Give back…And make it last

iMentor - waiting teen boy.jpg

One young man sits alone during a mentoring session — even though he didn’t yet have a mentor at this time. Which reminds me: Guys, we need you, too!

I always thought I would study engineering when I was younger. I took what today are STEM classes – chemistry, calculus and anything I could get my hands on to make a technical future possible.

Until Day 1 of engineering school orientation at Texas A&M. That’s when I learned that, unless I declared an area of specialization that day, mine would be Aeronautical Engineering.

At which point I promptly changed my major — to journalism. Never looked back.

Starting college is one thing

It took me twice as long as most people to earn just one degree, but I did eventually finish. What I wished I’d had in high school, though, was a college and career counselor.

I don’t know if this support system is any better now than 30 years ago, but why doesn’t anyone tell you to study what you’re naturally good at? I mean, I got the news from a friend of my brother who hardly knew me!

Still, even if you get into college, it’s a whole other thing to stay in. There could be a whole slew of reasons why it’s so hard, but in my case, my dad was diagnosed with terminal cancer in what would’ve been my junior year. For two years, I worked odd jobs trying to help support my mom before realizing I wasn’t going back to TAMU and that I would have to forfeit my scholarships.

Perhaps feeling a bit rebellious, I tried next to travel the world as a flight attendant, only to ground my own travel career when I realized grief wasn’t a license to run away from reality.

Thank goodness my dad left me with perseverance. It took something like five tries before I earned my bachelor’s degree  – moving from city to city, school to school, earning credits, credits not transferring, withdrawing, re-enrolling. What a wild ride. Then I got married, still with two years of school to go.

I only hope my mentee has that “counselor”

So, that was me. Now, I mentor someone else who could very well face a first-generation college student scenario like mine. The difference is, this time someone will be there to catch her and keep cheering her on.

When we meet each month during the school year, a common theme in our conversations is how life often doesn’t run in a straight line…it’s a kind of winding thing. But we keep getting up and going — right turns, wrong turns…we keep going.

And she can totally do it. She can nail university studies. Heck, she could nail law school. I mean, this girl is smart and driven, and she can do pretty much anything she wants. Well, with the proper support system around her.

Family is (almost) everything

Thank goodness her parents are constantly encouraging her to excel in school so she can continue her studies in college. But even they don’t know what to expect or how to help her prepare.

That’s where Mentor 2.0 comes in.

I’d been seeking a mentoring opportunity for years. It started when I was a student at the University of Houston, where I eventually graduated, and where I’d seen a sign recruiting tutors for high school students at a school across the highway from campus.

Since way back then, I would get on mailing lists and wait for programs to spin up, when in 2016 I finally heard about Big Brothers Big Sisters’ Mentor 2.0 program.

The big sell for me was that Mentor 2.0 specifically targets college-bound high school students who may lack the support network needed to get them to and through college.

And honestly, Mentor 2.0 is really doable for the average working person:

  • One supervised, face-to-face meeting monthly (with mentors, mentees and super-committed school faculty and BBBS staff);
  • Simple, weekly assignments to collaborate on via a secure online environment, and
  • An optional note to the mentee in between assignments, via a secure chat tool, to help them stay encouraged.

The time commitment is usually about 30 minutes a week, with once-a-month meetings at about two hours each.

Now, don’t flinch: This is a four-year commitment. I mean, we’re not stuffing envelopes, friends; we trying to affect a whole lifetime, right? That takes a little commitment. For me after just one year, the payoff has already been huge.

So glad I did it

This is seriously one of the best commitments I’ve ever made. Not only are my mentee and I well matched (similar interests, goals and personalities), but she inspires me so much and makes me want to give her all the support I didn’t know how to find myself. (Heck, she even inspired me to return to school!)

I won’t lie, though: All the “woulda, coulda, shouldas” sometimes get in my head. It sometimes takes me a little while to shake it off and remember this is not about me.

An opportunity with loads of dividends

If you’re in a position to influence a young person’s life, do it. If you live in Colorado and can do it through Mentor 2.0 I’d be more than happy to connect you to this fantastic program.

The thing is, you just never know which other lives you might be affecting besides your student’s. Because when the mentee’s life starts to change, they will start to see themselves as an agent of change in the world.

And then there’s just no stopping them.

Help them get started. Join us.

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The family ties – they just got stronger

cabello-grocery-store

It may not look like much now, but back in the 1940s and ’50s, this was one in a series of my grandfather’s grocery store locations in Corpus Christi, Texas. My very thoughtful uncle took us on a family history tour of my old hometown — by far, one of my favorite parts of our trip. This little tour deserves a post all its own.

I’ve been trying to figure out this post since before I went out of town a couple of weeks ago. My conclusion: There’s so much to cover, it might just have to be more than one post.

What started out as a long-weekend trip to the Texas coast for a genealogy conference ended up being a full-blown week of a family trip, complete with my mom and my husband and filled with visits with family old and new.

I couldn’t have asked for more (except for a few more visits with family and a couple of good friends).

My biggest takeaway: Don’t let too much time go between visits with family.

Ahp, ahp, ahp, ahp, ahp! I know what you’re thinking.

Who cares if they don’t come to you? Who cares if you do all the traveling? Go to them. It’s my broken record, but we’ve get one shot at family, so we need to make it count.

I’ve had this inner struggle so many times, even holding mini-grudges because no one wants to come see us in beautiful Colorado (whaaa?!).  It’s not really that – it’s that people are comfortable where they are and have a hard time breaking out of their routines.

In the end, though, I know I’ll regret not seeing my family when the opportunity was there to enjoy them. So basically, suck it up, Nydia. That was my lesson. Because in the end…nothing else matters.

So. About the conference.

Not exactly a Zombies convention (whew!)

It was fun to be with people of kindred spirit at the Spanish American Genealogy Association’s (SAGA) 37th Annual Texas State Hispanic Genealogical and Historical Conference (that’s a mouthful, no?).

I mean, we were all there because we were interested in our dead people. Not in a Zombie-fest kind of way, but with a real desire to honor our ancestors by learning more about them and their lives – and how we connect to them.

Many shared the interests of looking deeper into their family trees, learning about everything from:

  • the context of their ancestors’ lives through the study of history,
  • the evolution of the Spanish language in the Americas, to
  • Jewish heritage among Latinos (it’s true – I’m one of them),
  • land grant research techniques and, the big one:
  • DNA (even though there was only one DNA session – surely to grow next year).
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Pardon the big ol’ chairs photo-bombing as earrings. Wanted to show off this hand-stitched masterpiece of a blouse.

I also bought this beautiful Oaxacan blouse from a pair of really talented and inspiring women, both retired educators and administrators, who showed the audience creative ways to pass along our culture and heritage to future generations. This was one of their imports.

Belonging gives us a sense of family

It was important for me to come away with a stronger sense of belonging to a group with shared interests, so I joined Las Villas del Norte, a genealogy group with ties to northeastern Mexico and South Texas, the originating areas of my recent ancestors. Coupled with my membership in the Facebook groups Mexican Genealogy and We Are Cousins, it’s easy to say these groups feel like family. No – familia.

I also may (re)join Los Bexareños Genealogical and Historical Society after, what, a 25-year membership lapse? Based out of San Antonio, their study of the families of Coahuila, Mexico gave my research the boost it needed early on, and their research into northeastern Mexico is quite extensive.

Remember print and books and stuff?

One thing I heard at the conference is that much genealogical info can be still be found only in books and other print volumes. It may be more time-consuming in terms of research, but it could be crucial to breaking down brick walls. Duly noted.

One very cool thing I learned, in a first-time meeting: Boy, can strong family features jump lines! My mom and I met a not-too-distant cousin from her side of the family – and this very kind gentlemen looked so much like one of my brothers, it nearly floored me. Now we’re connected with a part of the family we’d never known before.

We met several other “new” relatives, too. I’ll talk more about them in another post.

It was a far more productive trip than I’d imagined – a real gift. I hope writing about it will help me sort it all out.

Have/have-not, all rolled up into one

glass-half-full

I worked a job once that I hated but that I was really good at. Ever had a job like that? It’s a very weird feeling to go to work each morning and feel it will instantly bore you, and then get a compliment for it.

In this particular job, I had developed a plan my boss really loved. So much so that he told me, “Hey, you’re really good at this stuff.” I’m sure I smirked my best smirk. Not strategic, but hey, I was in my 20s and my “filter” was far from developed. Might still be.

After I gave him that look, he pensively and disappointedly said, “You know, I honestly can’t tell if your glass is half-empty or half-full.”

Our meeting was over, and I shuffled out to my office, silently bawling my eyes out. He’d called my bluff.

Maybe it’s turning 50 (aren’t you going to welcome me to AARP?) or maybe it’s having gone through some humbling experiences in the last few years, but I really think I spent much of my earlier years dwelling on what I didn’t have, rather than on what I did have.

Today, I don’t have the fast-paced career or the bigger paycheck or the jam-packed inbox (I don’t mind this one at all), and I’m not in the middle of all the action like I used to be. Well, not at work, anyway.

But you know what I am in the middle of? I’m in the middle of my own life for a change. I have a sense of calm and peace and availability for relationships that I didn’t have when I was in the rat race. I have time for my family, especially in a pinch. I just took a trip with my mom and husband that would have seemed logistically near impossible before. Heck, before, I’d never have dreamed of taking a vacation at all.

I just wish I’d spent more time in my earlier years valuing what I had, rather than what I didn’t have. I feel like the trip we just took opened my eyes to that, giving me a new perspective on how precious life and relationships are.

I’m figuring out how I’ll recap this treasure hunt of a trip we just took, but I can give you a hint about what I’ll be writing about soon: Let’s just say I’m finally getting to know Braulio.

Glancing in the rear-view mirror

rear-view-mirror-1182330-640x480Welp.

It’s going to be a lot harder than I thought to recover my blogging rhythm, but I need to start somewhere. It’s time to admit I may not be able to research, write, polish and photo edit like I am used to doing.

But one thing I can do is share what I’m learning along this new path – the path to gratitude for full-time work again. It couldn’t be a nicer arrangement with more rewarding opportunity. I’m pretty excited to start the new gig next week.

I hate to say good things come to those who wait, but waiting can really bring about the right thing, at the right time.

I do have to say, I’m really thankful for the season leading up to this, which I was so sure was empty and purposeless. (Yeah, I know – oh ye of little faith. Don’t tell me you haven’t been there, too.)

But God planned this time for teaching me some of the most important lessons of my life. Here are a few:

  • “Stuff” doesn’t matter. People matter.
  • We can get by on much less than we think. Anything besides the basics are wants, not needs. We confuse them a lot.
  • Learning can happen in any environment. We just have to want it.
  • Family is everything.
  • Kindness: Friends, we’re going to have to try a lot harder at being kind to one another. This world and all its challenges and distractions fool us into believing we’re that different from one another to be able to love each other — when in reality, we’re so much alike. Let’s focus on that.
  • Oh. It’s not about me.

Remembering my dad(s)

dad in flight jacket

My dad, proudly donning his flight jacket. He served our country for five years in the Air Force as a flight engineer.

The things I remember most of my dad are our conversations.

One time, I can think of asking him what he would want me to be, if he could ask for anything at all.

His answer: A pilot.

Really? Me?

Then I remembered how he’d been a flight engineer in the Air Force during the Korean conflict. I remembered pictures of him in a bomber jacket.

Very long story, short: Neither of us became a pilot per se, but in Dad’s last days of life, it was clear he didn’t know yet whether his future involved staying or going.

Probably 6 weeks before we lost him, I remember him looking out his hospital window from his bed one morning and declaring, “You know, mija, if I don’t walk out of here one day, I’m at least gonna fly out of here.”

So in a way, he did finally get his wings, and he flew away from us. But just for a little while.

Dad, I will always love and miss you. You were the best dad a girl at 20 could have asked for, and a great, great friend. I am so blessed to be your daughter. Can’t wait to see you again.

P.s. There’s a great postscript to this: I married a Navy rat: he grew up with his dad away at sea 6 months out of many of his  growing up years.

So much of what I lost in my own dad, God gave me in my father-in-law, to whom I owe so much love and gratitude and honor. If I ever want a pilot story, my father-in-love’s got ’em in spades. So we got wings and a pilot! Still, I love him mostly because he is the (next-to-)greatest dad I’ve ever known.

Happy Father’s Day to my dads.

A tribute to the crazy who married me

wedding-dayIt’s my wedding anniversary today, and while it’s not a “big” one, it sure feels big to me.

I’m so blessed to have someone who has known how to be my friend, boyfriend, lover, confidant, soulmate, teacher, parent (sometimes – I’m not always an angel), reason-seeker, godly partner – for all this time. Because believe me, those roles rotate like spokes on a wheel.

It’s as they say – you really know who your friends are when you go through hard times. For all the friends I thought would “be there” during my darkest days, no one comes close to how much my husband has been there. Sometimes a silent partner, sometimes a sounding board. Always available. Always patient. Good Lord, is this man patient.

When you’re younger, it’s easy to see all the ways your partner isn’t the saint you thought they were. In fact, we idealize and idolize marriage so much, it’s hard not to feel let down when we find out we’re not married to the perfect human being.

But that smooths out over time, because all of us are more sinners than saints, and if someone’s willing to stick with us through thick and thin and all the crap we often bring upon ourselves – that is saint enough for me. In fact, it’s like the face of God to me. And I get to see it every morning.

Here’s to more mornings, weeks, months and years together. It is the biggest privilege to say that, given the choice, I would choose this man all over again.

Chip off the old block

My mom works hard. As in, she works hard at her job. And she’s 82, going on 83 (I like to talk about age like a first-grader; it’s more fun).

Not only has she worked since she was 12 (you could call it child labor, but she would probably just call it survival); she still shows up 4-5 days a week at my brother’s tennis retail store to manage his bookkeeping and vendors.

When I call my mom during the day, she’s usually at work. Being “all business” like she is, she doesn’t have much time to talk. Usually she just wants to get back to her duties.

Thinking back through my career, I was much the same way – all business. I was “in the zone” all day, every day, sometimes even on weekends. If I got a phone call between meetings, it was always brief. Or maybe it was just me who was brief. Yikes.

Anyway, it’s a few years later and I feel like I’m just now relearning how and when to draw boundaries around my family life, my marriage and other important relationships so I know what’s important outside “the zone.” Heck, even to remember that there is life outside “the zone.”

I’m also re-learning how to work.

A friend challenged me several years ago to consider that work could actually look different than the traditional 9-to-5 workday. I’d wanted that for years.

Still, I couldn’t get my head around it for me. In fact, it’s taken until now to get the picture. Honestly, I’m surprised I like it. I had no idea I could be that stuck in old ways.

Why did I fight it for so long? I love teams and collaboration, and it has been hard to be alone this much. But the truth is, you can be around people as much or as little as you want when you work on your own. I need to get with that program, too.

Work ethic vs. family: A both/and decision

It’s great to see my parents’ work ethic in myself, especially now, without the distortion I added for so many years.

Going forward, I want to value my own life and my family’s as much as I can — not to mention the limited time we have together, never to be taken for granted.

While working hard is something I love to do, it’s also a means to an end. It’s what allows me the freedom to enjoy the many beautiful relationships in my life. And for that I have a newfound, heartfelt gratitude.