I pass by an older couple in the grocery store and overhear them asking a little girl what she wants to be when she grows up. This got me thinking about my own childhood and what my hopes and dreams had once been.
When I was a child, I always wanted to be a dancer. I spent countless hours watching Fame on TV as I danced around my living room, but as the years went by I found that there wasn’t a huge calling for dancers in Maine, go figure. So as I went off to college, I knew that I was going to study business and economics as that is what my grandfather stated was the most sensible thing to do, but in my heart lived an artist.
I have always needed to paint and to write. There are times that my heart spills over with all the things I need to say and I must release them in the form of prose or paint. There lurks a deep longing within my soul to express what lives inside of me and there are times that I fantasize about what it would be like to work as a writer or as an artist. I picture a life of days filled with brush strokes and creativity. Sometimes the fantasy is a life filled with the written word. Cleverly written novels line shelves in my study and they feature my picture and bio on the inside cover.
I like to think of these alternate lives when my everyday life becomes to blasé and my creative side longs to break out of my professional veneer. Perhaps my alter ego lives on another plane of existence with paint on her coveralls and a happiness deep within her heart. But, that is not my reality. I am a business woman, an instructor, someone who has to work for a living and not someone who can afford to be a “starving artist”. So, when the artist inside of me demands to pour out, I sit and pour my heart’s desires onto my blog or I grab a fresh canvas and begin to apply paint. Yet, somewhere deep inside is that child who just wishes that someone would ask me what I want to be when I grow up so that I could proudly proclaim, “an artist” and have my wish come true.
Sometimes I sit and ponder how my life would have been without the rough beginnings. How it would have been to be a child who lived in a house without a father who came home drunk or a mother who didn’t die of cancer at such a young age. I sit and think about all the times that the police came to our house, the times that I brought my mother tissues as she sobbed, hiding between the wall and the bookcase as fighting filled the air. I got good at becoming invisible because that is what I truly wanted to be. I would go to school with children who had loving, stable homes and I would wonder if they were ever scared to shut their eyes at night like I was.
Living in such a volatile environment made me grow up fast, too fast. When other children were playing without a care in the world, I was monitoring what type of mood my father and mother were in and whether or not I needed to hide. When those children were thinking about going to dances, I was preparing insulin injections for my mother as she lie dying. As my classmates were going on dates I was trying to stay alive in the foster care system.
Where did my carefree childhood days go? Why did I never get to experience that normal life? I used to think that I must have somehow deserved to be given the hand that I was dealt, but I never could figure out why. I tried to be a good child, make everything alright and yet things never changed. I graduated high school with those children that I envied so much and as they were fleshed faced and ready to begin an exciting new chapter in their lives I felt as though I had already been alive for a thousand years. They hoped to get into a great college and I just hoped that I could make a good life for myself. One that was stable and without abuse. I felt so old.
The scars of my childhood and all the abuse are still present sometimes no matter how hard I try to put them aside. It is like they are engraved on the inside of me, lurking just under the surface, waiting for a quiet night so that they can haunt my dreams. I mourn for the list child who never really got a childhood. I try to be thankful that I learned courage and a strength that can handle any troubled times, but I still long to have been one of the little girls with the light of happiness in their eyes.
As I sit here tonight, my mind wanders to how I have changed as a person throughout my adult years. Yes, I’ve had some regrets, such as never having traveled abroad before settling down, never taking the plunge to live in a southern state, and trading in my midnight blue Grand Am for a more reasonable family vehicle come immediately to mind. I can also say that I had different goals as a young woman than I do as being someone in their early forties. I am more confident in the woman I have become and I am no longer that insecure teen. But, I must say, I feel like I have stayed true to who I really am, despite an occasional meandering over to the dark side.
I grew up in a single parent household and we were, by all definitions, poor. We did not have a shower and we bathed in a galvanized tub that we would haul out into the kitchen. I know some of you who have just read the previous line are appalled by how awful that must have been, but it was not. No, our house was not much above a shack, but I wouldn’t change my childhood in that respect. I was loved. I didn’t have the latest electronics or the trendiest clothing, but I had a mother who loved me unconditionally. My meager upbringing taught me a simple reality, it’s not the objects in life that matter, it’s the people and the memories.
I would much rather have a handful of close friends who love me for who I am, the good and the bad, than have a thousand friends who are only friendly to my face or when they want something from me. I cry during humane society commercials, stop to assist shoppers who can’t reach a product in the grocery store and I donate to charities. Not because I want the tax write off, but because I truly believe that we all need a little help sometimes. My perfect day would be any day spent with my two beautiful girls. I love gazing up at the stars and listening to the rain. These characters within me have never changed.
I have trusted too easily and gotten hurt, been used and thrown aside, but they were lessons learned. I have worked hard to prevent any of the negatives I have encountered in my life to permanently change my positive outlook. Instead of building bitterness and walls, I have chosen to look deeper into the reasons someone might have chosen a particular action instead of condemning that person for their actions. I’m no saint, no, not by a long shot, but I hope that I have apologized when it was warranted and have not been too proud to admit defeat.
I am human and though my body has gotten a little older and my vision a little worse than when I was a twenty-something, I have always tried to remain true to myself because at the end of this life, we all die alone. The most important thing to me is that I want to make sure that I am proud of the woman I was throughout my life as I take my last breath. So, I must say that in looking back, I have tried to show unconditional kindness and love, remain genuine, be strong, and, above all else, be a positive influence in my daughter’s lives. And, for me, that is enough.