With Love, Derrumbadero

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It’s taken me a few weeks to fully digest and acclimate to life back on the ground here in New York. Recently, a few colleagues and I flew over 1,000 miles and drove five hours to the rural town of Derrumbadero for a service trip with the organization, Bridges to Community. There, we worked side-by-side with local contractors, families, and our fearless NGO coordinators, including a church group from Derry, Pennsylvania, to construct a home for a well-deserving family.  The fourteen of us had originally set out to do the same work in the town of Nindiri, Nicaragua, a town just outside the main province of Managua. However, just weeks before we were to embark, political and civil unrest broke out in the capital and nearby cities. Most groups hoping to do mission work in Nicaragua were either forced to postpone their efforts or volunteer to take part in the on-going projects in Derrumbadero, San Juan, Dominican Republic. The news coming out of Nicaragua was disheartening and tragic by all accounts, but I am glad we were still able to leave our mark, or rather, for the community of Derrumbadero to leave a mark on us. A couple of weeks before our journey, the seven of us, from across several different business units within the company, met for the first time in a conference room to go over the details, dos & don’ts, and smart items to bring for the trip. God bless our trip organizer for mentioning the invention that is a solar heated shower bag, or this would be an entirely different blog post. We all chatted, asked questions, and were either pumped or nervous to head to the remote, rural town miles away from the big city. The day quickly came. Our departure seemed so far away while counting the days. We passed the time fundraising, recruiting volunteers, and going about business as usual. Before we knew it, June was upon us, and we were scrambling to pack, set automatic out-of-office replies, and close out the work week.

After a lovely morning with my son chattering at our favorite cafe, climbing park jungle gyms, and shoe shopping (I bought my hiking boots that day; talk about last minute), I made one last bag check and headed off to the airport. The car ride to the airport was peaceful and cathartic. I took in the traffic, the scenery, the perfect weather, and the beauty of my city before I reached JFK international airport, reflecting on the days past. I’ve never gone camping, built a home, or lived in a rural area before, so the thought of spending a good part of a week off the urban jungle grid seemed exhilarating and exotic.

A seamless transition from curbside check-in, airport security, and a juicy cheeseburger at the Palms near the gate could only have been met by a less than tranquil plane ride. I couldn’t have predicted the long, shabby-haired toddler, giving his caretaker a run for his money at the gate, would be my row mate aboard the flight. All hopes of getting a few hours of shut-eye had vanished. My noisy and restless companion reminded me how far I’ve come in practicing patience and developing catlike reflexes. There was a moment where my eye wandered from the screen ahead to find his tray veering up and his complimentary apple juice veering south. I grabbed the tray immediately, returned his apple juice to the upright position and tried to close my eyes. Instead of a much-needed nap, I was subjected to the animated feature film, Cars, without sound, three times in a row, and hand-fed Cheezits. Approximately three hours later, we landed in Santo Domingo. I said farewell to my in-cabin entertainment pal and hello to a colleague, whom I met at the gate just before our departure. We accompanied each other through customs as we headed to baggage claim to recover our luggage and locate our hotel transfers. When we left the customs area, we were both touched and taken aback by how many locals were waiting at arrivals with flowers, balloons, and signs to greet their loved ones—something you don’t see that often here in the states.

We were relieved to see our own little welcome party: the driver, and one of the coordinators from Bridges to Community, the NGO, we’d be working with on the project. Our flight was the second to land, and most of our group had arrived to DR hours earlier. The two gentlemen, both fluent Spanish speakers, chitchatted the entire drive, being sure to include us when the driver’s English could oblige.  My colleague and I took on the views of the colonial city and the sea. The driver pointed out landmarks, precious stones, and architecture along the way. The city of Santo Domingo, the island known as the Dominican Republic, was spectacular.

We arrived at our quaint hotel for the evening. Immediately, we were greeted by the rest of our coordinating staff and our colleagues. Elated to see my coworker from my department and our resident drama queen, we headed to the poolside canteen for cold beverages. There was sure to be no shortage of laughter. We found our way to our room where we’d be slowly introduced to the bunk life. That evening, we slept, three young women to a room: my colleague, with whom I shared the flight, myself, and a co-ed from the Derry group. I freshened up and joined my constituents at the lobby bar and pool. We chattered breathlessly under the treetops directly above the courtyard. The hotel reminded me of an elaborate, adult treehouse. There was a net covering the pool high above in the trees to shelter swimmers from the falling fruit above. The rooms surrounded the pool in a courtyard-like configuration. Even when in the rooms, it felt like you were still among the elements, the trees, and the stars. We had dinner at a nearby restaurant, then returned for an evening dip and a good night’s rest.

 

By the morning, all 14 of us were together, including the Derry group. We had breakfast, circled up to discuss the trip, the agenda, and to welcome one another. Then we went for the walking tour of the colonial city, Santo Domingo. I always find it fascinating and important to become familiar with an island or country’s history. The city of Santo Domingo did not disappoint.

The colonial city was founded in 1498 by Bartholomew Columbus, the brother of Christopher.1 Santo Domingo, the capital city of the Dominican Republic, is the oldest continually inhabited European settlement in the Americas. As we toured the city, it was evident how rich the history and culture was. Santo Domingo has a winding history of settlement, ruin, slavery, pirates, and dictatorship. If you have a chance to read up on the history, it is a fascinating one, and it articulates the prelude of our history as Americans.

 

Once we walked the beautiful city and toured the preserved forts, churches, universities, and tombs, it was time to do some souvenir shopping and local eating. We returned to our hotel, grabbed our bags, and packed our way into what could only be called the ‘Aventura Van’. It was similar to a retro van you’d see with bands that toured long ago, circa 1970’s or 1980’s. It had a blue and white satin, or likely polyester, curtains. But it had air-conditioning and tunes. What else could we have possibly needed?

We all slept for most of the five-hour drive. The walk prior, the beating sun, and the lull of the road took care of any reservations we might have had about leaving our bodies and the contents of the bus in the hands of complete strangers. I opened my eyes briefly to peer out the window when we hit a bustling town or truck stop. Local vendors would hang off the bus, pedaling cashews, mangos, and other snacks to the tour buses that would slow down. We eventually made it to our humble abode for the next four days and four nights. It was a large one-floor building that looked to be an office-turned-dormitory, just steps away from the community center. The community center was built by the organization a few years prior and was a staple in the Communial area, a town adjacent to Derrumbadero. It was what I imagined summer camp would be—rows of bunk beds, an outhouse, and no running water. I’ll let you all confirm or bring me to earth, but that’s my humble hypothesis of what true camping is like.

 

As we unpacked and picked our bunks, we all looked at each other partly in disbelief and partly in. For many of us, we expected more, and for others, we expected less, so the medium left us with indifference. There was no going back. We headed to dinner at a nearby home. The head woman of the household—I’ll call her Dona—prepared all our meals for the duration of our stay. Dona and her family were entrusted with taking care and keeping an eye on the grounds that belonged to the community and Bridges. The meals she prepared were humble and simple, but delicious. I was almost ashamed to look forward to them as they were cozily nostalgic. They transported me to the meals my great-grandmother prepared for us out of love with the little means she had. They also weren’t too different than the meals I prepared on the weeks that money needed to be stretched. Meals consisted of mostly rice and beans, mangu (mashed plantains prepared like garlic mashed potatoes), banana, salad, melon and/or pineapple. These are staples in my home. The meals were a departure from the norm for most of the volunteers. After dinner concluded and we all got a bit more acquainted and said goodnight to living easy, we turned into our beds to rest for the big day. My colleagues, one from California and the other from Brazil, reached for their journals and began to record the day. I did the same. Before I knew it, it was lights out. The dawn was quickly upon us and I was very much grateful to the earplugs I brought with me. You see, roosters don’t just crow at sunrise or 5am like most of us urban kids have been led to believe. They crow ‘cual quieran’, which means whenever they want, so the plugs were helpful when I heard the faint crow at 2am. They also staved against the sounds of a bunkmate that I’m convinced suffers from sleep apnea. At first, the snoring was aggravating; however, as the days went on, I was more concerned with the flow of oxygen to his brain. Dios Mio!  I digress.

 

We all arose at 6am. I had awoken about 30 minutes earlier because I was too petrified to use the outhouse in the wee hours, so I held my pee until the sun rose. I ran to the outhouse, brushed my teeth by the fields and changed into my work clothes. Many were in the same rhythm, and so we made our way to Dona, the grounds caretaker, for breakfast. I was hopeful for avena (oatmeal in Spanish), but I believe it was eggs and salami with mangu, which did not disappoint. We drank the strong coffee, chugged the sweet limeade, and hopped into the truck with our gear, water bottles, and sunscreen in hand. Day one was grueling, partly because my Mondays are much more sedentary and air-conditioned, but mostly because my body has not known that level of physical labor. We dug holes with picks and shovels, and when on our hands and knees with stainless steel bowls.  We hammered nails and barbwire into the framing to create a foundation for the concrete walls. We measured, cut, and layered wood panels to create interior and external walls. We painted the roofing sheets with zinc to avoid rusting. All this for six hours a day in the beating sun. Rinse and repeat for 4 days straight. What do you get? You get a team that was once two separate groups but came together as one. You get a home built with your bare hands and a sense of completion and accomplishment that matches no other.  You get smiles and inside jokes with the locals and the children who came to pitch in where they could. You get dancing and singing in the sun while painting a house the sweetest shade of pink and blue. You create bonds and memories that last a lifetime.

Pink House

On our last day with the Derrumbadero community, we took pictures, both digitally, and thanks to the Derry group, printed Polaroids for the families and children—a gesture that was a huge deal because most if not all of the families did not own a smartphone, a camera, or in some cases, even a full-length mirror. We took pictures of the home, the family, and most importantly, all the talented youth we encountered. Their work ethic, their pride, and their resilience matched no other I have ever seen. After our closing dinner at Dona’s house, we were sent off with a congo drum band and a dance or three with local kids in the community. I must say, the last dance made me homesick. It made me appreciate my son’s energy so much more. We packed up that evening, or more importantly, unpacked, giving the community most of the clothing we came with. I brought clothes specifically from my son’s closet for the children. I left that to the community to divide as needed. I left the boots I worked so diligently in so that a young man or woman (I bought them in the men’s section of my local shoe store) could hike the hills or the roads toward school, work, or the store for their family. I left all my athleisure apparel and a bevy of branded volunteer shirts from my company, as well as the clothes I cherry-picked from my closet to give to the community, including bras, which our coordinator was ecstatic about (yes, honey, ain’t nothing like a good bra).

In the AM we had our final breakfast, said our thank you’s and our goodbyes, then filed back into the van, feeling physically, emotionally, and mentally lighter. This time, we drove 6 hours to the beaches near Santo of Boca Chica. I certainly slept like a baby for most of the ride, getting up only for the restroom and a silly photo op at the truck stop. When we got to the resort mid-day, I collected my keys and immediately changed into my bathing suit. The sand, the waves, and the pool were calling me. I’ve always had this connection to the water, and so it was like a whole new homecoming. The whole time I felt somewhere between out of my comfort zone and right at home. It can only be explained as the connection we all feel to one another and the places where community and love live: the mother earth. We all want the same things for ourselves and our families. We all want a safe place to live. We all want clothes on our backs and food in our bellies. We all want to love and to feel understood. We all want stability. We all want to know that we can make a difference and fulfill a higher purpose. This trip did all that for me and more. It pushed me to a place where my metaphoric walls were stripped down as I put actual walls up for the safety of another. There is no feeling like it in the world. I hope to serve in my own backyard, in my own country of origin, and whenever and wherever I can. If you are interested in participating in such a project, please visit Bridges to Community for more info on how to get involved, donate, or book a group trip for your business, family, and friends.

https://www.thoughtco.com/history-of-santo-domingo-dominican-republic-2136382

A Tribe Called Blessed

hands-heart-love-help
All hands on deck!

May I just say that ‘delegating with love’ is one of the best phrases I’ve ever read and has been an ultimate game-changer for me. As I sit in my apartment, just one day before Henri’s and my trip to visit my father, my little brother, my big brother, and my stepmom in Florida, I can’t tell you how wonderful it is to come home to an apartment that is both spic and span (wonder if that figure of speech has derogatory, prejudice, origins. Hmm…that’s a whole other blog post). There is nothing like coming home from a relaxing and fun vacation to then screeching in fear brought on by your ‘shambly’ home (yes, I turned shambles into an adjective/adverb. Call the word police). I know, you’re thinking, boo hoo, first world problems, but seriously, it’s a bummer after traipsing through terminals, baggage claim, and taxi lines with no partner or companion and a curious, antsy toddler. The last thing you want to do is play Cinderella to a co-starring upside down home. I’m all about the gratitude and abundance attitude, and I know I should just be glad that I’ve landed safely and that I have a pretty sweet apartment to come home to. But a girl just wants to rest her traveled head and luggage-mangled body when she lands.

Luckily, I’m fortunate enough to have someone who loves me and my family just as much as they would love their own. My mother’s home attendant is a Godsend, and as any strong, able-bodied, New Yorker, she has a side hustle. She cleans a mean house for some extra cash, and at quite an affordable rate, I may add. At first I was apprehensive about her cleaning my home. She started doing so technically for free when my mother was home with me in my first apartment, just a few weeks after the baby arrived. At that point, she was really there to support my mom and make sure she was of sound mind and body. That meant cooking and cleaning while I handed off the baby to mom so I could nap, shower, run an errand, or pump. She also knew that I was a single mother and for the most part on my own to care for my little bambino. Fast forward to the transition back to work. The extra help was needed more than ever. My mother was the first to demonstrate the ‘delegate with love’ technique, but I didn’t realize what it was then. I hadn’t read Tiffany Dufu’s book, Drop the Ball, nor did it exist, to discover it’s magnificent branding. I simply thought it was asking someone for a favor, and I wasn’t especially good at that. Often while growing up, my mom sought help, favors, bartered, and conjured alternative means. My mom did pretty much everything on her own, but she had a way of asking for a hand without seeming selfish, needy, or desperate. Well, mom asked her good friend and aid to pitch in when she could and her aid was delighted to. I was taken aback and immediately offered to pay her what I could, which wasn’t much. I would even do a little cleaning up on the mornings she came so that it wouldn’t be so burdensome. Sometimes, I still do. But as time passed and I got more comfortable asking her to focus on certain parts of the house and help with laundry, the more I appreciated her and her craft. No one can clean like this woman. She is an invaluable team member, and she, like my mother and I, is a single mother. She came to the United States when she was a young girl, fell in love, and had children. Unfortunately, the father of those children did not stick around for long, which left her to work hard and raise her children on her own. We’ve never gone into deep detail other than she worked her ass off to make sure her children had the necessities.

Every time I come home to her signature work, I let out a sigh of relief and a big welcoming breath in, then immediately text her my gratitude and what it gave me room to do. I want her to know how much she’s contributing to my success. There would not have been a book, or this blog, or an ability to spend the weekend doing what I love to do with my son, without her. Now, on top of working toward the launch of my social business, writing my next book, completing coursework, pitching ideas and receiving coaching, I still am working full-time, overtime, and raising a child. I need her, my mom, my sister tribe, my co-parent, my coworkers, and my mentors more than ever. The beauty of it all is she has become a part of my own extended family. She attends most if not all of the celebrations we host. She also makes a phenomenal rice pudding. Many times my mother and I have told her to go into business for herself, start her own cleaning company, or at the minimum raise her rates, but she hasn’t. She loves to clean—it’s her meditation, solace, side-hustle, and passion. Well, that and dancing. She can dance for hours.

I guess what I’m getting at here is, someone is always happy to help and may even find joy in doing so when you delegate with love. At first, it was uncomfortable for me to accept our family friend’s help. At first, I felt I was taking advantage, but she always offered. Perhaps she saw that I could use her help. Maybe she sees a little of herself in me, or maybe it’s that unbreakable bond of sisterhood and motherhood. Whatever her reason for pitching in, it does not go unappreciated. Right now, I can’t afford to pay her much, but her grandson is just a year younger than my son, so I’m always sure to offer her all the cute and barely-used clothes Henri outgrows (because he grows a foot a second), or get her a thoughtful Mother’s Day card, birthday gift, and Christmas gift. I’m always sure to send her a note or text of gratitude. Literally, as I wrote the first half of this post, I paused to send her a huge thank you text. She also found the hair gel I thought Henri hid on me, so she gets an extra love shout out. Love you Illy! It’s okay to need help, to ask for help, to delegate tasks to those in your circle of trust so that we can push through and free up our time, resources, headspace, and hands in order to grow, thrive, and most importantly, to allow others to do the same.

 

 

Why is it so damn hard to be consistent?

prickly inconsistent banana
Umm, I’ll just stick to oranges. Thx! At least they’re consistent. Geez :\

Ah, consistency, why are you so damn hard to keep up? I’ve made several attempts to workout out consistently, budget consistently, take action toward increasing my visibility, and meditate consistently but somehow the chain of action and spark of motivation always dwindles. Admittedly it’s my own laziness or procrastination that gets in the way and other times it’s just the throes of unpredictable life. My son has had some sleep regression recently so naturally the time I spent working toward my next book, blog post, or online visibility for a few hours, after putting him to sleep, has become null and void. On this particular morning, I said enough is enough and with the topic on my mind I claimed my rightful spot in front of the laptop, perched on my bed, bended knees to write this post. Without consistency, there is no way to sustain momentum, measure effectiveness and stay accountable. This is true for starting a business, developing new content, or potty training your toddler. Consistency is the cornerstone of a success. Perhaps that’s why it’s so hard. If staying consistent and disciplined was so easy then we’d all have six packs, child prodigies, and multimillion-dollar businesses. As human’s, we’re easily distracted. As a mother, those distractions are tenfold. Besides a hark of a new idea, the need to research, Instagram, Facebook, social engagements, and having to step outside occasionally or every day for a day job, mother’s are constantly with one eye on the ball, and one eye or ear on their child. Silence is not golden in a household with a toddler or kids, it usually means mischief or unwashable markers are at bay. But in order to get our ass off the couch or head in the game, we have to stay consistent. That means coming to the disappointing realization you will fall off the momentum train time to time but you will have to consistently hop right back on. You don’t need to get fancy and download apps or a vision board with a million connections, like a detective on the hunt for a serial killer. All you and I need to do is get realistic. I took the liberty of Googling consistency (you’re welcome) and every blog post, article, and how-tos labeled the next few steps. As I examined them, I thought “duh!”  But perhaps we all could use a little reminding so, without further adieu, a few steps for staying consistent:

  1. “Make a conscious decision to remain consistent.” — Thanks internet! But the internet is right. Isn’t it always? ; )  For real, though, say it out loud, write it down frame it. Exclaim to yourself, the universe, your cat, your baby, shoot get it in sky lettering, that YOU will remain CONSISTENT.
  2. “Jot down a plan and your end goal” — Get really clear on the why, how, and what you’re seeking to accomplish. Write it down, say it out loud, post it somewhere you can see it. If you don’t have a plan and an objective, then you damn sure can’t be consistent. Plan in bite-sized chunks. This will ensure you don’t get overwhelmed by the objective and you can get fired up by the smaller wins.
  3. “Don’t rely on motivation, feelings, or inspiration” — If you wait until you feel like it, are motivated, or inspired you will find yourself doing a whole lot of nothing. Think about it. How often did you feel super pumped to study for a calculus test? For those of you whom never did, I feel you. For those of you who did, wtf yo?
  4. “Do one thing at a time.” — This one is super hard for me. I’m a habitual and professional multi-tasker. I’m an EA for Christ sakes. Multi-tasking brings the bacon home. But honestly, it leaves me feeling depleted, unfocused, and overwhelmed. As mentioned in item #2, split up your goal and action plan into manageable, and actional bite-sized pieces. “Do what you can in joy and instead of doing it all in misery.”
  5. “Be realistic & flexible about time” — We all get into ruts and life happens. For mom’s, this is especially true. There is always a need to stay flexible. Some items may take longer than others. But it is also key to remember that you only have right now. So do your very best, check-in with yourself, and do not push things off. When you know you have to get something done, get it done. Block out time on your calendar, designate times of the day for each task or item. Don’t beat yourself up for not getting things done at exactly that time either, or quit. But do readjust, tweak your day, and get it done. Throwing in the towel is not an option.

Oh, is it Mother’s Day?

It’s a gloomy rainy Mother’s Day here in Brooklyn NY, USA. As I sit on my couch, mimosa in hand (my plan to ward off alcohol is a bust since the birthday celebrations: will power 0 – booze 11), as my little angel is sleeping. Nap time is usually where I clean, read emails, make to-do lists, read and or write, catch-up on my, ‘homework’, passions or a webinar. This is usually about a 2-hour to 3-hour span. Saturday, the eve of Mothers Day, I blew all my free time on a nap. Hey, it’s my downtime, I’ll maximize it as I want! The older I get the less joyous and awestruck any holiday becomes. Birthdays, Christmas, Mother’s Day….just another day. It’s not like there’s a get out of “jail” free card. I still have to chase a toddler, clean messes, cook, stay awake. But thus far, on this Mother’s Day weekend, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed myself. I got to watch two season’s of “Dear White People”. #lit  Oh, and nap! Did I nap? I got to wander the neighborhood on a meaningless search for flowers. Where is the living? Got to redeem my free coffee at Daily Press tho #winning.  I do my best to be busy all the time. Careful to use my time as productively as possible. The book, my ambitions, passions, and motherhood, in general, have kept me in a constant state of motion. I feel mom guilt only sometimes but for the most part, I’m in alignment with my core values. Foster a loving, patient, tolerant and safe environment for my son to thrive. Write, cultivate, and create content that gives other women the feels and the tools to trust in their talents and journey. Core values distilled: Give myself, my son, and others space and support to express their most authentic selves. When I sit around the house not giving the household, my son, my ambitions, and my body goals (I laid down quite a bit this weekend) 110%, I can easily convince myself I’m worthless and lazy.

But I need to step back sometimes and realize I am only human and need time to rejuvenate, relax, and binge watch one of my favorite shows. It’s not like I did absolutely nothing. I had a dentist appointment across town and a day outing with the little one to Barnes and Noble. We even had a lovely pizza parlor date in which we both devoured classic NY style pizza. Oh, how we missed the old neighborhood! However, I did not finish this post, pitch a soul about a podcast appearance, write in my journal, organize my room, take Henri to get his feet sized, buy a potty or contact the manufacturer for the broken leg of my dining room chair. Quite the contrary I took a 3-hour nap and binge-watched Netflix. Something I haven’t done in ages. I know Gary Vaynerchuck would blow his shit but this momma does not feel bad about taking some time to smell the roses and devour some tacos. We all can’t go 100 miles per mile every waking second of every single day. Hurling our sanity and our tattered bodies into the whim of all our ambitions. Sorry Gary, I’ll kill it today, tomorrow, and the day after that. But from now on, Mother’s Day is the day I do nothing but what I want to do, even if that means doing absolutely nothing.

Sorry, not sorry :/

“Sowwee Momma!”, Henri exclaimed as he stumbled, struggling to hold on to me for dear life and guiding his foot into his shoes. “Oh buddy, that’s alright, no need to apologize. We got it!” I replied as we got finally got the first shoe on; blood rushing to my head from bending over for far too long. As I worked from a different, more comfortable angle to get Henri’s, my two-year-old’s, shoe on I thought to myself: what a thoughtful toddler I have! He empathized and sympathized with the frustration of not getting something done in a timely, sensical manner. But then I started to notice the apologies pour in more often and for situations that didn’t call for a ‘sowwee’, like tripping, a minor spill or a toy slipping from his grasp. I quickly respond in those instances with, “Hey, love, no need to say you’re sorry. We all get tripped up or mixed up sometimes.” He also loves to crash into me or his grandmother and say sorry as some type of silly game he concocted up during his exploration of cohabitation. It gives him the cutest of hysterical giggles, but I felt slightly uneasy about the behavior and so it was important to me to explain to him the proper time and place of apologies.  “Henri, let’s save the sorries for when we really need it. Like when we’ve hurt another’s feelings or have truly violated someone’s trust or space. You don’t mean it, and anyways we’re just playing silly. Apologies are a big deal, kiddo.” I’m never sure if my message is hitting home but I knew I didn’t want my child apologizing for merely just being himself or discounting the significance of truly asking for forgiveness. I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why he was always apologizing. I also knew it was something I needed to nip in the bud. Of course, I relish in the fact that he says thank you, no thanks, and other polite phrases. We all want a polite, socially conscious child but the constant apologizing is a bit overkill. Where is he getting this false sense of guilt from? I didn’t have to look too far. The answer glared right up at me during a bedtime read of the final part of Tiffany Dufu’s best seller, ‘Drop the Ball’. She examines three happiness hurdles in Chapter 17, titled “Happiness Motivates Everyone” The first hurdle she introduces: BREAK FREE OF GUILT!

“The first hurdle women have to overcome is a perpetual feeling of culpability. If I had a dollar for everytime a woman apologized to me,  I would be rich. Unfortunately, saying I’m sorry is a hard habit to break, because as women, we’ve been trained by society to feel culpable for just about everything…As women, we are conditioned to act as caretakers and prone to always prioritize others’ happiness above our own. When we don’t we feel bad. And when apologies are not enough, we’re quick to offer explanations that prove that our intentions were good and selfless…”

Damn, yo! It’s me he’s watching, studying, and emulating. But could I possibly be saying the ‘s’ word that often? I started to be more aware of my own over apologizing. Recently, I went to a Girls Leadership presentation at a local school here in Brooklyn. Girls Leadership is an extraordinary organization that empowers and equips young girls, from grades K – 12, with the tools, education, and outlet for girls to be authentic, find their voice, and become more emotionally intelligent through workshops, afterschool programs, and summer camps. A pertinent piece is the education they also provide the parents to make a more sustainable impact on the girls so they are able to exercise true growth, equity, and support. The ‘Raising Resilient Girls’ presentation was introduced to me through a Women’s Business Alliance volunteer expo at my place of work. When I approached the vendor’s table for Girls Leadership for information and volunteer opportunities the representative addressed the women, standing in the queue, and inquired if we had daughters of our own and their ages. I answered “No, but I have a two-year-old son, and nothing is more important to me than instilling in my son that women have voices, that women are to be respected, and like men, too can lead”. To me, this type of education transcends gender and in order for me to be the agent of change or a contributor to such a movement, it is important to me to teach my son that he too must exercise his courageous voice and allyship. She couldn’t have had agreed more. They didn’t have avenues at the moment for volunteerism but she did hand me a flyer and invitation to attend the workshop presentation taking place at a nearby school on April 18th. I took the flier and the bevy of other materials, including an illustration chart of common place emotions for the kiddo, and registered for the event.

The evening came and although completely exhausted by the day I fought through all my stories and excuses for not going and marched on to the presentation after work. Armed with snacks (can’t focus on a hangry stomach), water, and a fully charged heart and phone I entered the elementary school’s auditorium. I arrived a few minutes late and missed the intro but sat down in time for the presenter’s slides of the type of imagery that bombards and continues to mold the minds of young women and children. The imagery was of unrealistic perfection,  exploited sexuality, and superficial vanity that penetrates messaging for youth as early as the age three. That wasn’t anything new, sex and insecurity have been sold to our youth for eons, just seems now with modern technology there is no escaping it. The more memorable slide revealed the staggering number of teenage (and pre-teen) girls that reported signs and symptoms of depression. Almost three times more than boys their age. It’s hard to stay happy, hopeful, and empowered when society is feeding you unrealistic ideals or devaluing as a mere sex object. The number stayed rather high across the breakdown in the numbers for latinas and whites. The figures tapered off into the low percentiles for black girls and black boys of the same age group but for obvious or not so obvious factors the study may have failed to address. Factors such as cultural and gender stigmatisms about seeking counseling and expressing feelings, as well as access to healthcare and socioeconomic biases. Parents, both mothers, and fathers were posing questions and engaging with the presenter. Throughout the presentation, she enrolled the auditorium of parents with polls and open-ended questions. A mother countered an engagement poll, of which I can’t remember the topic, with the very question I asked myself about my dear baby boy. The parent of a middle school aged girl went on to explain the predicament she was facing. She found her daughter was over apologetic. Whenever she asked of her daughter to do her a favor, or pitch in, or offered a course correction, her daughter immediately responded with a ‘sorry’ and proceeded with the request. Her mother was baffled. “I just want her to say ‘OK’ and proceed with what I asked of her, not apologize. Is she just pacifying me or is she just extremely, and overtly apologetic?” The presenter probed a bit a further before posing a question to the group. “How many of you find yourself saying ‘sorry’ for even the smallest slight?” “How many of you start your texts, emails, or even requests with an apology?” Almost all the women in the group raised their hands. I quickly observed that none of the men did. Shoot, even my hand flew up. At first, I was almost shocked that my hand went soaring up, as if my arm was not of my own body and mind. My mother would always remind me how I never showed remorse or offered an apology. But it wasn’t true at all. I said sorry constantly but, like my son during a game of human bumper cars, I was expressing it when not necessary and neglecting it at times it was most warranted or expected by the offended party. I can count on many hands how many times I, and other women I’ve encountered, expressing apologies for a mere brush of an elbow while walking or a reach over a milk station at the coffee shop. Men say excuse me; women say I’m sorry. The facilitator asked those who raised our hands to share some of the reasons why we thought we or other women would feel the need to apologize so often. One woman mentioned perfectionism as a factor, another blamed needing to be ‘liked’ as a reason. My possessed arm reached high yet again. “To avoid conflict and seem less of a threat, women tend to apologize for things out of our control or minor mishaps. For some, especially women of color, our mere presence can be assumed as offensive”. It was like the words just poured out of me. I had never really admitted that to myself let alone thought to share that to a predominantly white assembly room. But it just came out and quickly the light bulb went off for me. Sorry was a way for me to avoid conflict, shrink, and seem agreeable. No need to shake up the status quo. The presenter, a black woman agreed and admitted that her skin color was the reason she would apologize to a passerby, who in fact bumped her, just to avoid seeming like a threat or someone to be feared. She quickly course corrected her self and made sure to be present and aware of the instances she found herself apologizing for something, anything that didn’t warrant an apology. Being over apologetic in fact demoralizes the true beauty of asking for forgiveness. Doling out sorries all willy-nilly is robbing us of our confidence, integrity, and respect. I couldn’t believe it took me so long for me to open my eyes to the subtle, limiting behavior. Guess that’s why they call such behaviors blind spots. But is that truly how I felt about myself? Did I truly think it was better to dim my light or apologize for just being present? Is that how I saw my brown and black brothers and sisters? Is that how I want my son to see himself? I don’t ever want my son to feel like he’s feared or someone’s burden. His voice is strong and vibrant as well as his presence. We all make mistakes and need to do so to grow. My only mission is to ensure my son a healthy environment to grow mentally, emotionally, and physically. When he does apologize I want him to truly understand how his actions impact others. He is to learn and gauge when his actions have caused him to become misaligned with his true authentic self and intentions. And then, and only then with integrity and true empathy is he to apologize and ask for forgiveness from the person or persons whose trust he violated. We trust that the people we love will do nothing to hurt us but that’s unrealistic as we walk through life. When we betray that trust we must realign, forgive ourselves for the grievance, and authentically ask for forgiveness from the one to whom we caused pain or discomfort. He is not to apologize for being ‘imperfect’, or black, or latino, tall, short, fat, skinny, or opinionated. Most of all I want the same for myself and other women. I can only lead by example. So this week I plan to be more aware of my daily communications and tally the apologies and there triggers. My growth homework over the few weeks is to change the limiting habit of being overly apologetic. Let’s make a pact and do it together! Make note when you feel yourself hitting the ‘sorry button’. Apologizing or shrinking comes in many forms and can be found in the following filler words, phrases, or actions:

  • Buffer statements: “Sort of…” , “Kind of…”
  • Permission terms: Would you mind …” “… if it’s not too much to ask” “Is it OK if …?”
  • Avoiding to speak up altogether
  • ‘Silent Contracts’ — refers to expectations of other without expression of such

With each day that passes with my son, I never am void of learning and self-discovery. Having a son has ironically strengthened my love for women and mothers everywhere. He teaches me every day to be a better human. How’d I get to be so lucky! Happy healing and cheers to honing and strengthening your voice.  XoXoXo