16

I had every picture from the 2004 calendar cut out and hanging above my bed. It was a smiley face theme that radiated an abundance of happiness. I think that was the ‘vibe’ I was going for. The colors poured out of the wall each and every time I entered my bedroom. Possibly a reminder to live each day with color rather than dull darkness that sometimes felt like it was building with each breath as the days neared closer to her death.

The natural light from the large window warmed my bed and I spent countless minutes here not thinking about what was to come. I imagined my life feeling comforted each and every day by those smiley faces and their bright beautiful patterns and colors that overshadowed much of the sadness that surrounded us. I pictured this as my safe place and would often find myself encapsulated by these images I hope would never fade.

The icicles that shimmered through my window were a glimmer of hope, but also a daunting and unprecedented reminder that these moments would soon melt and the memories would be all that remained. I clung on dramatically and sometimes that would come out in bursts of anger and resentment. I was willful at times and desperately resistant to the night. For if the night had come…that would mean the light that warmed my bed was gone. And that I would have to think again.

It has been 16 years since the shadows consumed those smiley faces and I have since then forgotten about the radiating color that overflowed like a waterfall onto my bed, my safe place. In the whirlwind of my mother’s death I suppressed many things. I held onto shame and guilt — and this is what flourished. It is not until recently that I have rediscovered those smiley faces and the warmth they once brought to me.

16 years. The shadows are still here, but I catch a flash of color, of light, of warmth most of the time.

a pic of my mom and I weeks before she died. sitting on my bed with my smiley face collage above us.

On the frontline

February 20th came and went this year without much thought as to what it represented. That date has meant everything and nothing…all depending on the year. Where I am at. What I am doing. What I am feeling. I know I’ve mentioned before that feeling my mother’s loss and her presence comes and goes in waves. Sometimes it consumes me on holidays — reminding me of just how much she isn’t here. And then other times it’s on a “less significant” day — reminding me that it’s okay that I feel the need to need her on a random Tuesday.

This year marked 15 years without her.

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As I type that sentence above…the tears stream. I’m in a more emotional state today than I was on her death anniversary. And so I feel more compelled to write. But I also think it’s because she would have been 51 years old today.

I think about her often…and lately I’ve been having more vivid dreams that include her. Sometimes I’m grateful for how real they feel — but I usually wake up with a distorted reality and just want to shut myself away from the world because I feel like I lose her all over again. And that part…that part just doesn’t go away.

The most recent events of COVID-19 have me thinking about what my mom would be doing right now.

She’d be on the frontline. She was a nurse. And that gives me comfort — knowing she would have been fighting for the underdog…for someone who didn’t have access to healthcare. Someone who she would try to nurse back to health — but likely have to face the real possibility of being the last person to physically see them before they died.

And yet it all feels so reassuring. Had she been alive today — my mother would have brought comfort to so many as she did for me. She had a way with slowing things down when I was sick. She had the natural ability to bring an overwhelming sense of relief.

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I miss her. And it aches. She’s a big reason why I have continued to fight so hard throughout my educational journey. I have failed. And I have persevered. I have stumbled. And I have conquered. I am reminded of her strength as a single parent working a job and going to school full time. I honestly don’t know how she managed it all. It wasn’t perfect. But there were pockets of time where I saw how dedicated she was. How incredibly selfless she could be.

There are moments where I am so thankful that I remember these details about my mother — but also moments where I have to dig deep just to find a glimmer of her memory. Today’s memory is brought to you by that one night I just won’t ever forget.

I could see the door to my bedroom cracked just enough to let the morning light creep in. I was approximately 5 feet away from its entrance if I jumped off the bed just right. The bathroom was directly across the hall. I was sure I’d make it.

The sensation of everything moving in the room was too much to bear as I lifted my head and then the upper half of my body. I bent over slightly and projectile vomited all over the door.

It came as a shock to me, but before I could even lift my head again –she was standing in the doorway.

“Mom, don’t step…” I was attempting to warn her. To send some kind of signal that would alert her of the horror she was literally about to step in. She came closer. And there was no response. No shrieking. No horror. Just calm. A wave of calm. 

“Let’s get you into the bathtub.” She carried me. Part of me. Holding me. Covered in it all. Horrified. In pain.

Maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised. She had taken care of elderly in the nursing home and had likely dealt with far more bodily fluids than this. She’s also my mom. Don’t moms just do this? No…not all moms do this (as I came to learn later).

She showered me…then had me lay on her bed while she cleaned the tub. Then she made me a soothing bath and preceded to clean up the mess I unwillingly made. And then she continued to care for me. All without saying much. No judgement. No shame. No conditions. Just love. 

I often look back on that memory when I am feeling sick…or uncomfortable…or unwell. And I remember the wave of relief that came when my mother took care of me in the way that she did. Sure…she could have focused on the fact that I had thrown up all over a five feet span from my bed to the door. She could have yelled…she could have reacted emotionally about it all. But something about my mother allowed her to turn to comfort and calm rather than judgement and chaos. And I learned a lot after that…and well into my adulthood. So many of us unfortunately turn to judgment or chaos. When sometimes…most times…comfort in needed.

She did it so easily. Or so it appeared that way. And so I am reminded that my mother would be on the frontline, today. And she’d bring with her comfort rather than chaos. And that gives me peace today.

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Slipping through the cracks: my learning disability

It’s strange to think it took 23 years of my life to be diagnosed with a learning disability. However, the more I learn about it…the more I understand that it is a combination of fear, anxiety and denial that lead me here. But more than anything…it’s a systemic failure that refused to see past my manifested challenges and look internally for my struggles.

There are countless teachers and adults in my life that easily could have taken the time of day to sit down and diagnose me with a learning disability. And who knows…maybe I would have understood why I struggled unnecessarily throughout my secondary education and post secondary education. I might have avoided a lot of self hatred and overwhelming test anxiety had I known. But, I can’t live in the past. So I am learning to love my learning disability. I’m trying to accept it. And I’m trying to lessen the shame and stigma.

I am sitting in my Algebra class where the desks are too tiny to actually write on my math exam…so I am struggling to hold onto my exam paper and pencil — AND scratch piece of paper. I am sweating profusely and I can hear the ticking of the clock counting down to my inevitable failure. 

“Put your pencils down” These are the most devastating words a student in my position could hear with six unsolved algebra problems left behind. I panic. Everyone starts to walk to the front of the room and turn in their exams. I’m a mess. On the verge of tears and I can feel my face start on fire. 

I turn in my exam with my head held low. I have failed. This is not the first time in the semester, but at least I finished the first one. My professor allows me to finish it in his office later that day. His office is filled with six other students asking him questions about their exams. The professor comments that they are all “A” students and will be just fine. I panic even more. I am NOT an “A” student and can barely hear my own thoughts while scrambling to finish my last six problems. They don’t make sense. They are foreign to me. They do NOT look like this when I was practicing my homework two days prior. 

I “finish” my exam, although I know the answers are likely incorrect anyway, and turn it in. I immediately go out toward the quad and sit on a bench. The tears come without permission. I cover my face with my hands and hope to God no one sees me.

“Sam, is that you?” I hear a familiar voice and panic once again. I attempt to open my puffy eyes. It’s my friend, Nicky. She takes a seat next to me and I just pour out.

“I failed my second math test of the semester. I don’t know what is wrong with me. I have studied and studied.” She empathizes with me even though she is a Computer Science major and has passed much more difficult math classes than I. She starts to tell me about the Disability Resource Center. The sound of these words sounds like defeat. But she comforts me in a way that gives me the strength to walk into the DRC doors and ask for help.

It is one of the hardest things I do during my post secondary education.

I am guided into the director’s office. His name is David. He is a tall, partially bald individual with a smile bigger than half his face. He sits me down and I begin to pour out all over again. He has tissues. I apologize. He says he doesn’t mind and it’s what he is there for. I am a wreck and start to explain my situation.

All my worries and fears from a lifetime of schooling are lifted after a one hour meeting. I am told I can be assessed for a possible learning disability and/or mental illness at the Counseling and Psychological Center. I can wave most of the $250 fee based on income. I can get assistance with classes and testing at the DRC. I can drop my math class and get into a statistics class next semester that will meet my major’s requirements. 

I walk next door to the student center and sell back my algebra text book. I get $100 back.  My backpack and my heart feel lighter. This is the start to a better academic me.

This moment started the rest of my academic endeavors. I was more motivated, confident, and supported. It changed my entire school experience. I was able to have accommodations that allowed me to thrive. Part of my learning disability is that I need more time to process during exams. I also have severe test anxiety that manifests in external ways such as: sweating, heavy breathing, sweaty palms, tapping, restlessness, etc. It amplifies during timed exams.

Another part of my learning disability is that — in the same way dyslexia confuses letters…my disability confuses numbers. My math exams might as well be Chinese characters. It’s the strangest thing. If given adequate time and support…I am able to process much easier than in a “regular” setting. Dyscalculia is the term used to described this. It helps me make sense of why I struggled to count money and figure out change well into my high school days. I also did not understand subtraction for the longest time and still struggle with it. It’s also why I likely cannot read a dialog clock as easily as my peers. I also now know why it takes me several times to read and reread a question, a textbook, etc — especially when it comes to numbers.

While my mother was dying, I missed almost two months of sixth grade. I was passed to the next grade, with straight A’s and made the honor roll. I remember not feeling like I deserved it, because I had missed so much school and didn’t retain anything from math class. I really think this is where the system failed me the most. There were clear signs and no one reached out.

The more I learn as a candidate in the MSW program, the more I realize that we have to look at the whole picture of a person to assess and understand their needs. No one provided that for me…not until I was a grown woman. By then…my disabilities  manifested in ways that really impacted me and caused unnecessary grief.

I am thankful for what I know now. I know better and can do better. For myself. And for others.

The educational system unfortunately does not focus on the individual as much as it could. It also spends way too much time labeling children and adolescents rather than allowing them to self discover and identify on their own. It’s incredibly imperfect…and this is due mostly to a low priority in policy.

I don’t know how to solve all the problems, but I do know that I will do what I can to make sure others that cross my professional and person path do not fall through the cracks like I did for so long. I’m lucky to have been picked up along the way, but many never do.

Thanks for hearing me out.

 

 

 

 

What I learned my first year of grad school

Wow. Can I just take a minute? And say that? WOWWWWWWWWWW. A lot has happened this year.

First year of graduate school, check.

I am well on my way to earning my Master of Social Work degree. I’ve already started looking at the most effective ways I can prep for the ASWB exam. It’s 170 questions, 4 hours and really intense. It’s passing percentage is about 79%. Kinda freaking out. But I’m only one year in to my program…so I need to cool it.

Anyway — This year has been the LEARNING CURVE year. I don’t really know exactly what that means, except that I needed this year to really get the swing of things. I realized just how important having a foundation in whatever you are learning is.

I am a first generation college graduate who has no immediate family to turn to. I don’t have the ability to ask — mom — dad — “how do I navigate graduate school?” I didn’t have that for my undergrad and it was by far one of the most anxiety provoking parts of my education thus far. I could have prevented some sleeplessness nights, several failed classes, and a couple of food poisoning incidences, with some much wanted and solicited advice. Alas, I didn’t have that luxury. So it feels like I’m navigating the system alone on TOP of my education. However, I have received help from higher education programs and resources here and there. But come on! It’s not the same as having that support system already integrated into my family.  If you’re first gen, you understand. You get it. It’s wild. It’s exciting. But it’s pretty panic inducing. I already have a hard enough time asking for help from my family, let alone others.

So I’ve made it this far. But it has NOT been a walk in the park. Nothing worth having ever is. So I thought I’d share some things I’ve learned about my first year of graduate school as a first generation college student. Take it as you may.

#1. Don’t do it alone. I think we get to a point in our lives where we finally feel independent. It’s a wonderful feeling. You kinda feel like you’re the shit and you’re invincible. WRONG. No matter how badass you look in your Wonder Woman costume…even Diana had a team behind her. Fortunately, this past year, I have had the incredible experience of having three other students in my cohort. We are extremely TINY, but we are powerful. Together, we have supported each other through this experience. We have been courageous and vulnerable. We have disclosed some pretty personal parts of our lives to one another. We are like family now. So whatever your support system is…find it…lock it down…and brace yourself. Because challenges are coming. And you will need them.

#2. You are not more just because you earned your education. This is a hard one to learn. I used to think that just because I have a college degree…that I am now somehow more. More educated. More powerful. More driven. More prepared. More happy. More satisfied. More ready. Gosh, this lesson really makes you realize your biases. Most of the people in my life…are either first generation, like myself…or have never attended or completed college. This does NOT mean I am more than them. We all find our happiness, drive, satisfaction, power, education, etc. in our own ways. That does not always mean via post secondary education. I am not more. I am not better. This does not mean I don’t want to do better. But not in comparison to others. In comparison to my past self. I am climbing a ladder that I try not to stack up next to other’s. I am focused on climbing high enough that I can see my own beautiful, captivating and exhilarating view, and help others see their own beautiful, captivating, exhilarating view. Whatever that might be. However high. However meaningful. I’ll likely need to be reminded of this later…but hey…I’m only human. I’ve been socialized to believe people with a degree somehow hold the keys. This simply is not true.

#3. Get involved. This is still relevant to graduate students. Undergraduates have a reputation of joining all the clubs, sororities, fraternities and attending all the events, parties, etc. But, grad students are fun too! Haha! We are building our resumes, too. This is also a great way to build that support system I was talking about.

#4. Traditionalism is overrated. Whoever said you could only go to college if you’re young, eager, and able…was NOT the 90 year old man who just graduated with his bachelor’s degree at my University this year! If you are not a “traditional” student, then more power to ya! EDUCATION IS FOR EVERYONE. At least…is should be. That’s another political story I won’t get too much into…but…college is full of all kinds of people. Most of my classmates have children, spouses, and even grandchildren! And I’ve learned more from them than some of my classes. Embrace untraditional settings. They will impact you in ways that are unexpectedly beneficial.

#5. Participate in research. First of all…you learn something. Duh. Second…you can collaborate with others in an intellectually inspiring way. Do the hard work. It pays off. Plus, you will be more prepared to speak in front of people, gain confidence about your work, and + your work to the resume.

#6. You are not going to like everyone. This is a valuable lesson to learn. It’s applicable in general. The sooner we learn this…the sooner we will stop trying to please others. It’s so time consuming and energy draining. It’s okay to vent about it. I get it. It sucks when we don’t get along with everyone or mesh with them…but once you get those stressors out…move forward to more productive relationships. You are not going to like all of your professors. You won’t agree with all of your supervisor’s methods. You certainly won’t like those annoying classmates who consistently whisper in every class while your professor lectures. YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE. Haha. It’s impossible to like everyone and have everyone like you back. You may choose to be more obvious about your dislike than others…and that’s your prerogative. But I realized that being respectful toward people, but NOT FAKE, despite your dislike-ness…is going to get you more places than being petty.

#7. You deserve to be here. If you’ve ever experienced that feeling where you doubt your accomplishments and wonder if you are actually a fraud…it’s okay. It’s a thing. I promise. It’s called “Imposter Syndrome” and it’s a psychological mindfuck. Excuse my not so eloquent word usage… but come on! YOU DESERVE TO BE HERE. You’ve worked your ass off. It’s not as easy as saying “Quit it, bitch. You did this. You’re not a fraud” but I found saying it out loud in the mirror sometimes helps. Also, slapping yourself on the face has been semi-successful. Haha. If you continue to have thoughts like this that persist throughout your education then my next thought might be for you.

#8. It’s okay to ask for help. Wanna know a secret? EVERYONE gets stressed. It’s perfectly normal. If you don’t get stressed…than I would worry. It’s the over-the-top, constant, overwhelming, and unwanted stress that is problematic. Regardless of where you stand on the stress monitor…it’s still okay to ask for help. Being a college student, you likely have resources on campus such as: counseling. My university offers free counseling for individuals, couples and groups. It’s amazing. Even if you just need to vent ONE time, or need a weekly appointment to meet with a professional. It’s okay to ask for help.

#9. Don’t get sucked into the drama llama cycle. Family. Friends. They come with some DRAAAAAAAAMMMMMMMAAAAAA. Being there for your family and friends in hard times is different from obsessing over their shit. You have your own shit. Having boundaries is going to save you. This one is the truest for first generation students, because…we have this feeling of obligation to take care of our family and friends…because we are “the educated one” and the one “making the money” and suddenly this responsibility of solving all “their problems” is hitting us like a ton of bricks. And we want to help…so bad! But we cannot help them…if we don’t help ourselves first. DON’T GET SUCKED IN TO THE DRAMA LLAMA CYCLE. You gotta have your back first. And that’s okay. Then…once you have your shit together…which…let’s be honest…in this country/time…you might not ever get it completely together. But hey…we work with what we have right now…so find yourself first.

#10. Higher education is NOT free from problems. We have got to STOP putting post secondary institutions on a pedestal. They are still built by people. People who are imperfect. People with biases. People who have agendas. People who have power. People who have been socialized to believe education is for the elite. For the rich. For the white race. It’s a place that often needs to be challenged and questioned the most. Don’t let your guard down and always remain skeptical. Don’t believe everything your professors says. Just because they have the letters Ph.D. behind their name…does not automatically make them all knowing. This may be an unpopular opinion, but hey…that’s why we deserve to  be here! Because our opinions…matter. And the more voices that are underrepresented. Underserved. Misrepresented. Misunderstood. Overlooked. etc. etc. etc. The better off these institutions will be in realizing their biases. I realize my biases everyday. There is always a judgement…a thought…a moment…I have to take a step back and remember. I am human. I have been socialized a certain way. And I have had so many privileges along the way…but I have the power to correct them. Once I know better I can do better.

Thank you for hearing me out. Take it with a grain of salt or a slice of cake. It’s up to you.

Make your education what you want it to be.

Waving my hands

I work with adolescents who struggle with substance abuse. For the sake of confidentiality I cannot go into detail about the individuals I work with; however, I did want to talk about my personal experience in just the few short months I have been working in this field.

As many of my friends and family know I am making the move to get my LCSW. (Licensed Clinical Social Worker). I recently graduated with my Bachelor of Science degree in Political Science with a minor in Sociology. Saying that has become so causal. I have said it so many times it has almost lost its meaning. Whenever I take the time to think about it — I am seriously in awe that I have a Bachelor’s degree and a diploma to prove it.

I listen to stories of these adolescents that I work with and they come from extremely broken homes. They have lost parents. They have experienced abuse in every form imaginable. They have survived things that most youth fortunately do not have to. At first I pitied them; but they don’t want to pitied. They don’t want to be told what to do. And they certainly don’t want you to tell them drugs are bad — stay in school — and listen to your parents. They have lost faith in authority. So many people have let them down.

I certainly do not want to add to that mistrust. I do everything I can to give them options. My job is to make sure they are doing what they are supposed to while they try to successfully complete the rehabilitative program. My job is not to label them. It is not to hurt them further. It is not to make them feel bad for the mistakes they have made. I am a mentor that can show them by example what life can be like sober.

They can graduate college. I used to believe I wasn’t going to make it. After my mother died I didn’t even know it was an option. But somewhere down the line someone spoke up for me and it made all the difference. These adolescents deserve to be spoken up for. They deserve to have a clean slate. They deserve to see and live a life free of harm. The majority of them turned to drugs because it was a way to numb the shit they had no control over. The abuse. Their parents. Their friends. Their family. The grief. The trauma.

I don’t blame them.

But I’m over here waving my hands big enough so they can see me even if they’re drowning. Because I am here.

That’s basically what I have been trying to emphasize while working with these individuals. They have taught me that they are mostly just regular teens. And they just need someone to believe in them.

10 things I’ve learned from college

I have spent a little longer than usual earning my bachelor’s degree, but then again I am an unusual person — so it hasn’t really bothered me. At first, sure…when most of my high school friends were graduating and sharing their grad photos all over insta — I certainly felt it. But if I have learned anything…. it is that:

 

  1. Everyone does things at their own pace. Life is not a race. And if you live your life thinking it is — you’ll always be the last one to the finish line. Nothing will ever be good enough. But…if you can literally take time to smell the roses — you’re going to be surprised at the opportunities that come your way. And you will discover what you are made of.
  2. It’s okay if you stop talking to people. Life is about growth. And sometimes that growth consists of letting people go. Some people were only meant to make a cameo in your life — and others are meant to stay for the whole show — and they will certainly prove that to you in ways you never thought possible. So if you intentionally or unintentionally stop talking to someone…it’s okay.
  3. Even if you can — don’t write your ten page pager 2 days before it’s due. Seriously. I am guilty of this. And no matter how many times I tell myself that I do “better” work when I am under pressure — I know it’s not true. Plan out your paper. Put some effort into it. Research the hell out of your topic. You will feel a lot better about your grade knowing you did everything you could to earn it.
  4. Go to that party. There will be so many times when you would rather stay in and watch Netflix — but get dressed. Go out. Meet people. Those people will likely become your biggest support system in college. Take every opportunity to build that support, because you’re going to need it.
  5. Talk to your professors. Use their office hours! Buy them a coffee. Pick their brain. They appreciate it more than you know. Plus when your teachers get to know you — it often reflects on your grades — and they are more willing to work with you. This also goes for TA’s and other instructors!
  6. Use public transportation. Not just because it is good for the environment BUT because you pay for it. And there is no point in driving around for the perfect spot — because you will be late for class.
  7. Get a job. It doesn’t matter if it is part time, full time, unpaid, etc. Do something structured that preoccupies you from school. It teaches you time management. It teaches you professionalism. It teaches you people skills! And those are all skills you can lose if you don’t practice them, so do it. And if you’re lucky — you’ll have a few more bucks in your pocket to spend each month.
  8. Go to class. Now that you’re in college — you have more freedom than you sometimes know what to do with — but don’t get in the habit of skipping class. It’s not cool. And it only hurts you. Even if going to class doesn’t seem important, trust me — it makes a difference. And if anything it teaches you discipline.
  9. Take care of yourself first. Believe it or not your academics are NOT the MOST important thing in college. If you want to succeed — which I imagine you do — get quality sleep. Eat nutritious food. Call your family. Hang out with your friends. Take a shower. Clean your house. If your life is a mess — then school is going to mimic that.
  10. Use your campus resources! You are probably paying for more than you realize with your students fees. Students have access to so much including health care, counseling, disability assistance, software downloads, cheap/free food, activities, workshops, seminars, research projects, etc. I could go on forever. Go out of your way to learn about what your college specifically offers. Take advantage of the support they are so willing to give. You won’t regret it!

We all live on this planet, damnit!

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One of my New Year resolutions is to simply write more. I frequently write in my personal journal — but I’d like to share my thoughts more publicly this year.

To start off — I’d like to say that I feel I have always tried to be inclusive. When I was a pre-teen, I lived in an apartment complex where I socialized with all my neighbor friends, despite their background. I was far more concerned about whether or not my friends would climb trees with me and play night games than what church they went to (or didn’t).

I sometimes look around me when I’m in a busy place and take a moment to soak in the people that surround me. I have this realization that these strangers have lives. They have families and friends. They experience joy and they’ve endured pain. They have jobs. They have burdens. They have memories. They have troubles. They have happiness. And it really hits me. It’s a really surreal moment of remembering that I’m such a small part of this world. And it truly humbles me.

This past year I’ve reflected on several things, but what always has me constantly investing my heart into is my humanity. I think about changing future strangers’ lives as a Social Worker. I think about helping someone less fortunate than myself when I can finally get to a place where I’m not living paycheck to paycheck. Even now, when I barely make ends meet each month — I still think about helping people. Because I know there is always someone less fortunate than me — even when I feel lonely, poor, or depressed.

Something that I’ve thought a lot about this past year –with the emphasis of Trump building a Wall on the US and Mexico boarder — usually has me cringing  –is the word “illegal” when referencing a human being. We use it to describe people who are undocumented in a country. As if they as a person — by living and breathing in a country where they are not citizens in — are illegal. They are wrong. They are criminal. They are not allowed. They must be shamed. They must be kicked out. They are a menace to society. They are rapists. They are deviants. They are harmful.

It destroys my heart  to hear such hateful descriptions of HUMAN BEINGS.  People are not illegal. Somewhere down the line someone decided the law of boundaries. And they decided to create regulations that was intended to control population — or some other lousy excuse. But really a politically correct way of banning people from parts of the world. A world that we ultimately share. And there is only ONE WORLD. We all live on this planet, damnit! And we should embrace our global citizenship and stop labeling people foreign, or alien — or illegal. It’s like a bully on the playground not allowing certain kids to play on the toys. It’s cruel. And unfair.

People who fear “illegals” have never looked outside their own peripheral vision to see the beautiful things that we can learn from strangers. From people who were born in different countries than our own. From people who have struggled. And from people who only want to be free.

Pharrell Williams recently said on Ellen that “We all have to get used to everyone’s differences. And understand that this is a big, gigantic, beautiful, colorful world. And it only works with inclusion and empathy. It only works that way.”

I truly admired his courage to say these things out loud, and use his platform to spread kindness and understanding. I feel the same way. I don’t always agree with people — but I value everyone’s opinions — because without them, this world wouldn’t struggle or hustle or work hard enough for what’s right — and what’s good.

WE are all human. WE should practice more this year extending our humanity to a world that needs a lot of healing.

Being yourself is not illegal.

I’ve been the person who has gone home for the holidays and unwillingly listened to my extremely nosy relatives nag me about if I have a boyfriend, when I’m getting married, or when I’m having kids?

The assumptions are all there. And there’s little to no room to refute these social norms.

First of all, whose business is it when I’m having children? I still don’t consider myself to have completely transitioned into adulthood. How am I supposed to raise a child with a $600 paycheck every two weeks? I’m not. So if you’d like me to be an irresponsible parent, then by all means, please…continue.

Anyway, If I attempt to change the subject to something else it now becomes a discussion about my studies and what I plan to do with my life. As if I’ve got it all figured out down to the outfit I plan to wear to my first big kid job or the kind of 401 K plan I want to adopt.

I know what I’d like to do. And I know the steps I need to take to get there. But of course, if I don’t have a solid response they’ll think I’m just wasting my time. That I’m not capable. That I should have a practical job. Or butt in about exactly what I should do. This all coming from the people who never stepped foot on a college campus.

Secretly I laugh. Because I know who I am. I know my goals. And I know I’ll achieve them. Maybe not in the way that “they” deem right. But I’ll do it.

So this brings me to my Minor in Sociology that I’m finishing up this Fall. I’ve been fascinated by the way society interacts for some time now, and every sociology class I attend makes me understand a little more about why our “families” pressure us so much.

Because I’m not doing life the way they think I should, I am labeled “deviant”. It’s funny. Because to me and most of the sociological world, being deviant isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It can be anything from dying your hair blue to walking in a gay pride parade. And what I believe to be perfectly okay, isn’t always the case for redneck conservative family members. And that’s completely okay. Because they don’t run my show. They don’t walk in my shoes. They sit comfortably in their worlds that they’ve created for their families. And that’s fine. More power to them. But just as I don’t try to control their lives, I guess I’d like a little of that in return.

I try to understand, as a sociology minor, why people related to us have the need to intervene in such a nosy way.

I took some time off of school for about a year. Because of that, I was treated differently by some of my relatives. Relatives that I don’t frequently talk to thought it was somehow their business to tell me where I should be living and what I should be doing. They stated their disappointment, as if that actually mattered to me. But I’m the kind of person who tries to keep the peace, for the most part. Especially about things that don’t really matter to me. And their opinions certainly do not. But of course, the second I returned to school…after feeling refreshed and motivated to finish my degree, they expressed their approval. And of course, I didn’t need it…but I found it strange.

When the lights go out, when the shit hits the fan, when you fall down a steep hill. The people that are still standing are the people you know you can count on. And I can tell you, the people who went out of their way to insert their social norms into my life, they weren’t left standing. So to me, their disapproval or approval is not validated. It doesn’t matter. It cannot matter. It’s just another opinion floating around.

I’m not deviant because I choose to do things my way. I’m certainly not a bad person for choosing to go to college over having a husband and children right now. I’m not going to hell for wanting to focus on myself. I’d rather buy a bottle of wine than a case of diapers. So I figured if my priorities are not about putting other people before myself right now. I have no business having a husband or children. My dog is enough responsibility for me right now.

Who knows, someday I might want to settle down and have children. If and when that day comes, I’m sure those nosy people will want to insert themselves back into my life. But just because we share a last name or blood. It doesn’t mean I want to share with them those milestones. You don’t have to invite everyone to your wedding. You don’t have to send announcements out that you had a kid. You don’t have to wish people Happy Birthday when you don’t mean it. You don’t have to surround yourself with people who only make you feel like crap. And you don’t have to live a lie just to keep the peace. Because lying to others does not actually provide your soul with peace. It hurts you more than it helps you.

I guess this post is directed to those of us who feel like we need to suppress or hide our beliefs just to make others comfortable. We don’t have to do anything that we don’t want to do. Being our true authentic selves is not illegal. And I think so many of us forget that. We make it harder on ourselves by trying to please those around us. We nod our head in agreement just to not start any conflict. You don’t have to agree with others. You can be an adult and get your message across without being nasty. I think we forget that, too.

It’s okay to be yourself. And I think we forget that the most.

#beyourself.

 

 

47.

On most days I reminisce about my mother.

But on birthdays and holidays, her death sticks out a little louder. It’s inevitable.

Today would have been her 47th birthday. Wow, mom. You’re getting old. I would have said over a slice of pie or a tin of cheesecake. And I’m certain she would have wrinkles around her eyes where they lit up every time she smiled or laughed. They would have been doubled by now. Her eyes, a dreamy green. And her smile, everlasting.

I would have bought her a new pair of pajamas to replace the one’s from the year before. It would have been a tradition. Because more often than not, she would be at home snuggling up next to a heater with some kind of patterned pajamas to stay cozy. And we’d most likely sing her Happy Birthday outrageously loud and purposefully off tune. And she’d insist we go for a walk through the nature park and have a picnic near the water. I imagine it would have been a beautiful sunny day.

And of course. We would have spent most of the day finding a simple way to serve somebody. Even on her birthday she would have thought of anybody but herself.

Maybe we’d break out the karaoke machine and sing “Total Eclipse of the Heart” or “Wind Beneath my Wings.” And we’d laugh until we peed our pants. And at the end of the day she’d want a bath and I’d naturally wash her back for her as we’d philosophically talk about life.

It’s the simple things we cherish the most. And my mother taught me that by example. For that I am eternally grateful, because without that knowledge…I might just let life pass me by without genuinely enjoying all the little things that we easily can miss.

Happy Birthday, Mom. I sure miss you.

 

Domestic Violence: We accept the love we think we deserve

There’s something about being hurt that makes us a little harder. A little bitter. A little prouder. And a lot less willing to accept help when we need it the most.

Working in the hospitality field I’ve seen many people come in under circumstances dealing with domestic violence. I’m always a little more sensitive when someone informs me of a not-so-good situation going on at home. If ever I see a license with an address in the same town where I work, I often don’t ask the question of what brings them here. Because when I do, I usually get the blunt truth of someone dealing with domestic violence, silence, or an abundance of tears.

I’m not afraid to talk about domestic violence. I only avoid it to cause less stress or humiliation or obligation for someone who is faced with it. I’m a stranger to them. A nice stranger. But a stranger nonetheless. And who am I to intervene? Who am I to ask questions? Or be anything but someone who helps them escape, if only for a little while.

But today was different. A women came in with the biggest frown I’ve ever seen and I could tell right away whatever she was about to say was not good. I suspected she was unhappy and was quite possibly ready to complain about her stay or something along those lines. But instead, she asked for the cheapest room. I informed her of our prices and she was eager to get a room. At this time of the day it’s not quite 9 AM. We had an almost full house the night before. I inform her that check in time is around 3 PM and she can certainly make a reservation and come back once we can confirm a clean room for her.

She then gets irritated and informs me that she is dealing with a domestic violence issue and she can’t very well live in her car. I apologize automatically. It’s never fun to hear when someone is in between a rock and a hard place.

Our policy is to charge a full day charge on top of the nightly charge if ever someone wants to check in before 11 AM. We rarely have those kinds of people, but when we do, we have to stick to those rates. I informed her of our policy.

She said, “Are you kidding me? I’ll just go live in my car.” I said I could possibly talk to my manager, and she said “Oh yeah, how long will that take?” She started to storm off and I mentioned CAPSA. It’s a shelter in town for women in her position. She gasped and said, “I’m not pathetic”, and proceeded to slam her car door and race away.

I clearly offended her. But that encounter left me confused and shaken up. I was doing my best to abide by my policies and extend to her services that might work in her favor. If she had stuck around a little longer I could have called my manager about her situation and possibly worked something out; however, she left me little to no room to extend my hand.

I know it’s not my job to help people who don’t want to help themselves. I know she was looking for a way out, and I applaud her for that. I know she was dealing with stresses I have no idea about. I know she needed help. But I’m not sure she wanted it. Maybe I shouldn’t make assumptions. And I’m certain that psychology has a lot to say with how she reacted to the whole situation. I’m certain that it’s much deeper than I realize. But in that moment, I couldn’t help but feel sad and angry at the same time.

I wanted to help her, that I’m sure. But she broke my spirit slightly, because she rejected it. And I don’t know very many people in that situation who would easily walk away from the help they so desperately need. And maybe I’m in the wrong here to try and analyze such a heavy matter.

I don’t consider her rude. In any other situation her actions would appear that way. And I’m not going to lose sleep over this, but I can’t help but think she’ll go back to the way things were because she see’s domestic violence shelters for people who are “pathetic” when in reality I see them as places where the strongest people reside.

This post is not to demean anyone in a domestic violence situation. It is to bring awareness to those who are afraid to reach out to shelters, because they see them as “pathetic” or for the helpless, or weak. They are the complete opposite. They are there to lift people up after they have been broken down for so long. And it is to help them see a healthy perspective again. And they are there to protect and provide for people who are in desperate need. Or just seeking to find peace of mind.

I’m not sure I could have done anything different for this particular person, but I will always remain an advocate for those suffering with domestic abuse, psychological abuse, sexual abuse, etc. And I will always extend a hand out to them. But ultimately it’s up to them to take my hand. And that’s the hardest part.

If you or someone you know is dealing with any kind of abuse, I encourage you to seek and accept help. It’s out there. I promise you, you’re not alone.

NATIONAL DOMESTIC ABUSE HOTLINE: 1-800-799-SAFE (7233

NATIONAL SEXUAL ASSAULT HOTLINE: 1-800-656-HOPE (4673)