And here I am getting ready to write about what I didn’t think I could. Not that I haven’t wanted to, just that it’s always been a hard thing to write, or talk, about. It isn’t the full story, but it’s a start. Here goes….
Looking back, I realize there are times in my life when I viewed mothering and mentoring very differently than at other times. Growing up the oldest of eight children, and where I helped to care for younger siblings, my attitude about being responsible at such a young age was often influenced by those around me. Now that I’m older and have the opportunity of hindsight, I can see how being an oldest shaped my mothering and mentoring along the way. And I can now appreciate my early experiences in a positive rather than negative light.
A Mother’s Helper
As a young child, as early as the age of six, I was helping my momma and daddy with my younger siblings. This included changing the diapers of the olders being potty-trained who, of course, would have accidents. It also included watching over them outdoors, so they remained safe, and indoors to see if they accomplished simple chores. And, as I got older, it also meant making sure they had clean clothes to wear and meals to eat after school while our parents alternated working a 12-hour shift and sleeping.
Early on, this all seemed normal to me. My momma’s oldest sister also cared for her family, rising early to make meals and doing indoor and outdoor chores for the entire family. So, it was only natural that I step into the same shoes and help to care for my family. That is, until I started school and children were encouraged to be children. I would often listen to how, instead of doing chores, my friends were visiting with other friends or doing fun stuff.
Then, as I got even older – making friends and visiting with people who got involved with our young family more than they should have, I started to listen to how they thought I was being expected to do more than I should be doing at my age. It messed with my thinking and with my attitude. Whereas I used to help because it was naturally expected of me, easily juggling chores and homework, I started to resent the responsibilities placed on me at such a young age. I also noticed how ungrateful my siblings were treating me. And I observed how trying to keep up with my chores was impacting my studies and my grades.
It wasn’t long before I rebelled and made a decision that impacted my own life forever and my tenuous relationships with my parents and my siblings. I left home at the tender age of sixteen. While I was commended by those do-gooders, who deemed my action as self-preserving and a good thing, sadly, I would reap the fallout of my decision for many years to come. Living with guilt of abandoning my family when they needed me the most, I would spend years rationalizing, coming to terms with, and finally accepting that sometimes we make decisions we cannot undo. We can only move forward and make the best of the life we have, or are creating, now.
Teaching and Mentoring
Despite my inner turmoil, I took opportunities to teach religion classes and to mentor youth. It came naturally for me to listen to my nieces or the daughters of friends and lend my support to them as they navigated the sometimes stormy waters of youth. In my late teens, I taught kindergarten and first grade. But finding this age group a little too young and reminding me of my early days when I used to help out at home with my younger siblings, the switch to fourth grade was much more successful and pleasant.
Later, once I married and with a child of my own, I would again teach religious classes – happiest with the fourth grade level. As time went on, I taught creative writing and journaling classes to youth, aged nine through thirteen, encouraging them to harness their desire to write fiction or nonfiction, essay, and poetry, and even draw their own stories. I was also a substitute teacher at the local school district, substituting from kinder through twelfth grade, where I found my favorite grade levels to be, surprisingly, kindergarten and, once again, fourth grade.
Once we moved back to the city where I met my husband and, after working over thirty jobs in the clerical/data entry field between training as a bookkeeper right out of high school and finally substituting, I then worked in the same job for over eighteen years as the church secretary including doing the weekly bulletin, website content, and eventually social media. During this time, I volunteered teaching faith formation classes for three years – in eighth grade, and then another two and a half years – mentoring a group of youth as they developed and produced a youth newsletter showcasing their many talents of writing, poetry, art, editing, and photography. It was a fun time, but also a time of exploration, helping me to resolve some of the angst of unfinished business from so long ago.
A Second Mother to Some
From the time I can remember, I always seemed to have a natural tendency to inspire children, to offer them ways to be creative, to encourage them to write, draw, paint, or any other creative outlet they seemed to be interested in or enjoy. From one younger sister, in particular, to younger siblings of friends and children of close friends, I would listen and nurture their desires, always encouraging them to follow their dreams. I can see now how I had always wanted to do more for the youngers in my life – not just caring for them physically by making sure they were dressed, fed, and safe, but also inspiring them to live the best versions of themselves.
There were times, for sure, when it was difficult to know how to guide someone who wasn’t my responsibility. But just to listen to them and, if anything, advise them to be patient. Take time, I would tell them, to pay attention to what they really want to do versus what their peers think they should do. Be sure that everything aligned with what they felt called to do in their life. Sometimes that alone is enough to know what to do or how to proceed.
Words of Wisdom
During these times, I would often consider what would have happened if I had been blessed with a mentor who had my best interest at heart. Would I have viewed my role as oldest differently? Would I have valued what I brought to my family better? Would I have learned to speak up for myself instead of running in the other direction – away from responsibilities, from being the oldest? There are no easy answers. But I do know that every decision makes us a better person – if we let it.
What I have learned over the years is we all have a path to follow – easy or hard. Whether I did something else, or still did what I did, the end result is that I learned how to be a good friend. I learned how to encourage others to follow their dreams without severing ties. I learned how to stick to something, and not run away just because it was getting too hard to bear. I learned how to live “tall” and do the right thing. I learned how to mend relationships with those who saw the goodness of my heart and forgave me for a deed I cannot ever take back and realize that we all make mistakes. I learned to forgive myself. And in that, I can offer love and support and inspiration to those who are searching for their place in this world. I cannot change the hands of time, but I can make a difference with my story. And you can, too. Every person’s story matters and can make a difference. Remember that always.
Now that I’m working in the clerical field again in office administration, I have some great ideas for helping young people with their future. Perhaps an office clerk volunteer apprentice program? And, being ever creative-minded, I also have a few ideas for inspiring young creatives in my new area with some opportunities for developing and showcasing their talents. More on that later, once I have fully strategized my ideas and can share them publicly.
In the meantime, keep smilin’, keep praying, and keep looking up!
And there you have it, a part of my life story I haven’t ever shared much about – until now. As I mentioned earlier, it isn’t all of the story, but it’s a beginning. One day, maybe in a memoir, or maybe in another blog post, I will – or can – share more about that dark time in my life – a time that cannot ever be taken back but which can and did lead to new beginnings.
Next month’s blogs will be on 1) the challenges of making fitness a priority when life keeps changing and is filled with priorities and 2) the fathers in my life.
Please be remember that I’ve written a book with young people in mind. You can learn more here on my book’s page.
Thank you for reading and have a blessed day, Virg