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Educators: Being the Change They Hope to See

My husband and I  have been going in to work every day for the last fourteen years to teach in one of the most diverse places in the country. Though we have had failures, we have also had successes. We’ve had some bad, tough days but we’ve had more better days. We’ve taught and coached 1000s of kids over the years but probably not as much as they’ve taught us.

Education is a tough field and none of us teachers go into it because we think it’ll be easy. We do it because we want a career that gives us purpose, we want to do something to shape the future, and we want to be a part of the change and difference we hope to see.

As the world at times erupts in chaos around us with social injustices and political turmoil and the epidemics of drug abuse, mental health crisis, and fear of mass shootings,  teachers as nurturers want to fix the broken world that surrounds us.

Though those problems may seem too big to change, teachers walk into their schools every day to try to be that change they want to see in the world. In the schools of BCPS where so many choose to serve, here is where educators decide day in and day out to give their life a greater purpose, to try to be the change for tomorrow that they hope to see.

In our diversified classrooms we can teach our next generation acceptance and compassion. Every day we learn from people different than ourselves; we learn from them and teach them our varied experiences and skills are all needed in this world to make it what we want it to be.

No, unfortunately, we can’t save every kid and solve every problem, but little by little we do make change that matters. We lead by positive examples and we will change some. Those some will go on to be the positive examples that change more and our impact of change and difference is made. We give our students a place to have a voice but also a place to listen and learn compassion for one another and our differences.

It may seem like the world is too big to change but the change we hope to build starts in our homes, our schools, and our communities.

New Year But Why a New Me?

 

Ten years ago when we were getting ready to ring in 2009, I had just found out our first baby was a baby girl. I had also recently just turned 27 and thought that was a nice mature age to be “ready” to launch into motherhood.
However, over the last ten years it never seemed to fail that as soon as I thought I had myself, life, or this motherhood thing figured out though, I’d find myself a little lost on my way. I’d question myself; I’d doubt myself. I’d play that horrid comparison game with myself and other women that we’re all guilty of at some point.
I found myself in a demanding career that got tougher and tougher to manage every year, on top of first one kid, then two, and finally three kids. Add two miscarriages, an episode of postpartum depression, the onset of navigating a hearing disability, marriage with careers and kids, and how do I even get started on the toll motherhood takes on your body and sense of identity when it comes to your marriage, career, and interests?
There were times I was looking in the mirror, going who is that girl staring back at me? I’d question whether I was going to come out the other side of this and find myself again? I wish I could say it was a simple find but ten years later I’ve lost track of how many times I lost and found myself.
Though motherhood is without a doubt the most rewarding thing ever, it’s also so very hard! Then I learned we hide in shame because it’s hard, because we can’t succeed at everything at once, and we’re left wondering what’s wrong with me that I’m struggling so much with this? As women and as mothers we focus way too much on seeing all the things we do wrong rather than the things we’ve done right.
Growing up I had what I think were pretty simple dreams. I wanted a family of my own, to teach and write, and I wanted to travel. That’s it. Sure I guess I wanted to own my own house someday but let’s be honest, homeownership is overrated sometimes. Sure, I’d need a car but what kind didn’t really matter as long as it was reliable for road tripping.
As another year on this journey of life and motherhood comes to a close, I found myself standing on top of Rockefeller Center overlooking the Empire State Building and New York City with my family of five on another trip to discover and experience all the awesome things this world has to share, paid for by my teaching and writing. I reached and lived my dream every day.
Yet how easy do we forget that? Because even when we’re living our dreams there is life. And life is messy and complicated and though it involves a lot of laughter and joy it also involves a lot of tears and heartbreak as we struggle. The media and society tends to focus on the negative; therefore, how easily are we conditioned to focus on the negative? To see what we don’t have rather than what we do have? To see what we haven’t accomplished rather than what we have accomplished?
So I’m not going to make resolutions in 2019 to think I need to do more or be more or have more than I what I have and what I am. So at this time of the year when we all take a moment to look back and make goals how we can do better, be better, do more, or have more, my resolution isn’t to build a new, supposed better me but to just give the me I am grace and to love myself more. I will give myself permission to fail, and to accept that I’m going to make mistakes- at everything- and it’s going to be OKAY. I’ll understand that asking for help or sharing my struggles doesn’t mean I’m weak. My resolution isn’t about a new me in 2019 but accepting me and this life of mine in all the highs and lows.

Happy New Year! I hope 2019 treats you well!

The Elf on the Shelf May Be the End All Be All of Motherhood Battles

I’m proud of my diversity of mom friends. In a media influenced world where we tend to belittle each other’s choices and mothering abilities, I have worked to get past my own judgments to appreciate the individuality of all my different mom friends. I love you all; however, I have a bone to pick with ALL of you. First it was just the crafty, overachieving moms, then it started to trickle down to even those like me that are just hoping we all survive to the end of the day without killing each other, that jumped on board. ALL of you, the working mom, the stay at home mom, the organic mom, the nonorganic mom, the crafty mom, the noncrafty mom, the attachment parenting mom, the moms of all shapes, forms, beliefs and styles have ALL jumped on the Elf on a Shelf bandwagon. And I have not and now you have all convinced me I need to. This Elf guy has become such a big thing it’d be like taking away the idea of Santa Claus at Christmas.

But why do we do this to ourselves? Don’t we have enough to do as mothers? Don’t we have enough extra stuff to do during the holidays without bringing in this elf thing? I have a hard enough time being Santa Claus for ONE night a year. Now I have to be a damn elf for all the nights in between Thanksgiving and Christmas. I had to tell a coworker to text me Christmas Eve because I keep forgetting to leave cookies and milk for Santa. I should just check Facebook for a reminder. Most of you will probably take a picture of not only the cookies you left for Santa but now we’re leaving carrots for reindeer too? Geez, this whole Santa Claus business is starting to need to come with an instructional manual.

I love Christmas time and love seeing the magic of it come to life in my daughters’ eyes, but now on top of card addressing, gift shopping and ordering, Christmas budgeting, decorating, wrapping, baking, seeing Santa in person, and making it to other holiday festivities, I am now in charge of creating extra mischief around my house on top of all the other chaos and disasters that erupt all over my house on a daily basis with the never ending demands of my wonderful children, husband, and three pets. I thought the idea of the elf was to keep our children in line so they don’t create mischief so why is everybody’s elves creating messes and mischief? I need an elf that cleans up, not creates messes.

This damn elf business might just be the last straw on this motherhood war, ladies. This may do me in. I may have to throw in the white flag of surrender here. I can’t keep up with these modern day motherhood expectations . The good thing is I don’t think my daughter knows about the magical elf yet. So I have not failed yet; however, I need a damn elf, moms. So where do I get it? And what exactly is my job as this magical elf character?

The Loss of What Wasn’t Meant to be that Only a Mother Knows

I bolted awake, my eyes taking in the familiarity of my own bedroom with its smoky gray walls and morning light pushing through the darkness of the bedroom.
I knew as I awakened in the dark silence of the night earlier that the baby was gone. I could feel my body physically rejecting its presence, but the ache in my heart at the confirmation that my fear this baby would be lost too, would last long past the physical pains and discomforts.
I cried silent tears in the night at what was lost. I’d have to tell my husband and daughters that we lost another baby again. This was the second baby in five months we had just lost. Were we ever going to be able to complete our family or was it time for me to let those dreams go? Like any other tragedy I’ve been left with wondering why and feeling like there’s some explanation I’m missing. What was I not seeing? I always imagined the third baby being a baby boy, and how that moment after his birth with his two older sisters would be like that happily ever after moment every little girl imagines of her future adult life. Why was that moment not mine to have?
My husband and girls would be sad in the moment when I told them, but they wouldn’t mourn the baby’s loss on the dates ahead that would have marked the baby’s growth. They’d never think of April as the month we would have learned if it was a boy or girl or that in August it would have been the baby’s birth date. The knowledge of those moments, as well as this one, the date the baby’s short existence ended, are a burden a mother alone carries.
I will go about my days as if nothing is amiss while I quietly mourn what was not meant to be. Some will know and understand my loss while others may wonder how I can miss someone I never met. But a mother begins to sense and connect with her baby shortly after conception. I knew you, my baby, though I never saw your face, and it was only for a few short months. I imagined our future together that will now never be more than a lost dream.

Others will just know of the children I birthed and will never know or wonder about the ones I lost. Others won’t know to miss you but a part of me will always miss you and what we never got to have as mother and child.
I will join the ranks of those women that mourn babies they never got to meet. These lost babies stay with us forever. They define each mother’s journey of motherhood just as each baby that came before and after them define her.
Though there may be more babies that follow- a rainbow baby they call it- for me to love, a mother never forgets the babies she has lost. I will often wonder what you would have been like. How you would have fit into the dynamics of our family and the relationship you would have had with your siblings? Few will ever know of your existence but know your short time with me left a lasting impression, and I will never forget you, my sweet angel baby that was never meant to be a part of this world.

Image provided by American Pregnancy Association

 

Moving Past the Test Results

This past summer we had my son’s follow ups with his cardiologist, neurologist, and genetics. After over two years of debating and waiting to see how my son was doing we agreed in August to a genetics test with the hope that because doctors and us were optimistic he did not have the genetic disorder they feared in utero that we’d get a negative result and could dismiss his case.

I was also hopeful at his annual cardiologist appointment that the tumor they found on his heart in utero would have shrunk to the point of almost disappearing as is typical of these tumors after two years.  Between the two I was hopeful that maybe after almost three years we would be moving on from this uncertain medical journey.

The results of both of these tests were not what we hoped to hear. The tumor on his heart is still very present and has not shrunk as quickly as expected. A 24 hour EKG type test was ordered to make sure the tumor was not causing arrhythmias. A 24 hour test on a two year is definitely not a fun adventure but we took him to the carnival to distract him from being hooked up to so many little wires and he handled it pretty well until we had to traumatize him with ripping off the sticky things. The results from that test did come back good though as his heart is functioning completely normal as if the tumor is not there. As has been the case for almost three years now so that is a great blessing and relief in all of this.

The genetics test was the real disappointment. His results were not negative. They weren’t a clear positive either though. They were actually inconclusive. He does have a mutation on the particular gene that cause the TSC genetic disorder. However, only three other kids at this time have that same mutation and they all point towards having TSC so my guess is they have 1 or more of the features of TSC. TSC stands for tuberous sclerosis complex which causes tumors to grow on your major organs and then those tumors can cause minor to life threatening issues. Our son currently only has one feature of the disorder so far with the heart tumors. With two features he’d be diagnosed with TSC. They are leaning towards him being positive for the TSC disorder though with the current one feature and the mutated gene that currently points towards TSC.

The next step is for my husband and I to also undergo genetics testing in which the lab actually pays for because our son’s results were inconclusive. Our genes are like a scientific genetic study right now. Once we have those results around the end of October we will sit down with genetics and the neurologist of the TSC clinic here in Baltimore and discuss what this all means for him, whether the girls need to be tested as carriers, and the worry of genetic implications with their own children.

It is a lifelong condition that effects all people differently. Some have little issues with the disorder just as we have experienced so far and others face severe, sometimes life threatening, issues with the disorder. Some infants with the tumors they found on his heart don’t even make it out of utero because the tumors infer with the heart and cause fetal death so we’ve made it past the scary part with the heart tumors.

 

But unfortunately, at this time,  there’s not a treatment for the disorder itself. You wait for the symptoms to appear on whatever organs the next tumors grow on and you treat that. The next likely organs are his brain and kidneys.

I battle with myself on reading up on everything as much as possible in order to be prepared to advocate for him should the situation arise. Then as I read all these scary, worse case scenarios I tell myself why go there and freak myself out when the kid is doing perfectly fine right now and could very well continue to do very well and be one of the people in which this disorder is very mild for him, causing little issues or concerns throughout his life. Which do I do?

I am in the process of starting to compose questions for this specialist meeting we’ll have coming in October. For instance, something I read mentioned stem cells for possible early experimental treatment and we banked our oldest daughter’s stem cells. Do we have options with her stem cells! Which if we do, I’m sure will make us even more of a science study than we currently are. If this disorder attacks his kidneys is a kidney transplant an option or will the tumors attack a new one just as easily as the first one? I know he’ll continue to have to have annual scans of his organs which will involve multiple tests every year (THANK GOD FOR GOOD INSURANCE) but unless he has a seizure or some kind of alarming behavior I don’t think I want him sedated for tests like MRIs again right now. Do we avoid these sedated required tests while he’s young and not presenting any symptoms or do we do these tests regardless? So I have questions and still not a lot of clear answers but I remind myself to focus on what I do know.

The boy is doing great right now. We have a great team of doctors at Johns Hopkins and Kennedy Krieger in charge of his care to help us figure this out. The next thing to be on the look out for with this disorder is seizures and developmental delays as those tend to be how the tumors on the brain impact patients. But with the one developmental delay he’s shown so far with speech he was kicked out of before he even started because his talking just suddenly took off, and the doctors are incredibly happy with his development as well and think he’s doing great too. So we just keep doing what we’ve been doing the past three years since all of this started.

We focus on right now and count our blessings right now that he’s doing fantastic and developing like a normal, happy boy and keep praying that his health continues to do so well. Prayers for our boy are always appreciated and are working I believe. Thanks for caring about us and our journey.

Finding Your Mom Friend on the Internet

So I did something today I would typically not recommend to my children. I met a friend on the internet and then a few days later agreed to meet this strange lady in a nearby park. I know, total creepy serial murderer stuff, right? On top of it I took my children with me. Gasp, I know! The internet with all its horror stories and creepers out there has us running so scared we’re going to meet the next ax murderer in our next online interaction or trip to the park.

But I’m here to reassure you we did not die. She did not murder us and we did not murder her. We have all survived this rare encounter that we are all cautioned not to engage in these days and none of us became the next breaking horror story on the internet.

Sarcasm aside though, no, I wouldn’t really recommend to my children making friends online and definitely not agreeing to meet strangers in a park. But I’m an adult and can make my own possible bad decisions. Besides that when you have three kids attached to you full time, finding mom friends has become like internet dating. How else are we to find the one we just connect with? I haven’t tried dating with three kids, and though I have a handful of girlfriends that are my tribe kind of girls I don’t think I found one that I really connected with since I was pregnant with my first.

But now that we have all survived this close encounter,  I think I found one of my kind of people. Someone that gets being a bit of an introverted writer that totally gets this writing thing is just a part of who we are. She’s an English major and former teacher just like me. She’s also a mother of three with two girls and a boy-  just like me. She’s the oldest of three herself, again just like me. She’s a Steelers and Penguins fan, which you have to be if you’re ever going to enter my house. And she lives in the same town as me. What’s the possibility? It’s fate or creepy, right?

But the coolest part was right off the bat I could tell she’s one of those nonjudgmental moms. We let our kids play without being all up in their business, told them to sort out their own disagreements, let them take their shoes off and get dirty, and totally the free range kind of parent that is my kind of mom. I didn’t feel like I had to impress her or worry about how I was mommin my kids. I felt like I could totally be me in a way that I feel we aren’t allowed anymore for fear of constant criticism and judgment.

Unfortunately, I’ve learned that women in motherhood can be more negative and critical than the mean girls of our middle school days.  So it’s hard to find the women that you can just be yourself with. But they are out there, mommas. Women have had to take to the internet to find a man; so don’t dismiss the internet in finding your kind of woman. She is out there-  the woman that you can be yourself with, that you can let your guard down with, that will get you when others don’t. They will cheer you on and be happy for your successes when you’re the all star that you are, and they’ll be there to listen and offer a shoulder to cry on when motherhood and life is taking you down. They will enjoy getting to know the best of you, but they will also accept the worst of you. They will love you judgment free in a time in your life when you feel more judged than middle school.

The right kind of mom friend for you might be waiting out there on the internet.

Disclaimer: Proceed with a caution on the internet as this experience does not guarantee that the next online interaction may not be a future ax murderer.

 

A Mother’s Wait

Nothing stops a mother’s heart, or a father’s for that matter, like facing the uncertainty of her baby or child’s health or life. You’re not sure at times if your heart is stopping in fear or about to explode out of your chest in panic. You jerk awake in the night with your mind racing of unstoppable fears. You have to calm your racing heart and sweaty palms and remind yourself in this very moment they are okay and the worst case scenario does not have to be your reality.

Some days we do okay because we know that worst case scenario isn’t where we’re living in the moment so we cling to our hope and our optimism.  But there are some days we let the fear and the doubt sneak it. As much as we try to fight it, it fills our mind and keeps us awake in the dark of the night when everyone else sleeps.

A fear a parent has for their child is a fear like no other. One that can choke us and consume us if we let it. It can turn our world upside down in a moment. I have seen some amazingly strong mothers (and fathers) face situations we all pray is never ours, and their hope is an extraordinary light that keeps the darkness of fear from consuming them and those around them.

We face an uncertain future and possible unforeseen challenges on the road ahead when we face that heart stopping news. But we also know we will figure out and do whatever we must to get our babies or children the best possible care they need. We will put on our bravest faces and we will reach deep within to pull out a strength we didn’t even know we had, and leading the way we will do our absolute best to pull our children, ourselves, and all the others that love us, through this scary moment.

Through it all we will have our fear, we may voice our fear, we can confront our fear, but we cannot let our fear consume our hope or our faith. It is what will see us through; it is what will see our children through these dark scary moments. Our hope and faith is our greatest strength.

 

Thoughts and prayers to all the parents waiting to get to the other side of this scary moment with their child.

 

 

 

 

The Woman on the Other Side of Motherhood

As mothers, there are moments where we feel like we’re stuck in the early childrearing years of those days of runny noses, crying toddlers, butt wiping, and constant repetition of cartoons, activities, stories, and bedtime rituals. One minute we can’t wait for them to be older and more independent so they won’t need us as much, but then at other times we just want to savor these innocent early childhood days. But when it’s all said and done, it will just seem like it happened in a blink of an eye. These early years will feel like yesterday one moment and forever ago the next.

We find ourselves lost in the shuffle of carpooling kids, practices, rehearsals, baths, meals, school activities, and play dates. This flow of motherhood seems to overtake our lives at certain points. At different points along the way it can seem like we lose sight of our own interests, our old friends, our own relationship with our spouse, our own career ambitions and goals because we are now on a road directed by our children. Some days we think about how this wasn’t exactly what we envisioned.

But one day the chaos will die down, our children will be grown, and we will catch ourselves trying to identify who we are again. As mothers, the role of momma overtakes every other identity we have ever had. One day they will grow up and even though we are still their mothers, their constant need for us gets smaller, and we are left with rediscovering who we are. We will survive these early years of child rearing but we won’t be the same person we were before we began the journey. It’ll be this new woman that conquered childrearing, was supermom and superwoman at times, that we will be left with rediscovering at the end of this journey. No matter our choices, motherhood is each woman’s personal journey from the girl she was to the woman she will become. Along the way there will be bumps in the road but we will survive.

I don’t know about you but after spending almost a decade now in the trenches of diaper changing, wrangling stubborn toddlers, frantically finding sitters to cover for children that couldn’t be left unattended, sleepless nights with scared or cranky little kids I am so excited to leave this part of motherhood behind and embrace the little bit of freedom and independence that comes with the next stage of motherhood with older children. Though I don’t know how I’ll feel after these next ten years when my children will be grown and getting ready to the leave the nest, I know I’ll be left with  delving headfirst into discovering this new woman I am on the other side of motherhood. I hope when it’s time to meet her I’m excited to see who I’ve become on the other side of motherhood.

Her Stories: Her Truth

I am continuously awed and inspired by the bravery, the grit, the courage, and the perseverance I see in the women of today. They are all around me. They are in the girls I use to go to school with, they are in the women I’ve worked with, they are in the moms of my children’s friends, they are in the women I call my closest friends, they are in the older women that came before us, and they are in my cousins and my sisters. As a little girl born in the early 80s, boys and men were still seen as superior, and the woman as the weaker sex.

But I’ve come to see she is a force to be reckoned with; there is a strength within her that outshines the outdated thinking of her inferiority. I’ve seen these women face down cancer, lose their parents at young ages, lose unborn babies sometimes more than once, struggle with mental health and eating disorders, raise their children alone, speak out against their abusers, and leave their cheating husbands. I’ve seen them become leaders, become entrepreneurs, become teachers, become women of the military, become counselors and social workers, become speakers and writers, and the list of what they have done, what they have overcome, and what they can do goes on and on.

Maybe one of the most inspirational things of all is her place is no longer one of silence and submission. No matter the battle she faces, she owns it. There are moments meant to test her, sometimes break her, and in the very toughest moments meant to shatter her. But good or bad, she owns it, and rather than let it tear her down she will use it to rebuild herself back up.

As we raise the next generation of girls and women, we are paving the way for a future where she doesn’t doubt her strength, her power, or her place. She will be womazing like the women before her. Keep telling your stories, ladies, keep owning them, even in the hardest moments, because we are rewriting the story of the woman. She is no longer meant to be silent. She will tell her stories; she will tell her struggles; and she will tell her truth.

We are giving a voice to things like miscarriage and lost babies, mental health and eating disorders, breast cancer, abuse and sexual harassment, equality in our workplaces, in our homes, and in our society.

Our Story: Heads Carolina? Tails Colorado?

I stormed out of the restaurant with him close on my heels. That didn’t quite go the way I expected! Now my temper and smart mouth didn’t just get me in trouble and fired but somehow him as well. We stepped outside, the late afternoon spring sun blazing down the mid day empty bar strip.

“What do you say? Carolina or Colorado? Let’s go!” A smile split across my face. The tension from the argument inside with that witch of woman and her asshole husband that had the nerve to say he “owned” his employees started to leave me as I saw that smile that said “I’ll go right now if you will.”

He had hinted at taking off to Carolina or Colorado a few weeks ago, and he was the type that would totally just do it. Besides my commitment to finish my last semester of college, I had also already committed myself to a year of teaching on the Missouri/Iowa border. But I was getting farther and further away from the girl that I was that had hesitated on picking a college and lived at home the first two years, and I seriously considered the truth to that offer to just take off. I was 22 and free! The whole world waited out there for me, for us, and it was so tempting to just embrace it and take the biggest leap of faith I’d ever taken.

However, even though we had worked together for a few months, we had only been dating for a few weeks, and I was not quite the impulsive one like he was. But that moment over fourteen years ago was just the beginning of what would become a wild, sometimes impulsive ride. Who knew then that we were destined for such great disasters and battles of epic proportions?

I had maybe left behind my family that knew how to put a cap on my temper and attitude, but the road ahead would show that I had met my match. We didn’t leave in the coming months, but we did a year later and together alone we took on whatever came our way. How we didn’t kill each other at times was possibly a mystery in itself. I pushed and demanded too much, too often, and he’d only take so much of my temper before he’d match it right back. But he made up for my shortcomings and where he was weak I was strong.

As the time to leave approached, I don’t know if I had ever been so emotionally scared in my life.  I was absolutely terrified of the bombardment of emotions that could be forthcoming in the journey ahead. I would question many times if maybe my stubborn father was right and I was absolutely out of my mind. But I was set on proving him and anyone else that doubted me that I could do this. You see my father wasn’t the only one that was quite stubborn.

I had told my parents only a few weeks before actually leaving that I was leaving home with a boy they barely knew. And by leaving home I mean I was packing my few belongings and my dog in my old Ford Contour and moving halfway across the country, eighteen hours away to Maryland with him.  My father was irate to say the least. I was twenty two and had always been the stubborn, mind of her own child, but because we were such a close knit family they never really saw this coming. And they were NOT happy. No one believed I would really leave in the first place and if I did it wouldn’t be long before I was back.

It was the moment in my life that would define so much of whom I would become and the direction my life would take. Growing up I had always imagined living near the ocean. As a small town Midwest girl, the ocean and the big cities of the East Coast were like an exciting adventurous life I only saw on movies and television shows. I had been to the beach once in my life and aside from visiting a few neighboring Midwest states, I had been to Buffalo, New York and the Badlands of South Dakota. I was twenty two and there was a giant world out there calling my name and I wanted to explore it. But my family just did not understand.

This driving desire to go was something none of them really understood about me. Don’t get me wrong, I love my family immensely, and leaving them behind was the hardest thing I’ve had to do. I had a great childhood, a childhood I would come to realize was well sheltered and great-the way every childhood should really be. But I was set on leaving. This was my window to chase my dreams, but I would see that the fence is not always greener on the other side. And even chasing your dreams has a few bumps in the road.

We were going to spend the Father’s Day weekend with my family before heading out Monday morning. I was a nervous wreck about leaving but was trying my best to hide it from my family and Nate. I did not want anyone to know how absolutely terrified I was that I was making a huge mistake and was going to be absolutely miserable. I knew I could always come back, but I was a very prideful person so the thought of coming home with my tail between my legs was almost as terrifying as being so far away and homesick.

I knew as soon as Nate pulled up that Friday evening something was wrong.

“What? What’s the matter?” I yelled as I ran down the steps.

“Bettis fell out of the window when we pulled into your parents’ neighborhood. I think he broke his leg!” Bettis was the dog he got me for Christmas that year. He set him on the ground and every time the poor dog tried to walk he’d fall flat on his face. It was such a sad, pitiful sight!

“It’s Friday night! How am I going to get him to a vet?” I cried. Of course, the first thing that crossed my mind was how much was this going to cost me. My mom came out and said she’d see if their vet would see him for an emergency visit. Luckily, he agreed to meet us at his vet clinic in half an hour.

A couple hours and $300 later we learned it would have been better if the dog would have broken his leg because at least that would have healed in a few weeks. Instead he had nerve damage, which could eventually result in us having to amputate his leg. It was a horrible start to my last weekend at home. I remember crying all weekend. I now had a good excuse because of Bettis, which I claimed was the reason, but really I think I cried more because I was scared to death to leave Monday morning.
Years later, I still remember the night before we left. I laid awake the whole night, terrified of the journey I was about to embark upon. I questioned every factor that went into my decision to do this in the first place. Nate wanted to leave Missouri. He wasn’t from here and he had already lived in three states since he left home at eighteen. I wanted to go to give us a chance to see what would happen but then at the same time I felt that I used him as my ticket to go because if I didn’t go with him I didn’t think I was brave enough to go that far from home on my own. He never believed I would actually leave with him. There were all these people just waiting for me to back out.

I kept weighing was chasing my dream to live in some East Coast city and be near the ocean and completely independent on my own worth it to leave the family I worshipped and the only home I’d ever known. I wouldn’t get to hang out with my sisters all the time, eat dinner with my family on regular basis, take nightly walks with my dad, go shopping with my mom and sisters, attend the huge Sunday Williams family dinners. Could I give all that up?

 

That seventh grade student of mine that I had taught that year really knew what he was talking about when he said, “No matter what you want in life. Even if it’s what you always wanted, it comes with a sacrifice.” Maybe my Dad was right, maybe I had lost my mind. Everything told me to stay; that this was crazy, especially with all the crazy issues Nate and I had had the past few months, but I felt if I didn’t go I would regret it and wonder what if for the rest of my life.
So the next morning with my few personal belongings and my dog piled into my Ford Contour with no air conditioning and tears in my eyes, I started the eighteen hour drive East to a future that scared the daylights out of me but would forever change my life and define me at the same time.
We hit Washington, DC the next afternoon at rush hour. I didn’t even drive the major highways in Kansas City so experiencing the Capital Beltway was my first cultural shock of this journey I had decided I needed to embark on. We were at a standstill in the 90 degree heat with no air conditioning with my dog panting down my neck. Nate was in front of me in his old Jeep Wrangler that also didn’t have any air. Between our two cars contained all our few possessions which consisted of all our clothes, personal possessions, a TV, and a microwave. That was it. We didn’t have a place to live yet and that was all we had to put in an apartment when we found one. He started calling my phone.
“So this is an exciting experience,” I mumbled into the phone.
“My brakes are shot,” he says.
“Great, what does that mean exactly?”
“I can get to Pat’s and hopefully I don’t rear end anyone. But I’m going to need to get them fixed soon.”
Great more money. Just what I wanted to hear. Because the Jeep was a stick shift, he was able to make it to his friend’s where we were staying without rear ending anyone thankfully. From there, we were down to one car to find an apartment and start furnishing it. It was going to cost $800 to fix his brakes, and then the mechanic so kindly told us a list of about $3000 worth of work the Jeep needed. Needless, to say on about the third day when we were driving around lost again trying to find a Wal Mart because that’s where you shop for household items in the Midwest we were getting a little short with one another and ready to kill each other. I later learned Wal Mart is NOT the place to supposedly shop on the East Coast.
We managed to get our apartment set up and settled for the most part a week or so later, when it was time to head to Virginia Beach to meet my sisters who were coming out to see a friend of ours in the Navy down there for a few days before coming up to DC to stay with us. This was going to be my second time seeing the ocean so I was pretty excited.

The six of us: my boyfriend, myself, my two sisters, one of their boyfriends, and our friend in the Navy had a great time together. On Sunday afternoon, the five of us piled into my nonair conditioning car and started the three hour drive back up the coast to DC. Beach traffic on a Sunday evening I learned is NUTS. So we decided to get off on a side route and travel the countryside of Maryland. About an hour outside of the Capital Beltway, my car died. It just stopped. So there we were, the five us in my hot car, stranded a good hour from our apartment, two hours from our friend’s, and not a person to call because we just go here and didn’t know anyone! Not to mention that now Nate and I were out here with not a single working vehicle because the Jeep was still sitting in the apartment complex without brakes.

I started to think it all had to be sign. A sign that said, “Go home! You never should have left!” What the hell were we going to do? We had to get a tow truck which dropped us all off at a hotel with the promise that they could have my car fixed in the morning. So when I get stressed I tend to get mad and angry and take it out on about well everyone. The five of us were in one room. My sister was fighting with my other sister’s boyfriend.

Nate and I were fighting over where we were going to get the money for all these crazy mishaps that kept happening. My sisters’ trip out to see me turned into a nightmare. And it only got worse from there. My car wouldn’t be fixed for a week. We had to take a cab from where we were to a subway station which was $100! We got on the subway train going the wrong way before we had to turn around to go back the other way. How was I suppose to know what was the right way?!? I never rode a subway train before. Then we had to take a city bus from the subway station to our apartment. Twenty four hours later we made it back to our apartment. Except now my sisters and her boyfriend had to be back in VA Beach for their flight the next day and we didn’t have a single car to get them back there. Our friend we had just left had to drive up to get them and then drive them back down.

 

 

After they left, the sadness of not being with my family set in again. On top of all the financial stress, I really wanted to just give up and go home before I even started the job I signed a contract with that was suppose to start in a month. But I decided it was too early to quit and owed it to myself to see where this journey could take me. So we bought a new 2005 Dodge Ram Hemi truck because we figured we needed at least one reliable vehicle. That should have given us some vehicle peace of mind, except someone decided they needed it more than us I guess because it was stolen forty days after we got it the weekend before we were suppose to start working at our new jobs for the upcoming school year. We never saw it again and ended up with a rental car for two months before the insurance company paid it off.

 

 

I learned a lot of things about myself and life in just the journey to make it out here and get settled in this life I was determined to live. Even when you’re chasing your dreams and living the life you only imagined it is life. There are bills to pay, disagreements with the ones you love to work out, incidents with everything from your vehicle to your house to your dog that comes up, and just when you think you’re making enough money you’re not. People are always going to second guess you and sometimes they may be right but not always. You have to do what’s right for you when it’s time for those big decisions. Even if you learn later that it wasn’t so right that’s okay too. There’s always something gained even from our mistakes.  The answers in life aren’t always so clear; sometimes they’re a big fuzzy blur until years later.
And that boy I traveled halfway across the country with on whim I did marry two years later. In the thirteen years between taking that risk to follow him out here, I have now visited over a dozen beaches verse the one, we have taken many memorable trips that now includes 27 states and Mexico (still lots of places left to visit on the list), visited close to 100 wineries throughout ten different states as that has become one of our Nathan and Angela things. We love live music, wine, cookouts and sitting around a fire outside under the stars, camping and canoeing and hiking, and of course hanging out with our family and friends whenever we can. Our life isn’t grand or extreme but it’s ours. We’ve both always had to work hard and take pride in every moment in this crazy life we have together, even in the craziness.

It’s been a hell of a journey. There are so many stories to it, so many ugly and beautiful truths (maybe one day we’ll share them all). These last fourteen years are so full of memories of laughter and tears, frustrations and joys, highs and lows. The road hasn’t always been easy and half the time we probably made it harder than it had to be. God knows we have our flaws, a multitude of imperfections individually and together as a couple, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s all a part of our story but it’s ours.

 

Photo credit to Sandia Pantano Imaging and Photography

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