The End (part two)

…continued

I am frantic now. I want to get down the stairs and away from him. I don’t make it to them before he grabs me again. I don’t turn to him. Instead I gaze down the fourteen cement stairs, wondering where I would have gone even if I had a jump start on him.

Where are you going? To her? And you’re just going to leave your kids here? What kind of mother does that? Oh, I get it. You’re repeating history. Your mom walked out on you so you’re following in her footsteps.

He’s whisper-hissing it to me and I’m scared. He does this. He uses any memory I’ve ever shared with him against me when he wants to cut me down. He knows anything about my childhood or my children will suffice. He likes to boast that his childhood was better because his parents had money and they never divorced; he didn’t grow up in a trailer or at a restaurant booth. His mom always made him school lunch and went to his sports games. This is his go-to every time he wants to make me cry because it is easy and it is efficient.

And then the switch. The one that makes my resolve waiver. It happens suddenly and takes me by surprise.

Let’s go back inside. This got out of hand and you’re shaking. Are you cold? It’s not too cold out here but maybe you are shivering because you are always cold. Here, let me help you get inside so you can get warm. Give me your hand.

I look up, into his eyes. His pupils are relaxing, just like the lines around his eyes. None of tonight is going how I’m used to and this uncharted territory has adrenaline just pumping through my veins. I nod, because I don’t trust my voice. He guides me back inside, gingerly, like maybe I tripped and scraped my knees on accident, by not paying attention to where I was stepping. As we are nearing the front door, I hear the downstairs neighbors on their balcony, chatting quietly. Maybe they heard and they’re contemplating calling the police. I can’t decide if I like that idea or not because thoughts aren’t sticking in my mind right now. It’s unfocused and all over the place and I just want to take a nap. My eyes hurt, my head hurts, my body hurts. Something drips in my eye and I don’t know if it’s blood or sweat or tears. Lord knows I have literally put all three into this marriage. I try to be quiet because I know he is trying to be. He probably heard the neighbors, too.

This moment reminds me of this one time when we had to stay with his sister and her husband in Tijuana. They lived in this small three bedroom condo. The buildings were interesting; two condos per floor. The front doors were close to each other and one night, he and I heard the neighbor on our floor get home. He sounded loud and angry, drunk and wild. He wanted to get in to his home but his wife heard him coming, heard something that told her otherwise and she had dead-bolted her heavy metal screen door. He couldn’t get in. He pounded on it for so long, made enough racket that she finally relented and the moment he got in, he began beating her to a pulp. We could hear it. Could hear each blow landing, things falling around them, her screaming at him to stop. It was harrowing and traumatizing and I implored him to help her. When he did she ran out of there, straight into our open door. Together, her and I hid in the bathroom, where I helped clean up her face with a wet washcloth. Once the police arrived, other neighbors had come out and were standing on their balconies, unsure if they should help or not. I imagine this is my neighbors tonight. Unsure of what to do.

We get inside the apartment and he walks to the bathroom to wet a washcloth for me. A chuckle escapes my lips; now the washcloth is for me. I reach for a hoodie and sit on the couch. It isn’t very comfortable but it’s a lovely shade of eggplant. He comes out and hands me the washcloth and I just set it next to me because I don’t even know what it is for, other than to remind me that I messed up again.

I’m leaving, I croak out. I say it and instantly know this is it. This time I mean it. My voice is hoarse so I decide to repeat myself twice. I’m leaving. I’m leaving, and a large shudder goes through me; I’m uncontrollably sobbing because I’m so scared. He reaches slowly for my hand.

Can we talk about this? I didn’t do anything. Let’s not blow this out of proportion. I didn’t hit you.

You put your hands on me and pushed me with all your might down to the ground. I couldn’t breathe. That is not alright, I respond.  I’m leaving. This is it. I’ve been saying enough for ten FUCKING (my voice is elevating now) years and I have to fucking mean it! I am so loud now but I can’t help it.

We sit there, for at least another hour, as he pleads to work on things and I incessantly repeat I’m done and I’m leaving. I stand up numerous times and he keeps pulling me back down and then finally he doesn’t so I head for the door. If you’re going to lord the boys over me and won’t leave yourself, then clearly it has to be me. Please tell them in the morning that I will see them soon and I love them.

He follows me out. Please let me drive you somewhere. Please don’t just walk off into the dark night. Not at this hour. Let me drive you somewhere.

Fine. I agree and he locks up the house with my three babies inside it and we drive away. I’m worried but it should only be for ten minutes. He can drop me and get back to them. There’s almost zero conversation on the drive. I ask him to take me to the Safeway closest to her house and he parks in the garage. He turns the engine off and puts his hand on my thigh.

I’m begging you to rethink this. Don’t get out of this car…, and with that he locks all the doors. I’m still crying because I never really stopped, except they’re silent tears just spilling out like a lazy fountain. Don’t do this. Nobody will ever love you like I do. Think about what you’re doing to this family.

All I do while he’s talking is shake my head and repeat that I’m leaving. I have no other words left except those.

Give me my phone back, then, he angrily says. We’ve been sitting here for half an hour and I just want him to get back to the boys because I can’t anymore. I can get to her house on foot so I slam the phone down in the console. Fine! Take the phone. Take whatever you want. I’m getting out and I’m leaving.

No, okay, you’re right. Keep the phone. Here. Please, take it back. Take it back, he exclaims because I’m saying no as my body continues to shake. You’re such a bitch, he yells at me. Take the fucking phone! I grab it and reach for the door but he starts the car in one fell move and begins reversing. He shifts into drive and begins accelerating and then I have it! I get the lock undone somehow and open the door and before I know what I’m doing, and miraculously before he can reach over and grab me, I friggin jump out of the vehicle. I  take off running to the opposite side of the garage, away from him. I cut through some parked cars and across the street in front of me, fast and crouching with my footsteps matching my heartbeat. I keep running up a short hill of an apartment parking complex and duck between two cars. I have no idea if he’s behind me because I didn’t turn around once. I watched too many horror movies to know that wastes your time. I wait a few seconds and peek over the parking wall in front of me towards the store. My heart is pounding so loud; I shake my head because I can’t hear anything except that. Luckily there are no outside lights near me so I’m covered in darkness. I see him exit the parking garage as if he’s leaving and then circle the store and reenter on the opposite side. He does this two more times, driving slowly through it. When he leaves the last time, he drives down the road I had crossed. I can hear the car with its unique rattle, slowly going by and I hold my breath. I’m so scared he will find me. Why didn’t I run further?

I frantically turn my phone off so he can’t track me and just sit between two Lexus sedans, on the ground, in the dark, counting seconds in my head. Every so often I hear a vehicle driving by and I exhale with relief when I realize it isn’t the Jetta. After what feels like at least seven minutes, I peek up over the wall again.

Nothing.

The street is deserted and quiet. I wait some more time, try to relax my breathing, and then walk out from between the cars and back down the little incline toward the store. I barely feel the steps because my body is buzzing with adrenaline. I am vigilant and hyper aware of any vehicle I see but so far, so good. I decide to turn my phone on. Luckily he hasn’t texted yet but he might soon because our apartment is only 10 minutes away by car. I might have already burned that up so I dial Kulia fast. It goes to voicemail so I try again, immediately. Finally, she answers groggily; it’s already 2 am.

Can you pick me up? I ask her. Her next question is crystal clear as she asks if I’m alright. Please come pick me up, I respond, trying not to sob into the phone. My voice is desperation and she hears that. She asks where I’m at and I tell her I’ll be at the intersection by Safeway, right in front of the stop sign. Less than ten minutes later I see her pulling up and I jump in, still shaky but feeling safer. She holds my hand the whole way to her place and we collapse on her bed. I don’t say much and she doesn’t ask. She takes my phone and turns it off because the texts are starting, and we collapse on her bed. As she pulls me in she moves some hair out of my face and then maybe feels something. A knot or a bump on my head. Maybe a couple. Her hand is soft but I still wince because it hurts so bad. I fall asleep in her arms, finally calming my body down.

In the morning, when I finally turn my phone back on, I have 24 missed calls and 57 texts.

Time to Forgive Myself

uwvee

UW from the get-go

The only college I ever knew I wanted to go to was the University of Washington. From the beginning of time and without real reason it was on my list; the list of one. The idea of university made no sense to me, for whatever reason, except for UW. I made posters and cheered for them at the Rose Bowl growing up. I wore t-shirts and recited to everyone how I wanted to go there.

Adults would pat my head, in a belittling manner but without that intention. “Yes, dear,” as if to pacify a bratty child. I knew what I wanted and they didn’t care either way. My parents opened their Mexican restaurant when I was almost six years old. I grew up in it and with their regular patrons. The thing is, unexpectedly, you become the child of the town. Those who dine with you take an interest in your goals and your life. They tell you their thoughts and expect you to heed their advice because they’ve earned it. They’ve had dinner with you for the last ten years, for gawd’s sake.
For one important reason that I don’t have to share, I decided I wanted to be a neonatologist. A smaller part of this decision was that I loved helping people, including bandaging their wounds and holding their hands as they were brave. Medicine came to mind. Somewhere along the way a friend shared her college story about sociology and what that means. Okay, I thought. I’ll major in pre-med and minor in sociology. That made sense to me. Easy peasy.
I was an avid student but I didn’t force myself. In AP history in high school, I was excited to hear I had passed it and would have college credit. My teacher announced his astonishment, “You passed!” he exclaimed incredulously. I don’t think he could believe it but I could. I wasn’t surprised. I had worked for it. Kind of.
I remember the time coming to apply for colleges. I already knew my plan. I was only going to apply for the University of Washington, even though a certain classmate told me that if I got accepted, it was due to affirmative action. With a lot of hope and a little hard work, I applied. I didn’t care why, if they did say yes. I just wanted a yes.
And I was accepted. I’ve skipped over a lot of ups and downs in life because that isn’t what this is about, but don’t mistake that this was a feat. I didn’t come from privilege. This was exceptionally wonderful and I knew it. My father didn’t want me to go so far away; a spectacular scholarship from Western was part of the reason. If I stayed and attended WWU, I would have essentially zero debt at graduation. That was not the case for UW.
So, in true Vee fashion, I left. The day after graduation (my mom still reminds me of this) I packed up and moved south. I began classes in September and was ready to thrive.
Except, that was not the case. UW was hard. There were more students in some of my classes than my entire town growing up. UW slapped me back to reality fast and I was not prepared. It grabbed my confidence out of my hand and hurled it to the floor like a glass snow globe. It shattered when it hit the tile.
Fast forward to my last semester. I had moved out of my dorm to rent an apartment with a friend who then bailed because she lost a job, I had met a guy, and I was struggling to make it through my first year. Every decision I could wrongly make, I did. It was defeating me. I had practically zero visits from family, almost no friends in Seattle, my first failed class under my belt, and a full-time job. I was overwhelmed.
This isn’t a hate message to my loved ones. I made my decisions and I fostered or didn’t relationships then. I love my family, and it’s complicated. Relationships aren’t always pretty and I love my mother and father. Our relationship isn’t perfect. We managed how we could or how we knew when we needed to and so no judgement or finger-pointing. Life is what it is. I was alone. What I’m saying is I’ve consistently disappointed myself. Them, too. I learned not to expect for them to be there.
In my last class of the day, the teacher had a lackadaisical approach to school. He gave us three assignments on the first day and told us we could attend or not attend, but before a certain day the three assignments must be turned in. I thought it was wonderful. I had so much I was juggling that the idea of being in charge of my workload was exhilarating. Except, I knew shit about managing my workload. What my ears heard was that I could work an additional hour at my bank job and I could glean by imaginary osmosis whatever information I needed to complete my three assignments.
Days and then weeks went by. Little by little I chipped away at the first two assignments. Maybe that actually took months because before I knew it, two weeks were left before the end of the term and one assignment was outstanding. And I hadn’t attended class so I had absolutely zero idea on what my approach to the assignment would be. I frustratingly shared my concerns with my boyfriend at the time, who was a hop, skip, and a jump from becoming my husband.
He was living with me at this point. I had been drowning trying to pay this Seattle apartment on my own and he arrived, like a knight in shining rent assistance. I was terrified of bad credit, which is pretty fucking ironic since he singlehandedly ruined mine shortly after. I digress. I had been offered extra hours at work because I was excelling there unlike at school and he saw an opportunity. He offered to write my paper, stated he had taken a similar class and would be well equipped to get me a decent grade.
Not once had I cheated in school or in college. I argued with him for a long while, convinced I could do this paper and work the extra hours and give him the attention he demanded. He wasn’t so sure and he let me know it. Through gaslighting and manipulation, he convinced me. With pure words because he had never hit me up to now. He would write this paper and I would go to work and all would be well.
I came home and he had it. Beaming with pride he held it up, excited to show me his masterpiece. I read it in awe and with disdain. It didn’t sound like me at all, was an opinion I never would have taken. I was one day away from the due date so he proposed driving it over in that instant. I was hesitant. It didn’t feel right; it had never felt right. I knew this was wrong and yet I didn’t know what to say. I rode in silence to the university with him, walked begrudgingly to the required building. He accompanied me most of the way. I was alone in front of the mailbox and I really thought for a moment about what kind of person I wanted to be; what kind of person I already was. Somehow, cheater won and I slipped it into the professor’s mailbox.
It should come as no surprise that I was called in for an investigation into plagiarism. Absolutely the most embarrassing moment of my life, up until then. I entered the room downtrodden and listened as the student investigator told me that the paper had been copied, word by word, off the internet. I never fought or lied. I confessed right away. Other classes I had worked so hard to pass were brought into question. I was humiliated sitting in that room, trying to advocate that this had been the first time, as ridiculous as it might sound. I was placed on academic probation.
I dropped out of UW after that. Embarrassed and feeling defeated, I succumbed to working entry-level bank jobs. Even when I would be promoted I would berate myself. The damage had been done. Months later I found out I was pregnant with Samuel. It was literally the day before I married his father. I didn’t want to go through with any of this but that cemented it for me. I was stuck with this person who at this point was already physically abusive. This was my life for a decade. When I shared my pregnancy with restaurant friends, they expressed their disappointment. “But you’re so smart,” they said to me. “I can be smart and still have a family,” I had replied. I meant that. They were disappointed in me, too.
It wasn’t until a few years after Kulia and I were together that she decided to return to school to get her bachelors though an online university, WGU. During the first two years, I watched her and felt inspiration growing. Since four days after I turned 30, I had been rewriting my shitty first draft, living afraid but doing the things, regardless. It had been almost twenty years since my time at UW. I took a deep breath and applied amidst my terror. I made the decision to tackle my fear head on, panic attacks, doubt, fear and all.
Studying for WGU was a lot of work but manageable for me and I firmly believe that it was because of my audacity to prove to myself I was smart enough, and capable enough, and willing enough. All things I could have done two decades prior but wasn’t strong enough to follow through.
I kept it to myself, minus my wife and best friend knowing. Why? Because I was doing this for myself and I wanted zero outside noise. Someone once told me that they viewed themselves like an open book, just like me. Except, I’m not an open book. Not at all. Many people talk to me but few know me. I didn’t want to share this. I wanted to get through it on my almost sole belief that I could. Without complaining or excusing myself or quitting. Did I doubt myself? Hell yes. Did I question myself? Hell yes. Did I reprimand myself? Absolutely. But not once did I quit.
WGU gives each student a mentor. Aside from Kulia, my mentor, Chris, helped cheer me through this program that I successfully completed in two years. We had weekly calls where he figured out how to motivate and push me, I figured out how to sidetrack our convos into chatting about anything besides school, he would bring it back to school and I would ramble and doubt myself. He asked me during our first convo if I could handle this when things got tough.
What if someone dies that you’re close to? How will you handle school?
I think I can manage, I told him.
Yesenia. My grandmother. My uncle Bill.  I did what I could while being there for them how I could. It made me want to push school aside but I didn’t.
Two years of working a full-time job, raising children, trying to workout and balance life. It was hard. It was exhausting. I had to put things on the back burner, like Island Time with Vee. And running. It made me question my sanity. Not once did I think about cheating. Not once did I think I wasn’t smart enough. The more I passed, the more I gained back the confidence I had once had. The teenager, moving to a new city on her own, didn’t give an eff who came to see her or not, doing her thang, confidence. I felt myself blooming.
And then, my last class was here before my capstone. It was information systems and was all about computers and I hated EVERY.DAMN.SECOND of it. It dragged. I half-assed it and thought that was enough and cockily asked for approval for the final exam. Then I failed it. My last damn test, slapped me right back to nineteen year old Virginia sitting in front of a student investigator admitting she wasn’t good enough for this. I beat myself up about it, I berated myself. I almost allowed it to defeat me.
Except between Kulia and my mentor, Chris, they wouldn’t let me. They said what I needed to hear, lifted my spirits when I wanted to break myself down.
This is your mile 12, Kulia reminded me. The hardest mile of my half-marathon five years ago. She was right.
You didn’t come this far to just come this far, Chris told me. Gawd, he was freakin right.
I put my head down and in the midst of a global pandemic, I passed that final class and began the last mile of the longest run I had taken. And within a couple weeks, I conquered my capstone.
And without further adieu, I present my bachelors in Human Resources Management.

 

Degree earned the week of my birthday.
The end.

Part Two

You should be crying, I tell myself internally. It’s really weird that you aren’t a mess right now. I’m standing in my small living room, where the total of five adults could barely stand shoulder to shoulder and not feel crowded, thinking about the oddness of my lack of emotion right now. I can hear my breathing in my ears and my heart in my throat. Hmm, that should be faster. Is it weird my heart isn’t racing right now? I’m trying to quiet my mind because I cannot quiet his anger.

I walked home from work today. That was my punishment for not answering his texts fast enough. Or well enough. Or loving enough? I cannot figure him out anymore. Or maybe I don’t want to. I can feel my life-force surrendering internally, more and more as the days get worse. Things will fall apart before you can rebuild them. I read that on Pinterest the other day. Has to be right, I think to myself. This is me falling apart. In front of my children and the man who has broken me. It was always bound to happen. Never even mind that our ten-year anniversary just passed, where he forced me to go out with him and pretend we were okay. He had pulled the stool out next to the one he was going to sit in and I thought, I’m onstage and this is a performance and one day I will get an Oscar from like, God or someone. There has to be someone watching this because it’s my greatest act and it is perpetual. I wake up and I’m on; I lay in bed and I’m on. I cannot stop pretending this is what life is because he will lose it and kill me, probably. Throughout the whole evening I kept thinking how it never should have come to this. Once, we were driving to visit my parents. He was holding my hand and asked me if I could go back, would I still marry him? My traitorous mouth beat my mind to the punch and told him no before I could stop it. Girl, aren’t you scared? I asked my mouth. You can’t be honest and not have it end in an almost broken nose. I remember that drive, too. Cars are dangerous.

I come back to the living room like a transition on a movie. Cut scene from the little bar with the anniversary dinner or maybe either of those car rides and pan back to hell. My little boys are in the tiny bedroom the three of them are forced to share and my oldest is standing next to his father, confused and wide-eyed. My poor baby. He doesn’t understand what is happening. See, that is why I shouldn’t have acted. I wasn’t saving them from this, I was only prolonging the inevitable. Focus!

It’s okay, I say out loud. Your dad is angry. Sometimes when we are angry, we say things that are confusing. You don’t have to make this decision, I calmly tell him.

Yes, you do, he yells back. Choose right now! Your mom says she wants to leave me so tell me RIGHT NOW who you want to live with? Tell me right now! PICK!

My son is shaking, he is so scared right now. I don’t know what to say, he squeaks out. I move to give him a safe embrace, but think twice. I saw the flash of insanity in his eyes right now when he guessed my intention. I can almost see the wheels of crazy cranking in his mind, trying to find the precise words to cut me in front of our child, except he isn’t thinking about the trauma this will cause him. His only desire right now is to make me understand what my words for the past few weeks will bring. What my declaration from this afternoon will bring. He wants me to know he won’t go without destroying me in any way he can.

Your mom is doing this to you, Sam, he hisses. This is her fault. She is the reason your life will never be the same. She is breaking this family apart and you deserve better.

I love you, I murmur to my son. I love you so much. Whatever is going on with your dad and I is between us and I’m sorry you are being forced to stand in the middle of it right now but I love you.

I know that will escalate things but I can’t stop myself from saying it either way. Somehow, after I mutter that proclamation, I feel a renewed energy in me. I stand up straighter and look him in the eyes. I hold my gaze as I tell Sam he can go to his room and play with his brothers. I’m almost daring my ex-husband to contradict me as I release my oldest from this untenable situation. I feel a fireball in my stomach, growing with each heartbeat, bigger and hotter. It rises to my mouth and I hear myself tell him that he needs to get it together, stop playing our children against me.

You love your mother, I spit at him. Why would you try to turn your children against theirs? What kind of MONSTER are you? I don’t know where this gumption is coming from but I ride the wave as I discover my strength. I have so much more to say but I leave it at that, before I become him too easily. If you think for one fucking second that THIS is going to manipulate or convince me to stay with you, think again, I assure him.

And I mean it.

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 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.

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

 

 

Our Sad Farewell

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A boy and his dog

3.9 years ago, our household made the major, life-changing decision to find a dog to complete us. It was one we didn’t make lightly, because Kulia and I know that animals are a responsibility that would mainly fall on us. Dogs especially, can be fun and ever-loving, but holy Moses do they need attention, care, and patience. Aside from all that, the connection you build with your dog is unparalleled to most you have with humans. Dogs are pretty much four-legged angels.

Kulia and I are almost always walking hand-in-hand in our relationship, both facing the same direction. It isn’t often we are standing across from each other, on opposite sides of the river, as I like to call it. Yet, with dogs, we tend to. Unable to find a bridge to cross and meet half-ways because even in love, we are headstrong and stubborn. I, the ever strict authoritarian, full of rules and boundaries. I believe that a dog needs structure, rules, shouldn’t kiss my face (I cannot with drool and saliva), and can be safe in a kennel. Kulia wants all the smooches from the pooches, she wants them on the bed, she does baby talk to them, finds them all cute, hates kennels, and she is incapable of scolding one, least of all Cali. We are yin and yang in it’s greatest form.

When we saw Cali I sincerely believe she chose us. She seemed to take to us almost immediately, leaning all her muscle-y weight against us, receiving the butt scratches with joy. We got her for a week-long trial to see how she would do in our home with our boys and the first full day she was with us, she joined me to drop Moose and Abraham off at school. She watched them walk away from the car window, whimpering for them to come back. I knew right then she was really ours.

But Cali came to us with some baggage, much as we came to her with ours. She didn’t trust other dogs, hated being locked up in small rooms, only had about four teeth, and needed a lot of attention. The first year with her was a lot of adjusting, trial and error (mostly error) and frustrations. All of them on my behalf. Kulia had this uncanny ability to just accept her in a way I struggled with. I wanted to love her unconditionally but shitballs, it was so hard. She was potty-trained but pooped in the house a few times. She was a total sweetheart but scared the crap out of anyone delivering a package or knocking on our door. She listened when she wanted to and ignored when she could. Cali and I were on rocky terrain for a good, long time.

One day, that first summer, I got a call from a neighbor because of course she had dug herself out of the yard again. I worked less than a mile away and had a lot of flexibility so for the umpteenth time in the last month, I drove to try to find her. After some searching, I did and put her in the car. I was so fed up. I was over it. We had spent so much time and sacrificing to buy our home and Cali had no regard for any of it. I yelled at her the entire two-minute drive back to our place, telling her we might need to find her a new home with someone who could put up with her. And she just looked away, unable to meet my eye, because she knew I was angry. I decided to stay home and made myself a drink and we both went out and sat on the pallet couch we had made that she just loved. The boys were at their Dad’s house, which was hard for me because I wasn’t used to not having them with me. I was mad at the custody plan making me share and I was mad at the dog for being such an a-hole and I was mad that I couldn’t get over any of it. So, we sat on that couch and got tipsy (well, I did) and she just soaked up the sun and my quietness. And then I turned to her and apologized. I told her we couldn’t get rid of her; I didn’t really mean it. She was freaking family, even if she drove me nuts. And I think she forgave me for scolding her, because all she ever wanted was our company.

Sometime in the spring this year, after we said goodbye to Yesenia, Cali started to get sick. We speculate that she had a brain tumor that we initially thought was doggy vertigo. Whatever it was has been a process of rapid declination. Since April she hasn’t been herself. Little by little but all at once. I struggled to deal with any of it, just like I have a hard time with so many other things, because I am still grieving the loss of my friend, she was a constant drool bucket all of a sudden (I cannot with drool and saliva), and I couldn’t add losing her to my plate. Except you can’t put off the inevitable. Before long, we realized our baby girl, Cali Rue, was not like she used to be. She had lost her zest for life, as Ku put it. So we made the hard decision to say goodbye.

Before the vet even pulled up to our house, I was an ugly-crying mess. Cali was just laying in her spot on the couch, hardly moving and the vet reassured us that she was most definitely not feeling well. It validated to us that we had made the right choice. She calmly explained to us how the process would go, mixed her up a dose of something to calm her and take away her pain. It was all beautiful and exactly how it should be. Once she got the first shot she hopped off the couch and wagged her tail for us one last time before she laid down and fell asleep, finally at peace. I’m so grateful we could give her that since she gave us the last four years of her life.

I’m going to miss the who’s there game, knocking on the wall to rile her up, cheering extra loud during football games to wake her, snuggling on the couch, watching her hang her face out the car window with joy, and being annoyed at how loud she chewed her food. But really, I’m going to miss her sweet face hoping we would drop some food for her and her obnoxious tail that was practically a weapon. I’m going to miss her sleeping in Sam’s room and the boys giving her hugs and goodnight kisses every evening. I’m going to miss Ku being angry with me at telling her to go lay down and her finally obliging, and how she would wait outside our door if it was closed because she just wanted to come in and make sure we were still there.  And I’ll miss dressing her up whenever we wanted and her putting up with it because it made us happy. I’m going to miss her so much.

Goodbye, Cali.

Forever would not have been enough; it never could be. I imagine you with Yesenia now, maybe on a run. Thank you for loving your boys. And us. You were loyalty at its greatest.

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Cali girl on her last adventure wearing her flower collar, made by our dear friend, Natalie

To my oldest, with all my heart

Sixteen years and one week ago, I was ridiculously round with angst and excitement, thinking I was about to push you out into this world. Even though you were a few weeks from your due date I was sure it was time. Except, you weren’t as ready as I thought I was so you held fast and stayed cozy.

FOR A WHOLE ‘NOTHER WEEK.

And this is what our relationship has grown into, love. Us waiting eternally for you because you’ve literally marched to the beat of your own trombone or baritone or whatever instrument you correct me on. A beat that we call Sam Sloth Speed.

Sam&amp;I

I look at you with awe in the way I imagine most mothers do. Unbelieving that I once housed your heart in my body, that we shared thoughts and nutrients and laughs. I remember telling myself I would never forget the feeling of you kicking, or what it was like to hold you for the first time or kiss your cheek, but the thing is that I can’t believe I have. I sometimes stare at you and wish I had had you in improved circumstances or later on in life, you know, when I could have done it right and when I was ready. But life doesn’t work that way, does it? Here you are and who would you be if things had been different?

I know it hasn’t always been easy for you and can feel like I am unfair. I like to say that I am a cliche, having made all my mistakes with you. Except one-week-shy-of-sixteen continues to be the longest I’ve been a mother. Every day I parent you is the highest number of days I have been one so the mistakes keep coming. Thank you, Sam, for always having infinite patience in my motherhood journey. It hasn’t been lost on me that you’ve had to see my growing pains and yet you love me anyway. No matter where life has taken us, it continues to be us, you and me, making our way through it.

There were a lot of ugly days that we worked through. I know it was hard for you going into kindergarten only speaking Spanish and I wish I could take that back. All those days and nights that I tried to get you up to par in English so you could understand the six hours of class you were sitting in, trying to teach you how to rhyme words, and then breaking down and ugly crying, which probably scared you, when it finally clicked, so many months later. And then when I called Aunty Amber and we cried about it together because every day was work and every day was a challenge for more reasons than language.

And I know you want to drive. I remember that draw to be even more independent and grown-up when I was your age. I know I’m being tough about it but the thing is, I don’t know how not to be and we are working through that so bear with me and do your part and things might fall into place like you want them to. Or maybe they won’t because sometimes I’m ridiculous, in which case you are a pro at handling. I’m trying, love.

We spent the better part of a morning, recently, googling and discussing your future. Somehow you will be graduating in two years and neither one of us is ready. That’s the truth. I could tell you were overwhelmed and I get it but I also think you are so capable. Just remember that, Sam. After all, you are at least half of me and you’ve seen me do some seemingly impossible things. I know it can seem that you have to have your mind made up about what you want to be and where you want to go but you don’t. You can figure it out as you go and it’s okay.

You are so resilient and kind, Sam. Even when I’m upset with you I think of how lucky we are that you were born first. You shared your words about domestic violence which couldn’t have been easy, you sit and talk to us about things that are important to you, even if we disagree, you ask our opinions and listen intently. You walked me down the aisle, you took the job so seriously, intent on not making me fall even though you were nervous. Just as disappointed as I was with your grandfather but still trying to understand him and give him love, regardless. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve stared at you and wondered how I have gotten so much of it right. I know I can be a hard-ass and I know you think better. You might be right but only time will tell. Thank you for being my first-born, one of the bigger chunks of my heart, and for reminding me to slow down like only you can. I would say it’s an honor to be your Mother but the reality is that it’s so much bigger than that.

Sam

Photo credit: Shannon Sasaki Photography

You will always be my favorite meanager.

 

What is happening?

You might wonder why I took a hiatus from writing. No, that’s not quite true. See, I don’t think much about what exactly I’m going to write and rather I let the words come to me. Many a posts were written lately, all in my head, where most of them begin. They just never made it on my blog, because they were either too much of one thing or another. I wanted to write about love on Valentine’s Day but then there was a school shooting and I was heartbroken, unable to find words that would do any of the seventeen lost souls justice, except there were many, all strung together in my head in a jumble of sadness and anger. I read so many calls to action, so beautifully written yet I felt paralyzed because I don’t know what to do or how.

And then there were the conversations about the shooting, with friends and family and our boys. How could I share some of the most raw, irritating, frustrating conversations with all of you, who are out there having your own? And then when fun things happened, how do you share that, when our nation (well, most of us) is mourning all the children who didn’t come home after school because of other children who took a weapon into their own hands and made a safe place a nightmare?

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The #meanager, who we remind daily that he has much to learn

Alex, a trombonist, who could have been my Sam. Sam, who didn’t participate in any of the walkouts for reasons I can’t understand. Sam, who spouted second amendment words to me that made me want to scream. He has been so mature of late and then we disagree on this, on the issue of gun control and I wonder if we picked the right town to live in. Except, whose town is really safe? Are any?

I read this book years back by Ishmael Beah, A Long Way Gone, which is a memoir of this poor boy’s time as a child soldier in Sierra Leone. Little babes stolen from their families and told horrible things to make them angry, given drugs and forced to shoot their friends to see who is toughest. They are handed rifles and in my mind they are AK-15s because that makes sense to me. He doesn’t want to kill. He knows it’s wrong. Yet his is a story of survival in a country going through civil war, where adults are using every resource they have, which is an abundance of children.

I read an interview by Suzanne Collins on where her inspiration came from for The Hunger Games and she spoke of not being able to sleep one night and flipping through the channels and landing on a documentary  about child soldiers. I imagined she was learning of Ishmael and the horrors he went through. The effects of war on children is where THG began. Young boys and girls, forced to do unspeakable things. Forced.

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Moose, who we remind daily to be kind and show love to people

My mind flashes back to a regular morning with Moose. I’m driving him to school and it’s the morning after the Parkland shooting. I ask him what he does if there’s an active shooter at his school and he answers me so casually. It was as if I’m asking him if he enjoys math over science.

“I would hide. We learned to hide,” my son replies in all his nine years of age. “Where would you hide?” I have to ask this. I have to make sure it makes sense. He spouts out different places, mostly supply closets. That doesn’t feel safe enough to me, but you know what? Neither does school, in general, now. I question him about where he would hide if he’s on the playground, expecting him to have to think about it for a minute or two. He doesn’t, though. They’ve gone over this, too. I don’t find that comforting, friends. Except, I do in a way. A guilty way.

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Abraham, who is so brave and learning to do him, regardless

A heartfelt conversation with Abraham, the 11 year old, wise beyond his years. He is a lover, more emotional than we knew how to handle for a while there, who participated in the sit-downs (they weren’t allowed to walkout in middle school, but were allowed to go to the gym). “What made you want to join in?” we asked him, because we didn’t expect it. “I want to be safe in school and I feel bad for the students who went through that. I don’t want to be bullied or afraid.” Me, too, boo. I don’t want any of those things for you, either. We applauded him. Gave him some high-fives. I’m not saying I was more proud of him than Sam, because they are equal but not the same. Abraham identifies with some of these concepts, as he has been bullied and made fun of. He beats his drum to a different beat, regardless, but it hasn’t always been easy for him. Sam is challenging us and forcing us to think harder and longer about our words and our expectations.

What are we expecting of our children? What are we teaching them with our words and our actions? How are we raising our boys, who see violence glorified in so many ways, with so many avenues? The #meanager mentioned he didn’t feel the need to walkout and demand gun control because it didn’t apply to him. “That won’t happen in Ferndale,” he has the gall to tell me. Except, a few short weeks later an email from his school district was sent to the parents to explain that a student had been arrested two days prior (which has me all kinds of fired up in a totally different way), because that student had brought a firearm to school and waived it around at another student as school was being released. That won’t happen here, MY ASS. I would be naïve, we all would be, to think any of us are safe.

DVSAS had it’s annual Victory Over Violence luncheon last month, where an informative, engaging conversation was had about gender norms, roles, and expectations. Many times, without meaning to, any one of us is perpetuating it. Ever since that lunch I have been thinking about my words and how I speak to my boys, because talking about it and being aware is how change happens. And you know what I think the most? That no one has to agree with me. But we can all listen, regardless. Just in case we learn something.

This is how I feel about where we are right now. Even if we don’t agree. Even if you have the strongest opinions about guns and your amendments, which ironically, includes the first. I mean, I’ll listen, too. And work on little things, like not telling your boys that dolls or the color pink are only for girls. Or gifting play kitchen-stuff to the little ladies in your life, because they are more than soon-to-be housewives. All I’m saying is think about your ideas of gender roles and consciously make an effort to disrupt that thinking and begin spreading that change. Show your mini-men love and kindness, show their boy pals the same, because we don’t know what happens behind any closed doors and you might be the catalyst for them to grow up better.

We can do this, friends. We owe it to our littles.

A bonus-ing we will go!

It’s Christmas time! And you know what that means…eggnog, presents under gloriously decorated trees, and perhaps a little extra in your direct deposit. Wait, is that still a thing?

I honestly can’t remember what it feels like to be a part of a company that does bonuses, being as I’ve been out of the banking game for about six years now <– and those were based on performance, mostly, so you had to do things to get em. And not to get all National Lampoon-y on you, even though ’tis the season and all, but Clark was on to something when he yelled at his boss. He really was!

We are entering an era where employee engagement and retention of top notch worker bees is becoming cruuuuuucial. And not to get all HR on you, because dat’s my liiiiiife, but in the time of Google and Facebook and Starbucks, upping your boss game is more than just with moola. But, let’s say you do get a fatty little bump at the end of the year, in the form of the ever-sought-after B-O-N-U-S. What then?

See, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what I do with my monies. Maybe it’s because I sit on the board of DVSAS and it stays active and changes lives in our community because of the generosity of the upper crust and the medium crust and you know what, the whole damn pie. I think about how there was a time my boys were only unwrapping gifts from family because there wasn’t enough to feed them AND get them a toy. I know that now, where we are in our lives, we can reach out and  help in so many ways. Except, it can be overwhelming, especially if you don’t have three zeros after your first number in whatever check you may be writing and that makes you feel bad. Maybe you don’t even know where to start because you want to help ALL the peoples.

Is that you? Do you feel like you just don’t know when or how? Well, you’re in luck, because I haven’t had much luck in sleeping lately, so my mind did most of the work for my friends. Here’s what I came up with, with hopefully something for those who maybe just have $5 to give.

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Idea #1: A charity that speaks to your heart

Now, this will take a little work on your end, so I apologize in advance, but here’s what I recommend: Sit down, take some deep breaths, and think about the valleys of your life. The low times, the hard times, the I-would-rather-not-think-about-that-time-of-my-life times. It might make you emotional, it might even make you mad, but take that energy and GET OUT THE GOOGLE. Mad-type your problem into the search bar and hit freakin ENTER like you’re lighting something on fire. Because you are. It could be a time when you were homeless or close to it, battling an addiction or watching someone battle one, domestic violence (oh, there are my heartstrings, alive and well), it could be you wanting to play a youth sport but your parents couldn’t afford it, maybe it was a puppy you begged for every year but never received, or how about if you just didn’t have healthy meals on the daily because you could barely afford food. Now, if you’re in Whatcom County, that could look like this:

Lydia Place, DVSAS, The Lighthouse Mission, Boys and Girls Club of Whatcom County, Whatcom Humane Society, Bellingham Food Bank, Northwest Youth Services , etc.

You could literally donate $5 and begin making a difference.

Idea #2: Support Political Action

It’s no surprise that for so many 2017 has been a let-down of a year. If you aren’t in that boat and you don’t feel any sort of ill-feelings toward the political state of our country, go ahead and skip on down to idea #3, because this one won’t speak to you. It’s been a trying set of months of who is a pre-existing condition, what women can or can’t say about their bodies, #metoo, and so on. Use your dollars like you would your voice because even your George Washington can come in hot, yelling like a CRAAAAAZY, just like you. Some great places to start are: Planned Parenthood (and please do so in Mike Pence’s name), DACA (because I’m not up for squashing anybody’s dreams, most certainly not those of the innocent), American Civil Liberties Union, Human Rights Org, National Assoc for the Advancement of Colored People, GLAAD, and so on. We cannot let those who don’t look like us, think like us, pee like us, etc get the better of us.

Idea #3: Education is going to change a world <– yours or whoever else’s. Someone’s world. It’s going to be changed. Let it be because of you.

If you can read this, thank a damn teacher. I mean it. Send a huge effin round of applause to the ladies and men who are there with our kiddos on the daily, listening to them drone on about whatever is important to them at the time. Who were also there for you. Yes, they aren’t perfect but neither are we and so they still deserve it. You can do any of the following and I’m sure tears would be shed: Donate to a PTO, whichever is closest to you, or at the school you went to, or stop in to a school one day and ask to pay some money on a student’s lunch bill. Because everyone needs to eat to be able to focus in class and some kids are in NEED OF FUNDS. I hope you all clapped that out with me, because I typed it HARD as if I was clapping. This is essential. Just take a Jackson in and find the office, ask where you can pay money on lunch accounts and hand it over. It will feel INCREDIBLE. Or you could buy a gift card at a store like the Dollar Store so the teachers, who make so little and still use their OWN MONIES to supply whatever is needed in their classroom and hand it to your kiddos educator. Or your neighbor’s kiddos educator. They are in abundance but their account balances are not. Again, even $10 could change someone’s world.

Idea #4: Listen

One day I was in Safeway and I did what every normal person does when I was ready to checkout. I scanned all the lines and picked the shortest one because #duh. I put all my items on the belt and waited patiently. I think I may have even texted Kulia something, because phones distract me from boring moments. I noticed I wasn’t moving even though I was next in line and I looked up to see the gentleman in front of me digging in his pockets and then choose an item to return. He nervous laughed and said he wasn’t sure how much his debit card would allow and so he asked the cashier to key in $20 and see if it would take. It did but he had a balance of $4.50 and all he had was milk, eggs, bacon and some other staple items. He was about to pick another item to put back when I handed a $5 bill to the kind lady and said, “Here. Please use this.” When he realized what had happened, he turned beet red because he was embarrassed. I felt bad for him when he turned to thank me over and over. It was such a small amount of help and he was so grateful and what I’m trying to say is, if I would have been stuck on my phone and not paying attention, I couldn’t have said yes to helping someone. Often times we hear of people paying it forward in coffee lines or things of the sort, but you can do it almost anywhere and I encourage you to be open and ready for it. I especially would like to throw out there that helping an elderly person at a store is monumental. They almost all live on set incomes that aren’t increasing with inflation. Help them out, friends.

Well, peeps, there you have it. Four but really 100 ways (because what’s life without a little exaggeration) to do something with your bonus. Or your fiver that you may or may not just spend on a coffee for yourself. Every little bit helps and I do mean every little bit. Don’t do what I did for so many years and think that because I don’t have thousands to hand out that I couldn’t partake in giving. And if you truly don’t have even $1 to help, I believe you but I ask this: Give your smiles. Show kindness to your fellow Earth-mates. Connect eyes and show some care. Genuine care. Even to the people panhandling on the streets and most especially to them.

Merry Christmas, you jolly bunch of non-a-holes. I love you all. And if you decide to buy yourself a pool, I won’t hold it against you.

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