Turbulent Times

Turbulent Times

Hey there, I'm Noelia. Welcome to my blog!

I'm a young mom juggling a career, family and grad school. As you can imagine, sometimes things can get a little crazy (but I love it!). I'll be using my blog to share stories about navigating my way through these turbulent times. I hope this can become a safe space to connect with people about issues that matter to me. Please follow, share my stories and feel inspired (hopefully)!

Hope you enjoy!

Copyright © 2013 Noelia Rodriguez. All rights reserved.
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This past weekend I had the opportunity to be part of LATISM13. LATISM, which stands for Latinos in Tech Innovation and Social Media, is a nonprofit organization founded in 2009 with the mission to advance the social, civic and economic status of the Latino community. Since I recently started blogging and am still relatively new to social media, when I first heard of the conference I was reluctant to attend. I was sure it would be a reunion of seasoned bloggers and was truly afraid of feeling out of place. Luckily, my good friend Diana convinced me that it would be a great opportunity. I’m glad I listened; LATISM13 turned out to be an absolutely rewarding experience!

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photo courtesy of Mi Caminar

Growing up I wasn’t exposed to many professional Latinos. I was one of the first in my family to graduate from college. College itself wasn’t very diverse and now, even though the work I do directly benefits the Latino community, I feel like I have very few opportunities to cross paths with Latino professionals. It wasn’t until after LATISM13 that I realized how important this really is. There’s something extremely empowering about seeing people like me achieve great things. It was especially important for me to learn about the humble beginnings of many of the panelists. Hearing how they overcame adversity to become leaders in our community made me feel like there is very little I cannot achieve.

Most importantly, however, was the sense of community that permeated the rooms and halls of the Waldorf Astoria throughout the conference. Bloggers big and small, old and new spent three days sharing and learning from each other. Instead of feeling out of place, I felt like I was at a family reunion. I made new friends, expanded my network and received great advice on everything from how to raise my kids bilingual to how to use social media platforms to advance social good.

LATISM 13 wasn’t just a chance for bloggers to catch up or meet in person, it was an opportunity for a group of leaders with a common goal (advancing the socio-economic status of our people) to join forces. LATISM13 was a call to action for all Latinos with a voice; everyone from coders to fashion editors. I left the Waldorf Astoria on Saturday determined to make a difference; to use my voice to speak up for all those in our community who are not being heard!

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photo courtesy of www.sheknows.com

Gabriel, the eldest of my two boys, started Kindergarten this year at a charter school near our home.  Like many other charter schools, Gabriel’s school sends home a “daily snapshot,” where they grade students on attendance, homework completion and behavior throughout the day. During his first few days of school, Gabriel scored the highest possible score on everything but behavior. It wasn’t that he was misbehaving; he just wasn’t doing his absolute best. So, I sat him down and asked: What can you do differently to improve your score? In essence, it was the first time he was ever graded on anything (at least to his knowledge), and I didn’t expect him to comprehend what it truly meant. Gabriel quickly answered: “Oh! I know. Don’t worry mommy, tomorrow I’ll get a better score.” Of course, he didn’t tell me exactly how he would improve his score but instead asked for an incentive. If he scored the highest mark on everything for the rest of the week I finally had to take him to that magical place he sees advertised on T.V., Chuck E. Cheese!

As much as I hated the idea, I agreed. Gabriel came through on his part so that meant that I had to keep my promise. The truth is, my dad had already promised Gabriel that he would take him to Chuck E. Cheese but had not kept his word (a totally different post coming on that topic). I spoke with my dad, told him about Gabriel’s new accomplishment and convinced him to come along with us.

On our way to Chuck E. Cheese, we passed a cemetery. Gabriel said to me, “what is that?” For some reason, I didn’t think twice, I responded: “It’s a cemetery; it’s where people live after they die.” That prompted a conversation about death:

Gabriel: That’s a lot of people, how did they all die?

Me: Well, everyone dies. One day we will die too.

Gabriel: Oh no! Not us! We won’t die.

Me: Yes, Gabriel. See, we all start off as babies, then we become big girls or boys like you, then we become adults like mommy and daddy, then we get old like Mama Inove and Papa Fermin (I put that in there to make fun of my parents who were in the car), then we get really old like Papa Raul (my grandpa who is turning 96 soon). Then we die.  Some people also die because they are really sick.

Nicolas, my younger son, chimed in at this point:

Nicolas: And then we become zombies.

Me: No, Nico. Zombies only exist in movies.

Gabriel: So, what happens to us after we die?

Me: Well, our bodies are put under ground, in the cemetery, and our soul goes to live in the sky with Papa Dios.

Gabriel took a minute to process what I was saying and then continued:

Gabriel: So Papa Dios comes to take us to live with him?

Me: Yes.

Gabriel: Wow, that’s a really long trip!

At that point we all laughed.

Honestly, I never expected that a trip to Chuck E. Cheese would turn into a lesson about death. Although Gabriel is only five years old, I think he is old enough to understand the concept of death. I’m also glad that I didn’t have to wait to have this conversation with him after the loss of a loved one.

Have you talked to your kids about death? Share your stories in the comments section below.

When people say that having children will change your life forever, they’re right. Becoming a parent will affect every decision you will make for the rest of your life. As parents, the outcomes of our choices, small and large, have the potential of having a lasting effect on the lives of our children. There’s a very important choice we make every day that many parents trivialize, the nutrition of our kids.  Each and every thing we feed our kids affects their health and the future dietary choices they will make as adults.

Ever since I became a mother I have been more cautious of the food I consume and feed my children. One of the many dietary decisions I’ve made was to avoid food containing high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). Despite what the food industry tries so hard to make us believe, there’s nothing good or nutritious about HFCS. It is a highly processed sweetener made of corn and, because it is so inexpensive to produce, it has become a staple in American foods. HFCS can be found in anything from bread to yogurt and has been linked to the rising rates of obesity in the U.S.

The hardest part of a HFCS free diet for me has been accessibility to good food. Until recently, my local grocery stores and supermarkets had very few healthy food options available for purchase. Thanks to gentrification, access to quality food in my neighborhood has improved immensely in the last few years. However, things are still far from ideal. As a result, I’m left to  purchasing groceries in Manhattan and carrying them home through a 40 minute ride on a packed L train.

I’ll admit, when I first heard of LadydeeLG’s No High Fructose Corn Syrup Challenge, I thought it would be easy; heck it was something I already did on a daily basis. That was until I decided to make my kids pancakes and realized we were out of syrup. Who has pancakes without syrup? Here’s the problem: the only type of syrup for sale at my local grocery stores is Aunt Jemima. Guess what’s the main ingredient in Aunt Jemima’s pancake syrup? You’re right, HFCS. I love my kids and I care about their health so I had no other choice than to walk half a mile to the closest supermarket to buy maple syrup!

image Photo Credit: The Cupcake Criminal

Despite the difficulties, at the end of the day, I truly believe raising my kids HFCS free is worth the effort. If you don’t already avoid HFCS I seriously encourage you to do so!

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Just a few weeks before giving birth to Nicolas, the younger of my two boys, I received an email from an old friend. My friend had seen me walking near my home and was surprised to see that I was expecting again. This friend has a daughter close in age to Gabriel, my first son, and was contemplating the idea of having a second child. She wondered:  what made me decide to have more children?  Of course, I had all the intentions of answering her question but with all the preparations for Nicolas’ arrival I never had a chance. Nicolas is now three years old and, although it would be silly to reply to her email at this point, I thought this would be a great opportunity to share my thoughts and experiences on having multiple children.

The reality is: I didn’t plan either of my pregnancies. This was especially evident in my awful timing; I became pregnant with Gabriel two years into college and with Nicolas only one month after starting a new job.  I love my husband and, although I never had a doubt that we would have children sometime down the road, I would have never planned to have kids at such an early age. I’m ambitious, hardworking and determined to succeed.  As you can imagine, my first reaction to being pregnant was a sense of utter failure. I couldn’t comprehend how I had been so stupid. How I had potentially ruined everything I had worked so hard to achieve. Now, in retrospect, I’m happy things happened the way they did. Being a young mother hasn’t become an obstacle to achieving success; it is simply a detour on my path there. What I once considered a sign of failure has transformed into a true blessing. My children are the motor of my life. They are the reason I work so hard to be a greater person every single day.

I honestly believe that there is no job more difficult than being a mother but I love my children. Yes, it’s hard but it isn’t impossible. Being so young, so full of energy and drive, is what helps me juggle all the things in my life. I may not be a law school graduate as I envisioned myself at this age, but that does not mean that I can’t ever be one. Heck, I will be 39 years old when Gabriel starts college. I’m doing everything possible to advance my career as far as I can now, but I know I’ll have plenty of time to achieve greatness when my kids are older.

Now, back to the point, although I didn’t plan my pregnancies, having two kids has taught me a lot of things. If you are thinking about starting a family or expanding your current one, here are some things to consider:

  1. Having two kids is a million times harder than having one; I can only imagine what three must be like! Before Nicolas, I had plenty of time to devote only to Gabriel; to play games, do fun educational activities, go to the park and toddler classes. Now that my limited time is split in two, all of those things are harder to do. I always end up feeling like one kid gets the shorter end of the stick (that’s usually poor Nico – he still doesn’t know his colors).
  2. Children are expensive…a lot more expensive than you think! We live in New York City where everything costs an arm and a leg, but the cost of child care has to be near the top of the list. There’s a shortage of preschool options and the good ones are more difficult to get into and can cost more than college. If you care about who will nurture your children through the most important years of their lives, chances are you do, this is something to think about.
  3. Try to strike the right balance in terms of the difference in ages. From my experience, the magic number might be four. They’re close enough in age to be friends but far enough to not be such a physical and emotional strain on you. Also, it  will buy you just the right amount of time to get through the most important milestones (preschool, kindergarten, high school and college).  My kids are only two years apart and the hardest thing for me was caring for a small toddler while also trying to care for myself and the baby I was carrying.
  4. Parenting can be a strain on your marriage/relationship. Stress will bring the ugly out of anyone. It’s important to be on the same page about what you want before you start having kids but don’t be naïve. There is no way to foresee every decision you will have to make and definitely no way to know which decisions are the right ones. The important thing is to remember you’re a team. Help each other out, back each other up and remember it will get better. (IT WILL, TRUST ME!)

Don’t know whether to have one or more kids? It’s a really difficult and personal question. It depends on so many things. For me it was an easy decision. I come from a large Dominican family. I have two siblings and, although I sometimes want to wring their necks, I love them to death. I always knew that I wanted to have more than one child. Still not sold? Ask yourself this: Is it fair to give your child the burden of caring for you all on their own?

A few weeks ago I read an article about Michelle Obama’s reaction to a heckler at a fundraiser that gave me flashbacks to an experience I had this past semester in school. In response to what she considered a blatant act of disrespect, the First Lady descended from the podium where she was giving her speech and confronted the heckler, gay rights activist Ellen Sturtz, face-to-face. Sturtz later stated that she was “taken aback” by the First Lady’s reaction, as if implying that Michelle Obama had somehow been overly aggressive.  In her article, Rankin argues that by labeling the First Lady the “Angry Black Woman” Sturtz “invalidated any response, no matter how justified or rational it may [have been].”

When I read the article, the first thing that came to mind was an encounter I recently had with a professor at school. The professor was invited to my class to speak about New York City’s controversial “Stop and Frisk” program from the perspective of a performance measurement expert. As I expected, not very long into his presentation, race became the subject of discussion. The professor pointed out that the neighborhoods with the highest incidences of crime were inhabited by predominantly black and Latino low-income New Yorkers. According to him, if black and Latino young men were statistically committing more crimes, it was only fair that they represented a larger share of the stops being carried out by police. I have lived in Bushwick, a predominantly black and Latino low-income neighborhood on the border of Brooklyn and Queens, my entire life. I went to class that day prepared to share my perspective; this time not as graduate student that had read the assigned reading, but as a person who has witnessed the true effect of proactive policing in poor neighborhoods like mine. But, like Michelle Obama, I soon realized that it was inevitable to be seen as the “Angry Latina.”

From the readings, I knew of the professor’s position in support of “Stop and Frisk.” In the days before class I rehearsed what I thought I would say to him over and over in my head. I would start by saying that I came from a neighborhood like what he described and that I knew that the reality was very different from what he envisioned. That “Stop and Frisk” is not carried out the way its proponents claim. People aren’t “stopped” as they hop fences or turnstiles. You don’t have to wear a hoodie, or even baggy pants to be considered “suspicious.” In fact, you don’t have to do anything other than look black or Latino. I wanted to talk about the humiliation you feel as your neighbors watch you being pinned on the wall or the sidewalk on your way to the bodega to buy your baby milk.  Or the feeling you get in your gut when you see a police car nearby; not because you’ve done anything wrong, but because you know that in the end it won’t really matter.

When I heard the professor make racially charged statements like make Asian friends because they statistically commit less crimes or that the black and Latino community needs to stop complaining about Stop and Frisk because we have been the ones to benefit most from the program, my emotions took a hold of me and everything I had rehearsed went out the window. I raised my hand and tried to say the things I had planned, but all I could do was cry. I cried because I was angry. But, to him, my anger meant that I was emotionally invested in the subject; my anger meant that everything I had to say was invalid. His response to me was that he was sorry that the issue affected ME personally. At that point I didn’t bother fighting because I knew that my words weren’t being heard.

Between undergrad and graduate school I have been at NYU for almost 8 years, and although I am accustomed to being one of very few people of color in the room, it was the first time that I had to face such overt racism. I thought for over a week about what I could have done differently. Although I received an outpour of support from my classmates who truly appreciated my courage and honesty, I really wish I hadn’t cried because for that professor I am just another Angry Latina.  

 

Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

I’ve been thinking about blogging for a long time now but have been putting it off for many reasons. First, I wasn’t sure what I’d write about. I have an interest in so many different things that I struggled to pick just one topic. I soon came to the realization that people blog about just about anything; I didn’t have to force myself to choose. I decided I’d just start writing and then figure out what I felt most passionate about. Next, it was a question of when I’d find the time. I’m married with two kids, work full time and go to school part-time (plus all the other projects I just keep signing myself up for). I barely have time to breathe some days, let alone write down my thoughts. I told myself I’d make the time if it was truly something I enjoyed but I say that about exercise too and that isn’t working out very well! Since I won’t be taking summer classes (thanks Diana for talking me out of that one!), I decided I’d force myself to start blogging this summer.

Lately, however, the issue has been finding the courage to actually write! I like to think that I’m a strong, opinionated woman that doesn’t really care much about other people’s opinions of me. But, the reality is that I have a deathly fear of making a fool of myself. Public speaking makes me feel on the verge of a heart attack! What scares me most about blogging is that everything is so public! You are putting your thoughts out there for the rest of the world to see (assuming someone is actually reading lol).

I’ve decided that, like anything else worth doing in life, I can’t let fear stand in my way. I’ll just put it all out there and hope for the best.  Bear with me!    

A kite rises highest not with the wind but against it.
Winston Churchill