Friday, March 22, 2013

A Lifetime of Learning

This year was one of those milestone birthdays for me; honestly I have been dreading it for the last year.  It’s just another day that starts just another year that doesn’t warrant the dread, fear, and even depression that it has been evoking in me.  Left with no other coping mechanisms I decided to think back to the age that I’d like to be instead.   The answer rather surprised me.

Given what I am watching my pre-teenager face in school in terms of state tests, how social media has advanced the power of rumors, and the continual presence of bullying and peer pressure, I quickly decided that I didn’t want to go back to that age again.  

My twenties were an interesting time. I have always loved learning so college was fun. I learned about living with others, managing my own time and money, and how difficult life can really be when you are out on your own.  Looking back though I realize that with mom and dad paying my bills and keeping the front door unlocked for me, I wasn’t really all that independent. I had my heart broken a few times (or so I thought) and I declared just about every major that my college offered. A major heartache led to a college transfer—I was going from a main campus to a *gasp* branch college for a year; I was convinced this was the most humiliation that I would ever face.  It was there though that I met my future husband and finally declared a major that I would keep through graduation.  Shortly after marriage we headed off to Dayton and while I never really enjoyed it, I learned to do a few more things for myself although my parents were still close enough to call in times of disaster. Moving back home I was able to finish my undergraduate degree and then we purchased our first home.  It was the ultimate money pit but I learned so much about home ownership in that home and was able to start amassing my collection of stray cats and dogs.  I remember thinking though as we signed our mortgage paperwork that I was truly living on my own because *gasp* my parents were a long distance phone call away. 

As my marriage was falling apart, I completed my master’s degree and then my doctoral degree and yet I remember thinking that I had truly hit rock bottom.  I had allowed my daughter to become a statistic and honestly I felt like a true failure.  I didn’t realize how precious it was that I had my parents to care for my daughter or what a special bond that they were forming while I was putting the hours in finishing school.  It was only after I took a job out of state that I realized how much they had done for Ry and I and how little I really knew about living on my own, being an adult, or living on my own. 

When we moved I purchased a condo. Between my animals and Ry’s medical needs, I needed a place of my own rather than a rental.  I thought owning a place of my own was really independent until I had to call my dad to figure out who you call when your washing machine breaks.  Or when I called my mom to come stay with me because I had a stalker and couldn’t get my locks changed right away. During the day I played adult; I dropped my daughter off at daycare, went to my first real job, bought groceries, and cleaned house.  At night I cried over how little I really knew about being an adult and wondered how I would ever make it on my own.  I hadn’t ever driven in city traffic and still don’t know how I made it to that downtown Children’s hospital on my own the first time.  Then it became routine as did emergency room trips in the middle of the night with just me and my ever so sick daughter. I don’t think I ever really realized it but I was growing up as a person and as a parent.  

Getting remarried was both an exciting and terrifying point in my life. I knew my future husband adored my daughter, but I worried that he wouldn’t find her as adorable asking for soy milk in the middle of every night or my cats as endearing when he couldn’t find a sweater that wasn’t hair covered.  Yet the first night we stayed in his home, he ran out in the middle of the night for popsicles because those were the only things that helped a bit with Ry’s night cough.  He repainted his guest bedroom pink and purple for her and moved his music equipment to one side of his studio so the other side could be a playroom.  He even found a sunny spot for the cat scratcher.  While I was certainly appreciative, I didn’t realize at the time what a big deal this all really was. 

Caden’s diagnosis of autism was one of those turning points in our marriage; we could have fallen apart. We could have blamed each other. We could have dealt with our feelings alone. Instead we held hands and made the decision to move back to Kentucky close to an autism center. While the resources didn’t quite work out the way we had hoped and I initially felt that the entire move was a waste, we learned to rely on each other during that year.  That move also made it slightly easier to move all the way to Minnesota with our kids and animals.  That was and is the farthest I have ever lived from my parents and in retrospect I realize how much I always relied on them and what a moral support they were for me.  I am homesick each and every day but at the same time this move has taught us so many things that we wouldn’t have learned otherwise; emotionally, health-wise, educationally, and even professionally. 

Retrospection is an amazing thing.  I’ve cried and screamed and laughed over the years; each time thinking things were the worst or best that they could ever get only to realize that another moment was just around the corner.  I’ve tried to tackle life only to find that life hits back even harder.  I’m finally at a point where I realize that living isn’t about the past or the future, it is in the moment. If I tried to reset to an earlier point in my life, I would lose that knowledge and with it the happiness I now have in life.

I still cry and scream and laugh, but I can also start the down out by listing what the positives for the day are and end the day by reviewing what I learned and can do differently the next day.  I still make mistakes, sometimes big ones, but they serve to remind me that I’m living my own life.  I finally know who I am and where I’m supposed to be.  I guess that makes 40 just a little easier swallow.