Photo by Pauline Campos

If The Catcher in the Rye had a sequel based on a Spanglish-speaking Mexican-American homeschooling, allergic to everything, eating-disordered writer mama of one, I’d be a happy girl. Because then, at least, I could just hand people a copy of the book when they ask how I’m doing.

‘Fine?” That’s usually a lie.

“My cat just got ran over, thanks for asking,” could possibly be the truth, but when people ask other people how they are doing, no one really expects an honest answer if honesty means replying with anything other than “fine.” Except  I don’t have a cat. I do have three dogs, though. And a kid. And two websites and an agent and a manuscript sitting in a file because I don’t have a platform big enough to stand on and wonder if I ever will.

This isn’t a Poor Me post. Don’t get your violins out, folks. This is a Truth post; one in which I step out behind the bullshit and tell you that fine is a lie and that I miss my nonexistent cat because I am, in short, a fraud. Not the Push Up Bra and Spanx Coming Off On the Third Date kind of fraud, mind you, but the Holden Caulfield kind in which I find myself standing in the middle of the high school cafeteria, holding my lunch tray, not sure where to sit because I have no idea where I really belong.

I preach body pride and self-acceptance because for some of us, we can’t do the work required to care for ourselves if we don’t value ourselves. I encourage you to find your inner chingona, redefine your path on your own terms and to celebrate the hell out of her because no one else is going to do it for you. I say thing like Love Yourself As You Are NOW and Our Daughters are Counting on Us to Get (and Keep) Our Shit Together (And I mean them...for you). I want to mean them for me, too, and I figured that if I shouted it long enough and often enough from my soapbox that I’d start to buy my own bullshit, but that hasn’t happened yet.

That, my friends, pisses me off.

I want to connect and inspire and feel validated for what I say and what I do and what I am hoping to become and I see so many others doing exactly that while I sit back and cheer them on, not sure what I’m doing wrong to keep missing the boat or if the boat’s going to bother coming back to the dock again to give me another chance. I want to speak to women on the same journey and let them know it’s okay to be where we are right now as long as we keep trying because that’s what matters. I want to organize inspiring workshops and a regular conference for women to focus on fixing the mess inside of our own heads because our kids aren’t going to believe in their own self worth if they constantly see us tear ourselves down.

It’s the old airplane analogy: No point in passing out from oxygen deprivation while trying to get our kid’s mask on first if the cabin depressurizes. The only way we can truly be effective role models is if we fight every maternal instinct and put ourselves first for fucking once. Once our heads are clearing from the oxygen-deprived fog can we be there to ensure our children are breathing, safe, and secure in the knowledge that Mommy has her shit together. And this Mommy is busy focusing on raising a future self-respecting bitch who (I hope I hope I hope) will never second guess putting her happiness before society’s complex.

Maybe, I think, the boat is on to me. The boat knows I’m a fraud and frauds are not allowed on board. Only passengers who are truly at ease in their own skin who don’t look for and rely on approval and validation outside of themselves are allowed on this boat. I’m not there yet. I used to be. I will be again. But right here, right now, I’m a self-destructive mess who’s best bet it is to just let it all hang out because it’s the truth and it needs to be said.

I don’t have The Answers. I’m not standing at the Finish Line waving the Official Flag of Self-Acceptance because I haven’t run my own race yet. What I do have is a burning desire to share the crazy idea that it’s okay to be a fucking mess. It’s okay to have bad days and worse days and throw a party on the good days because they are so very worthy of celebrating. It’s okay to not love yourself (but want to) yet and it’s okay to talk about the bad in public because if we don’t then no one else will and the world will just continue to assume that “Fine” is the only acceptable answer to be given when they ask how we’re doing and that’s really just a giant disservice for those of us who need to know it’s okay to celebrate The Journey because The Destination is just a little too far away right now.

I’m not fine. In fact, I’m a royal fucking mess. My ADHD and anxiety are triggering my seven-year-old’s anxiety into fodder for her therapy appointments which happens to fall under the Mexicans Don’t Talk About That Sort of Thing category because it’s uncomfortable and much easier to sweep under the rug with the rest of our emotional baggage (like  the whispers about how pregnant the bride really was at the last wedding we went to while we collectively pretended to believe she wasn’t because it matters even though it really shouldn’t). It’s why I told The Husband I wanted yellow gold when he asked what kind of ring I would like when he was fishing for engagement ring hints because that’s what my family wore. It took me ten years to admit I hated yellow gold and really wanted platinum because that shit doesn’t work for me anymore, either.

Away with the rug. Let the dirt fly. And when the dust settles, I’ll still be standing here holding my lunch tray because I’m not sure where to sit because no matter where I choose, I feel like everyone else will judge me for my choice even though none of that should matter. But it does.

And I hate that.

I most decidedly do NOT have my shit together. You need to know that. It’s okay to be a royal fucking mess. You need to know that, too.  I miss my imaginary cat and I have very real cellulite and I have a sweet tooth and a closet eating habit. I don’t sleep enough and I am never on time unless a deadline and a paycheck is involved (or someone else is driving the bus.) My yoga mat is my zen place and I’m working my way back to being brave enough to step into the raging quiet inside my head (I’m almost there). I make sad things funny and funny things funnier because that’s how I deal.

I’m almost 37 years old and sans The Husband and the child, the words you see and the words you hear could be the same words I wrote when I was seven, 17, and 27.

All of this is today’s truth.

Now tell me…

How are you doing?

 
Wishing Her True Girl Body Pride

Photo by Pauline Campos

She was two when she first asked me where babies come from. Without knowing where I was going to go with it, I pointed up and watched her her head tilt up for her eyes to focus on the night sky above.

“The stars,” I said.

Her entire being lit up upon hearing these words and she snuggled up against me “Tell me more, mama.”

A wish sat upon a star, looking down at the world below.

A woman sat in the cool night air, her head tilted up at just the right angle for the wish to watch as she closed her eyes and began to move her lips, speaking words the wish could feel but could not hear. When the woman stood up and went back inside her home, the wish smiled in that way that only wishes do. If the woman had come back out and looked up at the sky in the exact spot where she’d been looking just moments before, she would have been awestruck to see how brilliantly the star now twinkled against the night sky. For it’s a little-known fact that a star’s ability to shine is directly related to the happiness the wish sitting upon it is experiencing.

I don’t remember not knowing that my mother was a senior inb high school when she got pregnant with me. Or that she got married right after graduation and had me instead of letting her parents talk her into an abortion.

I don’t remember not thinking I was an accident. That I was never meant to be. That her life could have been different.

I hold my daughter close and tell her that she was meant to be.

 

The wish’s star was positively glowing.

It was finally her turn.

The wish had lost track of how long she sat upon her star, joyously watching as other wishes were called upon each night. When it was their turn, each wish would smile and wave to those still waiting to be called upon. And then, once they were, in the moment just before they stepped off their respective stars, they’d shine brighter than any other in the sky. And then the wish would fall, leaving a trail of light in its wake as it made its way down to the earth, ready to become someone’s something.

 

I wasn’t planned. I wasn’t wished for.

I just…was.

Maybe a wish would become a playful little puppy for a sweet little boy, or perhaps a wish would imaging what it would become as it fell, purring to its heart’s content as its dreamer got fitted it with a pretty pink collar. Or maybe a wish was meant to be a rainstorm for a thirsty flower, or maybe a wish trailed off into a beautiful nothingness, its only calling from its dreamer being the precious opportunity to see a falling star.

 

I’ve never felt that accidentally coming into existence gave me the right to feel worthy of the air I breathe or space in which I reside. Keep in mind that my mother never made me feel guilty for being born. She loves me and the four surprises that came after me. We all know that. I just can’t shake the feeling that I never should have been and that’s not her fault. It’s just the way my brain works.

 

 And while all the forms a wish might take once breathed into life are great and noble, this wish was making her star positively beam from the happiness radiating from within, for hers was a very special journey.

 “What kind of journey was it, Mama?” the little girl asked her mother, already knowing the answer and smiling a sleepy smile as she began to fall into a dream.

Because once upon a time an accident purposely wished on a star and a miracle happened. I thank almost every day for being my wish. usually as I am tucking her into bed at night. She thanks me for wishing her true. And then she smiles as she drifts off into dreams.

 

 

An Open Letter to My Facebook Friends List:

I wanted to thank you all for helping me sort out the Cooking of the Turkey in the Roaster Thingy that goes on the Counter minus the Rack Thingy I couldn’t find. You are all geniuses and I wanted to let you know our little dinner turned out wonderfully.

Or not.

Actually, the tutkey turned out okay. The pre-dinner conversation was fucking fabulous. I’m a writer, so obviously, the evening was a total WIN.

Keep in mind that the following transcription is mostly true because totally true would mean I KNEW it was going to be this good and I’d have had my phone on record and that would mean I’m psychic and why would I be bloging FOR FREE THEN? So, let’s jump on to the convo, shall we?

The sweet potato casserole I made that never made it onto instragram. I must be slipping.

The sweet potato casserole I made that never made it onto Instagram. I must be slipping.

The Scene: Thanksgiving, Somewhere in Maine with Lots of Snow and a few Moose, 2014. The Husband has returned from work and dinner is *not* ready to go as he’d hoped.

Him: turkey smells great. How long till we eat?

Me: 2 hours later than you are hoping.

Him: Why?

Me: Because I got it going 2 hours later than you told me to.  Obviously.

Him: What the hell, woman? Can we start with the pie, then? I only ate half my lunch to save room.

Me: No pie. I was too busy asking FB if could cook the turkey in the Roaster Thingy that goes on the Counter minus the Rack Thingy I couldn’t find. Don’t worry, 27 friends liked my confusion and 19 commented, which is the only reason you aren’t giving thanks for peanut butter and jelly right now.

Him: Twenty-seven, huh?

Me: Or five. Whatever. The Queen of Spain says I’m good. That’s all anyone needs to know.

Him (checking the turkey): UPSIDE DOWN? You put the turkey in Upside Down? Who DOES that? And what does Facebook have to do with my lack of Pie?

Me: I had to wait for people to COMMENT, yo. You know how the Internet works, right? And what the hell? Upside down? What are you talking about?

Him (speaking deliberately and now enunciating every.single.syllable lest he scare the jumper off the bridge):  Wait. The Queen of What? Pauline, look at the turkey. Can you tell me where the breast went ?

Me (indignant): I went to high school with royalty. Jealous?

Him: Not really. Just hungry. The breast? Show me. (Calm down, people. He was pointing to the turkey.)

Me: (Looking. Processing. Y’all might wanna thank The Husband for not making you wait … ): Ummmm…

Him (reaching into flip the bird over): It’s RIGHT HERE, babe. (And yes. He pointed. Multiple times. As he turned the bird “right side up”, his eyes saw something else apparently even the manliest of men already know, and when he picked his jaw up from the floor, he said…) and so is the plastic. (Dramatic pause) …and all the bits normal people pull out of the Turkey before stuffing it.

Me (meeting his raised eyebrow with my own): We agreed we weren’t stuffing the Turkey.

Him: That’s all ya got?

Me: Is it edible?

Him: Yes, thank God.

Me: Exactly. And now that we’ve acknowledged the true meaning of today, do me a favor.

Him (grinning): Yes?

Me: Shut up, sit down over there, and give your little girl a kiss. I’ve got a conversation to transcribe before we eat.

END SCENE

Prologue: I didn’t finish baking till 9. They had a few store bought cookies for dessert. and yes, the upside down turkey was delicious

 

 

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She almost threw up on the way to Penn Station. Too many sites and too many late nights had taken their toll on my seasoned little traveler, but it couldn’t be helped. My work in the city meant 50 minute train rides to my friend’s place in the Bronx and by the time her head hit the pillow the day of my speaking gig, we were well past normal bedtime hours. Seven more stops before our stop, but the she was swaying on her feet, fighting to keep her eyes open and trying not to gag. We got out at the next stop.

This is how I found myself sitting on a subway platform, back to the wall, and my luggage serving as arm rests while an overly tired and extremely nauseous child slept with her head on my lap. We sat with my legs wrapped around her and I waited while she slept because I could always catch a later train home. It was that, or figure out how to carry the girl who didn’t complain once about how far we had to walk or how much she had to carry no matter how tired and hungry she was. Growing six inches in a summer and losing four baby molars in about as many weeks is enough to kick anyone’s ass.

I yawned because I was tired, too, but I had my badass lipstick painted on and my clothes clearly stated that I don’t often find myself sitting on the floor of a subway station so my child could rest because it was that or aiming for the cheapest pair of shoes on the train.

No one wants to be that mom.

I didn’t make a lot of eye contact with anyone. They were in a rush and I was tweeting and Facebooking and taking far too many selfies for the blog post I knew I would be writing later. “Hey, remember that funny story about the time I almost fell asleep on the train to Penn Station. mama?” I imagine Eliana slapping her thigh and laughing just a bit loudly in that way that will remind me that she is only seven going on 17. It will be funny later, I figure. Most likely starting from the moment I sit my ass down in coach the train ride home. The stories worth telling are never funny during.

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There is something magical about New York, unlike anything I have ever experienced elsewhere in that you could find yourself sitting on the cold cement platform watching the 2 trains stop and go and pick up and drop off. It’s a novel kind of privacy I actually enjoy during my short visits. I might live in the backwoods of Northern Maine but I’m originally from Detroit. I know how the game is played and the first rule is to avoid eye contact if you want to avoid conversations about the weather and why you don’t speak better Spanish. Truth be told, I didn’t feel like answering questions about my face or swollen knuckles. There’s something to be said for regularly exposing my body to an allergen that I didn’t know was an allergen for seven years straight. For a moment, I marvel at the fact that I didn’t kill myself by accident tripping over a random coconut a long time ago.

I knew I looked like hell. But I thought it didn’t matter because I was (mostly ) having a good day and I was wearing my badass lipstick and I wasn’t ashamed to be seen. Until A woman offered me a phone number for help me because the program she was recommending had helprd her to find the strength to leave her abusive lover. I wanted to cover my face. Instead, I replied in halting Spanish with assurances that my husband doesn’t beat me and that the face she was eying doubtfully looked the way it did because of extreme food allergies. I thanked her for caring enough to reach out while silently screaming at her inside of my head for stepping out of the cultural norm calling for everyone to pretend the bride at the latest family wedding isn’t already six months pregnant. We play the game and talk behind each others backs because it would be rude to point out the baby born just three months later isn’t some kind of miracle premie. This is what I ecxpected, but I’m instead being sized up by an elderly Latina who doesn’t give a shit about societal norms or why so many of them suck.

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I’m too busy being embarrassed by the face I forget other people will ask me about to press further about my domestic “situation” to take the card she was offering me. I think we could have become friends. The woman looked doubtful and gently  stroked her own nose, as if she could feel the discomfort she saw and this was how to soothe the hurt. Raw and red with inflammation, I briefly wondered if Rudolph maybe has the same allergy and if Santa carries his epi pen … just in case.

The woman left On her train. And then I made $105.

The platform filled and emptied again and again and I waited my little girl out because a week in NYC is enough to kick anyone’s ass and she did it with growing pains and visits from the Traveling Tooth Fairy. One man risked missing his train to run to me and hand me a $5 bill.  You didn’t ask me, he said. But go but yourself and your daughter something. And I said thank you to the closing  doors of the man’s train because he was handing me money one moment and on the train in a blink and I didn’t know what to say because I didn’t know what it was exactly that people saw when they looked at me.
I was the well-groomed stray cat sticking out in a sea of the dirty and streetwise. I obviously Belonged to Somebody and maybe the $100 bill another man just handed me would help me be found. Lord knows I wouldn’t hand a nickel to the outstretched hand attached to the toothless begger reeking of filth and whiskey just hours later. Maybe a sandwich. Maybe two, if he would smile in appreciation like the last homeless person I have my lunch to, because there’s a difference in asking for help and asking for a boost to get drunk and stay there. I’m betting those nice people who thought I needed saving figured I looked like a sure bet. Their act of kindness wouldn’t be wasted because I wore good leather boots and $16 per tube lipstick and took too many selfies with my new smartphone, just so I could delete all but 4 when I finally found the words I needed to write this out.

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I know I was exhausted. Adhd doesn’t lend to restful nights when traveling and no sleep. Having only minimal safe foods to eat until back on my own turf didn’t help in the clarity of mind department and my attempts to shrink into myself so as to avoid a total breakdown should one more good Samaritan dropping money in my lap were a total and obvious fail.
I was looking down at the very platform on which I sat, holding my kid and trying to figure out why I couldn’t process how I felt when two pair of black boots appeared within the frame of my lashes. The police officers only wanted to ask if I needed help because they had been told, by more than one person, that I might. I can’t say if they mentioned my face and the history they imagined went with it. Maybe I was fleeing from a hell I’ve never lived with all I could carry. Maybe my little girl was the reason I found the strength to leave. Please … help that woman, I imagine the cops are told by people normally too in a hurry to see  the roses they’ve stepped on, much less stopping to smell them. She doesn’t belong down there, they might say. She can be saved.
They smiled down at me. I saw  concern and compassion and I tripped on my words as I gave the fastest version I could of the truth, hoping it would be enough for them to leave because I was about to break from the weight of concerned questions and the  pitying glances that made me wonder if I’ll believe myself the next time I say something inspirational like You Define Your Own Worth and Ignore the Haters because self-perception is only half of the equation that makes up our own realities. The cops smile and wish me luck with the sleepy kid because I was believable because it was my truth and not a well-meaning stranger’s misplaced kindess. I am grateful. The bits of dignity I have left are so close to fraying. I need them whole. I need me whole. We have a train to catch to Penn Station, and if she wakes up right about…now… I see lashes fluttering … we won’t even have to run with our Too Much Luggage and tired legs and feet.
And then she was up and standing and a bit wonder-struck because she is the girl who gave up napping at 12 months old who today was so tired she slept on her mama’s lap on the platform for the 2 train.

I’m thankful she will only know what i tell her, after we are seated on the train taking us north, because few things rattle a child more than seeing a parent cry. I will tell her pieces of truth because she knows when I’m lying but not when I’m selectively eliminating truth from that which I share with her. I’m tired and hungry, and that I just needed a minute and I’ll be just fine. She nodded and hugged me close, reassuring herself more than me, but I didn’t mind because one day she won’t want me to hold her close. She is smiling at me, beautifully self-assured and confident in herself in my love. She is my rock, this girl is, and I wondered which one of us is actually teaching the other to celebrate our Chingona spirit and owning our worth.

She squeezed me tighter for just a moment before asking if she could move across the isle to spread out and play on her iPad. I nodded before closing my eyes. When I looked up a few moments later and our eyes locked, she giggled. I know I am loved. She smiled at me and suddenly I could breathe because I can see myself through my daiughters eyes and I am beautuful and strong and her everything. Because she sees me, I am no longer ashamed.

 

***

 

I wanted to add a note here at the end to tell you that I still have the $105 in my wallet. I’m not quite sure what to do with it. The logical first step is to determine if the hundred dollar bill is real. If it proves to be, I’m going to pay the kindness forward. I’m not sure how yet, but I am sure this will all play out just as it is meant to. I promise to share more later. For now, the story is shared, the words free from the cramped space in my skull, and I’ve got a date with a turkey needing to be stuffed. Happy Thanksgiving and thank you for validating me and the words I share.

 

 

 

casa-latina-blogher-logo-featuredWhen one door closes…Another opens.

My head is still reeling from my recognition as a 2014 Top Bloguera and subsequent passing on attending this year’s pre-LATISM conference retreat for the 100 blogueras due to time and distance. I’m sad to be missing out on this year’s event, but excited that Fate decided this weekend was going to be worth writing home about, anyway.

As of this very second, I have no idea where I am staying once we arrive or how we are getting there, but come hell or high water, I’m booked to speak at the Casa Latina Expo Home Expo in New York on  Saturday, Nov. 15. The event, co-produced by BlogHer (and featuring many of my Latina blogging and social media amiga-friends like Kathy Cano-Murillo, Jeannette Kaplun, and Helen Troncoso! From start to finish, the entire event looks like a winner and I am all kinds of excited to be a part of it.

I’ll be speaking on the 3:45=5 p.m. panel on Getting Recognized with Jeannette, Mercedes Sanchez, and Mariela Dabbah. The panel will focus on how to become a multi-media entrepreneur and market yourself as an expert in your niche. And pardon me while I go pack my big girl ‘chonis, ‘cuz wow.

I’ll figure out the logistics sometime between now and 3 p.m, on Saturday. Until then, let’s stick to one syllable words and very short sentences.

Yep.. much better

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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