It’s 3:00 a.m. and I lie wide awake in a cold sweat. My newborn son sleeps quietly beside me, while I desperately try to hold in my sobbing. Somewhere deep inside me is the rebel that walked into her office that morning to quit her job while her coworkers stared in disbelief. The same rebel that knew she was destined for something greater, but who is, right now, scared to death!
Landing a job at a biometrics firm was such a boon to my ego. I’d been there two years as the marketing coordinator, and had established myself though I questioned how far I could truly grow with the company. My boss was a dream, and someone I still call my friend. I remember telling her I was pregnant, and her looking at me with doe eyes to inquire whether I’d be coming back to work after my baby was born. Of course I said yes, but who knows how you’re going to feel after you give birth? I evidently did not.
There I was, forty years old, single, no family, and no savings either. Forget the old adage of “saving for a rainy day.” My rainy day had arrived and I was completely without a plan. All I knew was that my son would have a good future. But what it really came down to was the nausea I felt the night before I was to return to work. The thought of leaving my baby in the hands of some random day-care worker terrified me, at least for his first year. So, with him in tow, I strolled into work early Monday morning, cleared my desk, and walked out.
I felt, especially as a single mother, that getting a bachelor’s degree would be our ticket. The fear of not being able to stand on my own two feet had always haunted me. Truly it was the monkey on my back. This high-school dropout had taken many courses, but without determination. Now, with a little mouth to feed, it was finally time to finish college, take responsibility for my future, and change our path.
I applied for every scholarship and grant I could get, which was an education in itself. We needed healthcare, so I applied for Medicaid. Even after several trips to the Medicaid office, they kept losing my paperwork. If it wasn’t bad enough to have to ask for help, it was torture to have to keep returning to do so. I finally decided to write an earnest letter to the Governor and prayed that he would get it. Thankfully, he actually had his staff respond in one week! It was one of those amazing moments that I look back on in awe. For food, I applied for WIC, which helps with basic staples. Those were lessons in humility as you learn to depend on someone else just to get by. I’d shop for food at 6 a.m. when I felt no one would recognize me as I produced my WIC checks to the cashier. For whatever reason, I felt ashamed and embarrassed to be seen. There were days when I’d show up late, the check-out lanes were busy, and my checks weren’t working properly. I could hardly take it. The manager would come, my baby would be crying hysterically, and the people behind me would be making rude gestures to hurry up. All you can do is just hold your breath and pray for better days.
Selling on eBay had been a hobby of mine. Even while pregnant, I’d waddle through garage sales to find items to resell for huge markups. That, along with my scholarships, grants, and school loan money had become the bulk of my income. I also sang in different bands, which I could do at night after classes. Thankfully the tiny box of a 430-square-foot condo I bought at twenty-three years old was affordable living. I’d drive through more expensive neighborhoods with big two-story Charleston-style homes and tearfully tell my little man “someday we’ll have a house like that too.” I’d spend the mornings power walking my stroller through the mall, viewing glamorous items I couldn’t afford. The power of positive thinking became my mantra as I repeated, “We will make it.”
I was unemployed for thirteen months, but took a full load of college classes. If I couldn’t find a friend to watch my son, he’d come with me. I’d be in the library till midnight studying with him next to me. People would look at us of course, as it’s uncommon to see people bringing their babies to college. I didn’t care. This was “just in the meantime” and my determination kept me going. More than that, my love for a child kept me going.
In my last semester, I listed my tiny condo and thankfully sold it for three times the price I paid eighteen years prior! I’d been searching the East Coast for places that were rated as excellent areas to raise a family and settled on South Carolina. I built a two-story Charleston-style house (just like the ones I used to dream about), mainly via phone and Internet, and made plans to move in a few months. The day I received my degree was one of the best days of my life. In that same month, I landed a dream job paying much higher than my previous job, and within a few years, moved into the promising healthcare industry. A bachelor’s degree was required.
In the end, even as hard and scary as it all was, I’d do it again in a heartbeat. Some people say that I am so strong. But truly, we find our strength when we find our passion. It might come in a little 8 pound, 10 ounce bundle. The day you find yours, you will know too. We are truly as strong and resilient as we choose to be.