aha moments


… When you are listening to the teacher talk about Montessori philosophy, and you get goose bumps and a knot in your throat.

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I do believe I am the most fortunate person in the world.  Let me explain.

When I decided – with Mr. T’s support and encouragement – to go back to school to get a Montessori Education degree, I did some research and found out that the best school in San Diego was literally three blocks from Mr. T’s house.  The school looked unassuming, with a small classroom for adult students and a Children’s House for kids attending Primary Montessori.

I naively thought that most of my classmates would be local San Diego folks, maybe a few of them moms who wanted to get a better understanding of the method their children were being taught.  BOY WAS I WRONG!  I guess I hadn’t done my research as well as I thought, because it turns out that this is one of the best schools IN THE COUNTRY!  Let me put it this way… Our head teacher wasn’t able to attend orientation because she was representing the Association Montessori Internationale (the only Montessori association recognized worldwide) at the United Nations.  HELLO!  She’s not just any teacher…

Yesterday was the first day of class, and as people started introducing themselves, it became obvious that for many, attending this school had been an enormous sacrifice!  It turns out that I have classmates from the Ukraine, Korea, France, the Philippines, Taiwan, China and Mexico.  Add to that people from Texas, Illinois and Northern California, and we’ve got one heck of a diverse student body!

All these students have to pay for housing and transportation in one of San Diego’s most expensive areas of town, where a one-bedroom apartment rents for $1,400 a month if you’re lucky.  They left jobs, friends and families to attend this school.  Meanwhile, I get to live rent-free in a neighborhood I know very well, I walk to school, and I can continue working from home in the afternoons and on weekends.

I feel like the luckiest kid in school.

If you have a baby, or know someone who has/is about to have one, please share this information with them. There are many more links online, but this interview is short and to the point. The only thing I would add is that Thimerosal is STILL being used in vaccines today. One in 166 babies born in the U.S. develops autism. Don’t let your child, or a child you know, be a statistic.

In a couple of hours I’m off to the OB-GYN. There’s no better way to start your weekend than with a visit to the nether regions doctor, right girls?? My prediction: She’ll try to push some sort of pills on me. Because doctors always do. I still remember the look of shock on my former doctor’s face when I told him that I didn’t want to take birth control pills, thankyouverymuch.

This new doctor is a woman. I’ve never had a female OB-GYN, so it’ll be interesting to see the differences in bedside manner. My former doctor was also my mom’s doctor, and he actually brought me into the world (well, my mom did the pushing, he did the catching).

I haven’t had a check-up in three years (gasp!), so I wonder if there will be cobwebs in there! 😀

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The West magazine photo shoot went well (as far as I know, but I didn’t get to see the final pictures, so right now the photographer could be pulling out his hair and wondering how in the world he was going to fix those shots of the god-awful cooking teacher with the crooked apron and maniacal smile… And I would never know).

I realized something very important from this experience: I could NEVER become a model.

I was standing there, slicing a peach, and the photographer barked, “Now, look up and smile as if we had just entered the kitchen.” I did my best Martha Stewart ‘oh, it’s you!’ impression. “OK, now smile a little less,” the photographer suggested. I turned down the voltage, and he said, “You don’t look genuine, relax your features.” So I relaxed my features, and he said, “But now you’re not smiling.” No, but I am holding a very large knife, and I’m not afraid to use it.

“Now turn your body.” So I did, but it’s kind of hard to turn your body while you’re holding on to a big chef’s knife and a freshly cut peach, dripping with juice. “Not too much,” cried the photographer. So I turned back. “Now your apron is crooked,” cried the art director, jumping up to re-adjust it.

“Now, close your eyes for a second and open them,” called the photographer. I did, and as I was trying to focus, a huge flash exploded in my face. You know that deer-in-headlights look? Not very flattering. “Now try a relaxed pose,” he suggested. I put my hands on the table and leaned forward. “No, that’s too far forward, try something else,” he demanded. Something like what? Should I straddle the prep table? I’m a culinary teacher, not a model, for Pete’s sake!

I wonder if Tyra Banks could make a Peachy Ceviche as yummy as mine…

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When I moved to the U.S., I realized something very odd: People don’t like talking about how much money they make. In Mexico, it’s very natural to discuss your salary and compare it to those of your friends. In the U.S., however, salaries are a hush-hush topic. Sure, it’s acceptable to show off your money, but it’s not acceptable to talk about figures. Go figure.

When I was growing up, my mother never had any money of her own. My parents had a family business and all the money was ‘theirs’. She didn’t have problems with this because she managed the money and paid the bills. My dad never knew how much money was in the bank, and he didn’t care.

This arrangement followed me into my marriage, with the slight difference being that my husband controlled all the money. I had a bank account, but it had my husband’s money in it and he controlled what went in and out. I worked with him, and instead of earning a salary, he gave me a credit card that was closely monitored for ‘superfluous’ expenses each month.

I finally got myself out of this pickle when I opened my business. However, I still feel guilty when I balance my books and evaluate my net worth. I picture myself as a Gringott’s goblin, hunched over my calculator, crunching numbers and giggling gleefully as I scribble figures with a quill. I have to force the guilt aside and push those images out of my head. When I do, and I look at the financial results of three years of hard work, I am filled with so much happiness and pride!!!

Again, I know people feel uncomfortable talking about how much they make… But let’s just say that if I wanted to, I could take a year off from work! Not a bad way to end a week, huh?

So… I was getting ready to publish a “woe is me” post outlining my annoyance at my current profession, the envy I feel because all my friends are having children and I’m not, the silly arguments Mr. T and I have had in the past week, and the fact that I have a cold and it’s 90F outside.

But then a friend who runs a B&B contacted me to tell me that she had scheduled a photo shoot for me with West magazine this Friday for my cooking classes.

Me.  In West magazine.  With a published recipe.  And my contact information.

I shouldn’t stop reminding myself that when things seem to be going badly, it’s only because our energies are re-aligning themselves towards something new and better.

Now excuse me, I have to go figure out how to make and creatively plate ceviche with peaches.

I believe each person divides his or her life in “before and after” moments. As in “pre-September 11” and “post-September 11” or “pre-baby” and “post-baby”. Although I was only married for three years before I left him, I divide my life into “pre-separation” and “post-separation”.

I woke up the morning of February 13th, 2006 and crunched the numbers in my head. I had just over $2,000 in the bank, enough to cover first month’s rent and security deposit, plus groceries and gas for the month, and my part-time secretary’s wages. I glanced over at my sleeping husband, who hogged the king-sized bed with his big-boned, perspiring body. What I felt for him at that point is hard to put into words: pity, disgust, hatred, revulsion, and sadness are the adjectives that most vividly paint the picture of my despair.

Sensing my gaze upon him, he awoke. With the words “I can’t do it anymore”, I exhaled upon the house of cards we had both been holding our breaths around and brought it tumbling down.

A day later, on Valentine’s day, I lay in bed within my one-bedroom apartment. Once again I held my breath, except this time it wasn’t out of fear, but out of elation. Like a cancer patient in remission, I had been given a new lease on life, a second chance to follow my heart.

The adobe walls of my little oceanfront home have been a warm and embracing cocoon, silent witness to my emotional metamorphosis. Within them, I have taken minuscule yet life-affirming steps. I made my bed with luxurious chocolate brown sheets and a calming seafoam green bedspread, seemingly insignificant purchases which would have incited a debilitating battle of wills in my former life. I built a home office in the corner of my bedroom, headquarters of the business venture which financed my ticket out of hell. I filled my closet with clothes that reflected the new “me” – a stronger, thinner, more out-going woman who stood up straight and allowed nobody to put her down.

Next week will mark the eighteen month anniversary of the day I followed my heart. It has been a journey filled with the unconditional love of new and old friends, the roller coaster of professional challenges and triumphs, and the painstaking discovery of who I am now and who I strive to become.

I have decided to once again follow my heart, this time towards the man who so lovingly cradles it in his hands. In November, at the conclusion of the wedding season, I will be moving into Mr. T’s house, clothes, bedspread, office and all.

We were both hesitant about living “in sin”, not because of the religious implications (we’re not religious at all), but because of countless doomsday studies which have been pushed upon unwed couples. Yet, what makes more sense: getting married now, a scant sixteen months after meeting, or allowing our love to mature for another year?

Geographical boundaries have pushed us to make this decision, and I think we’re both ready. The butterfly is almost ready to emerge from her cocoon.

About half an hour after I wrote this debate-provoking post, I decided to take a walk with the pups. After twenty minutes wondering around Mr. T’s neighborhood the dogs were still rowdy, so I decided to walk around the park. Down the road, I saw a dark-skinned Mexican woman in her early sixties standing next to a newish Honda Civic, examining a flat tire. I approached her and asked in Spanish if she needed help changing it. She looked at me like I had fallen from heaven, and told me that she had no idea what to do.

As I tethered the dogs to a post, she opened the back door and helped out a beautiful blond, blue-eyed, five year-old girl. The child was complaining about having to get out of the car, and the nervous woman commanded her sternly in Spanish to be quiet. The child looked sullen and withdrawn, and I could see the sadness in her eyes. She walked over to the side of the car and sat down obediently on the sidewalk, fidgeting with a pink umbrella.

As I got all the items ready to change the tire, I tried to cheer up the little girl, whose name was Olivia. I asked her if she wanted to help me so she could learn how to change a tire, but she just glared at me and pouted silently.

“You know, Olivia,” I chided her gently, “every woman should know how to change a tire.” I thought back to when I was five years old, and how I loved hanging out in my father’s tire store, watching the men change tires with their hydraulic equipment. The smell of new tires and the whirl of hydraulic tools brings back so many memories. I silently thanked my father for teaching me how to change a tire.

As I worked, the nanny talked. “I was on my way to the park with Olivia when I felt something was wrong with the car,” she said. “I have no one to call; Olivia’s parents are both doctors, and they work very long hours. Her mother is out of the house every day by seven and doesn’t come home until after dinner. Her father sometimes works for more than 24 hours straight. As a matter of fact, he didn’t come home last night and we haven’t seen him since yesterday morning.”

“Does Olivia have a sibling?” I asked, having noticed two child seats in the back of the car.

“Yes, she has a six-year old brother” the nanny replied. “He’s with a tutor right now and we have to pick him up later.”

I looked back at Olivia, who was sitting on the sidewalk and pouting. I tried again to get her to talk. “So, Olivia, that dress you have on, is it a princess dress?” She looked down at her pink gown and nodded. “What princess is the dress from,” I asked. She frowned and didn’t answer. I forged ahead, “Is it Cinderella?” Bored shake of the head. “Sleeping beauty?” Another shake. “Uh, Princess Yasmine?” She looked at me with a dull, blank stare. I had run out of princesses and the girl was obviously not going to come out of her sullen stupor, so I turned back to changing the tire.

“A few days ago, I got lost on the road with the two kids,” the nanny continued. “I only learned how to drive a few years ago, and I’m very scared of driving on the highway. I took the wrong exit and ended up in a neighborhood I didn’t know, with no idea of how to get to where I was going. I got really scared because I had the two children with me, so I called Olivia’s dad. Do you know what he said? ‘Oh, that’s OK Marta. I’m sure you’ll figure out a way back onto the highway‘ and he hung up!” She looked over at Olivia and whispered to me, “I worry more about the kids than their parents do.”

I shook my head in disbelief and finished putting the lug-nuts back onto the tire. The nanny told Olivia to give me a hug for having changed the tire, and the child ran towards me and threw her arms around me in a very genuine gesture. When she pulled back, she still wasn’t smiling.

The dogs and I walked back home and I thought about the post I had just written and the comments I had received. We all have the privilege of choosing what we want to be in life, this is clear. Yes, women need a financial back-up plan in case things go wrong in the marriage. Yes, women can and do have satisfying professionals careers while raising a family. However, when your ambitions negatively affect the life of a child YOU chose to bring into this world, haven’t you abused this privilege?

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