Welcome to my tears, soul, and pride. In order to share my story of dreaming, I must first share my story of a lack of dreaming.
I can tell the difference between the sirens of a police car and a fire truck. I grew up on the Upper West Side of Manhattan and while the ring of the words, “Upper West Side” makes people think of a posh New York City lifestyle, my upbringing was anything but.
I’m one of 5 children and the proud product of two immigrants but those weren’t the only people who influenced me growing up because I was fortunate enough to live in a home with my grandmother, aunt, cousin and siblings. Think of the Latino version of the Tanners only the three men were women and our family dog was not a Golden Retriever but a Doberman.
As a child of immigrants my story is like many others; our parents did not encourage dreams, they could not afford to. Dreaming was a luxury. The options that were presented to me were simple; I had to educate myself, my English had to be the sharpest of sharp, and I had to carry myself on a higher standard than others because in this country, I already had two strikes against me. Strike 1, I am a woman. Strike 2, I am a Latina and as soon as I entered a room a stereotype was expected.
While my father never encouraged dreaming, he did his best to make all my wishes come true. One day I said that I wished I could throw myself in a pile of leaves like the kids did in the movies. One fall night he asked me to run an errand with him and drove to a very affluent area in New Jersey where he parked our burgundy Caravan and handed me a large garbage bag. He then walked up to someone’s lawn and instructed me to help him stuff leaves into the bag so we could take them home and make our own leaf pile just like the movies. When I revisit this memory now, I try to imagine what those homeowners were thinking when they looked out their window and saw a man and his child laughing obnoxiously as they cleared leaves from their front lawn… For free! It was an absolutely ridiculous act but without his knowledge, he taught me that dreams and wishes were attainable as long as you thought outside the box and got creative.
My home was the hub for all gatherings and celebrations. When I saw my grandmother washing the glasses that were used solely for display purposes I knew good times were coming. I would make personalized menus by hand for each guest. Not because I was fancy but because it was the 80s and I didn’t have a printer. I would direct my brothers to stand at the door to greet guests and take their belongings to the Latino coat check aka the bedroom. I can never put into words the feeling that went through my body when preparing for an event but it was enthralling. Like my passion for events, my passion for writing did not fall behind. In the 6th grade my teacher asked us all to right a short story in 10 minutes describing our walk to school and not put our names on it. When he began reading my story out loud, he began to cry. I thought, “Oh $h!t. I hope he doesn’t realize it was me!” He stopped reading and asked the class who’s story it was. The class went silent. I felt my body burning from the inside out and thought I was going to pass out from fear. He asked again and I nervously raised my hand ready to take on the punishment that was coming my way. My teacher came over to me got down on his knees, looked me dead in the eyes and said, “Michelle, you are a writer.” I will never forget the magic I felt that day because that was the moment where I began to dream.
I knew my reality and that was when I grew up my only options to guarantee success were to go into teaching, law or medicine. Still, I dreamt of a different life. I dreamt of writing stories that would be around forever. I dreamt of being a successful and single (I was always single in my dreams) business woman living in New York City. These dreams were completely unconventional to my culture but seeing women in LA Gears and panty hose on my morning walk to school was to me what seeing a Disney Princess is to other girls.
As a young adult I worked as a personal shopper for children while I attended college to become a dentist. I admired giant diamond earrings on three year olds and assisted on events. Believe it or not, it was a really fun job and it exposed me to a whole new realm of possibilities. I learned that there was a career that would give me the same passion and excitement I felt when helping my family as a child and decided that I would stop studying dentistry to pursue a career in events. It was a terrifying and intimidating move for me but I had to be brave and courageous. I had to take a major risk to make my dreams come true. I went from being my parent’s exemplary child to a disappointment but that didn’t last long because shortly after I made my decision to tackle part of my dream, the company I was working for noticed my dedication and offered me a position in their events department. I did it. I had made it and learned that fear and intimidations were obstacles only created by me.
I set another career goal for myself; I wanted to work in media and scored an interview with a super cool television network. I was SO CLOSE that I even selected what I would wear on my first day at work and then history was made and the 2008 recession hit. If companies weren’t making money, they couldn’t entertain and if they couldn’t entertain, I didn’t have a job. What. Had. I. Done. I was now married with two children and questioned my choice of not continuing to study dentistry every single day but I refused to give up. During this tumultuous time a friend of mine began sending me daily emails to check in and see how I was doing. She would tell me about her fabulous trips to Dubai and I would start every email with, Another Day, Another Diaper. She began forwarding my emails to some of the mother’s at her job and finally strongly encouraged me to start a thing called a blog. Another dream of mine had manifested and I was now writing. Sure, I was self published but still, I was writing and I was touching people and if it weren’t for something as terrible as the recession to put me out of work, I would have never started blogging.
I didn’t want to give up on the career I had built in events and continued interviewing. After countless unsuccessful interviews for positions that I knew I was qualified for, I began feeling discouraged. If I heard, “Good luck on your search” one more time… I could not figure out what I was doing wrong and then I decided to try a little bit of a social experiment and went into my next interview without a wedding band. When the interviewer tiptoed around asking me if I had children or “anything holding me back from sudden travel”, I kept my answers very vague and finally received an offer! I tried my experiment again and again and landed every job I interviewed for. I had learned that there were now new strikes against me. I am a woman, strike one. I am a Latina, strike two. I am a wife, and mother of three. Strike. Strike. Strike. In a field where most women forfeit career for family or vice versa, I have been able to attain my personal “all”. I would have never believed as a child that I would be doing everything I ever wanted to do. I am able to write, I have been able to enjoy the adrenaline rush that an event producer feels when they see their imagination manifest and lastly, the abundance of leaves that fall on my front lawn every fall may seem like a curse to most but the little girl inside of me enjoys them because she knows that all dreams are able to become a reality.
My life experiences have taught me that there is no such thing as a dream too big or too small. From leaves to careers that I never knew existed. I have seen many of my dreams come true and of course with every goal achieved my dreams have only gotten bigger and this go round is even sweeter because I get to do it with my best friend.
As a child, I would have never thought that when I became an adult I would still be assigned to the back of house at events only then it was called, the coat closet.