Breaking bad (habits)

I have been a life-long nail biter. I do not know how this habit started or why it began. But, I can remember being as young as six years old and biting my nails.

Since corona commenced, the thought of putting my fingers in my mouth creates a whole new level of anxiety. It is unfortunate that it has taken me this long to acknowledge the overall ickiness of this habit; but, I guess it’s never too late to make a positive change. This change in perspective means that I am finally enjoying pretty nail polishes and lovely hands.

Now, there are many opinions on how to break bad habits. I found several good articles while I prepared this essay that I recommend for anyone who needs proven tools. (Harvard Business Review article and Time Magazine article.) But, I cannot say that I broke my nail biting habit with much forethought.

I started getting nervous about my nail biting. At some point, I realized that the new medical reality added an extra layer of danger and disgust to my habit. Of course, this is an anxiety driven habit where it helps to keep your hands busy. So, one of the things I did during lockdown was to start painting my nails. This led to less incidents of my hands in my mouth.

I still have a ways to go before I can say that I am completely cured of my bad habit. But, I do feel that I have new tools with which I can quell this behavior.

Have you ever had to change behavior? What behavior or habit did you try to change? What worked? What didn’t?

Postponing señora style

As a little girl, I could not wait to get older. I longed to be a classy lady like my mom and aunt Silvia. I admired beautiful women and hoped someday I would be one.

In my teens, I was clueless. Either because I did not have the financial means or a basic understanding of esthetics, I was sloppy. Worse, I knew it. I felt uncomfortable with my curves so I wore clothes as baggy as I could. I would look at girls like my Camacho cousins, always made up and well dressed, and envision the day that I too would be “put together nicely.”

Eventually, things started to come together. During undergrad, I was part of a sorority. I paid attention. From my sisters, I learned tips and tricks to apply makeup, style hair, and coordinate clothes. Law school gave me internal confidence and helped me find my voice.

At 24, I thought I had developed a style of my own. Unfortunately, I stumbled. Impractically high heels, extremely low cut shirts, too-tight dresses. The strong, sexy señorita I felt inside tried to interpret herself by focusing too much on my curves and not enough on the sex appeal of my mind.

As I got older, I found my esthetic. It continues to develop. And, aging is an important part of that development. I am comfortable with the fact that I am in my forties. I don’t lie about my age. I don’t wish to relive my youth. And, I do not see getting older as a problem. I have achieved the style that best fits my personality. Part Maria Felix. Part Mexican loteria’s “La Dama.”

It may be that lovely Latinas like Jennifer Lopez, Salma Hayek, and Sofia Vergara have created unrealistic expectations for us. Or it may be that they have redefined just how long women remain beautiful. Whatever the reason, I am inspired to keep looking lovely. I have no interest in letting myself go.

I exercise (every now and then.) I moisturize everyday. I try to analyze clothing styles and trends to find the things that look the best on me. I foresee me trying to postpone what I would term “Señora Style” as long as I can. To do this, I have created guidelines for myself. These guidelines help accentuate and highlight my beauty without trying to recapture my youth.

Focus on a Feature

When I was younger, I was the worst about trying to show everything off. My dresses were a little too snug, my shirts extremely low cut. I accentuated everything. This provided no focus and truth be told, bordered on boring.

Now, I try to find ways to highlight one special feature at a time. Shirts that show a little chest are now paired with a classic pair of pants or a below the knee skirt. Form fitting dresses now allow for breathability. In fact, I now use a famous Marilyn Monroe quote when it comes to purchasing dresses…

“Your clothes should be tight enough to show you’re a woman but loose enough to show you’re a lady.”

Practically Beautiful

There is nothing worse than aerating a sprawling lawn with four inch stilettos. Yet, this has been me on more than one occasion. I remember once going to a K-state football game with a friend. I wore high heeled boots. By the end of the first quarter, I realized the huge mistake I had made. The problem was that once I developed my twenty-year old girl style, I thought that I had to stick to my “look.” This attempt to “dress my part” came to a head when I met my husband.

“You’re not actually planning to wear those around Disney World?” My love asked incredulously.

“Why not? I wear heels all the time.”

Eventually, I realized that being elegant means knowing how to dress for every occasion. I learned that you can be pretty and well-dressed even when dressed casually. Most importantly, I learned that you are less of a caricature if your look fits the activities in which you are engaging. Now, I encourage you to learn these lessons.

Natural is Nice

When it comes to makeup, I have tried two different schools: all of it- false eyelashes, dark liquid liner, lots of mascara, bright lipstick, goopy lip gloss, bronzer and highlighter everywhere. Or, none at all.

Over time, I have developed the look that makes me most comfortable- real lashes, a few coats of mascara, a soft crayon eyeliner, and a natural lipstick. I have learned that this softer look makes me more timeless. As an added bonus, it keeps my skin looking younger. Finally, it saves me loads of time.

Whatever your position on makeup, remember this…

You are beautiful however you choose. to present yourself to the world. All you need is to think about what will work best for you and create the person that you want to be.

Confidence is Key

So, what more can be said?

Change your hair color and length. Put on the colored contacts or wear the nerdy girl glasses. Unleash your 13 Going on 30 fantasy and try on every piece of clothing you own. Pick out the things that make you feel good about yourself. Wrap yourself in love.

The most important thing that I have learned in my lifetime is this…

Whether you are wearing a ball gown or only perfume confidence is key.

Now it is your turn. Share your top tips or hot hints. Let me know what I could do to help me grow in beauty in confidence. I would love to hear your thoughts. And, I hope reading my thoughts helped you too.

The feel of fideo and the comfort of food

Growing up in my household, the foods of my native Mexico were our daily staples. Unfortunately, my mother is not a recipe and measurements type of cook. This means, that when I ask for recipes I do not always get a straight answer. But, nothing gives me greater comfort than the foods of my mother. Comfort foods have a way of making us feel as though the world will be alright. For that reason, I have sought the foods that made me feel good in my youth.

Recently, I have been enjoying fideo with beans quite a bit. For the fideo pasta, I like to use the thinner fideo that La Estrella offers. The ingredients you will need are:

La Estrella Fideo

¼ cup of diced onion

2 cloves of garlic

1 can of tomato sauce (can also use two blended tomatoes)

1 can of chicken broth

1 Knorr Suiza boullion cube

I start by getting olive oil hot on a medium heat before adding the fideo noodles. I cook the noodles (one packet) until they are a light golden color. I add finely chopped onion and garlic cloves to the noodles. Once the onions are cooked, I add 1 can of chicken broth and a can of tomato sauce to the pan. For seasoning, you can try to make your own blend of salt, onion powder, etc. On the other hand, you can use one Knorr bullion cube. This is, for me, what gives it the taste that I remember from youth. I reduce the heat on the pan to low. Then, I make sure that I put a lid on the pan and allow it to simmer nicely.

Fideo simmers in chicken broth and tomato sauce.

I really enjoy adding whole pinto beans to a bowl along with a couple ladle fulls of this pasta. This meal is best used to fulfill my childhood nostalgia.

The Stepmom Standard

Since 2010, I have been a stepmom. During the course of my relationship, my stepson has been a constant presence as my spouse has shared residential placement. My stepson is a fixture in the home every other day and on alternating weekends.

During the years, I have developed a loving and wonderful relationship with my stepson. But, it has not been without effort. Learning to stepparent is not easy. Being a stepparent requires patience, humility, and respect. But, it can be worth every learning curve and frustration placed before you. It has been for me. Thanks to my stepson, I have had the opportunity to have a hand in a child’s life.

If you are contemplating marrying into an already started family, consider it carefully as it may not be what you expect. Here are a few ideas that can help you as you navigate this new role.

Ask Questions

First and most important, ask questions. Ask your potential spouse about the expectations they and the child’s other biological parent have of their child. Ask about the level of involvement they expect from you. Ask about the methodologies of discipline used and agreed upon for the child. In other words, ask before your act. You will not fail if you ask questions. It will ensure that you and your love set expectations and boundaries for your involvement with their child.

Once you have established the expectations and boundaries for your involvement in your stepchild’s life, the next thing you need to do is learn to be a parental figure.

Learn Everything

Biological parents do not often think to read about parenting beyond “What to Expect When You are Expecting.” As a stepparent, you do not have the luxury of making mistakes because you will be scrutinized on a different level by everyone- your spouse, your spouse’s family, your stepchild’s other parent, that parent’s family, etc.

For that reason, I encourage you to learn about parenting by reading parenting books. A favorite book of mine on parenting is “The Blessing of a Skinned Knee: Using Jewish Teachings to Raise Self-Reliant Children.” This book, written by Wendy Mogel, is a no-nonsense approach to raising children to become adults that will not be annoying AF.

When you find a particularly good book that helps you improve your parenting skills, share it with your spouse and the child’s other parent. Open the door to communications about child rearing. Remember, the goal is to be the best parents you can be for the child you share.

Support the system 

You have asked all of the necessary questions about how your new prospective family functions. You are ready to sign up to be a part of that system. The next steps are both complex and simple. Complex- figure out your place in that system. Simple- do what you can to support the system.

Well, simple is not so simple. Simple means helping to maintain the status quo for the child’s situation. Need an example?

Your love interest has a 50-50 shared parenting plan with their child’s other parent. They both live within the child’s school district and participate actively in the child’s life daily. If you are going to get involved with such a family, you do not get to come into the relationship one year in and ask your love to move with you to a different city for a career opportunity. That is not fair to that child and that child is the most important thing.

So, now that you have asked all the questions, read some parenting books and said I will or I do. The time has come to get to doing. Support the system help your partner where you can with their child in your life. And, take time to enjoy the new child in your life. A stepparent relationship can be incredibly rewarding. I know mine is.

Learn your place

You are now in the relationship. What is the most important thing you can do? Learn your place.

I am a dominant personality. I tend to have opinions. Lots of opinions. And… I am not afraid to share them. However, when it comes to stepchildren, I have learned that the best thing you can do is leave the parenting to the parents. Parents, after all, are the ones that must deal with the real-life consequences of their children’s behavior.

Along with that, I recommend that you push the same expectation on your spouse AKA the child’s legal parent. Your child’s legal parent needs to be the primary parent in the household. Do not let them leave all the parent-like work and responsibilities to you.

Child is hungry and wants a snack? Your spouse needs to address that situation. Child’s clothes is dirty? Your spouse needs to make sure the child has clean clothes for school the next day. If you need more help as to why this is important see the paragraph below entitled “Do not be a Doormat.”

Never speak ill of others

Throwing shade. This term refers to making snide comments to or about someone. This is something that is commonplace in our culture. But, this type of behavior has no place where your stepchild’s other parent is concerned.

Yes, you may be justified in your statements or comment. But, the hurt that you will  cause your stepchild will not be worth the small, smug satisfaction you feel. Remember, children are connected to their parents by biology and emotional ties. A negative comment about your stepchild’s other parent can be taken by the child as an attack on their person. And you just do not want to do that. Your life and marriage will be better off if you show respect to those who ultimately make up your family.

Another reason to carefully contemplate what you say about your spouse’s ex is that children’s perceptions of life partners take shape from their perceptions of their parents. In other words, we become our parents and we marry people similar to our parents. Pointing out flaws in another parent is a surefire way to send your stepchild to seek out the same level of crazy as that other parent that you just don’t like.

Rather, be the positive influence. Be the one who tells your stepchild to love and respect ALL parental figures. Be the one who makes them feel like divorce is not tearing them apart but adding more love into their lives. And, yes, you should learn to say positive things about the other parent because at some point your stepchild will rant and throw shade at their other parent. At that moment, you can listen, support and even encourage to give their parent a little wiggle room. But, you cannot join in and start your list of why that person is a P.O.S.

Do not be a doormat

Now that you have signed on to be in a stepparent role, it can be easy or even tempting to want to do too much. You must resist this slippery slope.

Your partner, not you, should be the one primarily responsible for their child’s own rearing. You can help, of course. If you enjoy cooking, make meals with your stepchild in mind. If you like to shop, help your spouse shop for children’s clothing. But, you should not be expected to do everything for the child.

This should not be interpreted to suggest that you cannot contribute to the child’s needs. What this means is to be clear about boundaries in this regard. Remember that if the focus becomes the child and not your relationship, you do not want to end up in a position that you cannot leave the relationship because you are too invested in your stepchild. This recommendation is about self-preservation.

Do not distinguish

I learned one of the most important lessons in life in high school speech class… end with the most important point.

If you are contemplating becoming a stepparent, you must think carefully. The most important thing that you must do is ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do you currently have children? Ask yourself, am I going to distinguish or show preferences between the children I currently and the stepchild coming into my life; or
  • Do you want to have more children? Could I see myself treating a biological child differently than a stepchild ?

If the answer may in any way shape or form be yes, do yourself a favor- do not become a stepparent. Children do not deserve to be made to feel inferior. Better that you just walk away and spare that child those feelings of neglect and mistreatment.

Are you a stepparent? What other recommendations would you share about joining an already established family.

“Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of life longing for itself. They come through you but not from you. You may give them your love but not your thoughts. For they have their own thoughts.”

-Khalil Gibran

Fearless Parenting

Since my husband and I married, I have embraced the role of my family’s chief event planner. I particularly enjoy planning family vacations for my family of three. My goals for every family vacation include the following objectives:
 
  • Exploring a place that our family has never visited;
  • (On road trips) introducing my husband and son to new audiobook; and,
  • Participating in some outdoor adventure.
 
Thanks to this formula, we have enjoyed excellent vacations and created long lasting memories. We have done activities outside of our comfort zones and that is a good thing. Life requires adventure. Without it, you spend your life in a never-ending loop of wake, work, and sleep.  
 
Many think we pursue outdoor adventures for the adrenaline rush. Personally, I seek outdoor or extreme adventures because they can teach you lessons that you carry throughout life. I force myself to be adventurous. I have been canyoneering, skydiving, rock-climbing, and white-water rafting, to name a few. These adventures, have given me insight that helped me in life. The have helped me examine problems. They have helped in my growth. I hope they can guide you too.
 
Be an active participant in your own rescue 
I sat at the front of a yellow, six-person raft. A rush of water splashed from the river. I was drenched. I thanked G-d that we had opted to rent the scuba material suits; the water was freezing. And, it was moving fast, faster than it had first appeared while we stood at the side of the river waiting to checking in.
 
Our raft began to move through some intimidating rapids. Rocks jutted from the river bed, creating the white peaked waves that pushed us downriver. Then, I heard voices yelling from the rafts ahead. Nervous energy built up across all six rafts in that excursion. A young man of approximately thirteen years had fallen out of his boat. I began to feel worried. His poor mom! I tried to recall the advice given by the river guides that morning. Point your feet down river. Swim to the boat closest to you.
 
“Come on kid. Get back into a raft. Any raft.” The river guide yelled from his position in the back of our raft. “Remember, you must be an active participant in your own rescue.”
 
Years later, those words stay with me. These words have deep implications in how I move forward in life. They imply several ideas. They are so powerful and profound that I find myself from time to time, contemplating them. In fact, they are words that I instill on my stepson. 
 
First, learn to look out for and save yourself. One of the most important things we must do as adults is look out for our own safety. This means many things. It means maintain situational awareness in your day to day life. In large crowds, keep you eyes off your phone and moving around observing everything. But, it means more than looking out in the physical world. It means, that you must be aware of your circumstances. How do you do this? Ask for help when you need it. It means be your own advocate. And, it means that you do not rely on anyone without first doing what you can for yourself.
 
And, these words translate into the career world also. when situations place us in peril we must work to protect ourselves. For example, a problem arises with a work project. You must ask your employer how to correct the problem. You could go to your boss throw your hands up in the air and say “not my fault and I don’t know what to do.” But handling different could garner better results.
 
Instead, tell your employer about the problem and provide solutions. In this manner, you are being an active participating in your own rescue. Plus, you have demonstrated great skills to your employer. You have provided insight into your strategic thinking. Moreover, you have shown initiative providing solutions not only problems to your employer. You have demonstrated an ability to be coachable or trainable. This is crucial.
 
Rely on your tools & training
 
My family first learned to rock climb at a gym in Santa Fe, New Mexico. If you have never been rock climbing, know that it is hard. It requires lifting your body from the safety of the ground up onto the edge of a rock formation by a small piece of metal and some rope. Tough to wrap your mind around. But, worth it. 
For me, rock climbing helped clear my mind in a way that my many attempts at meditation have never been able to do. When I begin to ascend the side of a mountain, I cannot think of anything but the task on hand. Maybe it is because I am afraid of falling to my death. But, I prefer to think that it is because at that moment I am Zen.
 
Rock climbing has taught me that at that you have to have faith in your preparations. I learned the tools of the trade- helmet, harness, carabiners & belays plus some rope- are enough to secure your safety. But, preparations and thoughts are not enough without action. At some point, you have to get to climbing.
 
Let go & enjoy the view
 
Fifteen years ago, I decided that I wanted to experience skydiving. I have a sibling who is much more adventurous than me and he had been itching to try this adventure.
 
Skydiving is one of the more complicated of the extreme adventure activities. A beginning skydiver takes approximately eight jumps strapped to an experienced skydiver. This is a tandem jump. Thereafter, they are ready to free fall alone.
 
My brother and I were different, or so we reasoned. We could handle it the “right” way. We discovered an eight hour long class at the end of which we would do static line jumps on our own. In a static line jump, your parachute connects to the airplane. After you fall a certain number of feet, the cord connected to the plane pulls your parachute out.
 
During the eight hour class we were instructed on the mechanics of the jump. We learned on the importance of grabbing on to the wing and letting go at the right time.
 
After the training, I thought I had it all figured out. I felt ready to go. Unfortunately, once we got up and my turn came, the practice was nothing like the reality. I had no problem grabbing the wing as I had on the ground. But, I had not factored the wind speed hitting against me as the plane was flying! (I know what was I thinking.) 
 
I am a teacher’s pet by nature and want to do everything “the right way.” I wanted another chance to do it. (Truthfully? I was freaked the fuck out and I needed to wrap my head around this new information.) I sought to re-enter the plane. That was not permitted. My instructor took one look at me, shook his head no, and kicked the one foot holding me into the plane.
 
I WAS FALLING!
I was falling to the ground at such a fast speed that I could feel myself screaming but could not hear my own sounds. My nightmare scenario come to life! After five seconds, five minutes, or five hours, I cannot recall how long, my parachute finally opened. My fear dissipated. I looked around and saw the beauty of the earth without the noisy interruptions of daily life. I felt alive.
 
I have not gone skydiving since then and I probably never will again. But, I have become better at letting go both physically and emotionally thanks to that experience. I still feel the confidence of overcoming such an emotional obstacle, even if I did have to get kicked out of the plane.
 
Except for the skydiving, all outdoor adventures have included my stepson. From age six, he has participated in white water rafting and rock climbing with us. And, although not athletic or adventurous by nature, he has enjoyed the experiences. Whether he has gained as much from them as I is yet to be seen. But, I believe that my adventures have improved me. They have made me approach others differently. And in that regard, I know that his life has been impacted as well.
 
What parenting lessons have you learned from your outdoor adventures?