Ma

By: Gabriela Yareliz

Reading Ashley Graham’s memoir made it clear to me that her mom was a critical part of not only her life, but also her success. If I were to write a book on my life, I know my mom would very much be in the dead center of my story.

My mom is the bravest and strongest person I know. She defied all odds and grew up in poverty in a small Caribbean mountain town, raised by her grandmother. It was a tough and strict upbringing, filled with family, dramatic dynamics and a lot of choices to be made.

At every turning point or fork in the road, it’s like she always made the best choice, even if it was tough or the most inconvenient in the moment. She thought ahead. She was wise. She made a lot of sacrifices along the way; always working hard and with integrity, leaping forward.

If I were to tell you her story in detail, you might agree with me that her childhood alone would have been enough for her to be traumatized. Poverty, broken families, lacking basic things we today take for granted, leave children with wounds. And while it may have left a mark on her, it left scars because she healed.

Sometimes, she would share stories with us about her childhood, and they were just so sad. She would tell it normally (often with no complaints), and we (the listeners) would all have somber faces, blinking back tears.

But my mom wasn’t a child left wounded to bleed out by her past. Instead, I see her as a strong, thin, tan little girl with big dark brown eyes that look black (like my own– who do you think I got them from?). I see her sitting at the top of a long flight of concrete stairs, missing a railing, on a warm summer night in Puerto Rico, looking at the stars, trusting a God she could not see. I see a girl who would sing, and sneak away to bathe in the river with long tangled hair. I see a young woman who would miss class to take care of her baby cousins, showering them with the love she might not have received, even though she more than deserved it.

That young woman finished at the top of her class, and she went to college. She married her best friend and high school sweetheart and took a risk to have the adventure of a lifetime. She moved to a country where she didn’t know the language or dynamics. She sat for hours writing notes in phonetics and then looking up terms in her textbooks. She learned the language, she graduated and became a young professional, and she had me.

I came to her classes with her and would be sprawled out on a blanket playing or napping while she did study groups. We became best friends.

Her character is a piece of our tough but loving grandmother, a piece of our sweet and faith-filled aunt and a piece of that little girl who would bathe in the overflowing river.

She is like an anchor. Her presence is felt, and it keeps you safe. She cares a lot about what really matters. She is the most un-materialistic person I know. She still appreciates a good sunset or star-filled sky. When she is excited, her eyes light up, and she squeals with delight. You can hear her from far away. She still sings and takes incredible risks for those she loves.

She is the most amazing listener, and she is so patient. She never turns me away. She always stays.

My mom raised me and my two brothers, by herself. And if there was anyone who saw her sacrifices and heart, it was me.

Thank you, ma, for your love, your inspiration, your faith and for your selflessness. Without you, I am not sure where we would be– where I would be. Thank you for being my friend and for teaching me the most important things in life. Thank you for always directing my gaze to God, first. In your love, I have seen His hand in my life. Your love literally saved me. My life could have been so different, but God gave me you.

Happy Mother’s Day. For us it’s every day. Thank you for letting me learn from you and for letting me be your partner in so many things, throughout the years. You are an amazing woman, and those of us who know you are blessed.

You are always my best friend. We have weathered many storms together. And lucky me, because when I look in the mirror, I catch a glimpse of that little girl in Jayuya, looking up at the stars, knowing God was watching over her. It’s an honor and gift to be a part of you.

New Balance

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By: Gabriela Yareliz

Let’s call this the year of finding balance. Let’s. Or maybe, the year I learned that every year is a year of finding balance.

I am realizing (as naive as it may sound), that each year brings its own unique set of scales. Balance looks different as life continues to pass us by. Some years are more calm, uneventful and routine-filled than others; while other years are action-packed, filled with travel and an emotional roller coaster thrown in. Maybe, there is no “normal” year.

Also, take this from the woman who burst into tears this week because she couldn’t help it and had to sit in a chair getting her blood drawn for five minutes– our bodies are constantly changing. As we are aging, our bodies are adjusting and blossoming. They react differently to different things. My skin is different than it was five months ago; both hair and skin look better (praise God); my body is fuller and even the way I do my makeup is changing.

My doctor probably thinks I am insane. I was telling her today:

Me: “Is it normal to feel fuller, you know, like my bra feels too tight and–” (this was my second round in this discourse)

Doctor G: “It’s normal, my dear. That happens, so relax.” (In a sweet Russian accent)

Me: “But I have never felt that way…”

Doctor G: “It’s still normal.” *puts her hands on my shoulders* “My dear, your body is always changing, and that is okay. Now, if it’s something dramatic and abnormal in the skin or you feel significantly bad, then we need to talk. You are healthy and normal. I will give you my cell phone number in case you freak out later and need reassurance.”

I am not going to abuse my darling doctor’s number, but she is so sweet. Sometimes, people do sweet things that make all the difference. I am normal and healthy. And not only that, but I am changing. *gasp*

I guess there are periods of normalcy, but then, there are new normals we need to get used to.

In efforts to recalibrate my balance and scales, I am going to a stricter screening of what I am eating during the day between my homemade breakfasts and lunches (which are plant-based). Still, you’d be surprised how much refined stuff I sneak in (which later affects my hormones, my moods, my skin, and my digestive track).

I am going to be eating even more cleaner foods (especially watching my sugar and dairy intake); I am going to exercise more than the muscle toning I have been doing; and I am going to add some probiotics to my diet.

I think more than anything, I want to feel good. I am proud of the strides I have taken to gain weight and be faithful in my vitamin and supplement intake. Baby steps.

Why am I talking about something so personal, you may ask? Because, as I wrote about before, there is so much stuff people feel alone in because others don’t talk about it. Health and body topics, especially, seem to be taboos–

Have you noticed any changes in your body? Celebrate the good changes; let the bad changes guide your future choices. Take a minute and look at what is on your “scales.” What needs to be balanced? What is your new normal?

We are always changing. Medical and health stuff has always instilled a bit of fear into me. Life is sacred. Maybe, we are all a little bit afraid. And instead of being fearful, I want to take more control over some of the things I am not liking. I am going to control them with my diet and exercise.

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[A snap from my most recent escapade to Eataly, Downtown Manhattan]

Because in the end, rather than eating or indulging a bit in things whose consequences drastically outweigh the delight (like cheese); I would rather just skip the torture, and replace it with something that makes me feel great, radiant, empowered and sexy.

I am finding my new balance.