What the heck happened? How did I get here? Somewhere in those twelve years after leaving high school, I had let myself fade into the background. I hadn't fought for me, instead I was fighting for my little family and surviving life on an autopilot mode. I am an artist, I can make beautiful paintings with oil pastels. I have brains in my head. I graduated Salutatorian of my class. A four year scholarship anywhere in the state of Wisconsin, and what did I do with it? I let it go and gave it to my best friend, who was the third runner up. She deserved it too, but giving that piece of paper away is a big regret of mine. I had worked so hard for those grades. But you see I found Brett, my sweetheart, much sooner than I expected at the blissful age of sixteen and I didn't let him go. You couldn't pry me away from him. I fell hard, fast and madly in love with this tall, blonde haired, blue eyed, seventeen year old. I was marrying this man. I walked down another aisle two weeks after my high school graduation. I got a different piece of paper I'd never regret. I love him. He's my favorite person in this whole world, but he can't be my everything, and this is where I started to go wrong. I was supposed to keep "me" somewhere in the "us."
Why did I give up my scholarship? Brett had already started college, in Minnesota. We couldn't afford for both of us to be in college at the same time and it would have been dumb/bad for him to drop out with only one year left. Our middle class parents couldn't foot the bill for college or living expenses, we had to bear the brunt of it. They helped where they could but we were mostly on our own. We had a tough decision to make but it was made easier by Brett only having the one year left. If I worked and got him through that last year, he'd get a good paying job with his degree and he'd be able to put me through college. Well it didn't work out that way. September 11th happened and the economy tanked. He struggled to find a job. I worked miscellaneous jobs and did the best I could with the skills I had. When he finally did get a job in his field it wasn't the big money it should've been. The economy sucked, remember. There was no money to put me through college. Then the kiddos happened. I was quite the fertile mertile and birth control options failed me. Now I was a wife, co-worker and mom... It's wicked crazy with all that chaos. It was easy for me to fade away under these other names.
Although all this happened earlier than the current norm, I wouldn't change how the past unfolded. It's my life. My stories. I've learned lessons from them and wouldn't be where I am without them. I would marry Brett all over again at the young age of eighteen. I would have my babies in my early twenties, because I can chase them around the playground without busting a hip. I got to be that young mom whose body snapped back to normal after poppin' out a kid. I am one lucky woman to have what I have. I know that. But then why was I finding myself so unhappy at the age of thirty?
I had been crying, and crying is something I fight because I hate it. It gives you a headache, you feel defeated and weak when it's over. Your face gets all red and puffy, you can't breathe out of your nose. You waste a lot of Kleenex and the whole process is ugly. But cry I did because the realization of losing me, had slapped me in the face. I was angry with myself and there was no one to blame but me. I let it happen. I let the unfortunate events in our life ruin my plans, I gave up on me. I focused on my husband and children. I lost the carefree and happy girl with the whole world at her fingertips, and all the wonderful things that felt possible, were gone. It's really easy to lose yourself because this life we live in is full of itself and if you're not aggressive, you will be left in the dust. You'll get lost in it, you'll only be a wife, co-worker, mom, daughter, sister, and barely a friend. You'll try be everything to everyone but yourself. And you'll suck at it all, because you'll never be everything to everyone. That's impossible, so you're left feeling inadequate and if you'd only love yourself, the rest would figure itself out and fall into place.
I had begun to hate the world at some point in time. You would think being married to my favorite person, and having two beautiful kids would mean I was living the happily ever after ending. We don't live in fairytale land. We live in the land where you're putting flowers on your child's headstone. You're moving away from family and friends because you have bills to pay. You're making a house payment in Minnesota AND paying rent in Illinois to sleep in a dingy one bedroom apartment on the floor because the airbed popped and you can't afford to replace it. Meanwhile, your heated waterbed sits lonely in your vacant house because you can't live there, the jobs aren't there anymore. You're commuting an hour and a half each way with a nineteen month old and a six week old sitting in the backseat of your two door Cavalier. You feel the unfair, helplessness, stress and heartache of dealing with your child's chronic disease. We live in the kind of land where in the course of two weeks, Brett had an electrical fluke with his heart causing him to blackout in downtown, falling face first and busting up his front teeth. A lady crashed into our car because she forgot to brake. The kids got the stomach flu for the umpteenth time, and Calvin barfed all over the rental car. There is no mercy in those events and all of them, were out of our control. Bad things happen in life. It's no mystery how this would change a happy and carefree girl into a hermit, hiding in her shell. I had been warped and tainted by all the bad lemons in my life. I had turned into a woman afraid of what was next. Afraid to be herself because maybe I was lame. It had been easier to live pleasing other people, that is, until it hit me this way of living life really sucked for me. I would never be good enough to anyone if I couldn't be good to me. But you don't love yourself because no one explained that to you or you didn't listen to that someone if they did. You didn't hear them. I can hear me now.
It's hard to fight for yourself in this fast paced world. Especially when you're a mom. But if you're going to really live in the moment and enjoy life, you have to make room for you and what makes you smile. What makes you laugh. What makes you thrive. I've missed living. I hadn't figured that out until now. I'm smart, creative, active and I have a lot to offer but no one sees me. I stay in my house, I clean the toilets, do the laundry, get the groceries, run the errands, transport the children, check the homework, declaw the nails... I do the mom stuff, the wife stuff, the unnoticed. There are no awards, rarely a pat on the back. No one thinks, hey that's Nicki, she's an artist. She's really smart. Instead they see, she's a mom. She's married to a talented Art Director. People are shocked to find out I am actually more than that. People are shocked our kids artistic talents aren't only from their father. Again, my fault. My fault for letting the wife and the mom roles take over. My fault for letting go of me and fading into the background.
Slowly things have gotten better. Seven moves later and years of struggling, we are finally floating on a piece of driftwood. I no longer feel like we're treading water trying not to drown, barely keeping our heads above the water. I have hope again that I can be more. I need to be more, for me. I can't let my marriage and my children define me. I have to find a place for "me" in my life. It's a teeter-totter. A great balancing act. I've had to put myself aside at times, everyone does, but you should never let yourself fade.
I've been here all along, I just didn't make myself a priority and that is why I found myself sad about turning thirty. I wanted to be happy again, really happy. I didn't want the weight of my defeats dragging me down anymore. It took a couple of different things in my life to bring the fact of my malfunctioning to the forefront. For one, this was the first year I had time to think. The kids were both in school full-time. Prior to this, I was either working full-time in a carpeted cubicle or being a full-time butt wiping mom with sweet little birdies chirping in my ears all day long, there was no time to think. Second, I had a major surgery on my abdomen. I couldn't move much at all for a couple months. I had even more time to think. I didn't like the grouch or the worry wart I'd become. Third, I started noticing my negative characteristics in my children. My anxieties, my unhappiness, my fears, my worries... all there in their little faces. Fourth and finally, turning thirty was about to happen. After the anvil and the crying, it was time to change. Now or never. My life was passing right in front of my body and I was standing off to the side worried about the repercussions of the past and fearing the future. I was not here in this moment. I was missing it, missing the good stuff, because I'd been missing me. I needed to snap out of my cloudy haze, find the sunshine and embrace it all.
The steps to finding myself don't mean solely finalizing that big college degree, although that's a part of it. My first step in the right direction was when I asked Brett to take a day off work because I wanted to do something special and different to celebrate my big thirty. I wanted to skip the cheesecake and shopping. We were going to climb some rock walls. For the first time in my life, I went rock climbing. We climbed the walls at Vertical Endeavors until our fingers were raw, our limbs were shaky and we were completely exhausted. It felt exhilarating. I was happy, so happy. It was a fun date with my husband, which is a rarity for us, and the babysitting was free because the kids were at school. The place wasn't crowded because it was a weekday. Everything fell just right and I was living again, I was present in the moment. Rock climbing is my new favorite thing now. Had I never tried, never asked, it would've never happened and I wouldn't know how much I love it. I plan on climbing actual rock walls out in the wild before I die. There is so much living to be done.
So did you live in today, or were you somewhere far away in the regrets of your past or the what ifs of your future? Are you sitting back waiting and fading into the background, thinking someone else will save you? YOU need to save you. I'm not in the background anymore. I'm not missing me or missing it. I am finding the time to do things for me. I am happy. Life is too short to be caught up in the yuck. I do have creases on my face but the ones I see now are not the frownie kind, they're the smile lines. I want to keep them and make them worse. Life is here, life is now. You have a choice and it's hard to pull your head out of the clouds but once you do, the sunshine feels really good. Or if it's the umbrella you're holding, like I've been holding. Put it down. It aches to hold it up all day, every day. Embrace the rain when it falls, dry yourself off when it's over and enjoy when the sun comes out. Without the rain, we wouldn't truly feel the sun.