The picture above shows how a choice two people made changed the course of a woman’s life. My life. A life that didn’t start out so well.
I am going to dive into a pretty dark subject here… my childhood. Members of my family don’t even know all these details.
I hesitate writing this post, but not because I’m ashamed or embarrassed. I’m not… anymore. I am always afraid some of the stories of my childhood will make others uncomfortable, or perhaps worse, feel sorry for me. I see people’s faces instantly change when the subject comes up. However difficult it can be to tell this part of my story, I feel it is more difficult for someone to hear it. The thing is, I’m okay.
Before I dive in, I want you to know why I’m even going to go into the dark areas of my childhood. Today, I feel the strong desire to talk about choices. As I age… gracefully, of course… I realize all of us can look back on our lives and see how different choices we made led us on a definite journey. Now that we are currently seeing our pre-teen struggle with some pretty difficult choices, I realize that looking back on the choices we made might help her, and others in making their own choices.
So, let’s just try to get through my childhood as quickly as possible and see if it can help others.
When I was a baby, my mom and dad divorced. Mom moved back home and, for all of my life, she was a single parent with little to zero help from my father. She needed others to help care for me as she worked many jobs to support us. One family she turned to was absolutely fantastic… on paper! They had children, even adopted a daughter, and were foster parents. I mean, the state trusted them with children, so why not us?
I started going to them when I was 4 years old.
Whenever a child did something wrong, the woman who babysat me opened her drawer of wooden spoons and spanked him or her, sometimes until the spoon broke. However, if I did something wrong, she would grab one of the foster kids to spank, since she couldn’t send me home with bruises. I did get whacked in the head one time for crying, but she probably thought a bruise wouldn’t show on my scalp.
You would think she was the worst person in the house. You would be wrong. Sometimes she had to go grocery shopping. She would leave us with her husband. I am not going to go into details here, but their adopted daughter and I would immediately hide in hopes we would avoid his perverted desires. For me, this went on until I was 9 years old… when something horrible happened. I can remember much of that day, but I still have blacked out one part. I am actually okay that my brain can’t show me the memory. I’m sure, based on the ones I can recall, that I don’t need to remember that day, in that dark room.
That was when I finally told my mom. I made a choice to not tell her before this day out of fear. Fear is an important emotion to note. While the fight or flight part of your brain can be helpful, fear is often the root of bad choices.
Mom confronted the family, and pulled me out immediately.
I became a latch-key kid after that, and my life improved tremendously…until I took a baby sitting gig at the age of 12. I would ride the bus home every day with the little girl I babysat. We were let off in front of her house, went inside, had a snack, and played until her mom came home around dinner time. This went on for months. Then, one day, the bus stopped and we saw a man in the doorway. “Daddy!”, the little girl screamed. Oh, ok, he is safe. I was wrong. The first thing I noticed was the alcohol on his breath. I knew that smell all too well. I also knew to avoid it. I got our snack and the little girl and I went to the family room to color. The dad decided he would try his luck at lying on top of me. I, luckily, got away before anything happened and locked myself in the bathroom until the mom arrived. Aside from a short stint of him stalking me on my paper route, purely out of fear I would call the cops, he left me alone.
Mom and I told his wife, but she begged me not to tell the cops. He would get counseling, she said. Again, we just walked away. At this point, I started to believe there was something wrong with me. I started to drink with some older friends. I made choices based on my beliefs of my worth. Those choices led me at age 13, to a 21-year-old man, who within hours of meeting me, raped me while I was too drunk to even open my eyes.
If you don’t feel a sense of self-worth, you will not take care of yourself. If you are insecure you often will not make the correct choices.
So, here I am at 13, with a past like this. What is a girl like this going to end up doing with her life? This is a pivotal moment. I could have continued the path I was on. I, thankfully, did not.
At the age of 14, as a freshman in high school, I started making choices that would aid me in finding success later on. I no longer drank. I hung out with kids who had fairly normal lives. I met their parents, and other adults, who were so fantastic, they restored my hope that there were good people out there.
My perspective changed. This is a very important tool whenever a child feels hopeless. Show them hope, and they will go after it.
I did relapse my first couple of years in college. I changed back into the girl who grew up without a father, and who was molested and raped as a child. I made terrible choices in men who thought hitting girls was the way to show you loved them.
I’m not sure if this will give you comic relief or not, but I’m serious here… around the age of 20, Oprah changed my life. Mark this as another key moment. I remember the first time I saw her on TV. She was talking about her childhood. Hers was so much worse than mine. I couldn’t believe she was standing there on television, a survivor of trauma even I couldn’t imagine. She talked about how she didn’t believe in being a victim of your past. I see that memory as a moment frozen in time. I remember hanging on to every word. I didn’t have to be a victim. I didn’t have to feel sorry for myself. I could change my direction and take a different course in life. I did not have to be that girl.
I started making the correct choices. I worked hard in my career, always taking the next steps up the ladder. I started collecting very strong role models. Boy, if all kids had positive role models, I do believe the world would change.
I decided to use my childhood as something that could help others by mentoring troubled middle school girls. I left my dream job because the boss was abusive and mean, and I realized I didn’t need that. I went back to Illinois to work. That choice, wow! It was hard. I felt like a failure. I had no idea that choice would lead me to the man of my dreams.
In 2000, at the age of 29, I met 23-almost-24-year-old Jason. He was too young, too nice, and too dang stable. He believed that your job wasn’t your life, that having a family was the most important part of life, and that you treated women with respect and kindness. WHAT? Who was this man? I could have run. I tried to once, but changed my mind in two days. I made a choice. I gave the relationship a shot.
16 years and 2 beautiful daughters later, let me highlight some things my choice got me:
*A man who apologizes when he’s wrong, but more importantly, accepts mine when I am wrong.
*A man who would happily live his life without any pets, especially cats, but lived with my dog and cat at the beginning, and is now living with 2 dogs, 2 cats, and now 2 chickens.
*A man, who just last week, brought home a child’s mechanical, singing and dancing Snoopy…FOR ME! I wanted one so badly, but thought it silly to spend money on a toy for me. He thought otherwise and now I get to sing and dance with Snoopy. I also let the girls play with him. (Picture below)
*A man who knows I struggle with my weight, but will still bring me treats. He only seems to see the good stuff.
I really could go on at nauseating lengths, but the bottom line is I got one of the best. I feel lucky that we found each other, but more than that, we each made a choice to be together, to build a life together.
And this is what that choice taught me:
Your past does not have a grip on your future. You can change the course of your life by simply making a choice to do so. As many of you know, I love quotes. (Blog here), so here’s another one for you:
“You have no choices about how you lose, but you do have a choice about how you come back and prepare to win again.” Pat Riley
Now, smile: Snoopy’s here!