Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Sheroes

Synonyms of HEROIC:
  • brave
  • champion
  • bold
  • courageous
  • daring
  • epic
  • fearless
  • gallant
  • grand
  • gutsy
  • noble
  • valiant
In light of the news I shared a few weeks ago, the word heroic has been swimming in my head. It's one of those words that can evoke a plethora of feelings and opinions. What is heroic to one person can be foolish or risky to others. Heroes are often controversial, even fictional ones. 

The word got me thinking of who my heroes have been. As cliche as it sounds, the first people who come to mind are my parents. They were the first to teach me life lessons that still resound in my life, that I try to pass down to the kids in my life. I especially learned selflessness, the value of a strong work ethic, and that family loves beyond flaws, mistakes, failures and heartbreaks.

Over the years various teachers have been my hero. Two are standouts. Ms. Kohler who was the first teacher that made me feel valuable as a student, and that I was important as a person. The second was Mrs. Vargas, my first Latina teacher who believed in me and encouraged me in ways she may never realize. She challenged me, and in wanting to make her proud I pushed myself harder and expected more from myself. 

Recently, I was part of the graduation of the third cohort of women from the Latina Leadership Initiative, a local non-profit that focuses on leadership development for Latinas who are just starting their careers. I have been the executive director of the agency since 2012, when it was an idea and a website. The women who have completed the program are phenomenal, and they got the biggest complement I have heard to date, when my daughter, who attended the ceremony, told me that she wants to be like them when she grows up. 


Women who aspire to be more, push themselves, set goals and knock them out, and who open themselves up to learning and being mentored are heroes. They are more than role models when they not only do all these things, but support each other as well. That is what sticks out to me most about them, and the women I am privileged to be around. There are countless articles about how women don't lean in; the rife between stay-at-home vs. working moms; the divide among those who have children and those who choose not to; the opinion that they don't mentor each other enough. Luckily, that has not been my reality. I have found a community of women who do the opposite. 

All the variations of heroic encompass the women who have been my peers, Allies, friends, teachers, supervisors, and friends. It is embodied in my mother, sister, grandmother, sisters-in-law, aunts and cousins. I see it in my daughter, nieces and the daughters of my closest friends.  Barriers don't slow them down, but makes them more resilient. They problem-solve in the face of trials, and instead of keeping others down, they have extended a hand to those who need it, myself included.

I am thankful for sheroes and the courageous women who are there for one another to support and protect. I hope I can be that same support to the women who cross my path.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

"All About Him"

For Mother's Day this year my nine year old nephew made me a gift that touched me to the core. Completely self-motivated, he wrote an essay about his Tio Warren, with a photo of him and his uncle the day he was born. He wrote:
I remember about in 2012 my uncle died from a heart attack. His name was Warren Morrow. He was born July 26, 1977 and died February 15, 2012. I can't really remember what he did for a living, but what I do remember is he was a good guy. He got to meet Barack Obama in person and got to shake his hand. I guess he went on a cruise. He got to go to the soccer game that Shakira performed at. He is from Mexico and he was an awesome guy. At least I got to spend 5 years with him and it was phenomenal.
RIP Tio Warren. 5 years is way better than 0 years!
My Mother's Day gift
As you can imagine, I became a mush of tears reading his words, in his handwriting. I could hear his little voice reading it to me. Images of him and his uncle played in my head. It amazed me that he took the time to honor his uncle who has been gone almost as long as he was his tio. 

The writer and his Tio
Warren enjoyed children one hundred times more than I did (do). He lit up when he was around them, and was so proud to be an uncle. He hadn't been around many babies by the time our first nephew was born, and it definitely opened a new side to him. He was always gentle and nurturing, but he became more urgent in his forward-thinking and desire to create positive change. We often talked about all that he envisioned for the kids in his life. He saw their utmost potential. Playing with them and teaching them came naturally and he frequently thought to include them in activities we did as a family. He, unlike me, did not mind being surrounded by kids. 

When we learned about how many Spanish-speaking kids were in foster care and placed in English-speaking homes because there weren't enough bilingual homes, it went without saying that we would become licensed. We cared for six kids during that time. The kids bonded with him right away. Even the most intrepid, frightened child felt his protective, caring vibe and it helped them ease into life in our home.

When it came to his niece and nephews, there was nothing he wouldn't do for them, and loved them in a way that taught me a lot about the depths of family love, even when there isn't a blood connection. I can only hope that they continue to remember their uncle's love because I'm sure it beams down on them daily.



Attacking Tio, a common game they mutually loved




Wednesday, May 11, 2016

My First Publication: An Unexpected Surprise, More like Cosmic Irony

When I first became a widow a dear friend spent some time looking into grief services for myself and my daughter. She found several grief support groups and grief counseling, which I didn't even know was a thing.

My grief counselor was interested in writing and a widow herself. We clicked right away and she developed a genuine interest in me. As we got to know one another and I learned about grief, she invited me to her grief support group for widows. I was the youngest member of the group, but that was neither unexpected, nor a problem for me. The women were welcoming and warm, their journeys inspiring to me. Some were double widows, yet still surviving and encouraging me that the days would get better, the pain would lessen, and Warren's memory would live on. They shared their fears and so many paralleled mine. They also gave me advice, and I felt encouraged when they achieved something solo they had only ever done with their partners.

I attended the group regularly for about eighteen months. Once I started working full time, and my daughter's schedule began to expand, I was no longer able to make it to group. Luckily, my grief counselor stayed in touch. She sent out event announcements, inspirational quotes, articles about grief and widowhood, and book recommendations. Many of the books she recommended were written by Dr. Alan Wolfelt. He was also a grief counselor who dedicated his practice to grief support after experiencing it himself, and finding few resources that helped him feel like he was not alone. Someone gave me one of his books shortly after Warren died, and I liked the style of the writing. It was an easy read at a time when concentration was limited, and I liked the short stories included from his past patients and other grievers. 

A few months ago I got an email from my grief counselor about a call for submissions for Dr. Wolfelt's newest book, When Your Soulmate Dies: A Guide to Healing Through Heroic Mourning. The term Heroic Mourning caught my attention right away. After four years of the ups and downs of being a widow, I felt more like a survivor than a victim, and heroic felt like a comfortable fit for where I was in the journey. 

The submission process was simple: an 800 word essay on how Warren was my soulmate, and how he continues to inspire me. The challenge was keeping within their word count, because the topic was easy. I wrote about our first date, which was when I first began to think that perhaps I had found my soulmate, and how in life and beyond I look to his example regularly. I sent it by their specified deadline, and didn't think much about it. I was recently alerted that my essay will be included in the book. 

At first, I was excited because more people would read about Warren and know what an amazing person he was. But, then it dawned on me that this would be my first publication. My writing is going to appear in print that doesn't come from my printer! 

It is certainly not how I expected to be published the first time. For the last few years I have been wholly focused on book publication and my novel. The news came on the heels of a high-stress week and my spirits certainly needed a boost. It shouldn't have surprised me that while being a widow is only part of my story, it led to a version of accomplishing my dream of publication, albeit not in the way I had envisioned it happening. 

My inclusion in the book feels like a conversation with Warren. I hear him assuring me that he is still looking out for me, understanding the desires of my heart, and supporting my dreams. It is his way of reminding me that life is unscripted, but that isn't always a bad thing. 

The book can be pre-ordered in June and will be on sale in July on the website for the Center for Loss & Life Transition.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Living Thrifty

Thrifty: adjective, thriftier, thriftiest.
1. practicing thrift or economical management; frugal: a thrifty shopper.
2. thriving, prosperous, or successful.
3. thriving physically; growing vigorously.
4. Christina Fernandez-Morrow

That was not a typo, my name should be listed with the definition of thrifty. If there is a discount to be had, I will find it. I can't recall the last time I paid full price for retail. I can't understand walking into a department store and paying the listed price on a piece of clothing, or even food. One of the only area where this does not ring true is when the product or service offered renders an experience.

Lots of things fall under this experiences. For example, paying an artist for their work is one of them. Owning art in all forms adds to the richness of life. It elicits feelings that are priceless. That is worth paying full price. Another example is having a high quality service done that is high quality. I count things like personal training, haircuts and massages in this category. When those are done at bargain prices you definitely get what you pay for.

There are things that I can't justify paying full price. Some examples include plane tickets (I'd much rather spend money at my destination, not getting to it), hotel rooms (It's basically a place to sleep and storage, I travel to see things, not be in a room), "blockbuster" movies (Another comic book adaptation? Yay.), new cars (They lose value as you drive them off the lot - that makes no sense to me), brand name for the sake of brand name (Are you getting paid to advertise for said designer brand? Billboards are paid, you should be, too). Honestly, there are too many examples to name. My point is that if I can find a coupon, travel during off peak times, stay with a friend, or try something gently used, I'm all for it. I really have to see how the item impacts my life before shelling out the dough. That means I walk away from and say no to a lot of things. That tests the patience of some, but I stand by it. I am even teaching my daughter my frugal ways and am proud every time she makes a choice that saves her money. It's not that I am cheap for the sake of being cheap. My goal is not to amass boatloads of money for a "rainy day". While I save for the purposes of survival, college and retirement, I spend on experiences that feel like an enrichment of life. Materials don't matter to me. I feel the same in a $200 dress as I do a $10 dress. I don't feel the joy in having the latest phone or gadget like I do when I step foot on a plane or get a bad-ass haircut.

The cliche, you can't take it with you holds true. When it comes to cash and material goods, it all stays here. What you leave behind are the memories, and that seldom comes with "stuff". Sure you can leave your car, home and other assets to your loved ones and that can help them in many ways, but those can all be lost. What remains are those memories of the time you went to that concert, took that trip, ran that 5K, drank that exotic wine, took a selfie at the top of that mountain. What you wore to those events isn't important. Who you shared it with becomes paramount, part of your legacy.

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