Rhonda: Heart Of Gold

Illustration By: Marielle Cabillo (Instagram: @work_in_progress.ai)

If you were to ask me how Rhonda and I got close, I really couldn’t tell you. She was my dad’s first cousin, meaning she was my 2nd cousin, or aunt, or whatever the correct term is. With a 25+ year age gap, Rhonda still insisted that we were “cousins.” So to mess with her, we gave her the nickname “Tita-Lola” (Auntie Grandma).

In the past, the only times I’d ever really see Rhonda in person were at family reunions that are held once a year. Well, reunions and funerals. Our family is so big that we’ll probably never get every single family member at an event…. ever. Despite not growing up together, not seeing each other often, and probably not acknowledging each other at events for the first decade plus of my life, Rhonda and I managed to have a very close bond.

I feel like social media is what helped break the ice in our relationship. When Rhonda added me on social media, I feel like I was given a key into her heart and soul. You know the saying that social media is just the window into someone’s house? That you can only see what they want you to see? That wasn’t the case for Rhonda. Her social media platforms unlocked the door and let you freely roam the “House of Tita-Lola.” If being an open book had a picture in the dictionary, it would have a big ass picture of Rhonda’s selfie.

Rhonda had no problem sending a friend request to anyone and everyone involved with our family. If you were at a family reunion once, have a last name she recognized, or had mutual friends, you probably got a request on Facebook or Instagram. Family meant everything to Rhonda. She knew all the chisme, all the extended family, and wanted to share everything she knew about my great-grandparents and our family history. And whether you wanted to know all that information or not, if you followed her on any socials, you had no choice but to see it.

Tita-Lola did not give a shit about over posting. That term did not exist to her. She used her social media pages more like a Twitter account with how often she posted. But that’s how I, and probably many others, felt like we were close to her without really speaking much in person. Rhonda shared her personal life, opinions, likes, dislikes, family history, rants, and how she was managing her illness. Nothing was off limits to post about. Anything less than 10 posts a day would have me thinking, “Is Rhonda okay?”

Though she loved to share everything online, in person, she took a while to warm up. Rhonda was cool with everyone in the family, but with people she didn’t know very well, she would be a little shy to start up a conversation. But don’t let the shyness fool you – she probably knew everything about you from what you posted on social media. Rhonda would just be waiting for the perfect time to break the ice and attempt to start a conversation.

My sisters and I and our other 2nd cousins initially bonded with Rhonda by (dare I say it…) low-key bullying her. It was all fun and games, and Rhonda was the perfect person to joke around with because she’d sit there, laugh her ass off, but continue to take the mild abuse. Whenever she’d try to defend herself or shit talk us back, we would rebuttal with another joke. Those were good times. And now that I look back, I laugh in my head because we were really out here cappin’ on our fuckin elder and didn’t even know her like that yet hahahah.

I just know that when she realized how foolish and ridiculous my sisters and I can get, she felt more than comfortable to be around us. We got closer and closer as the years passed, and it was no longer awkward to just approach each other at family reunions or other gatherings. It was such a significant age gap, but our relationship just worked. Each family gathering, the Cabillo and Prado girls would gather around to mess with Rhonda, and she loved that shit. It was always a good time when we all got together. Every time we would go home after a gathering, my heart felt full.

I got really close to Rhonda in the last decade. It all started with jokes and acting a fool, but throughout the years, I got to know Rhonda on a deeper level. We had our fun and games moments in person, but we also vented about our lives on a serious note. I knew Rhonda behind the social media posts, the jokes, and the banter. I quickly learned about things that made her happy, things that made her sad, what she dwelled on, what was most important to her, what motivated her, and so on. She vented to me about her health, problems, and all the many situations she would get herself into. And bitch, there were many, hahaha. Rhonda, I know you’re looking down on me like “don’t you say nothing, beezy!”

Quickly, Rhonda became someone I could turn to if I needed someone to talk to, but most of the time, I listened. I listened to the many things that were on her mind. And I think that’s why we got so close. She had so much to say, and I listened and gave my 2 cents. Ironically, the girl that posted so much online to stay “connected,” felt overwhelmingly alone from time to time. I wanted to be there for her when she needed someone because I knew she would do the same for me. It was a great feeling knowing I had a family member who could offer me advice, judgement free.

Rhonda vented to me a lot about her health. I know she posted a lot about her situation on social media in detail, so it would kind of be a reiteration of what she already shared. Rhonda was very transparent with her health complications – she would post photos of her dialysis, her medicine shipments, her appointments, good and bad news, and everything in-between. Unknowingly, she gave us all a glimpse into her daily life, and we would see how much it took to upkeep her medications and treatments. Whether you wanted to see it or not, her followers got an overwhelming sense of her daily reality. Her posts would have you thinking, “Damn, how does she do it?” And yet, she did it. Tita-Lola was very hopeful, yet very realistic, about finding a kidney donor. Rhonda had my younger sister make business cards to help get the word around. She never gave up.

Rhonda’s health took up a lot of her time. Every appointment, every medication, every shot, every timed meal, was a constant reminder about her reality. There would be days where I talked to her, and she would unpack everything on her mind. I think what made our relationship special was the fact that we could be brutally honest with each other. I knew her daily routine took a huge toll on her, some days it would get to her more than others, and I had to remind her that it was okay. It was okay to feel what she was feeling, it was okay to feel sad, it was okay to vent out those emotions to me. What would make me especially sad was knowing that whatever I could say for comfort would not change her reality. That was the saddest part, to know that all I could do was be there for her and hope for a miracle.

Whether she realized it or not, Rhonda would find joy in the smallest things. I think that’s what made her so strong, the fact that she took on so much with her health on a day to day basis, but still managed to get excited off of the most random things. From PEZ, to music, to her celebrity girl crushes (the fact that I know her celebrity crushes though, bye lmfao), to anything San Francisco related (#BornAndBred) – these things alone could make her day. But nothing could make her day more than the interactions she had with Damian and Delilah. Her nephew and niece was her whole life. Rhonda would literally do anything to see a smile on their faces. She would document their small interactions on Facebook, and you could feel the overwhelming sense of love she had for them just by reading their commentary. They are what kept her going.

Everyone knows how big Rhonda was on family. And family just didn’t mean blood related, her friends became her family as well. Anyone who Rhonda considered “family,” she was loyal to for life. Once you made an imprint on Tita-Lola, she would never forget you. Even the friendships that drifted apart or ended on bad terms, she would still wish the best for that person. We would have many talks about people she remembered from the past, and how she still cherishes the friendships because it meant a lot to her at some point in her life. Rhonda always tried to give people the benefit of the doubt and see the good in them. If anything ever went sour, in her heart she wished them the best and clung to the good memories. She had such a big heart, and always chose to be the bigger person.

Family was everything to Rhonda. The love she had for her grandparents (my great-grandparents) was so strong that it could transcend lifetimes. Rhonda loved and missed them so much, I know that they had such a big impact on her life. I could tell that decades later, her grief from their passing was still fresh. However, she tried to use her sorrow in a positive way. She tried to educate the younger generations about our family history by telling us stories about the great-grandparents that I never got to meet. Every time Rhonda missed them, she would post a photo, a memory, or a story about them online. “This is where it all began, the reason why we’re all here,” my dad says every time we visit his grandparents’ grave. It was true, and Rhonda felt the exact same way. She took it upon herself to make sure that everybody in the family knew exactly where we came from, who started it all. She wanted to make sure that their names lived on in our family history.

A few weeks before her passing, it dawned on me that I haven’t checked up on Rhonda in a while. So, I texted her and we picked up from where we left off. She updated me about her life, what was going on, how her health was, etc. The last text message I sent her was after I read a status she posted on Facebook saying she was being taken off the donor list. It was a few weeks before she had her health complications, and I wanted her to know that a lot of people love and care about her. I didn’t know how to comfort her during this time, what do you say to someone that receives that kind of news? I just wanted her to know that I saw the update, and wanted to send my love.

When I heard the news that Rhonda passed away, of course I was devastated. It didn’t feel like reality. Rhonda? Tita-Lola Rhonda? Rhon?! It’s crazy because obviously I knew first hand how her health was declining, but you just never think that the day will come. And when that day does come, you’re stuck there, dumbfounded. I started to feel an immense amount of guilt, that the last couple of years we didn’t get to hangout as much due to COVID and personal schedules. I wanted to hangout with her and invite her over many times, but held off because of the pandemic. I felt that the last couple of years we weren’t as close as we used to be because we were off doing our own thing. Of course, when we would reconnect it was back to how it used to be, but I felt like I should’ve been there more towards the end.

When I start to get sad and feel guilty, I feel like I can hear Rhonda’s voice in my head, “Don’t worry about it, yo.” I know the last thing she would want me to do is feel guilty. It really didn’t matter how much time went by, whether we talked consistently or not, I knew that once we connected again, nothing would have changed, nothing would be awkward, we’d just pick up from where we left off and update each other on the important things. And I’m grateful that I got 1 last “what’s up” update before she transitioned out of this life.

Rhonda was always there for me for the important things. I knew that I could count on her to give me advice and listen to my troubles, judgment free. Tita-Lola was hands down one of my biggest cheerleaders. She supported my writing, was there to encourage me when I wasn’t confident in myself, and always let me know how proud she was of me with what I’m choosing to do with my writing. That’s why I felt comfortable to tell her the many ideas I have. “But I don’t know…” I would tell her at the end of a wishful thinking rant. I would explain 1 direction I wanted to take my writing, but then think of 5 other things I want to do. I knew I was all over the place, and would feel a little embarrassed as to what people’s opinions would be once I stopped talking. Rhonda would look at me and casually encourage me to do all of it. “Why not?”

She truly made me feel like I could do anything. Of course, the true push will have to come from me and me alone, but to know that I had Rhonda’s support and she was cheering me on from the sidelines in anything I chose, was a great feeling to know. Rhonda would never try to talk me out of the many ideas I had, and for that I’m grateful. She was so happy to see people be passionate about things, and she encouraged it in every way that she could. That’s just who Rhonda was – the most loving, supportive, and simpy mother fucker you will ever meet. I could laugh with her until I cried, but I could also get real with her and cry my heart out if I needed to. And I know she felt the same.

Rhonda was a giver. She would give you the clothes on her back if she thought you needed it. When she said she got you, she meant that shit. I know that because I have been on the receiving end of her generosity and love. Rhonda would listen, but her support wouldn’t just end there. She would literally try to see how she could help your situation, how she can personally make it better. If she loved you, Rhonda made your problem her problem, and if there was an immediate fix, she would do it. I don’t think I know too many people like that. If you knew Rhonda, consider yourself lucky. She was the most kind hearted person, giver by nature, and one of life’s true gems. Rhonda truly had a heart of gold, and I’ll miss her presence in my life.

I really can’t believe that Tita-Lola is gone. It’s a weird feeling to know that I can’t just text her, or DM her, or tag her in something. My Facebook and Instagram feed crickets as the main poster is no longer posting. It’s a trip to know that I’ll never see the green “online” symbol next to her handles. I have avoided reading through our text message and Instagram threads because I don’t want to get sad. Because it doesn’t feel like she’s totally gone. All her posts, pictures, stories, etc, they are living on. When I tagged her in a post a couple of days after she passed, I decided to read our Instagram chat. It was her encouraging me to take the next step, be independent, and accept an offer to move out. She told me, “How many more signs do you need :)? You’re a writer.” That was Tita-Lola, encouraging without being pushy. God, I miss her.

I find a huge comfort in knowing that Rhonda got the reunion she so desperately wanted with her grandparents. I know she has reunited with the many family members she has lost throughout the years. When I miss her or wish she was still here, I remind myself that she is finally at rest. Rhonda is no longer suffering, no longer in pain, no longer on her tedious schedule. She is at peace. And that alone brings me peace. Rhonda fought her fight, and now we have a real one looking over us from the other side.

Tita-Lola, I miss you. But I know you are at peace. I know that if anyone is pulling strings for me on the other side, it’s definitely you. The way you helped guide me and encourage me in this life, will be some of my most cherished memories of you. Before you went, you asked me to help you with our family’s family tree, and all these projects you had in mind. Like you did for my great-grandparents, I will make sure that you are remembered. I’ll have many photos of you flipping me off to share. Please continue to guide me like you always have.

Rest In Peace, Yo.

Jayna: Moms Are Still A Work In Progress

“This is story 8 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 Jayna’s story, written in her own words:

“If you were to ask me how motherhood looked like for me 2 years ago, I would’ve said, ‘well, breast-pumping sucks, I’m tired af, and the constant questioning of, ‘when does this get easier?’ crosses my mind as many times as I breathe in a day.’ Today, Motherhood for me still looks like all of the above minus the breast pumping. Truthfully, parenting is hard and if you are a parent, I know I don’t need to tell you that. But for me, navigating through my current life as a ‘stay-at-home mom’ these past 2 years has met me with so many internal challenges of self-doubt and anxiety/depression that I never expected to go through as a mom. 

Ultimately, being faced with the adversities of motherhood has guided me to the start of my own self-discovery and healing journey to continuously work on becoming the best person and mom I can be for my son, Cade. While I speak from my own personal experience, I do believe it is 100% a full-time job to learn how to raise a child that requires your undivided love and attention, all while pretty much still raising yourself and learning who you are as an individual.

 Being a mom has brought me the awareness I never knew I needed to learn. And it helped uncover my personal triggers and consciously build my awareness to not ‘take it out’ on my child when he decided that his lunch looks better thrown all over the floor or when he decided to happily jump on my bed while unknowingly smearing a poop-filled diaper onto my bed sheets (true story). But you’re telling me, moms don’t get paid for this? Just kidding…

At my most vulnerable state, there are lots of days when I don’t feel like being a mom, doing mom duties, or just having my mind consumed with anything and every little thing involving my son, only then to ask myself at the end of the day, ‘Am I doing enough? Am I a good mom?’ These thoughts still make me feel incredibly guilty at times but I’ve learned to accept that they’re completely normal to have and not every day or even half the days as a parent will go as we expect it to. 

I think the feeling of me ‘not wanting to be a mom’ at times comes from a combination of the mental exhaustion I feel from being a stay-at-home mom, as well as my personal issues with anxiety and depression. When I think back to my life before becoming a mom, I always dealt with bouts of anxiety and depression from the time I was 12 years old to my earliest knowledge. It can feel ten times more overwhelming for present-day-me to internally work through my mental health struggles while caring for a toddler and being a safe space for his own emotions as well. 

Cade is extremely clingy to me (I’m his one and only caretaker for the majority of the day until David gets home from work) and I find myself getting overwhelmingly frustrated, stressed out, and helpless trying to figure out his growing needs and tantrums. However, what this shows me is that for me to readily meet my child with love, patience, and understanding, it requires me to always hold love, patience, and understanding with myself first and foremost.

My personal struggle of trying to have everything figured out as a new mom and actively raising my son added to the pressure of having yet to establish my career. It is definitely the hardest battle I go through daily. Society has its way of making you feel like what you’re doing isn’t enough whether you’re a parent or not. And everyone seems to have an opinion/judgment on your life like they know what’s best for you. I personally struggle at times with feeling like I need to prove myself to others in my life to deserve acceptance as if what I do as a stay-at-home mom isn’t enough.

I hold strongly to the belief that a person can’t meet you somewhere where they’ve never been. In other words, a person can’t begin to understand you without judgment if they haven’t been close to being in your shoes. It’s no one’s place to judge anyone but people will be people and that’s something I have no control over.

Nonetheless, I fully recognize that it’s a blessing to be able to be a stay-at-home mom over the past two years, and I never take that for granted. But just like any job, it comes with stress, hardship, and a whole lot of mental and emotional battles that an outsider wouldn’t see, let alone someone that hasn’t spent a day in their life raising a child. While everyone is entitled to their own opinion, that sure as hell doesn’t mean they know a fraction of what’s best for you or even understand what you go through. I remind myself daily that the only opinion that truly matters at the end of the day is the one that I hold of myself. 

Before becoming a mom, I never self-reflected or took the time to learn about my anxiety and depression. From having an unexpected C-section, to adjusting to life as a new mom with new responsibilities, to having little emotional and physical support during this challenging time, made it clear as ever to me that I needed to start taking care of myself. And for the first time in my life, stop internalizing all of my emotions and pain. My anxiety and depression will always be a part of my life but I’m on a life-long journey to consistently cope in healthy and healing ways. 

I truly never prioritized my mental health or even understood what ‘mental health’ means. Because of this, I always felt anxious and worried that I’m not a ‘good mom.’ Cade just turned 2 years old and I still struggle with that feeling. But I understand now that I’m in control of my thoughts and feelings. I still get anxious, but I’ve learned to let my worries go instead of clinging onto them and letting them multiply. 

 I’ll always experience hard days where my anxiety will tell me that I must be doing something wrong, but what’s important is how I don’t allow myself to get stuck in that narrative because it’s simply not true. One way I do this is to ‘fill my cup first’ by doing things that support my mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical well-being. This is so I feel more able to approach whatever kind of day my son is having with that patience, love, and understanding – because I’ve taken care of myself first. 

An easy thing I like to do, that takes less than 5 minutes each morning, is to set my day with an intention before I even get out of bed – especially on those hard days when I ‘don’t feel like being a mom.’ I’ll take a minute to stretch, take a few deep belly breaths(life-changing and I highly recommend it if you struggle with anxiety), and I’ll repeatedly tell myself something as simple as, ‘I am patient. I am strong. I am the best mom to my son.’ Some days I’ll get lazy or forget to do this and I’ve just started to appreciate the impactful difference it makes in my mood and how I handle Cade’s hundred waves of moods. 

I never truly felt like I ‘found myself’ before becoming a mom, so now I feel like I’m still finding and trying to be who I want to become while still becoming the mom I want to be. The most challenging part of this is simply taking the time and effort to do the things that I want to do and prioritizing my self-care. For me, that’s giving myself permission to let go of any ‘mom guilt’ or worry I may have and literally just do whatever it is I want to do in that moment without Cade and enjoy every minute of a much deserved ‘break.’ Some days this looks like taking a walk by myself and catching up on Jay Shetty’s latest podcast episode, or learning to sit with and address toxic thoughts, and other days it’s just eating Samyang spicy ramen noodles in peace without having to try to explain to a screaming toddler why he can’t have any or else his mouth is going to have a ‘booboo.’

While I currently don’t have my career established like others might, I feel that I’m where I’m supposed to be in this present time and that’s with my son. Anyone can be a parent, but to be a parent that also recognizes there is so much more to it than just providing the basic necessities to survive is hard work. Becoming a mom sort of forced me into a deep self-reflection of how I was raised and conditioned to be as an adult. It’s a daily choice and effort I have to make to consciously learn how to reparent myself and break generational trauma to parent Cade in a way where he grows up knowing that his feelings are valid, important, and respected. 

There’s always going to be that feeling of ‘pressure’ to have my ‘life together’ according to societal norms. But right now, I’m at peace with all that I’m doing- working on my self-development and prioritizing my mental health while being a stay-at-home mom raising a toddler. As long as I know I’m flourishing in that part of my life, I’m confident that I will ‘figure everything else out’ in due time and on my own time. It gets hard to not feel anxious about what the future holds for me, but that’s when I try to push myself to see the good in my life – practicing gratitude for everything in my life presently and focusing less on what it’s not or what it could be.

I really don’t have this all figured out, and maybe I never will. But motherhood to me will remain a journey presented with unraveling lessons, and Cade being a reminder of my self-growth, healing, and development. Whether you’re a stay-at-home mom, working mom, or both, what you’re doing is enough and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. There is no such thing as a perfect parent but I truly feel the best thing we can provide to our kids is the life-long journey of healing ourselves and allowing ourselves to become better individuals as our kids will become exactly who and what we model to them. 

The most important thing for me to teach Cade is to be kind and loving to himself and others. I want him to live each day intentionally grounded by respect, compassion, honesty, and nothing short of his true authentic self. Additionally, I want him to grow up knowing that every single feeling/emotion he experiences at any time in his life is 100% valid. Seeing Cade grow more and more every day and become a tiny little person will always be a blessing. But the best part of motherhood for me currently would be the new perspective it’s given me on myself, my life, and who I want to be for my child. As well as the life and lessons I want to be able to give him outside of material things. 

If I could give pre-Cade Jayna any advice, I’d tell her this:

Please don’t ever give up on healing yourself to become the person you’ve always needed. And love yourself before loving anyone else.” -Jayna

Reign: The Last Gift

“This is story 7 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 Reign’s story, written in her own words:

“The day I found out I was pregnant, it was shortly after my grandma passed away in January of 2018. I found out on February 4th. I wasn’t feeling like my normal self, my stomach was hurting and I was just feeling really weird. When the test results came back, I cried. I was mostly nervous to tell my mom. I was nervous to hear what everyone was going to say. 

My son’s dad was very supportive when we found out. He asked me what I wanted to do and how I felt. His exact words to me were, “I’m with whatever you want to do.” I was too scared to terminate my pregnancy, so I decided very quickly that I was going to go through with it. He was happy to find out he was going to be a dad. 

The beginning of my pregnancy was very rocky, everyone in my family was so focused on the loss of my grandma and the heartache that it left them with. I had very little support in the beginning. I was told things like I was being “selfish” and that they were “disappointed” in me. I also was told that I couldn’t be “focused on” because of the big loss we just took as a family. What they didn’t know was that this pregnancy was gonna save me. Mostly from self-destruction. 

Not until the middle of the pregnancy were things able to run smoothly with everyone excited and becoming more open minded to the thought of a new innocent life. The feeling of not having them be supportive was sickening to me. I didn’t know what I was going to do without my family being happy for me. I was very sad, and on top of the loss of my grandma, I was kicked out of my mom’s house.

 I was staying with my grandpa and aunt, and a couple days before my grandma’s funeral, my mom came by and had a conversation with me about what I was going to do moving forward and how I felt, etc. She didn’t apologize, but she expressed that when she got pregnant as a teen mom, her mom didn’t turn her back on her, so she didn’t plan on doing it to me. Over all, aside from family support, I had the most loving, patient, and caring partner by my side during all the tribulations. I was happily pregnant, I didn’t care what everyone was thinking of me. I knew what I wanted and I wasn’t going to change my mind about having my baby. 

My original due date was October 3rd. I went into early labor due to the car accident that happened on September 19th 2018. My mom, grandma, and I were just running a few errands – a normal day. All of a sudden, what I can remember was an older man merging all the way into the side of my mom’s car. He was coming from the left side of me. I was in the back seat on the passenger side and my mom veered all the way to the right to avoid impact as much as possible. 

To be honest, during pregnancy I hated the seat belt, so I didn’t have one on at the time (worst decision ever), and I had to brace myself with my feet. My first reaction was getting out of the car and making sure my grandma was ok, then to curse the guy out who hit us. An elderly woman and a pregnant woman all in the same car. I was furious, so furious I forgot about my health, in that moment adrenaline took over.

 I didn’t feel the urgent need to go to the hospital that same day. I became suddenly tired after the accident, so I went home and got in bed for the rest of the day. My mom also never wrote a police report about it because the other driver didn’t have any information on him. I didn’t have any injuries from the car accident, I just had a back spasm from bracing myself from going forward from impact. My grandma and my mom were totally fine, and my mom had to go to work after dropping us off at home. 

 After the car accident, I didn’t go to the ER immediately, like I mentioned earlier, everyone was fine and I waited a day and checked into the hospital at 10am September 20th, 2018. During that time they ran tests and monitored me and baby till around 5pm and then finally told me that I couldn’t continue with the pregnancy and the baby has to come now. I was so confused and scared. Everything being told to me, I had them repeat to me twice because I wasn’t quite comprehending nor was I even remotely ready for this just to happen. The decision making and procedure was just so quick.

I’ve always expected birth to be like… I don’t know, honestly I thought something more movie-like. It’s nothing like the movies, babies come at their own pace and they are in their own race. You don’t know what is going to happen next during pregnancy or labor no matter how ready or prepared you think you are. I gave birth 2 weeks early. I was induced twice due to the accident and no, I didn’t know anything about “inducements” prior to this. Nor was I expecting to be induced. This was an emergency induction due to the fact that I didn’t have enough amniotic fluid to continue a full term pregnancy. I was at the doctors 2 days before and everything was fine prior to.

First and foremost, I have never experienced this much pain in my whole entire life, this was the most painful thing I have ever had to endure. I honestly wish they had given me the option to undergo surgery right away instead of having to go through the inducement process. The purpose of the process was to dilate my cervix to prepare for a vaginal birth (or so they thought). The first one was too painful to endure, so they gave me a second option. That one took 3 times to attempt, the final time I was able to endure it and finally got through the hardest part.

 Overnight, we waited. On the morning of September 21st, 2018, we were just waking up and all of a sudden the heart rate dropped on the monitor. In less than 2 seconds everyone (nurses, medical assistants, doctors, specialists) come rushing through the room doors and immediately become hands on trying to figure out what is happening. All I heard was, “get on all fours!” “get on your knees and hands right now!” So, I did. As I’m in this position I start screaming to ask for information on what the hell was going on here. 

My birth wasn’t an emergency birth because of the accident,  it was because of my baby’s heart rate dropping while being induced. I was totally unprepared for this experience. They never gave me a cesarean option or made it seem like an option from the very beginning of the inducement. I never was told I was going to have a C-section until the last couple of seconds before being rolled out of my room. When everyone came to my room to figure out why his heart rate dropped, I overheard a nurse say “roll her out to the OR,” and that was as formal a warning as it was going to get in this story. 

Now that I work in healthcare, communicating everything with the patient helps them trust you. It also allows the procedure to take course in a natural flow because narration is leading. Of course, during this time it was an emergency, but I feel like I only felt doubtful or scared because I didn’t know what was going on. Nobody was communicating with me and the environment was chaotic. This part of labor was the most traumatic, the couple seconds that I didn’t know what was going to happen or what could happen.

In those fast 60 seconds, I was being rolled out to the “OR” (operating room). I asked for my child’s father to be present and they told me they would allow him to come in. They never allowed him in, assuming because of the emergency and not knowing the outcome of the emergency. I was upset (at the time) that my son’s dad couldn’t be in the delivery room with me because I needed that extra support. The nurses didn’t want to hold my hand, I was grabbing their scrubs for dear life. I was scared. It would have been nice to have him there with me but now looking back, I know that it was best he wasn’t present because anything could have happened. And instead of having them deal with possibly detaining him from acting on emotions, they were able to just focus on delivering Oriyon safely.

 I just remember being SO scared and unprepared for what was happening. None of the videos I watched on “giving birth” went like this! LOL, no more than 15 minutes passed and my baby was safely delivered and healthy. I couldn’t believe it though. I didn’t know what he was going to look like, I didn’t know that I was going to have him so quickly. I was in awe to think that this precious little baby came from inside of me. His dad was able to be the first one to hold him while I was unconscious and recovering from the procedure. I woke up in pain but was able to see and hold my baby boy, Oriyon Hasani, 4lbs 10oz for the first time. 

The most traumatizing part of my whole labor experience was being rolled into the operating room without knowledge of what could happen next. And the inducement takes second place to that. To the vaginal birth-giving mothers that may look down on C-section mothers or jokingly say that they didn’t give birth to their baby, I don’t agree. I personally don’t feel like it makes me less of a mother, But I finally understood why moms are the way they are. 

In some way, I finally understood  what my mom was talking about when she would tell me, “You’re not ready for a baby.” But honestly nobody ever is. I think she meant it in a warning way, like I wasn’t ready for the pain of giving birth but also the pain I would be willing to endure for someone else. Having money, being out of your parents’ house, being over 30, being married, that doesn’t make you any more or any less ready to have a baby. 

Being a new mom was hard for me because it was a realization of how I would be fully responsible for this little human, forever. The new thought of having created a whole entire human is still very shocking to me. Everything happened so quickly. I was in so much pain, I couldn’t begin to wrap my head around the fact that I had my baby, right here, and NOW. I began to second guess and question my ability to be the mother I wanted to be. With the reassurance of my family, friends and his dad, I was able to take it one day at a time learn to be patient and get a hang of motherhood. 

When I was still in the hospital, I was on an intense amount of drugs. I had access at the tip of my finger, with the press of a button. It was pre-covid so I was able to have visitors come to my room, and of course, people were coming in to see him. I was just so drugged out in pain. I remember what was happening but it’s so blurry as a memory. It’s as if I was watching a movie of someone else’s life. The healing process was horrid for me. At home, I was spending a lot of time alone with my newborn. At the time, I lived with my son’s dad and his family, and everyone would go to work so I was doing things for myself most of the day.

 I went through an intense chapter of PPD (Postpartum Depression), and things started to change around me very quickly. I didn’t get enough time to process, just adapt. I suppressed a lot of those emotions. Being a new mom, I was sort of just existing for the first couple of months. There was a lot going on with my new extended family, shortly after I gave birth. My son’s dad went away for a short time and I had to move back in with my mom. I didn’t have much time or space to feel every emotion that I was feeling or wanted to feel. I had to think about my son and what was best for him. My emotions were on the back burner and I wasn’t able to express or identify a lot of these emotions until a year ago. 

A lot of my healing is so recent. Oriyon is now 3 years old and I am now 25, I feel like I have just now fully healed from postpartum depression. Now, I’m working through some generational trauma at this point of parenting. I have done a lot of self-reflecting and spiritual work. And I changed my career pursuit. I don’t believe that it takes everyone this long, but I do believe that it takes real work, time, self-reflecting, and acceptance of self.

Coming out of this journey I had to learn and discover who I was all over again. Not like “What’s my favorite color?” or “What’s my regular Starbucks order?” but like allowing myself to have some ME time without feeling guilty, like buying myself some essentials without buying my son anything.

I often share how I feel like my son saved me because of the decisions I could have made. I know myself, and I know I can be impulsive, but because I had my son, I could easily establish what I should be doing. I’m constantly putting my son first. I grew out of a lot of people and bad habits once I became Oriyon’s mom. The first time I experienced death really close in my family, I had bad coping mechanisms. I was unproductive, angry, and I relied a lot on numbing myself – I didn’t really care about much.

Having a baby changed me. It was hard to transition to the mom phase, but it was happening for the better. Getting in tune with my inner being allowed me to be a stronger woman and better parent. Overtime, I learned to separate myself from a lot of things that I felt were hindering me and blinding me. I did what I needed to do to reach what I wanted to obtain. I have wanted to create sustainability for us, to love myself physically and mentally, and to become more patient as a parent. 

Over all, I came to a realization that only I was in the way of my own self and I was allowing myself to come up with excuses to be toxic, sporadic, and impulsive. It was important to be gentle with myself and having those breakdowns. The set backs were essential to my personal growth. In the end, the most rewarding feeling is the amount of  growth within relationships, bonds, and experiences. Being able to use that in all areas of life to be so full and grateful to the point of self joy feels so amazing. I am truly blessed.

The best part about being a mom is having someone who truly loves you for who you are. As a parent, we don’t realize that our kids look up to us. They look at us as if we are heroes that can make anything happen, they love us unconditionally, and they spend majority of their time with us (as moms). They don’t get to see the struggles or the tears and even if they do, they wipe our tears for us. They could be so young, and still, they know just what to do. Being a mom is so dope to me because it gives me purpose on my darkest days.

I like to think of my pregnancy as a gift from my grandma to have purpose and motivation to keep going. This second family death brought new life. There’s really no telling where I would be without my son.” -Reign

Jela: Motherhood Conundrum

“This is story 6 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 Jela’s story, written in her own words:

“Have I lost my identity when I became a mother? We all change. As time goes by our plans, decisions, and life change, and that’s totally okay. Sometimes the best transitions we experience or make in our lives are the ones that we feel like we are at peace with in the moment. Before I became a mother, I was a nanny, and at one point I became a traveling nanny for a very short period of time before my husband’s first duty station. When people meet me for the first time, I mostly get comments that I’m very patient and nurturing, and if I became a mother, it would already be “natural” for me. In my mind, I’ve always asked myself, “do you really need to be ‘natural’ becoming a mother or parent?” 

I’ve always wanted to plan to be a mother in my mid 20s. At 23, I became pregnant with my first born son in October 2016, but only found out a month later. At that time my husband and I moved to his first duty station 3,000 miles away from our hometown. I will always remember the morning we found out I was pregnant. The night before, we went to my husband’s first command holiday party. We were about to order drinks. I had a drink in mind, but I immediately asked if they had pineapple juice or any juice only. They actually did have pineapple juice! I ordered juice because I was feeling nauseous at the time.

 We planned to stay long, but we only stayed for an hour. Honestly, we left right away after that because we were going to GameStop to pick up the Pokémon Sun and Moon that we had ordered for the night release. After that, I really wanted to go to Target right across GameStop to buy a few pregnancy tests to take in the morning. The next day, I took a few pregnancy tests and it was confirmed that I was pregnant. I couldn’t really keep my pregnancy a secret from my family who lived nearby because every time we would see each other, or if we went out to eat, I would run to the bathroom to throw up what I just ate a few minutes before. 

I spent most of my days and appointments alone because my husband was out to sea a lot during that time. He missed pretty much the first appointment and all the ultrasounds, but I am thankful that on some days my sister would drive an hour away to stay with me during the week. I would drive down to visit my siblings every other day, even if that underwater tunnel bridge traffic was always rough! I’d drive a few minutes to visit my husband’s relatives that lived so close to us, or drive up 3 hours to visit my husband’s relatives in another state. 

Fast forward to when it was delivery day, we moved from Hampton to Virginia Beach, VA to be closer to family and my husband’s work, but the hospital I was being seen at was still in Hampton. I had an appointment that day, and I was called back in because my blood pressure was high (not sure why they sent me home the first time they saw my BP high in person). I developed Gestational Hypertension the day I delivered and needed to be monitored for contractions. I was having contractions, but to me they weren’t super painful in the beginning and I was 1 cm dilated as soon as we drove back to the hospital. They suggested that I walk for 2-3 hours, come back to get induced with a Foley bulb, but as soon as I came back from my walk at Costco (we even drove back home to pick up our hospital bag), I was already 4 cm dilated.

 I had a few complications during my pregnancy prior to having Gestational Hypertension, one of them being that I had to gain a lot of weight during my pregnancy (I did have a hard time gaining weight growing up). The second was that I was GBS positive. I was on antibiotics during delivery for that, so that meant I was only allowed to push every 3 hours when the antibiotics were administered to prevent passing it on to my baby, but everything was so quick after that last push. I tried pushing on my back and right side and I needed to push one last time so they turned me to my left side because his heart rate was dropping before my last push. I remember my midwife asking if I wanted to use the mirror up in the ceiling that they had (because his head was already out and I needed to push a little bit more). I remember looking at the mirror up the ceiling and I was just so amazed.

After giving birth, everything felt so surreal. Nobody told me that giving birth was going to sound quiet (at least with my first it was quiet!), lots of shaking, vomiting, and feeling the need to go to the bathroom A LOT. I started to push at 9pm, waited 3 hours to push again, then around 2 am, Isaac was out. 

When Isaac (my firstborn) was born, everything was already prepared for him. I nested a lot even with my husband out to sea and we even got to move and settle into another town a week before I gave birth. We also moved to a smaller apartment, it was a 750 sq ft apartment but it felt so homey and loved our space. I felt so much excitement and happiness before and after giving birth. My husband and I even took classes and made sure we were informed about all the safety procedures we could possibly learn about. 

But even with that, after giving birth came days where I felt off, not myself, a lot of pain experienced from healing postpartum, and breastfeeding in the early weeks. I was even told that if I ever felt sad or baby blues, to not talk to anyone about it. EVER. It felt invalidating, but I just brushed it off. I’m not sure what the person’s reasoning was for telling me that. I’m sure a lot of mothers have experienced the same thing where someone would give them unsolicited advice. I understand, maybe that person didn’t mean harm when they said it to me. Maybe it’s just an automatic response to what people learned to say before we were more exposed to raising awareness of mental health.

 I didn’t think much of it until later on when I became more aware of things that were very stigmatized towards pregnant women, mothers, and parents. As a mother, we are constantly told to not feel certain things, judged by the way we look while pregnant, and especially after giving birth. That we’ll be fine, as long as the baby is okay, that’s all that matters. It didn’t matter if the mother wasn’t okay, especially with their mental health. When I had Isaac, I thought that self-care meant taking a shower, going to the grocery store alone (to get things we needed for the house), and all the basic needs that everyone should have, was what I thought was self-care, to be able to do those things again. 

When I was going through postpartum, I turned to my husband and friends. They were the ones who were mostly there to listen or just be there as a friend. I am so grateful for them. I realized that the person in my ear was wrong because I didn’t feel at peace with it. I felt like I had to be ashamed of having feelings, it felt very invalidating. I felt like I had to shrink myself so everything could be “fine.” I felt like I couldn’t ask for help, making me feel smaller and smaller. As I talk to more mothers, once we open up a topic that is usually considered “not normal” to the world, we find ourselves relating to each other, and remember that we are not alone in this. It’s okay to feel positive and negative feelings at the same time. It’s okay if what works for you doesn’t work for another parent. It’s a really big deal for me when I finally get the courage to speak up or talk to someone. 

A year and a few months after Isaac was born, we needed to move to California because my husband’s job was moving homeports. We moved to San Diego in March 2019. It was a really big move this time. Everything we had, had to be shipped, including our car. We were actually going to move back to our home state, but this time with no family nearby to just walk or drive to. My husband couldn’t fly to see the place we were going to live in because he was going to deploy in a few days before our move in date, so it was only me and Isaac that flew.

 I thought “Hey, if I did this once, I can get through it again!” Since it also happened with our first move to VA while my husband was in Mississippi for his school before moving to his first duty station. Every time there was a huge change in our life, it felt surreal. It felt surreal that I picked up the house keys myself, lived in an empty house with no furniture, and our car was still in the shipping company waiting to be picked up. I was so grateful that time, my friend picked me up from the airport, offered her home to have us stay before our move in date, lent me her air mattress, and drove me and Isaac to pick up our car.

 Even though I am used to being alone and doing things alone, I was grateful that during these critical times, it’s always the people that you go through these things with that show up. Honestly, I had times where I dealt with my husband being out to sea just fine and sometimes I didn’t deal with it really well. I found what helped me the most is when I am preoccupied throughout the day like being outdoors, staying active, learning the area by commuting instead of taking the car, traveling (LOTS of Disneyland trips!!)  and going to spouse connection events. 

I felt really blessed that even if my husband was deployed for a few months, my friends, military spouses, and neighbors showed up not just once but numerous times. My husband was deployed, and Fall of 2019 is where I think I started to feel like I lost track of who I was. It got really depressing when the homecoming days changed 3 times. That meant my husband’s deployment got extended for months that exceeded the maximum time that they should be away at sea. It got so rough that I stopped organizing (organizing calms me) and doing things I usually do to get through the day. 

At that time, I was going through so much and focused on making everyone happy and setting my own needs aside. I felt like everytime I tried to take care of myself full on, someone would always tell me I was being selfish for doing it, or question my husband behind my back, and ask unnecessary questions when I was trying to give myself time and space. I started to not be as active online anymore and took a lot of huge breaks from social media. I felt like I needed to just stay silent and isolate myself because everytime I tried to communicate, it was often misunderstood and thought of as me reacting differently or being negative about it when I was not. 

My husband and I were planning for a second baby. Planning on having a second baby was a huge discussion to talk about because we were both going to school full-time during the pandemic. I became pregnant with my second baby at the end of September 2020. I had already felt a bit nauseous, and I was even giving away some of my firstborn’s baby clothes, I honestly thought it was just the stress from school and the pandemic. But then I missed my period so I just had to check, just in case. With this pregnancy, I thought that it was going to be easy because I found out early. I didn’t feel the need to throw up, I was still doing some small hikes that were open during the pandemic with my family, and I only felt a little nauseous.

 I was wrong, 2 weeks after finding out, we dropped off Isaac on his first day at daycare, my husband and I went out to eat breakfast, our very first date together since he got home from deployment. As soon as the food got to our table, I rushed to the bathroom and vomited. I was just about 5 weeks pregnant. After that I started to feel so stressed, I know it sounds ridiculous, but morning sickness really took a toll on me. Everything I wanted to eat, I wanted to throw up, even if it was just a banana, a bowl of oatmeal, a bag of chips, or a rice bowl with my favorite side dish. Even driving made me dizzy that I had to drive all the time so I felt less nauseous, and I would still throw up before and after driving.

 I tried all the remedies that were supposedly supposed to work to even get prescribed medicine to help me with the nausea. I didn’t know what to do anymore. I would literally cry almost everyday because I didn’t know what to eat or how to manage being pregnant anymore. I didn’t have much energy to go out, but I also felt so isolated if I didn’t go out for a walk or do something outside of the house. 

What was different from my 1st and 2nd pregnancy was the amount of stress I experienced. I was going to school full-time while having my toddler learn how to use the toilet after showing lots of signs that he was ready, having him transition to his first daycare for a few months, and finding out where we were going be stationed next (the military doesn’t really give you so much time when it comes to moving to the next duty station, even if you are a planner and have set plans just in case), and with the pandemic, it caused so much stress and anxiety. I went to the hospital & ER a couple of times during my pregnancy early on for palpitations, monitoring my heart with a Holter heart monitor, and getting a 2D Echo (heart ultrasound). It was a relief that all the tests came back normal. But my depression and anxiety were peaking, and at the time I finally started to see a therapist. 

The start of the pandemic, as we know, was scary and tremendously stressful for everyone. Some days, I was able to use some of that time of uncertainty to try to heal all the things I repeatedly brushed off and set aside, even if it meant feeling all my feelings at once to heal. By healing, I don’t mean “positive vibes only,” or being so certain about everything so quickly. I mean days where sometimes it’s a sad day, crying day, or even just a day where I sat by myself thinking “Hey, this was not okay before, but now that I’m able to recognize that, I can reflect on it and move on.” I felt like a lot of these things that were considered “normal” had to do with the toxic culture that most of us grew up in. We were conditioned to think and act a certain way because it’s become normalized in our culture and society.

At this moment, I feel like I “lost” myself. I find myself thinking about things I used to do, that I can’t anymore. Like who am I besides being a mother? But I realized that that’s just temporary and that I’m not “lost.” Having to handle two kids, I felt like I wasn’t enough to attend to them both. But school and exploring the city I’m in is helping me right now because I am learning more of what interests me and my family. Some days, I can balance being a mom and an individual, and some days I can’t. It really just depends on my 4 year old and newborn’s moods and needs that day! When I can’t, I really try my best to have an easy day for both me and my children. But I do know that being an individual is taking time for me to try to get used to, especially when I am around other adults. This pandemic got me going back to being more introverted than I already was before!

Self-care to me looks like having the time to yourself to enjoy things that you want or need. Even if others think it’s taking a few minutes showering or walking alone at the store or somewhere, it’s nice to have that time for yourself. As long as you’re happy with it. I notice myself feeling burnt out a lot lately, and I really need to find the time to take care of myself. To me, taking care of myself means finding the time to run (I love running, even if I’m a slow runner!), watching tv, eating my favorite food, or going on a date with my fave person aka my husband. One day I do want to try to go on a mini vacation by myself without the kids, BUT I don’t know when that will be since I don’t have it in me yet to try to do that. 

My husband has been there for me, even if there were days where we weren’t on the same page. He’s such a great partner and father. Every couple has their struggles, and we’re all not perfect. When I’m not myself, he is there to pick up where I left off, whether it’s cleaning the house, filling up my gas tank so I don’t have to drive 15 minutes to the cheapest gas station, or doing so many loads of laundry. A lot of those things get undone or unfinished especially with 2 children now. We don’t believe in “gender roles,” so he is just doing his part as a partner and father. He just helps take off so much of that mother’s guilt.

 He makes me feel like I can be myself and that I am more than just the negative things I think about myself. I think and care about so much and he is more of a laid back person, so it balances out sometimes. There were many days when I couldn’t get out of bed, even trying to get myself to eat or shower was just so difficult for me. When it’s the other way around where he looks so tired from work or school, I try to pick up where he left off. We’re also still learning many things during this process and I’m glad that he tries his very best to help in any way he can as a partner.

My advice is to surround yourself with your village and take it easy some days. It’s okay if your child/children had cereal for dinner just to survive the day, because we can’t be and do everything all at once. I tried that – trying to be a mom, help with what was going on with the world (especially during the pandemic), absorbing every feeling and problems that needed to be attended to – and trust me, it’s not possible to be everything for everyone. So I went offline for a few months and helped with what I was able to do at the time, and control what I can control at the moment. 

We’re all human, I know it’s hard sometimes to not feel guilty for parenting what works for us, or for doing one small or big thing for ourselves, and you’ll lose people who are close to you. Sometimes families can’t be there for each other because of being far away and having different schedules and plans in life, but I think that it’s nice to surround yourself with people who can relate to you or understand your situation. Even if it’s just 1or 2 people. We all can’t do it alone and everything all at once.” -Jela

Emotional Constipation

This is story 2 of 9 of my Tatay’s Series. This is my way of honoring Tatay’s life and legacy. It wouldn’t be right if I DIDN’T give him his own series and avoided writing about his passing all together. But I’m also aware that this is something I need to do for myself – to put my grief, anger, and emotions all out on the table, instead of distracting myself with work and other things to avoid the reality that he’s gone.” -Marinelle, LoveYourzStory

I’ve always considered myself very close to my Tatay, “Tatay Jack,” as I grew up calling him. I’ve always looked at him like he was a living relic because of his old age. 98! The things he witnessed and lived through always intrigued me. How he carried himself, how his mind worked thinking things through, where he came from, and how he grew up was so fascinating to me. He was 98 years old, but I expected 98 more. As naïve as it sounds, I never pictured my life without him. Of course I knew that with his old age, and given the life expectancy of your average person, it was childish and absurd to think that we would be on Earth together for as long as I lived. But, it was still my train of thought. To me, he lived against all odds, he was invincible.

With time, Tatay’s health started to decline little by little, and then drastically throughout the pandemic. When we would visit him, I couldn’t help but look at him with a heavy heart and wonder to myself how much time he actually had left with us. I know that’s a wretched way of thinking, but my brain was already mentally preparing my heart for the worst. At the same time, it made me cherish the times we went to see him even more because I knew time was not on our side. We all knew it was going to come one day, but I didn’t want that day to be now – or ever for that matter. But I knew I had to come to terms with the reality of life and death.

I expected to be an absolute wreck because I know myself to be a very emotional person when it comes to death. I expected myself to be more obviously distraught, crying at just the thought of him, and a ball of nerves and emotions. Instead, I find myself numb, withdrawn, and avoiding my feelings. Don’t get me wrong, I’m incredibly sad, angry, and grieving, but my response to the passing of my Tatay is not the reaction I had prepared myself for. I find myself grieving in waves.

After receiving news of Tatay’s death, it’s like I was watching a movie, a total out of body experience. Everything felt like it was moving in slow motion, like it wasn’t even reality. As a family, we all had to process his death, but also go immediately into planning mode for his service. I found it easier to busy myself with tasks like writing his eulogy and looking through pictures to send to my sister to put on his slideshow than to deal with my sorrow and anger. For me, I didn’t have time to be sad. My main concern was capturing Tatay’s life in the best way possible for his eulogy and doing my part in giving him the best service, because that’s what he deserved.

Coincidently, Tatay passed a day before my last day of work before a 2 week long summer break. I was looking forward to this break for so long to finally unwind and relax. I soon realized that I would be using these 2 weeks off to mourn and bury my grandfather. Trying to make light of the situation, I would tell people closest to me that at least I had two weeks off of work to deal with his passing, oppose to grieving while still having to work 8-5 Monday through Friday. Christian and I had planned a week long stay in SoCal to visit his family before Tatay passed. Our Airbnb was non-refundable, so I decided to go for a couple of days instead of a full week to not entirely waste our money. The plan was for me to go to SoCal for a couple days and cut the trip short so I could be present for all of Tatay’s services, and Christian left SoCal shortly after me so he could be there in time for Tatay’s funeral.

It was such a whirlwind of emotions. I was happy that I was on summer break, but I was so sad that it was under these circumstances. On my last day of work I got my nails done at the salon to prepare for my long anticipated vacation, even though all I could think about was the fact that Tatay wasn’t here anymore. I tried to force myself to get excited for the trip and have it be something to take my mind off of my reality for a while. I picked white for my manicure and pedicure so when I came back from SoCal, I was – dare I say – “funeral ready.” My aunts wanted all of us to wear white the day of his funeral.

The whole time I was in SoCal, I knew I had to write my speech that I would read during his viewing service. I brought my laptop and everything with me to type it up. But I couldn’t find the motivation to pull out my laptop and get started. Instead, I was mentally writing it in my head, drafting down nothing. I stalled on writing my speech because that would crystalize my reality – Tatay is gone, this is your last goodbye. So I stalled and stalled some more until I was back in the Bay Area. There was so much I wanted to say, so many memories I wanted to include, so many points I wanted to make, but no words on my screen. All that stood before me was a blinking cursor.

I procrastinated for so long, but it got to a point where I had to finish the speech because his viewing service was less than 24 hours away. This is part of the reason why I decided to write a series for Tatay. I had so much to say, but knew that his viewing wasn’t the place or the time. I wanted to go in depth about some topics and give my honest feelings about my grief, but I knew it probably wasn’t the appropriate setting for it. So I made the speech short and sweet, brushing over the topics I wanted to rant about. Thinking about it now, that probably added to my repression.

The viewing and the funeral was such an emotional rollercoaster. I’d have intense sadness that would result in audible weeping and uncontrollable crying. But then there would be other instances where I’d just have this out of body experience and just be seeing things play out right before my eyes. My grief was coming in waves, and I didn’t know how to let it all out. I felt as though I had an on/ off button for my emotions, but I had no control over it. As they lowered Tatay’s casket into the ground, I remember feeling completely numb. I didn’t cry, I didn’t look away, I just thought to myself, “damn. This is really happening.” I felt emotionally constipated. I had that feeling in my throat where I knew my soul wanted me to cry more tears to relieve my sadness, but nothing was coming out.

And shortly after his funeral, life went “back to normal,” and work started back up again. Only 2 weeks had passed, but I felt like a completely different person. The day Tatay died, I was telling everyone that I was okay, that my family and I were expecting his departure. It took me 2 weeks to realize that I actually wasn’t okay. On the outside, I was continuing with day to day tasks, keeping up with work, doing everything I did before Tatay passed. But on the inside, I was bursting at the seams with emotions, yet at the same time, empty and emotionless. The more I wanted to simmer in my grief and heartache, the colder I got. I couldn’t figure it out. Internally I felt emotionally constipated. And my gut feeling was telling me that all of my buried emotions were about to burst out and surface at a time when I least expected it. I didn’t know that out of all things, my manicure and pedicure would be the thing to set me off. Yup, nail polish is what made me crack.

I usually change my manicure color every week. I have my own gel curating machine at home and a ton of gel nail polish sets. I get tired of my manicures pretty quickly, and the moment I see a chip in my nail polish, I’ll take it as a sign to peel those bad boys off and change the color. My manicures last at most, 1.5 weeks, and that’s part of the reason why I do my own nails and rarely get them professionally done because ain’t nobody have time or money for all of that. I have no problem taking off a manicure and switching it up, it’s something I’ve been doing for years. But the manicure I got the day after Tatay passed was different. I was clinging onto that manicure for dear life.

I refused to change my white gel manicure. It was done with salon gel nail polish, so to be fair and honest, they did last way longer than my gel nail polish that I get from Amazon. This manicure was on week number 3, going on 4. I realized that I was getting fixated on changing my manicure, but brushed it off. “I’ll deal with that later when it actually comes time to change it,” I thought to myself. It’s the longest manicure that has ever lasted on my hands. My nails were growing out, and it was definitely time to change the color. But I was so hesitant. Why? Because time.

For me, seeing my nails growing out and doing a new manicure meant that time was passing. This is obviously a given, but in my head, my manicure was a measurement of time. Since I got it the day after Tatay passed and picked a color that was appropriate for his funeral, to me, changing the color meant significant time had passed since he left the physical world. My nail polish color is something so small and irrelevant, and I didn’t expect to be so fixated on the concept of what changing the color meant to me. Changing my manicure meant that time was passing, that his death was no longer “recent,” that time was moving forward and there was nothing I could do about it. I burst out into tears and started wailing.

I knew I had a lot of emotions that I had to sort through to cope with Tatay’s death. Grief is a tricky thing. One day you think you’re okay, and then another day you’re in complete shambles. I’m angry. I’m sad. I’m worried that I’ll forget him. Writing this series is my way of letting it all out. I know I have to sort out all of my grief and lay it all out on the table or I’m just going to keep avoiding these feelings.

I’ve had enough of the emotional constipation…

The Unexpected #101

Wow. I literally can’t believe that I am writing this. This is blog post #101! And to be completely honest, I’m writing this blog post as I take a break writing blog post #100. I’m having hardcore writer’s block, especially with so much pressure of being the 100th post and all… I feel like Spongebob when all he has is the word “the” on the page. I need to just step back and work on something else for a minute before I drive myself mad. Like I said, I can’t believe I’m writing this -blog post number 101 – partly because I can’t believe I have made it past 100 posts, but also because #101 was never meant to exist.

I’ll explain…

First and foremost, THANK YOU to all of my readers who have been following my writing up until this point. From everyone that’s been tuning in every Monday since day one, and all the readers I have picked up along the way, THANK YOU. It means so much to me that people really take the time out of their day to read a story of mine. That might sound dramatic as hell, but it’s true, I’m super grateful for all of the support I have gotten since deciding to write consistently. Whether that be liking my posts, sharing my content, commenting, even sliding in my DM’s to tell me something privately – I appreciate it all. I am truly humbled; to have started at a consistent “0 views” stat, to be where I am today.

101 blog posts also marks the 2nd anniversary-ish (a little over) of me re-starting this blog. In 2019, I found myself in the thick of my post-grad blues. For the longest, my goal was to revive my LoveYourzStory blog ever since I made it in 2016. I dreamt of the day that I would have the time and energy to maintain a blog and post consistently. However, I always found an excuse to delay it – it was either school, not enough time, or simply because I was lazy as shit and didn’t want to put in the time. All reasonings were valid. I had strong motivation to re-start my blog in January 2019 as a New Year’s resolution, but when the time came, I didn’t have the confidence to do it. I pussied out real quick. But it was always in the back of my mind.

From January 2019 to when I dropped my first post in July 2019, I worked myself up about getting the ball rolling. I was too hesitant, and honestly, a little embarrassed. I knew for the first couple of posts, months, maybe even years? – nobody would really care about what I was doing. I cringed at the idea of pouring my heart out and sharing my personal stories on the internet just to get no views and no feedback. But I knew I had to start somewhere. What really made me take the leap of faith was honestly being so deep in my post-grad depression and feeling so completely lost. I felt like a straight loser honestly. Here I was, proclaiming myself as a writer, shit, I even got the degree to prove it. But on paper I had no experience outside of my college courses.

L O S E R.

P A T H E T I C.

W O R T H L E S S.

D E P R E S S E D.

C O N F U S E D.

D E S P E R A T E.

That’s how I constantly felt from January 2019 until I dropped that first blog post in July 2019. I figured I had nothing to lose, I was already at my lowest. I couldn’t have been more right. I was tired of saying and wishing that I could do all these things, but lacking motivation and confidence to actually fuckin do it. I started giving myself tough love. How did I expect to get anywhere with writing if I literally did nothing? How did I expect to reach my dream of being a published writer if I was too afraid to put myself out there? I was tired of making excuses for myself. I was tired of feeling unaccomplished. I was tired of waiting for something to happen.

I decided “fuck it,” and just rolled with it. I knew I had to start somewhere. And I knew it would take a long while until people would take notice of my work and actually tune in. But the longer I waited, the longer it would take for me to see results. This is something I really had to do for me, I had to face my reality – how bad did I want this? I no longer had school as an excuse for not having time. Yes, I had a full-time job, but for me, I knew my writing career wouldn’t stop at SFSU. I had to just start.

My predictions were right – in the beginning I was met with little views and almost no feedback. But I continued to push out blog post after blog post every Monday anyways. I knew it would be a slow start, but mama didn’t raise no bitch. I didn’t know where I wanted to take this blog, but I knew that I couldn’t get discouraged too early on. But I definitively had my moments. There were times where I felt like I was putting in a lot of effort, time, and energy that I’m not getting paid for, for nothing. Not entirely for “nothing,” but that I was writing and nobody was even reading. I used to doubt if what I was writing was even worth reading. I still have those moments sometimes, where I feel like what I’m doing is pointless because nobody will read or even care. I start to doubt myself and what I’m doing when I let my insecurities get the best of me. But I never thought about stopping the blog cold turkey.

I’ve had so many hiccups and road blocks throughout this process, and most of these inconveniences are because of my damn self. I’ve had my moments where I posted blog posts past midnight, not even technically “Monday” anymore. I fell into the bad habit of starting blog posts the night before – sometimes even the day of. I put myself under so much pressure and stress to get the blog post out, promising myself that the next week’s blog post would be done in advanced to prevent a situation like that. But, being the annoying ass that I am, I procrastinate and put myself in the same exact position I was in a week prior. It’s a bad habit that I’ve been trying to nip in the bud for the last TWO YEARS!

It wasn’t until recently – literally the last 6 months – that I started to really try to throw myself a bone and have the post done at least by the end of Sunday so I don’t stress out about it the day of anymore. It wasn’t until the LoveYourzStory X My Small Business series that I started to think ahead. Of course, I dreamed of the day where I would have completed post after completed post just cued up ready to be released every Monday. I always wanted to have my posts mapped out months in advanced as I learned in my social media class, but that’s just not that easy when I’m trying to balance everything under the sun. Ever since the small business project, I’ve gotten a lot better about finishing posts before Monday comes around.

Not only did the LoveYourzStory X Small Business series push me in the right direction to be finished with my posts in a timely manner and map out what posts would come next in terms of groups of 10, it also built my confidence to reach out to others and connect with my followers and viewers. I always wanted to interact with my followers and do those type of posts where you ask your followers to tag people who would be interested, but I always feared that nobody would participate. On a whim, I decided just to roll with it. If nobody participated, then so be it. But if people were interested, it could be a dope series to release. To my surprise, I got a lot of feedback, tags, and leads. I couldn’t believe it. It gave me confidence to think of other series that I could do that would feature different people and different topics. I love how I can tell my story, but also be that platform for other people to share their stories as well.

But to be completely honest, around the end of 2020, I really had plans to shutdown this blog after blog post #100. For the record, it wasn’t because I was over it, or because I didn’t want to continue, but because I have more passion projects that I want to do in terms of writing. Taking on another passion project task to my already heavy work load just made me feel like I would definitely be spreading myself thin. I was hard set on stopping this blog cold turkey at 100 posts. I thought it would be a great dramatic ending to say goodbye after 100 consistent posts. I have other writing projects that I intended to start in 2021, but given my procrastinating history, of course that has been delayed. I put so much time, energy, and thought into all my blog posts, that sometimes I feel like it takes away from my other goals that I have in writing. That was my reasoning. It was time to say goodbye, not because I wanted to, but because I just didn’t have the time to juggle everything.

When I consulted those around me, some agreed that 100 would be a great last hoorah, while others suggested I dial back on how consistent I post, just so I still post consistently but on a less regular basis. At the time, I still decided to stop at 100. Nobody could say anything to change my mind. It was what I was going to do. Yeah, it would be a bittersweet moment since I would go on to pursue another goal, but it’s what needed to be done to free up my time to focus on what I need to focus on next. My decision was made around the time I was releasing the Small Business Series (Blog posts in the 70’s).

However, when the Small Business Series ended, and it was nearing closer and closer to 100, I started getting cold feet. The countdown was starting. It made me a little sad. But again, I truly believed it was something I had to do to continue one with my plans. I started to think of what my #100 post could be and focus on that. I thought long and hard about what would serve as the last banger. Since the reviving of this blog, I have been so open and vocal about my body positive journey and views. The small business series was so successful that I really wanted to test my luck and see if I could push out another series before I shut it down. Again, the feelings of doubt, insecurity, and fear of putting myself out there and looking dumb crept up again. It’s like the cliché angel and devil on my shoulders. One telling me to go for it and take that chance, the other telling me that nobody would want to participate, it’s not a great idea, and I’m going to make myself look stupid on the internet – since I have tried to do polls and interactions in the past that kind of flopped.

As you can tell with my previous posts, I decided to go for it, collabing with my high school friends, Missdirected.art, who are great photographers with amazing creative visions. And I am so glad that we decided to take that leap of faith with each other. My heart was bursting with so much joy when I found 9 other individuals who wanted to share their story and be a part of this project. It’s always that initial stress of “will this pull through, or will this fail,” that gets me. When I finally saw it start to take a turn in the right direction, my heart fluttered with love and excitement. I wanted to do something like the Body Positive Series for some time, but never thought that it could be reality. You never really see that you’re checking off the boxes of all the goals you previously set for yourself until you take a step back and realize – oh shit, I’m here, I’m where I wanted to be X amount of time ago.

My partner never thought it was a good idea to stop the blog after 100 posts in the first place. Even when I suggested maybe dialing back, posting bi-weekly. Maybe the occasional post every month, or when something that inspired me really came up. His stance was always the same: why slow down the blog when I’m finally at a place where I’m getting some traffic. My argument was the same: because I have a full time job, I have other projects I need to do, and I just can’t do that while maintaining quality content every week. But when I started to see the Body Positivity Series coming together – in the process of interviewing people and seeing who would be a part of it, I started to have a change of heart.

For all my “How I Met Your Mother” fans, I literally felt like that one episode where Ted wanted to break up with the girl he dumped (on her birthday) a few years prior. Ted had all the reasonings to break up with her again, but when it came down to it, he could only think of all the good things about her and good memories. That’s how I felt about my decision. I had my mind made, but as blog post #100 came closer and closer, I felt myself retracting my decision. I started thinking of all the good that could come from continuing the way I have been.

I asked myself: “Do you feel like you did everything you wanted to do with your blog?” And the answer was no. The series that I’ve done and collabed with others really made me realize my potential and all the other possibilities I could do with my platform. I wasn’t ready to shut LoveYourzStory down. There are still a lot more stories to tell and share. I don’t know where this blog will take me, or what it will be like even 1 year down the road, but I do know that for the time being, this is one of my projects that I need to continue to water and nurture so it will continue to grow. I originally wanted to shut down the blog after 100 posts to start and focus on other passion projects and goals. Now, I have to find a way to balance both. I feel like in a way, I’m testing myself yet again: Marinelle, how bad do you want this?

With that question lingering in my mind, I bought my website. So, with that being said, cheers to 100+ posts, and thanks for reading blog post #101 – the post that was never meant to be.

Lorna: Being My Own Hype-Woman

Story 2 of 10. This Body Positivity series is a project I hold dear to my heart. For years, I’ve struggled with my body image, and since reviving this blog, LoveYourzStory, I’ve shared so many of my personal stories, internal battles, and insecurities. This time, I wanted to hear your stories. I took to social media and found 9 individuals who were willing to share their body positive journey with not only me, but my readers as well. I collaborated with two Bay Area photographers, Missdirected (Instagram: @missdirected.art) to photograph these amazing people. Missdirected did not photoshop / alter any of the models’ faces or bodies. These stories are entirely written by them and in their own words, because after all, who can tell their story better than them?” -Marinelle Cabillo, LoveYourzStory

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

“Growing up, I have always been a big girl. The tallest in my class, the thickest dancer in the back, and the biggest center on the court. At a very young age, I thought that because I was Samoan and Tongan, that was immediately why I was so big. I had a love hate relationship with my body because I did love my body, but I believed everything that people told me about my body, too. As much as I try to be my biggest supporter, everyone has their bad days. 

Sometimes I return a joke with a joke, but when I was younger, there were some incidents where my temper stole the best of me. There was a time where this one girl in my class was going to tell another girl that I was rolling my skirt up and didn’t wear a shirt underneath my uniform sweatshirt cause I was sweaty. The first thing I thought of was to throw a slightly filled gatorade bottle at her to stop her, but instead ended up hitting the girl she was going to tell and gave her a huge bump on her head. Another incident, I threw a volleyball at a group of boys because they were teasing me during our basketball game at recess, calling me a “beast” with a negative snare. I smacked one of them right on their face and when he got up, it looked like he was literally seeing stars and he had the volleyball imprint on his face. Another incident and my favorite was when I was just starting to learn how to play basketball and I also had just transferred to a new school. The girls in my grade would make fun of me because of the way I would jump stop, pivot, shoot, and run, because just like everyone else who starts something new, I was just learning— so I probably did look silly at first. Well, because I was so big, my coach wanted me to be the “big man” on the court and focus on playing defense. At this moment, I was getting frustrated with the girls judging me and my coach telling me what to do. The coach’s daughter was driving the ball down the court, and I wanted to do something right, so I attempted to block her shot but ended up tackling her through the gym doors. Needless to say, the girls stopped teasing me during practice, and I practiced sportsmanship with every game from that day forward by helping opponent players up off the floor, after knocking them down and fouling them. 

As a middle schooler, I was size 14 in dress and size 10 in shoes. I was wearing junior clothes and 4-inch heels because I stopped fitting into the girls’ stores, like Limited Too, at the age of 9 when puberty hit me. My mom knew my personality was bright and reckless so she supported my style of wearing “actually cute” clothes that accented my boobs and big butt. But as much as I loved my body, there was always someone in my ear trying to tell me otherwise. A memory I have was when I was in the seventh grade attending a Catholic School. I was transitioning classes through the outside yard and was crossing paths with the older grade. This kid yelled at me in front of mine and his class, “Why are your legs so big?” My answer immediately was “Well, I’m Samoan.” I really didn’t understand why people asked stupid questions that they think would be funny. I was honestly use to these questions because everywhere I went my bigness was always talked about. It was always a thing on how big my hair was, how big my mom’s oldest daughter is, and how big my personality was too.

At first, I thought the “acceptable” body was having “tamed” hair, slim waist, and thin legs. I was born with huge calves, thick thighs, and coarse curly hair.  Growing up through middle school and high school, I was getting my hair permed straight, because of how easier it was to manage, and I was mostly focused on keeping my tummy “flat” because I felt that was the only thing I could really control.  I liked my tummy only when I woke up in the morning, when I didn’t eat too much that day, and after a workout. It was a great thing I played basketball. Being active was always a priority, but I would still be told to suck it in when going out in a dress or for dance performances. Today, having a “snatched” waistline and a big butt is acceptable and highlighted in all social media platforms. Ads show procedures, pills, and even creams that can help with maintaining this appearance. 

When it came down to wearing crop tops, skinny jeans, booty shorts, and bralettes, I was ALWAYS attracted to this clothing. Growing up in the late- 90s and early 2000s, I was influenced by celebrities like Aaliyah, Beyoncé, Britney Spears, Avril Lavigne, Rihanna, Nelly Furtado, Fergie, and Destiny’s Child. I would dress my barbies up with scraps I would cut from my clothing, and then make a cheeky matching outfit for me too. My mom has always supported my confidence and extra-ness, but never let me feel like I was dressing outside of my age. She knew I liked to show my tummy, even though she would always call me out to “suck it in.” Moms be like that. She also supports my twerk movement from chaperoning dance socials and attending my dance performances. Love you, Mom. I could see in her eyes that she sees how happy I get when I’m basking in my greatness, and so I welcome my mother to bask in my self- love with me too.  

I know I’m not the only one, but my family bonds through roasting each other and calling out each other’s insecurities. It’s a weird human normality, but it’s always a chance to stand up for myself and hype myself up— proudly. My mom talking to my aunties about how great – and how not great- I am are all a part of having a big family who genuinely loves me for all that I am. I live wholeheartedly on having a completely balanced life, and even with these negative comments coming from my blood— that itself multiplies my love for my body tenfold. People outside of my race who comment on my body get their comparisons to celebrities and athletes that are known through the media, entertainment industry, or “because they know someone who is also Polynesian.” I am Samoan and Tongan, which I guess makes it tricky for people to guess. Samoans and Tongans are very close islands in Polynesia, so if one was called the other of course just like every other ethnic person, they will feel some type of way for being assumed as a different culture. The last thing that a person wants is to insult a very big person, so everyone approaches me with a caution warning sign before asking me about my culture based on their first observation of me. The crazy thing is that when I say I’m both Samoan and Tongan they say, “Oh I can tell!” I feel like people say this to get a sort of connection with me because they want to be right about me. The way I respond to ignorance is simply by walking away because I will not tolerate being exoticized or to fulfill their desire to want to be right about me. I appreciate the recognition of my culture that people see when they look at me, and I channel that energy into pushing myself to understanding people for their interests instead of basing the first impression on what they look like. 

The Polynesian community are known mostly in society as athletes and entertainers. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Troy Polamalu, Jason Momoa, Dinah Jane, Parris Goebel, and Veronica Pome’e are one of the most prominent role models that represent our Polynesian community in their life’s work. Just like every other culture region, there are different physical attributes throughout each individual culture. When people outside of my culture comment on my body and appearance, they are looking at my thick thighs, big calves, “strongeness,” and long curly hair. When people question my physical appearance my answer is always, “Well, I’m Samoan and Tongan.” These are physical genes that I have inherited from my ancestors. My ancestors are from tiny little islands in the ginormous Pacific Ocean. God had to make these people strong enough to survive off the land that was limited around them, so of course I look like I belong treading the ocean waters— That’s on good strong genes! I am grateful for this body I was born into because it is a perfectly capable vessel to pursue my dreams and conquer my goals.

My relationship with food before was, in my eyes at the time, a beautiful symphony. Food was an escape, a happy place. I was never a picky eater, and especially loved authentic foods from around the world. My favorite to name would be mulipipi (turkey butt), boiled fish eye soup, and chitlins (pig or cow intestine). I love trying new foods, and making the statement that yes, I’m about to grub—and then a nap would follow immediately after. Now, my current relationship with food is that I’m a growing vegan of 3 years. I’ve chosen this journey because I admired the long lasting health benefits and other lifestyle changes that come with choosing to eat predominantly plant based— and I’m saving the earth too? Triple win! I’ve always loved a challenge, and I’m a hard advocate for eating healthy and sustaining our Earth’s natural environment. I still have my cheat days, but will only resort to vegetarian or on really special days, pescatarian. However, if I have never had it before, then I absolutely have to try it. Eating plant based has not changed my body weight or size at all either, which makes me convinced that I’m exactly how I’m supposed to be. Today, my happy place is still in food, and being completely aware of what’s going on in my body is the bonus of me living a longer happier life. 

Dance has been a part of my life since I was 5 years old. I danced hula and Tahitian up until I was 17 years old, and Samoan, Tongan, Maori, and Fijian all through college for Camp Unity— which is a Polynesian summer camp in Daly City, CA—the SJSU Polynesian Club, and for extended family functions. In Polynesian traditions, for every big family event like weddings, family reunions, milestone celebrations, or special birthdays— we love to put on a show of dance numbers, usually by the young ones of the family, as offerings and entertainment to the person we are celebrating, our elders, and the rest of our whole family. The grand finale is a freestyle solo that is traditionally performed by the eldest daughter of the family, and in Tongan it’s called the tau’olunga. In Samoan it’s called taualuga and the dancer is the taupo. I love being the taupo for these family functions because in this moment, I am just feeling and allowing my energy to flow with grace and love while my family is coming up dancing with me, proudly yelling “CHEEEHOOOOO,” and slapping money onto my skin and showering it above me. The money on the dance floor is an offering for the person or family of people we came together to celebrate. I love dancing for my ancestors and angels in heaven with my blood family here on earth. Growing up with these traditions has instilled that I feel the most beautiful when I’m dancing.

Aside from Polynesian dancing, I’m that friend that no matter where I am, I’m gonna dance if my soul summons it. Dancing makes me so happy because it’s the best way I can express my big energy. After college, I wanted to be active in some kind of sport. I am competitive, a natural team player, and I love being a part of an intimate community. I love contact sports because I love competition, but had to stop playing because I had over 10 concussions to count by the time I was 20 years old. I’ve played basketball since I was 9-years-old and got my first concussion when I was 14-years-old. I was a very aggressive and active player, and was always the biggest girl on the court. When I dove for the ball to claim possession, I collided with the opponent player’s shoulder and slowly blacked out and was immediately taken to the ER. After that one concussion, I kept getting smaller ones over the years as my team’s biggest center post player. The last concussion I had I was playing Lacrosse for SJSU’s Club Sports Team, and after that one, I had to completely stop playing contact sports.  So I chose to dance. Concussions and other traumatic brain injuries can increase the risk of developing dementia, even after 30 years. This was the perfect sport for me because dancing also helps with spatial memory, retention, and boosting my cognitive skills.  I got started on my dance journey through heels choreography because I truly admired owning my femininity through a challenge of dancing in heels. 

I discovered the body positivity community when I began my dance journey in 2018. Heels choreography, specifically in the Bay Area, highlights self love and body positivity. There is just something about dancing in heels with bad ass bitches of all backgrounds and sizes that is so special— especially when there are no creepy dudes to hit on you. Choreographers like @vibe.withme, @cosmicallyshonna, @haleyburrr, and @kaiyadionne are only a few of my favorites to name that I’ve come to love as genuine people, as well. After every class, my cup is full of a love that nobody can take away from me. These dance classes bring us women together to show up, choose to love ourselves, and to support each other after that and along the way. The love is also taken to social media where we are following each other and showing love and support on each other’s dance posts and selfies. Surrounding myself with this community has instilled a practice that loving myself through dance inspires others to love themselves too. This has changed the way I look at my body because it shows me that my body allows me to do amazing things like learn a sexy ass floor piece and getting camera ready to perform it right after. 

Now, I choose to accept beauty standards that challenge every aspect of what is “acceptable” in mainstream media. I choose to support artists, actresses, and models that represent the spectrum of beauty that falls in between all categories of size, color, gender, sex, disability, all of it. I choose to believe that my body today is beautiful and sexy, especially when I’m eating a full course seafood boil with my family or when I’m eating a ton of junk food with my friends. I choose to love my body in the face of negativity because it’s my body, not theirs. This body is taking me through my lifetime of happiness and its bigness represents my big energy.

My relationship now with my body image still fluctuates between being comfortable with showing my tummy or not, but I’m also learning to love different styles of clothing that aren’t meant to look skinny. Skinny jeans, crop tops, and bralettes are just as sexy as flare pants, baggy sweats, and loose streetwear tees. I’m learning that sexiness and sensuality isn’t based on how I look, but how I fully feel in that moment. My biggest insecurity growing up was my legs, because it was the most prominent part of my body that people loved to talk about. I hated talking about my legs and even looked up procedures to see if it was even possible to make them smaller. However, now I actually love my legs the most because they are literally my calves of steel. I have never had a leg injury, only too many concussions from playing sports, but my legs are what keeps me active.

What made me accept my body was consistently choosing to accept it when someone was in my face telling me not to. I was being named as “Tree” because I was the tallest girl in my class up until 8th grade, or “Whale” because I was the biggest post player on the court. Coincidentally, I have always loved trees and whales, so I really never allowed things like that to bother me. I internalize my pain in the privacy of my own space and give myself love. I have at least 5 people in this world I can turn to when I need extra love, which then eventually makes me unafraid to feel my emotions through my pride and loyalty for myself. It starts with acknowledging that the negative comments I receive are all based on the same idea that I am physically a bigger girl than what society depicts how women should look. Fuck that shit!!! My life is better, cuter, and happier, through my lens so I’ll choose bravery and courage and will speak about myself with love instead. I refuse to talk to myself negatively, especially when it was about my body— because that was something I couldn’t change, especially as a 9-year-old kid.

At this age, I had to choose to be the one to hype myself up, honestly because I knew no one even knew how to do it. It was apparent that I looked very different from my classmates and so my size was different too— that was very obvious to me. But being “thick” wasn’t cool then, so my friends would say things like “you’re not even that big,” or “you’re very proportional,” but I knew they were just being nice, because yes the fuck I was that big. I knew the bullies were just trying to be funny, so they chose to laugh at other kids obnoxiously, so I also made it my responsibility to stand up for those kids and to be friends with them. I have always been attracted to being friends with introverts because they always ended up being the funniest ones in class and my bestest friend there.  I felt like I had to mostly “play the strong role,” because no one was able to be strong for me. I come off to people as confident and strong in my beliefs— so that’s the role I strive to see in myself too. I wanted to always be the bigger person, for myself and anyone else who felt like they did not belong at that table. It is genuinely fun for me to be the person in the room who decides to bring inclusivity and good energy to each and every interaction.

My advice to anyone else who is struggling with their body image right now is that the most important image is the image you think of yourself. The love you wish from the world is the same love that you can give yourself. You can make as much of love as you want, and you decide who gets to bask in it. If people are talking about you, challenge yourself by giving them a reflection of themselves. Be brave with your body, speak up for others, and give more love to yourself and don’t skip a day. Some advice I would tell my younger self is to love yourself more than anyone else possibly can, every single day. This self- love journey will last longer than any other love you will come across.” -Lorna

Reaux&Co

Before there was a “Bay Area Collection,” a “Vibes Collection,” an “Established Collection,” and so forth, Reaux&Co was merely a dream tucked safely in Pricilla’s heart. Since a young age, Pricilla knew she wanted to be her own boss, and she had everything planned out on how she would achieve her goal of owning and designing her own clothing line one day. So how did Reaux&Co go from just being thoughts and ideas jotted down on Pricilla’s phone to becoming a full blown business with over 1,300 sales and being sold in 2 physical store locations in just a little over a year? It started with an acceptance letter to FIDM, the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising.

Pricilla was so thrilled that she got accepted into her dream college. Going to FIDM was always the plan she had set for herself. She loved designing clothes – cutting and sowing fabrics on the dress form and letting her mind run wild with what she could create. Her mom had other plans though. Due to the cost of tuition, her mom encouraged her to go the junior college route instead. Pricilla was devastated, she was certain that FIDM was her next step after high school. Still, she took her mom’s advice and went to San Francisco City College. She didn’t resent her mother for encouraging her to go to a junior college, but she was still headstrong about FIDM. She couldn’t let it go, and in turn, it made her lose her drive to go to school.

“I wouldn’t say resentful, but definitely stubborn,” Pricilla said remembering how she felt when she appeased her mom by going to a junior college. “I just had my mind set on it for so long. So when it didn’t happen, I was just so disconnected from even wanting to go to any other school. Even though SFCC had a fashion course and major, which I did take a couple of those classes, I was stubborn and wanted it how I always envisioned it.”

While in community college, she found herself very unmotivated. She had no idea what she wanted to do, or what she was even interested in outside of the fashion route. Pricilla started to feel like she was just going to school because it was something she was supposed to do because that’s what’s expected of everyone right after high school, but it wasn’t something she really wanted at the time. She decided to stop going to college and start working instead. Of course her mother wanted her to stay in school, but her mom also understood that she was an adult who could make her own decisions. Therefore, Pricilla believes her mom didn’t feel personally responsible for her dropping out. FIDM or not, going to school was her choice.

Pricilla felt really stuck in life. She didn’t know what direction to go, what career move was next, or where to even start. And then, she had her “saving grace,” her son, Ronin. She discovered soon after he was born that he was the push she needed all along to pursue her life-long dream of being a business owner. Pricilla knew it was finally time to put all of her marbles in her small business idea because she couldn’t afford childcare and had to find something she could do while still working from home and tending to her son. It only seemed right to name her clothing brand after the person that motivated her the most, Ronin. She took his nickname, “Ro,” and decided to put a spin on the spelling. She liked how aesthetically pleasing “Reaux” looked and rolled with it.

“He just made me look at life from a whole different perspective,” she said, revealing why having her son was so eye opening. “When you become a mom you really feel this weight of wanting to be so much better for this other life you’re now responsible for. I was so stuck before I had him, in terms of what I wanted out of life and the direction I should go in. After I had him, I knew I just had to go for it, for what I always wanted.”

Pricilla was very hesitant to launch Reaux&Co because she didn’t know how people would react to her line. She admits that her self-doubt was just her overthinking it, being scared to fail, and just overall being too hard on herself. After all, she has had these collection ideas in her phone for over a year before Reaux&Co actually launched. She already had the ideas, she just had to finalize her business. But Pricilla knew she had to start, and start it soon, because it wasn’t about just her anymore, it was about Ronin. She even went back to school the same time she dropped the brand as her back up plan and safety net.

Representing the Bay Area was so important to Pricilla, that she decided to have her first collection drop be the “Bay Area Collection.” She is so proud to be from the Bay Area, and wanted to capture that in her clothing line. To her, there is no place like the Bay, and only those that are from here know that. She loves that there is nothing like the Bay Area culture, and really wanted to project that vibe in her first collection and brand as a whole. Luckily, Pricilla never had to go to her backup plan because Reaux&Co‘s launch was a hit! She advertised the “Bay Area Collection” through Instagram and gave teasers on what products she would be selling. Instagram was a great tool to help get word around that she was going to launch Reaux&Co.

From there, Reaux&Co took off. The brand is known for their matching and personalized clothing items for parents to match with their minis, specifically moms. Pricilla knew that she wanted to focus on clothing for moms and their minis because it’s what she liked as well. She is forever matching with Ronin, taking full advantage of it now since she knows he won’t want to match with her forever. That’s how she gets most of her ideas – she thinks about what she would dress Ronin in, and tries to put her own spin on things. Her “Vibes Collection” is especially popular for their mom tees and crewnecks, and she plans on dropping more “Mommy & Me” lines soon. She knows that matching clothes is a customers favorite on Reaux&Co for sure.

Pricilla was so happy that Reaux&Co was doing well. In the beginning, she was so worried about how people would react to her small business, and to her surprise, she suddenly had supporters and customers that loved everything she dropped. So much so, that she had a copy cat. Her “Mom Vibes,” clothing is very popular, it is one of her best selling items. So Pricilla was shocked to see another small business using the exact same font, wording, and shirts as hers. She couldn’t believe that her original idea was being copied, but took the higher road. She knows ultimately, there is nothing she can do about other businesses imitating her products. She takes it as flattery, but knows that she would never try to purposely copy another small business’ work. Reaux&Co does use other brands in their clothing, and Pricilla knows that that’s when things can get a little tricky.

“I know it’s a thin line some brands walk when we use certain logos of high brands like YSL, LV, Nike etc.,” she said. “You just really have to make it your own, and put your spin on it.”

And customers have definitely loved Pricilla’s spin on those high end brands. What surprised her going into the business is the tremendous amount of support she gets from acquaintances and complete strangers. She has met and built relationships with a lot of her customers who have supported her business venture. She also didn’t expect to connect with so many moms through Instagram. Some have reached out to Pricilla, telling her that she inspired them to go for what they want, that she was that “push” they needed to just get started. And Pricilla appreciates those moments because she looks back to the tine where she was in that exact same position.

“It still blows me away to be honest,” she said when asked about people she doesn’t know personally support her in everything that she drops. “I have strangers I don’t know in real life, that will support each and every collection and for that I am so thankful for. The support is everything to me.”

The support she gets from her customers motivates her to come up with new ideas and not be so hesitant with creating. Pricilla explains the process of dropping a new line as hard, but still fun. Most of her ideas come about when she thinks about what hasn’t been done or what she hasn’t seen for kids clothing yet. She knows what will set Reaux&Co apart from other clothing lines is how much they can stand out. Reaux&Co‘s goal is to go against the grain and be the leader at creating trends, not follow them. And when she gets that idea, the next step is to create a mock up on the computer, and make a physical sample. If she likes the physical product, she will take high quality pictures of every item in that line, on models and by itself. Pricilla stresses the importance of marketing, and building anticipation for your drop. This means posting teasers and countdowns 2-3 weeks before you intend to drop the line so your customers can get excited. The last step is to drop the items and make them live, crossing your fingers and hoping it’ll do well.

Thankfully enough, Reaux&Co‘s experience with dropping new lines has always been fairly successful. That means Pricilla is making trips to the Post Office about 5-6 days a week. She’s made friends with all the employees at the Post Office at this point, since she is such a frequent customer. Shipping has definitely been an issue since COVID. When the pandemic hit, Pricilla noticed that that’s when Reaux&Co really started to take off, about 3 months into launching the business. She admits that she still doesn’t completely know why that was – more time for people to be on their phones, being at home with extra time, making a conscious effort to support small businesses during a pandemic – whatever it was, she’s grateful for it because Reaux&Co started to flourish. That meant more shipments with many delays. With COVID, the postal services are delayed and that means a headache for trying to get things delivered and shipped on time.

During these times, Pricilla can get overwhelmed and discouraged, but has never thought about calling it quits. She understands that there are some things that are just completely out of her control, and the best thing she can do is to just stay organized. Things can get hard, like shipping and getting the wrong number of products, but she knows that at the end of the day, it’s all part of the job. She pulls herself out of that stressful funk by allowing herself to take time to rest. Pricilla will do activities with her son, like taking him to the park, order food, and spend quality time with him to get herself out of that hectic headspace. It’s all a balance.

And Pricilla admits that sometimes there isn’t much of a balance when you’re trying to be a full-time mom and full-time business owner at the same time. There are times where she has to work while Ronin is watching Cocomelon, eating his lunch, or going down for a nap. Most days she will set aside time for Reaux&Co so she can give her son her undivided attention. She is a one woman show holding down her business, but she appreciates that there are so many people that help her outside of the business to make sure she has time to work. And staying organized, making sure everything has a place, and ordering from her vendor in time is all a part of keeping the balance and making her life easier. Especially since she does all the creating at home.

All the hard work and the struggle to balance being a mom and her own boss is starting to pay off. Pricilla is starting to see the fruits of her labor, putting in her all into Reaux&Co for over a year. She has seen over 1,300 sales, and is selling her brand in 2 physical store locations. Haven Kiyoko Kids reached out to her to have her clothing be carried at their location. She is especially grateful for Kirsten for seeing the potential in her then small brand. The second store location came to her as a referral from a family member who knew the owner of a shop in Oakland, and now Reaux&Co can be found in “E14 Gallery.”

Reaux&Co‘s goal for 2021 is to continue to reach and connect with more people. They are pushing to try to have Reaux&Co be in another physical store location, and overall just want to keep making improvements to give their customers a great experience. Pricilla hopes to have her own store one day, for that is the ultimate dream goal. And she would want to carry other small brands in her future boutique, as others have done for her. She doesn’t put too much pressure on the idea, and knows that this is an end goal that will take time and hard work. In the meantime, she continues to pray on it.

Pricilla wants her customers to know that she was a mom who decided to go for her dream. When she didn’t attend FIDM, she found herself lost and having no sense of direction. She envisioned her school and career to go one way, and couldn’t reroute her plans when things didn’t go the way she had hoped. Ronin was that saving grace for her. When she had her son, she knew that she had to do it not only for herself, but for him. He was now her reason and motivation to go for her dreams. Without the Ro, there would be no Reaux&Co.

Her advice to other small businesses in her field is to stay creative and stay true to yourself – when people know and see that you’re authentic, they will notice and gravitate towards your business. Pricilla is excited and hopeful for what’s to come for Reaux&Co. She wants her customers to know that they can expect more unique lines for themselves an their minis. Pricilla is content knowing that so many mothers have found happiness, inspiration, and fashion through her small business. What started as just ideas on her phone, quickly turned into her empire in a little over a year. And she knows that she wouldn’t have made it this far without the people that continue to support her and Reaux&Co.

“Thank you for believing in us!” Pricilla said on behalf of Reaux&Co. “Thank you for always showing so much love and support with each collection. None of this would be possible without the support. Every like, share, repost, and purchase means the world to me, truly. We will continue to deliver as long as you will have us. Thank you so much for being here.”

Melonaire Juice

Growing up, Justine remembers going to picnics, birthday parties at the park, barbeques, and other social gatherings on warm sunny days. At these parties, there was always one item that was on the menu – her parents’ melon juice. The ice cold melon juice, with the freshly shredded cantaloupe strings, and square jellies dancing at the bottom of the cup, was the refreshing drink that she craved being in the sun all afternoon. The melon juice always quenched everyone’s thirst at these type of gatherings. She remembers her parents bringing the melon juice to her little sister’s volleyball fundraisers, and it would always be a hit. A lot of people would tell Justine’s parents to sell the melon juice and make a business out of it. They were flattered, but shied away from the idea. To this day, Justine associates all of these happy and fun memories with her parents’ famous melon juice. For as long as she can remember, making the melon juice has always been a team effort amongst her parents.

“It was like team work between my parents,” Justine said reminiscing. “It was their thing. Sometimes if my mom was at work, my dad would make it himself, but for the most part I always think of them together. And then my sister and I would… you know… enjoy the fruits of their labor,” she laughed.

When the pandemic and Shelter in Place orders hit, Justine, like many others, saw small businesses pop up from left and right. She described it as a new age – a Renaissance. She was thoroughly inspired by all the people she saw starting up their own business ventures and running with their ideas. Justine was in awe, she wondered how much courage it took these small business owners to pursue their passion projects and side hustles. She admired how brave they were to not care about the judgements of others and stepping out of their comfort zones. Justine wondered if she would ever have that kind of courage to go after a business venture for herself.

It wasn’t until her little sister started her jewelry business that Justine thought, “Maybe I can start a side hustle too.” Her little sister, without knowing it, was the push that Justine needed to dip her toe in the entrepreneur world. After all, if not during a pandemic – where she had more free time than she’s had in years – then when? COVID-19 pushed Justine to start Melonaire Juice, even though she was very anxious about the whole thing. Still, she wanted to spend her time in quarantine doing something productive, that she enjoyed, and that could make her some extra income on the side.

Justine got the idea to use her parents’ cantaloupe juice recipe since it was always a success anywhere they brought it. She remembered all the good memories that the melon juice reminded her of, and wanted to spread that same happiness to those around her. During the summer time, she asked her parents how they would feel if she used their melon juice recipe and started selling it to people outside of their circle. After all, they only shared it with family and those that turned into family, like her sister’s volleyball team. They threw that ball right back in her court and told her they would support her if she chose to do it. It was her mom that hinted closer to yes and mentioned that maybe it was a good idea because the weather was nice and still warm in the Bay Area. Justine was happy that her parents were on board with her idea, and she was excited to include them in the next steps – like designing a logo, naming the business, and how to advertise.

In fact, that was Justine’s favorite part of the process – getting it all started and deciding the aesthetics of her business. She is all about the vision, and was excited to use her creativity and bring her visions to life. Justine bounced back name ideas with her best friends and parents, and Melonaire Juice was the winner. Finally having a name for her small business made it all the more real. She teamed up with my little sister to create her logo, tweaking her ideas and tailoring them to her liking. Justine would send the progress logo photos to her parents every time she got an update. It was very important to her to keep her parents in the loop because she felt so grateful that they had her back and approved of her using their “recipe.” She wanted to do right by them and include them in the process.

Once Justine had her official Melonaire Juice logo, she was motivated to figure out the packaging. Packaging was very important to Justine because she knew she would have to take product photos to advertise the cantaloupe juice. Being a person with an artistic eye, she already had visions of what kind of shots she wanted to post to promote it. Justine’s goal was to have everything – from the logo, to the packaging, to the photos, to the color schemes on Instagram – be visually pleasing. The colors she used for the logo and Instagram page were purposely picked to have the viewer associate Melonaire Juice with warm weather, being a refreshing drink, being outside in the sun, and to have a tropical theme. Everything started coming together, but Justine’s doubts quickly took over her mind. On top of that, she was on a time clock, was she going to drop the melon juice while it was still summer time, or would she talk herself out of it and would have to wait until after winter passed?

The creating process was Justine’s favorite part of starting her small business. But in the back of her mind she always had doubts about what she was doing. Justine would try to distract herself by just pushing on to the next step to get her business on its feet. But when everything was complete and she had no more steps to take other than publicly announcing a pre-order date, her self-doubt was more amplified than ever. Justine describes herself as a very anxious person, and she went through every scenario possible on why people wouldn’t buy from her. She went back on forth on whether opening up Melonaire Juice was a good business move or not. It was a battle between Justine vs. Justine, and she either had to fight for her small business, or fall victim to the self-negative talk she fed herself. She had no choice but to confront each question of doubt head on, and convince herself that her melon juice was worth a shot. She wanted to make sure that her product stood out, and got discouraged with the idea that people wouldn’t give her melon juice a try because they could easily get something similar at a local taqueria. But she has never seen the Filipino version of agua fresca, especially a cantaloupe version served with the toppings her family recipe offered.

“I would ask myself: what makes me different, and what makes this product different?” Justine said replaying her train of thought at the time. She remembers all the questions she would ask herself, “Are people even going to buy it? What if only my friends buy it? Would it be able to travel word of mouth?”

Every time she had these doubts, she would circle back with her best friends, family, and boyfriend. Justine is grateful for the contribution they had in getting Melonaire Juice up and running. No one discouraged her more than herself. Her support system around her encouraged her to keep going and follow through to see where she could take Melonaire Juice. Justine’s boyfriend, Matt, was very supportive from the beginning and really pushed for Justine to sell her melon juice. Matt is African American, and Justine always wondered if people outside of the Filipino culture would think the melon juice, shredded cantaloupe, and square jellies was a weird combo, but he loved it. He also brought some of the juice for his family to try and they loved it as well. It brought Justine comfort knowing that other people that didn’t grow up on the drink enjoyed it and encouraged her to sell it to the public.

“I know ultimately I have the last word, but for the type of person I am and how anxious I can get, I can’t stress enough how grateful I am to have my loved ones support me,” Justine said humbly.

So, after a lot of back and forth, Justine decided to launch Melonaire Juice and drop a pre-order date. She began advertising her juice on social media, using the photos she previously took at a park. The photo shows the mason jar dripping with cold streaks of water, the orange tint of the juice pairing well against the blue logo. This photo screamed “refreshing,” and as the Bay Area went through a heatwave, it definitely caught people’s eye and attention. Justine’s closest friends shared her content on Instagram, helping spread the word that she was selling cantaloupe juice. Even though her friend group is pretty tight knit and they were each other’s main crew, each friend still had other friends and followers that could branch out the business. She was happy that just a simple post share on their stories could bring in friends of friends.

When Justine dropped the pre-order date, she anxiously waited to see if people would reach out and order. She admits that she set the bar very low for herself because she didn’t want to be disappointed, knowing that this would be her first go around with only her friends knowing and sharing her content. She expected things to be slow initially because everything would be by word of mouth. Justine thought that if she could sell 10 jars on her launch date, she would be very grateful. To her surprise, she exceeded that number by a great deal. Justine couldn’t believe it, and saying she was grateful for the overwhelming support she got from her friends and family was an understatement. She made her round of drop off’s that weekend, thanking everyone she knew personally, with a mask on and some distance, of course. Her orders from her first launch were mostly close friends and family, still, she knew that it could get bigger because each person posted it on their social media after receiving the juice. Little did she know, it was just a matter of time before she would get other customer traffic through her original customers.

After her first launch, Justine eagerly prepared herself for the second drop. To her surprise, she hit a road block she never expected to come by. Justine prepared herself for the change in numbers of people buying, knowing some weeks would be better than others, she prepared herself for people being late and not picking up their order due to schedule conflicts, she even prepared her kitchen and fridge situation, knowing it would get really crowded around pick up weekends. What she didn’t prepare for was a nationwide mason jar shortage one week after her first drop. Justine was baffled – a nationwide mason jar shortage?! She didn’t even know that could be a thing. But it was, and this was her new reality. Due to COVID, everyone was buying mason jars to pickle different items, and suddenly the once ready available mason jar was a hard item to come by. Justine went to different stores across the Bay Area, searching high and low on the internet, and ultimately deciding that she would most likely have to look for another container to house her melon juice.

It was a set back that Justine was really sad about. After all, she is the aesthetic queen. She had a vision for how her product would be packaged, and the second week of orders, that all had to change. She found herself scrambling to find a good alternative. At first, she thought about telling her customers that they can bring their own mason jars for her to fill, but that idea was quickly thrown out because of COVID. Justine wanted to make sure that she was keeping herself and other customers safe. Justine ended up settling for heavy duty deli containers, because it was about the same size as a mason jar, and could still be used after the drink was done. She laughed at the idea that her customers could get a 2 in 1 deal – Melonaire Juice and free tupperware. The packaging was a small hiccup that Justine had to get around, but once she found an alternative, she was back on social media advertising her next drop. She reassured her customers that the packaging changed due to a nationwide mason jar shortage, but the melon juice was still the same great taste.

With the container situation solved, Justine continued to promote Melonaire Juice. Her small business was doing well for being new and just starting up. Justine even started to get orders from people she didn’t know personally, proving that the Instagram promoting, with the help of her friends, was working. Still, she would get so anxious when she would post on her page saying she was taking pre-orders. It was a constant high and low feeling. Justine would be anxious to announce her next drop, and would fear that nobody would order. Once she would get some orders in, she would feel relieved and could finally breathe again. But that anxious dread would always return the next drop after, a cycle that kept repeating, putting her on a rollercoaster of anxiety. Because of this, she would try to prepare herself for orders declining and fluctuating depending on the weather, so she wouldn’t get disappointed.

Another road block she encountered was the pick up situation. Meloniare Juice offered pick up and drop off options to their customers. As Melonaire Juice reached customers that Justine didn’t know personally, she got a little concerned with giving out her address to strangers. Her mom felt the same way, and didn’t want others to know where they lived. Luckily, Justine’s house is close to a well-known park, and she would do pick ups from that location if she didn’t know a customer too well. Still, she is grateful for all the customers that she has had that she didn’t know personally, it’s just a matter of privacy and making her parents feel more comfortable with the business.

With the drops that she has done, she has found a routine that works for her and her schedule. Justine takes pride in giving her customers the freshest products, so she has a very particular system that she follows to ensure her customers are getting Melonaire Juice at its best. She will head to the store a day or two before pick up day, and carefully picks out the ripest cantaloupes available. And she always comes with the intent to be on the safe side, purchasing more in case any last minute orders come in. She does all the prep work the day of pick ups, and starts about 2 hours before the first pick up is scheduled, this way, the juice isn’t sitting in the fridge over night. The night before, Justine clears out her fridge, to make sure that there is enough room for all of her orders. And the heavy duty deli containers have proved to help with the space issue since they can be stacked on top of each other. Once Justine has all of the orders done, she stores them in the fridge, but switches them to the freezer the last 15-20 minutes before pick up so they are super chilled and ready to devour on a hot day. Justine provides a plastic for so all of that shredded cantaloupe and jellies don’t go to waste.

Justine likes to prep all orders the day of and hours before pick up so the cantaloupe is at its freshest. She does this so her customers can enjoy Melonaire Juice longer. It lasts in the fridge for about 3-4 days, and some customers have even reached out saying it was still good after 5 days. Still, she recommends that the melon juice be consumed within the first 3 days to get the freshest taste. The heavy duty deli containers definitely gives Justine the luxury to give Melonaire Juice in generous servings, so it will last more than 1 sitting. Especially on warm days, it is the perfect chilled snack to come home to.

But as time pushed on and the weather started changing, an ice cold refreshing juice wasn’t in high demand anymore. Justine had planned for this, and also worried about it before launching. She knew once Daly City and the Bay Area’s notorious fog and cold weather came around, that her small business would be affected. Melon juice is associated with warm weather, outdoor gatherings, and the summer time, her predictions were true, and she saw that less people were putting in orders as the fall came around. Cantaloupes were also going out of season, and even though they are sold year round, they are at their peak of flavor from June – August. Justine was hesitant on what to do next with Melonaire Juice.

“Since it was my first time starting a business, especially as a side hustle, I was kind of just feeling things out and seeing how people reacted to it,” Justine said. “But when I noticed that the weather had an effect on sales and also knowing it’s not really melon season, I was weighing out the pros and cons to seeing if I should take a break or not. I didn’t really have a plan to sell year round. I guess ideally that’s what I would want, but I also don’t mind taking a little break.”

Still, Justine was hesitant to go on a little hiatus. She didn’t want people to forget about Melonaire Juice since she wouldn’t be promoting it and posting about it as much. She knew that going on a break would likely be the case when fall and winter came, but she didn’t have a set plan on what to do. She didn’t want to lose engagement with followers and customers if she wasn’t selling. But ultimately, Justine made the decision to take a break and open up Melonaire Juice again when the weather permitted. It also gave her more time to brainstorm more ideas for her small business.

On her hiatus, Melonaire Juice did their first catering gig at Justine’s best friend’s COVID safe baby shower. The mama-to-be really wanted melon juice at her baby shower since everyone else would be turning up with alcohol. Justine was thrilled that her best friend wanted Melonaire Juice to cater, and wanted to fulfill her best friends wants and needs since a COVID baby shower with few friends wasn’t the ideal plan for a first time mom. The melon juice was a hit at the party, and guests started to pair it with their alcohol. Many people commented that the sweet cantaloupe juice was a great chase to go with their alcoholic beverage. This discovery gave Justine more ideas on how to promote her melon juice, and opened the doors to more opportunities aside from personal individual sized packaging. Since then, Justine has been thinking of the catering route for parties, events, and other social gatherings.

Justine’s goal for Melonaire Juice is to continue to grow the business. Since discovering that the melon juice pairs well with alcohol from the COVID safe baby shower, she has been entertaining the idea of catering once COVID calms down and more parties and gatherings are taking place. She still has to figure out small things like the container which she will transport the melon juice in for parties, but she’s excited to see what Melonaire Juice will evolve into in 2021. She also wants to experiment with pop-up sales at local parks when the weather permits. Justine’s goal is to open Melonaire Juice back up at the end of February, when warmer weather is expected to make its appearance back in the Bay Area. Customers can expect to see Justine and her famous cantaloupe juice at packed parks like Dolores Park, Gellert Park, and other picnic areas.

Justine’s advice to other small business owners is to be open to the journey. She knows it’s a lot easier said than done from experience, but try not to focus on worrying too much about the outcome. She explains that starting your own business should be fun, and it’ll be something you’re proud of once you push yourself out of your comfort zone. Speaking up about your small business will help get the word around that you are selling and advertising a certain product. If those closest to you don’t know about your small business, how will others hear about it? Also, asking close friends and family to share and repost your content will really help bring in new customers.

Justine decided to start Melonaire Juice during Shelter in Place, a time where she, and many others, struggled with finding something that kept them occupied and brought them joy. COVID slowed down a lot of people’s work, and being cooped up in the house with restrictions was very gloomy. Justine always had the entrepreneurial mindset, but could never find the time to take it seriously because of her busy schedule. Suddenly, COVID gave her the opportunity to test the waters with a business venture she had given much thought to, but never thought of pursuing. She loves that she gets to pass on her family recipe that has brought her so much joy over the years. And even though she plans on having different variations and experimenting with flavors and toppings, she is content knowing that Melonaire Juice was inspired by the fun memories associated with her parents’ original melon juice.

“My work slowed down,” Justine said remembering how COVID and the Shelter in Place disrupted her life. “It gave me something else to do, focus on, put my energy into, and grow it into something I’m passionate about. And I’m excited for people to try it… Plus there’s also the emotional attachment to it, knowing it’s based off my parents’ recipe… I had the opportunity to put out a food item that brought my family together and would start conversations when they would bring it to events where there were people who weren’t familiar with this Filipino food. And also just rep the Filipino culture, I think that’s really dope.”

CaliVamp

CaliVamp is a handcrafted jewelry and accessory brand focused on spreading love and healing energy through fashion. Deziré created CaliVamp in 2013, and since then her products have expanded – from wire wrapped healing crystal jewelry, home and car decor, crystal infused glosses, healing crystals, and energy cleansings kits.

Deziré just celebrated the 4 year anniversary of launching her website, http://www.calivamp.com , this past October. CaliVamp has flourished tremendously in 2020, and all the hard work throughout the last 7 years is finally starting to pay off. Every small business has a story. Behind every small business is a business owner with a dream. We’ve seen CaliVamp’s success as a small business, but it wasn’t always like that. But the support of her mother, and those closest to her is what keeps her and CaliVamp going.

Deziré remembers back to when she was about 5 years old. At the time, her mom had her own office space for her clothing business. She would tag along with her mom at work a lot, so her mom would have to find different ways to keep her occupied. Her mom presented her with a box full of beads and wires. Deziré remembers her mom taking the time to show her how to cut and loop the wires together. While her mom worked on creating designs for clothing, along side her, little Deziré worked on her own creations.

“I believe this moment of trying to just keep me busy really set the tone for my creative abilities,” Deziré recalls, thinking back to where it all started.

Deziré has always been a natural born hustler. She has always been intouch with her artsy side, and loved to create – whether that be crafts or baked goods. Since elementary school, she would exchange her creations for money. It started off as her making things for friends and teachers, but it really took a turn in 2011. Deziré had just made a pair of earrings for herself and wore them to school. I remember that day clearly – I saw her earrings that connected into a necklace and thought it was the cutest statement piece. I asked Deziré to make me a pair and I’d pay her. This gave her the confidence to start selling her creations for actual income. Since then, whenever she needed or wanted money, she would create things for people to buy. Word of mouth from herself, her brother, and sister is how she let people know what she had for sale.

The start of CaliVamp’s foundation started in 2013. The push that got the wheels rolling was when Deziré enrolled in Cosmetology school. She had just moved to Fresno and didn’t know anyone out there. She saw this as a perfect opportunity to start her online website. Deziré also saw this as an opportunity to showcase her hobby of creating jewelry and make some extra money while in school. She didn’t have any doubts because her focus was on finishing up Cosmetology school, and Deziré never expected that CaliVamp would be her main source of income. She was so eager to start CaliVamp that she’s “pretty sure I came up with the name at 3 in the morning.” For those wondering about CaliVamp’s name, Deziré is from California and “Vamp” because she’s a night owl – it’s a combination of where and who she is.

While in Cosmetology school, Deziré began to realize what different paths she could take. As a hairstylist, she learned that she can either be her own boss or work under someone else. She realized then that her end goal was to be her “own boss” and create her own brand. She didn’t think of it only in terms of being a hairstylist, but knew that this way of thinking could be applied to any aspect in what she wanted to do – hair or selling her creations. Ironically, once Deziré got licensed, she realized she didn’t enjoy doing hair like before. She started to dislike the process of doing people’s hair, and noticed that she started to fall in love with creating jewelry more and more, even though it was originally her side hustle.

CaliVamp’s foundation started in 2013, but Deziré didn’t have an official CaliVamp Instagram page or website until 2016. In that 3 year gap, Deziré was still creating, tweaking her products, and trying to learn the business aspects of having a website. In fact, she had a website that she started in 2014, but never advertised, posted, or sold anything on it. She was just trying to learn the ropes of the industry. From 2013 to 2016, she was mostly creating for friends and family, and didn’t incorporate crystals in her jewelry yet. Everything was word of mouth or was posted on her personal Instagram.

When CaliVamp finally had an Instagram page that launched on February 2016, that is when Deziré started advertising her work. Advertising and posting on Instagram helped get word around that she was selling jewelry. Calivamp.com launched about 8 months later on October 5, 2016. CaliVamp finally got its feet off of the ground, but business wasn’t booming just yet. Up until this point, Deziré advertised her work through hear say and word of mouth from friends and acquaintences. Now, she could publicly display her crafts and get feedback from anyone. Having a public Instagram page benefited her because she had people messaging her for custom orders. To Deziré’s surprise, she started to realize that having an Instagram page and a website was just the first step.

“WOW!” She said when I asked what surprised her about going into the business. “Once you get your feet wet you realize it takes A LOT of hard work, time, and energy to really build a foundation and make back the money that you’ve invested. I was excited to get into it thinking I would all of a sudden start being able to financially support myself… but nope. It’s true what they say, in business ‘you need money to make money.'”

Deziré recalls being discouraged from time to time because certain family members were skeptical about her small business. They questioned whether this business could financially provide for Deziré and if it was “good money.” Deziré admits that, no, it definately wasn’t good money, especially when you’re building from scratch. Especially since the first couple of years were slow due to working part time and going to school. There were times where Deziré thought about slowing down on CaliVamp and getting another job – full-time or part-time. Whenever she got discouraged, her immediate family and friends pulls her back to center and reminds her that her creativity is something special. She’s grateful that her support system has always outweighed any doubters.

And one of her biggest supporters is her mom. In fact, without Mama CaliVamp, CaliVamp wouldn’t be a healing crystals jewelry brand. Deziré’s mom has always been into feng shui, energy, and the power of healing crystals. When Deziré purchased a wire wrapped citrine ring from a street vendor in New York on August 2016, her mom suggested that CaliVamp start incorporating crystals in its jewelry. It started to all come together in the beginning of 2017 when she was given the opportunity to have her jewelry displayed in ISSO San Francisco. One of the owners, Marie, told Deziré that she liked her jewelry, but would prefer that there was a collection or theme with the products. Marie told her to create a collection and come back. Again, Deziré’s mom suggested healing crystals.

Deziré knew healing crystals had meaning and special properties behind them. She didn’t feel comfortable selling and promoting products that she knew nothing about. So, she started doing her research. With the information she acquired through researching, she would incorporate into her daily life. She began to wear the wire wrapped citrine ring that she got from New York daily and started to notice an increase in her creative energy as well as business opportunities. Even now, Dezire is still researching and learning about different crystals and their properties. CaliVamp’s Vibes Collection set the tone for the business’ brand – Deziré wanted to spread love and healing with her work. She explains:

So crystals have their own specific crystalline structure and vibrate on a molecular level. Which allows them to have their own vibration and specific healing properties. When they come into other energetic fields they can imprint and pass those vibrations on. The first two crystals I had started wearing on a daily basis was citrine and lapis lazuli. Citrine helps with businesses, increases creativity, promotes joy and abundance. Once I began to wear or use this crystal on a daily basis I noticed an increase in all these areas. Lapis lazuli is a performers stone and helps with communication and confidence which are two things I lack the most in. If you are open and have an open mind about the ability of healing crystals over time you can see a difference in your own energy field and things around you. It’s sort of like the people you meet – you either vibe with them or not and certain people can increase or decrease your vibes or energy levels as well. It’s not really something that you can explain in full detail or sell someone on. It’s something you have to experience & be open to in order to believe & reap the benefits.

A couple months before quarantine, Dezire stopped being a lash tech because she developed De Quervain’s Tenosynovitis, a painful condition that causes swelling of the thumb and tendons. Repeated wrist / hand movements can make the hand and thumb area hurt more. Deziré threw in the towel with doing eyelashes, because wearing a brace 24/7 on top of physical therapy just didn’t seem worth it. She also had to ask herself what career path she would rather do – do hair, do eyelash extensions, or make jewelry? Deziré decided to drop the beauty industry and focus all of her energy on only CaliVamp.

With that decision plus the quarantine and pandemic hitting, it made it easier for Deziré to give all of her attention to nurturing CaliVamp. The pandemic has affected CaliVamp in a very abundant way. She doubled in sales since Shelter in Place. She believes it’s because she wasn’t 100% focused on CaliVamp pre-COVID. The Shelter in Place was really a blessing in disguise for her small business, because she could really focus and plan out her next moves. CaliVamp has been consistently selling out on products since the Shelter in Place. Deziré humbly admits that selling out fast can be due to the fact that she only has a limited amount of products. Sometimes she only has a limited amount of specific crystals, or can only get a few crystals at a time. Regardless of how many products she has in stock, she always feels fulfilled when she sells them all. Deziré feels very proud and happy knowing that she is creating products that people enjoy and can benefit from.

She is especially grateful because 2020 is the first year that she started to gain actual profit from the business. Yes, you read that right. She has been building CaliVamp from the ground up since 2013, and has officially had the website running just a little over 4 years. It wasn’t until COVID and Shelter in Place that she began profiting off of CaliVamp. When she launched the website in 2016, everything she made from selling jewelry went back into buying materials to make the next set. I remember Deziré breaking it down for me at the 85° Bakery almost a year or 2 years back. She began going over making the jewelry, the costs of the materials, the cost of the website being up, stressing that if she made 2 sale for the month, after subtracting the material and website cost, her end of the month profit would be 50 cents. So 2020 was really CaliVamp’s break through year, and she’s not stopping there.

Her best products come from trying to create jewelry for herself or others. Deziré has sensitive skin and because of that, has trouble finding certain styles that she’s looking for in jewelry. So, she’ll start to play around with products she already has and messes around with it until she is satisfied. But her favorite way to stay creative and design is when she brings someone else’s vision to life. Deziré loves when clients give her the base of what they want but gives her complete creative control. Usually, it leads to a new product or a new style. If this happens, Deziré names the product after the client.

A product has to hit certain bench marks before it hits the CaliVamp website. Deziré has to first start out with creating. This usually leads her to the prototype. The 3rd step is the quality check. Deziré will wear a product a few weeks or a few months to see how the design and materials hold up. The people in her household also test out the products because they all react differently to jewelry – some have sensitive skin and some do not. If the product passes the quality check, it moves on to step 4 – posting it on social media and seeing how CaliVamp’s audience reacts to it. If she gets a positive response, she will begin to finalize the details, product description, and variants. She’ll go on to creating the products and having all the details written out so she can take product pictures and enter the information on the website. She’ll then create flyers, social media posts, and write out emails to hype up her release date.

Deziré is more motivated than ever to continue on with CaliVamp. 2020 really made her reflect on what feeds her soul and what makes her happy. All roads led her back to CaliVamp. Her goal for 2021 is to expand her office, her product lines, and do more collaborations with other artists. The pandemic was the push that CaliVamp needed to rekindle the flame of passion. When asked if she would go back to doing CaliVamp part time when things “get back to normal,” I was greeted with a “Hellll naaahh!” When things start to open back up and we figure out our “new normal,” Deziré plans to go even harder! Continuing to put her 100% in CaliVamp until she feels called to do otherwise.

Deziré wants her customers to know that she is human! She tries her best to provide quality products and quality service. CaliVamp’s main goal is to spread love and healing while being able to look fashionable. She wants her followers and customers to know that she was once a skeptic about the healing powers of crystals. But she has experienced the energy of healing crystals and wants to spread those high vibrations with those around her.

“Everyone is deserving of peace within themselves and happiness,” she said.

Deziré believes that her followers and customers can help CaliVamp thrive in different ways. She appreciates corrective criticism, honest reviews on products, and letting others know about CaliVamp. After all, her business started through word of mouth! A simple shout out, tag, or repost can really help a small business gain a following. She appreciates those that have bought from CaliVamp and continue to help spread the word about her jewelry and mission. Her advice to other small businesses is to keep going! She’s a firm believer that every situation is an opportunity, or it’s making space for a “bigger one.”

CaliVamp is about 7 years old now, and the journey has been long but worth it! The seeds Deziré has been planting for the last 7 years are finally starting to sprout. She is happy and excited to know that this is just the beginning for CaliVamp. 2020 showed Deziré where CaliVamp could go if she put her 100% into the business. She admits that this 7 year long journey has been tough and discouraging, but now that she has had a taste of success, it makes her more excited to see how far she can really take her business.

“I’m proud of how much CaliVamp has grown, and the whole process of how I’ve gotten to where I am,” Deziré said. “I’ve built CaliVamp from the ground up. Everything that I’ve learned has been from experience or research. I’ve gained knowledge from others and applied it to CaliVamp. No one else did the work for me.”

Visit : http://www.calivamp.com