Autism Awareness Day 2017

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I wanted to say a special THANK YOU today, on International Autism Awareness Day, to all the beautiful souls touched by this “label”. It is especially (ironically) fitting for me this weekend, when I personally was touched and blessed by some such beautiful souls.

A THANK YOU to the kind, loving, patient boy who spent 3 hours swimming around the pool with my son yesterday at a pool party. My 6-year-old son was surrounded by a dozen fun loving 11-year-old girls who (understandably) wanted nothing to do with him, so my son put on his snorkel/mask/fins (doesn’t everyone bring these to a pool party?) and swam around, on top of, and next to this kind boy who befriended him and became his “person” for the rest of the party. My son didn’t know this boy was “different”. But he did know he was kind.

A THANK YOU to the beautiful, compassionate, joyful girl today who saw my son struggling to fit in with his peer group at a big, busy social event, and took him under her wing and invited him to play and tag along with her. He was thrilled to find a kind soul to relate to and belong with.

See my son is 6 years old, and doesn’t know what autism is. He is innocent so far and hasn’t needed to see these “differences” among people, differences that require “labels”. He himself (or is it me? Or the rest of us?) struggles with his own set of labels. Highly sensitive. Highly spirited. High needs. He dances to the beat of a different drum himself, and not a day goes by for me that I don’t wonder to myself “Did I miss something? Is he on the spectrum?”. But the better question is aren’t we ALL on the spectrum somewhere or other? It’s a damn SPECTRUM after all, with a hugely wide range of colors and shapes and sounds. And doesn’t that placement on the spectrum change as we navigate life with our own highs and lows, stressful and peaceful periods, struggling and being ostracized at times and at others fitting in quite well?

So THANK YOU to you, beautiful souls. To your kindness, compassion, and uniqueness. The world is a more beautiful, colorful place thanks to you. And a huge THANK YOU to the parents…who tirelessly teach, model, and repeat the same phrase 56,432 times in hopes this time it will stick….your diligence and love does not go unnoticed. Your work is so hard, so important, and I admire you.

THANK YOU.

Ding Dong the Dic(tator) is Dead

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Versailles Cuban restaurant in Little Havana. Photo credit: Jorge Zamanillo

In a span of 12 days, the world lost not one, but 2 influential Cuban leaders. One rose to fame and power with a loud and powerful roar, making sure everyone and everything in his path knew whom he was. The other, quietly and politely from behind the scenes, led his fellow Cubans in his own way on their individual paths to freedom and the American dream. The first was Fidel Castro, the other was my papi, Miguel Perez.

My father came to this country sometime in the late 1950’s, became a permanent resident of the U.S. on December 14, 1961, began working for Pepsi-Cola in Miami in 1966, became a naturalized citizen on June 21, 1968, married my mother in May of 1971…

Why do I know all these dates? Because this last couple of weeks I metamorphosed from being his daughter to being the personal representative of his estate. Not a transformation I was looking forward to.

For those of us Cubans (or Cuban-Americans) growing up these past 40+ years in South Florida, Fidel’s death is huge news. And for those like my father who left Cuba as a young adult in the 1950’s- 1980’s, it is even more so.

My father fled from Cuba literally running away from Castro’s military forces, being shot at as he ran through the forest, hiding out, finally escaping with literally nothing but the shirt on his back. He couldn’t let his family know of his plan beforehand,  because it would put them in danger as well. He didn’t speak to them for 20 years, for fear of incriminating them back on the island.

When he finally arrived safely in this country, with no family around to help, he first settled in New Jersey (as did many Cubans). He had a couple of good friends who fled with him and who became his roommates. They lived right above a diner in a one-room apartment.

For the first 2 months, the only thing he ate was western omelets. He spoke no English, but overheard someone ordering that at the diner and it looked good, so he mastered those words. Whenever he’d come in and sit at the counter, the waiter would ask for his order, he’d proudly say “western omelet”, day after day, as that was the only thing he knew how to say.

He was briefly involved in a covert operation run by a division of the U.S. military, where he and a bunch of men were trained and prepared to ship out as part of the Bay of Pigs invasion. But shortly after they were deployed, their ship was called back, and it was over.

He eventually made his way down to Miami (as most Cubans often do) and kept plugging along. He had heard there was a Cuban man who worked for Pepsi-Cola who may be able to help him get a job there, so he went in and introduced himself. When they asked him if he knew how to drive an 18-wheeler, he said ‘of course, no problem at all!’ Mind you, he’d never driven a truck, let alone an 18- wheeler, but he really needed the job. So he faked it till he made it. He eventually rose through the ranks at Pepsi-Cola and ended up a distribution manager, retiring after over 30 years at the company. He helped countless Cubans who arrived by giving them their first job and an opportunity for success just as he had been given long ago.

I grew up fearing Castro and his power even though I’d never set foot on the island. I knew what he could and would do if you ever dared speak out against him. Even in Miami in the 1970’s you’d have been hard pressed to find a Cuban daring enough to speak ill of him or his regime out loud. All my family were there- my grandmother, grandfather, aunts, uncles, cousins….and there was nothing we could do to help them, thanks to the U.S. embargo. If someone was daring enough to try and make a phone call and send word that a friend or distant family member was planning a visit, sending aid in the form of medicine or money, they had to use code words because the phone lines were rumored to be tapped. The Castro regime would supposedly swoop in and take the person on the phone away, far, far away to Castro Jail where they would never be seen again.

I have heard that when Castro first came on the scene in Cuba, and was wooing the country with his charisma, he also spent some time here in South Florida. It is rumored he spent the night at my great aunt’s house…a story my maternal grandmother would tell me as a child and I would recount to people by saying “Castro stayed with my family once when he was good.”

My family, like many countless Cuban (American) families, would often hear of and hope for the demise of Castro, and his regime. He was rumored to be dead at least half a dozen times, each time bringing a spark of collective hope to the Cuban community that meant someday they would be able to return and rebuild. But the spark was always quickly extinguished when it wasn’t true.

But now, finally, it is over. The magic spell that Fidel had cast on Cuba is broken at last, at least metaphorically. I hope it will continue to pave the way for better relations and a sense of hope for the tiny, beautiful island where all my family continues to struggle and survive, along with many other hopeful Cubans.

My father, in his own small way, made his mark in this country as a Cuban with conflicted feelings about his homeland, in quite a different way than Castro. As I slowly, piece by piece, document by document, learned about many of my Dad’s life adventures over the course of this past year, what would be his last, we somehow became exponentially closer.  So did my brother and he.  My brother finally managed to capture my father’s stories on a voice recording on his iPhone as they spoke late one night. My father was not much of a talker, but for some reason on this night, he spilled it all. Things I’d never known about for 44 years. And I know we will cherish that recording forever, all the moments of our collective cultural and family history preserved at last.

I wish Papi had been around to see this, finally, the long-awaited end of an era. But at the very least I get a kick out of imagining him laughing and enjoying the festivities in Little Havana this week in spirit, having a shot of Havana Club rum in celebration.

Someday, when it is all not so raw, I will finally listen to his stories, to his voice telling his stories. But for now, I will say a prayer, and light a couple of candles….one for my father, and one for Fidel Castro.

En paz descansen los dos lideres Cubanos, que siempre seran recordados por sus hechos,  ya sean buenos o malos.

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Photo credit: Jorge Zamanillo

Loss is Loss

Yesterday, we had a bit of a trying day with my family. Nothing major, just everyone being in a funk at the same time.

It seems the more people I talk to lately, it’s kind of like a cosmic epidemic of funkiness at the moment. Seems like realities are shifting, systems are getting upgraded, our world is changing and at times it feels like “forward progress is STOPPED” intermingled with “EVERYTHING IS FALLING APART” and a dash of “WHAT THE HELL WAS I THINKING”. I like to call these “growth periods” because truly that is what they are- an unraveling of the old, outdated systems that no longer serve us making way for a beautiful new, better reality. But the growing pains that come with them are no joke. So it’s safe to say due to this, as a highly sensitive person, my energy lately has been…..far from ideal. It’s kind of like a whirling dervish that just can’t settle down. I try really hard to use all the tools in my toolkit for keeping my own energy body protected, not allowing other energy that doesn’t belong to me negatively affect my own…..I always try. I don’t always succeed.

So back to yesterday. As we returned home from a quick dinner out, we noticed that a pair of turtledoves had built a nest right above our driveway/garage in the rain gutter, and a bunch of debris had fallen down onto the driveway (which is how we realized there was a nest). There was a mama bird proudly sitting on her nest, unfazed by our movement close to her as we made our way in the house. We were excitedly talking about the nest, wondering how many eggs were in it, when they would hatch, etc.  To me it’s a kind of blessing when an animal decides to set up birth shop in my vicinity, like it’s good mojo or something (that could be the doula in me, or the woman in me, or the mom in me….). Anyway it’s safe to say it was a much needed bright spot in my day.

Then this morning, as I walked outside to take my 5 year old to preschool after a not-so-smooth morning routine that left us both rattled and grumpy, I found this:

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My heart at that moment was a shattered as the egg. No mama or papa bird to be found anywhere. The nest had been abandoned. It was done. Over.

And for whatever reason, a deep sense of loss came over me. I felt it in my soul. As if I was connected to the bird, the egg, everyone on the planet at that moment that was hurting. I don’t know if my son saw it (actually I’m pretty sure he didn’t because he would have been in tears after realizing what had happened), but suddenly his mood shifted and he apologized for the crappy morning we’d had and his part of it, and asked if I was okay, if he could see my big smile. I was honest. I told him I couldn’t show him that smile at the moment, I wasn’t feeling it. But I would work on finding it. He responded “Okay mommy. Let me know when you’re ready and then you can show me”. Thank goodness.

I needed a moment to grieve, to explore what I was feeling, what it was bringing up in me. I didn’t want to fake a smile and pretend it was all fine. I also wanted to teach him that it’s okay to have bad/sad feelings and acknowledge them. And he got it, and accepted it, and let me have quiet time the whole ride to school.

That shattered egg  brought up all sorts of stuff. Of personal losses I had felt, big and small. Some that I have finally cleared and move on from, finally feeling healed and whole in that aspect (my mother’s death). Others that apparently I had not.

Such as my miscarriage 6 years ago. It  was my first pregnancy ever, and brought my husband and I so much joy initially. It was unexpected, but more than welcome. I had always wanted a large family……but since life loves to throw us curveballs and provides plenty of opportunities for growth & patience & accepting that things don’t always go as we might want them to, I got started late in the baby-making game. I was “almost 40” when we got pregnant that first time. We had imagined so many possibilities with that baby, so many hopes and dreams and visions. But that egg, just like this egg, shattered early on as well. I had an early miscarriage at about 8 weeks. My world was rocked. Our world was rocked. I allowed myself time to grieve, and processed somewhat. Hearing how “common” it was for women, how “nature has a way of weeding out what isn’t developing correctly”, of how the statistics say that 1 in every 4 pregnancies results in miscarriage did nothing to comfort me. I do truly believe everything happens for a reason in the grand scheme of things, but that doesn’t make going through the process any less painful at the moment.

I have learned that loss is loss, no matter how big or how small. That what may cause insurmountable grief for me might cause you nothing but a brief sad thought. That doesn’t make my grief any less valid, nor make you a monster for not feeling it the same way. Because loss represents a dream we had that will no longer be allowed to live. We have to accept that particular dream is not possible, and somehow be okay and be able to move on from there. Even beyond that, to understand that we are not in control, and that ultimately life unfolds itself just as it should, whether we like it or not.

So I understand and accept that need to grieve, to honor that feeling of loss.  To look at it head on, in the eyes, and feel it and move through it even though our society tends to belittle certain losses and make them seem common place and therefore lesser deserving of grief.

But loss is loss. And it hurts. And it’s okay to accept and feel it. It’s more than okay, it is necessary in the healing process to do whatever you have to do to feel it and get past it.  The key is not to stay in that dark place for too long, otherwise it becomes harder and harder to climb back out to the other side of happiness, acceptance, joy and inner peace.

Dream Deferred by Langston Hughes
What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
Like a raisin in the sun?

Or fester like a sore–
And then run?

Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over–
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

 

 

 

“Set It, and Forget It!”

I know that sounds very much like a line from an infomercial. In fact, I’m pretty sure it probably is. But there is also a lesson hidden there.

The lesson for this week (for me) it seems, is to set an intention, put it out there, and let it go. So often I feel like I have to try “really hard” and “work really hard” to make something happen. When I take this approach, I end up feeling like I am walking uphill both ways trying to get something done or get something to happen. I end up exhausted, super frustrated, often physically ill, and depressed. So as I am in the home stretch of my teaching career, with 3 weeks left to go, I find myself mentally over-exerting myself because I am soooooooo excited about my new business and the direction my life is taking. Yet I am still working full-time, trying to administer final exams to seniors while simultaneously keeping the rest of the class “enriched and engaged and quiet” with only 2.5 weeks left and they could care less about school at this point, still “mommying” full-time, still trying to be a wife/homemaker as best as I can, still taking care of my “special” dog and keep up with his meds and vet visits….all the while trying to lay the groundwork for my new business.

I have been “trying too hard” to find a way to book a class I need for my certification, to network with people in the birthwork industry to no avail, to work on my blog, to continue my meditation practice and classes, to eat healthy (the term “healthy” at this point in my vocabulary has basically been demoted to “anything other than Taco Bell”). I am “trying so hard” in trying to move forward into my new career that my head is spinning and I’m getting nowhere. Or getting somewhere but REALLY SLOWLY and painfully.

So finally, after it hit me from all directions (divine intervention, friends, articles that pop up in my news feed). I get it. Stop trying so hard. Set the intention and LET IT GO ( why does that damn song keep haunting me!). As my very wise friend Viknes said to me this morning “Set the intention and trust it will happen…..allow it rather than try to control it…..and listen”.

Bam. Like a giant cartoon hammer over the head.

That’s a HUGE part of finding peace right there. Set it up, then let it go and TRUST it will happen when it’s meant to. And beyond that, find moments to be still and quiet and LISTEN to the clues that are there to help you move forward. The synchronicities that appear are there to show you that you’re on the right path at the right time. You’re in the flow. The numbers you keep seeing pop up over and over, the songs with just the right lyrics on the radio, the quote on the t-shirt someone is wearing that walks right across your path…..they are all signs. And they are easy to miss if you are not paying attention, awakened, aware.

I know, I fluctuate between being in the flow…..and not. But definitely more flow than not lately. I’m making progress. After years, no, decades of work on this thing we call inner peace, I still struggle between listening to my “ego voice “and my “higher self “voice. But hey, at least I am hearing (voices) both and paying attention.

It’s not to say we won’t accomplish our goals the hard way, but who wants to struggle and fight for something when you can get it with ease and amusement? In our culture and country, we (most of us) are taught at a very young age that we must always WORK HARD, always be busy “pursuing and chasing our dreams”…….Who wants to pursue and chase? That doesn’t sound fun, it sounds hard. We are taught at a young age the “dreamers” are wasting their time…..but what if they are not? What if they are on to something?

As always, it’s all about finding balance between the two dualities.

Follow your dreams, do the work, but don’t kill yourself and your soul in the process.

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East-over at the Temple of Juniper

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I am spiritual,  not religious. I find myself saying that more and more often these days, as it really does best describe my position. It came out of my mouth out loud for the first time as my 4-year-old, always questioning, got upset the other day because he said he had “no religion” and was angry and crying about it. I guess it was being discussed at school with the upcoming holiday, and he has heard references in the past of his Daddy being “Jewish” (not practicing, only kind of sort of) and me being “Buddhist” (I take a lot from Buddhism but wouldn’t consider that a religion). I tried to explain it was something personal, that he would learn about all religions and philosophies in his life.  It is something he could decide later when he was older if he wished. He wasn’t happy with that answer. The explanation that worked for him, for now, was “In our family we are spiritual not religious. We are good people, we try to do the best we can, and we take care of each other, the people, the planet”. Which leads to our “holy” trip.
We had the chance to spend the Easter/Passover (= East-over) long weekend camping at Juniper Springs, FL, which is inside Ocala National Forest.  Being there in nature made me feel more connected to Source/Nature/God than any church, or temple, or any other building ever did. The luxury of having nowhere to be, surrounded by trees, nature, and the natural pure springs solidifies for me that life is too short. We are only on this Earth, in these bodies, for such a limited time. I want more time to spend with my family, enjoying nature. As much time as possible. I’m done with the hamster wheel of work work work, hurry hurry hurry, wash, rinse repeat. I want more nature and simplicity in my daily life.  Less alarm clocks,  less complications….more time paddling a kayak surrounded by the sights and sounds of nature, jumping off ledges into a pristine watering hole,  dancing around the fire pit with my family, sharing wine with new friends with kids just the perfect age to play with my son while we all got some “grown-up time”…just a plain, over-all slower life.
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Life certainly doesn’t have to be “painful” or “hard” or “fast-paced”, although sometimes it seems like that. Nope. Not my world. That doesn’t mean it’s perfect in any way. But we forget moment by moment that we have choices. Choices on how we perceive things, how we handle things. For example, the last day of our camping trip, right before evening and after supper, a big thunderstorm rained out our last campfire play date. We had to retreat into our tent and throw as much as possible back into the car to keep dry as quickly as possible. And we sat together in the tent and waited. And waited.  And read books. And played games. And dealt with the many, many leaks from the roof of our not-so-water-proof-it-seems tent (who knew you had to seal the seams?). It could have turned into a big, frustrating downer. But we chose not to let it. We made the best of it. Eventually, when the rain turned into a drizzle, we put on our rain gear and took a family night hike with our flashlights, exploring the wet forest which looks completely transformed by the rain. Washed clean. We jumped through puddles, searched for fireflies, attempted (and succeeded, yay, Daddy!) to make our final fire, our blaze of glory with the rest of the firewood.
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So I am grateful we got to spend this particular, significant weekend at our own spiritual place.  That in a sense, we were baptized by the clear waters of Juniper Springs. The possibility of our souls being reborn into a different reality of our choosing had begun.
Happiness.
Peace.
Love.
And although I felt a twinge of all too familiar heaviness as we returned driving back to the big city, I hope we can all maintain some of the clarity of the water to help us stay clear in our vision.
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The Music in Me

Picture by Audrey the Artist

Picture by Audrey the Artist

If you know me, you know how vitally music is a part of my life. I play various instruments. I collect all kinds of music (it borders on an obsession, I won’t lie). I have playlists for every occasion, for myself and for my friends as well. There is always music playing near me, or if that’s not possible, I can guarantee a soundtrack plays in my head according to where I am, whether it’s shopping at Target,  at work watching myself teach students, at home learning from my 4 year old son.
For me, music = life.
So very recently, I started thinking of my life in music terms. And I had a kind of epiphany.  I realized that for a long time, I had been living life quietly, neatly, properly on the “1 and 3”.
Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with “1 and 3”. A lot of great things happened during my “1 and 3” period. I got married, bought a house, had a successful teaching career, had a child. It was a stage for setting the groundwork of sorts. It was….safe and quiet. Like a lullaby. But somewhere in that period I lost myself. I got too safe and too quiet. I stopped listening to my inner voice, followed too many rules, got carried away in the day to day survival mode as it is so easy to do. All of a sudden (or not really at all) I looked up one day and wondered “What the hell am I doing with my life? What’s the point?”.
Then it hit me – I am not a lullaby, I am jazz.”1 and 3″ never fit me quite right. I should have been groovin’ on the 2 and 4 all along! There is room for improvisation, for swinging it, for dancing any way I want no matter what style of music is playing, for not just coloring outside the lines, but mixing my own damn combination of colors until I get the exact perfect shade for that exact perfect moment in time……and just making that small shift internally opened my eyes to a whole new world. 
So I worked hard on myself, got ready, prayed, got teachers, found my tribe, found my spirituality, found my voice,  found myself again.
I feel like my “voice” had been silenced (although the silence was self imposed). But now, now I am ready to roar (insert Katy Perry song here). Now I can speak.  Now I can breathe.  Now I can see beauty and peace in life, in nature, in everything. 
And I can dance. On the “2 and 4”.
And it doesn’t matter who doesn’t understand or appreciate my music.
Because it is MY music.
I own it. It is MY gift to the world. I won’t apologize for it, defend it, or explain it really. It is who I am. And I am finally ready to own it completely, fearlessly.
I am not doing myself or anyone else any favors pretending I am not fully “me”.  And I recognize that “my me” is a combination of lifetimes of music from all countries, styles, and generations. So “my me” may look and feel different everyday.
But it’s still me.
And it’s still great no matter what shape or form or mental state I may be in at the time.
So I will keep playing and living and loving and improving and revising and appreciating “my me” and my music. And since I’m finally “Brave” enough (insert Sara Bareilles song here), I will share it with you.