Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The Gift of You Never Stops Giving

Happy Holidays 2014! This has been one of the most relaxing and stress free holiday seasons that I can recall from recent years. I stopped buying into the pressure of quantity of gifts and excessive shopping and stayed within budget and spent time and money making memories with the people high on my priority list.

This holiday season and moving into the new year, I encourage you to give the gift of YOU! You are a valuable commodity and you are a gift in itself. I used to spend all my time, energy and resources running around like crazy buying gifts for people who never showed appreciation or reciprocated my efforts. While the spirit of giving should not be met with the expectation of return, it is not unreasonable to want to be acknowledged, appreciated or shown gratitude for efforts that you did not have to do. A lack of gratitude results in diminished blessings.

The best thing that you can do for those in your life this holiday season is to be your best self so that you can add value to their lives without minimizing your own. You don’t have to set yourself back financially, emotionally or physically trying to meet the demands and expectations of others when you haven’t given yourself all that love.

At the end of this life, few people will remember the tangible gift that I may have given them for Christmas but they will remember the time spent together; laughing, enjoying a good meal and making cherished memories. A photo from time spent will be treasured longer than a gift that sits on a shelf.

Don’t underestimate the gift of you. No one will ever take care of you better than the care that you can dedicate to yourself. Your presence is the present. Give carefully.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

21 Years of Parenting

I've been selfishly depressed this month about my only child turning 21. I mean, let's face it.....her turning 21 means that I'm officially getting older. And who really likes growing old?

But then it dawns on me. It is nothing short of a miracle and a handful of blessings that I am here to see this day. Diagnosed with advanced stage breast cancer in 2007, I was given three years to live when my daughter was 13 years old. It was her harsh words to me that motivated me to undergo grueling chemo treatments.

When faced with an unplanned pregnancy my second year of college, my love for my unborn child motivated me to do better and be better. My own traumatic childhood forced me to do whatever it took and to the best of MY ability to ensure that my child never felt motherless like I often did.

I was never a perfect mom but I did strive to make sure that she never went for anything that she needed. For the first thirteen years of her life, I had to do it alone and did it by any means necessary with no apologies. I always wanted to be her role model in case the world around her was disappointing. I learned early on that those entrusted to care for you can and will let you down. I was determined for her NEVER to be a victim.

I truly am grateful that I have been able to watch this little premature infant in NICU develop into a self assured, sometimes OVERLY confident, talented, intelligent and beautiful young woman. There were times that we couldn't stand one another but I hope she realizes that every mistake I made was done out of a deep desire to push her into making good decisions and developing her own potential. 

I am grateful for the girlfriends along the way, beginning in labor & delivery, who stood by my side, provided support and resources and loved us both unconditionally. I am grateful for a loving husband who would treat my child like his own and take care of us both when I battled cancer. I'm even grateful for the men along the way who took more than they left because they taught me resilience and strength.

Twenty one years can seem like a lifetime and if mine ended tomorrow, I would have experienced a love that I never imagined or had. I gave my daughter everything that I would have hoped for in a mother and that is everything I was capable of. She will never second guess whether I love her and when the chips are down, she knows she can count on me to pick them up and count them. Twice.

Being a mother to this beautiful little girl has made me a complete person in so many ways. My life is truly better because she called me her mom and I responded.

Happy Birthday Jaclyn! 

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Re-entering the workforce-On my own terms

I recently accomplished something that I set out do back in June of 1996. After I graduated with Honors from The University of Houston, I just knew that I would secure that high paying dream job that I worked so hard for. Sadly, it never quite happened that way.

As a single mom of a then three-year-old daughter, I was forced to secure full-time employment immediately and settled into an administrative role; always keeping the hope alive that I would eventually work my way into marketing. Years passed and I found myself stuck in the admin/receptionist role despite doing a good job and working hard. My self esteem was at an all-time low.

There is NOTHING wrong with these career roles but it is not what I set out to do. After a brief stint as an investment banker and after dozens of admin jobs at Fortune 500 companies, I became an entrepreneur out of a desire to survive. I never set out to have my own business but I got lucky with a generous severance package and former corporate clients who were impressed by my creative work.

For the past decade, I have worked hard, managed employees, billed more than $1 million dollars and won several affluent awards for Texas businesswomen including Blazing Star Award from the Women's Chamber of Commerce of Texas, Woman on the Move by Texas Executive Women and Emerging 10 Award from Houston Minority Business Council. And then breast cancer hit.

I had no choice but to take a considerable amount of time off and lost some key accounts (understandably) in the process. I focused on my health and well being but always had that desire to work hard and be compensated well for a job well done.

I was raised in a household with two highly educated parents who worked hard to provide for our family. My parents rarely missed a day of work and I would even get to go to work with my mom and watch her in action as a nurse. My father was a medical examiner so there was no way he could take me to work with him! We had a comfortable life and I wanted to give that to my daughter. There are few things more rewarding than for a daughter to want to mimic a hard working mother who is doing what she set out to do through her educational pursuits. 

An opportunity presented itself for me recently to secure a corporate marketing manager position and I seized it. I don't see it as a failure that I re-entered the workforce nor do I see it as abandoning my own dreams. I see it as proving to myself that I have what it takes to work in marketing on a global scale as well as an outlet for me to grow my interpersonal and business skills. I can work hard and be well compensated and well respected by my peers.

Life has its ups and downs and one must truly learn when and how to ride the waves if they want to experience smooth sailing. When you define your own definition of success, your dreams will come to fruition.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Strive to be Pro-Good Choice

I don't think ANY woman aspires to have an abortion. In fact, it must be one of the most heart wrenching and difficult decisions a woman will ever face. Men will never find themselves in this predicament so they really can't have an honest, first hand opinion into the matter.

I've been involved with Planned Parenthood since my teenage years. Planned Parenthood sponsored a teen television show in San Antonio and I was cast as a principal actor. Our skits talked about date rape, domestic violence, drug use, peer pressure and some other heavy topics looking back but the reality is that these topics were happening everyday and teens needed to talk about it. Hiding something under a rug doesn't make it go away. 

Women's bodies are simply amazing. With the ability to reproduce, we deserve to have complete autonomy over our own bodies and should be entrusted to make the BEST choice for OUR bodies at any given time in our lifetime. I don't have the right to make a decision for another woman based on my own moral or religious compass because I have not walked in that woman's shoes nor do I know her story or health history to judge.

Planned Parenthood has navigated so many friends and myself through our reproductive development. I know hundreds of women who personally got their first pap smear or birth control prescription at a clinic, received treatment for a medical problem, received a mammogram, received a vasectomy (YES!) and unfortunately, some have terminated pregnancies at a clinic but not every pregnancy was a viable one.

Teenage pregnancies were soaring in the U.S. at one time yet people would not allow Planned Parenthood into the communities or schools. People actually fought the addition of a clinic in their community yet no one is advocating for the neglected and unwanted child.

I stand behind planned parenthood because they want you to PLAN your pregnancy, They educate young women about pregnancy prevention and empower women to be in charge of who they love and how they love. Give people the knowledge and the resources to make GOOD CHOICES and you will not be disappointed.

At the end of the day, we can look within and question every choice we made. Did we eat the right foods? Did we say the right things? Did we have any negative thoughts? Our choices are truly ours and we will always be accountable for them. If you truly want to help women thrive, empower them starting with their own bodies.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

For those who know why a caged bird sings

Dr. Maya Angelou unarguably was one of the greatest poets who ever lived. Gifted with the strength of words, she was able to craft poetry and prose that spoke to the listener in such a way that your soul stirred. Her work was able to transcend racial and gender lines and is timeless in its relevance.

I first became acquainted with her work in the early 90's while a high school student. I competed in UIL competitions and began looking for literary pieces to recite that would also provide an outlet for my insecurities, fears and pain which were often masked by conceit, pride and anger.

As I began to embark on a pageant career, it was almost expected that any Black female contestant who was going to recite poetry would do a Maya Angelou piece. Fast forward twenty years and I continue to see her work demonstrated on pageant stages.

Of all of her works, there are three that have really impacted my life.

Still I Rise
You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops,
Weakened by my soulful cries?

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own backyard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history’s shame
I rise
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I rise
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.

Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.
When I performed my version of this powerful poem, it was a pure reflection of my high school torment. Often outcast from the popular crowd and misunderstood by teachers, I felt that I was constantly being put down, mocked or disrespected. Reciting this poem allowed me to verbalize my frustration at all those against me and reiterated to my inner self that despite all these life challenges, I would rise and could rise.

Phenomenal Woman

Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.
I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size   
But when I start to tell them,
They think I’m telling lies.
I say,
It’s in the reach of my arms,
The span of my hips,   
The stride of my step,   
The curl of my lips.   
I’m a woman
Phenomenal woman,   
That’s me.

I walk into a room
Just as cool as you please,   
And to a man,
The fellows stand or
Fall down on their knees.   
Then they swarm around me,
A hive of honey bees.   
I say,
It’s the fire in my eyes,   
And the flash of my teeth,   
The swing in my waist,   
And the joy in my feet.   
I’m a woman

Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

Men themselves have wondered   
What they see in me.
They try so much
But they can’t touch
My inner mystery.
When I try to show them,   
They say they still can’t see.   
I say,
It’s in the arch of my back,   
The sun of my smile,
The ride of my breasts,
The grace of my style.
I’m a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

Now you understand
Just why my head’s not bowed.   
I don’t shout or jump about
Or have to talk real loud.   
When you see me passing,
It ought to make you proud.
I say,
It’s in the click of my heels,   
The bend of my hair,   
the palm of my hand,   
The need for my care.   
’Cause I’m a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

I think 3 out of 4 of my friends can recite this poem from memory. It is so highly regarded that it was almost a Black women's anthem in my youth. Every word that was spoken when reciting this poem makes the woman embrace her own beauty through society's imperfections and speaks to the inner beauty at the core of being a woman. Not just any woman but a PHENOMENAL woman-always proud, always striving, always being true to oneself.

And the last poem is the most painful for me to openly discuss. Think of a beautiful bird in a cage....often admired as people look into the cage unaware that there are things going in the cage that are trying to keep the beautiful bird from soaring to the heights that God intended for all his creatures. 

A free bird leaps on the back of the wind   
and floats downstream till the current ends
and dips his wing in the orange sun rays
and dares to claim the sky.

But a bird that stalks down his narrow cage
can seldom see through his bars of rage
his wings are clipped and his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing.

The caged bird sings with a fearful trill   
of things unknown but longed for still   
and his tune is heard on the distant hill   
for the caged bird sings of freedom.

The free bird thinks of another breeze
and the trade winds soft through the sighing trees
and the fat worms waiting on a dawn bright lawn
and he names the sky his own

But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams   
his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream   
his wings are clipped and his feet are tied   
so he opens his throat to sing.

The caged bird sings with a fearful trill   
of things unknown but longed for still   
and his tune is heard on the distant hill   
for the caged bird sings of freedom.

You see....I know why a caged bird sings. I know that the caged bird sings with a fearful trill and the bird that is free takes that freedom for granted; never coming back to free the caged bird from captivity. And I am here to tell you that when a caged bird is set free, he is going to fly and fly and fly as far away from his captor and into a sky that will welcome him with open arms. Rest in peace Maya Angelou. I will forever be grateful that you shared the wonderful gift of YOU with the world.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Life Lessons from the beach

Life's a beach! A bit cliche, no? From my very first visit to the beach in the early 90's, I fell in love with the sights, sounds and even smells of a beach. It is when I am at my purest self. I'm carefree, no worries and uninhibited.

The cool sand under my freshly painted toenails, the crashing symphony of the waves and the warm (often hot) sunshine on my skin always make me happy. So with all these good vibes and memories about the beach, what can one take away from the moment and apply to daily life?

1) Love the skin you are in. At the beach, you will see people in swimsuits in ALL shapes and sizes. The beauty of it is that no one seems to be concerned with their appearance but focused on the people they are with and enjoying the beauty that nature has to offer. If you're not comfortable with your swimsuit body, then take the necessary steps to change that but in the meantime, embrace who you are and what you look like. Being a depressed wallflower isn't going to change a thing.

2) Nature is a beautiful gift. For the most part, it doesn't cost to spend a day at the beach. You stake your own ground and create your own little paradise under the sun. You can play in the sand, hunt for seashells, lay out in the sun, or swim in the ocean. There you are-enjoying all that nature has to offer with little effort and money.

3) Sometimes you really do have to get away. A change of scenery can be a welcomed view. Sometimes you truly have to remove yourself from a daily routine to recharge your mind, body and spirit. It can be refreshing to partake in new scenery to think things over, mull a difficult decision or simply decompress. Don't be afraid to schedule some away time for you and always keep an open mind.

4) You have to dig through a lot of dirt to find the perfect shell. Looking for seashells is one of the most popular beach activities. My last few beach visits have been disappointing because the shells are either irregular or there aren't that many but when you find a beautiful one, you treasure it. In life, we have to come across so many imperfections and obstacles but if you keep searching for what you want, eventually you will find it and you will be glad that you didn't give up or sacrifice your personal standard.

5) Each time you go into the water, tread a little further. I don't want you to get lost at sea but did you ever notice that with each step into the water, you tend to gain confidence and venture out just a wee bit further? I have had a goal for as long as I can remember of gaining enough endurance and strength to run a mile without stopping. Plagued with asthma and a knee injury, I have always mentally discouraged myself that I can accomplish it but what if I started running down my street and each day ran by one more house? In enough time, I would accomplish my goal. Don't be afraid to step out on faith. One step at a time leads to progress.

6) If you don't protect yourself, you are going to get burned. Boy, did I learn this lesson the hard way a few weeks ago! Having failed to apply sunscreen, I came home with a painful sunburn and unsightly peeling. Just like in our personal relationships, you have to protect yourself from negative influences and associates with ill will or you will get burned. Be careful about sharing personal information or inviting people into your homes and social circles. Take the time to get to know people and always keep your guard up when red flags occur. You can be kind to everyone you met but everyone you meet does not have to become a close associate.

See you at the beach! I'll be the one in the big floppy hat.

Friday, April 11, 2014

The Quiet Types

As a substitute teacher, I have spent a lot of time in public classrooms. For the most part, I find it rewarding and consider it my way of impacting students lives. It also gives me a glimpse into the community I live in.

I was actually in a classroom this week when the news broke of the mass stabbings at a Pennsylvania high school and I was horrified. I can only speculate what would fuel a young man to choose a knife as his choice of weapon to inflict slow pain and injury to so many people. His pain must have run deep.

The harsh truth is that most teachers focus on the brightest students in the room. The pretty girls, the handsome boys, the star athletes, the doctor's kids, the behavioral problems and the rich clique often command classroom attention and respect while the quiet, less than ideal, awkward students go unheard and unnoticed. I make it a point to spend time and focus efforts on those kids because I feel they need it most.

The adolescent years are tough. Everyone, no matter how cute they think they are, goes through an awkward and insecure phase. Some youth are more prone to bullying and outcast with hurtful labels and sadly, the damage may be severe and permanent.

I was very outspoken and picked on kids during my youth because I was hurting. My home life was full of turmoil and school provided an outlet where I could get attention and be in control. Unfortunately, that control manifested itself in bad behavior.

My hope is that every student will realize that they do matter, that someone does care and that school caste systems do not equate to life status. We need to do a better job of embracing those in our care and not letting one student fall through the cracks based on our own perception of success, beauty and aptitude.