Archive | November, 2012

A Dream Come True

26 Nov

The Mireles Family 2012

When I was a  teenager,  I used to dream of becoming famous. I pictured my face splashed across the pages of People or Seventeen and I imagined how it would feel to be adored by millions of fans. My young mind believed that my future happiness depended on whether or not the world knew who I was.

My fantasy usually involved me playing the piano on the concert stage, probably because this was the one area at which I excelled. I couldn’t dance, sing or act, and no matter how much time I spent in front of the mirror tweezing my eyebrows, exfoliating my pores or straightening my perpetually frizzy hair, even then my teenage sensibilities were developed enough to realize that I didn’t have what it took to become a fashion model.

But back then I believed that my fame as a concert pianist was the only way I would be noticed. And I had to be noticed because I believed that in order to find someone to love me I had to be extra special. If I became a celebrity, someone was bound to think I was deserving of that love.

My fantasy always played out pretty much in the same fashion: I would have just finished playing a note-perfect performance. A warm yellow spotlight would be focused on my white organza gown that floated like fluffy meringue across the concert stage. As I took my bows to a thundering standing ovation, I would suddenly lock eyes with a handsome, intelligent and witty man, and the two of us would fall instantly in love with each other. We would marry, have four beautiful children and live happily ever after.

So I practiced the piano for hours each day, thinking that for this dream to come true, I must work diligently. I kept meticulous scrapbooks documenting all of my successes and they grew thicker every year as I won piano competitions and performed in more recitals that I can remember. I believed that all of my musical accomplishments would lead me closer to turning my dream into a reality.

I kept the fantasy alive for as long as I possibly could, or at least I did until my senior year in high school when I lost the fight with the raging hormones that surged through my body. At age seventeen, I confused lust for love and fell for a twenty year-old boy who was exceedingly handsome, but who turned out to love alcohol more than he loved me. Having had lots of practice as a co-dependent with my own family’s dysfunction, I turned it into my mission to fix him.

But like an old Polaroid photograph that fades over time, the image of my once vivid dream of becoming somebody famous disappeared into nothing but yellowed paper. He and I stayed together for five mostly miserable years until I finally grew up enough to realize that I deserved better.

But our dreams often have a way of manifesting themselves in ways that we don’t expect, and about eight months later I found my future husband in a Santa Monica restaurant where he was a cook and I was a waitress. In my stained green uniform and smelling of french-fry grease, I locked eyes over a sizzling grill with one of the cooks, who just happened to be a handsome, intelligent and very funny man. He barely spoke English, was undocumented and uneducated, but he held all of the other criteria of my girlhood fantasy. So I took a chance on him, and he took a chance on me, and surprise—this part of my dream did come true.

We married and began our lives together and I never did become that famous concert pianist as I once envisioned. But I realized that maybe that this dream of fame was not what I really wanted after all. Instead, I became a piano teacher and started having children, and I can honestly say it’s been a very good life.

I even have documented proof that my life has turned out well for me. We’ve made it a tradition in our family to take a group photograph every Thanksgiving to send out with our yearly Christmas newsletter. The annual photos hang in sequential order along the hallway wall, where each year we add the newest one. As we’ve grown and changed (and we have changed a lot over the years) our history together has been authenticated in one smiling face after another.

This past Thanksgiving, our family once again gathered in our backyard to take a photo. We dressed up, combed our hair and fixed our make-up. It wasn’t the paparazzi snapping photos as I once dreamed of as a teenager— it was just my nephew trying over and over again to capture that one perfect shot. It certainly isn’t easy getting everyone to smile at the same time—especially a wiggly seven year-old, but we managed to find one or two acceptable photos, so it looks like the tradition will live on for another year.

I’m awed by the love that is evident in these annual photographs: A dark-skinned man, a light-skinned woman and four mocha children are all smiling together in one single moment in time. They are clearly devoted to each other. They don’t realize it, but they are without a doubt as stunning and perfect as any celebrity. Not one of them is admired by millions, or even the least bit famous, but that’s all right, because they are absolutely adored by each other.

And that’s the kind of fame that comes only in dreams.

1994 just after Nino was born

1995

1996

1997

1998

1999

2000

2001

2002

2003: Shortly after this photo was taken I became pregnant with Isa

2004: just after Isa was born

2005

2006: The year Nino grew his hair long (not a good look for you, son….)

2007: With Isa bald from chemo–a year we will never forget

2008

2009

2010

2011

2012: A bunch of goofballs

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No More Pretending

22 Nov

I wrote this post for last year’s Thanksgiving and I think it’s appropriate to post it again because now I feel even more grateful and blessed than ever before. May you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving filled with love and blessings.

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving and I’m expecting a large crowd at my house. I’ve been baking and cooking and chopping since last weekend, and have made at least five trips to the grocery store in the last three days. The refrigerator is so full of food I can barely get the doors closed. All four of my children are home, along with three of their cousins, and they’re all downstairs making a racket that could wake a dead pilgrim. A few years ago,  under these same circumstances, I would’ve already had a headache with all of the stress. I would’ve worried about the house being a mess; I would’ve been panicked about all the food I had to prepare for so many people; and I would’ve felt resentful about how I’m the only one who does any work and that no one ever appreciates me.

I would not have been thankful.

For many years I pretended to be thankful on Thanksgiving. I sat at our festive dining room table set with sterling silver, ironed cloth napkins and my great grandmother’s floral china heaped with delicious food and I pretended. I spoke the traditional words of gratitude which easily flowed out to those around me like melted butter basted over the browning turkey. I expressed aloud the words that were expected of me and tried to believe that what I said meant something. As I stared out across the table into the candlelit faces of the people I hold most dear to me, I tried to believe that my words of thankfulness were true and heartfelt.

But they weren’t true and they certainly didn’t come from my heart. They were lies—because there was no honest feeling behind them. Over the years I had learned to shut down emotionally and hadn’t allowed myself to feel joy or gratitude anymore. Even with a lavish Thanksgiving bounty laid out in front of me, I couldn’t shake the buzzing sense of dissatisfaction that lingered in my head like a thick, despairing aura. What I had just wasn’t enough.

Then four years ago everything changed. I’ve written about this pivotal change many times in my blogs but I felt that in light of tomorrow’s celebration, I need to talk about it again.

I was lucky enough to be given a gift by my youngest child: her diagnosis of cancer. It was a gift many would consider a curse; something so horrendous and evil that no good could possibly ever come from it.  I watched Isa suffer so much during those two years of chemotherapy and I suffered along with her, never imagining how this experience would turn into something so miraculous.

But I’m on the other side now and I can see the wonder of my transformation. I look back on those first days in the hospital and remember that within one day of Isa’s diagnosis, the change in my life became apparent. The darkness that had consumed me started to dissipate like a blindfold had been gently untied from my eyes. The ensuing gratitude I felt toward all of those who helped me and my family began to seep in and metastasize into something lovely and tremendous in my heart.

Through the pain and fear I began to feel again. I began to feel real thankfulness.

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving and I will be sitting at the same dining room table, eating off the same china plates, staring into the same faces of my family as we gather to share our traditional meal together. I will speak the same words of gratitude that I have in the past, but this time, everything is different. My words of thankfulness will be earnest and genuine and heartfelt.

I won’t have to pretend anymore.

 

I am grateful for all of you and I wish you all a joyful Thanksgiving filled with love and gratitude!

Worth Repeating

15 Nov

As many of you already know, I turned fifty years old this past summer. I’ve always liked the number 50; it feels substantial and important—and I feel as if my feet are planted solidly on the ground for the first time in my life.  When I neared the half-century mark in July, I thought depression would descend down upon me as it had when I turned thirty and then forty, but the day passed like any other; there were no theatrical tantrums or crying jags. Oddly, those feelings of tremendous loss I experienced in the past were nowhere to be found.

Maybe it’s because we calculate so much of our lives with the “whole” being one hundred that turning fifty feels like I’ve only reached at the half-way mark. Perhaps it’s because we’re all living longer these days, and there’s a pretty good chance that I’ll be around for the next fifty years. Most likely though, it’s that I finally realized that there’s just no going back or going forward—it’s the right now that matters most. By being totally absorbed in each moment, there’s no opportunity for me to latch onto unhappiness. I’ve learned to stop fighting my path and just allow what’s going to happen to happen.

Before you read on, I’ll beg your forgiveness in advance, because I’m just about to repeat myself for the umpteenth time. Please not again, you’re thinking. So her daughter got cancer and she went through some huge transformation and now she’s finally happy—enough already! Can’t she find something else to write about?

Sorry, but this stuff needs to be repeated.

If you’ve read my blog, you’ll see that the central theme that runs through many of my posts is that I allowed my negative childhood experiences to mold me into a fearful woman who never believed in or loved herself enough. I wasted most of my life allowing that insecurity and sense of worthlessness to establish itself so firmly into my psyche that any seed of gratitude was powerless to sprout, no matter what type of nourishment was offered for its growth.

Dissatisfaction is a greedy beast and will steal your life away before you know it. There are huge chunks of time that have been lost to me—mainly those years when my three older children were very young. Seriously, if you ask me what happened between 1989 and 2004, I won’t be able to tell you much, except that I spent most of that time feeling worried, dissatisfied, and believing the lie that I was unlovable. I hardly remember interacting or playing with my children during that period—probably because I rarely did. Thank God for photo albums, because in those albums is the only proof that I was physically there, going through the motions: cooking the holiday meals, planning the birthday parties, helping with the homework. My children reaped the benefits of my being a good mother, but because I wasn’t thoroughly present for any of it, I’m the one who lost out in the end.

Nora, Nino and Leah at Christmas 1996. I wish I could remember it more clearly.

But life is often generous with second chances. When I was forty-two, I received a huge surprise: I became pregnant with my youngest daughter, Isa. Although I was terrified of this unplanned pregnancy so late in my life, I remember thinking that this baby offered me my final chance to get it right. Her birth was such a joyous occasion—the entire family was present as she came into this world squawking like a magpie with a cap of thick black hair covering her head. As I looked into her solemn eyes, I promised myself that I wouldn’t miss out a single moment with this child. I would treasure every minute I had with Isa, and enjoy each one of her milestones with utter delight.

Isa on my chest seconds after her birth

But old habits are so terribly hard to break. Before long, I found myself slipping back into those same patterns of not feeling fulfilled.  Like black mold stealthily growing behind the bedroom wall, those poisonous thoughts once again crept into my consciousness, brainwashing me into thinking that there should have been much more to life than changing diapers, doing laundry and picking up after everyone’s messes. I began to tire of my piano teaching career—it soon became a mundane chore where I perceived only that my students didn’t practice enough nor performed up to my expectations.

My discontent didn’t stop there. Although I loved my husband, I never allowed myself to really understand his point of view—I was the one who was always right and I would not give an inch to compromise. Even though my three older children excelled in all areas, to me, their successes were never quite good enough. Each day I would wake filled with a pervasive anxiety that we never had and never will have sufficient money to pay the bills, let alone go on a vacation. I was exhausted, angry and stuffing my feelings down by constant overeating. I gained over fifty pounds. I let all my good intentions slide, and once again began to distance myself from my present existence— constantly imagining a future that was better than the life I had in right in front of me.

Then the worst thing happened or as I know now, the best thing happened. I had to choose which one it was, and miraculously, I chose the latter. Well, you know the rest of the story… Isa got cancer, and I got another chance.

So fast forward five years. Everything is different. Although I still have to fight off the demons of dissatisfaction at times, I let those negative feelings waft through my brain like lingering cigarette smoke—it temporarily reeks, but after awhile it dissipates into the breeze. It has no chance to stink up my life because there is just too much fresh air circulating around for it to survive for very long.

I now take pleasure in the smallest, most insignificant things: folding a load of laundry fresh from the dryer while watching Modern Family; inhaling the fragrant scent of Isa’s just washed hair as I brush it in the morning before she leaves for school; a late night phone call from Leah wondering how my day went; the sound of Nora reading Harry Potter to Isa before bed; Nino laughing hysterically at one of my stupid jokes; listening to one of my piano students shape a musical phrase with such lyricism that I almost want to cry; and holding hands with my husband of twenty-five years in a darkened movie theater.

Before my last chance, these things meant nothing. Now they are everything. And the joy just keeps growing.

And that is why I keep repeating myself.

Because that, my friends, is the key to a happy life.