“First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes the baby in the baby carriage.”
Who else remembers singing that tune on the playground in their cootie-fearing prime? But should we be implanting these ideas into the minds of young girls that this is the ideal goal in life? As a young girl, I dreamed of getting married young like my parents. They were only 17 when they had me, they got married, and have been happily married for almost 29 years. However, most relationships don’t have the “happily ever after” ending. Some marriages start off feeling like a fairy tale, only to end in devastating divorce. Maybe it’s okay to walk away from something that is no longer serving you or your overall well-being. Maybe it’s okay to accept the good times as they were; really good memories. Maybe it’s okay to change your mind and switch directions at any point in your life if your current path is no longer benefiting you or the others around you.
Most people don’t end up meeting the person they are going to marry when they are only 13 years young. I had the wonderful experience of growing up with the person I ended up marrying. We experienced so much life together. Learning to drive, switching to a dual credit high school together, attending senior prom, getting married at 20 years old with the most beautiful destination wedding at the Hotel Del Coronado, moving to three different states together, and having two healthy, beautiful babies together. Many people openly told me they envied our relationship. As a perfectionist, I am good at making life seem incredible during even the stormiest seasons in my life. However, as I get older and wiser, I am realizing that it’s okay to be transparent and share the lows along with the highs. It helps others relate to you and feel like they are not alone in their struggles.
Back in 2005, my dad become the youth pastor at a church in “Sin City”. Oh the irony! My ex-husband and I met at our church youth group. Each week after the church service for middle school and high school students on Wednesday nights, we would sit in the alley behind our church and listen to his Apple iPod Classic together with one earbud each and sing along to emo boy bands. It didn’t take long for us to confess our feelings to each other, and he asked if I wanted to date him. However, my parents had a rule that my siblings and I couldn’t date until we were 16 years old. So he said he would wait for me… and he did. Three long years. Although I hated it at the time, it actually was such a blessing because it gave us time to grow a solid friendship first. Plus, I mean, we were 13 and definitely not even close to mature enough to be dating yet. During these years, we would meet weekly at “our spot” which was a grassy amphitheater behind the recreation center in my neighborhood. We would read a few chapters from our Bibles together, discuss, and pray for each other. Naturally, we also began to share our hopes and dreams with each other. Often we would walk several miles to Arroyo Grande Park and swing together while figuring out life as teenagers. One afternoon, he confessed that he wanted to get married sometime after we turn 18. As we walked toward my house, we stopped on the sidewalk to make a pact that we would get married young, and we sealed it with an official pinky promise.
After finishing our sophomore year at separate high schools, he and I enrolled into a magnet program called Nevada State High School for our Junior and Senior years of high school. We were able to earn two years of dual credit, meaning we received college credits and high school credits simultaneously for the same course. It was quite the experience being able to make the same college class schedule as my best friend and boyfriend. Each morning, he would pick me up for school and we’d blast Metro Station and Taking Back Sunday. In May of 2009, we graduated from high school with an added bonus of 26 college credits on our transcripts, High School Honor’s Diplomas, and we both received the Millennium Scholarship which paid for a large portion of our in-state tuition. That fall, he enrolled at UNLV and I continued at College of Southern Nevada to save money, since I was paying for my college tuition all on my own.
As a young girl, I also always envisioned myself becoming a pediatrician or a teacher because I wanted to work with children. Since I was married at the shy age of 20 years old, I also desired to have children young. Therefore, the doctoral route just didn’t seem practical for me at the time. Two years into my Nursing program, I had decided to switch majors to Education (which also happened to be the month before my wedding). Truthfully, I have an extreme phobia of blood and needles, to the point where I literally would blackout. My family thought I was insane when I told them I was going to be a nurse, and eventually, they were right. I loved caring for patients, but could not get past the gruesome sights. I could not start an I.V. started without getting squeamish, and I passed out the first time I saw a wound vac. Nursing was not for me, and so I sought out other career routes.
One semester before my wedding, I enthusiastically enrolled myself into education courses at my community college and continued my college education for that solo semester. Newly married and a fresh UNLV graduate, my 21 year old husband was offered an exciting opportunity to begin his career as an accountant with HCA Physicians Services in Nashville, Tennessee. At the time, we were thrilled to get out of Vegas and begin an adventure on our own. I was supportive and encouraged him to pursue his dreams.
After arriving in Tennessee, I met with an academic adviser and enrolled in courses at Middle Tennessee State University to pursue a Bachelor’s Degree to become an elementary school teacher. Transferring credits from out of state was a huge headache in itself. Thankfully, the adviser I was working with was able to substitute many of my two years of nursing prerequisites for education prerequisites. After taking on a full load of courses each semester, I was on track to graduate in December 2013. Driving 45 minutes each way without traffic to attend classes 4 days per week while also working at the after school program at an elementary school in the evenings became exhausting. But my parents didn’t raise a quitter. I continued pursuing my degree in Interdisciplinary Studies and then during this already busy season, I got knocked up in college.
No one prepares you for the first moment you discover that you’re going to be a mother. One early November fall morning in 2012, I stood in my bathroom staring at a plastic stick with two very distinct pink lines. Although my husband and I had been trying to conceive, I found it difficult to believe what I was seeing right in front of eyes. I found it even harder to process into words to share the exciting news with the father of my rather soon-to-be child. Turning on the water, I hopped into the shower to try to wake myself up so I could process my thoughts. A simple act of peeing on a stick had confirmed my suspicions, the hot dog craving was no coincidence, and my whole entire life was about to change. Was I ready to become a mother? I could barely keep house plants alive.
The next months that followed were filled with cramming in as many university courses as I possibly could, saving as much money as our tight budget would allow, and pacing aisles of baby stores in all of our free time. My husband at the time also started his Master’s program and was working long hours at work and then going straight to classes in the evenings. Chaos would be an understatement.
In August 2013, we welcomed our first son into the world. The same week my first child was born also just so happened to be the same week that I was supposed to begin my last semester of student teaching. So I took that entire semester off to stay home with my precious newborn. What an amazing experience it was to spend uninterrupted, five, quality months bonding and making memories with Steven. It may not have been the delivery I was expecting, since I was rushed in for an emergency C-section after 13 hours in labor. But, I believe all things happen for a reason and that God has a plan. I’m thankful for my healthy, precious boy. I’m thankful for the memories I’ll make as I watch this sweet boy grow up. Although it was terrifying in the moment, in hindsight, my delivery was perfect.
There truly has never been a dull or boring moment in my life thus far. I went back to school in the spring of 2014 to finish up student teaching. At the same time, my husband at the time was finishing up his MBA program and had to travel abroad for his last course, which happened to also be the same week as my graduation. One of the most important days of life, in May 2014, I walked across the stage as a college graduate with Magna Cum Laude honors for my 3.9 GPA. The only people I knew in the audience were my 9 month old baby and my amazing, younger sister who flew down from Boise to entertain my baby, so I could walk at graduation. Although I dropped everything and went wherever he needed me to go for his job, the one day I needed his support, he wasn’t there. He had other options for locations and dates that he could choose for his trip. But his dad wanted him to come to China, where he runs his own business. It crushed me that he didn’t view my college graduation as a priority.
In fall of 2014, I started my first year of teaching in 4th grade at one of the top elementary schools in Tennessee and was blessed with the most supportive team. One month into school, I found out that I was expecting my second baby. As if your first year of teaching isn’t stressful enough, let’s throw some morning sickness and sprinkle mood swings and frequent urination into the mix. Miraculously, I finished (aka barely survived) my first year of teaching while being pregnant basically the entire school year (I had her exactly one week after school got out). As I was finishing my last month of my first year of teaching, I was informed that I would need to change grade levels for the next school year due to the low number of students in my current grade. Then in Fall of 2015, I had to leave my 8 week old and 2 year old to go back to school. That was one of the most difficult seasons of my life. After teaching a full day of 3rd grade, I picked up my two babies from daycare, headed home for the evening routines, and then struggled to sleep through the night since my youngest was still waking for a night feeding and my son was having trouble transitioning to a “big boy bed”. On the outside, life seemed pretty great. Inside, I was slowly losing my identity and my sanity. I often felt like I was raising two babies alone while teaching full time, since my husband had urgent matters that continuously needed his time and attention and kept him at work for long hours. Thankfully on the weekends, he would play football in the living room with our oldest, or he’d take the kids for a drive so I could get a workout or nap in.
The next few years, I tried to focus on balancing mom-life, teacher-life, and wife-life while also trying to become healthier. Madison completed my life in ways I didn’t know I needed. Her joy is incredibly contagious and she reminds me that I need to live in a way that I would want her to mimic. Being her mother and role model makes me want to become stronger, braver, more confident, more compassionate, more free-spirited, and patient. When I was 9 months postpartum, I began taking control of my health by creating healthier eating and fitness habits. I got into the best shape of my life in a matter of months thanks to good old eating healthy and working out. As my physical health improved, my mental health also began to blossom.
Optimism is a wonderful gift. However, being unrealistically optimistic can be disastrous. This is magnified when you struggle with depression and perfectionism. Happiness comes in waves, rushing in quickly before vanishing from where it once was. Perfectionism continuously reminds you that your best is not quite good enough. Once I finally got into a groove with balancing teaching full time while raising two kids, the person I was married to moved our family to Texas in Spring 2017 for a job promotion. By age 26, he had earned the title of a Director of Strategic Planning and had doubled his salary within 5 years of his career. I couldn’t have been more proud and supportive of him and was quick to once again drop everything in order to help him chase his dreams; even if it meant sacrificing mine while moving to a place that I hadn’t even ever visited before, nor did I know a single soul there.
Everything that could have gone wrong with a move did when we moved to San Antonio. I’m sure it could’ve been worse, but that is what it felt like at the time. The company that we used to move our belongings somehow “lost” the truck that carried all of our things because the driver quit halfway between Tennessee and Texas and abandoned the truck. I was stuck in a small two bedroom apartment with two suitcases full of clothes, bedding, and two energetic youngsters. It took almost an entire month for us to receive our belongings. On top of that, my children’s father had to stay in the office for roughly 12-13 hours on weekdays and then was asked to come in for the majority of his weekends the first few months that we lived there. Both of us were becoming increasingly frustrated and exhausted. My closest family was 1,000 miles away and due to the circumstances, I didn’t have much time or energy to make connections with other adults. I felt more utterly secluded and alone than I had at any other time in my life. Instead of dealing with my emotions in a healthy way, I tried to escape my reality through unhealthy vices. I made unforgivable mistakes. I was so desperate to feel anything besides the other emotions that I was feeling, that I was willing to destroy myself in the process as I numbed the pain with even more painful replacements.
That fall, I started working at a 2nd grade teacher with a team of nine total second grade teachers. The next two years were the hardest years of my life and led to my first downward spiral into diagnosed depression. The next two years of my life, I began to self-destruct. I was desperate to take drastic measures to distract myself from dealing with the other issues going on in my life. I did things I never thought I was capable of doing. I didn’t even recognize myself anymore. Often times, circumstances or situations are out of your control. However, you must learn to acknowledge what you contributed to the outcome and recognize that you have the power to decide what you will do in the aftermath of what happens. If only I had taken my own advice back then, and I’m sharing this in hopes of encouraging others to seek healthier alternatives that using a destructive vice to try to escape your depression. Seek professional help if possible, or at least find a trusted friend to confide in to help hold you accountable. My mistakes in those months led to extreme guilt, and consequently I dove head first into an even deeper, darker place than before.
Once again, the person I was married sought out other opportunities elsewhere, and ended up moving back to Las Vegas in March 2019 by transferring within his company to a location out west, where he had been longing to ultimately get back to. Since my son was in kindergarten at the time, I was teaching 2nd grade, and we were committed to a rental home until summer, I decided it was best for the kids and I to stay in Texas to finish out the school year and our lease agreement. For four months, I got a true taste of what life would be life as a single mom. I grew significantly during those few months as I was given space to grow and focus on changing my past ways. I was able to have more quality time with my kids since I was their sole provider at the time and constantly looked for ways to go on adventures and make the most of our last few months in the Lonestar State.
The kids and I moved back to Las Vegas with their father in mid-June of 2019. It was a breath of fresh air being back in a place where I felt comfortable and familiar with. I began teaching 3rd grade at a brand new charter school last school year, and I am loving it! After ignoring our relational issues for years and years, my husband and I had finally fund a therapist who we saw weekly. Things began to improve before they got worse. There were things in each of our pasts that we both had a difficult time moving on from. We convinced ourselves that we would work through it. However, very early in 2020, we made the difficult but necessary decision for me to move out as we went proceeded forward with a divorce. The timing was whack, with all of this happening right before a pandemic hit, which caused us to be quarantined and secluded from our former support systems. I’m thankful that for the most part, we have found ways to successfully coparent. It will take time to heal and adjust to a new normal since we were part of each other’s lives for 15 years. But we both truly feel that this decision was in both of our best interests.
In retrospect, we both made the vital decision to focus on trying to discover our own identities since we had been so codependent on each other since our teenage years. In order to personally grow, I began to truly reflect on what things I needed to change. I finally gained courage to seek professional help to begin the healing from my past mistakes, a failed marriage, along with other unrelated painful experiences. Once I took initiative to admit my own mistakes and flaws, is when I could truly begin to grow and learn from the past. Some things are difficult to recover from and move past. Sometimes the hurt causes wounds and scars that constantly bring up pain from the past. The past decade may have nearly destroyed me, but still I will choose to keep getting back up and striving to thrive in 2020 even despite the current circumstances. Amidst the chaos, I recognize the value my past struggles had on shaping my present and future. Through the difficult times, the mistakes, and the turmoil, I am consciously deciding what I will and will not allow to continue in my life. I am learning the importance of budgeting, balance, boundaries, reflection, and self-care.
Dare yourself to reach for a bright future.
Imagine your ideal self – what are you willing to accept?
What do you need to let go of?
How can you place boundaries on what no longer serves you?
What can you do today to become a better human tomorrow?
“When you start to feel like things should have been better this year, remember the mountains and valleys that got you here. They are not accidents, and those moments weren’t in vain. You are not the same. You have grown and you are growing. You are breathing, you are living, you are wrapped in endless, boundless grace. And things will get better. There is more to you than yesterday.”
― Morgan Harper Nichols