3 Sides

They say that there are 3 sides to every story – your side, their side, and the truth. This saying is very logical and makes a ton of sense on paper. However, when it’s applied to real life scenarios, the gray area starts to creep in. This saying could easily be interpreted as “gaslighting” depending on who you’re talking to. And it can be easy to get blindsided by your own reality. If everyone is interpreting things completely different, what is even the truth?

I have been in this situation many times where you’re debating what was said or done with someone else. It can be a very frustrating position to be in. Especially when, in theory, these little discrepancies don’t even matter when you’re looking at the bigger picture. But that doesn’t make it any less annoying. I have even mentally threw in the towel a couple of times, knowing that arguing the details will make it that much more harder to move on and come to a conclusion. I have even expressed wishing I had video footage so we could just rewind and really see parts of our lives play out right in front of our eyes so we can see who was really right.

Sometimes I do think of what it would be like to have footage of the exact time and scenario being brought up. I think about this often, and how convenient it would be to hold everyone, including myself, accountable. Have you ever been put in a situation where someone or some people got you fucked up and you want to rewind that shit to prove every point you’re trying to make? Because same. Sometimes it takes embarrassing, moded, undeniable facts to hold people accountable to their actions.

In the past, when someone or something had me fucked up, I’d put so much energy into trying to prove my points. Especially when I knew what I was arguing was the “truth,” I’d put my heart and soul into proving my point. You’d think that my ass was studying law with how much I tried to defend my stance and case. I’m very opinionated, and when I’m very confident and believe something to be true, it takes a lot for me to back down. I admit that sometimes that shit blows up in my face when I am in fact, wrong as hell. But it takes a lot for me to change my mind if I’m confident in what I’m saying.

But the truth is, fighting and arguing over what your reality is versus someone else’s is exhausting as hell. Because you end up both going in circles just trying to justify your own points. It quickly turns one sided and you’re talking to just speak over the other without trying to hear their side. Everyone is just saying their own points as to why they’re right or why their stance or actions are valid, and it just becomes people talking out into space. No one cares what the other is saying, but they sure as hell need to make sure that at the very least, they’re saying their peace. Even if no one is listening. And like I said…. it’s exhausting as hell.

I have been on both ends of the scenario where I feel like I’m being gaslit or someone feels like I’m gaslighting them. And it’s not a fun position to be in. Because you start to second guess yourself, you start to second guess them, and then you start to second guess what the truth actually is. It will literally have you doubting which reality, if any, is valid. If there are 3 sides to every story, is there even a “truth,” or are we all just set in our own ways and realities?

I actually have no answer for these questions. But what I do know is this: I gave up on trying to convince people of my reality if they are unreceptive to my words. It doesn’t even have to be an argument either, I mean that in every scenario. I have hit the stage in my life where I no longer feel like I have to explain myself, my truth, or my reality to anyone that isn’t deserving of it. You don’t need to explain yourself to those that, from the get, want to have a certain perception of you. Learn not to waste your breath.

I saw this meme that was circulating that basically said not to put in effort to try to clean up your name when you know what’s being said isn’t true. At first, your first reaction may be to defend your name and set the record straight. But it’s your truth versus theirs, and if people want to see you in a certain light, nothing you say will change their mind. And if that’s the case, let people think what they want.

There are always 3 sides to every story. I didn’t get the full magnitude of that saying until recently. When I was younger, I would hear that saying and think, “…Ok but there’s really only 1 side… the truth.” But I’ve come to learn that it’s all about interpretation. All of our realities and what we believe to be true are all subjective. Your reality and truth can be crystal clear to you, but can be interpreted so differently to someone else. Just like how another person’s actions or intentions may seem one way, but can actually be another. But in both scenarios, both parties are “right” in their own respect because it is their interpretation and own understanding of what’s at hand.

There are 3 sides to every story if you want there to be. It goes south when people start to deny another person’s perspective, feelings, or reality. And sometimes, that shit can be hard as fuck not to do, because it can feel like someone else’s truth is so out of left field that you can’t even begin to try to see their point of view. That’s the harsh reality I’ve been having to come to terms with – people are entitled to their own opinions and truths, but they’re not obligated to understand yours. So there are 3 sides to every story if you understand that your truth may be different than someone else’s, under the same exact scenario.

1 Year Without Tatay – A Year Of Change & Lessons

It’s crazy to think that it’s been 1 year since Tatay passed away. One thing I’ve always known is the fact that time waits for no one. Whether we like it or not, life moves on with or without our consent. How is it possible for time to move so fast yet so dreadfully slow at the same time? I’ve always felt this way, but especially this year. So much has changed, is changing, and will change. I’m notorious for resisting change at all cost, but this 1 year without Tatay has forced me to accept the things I know I can’t change. These last 12 months without our Tatay Jack has had its ups and downs to say the least. The theme of the last 12 months have been: CHANGE.

For the first few months after Tatay passed, I had no dreams of him whatsoever. This may seem like a “…okay, and?” moment for others, but for me it was a big deal. I consider myself a very intuitive person, and have always had vivid dreams that I would read as signs either from the universe, loved ones from the other side, or things of that nature. I’ve always felt that I have a third eye to some degree. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve always looked for the deeper meaning in things and always believed in signs. I’ve always believed that those we love are still around us after they pass. For me, I’ve always got those messages through dreams. So I was devastated when weeks had passed by with no dreams from Tatay. I was pretty bummed that he wasn’t visiting me because I desperately wanted a sign.

It took a few weeks, maybe even a couple of months, for Tatay to start appearing in my dreams. When that moment happened, I was so relieved and felt an overwhelming sense of comfort and peace. If he wasn’t with me in the physical world, at least I could still see him again in my dreams. It’s a comforting feeling to know that he still lives on in my subconscious memory. Every time I have a dream of Tatay the night before, I wake up feeling content with life. Losing Tatay is the void that I will forever be trying to fill for the rest of my life, and dreaming of him makes this change without him a little easier.

Even though it took a while for me to dream of Tatay, once it finally happened, it happened consistently. Some I remember vividly, and some very faintly. You know that feeling when you know someone was in your dream the night before but you can’t really remember all the details? You just remember envisioning their face and wishing that they were there and it were real life. For a while though, I had a few regular occurring dreams of Tatay. This frequent dream, I admit, is a bit morbid, and I would wake up feeling like I wanted to cry each time.

I dreamt this regular occurring dream over the span of a couple months. I wouldn’t dream of it everyday, but I can think of 3 or 4 different dreams where basically the same thing happens. In these dreams, I would be trying to convince people that Tatay was still alive, that it was all a mistake, and if they’d only listen to me, he’d be back with us. Like I said, these dreams were pretty morbid, but they always ended the same way. The dreams differed in small ways, but it was always the same gist. It was always that Tatay’s death was a misunderstanding, and he was in fact, still alive. In some of my dreams, we were even at the cemetery, the digger present to reopen his grave. Sometimes, it would even be me digging his plot, anxiously trying to prove that Tatay was buried alive. I had no doubt in my mind that he would come out, living, breathing, and perfectly well – a huge misunderstanding that we could easily fix.

I would wake up sad as fuck, wishing that that was actually our reality. But I knew it wasn’t, and it never could be true. I had this dream in different forms for a long time. One day, I casually told my sisters about my morbid occurring dream of Tatay. My older sister said, “That’s your subconscious not coming to terms that he passed away.” And I knew that was the case. It took such a long time for me to process and come to terms with the fact that Tatay passed, how he passed away when the state of the world was in shambles and had many restrictions, and feeling robbed of more time. It took a couple months for me to accept all of these things, and I guess it took my subconscious even longer to register in my brain that he was actually gone. For me, my dreams are always revealing what I push deep down and avoid. Just a few months ago, the reoccurring dreams of me thinking that Tatay was buried alive stopped. I guess it finally sank in, 1 year later.

I will admit though, there have been plenty of times where I simply forget that Tatay has passed on, even 1 year later. It’s crazy because I think about him all the time – he’s one of the first things I think of when I wake up, and always on my mind before I go to sleep. But there are still times when I enter his home and think that I’ll see him. There are still times I think we’re going to get him bread and drop it off for a quick visit. There are still times I think I’m going to be welcomed by the smell of Vick’s and hear his cane coming down the stairs. My head has adjusted to the fact that Tatay has passed on, but my heart still needs to get used to this new reality. Different places, smells, and times of the year bring me back to different memories of Tatay.

These last 12 months have brought on so much change for the Cabillo family. Extended family are starting to relocate elsewhere, and it’s a change we all have to get used to. For all my life, the core of the family has been in the Bay Area. Tatay was in the Bay Area with 5 of his 7 children. We got so used to family coming in from Vegas for Tatay’s birthdays, Thanksgivings, and Christmas’, that it’s unfathomable to think that that’s most likely a thing of the past now. Things were bound to change – our family is forever growing – but we didn’t expect it to all happen so quickly.

I have never been one that conforms to change easily. I’m such a nostalgic person by nature – I’m big on family traditions, family time, and preserving things from the past. So when 1 by 1 we got news that family planned to relocate elsewhere, of course it made me sad. Because that meant that our family dynamic would soon be changing – everyone scattered around and no longer a short car ride away. But I’m aware that nothing stays the same forever, and if Tatay’s passing has taught me anything, it’s that. Change is inevitable, it’s a part of life, and it can be really sad. But in the midst of all this change, I’ve learned that it’s how you adapt to change that really matters. Feel those feelings and do whatever it takes to come to terms with the changes at hand, but pivot after and learn how to adjust.

Like I said many times, Tatay’s passing made me realize what and who is most important to me in this life. With Tatay gone, family moving away, and everyone doing their own thing, the family is well aware that we need to make a conscious effort to prioritize making time for each other to keep our family close. Effort and time is something that money can’t buy. The last 12 months without Tatay has taught me to be more mindful of being present for events for those I care about, even if that means expensive Ubers, plane tickets, and taking time off of work. Because at the end of the day, you can always make more money, but you can’t buy more time. Show people you care about them now, while you still can.

It has been a long, yet short, 1 year without our Tatay. One of my worst fears is that with time, I will forget tidbits of Tatay. From here on out, more and more time will pass. I had a hard time accepting the fact that my children will never meet their Tatay Jack in the physical world. But one thing’s for sure, my kids will hear many stories of their funny, gentle yet aggressive, animal-loving, likes things a certain way, Ray-Ban wearing Tatay Jack. 1 year ago, we lost such an important person in our family. But Tatay’s death has brought us closer in many ways. For my cousins and I, it definitely strengthened our desire to make the effort to keep our family close.

No matter what changes happen or where we all move to, home will always be where Tatay is.

POV: 2017

As I stood there impatiently, for what seemed like a 10 minute long wait to fill up my Hydro Flask, I thought back to what my reality was like almost 5 years ago. Even writing the title of this post: “POV: 2017,” I had a “damn” moment, realizing that 2017 was literally 5 years ago. I can’t wrap my head around that. In my mind, it still feel like I’m in the year 2019. 2020 at the very latest. I can’t believe such a significant amount of time has passed.

Anyways, there I was, standing in my kitchen on a Thursday night, thinking of all the work I had to do the next morning. The preschool is nearing the end of the school year. That means a lot of things need to get done to close out this school year before we shut down and we go on summer break. I thought about my current position at work and where I stand in my life in general. Even though the next day’s stresses were weighing heavy on me already, I thought back to a time where I couldn’t imagine being where I’m at now.

I thought back to 2017, and damn, it took me back. I had flashbacks of me sitting in that gray chair leaned against the wall of the Kid’s Club at the gym. Those 4 walls of Fitness 19 were my life from 2014 – 2017, and I ain’t talking about working out. I spent 4 hours a day in that little room, I’ll never forget that blue carpet with the colorful crayon pattern that, for some reason, went halfway up the walls. I had made that space my own – bringing in my own movies for the kids to watch so I’m not watching Frozen for 4 hours straight, even though that’s what ended up happening anyways. To this day, I can probably recite every word to Frozen, Tangled, Beauty and the Beast, and some episodes of Super Mario Brothers.

I had great memories working at the Kid’s Club – I took care of some awesome kids, befriended their parents, and had a lot of deep talks in that small room with close friends, new friends, and members of the gym. It was also the room my friends and I used to workout in when we felt insecure about being judged by the regular gym goers. I’ve had countless phone interviews for articles I was writing for Xpress Magazine where I sat crisscross apple sauce on that nasty ass ABC mat. It was the job I had while I was in community college, and for a while when I was at SF State. It was the job that got me by, and even though it just barely got me by, given that I lived at home and had no real bills to pay, it was a great first job to have. It reminded me of simpler times, where all I cared about was my social life, school, and having fun.

But clearly, working at the Kid’s Club at my local gym was not my dream job or end goal. When it got slow at the Kid’s Club, I have vivid memories of staring off into space, completely zoning out. Don’t worry – the kids were fine – probably watching a movie or playing amongst each other. But with 4 hours to basically sit and watch kids who have made friendships with one another and waste no time chopping it up amongst each other, it left a lot of time for me to sit and think. At times it felt like that room was my mental prison. I was always thinking of what the next step of anything would be – the next stage of life, the next stage of school, the next stage of my career, the next stage in my relationship, the future as a whole.

Now, I know I said the job reminds me of simpler times, which is true. However, that’s me in the present looking back at it now. Back then, I was equally as stressed out, just in different ways. The pressure of school deadlines, maintaining my grades, a social life, all while being broke as shit was no walk in the park. Looking at it now, I was just at the threshold of adulting, and if current me could give 2017 year old me any advice, I’d say that the current stresses in life would just be replaced with different ones – enjoy the mother fucking process. But 2017 me was 22, in the thick of my school career and on the cusp of trying to get my life together.

I enjoyed my job, but at the same time I knew I wanted more. Obviously working minimum wage as a glorified baby sitter wasn’t my dream job, but I knew there were other ways for me to feel more fulfilled for the time being until I graduated and figured out what to do with me life. 2017 Marinelle felt uninspired, lost, and burnt out working at the Kid’s Club. I felt the anxiety from deep within my soul when thinking about the future. I would sit on that gray chair, staring off into space, and literally wait for time to pass by.

One day, with the usual 3 favorite movie rotation, I managed to sneak in a movie other than Frozen. To my satisfaction, Tangled was playing in the background as I did my routine – kids comes, they play with each other and ignore me, I put on a movie for background noise, and I watch and manage the kids as my mind wanders. I can distinctly remember the next steps of my relationship was heaviest on my mind. At the time, Christian was going from living situation to living situation, staying in the Bay Area solely for our relationship. All first generation Filipino Americans can relate – moving out is a big deal. It’s not just financial independence and venturing out into the real world, it’s also nerve wrecking and a drama-filled topic to even bring up.

I knew the next steps in our relationship would be to move in together. But I was stressed as shit knowing that I was nowhere near financially able to do so. I wanted to do things the “right way,” and I was incredibly overwhelmed with the fact that we literally live in the most expensive area in the country. I felt like there was no “right way” to check all the boxes to appease everyone. I was stuck, emotionally exhausted, and I felt like my life was at a standstill. I dreamt of the day where I could say that everything building up until that moment was worth the struggle, the fight, the late night stress. I wanted more than anything to be done with school, start my writing career, and live a comfortable life. I had no idea how I would get to that point.

In the thick of all of these anxious thoughts, the song, “When Will My Life Begin,” started to play in the background of the Kid’s Club. I’m a singer – not the best out of the bunch, but that never stopped me. I sing because I like to, not because I think I actually have bars. So like any other day, I sang along to the lyrics. Usually, I would sing the background song while casually scrolling through my phone, not paying too much attention to the meaning and what I’m actually saying. This specific day though, the Tangled sound track hit a little different. Singing the words, “When will my life begin?” hit me. Damn, that’s deep. I felt that shit in my soul. I couldn’t relate more. That’s exactly how I felt in that exact moment in time. I remember daydreaming about having it all together and figured out in the future, looking back to this exact moment. That’s what I wanted so desperately – to know that it was going to get better and things were going to sort itself out eventually. And it did.

I stood there, my Hydro Flask just barely getting to the top, finally. And I remembered that I would’ve never guessed to be where I’m at now back then. I remembered that what I’m living and doing right now is exactly what I wanted just 5 years ago. Sometimes I need to take that step back to realize that even though I’m not exactly where I want to be in life, in my career, in XYZ… I’m still making progress in the right direction. That’s not always so apparent from day to day life, but when you see the picture, you see how far you’ve come. I need to appreciate that life happens in mysterious ways. I can only imagine where I’ll be 5 years from now when I think back to this moment – filling up my water bottle on a Thursday night in 2022.

Land of The Free (?)

Land of the free right? Yeah, that’s not what it seems.

Is this what they meant when they said American dreams?

Now, before anyone twists my words, let me make this clear:

I respect and appreciate the brave men and women who have ever served this nation.

But this poem is dedicated to those women who want, need, and can’t get that operation.

What about any of this is okay –

to not give a woman the right to choose at the end of the day?

Women all over the country lost that right.

The right to control your own body was gone over night.

First women’s rights, who else’s rights are next at bat?

Second class citizens, now what’s more American than that?

How the hell do you force a woman to have a baby she doesn’t want to keep?

Don’t tell me it’s for your own personal beliefs, cuz it’s really not that deep.

What you believe and choose should be completely up to you,

the government shouldn’t have a say in what you choose to do.

This is so sad, America is truly going back in time.

This is a violation of women’s rights, and that’s the real crime.

I can’t wrap my head around it, cuz this is truly an outrage,

that they’ll make you have a baby at any fucking age.

It doesn’t matter which side of the argument you stand,

someone else’s beliefs should never result in a country wide ban.

My heart breaks for women all around the nation,

that are finding themselves in the middle of this fucked up situation.

It doesn’t matter what the reason may be for a woman wanting an abortion,

they have twisted it into something that it’s not and blowing it way out of proportion.

The whole argument of when does life really start –

some say at the time of conception, when they’re actually born, or when there’s a beating heart.

Some also believe there’s a gray area, like in instances of rape, incest, or illness,

but the truth is, it’s none of anyone’s fucking business.

The reason alone shouldn’t dictate if it is right or wrong,

the right to choose should’ve been the precedent all along.

I honestly don’t even know why this topic is up for debate,

but it’s so controversial that they left it up to each individual state.

Wherever you stand, don’t force yourself onto others,

just like how the government shouldn’t force women to be mothers.

So are we really that free?

When the government has control over your body?

So go ahead, light those fireworks, celebrate, wear your red, white, and blue,

but all over America, there are tons of women who don’t know what to do.

While some will celebrate the 4th of July into the next morning,

just know a great deal of Americans are sitting back and mourning.

We are supposed to be America, the “land of the free”…

But that statement is only true to some fuckin’ degree…

IDFK

They say there is beauty in the unknown,

but we just don’t realize it in the moment.

Sometimes I wish I had crystal ball,

to take a peak into the future I desperately want to see.

Is it everything I hoped it would be?

Are my efforts being made in vain,

or is it all working toward the bigger picture?

I don’t know.

I’m unsure.

I wish I knew.

I know there is beauty in the journey,

but I hate the unknown.

I hate not being in control,

But ironically, I am.

I want to be in complete control,

that is, until I hit a fork in the road.

Then I don’t know what to do.

Because I hate being wrong.

Instead, I choose to detach,

that’s one thing I always end up doing regardless.

There’s beauty in this, in the now.

I just need help to see it.

See the bigger picture, think ahead.

I need a sign to let me know

which direction to fucking go…

Until then, I just don’t fucking know….

The Awkward 27

I just recently turned the awkward age of 27 in February. And it really took over a whole month for me to process that I’m actually 27. I say “awkward 27” because it’s an age where you’re not as confused as you were in your early 20’s, but you’re not quite knowing what the fuck you’re doing yet. That’s the case for me at least. It’s one of those transitional years that will have you playing around with your career, who you surround yourself with, and in general trying figuring out what direction to take your life. That’s currently the stage I’m in.

It’s also a funny age because if you take a hundred 27 year olds from all over the country, you’d quickly see how different everyone’s lives are. You have 27 year olds that are married with kids, starting a business, traveling the world, going to school, working minimum wage jobs, unemployed, sick, are sugar babies, are successful, act like they’re 55, or the ones that act like they’re still 17. It is such a wide spectrum. What nobody tells you is that your late 20’s will somewhat feel like a preview of what you assume a mid-life crisis would feel like.

I’ve always been the type that tried to plan out my life and next moves to a T. The kind of plans that are well thought out with back up plans on back up plans on deck. That has always been my nature – plan ahead and hope for the best, but simultaneously having the “I’ll just wing it” complex. The “I’ll deal with it when I deal with it,” mindset is both comforting yet dreadful. Especially since 27 feels like I should have it “dealt with” already.

When you’re in your early 20’s, you feel like you have all the time in the world to figure life out. But in a blink of an eye I went from being 21 to being a confused ass 27 year old. Where the fuck did the time go, ma’am-sir, because I didn’t prepare for this shit. As I approached my mid-20’s, the dread started to set in. The fear of “fuck, am I going to be able to pull this shit off?” was always at the back of my mind. That’s me, always waiting until the very last minute to fight or flight life.

In my early 20’s, I wasn’t trippin’ much about the future and my career. Yes, I cared about getting my degree and started attempting to save money, but I wasn’t taking it too seriously. The future was definitely a thought, but it seemed too far away to stress out about. When I hit my mid 20’s, it started to hit me that my clock was ticking. And when I say my clock, I mean every fuckin clock out there. My career clock, my financial stability clock, my life timeline clock, but most importantly my biological clock. But at that point, I’m 24 – 25, I have a couple more years to figure it out. “That’s future Marinelle’s problem,” I would tell myself.

But literally overnight, I went from 26 to 27. And it really felt like it was the transition of the century. Oh shit. I’m fuckin 27. To put it into perspective, my mom was 26 when she got married to my dad, and when I juxtapose my life now to hers 30 years ago, my jaw could literally drop at the difference. I’m a firm believer in knowing that things will happen on its own time for me. I know life is a lot different now than it was when my mom was my age. At age 27 she was married and had her first child. But at the same time, I can’t help but think that these next 3-5 years are grind time.

In 3-5 years, I’ll be 30 – 32. I say grind time because whether I want to admit it or not, my time frame to start and have a family is very limited. I’ll never forget when my best friends and I sang happy birthday to my friend on her 18th birthday. 18th birthdays to Filipinos are a really big deal. It’s a woman’s entrance into “womanhood.” We watched her as she hovered over her 18th birthday cake, the candles lit and ready to be blown out. We expected her to make a wish and blow out her candles, happy, and ready to hangout the rest of the day. Instead, she blew out her candles and began to cry. I wish I could take a picture of everyone’s face expression in that moment. “What’s wrong?!”

“My biological clock is ticking!” She said laughing behind the tears she was shedding.

We held that moment against her since. We laughed out of complete shock and confusion. Is this bitch really crying and worrying about having kids at her EIGHTEENTH birthday?! It was just so funny to us because we were seniors in high school, all we’re supposed to care about at that time was getting into college, worrying about what major to declare, and trippin’ off boys who weren’t going to mean shit to us a couple years down the road. It just seemed so damn premature to be worrying about reproducing at that exact moment. To this day we still joke about the “biological clock” crying incident.

But here I am now, 27 years old, worrying about my damn biological clock. Life always seems to come back around full circle, doesn’t it? In a way, I feel like the pandemic aged me. It’s been 2 years since the start of the pandemic. I went into the pandemic freshly turning 25, and now we’re still in the thick of the madness 2 years later. There’s a huge part of me that feels like a good chunk of my youth has been taken from me. 2 years doesn’t seem like much, but those 2 years in the grander scheme of things were really pivotal ages.

25 and 26 years old – the ages where you really begin to know yourself as a person. And I definitely was forced to know myself even more in the midst of the lockdown. 25 and 26 is so smack dabbed in the middle of crucial points in one’s life, and I feel like for those 2 years we all had no choice but to chill out and wait as the world around us turned into a frenzy over the pandemic. Life stood still during these 2 years while simultaneously speeding shit up.

I found that to be especially true when Tatay passed away last year. When he passed, I really re-evaluated what I want out of this life – what’s important to me, what my dreams are, what I would do to make sure everyone around me is good. I lost someone so important to me, and in a way, it felt like I was saying goodbye to a certain part of my life. Whether I liked it or not, life was turning the page, entering me into a new chapter of life. I spent the rest of 2021 wallowing in my sadness, as I had every right to do. Then 2022 came and it’s like 27 said, “Ready or not, here I come.”

The new year somewhat reset me. When I hear people’s success stories, it motivates and inspires me to keep trying to get to where I want to be in life. You don’t know how you’re going to get there, but you hope you will. When will the opportunity show itself? I can’t help but think that things will show up as a sign or opportunity when the time is right. And if I’m being completely honest, I thought those signs and opportunities would reveal themselves already. But I try to remember that each month that passes by, I’m slowly taking baby steps to where I want to be. It doesn’t seem like any progress on a day to day basis, but when you look back, you’ll see how those small steps got you far.

And like I said, I feel like the next 3-5 years are grind time. Deep in my heart I hope I can pull it all off. It’s like a little ticking clock constantly keeping track in my head. When I daydream, I picture myself having it all. Will I be financially stable enough to have kids in the next couple of years? Will I be ready to not be selfish and take on the responsibility of caring for another life / lives for the rest of my life? Will I Hail Mary the next couple of years and just miraculously successfully get my shit together? I think of all of this stuff often.

These things are in the back of my head, but surprisingly, I’m suspiciously content. Content with where I’m at in life, content with the biological time frame I have as a woman, and content in knowing that whatever is meant to be will be, and whatever is meant for me will happen with time. But it’s true, I’m getting older, these are things I need to think about and plan for. At 27, I still have the “I’ll deal with it when I deal with it mentality,” however, one thing is different this time.

This time around, I find myself being more productive with my time. I find myself watering parts of my life I want to see grow, especially in my career sector, dreams sector, and relationships. For me, there’s no point in trippin’ out, things will happen when it’s supposed to. And like always, I’ll wing it when it’s time. But one thing I know for sure is that I can’t be sitting here waiting for things to progress if I’m not making the conscious effort to make things happen. I find myself being more purposeful with my time, knowing every move is a calculated step to what I want in the future.

I went into 2022 with a whole new mindset. I don’t know what it was or what triggered it. I like to think after a depressing year losing Tatay and Rhonda, they are pulling string for me on the other side, giving me the motivation to do the things I want to achieve. I’ve been a procrastinator all my life, but I went into 2022 wanting to get shit done. I’m taking literal baby steps in becoming productive, even if it that means creating small habits that will benefit me in the long run.

I was never one to fear getting older. In fact, I always wanted to be older because I wanted that freedom, stability, and independence. I’m realizing now, with my 27 year old ass, that it takes a lot of hard work and preparation to get to that level of comfort. But I’m confident that I’ll wing it, like I have been for the last 27 years. This time though, I’m doing it with more purpose and intent. Whatever is meant to be mine will be mine, with hard work of course. I’m fully embracing my awkward 27th year of life. I’m embracing the unknown, the confusion, and winging it as I go.

You Versus You

You know that saying that says the only competition you have is versus yourself? That you shouldn’t compare yourself to others? That’s advice we all got since we were young. Even though, ironically, from the day we are born we’re being compared to others. But when does the comparisons and competition stop? How do we expect to not juxtapose ourselves to those around us when it’s all we know how to do?

Even as a baby, we were all constantly being checked up on to see if we reach the benchmarks to tell our parents what’s “normal” and what’s not – how much we weighed, how tall we were, what age we started to talk, walk, and so forth. Our growth and development was being compared to babies similar in age. That’s how they determined what was common and uncommon for that age group. It’s what’s expected the first couple of years of our lives. Of course, these benchmarks are put in place to help the child. It also helps doctors and parents detect if their little one need extra care / attention for any reason. It’s necessary to ensure the child’s development is on track.

The comparing continues into our early childhood, middle childhood, and adolescent years. Are we performing well academically, are we meeting the standards for our age, are we on track to success? A lot of these benchmarks are set up for the youth, who will later be young adults, to succeed. So don’t get me wrong, I totally understand why comparisons are necessary for important things like education, health, and a person’s well being. As a parent, teacher, and caregiver, you want to make sure that you are doing your part so your child doesn’t fall behind.

But we all know that competition and comparisons don’t just end at the necessary benchmarks to ensure a person’s welfare. Growing up, you could’ve gotten compared to your siblings, family friend’s kids, cousins, other classmates, and other peers. The competition and comparisons are not just limited to education and health. Appearance based comparisons, athletic comparisons, grade comparisons, having your weaknesses pointed out in parallel to someone else’s accomplishments, financial competition, and sometimes even just personal biases, could’ve been put on your shoulders at a young age. It instills the belief that we need to do better, be better, and always be the one in favor.

On the bright side, comparing ourselves or being compared to others can act as motivation to better ourselves and our current situation. As the cringe saying goes, “Let the haters be your motivators.” We try to push ourselves to reach our maximum potential, and sometimes, it takes seeing your peers putting in work and being successful to give you that push. Having someone compare you to someone else can fuel you to prove them wrong. For some, hearing someone tell them they can’t do something is all the motivation they need to give their all and make it happen.

Yes, comparisons and competition can have its pros, but it can also have its cons. When you grow up to believe that everyone is competition, you will constantly think that what you’re doing or where you’re at in life is never good enough. It’s the toxic motivation that will fuel you, but also destroy you. If you’re constantly using others to power your drive, you’re no longer doing it for yourself. You’ll look back and realize that your motives were charged by negative feelings that someone else instilled in you. And when you let negativity steer you in life, you’ll always be left unsatisfied.

I feel the focus of our competition changes as we maneuver through life’s many stages. For example, if you’re a child, it could be who’s the best runner, the best in a subject, who gets the best grades. When we’re teens, the competition seems to focus around outer appearance – competition between who is more attractive, who wears the nicest clothes, who’s the best in a sport, who is academically rising above the standard. Though what we’re comparing to others changes, the fact of the matter is: we go through our whole lives comparing and competing to be better than our peers and those around us.

But since we are taught to compare ourselves to others at such a young age, it only makes sense that everyone eventually compares themselves in other aspects of life as well. And I know that there will be some people that will try to flex and say that they have never compared themselves or felt like certain aspects of their lives were a competition. However, we all can agree that who ever claims that is 100% full of shit. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, as it’s something we all do. What’s important is how we outgrow the notion that everyone and life is a competition.

As I reached my young adulthood into the present, I started to see a shift in what things I thought was a competition. I knew my ass was full on adulting when who was prettier than me, skinnier than me, or had a nicer ass than me didn’t really get my insecurities jumping anymore. It was when I started keeping mental notes about who was successful in their career already, who was making moves and going for their dreams, who was on the road to becoming financially stable and well that had me realize I’m entering new competition territory.

Especially since we live in the age of social media, where everything is posted about, celebrated, and in our face, it’s hard to ignore. How do we expect ourselves to mind our own business, only worry about ourselves, and stay in our own lane when we’re literally addicted to platforms that are meant to share and show off? It’s crazy how different accounts and people we know can trigger different insecurities: our appearance, our health, our weight, where we live, what level of education you have, your stability, your job, your relationship, your relationship with your family, how happy you are, how confident you seem, the list goes on and fuckin on.

I fell victim to the endless comparisons that led me to constantly feel shitty about myself. I would genuinely feel happy for my peers when they posted accomplishments, great news, posted a new job, etc., so it’s not like I would be hating. However, I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t reflect on my own accomplishments and where I was at in my life. You can’t help but look at yourself and make it about you – we’re human, we be selfish like that.

I feel like my view on comparing myself and my life to others I know in real life and on social media changed after I graduated college. I was on cloud 9 after I graduated, but if you read and keep up with my blog, you’ll know that that feeling was very short lived. My greatest accomplishment was graduating college. But after I graduated I got the post-grad blues hard. I was very quiet about my real feelings post-grad. If someone was wondering how I was doing just by looking through my social media, they’d probably think that I was living my best life because I earned my degree.

Clearly that was not the case. I was struggling to figure out what direction to take my life post-graduation. Prior to graduation, it already dawned on me that social media is fake as fuck, people only post what they want you to see, you’ll never see the bigger picture, and everyone – regardless of how hard you try not to – try to uphold a certain image of ourselves from what we post. That was old news to me, and I had even spent my whole writing career on the magazine focusing on those topics. That was my niche. And my post-grad confusion helped confirm those theories that I already knew to be true.

Post-graduation made me realize that everyone is just trying to find their own way – regardless of how happy you seem to be on social media. And maybe that happiness projected onto social media platforms are genuine happiness, but there will always be something someone is working through, working on, or thinking about. I saw people I graduated with go down a completely different route than me. Some went the traditional route, some went into something completely different entirely, some worked on independent projects, some are still figuring it out – and that’s okay. We are all simply trying to see what works for us. There is not just 1 path to success.

I guess what also helped me not compare myself to others is simply being confident in my choices. It sounds easy to do, but for me, being confident in what decisions I chose to take post-graduation was a challenge. I was so hesitant and afraid that I would be making the wrong move for my future, and truly couldn’t decide what I wanted to do with myself. In those moments, I did nothing and stayed stagnant. But there is definitely beauty in the struggle. In fact, that’s part of the reason why this blog was revived. I didn’t know what the fuck to do with my life, and it was getting overwhelming. I was over thinking it so hard that I started to get frustrated that my lack of confidence in my decisions had my life at a complete standstill.

I figured that reviving my blog and posting consistently is a small big step that I could do for nobody else but myself. And I’m grateful I did. A lot of decisions had to be made post-graduation, and I was tired of living in fear. I figured a wrong decision is better than no decision. I couldn’t just wait for shit to fall in my lap, because it wouldn’t, shit doesn’t work like that. I had to get the ball rolling to see results, and if it’s the wrong decision, then so be it. My road to success is my journey alone, no one else’s.

We’re all on our own journey. No two experiences are the same. What works for someone else may not work for another. Or it may work, but it’s not what you want. Everyone has their own preferences and own personal road blocks. It’s hard to retrain your brain to not see others as competition since it’s what’s innate for us to do. You can try to compare your reality to someone else’s, but you’ll never really know first hand all the work, dedication, and complications it took to get to that point.

In reality, your biggest competition is yourself. Whether that be silencing the self-doubt, trying to find inner-motivation to get what you want, or forcing yourself to do the small steps. Sometimes you can be your own worst enemy and #1 hater. Especially when you’re wasting your time comparing yourself to others. Yes, wasting time. It’s pointless to dwell on others and their accomplishments because they’re not you. No matter what, at the end of the day only you can change and direct your future. Nobody is going to come around and change your mindset, hand you opportunities, or do the work for you. So the sooner you realize that comparisons are the thief of joy is best. It’ll always be you vs. you.

When you realize that you are in competition with no one, that’s when you’ll start to flourish mentally. There’s no room for jealousy when you’re doing your own thing. And jealousy is such a consuming ugly feeling. It only breeds more negativity and self-hate. When you come to terms with the fact that everyone is just trying to figure it all out regardless of how successful they come off to be, you’ll see that everyone is working through their own forks in the road. And with that being said, instead of being your worst enemy, attempt to be your biggest cheerleader. It can be hard when all you know is negative self-talk, but negative self-talk will literally get you nowhere.

Understanding that no one’s life is picture perfect is such a humbling realization. It gives you the opportunity to allow yourself to just focus on you without pressure to out do anyone else. Because I’m focusing on myself, I am genuinely happy for those around me that are making it happen for themselves. I love seeing my friends, family, acquaintances, and even people I follow on social media that I don’t even know in real life, be successful. It’s an amazing feeling seeing other people go and get theirs, especially when it’s people close to me. Because I know first hand the personal struggle that goes into making your dream a reality.

I once knew a person that was so insecure that they thought everyone else’s accomplishment magnified their own lack of achievement. When it was time to clap for their friends’ success, they did so with bitterness in their heart. That’s something I never got – people being genuinely salty and offended when someone accomplishes something that they worked hard for. People that hype you can also be disguised as jealous haters. Haters not only hate you for getting / achieving what they want, but they also hate themselves for not making it happen.

We are all at different stages of life. Life isn’t a competition, even though it may feel like that sometimes. Your only competition is yourself. Only you will get in the way of your own success. Be happy for those that are finding genuine happiness in their own path. Clap for others when it is their turn, because your turn is coming up.

Why Can’t I Enjoy the Process?

It started with LEGOs.

Yes, you read that right. Talking about building LEGOs is what led me to this blog post…

Christian has always been a LEGO lover. I joke around that he looks exactly like his mom, and I guess that his love of LEGOs is also something that he inherited from her. He comes from a LEGO loving family. He always got the sick ass sets growing up for birthdays and special occasions, and now that we are living together, he has taken it upon himself to finally cop some new LEGO sets.

I, on the other hand, did not grow up building LEGOs. In fact, I mentioned that my first LEGO set that was actually for me and not hand-me-downs, was a little 10-15 piece set that his mom got me in my Easter basket the first year we started dating. It was a Frozen Olaf set that was simple, but still cool to put together. It was something new to me, since I was more of a Bratz doll lover growing up. Of course, I had the big duplos to build, but I never knew what it was like to have a LEGO set that was supposed to be a specific thing.

LEGO building is a new-ish hobby we have picked up together, especially during the pandemic. I say “new-ish” because he’s been about that LEGO building life. He just revived his love for it by getting new sets, while I am fairly new to the game. Christian bought this medieval set that was over $150. I really couldn’t believe how pricey these sets could be! This specific set, to me atleast, had a lot of pages and pieces. The booklet is the size of a novel, and there’s about 15 pouches. Given that my ass only owned a 10-15 piece Olaf set, I was baffled. And honestly, overwhelmed as fuck.

We decided to divide the pouches up and take turns building. Everytime it was my turn, I felt under pressure to work fast and get all the pieces to fit right. It was like I was having a competition with myself in my head. When he was building his turn of the set, I asked if he felt anxiety or overwhelmed to just finish. I didn’t think that opening this can of worms would lead me down a train of thought that made me question and realize:

Why can’t I enjoy the process?

I asked him if he felt anxious to just get it all over with so he could just be done with the set, given that the book was huge and there were bags filled with little pieces. I explained that when I build my portion of a LEGO set, I feel like I’m constantly trying to turn the page and move onto the next step so I can complete my turn as soon as possible. I described the accomplished feeling of quickly looking at the graphic, getting the right piece, and completing a step. All the pieces fit together, everything in it’s designated spot, I’m getting it right, I’m moving along, I want to see the end result. So much so, that I’m not really taking the time to see my progress.

Go, go, go, next piece, *click*, *turn the page,* next piece, *click*….

It’s oddly satisfying to work fast and get it right. It’s something that you don’t have to think too much about. You just look at the picture, find the right piece, and put that shit on. I told him that I noticed I don’t really admire or even care to notice the progress of the LEGOs right before my eyes. And that’s because I’m so focused on seeing the finished product. It’s like I’m so focused on finishing and seeing the end result that I don’t care about the individual steps I have to take to complete it. All that mattered to me was what I saw at the end.

On top of that, I felt the need to work fast. I get overwhelmed with how many pieces are before me, that my mindset is to power through and get it done. The less pieces I saw before me, the more motivated I felt to keep going. It’s like that feeling when you’re waiting online for something to drop. The time clock is winding down and you’re excited, nervous, and anxious, knowing you have to work fast to get what you want. In the case of LEGO building, I try to work fast, not taking my time to appreciate how each individual piece and direction is all equally important to the final piece.

To my surprise, Christian told me that he didn’t feel that way when it came to LEGO building. He’s perfectly fine with working slow, appreciating how each piece fits with the other, analyzing how he started off with 1-5 LEGOs, and now it’s a whole ass stone building, etc. He saw the art in it, thinking how the designer of the set put it all together. He thought about what he would do differently, what he would add, what features his set would have if he were to design one. He simply didn’t relate with me feeling the need to be fast and work anxiously.

I was shocked because I didn’t even think what I asked was a loaded question until I realized he didn’t feel the same way as me. It made me reflect on why I felt the need to just see the end goal so fast. I realized that my mentality is not just limited to LEGO building, but to how I view life in general. I stayed quiet as Christian meticulously added to his foundation, analyzing the pages of instructions before him.

That was the same mentality I had with school – I just wanted to be done and have my degree already. I dreaded waking up early to go to class, I dreamt of the day where I wouldn’t have to turn in homework. But when I finally completed that goal, I was lost and had no idea what do with myself. When I was little and reading a ton of books from the school library (thank you Mrs. Volpe, those love stories were fire.), I’d get so impatient that I would always skip to the last page of the book. I’d read the last page and ruin it for myself because I just wanted to hurry up and know the ending already. I even find myself having that impatient mentality when it comes to things that I should enjoy / do for leisure. I have found myself in this scenario fairly often.

The “let’s just get this over with,” mentality is motivating yet harmful. It motives me to keep going, knowing that there is a goal to reach and steps to follow. However, I’m completely blindsided to the journey. I’m so focused on the end goal that I don’t appreciate the moments in between. I’m so guilty of having tunnel vision for the end result that I push myself and push myself until I’m at the finish line. And then what? Then I repeat the process with something else, stressing myself out the entire journey. I strive to complete a goal and make it an accomplishment, but never really enjoying how I got from point A to point Z. I have a habit of not appreciating or living fully in the moment. This is something I was fully aware of, but building a LEGO set reminded me of this personality trait of mine.

I guess LEGOs will do that to you sometimes. I went into it trying to build a cool set, and ended up giving myself a mini therapy session. But if I do say so myself, the end product was cool to see. I just wish I didn’t take all the fun out of it by anxiously trying to get it done. This new hobby made me realize that I will miss a lot of art and beauty along the way if I’m too busy trying to rush and get instant gratification.

I’m constantly stuck between “get shit done,” and “it’ll happen when it happens.” I’m the most motivated lazy person that you will ever meet. I struggle with fully being in the moment. My mind is always elsewhere, thinking of what else I need to complete, what is happening the next day, or what is a priority in the next coming months. I put a lot on my plate sometimes, and it can feel like I’m being pulled in a thousand different directions and not 1 thing gets my full undivided attention.

But the truth is, there will always be a new goal, a new idea, something that needs my attention, something that I have to work on – I just need to figure out my balance. I don’t want my goals and plans to consume me. As the cliché goes, I need to stop and smell the roses from time to time. This is another eye opener for me, that I need to be present and not thinking about everything that is to come. I need to celebrate the small victories and be more in the “now.” Forever working on enjoying the ride of life and not letting tunnel vision control me.

Estephanie: Motherhood Without My Life Partner

“This is story 10 of 10 of LoveYourzStory’s Motherhood Series. 10 mothers give us a glimpse into a small portion of their motherhood journey. I am so grateful that these 10 women gave me the opportunity to share their stories on my platform. Though they focus on different topics, each mother has gone through challenges that tested their strength, patience, and sense of self. Thank you again for sharing.” -Marinelle, LoveYourzStory

This is Estephanie’s story, written in her own words:

“My name is Estephanie, but friends call me Juelz. I’m the proud mother of Elían, fiancé to Tone, Founder of Divine Eye, LLC, Licensed Esthetician, and Body Sculptress at Adriana’s Beauty Salon. 

When I first found out I was pregnant my exact words were ‘holy shit,’ as I smiled. This is not something our family knows, but our son was planned per say. We knew our future wouldn’t be easy and that it would be scary, but we loved each other and knew that we would figure it out. My son turns 4 in January, and man he has been our biggest blessing. Being a mother to me means endless amounts of  strength, courage, and resilience. It’s a feeling that no other can ever fulfill. 

You can have the crappiest day, but even when your child is figuring out their emotions, they manage to still make you smile. You sit and observe them, you then realize, ‘My God, you were in my stomach. I created those beautiful hands, that smile.’ And then I think, ‘Damn you sound just like me.’ Like Faith Evans said, ‘I never knew a love like this before,’ because my family is different in many ways like many others. We’re all unique. I’m a single mother to Elían while my life partner, Tone, is incarcerated.

Honestly, my mom was aware of our situation from the beginning. However, Tone isn’t just someone I met 5-6 years ago. I’ve known him my entire life. We’ve been a part of each other’s lives since we were 12. We have history, we dated in high school. Puppy love, right? But I always knew he’d be an amazing partner. My fiancé was fighting a case previous to our relationship’s beginning. My mom knew about his past, and they have an amazing relationship. My family didn’t know about his case, and I was very private about people I dated. So when I finally brought someone to the family they were excited. His situation wasn’t my story to tell. It was Tone’s private matters. We didn’t want the negativity to surround us. People are ruthless sometimes with questions and overstepping boundaries.

 But of course, secrets always find a way to come out. My family became aware of his case while I was 7 months pregnant. By then, they had gotten to know him for who he was and witnessed how amazing, hardworking, and loving he truly is. They witnessed how attentive he was while I was pregnant and after I gave birth. He made sure to stay home and give his son time. By then, it was too late for the judgement. My family loves Tone. I feel like we just didn’t give room for judgement. We focused on ourselves.

We had a lot of court dates, even before I was pregnant. We never knew which court date they would remand him. My anxiety was pretty high. His case is a federal case, and the judge truly had the say if he’s remanded before his sentencing or not. During my pregnancy, all we did was plan and discuss how we would raise our son. We discussed scenarios because we truly never knew which court would be the last one until it was.

May 15, 2018 my fiancé, my son, and I were joined by other family members as we walked into the federal courthouse located in Oakland, CA. The day had come for sentencing and we believed a miracle would happen due to his many accomplishments and life changing choices.

 My life changed in a blink of an eye when the judge sentenced my fiancé to ten years and eleven months. My son was two days away from turning four months old. It was devastating to hear. I dropped to my knees. I couldn’t believe it. It was his first time being sentenced – never missed a drug test, attended all court ordered classes, and worked a full-time graveyard shift (he does drywall). Minimum for each count was 5 years. Tone was just as surprised. 

Life was great up until that point. I was doing amazing in my career. My son was healthy after a difficult delivery. We had just mailed out invitations for our wedding. I was very hesitant to plan our wedding, but I said ‘Why live in fear?’ Tone was waiting for me to give him the okay to plan the wedding. I was afraid this would happen and it became my reality. I don’t regret it one bit. Life had different plans for us. We knew the possibility was high, but like everyone, you pray and hope for the best. 

The people closest to me understand my position of wanting to wait for Tone. There was concern, but in regards to my mental state. They reminded me of all my options. Reminding me that I too matter and that any decision I took, they would stand by it. Meaning if I waited they would support it, and if I decided to walk away they would support me too.

I haven’t wanted to throw in the towel because of the love and respect I have for Tone. I know I don’t owe him anything. I know this case has absolutely nothing to do with me and I know it’s me putting a lot of hope into the relationship. I cannot get up and leave, I say that because I’d be leaving for the wrong reasons. I’d be leaving because I’m ‘lonely,’ not because I don’t love him or because he doesn’t treat me right. Of course I want my family to be complete, of course I want to have date night to get dolled up while holding hands with my partner, but if I walk away, that’s walking away from my family.

The journey hasn’t been easy. Single moms and mothers like me, who aren’t single but due to circumstances have to do it alone, we forget to praise ourselves for all that we do. There are lonely nights where we stay up to cry, wake up with puffy eyes, and handle business. When there’s so much to be done you don’t know where to start but you do. The amazing memories we create with our children, good and bad that you can look back and laugh. 

Motherhood was never supposed to be easy. It is the next step of growth. Motherhood teaches you to unlock those traumas you’ve been avoiding because you don’t want to project it onto your child. Motherhood gets you in a loophole of emotions, but doing motherhood alone without your life partner is hard. I can’t imagine what it’s like to have a partner pass away. I’m blessed to be able to receive a phone call, an email, or these days – even a visit. 

The first years I struggled with my depression and anxiety but I managed it. I lost myself in that process. I lost my glow. I lost my happiness because I was stripped away from what I thought was my perfect life. In reality, what is perfection? I don’t think anyone knows what that is. I just knew I needed to fight, and that the fight wasn’t going to be easy. Everyone’s first thoughts are, ‘Oh she’s going to leave him, watch,’ or ‘Oh, she’s going to cheat on him if she waits, watch,’ or even worse, ‘Watch her wait and the relationship fails.’ Like sheesh, can we be a bit more optimistic here please?

It truly takes a village, my support system has helped me so much with my child. When I needed to go back to work, all hands were on deck. My mom, mother-in-law, and sister-in-laws helped me take care of my son. Mondays and Wednesdays my mom would watch him, the other days my sister-in-law would watch him, and when she couldn’t anymore my mother-in-law took over. My cousins would come over to help me so I could catch up with laundry or cleaning while they helped me with my son. They watched me break down crying an endless amount of times. My cousins and close friends gave me a safe space to vent and plot my next moves. My mom motivated me even on the days I just wanted to be alone, she made sure to get me out of my comfort zone.

I found love in food. It was my coping mechanism even when I was a teen. However, I knew I needed to do something different but didn’t know what. I created myself a routine. Every week looked the same. But I grew tired of it. I would begin books and I couldn’t finish them. My attention span was so small and I couldn’t understand why if I truly loved reading books. Then it was time to dive deeper. I knew I needed to go back to therapy. I tried it but I was afraid to open the doors of Pandora’s Box. So I stopped, but I started to journal. Not every day, but I tried as much as I could. I prayed a lot and I cried a lot. 

 As a mother, naturally you  are a nurturer. I love nurturing my family, that means my fiancé as well. Not only do I have to learn to cope with my roller coaster of emotions, but I too have to attend to my man’s needs and his vulnerabilities so he doesn’t lose his mind for not being here with his family and witnessing our son grow everyday. That’s his biggest fear because he grew up without a father too. 

It’s far from easy for Tone. This was his biggest fear: not being able to watch his child grow up every day. He wishes he could be here, but he has his moments of depression and anger. He writes Elían letters and draws beautiful artwork so he could see them. It’s been harder for Tone when we did have visits – to sit in front of your child and not be able to hug them or even hold their hand due to COVID. If you break the rule, Tone can be sent to solitary confinement. Tone has been in solitary confinement many times during this pandemic, caught COVID twice, and was freezing because it was so cold in those cells.

What hurts the most is not knowing how he will come home from the traumas he’s endured during his life in prison. How he will handle the changes I’ve made during the time he was gone. I worry if we will be able to adapt to the new life after the honeymoon stage fades of having him home. How my son will handle his father being home, if he will react negatively when his dad wants to correct him or if it’s going to be awkward for him. 

I can relate with my son because I also had to visit my father in prison until I was 25 years old. I know the feeling when I see my son watch his father enter the visiting room, how his eyes glow, and he cheeses under his facemask. The pandemic has been far from easy – it has been our biggest challenge. As of right now, we have no visits due to COVID-19. The facility is unaware when the visits will begin again due to cases rising. In the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic I organized a protest (#YOSOYTUVOZ Lompoc, CA) with the help of my family and other families to bring awareness to the inhumane acts that were taking place in the prison. 

Not seeing each other for almost one year, and now being able to see each other and not hug each other is difficult. Helping my son understand that his daddy does love him but can’t hug him is devastating. Especially when he compares himself to other children and their fathers. I know that feeling because I also would do it as a little girl – but now as a mother it’s by far the worst feeling.

Growing up without a father was difficult. I didn’t understand why my father committed the same mistake knowing the high risk of being away from us. My father has always battled with addiction and being in and out of prison. The time my dad was home we have great memories of him, but I also have nightmares of him. I would take care of my dad when he was coked out. I would intervene in the physical beatings my mother received while he was under the influence. I worried if he would come home or not, and if he came home, I feared what state he would be in.

 I’m a daddy’s girl 100% however, it does get overwhelming. It made me a giver and a nurturer yet gave me a cold heart. Although my father is no longer incarcerated, he struggles with his addiction. I can’t believe that although I’ll be 28 next month, I no longer have a healthy relationship with my father. When I’m dealing with heavy stuff I switch to survival mode. It’s been a journey to calm down the survival mode because I have a son now and can’t just get up and leave.

I feel that maybe my family is sympathetic towards my current situation because my mom went through the same thing with my dad. But my father was nothing like Tone. My family didn’t meet my father until after I turned 2 years old because he went to prison while my mom was pregnant with me. My dad wasn’t the best partner for my mother, a lot of healing needed to take place. And with Tone, it was peaceful, no drama, loving, respectful, and family oriented. It was a different experience my family witnessed with Tone. He had similarities like my dad given the choice of lifestyle they chose for various reasons, but he has my Papa’s (grandfather) hard working attitude and detail oriented when it comes to family.

The only thing my son and I can relate to is that Tone is incarcerated for mistakes that were previous to our relationship. The way I’m helping my son with not having his dad around is by teaching him coping mechanisms to help with his emotions while being frustrated. We do a lot of breathing techniques, drawing/painting when he’s sad or having an off day. When he’s mad I tell him to go to his room to take a breather, use the punching bag, or to use his drums. I like teaching him things Tone would teach him, and showing him movies Tone loves. I bring him to work with me, I’ve taught him how to fold towels, and help me with laundry. I do things with him that his dad and I emphasized we wanted to do. I speak highly of his dad and I remind him no matter where his daddy is, that he’s always thinking of him and loves him dearly.

Elían wants to know everything about his dad, from what he eats to what kind of cologne he wears. Sometimes at night is when it becomes harder for me. The hardest question by far has been, ‘Why daddy don’t love me or hug me? I miss him.’ Those were the words I heard the first time we visited him after COVID-19. It was a new facility we were going to and the first time seeing him since the last time we visited pre-pandemic. It was very rough for my son. Again, hearing that from a 3 year old was devastating. It was so hard to put the words together as I cried with him because as a child, I remembered that feeling.

My son is very attached to Tone given the circumstances. Their bond was strong even when I was pregnant. When he would hear his dad’s voice, he’d have a whole party in my belly. One thing about my son is he’s very curious and asks a lot of questions. This year we officially told him his dad was at a camp. He knows that his dad is at a camp correcting his actions by having an adult timeout. And sometimes, as adults we make mistakes and everything has a consequence whether it is good or bad, but when it is bad the timeouts are a little different. They have to go away for a little bit to learn new habits.

 However, we emphasize that if it were up to his dad, he’d be at home with us every single day. I emphasize to him how much his daddy loves him. I have pictures of his dad everywhere. My son’s godparents have bought him a Build-a-Bear with his voice recording telling him how much he loves him so he can hear it everyday. Books about his daddy (wonderbly.com), also blankets with pictures of him when he was a baby with his dad. 

Obstacles in life will always happen, no matter how great your plan is, no matter how good of a person you are, life will challenge you. I am learning to believe in myself because of motherhood. Everything life has taught me has led up to this moment. So when I find myself asking, ‘Why me?’ I now say, ‘Okay, so what’s the lesson here and where can I grow?’ Being a mother doesn’t mean having all the answers, it means figuring it out with the answers you do have and working from there. 

It sounds so simple, but trust and communication is how Tone and I maintain our relationship. We are very raw with our conversations. We have conversations that couples find difficult to have – our fears, our regrets, our happiness, our past, our traumas, things we like about each other, and things we find difficult about each other. I am very open with my emotions and I’m like a firework. And Tone is more reserved and quiet about his emotions. But I can sense it just by the first moment I hear his voice. I cry a lot to him if I’m being honest. I get a sudden rush of guilt for complaining to him and he reminds me that I’m his partner and he needs to talk about these things with me. We pray a lot. We read the same books so we can discuss them to create conversation. I bought a deck of cards for couples to ask questions to get to know each other even more. We try to know everything about each other because all we can do is use our words to explain what and how we feel on a daily basis since we don’t have each other physically here.

I am hopeful Tone will be able to come home sooner than we ever expected. I am hopeful that this nightmare will just be a chapter in our story where we can look back on 20 years from now and say, ‘Damn, baby, we did that.’ Where we can tell our future grandchildren and great grandchildren our love story. Like not only did we overcome this sentence, but a whole pandemic too.  

The best advice I can give someone that is dealing with this same scenario is to learn from each other. LEARN EACH OTHER’S TRIGGERS AND LOVE LANGUAGE. Learn to compromise, learn to understand one another. This journey is far from easy, there will be nights that you feel your heart is truly hurting and the tears won’t stop running down your face but it’s during those moments you grow. It’s during those moments you learn that although you feel like the world is against you, it’s not. Never say, ‘Why me?’ Say, ‘What do I need to learn during this time?’ Take this time to truly get out of your comfort zone. Learn to trust yourself because the doubt will eat you alive. Don’t listen to the bystanders, pay attention to the support and love you receive. No one will understand your relationship better than you and your partner.” -Estephanie

Cambria: Expect The Unexpected

“This is story 3 of 10 of LoveYourzStory’s Motherhood Series. 10 mothers give us a glimpse into a small portion of their motherhood journey. I am so grateful that these 10 women gave me the opportunity to share their stories on my platform. Though they focus on different topics, each mother has gone through challenges that tested their strength, patience, and sense of self. Thank you again for sharing.” -Marinelle, LoveYourzStory

This is Cambria’s story, written in her own words:

“When I found out I was pregnant I had so many mixed emotions. I was 25 years old and still figuring out what I wanted to do with my life. I had a decent job and a stable income, but kids were definitely not in my plans at that time. I was about 4-5 weeks along when I first found out I was pregnant. I remember I had gotten this really bad cramping which usually never happens to me. I hadn’t gone to the doctor yet to confirm my pregnancy so I wasn’t really sure what was happening. I ended up fainting from the pain and ended up pressed against the tile on my bathroom floor. Somehow, I managed to get myself undressed and threw myself into the shower while hyperventilating. It took me what felt like 30 minutes or so to get back to normal and gather myself together. After fainting, I already felt like this was a bad omen and I was not ready to have this child. 

I didn’t tell my parents about the pregnancy yet, but after that incident I felt the need to come clean to my mom. Me and my mom are very close, but for some reason I just felt so nervous telling her about what happened. After telling her about the whole situation, it comforted me a little bit just knowing that my boyfriend, Mark, and I weren’t the only ones keeping this secret. But I still wasn’t sure if I wanted to keep the pregnancy. I just wanted some reassurance to know that she wouldn’t be disappointed in me or I didn’t feel like I was going to be a burden to my family if I were to go through with it. My mom has always been supportive of anything I chose in life, but I knew this was going to be pushing it a bit. I initially told her I was going to make an appointment to get an abortion and I would schedule it sometime later that week. 

I vividly remember calling the Kaiser advice line to schedule my appointment and asked them if I could decide whether or not to go through with the abortion the day of the appointment. They straight up told me that I needed to know before scheduling the appointment so I ended up freaking out and told them I would call them back. I called Mark after and cried, telling him I didn’t know what to do. I gave him the run around about making the appointment because I felt in my heart that I didn’t want to give this pregnancy up. It wasn’t like I was a teenager anymore, I had just graduated college and I felt like I was ready for my next steps in life. After talking to Mark about our options, he saw that I really wanted to keep the pregnancy and after days of  going back and forth I finally made my first prenatal appointment. This would be the start of realizing that no matter how much you plan for things, life will always find a way to challenge you. 

Having a pandemic pregnancy was one of the loneliest experiences I ever been through. I was estimated to be due on January 12, 2021 so I was pregnant right when the pandemic started. I didn’t get to see my family and friends that often while I was pregnant so I felt like I couldn’t celebrate the happiness with my loved ones. Fortunately, I was still able to work but I would just work and go home and do it all over again. At times it did get a little lonely so I enjoyed going to work for socialization.

 Although, I didn’t mind staying home and enjoying my own space especially since COVID was at its peak. I wasn’t allowed to bring my boyfriend during my appointments or to ultrasounds, so it felt like I was doing everything by myself. On top of that, I wasn’t able to go to any lamaze classes, so I was super unprepared for birth. I had to resort to asking my sister in-law, Jayna, for advice and look at pregnancy posts from Instagram and TikTok. But even with all those resources nothing would mentally and physically prepare me for having a baby.

During my research, I knew having a premature baby was a possibility, but I never thought it would happen to me. I would workout and stay active, drink water, and take my prenatal vitamins religiously. I felt like I was doing everything right and I thought I was having a somewhat healthy pregnancy so far. It wasn’t until I was at work and I started getting cramps throughout my 10 hour shift. I had a lot of back pain throughout my pregnancy so I didn’t think much of it. I thought about just going home early from work but me being the stubborn person I am, I ended up staying the whole time.

On my drive home after getting off, I remember wincing in pain and taking deep breaths while trying to stay composed because the pain was getting unbearable. I called the advice nurse and they told me if it gets worse I should call back and they might have to admit me into the emergency to see what was going on. I had the hardest time falling asleep that night. I was constantly tossing and turning until around 2 in the morning. I couldn’t take the pain anymore and Mark made me call the labor and delivery nurse to see what I should do next. They told me it sounds like I could be having contractions and to go there right away.

Me and Mark went to the ER unprepared, coming only with our keys, wallet, and water bottles in hand. The nurse who checked us in laughed as we came empty handed while the family ahead of us brought overnight bags and a car seat. She said, “Wow you guys packed light.” We laughed nervously realizing that it did not occur to us at all that I could have a baby within the next couple of days since I wasn’t due for another 2 months. As the doctor came in to check me she said I was 1 cm dilated and that I was lucky I came in when I did or I would have been further dilated. I found out I was in preterm labor. They gave me medication to slow down the contractions and a steroid injection so my baby’s lungs could mature faster in the womb before being born and if they were effective I could potentially go home. 

A Doctor came in and talked to me about the possibility of having a premature baby and how a baby born at 32 weeks would definitely need to stay in the NICU at least until they reach full gestation which is around 40 weeks. I just remember bawling my eyes out because I was so sad to have to leave my baby in the hospital and I wouldn’t be able to take him home. Mark reassured me he would be in good hands but I was so crushed at the thought of not being with my baby for such a long time.

After my first dose of medications the contractions decreased and I could finally sleep comfortably for at least a couple of hours. The next morning I felt a lot better, my contractions slowed down and the doctor said I could be monitored and transferred to the neonatal floor and eventually be discharged to go home. I was so happy because it meant that my baby’s birth would be delayed by at least a couple days if not hours. A couple days didn’t seem like much but when your baby is born premature every second spent in the womb is crucial, as told to me by the Doctor. Hours passed and I was exhausted by being checked on by the nurses and doctors every 2 hours, but everytime they came in I was feeling much better in hopes that I could finally go home.

 It wasn’t until I started getting contractions again and I was further dilated at 3-4cm. That’s when everything started to speed back up again. After they saw how dilated I was, the nurse told me I needed to be transferred back to the labor and delivery floor. I remember feeling contractions more often than before. I remember her talking to me and saying, “It looks like you’re going to have this baby today,” and I was so scared for what was to happen next. I was in so much pain that I was like “Okay, whatever, how can I make him come out faster?” But the thing that stuck with me was when the Doctor came in to talk to me prior to giving birth and told me,”It’s not your fault.” I didn’t get that until later. There’s a lot of guilt that comes when having a premature baby. I felt like my body failed me. I felt like I wish I could have done something different, I wasn’t sure what that was but it broke me knowing that I couldn’t keep my baby inside me long enough for him to be healthy.

I was so mentally and physically exhausted that all I really wanted was to fall asleep but the contractions were getting closer and closer to each other that I knew for a fact this baby was coming soon. I kept asking for pain medications but they had given them to me so often that they were starting to wear off quicker and quicker to the point where the nurses told me there was nothing else they could give besides doing an epidural. I was too scared to do an epidural because of all the horror stories I’ve heard before of people getting paralyzed after giving birth because of it, so I refused it. The nurses respected my wishes and tried to make me as comfortable as possible. At some point I was having such bad contractions that I couldn’t even call the nurse for help because the pain was that bad. 

Things started to speed up a bit and the Doctor informed me that they were going to prep the delivery room for me. I constantly nodded my head in response to everything because I couldn’t really think straight but I wanted them to know I was aware of what was going on. I remember being wheeled in the delivery room and there were so many nurses surrounding me and it looked like there was a lot going on. Once I reached about 6-7cm the doctor decided that I could either wait for my water to break or they could break it themselves to speed up the process. I told them to pop it so I could get it over with because I couldn’t take the pain anymore. Once my water was broken, I pushed for a couple of minutes but nothing was happening. 

The doctor said that he didn’t like what the baby’s heartbeat was looking like and if I didn’t push him out soon they would have to intervene. To be completely honest, I was so out of it that I don’t even remember what was happening. All I knew was that if I didn’t push this baby out they would have to intervene and in the moment I absolutely did not want to get a C-section, so I started to push as hard as I could. The other doctor then coached me while in labor to push my baby out by holding my breath for 10 seconds while I was having a contraction. I did just that and then about 15 mins or so later my baby was finally born. 

Later I learned that that was the most incorrect way to push a baby out. You’re not supposed to hold your breath, you’re supposed to breathe through it and let it come out naturally but they were so pressed on getting him out that I didn’t really have a choice. I pushed so hard that my eyes were bloodshot and I got freckles on my face from breaking so many blood vessels. The bloodshot in my eyes didn’t go away for weeks. I looked so scary.

All I could really remember was saying “HI BABY” a hundred times and trying to rub all of the white stuff over his body because I heard that it was good for their skin. Then he was whisked away and went off to get weighed and measured then went straight to the NICU. After giving birth and getting a second for me and my baby to get settled the nurses mentioned to me that we could go visit him but this would be the only time we could see him together because of COVID. After that only one parent was able to visit per day. 

At the moment I actually liked the fact that there were COVID restrictions and not that many people could come in because I felt like this was such an intimate moment. I wouldn’t want so many people in my delivery room while I was giving birth so I wasn’t really upset. It was after my birth experience that I wished my mom was there with me. She would know how to calm me down and check on me while I was having contractions and overall she would just know what to do. Mark barely knew what to do when it came down to it because we just were not mentally prepared for this early birth and on top of that he was sick so he wasn’t even in the right headspace himself. 

We walked down to the NICU and saw him in his incubator with all the wires and mini cpap over him and his little IV line attached to his arm. We weren’t able to carry him because his oxygen levels were low at the time so we stuck our hands inside to hold him. When I saw Jojo in the incubator for the first time it truly felt unreal. I was fine seeing him attached to all the machines because I knew that those were helping him thrive outside the womb but I was so sad that I couldn’t hold him that first time and actually get to see what he looked like. Mark took pictures shortly after he was born during his weight check so I would just stare at those for hours so I could just imagine what he looked like. I just couldn’t believe how small he really was. He was so tiny at 3 lbs. 

It was so unbelievable what just happened. I went back down a couple hours later while Mark rested during his touch times where the nurses check his vitals and I finally got to hold him in my arms since giving birth. I would soon find out that that would be one of the last times I would get to see him in person. They laid him on my chest and I couldn’t believe he was mine.

After coming back in the room, I later found out that Mark was coming down with a headache and wasn’t feeling well. He let the nurses know and they suggested that he leave and get tested for COVID just in case. After he left I was alone in my room until the next morning. I couldn’t have visitors due to COVID, so once again I was alone. I couldn’t even go to see my baby because I was at risk of having COVID, so I just stayed in my room until I was able to be discharged the next day. About a day after arriving home, I noticed I was starting to have a cough. At this point Mark had come back positive for COVID so I knew for sure I had it too. 

I let the doctors know at the NICU our situation and they said it’s best for us not to come in until we’ve had our 2 weeks of quarantine. I was crushed. I was so angry at Mark for giving me COVID, but I knew there was nothing I could do at that point. The NICU nurses allowed me to FaceTime Jojo everyday for two weeks until I could actually see him in person. It felt surreal to me that I just had a baby because I was finally home, but it was just me there. On top of that, Mark couldn’t be with me either because we were both in quarantine. It seemed like the loneliness never stopped. I was also worried that my baby wouldn’t know who I was because the first days after birth were so crucial for bonding that I was feeling so shitty at the fact that I couldn’t be there. Nonetheless, I continued to keep myself fed and hydrated so that when the time came, I would be healthy enough to see my son. 

Pumping in general was never a challenge for me. I always heard of people having a hard time pumping and producing milk but that was never the case for me. My only concern was that because I had COVID, I didn’t know if it was still safe for me to give my milk to my baby. The Doctor’s told me it was actually beneficial and I should be giving it to him not only for the health benefits it has but so it could potentially provide antibodies from the COVID virus. I didn’t think much of that until I noticed that my milk was turning green. At first I thought that my milk was getting spoiled but I wasn’t sure why it would be spoiled if I was handling it properly. Then I saw a post on Instagram talking about how breast milk turns colors when moms get sick and provides antibodies for your baby. I was in such awe about how amazing mothers’ bodies are and how our bodies were made to sustain a baby’s life. 

At last my two week quarantine was up and I would finally be able to hold my baby again for the first time in 2 weeks. I was so happy to see him after only seeing him through a screen. He was so plump and had so much more hair than I remembered. He was growing so fast and I remember him always smiling when we FaceTimed, but I cried the first time I got to see it in person. I knew there were so many angels surrounding him in the NICU that would keep him safe and looked after him while I couldn’t be there with him. I hated leaving him so I would stay there without eating just so I could be with him all day. Leaving Jojo was the hardest, but I knew the day would come when I could finally bring him home. 

Throughout those two weeks I got to see him, he was doing so well. The nurses said Jojo was their favorite because he was such a good and well mannered baby. I’m sure they said that to all the moms, but it made me so happy to know that he was doing so well without me there. One of the qualifications for them to be a NICU graduate was that they had to maintain their weight and hit at least 5 lbs. Everyday he grew so strong, he ate so well, and eventually he didn’t have to eat through his NG tube. Everyday was a celebration and every milestone hit from then on out was exciting. When Jojo was hitting all his milestones I felt like we were always just one step closer to him coming home. I wanted him to come home before Christmas so he wouldn’t have to celebrate another holiday in the NICU. I was so excited when I saw that he was gaining weight everyday and he finally got his NG tube out. All these little things could be checked off the box and he would eventually be a NICU graduate.

The day Mark and I finally got to bring him home, we were so nervous but ready to start this new chapter of our lives. Once our baby was in the stroller and we were on our way to our car we looked at each other and said, “Now what?” 

It wasn’t until we walked out the hospital with him that day that he got discharged that it finally hit me. I felt like I was on my own now and there were no nurses to help me. I was really on my own and all the knowledge I got from the NICU nurses I would actually have to apply and eventually teach Mark how to do the same. I developed PTSD from hearing the machines go off and I was more paranoid than ever knowing that now as he was coming home, there was no way I could tell that he was breathing on his own other than physically looking at him and seeing his chest move up and down. Now that we’re past that and he’s sturdy and is doing things an almost 1 year old should do, it hits me every once in a while that he’s a whole human being and I have to take care of him everyday for the rest of my life.” -Cambria