Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Worth It All

I went to work out on Monday, trying to take my husband up on his 100 days of fitness challenge.  I turned on the treadmill to do my 20 minutes and settled in for a bit of mind-wandering ease.  My townhouse complex has a gym with flat screen TVs, that morning it was tuned in to one of the morning news shows.

The news shows were all reporting about the upcoming nuptials for the crown prince in England.  This automatically led the next segment to talk about romance, regrets, and a survey between men and women.  Not surprisingly, women had more regrets in the romance department and men had more regrets in the career department.  I think the respondents were of varying age, but the ones interviewed looked to be in my age bracket - those that sit between late baby boomer (born in 1964) and early gen x (born in 1965).  We are just old enough to have lived through some regrets and just young enough to make some changes.

My legs were doing all the work and since I was the only one in the gym, I was free from other distractions except a walk down memory lane.

The first stop was back in the town of my youth.  There was a guy I deeply cared about, loved even, who rescued my heart after my firstborn son was killed and nurtured me back to myself with his unconditional love, acceptance, and protection.  He stood as a barrier against the beast of a step-mother who still wanted to destroy me, even as I was a grieving mother myself and aspiring college student at 19 and 20.  This young man covered me in a way I had never known, his love was complete and total.

I broke up with him when he gave me a promise ring, a pretty little diamond.  Everyone at the university assumed we would get married, no other guy would talk to me because I was spoken for.  His sister was also at the university I attended and was a little too close to our relationship.  My parents and his aunt & uncle were also in that same town, a downfall of going to school were you graduated from high school.  My step-mother was already thinking about how our families could be connected.  I saw myself stuck in that town with its provincial ways forever.  I broke up with him.

Regrets?  Perhaps, but no, it was the right decision for me, I have lived and achieved more than I would have been free to do had I remained there.

Years later I found myself married with two young sons and a husband who was a little too immature at the time.  After a big fight and his enormous hands on my toothpick thin frame, I got divorced post haste!  I had lived through my step-mother and the terror of my step-sister, there was no way I was going to let some dude, husband or not, church or not, put his hands on me, I kicked him out the first time he did that, spent the weekend with a trusted family friend and her husband, found a new apartment across town, filed for protection, sent my older son back home to be safe, and filed for divorce.

Regrets?  Some.  Not divorcing him, no, that was the right thing to do. I just regret sending my older son back to my home state while I was processing through everything, he was too young to understand.  But no, and I do not regret staying in my new state either.

I remained up north in my adopted big city and thrived, kept going to school in the evening, trying to finish that illusive last year of college and raise sons.  I devoted myself to my left and right arm buddies, my sons, and just living when I was on the train and met a man who would change my life.

It was a little over five years that I had been divorced with my two boys, making it on my own, without even the benefit of child support, but was making it and pretty proud of my achievements when my world changed.

Perhaps it is one of the reasons I do not trust "the church" and their paternalistic proclamations that a woman can not be both chaste and raise sons alone, that she needed a "covering" to guide her, what exactly had I been doing all those years by myself.

Haste, stubbornness, and tired of waiting, I made the only regret of my life, a one-year mistake, a turning away from what I really wanted, I do regret, except for the beautifully wonderful son, the gift of that year,  who lights up my life with his music and mesmerizes me with his performances.

My three sons and I moved back to our home state, into the sanctuary of my dad and step-mother while my apartment was being prepared, a job waiting for me at the end of that summer, another divorce under my belt, and hope in my heart.

It was several years of being back in my home state, making my way in state government, taking classes, and hoping that there was still live and love for me, that I realized that perhaps I didn't trust my own heart, didn't tell those church know-it-alls to mind their own business and not try to hitch up every woman they saw with some man who was still finding his own way, who abandoned his family and infant son not even two months old for some dream he had off in the distance, did those church elders see that in their matchmaking?

Fast forward years of being single again, devoted to my sons, working full-time, going to school full-time, attending yet another church all the time (I just couldn't bring myself to attend my father's church, I felt it was too provincial for me, being as it was back in the town of my youth, perhaps, perhaps, perhaps) when I encountered a wanna be prophet pastor who was more controlling than leading.  It was one of those all encompassing churches like you'd see on TV except the congregation wasn't in the hundreds, the church did some great teaching, I did learn alot, just that the man who lead it was just that, a man, and not the mini-god he wanted to be.

Then one day a man walked into my office at the university where I now called home, far enough away from my childhood city to feel like I could breathe, close enough to still see my dad when I wanted.  This man changed the path and trajectory of my life for years to come, a change I am still living every day.

We talked, traveled, got-to-know, encouraged, and four years later, married when we were both holding graduate degrees in hand (doctorate for him, masters for me).  We moved to a city neither of us ever lived in, bought a huge house, prepared to raise three boys, and settle into more money than either of us had ever earned before.

Years later, jobs gained, jobs lost, some disappointments, some hurts, sons moved on into their lives, we have the added joy of two daughters who turned our worlds upside down with their laughter, inventiveness, and sheer presence that we often wonder how did we get to be so blessed with so many olive plants around our table.

It has not all been easy, in fact, some of it has been really hard and painful, no live is a bed-of-roses, especially when that life is trying to be lived with two adults well in their forties (and fifties), yet, I can not say I regret everything, for if I did, I would not be able to count my blessings of being able to nurture the lives I touch every day, to be able to sit here and write my muses, to be able to teach college students and still take my daughter to guitar lessons, to bring my leadership skills to a non-profit, to be able to take my son to a college visit during spring break and not worry about some corporate culture that demands 24/7 work.

The walk on the treadmill took me down the many paths of my life.  There are things I would say I'd do differently, however, I know that for now, this moment, I am on the road I was meant to be on, guided by the God I still love and adore, knowing more about relationship with Him and less reliance on a church to lead, knowing that His presence is everywhere and His purpose is sure.

The news report spoke also about the opportunity in life, in still doing what you want.  I take those opportunities to have what I want in life.  I have friendships I would never trade and would never have found had I not moved to the other side of the state.  My kids have opportunities that may not have come their way had they not been in a place that celebrates the arts.  The show mentioned people changing careers, leaving marriages, searching for lost loves, going back to school, taking up a craft, getting healthier, making decisions to live simple lives, things that will add to the second half of their lives.

Regrets are part of the memory stone of living, there will always be the woulda, coulda, shoulda.  In my life, in writing my own epithet, I know that my life holds many lessons for my children.  None of my sons are parents, my daughters are taking life by the reins and dreaming about being a write, photographer, world traveler, wealthy fashion designer, and guitarist, they have possibilities in their life rainbows.  My son is standing at the doorway of a promising stage career, my other son is ending years of military service and preparing to take his place at the foot of knowledge so he can lead a new generation, my other son is crafting his own path with his words and arts, and my heartsong son lives on in my soul.  I have no regrets about the jewels that surround my crown.

It was worth it all.

Saturday, March 19, 2011


When I stop to think about the eight of all that is on my plate, I often want to just pack my bags and run away to a quiet place, a serene bed-and-breakfast with a nice, comfy, clean bed that I didn't make, on clean sheets I didn't have to wash and fold, with towels I didn't have to wash, and coffee I didn't have to make.  There are times when I wonder what was I thinking that day I went to work or that day I got on that train, when my life was altered in ways that I am still processing.

Then I look up and my youngest daughter runs to give me a hug and my little me-me reminds me how much she is my shadow and I know that plans change, dreams alter, and opportunity reinvents itself.

2012 is a year I'm looking forward to because it will be a shift, a change, a realigning of dreams.

Only another woman, a mother (unless you are the Duggars, of course) can identify with the desire to have a moment back when it was pre-husband, pre-child and the only thing set before you was a plate of possibilities, dreams ready to be picked like fresh ripe strawberries, freedom to grow, sample, and be.  There are moments when I long for the quiet of my own soul rumbling through the avenues of my mind, not disturbed by the bantering or teasing of siblings upstairs or the too-loud music of a husband downstairs, when it was just the serene moments of sitting by my bay window on a sunny Sunday to read the day away.

I have a group of women-friends, all of us in our 40s or 50s, who meet to read and discuss life.  We have all talked about moments that we wish were different or do to over or the courage we had once to alter course for the better, unrestrained, filling our lives with the gift of finding our true selves without the titles and obligations attached, the moments to be free to be a full woman without the obligations of pick up time.

It was a moment of tiredness that enveloped me that I turned to my daughters and told them to live their dreams of being a writer, a photographer, a fashion designer, a guitarist, whatever, to do those things before obligations filled their baskets and time robbed them of opportunities.  They looked at me as if they understood, even if they didn't.

I looked at their chocolate little faces and dimpled smiles and realized they will have some options that were not available to me, even growing up in the 1970s.  My daughters are not constrained by a school location.  It dawned on me that we don't have to stay here for them to get a good education, they are both technologically savvy and free spirited enough to just want to go where I go.

They kept looking at me because my tiredness and the dawn of a different tomorrow made me burst into laughter and I told them we are getting our passports this year, they will just go with me.  They were just happy to hear the word adventure.

My girls came to me later in life and after I thought I was finished.  Having them altered the course of my life in ways I am still processing.  They are reflections of my hopes and visions of generational dreams.  I know there will be things they will do that I can only imagine.

2012.  My youngest son graduates from high school.  We will be free to move somewhere else.  That year, that fall, I hope to be entering a PhD program studying the intersection of entrepreneurship, advertising, and black women.  I want to go to the University of Texas at Austin for a PhD  (they are the only one with a doctorate in advertising that is interdisciplinary).  I looked at Indiana or Charlotte as possible doctorate locations and doorways of change.  My girls will be little witnesses to possibilities at any age.

Dreaming is still possible.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Japan and Hopes

Japan has been on my mind and in my heart a lot lately.

My son is there, he is a Petty Officer in the United States Navy.

It has been a long weekend of watching and wondering and praying and watching.

I didn't know the earthquake hit because I was asleep in the wee hours on Friday.  When I woke up to start my day, I came downstairs to turn on Facebook to connect with my family.  My brother posted an urgent message to my son to check in.  Then I read all the rest and my heart felt like it leaped into my mouth.

My son did check in, he is in far southern Japan, in Iwakuni, far from the earthquake epicenter and far from the tsunami devastation.  He assured me all the military personnel were fine, the Navy moms could breathe a momentary sigh of relief, then our collective mother hearts began to look in sheer awe at the force of nature and the loss of life.

Japanese people are a very loving, giving, and cohesive people.  This disaster shattered a nation with many lives lost and really is of epic proportions.  We all wonder why this happened.

The why is in the hands of a greater power, of God.  My son posted Luke 21:10-11 this morning on Facebook.  Yesterday he posted that prayers were good and to keep them coming but to also send help.  He was speaking about faith-in-action.

My son will be home in 62 days, for good, about to begin his new life in college as an elementary education student (history).  He will never leave Japan, this I know, for this country of islands has captivated his heart and filled his dreams, given him opportunity and connection beyond what he would have known had he not made the choice to join the Navy when he graduated in 2007.  I know he is heartbroken over the the disaster and is pragmatic and putting his 6'4" frame to use helping with the rescue.

This thing that has happened keeps being asked by the news pundits, what if it happened here?  Would people be generous of spirit and stand patiently in line as the government officials give out water until there is no more, the rest in line to receive none?  That is what happened in Japan because Tokyo and Sendai do not have running water or electricity in parts and now with the added turmoil of the nuclear disaster, Japan remains calm, cool, and collected.  America is far from that community minded country, too individualistic, boot-strap kind of people, I imagine there would be pushing, shoving, shouting if that happened here.

We can all learn from this event.  As much as we think things are in our hands, in our own making, we are reminded, like the unexpected Monday morning snow storm in St. Louis, that there is someone else in charge, and He is trying to get our attention.  In that, there is a glimmer of hope, like a lone survivor under a pile of rubble, reaching out to humanity for another chance at living.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Doctor Mama

I announced to my family last week that I am planning to pursue my doctorate.

The kids all thought it was cool and my son asked me if they would have to call me "Doctor Mama" now.

I smiled because he was just passed toddlerhood when I entered my MBA program, he is now 16.  He and I could potentially be starting college in the fall of 2012.

Why now?  Well, I always wanted to but after I graduated from the University of Iowa, Tippie School of Management in May 2000, thought I should do what other newly minted masters of the universe should do...go to corporate America.  I went a tiny step down and didn't go into CPG - the usual career path of marketing MBAs is brand management for the likes of any company product you find in your kitchen or bathroom - and went to a privately owned greeting card company.

My choices were somewhat limited because of the location of some of the CPG companies.  California and New York didn't even hit the  list, I had sons.  Other places, in the phrases of my husband, then a newly minted PhD were either "too cold" or "too white" for our three black sons.  Kansas City seemed like the best choice.

After three years in that hairball, I was one of many in their restructuring, layoffs, or whatever you want to call it, I was also pregnant with child number six, daughter number two.  We lived in Kansas City with little marketing or brand prospects and a dwindling economy (I date our Great Recession to the little blips in certain industries going back to 2001).  I went into consulting and then, education.  I liked working for myself and having the flexibility of being a full-time mom who structured her life around her kids, after all, they are only this age once and with girls, felt I had an even greater responsibility to be at home.

Fast forward a few years, many surgeries (my daughter), job changes (my husband) and finally a move to a new city (St.  Louis) and it is time to think about my future.  My baby girl is now in first grade (huge hurdle to get into full-time school!) and outside of a few relapses, seems to be living quite well with her rare illness.  I am also a tad bit older than when I left graduate school a decade ago and realize that my fellow Boomer IIs would probably want to hire a Gen X or Gen Y up-and-coming executive who has only known a world of the Internet.

St.  Louis is not a business headquarters so prospects here a little to none.  I thought about my love of education and my upcoming third year in non-profit management and wondered if I am being led to a different direction.  I am also an adjunct professor at a local university's satellite campus and realize I love teaching, being there with the students, it is fulfilling.  Plus, I really like my department chair.

So, here I am, looking at doctorate programs and crafting my future.

I researched schools in St. Louis and most of them focus primarily on either research or a narrowly defined aspect of business.  My interest area includes business but the social aspect of how race, gender, and culture impact economic opportunity.  Perhaps reading Isabel Wilkerson's The Warmth of Other Suns has prompted me to look at interdisciplinary programs like the one at the University of Indiana at Bloomington.

Now, my dilemma.  Is it possible to obtain a doctorate with kids at home?  Little kids like my first and third grader.  Can we live in two cities?  Would my husband support the decision?  I know I would get teaching opportunities, I'm good (even if I do say so) and taught at two liberal arts private universities as an adjunct.  I also have a lofty goal of being "Doctor Mama" by time I've fifty.  I'm a little late on reaching that, I will be forty-seven in May.  But, perhaps nothing is impossible if I have the right school, the right advisor, the right committee and acceptance of my 60 hours of graduate credit!

I guess the thing that excites me is that it is not too late to dream.

Doctor Mama...sounds pretty good!