What defines you? Are you someone people know for aesthetic features? For impeccable taste in clothes, scotch, or architecture? How would you want to be defined?
I was a young, single mom at one point in my life. I’d dropped out of college because daycare and tuition are quite challenging for a 19-year-old with jobs that were just above minimum wage. I lived with my parents and shared a bedroom with my young daughter. I worked in a grocery store video department and started picking up hours in the floral department and general merchandise to make more money. I loved my coworkers and the job was sometimes fun to do. I learned how to arrange and care for flowers and houseplants. I learned some tricks of the trade like spraying shiny stuff on the leaves of peace lilies before sending them to the funeral home (the most common place for those to be sent).
By 22, I was the proud owner of a 3 bedroom condo in a neighborhood that had other kids my daughter’s age. I loved my neighbors. I ran for and was awarded a place on the homeowner’s board. I was responsible for a credit union branch location inside of the executive building of a multinational conglomerate’s world headquarters. Sounds pretty cool, doesn’t it? I was really just a lone teller/personal banker for the people in that building. My neighbors voted me onto the board to block someone else from getting voted in. The retirees in the neighborhood would go out and campaign for me while I was at work.
I had an off and on boyfriend at that time in my life. I was naive and believed that he’d help me with the bills and we’d live there together happily. He was never around. He was too busy going out and partying all night and sleeping wherever he landed. He’d be gone for weeks sometime. He didn’t have a steady job or contribute to expenses. I actually turned off the cable tv at one point because I didn’t even use it and he was the one on the bill. One of my neighbors was an employee where I worked and we’d talk about my boyfriend. She convinced me to stand up for myself and I’d seen a therapist who echoed these sentiments. Unfortunately, I’d already co-signed on a car loan for him from one of those double digit percentage rate lenders. The collection calls were overwhelming after I’d taken all of his things and placed them in a cardboard box in the driveway of his sister’s home.
At 24, I’d had a mole removed that turned out to be malignant melanoma. I had an excision of the surrounding skin and it was over. No more cancer. The car went back into collections even though we weren’t together anymore. I got a new job that paid more and was closer to home. I had to take steps to get a key and repossess the car myself. The lender wouldn’t take it back no matter how hard I tried to surrender. In order to save my home and my car that I needed for my daughter and myself, I filed bankruptcy.
At 25, I’d been dating the man who would become my husband. We moved in together in a house we looked for together. Within a year, we broke up and I moved back to the neighborhood with the condos as a renter. I barely qualified for section 8 housing. After six months, we’d reconciled and my daughter and I moved back to the house we’d lived in together.
On his 29th birthday (I was 27), he asked me to marry him standing in our bedroom telling me that if I said yes, it would make his birthday perfect. We went to a hockey game that weekend and won their weekly mortgage relief contest, which got us a few months of our house payment paid in full. We married when I was 28 on Easter weekend. It was the most beautiful day in April and the very next morning, there was snow on the ground.
We went to Ireland on our honeymoon and explored castles and towns. We went to a farm where we saw sheep herded and I got to pet one of the border collies and feed one of the sheep. We hiked the national forest and stood upon the Cliffs of Moher. It was awesome. I hope to return one day and see more.
The following year, my daughter was almost 10 when my chubby little boy was born. He was an almost 10 pound baby. I began my life as a stay at home mom. I’d been working full-time for so long, I wasn’t sure what I was expected to do. I just knew that I loved having the time to see my daughter after school for longer and that I got to spend the day seeing my son and having this experience of being with him instead of thinking about it all day at work.
When he was 7 months old, despite me nursing him and being on a low dose birth control, I was pregnant again. Just as soon as I’d found out, something went wrong. That Easter weekend, I started bleeding and despite my efforts to be calm, I was incredibly sad that I’d lost it.
Imagine my surprise when he was 9 months old and I was pregnant again. This time, the dr put me on a gel medication delivered directly into my cervix and I was paranoid the entire pregnancy that it wouldn’t work out. I had a tiny baby girl who was only in the 7 pound range. She was my smallest baby and she seemed fragile to me.
During that pregnancy, we moved 200 miles from our home for my husband’s job. I was 36 weeks pregnant when we made the big move. I had one day where I went to the dr thinking I was going into early labor. That’s how I ended up meeting my new OB in my new town. Me being a frightened mommy.
Now I’ve lived here (a week short of) 5 years. My youngest is in pre-k and will be starting school in the fall. My oldest is a sophomore in high school. My son is in kindergarten. I’m a stay at home mom still. I have run 5 half marathons and will be training for my first marathon. I’ve taken up swimming laps to cross train on my non running days.
I’ve redefined myself many times. Most people do. What part do I think is important? I’ve had so many different experiences and I’ve been afraid and I’ve been vulnerable. I’ve been naive. From those, I’ve learned new things. I’ve experienced. Not everything has been pleasant, but it forms an aggregate of the person that I am today and the person I will be tomorrow. I often tell people that they see strength in me where I see a person who just doesn’t know how to give up. I really don’t know how to just cash in my chips and call it a day. I know when I have to put off my own goals until the time arrives to try again.
So, while someone might try to discount my success as a person to my level of education or my career, I have accomplished the things that I set out to do as they were important. I have stood up for myself when it counted and I’ve taken the falls when I needed to. I’ve asked for help when I needed it. I’ve given help when I’ve seen myself needed. I haven’t stood by and watched life while too afraid to live it. I intend to continue that. That is what drives me and what will continue to. I define who I am at any given time. I make the best of what I have and if I can’t, I admit it.
I’ve been running a few days a week on the treadmill and one outside. I’ve been swimming on my non-running days. I lift weights in the gym. I’m trying to get back to eating less junk food. My meals are healthy and my snacks usually aren’t. I’m not perfect. I’d never claim to be. I just am willing to accept that this is who I am right now and what I need to do to become who I want to be. It requires strength of body and resolve. I’ll still do it. I might not always be happy about the things going on in my life, but I’m not ashamed of where I am or where I’ve been.