I read a story the other day. A woman was very sad and felt despondent. A small boy came up to her
and asked her what was wrong. She said she had a pressing large problem on her mind that had no real solution. He gave her a spyglass and asked her to look through it. She put it up to her eye looking through the proper lens. He yelled at her and said “No, look through the other end.” She said “Why, that makes everything look small?” He said, “Because, that is how God sees our problems.”
When I married my children’s father I was seventeen, just one month shy of turning eighteen. He was twenty-three, a factory worker. We had next to nothing, moving into a low rent apartment in North College Hill in Cincinnati, Ohio so we were close to his family. All the furniture we had was from his parents and mine. Most of what we had in our kitchen was hand-me downs and yet we got by.
I was pregnant with my first child and times were quite tough. Another baby followed in 2 ½ years. Many a nights I looked at my babies in those late night feedings at 2 a.m. talking to them and to God to let them grow up to be rich and successful. I wanted them to have it easier and not have to struggle as hard as their dad and I were and to have more fulfilling lives than we were leading. Making ends meet is a continual stress that wears heavily on every area of your life.
I eventually set my sights on returning to college to get my degree when my daughter was around 4-5 years old, something I had always planned. In mid-stream, I got divorced, which added additional strain in our world when I sought full custody of my children. Grateful to have been awarded it, I still aspired to be top-notch academically in college, do all I could to help my children reach their full potential in school, and make certain they were not deprived of any opportunities in their childhood, the best I could. Thus, they were to be able to participate in outside activities. Their life was never to be sacrificed for mine. Thus, my life, their lives too, were chaotic at times.
Eating out was Taco Bell, getting extras was trips to Big Lots, study time for me was done at soccer practices and after they were bathed and in bed. Many a night I fell asleep downstairs on the floor calling it a night at midnight with my head literally on a textbook. The alarm went off at 6:00 am. or so to begin the routine all over again.
I had to pick up a part-time job to help with our budget. We had to give up our beloved dog because there was not enough money to feed him any longer. My kids qualified for the free-lunch program but refused to get it because they were embarrassed so I had to come up with lunch money or pack it so they could eat.
Unknown to them, I was going without eating many days and dropping weight. It was a hard life, empty cupboards and a refrigerator that was bare more often than not. But we made it, we stretched our food and were resourceful, even they were. My son started learning how to cook to help me out as time was in short supply trying to keep a house in order, a job, school work and get everyone where they needed to go. All through this, my prayer was that one day, life would get easier for us all. I hoped that my kids would lead an easier path for their adulthood and their families would have a more prosperous life.
They both attended a private Catholic high school after being in public schools up to eighth grade. I remarried, at one point, a blue-collar worker who made a far greater income than I. It helped immensely but when he moved in, there were red flags going off that should have been clear enough this was not a match made in heaven. I foolishly ignored them.
My income went to all of my kids’ needs and his helped out in so many other respects. The payback for that was huge, he made our lives a living hell. Food was in the cupboard and we went out to eat much more. For the first time, my son was told he could order anything he wanted off a menu. His eyes lit up like he was dreaming. Our home though was no longer, when he was in a bad mood, a very calm relaxing nest.
We had a huge new custom home built that was beautiful. It was unfortunate that none of us cleaned good enough, decorated the way he liked, walked right, talked quietly enough, etc… So thus began a life full of some good times, cherished moments, great laughs interspersed with the worst memories possible. Those out-weighed anything pleasant.
I think my children thought his paycheck was paying for everything they had, thus a part of them was grateful to him. The reality was my check was paying for anything to do with them pretty much. Behind closed doors was many an argument over my ‘indulging’ them, as he saw it. He would even get their family to chime in and sorta gang up with him. I was repeated accused of spoiling them by giving in to them too much, doting on them too much, and spending too much on them in his eyes. He grew up with little and saw my spending on them uncalled for and unappreciated. My take on it was they were my children and I was simply allowing them to keep face with their peers. Going to a private school, everyone wants to fit in, to some extent. There is a pecking order and my kids deserved to not be on the bottom. Also, having lived a life with so little, I thought these last few years underfoot in high school I wanted them to have more. So when I could, I did.
It was a struggle for me to afford it. My children had to work part-time jobs at a school when most kids didn't. My children drove cars that most kids only saw at used car lots. I know that was hard on them but it was the best I could do. I won't ever forget the day I said something about going to Big Lots when one of my son's friends was in the car. My son told me later to not ever mention that store again with any of his friends. He was embarrassed if they knew I shopped there.
When my daughter would pick out clothes, e.g. prom dresses, I had to have her look at prices closely. I couldn't afford any dress on the rack. It was only my paycheck and a small child support check that never went up in amount on either of the children for adjustment from the year of the divorce. She just thought I was being mean to her because, if over a certain amount, she would have to pay the difference if she wanted it. She didn't like me not being like the other mothers. She was right. I was not, the money just wasn’t there. I did the best I could but sometimes I could sense they were not thrilled that it wasn't enough.
I had always wanted to pursue a doctorate in college and continue on. If I had, my career would have gone on the path I dreamed of and our income would have been much more elevated. However, reality bites, I had two children who needed to be fed and cared for. I am not complaining but I lived my life doing everything on my own, no massive hand-outs, just like thousands of other single-mothers or remarried women who have children from a previous marriage that their new husbands don't want to fully support.
My mother had left my life when I was younger. I was raised by my father and step-mother. I knew, from day one, I was not her child and she never let me forget it. I did not want to be absent for my children and neglect their needs. I felt continuing education beyond four years in college was too much of a compromise. So I left school with more of a liberal arts degree moving into jobs with low pay but employed.
Both of my children went on to college after high school with me unable to pay for their college tuition. I had to pay college loans for ten years, post college. Their father and I had agreed, at our divorce, on a set amount of money to be put aside for college. When the time came to draw from it, the money was gone, he had drawn from it and used it up.
They were in the position I was, no parents to pay for their education. At the last minute some relative did step up and give some assistance, though, which was wonderful! I helped when I could, my son more so, because I was able to do more, at that time. My daughter, I did various things, e.g.when her car died, I gave her mine. When her boyfriend broke up and left her with a huge debt,I helped out.
No surprise to me, both of my children went on to accomplish their goals! Even with setbacks, they dug in deep and finished. Past the undergraduate degrees, they went on and pursued graduate degrees and be the ‘somebody’ I wanted them to be and knew they were capable of being.
My son earned his doctorate in Dentistry and my daughter became a Nurse Practioner. Even though their biological father was not involved in their upbringing post-divorce, I instigated a reconnection and they began the bonding process. It was wonderful to see it materialize and even he and I began a new-founded friendship. I was thrilled he was able to reconnect and share in the pride of both their graduations and celebrate their success.
Both children have formed their families and are able to travel, buy designer label clothes and provide in ways I never could for their families financially. Often times, before their father died, he and I have talked about the stark differences in their lives verses ours. We wonder if they knew just how hard it was for us to truly get by. It is so easy to get caught up when you have so much and not see how much of a sacrifice people made to get you where you are.He remembers, many times, during my other marriage, getting calls from me when things were not going well with either the husband or the children and one or the other wanting something I couldn't afford. He wouldn't help me because he felt if it was beyond my reach, they didn't need it. He felt I overstretched my limits for them. I suppose he is right but I thought it was the right thing to do, give them as much as I could. I sometimes still felt it wasn't enough.
I wonder what their lives would have been like if I had been married to someone like them, with that occupation, so there wouldn't have been so many nos. Or, if I had not remarried and had been forced to say no most of the time, would that have increased their drive to succeed or have made them more resentful of me and what I couldn't provide? But I have discovered, as I have aged, things in life happen for a reason. Their drive was probably grounded to some extent in the fact that they too endured the struggle. They saw me sit at the kitchen table studying. They knew I valued education. They heard me sweat over grades, nervous over bills and worry over jobs. There were nights when my son literally quizzed me for tests I had in college on material he had no idea what the material was about. Perhaps it helped him in later years in school, one never knows. In the dark recesses of their mind, they know I worked hard.
I have heard them make jokes about how little they had growing up or cheap things they had as if it wasn’t enough. It may be said in jest but like any mom, it hurts. We put our heart and soul into our job and for some of us, it doesn't come easy, for me it did not come naturally either. I feel like if it weren't for me, they would not be here, have had the chance to pursue their dreams or possibly have the drive. I had a mother who left me, there wasn’t really a great role model to pattern my behavior off of. I was somewhat winging it as a biological mother to her children doing the best I could do raising my children with a step-parent/father most of the time or alone.
I live at peace now as my grandchildren get taken far better places and live in loving homes. I remember my grandmother saying if sacrifice means your children have it better and your grandchildren can prosper, it is all worth it. Grandma was right.
My grandmother never lost the respect of her children for being poor. Her grandchildren never lost it either for her or grandpa being poor either. With my children, it is hard to say, it is a different time and place. I miss the richness and closeness we had when we were poor . Ironic, isn’t it, that now that they have so much richness, the relationship feels poorer. Perhaps with the divide in our wealth and their success, they see me differently and yet I am still the same. I am the one constant in their live whether in it central or not.
I have the peace and knowledge in my heart that I, like my grandmother provided the love, the education and the strength of character to help get them where they are and to help get them where they are going and that, simply said, is enough. Their success is my joy and my peace. That is my legacy.
I challenge you, in 2016, if you never thought about it before, create yours. Now is the time as tomorrow may never come. Be sure you are leaving your mark on the world. Those around you may not appreciate it but God, planting a seed is important. One never knows when or where it will grow.