A Decade of Learning

Dear 30’s,

In a few months, I will blow out my cake candles and, not only say goodbye to another year gone by, but also bid good riddance to you. Forever. Don’t get me wrong, we’ve had some good times. But, to be brutally honest, for the most part – you sucked.

There is a meme I read recently that said, “Don’t judge her; you do not know what storm I have asked her to walk through – God.” That pretty much sums up the past 10 years of my life - stormy. But, there’s a beautiful thing about storms - the breathtaking rainbow at the end.

I entered my 30’s fresh out of an abusive marriage with two small children under the age of two, a crushed self-esteem, and virtually no college education as I had spent the majority of my 20’s in the military. I quickly found out that being successful in the military did not automatically qualify you to become a part of the civilian work force. In order to make a better life for my children, I began working full time on the weekends performing back breaking work as a nurse’s aide while putting myself through nursing school during the week.

Have you ever had those moments where you are hit with an event so powerful that it instantly changes your perspective forever? My life-altering even was one brutally cold winter night shortly before the holidays. I was purchasing groceries for the week – and by groceries I mean eggs, milk, and ramen noodles to last until my next paycheck for my two little ones and I.

I’ll never forget how sorry I was feeling for myself that night. Through my eyes, I saw happy families holding hands going into the store to fill their carts without a care in the world. I could hear the Salvation Army bells ringing and laughter. Then there was me – alone and broke, trying to make ten dollars stretch the entire week until my next paycheck. And to be clear, this was happening in Johnson County.

As I was driving home in the dark coldness, I happened to look over at a car stopped next to me at the stoplight. Inside, I could make out the image of a woman driving a much older car than mine – she was bundled up with heavy gloves and a scarf around her head. I could actually see the air as she was breathing inside of her car that clearly had no heat. What I saw next brought me to tears – her two young children, about the same age as mine. They were also bundled up and I could see the air exiting their mouths into the coldness as they were bundled inside of their mother’s old, beat-up, heatless car.

With the light turning green, my eyes were filled with tears. I drove away from a woman I would never meet, but would change my perspective on life forever. I would have given anything to hold my children tight and never let go right then at that moment.

Why? Because I had heat in my car - I actually had a newer and nicer car. I had a warm, clean apartment with the essentials to provide for my children. More than that – I had a job and I was educating myself. I had a plan and was on a mission – I was going somewhere.

After graduating nursing school at age 32, I met my second husband. He was 40 years old, with no children, and we got married after knowing each other for six months. Yes, I know – BIG mistake. I desperately wanted to be loved and didn’t pay attention to signs that were flashing and blaring sirens at me to turn around and run as fast as I could!

This time, my husband wasn’t abusive to me – it was worse. As soon as the “honeymoon” was over, he became increasingly verbally and emotionally abusive to my children. Being the natural problem-solver, I thought that if he had his own child he would be more understanding and become a better parent to my children. Unfortunately, I was wrong.

At age 35, I gave birth to my third child – a little boy that has become the biggest blessing and the light of my life. He has brought so much happiness and laughter to me and his siblings that I am certain he was a gift from God.

As my children grew, I was growing too. Not in a physical sense but in my confidence and self-worth. I continued my education and found myself working for a reputable law firm at the age of 36. In six short years, I had gone from being a nurse’s aide (not glamorous work) to working the “dream” nursing job that you only hear about.

Shortly after beginning at the firm, my marriage really began to crumble. I attribute it to my growing confidence and the realization that I was worth more. After begging and pleading to go to marriage counseling with me, he reluctantly relented. I didn’t know it at the time, but he gave me a very special gift after the second session – he surprised me at work with divorce papers. Yes, tongue is in cheek. :)

I admit, I was numb and completely blind-sided. Here I was again – single mom. But now I was a single mom with not two, but THREE children. For about two hours that day I felt like the biggest failure in the world. I was humiliated and upset. He was trying to take the house and full custody of our child. No way, buddy – NO WAY.

Something happened to me that night though – as I was sitting alone on the dock at my parent’s house with my life turned upside down, I had a fire start to burn brighter than it ever had before.

A flood of voices began to fill my head - “You deserve more than this, Jennifer.” “You’re going to be okay, just trust me.” “You can do this.”

It was test time. All of my life’s lessons were being put to the test now. One thing about me – I’m a great test taker.

I would never wish what I went through my 37th year of life on anyone. It was both the toughest and the best time of my life. My big kids were no longer under the dictatorship where they feared being left alone with my ex and I was finally free from the exhausting job of being their protector. It took over a year for the divorce to become final, but ultimately I kept my house and my son. I may have looked like I had it together on the outside, but I was exhausted.

In my 39th year I began to live again. I had my children, my health, my home, and my career. What else could I possibly want? I let myself love again.

As I reflect on the last decade of my life, there is not one part I’d like to repeat but I would do it all over again if I knew I would end up where I am today.

Here’s a few of my lessons I learned in my 30’s:

  1. Love yourself and no matter what – NEVER compare yourself to other women.
  2. You are worthy of being loved.
  3. Love your children with all of your heart and enjoy every moment you have with them. It will be gone in the blink of an eye.
  4. Let your children see you work hard – whether it’s around the house or your career.
  5. Get outside your comfort zone and go for it! You never know what you can achieve if you don’t try.
  6. Don’t be afraid to get dirty – it makes getting cleaned up all that better!
  7. Take time for yourself. Never underestimate a warm tub bath with a good book and glass of wine.
  8. When people are mean to you, it’s not because of you, but rather their insecurities that make them mean.
  9. Search for the good in people and compliment often.
  10. Don’t be afraid to let yourself love again – sometimes you need to go through the storms to truly appreciate the beautiful rainbow at the end.