As my birthday approached last month, a good friend of mine asked me a question she asks herself every year on her birthday. She asked me, “What did you learn the last 365 days?” That blew me back a bit. I would have to say, with all honesty, that my thirty-first year on this planet we call home was the most educational year of my life thus far. It started out with a whimper and ended with an angelic chorus, with every single emotion/gesture/moment you can imagine in between.
On October 25, 2012, my husband came home at 8:28 in the morning with the worst news we had received to date. He was being laid off. We knew it was a possibility, but no one believed it would happen as it hadn’t up to that point. That was the very first day of my thirty-first year. This was not the way I had imagined my birthday starting, but that’s what I got. Lesson learned: be ready for anything as nothing is ever promised to last.
That evening, we were carving pumpkins; my mind had been reeling all day trying to figure out how we were going to make it for an unknown amount of time before he got his job back. My oldest was excited to put the pumpkins outside, and the then-youngest went outside with her. Unfortunately, the big one let the door shut on the little one, and a big toenail was ripped off. Screaming and bleeding ensued, and a trip to Statcare was in order. This was, yet again, not how I imagined my birthday ending, but it was another lesson learned: be present when the children use doors.
Not long after that, I found out we were pregnant with our third; she was the only one we had planned. I was overcome; not only had my husband lost his job, but our efforts to conceive had actually worked, and I had another thing to think about on top of all of the other garbage we had to deal with. I never would have imagined it would have worked the very first time, but the Universe being the Universe, of course it did. Lesson learned: the Universe will never give me more than I can handle, and She obviously thinks I am a rockstar.
Along with the pregnancy and stress that came with the layoff, we weren’t able to get any assistance because we had done everything the way we were supposed to. People were turning us down for help because we had never missed payments, had never paid anything late, and we were model citizens. We were to suck it up and figure it out, regardless of the fact that we had no idea what means we had to use to figure things out. Things looked bleak. Lesson learned: Never assume people “have” to help you because unless you have “messed up” along the way, no one will.
I hit Pinterest and the internet hard looking for ideas on how to survive on love and a few dollars a month. I found Dave Ramsey, meal planning, no spend months, emergency funds, debt snowballs, and making my own products at home. I was so foreign to Dave Ramsey, and his whole barrage of teachings, and I frankly had never taken him seriously before. Until I needed him. And he saved us. I swear to you, without his common sense approach to money and saving, I never would have made it as we did. Lesson learned: never write anyone off; you never know when you may need him/her.
We made it! It got tight. Really, really tight. Tighter than I had ever known before, and ever care to know again. But we never needed to borrow money while he was laid off. Our kids still got Christmas gifts, they never went without, and they never went hungry. We never needed a hand out (good, since we didn’t get any). We also did not incur any extra debt; we never touched a credit card. And we never, ever missed a payment. We did everything we needed to do to make it work. We got our emergency fund and started working on the debt snowball, and we did it one step at a time. Lesson learned: we can live on way less than I ever thought we could. Ever.
My husband had to work an awful job for over five months that involved him being gone a lot. We had no idea where or when he would be gone, nor for how long he would be out of town. He was gone a lot, and that took its toll on everyone. He didn’t want to be gone, but we didn’t have a choice. He was forced to take a job that was not a good fit, and no one had a say in the whole thing. I was stressed beyond belief, and I was not loving pregnancy. Nights were long, and days lasted forever. Times in between him being home lasted from three days to three and a half weeks. I cried many nights, praying to God to bring life back to normal because I just couldn’t take it anymore. I didn’t know it at the time, but I know God was using this situation to really drive it home to never take anyone or anything for granted. Lesson learned: cherish my husband, children, and loved ones as much as I can, as time with them is guaranteed to no one.
July 2, 2013, I gave birth to the baby who anchored my soul. She has changed my life in ways innumerable. Her birth was a whirlwind. Waiting to have her taught me patience, the importance of breathing, and how far I can be pushed before I break. She is the most amazing, smiley, loving baby I have ever met; she makes me want to be around her and never let her go. Lesson learned: never think that motherhood means one thing; the definition can change as your life and children do.
In July, I celebrated a birth, a birthday, and an unexpected loss, all within 18 days of each other. I am still reeling from the loss, and it is one that I never expected would hurt me as much as it has. I think of my cousin every day, and I wish he were here for his kids every hour. I have been working on mending fences with his ex-wife over issues I had with her years before he died, and I have been praying for every member of my family who is touched by his passing. I find myself talking aloud to him, and I know he hears me. I want nothing more than 1 more hour with him, and I hate it that I won’t have the chance to until I am with him again. I miss him every single day, and his loss will be with me forever. Lesson learned: never forget to tell everyone I love them, mend fences while there is time to mend them, and be the best mother I can be because I never know when it will be my time, and my children and family need to know they come first.
In August, I celebrated the call back that brought our world back into focus. This phone call brought normalcy and celebration. My school year started, and I have learned more from my students I have ever considered possible. I have learned to let go, I know my limits now, and I can’t believe that I have the honor and privilege to reach out and touch so many students’ lives, present, past, and future. I am busier than I have ever been, more torn apart than I have ever been, but I know I will be stronger than I have ever been when winter break comes upon us. My husband is back to work, in a better situation than he left, and he is more stable there than he was before. And that knowledge makes all the difference. Life is back to normal, better than normal, and I have a greater appreciation for all of the lessons of the year. Lesson learned: never stop learning; life will change before I know it, be it for the better or worse, any given day. Never have an expectation of what “normal” is. It will change.
I have learned so much. I learn every day. I learned who will be there for me, and who won’t. I have learned what a true friend is, and I have learned that friends I thought were true were really not so. These things happen when shit hits the fan: some people stay to comfort me, some people come in and out to compete with me, and some people don’t give a shit because they are too busy in their own lives to be concerned about what is happening in mine. Everyone reacts to these situations differently, and I don’t begrudge anyone their reactions, but I feel like I knew who I could talk to about it all and who I couldn’t talk to. I have learned who will cry with me, laugh with me, celebrate and commiserate with me. I have redefined the word friend, the action of being a friend has new meaning, and I hope to show my friends everyday how much I love them and appreciate their presence in my life. My friends that have stayed know I honor them and need them every day of my life, and I hope they need me in theirs as well.Family has a new meaning to me, and my family has shown us compassion and love beyond measure. Lesson learned: as I age, the definition of what is a friend should change, as it has, and it will until I am no longer on the planet. Everyone has a season, and a reason, in my life, and I know now how that can be defined and shifted, as it should.
I know when to hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em. I know how strong I am, I know how much I can handle, and I know that I can do any damn thing I set my mind to. There is nothing in this world I cannot survive, and every situation is temporary. Age thirty-one taught me more than I ever could have expected, from day one. And I am so thankful, grateful, and proud of myself and my family that we made it through that time. I have redefined my life, my life’s goals, and my plans for my family’s future due to the lessons of the last year. And I am sure something will happen again down the road that will make me reexamine things. We are due a life we can navigate now with confidence, one that can ultimately be easier and better in the end. Without those lessons, without that last year, I don’t think I would understand this. I didn’t know how good we had it until it was all gone, for almost an entire year. It takes those moments, those times of trial, to show us how lucky we are. And I am one lucky, fortunate, and ever grateful lady. I am ready for anything, and I know now that I can handle so much more than I ever imagined I could. Lesson learned: Life can really throw curveballs; you just have to know what to do with it once it leaves the Pitcher’s hand…