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  • Alexis A. McCoy Gonzalez

The holidays are here and like most people around the world, I am running around preparing for family and friends to visit and enjoy the holidays. Although the holidays are exciting, it can be very stressful. This year my husband and I decided to host Thanksgiving dinner at our house and now that we are one week away, I’m regretting having made that decision. From the day we sent out the invitation there has been nothing but drama. In most families you have that one person that wants to highjack a specific holiday. This person in our family just so happens to be my wonderful, amazing, kindhearted mother-in-law. For the past 40 years she has been hosting Thanksgiving dinner in her home. “It’s a tradition!” her words not mine.

So, when she received our invitation, the following day she calls my husband all upset and trying to guilt trip him into convincing me to cancel my Dinner plans. For the first time in our three years of marriage, he stood up to his mother by telling her that if she wanted to host Thanksgiving dinner at her home she can. Unfortunately, we won’t be attending because we will be celebrating thanksgiving at our home. Of course she is more than welcome to attend. Shocked by her son’s response she quickly replied, “well I guess we will be having Thanksgiving dinner at your house”. The conversation was going great until he opened his big mouth and said, “you can help Lilly cook, I think she would love that”.

When those words fell out of his mouth my stomach instantly dropped. Me working on Thanksgiving dinner with my mother-in-law was going to be a complete disaster and I was obviously right. From the beginning of the menu planning there were issues. Everything had to go her way from the way we set-up the table, to the way we platted the food. I couldn’t have an opinion or an idea about what was happening in my own home! When I would mention it to my husband, he would passively say, “she’s just trying to help”. I knew for a fact she wasn’t being helpful, she was trying to highjack my thanksgiving dinner. Things took a seriously drastic turn when I came home to find my grandmother’s China in a trash bag by the garbage.

When I was growing up my grandmother would always decorate the table with her beautiful China. It was the first expensive things my grandfather purchased for her. She loved that China and took great care of them. When my husband and I got married my mother passed it down to us. This Thanksgiving I was excited to have the opportunity to set my table with my grandmothers China. She loved Thanksgiving so much and setting my table with her China would make me feel closer to her. So, when I walked into the house and saw the table decorated in a completely different way than I had planned and my grandmothers China sitting on floor in a trash bag next to the trash can, I lost it. I quickly confronted my mother-in-law and I asked her “why is my grandmother’s China in a trash bag?” She quickly responded dismissively and said “those dishes are old, so I got you some new ones”. Next thing I know, I blacked out in a rage and started pushing everything off of the table and screaming for her to get out.

She quickly grabbed her things and left the house slamming the door behind her. In my rage I sent a mass text to everyone invited notifying them that Thanksgiving Dinner was cancelled. I was over competing with my mother-in-law and fighting to have a space in her family. As much as I wanted to host dinner at our home, I was tired of being disrespected. The next morning, I woke up to go downstairs and clean up the mess I made. To my surprise everything was already cleaned up and the table was set with my grandmothers China. When I walked into the kitchen my mother-in-law and my husband were they’re putting away the groceries. When I saw her, I quickly turned around and headed back upstairs to the bedroom. She followed me. When I reached the bottom of the stairs she asked if she could speak with me for a moment. A huge part of me wanted to say no but I knew saying that wouldn’t solve anything. So, I slowly turned around and walked into the living room to sit on the couch. She joined me by sitting in the chair across from me.

She started by apologizing and went on to explain that when her husband passed away, my husband became the person she depended on. When we got together, she knew she wasn’t going to be the only special lady in his life and when I decided to host Thanksgiving dinner at our house, she felt like I was trying to take her place in the family. Instead of looking at it as a bonding moment between the two of us, she looked at it as competition. As I sat there listening to her explain her behavior, my anger began to subside until it went away completely. When she finished speaking, I said, “we are a family, and we might not see eye to eye on everything or agree all the time. Still, we must respect one another. I am not trying to replace you or take your spot. What you do for this family is so important and so valued and I don’t think I would be able to handle it all. So, let’s start fresh”. I went on to say “Mom, would you please help me host Thanksgiving Dinner here at my house?” She quickly responded yes, and we both get up to embrace one another.

Family isn’t perfect and that’s what makes life entertaining. My mother-in-law and I still have some kinks to workout in our relationship, but I am excited for the first step. I hope you guys have a wonderful Thanksgiving and remember perfect families are overrated.

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  • Alexis A. McCoy Gonzalez

I always envisioned my life being super fabulous like the leading characters in The Devil Wears Prada or Sex in The City. Yes, there would be a little struggle but then I would land my dream job as fashion photographer and attend all the hottest parties in town and living out my dreams. But instead, I’m here in Milwaukee, Wisconsin 40 years old married with two children working as an office assistant for a local law firm. A completely different life than I envisioned for myself 15 years ago. I constantly tell my children to follow their dreams and that they can accomplish anything in life they put their mind too.

As I stand here in the office kitchen making my supervisor his fourth cup of coffee. I began to think about when I stopped following my own dreams. The basic answer to that question is life happens, and you get caught up in being a mom, a wife, and a provider for your family. Yes, all of that took place in my life but honestly, I allowed for life twist and turns to stop me from following my dreams. I always told myself that once my children were in school, I would get back into doing photography again. But it never happened and now I’m standing here in this kitchen a week after my 40th Birthday regretting all my life decisions.

When I took this job six years ago I made an oath to myself that I would only be here for a year. But then I got comfortable. I was able to pay off my student loan, we bought a house, we were able to go on family vacations and build a savings. All of the things I wanted at the time were able to take place because I had this job. Even if I hated the job it was allowing for me to provide for my family.

After work I decided it was time to make a change. So I went to a local camera shop take a look at some camera’s and camera equipment. When I walked into the store it like a weight had lifted off my shoulders. Seeing all of the cameras and reading about the features brought forth so many ideas. While I was in the store my husband kept texting asking me was I going to pick-up dinner? I ignored the text. Not because I didn’t want to let him know where I was. I ignored it because I was in a safe space that bought me pure joy, and I didn’t want my reality an all that it comes with to steal joyful moment from me. I spent an hour in the store just looking at cameras.

That night when I arrived home my husband and the kids were in the living room watching TV and eating pizza. Soon as I walked in the door my son yelled mommy your home, daddy got us pizza I saved you some. I responded thanks buddy. I sat my keys and purse on the table in the entryway and joined my family in the living room. Visiting that camera store started a fire inside me that I didn’t want to let go. That day I made an oath to myself that I would start pursing my dreams.

That night after I put the kids to bed I went downstairs to help my husband finish cleaning the kitchen. He asked did you have to work late today? I responded no I stop at the camera store before I came home. He looked at me with excitement in his eyes and said so did you see anything you like? I smiled and said a few things. I finished drying the dishes while he finished packing the kids lunches for tomorrow. He said Kay it’s never too late to follow your dreams. That’s one things I love about my husband he always wanted me to be happy. From the beginning of our relationship he always encouraged me to follow my dreams. When I stopped pursing photography full-time when our daughter was born he came up with the idea for me to create the set and shoot our family photos for our holiday cards. He did whatever it took to keep my hands on a camera and when I didn’t feel like I was good enough he gave me space to figure it out. Life is all about stages and phases and in this moment in my life I am ready to give my all to my dreams.

The next day I went back to the camera store and purchased a camera and all the equipment I needed. I wasn’t going to let myself get comfortable for another six years. Aim I nervous? Yes. Do I have everything mapped out? No. But I do know that I am not meant to be and assistant at a law firm.

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  • Alexis A. McCoy Gonzalez

A friend of mine asked me if I remembered the first time I told a guy that I loved him. It seems like as soon as she asked that question, his face instantly popped into my mind. The first guy I ever said those words to was my next-door neighbor, Ladarius Thomas. Ladarius and I grew up together. He moved next door to us when I was about 8 years old. Our parents became friends, which caused for us to spend a lot of time together.

The summer going into our 8th-grade year of middle school, Ladarius had gone down to Atlanta to spend the summer with his grandparents. When he came back to Chicago, he looked like a completely different person. He was always cute but it’s like he had transformed into a teen supermodel.

On the first day of school Ladarius’ older sister Lilian, who was already in high school, drove us to school. Me being an only child, I looked up to Lilian. She was so confident and so focused on what she wanted out of life. All the boys loved her, but she didn’t pay them any mind. She would always say to me “don’t consume all your time thinking about boys, they are just a couple of puzzle pieces that you add together to help create your big picture”. 13- year-old me had no clue of what any of that meant. It took me arriving to my mid-twenties to understand the full meaning of her statement.

That first day of school I listened to my friends and girls in my class talk about how cute Ladarius had gotten. As much as I wanted to ignore my feelings, I couldn’t. The more I heard his name, the more my feelings grew for him. After school Ladarius and I would wait in the library and do our homework until his sister finished her student union meeting. When I entered the library, Ladarius was sitting at the middle table with his book open working on his homework and a chocolate chip muffin.

I approached the table, sat down and began pulling my homework out of my bag and asked “where did you get the muffin from”?. He spoke and said “my mom made one for you but I didn’t see you at first period lunch, so I held on to it”. I simply said “thanks”. I got settled at the table and grabbed the muffin, split it in half and handed him a piece. He grabbed it and said thanks. We sat across from one another not knowing how to describe what we were feeling. All we knew was that we cared about one another.

A month had passed and our parents were going out for their annual date night together and they agreed that we could have a small gathering. Ladarius invited his best friends Calvin, Eric and Johnny. While I invited my close friends Jasmine, Kayla, and Nancy. The plan was to order pizza and watch some movies, but of course, everyone had other plans. Kayla had a huge crush on Calvin and her goal was to make out with him before the end of the night. She suggested that we play spin the bottle and of course the guys agreed to the game. What group of horny 13-year-old teenage boys would turn down making out with a girl?.

The rules were simple. We each get two tries, if the bottle doesn’t land on anyone, then we move on to the next person. If the bottle landed on someone, they would have to go kiss in the closet, so we don’t get caught by our parents or Lilian. We all sat on the floor in a circle and Ladarius grabbed an empty glass soda bottle. Kayla volunteered to go first. She spins the bottle, and it lands between Calvin and Johnny. She spins again and it lands between Johnny and Ladarius.

She passes it to me, I spin the bottle fast, it slows down and lands on Ladarius. My heart instantly falls into my stomach. We make eye contact, we slowly stand up and he leads me into the coat closet. This was my first time making out with a guy and I never thought it would be Ladarius. We get to the closet, he opens the door and I walk inside. He follows in after me and closes the door behind him. We stand there in silence for while and he asks me if I’m okay. I lied and said I was, but I was nervous as hell. He said “let’s just kiss for 5 seconds”. I replied ,”is that how long make out’s normally last?”. He confidently answered “yes!”. Although I knew he was lying, I just went along with it.

We slowly leaned in towards one another and our lips began to touch. The first few seconds were weird but after a few minutes, we got comfortable. The kiss lasted a little longer than 5 seconds. It was interrupted by Kayla knocking on the door telling us to hurry up. We separated and smiled at one another and exited the closet.

After that day Ladarius’ and I friendship had changed completely. He had asked me to the middle school dance, and I said yes. That summer before our freshman year of high school he asked me to be his girlfriend and I said yes. We dated all four years of high school, we were inseparable and madly in love with one another. I remember the first time we told one another we loved each other. I had stayed home from school one day because I wasn’t feeling well. When school got out, Ladarius came over to the house and brought all my favorite movies for me to watch. He had flowers to cheer me up and stayed with me all night to take care of me. As he was bringing me another cup of tea, I said “I love you”. He paused, looked at me and said “I love you too”. He gently kissed me on the forehead and handed me the cup of tea.

As life changes, so do you and the people that are in your life at that moment and time. Senior year had arrived, and Ladarius and I were trying to figure out our future together, as well as our careers. I was applying for film school on the west coast, and he was applying for law school on the east coast. That’s when the division in our relationship began. He wanted me to follow him to the east coast, but I wanted to be on the west coast because I felt like I had more opportunities there. He said, “I thought you said you love me!?”. Honestly, I did love him, but I didn’t want to give up my dreams just because I loved him. We went back and forth for months, I eventually caved and applied for a school on the east coast, and I got accepted.

That summer after graduation we traveled with our families. Lilian had come home from overseas working on a photography project with this big magazine to be apart of our annual family trip. I was down by the pool relaxing, she joined me. She asked me “so are you ready to take on the big apple?”. I said “yeah!,we are going to have the time of our lives”. She said, “I always thought you would end up going to UCLA, you always spoke about living in LA”. I said “yeah, I didn’t get accepted”. Lying to cut the conversation short. Lilian always had a way of seeing my truth. She looked at me and said, “UCLA isn’t the only film school on the west coast”. I replied, “yeah”. We sat in silence for a while, and then she spoke and said “you only have one life to live, make sure you’re always living it to your fullest potential and not someone else’s”. She got up and walked away, leaving me with my thoughts.

Here I was this 18-year-old girl with the world in one hand and the person she loves in the other. The summer had quickly ended, and it was time for our first day of college. A couple of days before we were leaving, Ladarius planned a special dinner for us in his parents backyard. He had this table setup all nice and he had cooked the only meal he knew how to cook which was boxed mac & cheese. As we were sitting and eating dinner, all he could talk about was the fun we were going to have in New York. Excited about all the things we were going to do together. I sat across the table from him half listening with this fake smile on my face, knowing I wasn’t as excited to go to New York as he was.

He eventually asked me my thoughts and I took a deep breath before I said “going to school in New York has always been your dream and as much as I want to be with you, I can’t see myself in New York. I want things to work between us, but I don’t want either one of us to compromise our dreams because we were too afraid to let each other follow our dreams”. He quickly gets defensive and says “so what you saying?!”. “Are you breaking up with me?!”. I responded by placing my hand on top of his to calm him down. He looked at me and pulled his hand away. I said “Ladarius, do you want me to be happy?” He said “of course I want you to be happy! what type of question is that?”. I said “then please respect and accept that I will be happy attending school in LA”. He softly asked “what happens with us.?” I responded by grabbing his hand again and this time he didn’t pull away. We looked at one another as tears filled our eyes and I said “we continue to be there for one another the best way we know how”.

On that day, we both had experienced what it meant to truly love someone. Sometimes loving someone means letting them go, even when you don’t want to. The day Ladarius left for college was heartbreaking but also exciting. As much as we would miss one another, we understood that we both had our own journeys in life that we had to follow. I remember giving him a long hug and he whispered in my ear and said I love you. We kissed and he got in the car and they drove off. I remember my mother telling me I had made the right choice.

Although my relationship with Ladarius taught me how I should be treated and loved. It also taught me self-love, the importance of putting myself first, and not compromising my self-gratification to make someone I love happy.

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