My beautiful niece


My beautiful niece

Photo by: Chelsea Montes de Oca

We’re fools whether we dance or not, so we might as well dance.

My three year old niece Kinsley and I went to the zoo one day. In her bag, I had all the necessary equipment. Juice in case she got thirsty. Crackers in case she became hungry. Even a jacket for if the reliable Florida heat decided to take a day off. Spoiler alert: no such luck. It was a lovely 90 degrees with humidity that day and a perfect day to run around in the elaborate sprinkler playground. After a day of observing exotic animals and being guilt tripped into buying more stuffed animals than I could afford, the clock chimed cool off o’clock. It was around this time I discovered that Kinsley’s bathing suit was nowhere to be found. In that instant, I watched her turn from a glowing child to a sprinkler system herself. She began exclaiming, “I want to go!” several times. This became the response originating from the mere discovery of her lack of bathing suit. I had yet to even mention that she could not run freely in spite of this fact. Admittedly, this thought crossed my mind. I could not send a soaking wet child home to her mom and expect to be considered a responsible adult. However, I watched my niece cry and saw how pointless her tears were. I carried her sobbing self out to the playground and ran around with her in my arms. Despite the strange looks from the parents, we stayed soaking our only clothes and laughing without a care in the world. After both our short attention spans had enough, we walked back to my car with our saturated footprints becoming fainter on every step.

I discovered two things from this event. First, those stares were meant not for Kinsley but for me. I could almost see the speech bubbles that exhumed from their heads. They were judging me. The theory of me being considered a full grown adult could be debated by my loved ones but the widely accepted fact is that I am over 18 years of age. Therefore, whether I like it or not, I am an adult. A grown adult does not run around in a playground of plastic animals spraying water. When we were babies, shame didn’t exist. We cried when we were in pain. We laughed when something was funny. We screamed when we were excited. Nobody stopped us. There was no reason. However, the older we got the more the world seemed to want to regulate our emotions. You only cry in privacy or laugh at the right time. Excited reactions instinctually became uncomfortable for others around you and warranted apologies. Eventually, making others comfortable became more important than our own comfort. Then that warped sense of discomfort became our norm. The second thing I discovered is that my niece had begun her inevitable track down this path. Obviously she was still in the stage where crying in public was no care. However, something inside her said without a bathing suit, she could not get wet. At this point in her life, she had begun to self-regulate. If she was a baby, she would have run straight towards those sprinklers without a thought. As adults, we may have casually laughed or we may have scolded her. Maybe it is these reactions that shape our children’s perceptions of the world and who they should be in it.

This is not me saying that we should wander around not caring about how our actions affect people. Howard Thurman said, “I want to be me without making it difficult for you to be you”. If the world lived by this motto, we may see the common problems that plague humanity decrease. My point though, is why the fuck do we care so much about what other people think? Who decided that in order to live amongst each other we had to act a certain way and cater to only one perception of reality? It is a known fact that humans spend one third of their lives sleeping. No scientist has done a study on how much of our lives we spend caring about what other people think. I tend to believe that if they did, it would be far too much. Life is too short to create diseases within ourselves trying to be someone that common society “accepts”. Life is too serious to not have fun when the opportunity arises. So follow your passion, even if it won’t make you money. Dance, even when people are watching. Run around in the rain, even if you don’t have the proper attire. Because the only way that any of us are truly “fine” is if we are living in a way that is compatible to whom we are. Otherwise, we spend our lives entrenched in an existence fueled by fabricated insecurities.

The Biggest Risk You’ve Ever Taken



The Biggest Risk You’ve Ever Taken

It was supposed to be another Friday City Year meeting. I dragged myself into the conference room with my coffee in hand and greeted my fellow social media team members. To warm up, each person was asked to share the biggest risk they had ever taken. I began to think about what mine would be. Was it falling in love? No. Was it swimming with sharks? No. Was it running that police grade obstacle course that one time without stretching first? Well…maybe. Then I thought back to before I started City Year and the trail of events that got me all the way to this meeting. I remembered how excited I was to get my acceptance call. I remembered how heartbroken I was to leave all my friends and family. I remembered how petrified I was to pack only what would fit in my car and drive cross country from Florida to Colorado. Most of all, I remembered how lonely I initially felt upon arriving to Denver. Joining City Year, that was my biggest risk.

It was a risk because I had never had a job like this before. In fact, my past experience was in food service and photography. I certainly had never worked in a 6th grade English class. I felt my inexperience with children would be a downfall. However, my inexperience has never been seen as that by them. It translated into genuineness. My students are learning many things as they go and I am learning right there alongside them. They know I care and as a result, I have become a fast confidant for them. The relationships I have built provide essential daily victories. One day, as a part of a compliment activity I received a note exclaiming “You are fun and outgoing. I admire you”. Recently, my most notoriously withdrawn student raised his hand to almost every question asked in class. One of my focus list students not only wants to do good work but always seeks me out to show me how well he did. Every day, I encounter a moment that makes me appreciate the risk I took. With the end of the first half of the year coming to a close, there is still so much more to be done. But I am confident the foundation I have built will lead me to a successful second half of the year.

The second part to this warm up was for everyone to state the happiest they have ever been. Thoughts circulated in my head as I pondered what it meant for me to be truly happy. As my turn approached, I found my answer: the present. The happiest I have ever been was realizing that the biggest risk I’ve ever taken was also the best decision I’ve ever made.