Step on the Flowers

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Image courtesy of thaowurr.deviantart.com

One of the greatest difficulties of being a teen mom are some of the missed opportunities because you are trying to grow up and raise a child at the same time, it’s often difficult to stop and smell the flowers. But there are moments that you know matter, not only to you but to your child.

I had my first child at 18, my second child at 21 and my third child at 35. When my older children were younger, they loved picking the dandelions. They would bring them into the kitchen and I would stick them in a glass until they wilted, which was usually very quick. I always made a big deal about their humble gift to me, it mattered to them so it mattered to me.

A few days ago, my third child aka the bonus child noticed the dandelions as we were walking to the car.

He stopped mid-step and asked, “can I step on the flowers?”

“Yes, you can step on the flowers,” I replied.

He gingerly stepped on the dandelions, watching them crush under his captain america light up shoes. He giggled.

The next day, as we passed the same patch of dandelions, he stopped and stared.

Bending down to study the weeds he asked, “can I pick them for you?”

The memories of the bouquet of weeds I received 17 and 14 years ago flashed in my mind. My heart remembered of all those moments that mattered to my older children and how important it is to pay attention even to the weeds.

I pause more and try to see the world through the eyes of my bonus child. I know one day, he will bring in his bouquet of weeds and I will receive them as if they were prize roses, just as I did when his sister and brother brought them. The gesture of a child is so pure, if only we stop to step on the flowers.

A Thing for Dates!

Since I was a kid, I’ve had an amazing memory for dates. Birthdays, anniversaries of all types, it’s pretty obvious from my blogs. As I sit at home working on some freelance editing, ironing in between but mostly thinking about the fact that today is eve of another important date. Tomorrow we will celebrate 21 years of marriage. 21 years of laughter, fear, joy, pain, tears, celebrations and disappointments.

I was 18 yrs old when I got married and became a mother. Life was rough, we had no education or much family support. We struggled in every way possible. Everything was against us, even ourselves. We both came from very broken homes. Neither of us knew what unconditional love was or how to do it. It took many years of fighting, crying, growing and learning but we did it. We learned to love and respect one another. Do we struggle? Yes! But when I think about my life and what it is like to love unconditionally I am so grateful that we were stubborn enough to make it to 21 years.

 

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You are Now in Bedford Falls

“You are now in Bedford FallsBedford Falls

At the age of 13, I wanted to take my own life. My small world was crashing around me. I was doing horrible in school; my parents had transferred me out of public school back into a catholic school, a very small private school, with uniforms and the not so cool kids. My boyfriend had broken up with me to go out with someone who called herself my friend. I was told often that I was ugly and fat. No one understood me. I believed no one loved me.

I thought many times how I could take my life. I would write, “I want to die, everyone hates me” on my school books. One day my parents discovered it but I assured them that I was fine. I really wasn’t, I was lost and lonely. I got the all the Fs on my report card up to D minuses to get out of 8th grade. I chose to go to a small all girls’ catholic school that was a ten minute bus ride or about a 30 minute walk from home. Things got slightly better once I got to high school, my grades improved and I started to make some new friends. But I was still sad, still thinking about taking my life.

In the first semester of my freshman year, my English teacher thought she would torture us by making us watch “It’s a Wonderful Life” right before Christmas vacation. At that time, there was no real respect for the movie; it was on TV every day between Thanksgiving and Christmas. However, surprisingly I had never seen it. Each day, as I went to English class I fell in love with George Bailey but most importantly, I discovered the impact of one person’s life on so many. I began to see the value of life, even my life.

For the last 20 years I’ve kept a little ceramic sign (in the photo above)  where I could see every day that says, “You are now in Bedford Falls”. It serves as a reminder that I may not be exactly where I want to be but I’m exactly where I need to be. Our lives intersect with some many others, we matter to more people than we realize.

It’s my birthday…I’m 9, I’m 13, I’m 25….really!

This is a note that was published on Facebook on Aug. 14, 2010

 

Today I celebrate my 36th birthday. I think about all of my other birthdays. Some stand out, like the morning I turned 9. I woke up expecting to be different, taller maybe. So I tried to measure myself in my bed. I stretched out the sheet and laid next to it, then folded the end near my head. I stood up on my bunk, the top bunk and I tried to guess how many inches I grew since the night before. I waited to see if my parents noticed. Much to my disappointment no one ever said, “Wow, Steph! You grew 5 inches over night!”

Or like when I turned 13 and my mother threw me a surprise party. Gina took me shopping to get me out of the house. When we got home, all of my friends from Brentano were sitting in my living room. That night, Tori slept over, we celebrated our birthdays together because they were only a week apart. I had such high expectations for my teenage years. I thought, I had finally crossed the finish line, I was hanging with the big kids now. When I reflect on my teenage years, it was a very difficult time that I compounded with some bad decision making. It was a learning time.

For Christmas my boss gave me the book, “Woman Hollering Creek” by Sandra Cisneros. My boss thought I would enjoy reading some of her work. Cisneros wrote “The House on Mango Street” telling a story of a young girl growing up in Chicago, not much different from my life story. Of course I took a greater interest in Cisneros when I discovered we were alumni of the same high school. “Eleven” is a short story from “Woman Hollering Creek”. When I read it a few months ago, it struck a chord in me for many reasons. See my notes after you read the story.

 

ELEVEN  by Sandra Cisneros

What they don’t understand about birthdays and what they never tell you is that when you’re eleven, you’re also ten, and nine, and eight, and seven, and six, and five, and four, and three, and two, and one. And when you wake up on your eleventh birthday you expect to feel eleven, but you don’t. You open your eyes and everything’s just like yesterday, only it’s today. And you don’t feel eleven at all. You feel like you’re still ten. And you are—underneath the year that makes you eleven.

Like some days you might say something stupid, and that’s the part of you that’s still ten. Or maybe some days you might need to sit on your mama’s lap because you’re scared, and that’s the part of you that’s five. And maybe one day when you’re all grown up maybe you will need to cry like if you’re three, and that’s okay. That’s what I tell Mama when she’s sad and needs to cry. Maybe she’s feeling three.

Because the way you grow old is kind of like an onion or like the rings inside a tree trunk or like my little wooden dolls that fit one inside the other, each year inside the next one. That’s how being eleven years old is.

You don’t feel eleven. Not right away. It takes a few days, weeks even, sometimes even months before you say Eleven when they ask you. And you don’t feel smart eleven, not until you’re almost twelve. That’s the way it is.

Only today I wish I didn’t have only eleven years rattling inside me like pennies in a tin Band-Aid box. Today I wish I was one hundred and two instead of eleven because if I was one hundred and two I’d have known what to say when Mrs. Price put the red sweater on my desk. I would’ve known how to tell her it wasn’t mine instead of just sitting there with that look on my face and nothing coming out of my mouth.

“Whose is this?” Mrs. Price says, and she holds the red sweater up in the air for all the class to see. “Whose? It’s been sitting in the coatroom for a month.”

“Not mine,” says everybody. “Not me.”

“It has to belong to somebody, “Mrs. Price keeps saying, but nobody can remember. It’s an ugly sweater with red plastic buttons and a collar and sleeves all stretched out like you could use it for a jump rope. It’s maybe a thousand years old and even if it belonged to me I wouldn’t say so.

Maybe because I’m skinny, maybe because she doesn’t like me, that stupid Sylvia Saldivar says, “I think it belongs to Rachel.” An ugly sweater like that all raggedy and old, but Mrs. Price believes her. Mrs. Price takes the sweater and puts it right on my desk, but when I open my mouth nothing comes out.

“That’s not, I don’t, you’re not…Not mine.” I finally say in a little voice that was maybe me when I was four.

“Of course it’s yours, “Mrs. Price says. ” I remember you wearing it once.” Because she’s older and the teacher, she’s right and I’m not.

Not mine, not mine, not mine, but Mrs. Price is already turning to page thirty-two, and math problem number four. I don’t know why but all of a sudden I’m feeling sick inside, like the part of me that’s three wants to come out of my eyes, only I squeeze them shut tight and bite down on my teeth real hard and try to remember today I am eleven, eleven. Mama is making a cake for me for tonight, and when Papa comes home everybody will sing Happy birthday, happy birthday to you.

But when the sick feeling goes away and I open my eyes, the red sweater’s still sitting there like a big red mountain. I move the red sweater to the corner of my desk with my ruler. I move my pencil and books and eraser as far from it as possible. I even move my chair a little to the right. Not mine, not mine, not mine. In my head I’m thinking how long till lunchtime, how long till I can take the red sweater and throw it over the schoolyard fence, or leave it hanging on a parking meter, or bunch it up into a little ball and toss it in the alley. Except when math period ends Mrs. Price says loud and in front of everybody, “Now, Rachel, that’s enough, “because she sees I’ve shoved the red sweater to the tippy-tip corner of my desk and it’s hanging all over the edge like a waterfall, but I don’t care.

“Rachel, “Mrs. Price says. She says it like she’s getting mad. “You put that sweater on right now and no more nonsense.”

“But it’s not –”

“Now!” Mrs. Price says.

This is when I wish I wasn’t eleven because all the years inside of me—ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, and one—are pushing at the back of my eyes when I put one arm through one sleeve of the sweater that smells like cottage cheese, and then the other arm through the other and stand there with my arms apart like if the sweater hurts me and it does, all itchy and full of germs that aren’t even mine.

That’s when everything I’ve been holding in since this morning, since when Mrs. Price put the sweater on my desk, finally lets go, and all of a sudden I’m crying in front of everybody. I wish I was invisible but I’m not. I’m eleven and it’s my birthday today and I’m crying like I’m three in front of everybody. I put my head down on the desk and bury my face in my stupid clown-sweater arms. My face all hot and spit coming out of my mouth because I can’t stop the little animal noises from coming out of me until there aren’t any more tears left in my eyes, and it’s just my body shaking like when you have the hiccups, and my whole head hurts like when you drink milk too fast.

But the worst part is right before the bell rings for lunch. That stupid Phyllis Lopez, who is even dumber than Sylvia Saldivar, says she remembers the red sweater is hers. I take it off right away and give it to her, only Mrs. Price pretends like everything’s okay.

Today I’m eleven. There’s a cake Mama’s making for tonight and when Papa comes home from work we’ll eat it. There’ll be candles and presents and everybody will sing Happy birthday, happy birthday to you, Rachel, only it’s too late.

I’m eleven today. I’m eleven, ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, and one, but I wish I was one hundred and two. I wish I was anything but eleven. Because I want today to be far away already, far away like a runaway balloon, like a tiny o in the sky, so tiny—tiny you have to close your eyes to see it.

 

It makes so much sense that our 5 year old self is a part of our 11 year old self. We often forget that although, we are all grown up, the child that we once were is still deep inside.

Although, I turned 36 years old today, I am still that 9 year old looking to see if I’ve grown at all maybe I haven’t grown physically, but I ask myself if I’ve grown spiritually. I am still that 13 year old girl, searching for the answers in life. I still make bad decisions but now I have wisdom and time on my side so the bad choices are fewer and fewer.