I am so envious of people who found their calling when they were younger and were nurtured to develop that skill set by their parents, teachers, or community.
Allow me to explain, I grew up in a chaotic household. I don’t mean chaotic in the sense that it was overcrowded and so many things were going on–no, I almost wish that’s what I meant. You see, I was raised by traumatized and abused parents who also traumatized and abused my siblings and me. My home was full of raging emotions and unresolved trauma, which made for energetically chaotic fights and arguments. Everything felt intense for me.
Yes, there were extreme lows, but there were also extreme highs, and I mostly felt safe at home. I respected my parents, even though sometimes they had little respect for me, my boundaries, and my interests. They pushed me to be the hardworking person I am and molded me into the badass bruja bitch I am today. In retrospect, they did exactly what their parents did, raised kids that could survive in a world built to swallow them whole.
There was little room for big dreams when my mom and dad had my older sister at 18. They were poor, Mexican, and ignorantly blind to the harsh realities of raising children while young, even though they witnessed their parents struggle in the same systems. They thought they would be different; maybe they would break this vicious cycle of abuse brought on by sexism, classism, and racism. Maybe they would have a happily ever after together, unlike their parents. Maybe they could live the American Dream.
But the American Dream was for white people, not my Mexican parents. And the ugly reality of raising children, buying a house, working a 9-5 with no college education really damned whatever love they cultivated when they were teenagers. As they become parents and working-class people, they fell apart as individuals and then as a family.
There was little room for big dreams for my young parents after they had children. No one asked them about their hobbies, interests, or dreams after they had children. Hobbies and interests are for people with free time, and my parents had very little free time outside of working, raising their kids, and spending time with extended family. Once they became parents, their inner children were obsolete. They had to grow up fast. Who was going to take care of them now? Who would ask them what they wanted to be when they grew up?
One of my first assignments in preschool was a coloring assignment. We were instructed to color in these stars and write some things about our family. I’m a doer, so I thought I would complete this assignment independently. But when it was time for me to do it, my mom had already done it. She outlined each star with a different color and shaded them neatly with the same color. It was the most beautiful coloring job I had ever seen. But I was upset. My mom did my homework for me. But I realized then that she, too, liked to color and was a creative person. It made me sad that I had not known this thing about her before that moment.
My parents raised me like they wished they were raised. Traumatized, but with nice things–American things. We were Americanized to reap the benefits of being an American citizen: free public school, college education, sports, good jobs, etc. They wanted us to go far–farther than they ever dreamed of, but not one of us knew how to do that. They did their best to send me to war without ever preparing me for battle.
Excuse the dark metaphor, but that’s how it feels. My parents were operating in survival mode for so long that we thought it normal. After all, they raised me to get this far; how hard can it be on the other side?
When I finally got to community college, I realized how woefully underprepared I was for life in academia and the real world. I spent my entire school life focused on getting good grades so I could stay in drillteam/cheer, but I don’t think I absorbed anything from school besides learning to be obedient. I’m neurodivergent, so some subjects came very easy to me, but most of grade school was a blur.
Looking back, I can only posit that I was too busy trying to survive at home that I only retained the information I needed to get the grades I needed to get out of high school and into college. For me, that was my only ticket out of my house. A far, far away university was my only dream.
One of the ways I coped with my chaotic home was by reading and writing. I read several poetry books, books on spirituality, books about witches, and romance books. I also kept several diaries and wrote several poems and stories on my beige and bulky desktop computer. I started actually sharing my poems when I was 13 and wrote one of my favorite poems ever when I was 16 years old. My mom really liked my poetry. I think it’s because those were her books I always read. She was the one interested in poetry, reading, and spirituality. I was just picking up whatever she put down.
My mom didn’t like my speculative fiction writing. It was loosely based on my true life, and I don’t think she liked to read what I felt because it was gut-wrenching. Back then, I didn’t know that’s why she didn’t like to read my work. I just wanted her approval. But I never got it. I accepted that I was better at poetry and not so good at writing fiction. I accepted I was a mediocre writer–unimaginative and basic.
I wish I could go back in time and tell myself that it’s okay my mom thinks that. I wish I could go back and tell myself to keep writing anyway because no one’s mom is going to like what they write, especially when it’s about the pain they caused. I wish I could go back and tell myself that those stories mattered then because they still matter now.
But I decided that writing would not be a career option because I wanted to make money, not be like my parents, living paycheck to paycheck. So I decided my second best option was to open a business. It was as clear as day to me. As a 16-year-old walking down the quaint streets of San Pedro, I saw no better life for myself than opening a small business I could run independently. This was what I wanted to do for money.
So I chose business as a major. Because that makes sense, right? I had to talk to my college counselor and get their approval before finalizing this decision because I was only 16. After sharing my dreams of opening a business, he said to me, “Anyone can open a business. You don’t need a specific degree for that. You can hire people with degrees to do those jobs.” And 16-year-old me was like, dope! Say less. And then he asked, “What do you really want to study?”
The answer was Journalism. But I lacked the confidence I needed to pass my last Journalism class. We had an assignment where we had to interview local news journalists, and I panicked and dropped the class. I was afraid of stepping outside of my comfort zone. I just wanted to write a magazine column like Carrie Bradshaw. I didn’t want to ask strangers questions.
Psychology came naturally to me, so I chose what was easy. I became a psychology major, and no one argued with that. I would go on to plan to be a school psychologist or an MFT. But none of this would make me happy. All of this would help me unpack my childhood and help my family break intergenerational cycles, but it would lead me right back here–to writing.
I often go back to that day when I shared the first chapter of a speculative fiction about two star-crossed lovers with my mother. She said it was mediocre. I was fifteen years old. Of course, it was mediocre. It was a rough draft, and it was based on my love life. She didn’t want to read it. That interaction wasn’t about my writing style. It was about the content. It was that it served as a mirror–one she didn’t want to look through.
I know now that piece of writing served its purpose. Good writing makes you feel something. I made my mom feel something that day which wasn’t mediocre. It was hypocrisy, and she didn’t like that, so she attacked my writing entirely.
So, I retreated. I backed down. I became everything but a writer. A mentor, a host, an event planner, a store manager, a retail professional, a copywriter, a blogger, and a youth development professional.
I still have trouble calling myself a writer because is that who I am, or just who I’ve always wanted to be? I still wish my mom had nurtured that side of me so I am not so conflicted about which ways to go and where I belong. I wish I had known for sure before that I was a writer so I could stand confidently in my passion. So that I could one day publish my speculative fiction and fantasy stories. So that others can see themselves in my stories. I wish my loved ones believed in me the way my English teachers believed in me.
My mom holds a Bachelor’s degree in English Literature now. She went back to school after I went to college. It was one of the best things she did for herself, and I am so proud of her. But this just means the standards for what she considers an excellent writer has risen, and I may never rise to meet the occasion. I used to worry about it, but now I do not. She could teach me a lot now if I am open to it.
I wish she could have nurtured my writing when I was a teen, but I understand why she didn’t. Where we come from, telling fiction stories doesn’t pay the bills. Now that we are on the other side, we see how important it is to keep these fiction stories alive.
And maybe that’s how my story was supposed to play out anyway. It was always supposed to be this way: Mom goes back to school later and mentors her daughter to be a proper writer, healing mom’s and daughter’s inner child.