Being Alone

            I loved being alone.

            Whenever my father was home, someone was being punished: my mother, most likely, myself, but also my brother. He never yelled at my sister.

            I never understood why he didn’t slap her about or smack her with his belt or lecture her on her many faults. Granted she was seven years younger than me and had petit mal seizures, but since he didn’t go after her, she’d become a brat.

            I felt sorry for my brother. He was exceptionally bright, a model student, but he had zero athletic skills. He tried to be an athlete, joining one baseball team after another where he never got to play because his lack of skills would have been detrimental to the team. He joined a football team in middle school, but the only purpose he served was to be pounded by the other team’s offensive line.

            He took out his frustrations on me. When our mom wasn’t looking, he’d pinch, kick or slap me until he left marks where they couldn’t be seen.

            It wasn’t until college that the torture stopped, probably because we were both out of the house, alone, no longer under the critical eyes of our parents.

            He was the only son and so he never had to share a room. Me, on the other hand, only had one-half of a room once my sister was out of the crib.

            The lack of privacy bothered me. Sometimes, if my sister was out and about (she had friends whereas I did not) I could hide in my room and listen to my favorite music on my little transistor radio. When I was alone, I imagined it always being that way, that I wasn’t sharing a room, had never shared a room, would never share one in the future.

            I knew it was only my imagination, but it released the pressure in me that built during the times in between.

            College dorm rooms provided no privacy at all. So tiny that only two steps separated my half of the room from my roommates, I was aware of everything she did. I overheard every phone conversation, had to step over her mess, and when her many friends came over, I even lost the privacy of my bed.

            And when I returned home during breaks, I felt unwelcome in the room which now completely belonged to my sister. She had taken over the master bedroom so as to have her own bathroom. There was a bed for me, but she had filled the closet and every drawer with her things.

            After college graduation I set two goals for myself: to buy a car then to rent an apartment.

            I needed the car so as to find a job. My brother had priority using the family car, my mother second. If I needed to go to an interview, my brother drove me if it was on his way, my mother drove as well, but often applied for the same position, at the same time, or my dad would take me. When my dad drove, he’d go inside the business, and if he didn’t like what he saw, he’d grab my arm and pull me out.

            I don’t recall how it happened, but I got a job at a chain furniture store. Someone must have driven me there for the interview, then driven me to and from work. Because I was not told to pay rent at home, I was able to save money for a down payment on a car.

            Even then, I wasn’t permitted to choose the one I really wanted. I was twenty-one, but apparently not smart enough to pick out a reliable car. I ended up with the ugliest Ford Pinto imaginable, only because that was the car my dad approved.

            I now had wheels of my own. When I wasn’t working, I’d take off for the morning. We lived not too far from a reservoir, a forested lake with a paved road that traversed one side. I’d pack myself a lunch, then set off, listening to the radio to my choice of music. I’d sing along, loving the solitude, the ability to do what I wanted, when I wanted.

            Being alone was beautiful.

            Once I’d saved up more money, I found a studio apartment that I could afford. My parents let me take one of the twin beds and a chest of drawers. Using my discount at the furniture store, I sought the damaged goods that weren’t so damaged that they were unusable.

            I didn’t mind the scuffs and dents. What I loved was being alone.

            I ate what and when I wanted, watched whatever I wanted on my tiny TV, went to bed when I wanted. For the first time in my life, I was completely in charge of my life. Of my decisions.

            It drove my mother nuts.

            She thought she could come over without being invited, without permission. Sometimes I pretended to not be home when she rang the bell downstairs. I could feel my blood pressure rising every time this happened: if she discovered I was there and not letting her in, I would have been in big trouble.

            It wasn’t too long after gaining my independence that I got a new job at the IRS. And then only about two years before I transferred to the local IRS office where I met my soon-to-be husband.

            Granted, for the past 48 years I’ve never technically been alone. In our early years my husband did spend some time at other offices where he’d have to live in hotels, but once we had kids, he never went away again.

            My husband is not demanding, no clingy, not possessive. I’ve never had to ask permission to travel on my own, to attend conferences in far off cities, or to take off across the country to visit family and friends.

            Even when we’re both home, there’s no expectation that I be in the same room with him. I can be alone in the front room which serves as my office while he’s in the family room watching TV. We can see each other, talk to each other, yet still be apart.

            The most powerful company I’ve had with me throughout my entire life is God. With Him I am never truly alone.

            He’s walked with me in my darkest days, He’s been with me during my happiest times and He’s guided me when my mind was awash with turmoil.

            It wasn’t until recently, however, that I realized that I am never alone.

            At all times I carry the memories of family and friends, the places I’ve been and the things I’ve done. More than anything, I carry His love.

            Being alone is wonderful, but so is knowing that my shoulders are laden with the wonderful things I’ve done and the people I know.

A Halloween Memory

            The only part of Halloween that I ever liked was the endless pursuit of free candy. From the time my brother and I were in middle school, we roamed miles from home. We walked on streets whose names I never knew, knocking on the doors of anyone with lights still on. It took us hours, and at times our pillow case sacks were heavy that we had no option but to go home, empty them out, then head out again.

            I hated wearing costumes. Perhaps because I wore glasses, masks blocked my sight. I detested makeup and most of all, despised trying to come up with something to wear that could become a costume. My fallback was that of a hobo as all I had to do to play the part was put on my well-worn overalls.

            When I was thirteen my middle school decided that for Halloween, all students had to dress in costume. I immediately panicked. It was bad enough to traverse my neighborhood under cover of darkness, but now I would have to parade about campus under the horrific glare of fluorescent lights.

            I stewed over this for days.

I was a painfully shy, the girl who never raised her hand to ask or answer questions in class. I slithered down in my desk seat, my nose skimming the top of my desk, believing that if I couldn’t see the teacher, she couldn’t see me.

Dressing up at school had the potential to sink me even lower on the social scale, especially if I appeared in an unpopular or outmoded costume.

            When the day arrived, the only thing I could come up with was my mother’s WAC (Women’s Army Corp) uniform from World War II. It fit a bit snug, but I figured I could tolerate anything for the length of the festivities.

            In the morning I squeezed into the uniform, then trudged off to the bus stop. I was used to belittling looks, so the shrugs and smirks had little impact.

However, what seemed like a good idea in the morning, quickly became a terrifying experience at school.

            My teacher, thrilled to see the old uniform, made me stand in front of the class and share my mother’s story. Unfortunately, I knew little about her service.

I pronounced that she enlisted because her family was poor, a fact. That she chose the WACs because her older brother was in the Army, also true. I did know, only because of the few black-and-white photos she shared, that she was stationed in Florida where she learned to work on trucks.

            I figured that when my time was done, I could slink back into my desk. Not so. To make matters worse, my teacher sent me up and down the hall, into every single classroom, upstairs and down.

I was so terrified that I squeaked out only a few words, and wouldn’t have even got them out if it weren’t for the prompting of every teacher.

As the day progressed, the uniform seemed to get tighter and the heavy wool brought out as much sweat as a humid summer day. Perspiration pooled under my arms and down my face. It soaked the collar and the waistband of the skirt.

When lunch came, I was allowed to change clothes.

            It was such a horrible experience that I did not go out trick-or-treating that night and for several years after.

Bearing the Weight

Growing up in a dysfunctional family

I didn’t want to marry.

Ever.

While my dad never hit my mom

That I saw

He dominated her.

Controlled where she went

The money she spent

The meals she cooked.

They screamed obscenities

At each other

Daily

The anger rubbed off on me

Both parents calling me vile names

I cried.

I swore that I would never be trapped

In a hate-filled relationship

With any man

Thinking about marriage

Weighed me down

Sinking into the floor

My shoulders ached at the thought

Of a man not letting me

Be me

I dated some.

Saw nothing of interest

Not even a spark

Until I transferred to a different office

And a blue-eyed man

Smiled.

He didn’t talk much,

But he showed patience

Helping me learn

When he asked me out

My stomach flipped

Could this be?

I yearned for his touch,

A sweet kiss

He didn’t disappoint.

My vision of the future

Changed to include his

Warmth

When he proposed, I rejoiced.

Before I would have run,

But not this time

Marriage is a weight,

But not always one of

Pain.

He taught me to bear love,

To cherish times together,

To rejoice.

Many years later

I gladly carry marriage

And will until death.

The burden is worth it.

Money Woes

            Money was a problem when our kids were young. We had our house, chosen in a price category so that I could be a stay-at-home mom. We never missed a payment as that was a priority, but there were times when the refrigerator was a tad empty.

            No one went hungry unless they chose to abstain from whatever was put on the table. Our meals most often consisted of chicken, ground beef and chuck roasts. Pasta, rice and potatoes rounded out the meal. Oh! And canned vegetables.

            Part of the problem was that I wasn’t much of a cook. I had a trusty cookbook that relied on canned soups. The recipes were easy to follow and tasted good. On top of that, they were hearty.

            When boxed Hamburger Helper came out, they became a staple in our diet. Self-contained meals, simple directions and required adding very little.

            My kids didn’t wear new clothes until they were about eight or nine. I was an expert thrift store shopper. I found nearly new onesies, shirts, shorts and pants. Dresses and slips. Coats, sweaters and light jackets. Even rain boots.

            They usually had brand-new shoes, unless the hand-me-downs were like new. When they began school, uniforms were new, a huge expense.

            I also sewed much of their wardrobes, especially shorts, dresses and anything made out of cotton. The machine was old and not very good. Before I left for college, I bought the cheapest model Sears had. That way, even away from home, I could make me new clothes.

            At some point I upgraded, which was a wise decision. The new machine gave greater variety of stitches, which came in handy for seams and hems. It also had a terrific buttonhole maker. My daughter has that machine now.

            We always had two cars. Mine was the Ford Pinto my dad made me buy when I really wanted a fancy Mercury sports-type model. Mike had an obnoxious orange Taurus. We drove them until repairs were useless.

            We replaced those vehicles with other used cars. Repeated repairs kept them running. I drove the kids to school and ran errands. Mike commuted to work.

            We joked that we had bought the mechanic a boat, a luxury car and a vacation cabin. Many times, we’d pay for one car, then turn in the other the next day.

            When my kids were a bit older, I got a job teaching preschool for the local recreation department. I think I earned just over two dollars an hour. The biggest advantage of the job was that I only paid half the normal fees for any class offered.

            My kids learned to swim at the Plunge. They did gymnastics and my daughter took pottery.

            That salary helped keep milk in the fridge and fruit in the house. It paid for camping trips so we’d have vacations. And it gave me something to do other than be a mom.

            Teaching preschool led to a career as an elementary teacher and then later a high school teacher.

            I remember taking the kids scavenging for aluminum cans. We’d go to construction sites and walk the grounds. We found a lot of cans, and when we were really lucky, dropped dollars. One time I picked up a crumpled bill to discover that it was a twenty! That was a lot of money.

            Money might have been a problem, but we were happy.

Lesson Learned

We should have known better.  No.  Let’s say that I should have known better than to bring a birthday cake into someone’s home, without asking first.  That sounds a little strange, true, but it’s an unwritten “law.” You should never, ever do anything, no matter how seemingly innocent, without getting permission beforehand.

My birthday is in August.  Now that our “children” are living on their own, birthday celebrations lack luster.  A card and a bouquet of flowers routinely show up on the dining room table.  Sometimes we’ll go out for dinner.  That’s as exciting as it gets.

One summer my husband and I were visiting family. My birthday had passed, but after celebrating a relative’s birthday with a trip to an incredible mountain lake, I thought it might be fun to celebrate mine as well.

After church on Sunday, we stopped at Albertson’s to pick up some needed items.  As we walked the aisles, the idea came to me to buy a birthday cake.  I pictured excited faces hovering around a lit cake, everyone waiting to see if I could blow out fifty-nine candles.  I imagined how happy everyone would be to share the passing of another year of my life.

We found the bakery department, and there, to my delight, was the perfect cake. Tiny blue and yellow flowers danced across the top.  Deep green ivy held hands with the petals, and a pure white garland graced the sides.  Someone must have ordered the cake, and then not shown up.

With pride, I toted the cake to the house, The relatives were still at church, so I placed the cake in the only open space, at the end of the kitchen counter.  Knowing that a hungry family would soon descend upon the house, I fixed my lunch, settled at the table, with the intention of being out of the way.

All seemed to be going according as I hoped until the relative arrived home. When she saw the cake, something went terribly wrong.  Fire shot from her eyes.  Her jaw clenched into a knot the size of Philadelphia, and the hoods over her eyes would have done nicely as capes for a dark knight.  With a mighty sweep of her right arm, the cake flew off the edge of the counter and landed, splat, on the floor.

Then she exploded into a tirade of reasons why the cake was unacceptable.  She screamed for what felt like an eternity, but was probably no more than five minutes. 

This is not a wealthy family and food was never wasted. Yet, the perfectly fine cake was now in the garbage.

I cleared my lunch items off the table, and when the woman went into another room, I removed the cake from the can. The plastic container had not opened, so the cake was not polluted by grime.  It had landed on one side, causing the icing to flatten and smear, but the rest of the cake was intact.

I set the cake back on the counter.

The husband had been watching the entire scene. I looked at him with tear-filled eyes and said, “I only wanted to celebrate my birthday with you.  I apologize for buying a cake without asking first. I’ll carry it out to the garbage after dinner.”

With tears pouring down my face, I went downstairs, to our room. I sat on the bed, speechless. I had no idea what I had done wrong and didn’t know what words to say that would explain what had just happened.

Ten minutes later the husband stuck his head into the room. He had written his email address on a paper and asked me to send him a message. He replied shortly after I sent one off. Apparently, it was a fasting Sunday, something that always triggered explosions of anger. He said that when she’s famished, she often throws childish tantrums.  He apologized for her behavior, and wrote that they would enjoy the cake later.

The next morning Mike and I got up well before dawn, as planned, to begin our trek home.  Despite the husband’s explanations, when we went upstairs to leave and I saw the cake still there, unopened. I felt empty, as if the very air had been sucked out of my lungs.

I learned a very important lesson: never bring anything into the house that has not been pre-approved. 

Being Considered

            Until recently, I’d never given much thought to how many times those words pop up.

            For many of us, it began when we were quite young. “Being considered” to acceptance into a private elementary school. In some religions, you are “considered” for participation in Holy Sacraments.

            You’re “considered” when applying for a scholarship, job or internship. Same when trying to get your first credit card as well as when purchasing a car or home.

            Admittance into the college of your choice requires a waiting period while you are “being considered”.

            Over and over throughout life we sit around, waiting impatiently, as our merits are being weighed. Are we smart enough, talented enough, skilled enough? Even though physical appearance is not supposed to be a defining characteristic, it is if your skin color isn’t right or you weigh too much or aren’t “manly” or “womanly” enough for whatever image the college/job/internship wants to project.

            At my age I thought I was well past “being considered”. I’m a retired wife, mother and grandmother. I’m not trying to join any clubs or organizations. I have my routines that are familiar and comfortable. I’m not looking for adventure. I just want to be accepted as a write.

            This week I received a welcome email from a literary magazine that I’d been longing for. A story I’d submitted was “being considered” for publication, contingent on my making the recommended edits.

            Of course, I made the changes and resubmitted the story, knowing full well that it will still fall into the category of “being considered”.

            Ever since I began sending out stories, I’ve sat, with baiting breath, hoping to “be considered”. It’s what every writer dreams of. Knowing that someone, somewhere, sees value in what you’ve written and wants to include it in some type of publication.

            So, I won’t complain about “being considered”. Instead I will count my blessings as I wait, with fingers crossed, for the next word.

Vacation Turmoil

            When I transferred to USC at the end of my freshman year of college, I went as a math major. I enrolled in Russian language classes as that was seen as necessary for the field. It turned out that I was pretty good at it.

            Not surprising, I guess considering that I grew up reading and speaking Latin at church. My high school in Ohio offered Latin, a class that I excelled at. I would have continued the study, but when we moved to California, it was not offered.

            I switched to Spanish, a language that I found extremely easy to learn. I completed three years, then when I enrolled at the community college, chose Spanish once again. The professor told me to switch to a higher level of Spanish, which I did. I aced that course, but that was the highest level the school offered.

            I didn’t want to return to Spanish in college, so that’s how I ended up taking Russian.

            Every semester I took another Russian class, not just language, but also in literature. I fell in love with the characters and stories that opened up a whole new world to me.

            That was when my dream began to one day go to Russia.

            I would have continued my degree program in Math, but the department chair destroyed that for me. This was in the 1960s, well before women fought to study whatever subject interested them. The chair told me that no company would ever hire me no matter that I was a straight A student.

            Disheartened, I realized that I had to switch to something that would still allow me to graduate on time. My only option was Russian.

            In time I passed every class the department offered. My spoken Russian was a bit rough, but I could read and write perfectly.

            My professors encouraged me to apply to grad school. I was accepted at the University of Illinois. The professors there wanted to meet me, so I spent what little money I had to fly back there.

            When I walked into the office, I was greeted by five Russian speaking professors. My mouth froze. Nothing came out. I felt and looked like an idiot. I realized then that I would never be able to get a Masters or even a PhD.

            My next humiliation came when I interviewed to be a Resident Advisor in the residence halls, the only way I could afford to go there.

            I was humiliated when I couldn’t answer question after question.

            I flew home knowing that I had no job offer and with no money, would be forced to return to the family home. A place where I was humiliated on a daily basis.

            Back at USC, my spirits soared when a flyer appeared inviting everyone to a talk by the Peace Corps.  I excitedly went, thinking that I could get posted in Russia!

            After listening to the talk, I left full of hope that I’d get to see the country I’d be dreaming about.

            I applied. Submitted all the documents, including health reports. I was turned down. Not because I couldn’t do the job, but because I’d had major surgery on my right wrist in which a chunk of bone had been amputated. The recruiter told me that I would be a liability.

            After graduation I set my sights on being a translator. I imagined myself traveling with visitors from Russia, going with them to Disneyland and other fun places. There happened to be an office near where I lived.

            I applied. However, when I was asked to come for an interview, I quickly found out that my Russian was so formal that I couldn’t speak in informal situations.

            At that point I thought I’d never get to Russia. Until I heard about the military language school in Monterey.

            I enlisted in the Army Reserve as a language specialist. I figured I’d put in time until I could get into the language school.

            Working as a translator for the Army was harder than I’d expected. I was given piles of intelligence documents to translate. One assignment was to try to figure out how many telephone poles there were in certain areas of Russia. That proved to be nearly impossible and incredibly boring. I was the only one in my division who knew Russian, so I worked alone in a dank, stuffy cubicle.

            Meanwhile I applied to the school in Monterey. I was denied.

            Realizing at that point that I’d never make it to Russia, I requested a transfer to the photograhy lab, a place I learned to love.

            In fact, the skills I picked up there led to a part-time job as a photographer. Also a number of ribbons at the county fair. I still love taking photos today.

            I married and became a mother to three wonderful children. Times were often tough financially. Sometimes there was no money for milk. I watered down juices, bought off-label canned and boxed foods, and mixed powered milk in with the jugged. Clothes came from thrift stores and our cars were well used.

            There was no way I would ever get to Russia, although I still harbored that dream.

            And then in 2020 a deal came up with a cruise company that would achieve that dream! We paid for our tickets, applied and paid for our visas, then began thinking about all the wonderful things we’d see.

            Two months before our trip, the pandemic brought all travel to an end.

            The company cancelled the cruise, but allowed us to transfer funds to the same trip in 2021.

            That was also cancelled because of omicron. Once again we were allowed to transfer to the 2022 trip. Our visas are only good for three years, so if we didn’t go to Russia this year, we lose our money.

            Here we are less than two months away from going to Russia and Putin invades Ukraine.

            We hurt for the people of Ukraine and are sickened by what Russia is doing. How dare Putin take over a democratic country! How dare he cut off Ukraine on three sides and send in his masses of military might!

            We want to cancel the trip. We’d like to visit Russia someday, but there’s no way that I want my tourist dollars going to Putin’s country.

            However, we have to wait for the cruise company to cancel or we would take a huge financial hit. We may have to do that anyway.

            It’s sad to have held on to that dream for over fifty years only to have it dashed by a power-hungry despot.

            Maybe someday, long after this war is over, we might think about going to Russia, but I don’t think so. I don’t see us reapplying for visas and without them, we can’t go.

            My story is one of a dream denied. Not as serious as lives killed and a country overrun, but on a small scale, devasting.

Morning Thoughts

I rose before the sun

Crested the nearby hills,

When the nighttime darkness

Blanketed my world

The air, clean-smelling

Like freshly washed clothes,

Energized my newly awakened body

Augmented by a gym workout

The gift of time well spent

Brought immense pride

I visualized myself shrinking

As sweat poured down

Face, back, arms as my legs

Pumped the Stairmaster

Moving in its never-ending cycle

It reminded me of my day-to-day

Existence

Feed, water, take care of critters

Feed my own body and soul

Seven days a week, without fail

Five days a week I stood

Before reluctant high school students

Who were so bored they could barely keep

Eyes open and heads up

I force-fed them an education

That seemed so meaningless

In their social-driven lives.

Yet they learned

Despite a lack of engagement

As the work day ended,

I left with a smile

Knowing that the effort

Was worth it.

The cycle began again.

Getting up early

Rising before the sun

Crested the nearby hills

My Story

            The concluding song in the musical Hamilton asks the question, who will tell my story. It got me to thinking about my own story. Certainly, my grown children know me, at last the mother-me that raised them. But do they truly know the adult me that I am now?

            In recent years our oldest son has been including tidbits of praise for who we are and what we have done over our lives. He praises us for being active, for traveling and doing things even as we age. His words touch me where it brings tears and feelings of joy.

            But I wasn’t just a mother. I was a wife, a teacher, an administrator, a writer, a friend and a person who kept busy doing a variety of things. I belong to three writers’ groups and two book clubs. I hike with a friend two days a week. I love movies and the theater. I love how technology has opened my world.

            I am a sucker for sad animal videos. If I had given a dollar to every charity that featured beaten and starved animals in their ads, I’d be broke.

            Books call my name. I will never have the time to read every book in my pile, but that doesn’t stop me from wanting more.

            While I am not into fashion, I love to shop for clothes especially after losing eighty pounds. Certain textures and styles speak my name. Colors and patterns as well. If after buying and wearing something it doesn’t make me feel good, then I put it in a giveaway bag.

            I won’t wear torn or stained clothing. That’s because of my younger years when all I had were old clothes an aunt had given my mom.

            I love spending time with friends. Going for a walk or eating out makes me very happy. While I am more of a listener than a talker, hearing someone else’s story keeps me connected to their lives. That means a lot to me.

            When I do get to spend time with my kids, I don’t have to do fancy things. I am content being in their presence. I love sharing a meal with them, strolling through a fair or even a big-box store, taking dogs for a walk, watching their favorite shows or sports teams. Seeing the responsible adults that they have become fills me with joy.

            As a teacher I worked hard. I’d visit my classroom on weekends to change bulletin boards, grade writing journals, correct spelling workbooks and rewrap books whose covers had torn. Before the year began, I’d hit every sale and buy all the supplies my students would need for the year. Even when money was tight, I’d spend mine to make sure my students didn’t have to go without.

            In my early years of teaching, I had to wear conservatively-styled dresses. I was a large woman and found it difficult to find anything in a store, so I made my own. I also sewed my kids’ shorts and a suit for my husband.

            I overcame my years growing up in a dysfunctional and overly critical family. I fought against the stereotypes that women couldn’t study college-level math. I persisted when others gave up.

            Understanding the learning never ended, I returned to college over and over, all in the hopes of increasing my ability to better serve the needs of my students.

            Recently a friend told me that she chooses to focus on the positive things that had happened to her. That simple comment made me reexamine how I remembered my early years. Perhaps instead of focusing on how I was mistreated and misunderstood by my parents, I should recall family trips to a cabin by a lake, playing badminton in the backyard,  eating my mom’s apple dumplings and building tents in the family room with my brother.

            It’s easy to talk about the beatings and foul words directed my way, harder to search for the happy days that I’d conveniently pushed into the back.

            This is my story. This is how I want to be remembered. I just hope that someone will be kind enough to share it after I am gone.

Facing Obstacles

            When I look back, I realize that many obstacles were placed in my way that I either had to overcome or ignore. Beginning with my early years, I knew that I was not my mother’s favorite and had little respect from my father. I could discount those feelings as being caused by “middle-child syndrome”, but that would be falsifying what actually happened.

            My older brother was not the jock or the mechanic that my father wanted. My mother, however, held my brother in high esteem. It often felt that in her eyes, he could do no wrong. He also had little responsibilities around the house, for she wanted his focus to be on academics.

            On the surface, that was very noble of her. She only had an eighth-grade education, so insisting that my brother graduate from high school and go on to college was admirable.

            However, she held no such regard for me. My primary function in the family was to clean. Not just my half of the room, but my brother’s room, the kitchen, front room and even wiping dust off of indoor plants. Only after those jobs were finished could I study.

            Her expectations for me were to marry as a teenager. Going to college was not encouraged or expected. When I expressed a desire to get a degree, she didn’t actively discourage me, but she also didn’t encourage me.

            Neither did my high school counselor. By the time I was looking to graduate from high school, I already had several obstacles in my way: low self-esteem, low expectations, low placement within the family, and low belief from adults as to what my future held. I fought and clawed my way through all those years of self-doubt and familial stress.

            I graduated from high school and then college with honors. Hah!

            Getting a good-paying job was equally difficult. Back in the late 1960’s women’s opportunities were just beginning to open up. Most women became teachers, nurses or secretaries. Or they got married and had children. Or they worked in elder care or as low-paid office clerks.

            I had no office skills. My typing speed was incredibly slow and I made frequent mistakes. I could file but not operate an adding machine with any accuracy. I did not know stenography and had no interest in learning. I was not pretty enough to catch a boss’s attention.

            I applied for any job that required few, if any, skills. No one would hire me because they all believed that I would leave as soon as a job opened in which college degrees were valued. They were right, but first I had to find that job.

            I tested with a temporary agency, but my skills were so low they refused to accept me into the pool.

            When the phone company announced openings, I made an appointment to take the test. My mother insisted on applying as well. I knew that I stood no chance of getting hired: who would hire someone who could only apply if their mother tagged along?

            I needed a job so that I could buy a car and rent an apartment. Living at home was stifling and restrictive. At college I had freedom to become my own person: at home I was back to being the middle child.

            Eventually I got a good-paying job with the federal government. I hated the job, but it gave me needed experience and allowed me to save money, but a car and move out! Yeah! Plus it was where I met my husband.

            After years of being told how ugly I was (by my brother and father), finding a husband seemed impossible. But when I looked at the man who would later propose, I knew he was the person I had hoped to find.

            Another obstacle overcome.

            I had never wanted a government job. I knew from the time I was quite small that becoming a teacher was my goal. Teachers were kind to me. They never called me names or made fun of me. Not all teachers saw potential in me, but at least they never ridiculed me in public. Because of this, I imagined myself in front of a classroom.

            Another obstacle: there was a glut of teachers and not enough jobs. Add in the cost of continuing education and it seemed impossible that I would ever get to teach.

            When my first child was preschool age, I searched for early childhood education that we could afford. We didn’t qualify for Head start or the county’s programs because, theoretically, we made too much money. I eventually found a preschool program through Parks and Rec that was aimed at parents. While my son was in class, I attended classes in parenting. I needed the class as much as my son needed being with others his age.

            From there I enrolled in classes at the community college, thinking that being a preschool teacher was where I should be. After completing a ton of credits, I got hired by the Rec Department to teach preschool. Yeah! Another obstacle mastered.

            It was not for me. I discovered that dancing and singing in front of tiny kids made me uncomfortable. I hated the art projects and monitoring behavior on the enclosed playground. I hated snotty noses, wet pants, and holding hands with kids who’d just smeared mucus about their faces with their fingers.

            Even though I was teaching, I quickly realized this was not my ideal job.

            I needed to return to college to get an elementary credential. We had no money for tuition. My sister-in-law offered to pay! Another obstacle met.

            After completing my program, I applied for various positions. A local Catholic school was the first, a position that I loved right away. I taught third grade, a good age for me. They had some academic skills and were already socialized and fairly well behaved.

            However, after three years there I knew I couldn’t stay. The principal stated that she loved having young teachers and had already run off two older ones. A third retired. I wanted that job, teaching seventh grade, but the principal hired a young man from outside.

            I left before I got another job.

            Obstacles arose that I had not foreseen. One public school district claimed that my Catholic school job did not prepare me for their students. If only they had listened! I had students with learning differences, students with poor behavior and disabled students.

            I began substituting in my local district. It was awful. Students mistreat subs. They won’t obey, refuse to sit and talk constantly. They laughed and jeered at my attempts to follow the lesson plans. High schoolers were the worst, but so were eighth graders at the middle school in the wealthier part of town.

            A coaching position opened up and I applied, thinking it would give me greater opportunity to be hired as a teacher. I was thrilled when I became coach, that is until the head coach began delegating her responsibilities to me. She mistreated her players, made them run until they threw up, called them names and when one young lady broke her foot, accused the girl of faking it to avoid practice. When I took my concerns to the Athletic Director, he scoffed. I left.

            In October I was told about a job in a different district, applied and was hired. I loved my sixth graders. They were not the brightest kids at the school, but most of them were excited to learn. I developed lessons to fit their needs, including a “dig” for artifacts, a hike through the neighborhood, reading to first graders and even putting together our own yearbook at the end of the year.

            The district did not rehire me because the original teacher was returning from her one-year job.

            By now I figured out that there was a need for PE teachers so I enrolled in classes at the university. I enjoyed learning about physical fitness, warmup activities and taking PE classes to fulfill requirements. I hated the training and conditioning class because I had to learn the names and functions of every bone, muscle and tendon. I’m not good at science, so I had to work extra hard. It was a huge obstacle, but I succeeded anyway.

            I still didn’t get hired, but I kept getting sent to Special Education classes. This was not how I saw myself as a teacher, but the need was great. Back to school I went.

            This time I got hired after my first interview. The one problem: I was warned that there was a difficult parent that wanted to meet me prior to the first day of school. That parent created one obstacle after another. Nothing I did pleased her even though her daughter was happy and learning. Eventually I ended up in an arbitration and then a hearing. It was awful.

            The end agreement was that I would never teach the girl again. One obstacle removed.

            Two years later an awful child was put in my class. He was so violent that an aide was hired to shadow him at all times and step in between when the kid came after me. The school psychologist also shadowed him, but none of that helped.

            The rest of the class and I spent a lot of time outdoors, regardless of weather. The boy was so violent that everyone feared that either myself or my students would get hurt. Later I learned that he got kicked out of his previous placement when he threw a desk at his teacher and broke her foot.

            The parent put up one obstacle after another. She’d want to know how his day went, but if I was honest, she got mad. If I wrote mediocre comments, she got mad. If I wrote the truth, she’d get even angrier. Again I ended up in a hearing. Again I would never have to teach the boy again.

            The district was good to me. When an opening arose at the high school, I was encouraged to apply. I was hired without an interview. I taught there for eighteen years.

            Along the way, however, the state kept changing the rules. I had to keep earning certificates in various specialties or I would lose my job. At one point I returned to college, this time completing a BA in English. To finish, I had to pass three grueling tests. I conquered that obstacle as well.

            There were familial issues along the way. A few years into our marriage my mom tried to get me to leave my husband, claiming that he wasn’t a good father to our son. My mom was controlling and at times abusive toward me. Nothing had changed from my childhood except my age.

            Add to that recurring weight issues, knee problems, and health complications, all obstacles that jumped up, getting in my way.

            The difference was that now I had confidence in myself. I knew I was smart, I knew I was capable, I knew I was loved.

            The obstacles were stubborn, however, refusing to go away. It took determination and years for me to accomplish what I had wanted to accomplish.

            I had learned that, yes, obstacles would keep popping up, but that I had the tools to get past them. So when the pandemic happened in 2020, I considered it just another thing that I could handle.

            Some people give up when an obstacle arises. Some people fight back. While I never gave up, there were times when I doubted myself due to the voices in my head.

            The one thing I learned was that life is filled with obstacles, and that if we face them, if we meet them head-on, we can succeed.