Tag Archives: change

Beautiful, Inside and Out

30 Sep

Last December, I didn’t send out our annual holiday newsletter. This is unprecedented for me, as for over thirty years, I’ve always sent out a photo card showing our beautiful family of six, accompanied by a letter detailing the many accomplishments of my children. This past year though, I just couldn’t face it.

I was too overwhelmed. And a bit scared.

In 2019, some major changes took place in our family. Our oldest daughter moved back home; our second daughter got married, and our youngest daughter started high school.

And our third child, who was assigned male at birth, came out to us as a transgender woman.

Last summer, at the age of twenty-five, Cecily, who goes by Cece, realized that who she was on the inside did not match the gender originally listed on her birth certificate. For those of you who know our family and are slightly confused, I’m talking about our child whose “dead name” was “Nino.” From now on, I will only refer to my daughter as Cece, and use she/her pronouns because that is who she is, and who she has always been.

It’s so odd that for years, we perceive someone as being a certain way, and have absolutely no sense that they might be someone completely different on the inside. Society has taught my generation that gender is binary—either male or female—so we told ourselves stories about our children based solely on their bodies. We nurtured them as the gender we assumed they were, never realizing that we might not be honoring their authentic selves.

Then, when our children are courageous enough to reveal who they really are, we’re shocked. We’re sad. We grieve for the person we believe is no longer with us. We didn’t realize then how much we had to learn.

While I immediately accepted Cece as a woman, to be honest, it was far more difficult than I imagined it would be. As a perpetual people pleaser my entire life, I worried about what others would think and say about my perfect little family. I was terrified of rejection—not only for Cece, but for myself.

Societal constraints are often oppressive, and for her own survival, Cece unknowingly hid who she was—even to herself. For years she suffered from deep depression because she pushed her true self down for so long. And who wouldn’t want to hide? People can be unaccepting and unkind about what they do not understand.

Our family is fortunate enough to live in a community where people are generally well-informed about transgender folk. I’ve discovered that my kids’ generation is so much better at understanding the differences of others than my generation has been. From the moment Cece came out, her sisters have embraced her with pure acceptance and love. They are closer now than ever.

It’s not always easy, but our family is learning as we go. Our love for Cece has grown exponentially, and there’s no doubt we will continue to support her as she makes her way through life as the woman she was meant to be.

Cece is still the same person she’s always been—she’s just more beautiful now, because she’s finally able to freely show us who she really is on the inside. As for me—well, it took me a while, but I’m done keeping quiet. I’m flying that progressive rainbow flag with pride.

Ultimately, love is all that matters. I loved my child from the moment she was born, and that love has only grown deeper now that she’s given me the gift of knowing her true self. I am so proud to be her mom, and I celebrate her with all of my being.

Awareness

3 Jul

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I’ve always thought of myself as a flexible person, but the truth is, change is difficult for me. I’ve enjoyed an easy, comfortable life where I can pretty much go anywhere, do anything, or speak my mind freely without anyone questioning me. I don’t have to worry that I’ll be stopped and questioned by the police because of the way I look. My white privilege has offered me more opportunity than people of color. As a woman, there have been times in my life when I’ve experienced sexism—and even been afraid, but I’ve never been discriminated against because of my skin color.

I recently published my novel, LOST IN OAXACA, where my protagonist, a white, privileged piano teacher named Camille, travels to Mexico in search of her missing protégé. Unable to speak the language, Camille finds herself literally lost in the mountains of Oaxaca, where she must rely on others to help her navigate not only the remote mountainous terrain, but an unfamiliar culture as well. For the first time in her life, Camille is the different one. Yet, instead of encountering racism and hate, she is given guidance, care, acceptance, and ultimately love, by those who are not offered reciprocal treatment back home in her world. She thus begins the difficult process of acknowledging her privilege and opening her mind to becoming aware.

This shift in awareness is the first step in becoming anti-racist. If we allow ourselves the chance to shed a single incorrect belief in our minds, we can move on to shedding another. Then another—and so on. When we finally realize that the story we’ve been taught for so long is not true, we can make real change in the direction of equality for all. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: it’s up to those of us who benefit from white privilege to fight for those who don’t. We can’t stay silent any longer.

I know I have much work to do. I’ve been way too comfortable for far too long.

I won’t tell you what happens to Camille; you’ll have to read the novel to find out.

                           Let’s just say that nothing is ever really lost.

 

It’s on Me

9 Jun
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Graphic by Justin Teodoro

I’m white. I’m affluent. I’m privileged.

I’m also biased. I see color. And it turns out I have many racist bones in my body.

How can this be? I’m educated. I’m a liberal Democrat. I voted for Obama—twice. I’ve been married to a man of color for over 33 years. Of my four children, two identify as LGBTQ. I fundamentally believe in equality for all.

Yet I have made, and still make, assumptions about people based on race. And this means I’m racist.

I wasn’t born a racist. Society made me this way. I’ve been formally educated with unconscious bias since I was a child, when I first learned to read from books that had only white, blond kids like me in them. Remember Fun with Dick and Jane? For years I watched TV shows and movies where people of color were stereotyped or portrayed negatively. My father was an educated man, yet he openly told racist jokes at the dinner table. In high school, my friends and I made fun of gay people because we thought it was funny. We mocked people with accents. I believed the police were always there to help me—and they were—because I fit a certain demographic.

It took the murder of another Black man at the hands of the police to create the essential shift that is currently taking place in our collective consciousness. It’s not the people of color with the problem—it’s me. It’s ultimately on me to make the necessary change.

No longer will I avoid dealing with the reality of systematic racism. I will be conscious of my biased thoughts. I will think before I speak. I will stand up for those who are marginalized. I will not be afraid of alienating others because I speak out against racism.

I will learn to feel comfortable outside of my comfort zone.

I’m just so sorry it’s taken me this long to really get it. But then again, it’s not about me anymore. It’s about our Black brothers and sisters.

Black Lives Matter. Let’s keep the change alive.

Profound

3 Jun

img_2435Lately, I’ve been spending an inordinate amount of time sitting front of the computer, trying to think of something profound to write. This is not easy, considering the amount of distractions I face. At this moment, the dogs are downstairs barking at some felonious trespasser who is currently walking past our house. Coming from the obnoxious yipping being produced, this interloper is a serious threat to my life. Next door, the sound of the chainsaw from the tree-trimmers grates on me like the whine of a dentist’s drill. In my direct line of vision, there is a hot-pink plastic laundry basket full of dirty laundry that I was supposed to wash last night, but I fell asleep watching House Hunters before I got around to it. It’s literally hissing at me from across the room.img_5554

Then there’s that device we can no longer live without, dinging with all those notifications every few minutes, alerting me to the fact that Trump has a new hair style, or someone has now broken the all-time Jeopardy winnings record. I can’t help it—I hear the ding. I drool.

Here’s the real truth: It’s me. I’m the distraction. I don’t think I can write anything profound because in my mind, I don’t believe I have anything profound to write. This may be because I suffer from “Impostor Syndrome,” which is when a person doubts their abilities and is afraid to be exposed as a fraud. As a fifty-six year-old woman who is becoming more invisible in society as I age, my relevance fades a little more each day. So when someone praises my talents as a writer or musician, the voice inside my head immediately tells me they’re lying.

I think many of us (especially women) fight these internal battles every day. We’re always trying to keep up with this ideal that society has laid out for us—that we’re not good enough unless we (and our children) are beautiful, slim, and successful. Whatever that means. So even if we have wonderful lives with fulfilling jobs and loving families, we come up short as we compare ourselves to others. And here’s the rub: all of those perfect, beautiful women whom we’ve placed up there on that pedestal most likely feel the same way we do—unworthy and vulnerable. They’re just better at hiding it.

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What happened to that young warrior girl?

I’m really trying to change, although it’s not always easy after being programmed to view myself so untruthfully for much of my life. Coming from a generation that judged women on their physical beauty, I still struggle with my own self-image. As a product of this generation who considered it conceited and vain for a female to be proud of her own accomplishments—let alone openly praise herself, I still struggle with acknowledging that I am indeed talented, smart, and worthy. I mean, I f***ing wrote a novel that’s going to be published. This should erase my self-doubt, not increase it. Ugh.

While it might be too late to change the image I carry around about myself, I can certainly change the way I perceive others, especially in my own home. Thanks to my older millennial children who have taught me so much about my outdated perceptions of the world, I am slowly evolving. Instead of praising my fourteen year-old daughter’s physical beauty first, I now tell her how proud I am that she works so hard to achieve her success. Instead of commenting her that her shorts are too short, her yoga pants too tight, or her crop-top too revealing, I tell her that she should be proud of her body, and if she feels good in that outfit, then by all means, wear it.

It’s exhausting judging people all the time. It’s so much easier just to love them. And that goes for loving me, too. Change. What a concept.

How’s that for profound?

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The older and wiser warrior.

 

Change is Good

22 Aug

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As some of you may know, I live in the house I grew up in. It’s not easy buying a home in the Santa Barbara area on two teachers’ salaries, so my husband and I were indeed fortunate to be able to purchase my childhood home from my mother (who came along with the deal.)

Last summer, after five years of a long California drought the liquidambar tree that grew in our parkway began looking a bit sad and spindly. One Sunday afternoon in July, a huge branch suddenly broke off and landed on the hood of my husband’s car. A couple of weeks later, after having insisted that the tree had been properly maintained, therefore denying our damage claim, the city arborist came out and decided the tree was pretty much dead. Next thing I knew, a crew of men in orange hats showed up and within a span of several hours cut it down, chipped it up and left me with a bare strip of dirt in front of my house.

I ranted and raved and then I cried. After spending my own childhood with that beautiful tree and then raising my four kids under its boughs, I really thought life would never be the same again.

Time passed, and life did indeed go on without the tree. Fall arrived and that there were no dead leaves or spiny seed pods to clean up was definitely a benefit. The rain came and without the tree roots, the soil became fertile again. I was immediately drawn to the potential of all that dirt. I got down on my hands and knees and planted.

Life is full of change and trade offs. Sure, the birds build their nests in the neighbors trees and I have a little less shade in my life, but now I get to watch a daily performance of bees and butterflies as they flit in and around my newest flower bed. Not to mention the perfectly unobstructed view of the mountains.

Change is good.

Marching

24 Jan

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My daughters, Nora and Isa with my husband, Rene at the Los Angeles Women’s March last Saturday.

This past Saturday I marched. While my husband and two of my daughters drove to attend the women’s march in Los Angeles, I opted to participate locally in Santa Barbara and marched down State Street with two of my closest friends. I’ve never attended a protest march before, and I’ve got to say, it was a magical experience seeing so many people come together to make a statement. But then, I’m a white woman of privilege, and this gives me the option of feeling good about my participation. I’m allowed to pat myself on the back for taking part in this wave of change.

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The crowd in De la Guerra Plaza, Santa Barbara

It’s difficult to admit to myself that because I’m white, my life is easier than those of my family members and friends of color. I can try to assert that as a woman, I’ve been on the receiving end of sexist and misogynistic behavior, but the truth is that because of my color, (or lack thereof) I’m given a free pass to do pretty much what I want with my life. Although for almost thirty years I’ve been married to a man of color while living comfortably in liberal Santa Barbara, California, I’ve gotten comfortable wearing my upper middle-class blinders all these years. I’ve deceived myself into believing that most people are color blind.

They’re not.

We’re not.

I’m not.

The sooner we talk about this, the sooner real change can happen.

Please read the following for some valuable perspective on this issue.

From my author friend, Tracey Baptiste’s Facebook page:

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Tracey Baptiste

January 22 at 5:15am ·

This picture has been making the rounds, and making people feel a lot of things. Some think it’s an image of defiant division on a day of unity. It’s not. But I’ll get to that.

There are a lot of things about this image that I love. I love the faces of the women, the colors, the composition: the way the foreground is off to the side, and the background is centered. I love the juxtaposition of the sign and its message with the women standing behind and above it. I love that the holder of the sign is looking away, sucking a lollipop.

This image holds many ideas at once: beauty, defiance, mockery, chill, joy, power, bravery, which is probably why it strikes a nerve with different people for different reasons. It does much of what I was taught art is supposed to do: provoke, entertain, speak real emotional truth.

But there is another idea I see in this picture: betrayal.

People are hurt by this photo because “not all white women…” except that’s not the point of the sign. The sign is hyperbole. But the feeling of betrayal this woman feels, and is expressing are not.
She has come to the march with her sign, with the very women she feels have betrayed her at her back. But she has come anyway because there is a bigger cause. A bigger fight. She probably feels if it was a black issue that none of these women would stand with her as she is standing with them, but she has come anyway. And she has come with a clear communication to those around her that their activism has not been intersectional. Their calls for unity are hypocritical. But there she is.

This is not an image of divisiveness. This is an image of unity with the very people who would divide HER, despite their divisiveness.

I love this photo.

ETA: Photo credit: Angela Marie Peoples co-director of Get Equal Now

 

From my daughter, Leah’s Facebook page in response to an article in the Huffington Post: 

 http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/before-you-celebrate-the-zero-arrests-at-the-womens-march_us_588617e4e4b0e3a7356a3ee4?

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There are so many thought-provoking pieces available on the significance of the women’s march this past weekend. They all put into words what I haven’t been able to articulate over the past few days: the feeling of simultaneous joy and discomfort that refuses to settle in my stomach. Because, let’s be real: the march, a beautiful display of love, respect, unity, and progress, was also evidence of the continued issues of intersectionality (racism, classism, cis-predominant and anti-trans sentiments, ableism, etc.) that exist within the realm of feminism and women’s rights.
I just want to say…as a biracial, white-brown woman, I am used to the nausea that comes with feeling two things at once. The feeling when you are both right and wrong; both white and brown; both privileged and oppressed; both an activist and the perpetrator. But for those of you experiencing it for the first time – namely, the first-time protesters who marched on Saturday and are all of a sudden being told that your activism was only motivated by convenience and Facebook likes – listen to me. Take a deep breath. It’s okay!! You, and those who are saying these things, are both right and wrong. Yes, both. Yes, it’s uncomfortable. But you marched, or thought about marching – you’re an activist now. And to be an activist is to face your own faults, privilege, and mistakes head on, humbly, and with the understanding that just because showing up late is better than not showing up at all, that doesn’t mean that everyone has to celebrate your arrival.
I am fortunate in that my contradictions lie directly in the diluted melanin of my skin – it’s like my light-brown tone serves as a constant, visual reminder that I can have two truths at once. To my white women friends and family members, I am sorry you do not have as obvious of a cue to own your dual realities, because it is going to take so much more effort to get used to your co-existing identities of being both the oppressed and the oppressor. And I am sorry for wishing this transformation upon you because I know that being called out for your privilege is not a good feeling – but it is a necessary one, because it is truth.
So don’t avoid the articles like this one. Seek them out. Embrace the discomfort. Preach the duality of your identities to those who might not have woken up yet, but are on their way. Because we are all needed right now, at the marches, on the phones, and in the everyday conversations that change minds and promote empathy. We all need to show up, shut up, and get to work.

 

Let’s start talking.

Really talking.

Hope

5 Jun

june 5 flowers 8It’s the last day of school for my daughter, Isa and that means summer is officially here. Even with the drought here in Santa Barbara, the flowers are spectacular this year.

Every day when I walk out the front door I’m greeted by a glorious blanket of color that wraps me up in joy even when my heart is heavy. There’s been so much sadness in our community since the shootings that took place in Isla Vista on May 23. There is still so much healing that needs to take place.

Despite this tragedy, I still believe that beauty always finds its way into our lives and somehow continues to blossom even when the conditions are unfavorable.

I choose to believe in the goodness of all people. I pray  for change. I watch for growth. And I hope for love.

And it’s all right there in the garden to remind me every single day.

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Change is Good

1 Jan

malibu sunsetChange is always difficult for me. I’m just happier staying stuck in my snug little  rut which is warm and safe and oh, so comfortable. I’ve finally given up making any annual resolutions as it’s impossible for me to live up to all of the unrealistic goals and expectations I set for myself every year.  I rarely go out to celebrate on New Years Eve, preferring to stay home and off the road. And anyway–why should I celebrate something I don’t even want to acknowledge? 

This past New Year’s eve I spent alone with my nine year-old daughter and it was actually quite enjoyable. My husband,  in his usual spontaneous style, decided at the last minute to jump on a plane to Oaxaca and go visit his family. The three older kids all left to go out and celebrate with friends, so after Isa and I played a wild game of gin rummy (I beat her by only five points) we were left alone with our various forms of entertainment; she had her iPad downstairs and I had the complete second season of “Girls” on DVD upstairs.  

“Isa, Honey,” I told her, “please make sure you let me know if you’re coming upstairs while I’m watching my program, okay?”

“Why, mom?” she asked, “Is your show too inappropriate for nine year olds?”

“Way too inappropriate,” I said.

“Worse than ‘Adult Swim’ on Cartoon Network?” she asked.

Way worse,” I said, wondering how in the heck she knew what “Adult Swim” was in the first place.

“Girls” turned out to be so inappropriate that I watched all night long with my thumb on the pause button in case Isa came bounding  up the stairs into our room. But after the first episode I was so hooked that I couldn’t tear my eyes away from the screen.

I’m such a rotten mother. Instead of interacting with my daughter during the last few hours of 2013, I stayed up until almost two a.m. watching the entire ten episodes  of a very raunchy, yet very well-written television series. I guess I was craving more “girl” time than I realized.

I don’t have to tell you that I was quite tired the morning after, so even though I didn’t make any tangible resolutions this year, I decided that I would not waste the day. I dug in the garden for the first time in months, worked on my novel for a couple of hours, and spent time chatting with the kids (for some reason they called it nagging. What?)

Then I decided to make another change: I decided to create a new look for my blog. Now, in reality, this process is not that difficult. The website I use makes the task quite easy, even for techophobes like me. But because there is so much variety and so many choices,  I spent more than three hours pouring over fonts, colors and designs trying to come up with a theme I liked. It was overwhelming to say the least.

I finally gave up and just went with something that looked pretty. If you don’t like it, please don’t say anything because it will probably  just hurt my feelings. Now if it’s causing you so much distress that you no longer care to read my blog, then by all means, leave me a detailed comment on my blog with any suggestions you may have and I’ll take them under advisement.

Please do keep in mind how much I dislike change, though.

Happy New Year!malibu sunset 3

One of the last sunsets of 2013

One of the last sunsets of 2013

Love is Love

28 Mar

isa heart handsWhen I was in fifth grade, I had a crush on a boy named Jake Rubenstein. He had reddish blond hair, a dotting of freckles across the bridge of his nose and he ran faster than all of the other boys. Word on the blacktop was that he liked me back, and although I was extremely shy around boys and preferred to worship them from afar rather than talk to them, my heart was filled with innocent joy that a boy actually liked me!

While playing handball with my best friend Kelly, I told her that I thought Jake was cute, and she said, “You can’t like him—he’s Jewish!”

Jewish?” I asked, confused. “What’s Jewish?”

She informed me that it was his religion, and sometimes he wore a black beanie on his head when he went to church. She told me he couldn’t have a girlfriend who wasn’t also Jewish, so I should just forget about liking him.

“Unless you’re Jewish,” she told me. She stared at me across the handball court. “You’re not, are you?”

“Not what?” I asked.

“Jewish, dummy!” she said, bouncing the red rubber ball several times on the grimy asphalt.

“I don’t think so,” I answered. “I mean, our family doesn’t go to church or anything.”

“Well then,” she said, “you’re definitely not Jewish, because I think you would know if you were.

“Oh, okay,” I told her, a little sad, yet relieved at the same time that I had found out this important information before anything went too far. Whatever Jewish was, Jake was probably not the boy for me. That day, I decided to stop liking him.

It was the first time someone told me I shouldn’t like someone because they were different than I was.

Shortly after I graduated from college, I sat my mother down and told her that I wanted to marry Rene, an undocumented, uneducated Mexican Indian from Oaxaca. Rene and I met at a restaurant in Santa Monica where I was a waitress and he was a cook. While she liked Rene very much, my mother told me that I shouldn’t marry him because he and I were just too different.

“Jess, honey—you need to reconsider this whole marriage idea,” she said.  “The language barrier and cultural differences between you and Rene are just so vast—it’s going to make your marriage too difficult.”

Even though her feelings were expressed out of love and concern for me, thank God I was bullheaded enough not to listen to her.

When I called my grandmother back in Baltimore to tell her that Rene and I were getting married, her first reaction was, “But Jessie—your babies will be brown!” I wasn’t angry with her. In fact, I remember laughing about it with Rene. I understood that she was from a generation where it was unfathomable to think about marrying outside your own race. Her comment didn’t bother me one bit.  And yes, all four of my babies turned out to be the most beautiful brown color imaginable.

First society tells us not to love someone because they are a different than we are. Now, as is the case of same-sex marriage, they tell us not to love them because they are the same. The funny thing is, no matter what we look like on the outside, the love we feel on the inside is what truly matters, and it’s always the same. And what gives me, you, the church or the government the right to tell someone they can’t marry whom they love?

Change often takes generations to come about, but it always comes. Let’s not waste any more precious time. Love is love and it’s time to finally be fair about it.

Jesjsie and Rene in 1986

Jessie and Rene in 1986

Rene and Jessie today almost thirty years later.

Rene and Jessie today almost thirty years later.