“Dun You Forget.”

10171241_10201718048734898_1325660929898754720_n

 

Into my pre-teen years—although I tried to hide my true feelings—I became self-conscious that developed into a guarded inferiority complex. While not shy as my mother had been, I felt like an outcast: I came from a broken home, my family was poor, and I was still on the school’s free lunch program. My clothes were hand-me-downs. We didn’t own a car. I didn’t even own a bike, although I always wanted one. We didn’t go on vacations like to Disney World the other kids bragged about, nor could we afford the latest trends or luxuries as others.

As I wrestled with these feelings of mediocrity, I became ashamed of my Puerto Rican heritage. I didn’t play the blame-game, but felt second-rate, forever on the outside looking in. I determined not to let anyone see through my brittle exterior to see a weakling. In school, because I didn’t feel part of the “in” crowd, I enviously watched as the popular kids were voted for class president, vice-president, or secretary. In my mind, I believed the ritzy kids went to summer camps, swimming lessons, and Girl Scout meetings. After all, they paid for their school lunches, not the state. They wore the latest fashions, not hand-me-downs. Their straight pearly whites glistened when they smiled. They even pronounced their words perfectly. They lived in big houses whose parents had “nest eggs.”

“Some are more privileged than others,” Grandma explained to me. “But we are all the same in God’s eyes.”

I wasn’t about to argue with Grandma’s statement. All I knew was that there never seemed to be enough funds to do anything extra. My grandparents were extremely frugal. They didn’t believe in splurging or in keeping up with the Joneses.

In the early seventies, several public schools were still racially unbalanced, so the federal courts stepped in. Miami’s school districts bused students from one neighborhood to another to achieve integration.

Busing made my life plummet from bad to worse. I attended Miami Shores Middle School, a predominantly white school where kids commonly called Hispanics “spics.”

Because I was Puerto Rican descent, I was the target of their taunting. “You spic English?” they scoffed, using their favorite line. They even gave me grief about my naturally full-sized lips (something others now pay money to have done).

To make matters worse for me, my grandma—unpretentious and a bit old-fashioned— insisted I wear dresses to school past my knees, even though other girls wore the trendy mini-skirts and mini-dresses. Almost all my clothes were second-hand, and at eleven years old—going on twelve—that bothered me.

“Grandma, this isn’t what the girls wear nowadays!” I groaned.

“Dis is what you’re wearin’, and you shouldn’t be ashamed. Your clothes are clean and pressed,” she said with finality in her usual accent.

I threw up my hands. “Grandma, you’re gonna make me get into fights!”

“You are a Christian girl,” she retorted, her eyes wide and fierce. “Dun you forget that.”

* * * *

Thanks to you, Grandma, I haven’t forgotten.

I’ll always remember my beloved grandma who passed away in the eighties, whose birthday would have been July 26th . In her simplicity, she impacted my life and instilled in me values and principles I shall never forget.

© M.A. Perez 2014, All Rights Reserved

577258_460277330746146_725025088_n

9 Comments

Filed under Grandma, Memoir

UnMask

  purple_masquerade_masks_for_kids_BAMPIC02G

All through my life, I’ve dealt with feelings of low self-esteem and self-worth. I felt undone, incomplete, or insignificant. Along the way, I realized this stemmed from my childhood. I did not ask for it. I certainly did not want it. But with an undeniably painful past and a seemingly questionable future, I muddled through life. I thought a man could save me, but he only tried to make me into his own image! I became his shadow, worshiped the ground he walked on, subservient to his every whim. I was truly lost, with no identity, no voice – no me. Yet I held on, not wanting to lose him then. By the way, that’s a perfect example of insecurity: the more easily threatened we are, the more insecure we are.

Beth Moore says: “Insecurity lives in constant terror of loss.” As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been reading Beth Moore’s So Long, Insecurity with the subtitle you’ve been a bad friend to us. Wish she wrote this book 40 years ago! She says that insecurity is not only a woman’s battle. She identifies insecurity as a “profound sense of self-doubt – a deep feeling of uncertainty about our basic worth and our place in the world. The insecure man or woman lives in constant fear of rejection and a deep uncertainty about whether his or her own feelings and desires are legitimate.”

I thought about myself as a Christian, why from time to time do I still struggle with insecurities? Why does rejection crush me so? Why do I second guess everything? Beth reveals an interesting point about herself in her book: “I not only lack security, I also lack faith. I don’t just doubt myself, I also doubt God about myself. I don’t know about you, but that struck me to the core!

She goes on to say how some of us never seek healing from God for our insecurities because we feel like we don’t fit the profile. But insecurity’s best cover is perfectionism. Now there’s a mask for you!

What masks are you prone to wear? Looking back, I recall hiding the pain behind my smile.

A woman who has no self-worth or a low self-esteem tends to hide behind a mask.

6 Comments

July 6, 2014 · 6:30 PM

A Simpler Place in Time

In the mid-60s, as a girl with my grandparents, every Sunday we rode the Metro bus to attend services at First Faith Cathedral. Once church was over, we hopped on another bus to downtown that took us to the Painted Horse, a favorite all-you-can-eat restaurant on Biscayne Boulevard. Adults ate for 99 cents and kids for 49 cents. I preferred the hamburger steak with macaroni and cheese, and even though they displayed Jell-O in every color to choose from, my favorite: red.

After lunch, we would head for the Miami Public Library, near Bayfront Park. Grandpa would walked on ahead, while I strolled along with Grandma under her umbrella. We’d stop by a large pond filled with giant goldfish and feed them crackers. The park was next to a waterfront where fancy boats and exquisite yachts sailed by. As I waved to them, I imagined how the rich folk lived.

Once we arrived at the library, I’d take the elevator to the children’s section on the second floor while my grandparents remained reading in the downstairs lobby. I strolled the aisles running my hands across the binders of the books neatly stacked on shelves. I loved the smell of those books, the textures, the colors, even the different lettering.

Image

My imagination ran wild as I’d choose a fairy tale, sit on a nearby stool and read about magical and faraway places. In my mind, I turned beautiful and clever all in one.

signs_princess_cinderella_1

I pretended to be Cinderella, overjoyed that the glass slipper fit my foot perfectly and that my uncle, the tall Prince Charming, singled me out to dance. I imagined my brother as Hansel and I Gretel, hunting for food, and then eating chunks of candy broken off the cottage with no evil witch in sight. I pictured myself as Little Red Riding Hood who saved Grandma from the Big Bad Wolf. While reading, I became all those characters and more—until Grandpa called for me, saying, “Mary, time to go home.”

Image

My real so-called adventures didn’t take me to faraway lands like those in the books I read. My adventures were riding around town on those city buses. If the bus was crowded, we stood while swaying back and forth. Back and forth. Grandpa held onto straps. Unable to reach them, I held onto the bars instead.

“Mary, hold on tight now,” Grandma cautioned. Grandpa stood nearby, ready to steady Grandma or me if needed. I don’t think he enjoyed riding on the bus much.

Suburban-type_GM_New_Look_bus_-_Pittsburgh,_1984

When it was time, I liked to pull the cord to signal the driver to let us off.

“Now, Grandpa?” I asked, not wanting to miss our stop.

“Not yet. Be patient, young lady.”

“How about now?”

“I’ll let you know when it’s time.”

Eventually, the sunny, bright-colored Sable Palms apartment complex came into view.

“Okay, now, young lady,” Grandpa nodded.

I would kneel on the seat and reached for the cord, or sometimes Grandpa hoisted me up. I pulled on the cord fast, once, twice, and sometimes even three times for the bus driver to stop. Then swoosh the rear doors opened, we exited, and then the door swish closed.

Palm tree-lined winding roads landscaped and shaded the path to my grandparents’ home. Often coconuts fell from those towering trees and I’d run to pick one up for us.

I’ll never forget one day when we arrived home, I overheard Grandpa complaining to Grandma about standing too close to so many people.

“¿Tu ves, Ana?” he said, showing her something. “See? They stole my wallet.”

From the hall, I listened.

“Oh, no!” Grandma gasped, staring at his inside-out pocket in disbelief.

“We have to stand so close we are like sardines. Too easy for someone to put his hands in my back pocket; taking my wallet out without me knowing.”

It made me sad to think someone would do something bad to my grandpa, stealing from him as if we were rich. Then again, maybe we were.

(An excerpt from Running in Heels)

© M.A. Perez 2014, All Rights Reserved

I loved books then. I love books now. I remember the simple things in life as a child, having a vivid imagination to take me to faraway places. What are some of your fond memories as a child?

3 Comments

June 27, 2014 · 11:09 PM

Did You Say, “Insecurities”?

So, I’m reading Beth Moore’s, So Long, Insecurity. I’m not even past chapter four yet and find myself re-reading and digesting the words on the pages. She states in her book that we all have insecurities and most have enough insecurity to hinder. As I reflect on whether I’ve felt insecure before, I’m sad to admit that I am well acquainted with insecurity.

Beth Moore ties insecurity to a profound sense of self-doubt. Ouch! But I think I knew this already. How many times have I determined to do something but then reneged on my decision? How often have I started a task only to lack the courage to move forward? My palms get clammy. My confidence deflates. My resolve wavers. My bravado crumbles. I bet I’m not the only one who struggles with this.

I’m a common woman sharing common problems seeking common solutions on a journey with an uncommon Savior.

The word rejection is also mentioned in the book and that brings me to ask: Well, who in the world likes to be rejected? To the point where I sometimes think, if you reject me, I’ll go out of my way to prove you wrong—sometimes—in spite of my own hurt, creating my own misery. I can honestly say, I know my own flaws, or at least I’d like to think so. But the astonishing thing for me is reading what an insecure woman looks like:

She may easily cry, avoid the spotlight, and have a strong desire to make amends whether it’s her fault or not. If someone gets angry at her, she has a difficult time not to think or to dwell about it. The insecure woman sometimes feels anxious for no apparent reason; her feelings get hurt when she learns someone doesn’t like her, and she may even fear that her husband might leave her for another.

Talk about a lack of self-worth!

Well, I asked my husband what insecurities did he see in me? (Because after all, I know I have some.) And this is what he answered: The big one is you not being in control. Not having a say so about something, and having a tendency to micro-manage. He said this goes back to my early years when others told me what to do and when to do it. What an eye opener! While this was true during my childhood, it was certainly the same in my first marriage.

Before I became a Christian I struggled with insecurities, and now as a Christian I still struggle at times. I learned a long time ago I’m not perfect, but I’m forgiven. I’ve opened myself up in sharing some of these truths with you because I know they are life’s lessons. I’m still learning and if there’s a pulse and breath in your being then you are still learning, too. No one on this earth is perfect or has arrived. I’ve determined to work on my insecurities.

How about you?

15 Comments

Filed under Beth Moore, insecurities

That Special Someone

From the beginning, I loved Mark’s adventurous spirit for the outdoors and watching him interact with my gang. He took us on weekend outings and summer vacations. They included dove hunting with my son, camp-outs on the beach, air shows, the circus, barbecues at the parks, and a vacation to Disney World. Even though raised in Miami, I had never been to Disney World and recall that I was as excited to go as the kids were.

Our all-time favorite excursion: A ten-day-road-trip to his hometown California. We stopped in San Diego where we spent the entire day at the zoo, the largest and grandest I had ever seen or strolled through. Our second day was in Los Angeles, where I knew we’d bump into Hollywood glitter to brag about back home.

I was right, too. Well, sort of.

To my shock, a few yards away I spotted a celebrity in the crowd at Universal Studios. I saw the back of his head, and then he turned just enough for me to see his profile. He wasn’t Tom Cruise. He wasn’t Mel Gibson. He wasn’t exactly your Prince Charming … Of course, my kids didn’t know of him. Yep, I called out his name and he looked right at me and wave. It was he all right. Tiny Tim! His song, Tiptoed Through the Tulips played in my head the rest of that day.

In Monterey, we cruised along the 17-mile drive, passing greenery, plush golf courses, Clint Eastwood’s home, and the infamous Lone Cypress tree we’ve seen only in photos before. In San Francisco, we hung out at Golden Gate Park and toured the Museum of National History. We stopped in Salinas and visited Mark’s aunt, and continued on to Modesto. We spent the night in his brother’s home and watched the children happily camped out in their backyard in a tent under a full moon.

Come morning, on to Yosemite National Park. As far as the eye could see, the view was breathtaking, beautiful and serene. We enjoyed a picnic and watched a waterfall close by, and then the little ones wanted to go exploring. Wherever Mark led, the children followed. The kids trailed him, fearlessly climbing one rock after another. I never cared much for heights, so I stayed on “lower” ground taking pictures.

Just as I started to worry, weren’t there bears around? My kiddos raced down the trail with Mark in tow.

“Mommy! Mommy!” they cried in unison.

“Where’d you guys go?” I asked. “I started to get—”

“You should have seen Mark,” they said, trying to talk at once.

As Mark drew closer, I noticed him soaking wet, a sheepish grin look on his face. Apparently, when he wanted to venture farther along where the river ran, he instructed the kids to wait for him while he climbed higher. But when time to descend, Mark found himself in a tight spot. From where he stood, the drop was much too far down to hop off. After some scheming, he threw his wallet and keys to where the children were and then jumped into the cold river and swam until he could gain better footing and get back on track.

Amidst the chatter, I teased Mark by saying he had fallen into the river (instead of voluntarily jumping in). But he and the kids swear to it that he purposely dove in when he felt he ran out of options. We would joke about this for years to come.

Unknowingly, those voyages were just the beginning to some wonderful memories my children shared with their step-dad, who lovingly, selflessly and so “bravely” (as my brother puts it) stepped up to the plate. That husband of mine became more than just a “step” dad.

It takes a strong man to accept somebody else’s children and step up to the plate another man left on the table…

~ Ray Johnson

I love my husband for striving to be the best Daddy that he can be for my children. And it seems to come naturally, ever since day one when we crossed paths, some twenty-three years ago.

By the way, that special someone makes a great “Papa” for our grand kids, too.

 

IMG_0873

 

© M.A. Perez 2014, All Rights Reserved

10 Comments

June 11, 2014 · 9:34 PM

A Message from Maxwell – adding Value to Others

10171185_10203292874236939_8236175064140934860_nIf you’re truly going to be significant, you have to add value to other people.

Recently my husband and I attended a John Maxwell seminar, which we thoroughly enjoyed. A trajectory of wit coupled with wisdom ensued from this man’s lips.

Here are seven meaningful questions I jotted down and continue to reflect upon. What a great exercise!

  1. What’s the greatest lesson you’ve learned in life?
  2. What are you learning now?
  3. How has failure shaped your life?
  4. Who do you know that I should know?
  5. What have you read that I should read?
  6. What have you experienced or done that I should do?
  7. How can I add value to you?

Your turn! As you think about the questions above, how would you answer them?

 

11 Comments

June 5, 2014 · 11:01 AM

Heaven, Hell or Hoboken – Part II

1965

Out in Jersey’s bitter cold, the moon full, the trees rustled. Mama and I spent half the night shivering, huddled together on a bus bench—my head on her lap.

“M-Mama,” my teeth chattered. “I’m cold.”

“I am too. Now stay still.”

“But I’m hungry.”

“I know, Mary. Close your eyes. That bum. Where is he?”

We would have frozen if a kind woman hadn’t invited us up to her place to sleep on her sofa overnight.

Whenever Mama cornered Jimmy in a bar, drinking his pay away, after bickering over dinero, she’d remain with him. If I happened to be around, they sent me away, or Mama left me at home by myself. It saddened me how she preferred being with him than with me. Often they’d stagger home and pass out in a stupor. Only then did the arguments cease and the fights end.

More often than not, I’d gone to bed with the sound of my stomach rumbling. Mama and Jimmy routinely barged in from a night of carousing.

“Mama, I’m hungry,” I mumbled, rubbing the sleep from my eyes.

“Why are you awake?”

“Can you fix me something to eat?”

“Oh, for goodness sake. It’s late.” She turned on the hotplate to fry a hotdog. A few minutes later, she’d have one for me rolled inside a slice of bread. “Here. Sit up.”

“Fix me one, too,” Jimmy demanded.

“Hold your horses,” Mama snapped.

As soon as I finished, I laid back down, my eyelids heavy. Eventually, the bright lights in the room faded. My parents’ fussing drifted away as sleep overtook me, but not before hearing familiar sounds. A can popping open. Cursing. A slap. Sobs.

Unsure as to why, one evening Jimmy overturned the bed that Mama and I slept in. We tumbled onto the hard floor. As Mama struggled to rise, Jimmy pulled her by the arm and shoved her into a windowpane. Jimmy became aware of my presence and after he flipped the bed upright, he ordered me back into it. I faced the wall sniffling until I fell asleep.

The next morning, I awoke to the sight of a blood-spattered Mama hobbling on crutches. I ran to help her.

“Mama, what happened?”

“It’s nothing, Mary. Stop crying! I tripped, that’s all.”

I couldn’t help to wonder, Why did she think I didn’t know anything?

I knew some things. I hid loose change and planned to save enough money to take care of Mama one day. In my childish mind, I knew that one day we were going to live in a big house, have plenty to eat, and Mama wouldn’t ever have to worry again.

That afternoon I heard cursing and knew it wasn’t good. A rattling sound carried around the wall like something whirling in a container. Then to see Jimmy shaking my pink, plastic kitty-bank upside down in mid-air, my pennies, dimes and nickels clattering onto the floor, made me weak and sick inside.

I followed the coins that rolled under a chair and dove for them. I looked up, my eyes darting between Mama and Jimmy hoping she’d do something. Mama called him a “jackass,” but that didn’t stop him. He couldn’t care less that I knelt there sobbing. He expressed zero shame as he scooped the scattered change into his pocket. My coins.

Later, Mama told me that Jimmy was just thirsty and to stop sniffling. “He’ll return the money soon enough,” she said. I knew that wasn’t true.

On my knees, I gathered up the broken pieces of my kitty-bank. With no more tears left, I seethed, thinking, maybe Mama can take care of herself. And maybe I’ll never talk to her again. Or to Jimmy. And maybe I’ll run away . . . to my real daddy.

(Excerpt from  Running in Heels – a continuation of Part I)

© M.A. Perez 2014, All Rights Reserved

 

15 Comments

May 28, 2014 · 7:20 PM