So many times I thought there was no light. I always acted as though there was a light, but I wasn’t convinced.
And this is how I have lived for the past decade. I have worked, fought, pushed, and struggled toward an end that in my heart I suspected I could never really reach.
It didn’t matter. I was going to work toward it anyway. And I have.
I fought back from horrible sickness to the hope of a better life (though in many ways I am a mere shadow of my former self).
I struggled to get my brain to work again after being nearly destroyed by neurological Lyme disease.
I fought for independence, equality and personhood by getting out of a horrible, toxic marriage.
I learned to establish boundaries and call people on their bullshit. Oh, this is a big one.
And yet, no matter how awful things got, I had this driving instinct to survive.
Guess where I learned this behavior? From my mom.
She sacrificed everything to provide for my siblings and myself after my father left us. She re-entered the workforce, supported us, and put aside her own life (including love) so that she could provide us with a stable home.
I love her for this. And yet I feel guilty. Where in all of that was she caring for herself, pursuing her dreams, and finding someone who would value and love her the way she deserved?
Then I became a parent (at a young age). My marriage didn’t last, and I found myself a single parent. My mom was there for me. She continued to model sacrificial motherhood. I worked, I cared for my son, and I did little else. My mom worked, cared for our home, her adult children and helped with her grandson.
At one point, when my son was 5 years old, I started taking one class at a time at Austin Community College.
I worked all day, came home, made dinner, stressed over whether the babysitter would show up, and headed to class two nights a week.
I felt torn and guilty.
And now for one of the two biggest regrets of my life: I felt so guilty being away from my son in the evenings after being gone all day long that I quit school. I decided that my son deserved my time and attention those two nights a week. I thought my presence was more important than a life higher education could provide. I was wrong.
I spent the next two decades engaged in self-learning activities. I remarried and educated my son and the children that came along at home.
I poured myself into my children. I nurtured, educated, and exposed them to the wonders of the world. I almost completely neglected myself. I pushed myself beyond what should be expected of any mother. I rarely got a break (this was due in part to my abusive marriage).
The only thing I did for me was continue to engage with technology through web and graphic design, learning software applications and simple business experiments.
I built on what I learned working (when I was a single mom) for lawyers, consultants and real estate developers.
Fast forward to 2006, when I became very sick with Lyme disease and didn’t recover with traditional treatment, I thought my life was over.
Then my marriage fell apart. Hmm, strangely enough, as traumatic as this was, it empowered me.
I cannot express how important it is to get out of toxic relationships, especially abusive ones. I had made a decision and the bottom line was that I was not going to continue in my marriage as it was. If dramatic change did not take place, the marriage was over.
Nothing has changed, so it is over. While that made me cry a few years ago, it brings me a sense of pride now. I made that decision because it was good for ME.
It was good for everyone else, too, though they didn’t know it.
In 2007, I started the college process again, but had a bad relapse and had to put it off. Over five years later, after long-term antibiotics, physical therapy, and lots of work to recover my ability to read and write, I finally started classes in January 2013. I took three at a time, knowing my limitations. And the first year was really exhausting for me (single motherhood, health issues, and classes).
I lived in constant fear that I would not be able to remember what I was learning. That part WAS hard. The hours I had to put in to do well were many. My professors expressed concern that I was working TOO hard. I feared failure because it would signal to me that I had no future at all. Failure would mean that my life really WAS over, that I would have to live on disability for the rest of my life.
(I don’t want go on disability. I want to earn my way.)
I don’t think anyone understood what drove me, and continues to drive me. If I can’t do this (finish college), then I have no future.
On Monday after class I went to Student Services and made an appointment to see my advisor prior to registering for fall classes. I knew I was getting close to earning a degree, but wasn’t sure exactly where I stood.
When I arrived for my appointment yesterday, my advisor had my graduation worksheet completed for a “General Studies” degree which has been my declared major since my second semester.
But last semester I decided I didn’t like the sound of that degree. It didn’t reflect my scholastic focus at all. I met with a professor who walked me through the different kinds of associates degrees offered and what would be required to earn them. I considered Communications, General Studies (which I was right on track for), and the Liberal Arts & Sciences – Humanities track.
When I transfer to a 4-year university, I am thinking about majoring in English (and possibly pre-law). I needed to have a transcript that was appealing to good schools, so my course choices the past year have reflected this.
I also wanted a degree that would help me with employment, should I find an opportunity along the way. I have taken communication and business software courses as electives (as well as required computer and public speaking courses) to increase my marketable skills.
So yesterday after I was told that I needed four electives to earn my General Studies degree I asked my advisor to work up the graduation checklist for the Liberal Arts & Sciences – Humanities track degree. I watched her fill it in, I asked her to double check that certain courses fulfilled the requirements (she was not sure), and then I saw it:
I need two required courses and two electives, and I will have fulfilled the requirements for an associate’s degree in Liberal Arts & Sciences – Humanities track.
I couldn’t believe it. One more semester. Four classes. I am almost there.
I can see the light at the end of the tunnel.
For the first time in my life, I will have quantifiable proof of my abilities and be ready to transfer as a junior to a 4-year college or university.
I had put aside pursuing a college education because I thought it meant I was a better mom. I realize now that had I gotten that college degree back in the 80s, I might have been financially independent, and been able to give my son and myself a much better life.
Money is not the root of all evil. Money empowers women. Money provides choices, freedom and contributes to self-determination. I have lived the extreme poverty but not doing anything to get out of it (by getting an education) scenario and it is not good, and now nearly three years into college (for a 2-year degree) I am still in poverty. At least with getting an education I feel as though I am doing something to improve my situation (and so far no student loans).
A couple of days ago I tweeted about an article in Forbes by Emma Johnson entitled, “Study Proves Moms Spend Too Much Time with Their Kids, Liberates Working Moms Everywhere.” While the headline is a bit overreaching (science, especially social science, doesn’t prove anything; it merely presents the most widely-accepted scientific knowledge and conclusions at any given time), the general premise of the article is very important for moms everywhere.
Mothers do not need to sacrifice their very beings for their children. It is okay to work, and – prepare yourselves – it is okay to enjoy it. It is okay to be away from your children as long as their needs are met and they know you are there for them overall.
I love (and sometimes dread) my coursework. It can be extremely demanding and exhausting especially when I am dealing with the stresses of trying to live in a cold climate, feed, care for, and provide a home for my minor and adult children.
But I am not torn anymore. Not at all.
When I started classes I told my children that my coursework comes first (youngest was a teen at the time). Yep, I said that. I don’t feel guilty. I don’t feel like a bad mom. Why? Because I did it the other way: I put my kids first in every way and I ended up an unemployed, sick, single woman who had given her best years to people who moved away (or will someday) and have their own lives. Where, when and how did I nurture myself, my own interests and dreams?
Mothers are people first, and then they are parents. Or they should be. Mothers are women who are human beings with hopes, dreams, desires, passions, wishes and goals. They should feel free (and be free) to pursue those dreams.
There IS a light, and I can see it. I am walking toward that light with a smile on my face.