Her splashy feet, spike up to the side of the tub and match the giggles that amplify in our 2nd bathroom.
I say second because one of the things I’m most proud of is the fact that I actually have two, bathrooms. People might ask me down the road, what’s one thing I cherish and I guarantee that separate bathrooms will be amongst ‘Baths that burn the feet with warmth,’ and ‘gorgeous underwear’ on my list. If I sound materialistic: I’m truly not. Unfortunately, the little luxuries, like clearance, (but ridiculously cute,) undergarments do something to me. Dual Bathrooms are the frosting on my life’s cupcake.
Ava’s silly songs and the splendor of bubbles in the water have always reminded me: It’s the smallest trinkets; the unabashedly ways I am blessed: healthy food in my fridge, a bank account in the positive and a stack of bills that cry, “PAID!” with a smiley face excitedly placed next to the date. The things you forget about until you realize, those too- might fade. Everything comes down to this: The opportunity to hear one more burst of my daughter’s sweet laughter is worth about everything. I’ve learned that and so much more.
Savvy.MN, a new magazine geared towards women in business, is covering my story as the feature in their premier issue. When I tell you I was flattered and dumbfounded, it truly isn’t far from the truth. Sometimes, I hardly believe it’s all happened, myself. Just last year I sat in tears after Christmas at the beauty of finally being able to have a home, of our very own and the joy in watching the shadows of the Christmas bulbs paint the stark white wall on the other side of the room.
I had food stamps, once. Medical Assistance saved my life by helping pay for cancer treatment. Not so long ago, in fact- someone in the Rainbow Checkout Line glanced at my EBT card and told me I was a drain on the ‘system.’ I smiled and told her she’d want to hear my story one day. There was a time, that I painted houses and renovated a million dollar home, (with an incredibly generous friend,) that allowed me to keep the old apartment I so loved when I lost my job and was fighting my unemployment appeal. Me, my hands deep in dirt and grime- sweeping out mouse crap from a cabinet and looking over at someone dear told me, “This is the beginning.” I knew in that moment then: That a lesson had been learned: Powerful, concrete and extremely important. I would never, ever forget those who layed the brick with me, or took the tearful phone calls at 2am. This was the time after I had written successful campaigns for some of the nation’s most recognizable names. I was hired once as a flag waver for the PGA Golf Tournament at Hazeltine (circa 2001.) I ended up as the office manager for the parking division. In 3 hours, a transformation occurred. I think that set the stage for everything to come.
I had my daughter at 25. I say this because although I was familiar with life’s battles, I didn’t start truly being alive until the day she laid in my arms and tucked her head up to mine. MINE. For the first time in my life: MINE. I once joked that my tombstone would read: “She refused to stop, until it came to her daughter’s beautiful smile.” I joke with my child, “Do my lips ever leave your forehead?” For as much as I get angry with her- my love for her is a million-fold. They don’t tell you that once you give birth you are no longer who you once were.
I came from a family of over-achievers. My mother had battled thyroid cancer while caring for my ill grandmother. She NEVER complained about the diverticulitis, or the pain she struggled with after. My father battled skin cancer and later: An almost deadly-blood vessel burst in his brain. I’m a firm believer in always saying, “See you soon,” before heading to the waiting room. I’ve said many goodbyes only to be relieved when everyone was fine. Given the option again? I wouldn’t have said goodbye at all. Just, “see you soon.” Optimism is key, in a world where pessimism thrives.
I suppose growing up in a family where my mother’s cancer and radiation caused her to be weary of hugging in between radiology sessions made me prepared. My first experience with death was watching my parents grieve as my older brother died in a car accident at seven. One distinct memory I have is walking on the playground in gradeschool and honestly thinking people just fell over and died and that because I hadn’t yet, I must be an angel. My mother will assure you this is the FARTHEST thing from the truth. Since I was little, I’ve waited for death to take me. Pre-occupation is a kinder word for my obsession with living each moment to the fullest.
The blog, (almost 8 years and counting,) was started one night after speaking with an ex-boyfriend from college. In truth: The blog was just an over-zealous look at why I was engaged but never married. Why the more I loved someone the less they loved me. It plateaued at the land of complaining and succeeded when I found my platform: No Fear. That first conversation with that ex boyfriend, at the tender age of 21 led me to wondering what it all meant. I struggled to find words and arm myself with the knowledge that if I at least knew myself, I would have done something right. I was no stranger to speaking out. At 18, I was assaulted on campus. I struggle with the word rape because to this day, I’m not sure what really happened that night. I tell myself: Our bodies have incredible ways of limiting the truth. It takes a brave person to really delve deep down and find each harbored fear and lay it out into the open. My life’s work will be dying without any fears left, God willing. At 19 I started A.P.P.E.A.R; (Actively Protecting and Educating about Assault and Rape.) We held a few galas, I keynoted at a few state events, I wrote pieces and then I walked off campus for the last time and wanted the word, “RAPE” stricken from my memory. Some things you don’t want to wear as a badge of honor. You want to wear another different outfit, entirely, so I did. I wear it now, humbly with masses of women who I don’t dare compare myself with. Our stories are different, but our stigma is the same.
Work was rarely fun though I had fantastic opportunities. I always held 3-4 jobs and was always bored of the conventional. What did it stem from? At high-school graduation, I was voted “Most Likely to Stay the Same.” As a bubbly, height-challenged cheerleader, I thought it was a compliment. In my world: You could get by without intelligence. In the adult world you learn: Being told you’re intelligent is easily the best compliment you can ever receive. When someone I’m with tells me my mind is beautiful, I melt. My face will fade, my bust will droop- but may my mind always be sharp witted and creative: that’s my prayer. I hope my daughter realizes this far earlier, and I often tell her, “Your greatest beauty lies in the opportunity that you hold within your mind.”
My daughter changed everything. She came during a time where I was very much alone and one in which I didn’t know enough to wonder if the alone meant rejected or just strength. I battled hyperemesis when I was pregnant and briefly considered terminating at my original doctor’s suggestion. I’m extremely pro-choice yet, extremely sensitive to the sanctity of how a moment’s decision can change our entire existence. I’ve raised Ava myself, (thanks to the abundant support of family, friends and the reminder that another single parent told me, “Nothing matters more than you waking up another day and trying harder.”) There’s no child support to hit my bank account, nor is there someone to argue with during pick-ups or drop-offs. In reality: I’m luckier than just about every divorced parent I know. I have incredible freedom which has far greater worth than a few hundred dollars of guilt each month in my bank account.
So add about 189 breakups, family deaths, lost jobs- gained insight and you’ll understand why this past 36 months has been worth more, possibly than an entire lifetime’s of failures and successes. Truly: Every past sadness and happiness has brought me to this point. I’ve battled cancer, started the Midwest Chapter of the National Cervical Cancer Coalition, and secured an engagement in speaking out for women nationwide. If you ask me about my greatest success, it would be that I’ve been able to secure a name for myself writing and motivating when the entire world screamed that I ought to be through. Honestly: I might even tell you, it’s that I write for the Star Tribune; something I’ve wanted to do since I was old enough to covet the paper my father was able to read. In 3 years I’ve done more living than most people have even imagined. All my greatest successes- the speeches, the recognition and lately: awards and encouragement are because someone once told me I couldn’t and I don’t do well with people telling me I shouldn’t try harder.
Why GirlMeetsGeek matters so much is because in eight years, I was able to see a process unfold that normally might have taken me an entire lifetime to decipher. I’ve lived un-apologetically out-loud, with faults and victories wide open for criticizing and condemnation.
Ava’s cries of, “I’m ready to get out, but I’m already in my towel, is that cool?” Make me take my turn in laughter from the other bathroom. (The first, but cooler bathroom with the way bigger shower and sink, decked in the hues of red and gold. ) I’m looking in the mirror and wondering how everything happened so fast- or really: If it just came at the right time. I’m lined up to speak in the upcoming months and I’ll tell you: My greatest passion is helping you find yours. It’s no matter the path you chose or the falls you’ve experienced. If a single mother can survive abandonment, rape, cancer and painting houses in the ridiculous, summer, heat- you are off to an amazing start. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that you’re not worth what you believe you are. We’re priceless- and I plan to live that way for a long time to come.
Never, ever, stop sharing your story: for everything you overcome, there is a lesson to be shared. The world is our classroom.