(This post originally appeared in 2011 at ShesNachoMama.com)
Making a short story long: My Story
I’ve had a flair for decor and style for as long as I can remember. I was always re-arranging my room as a child (I even remember hiding my clock radio so I could have “background music") and I loved drawing and writing. But I never knew what I wanted to be when I grew up. My dad was a very well-known interior designer and it never crossed my mind that I could do what he did, even though he was my biggest cheerleader. You see, in the culture of my family there is a unwritten law that you’re a failure if you do what your parents did. I can understand why, my grandparents were farmworkers who wanted their kids to finish school and have careers, but it really got in my way! I struggled to find my purpose and my place.
Because I loved art, I got my BA in Art History and landed a job at the Metropolitan Museum in New York, far from my home in San Diego. I was married to the love of my life and had a very stable job, but I had no creative outlet whatsoever. I devoured design books and magazines like Doritos. Soon my friends at work started asking for decorating advice. Then they started asking me to actually design things for them. Finally they kindly said, “Why are you working HERE when you could BE A DESIGNER?”
Somehow hearing it from someone outside my family helped all the pieces to fall into place. I applied to a heap of graduate programs, telling everyone I was “just doing it on a lark.” In my heart I secretly wished to get into the exclusive and famously tough program at the Pratt Institute. One by one, the rejection letters came in. I began to tell myself that I’d been a fool to believe that I had any talent, that my dad was the designer, not me and I just had to accept that it was never meant to be. My hands trembled as I opened the letter from Pratt, the last to arrive, and I could scarcely believe it when I read that I’d been accepted! I knew immediately that my life would change forever.
It was tough, but I loved every minute of it! During my second year one of my designs was featured in The New York Times, a tremendous honor for any designer, let alone a student. That summer my husband and I took a trip home. On the last day of our visit, we sat on my parents’ sunny back porch with my dad and planned out the next 5 years. I’d finish school, apprentice at a firm in New York, then move back to San Diego where I’d join Dad’s firm, taking it over when he retired. Then my husband and I would start our family. After that conversation, I felt like I finally had a purpose and a place.
The very next day, back in New York, I threw myself into my schoolwork with more enthusiasm than I’d ever felt before. My phone seemed to be ringing off the hook that day, but I was not going to be interrupted! When I got home that evening I finally checked my phone and saw it was my mom who’d been calling. I figured she just wanted to know how my first day back had been. I was wrong. She was calling to tell me that my dad had just been diagnosed with Stage 4 prostate cancer.
I was too paralyzed with panic to know what to do. My wonderful husband, who knows me better than I know myself, said, “We have to go back. Now.” We packed our bags and took the first available flight back to San Diego. We were told that Dad could go at anytime and that he should never, in fact, have lived long enough to be diagnosed. Then, a few days after we arrived, I became pregnant. Even though it was 9 years ago, I still refer to it as “the week my life was hit by a truck.” After that my husband and I spent our time helping my parents, fighting to save my father’s design firm, selling our home back east and nurturing our daughter.
It was extremely difficult to uproot our lives and leave our friends but I would have done anything to help my father. For as long as I could remember he'd done everything in his power to make me, my sister and my mom, feel how special we were to him. He delighted in celebrating every seemingly insignificant occasion in our lives with parties, gifts and love. He marked every moment of my pregnancy with fanfare, as though I were a queen, and lavished his unborn granddaughter with presents. Remarkably, Dad lived long enough to be present at my daughter’s birth and for her to remember him. He passed away just before her 2nd birthday. He was 57 years old. The years that followed were a blur of sorrow and work that I would never have survived without my husband and my kid. Through all the grief and the enormous workload I'd taken on (helping to finish the projects Dad had started before he'd passed) my husband always had the right thing to say when I needed to hear it, even if I needed to hear it at 3am. Even our baby daughter helped by lightening my spirits during those very dark times when I just couldn't face what had been lost.
It’s been a painful journey but now, years later and after the birth of our 2nd child, my husband and I honor my dad’s memory by living his philosophy, “Celebrate life. Celebrate all the good things and keep celebrating them, no matter how small.” I know now that celebration is the only way through grief and loss, two things that every human must experience. I also know that it's important to surround yourself with beauty, with things that are meaningful to you and with people who love you for who you are. I feel so blessed to have been able to make my living bringing beauty into people's homes, businesses and lives.
I’ve made it my mission to show people how they can celebrate all the good moments in their lives, no matter how small, as much as possible, until joy and gratitude become a reflex. I call it “Life, with extra cheese.” Because cheese is good, but extra cheese is better. Beauty is good, but more beauty is better. The same goes for friends, laughter and glitter. And love? You can’t ever have too much, you can’t ever give too much and you can always make more.
Wishing you love with extra cheese,
Margo (aka Nacho Mama)