Three years ago this month I, quite spontaneously, started a blog about divorce and being a single mom. Wanting to tell my story for therapeutic reasons (for me and others), I also aspired to reinvent myself as a writer, eventually get paid for my craft, and required a visible place to display my work. A blog seemed as good a place as any to create the online resume I wanted and needed to reach my goal.
I had tried my hand writing at various times throughout the years – a couple of children’s stories, poetry, an article or two – having little success. With each failed effort, I told myself I was not up for the job. But instead of trying again, I would stop, leave my work behind, and walk away with my head hung low in self-defeat.
I convinced myself I wasn’t ready.
When my marriage ended in January of 2012, I suddenly faced the prospect of generating income for myself after being a stay-at-home wife and mother for more than a decade. Being ready was no longer an option. With school-age children at the time ages 11, 10, and 6, I also appreciated I was more than halfway through my child-rearing years and that my kids would be heading to college not so far into the future. At that point, I knew if I didn’t begin something – anything – I would find myself alone without a vision to call my own.
As I anticipated, five years passed in a flash. Today, my kids are 16, 15, and nearly 12. As much as I cannot believe it, I am now looking at colleges with my two daughters. The acronyms PSAT, ACT, and SAT are frequently used around my house, replacing words such as play date, Wii, and Xbox. And where I once focused on finding the best preschool and summer camp for them, I am now committed to guiding my older children to a place of higher learning, where they each can grow both academically and socially. It is an exciting but scary time, and I recognize my responsibility. That is because my girls and I are at similar stages in our development despite there being nearly three decades between us.
Last weekend I left my son with my mother and stepfather (Grandma and Grandpa to him), and the three of us headed to Washington, D.C. and Virginia to visit four schools on my daughters’ respective lists. As we sat in every information session, and then listened to our guides while we walked around the various campuses, I could see their excitement, and then their trepidation grow.
I understood their fears. I have asked myself those exact questions many times since, particularly during the past five years.
Every day of our trip my children peppered me with questions. “Will I be accepted?” “Will I get good grades if I am?” “How will I know if I am choosing the right major?” “What if I choose wrong?” “What if I don’t know what I want to do?”
I understood their fears. I remembered asking those same questions when I was about their age and have asked myself those exact questions many times since, particularly during the past five years as I prepared to, and eventually, returned to work.
I told my girls the truth. They will make mistakes. I made, and make, many. They will change their minds. I do all the time. They will discover what they like and, equally as important, what they do not. The critical part, I told them, is, simply, to choose. Regardless of where that choice takes them, they will be on their way – somewhere – merely by setting themselves in motion.
We are not so different, my girls and I. No matter how hard we fight it, throughout our lives, we must say our goodbyes. My marriage ended. My children’s family life as they once knew it ended. Their school years will end. My time as a parent of young children will end.
What never ends, however, is our ability to improve ourselves, learn, and grow. Whether we are reading, listening to advice from others, returning to school, or embarking on the career we always dreamt of, we are in constant motion. The way we finance it – by working a temporary job, downsizing, securing a loan, or selling our engagement ring – is ancillary to just starting.
As my girls posed at the end of the day for one final picture in front of the College of William & Mary’s Crim Dell Bridge, I noticed a butterfly, which was not only uncharacteristic for the time of year but also certainly one of the last to spread its wings that season. Quietly, I admired its beauty and sheer will to survive before it flew away. I smiled, feeling proud of the young women standing before me. I was also proud of myself for the role I played getting them to where they are now. Not to mention how far I have come right along with them.
“What the caterpillar calls the end, the rest of the world calls a butterfly.” —Lao Tzu
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