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I got into Stanford and I’m a Stanford Kinda Gal

9 Oct Taking a picture with Stanford President Marc Tessier-Lavigne before our class photo is taken.

I can’t remember how I first heard about Stanford and started dreaming that I would attend one day. I do remember the walks home from Roosevelt High School freshman year vividly.  I lugged my backpack over my hunched shoulders, leaning forward to offset the weight, and dreamt. As I passed by the Food 4 Less parking lot I dreamt about getting the acceptance letter. As I passed by the 7 Mares, I dreamt about walking on campus and attending lecture. I dreamt and I dreamt until I walked into my home.

My life took many turns and the Stanford dream slipped away, seemingly impossible to reach.

Three years ago, Bella, Iza, and I made the joint decision to uproot our lives and move to the bay area. A few months later, I enrolled in the local community college and went to school on Thursday nights, Saturdays, and online. For almost three years I juggled a demanding career, being a mother, being a partner, and school. I studied after everyone went to sleep and studied before anyone woke up. At times it seemed impossible to continue. But no matter the road bumps, I made it work. I persevered.

When I kept getting straight A’s semester after semester, the Stanford dream crept back in. But this time it wasn’t a dream, it was a fantasy. During my morning runs I would pound the pavement for 5 miles or more until my body could take no more. I think I was physically punishing my body. Punishing myself for daring to dream about Stanford. I equated that dream to fantasizing about becoming a billionaire (from my multiple successful startups of course) and solving the world’s problems. I didn’t dare hope that it could happen.

When it was time to apply I applied to the UCs and hoped that Berkeley would say yes. I started the Stanford application weeks ahead of the deadline but didn’t know if I would submit it. I loved the questions they asked, how thoughtful and insightful they were. I enjoyed working on the application and I figured it didn’t hurt to write. I could always use those answer for my UC applications.

As the deadline neared I agonized about asking for recommendation letters. I felt like others would see me as ridiculous for daring to apply. But I asked.

The night that the application was due, I kept toying with the submission button. Everyone was asleep and I was downstairs staring at the screen until I hit submit at 11:30 pm.

I would have put it completely out of mind if not for Ryan telling everyone that I applied to Berkeley and Stanford. I appreciated his confidence but I felt incredibly pained when he said it out loud. I could see others thinking – Does she know the acceptance rate hovers around 1 – 2 %?

I found out that I got into Berkeley the day after I had Valentina. I thought we were set to move to Berkeley and make it work.

During the drive up to Berkeley for a transfer student welcome event I figured that I would log in and check the response from Stanford. I had received an email the day before from Stanford and had to request a password reset to access my account. I hadn’t told Ryan that I had a response. I neededed to compose myself and process the rejection by myself first before telling him. I figured I was in such a high from getting into Berkeley that I could take the rejection. Valentina, only a few days old, slept in the car seat next to me. My mother (staying with us for a couple of weeks to help) sat on the other side. Ryan was driving and braving traffic as the day was grey with fog and rain.  I logged in from my phone and saw the letter. I read the first few lines. Puzzled, I read it again. My blood ran cold and I felt disoriented; only the heaviness in my stomach anchored me to my seat.  “One of the best parts of my job…” Only after I read it a third time did I cry out suddenly, “OH MY GOD!” “Oh my God! Oh my God!”

Ryan braked and accidentally exited the freeway. He and my mother both looked at me with a mix of bewilderment and concern. “What’s wrong?!”

I couldn’t speak. I took a breath, and another. “I GOT INTO STANFORD!”

My mom teared up and Ryan cried out. He pulled over and parked on the side of a road and I read them the acceptance letter. I called my sister and told her. We screamed with joy and excited energy.

We did attend the orientation event and I was inspired by the future Berkeley students but I was still dazed by the news. We left early and went home to tell Bella and Iza.

A few weeks later and I’m now two weeks into my first quarter at Stanford. It is everything and so much more that I dreamt it would be. This place is paradise. I feel an incredible sense of belonging, of being cared for and guided, and of the infinite possibilities for my future (well finite only because at some point I will have to graduate).

When I started this blog I wondered if and when I would be able to write happy stories. Would I only be sharing stories of pain and survival? Would I ever be able to share stories about my life thriving?

I am incredibly fortunate to have so many people around me that love me and that I can pour my love into. My life has been healthy and happy. But it is now bursting with the promise of personal achievement. I thought that I had permanently failed all of my great teachers, coaches, and cheerleaders from my youth when my life took a different path. But I now have the luxury and great fortune to be able to go back to school and invest in myself.

Now I run without bounds. I recognize no limits. I’m taking life by the horns and making it my b!tch. And damn, does it feel good.

I got accepted to Berkeley as a Transfer student

1 May

Three years ago a young Latino with a very promising future passed away from a car accident. Sadath Garcia was the son of immigrant parents, a first-generation American, and was a rising star with a bright political career to look forward to. I met Sadath through friends and saw him at various parties and his fabulously planned picnics at the Hollywood Bowl. When he passed suddenly, it really shook me. How could someone with so much strength and potential be gone?

During his memorial service at UCLA Law School, I came to the realization that I needed to take a hard look at my life and what my future held. My own background was very similar to Sadath’s, but unlike his, I veered off the education path and struggled to find my place as a single mother. Throughout high school I had been told many times that I had a lot of potential but the personal and internal roadblocks that I had did not allow me to bring them to fruition. I felt that I had failed so many. After hearing the many touching and inspiring stories that Sadath’s colleagues, classmates, friends, and family shared I resolved to no longer be a victim to my life circumstances. I didn’t want to just be content with what I had accomplished professionally in spite of a lack of degree but to instead set out on a path to achieve my bigger ambitions. I promised Sadath and myself that day that I would go back to school to pursue my degree, no matter how long it took.

Shortly after I enrolled in a political science class at Los Angeles City College. My mother or sister would pick up my daughters from school every Thursday so that I could leave the office and go straight to class. It was a sacrifice for everyone and the day was exceptionally long which made my already heavy work week at a law firm all the more tiring. But I looked forward to every Thursday because I knew that it was privilege to be there. When I got an A in the class I had a hard time processing the feelings I felt. I couldn’t believe it and I couldn’t stop smiling. When I moved up to the Bay Area I enrolled in the local community college and attended class after work until 10 pm every Thursday, all day every other Saturday and had online classwork. Last semester I had class every M-Th from 8 – 9:20 AM after which I would rush to work and stay even later to make up the difference. All the meanwhile I kicked ass at work and was promoted. I took every opportunity – both at school and at work – as a learning opportunity and I immersed myself in it. After work I would spend the evenings being a mother and a partner and wait for everyone to fall asleep so that I could do homework and wake up at 4 AM to continue studying before everyone woke up. I did this for the past three years and was able to maintain straight A’s.

I can now proudly share that I was accepted into UC Berkeley as a transfer student. I cannot put into words the weepy happiness that I feel every time I think about that but I wanted to thank Sadath for being the activator that set me onto this path. I’d like to thank my high school math teacher Mr. Quezada who always reminded me that there were many paths to the same destination. I’d like to thank my life partner Ryan for being supportive in this journey, for being a true 50/50 partner in life and an excellent father. I’d like to thank my two little girls who always cheered me on during midterms and finals and whose pride in my efforts was a deep well of energy and motivation that I could draw from. And I’d like to thank the Susana from three years ago who didn’t listen to naysayers who warned that it would take forever to get an associates degree if I only went part-time or who thought it was useless to get a degree at this stage in life. I look forward to sharing my next steps as they develop and to seizing the opportunities that come my way.

Thank you for reading.


A Sprinkles Cupcake Tastes Like Survivor’s Guilt

27 Feb

I just finished watching Freedom Writers with my 10 and 11-year-old daughters.

We had a great Saturday which started with cuddling in the morning in my bed with our puppy Willie Nelson sniffing and licking our faces. I asked them to help me tidy up the house and the patio to start the day off on the right note. A little work now would allow us (me) to relax and enjoy the day and they quickly agreed and did a great job.

I had my first tutoring session with a local tutor that I found on Wyzant to go over my online Discrete Mathematics class which had been stressing me and had me hitting a mental block. It’s one of three courses that I am taking this semester, my last at a community college before I wait to hear where I will attend as a transfer student for the Fall 2016 semester. I felt energized and motivated after the session, ready to revisit concepts that I had been struggling with.

For dinner we decided to walk over to P.F. Changs for lettuce wraps and egg noodles over lemonade, chatting non-stop the whole way. On the way back we stopped by Sprinkles for a treat and bought two cupcakes to share.

As we settled into the sofa we chose our Saturday night movie. We finished watching Freedom Writers after a lot of pausing to answer questions and to reflect on various scenes. As I swallowed back tears from the familiarity of the pain in those students’ lives I felt a mingling of bitter and sweet aftertaste in my mouth.

Part of me is incredibly grateful that my girls will never have to face the themes and struggles depicted in the movie. They won’t have to feel the ice cold fear of being chased down a street or beaten by someone who should love them or the desperation of knowing you can’t protect those you love. If someone in their circle dies, they won’t be numb to it or unable to grieve because of the repeated news of those losses. They won’t wonder if they will live to be in their 20’s. They are able to watch the movie and feel inspired by the strength of these children but remain untouched by the pain of real similar memories.

Part of me is still in disbelief that I am happy, healthy, and safe. I have a happy home filled with love, compassion and good. I have a career and am thriving as an evening student who is very close to achieving the milestone of transferring to a four year university. I am alive and my life has meaning and purpose.

But part of me looks at the crumbs of the $4 cupcake and can’t make the connection that this is my life. If only I could tell the teenager Susana that all of this was coming, living would have been so much easier.

I work hard to prove myself and succeed at work. I work hard to succeed in school. I throw myself head-on into my role of being a good and loving mother to these girls. I do everything wholeheartedly and with purpose because not doing so would mean that I am living just to live.

And that is survivor’s guilt. I could choose to wash it down with alcohol and find plenty of valid excuses to not try or succeed. I could lay down and give up and allow the wind to blow me in the direction of its choosing.

But I choose to stand firmly on this ground. I choose to carry some of the hurt in my heart to honor it, to recognize that I am not a victim to it, to celebrate that I did not and have not and will not succumb to it. And I choose to move forward in a meaningful manner so that the path that I take is a credit to those who believed in me and gave me a kind look or word or embrace when I needed it most.

I choose not to let guilt overpower the delicious red velvet cake that I shared with my girls because the sweetness of knowing that they appreciate it and that I can give it should trump any feeling of self-doubt.



Dear Friend,

28 May

I never told you how deeply your character touched me.  You were different in many ways with your high cheekbones and long pony hair pulled back.  Always so kind and sweet without an ounce of threat in your demeanor.  I felt at ease even when I did not realize it.  You get to always having your guard up that you forget what it feels like to just be.

I never thanked you for the kindness in your eyes, for the natural way you greeted me with tokens of friendship.  Your drawings of Winnie the Pooh and his melancholy friend always amused me.  And it pleased you so to have me tell you how good you were.

Our conversations were quiet, mostly stolen quick glances that didn’t mean much but just said, hey – I’m here, good to see you.

I think of you often. I wonder who you would be. I can’t picture you beyond 13. And it’s funny because every time I see you, I really do see you, standing there in front of me, not a day older and it seems so natural.

You were a calming presence among all the white noise. So much noise. I never told you that.

Sometimes when I run and my mind runs free, I forget where I am and I think of you.  You run right beside me, smiling at my attempt to look like a badass when you know I’m soft deep down inside.

And here I am thinking of you again tonight.

Maybe it’s guilt. Confusion. Disgust. I’m not sure what I feel when I remember with what nonchalance I took the news.  Where is he?  Gone.  Last night. A simple shrug and I walked away. Oh.

Maybe it’s rage. The way you left. Not at you but at me.

I didn’t see how deep in you were.  I wish I would have said, “thank you, dear friend.”

Here I carry you.  Light as a feather.  Sometimes I think it’s you carrying me.  Light as a feather. Your smile.

But now I remember where and when I am and your image is fleeting.  I get older and keep living.  You float away.

For the both of us, for the many of us, I’ll try.  I will always try, dear friend.

Dancing Between Borders

12 May

We linger on either side
Dancing between invisible borders
Split in two

The English me
At work
Speaks formally, taking time to enunciate and think ahead
Choosing my vocabulary carefully
So as not to Stumble and fall

The Spanish me
At functions
Takes care to speak eloquently
Proving myself as not just
Getting by

Hoping they don’t ask
Where is your accent from?

The English me
With friends
Is casual, relaxed and at ease
Sassy, funny and bold

The Spanish me
With my sisters
Bursts forth
Words spilling over each other
Hanging in the air
Like bright decorations
Warming my soul

I am me
I am Susana
Fitting in nicely

We waltz between borders
Stepping gingerly
Lingering long enough to feel like we belong
Stepping gingerly
Before we’re caught

Twirling – A song

20 Mar
Twirling and twirling, and twirling away!
Twirling and twirling, and twirling away!!
Twirling and twirling, and twirling away!!!
The ghosts come back.
No matter how hard I try to forget, by:
Twirling and twirling, and twirling away
Twirling and twirling, and twirling away
Twirling and twirling, and twirling away
Vengeful rage quieted by pain!
broken shards of pain and doubt…
Fragments and pieces linger on!
No matter how hard I try.
I pick up my skirts and get some wind!
I smile and dazzle and
put on a good face.
I twirl and twirl, and twirl away
Twirl and twirl, and twirl away
Twirl and twirl, and twirl away
The ghosts are here to stay.

Having It All

23 Sep

“Monkeys, do you have your lunches?”
“Yes!” they cried out in unison.
“Let’s go! Backpacks on, grab a sweater, and make sure you have your lunch packed away in your backpack.”
“Ok mommy!”

After dropping off Bella and Iza at school to make an 8 am call where I had to present, I drove off guilt ridden that I was leaving them on campus so early in the morning – read 5 minutes earlier than usual.  I coaxed myself to shake it off, to remember that they are loved and well-cared for little girls who can handle an additional 5 minutes away from me.

As I pulled into the parking lot at work and reached for my purse in the backseat, my eyes focused on a cute black tote with a panda face smiling at me – Iza’s lunch bag.

I ignored it, ignored the fact that the school would be calling me soon to notify me, ignored the fact that I had 2 minutes before the call started, and dashed up the stairs in my stiletto heels, click-clacking my way to my office where I quickly dialed into the conference call in time to hear the global roll call.

I sent a quick text to my fiancee ‘Iza 4got lunch will drop off after call in case school calls’ as I pulled up my notes for my presentation and silenced my cell phone.

As I was introduced, my phone buzzed with Iza’s school’s phone number flashing at me.  Bad Mom! it read.  As I ignored the call and it rang again it screamed, Terrible Mom!, before I ignored it again.

I placed my hand on my chest and leaned forward into my computer screen to calm my nerves and the chatter in my brain.  I stuck to my script a lot closer than I meant to and probably came off sounding like a robot dictating an essay (thank God I wrote it out and emailed it to myself the evening before!).  As soon as the call was over I got a couple of encouraging notes from colleagues congratulating me on a good presentation which I really appreciated.  I chose to ignore my internal questioning if the praise was deserved or not, and sat back and appreciated the kind words.

I waited a few minutes in case anyone followed up with any questions before I called the school back and apologized for ignoring their calls (I’m not a terrible mom, I promise! I have this thing called a J-O-B which I’m trying to make into a C-A-R-E-E-R), grabbed my keys, cell phone (work lifeline) and ran to my car.  As I pulled into the school 8 minutes later (I strategically live a short distance from my life’s priorities: the girls’ school and work) and dropped off Iza’s lovingly packed home cooked meal at the front office, I took a moment to smile (laugh at myself).

My mother would have kicked my ass if I had forgotten my lunch at home and had the gall to have the school secretary to call her at work and ask her to drop everything to bring it to me.  I started laughing out loud at the absurdity of the thought.  My mother never packed lunches.  She was too busy working as a grill cook an hour away in LA traffic for a 5 AM – 2 PM shift on her feet.  Her J-O-B did not allow the flexibility to “drop by” my school to deliver a home cooked meal.  I never wanted to be a nuisance to this mother of 5 whose idea of a better American life necessitated an additional job on the weekends as a cashier to afford the mortgage payments.

I smiled at the thought of my mother who continues to inspire me with her strength and will to move forward in life.  I smiled at the thought that I seem destined to feel guilty throughout life.  Guilt of being a nuisance as a child to hardworking parents and guilt as a mother for not predicting every minute need that my children may have.  I smile because I wouldn’t take either of those experiences away – my childhood nor the precious childhood that I shape for my girls.

Having it all? I say yes, one crazy (but well planned) day at a time.

What can you do but smile? On my way to Deliver Iza's Lunch.

What can you do but smile? On my way to Deliver Iza’s Lunch.


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