Safety Blanket

I have been feeling unsafe lately just existing in the world as me. Which is awful. To feel unsafe to simply be in the world. Because I am woman, I am vulnerable, and that is infuriating. It is also -sadly- not new. I had constructed some myths about being safe with friends, that somehow I could surround myself with a security blanket of people and that would insulate me from the horrors of the world. It sort of worked. Until it didn’t. Until the places and the people that were supposed to be safe proved themselves to be less so.

It’s not that the violence I hear about in other parts of the world does not affect me, but it’s just that normally, it is distant enough that I can be effectively empathetic, that I can mourn the loss of lives, that I can be re-inspired to do the work I do with greater fervor and conviction, and I can continue forward on my march for justice. Lately though, the violence has been too much and too close to home both physically and metaphorically, and it has left me shattered, unable to cope. I know I have reached my limit because I make coffee and leave it on the counter, I lose my keys, startle at loud noises, flinch when someone touches me, have a hard time breathing, can’t fall asleep, struggle to wake up, forget what I was going to say mid-sentence, become nervous when people walk up behind me and evaluate my outfits as I get dressed for how likely men will perceive them as an invitation rather than whether I want to wear them.

The U.S. is enraged by the most recent event of male entitlement and rape culture, as it should be. It’s also hard to believe anything is actually going to change. Every post about it reminds me I am unsafe. Every scroll through the comments section reminds me that I did everything “right” even when I know that the idea of doing it right is horribly offensive, and still I was not safe. It is not enough to guard yourself from strangers, but men you thought you knew and could trust can also prove themselves to be unsafe. It reminds me that I can trust no one. That because I am an attractive woman, I am object, I am up for grabs, that I must stay sober in order to defend myself because it’s not a matter of if the need should arise but when.

I have been sitting silently with these feelings, trying to find the words to express them. Trying to unpack my base fear of straight men, wishing it weren’t true or at least weren’t necessary. The more I reflect on these feelings, the deeper I have dug into the hell of my fear, of all the times I have said no and it didn’t matter, of all the times I was too afraid to say no but wanted to. It hasn’t been pretty.

Eventually this led me to think about how much safer I feel with women, and yet how ironically being with women also puts me at risk. I do not look like mainstream society’s idea of a stereotypical lesbian and being out has often meant being subject to verbal abuse and threats of physical harm from straight men. Because according to them I am a waste of femininity or I must be confused, and they will set me “straight.” What is worse is that because I also sometimes date men I am hypersexualized and turned into a fantasy; made all the more terrifying because fantasies aren’t real. Objects of fantasies are just that: objects. They don’t have feelings, thoughts or opinions about what is done to them or with them. I have no agency in this category.

I exist in a liminal space. I pass as straight, and I get hit on mercilessly by men. I claim my complex sexual identity, and I am further objectified by the same men as simultaneously repulsive and enticing. I feel safest and most at home in the gay community, even when I am not entirely accepted, I am at least safe from harm. Until today. Today that sense of safety has been fractured by the horrific shooting in Orlando. The loss of life is unparalleled in U.S. shootings to date. It feels surreal, like a bad dream I will soon wake up from, but this is reality. I am awake.

The consequences of this one person’s actions are multi-layered. The idea that a person could come into your home (figuratively speaking), possibly the only space in which you felt safe to be your most authentic self in the presence of friends and trustworthy strangers is to me the most unsettling: this destruction of faith that there are safe spaces. It is also -sadly- not new.

People had the audacity to believe in their own equality and basic human rights. How dare you try to take that away. This is not about radical religious beliefs. This is about hatred. This is about lack of gun control. This about lack of respect for life. And it has to stop.

There are safe spaces to exist as you are, to be respected as a whole and worthy person, to just be you. These are spaces everyone needs and deserves regardless of their gender, sexual identity, race or religion. We need more of them, and we need to work to protect the places we have, to re-establish the sense of safety where it has been shattered, to be each other’s safety blanket.

Mother’s day

I’ve been thinking about all the single mamas who will spend this arbitrary holiday alone or working or for some other reason away from their child. As I sat down to write about mamalove or perhaps my students’ love for their mamas or my love for them, my mind quickly jumped back in time. All week long the memory of how I spent mother’s day weekend la última vez has been pressed to the forefront of my mind. Apparently, this is the story I need to tell.

Last year, I spent the whole weekend with the man I loved more than I ever knew I could. He had planned out our time together on Saturday, and in every detail it was obvious that he “got” me. He found what is likely the only restaurant in all of Washington with Lucha Libre art painted mural style onto its walls with a back patio strung with papel picado. We had mimosas and huevos rancheros in the sunshine. Then we wandered over to a chocolate factory in a restored and repurposed grain mill. We sampled salted caramels and stared up at a magical black metal spiral staircase leading to nowhere. We made our way lazily to the botanical gardens where we spent hours strolling through the greenery and holding hands. We went back to his house, made dinner, stayed up late talking, cuddled on the couch. I woke up early the next morning wrapped in his arms and prepared to pick up my child from his father’s house to spend the day with my baby boy while my honey spent the day with his momma. Sleepily lounging in my love’s embrace, I scratched my head and in disbelief pulled out a piojo. My students who had been passing lice back and forth like love notes had shared them with me at last. I wanted to scream, but I stifled it because he was still sleeping beside me. Silently, I began panicking. I reached for my phone and texted my ex-husband to explain my horrifying realization. He agreed that he should keep our son while I dealt with my “situation.” Then I woke up my honey con las malas noticias. We got up, and he searched my head for further evidence. I spent the rest of Mother’s Day with my head tilted at various awkward angles as I first rinsed with skin burning chemicals and then tried to patiently hold still while the love of my life combed through -tiny section by teeny tiny section- of my immensely thick, waist length hair to find and remove all of the nits. Just thinking about it now makes my scalp itch and my neck sore.

As wonderful as Saturday had been, the day I knew without a doubt that I was loved unconditionally and unequivocally -in a way I had only allowed myself to skeptically hope for- was Sunday. Not only did he sacrifice his time with his mom and spend todo el día painstakingly combing through my hair, but he never once complained. In fact, he apologized several times for the pain he was causing me (if you’ve ever had to comb through your hair with a nit comb, then you know how uncomfortable it can be). He made me laugh even when I didn’t necessarily feel like it. He never made me feel dirty or ashamed for having lice which is exactly how I had been made to feel when I had it as a child. He didn’t blame me for his missing out on time with his family or mention even the hint of judgement for me being the worst mother on Earth for missing out on the day with my son. Internally, I was doing a fantastic job of hurling these insults at myself, so maybe he knew I didn’t need any help. I told him thank you multiple times for taking care of me and for not letting me shave my head as I had proposed, but I don’t think I ever explained how much it meant to me to be loved like that. I don’t know if I even had las palabras para decírselo.

When I think about our relationship, there are a lot of good memories and a lot of hard ones, but this weekend stands out the most powerfully to me because I was held and seen and loved unconditionally in a way I had never let anyone do for me before.

Despite having promised to stay friends, we don’t really talk anymore, and I still miss him everyday. Isn’t that ridiculous?! Every. Day. Time has made the missing less sharp, less likely to take my breath away when it passes over me, but it’s still there. Sometimes it looks like a slow sweet smile spreading across my face. Sometimes it looks like a confused and furrowed brow. Sometimes it’s a giggle. Sometimes it’s a sigh. Sometimes it’s the realization that the only person I really want to tell about my day probably isn’t going to answer my call and calling anyway.

This mother’s day weekend I’m taking mi hijo to brunch on Saturday. In the afternoon, we will play in the park. I will make us dinner. He will forget it’s Mother’s Day weekend when it’s time for bed, and I will have to hassle him as always to brush his teeth and get ready for bed. I will not wake up with piojos, but I will also not wake up next to someone I love. I will be pounced on earlier than I’d like by a seven year old, who I grew and carried inside of me, who knows me on a cellular level, who when I was typing this knowingly came up beside me, gave me a hug and a sympathetic pat before returning to his epic imaginary Lego battle in his room. He will show me his love by explaining que “tengo MUCHA hambre.” I will make him breakfast, and he will smile and say “gracias.” And that will have to be enough.



I met a little girl recently. She’s seven, the same age as my son. I spent the day with her and my son at the Pacific Science Center. She was openly curious about me and asked lots of questions. She also told me about herself, her school, her sisters, her friends.

My son, not used to having to share his mother’s attention with another child, interjected with an increasingly authoritative tone. I observed her defer to his judgement. I heard her say “I don’t get it” even when I suspected she did. I noticed this and said nothing. I thought about my female students in class. I thought about my male students always calling out the answers.

In the time we spent alone, she never said “I don’t get it,” only when boys were present. I made a point to ask her more questions. I pushed her to tell me why, to reach for the part she got, to build on it. I didn’t give her answers. I responded by asking her more questions and making observations with non-evaluative language.

As the day went on, I discovered that her favorite food is pizza, she can run really fast, loves to touch water and likes every color except brown. This last piece of information made my stomach flip over.

I immediately wanted to call all the beautiful, powerful, brilliantly smart women of color I know and surround her with them.

It made me want to point out everything that is beautiful about the color brown, to name everything that is brown as beautiful and important and wise.

It made me want to throw away all my pens and write only in brown, to cover all of these white pages in brown ink. And it made me question everything about my suddenly very white life.

It made me think of my about-to-be-teenage female students of color who look up at me adoringly, arms around my waist and say how beautiful and skinny I am.

It made me think of how I brush off their compliments, tell them they are beautiful too and worry about their body image, but what I wasn’t hearing them say was how beautiful, skinny and white I am. And how what I needed to be saying is how beautifully perfectly brown they are. That I must name what is unspoken. That I must do something.

Because at seven this little black girl whose smile lights up the room, who can easily run faster than any boy her age, who knows more about compassion and patience than she should probably have to, who is stunningly beautiful, likes every color except brown, and it keeps me awake at night.

I don’t know how to make it right, but I know I have to try. I know I have to do everything I can to be a part of the conversations that must take place in order to change that.


I miss you the most on Fridays

When I’m tired

When my son asks when you are ever going to come over again for a visit

When I get home from the week and I realize my house is a mess, the dishes are piled up in the sink, the laundry I never folded is still on the couch and my son is so excited to spend the evening with me but I have absolutely nothing left to give anyone

When all I want to do is collapse on the floor

When all I want to do is be still and quiet

Somehow you always made it seem possible to hold it together for just a few more hours until he went to bed

Somehow you gave me just enough of a break to be able to enjoy the time together by just being together

Somehow dinner would get made and somehow the things that never got put away during the week might even get cleaned up, but it didn’t really matter either way

Somehow I’d find myself laughing with you both, eating dinner, playing a board game, watching a movie, snuggling up for a bedtime story

And then having finally made it to the end of the day of another devastatingly long week, we could sit together on the couch in silence or talk about the ridiculous shenanigans of my students or make plans for the weekend

And tired didn’t feel so exhausting

And the stress of teaching didn’t feel so stressful

And the mess of my life didn’t feel so messy

I miss you the most on Fridays because you were the only person I ever let see me defeated

And you would just hold me

And everything would be okay.

Work it out

Dear men at the gym,

Quit looking at me like you are hungry. I am not for dinner.


Dear men at the gym,

I can hear you when you are talking about me to your friend standing 5 feet away from me. I am a teacher. I can hear everything.


Dear men at the gym,

Just because I am wearing leggings and a tiny tank top does not mean I put this outfit on for you.


Dear men at the gym,

You eyeing me and then increasing the weight of your sets just reminds me that you don’t know what you are doing. It does not impress me. You are not here to impress me.


Dear women at the gym,

Yes, I am thin. That’s not why I workout. Quit looking at me like I don’t belong here. I am trying to stay sane.


Dear women at the gym,

I am standing on this scale to make sure I haven’t lost any weight. Do not scoff at me as you walk by. I can hear you.


Dear women at the gym,

Take up more space. Don’t cluster tidily in the corner like you might be interrupting something. Spread out in the weight room. Leave your shit everywhere.

Except when we are in Zumba class, then put your stuff in a locker and try not to accidentally smack me. It gets crowded.

I hope you stay

I posted an article on FB recently about not quitting teaching. It’s solid how-to-calm-your-self-down advice, but I posted it mostly as reminder that I am not the only one who sometimes fantasizes about hanging up my tote bags and becoming a barista or maybe just a bartender. Unfortunately, there’s no advice column that can save you from the frustrations of teaching because to be honest the not-going-to-quit moments come from my kids and their families not from life coaches. Like today. After being at school for 12hrs on four hours of sleep, a lot coffee, 3 chocolate peanut butter cups, a handful of tortilla chips and an unfortunately sized scoop of overly salty guacamole, I was cleaning up from our family night. All the families were buttoning up coats and making their way out the door into the dark, blustery evening. One mama made her way towards the table I was cleaning and since this was the furthest direction away from the exit she could have gone, I felt obligated to politely chat.

As an introvert working in a highly extroverted profession, I was beyond done with interacting, but I was trying hard to not show how exhausted I was really feeling. As we talked a small exuberant young boy ran up and side hugged me. He had also been at school for 12 hours at this point, but his version of tired looked slightly more animated and hyper than mine. “Who is this?!” She wanted to know. I laughed and then paused while my brain sluggishly searched for the words I wanted in English. I had been translating my teaching partner’s English into my Spanish all night, and in the moment I was struggling to do the reverse. “That’s my son” I finally managed. Her face brightened “Oh! All this time I have seen you, and I didn’t know you had a child. Does he go here?” I nodded. “Yes, he’s in second grade” I confirmed. More excited now, she exclaimed: “That’s good news!” I stopped the absentminded robotic clearing of the table and side-eyed her. Then she sweetly, awkwardly, shyly explained: “I was hoping you would be here next year to be my daughter’s teacher…” I stood up. “And since… you have a son in school here …it’s …well maybe it’s more likely that you will …stay.” And then quieter and trailing off she added: “I hope…” and looked at me expectantly. I looked at her thoughtfully for a moment.

Last year, my duty spot for most of the year was in front of the school in the morning. I loved it because I got to see many of the kids and their families in their most real, unfiltered early morning interactions. I had the privilege of being one of the first non-family members they saw. I stood on the edge of the crosswalk and smiled and waved in the cold and the rain and the sun. I translated for families when it was too early for anyone in the office to help, and I joked around with kids and my co-workers as we waited for the school day to start.

My morning spot is different now. I hang out in the back by the portables with the 5th and 6th graders. It’s still a pretty nice way to start the day, but I interact with the families a lot less because big kids tend to walk to school by themselves. Still, this mom remembers me. She saw me in the mornings when she walked her daughter to school and even though she has never seen me teach or had a child in my class, she decided for whatever reason that I am the kind of person she wants to teach her daughter. Not only that but, she felt so strongly about it that she felt it necessary to tell me. And in that moment it was everything I needed to hear.

I replied slowly: “I’m not going anywhere,” and I smiled like I do every morning when my students arrive.


I stopped watching NetFlix

I stopped watching Netflix and started watching TED Talks and it was the best decision I ever made. That sounds good, right? Noble even. The truth is I needed something to distract myself from my sorrow after my break-up. I’ve been keeping myself busy with exercise. They say it’s a good idea to take up a hobby after the end of a relationship, so why not obsess over an exercise routine? I mean I do have a lot of excess energy all of the sudden, and insomnia was a problem even when I had a honey. Ice cream and alcohol were making me suicidal, so I bought an exercise tracker thing, finished off the ice cream, left the booze at a friend’s house and stopped binge-watching Netflix. Okay, to be fair I didn’t stop watching MY Netflix because technically, I never had a Netflix account. I stopped using my not-sweetheart’s account because it seemed overly opportunistic to continue reaping the side benefits of our companionship when I was no longer receiving the real benefits of our love. In other words, I logged out.

I know time heals and this too shall pass and whatever, but shit is hard right now y’all. I didn’t realize just how much better my life had become until then it wasn’t anymore. I know that relationships are hard work, and I’m used to them being a challenge. If I could record the number of times I have heard “but it’s not supposed to be this hard” from my exes… well it would be a lot of times. That’s the thing though. This felt different. It was definitely challenging, like trying to teach my students how to read -that is super complex- but I WANT to help them. I am excited to be a part of solving the puzzle and continuing on the journey. That’s how I felt about us. Like I wanted to do the work. So the work didn’t feel like work. It just felt like us. And despite the added time and energy intimate relationships require, ours worked out so that my life was about 10% easier than it had ever been before. And y’all that ten percent was everything. I mean everything.

First of all I never thought that would actually happen: that my life would ever be easier. I had mostly resigned to the fact that it would just hover around bearable with occasional to frequent dips into “oh god I’m not going to make it.” But then there it was happening. It was 10% easier to breath, to fall asleep, to laugh, to hope for a future in which I could be more than a tired, short tempered, scraping by single mother living in a tiny basement apartment. It was wonderful. All the while I was careful not to self-sabotage by doing something stupid. I piled up all the lessons I learned from all my previous failed relationships, studied them carefully and made sure I did everything right because I didn’t want to mess this up: I was appreciative, I talked openly about my feelings and fears, I made time for us, I did all the things, but it didn’t matter. The relationship still ended.

I didn’t take it well. I am not taking it well. There is the usual ouch of a relationship ending, and the fact that my life got 10% harder again, but there is a deeper wound: the loss of hope. It’s frustrating and embarrassing to lose my shit so thoroughly over a failed relationship. I’ve survived numerous difficulties in my life: multiple forms of abuse, psychosis of a sibling, death of a parent, divorce, and poverty just to name the big ones, but this break-up is the thing I am uncertain I can overcome and that is terrifying.

So I’ve been doing what I always do when things get hard; I work harder. Which brings me back to the fitness tracker and how I got hooked on TED Talks.

I have struggled with depression off and on for most of my life. I have a pretty big arsenal of coping strategies I’ve learned along the way, but the best therapy by far is sweat. I’ve been going to the gym or Zumba or going dancing everyday since we split. The days I have skipped for seemingly “valid” reasons quickly turned into really rough nights and reinforced the need to stick to the routine. The problem is the gym is BORING and weird. People, based on my observations and eavesdropping, are there to lose weight or get bulked up and muscly. That’s great for them, but I don’t really feel like I fit in because I don’t particularly care about either of these things. I am literally just trying to keep myself alive. My real issue with the gym though is that the elliptical and the weights give me too much time to think. Listening to music has proven troublesome because there are too many memories, but TED Talks are awesome. Did you know that there’s an app?! Of course there is. Now I have something to focus on that is positive and productive. Yesterday I learned about Power Posing and today I listened to a talk about the struggle and triumph of children’s author Jarret J. Krosoczka. I’ve been watching them at home too when I cant sleep, and sometimes they even make me feel a little better, not 10% better, but like I can probably make it through the week and that’s a start.