My parents were high school sweethearts, the kind of story you hear about often in
small towns such as the one we live in. They got married soon after graduation, saved
their money and bought a little white house in the center of town. Daddy went to work
for a bread company and Mama stayed home and had a little baby Liv. She cooked
three meals a day, hung her laundry up on the line, and took care of her family with
great pride. Every afternoon, she and I would sit on the front porch and watch for his
truck to pull up in the drive after a long day at work, a mama living out her dreams of
being home with her little one. A few years later, their love grew even more as my
little brother made his arrival. A family of four: the life she had always dreamed of.
But, their love story soon took a turn when my dad left us one day, breaking her heart
and changing our lives forever. My mama was only 22 years old, two babies, no
college education, not enough money saved to support two children on her own. The
family she had taken such pride in was suddenly broken and she was left to pick up
the pieces, alone.
My mother is not a real drown-in-your-sorrows kind of gal: she is tough and hard and
knows how to get things done. With the help of her family, she went to night school
and worked two jobs to support us. We made sacrifices and learned to live without
certain luxuries. She made ends meet even when the pieces grew shorter and
shorter, teaching us to do the same.
And we survived. I remember riding the school bus in elementary school one afternoon
and being bullied by an older girl. She called me "poor", taunting me in front of the
other kids. I went home that day, confused, asking my mother, "Is that true? Are
we poor?". Growing up, I had no idea that we were struggling in any way. When I
looked around at my life and my family, the big open fields my cousins and I rode our
bikes through, the fishing holes and creatively constructed forts we built in the woods: I
felt so rich. My life was filled with love and curiosity and the great outdoors. What had
that girl meant, that I was poor?
And I let that mentality grow into my foundation. My mother instilled values in me
from day one, teaching me the importance of being self sufficient, hard working,
and independent. She would never let her little girl grow into the kind of woman
who depended on a man for support. Instead, I would have a quality education and the
drive to be whomever I wanted to be. I would have options and a back-up plan. I
would never be left alone, scared or afraid. I would be able to survive. The hurt she
had suffered at the hands of the man she loved became the model in which she raised
me: she would never let me be in the same situation she had found herself in. I would
have the capability to make me own money.
My mama eventually met and married my step-father, the man who would step in when
my biological father could not. My Pop took my brother and I in as though we were his
own, loving us from the most sincere part of his heart and always putting our best
interests before his own. He was a smart man with a good job, a house he had built on
his own and a few small luxuries. Together, my parents pushed me through school to be
the best that I could be, encouraging me to join the military, cheering me on through
college. My Pop shared the same views as my mama and wanted me to be independent.
He wanted me to be strong.
Since Shawn's accident, I have been reflecting so much on my upbringing and how it
has saved me through my most trying moments. My father leaving us was not the
greatest tragedy of my life, though it was devastating at the time. That turn of
events created a series of moments that led me to where I am today, prepared me for
the day when I would have to pull up my own boot straps and make things happen.
Because my mother had to fend for herself and her children, I am able to fend for mine.
I volunteered to work for a couple of hours on Saturday morning, extra income to put a
little padding in our savings account. As I drove home to my family that day, I felt
an amazing sense of pride. This is what my mother worked so hard to provide, this is
the reason she pushed me to make good grades and get after school jobs, this is the
example she set for me. While my husband is down and unable to work, I have the ability
to step up to the plate and provide for my family, I have the ability to survive. Those
long hours she put in studying and working and stretching herself thin: they were
all preparing me for times in my life such as these.
I am a wife and a mother and I value those roles more than anything in the world. But,
when push comes to shove, I am also a survivor. I can cook a good meal, maintain a
clean home, and earn a decent living, all while invoking a strong sense of self. I am a
modern American woman, the product of a mother who refused to lie down and play the
role of the victim. I watched my mother make the most of life after her husband left
her, witnessed her start completely over on her own. It strengthened and inspired
me, prepared me for life's toughest moments. Shawn and I, our little family, we will
be okay. We will work hard and save money and get through this time. I will go to work
for as many hours as it takes to get the bills paid and the babies fed and we will be okay.
My mama raised me right. My mama raised a survivor.