The last time I was home, I sat with my Grandma in her living room. “That was your first stage,” she said while pointing at her fireplace.
The year is 1988, and my parents are about to go on a trip. At four years old, I am doing my trademark move: laughing and crying at the same time, with intermittent singing. I am laughing because I am excited. I am crying because I don’t like being left, and I am singing because I have a compulsive need to perform the songs from West Side Story, Annie, and The Sound of Music. We’re on our way to my Grandma’s house, which is where I stay when my parents leave. To say that I loved being there is an understatement. At my Grandma’s house, I am the center of the universe. This is probably why, when my sister was born the following year, I packed a suitcase with my Fraggle Rock VHS tapes, Barbies, My Little Ponies, Pound Puppies, and a party dress. I marched into my parents’ bedroom, where I found my Mom and newborn sister. “I knew it. I KNEW IT!” Laughing and crying at the same time. “I am leaving. I AM LEAVING!” I often said things twice for dramatic effect. “I knew you weren’t going to love me anymore once the new baby came! I am going to live at Grandma’s.” Then, I fake tap danced out of the room while singing, “I like to be in America” in a Puerto Rican accent. Unfortunately or fortunately, I am very much the same person today that I was then: A somewhat needy, attention-loving, people-pleasing gal, who also has some negative qualities.
When I stayed at my Grandma’s house, I was encouraged to be “the me” that I liked. As you may recall from Part 2, my Grandma had six siblings with whom she was incredibly close. My great aunts and uncles would come over to visit, and I took advantage of the opportunity. “Attention everyone!” I would say in an old-timey voice. My Grandma and her sister Idie had recently introduced me to Shirley Temple films, so I was making use of a new repertoire. My great aunts and uncles had not come to see a show, but god bless them for their love and patience. I proceeded to do one woman improvised plays in front of the fireplace curtains, my stage.
In the following years, life got a little more challenging for my family in certain ways. As I got older, I stopped performing and being silly. I blocked the parts of myself that I used to really like. In recent years, I repaired that. Now, I try my best to just let myself be. My Grandma is looking at her fireplace. Then, she smiles at me, “Be you, and be happy.” There’s only one lesson this week, but I think it’s a pretty big one.
LESSON: It’s never too late to be who you are.
Even though I loved going to my Grandma’s as a little girl, she’s different now than she was then. I see her clearly now. She was still with my Grandpa then. She isn’t now. My Grandma has reminded me that you shouldn’t hold on to stuff that makes you unhappy. Whatever isn’t working for you, let it go. Sometimes people hold us back, and sometimes we hold ourselves back. “You have to live for yourself,” she tells me again. When I look at her, I see strength, kindness, wisdom, generosity, love, beauty, and an undeniable light. That’s who she is now, and probably who she was as a little girl.