I knew I was the sort of person who planned things, so I'd get out of high school, go in the military, use the GI Bill to help afford college and then, after a few trips to orbit earth and do research, I'd get married and have two kids. I'd ow n a home, have a lawn. Maybe a little garden in the backyard. I'd never own a dog--I'm clearly a cat person.
They were solid plans. I did go into the military... for about a second. I came home really excited to see my fiance.
Got pregnant. At that point, turning twenty the year she was born, people said I'd given up any shot I might have had at my dreams. Which was okay. I still drew and wrote. I loved art and books and never did give them up entirely. I wished I was the kind of creative person who could tell stories, but I was a poor mother, married to a poor man, and we'd be lucky if we managed to raise our child without failing.
On my twenty-first birthday, I planned to go out and drink and party. I took a test just to be safe and found out I was expecting our second child. Panic ensued, followed by optimistic words from my husband about how I wasn't pregnant, we were pregnant.
We split a few months later, leaving me a pregnant single mother of one at only twenty-one.
I never planned to be a single mother.
But I could still do this. I'd manage to buy a house, because that was what parents did. That was how you set down roots.
A few years later, I had a third child, but managed to buy a house.
It turns out home ownership made me miserable. I had these great kids, but had to work constantly to afford it. The daycare provider saw the baby take his first steps (I went back to work one week after my second child, two weeks after my third because I'd managed to save a week of vacation time up for the event)... saw his first tooth come in. He even said his first word while I was at work.
I had these three great kids and I was missing out on their life. For what? Because you were supposed to own a house.
I hated the house, hated the maintenance, hated owning something beautiful we only got to visit once in a while and then to simply sleep in it.
I had a stroke. Apparently, you're not supposed to do to your body what I did to it to try to afford the life I thought we needed. You're supposed to sleep, to not walk around in a constant knot of stress and panic.
I reevaluated my life. I'd always written, but never sent a word out because I feared being rejected.
I owned a house that gave me no pleasure because I only had it because that was what 'good' parents did--they owned homes.
I had managed to do everything that was supposed to make me happy and nothing did.
So what did make me happy? I loved my kids. I wanted more for them...but was I giving them what would make them happy or just the things society told me they needed to be happy?
We eventually ended up in a temporary home--a couple hundred year old barn situated on a bucolic piece of land in the country. I could afford it pretty easily and still have a bit left over for the things we actually needed--food, wifi, older cars that we paid cash for rather than getting loans so that they were shiny and enviable.
We're still in that temporary home five years later. We love it here. It fits us perfectly, fills our needs, makes us happy.
I quit my job almost four years ago and returned to school. Things were tight--way tighter than when I worked outside the home all the time. But we were together, so the name brands/impressive things I thought we needed to prove we were doing well mattered less and less.
I gave my imagination wings, allowing myself permission to write stories and paint pictures. It turned out that other people liked my stories, liked my art. We were far from wealthy, but we had each other.
We collected a ragtag bunch of pets along the way--two poisonous frogs, a giant tank with giant gold fish and one albino frog, a few cats who decided they owned us and one dog which was way bigger than I ever planned. Besides, I'm a cat person.
I like the dog better than I like the cats. He's my loyal friend, a pet bought for the kids who brings me more joy in a day than I realized an animal could bring.
I have friends who I love, family, and I laugh way more than I cry.
When I work through the night to finish things--be they homework or author/editor work--I'm doing something I love and I get to see the finished product. I'm proud of the things that cross my desk, proud of my contributions to the world and to history.
I thought we needed to own a big house, a new car, have name brands on our clothes to be happy. It turns out we didn't need any of those things because proving we're happy isn't nearly as important as actually BEING happy.
Nothing in my life worked out as I planned, so I don't make as many plans now. I take each day as it comes, do the best I can with it, and go to bed with an unweighted heart.
Others look down their noses, judge us because we haven't got much and likely never will. I can't prove that we're doing well with the things we own nor can I promise my children they'll ever own all the things their friends do.
But I tell them about the things I've learned in my almost forty years on this planet.
- You'll forget the things you own, but never the people who made you laugh.
- You'll never regret not going to work one day...but you will regret not spending more time with the ones you loved. Work and to do lists are endless, but the people we love come and go like the seasons. Love with everything you have because no one promises they'll be there for you to love tomorrow.
- Don't worry about what others think of what you have or are as them being impressed will bring you no joy. What will matter at the end of the day is whether or not you can sleep and be proud of what you did in a day.
- Helping others makes you feel good, a glow you carry around for a while. Owning things never will give you that feeling. The pleasure of ownership is never as great as the pleasure of knowing you brought about change.
- Have a plan and a backup plan and a backup plan, but understand that life doesn't care what you plan. Sometimes you'll be in the right place at the right moment and know the right person to do something wonderful. Sometimes you'll be in the right place at the right moment to watch your world crumble. Neither state is permanent, so just reevaluate and choose a new direction. It might not be the right one, but you can always go another direction if it fails.
- Laugh and dance and play. Life is short, happiness a treasure beyond gold.
- Try to make other people smile and laugh and not to hurt anyone if you can help it. Other people will hurt you, but don't let it eat away at you. That's on them. If you're doing good things, caring more than hurting, then you'll sleep fine at night.
- You can't change anyone's mind. They either agree or disagree, so let it go.
- You can't change how others see you. Again, they'll see you how they see you and trying to change it is futile. Change how you see yourself, since you're the only one you have to share headspace with.
- Work hard, play hard, and learn to be grateful. Life is riddled with disappointments, which you can let weigh you down... or you can let them go and focus on tomorrow.
- Believe in yourself.
- Dare to do what your heart wants. It might crash and burn, it might fall apart...but you'll never regret love. When it fails, it isn't you that failed. Some loves aren't meant to last forever, but every time we love another person, we learn something from having loved.
- Make a big, loud, colorful splash in this world. Expect people to shake their heads, to say you're crazy...but we remember the peacocks and we remember the comedians. People remember things that are different, so don't be afraid to leave your mark.
Most importantly? Love.