Years ago I worked for a specialized retailer in the mall. It is what I would call the beginning of my career, though at the time I didn’t realize it. I had been hired on as an assistant manager and while interviewing for the position, I was asked, “Where do you see yourself in ten years?” Really? Ten years? Does everyone have a ten year plan? Did I miss that part of economics class? I couldn’t grasp the future a year ahead let alone ten.
My husband and I were going on five years of marriage and our kids were four and two. I felt like we were barely hanging on to life. The walls seemed as though they could crumble at any time and yet there was that question. It hung in the balance as I tried to sound convincing that I wouldn’t still be this exhausted from sleepless nights. Also, I had hoped the feeling of being under-qualified to be mom to my kids would be gone.
Outwardly, I was the picture of happy. I had a loving husband and kids who could almost always behave in public. I had an answer for everything and knew it all… ten years. I believe I mumbled out something about being a store manager with a profitable store in a stable home environment that could support my kids’ dreams. In my head I was hoping I could learn to fry an egg without burning it.
I have friends that are masters of planning and setting priorities, but I grew up in a home where it was survive in the moment or be lost in the shuffle. At age 25, I was still very much a product of my upbringing. I was still blaming my mom for dropping me into this cold, snow-filled tundra and mad at my dad for not fighting to bring me back to where he lived. I was hell-bent on being a better parent than they had been. My parents were divorced when I was just a baby, and my dad didn’t come back for visits until I was about five. By the time he made an appearance, we had been living out of the state for four years.
Growing up in the 80’s meant playing outside from 9am to sundown, staying inside only to do chores. My mom was in over her head and unaware of the things happening to her children. My older sister and I were victims of several awful encounters with “family friends” or their sons, but remained silent for the better part of 20 years to come. My life was an eclipse of one awful moment after another. I had learned to cover up all negative emotions and slowly slipped away from any form of positive self-esteem.
At the time of the job interview, it had been nine years already since my mom had moved me from Washington to Minnesota. All that time and I was still adjusting. Married, kids, jobs, I was still trying to live my life in the victim role. I was taught to marry, run my household, and birth babies. It’s what my mother knew and it’s what she would pass on to her children. I thought I was checking off the imaginary list just fine. Putting blame on my mom was easy; she hadn’t really given me any choice but to go along with the move. Going against her was not something I had the confidence to do, although the arguments I had in my head were pretty heated. I couldn’t see it at 16 when I first moved here or at age 25, but Duluth would prove to be a gift in my life.
I thought this job would be my golden ticket to a stable career and living life to it’s fullest. It wasn’t. When I look back, I was in over my head, and there was immense healing to do. I stuck with it for five years before throwing in the towel and started a daycare. Insert epic fail here. Let’s talk about not having it all together. Failing at both those jobs in just seven years was not part of the ten year plan. And I didn’t feel like I was succeeding on the home front either. I had to face some tough questions… “What do I want?” and “What’s the message I want my kids to hear?”
When my daycare was just getting off the ground, my dad lost his battle with panic and anxiety disorder. That would prove to be the spiraling pivot to finding God. He pulled me out of the pit I had come to know as normal and redeemed me. The move I was still mad over having made (regardless of being married and having two great kids) turned out to have been what kept me from falling into even bigger messes. Not only did it keep me more grounded, but it allowed a starting point to learn. It forced me to see the world beyond my tiny view.
Living in Duluth would bring many amazing friends into my life that I would lean on for support, laughter, and community, though that too still took many years. Like water smoothing out jagged stone, it took years to be molded in the person I am now.
What did I want?
That’s easy. I wanted to be successful at a job that felt rewarding and mindful of my family’s needs while realizing that those needs might go beyond laundry and cooking (which is good because as it turns out, cooking is not a gift I have).
What’s the message I want my kids to hear?
Acknowledge failure as a stepping stone to healing. Failure is only bad if you don’t learn from it. If it doesn’t teach you anything, then it’s just failing and likely to happen again. I was trying to fit a mold that didn’t belong to me.
Learning to be vulnerable was the first step. While I had clung to anger for so long, it had shaped me into a person I couldn’t recognize. I came to the realization that my parents, while not perfect, had done the best they knew how to do and that they too were a product of their own upbringing.
Here was the chance to re-write my future, to dream my own dreams. I had the ability to forgive my parents and take accountability for my choices. It was intensely freeing to lay down that anger. Yes, I wanted to be better at parenting, but for the right reasons.
As it turns out, that ten year plan did pan out to being a Store Manager of a successful store and giving my kids great opportunities. It opened doors to pursue me and to cultivate the creative side of who I am. Letting go of the anger was the turning point. Forgiving myself for my own mistakes and regrets was immensely healing. I have forgiven my mom, but sadly, I’ve also had to walk away from relationship with her. We are two different people on opposite sides of a very thick wall. In the end, it’s built me up to be able to connect on a much deeper level with people who have similar stories. I hope my stories bring comfort to others and that I can be transparent in my words and actions.
My kids have been able to see me recover from failing, that it’s okay to not have the outcome you desire. They have seen me fight back and learn to accept change as part of the process. They have heard me say, “I’m sorry.” While they’ve watched me process each situation and realize my mistakes, they have seen the value of being honest. Most importantly they have been taught the value of sharing their frustrations and concerns. I will always make room for conversations and ask the hard questions. That’s the part I believe I was able to improve on. It’s built for us a wonderful relationship in our home.
Would I have ever thought so much would have happened in those years? Absolutely not, but I’m glad I went through it all. I know I’m a better wife and mama now than the one I was trying to create. I’m half way through my next ten years, and Duluth is my home, where I am free to be me. I am strong, I am passionate, I am brave, and I can fry an egg.