. I AM A HYPOCRITE WHO HAS DECIDED TO BE BETTER. Alright? Good. 

Don’t be that person who makes everything about yourself

There’s one thing about connecting with someone, which is empathetic. There’s another thing about making everything about you. And maybe you’re feeling called out right now. Well, lace that sneaker up and get close because I mean what I am about to say. This is important. And I don’t say this maliciously. I’m bringing awareness to it because you are still reading and maybe this might help. Chew this over. Think about it. And ask yourself the following:

  • do I read posts and then comment about myself?
  • do I listen to my friend’s problem and then comment about myself?
  • do I interact with someone and turn what they say into something about myself?

It might sound something like this…

Person A: I feel crappy today. I haven’t pooped in a couple days. **Oh shit, no pun intended! Twice!**

Person B: I am so regular. I poop every morning.

Side note: Yes, I am always person B here. I KNOW!

Or it might sound like this…

Person A: I can’t believe Carol got that promotion over me.

Person B: I get skipped all the time because I refuse to play the politics, too.

Or like this…

Person A: I cooked some amazing fish and chips last night! I am so proud of them!

Person B: Oh, we make fish and chips all the time. They’re so easy.

See? What I’m saying is, sometimes, let up on you and be about them. Don’t be a B. I’ve practiced this a lot and let me tell you, it now stands out to me like a sore thumb (who came up with that? I’ve never really noticed anyone’s sore thumbs before), and I almost want to apologize (in fact, I think I have) on behalf of person B to person A before. It isn’t pretty.

Take note of what isn’t working

This is one piece of advice that sounds easy to me but isn’t, in fact, easy to me. I love to say yes to the fun stuff. The wifey likes to plan ahead. Turns out me wildly agreeing to shenans all the time is probably giving her high blood pressure. When you say yes to something, you are saying no to something else. That’s is what Shonda Rhimes taught me and while I still haven’t forgiven her for killing off Derrick, I see what she is saying. I AM WORKING ON IT, so you go work on it, too.

I’ll forever say this. If you know something makes you an ugly person or someone impossible to deal with, be it alcohol, video games, the political shit-show that is our country, instagramming your life, having your phone out all damn day, etc then MAKE.A.CHANGE.

Never let anything hold more power over you than you yourself hold. You’re too beautiful for that.

And last but not least…

When you can, be there. For the rallies. For those who need backup. For the hard fucking conversations. For when people are fighting for their life or saying goodbye to it. For when moms need their damn village. For when we need someone to show up and just sit uncomfortably with us without judgement. Show up for who is important to you.

And when you need someone, tell someone. <–That’s the hardest thing for me so if that sentence alone makes your throat squeeze shut tightly, I feel you. Let’s figure out how to ask for help also be willing to accept it. And let’s also figure out what isn’t working. Not for just those around us. For us, too.

Let’s do it together.

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Be in a constant pursuit of what sets your soul on FIYA

 

 

What I wish I could say

Not too long ago I was perusing social media, reading everyone’s different posts quickly. One stuck out to me, where an acquaintance of mine had shared a photo of them with their ex. The caption said something about parents needing to be mature and put their differences aside for the good of the children. I could feel myself react, not because I felt it was directed at me but in a sense, the shoe sure as hell fits.

A few days later I see an article pop up on my feed on scarymommy.com. It was an almost love-letter penned by a mom to a step-mom thanking her for being her ally and maybe even her best friend. I’m going to be honest here, as I usually am. I skimmed it loosely. Not because the author’s words had no meaning to me, but because the letter didn’t apply to me. Yes, there are Bruce Willis’ and Demi Moore’s out there who can remain friends and co-parent successfully. They can do blended family dinners and respectfully shuttle the involved children back and forth like angels. I think that is beautiful and un-normal and amazing. For them.

That doesn’t work for me.

I refuse to allow people to make me feel bad for not harboring feelings of goodwill and grace for my ex-husband. Whether they do or say something that alludes to this in one way, shape, or form, I defend myself. Perhaps aggressively, perhaps coyly, but undoubtedly. In the past seven years since I left that abusive marriage, I have learned how important it is to set boundaries, remain steadfast in what I know is best for me and then best for the children (because I have to put my own oxygen mask on before I help them, just like those sweet flight attendants remind us every time we fly), and to disregard anyone’s idea of how I should behave if I know it isn’t healthy for my well-being. <–that’s my nice way of saying, Thank u, next, just like Ariana. That is okay.

I can be mature and not nice at the same time.

Lately I’ve done some leadership development at work with different groups of management and one thing I always stress is that we can say anything to our colleagues that we want, as long as we say it respectfully and with tact. I use this same advice in how I communicate with the boys’ father. I will use tact. I will be respectful. But I do not have to be nice. And if setting boundaries is a new concept to you, sometimes it can feel like you’re being mean. I don’t think so. I think it feels like you’re being clear and as my soon-to-be-bestie, Brene Brown likes to point out, “Clear is kind. Unclear is unkind.” Boom. If that goddess believes it, then this goddess believes it. We are a society very used to sugarcoating words then calling people names if they say something straightforward and to-the-point to us. Say it anyway, if it needs to be. That is okay.

I get to decide who I trust.

Kulia often calls me a Mama Bear. I do my best to make INCREDULOUS face when she says it but she’s pretty accurate in calling me that. For a whole lot of reasons, I have  majority custody of my children. I think back to the letter from the mom to step-mom and how she says she trusts her wholeheartedly. That’s fantastic for them but unrealistic for so many of us. I cannot trust my counterparts and since I cannot trust them, every time we communicate or interact together, it is forced, strained, and awkward. That is okay.

Oil and water.

I spent the majority of my decade-long marriage hating the company (I don’t mean job-wise) I was with. His parents didn’t mesh with mine, his siblings didn’t jive with me, we didn’t share friendships. Every.single.aspect. of who we were together didn’t mix. It should be no surprise that apart we continue to be the same. Once Abraham asked if for his birthday he could have a dinner where we all joined together and without hesitation I let him know I couldn’t do that because I wouldn’t feel safe. When we share things with the boys, perhaps not with as many words or deep detail, I continue to tell them that I have to keep my safety at the forefront of anything I agree to. For a long time that meant I couldn’t be a part of pick-up and drop-off or even the communication to make that happen.  I have to say no sometimes but I am always honest. That is okay.

Parallel Parenting is not for the weak of heart.

Washington state (and I’m sure many others) have this bananas rule that when you file for divorce, if children are involved, both parents must attend a parenting class before the custody plan will be approved. I remember walking in to it thinking there wasn’t anything they would teach me in that class that I didn’t already know. I was pleasantly surprised. In that class I learned about co-parenting and parallel parenting, what ex-couples fight the most about, and the most important things your child(ren) need to hear right now. Co-parenting means parenting together, as implied in the name. Parallel parenting means each parent decides and does what they think is best while they have the child(ren). There isn’t any collaboration. To each his own. And the minute I heard it, I wrote it down and knew that is what I would be doing from here until eternity. That is okay.

**Side note, most parents fight over clothes. And children need to hear you give them verbal permission to love the other parent.**

I suppose that mother wrote that letter because ugly breakups are expected but not the only option. Just remember, if you find yourself reading something that gets you fired up, that it doesn’t mean you aren’t a good person because you can’t emulate that same feeling or behavior. It isn’t apples to apples, no matter what some people would have you believe. Set your boundaries, live your life, and be safe, always, friends. That is okay.

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I couldn’t stop gushing over how handsome Sam was for Prom

 

Surviving

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I am almost 37 years old.

I am still at a point where the majority of my adult years were spent in fight, flight or freeze.

I have a lot of nightmares. Even when I am doing well and not getting bombarded with ugly memories, I will wake up drenched in sweat from trying to run away from him.

Ku and I watch movies or shows sometimes where there is a character in an abusive relationship. I’m usually shaking my head as it happens, both as a reminder that I am not that character and that I am okay, and also because I don’t get it. I lived that life for over a decade and I still can’t comprehend WHY. I’m not just saying why it happens. I’ve read plenty of articles and attended events where phrases like toxic masculinity and gender norms and rape culture are explained. They make sense and I can see where the change needs to happen. I always leave thinking YES, we can FIX THIS, TEACH THE BOYS! Except, it is deeper than that, right?

Why me, though?

Not to say it should have happened to someone else, anyone else, as long as I was spared. No. Not at all. I’m saying why did I allow it happen? Why didn’t I know better? Why didn’t I walk away? I can’t think of any situation where domestic violence makes sense. I also cannot think of one where it made sense that I would fall victim. You see, I graduated with a 3.8 GPA, honor roll, Honor Society, accepted to my first university of choice. I guess when I think about circumstances that people find themselves in, I think that education and book smarts should help play a role in how they handle themselves.

My book smarts didn’t save me.

My Dad taught me when I was young that I had to walk on the inside of the sidewalk and him on the outside because if it was reversed than guys would think I was for sale. This seems to be a pretty universal understanding, judging from popular culture. We have been taught to buy in to this belief that boys will be boys and consent isn’t always clear, and boys who are mean to you on the playground like you. That locker room talk is just that, and should be excused. Yet somehow, guys have a basic, universal understanding that if I’m closest to the curb than I am open for business.

Early on I learned that if a man behaves inappropriately to me than it is my fault. If I’m standing on a beach in Puerto Vallarta when I’m thirteen in a one-piece swimsuit and some male walks by and ogles me, I share the blame between myself and puberty. If I’m standing in a bar, chatting with the people I walked in with, and a guy walks up to me and inappropriately puts his hand on my shoulder to say things that I don’t want him telling me, I can’t make a scene because it would be rude. What I learned when I was growing up was that if a grown man did anything disgusting to me, such as rub his erect penis against my leg even when I was fifteen, it was my fault and that if I said something, I would be blamed. That easily translated to me being responsible if I was hit by my other half. We have been taught, as young girls, to be meek, quiet, accepting and to not embarrass our parents.

Before I got pregnant with Abraham, my ex and I were living in my hometown. It was a calm, beautiful summer day and my friend Yesenia had stopped by to make flour tortillas with me. My meanager, Sammy, was only two or three years old and playing in the living room. Everything was great that day, because it wasn’t always terrible. Except, my ex-husband didn’t like Yesenia and I hadn’t told him she stopped by. Of course his mom did, though and he came home from work so angry. I don’t remember the argument but I remember I got in my car and left. I drove to Yesenia’s house because I needed space. I couldn’t stay there one more second and I didn’t feel safe. I could always tell when he was going to get physical.

When I drove up to her house, I thought briefly about how he would probably guess where I was but I knocked anyway. I remember the wind blowing gently through my hair as she answered the door with a worried look and I distinctly recall sitting on her couch feeling calmer. What I can’t conjure no matter how hard I try is what he said when he called her house and made her reluctantly hand me the phone, my drive back because he threatened banging on her door until I left if I didn’t, or walking in to my house. And somewhere between the door shutting and me turning towards both him and his mom, he hit me. Hard.

She came in to the bedroom a short while later, and as I cried in to my pillow, she told me I should never have driven away, that I should never have gone to Yesenia’s, and that I should have stopped arguing before he got to that point.

I was blamed. And I spent many years thinking it was all my fault.

I’m still so hesitant to share my story. I would be lying if I said it was because I don’t want to be blamed. I didn’t deserve it then, when someone who witnessed it firsthand was quick to place it on me or by anyone who would continue to do it today.

We become a mean type of human when we use stories of survivors’ trauma to apply irrational justification. I hear a lot (usually as a joke lobbed at trying to ease the discomfort of a terrible truth that was just shared) of comments about how embarrassed my ex must be to have lost me to a woman. What I wouldn’t give for this to not be someone’s first response when we talk about something very painful for me, still.

In reality, his manhood was gone the second he hit me. The moment he dismissed my love and loyalty to manipulate me into staying. When he decided to use my feelings to make himself feel bigger. <–That is what is really embarrassing.

Bravery is an action that is hard to muster up.

I was a great student. I graduated in the top 10% of my class with a set determination to make something of myself. What took me a long time to realize was that even though I stepped back and chose to start a family over my education, I was still smart. Even though I fell into an abusive relationship, I was still strong. And when I got away, in those first few steps of freedom, I found the road lonely. I lost friendships. I fought with family. I was scared yet I was without quit in me. I was judged, sometimes to my face, even. I sat in my car and cried because I couldn’t immediately fix everything.

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I rebuilt, brick by brick, my insides. Somewhere in all the mess I had made, I began to see the beauty again. One of the best discoveries was that I could use my scared, shaking voice to recount my stories, share them publicly, and discover that I was encouraging women to stand up and leave. I don’t blog as often as I initially meant to about surviving domestic violence, but every single post brings at least ONE woman forward, who chooses to disclose to me a trauma she is currently or has gone through.

That fuels my fire. Telling someone your deepest secret is a big kind of scary. To each of you who has found the strength to break your silence to me, thank you from the bottom of my heart.

And know I don’t judge you.