Sunday, November 25, 2012

What we take for granted...

Who is getting over Thanksgiving weekend blues??

Ah, Thanksgiving! For some, it may be a cliche of a holiday; a cry for help before committing pre-meditated consumerism suicide, AKA, Black Friday, or Thursday, or Saturday. I loose track... I am certainly happy to report that I only spent $7 on Friday on cool new shades with a touch of bling bling. Thank you cousin Vivianne! :) My darling, sweet, 12 year old baby cousin Caroline joined in because she wanted to experience Black Friday.

I will be the first to admit that our shopping excursion was short lived because Caroline was called in to be with her mom and sister. In the car we decided to meet up later that evening and I suggested decorating ornaments for the soon to be purchased tree.. Her eyes lit up! In a nutshell, cousins, young and not so young, joined together, over pizza (and wine for the adults-duh!) painting and drawing on cardboard ornaments. Glitter pens, stickers, music playing, tree trimming and all that jazz, made for a really fun, low-key Friday evening at home. I call that Fun Friday!

The feelings and emotions of anticipation for my Thanksgiving holiday in Texas evaporated as I arrived at DIA Wednesday after a very stressful couple of days at work. Man, was this break needed. I am sure many of you are nodding as you read this. Right? Of course, right? Work detox: a must!
In addition to certainly looking forward to regrouping with the Dallas kin, I was sad at the reality that Luis would be spending the holiday with his father. That's ok, it's reality. Last year we were in St. Louis, were friends made us family and we had a lovely time.

In Dallas I got to hang out with a singer, a former cheerleader turned scientist and a flyer. My beautiful second, or third, or whatever times removed cousins. What the hell does "twice removed" even means anyway. I like it en espanol better... primo hermano, segundo, tercero, etc. We barely had time to spend talking about school drama, new school drama, that is, how college is going, or when the next national cheer leading competition is, when it was time to say adios... What little or small amount of time together, we made up in quality, simply being together. This weekend was a great example of quality versus quantity. These girls are lovely and I am blessed they are part of my life.

In Thursday we joined another set of cousins, second, third, whatever, you get the picture. What was incredibly familiar with it all, (mind you, I have not met half of these people before) is the fact that it was familiar. I had heard some of the stories, visited years before for even shorter amounts of time, but it was familiar... Dare I say, it was family? :) Why yes, it was!

I have written about this before. Regardless of heartaches, trials and tribulations, I find the smile, halfway drawn in my face, holding back yet wanting to shine, remembering my pledge to be a better family member. Yes, I smile.Yes, I own it. I also sucked at it- only short-lived though, remember? I wanted to be "Ms. super woman, I don't need anything or anyone, to get what I want, when I want". However, really, when I looked inside and owned the fact that I was not being honest with myself, realized somethings had to change, and part of that was family. Being on your own, far away, does indeed suck at times. ---Second time the word sucks (I guess that's the third) appears-- Disclaimer: find me a better word that describes the sentiments and I will be happy to use it, but for now, it stays. :)

Growing up in a small island where you know there are relatives living in different places, scattered all over the USA was kind of cool. We had "relativos" in New Jersey, New York, California, Texas, Florida, just to name a few. My dad made it part of our education and appreciation of all things "family" that we not only got to meet these relatives, but that we get to know them, travel with them, build even stronger ties that to this day, stand the test of time.

May this be my thanksgiving prayer, blessing, wish upon a star. That I am thankful for those times we "had" to visit with the godparents who smothered us and slapped sloppy kisses on our cheeks when we were 9. For the forced Sunday visits with those, yes, those so-called cousins (we had way too many to keep track of, but we knew the ones we didn't really like) and experienced organized fun- yuk! For the awkward times we took for granted having to call grandma just to say thank you and the many times we had to keep the great-great-great aunt company while she went to the doctor.

For all that we take for granted, the many hugs in the morning so many of you experience, but I don't. For the daily dinners at the table and the sobremesa that I so long to experience again. For the movie dates w pops and the recap and slicing and dicing of cinematographic mastery. For the evenings at home looking through old photo albums- digital pictures do NOT do them justice- smelling that distinctive smell of old Polaroid instant pics and retelling stories that made us laugh and cry, but laugh even more. For the opportunity to get a second chance at being a better daughter, mother, cousin and niece and granddaughter and friend... For the smiles, hugs, hellos, goodmornings, see you tomorrows, I love yous. For everything we take for granted, but fill our lives with the very essence that is the daily life we live, I give thanks.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

All I can do is be...

I was not brought into this world to sit back and watch it unfold in front of me without being an active participant. There are many stories I can tell of instances where either something happened, a word was spoken, an injustice done, and how difficult it was for me to sit back and just be. Carefully and intentionally observe the actions taking place in front of my eyes, attempting to figure out the thought process that lead this person or that person to say and do what I just witnessed.  I stop, think, then act.

It's easier said than done. What happens when you know a good friend has a problem with alcohol or other vices. How long do you wait until you say something? You tell her that for her own good she needs to realize she has a problem. It is her problem, yes, but it effects so many. The conversation we had many times and she is very much aware of the issue. Do I get frustrated? Of course. Can I do more? Of course. The impulse to walk away and "teach a lesson" is more powerful than one can fathom. Yet, the tug in your heart to stay won't allow it. What do I decide? What is the best thing in this situation. After years of struggles and constant invitations to ride emotionally drained roller coasters, I stop, think, then act. However, the action this time is more passive. I decide simply to be...

A relative is currently going through major soul seeking in a spiritual journey in order to be at peace with who he really is. Get on with it, I want to scream! How long do we all have to be walking on egg shells around you? God, please tell him it's OK. Tell him we love him no matter what and that it shouldn't matter what others say or if they cast judgement. YOU made him and he is YOURS, and ours and is loved by many. It aches that I can't do anything to help. I need to do, I can't just sit here and do nothing. Anger and frustration are stronger. He refuses the helping hand, the loyalty, support and love offered to him. I look up and point at YOU, yes, YOU upstairs!  Seriously, I just want to help. STOP.... THINK... Act. The inner dialogue of my heart and mind gets louder. The heart says "she is doing it out of love" and the mind quickly lashes back "it's not her problem." All I can do is be...

Last week I spoke with a former colleague. She was venting about having a bad day and how so many years before she had to make work-related decisions that impacted people's lives. Some good, some not so good. I listened. My responce was "I wish I could have been more of a friend to you and helped, but her position, her title and all the politics that came with it, would not allow it". She said the same thing. What was more striking is that she said "but through it all you were there, present in mind and heart and that's all the support I needed." Another eye-opening breakthrough. But I didn't do anything, I couldn't do anything. I was just there...

The moral of this story is, I think --insert smiley :) face here!--- that no matter how much we want to do or feel and have the urge and necessity to impose our /needs unto others, simply being there for them is enough. We can't live people's lives... We must live our own. It kills us to see others suffer and sit back and do nothing. That is not how I am programmed to be. HOWEVER, and that's a big however, I stress the lesson of picking our battles and trusting that some times the best thing to
do, at that particular time, in that particular instance, in that precise moment, is indeed, just to be...
To be there for my friend, to be there for my cousin, to be there for my colleague. To love them no matter what. To trust they know and feel deep in their hearts how much they are loved. To have the faith that they believe in themselves enough that they can get through whatever hurdles they must jump over. That through it all, at the end of the day, we will be here for them. My door is always open because my heart is. As hard of a lesson as this is for many, and for me, keeping my heart open for them to come back, is just as important.

I am a do-er, let's be 100% clear on that. For many years I sat back and did nothing about a lot of things.-cue Cher singing "If I could turn back time"- But life has taught me that sometimes all I can do, all I need to do, is just be...

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Movies: my first love, the love that lasts forever :)

Hollywood is in a current kick to release remakes of classics... The latest 80's (hardly old enough of a decade to be a classic in my opinion) victim to the lack of original screenplays penned of late, "Red Dawn".  Don't get me wrong, I won't mind being taken back to the days when Charlie Sheen was cool (not a hot mess) and Ralph Macchio and C.Thomas, Tommy, Howell were still cute. After all, Patrick Swaze does save the day and Jennifer Grey had her original nose.

However, I have a better one for you, Tinsel Town... release the ORIGINAL classics, uncut, commercial free, digitally remastered---NOT colorized if black and white---and surrounded by the smell of real, fresh, movie theatre popcorn.

I just experienced, for the first time in big screen since its original release in 1962, "To Kill a Mockingbird", based on the novel by Harper Lee about her growing up in segregated Georgia. The movie, starring Gregory Peck, is simple, black and white, and controversial due to its subject matter. This is not a movie review, as I suspect that many of you out there are well verse in Atticus Finch, Scout and Boo Radley. What was amazing to witness was my 10 year old son get completely sucked in by the story, the creepiness of the notion that there is a weird neighbor chained to the basement (no, not Sloth, from the Goonies), the wrongful accusation, conviction and murder of a black man who allegedly raped a white woman----yes, Luis did understand what was going on, while the word rape he processed as hurt---and the humor of the dialogue between the kids and the kids and their dad.

The first time I saw this movie, I must have been 11, maybe. I didn't really get the whole premise and certainly did not fully grasp the issues discussed or the impact the role of the ethical lawyer, lame and boring according to his kids, widowed dad. A few years ago AFI (American Film Institute) now famous for its countdowns:100 years of this, 100 best of that, decided to list 100 best heroes and villains on film. Errol Flynn was Robin Hood, Tom Hanks was Jim Lovell, of course, the love of my life, Harrison Ford was Indiana Jones. But the number 1 hero from 100 years of film, was Atticus Finch. This character represents everything even I can own to yearn in a hero: strong presence and authority, without being authoritarian, ethics, kindness, responsible and above all open-minded and loving of all creatures in this Earth, humans and non-humans, blacks, whites, gays and straight. Thank you Atticus, for you reminded me today of what a hero should always be.

Movies have always been part of my life... From my days memorizing lines from Annie, the Parent Trap and Mary Poppins, to memorizing EVERY line from Gone With the Wind. Did I say memorizing? I meant yes, by memory I can recite the whole damn script. May that be considered an open challenge to anyone out there: bring it! ;) Like my dad has often admitted of a quirky skill of his to be able to store unlimited amount of useless movie trivia, I am my father's daughter, and if I was a college professor, the classics would be my topic of research and expertise.

What has been funny at times is to live certain experiences in life that I could have sworn were written for the screen, and then to actually see them featured in a movie makes me wonder if "Big Brother" screen writer is really watching. I think my life, heck, my family and friends make for  extremely colorful and entertaining characters for award winning story lines. But, then again, whose family doesn't, right? ;) I mean, let's admit it. We all have an Aunt Glady (Home for the Holidays), a Lauren Bacall type mom of a diva that steals the spotlight from the daughter's wedding (The Mirror has Two Faces), an overprotective dad of daughters who honors tradition but accepts that times have changed (fabulous Topol in Fiddler on the Roof) or a grandpa who loves us unconditionally, and saves the day like a knight in shining armor (Harry Davenport, Grandpa, in Meet Me in St. Louis).

My son, thank you Upstairs, has been born with the gift of movie loving. It's not about just going to a movie or sitting in front of the TV. The kid knows who directors are--- I have been asked if LucasFilms have kids summer camps---and reads about how movies are made. He appreciates the art of movie making. It's pretty cool! I lived that tonight and I am forever grateful. Parents and their kids have certain things they like to do together. This is ours, with going to basketball games or watching baseball, close seconds.

I felt the need to put some thoughts into words and since God has heard me praise and quote movie line after movie line, here I am. This is another little glimpse into who I am and what I value. Movies often bring to life issues and subject matters, values, that indeed have a great deal of level of importance and depth for some of us.

I will finish with also giving a shout out for another movie, "Won't Back Down." The little movie that couldn't, or could? I cried inside, I cried outside the theatre. It changed my life and added fuel to the already fire burning in my heart to do more for education, for kids and families who need that extra push, that additional pair of hands, resource, dot connector. The next day I did something about it and now I am on a roll. Stay tuned!

That is what movies often do for me, they inspire, they speak to me. Often the message is indeed "snap out it", "let it go" and "drop it and move on" and is as welcome and clear as the voices from even my gut tugging inside my being, struggling with head and heart when decisions to take action are a must. Just wait until I write a reflection on Broadway plays and musicals... RENT defined perhaps one of the most significant years in my life, but that's another entry... ;)

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Sometimes you just have to take one for the team.

Take one for the team, will you? What does that even mean, I remember wondering.

Some of us hear this constantly at work, right, athletes?? Although, even if we don't work in anything sports related, we are trained, motivated and hopefully, inspired to work as a team. As a team you have one collective goal and as a team, a group, a united front, you work as hard as you can to reach that goal, together. A dollar amount you need to raise for scholarships, a class you are recruiting in order to stay competitive, a play off game you must win! As a team, you can do it, together.

Working as a team is one thing, taking one for the team is a different concept. What do you mean, Jess?, asks the voice. C'mon, like you don't know. You KNOW what it means, I say as I look up... one word: sacrifice.

A sacrifice is not a thing we can touch or possess or even look at. A sacrifice is something we make when we each give up a certain something in order to make another thing happen. And this "other thing" will be better off because of our sacrifice. A sacrifice is understanding that we can't always get what we want, even though we believe what we want is the best thing for us.

We talk about giving up "stuff" or making sacrifices during lent, for us Catholics out there. When we embrace the concept of giving up something for lent, we are embracing and wholeheartedly, understanding that Jesus died for us. That is the ultimate sacrifice, we are taught. OK, God, I know, I don't need to tell you about that. You literally penned that story. However, it has taken me a few years to get it. I think I get it. I think. What I mean I get is to be OK with the concept of sacrifice.

Disclaimer- just because I admit that I get it doesn't mean I admit it was or is easy!!

I moved to a different city over a year ago. The city, somehow, drew me into it years before and I felt myself falling in love with its streets, monuments, weather, baseball team, schools, oh yes, its schools. As some might believe they predicted, life threw me a curve ball which I swung at and missed. I missed hard. Others might say I should have hit that ball, but no matter what, it would have ended up a sacrifice fly. I had to give up the city, its essence, its people. That is one example of some of the sacrifices I have made. I left, it hurt, but things are as they should be. The rewards are not physical. I did not win a trophy, or the lottery (I wish!!), but by making one sacrifice I won more hugs from the kid, smiles and a new sense of awareness of what is important in life.

Why this topic tonight? Because life and circumstances allow me to "live" many experiences in which I (like many of you out there) learn how to appreciate words like sacrifice. Today I didn't agree with a few things at work. My thoughts and opinions were heard. Rationalized arguments were made and thank goodness, compromises reached. I don't believed I sacrificed anything major, but I did give up a little bit of pride. On second thought, I did sacrifice something... I sacrificed a sense of selfishness that was only hurting me and my work. This one, I am OK with giving up. I was able to look beyond my own wants and needs (some very valid and valued) but had to be put aside.
Our own agenda sometimes has to be sacrificed in order for the bigger picture to be painted. For the program to run smoothly, for the community to be cohesive. I am not implying we change who we are. On the contrary, but to consider the alternatives of looking at things in a different ways, doing things differently, perhaps accepting the necessary sacrifice we must make for the greater good... whatever that greater good is---we are all allowed to have our own definition of greater good!  For me it's access to education, for others is world peace.

Sometimes, it's not about you or me, it's about the operation and implementation of the initiative. While we all have tendencies and are driven to do, do, do, let's do it all, let's be all, but let us not make the ultimate sacrifice of giving up who we are. We are who we are and while we may need to tweak a few things here and there about how we handle life situations, depending on what the circumstances are, sacrifices need to me made. That's OK. I am OK with that, it's part of life. Sometimes it's about the integrity of the work we do and the final goal we must reach.

Sometimes we just have to take one for the team.

Sunday, November 4, 2012


Carrie Bradshaw said in the first and preferred "Sex and the City" movie to Louise, from St. Louis, "have fun, that's what your twenties are for. Your thirties are for the lessons. Your forties are to pay for the drinks." Well, thank you, Carrie, for that extremely accurate synopsis of the last decade in my life.

So, in just a few short days, three to be specific, I will be turn thirty eight. Ugh... is my first reaction. While Carrie's commentary clearly stresses the fact that she is indeed the 40 year old-paying for the drinks-kind-of- friend, I am not quite there yet. What is relevant to me and my current state of birthday denial and extreme desire to forfeit turning a year older, I do have to admit she is oh so right.

Lessons learned in your thirties should be the title of this entry, but the decade is not over, so I won't wrap things up presuming I have learned everything in life in eight years and am ready to move on to bigger and better things. There are two more left in this lovely collection of years that will soon add up to ten. Ten! My son is ten. It's been ten years since I became a mother, which in fact, has been a gift, a role, yes, a lesson, I have only learned and embrace with all my heart, in my thirties. I am grateful for that, especially in the last year. Because if I wasn't ever described as a Mama Bear ready to aim her claws at ANYONE who attempts or stupidly admits to hurting my child, I am one now. So beware...Smile! ;)

My thirties sure have been eventful. Some events, sad to say, not as joyful, as others, however challenging, welcomed and undeniably necessary. I remember the big bash my family threw me for my 30th. Jess' Italian Bistro. My dad and my brother came from Puerto Rico. It was a very happy time, while short-lived, full of fun memories and the best pics of a blond Luis, two at the time, hanging out with his uncle Jerry.

For some reason when I turned 31, I thought I was falling from the peak of a mountain top. I had reached my peak, in my head, in my heart. It was not fun and we will leave it at that. The next few years brought the lessons we only sign up for by living, the ones that you are not taught in the classroom, but by life itself. These are the lessons I thought I never had to take, especially pass, but here I was, sitting in the front row of "THIS IS YOUR LIFE: What are you going to do with it?" Section 455. That's advanced and upper level, in case you are wondering and the grading scale: PASS or FAIL.

Separation, moving out of the country, attempting to start a new life, while desperately trying to reconnect with an old one to no avail, new jobs, new/old everything, divorce, redefining life "as I knew it.", or so I thought. Can I just write a paper and be done? I am good at that? Voice steps in: Nope. Live, that is what you must do... and figure it out.

Ok, STOP! If you are sad, feel sorry for the things happened, please STOP! Yes, thank you Upstairs. This is meant for the reader as well as for myself. A nice little nudge to focus on the positive is needed occasionally. You see, what I lived and experienced here, and there, and everywhere, trying to get out of a fog that was keeping me from seeing things clearly, was part of the class. Was it difficult? Of course! Breakthrough! As an adult, my process of awakening began. I was 33. An acute sense of awareness began to rise and my voice was starting to get loud.

It was the time when Beyonce so beautifully belted out "Listen."  Between that song and "Patience" my life was becoming a side storyline in "Dreamgirls." In a nutshell, what I was living was a series of life experiences, which included being labeled as a "single-mom", "divorced" and God only knows what else, because I know there were more. But you know, what? Through it all, somehow, no matter how much I have questioned God, yes, YOU upstairs,  (the why's, oh, yes, the why this and why that...) you never left my side. Honestly, and it may sound cheesy, but my faith has been my only loyal and true companion through the last eight crazy years in the rollercoaster of my life.

I prayed to get out of a situation, in which staying put, the socially acceptable alternative, was worse than running and taking the heat for it. I prayed for clarity and understanding of old folk tales that haunted my memory. I prayed for a new opportunities that challenged me in the most remarkable ways. My prayers have been answered, slowly, but surely. I continue to pray for patience and that in the last two years of my thirties I am more patient and understanding of circumstances that are beyond my control, perhaps not meant to be... or meant to be a certain way, not my way.  I will continue to pray for life, love, second chances, friendship and for the notion that I will expire at 40 to go away. You are all welcome to help me with that one. ;)

In the last eight years I have learned to appreciate who I am. In the last eight years I have found my voice. In the last eight years I have been blessed with having incredibly loving people come into my life, leave my life, come into my life again, and so on. Thanks to them, the lessons continue. In the last years I have watched my son grow up and become a smart, beautiful and thoughtful boy, who teaches me every day to be patient and to listen... In the last eight years skills have sharpened and passions for causes that include educating the poor, inspiring generosity in others and finding ways to provide access to students who want it, not just need it, help me get up every morning.

Thanks to the last eight years I know what I want. For the next two years, and I guess, for the next decade to come, I will continue to pray so the lessons I have learned only do good and inspire others...