“You may not see it today or tomorrow, but you will look back in a few years and be absolutely perplexed and awed by how every little thing added up and brought you somewhere wonderful – or where you always wanted to be. You will be grateful that things didn’t work out the way you once wanted them to.”
For most of my life, I’ve lived in the serious adult realm. My Dad always tells a funny anecdote of me when I was six years old. He was supposed to pick up my grandmother from the airport in Tijuana, Mexico, and the flight had been delayed. He didn’t have a clue as to how to dial a long distance phone call to Mexico, and definitely did not know enough Spanish to figure out when my grandma’s flight was arriving. In a matter-of-fact tone, he requested that I’d call the airport and get the flight information. I pause for a moment, and confused responded, “Daddy, I don’t know these things.” He nicknamed me “things” ever since.
While this is a story that always makes me chuckle, looking back, I realized how much of my childhood play had often been eclipsed by serious adult worries and responsibilities. I had few friends as we moved a lot and my time was taken up by the necessities of survival. As a teenager, I don’t remember spending much time in malls or hanging out at friends’ houses, or participating in after school clubs. Mostly, I spent my time doing homework, helping my mother and grandmother with my four younger siblings, translating for my grandmother at doctor’s appointments, helping with filling out school documents for my brothers, or forms so my grandmother could continue to receive medical and food stamps for us, or standing in long food bank lines. I can’t remember when I stopped playing all together, or perhaps I just forgot how. What I do remember is I became an adult before I discovered how to be a child.
At eighteen, I graduated from high school and gave birth to my only daughter. Life was a very serious affair. I had to figure out what I was going to do with the rest of it and raise a daughter whose success would be fully dependent upon my abilities to make the right decisions in our lives. I had no time to play. I enrolled as a full-time student at city college, and before long took on a full time job, all while breast-feeding, reading to my daughter every night, and ensuring she was thriving in her development. I was following in the footsteps and along the path that was most familiar at the time, functioning constantly under survival mode. The next few years of my life would be dedicated to continuing my studies, being a loving and nurturing mother, launching my career as a teacher, and taking care of my grandmother who had raised me from the time I was born. There was practically no time left for me. Everything was a serious decision. I never gave myself time to live.
When my daughter was ten years old, I got married to, my now husband, David. What attracted me to David was his easy-flowing, light-hearted spirit. Subconsciously, his state of being was something I was yearning for. Soon, the expectations that come with marriage seeped into our relationship: buying a new house, home-improvement projects, mundane chores and pursuing graduate degrees to continue our upward mobility. David and Carmen maintained their playfulness, while I became a serious wife and mother. It was easy to get more serious and take on more responsibilities as life evolved – this was the role I had stepped into since childhood. Even when I allowed myself to play, I wasn’t present. I wasn’t at ease. Constantly thinking of what needed to be accomplished.
I began to live my life as if I were the outsider looking in. By not giving myself permission to live and play with others, fully, I was also alone, often times lonelier when there were many people around. It began to erode my relationship with both my daughter and husband, though mostly, I unloaded all the frustration and repression from this pattern developed in early childhood on my husband. My husband had lost his best friend and gained a mother instead. I write more deeply about this in “First I Had to Ask For Forgiveness.” While there was still some spontaneity and play with my daughter, interactions had also gotten a lot more grown up between us.
At some point life became real serious. A few months, five to be exact, after my daughter left to college, my grandmother, whom I had lived with my whole, passed away from cancer. I became her main caregiver, taking her to radiation appointments, handling and coordinating home care and ultimately hospice care, nursing her until she took her last breath in our home, and coordinating her cremation and after-death arrangements. Then in 2011 my husband and I were in a horrific accident in Philippines in which he suffered eight broken ribs. I held his hand the first night of the accident, not knowing if he would make it to the next day. By that time, he and I had done a lot spiritual and emotional growth in our marriage, and ease and light-heartedness had been introduced back into our relationship. Once again, the opportunity to step into the serious, driven, determined role was never too far removed. More on that experience in “Coconut Trees and Sky.”
In 2012 I decided to enroll in a Masters of School Leadership, thinking my dream was to work with a group of innovative and passionate educators to open up an amazing school where children would feel whole and thrive. In the fourth month of the program, the work I was doing began to feel like an obligation. I couldn’t understand why, because it was what I finally thought I had always wanted – education reform, social justice, human rights – all encompassed in the training and education I was receiving. In that fourth month, I discovered the debilitating condition of sciatica nerve pain. For two months, I could barely stand up straight – I had the posture of a question mark – and it was agonizing to walk. I found myself often crawling at home. The condition gradually went away a couple of weeks into deciding to leave the Masters program.
In 2013 I resigned from teaching. That’s when I started to slowly bring play back into my life, and for the first time, I experienced what it meant to date myself. I recognize, now, what my soul was guiding me to do. I started allowing myself to live!
That summer I joined Global Leadership Adventures and spent 10 weeks in Costa Rica mentoring youth and being carefree along with them. The next summer, I spent another 10 weeks in Peru. I began to explore other passions such as photography, salsa dancing, and delve more deeply into writing, mustering the courage to begin this blog! I started to volunteer in organizations that sparked my passion for social justice and healing, but without taking the lead in any projects. Everything from a place of passion, exploration and wonder. Though even then, my mind was always subtly prompting me to observe these experiences as examples for what I could someday create. Play was always conditional.
I want to work without being so driven; to have playfulness in my working. The need to champion for a cause has always been strong in me, but I have found, that if I’m not intentional, my drive innately takes over, and I end up giving so much of myself that in essence nothing is left for me. When I became a teacher, this is exactly what happened. I took on the world and got burnt out. I was still passionate and motivated by my work, but the absolute joy and inspiration had been lost. I’ve returned back to teaching, but only part-time, serving no more than fifty students. I am filling my days with compassion, playfulness and joy – learning to live with lightness and being centered. I am finding that in this space, the students are much more engaged, and they are also learning what it means to work with a sense of ease and flow.
Last summer, one of my friends and I decided to go to a nudist beach. A friend that also lost her childhood way too soon. It was so liberating to be free of judgement and intimidation from our bodies and feel the sun kiss every part us. We spent a full day playing in the beach, splashing in the waves and laughing uncontrollably, becoming the little girls we had always wanted to be.
Because for the first time I have the opportunity to play and see the magic of life, I am resistant to any venture that might slightly threaten that light-hearted, carefree state of being my soul is yearning for. Every logical part of me wants to pressure me into setting my next goal, figuring out what dream I want to accomplish next, and having a purpose and a plan. After all, my whole life I functioned under these terms. Not to mention, we live in a society in which our worth is closely tied to what we create and produce. We constantly find ourselves having to prove we are good and have a value. While this drive, determination, and focus are part of why many people have become successful, and at some point of my life, helped me to overcome great challenges, they are not part of my truth, today. And I have to honor that and trust that my soul always knows what I need.
I am still following my heart and moving toward my yearnings, but I am being asked to move playfully, carefree, and with ease; a very unfamiliar way of being for me. I am sitting with all of these complex and multi-layered feelings – meditating and processing them one moment at a time. I think it’s important to sit with the most vulnerable part of self when we are searching for authenticity, so we don’t mis-take fear for truth. One lesson I am clearly hearing from my inner-self, other than PLAY, is to not be afraid to discover that what I needed yesterday is no longer what I need today. And this requires that I am willing to let go of my past identity.
“Some day we will find what we are looking for. Or maybe not. Maybe we’ll find something much greater than that.”