Tag Archives: identity

Costumes

Yesterday afternoon I wrote a post in advance, then “scheduled” it so I could read it in the morning, edit and publish. Apparently WordPress ate the 700 word post. Oops. I have no idea how that happened. But spending a lot of time trying to recover a lost document is a waste. It’s best just to get started on the next one without a lot of drama or delay.

This morning I will meet with a VP for our Corporate Science and Technology division at work, my director’s boss. He has been a career mentor for me, and my director has encouraged me to meet with him once a quarter as I figure out my next move.

I am typically anxious about what to wear to such meetings.

My work “costume” has been evolving a lot in the past year or two. I already wrote about “grown up clothes” in a previous post. I had always read that you should dress for the  position to which you aspire, or at least a level up, not necessarily the position you have. In corporate leadership functions at my company, that typically means for women dresses and heels.

As someone more comfortable in jeans and t-shirt, that was a transition for me. But I embraced my feminine side and realized that dresses are actually more comfortable than pants most of the time. A friend of mine likes to say they as comfy as pajamas but people actually think you look nice! She’s right about that, except during Minnesota winter, when they just seem stupid when your legs and feet are cold for the sake of fashion.

Work clothing can be a kind of “armor” we put on in the morning, to convey a sense of authority or power. As long as we feel comfortable with what we wear, and it does not “clash” with our sense of ourselves, I think it can enhance our confidence. Fake it until you become it, as Amy Cuddy says in her Ted Talk. A few wonder woman poses before a big event will not hurt either. Your body language may speak even more highly than your clothing, so it is worth being mindful of how comfortable you feel and what you project.

Clem in chaps - Canada

My hubby in chaps during our trip July 2017. This was taken in Canada.

I realize that what I project at work does not really capture authentically who I am, and I am trying to figure out if I can bridge that gap. My husband bought me riding chaps last year before our summer motorcycle trip around Lake Superior. A friend teased me about it because he thought of chaps as a sex fetish thing. But hubby likes to say “dress for the slide, not the ride.” I know that my work colleagues would probably be shocked to see me dressed in jeans, chaps, and a black motorcycle jacket. It definitely does not alight with my work costume or the image I have sought to project at work.

At the same time, the motorcycle gear “costume” expresses my desire for freedom and for being engaged with the world in a different way. In a very practical sense, it is safety gear. And it is also represents a different part of my identity that is not something I feel comfortable bringing to work.

As I write this, I also know that the mask I wear as part of my work costume is getting a little old and tired as well. Having to feign enthusiasm for a job that is “over and done” for me in a fundamental way takes a lot of energy. It is not something I can do for much longer.

I believe that when we bring our whole, authentic selves to work we excel and produce our best work. Maybe there is room for that in my corporation, and maybe not. It is worth speaking up about my real feelings and thoughts to see if this is met with acceptance or with rejection. Either way, I will know whether I might find some other place in the organization or whether I need to move on.

Costume change, please!

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Learning to dance

I don’t dance. I am trying to remember when I last danced. I guess it might the time I drank a couple of strong aguardientes in Colombia and danced for a few minutes at Andres Carne de Res with a couple colleagues. Now that I have given up alcohol, I can’t see myself repeating that. I needed to be a bit sauced for it. I danced a bit in high school, to those stupid pop songs where people just move around to the music. I guess that really cannot be called dancing. I certainly never thought of myself as good as it. And I was way too self-conscious about my body to do more of it.

Latin danceHow’s that for defying a Latina stereotype?

I have rhythm, so that’s not the problem. When I was a little girl my Dad would put earphones on my head and I would start swaying my head. He thought it was adorable. My family is very musical, as I discovered when I went back to Mexico 3.5 years ago to visit.

I played the flute in middle and high school, and the saxophone in high school. I was also in the choir for all of high school. I know music, and I certainly love music. But I don’t dance.

One of my favorite songs by Lady Gaga is the tune Just Dance. Ironic, no? I am a runner, and it is part of my running mix. When I hear it, I think of my run as a “dance” – just move, just keep going, even though things are hard (or so my interpretation goes…).

My favorite yoga teacher also teaches a Zumba dance class. She is a former professional dancer, and she is always so graceful in the way she moves. I keep wishing I were brave enough to go to her Zumba class. But I am not there yet.

Half fanaticsMy husband and I have this aspect of our lives in common. We met while we were pursuing relatively crazy running goals nearly 8 years ago. He was trying to become a “marathon maniac” and that year (2010) I became a “half fanatic.” To become a maniac, you need to run 2 marathons within 16 days or 3 marathons within 90 days. The fanatics had similar qualifiers.

I have always been more comfortable with numbers and measurable goals rather than artistic pursuits. It is why I went into the sciences rather than the humanities, perhaps.

U2

Taken at U2 concert – September 2017

Lately I have been noticing a desire to learn to dance. It is just the hint of a desire, not a compelling desire. My husband likes to tease me about my lack of dancing ability, my “white girl dance”, even though he is as self-conscious about dancing as I am. He took me to a U-2 concert last September and I moved to the music, but I wouldn’t call it dancing.

About 5 years ago, one of the team-building events my team did together was in Argentina. They took a tango lesson together, but I managed to get out of it. That was before I was the leader of the group, so I did not choose the activity. I was pretty determined not to humiliate myself in front of my colleagues.

I realize that my mental dialogue about dance is very much a product of my own insecurities. It is about how I silly I feel moving my hips in a way that probably is not “loose” and comfortable, like so many women. It is about how I think people expect me to be, as a Latina. Surely I cannot be a “beginner” at age 43?!?

Why is it that the beginner’s mindset in yoga or meditation is so much easier for me? I guess because others do not judge my meditation or yoga. I think my desire to dance is related to a desire for freedom. It is about not caring what other people think, and I want to get there someday. I realize I still harbor body shame, after many years of trying to lose weight, and not being okay with my body size or shape.

Dance is play. To dance is to be vulnerable. To dance is to use our bodies to express something that cannot be said in words. This is what dance represents to me. I am not sure yet when or how I will explore this desire. But in 2018, I will learn to dance.

 

 

 

 

 

(W)oh… Mexico

Do you know the James Taylor song “Mexico”?

You can look it up on You-Tube if you have not heard it in a while. I looked it up recently because I could not remember all the lyrics.

I don’t like the line about “sleepy señorita” with eyes on fire.  That feeds into a cultural stereotype that rings dissonant and untrue to all the non-sleepy Mexicanas I know, that work harder than 99% of the Americanos I know. But other than that, Taylor’s song is a dreamy fantasy on his idea of what Mexico must be like:

Woh, down in Mexico, I’ve never really been so I don’t really know.

Woh, Mexico, I guess I’ll have to go.

Muerte con colores

Muerte con colores (taken on Isla Holbox, Mexico – Sept 2017)

Next week I will travel to Mexico to interview some clinical research specialist candidates for an open position on my team. I always enjoy visiting, even though I prefer the country-side and the beach to the big city. I feel at home in Mexico in a way, even though my skin is lighter than most people (thanks to my Swedish grandmother) and I am also taller than most people there, at nearly 5’8″.

I guess you could say I have a romance with Mexico. It makes sense. Half of my blood ancestry is from there, and when I speak Spanish, it is with the same accent as my Dad, from whence my language skills arose as a young child. When I speak with my colleagues in Latin America, sometimes they ask me where I am from. I am sure they are thinking: “Her accent sounds authentic, but her grammar sucks! Where the heck did she learn her Spanish?”

Well, perhaps they judge me less harshly than I judge myself. But since it takes me about 48 hours down there to “flip on” the Spanish module in my brain, my grammar usually takes a little while to catch up with my communication intentions. My “lengua materna” – my “mother tongue” is English. Typically for children our mother tongue is our primary language, our base from which other languages can grow, if we speak more than one.

Early in my childhood, I visited Mexico. When I was 1, 3 and 7 we visited during the summers (my parents were teachers). I was “mariposa” and “reinecita” to my grandparents there, butterfly and little queen. Early photographs of me with them show their pride in me. They loved how I looked at my wrist as though there was a watch when people asked me “qué hora son?” (what’s the time?) even before I could really speak. They knew I understood.

Courtyard in Saltillo

Courtyard in Saltillo, Coahuila, Mexico

When I was 7 years old, my Dad his lost his Mom to cancer (the same year my Mom lost her Father to cancer) and after that, he did not have the heart to visit his home town of Saltillo again for decades. Dad is not fond of airplanes, and he prefers to drive down. I flew down in 2014 to meet him there, while he drove the long journey after a stop in Texas to visit with his sister and her family.

I spent about a week there, and I was fascinated to discover how musically talented my family is, and how beautifully they sing and play the guitar together. My Dad has been a musician for much of his life, playing on weekends and during the summer as a “side gig” even though his main profession was as a bilingual teacher. I wrote before about how my Mom first met him when she studied in Mexico after graduating from college in less than 4 years to teach Spanish.

I called Mom from Mexico during that trip, while I was staying in the duplex where my four of my aunties live. Two of my aunties are nuns, one of them is a widow and one is married with two beautiful children. Mom asked me if now I knew why she fell in love with Dad and his whole family. Indeed I did. They are lovely people, and their hospitality was amazing. I connected with aunts, uncles and cousins I had not known before. Some of us also connected on social media and still stay in touch that way.

Returning to my roots and knowing them better helped me know myself better. I have always been more connected to Minnesota and my Mom’s family. As I keep returning to Mexico periodically for work or vacations, I continue to experience a sense of re-connection within myself. I was born in Wisconsin, and identify myself now as a Minnesotan, having lived more than half my life here if you count summers in my youth.

Isla de pajaros

Isla de Pájaros  (Bird Island) near Holbox, Mexico

Yet Mexico continues to call to me, a siren song that enters my consciousness when I consider leaving my current job. I try to imagine what other kind of work would allow me to keep visiting there regularly. This is a kernel I need to keep in mind as I consider my alternatives.

I love exploring many countries, cultures and places. This is one aspect that keeps me in my current position, these precious international travel benefits. But I am especially interested in cultures that speak Spanish, since this is a part of my origin and ancestry as well. My husband and I have plans someday to honeymoon in Europe, but we are saving up for this. I do not like to go into debt now that I am in my 40’s. My husband has always wanted to visit the U.K., as have I (my grandfather on my mother’s side is from Cornwall). I also want to explore the Spanish countryside. Someday perhaps I will get to Sweden to see where my great-grandmother was born.

But a big part of my heart is in Mexico, and will never leave there. My feminist grounding tells me my role in empowering women (and men) I work with currently is a an important investment of my time. Then I consider other ways I can contribute to the country of my ancestors, while bridging the gap in understanding among the people I know here in Minnesota.

I am still figuring out what the next step on the path will look like for me. And some part of me tells me it will not be a well-worn path, but rather one in which I will need to bring a hatchet or some clearing tools to get through dense vegetation. It may need creativity and a clearer vision of what is possible.

I have been consulting mentors, teachers, peers and wise leaders on advice and thoughts about how to think about my future vocation. But ultimately, I will need to enter into the quiet wilderness of my soul to discover what she means to me, this Mexico that calls to me both in sleeping and waking hours.

Yum Balam protected island

Sign on a protected island we visited while on vacation – Holbox, Mexico (Sept 2017)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Where is home for you?

courtyard-in-saltillo.jpg

Courtyard in Saltillo, Mexico, where my Dad’s family still lives (2014)

Where is home for you?

This is a question my mother-in-law asked me once, thinking perhaps that I would answer “Bemidji” where my grandparents had lived, where I spent my summers growing up, where my parents had retired.

But I did not answer, and had to think about that question.

I moved once a year from 2010 to 2014, pulling up my lightly rooted self, trying yet another location to see what might feel more like where I belonged.

I have lived in Neillsville, Wisconsin, Delavan (WI), Swarthmore (PA), Bemidji (MN), Mountain View (CA), San Francisco, Minneapolis, Saint Paul, Roseville (MN), New Brighton (MN), Eden Prairie (MN). Now I live in White Bear Lake, where we moved three years ago when my now-husband was leaving Mankato, to join me in the Twin Cities. I lived in St. Paul at the time and we wanted to compromise on living in the city, or a more “small town” type of environment.

Fox Lake Park

Park in White Bear Lake adjoining our town home

Our rented townhome adjoins a lovely wooded park area where we often see deer, turkeys, and some type of pre-historic sounding large bird which we have not yet conclusively identified.

It has been home to us for over 3 years now, and we comfortable here, but someday we would like to buy our own home, so that we do not have to answer to a homeowners association, and to have a bigger garage that my husband can use for a workshop.

Delavan felt like home to me from age 2 to age 18 when I lived there. My parents and sister and I lived in a two bedroom townhome apartment in this small town, in a safe neighborhood. But during the summers (my parents were teachers) we would go north to Bemidji, where my grandparents lived, and we spent time on the lake. So during my childhood, we was fortunate to have an escape from being close to our neighbors.

When I left for college, I wanted to spread my wings and get outside the Midwest, even though I almost chose Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota. I’m a Wellstonian politically, and I had an affinity for Carleton after spending a summer there at a Writing Camp.

Fortunately I had enough financial aid to be able to go to Swarthmore College, and I loved the four years I was there. The final one I struggled with some depression, and I understand this is not so uncommon for college seniors about to embark on the “real world” and trying to figure out their true identity outside of being students. I had the help of a wonderful counselor in the student health center, who got me through changing my major, and some fairly big struggles with eating issues and identity questions.

When I left college I moved to the Bay Area of California for a while. I had read Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City, and I had also spent a summer doing research at Stanford in Palo Alto, and I’d fallen in love with California. I truly enjoyed the two years I lived there, riding my bike everywhere, taking public transportation every where else and embarking on “grown up” work and life. I rented my first apartment (since I had lived in dorms in college) and met a man who would become my husband (for about 8 years, the remainder of my 20’s).

I had many friends who lived in the area as well, most of them who I knew from college, and we had many good times. I had worked in a lab at Stanford on the good graces of my research professor for a while, but without a graduate degree, work in the sciences did not seem like the most interesting option at the time. I had no trouble finding temp offices jobs (it was the 90’s). They were plentiful but not lucrative, so I found myself going into debt while trying to live well and keep up with the lifestyles of my friends, who were mostly techies, so had disposable income.

When my grandma got sick and had heart surgery in 1998 I decided that I had spent enough time away from the Midwest of my youth, so my husband and I opted to move to the Twin Cities. It is a 4-hour drive to Bemidji, close enough to family, but with a buffer of privacy which I always seem to crave.

After only two years of saving aggressively and living in a cheap, garden-level apartment we were able to wipe out our debt and buy our first home in Saint Paul. I fell in love with Saint Paul and got very involved with political campaigns there, where I met neighbors and made a lot of friends. I started graduate school because work bored me. Working toward a Master of Liberal Studies degree part-time while working full-time was a way to keep learning while paying the mortgage.

When my marriage broke up in 2005, I bought myself my own town home in Saint Paul, a cute little Spanish-style end unit in a 4-plex in Highland Park. I probably ought to have rented for a while instead of buying on the high side of the real estate boom. But I loved the place while I was there, and I relished being happily single again.

So back to the question (asked in 2016): Where is home for you?

Jazz and Cocoa yin yang

I had only one answer. Home is where my fiance (at the time) and kitties are. I have lived so many places and had the luxury of traveling and visiting many countries in my life. I will say that I feel at home in some ways when I am in Mexico, but it is not MY home. The photo at the beginning of this post is the beautiful courtyard of family in Mexico, and I certainly felt at home when I visited in July of 2014.

Minnesota is my home now, and where I see myself living for the foreseeable future. I have lived here more permanently since 1998 and that is nearly 20 years now. I made some bold pronouncements during the Trump campaign when I declared that, if he builds a wall, I will go live SOUTH of it.

As a daughter of an immigrant parent and a parent who lived in Minnesota and Wisconsin in her life, I feel freedom and privilege to declare my home as anywhere I feel loved and safe. The world is my home. It is our home. I have clean air to breathe and clean water to drink.

Home right now is Minnesota. Even though I am not the biggest fan of winter, I love the change of seasons. Summers are lovely and Spring and Fall make my heart sing. I often dream of retiring to Mexico, or perhaps living half the year there, and living on the North Shore of Lake Superior in the Spring/Summer/Fall. I am trying to convince my husband this would be a good idea; he does not argue too much, though he would like to find an expat community in Mexico, since he is not fluent in Spanish as I am.

I realize this reflects the privilege I enjoy as an American, and as a person with enough means to be able to live where I choose. And I am deeply grateful for this. I am always home. I will always be loved. I am grateful to be safe in this place.

Lake Superior at dusk

Lake Superior at dusk; taken June 2014 at Larsmont Cottages

 

 

 

 

Happy birthday, Mom

Today is my Mom’s birthday. I want to write about her to honor her today and let her know what she means to me. Mom is my earliest teacher and one of my best teachers. She is an advocate who has always been in my corner, and I am so grateful for her. Mom was the youngest of three siblings in her family, 9 years younger than her older sister and ~4.5 years younger than her brother. She was not spoiled as the youngest, and in fact probably had a tougher road than her siblings in some ways.

I do not know a lot about Mom’s childhood, except stories of mean cousins that bullied her sister, her brother and her. I know she loved to play outdoors (as people in Northern Minnesota tend to do) and that she had a wicked case of poison ivy once. This led to a fierce allergy, and treatment via layers of calamine lotion, which could be scratched off with a hair brush.

Mom attended college in the 60’s and one of my favorite stories was how my Grandma had decided to attend college at that same time as well (when Grandma was in her 50’s). For Mom, college was an expectation, from her parents who knew that education was an asset. She did not love school, but she enjoyed studying music and Spanish. In contrast,  Grandma had always wanted to go to college, but raising a family starting at age 23 during the depression did not leave resources to be spent on college. Also: women were not expected nor encouraged to go to college in the 1930’s.

So my mother had to cope with her own mother attending classes with her, and Grandma being absolutely intrigued and engaged with the opportunity. I daresay Grandma was probably a teacher’s pet in some ways. Because this was a path Grandma chose, she wanted to maximize the experience, so she was one of those students who did ALL the reading, and sometimes challenged her professors with her questions. Mom was not quite 18 when she started college, much younger and probably not as devoted.

However, she was devoted enough to study to become a Spanish teacher (and perhaps music as well) and she completed her course work quickly enough to finish in only 3.5 years. Since she finished early, she bravely determined she wanted to go to Mexico in order to study Spanish on a more immersion basis. In 1965 they opted to spend a summer (or maybe a year, I will have to check) there to truly experience the language. Since Mom also wanted to be able to teach her students music someday – songs are a great way to learn a second language – she sought some guitar lessons in the town in Northern Mexico where they lived (Saltillo).

I keep reflecting on what a brave thing this was to do in those days, to go to a foreign country and to sign up for classes in another language! We take for granted in our generation the ability to Google things, to research everything we want to know on the internet. In the 1960’s that just was not a possibility. One had to have a certain amount of trust that things would work out in order to embark on these sorts of adventures. But embark she did, and of course there is a story I may tell at a different time of her meeting my Dad, who was her first (and possibly only) guitar teacher.

There are a good many stories about their time in Mexico, my Mom and my Grandma, and perhaps I will ask Mom if I can write more about those. Suffice it to say, my Mom taught me this early lesson in being brave and following my curiosity, by her early example. Mom has always had a generous heart, and she fell in love not only with my Dad but with his family as well. Not all of my Dad’s sisters liked Mom. After all, he was the oldest brother in a family of 7 girls and 4 boys. The younger ones were particularly suspicious that Mom was going to “kidnap” their beloved brother and take him back to the States with her. Indeed that is the story my Dad sometimes tells, but the storyteller weaves the tale they want to tell.

My Mom taught me to be grateful for what I have, and to express that gratitude openly. To this day, I tend to write thank you notes for birthday gifts, Christmas gifts and most recently, wedding gifts. I do not always get around to this, and usually I feel a bit guilty about that, but I have compassion with myself. It is actually a rare art, hand-writing thank you notes these days, but I am glad it is a practice she instilled in me.

Mom taught me to be kind to people, no matter who they are or what their station in life, and Dad very much reinforced this message as well. She still is one of the kindest and most generous-hearted people I know. I only wish she could be kinder to herself sometimes. She is the type of person you can rely on when you are down, to try to cheer you up. She has deep empathy for the suffering of people, and she is thoughtful about sending cards to friends, in good times and bad. My sister and I thought she should own a greeting card store, she had such a knack for picking out the right card to say just the right thing when it is needed.

After spending a few years teaching after her return from Mexico, and after my Dad got his degree here in the States (a second bachelor’s after his first one completed in Mexico), she decided to stay home. She wanted to raise her family and devote her time to this endeavor. In the 70’s that was a somewhat radical act, given that most women were insisting on working outside the home, even with children. But Mom really wanted to BE a Mom, and I am still grateful for all the time and energy she gave to my sister and me. I could probably write an entire book (and someday I might) on the lessons my Mom has taught me over the years. For now, I just want to express profound gratitude and wish her a happy 73rd birthday. Thank you for everything, Mom.

Happy birthday, Mom

 

 

 

Being mexi minnesotana

The time draws near for that infamous anniversary, when we realized that all the pundits and many of the news networks were wrong, and that a seemingly impossible result could in fact happen. I remember being worried, very worried last year at this time, and checking the Five Thirty Eight blog rather obsessively. I remember wondering, as I door-knocked neighborhoods in St. Paul to remind voters to get out to the polls on election day, whether we were in for a long and troubled time.

vote

It seemed impossible to me that someone with no political experience, not even minor political office could end up running the country’s executive office. But my conversations with people, even lifelong democrats on my likely voter list, was not convincing me that Hillary could win. I had done some sporadic volunteering on her campaign during the summer and fall before the election, and I was not getting the kind of reception I had received in other campaigns. I was worried about all the millennials that told me they were not sure they would vote, that they thought Bernie Sanders had been dealt a raw deal by the Democrats.

Surely they did not believe that staying home and allowing the Republican nominee to win was preferable to having a seasoned and competent leader in the role? It baffled me, how little the sexism and racism that fell from The Donald’s mouth could be ignored. But I was also bothered by Hillary’s characterization of Trump supporters as a “basket of deplorables.” Clearly not all of the people who were voting “against” her were sexist, racist bigots. It was not until after the election, when I read JD Vance’ book Hillbilly Elegy, when I began to understand what the Democrats (my own party) had missed.

There is a lot of pain in “middle America” and in vast swaths of our country. The recession and financial crisis of 2008-2009, precipitated by years of financial deregulation, dramatic breakdowns of corporate governance and excessive borrowing by households and Wall Street had devastating impacts on people and families. But even before that, several decades of decline in union membership and power, decreases in real wages for working families, and other changes in the stability and security of families has led to anxiety and apprehension about the future.

rural

While I was shocked on election night and the next day, I was also somewhat prepared for what might happen. The result felt particularly bitter to me because I am half Mexican. Trump kicked his campaign off by insulting Mexicans. I will not spend time repeating his words, which were clearly spoken to incite people and their emotions. What I do want to contribute is a perspective that is somewhat unique in that I was born here in this country, to a Mexican father and a mother from Minnesota. I grew up in southern Wisconsin, after my parents moved us when I was two years old from small town in northern Wisconsin that had an active KKK chapter.

My parents needed to find a place where they felt safe, and fortunately my Dad was able to find a job teaching bilingual students in a small town that had a number of migrant workers. I was fortunate to grow up in a small town where we were safe. Though my Dad and various members of my family endured some episodes of racism, as a respected teacher and upstanding member of the community, he demonstrated strength and courage to me. My Mom was a pillar of the community as well. While my sister and I were young, she stayed home with us, and she was a “mother” to our whole neighborhood in a way. Many of the children had both parents working outside the home, out of necessity. Mom sat out on the back porch to watch us play, and by extension she watched over the whole neighborhood.

Many families today do not have the stability and connection that we enjoyed while growing up. While my family had to make certain sacrifices to raise us with only one income, I was never hungry and I never went without basic necessities. My parents were kind to one another. Even though they argued sometimes, as normal adults do, in the course of their relationship, we did not witness violence in our family. I grew up feeling like I was meant to be here, that I had an important place in this world, whether or not I fit into various social groups or cliques at school. My parents instilled in me a sense of belonging.

There were a number of Mexican families in our school district, as well as Puerto Rican families and others who worked on local farms and in local factories. I never felt quite like one of “them” nor did I feel like one of the white kids, exactly. Since my skin color can be described as more like my Swedish grandmother than my Mexican Indian grandfather, to my chagrin, I am paler than I want to be. In those days, and even today, it means that I often “pass” as white. Usually, until people learn my last name, they have no particular suspicion that I am Mexicana. I have no accent, having been born here and learned English as my first language, though Spanish without accent as a close second language when I was young.

multicultural

This gives me a strange amount of privilege because, while I cannot claim to speak up for Mexicans, being a daughter of one means it is a part of my identity. But I am white, so when people talk about identifying as a “person of color” I feel somewhat like a fraud in that regard. Granted, I am who I am, and being multicultural is a source of pride rather than shame. In that vein, when I considered what to do as a result of the 2016 election, I realized I needed to reach deeply inward, and then begin to write and share my experiences. I feel an obligation to speak, to write, to use my voice to help others enter into important conversations about class, culture and race. Those of us with privilege must deeply support those who do not have their share of these same freedoms that allow me to do this.

I have deep empathy for those who cannot use their voice, for those who must live in the “shadows” of this great country. Some, through no fault of their own, were born here but are undocumented. Many came from other countries to build better lives for their families and to have hope for future generations to be educated and free to choose their paths and their identities. This is the great hope of what America means, in my view.

Granted, if I were a white person in rural America, facing joblessness, a broken family, a hopeless situation about the future, I would have a different perspective. Those brown people that do not speak my language are starting to move into “my” town in greater numbers! They don’t even speak English, for god’s sake! I can see how threatening this might seem, especially when the future is uncertain for everyone, and we are given messages of “fear” all around us in our media. I have deep empathy for this fear, for this state of feeling not valued.

Every human being on this planet is worthy of love and forgiveness. I believe this deep in my bones. In fact every living being belongs here. Being “mexi minnesotana” is an evolution for me. Understanding myself, my true identity and fully claiming ownership of that has not always been easy. It can sometimes be exhausting, in fact. I am a minority within a minority. But now, even more than ever, we need voices to come forward in our community that could not be heard before. We need to establish Tribes based on commonly held values rather than just ethnicity or gender, or even political affiliation.

So this brings me to the original reason I started this blog. I often write about my personal journey to health and wellness, though I originally intended to focus on politics and privilege. But a focus on wellness is one I believe everyone needs, to focus on their own wellness and wholeness, before serving others (or simultaneously if possible). This helps us gather strength for the long road ahead, for the “battles” we have to fight but also the conversations that will help knit back together the fractured communities in which many of us live. We must do this, the world depends on us to speak our truths, to be our authentic selves. It is vulnerable and sometimes scary, and it is what is demanded of these times.

I thank you for reading, and appreciate all of the wonderful bloggers out there who I read more and more. You are moving the world and human consciousness in a brave new way. Thanks for allowing me to be part of this conversation.

 

 

Child-free at 43

Chairs by the water

Entering my second marriage is a good time to reflect on my life and the choices I have made thus far, and to appreciate the journey. Thankfully my husband shares my commitment to being child-free and we are aligned on this life orientation. I was not so aligned in my first marriage, but I was young, and he was idealistic. At age 22.5 I told him: “I do not want to have children. I have never wanted children, and I am fairly certain I will not change my mind.” His response: “oh, you will change your mind. Everyone does.” I disagreed, but I told him he could take the risk and he married me anyway.

At age 30 when we divorced, I realized I had been putting off finishing my master’s degree completion partly because school was how I justified putting off having children. If I finished the degree, I no longer had the excuse to shield myself from doing something I really did not want. Interesting that Elizabeth Gilbert’s book Eat, Pray, Love came out in 2006, a couple years after my decision to leave my marriage. I did not discover the book until 2013, after I saw the movie version, which never does the book justice. When I re-discovered it and then listened to the audio version read by the author, I realized Gilbert expressed so many profound realizations I had also experienced in my own story.

When Meghan Daum released her book Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed I realized that there was important cultural conversation here, and that women like me need to come forward and tell their stories. I have not yet read the book but it is on my reading list. “Auntie” Liz Gilbert explores the issue further in her book, Committed: A Love Story. She speculates that “a certain degree of female childlessness is an evolutionary adaptation of the human race” and I am inclined to agree with that. She calls childless women the Auntie Brigade and explains their role in supporting and nurturing those who are not their biological responsibility, and that no other group does this to such a large degree. I have two aunts who are Catholic nuns in Mexico, and certainly one could not argue that their decision to forgo children was a selfish one.

I remember feeling relieved when I turned 40, because I figured people would stop asking me if I intended to have children someday. At some point, doesn’t that question seem pretty rude and intrusive to ask? I thought so.

I have enormous respect for parents and for the hard work that they do every day. I believe parenting is a serious responsibility and I appreciate those who give of themselves for this important work. I salute them (maybe you) and am grateful that, as I joke to my husband, there is no threat that the human species will become extinct if I do not procreate. But has never been an aspiration for me, and I do not apologize for that. In high school I remember writing an essay encouraging adoption rather than procreation, because so many children in the world need good parents. A teacher was quite upset with me over my point of view, saying “it is the smart kids like me who should be having kids” instead of the [presumably irresponsible] ones that end up having them. Then there was my Dad, who always told me to wait until I was 35 to get married and/or to have kids, because “once you do that your life belongs to your husband and children.” He wanted more for me, a life free to pursue my education and my career, unencumbered by the need to slow that down in pursuit of those other goals.

Granted, feminism has helped us come a long way in terms of women’s ability to make choices about their reproduction, a right we should never take for granted. We have also made great progress in terms of expectations for men in terms of family responsibilities. But we are far from achieving the kind of equality we need to create a thriving community that supports families adequately. In my own family, Mom stayed home with us until I was in high school, when she went back to substitute teach part-time. I am grateful for the sacrifices she made in order to be there for us, and she would say today that it was not a sacrifice, she wanted to raise us and be part of our lives in that way. So I wonder sometimes if my younger sister and I, with no children, just cannot imagine balancing children and work at the same time, which may have factored in our choices.

When I was in high school and college, I did a good amount of babysitting to earn money, and while I enjoyed playing with kids aged ~6 and older, infants and toddlers were never my favorite. Some women cannot wait to hold the baby when their coworker passes around a newborn. I feel more like the scene in the movie Mr. and Mrs. Smith, where she is holding the baby with a look of trepidation as though it might be a bomb about to go off in her hands.

Mr and Mrs Smith scene

I am grateful my parents never pushed me to have children, nor made me feel guilty for making the choices I have made. Many of my friends, including my husband, had to endure a lot of pressure from their families, and still some receive much questioning on their choices not to be parents. It is viewed as some type of character flaw rather than a personal choice and one that reflects a thoughtful decision-making process. My husband likes to joke that he’s “not into poverty or slavery” as the reasons he has never wanted children. While it is tongue-in-cheek, it also expresses a fundamental understanding that the decision to have a family is not a casual decision and it is one that requires a big commitment.

As I consider the work I do, and the role I play on my team, I remember that I was called “a mama bear” for my group. I was the person everyone sought out when there was an issue or a problem, or when they needed my help. When I took the Strength Finder assessment back in 2012 with my work team, and it came out with: Intellection, Input, Relator, Developer and Empathy, this made perfect sense to me. I get so much satisfaction out of helping to develop team members’ and colleagues’ careers. I had always attributed this to the fact that I come from a family of teachers, but maybe there is some deeper trait there. Perhaps I channel those “maternal” instincts in a different way from women who have children, and I still create value in the world in this way.

I am an introvert, and I enjoy a lot of quiet time and solitude as a way to keep myself balanced and centered. Children complicate that scenario. Perhaps my limited imagination, or way too much babysitting, did not allow me to envision a future where I could live my best life, contribute my gifts fully and be a parent. But in any case, I know at a deep, spiritual level, I have made decisions that keep me in my integrity while doing the best I can. Certainly I have made mistakes and there are things I could have done differently, but this decision I own deeply. I hope that others who make the same choice can embrace their decisions and feel worthy to live their lives as they see fit, rather than feeling shame or regret about not fulfilling others’ idea of how to life a good life.