Life on your terms

June 1, 2017

A couple weeks ago I witnessed my stepdaughter graduate high school. It was a celebratory moment, a time when I saw her genuinely happy and excited about the future. It was hard to believe that ten years earlier, I met a strong-willed, 8-year-old little girl who loved to dance, workout and be incredibly helpful. I love her focus, ambition and independence.

While visiting, I also celebrated my other stepdaughter’s 16th birthday. Weeks leading up I was in shock that our youngest daughter was quickly turning into a woman. It would be my last opportunity to do something festive – after all, our sons wouldn’t want a sweet 16 birthday party!

So thousands of miles away and with limited information, I began planning her party. I contacted her best friend to help gather her guest list, coordinate her arrival and prepare her outfit (her BFF is amazing!) I rented a steak house, a local restaurant where they often dine whenever my husband visits, and planned a full course sit-down menu. I went with a make-up themed party, symbolic of her love for Ulta, Sephora and all things pretty, shiny and good-smelling. I researched cake designs online, read reviews of local bakeries and eventually found a perfect match. We ordered a rhinestone tiara, a sparkly cake topper and reviewed each detail, from the celebratory decorations, tasty mocktails and makeup trays used for our candy table. I spent nights placing stickers underneath birthday-themed Hershey kisses and days running errands, borrowing a polaroid camera and designing snapchat filters with two BFF’s from high school.

I was excited to see her excited.

As my husband and I began compiling her picture slideshow, I saw a hyper, active and loving little girl transform into a thoughtful, smart, creative and stylish young woman. I miss the girls when they were little. Swimming was replaced with social media and playing at the park turned into repeat episodes of Pretty Little Liars.

They grow up too fast. In fact, their milestones reminds me of a youthful life I seemingly no longer live.

In my 12 years of blogging, I have never gone months without writing on this website. With work, travel, sports and events, life became all the things I had to do, versus wanted to do. Each night I fall asleep exhausted from a long day and each morning I wake up anxious to begin another long day. I miss the look I saw on my eldest stepdaughter’s face as she grabbed her diploma; the look of a young woman about to start life on her own terms…

Somewhere since grabbing my diploma nearly twenty years ago, I earned two college degrees, traveled the world, competed in several pageants, founded a nonprofit, started businesses, published a book, created a belly ball, got married and had three children. In those same years I also had my heart broken, dealt with bulimia, struggled with unplanned pregnancies, financial woes, public backlash and marital separation. I definitely started living life on my own terms, but I gradually started living life on everyone else’s terms.

I see mothers getting bulldozed by their work and family schedules. I see people getting their dreams distracted daily by news, FB feeds and IG stories. I also see online colleagues becoming ‘social media slaves’ to their followers, often scared to post anything that will cause dislikes or negative comments.

We start learning human rules and are told what defines success, love, wealth and happiness. You learn cause and effect – If I do this, I will get that. If I look like this, I will feel that. If I post more of this, more people will “follow” me. You forget who you truly are and what you deeply want. You play a character, a different role for different people who come in and out of your life for various reasons. When you no longer serve a specific purpose, people who no longer have use for you, will leave your life.

And that’s ok.

It’s better to be authentic than fake, it’s better to live passionately rather than passively – most of all, it’s better to be around givers as opposed to takers…

As I watched my stepdaughter’s shocked face as she entered the restaurant, I was elated as she cried, smiled and uttered, “I’m so confused!” as she looked at all her friends and family surrounding her. After praying before our meal, toasting on her friend’s favorite memories and sharing our video compilation, her father and I made a small speech to commemorate our hopes and wishes for her.

I held her and I told her to stay vigilant…vigilant against the naysayers, the blamers and the energy-drainers. I hoped she stayed exactly who she was, a person who didn’t let others affect the way she felt about herself and to stand convicted against critics.

Live life on your own terms – not your mom or your dad, not your friends or your followers. Make your impact – even if you don’t get your desired result, recognition or reward.  Strive to be better each day. When you live life with passion, authenticity and love, you can’t lose. When you choose love, you win every single day.

I loved planning her birthday. Here is her make-up cake!


I enjoyed filming the morning show in New Orleans with our leaders on WWLTV!

Very proud of her!



  • Reply Julia June 4, 2017 at 7:23 pm

    Good for you! You’re busy and loving life.

  • Reply Kate Lee June 20, 2017 at 2:26 am

    This is such a beautiful post. I loved reading this, and I got inspired, which is exactly what I need at this point of my life. Thank you for posting this.

  • Reply Joseph Propati August 25, 2017 at 9:14 pm

    Hi Maria,
    I’m a little late to the party but I’ve been following your blogs with interest and love how you don’t hold anything back “very refreshing”. When I read your story about the whole backlash from the innocent photo your posted with your kids, I realized people just don’t get it and really didn’t get your statement. I was actually floored when I found out you were banned from Facebook. This to me was the epitome of hypocrisy and arrogance. As someone who has faded from Facebook and the utter mind-numbing, time waster that it is, you aren’t missing anything. I’m very happy that you and your husband are back together because you two just seemed like you were meant to be! Plus, three boys need a mom and dad full time! You keep writing and I’ll keep reading because you have inspired me to start getting back in shape and take charge of my life again… this comes from someone who is 51 with 4 kids “two in twenties and two at 4 and 6” and is married to the ultimate love of my life! Thanks for being an inspiration and a voice!

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