My least favorite teacher in high school was definitely my economics teacher Mr. C. Not only had he recently returned from a leave (for some sort of military enlistment) and ran his class like a boot camp, but the memories I have of him are those when I was humiliated and demeaned in his class, often in front of my classmates.
As a teenager I worked in a local fast food joint (You want fries with that?) and when other students would fail tests or not turn in homework, he would ask them if they wanted to spend their lives flipping burgers like me. With every one of his comments my hatred for him grew.
One of the things he said to me has stayed with me for my entire adult life. I despised him and his class (for obvious reasons) and because of that it was not a class that I excelled in. I often missed homework assignments, was less than attentive during class time and didn’t do well on tests. One day as I was nearing the end of my junior year he pulled me aside to discuss my less than perfect grades. He told me that I was “boy crazy” and that I was going to end up having lots of babies and flipping burgers for the rest of my life. When I walked out of his classroom I was determined to prove him wrong and do spectacular things with my life- you know things that people write about. I was going to save the world! J
Fast forward three years and imagine my surprise when it seemed he was indeed right. I had married right out of high school, (two days out of high school to be exact ) had a one year old daughter, and was still flipping burgers. My marriage was a disaster, my job was going no where and the spectacular things were being done by my classmates (the ones that heeded his warnings and handed in their homework). I was devastated. I was “just a mom”. I wanted so much for there to be more that defined me, but when I looked in the mirror I saw a girl who was exhausted from the daily battles. The battles with her husband and daughter, the battle within herself. I saw a girl with grease stains on her uniform shirt that smelled of French fries and hamburger grease. I saw failure.
Another three years passed, as did a divorce and nasty custody battle. I was still flipping burgers, had yet to do anything spectacular and was no longer “just a mom”. My ex won custody of my daughter (that’s another post), and I struggled to find myself. Before, when I looked in the mirror and saw “just a mom”, I had seen failure. I didn’t realize how much being “just a mom” meant to me. Now looking in the mirror I still saw a girl exhausted from the same daily battles. A girl, whose eyes were swollen from crying for the life and the little girl she had lost. I still saw those grease stained, smelly shirts. And now, even more I saw failure.
After that conversation with Mr. C., it would be nine years before I realized that comment didn’t define me. It would be nine tumultuous years before I had to confidence to stop flipping burgers and spread my wings. I started to make a difference in other people’s lives. At the end of the day I was doing spectacular things. Not the things that people write about, but things that people remember. I could now look in the mirror and see a woman in recovery. A woman recovering from life's disappointments. A woman able to smile through her tears. A woman who no longer wore the grease stained shirts, but now suits and skirts. A woman who though not exhausted, was still tired. I woman who still was not “just a mom”. A woman who still with her accomplishments, saw a bit of failure.
Five years later I gave birth to my second daughter and finally was a mom again. I was not “just a mom” however, though I longed to be. I once again began flipping burgers in the hopes that I could spend more time with my daughter, but then I was faced with that same miserable feeling- feeling less than spectacular. I didn’t want to look in the mirror and look at the woman in the grease stained shirt. I wanted to be the mother who looked in the mirror and saw a face of accomplishment staring back at her. A mother who made a difference in the lives of others. So I gave up the spatula for 50 hour work weeks and lots more money. And at the end of the day when I looked in the mirror I saw a mom. I saw a mom in suits and skirts. I saw a mom, exhausted and filled with guilt. A mom who spent more time at home on the phone with work, than with her own daughter. I saw a mom who was making a difference in the lives of others, but not in the lives of those closest to her. I still saw failure.
This year (three years later), my third daughter arrived. I lost my job. I am no longer making a difference in the lives of others, but I am doing spectacular things. I am making a difference in the lives that are closest to me. I now look in the mirror and see a woman in t-shirts and sweatpants. I see a woman who is tired from middle of the night feedings and keeping up with a preschooler. I see a woman who has just a bit of guilt from the child she lost, but is moving on with life. I no longer see failure. I see “just a mom” and I am finally satisfied with the face staring back at me.