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Growing Up: The Before-Times

Updated: Jun 22

5 years old to 11 years old.

Hamilton, NJ. A town that sits in between Princeton and Trenton. A town always trying to prove itself- that it’s classy, classy Princeton and not "trashy", like Trenton. The balance. The desperation. The little Hispanic girl in the private Catholic school. The supposed shelter away, and me, a disruption.

No, I probably wasn't the only one. But it felt like that.

Growing up, I believed in God. I prayed my rosary every night, and mentioned every single family member I knew, by name. With the fear that if I missed someone, once, they’d die. I believed I was always being watched by God, Mr. Judge, Jury and Executioner. I was taught that if I made a mistake and didn’t confess- that's it, I’m evil, I go to hell and that’s it.  

I didn’t speak English, and looking at the academic paperwork- I wasn’t in ESL, in fact, the school didn't even have ESL, so I really was the only one. Instead, I was put in extra help classes until third grade.

I finally learned how to read in third grade.

I remember memorizing of the shape of letters before. Trying to keep up. Trying to do good. My mom getting frustrated at my homework and erasing all of it and making me start over. Again and again but I didn’t know what the right answer was.

My dad would yell, angry. He'd tell me I’m stupid. He'd throwing things. Punch a wall. We'd put a picture over it, maybe that's why I can't seem to decorate with wall art, even though I hate empty walls.

Reading and writing was frustrating, I was just getting comfortable speaking English, in first or second grade. I tried and tried and---- my parents didn't help much.

My mom’s method of reading a page and then having me read a page, getting mad when I couldn’t. I remember stuttering.

My dad’s method of taking me to the bookstore and buying a picture book for my third-grade book report. It’s easier, it’s for stupid people, he explained that being smart is for nerds and losers. Beautiful people don't need to be smart. Just be an ornament.

I remember that day, with that lesson. Thinking enough was enough, I had to really learn on my own. That I didn't want to just be an ornament. That I didn't want to be confused forever.

I remember prioritizing my education, it was okay if I didn’t understand math, because reading was more important.

I started with a Magic Tree House book. I loaded up the Dinosaurs After Dark CD into my CD-player and followed along with my physical copy. It was comforting having a book read to me, and soon, for the first time in my life- I fell in love.

I read everything I could get my hands on. And all the time. My book of the day was held out of reach of the shower water, under the dinner table, in front of me as I walked to class.

Sometimes, Tia Tania would take me to the library near her house, and I could check out my stack of 10 books! Every other week, I was trying to get back to the library to return my old stack of books for a new one.

I was a shy kid. I liked reading better than anything, even gymnastics. Though in gymnastics was where I spent almost all of my time. I was on the junior Olympic team, and spent sixteen hours a week from ages six to eleven working out.

Gymnastics gave me a lot of structure. It also taught me to associate pain with accomplishment. No pain, no gain. No crying. No goofing off. Just be the best. Be better than your friend. Do more. Push. Push and push and push. In childhood, it was the closest I'd come to playing, which looking back, may be an indication of not having had much of a childhood.

Outside of the gym, I was The Babysitter. That's how life was split, I was either trying to make it to the Olympics or I was babysitting. And any moment I had of downtime, I was surrounded by books.

My childhood summers were three things. Gymnastics, Babysitting or the Beach. The Jersey shore, usually watching the babies to make sure they didn’t drown.

I loved teaching Ruby and then Matty how to jump the waves. How to determine whether we go under or over. Playing the please don’t drown game. They never did under my watch. But I have saved each child’s life, maybe not life, though children choke. Like. A lot. Toddlers love trying to kill themselves.

Sometimes, on good beach days, I’d just be in the water, with the waves crashing all around and I could just go with the current. I could boogie board if it was just me. Just ride the waves. In the Sun. If there was time.

It was always, time. Time to go to gymnastics. Time to watch the kids. Time to pack the stuff. Time to leave the beach.

Right before I moved to Andover, I took acting class. I gained confidence from performance. I spoke and people listened. If it was, entertaining, of course. I became an entertainer.

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