Updated: Dec 1, 2020
It’s 3:30pm and I’m standing in line at Fedco (who remembers that store in Cerritos, Ca?) with my mom buying a new camera to capture the birth of my first child. A boy. It’s Friday April 17th, 1998, which means I’m two months shy of my 16th birthday. Most girls my age are thinking about boys, clothes, what party to get into next. Reapplying their makeup between science class and gym. Here I am timing my contractions and bending over in excruciating pain every 10-15mins. Even though I’m practically a baby myself I have zero fears of becoming a mother. Thanks to my pregnant minor classes I knew I wanted a natural birth without use of any medication. Don’t even offer it to me. I was ready. I had my mother by my side. Who by this point had finally succumbed to the fact that her baby was having a baby. It wasn’t easy. She fought the idea from the very beginning. She went from -this is not happening we are taking care of it next week, so I love you and support you.
One day she had me pack all my stuff in her 2 door Ford explorer she worked so hard to buy. And dropped me off at my boyfriend’s parents’ house. Later I understood she felt the father and his family should also step up. I didn’t blame her. This is not what she envisioned for her girls. She didn’t travel all the way from Peru by herself, illegally, work day and nights to put my sister and I through private school, for this. Luckily, they welcomed me with open arms. I will forever be grateful for the support they have always provided me. I’ve never told them, but it gave me the strength to get through the next 9 months.
Isaiah Antonio Ramos was born at 6:30 pm naturally with zero pain medication just like I planned. I know everyone says when they put that baby in your arms for the first time it’s life changing. It is. I believe it hits everyone differently depending on their situation. Yes, it’s magical for all of us. But for this teen mom it was my everything, my reason, my why, my motivation to survive even though the odds were against us. I knew I needed to be a good person, successful, strong, forgiving, loving, all the things I wanted him to be. For me becoming a mother defined the person I was going to grow up to be.
It didn’t take long for my boyfriend to realize he wanted his life back. Partying, drinking, hanging out with his buddies, soccer Sundays, staying out past curfew. All the normal things a teenage boy should be doing. I knew, and I felt he loved me, but he was torn and frankly not mature enough at the time. This was one of my first lessons in life. You don’t have control over anyone but yourself. No matter what I did I couldn’t make him do what he couldn’t at the time. Don’t worry he comes around later. Remember when I mentioned “forgiveness”. He is my biggest lesson in that area.
Back at my mother's house I went. This time with a 6-month old, single, no job, and a high school dropout. My mother could barely look at me when I walked back through those doors. I remember the first night back it felt so good to be home with my mommy but then it hit me. I have my own family. Even if it was just Isaiah and me. And we had nothing. I enrolled in independent studies, applied at every store and restaurant within walking distance of my mother’s apartment off 10th and Bennett in East Long beach. I’ve had some guardian angels in my life along the way that have believed in me. One of those got me an interview at LBS financial, a local Credit Union, right across the street from our apartment. I started off in the file department, making folders for all new accounts and signing off on pink slips when our members paid off their vehicle loans. I worked every Saturday 9-12, the shift no one wanted to work. I always looked professional, skirts below the knees, blouse buttoned up to my collar bone and nylon stockings. Never took my breaks and always, always worked overtime. I was there for 9yrs and climbed my way to a supervisor at an express center. But I knew I needed to do more for my family if I wanted to give them the life I envisioned.
Elijah-Rey Ramos was born on Wednesday Jan 17th, 2001. Rey and I had planned Elijah after reconciling and moving into our little 2-bedroom apartment off San Antonio Dr in Bixby Knolls. I loved him and those boys so much. All I wanted was to make it work so the boys could have the father I never had. Our relationship has never been easy and as the years went on there were so many obstacles. The love was there, and it was what got us through all the hard times. On August 25, 2007 we were married in front of our 2 boys, family and friends on our 10-year anniversary. Marriage is not easy but nothing good is. Our love is perfectly imperfect. Above all, we have and have had the thing that matters most- unconditional love. It’s true that time heals everything. One thing this relationship has taught me is you can always, always, always try again. Love will always prevail.
“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” Jeremiah 29:11. I truly believe there has always been a bigger plan for me to prosper to give me hope and future. Jeremiah Rey Ramos came into our lives like a Rae of Sunshine on Saturday Oct 16, 2010. I wasn’t planning on having any more children. The four of us were finally happy, together, financially stable, homeowners, and slowly climbing up the corporate ladder. I was an Administrative Assistant managing inventory, cash flow and ecommerce support for one of the world’s largest Oil and Gas Companies. Like I said there is a greater plan for me and I am no one to stand in the way. Jeremiah came when I needed him the most. Little did I know that our family would be tested once again. Just when I thought things couldn't get any better for us. I was humbled and reminded of how quickly the rug can be pulled from under you. Here I was 31 years old and headed for divorce. How could we have come so far with so little and end it. One of the hardest decisions in life is which bridge do you cross, and which one do you burn. I do not believe that divorce is never the answer. But I do believe that in most cases, it’s not the only answer. Rey and I have walked the walk and talked. Putting in all the hard @$$ work to be where we are today. Nine months that I could not have survived without my little Miah (Jeremiah). He will never know how he got me out from under the covers and out of bed in the darkest times. Helped me pull from strength I never knew I had.
Life will always feel fuzzy, uncertain, unclear, it’s not evidence of internal deficit. It’s LIFE. I’ve had to work hard for every single thing I have in life. Time away from my family to grow my career. I’m proud of where I am today professionally, and I don’t get to tell myself that enough. It’s true what they say hard work, loyalty, and dedication pays off. The opportunities I’ve had professionally didn’t come because of a degree. They have been offered to me because of my experience and work ethic. I am currently a Customer Service Manager for the same major Oil and Gas Company. I’m now in charge of Cash flow/finance for the Western Area. I’m responsible for Billers, contracts, Pricing, Master Service Agreements for all our major Customers. I am grateful, and I don’t take any of it for granted. I’m seen, I get to make major decisions, my opinion matters and what I love most is I get to do what I do with the flexibility to be a mother and wife.
As you know now I’ve been a mother and wife for most of my life. I didn’t know much more than that. I didn’t go to college. I wasn’t part of any sorority. I didn’t get to go clubbing in my 20s or travel. Like most of my friends. I had no idea how to take care of myself. How to practice self care and put myself first. In my early 30s I finally started taking care of ME. I attended my first concert, first girls trip, dinners with friends, started a fitness journey, my first Whole30 and started a food blog, @momjeansandrecipes. Somewhere to save my healthy, not so healthy and childhood recipes. Maybe one day I will quit my day job and grow my blog into a lucrative business. For now, I post for me, myself and I. If it encourages one person to cook or make one of my recipes then that makes my heart full but really, it’s a selfish account. I love to go back in the archive and see how much I’ve grown as a mother, cook, person and wife. A post tells me exactly where I was that day, what I was wearing, and how I felt. It’s my creative space, passion and it makes me happy.
I have always loved to cook. While other kids were watching cartoons. I used to watch cooking shows for hours. I cooked my first entire thanksgiving dinner when I was in the 5th grade. I remember socking my sister in the shoulder for picking at the mash potatoes before mom came home from work. LOL For me food is not just nourishment. It’s the sounds on Saturday mornings of eggs cracking, pancake batter, or frying bacon. It’s feeding my family a simple Honduran breakfast of beans, plantains and tortillas. It’s the sound of my boys in the kitchen with me. It’s playing with different flavors. Recreating our favorite not so healthy meals, still delicious but with half the calories. It’s feeding the soul. It’s love. It’s togetherness.
My name is Erika Pena- Ramos, I have lived a long life in my 38 years. What I’ve learned thus far is that you must show up for life. No one is born knowing exactly what to do. In fact, most of us don’t know what the heck we’re doing but we’re doing it. Doing our best is more than life can ask of us. Have the right mindset and your actions will follow. Just when you think you have a rhythm going it all might change so be ready to pivot. I’ve accomplished a lot, but I know there is so much more I hope to accomplish. There is so much POWER in knowing you are SMART and as CAPABLE as anyone else in any room. There is no room for envy, hate or negativity.
There’s only room for LOVE. Thank you for allowing me to share a few chapters of my life. I really hope we all make it.
- Erika Pena-Ramos