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.

Diluting People Power

Awww, fall. The crisp breeze reminds you to pull out your favorite sweaters. The somewhat functioning college football (I live in a Big Twelve community) tells us that people are trying to pretend all is normal. But things are not normal. Covid-19 continues to plague communities worldwide. In the US, the 2020 Presidential election took place and a winner was decided. Or was it?

Unlike past election, United Statians eagerly participated in early voting and Election Day voting. In many states we saw long lines of citizens waiting for hours to cast a ballot. The media touted this as demonstrative of passionate citizens making their voices heard. That’s plausible.

Another plausible explanation is that we were witnessing voter suppression in action. In 2013, the US Supreme Court voted to invalidate key aspects of the Voting Rights Act. This important legislation was created in 1964. Its goal was to ensure that all US citizens had access to voting. For all who may not know, this was a real problem in the post-civil war US.

AND, IT CONTINUES TO BE A PROBLEM NOW.

After the US Supreme Court announced its decision, many States went into suppression mode. Texas initiated new “voter identification laws.” These changes made less people (and yes, I am talking US citizens) eligible for voting. Other States began “redistricting” efforts. These actions diluted the power of voters in individual communities.

The sad thing is that the people who want to reduce the powers of people are now being blatant about it. Republican Kansas state senator Susan Wagle was caught on video plotting with right-wing cronies about her redistricting dreams. By redrawing maps, she endeavors to remove US House representative Sharice Davids (the lone Democrat representing Kansas) from her seat and replace her with a conservative. The Governor of Texas changed the rules about ballot boxes. He limited them to one per county. Why was that a problem? Because 41 counties in Texas are bigger than the State of Rhode Island!

These actions are wrong. They strike at the chord of what we tell the world that it means to be “American.” Overseas, we want to tout ourselves as a beacon of democracy. Stateside, elected conservatives have embraced an authoritarian regime. Overseas we want to encourage people to embrace democracy and capitalism. Stateside, federal and state governments suppress people of color, women, and young voters.

Worse than the suppression of US citizens? These actions undermine our country’s position on the world stage. These actions cause safety concerns for military men and women serving tours overseas. These actions weaken the credibility of our diplomats. They even make it harder for US citizens to travel freely outside of this country.

My hope is that 2020 will be a wake up call for all. My hope is that people will remain engaged after casting their vote. Voting for one Presidential candidate will not be enough to get our country back on track. I hope that once the election is over, people will begin the real work of democracy. The items on my agenda are as follows:

Increasing the number of political parties

I don’t have a lot of ideas about how this happens. But, I do wonder why in a country of 330 million people we only have two major political parties. This puts our country at a huge disadvantage. And, it puts the political parties in peril. Case in point, after I became a naturalized citizen, I was so excited to register as a Republican. I reasoned that thanks to a Republican (Reagan), my family and I had been the beneficiaries of amnesty. If you do not know, amnesty ensured millions of undocumented immigrants the opportunity to legalize their status in the US.

Unfortunately, the Republican party beliefs are not what I believed. I understood it to be a party of small government. Now I ask myself how that same party now pushes for government control over the bodies of 50% of its population, The party that I thought encouraged civic engagement now seeks to oppress its voters. And, I do not understand how the party of Lincoln has now become the party of white supremacists. That used to be the goal of the southern democrats. Don’t believe me? Remember that guy George Wallace, governor of Alabama who fought integration of schools? Yeah, he was a democrat.

Abolishing the electoral college

This is my most ambitious wish. The abolishment of the electoral college would require an amendment to the US constitution. But, this change would ensure that everyone’s vote counted in future Presidential elections. Currently, the vote of the people does not ensure a Presidential win. We learned this in 2001 with Bush v. Gore and were reminded of this lesson in 2016 with Clinton vs. Trump.

Putting term limits on federal representatives

This is crucial to ensure that our public servants (i.e. representatives and senators) do not cross the threshold from serving the public to becoming political conduits of lobbyists and corporations. It ensures that representatives do not get to stay in power without bringing any real results to their constituents. And, it ensures that new ideas and younger people can contribute to creating the society that they desire. After all, it is younger people who must live longer with the outcomes of policy decisions made at high levels of government.

Reducing dark money in politics

Of course, money is a problem in politics. In 2010, the US Supreme Court issued its opinion in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. This case reversed years of campaign finance restrictions. It put power in corporations and the ultra wealthy by enabling unlimited spending in elections. It further reduced the power of the federal election commission to promote and protect this country.

But it is not just the decision in Citizens United that has turned our elections into a shitshow. Media also plays a hand. CBS chairman was quoted in 2016 stating that although Donald Trump may not be good for America, he certainly is good for the ratings of TV networks, specifically his.

This is not all. In 2020, NBC chose to host a Trump town hall meeting at the same time as ABC was running a town hall meeting for Biden. ABC’s program was scheduled earlier and intended to be a Presidential debate. When Trump pulled out of the debate, NBC rewarded him with his own town hall meeting on three of their channels. Instead of giving the people of our country the opportunity to watch both and evaluate their choices, NBC chose to create a fight for ratings.

These types of actions must stop. Our country’s future requires all of our participation. It requires us to have rules in place that protect all of our people. Our country deserves more than what corporations, politicians and outside actors (like foreign governments) are trying to push us to become. It requires all of us to remember that WE THE PEOPLE must fight towards ensuring that we will all have opportunities for LIFE, LIBERTY, AND THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS.

What ideas do you have to improve our country’s political structure?

The Way We Were

When I was younger I thought so highly of myself. I thought I was the smartest fucking person in the world. I had perfect breasts and a fabulous ass. I thought I was going to be President of the World.

Now…

Well, I still think well of myself. I know I’m smart, but I don’t know everything. Okay, I know that I know very little. I still have great breasts and a decent ass. I think, maybe, I could be on city council.

As I get older, I realize that I have become a sexy Verbal Kint. I get up to start walking. My joints are stiff. I try to put one foot in front of the other. My foot turns in and a slight limp can be detected.

Toda Hodida.*

After a few steps, I begin to get my groove back. I start to switch my hips from side to side. I begin to glide. My bad-ass Kaiser Soze emerges.

Bam. Bam.

Some dangerous curves right there.

The thing is, I don’t feel that I should be getting older. I still look in the mirror and see the girl I have always seen. The girl I love. And I wonder if my husband can still see that girl too.

I worry that it may be getting harder for him to see me as I was. I worry that he will only see me as I am becoming. An older woman. I wonder if he worries about whether I see him as an aging man.

The bad news is that a successful marriage means that you will be with one person as you deteriorate and wither; in other words, age. But, the good news is that as you grow older, you may find different things that make the relationship sexier and richer. Earthier even.

But the one thing that can never change is you and your partner’s willingness to communicate. Because as long as you are both in agreement to how your relationship will be defined. You can maintain your love. By doing that you can continue to be the way you were.

*For the non-Spanish speaker, “toda hodida” is equivalent to “all fucked up.”


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