This is part of my series of posts counting down to Thanksgiving and expressing my thankfulness for something I’ve received, experienced or participated in.
When I was a kid, it seemed I always had chores to do. Sometimes people who look back on their childhoods realize they had an exaggerated view of what they were asked to do as kids. That is not my case. I was an only child for almost 11 years, and by the time my brother came along, my parents were used to treating me almost as an adult. I started driving at the age of ten, and that was because my mother had a very complicated pregnancy while carrying my brother. When school time rolled around, Mom was pretty sick and on bed rest. She gave me some money, and I drove to a nearby clothing store to buy my school clothes for the year. I was in fifth grade. I especially remember buying my footwear as it was the first time I didn’t have to wear corrective shoes, but that’s another story.
By the time I was 14, I was a seasoned driver who frequently traveled from the suburbs where we lived to the downtown area of the city so I could drop my Dad at his workplace and then go onto school. My mother would have done it, but she was living in another city during the week (and commuting back home on weekends), so she could finish law school. My Dad worked two other jobs as well to pay for her schooling, and that left many of the routine errands of grocery shopping, filling the the car with gas, picking up dry cleaning, or taking my kid brother to doctor and dentist appointments for me to accomplish. I also babysat my brother a lot. He was my shadow.
I did love the freedom I had to drive, and I used it. The metropolitan area where I grew up is one of the largest in the U.S., and I used to know every inch of it and made friends everywhere. It was a blast, and even as I look back on this now and shudder at some of the places I went and people I saw (and with my brother in tow about half the time), I would probably do it the same way again.
But the fun part aside, I was a kid who was working. From the time I was 13, I also had a job outside of my parents’ errands and care of my brother, and I also managed the household during the week while my mother was gone. This meant cleaning and cooking and doing all of the laundry. Eventually I started managing the bills and other expenses. My parents had a checking account, but my dad would give me cash each month to take care of bills, groceries and gas. When I would buy groceries, I would have the bills in hand and purchase money orders for their amounts. I kept the records and money in a little book that I gave to my dad to check and then he would make sure I always had enough. I was never without money for myself as well even though the family was on a tight budget. So much of that had to do with my parents being really good with money and knowing how to make it stretch. My dad knew how to fix everything and taught me how to fix things as well. My mother was a master meal planner and taught me how to shop and prepare meals on a dime – literally. She would make a game of it, and so we had this thing going to see who could make the cheapest meal.
I became so proficient at household management that I started to take matters into my own hands in other areas. My brother had been a very premature baby and had always had problems as a result. One problem was his battle with ear infections. Without my parents’ knowledge, I decided to take him to see an ENT doctor to have a battery of tests run. When the tests were done, the doctor took me into his office while my brother played in a special waiting room designed for kids. He explained my brother needed tubes. I asked some questions about it. The doctor launched into a fairly technical reply, and then he stopped himself in the middle, leaned forward in his chair, tipped his head down at me and asked, “Where are your parents?” I was 15 at the time and offended that he didn’t think I was worthy to hear his explanation of the tubes. I made up some excuse about my parents’ whereabouts. He looked at me puzzled and then he continued on and handed me a stack of paperwork to take with me. This kind of scenario played out over and over in my teen years.
During my teens as well, my mother started a law practice after having been an assistant district attorney for a short time (she was good at prosecution but hated it) and despite getting numerous offers from established firms, she wanted to go out on her own. It took everything we had as a family to get that off the ground, and I began working for her as a gopher and mostly did deliveries or made filings at the courthouse. Once I came of age, I became a paralegal. A few years earlier I had learned along with my mother how to shepardize cases, and I spent many nights on the top floor of the county courthouse where a free and very good law library was housed. And of course this was all before the Internet. I also began to serve papers, and that was the most fun. I had to learn how to tail people, how to figure out their moves, and it was easy because no one suspected a skinny kid of 18. My best trick was serving someone while they were at the grocery store. I also had the added benefit of being able to run like hell. I became so good at this, that I started doing it for quite a few lawyers, and I made quite a bit of money at it.
Along the way, I was constantly having to learn many other things that required an enormous amount of concentration as well as stamina. I was constantly confronting terrifying situations, and it was very tiring at times even for a kid. But not once in all the years I had been working did I think of it as drudgery. I did what I was asked and got to do things that most people will never do let alone kids doing them. It wasn’t until college friends began to learn how I had grown up and gave criticism of it that I became ashamed of my childhood or lack of one (that most people in America are accustomed to having). By the time I graduated from college, I was bitter about having been denied what so many others had, and I held onto two thoughts. I was going to bust my ass and make a lot of money so I could retire early and do what I damn well pleased, and I was in no rush to have children.
So many times in my life I’ve looked back on my childhood with mixed feelings. I’ve run the gamut of thinking I was abused to feeling I was blessed by parents who thought way outside the box. A few things had to happen before I came to peace with it.
I achieved those two goals. I was 30 (which I don’t consider old but some people do) when I began to have children, and SO and I did retire early. We were 39. We moved to a beautiful place in the boonies and had almost 12 years of bliss where we got to be with our kids, who had been 5, 7 and 9 years old at the time we dropped out. We even had another kid! And it was wonderful in hindsight even if I didn’t always think it was at the time.
But the idyll started to crumble when SO had a heart attack, our health insurance was cancelled, and he was diagnosed with severe kidney damage and needed a transplant. I’m not going to rehash all of that as you can read the posts about it here. Suffice to say at the ripe old age of 51, we were having to start over (for the third time) and SO was somewhat incapacitated and couldn’t really start over. I knew it meant I had to go back to work. I wasn’t looking forward to that, but I was willing. Very willing. Two years after continually trying to get a job and not being successful, I became pretty depressed about it.
Finally, one day I prayed about it. I had not done that in earnest when I first started to seek employment. I had asked people to pray for me. Any prayers I offered had just been rote as I just fell back on my own abilities. I did try to learn how to get a job during that two years and not just continue to try old methods, and this really frustrated me as I came to realize it had a lot to do with my age and only a miracle would change that.
A few days after I prayed, SO said, “I don’t know why you’re trying to go to work for someone. You haven’t worked for anyone in 20 years, and if you’re hired and then have to take off repeatedly because of my situation, or I have to go in for a transplant and you’re gone for quite awhile, you would hate doing that to someone who had recently hired you and there’s a good chance you wouldn’t keep the job.” He was right, and then another thought occurred to me. I’m convinced it was that small, still voice of God that’s so powerful and perfect, “The answer is right in front of you. Hire yourself.” I started laughing when I heard that. The rightness of it was so resounding that I’ve been laughing ever since.
That was about two years ago, and now I have the job I love, and I’m enjoying working in a way I never did before. Every day is fresh, and I often feel like a kid approaching new subjects but with hopefully more wisdom. And sometimes I think back to what happened when I was a child and how very hard some things were to live through, and it makes me choked because God redeemed my childhood — the one I was longing so much to relive.
note: I think I may put the ‘Richard Armitage’ tag on this. He and I do share a work history that started fairly young (although 17, or 18 in some accounts, is not really that young to me). A thin pretext for tagging it? Probably, but I really don’t care. :D