My life as an adult feels like a complicated, sometimes confusing or illogical route, like the child’s path in the cartoon. Reflecting now, I can theorize why this was so. However, it’s easier to look back—hindsight is 20/20, as the saying goes—and see things differently than was possible at the time they happened. This is true for me.
As a college student in 1973, I had no idea what I wanted to “be when I grew up”. I loved children and wanted to do something that involved working with them. My first thought was Special Education, but on learning I’d have to take a speech class, I abandoned that idea, something I still regret. The thought of public speaking terrified me, so I avoided it. This decision led me, years later, to give good advice to my children when they went to college: Don’t change your major to avoid a class that you don’t want to take. If I had access to a guidance counsellor, I didn’t know about it, so I forged ahead alone, searching the class catalogue for a major that didn’t require a speech class. I decided on child psychology, which seemed to check all the boxes.
My course took a detour when, during my sophomore year, I switched my studies to nursing and moved out of my parents’ house into my own apartment. My grand plan was to be a pediatric nurse. After a semester at a different school, I did a U-turn and returned to the university where I began, and resumed my studies in child psychology. As a result of my detour, I graduated in five years instead of the traditional four. I wasn’t fully aware at the time that a post-graduate degree in child psychology was required to get a decent job in the field. I was also ready to finish school and get on with my life. I still have regrets about that, too.
After graduating, I moved out of my parents’ home for the second time (I’d moved back home when I returned to full-time studies). This time, I lived with a roommate to help share the cost of an apartment. I continued working as a part-time cashier in a grocery store, a job I’d had since I was 16, and embarked on my career as a writer. In addition to my love of children, I also had a love of writing. I thought this was the perfect time to pursue that dream. I don’t know if it was a lack of confidence or motivation that caused me to become discouraged with this writing passion, although I’m sure it had something to do with the rejection letters I received for my submissions to magazines.
During my years in college and after, I was also in a relationship with the man who would become my husband. We broke up six times in the six years we dated, a series of red flags I neglected to see. On one of our reunions, when I was trying to “be a writer,” we decided to become formally engaged because no one would take us seriously if we didn’t. I soon gave up on becoming a professional writer, moved into his apartment and got a “real” job as a bank teller.
The job at the bank made me feel like an adult because it came with health insurance and other benefits that my part-time job did not. The only problem was that I hated it. As a person who never balanced my chequebook, having to do that at the end of every shift with the bank’s money instead of my own, was a nightmare. Not a good fit! After several months, I resigned and took a job as a teacher in a daycare centre. That job also offered health insurance, something we needed because my fiancé was a self-employed musician. I was thrilled because I could use my degree in child psychology in this new job. I loved it.
We married in 1980 and decided to start a family after we bought a little house in 1981. After nine months of trying, I became pregnant and was thrilled! I was looking forward to being a mother. That was always the ultimate goal for my life in general. I couldn’t wait to meet our baby! All career goals paled in comparison.
Our baby boy, Adam, was stillborn in July of 1982, at nearly 34 weeks of gestation. We were devastated. Our young marriage took some blows just as we each did, although we didn’t realize how deeply our future would be affected. The loss has influenced my life ever since, something I will write more about in future stories.
I returned to my job as a preschool teacher, which was both stressful and comforting. Being with children had been my happy place, but now it reinforced the fact that I didn’t have my own child to love. After a period of grieving, we decided to try again to have a baby, only to encounter infertility issues. During this time, after much soul-searching, I decided I needed a distraction from trying to conceive. Upon looking in the newspaper at the Want Ads and seeing jobs for dental assistants, I returned to school to become one. After losing Adam, I didn’t know if I wanted to spend my days caring for other people’s children instead of my own.
I had no interest in dentistry. Zero. I remain surprised I took that route, but at the time the one-year program made sense and there were many job opportunities. I also thought my “dream job” would be to work for a pedodontist or a children’s dentist. This would enable me to put my degree in child psychology to good use.
Blending childcare with motherhood
About two-thirds of the way through the program, my plan to distract myself worked, and I became pregnant! I wanted to quit, but didn’t, since we’d taken out a student loan for the tuition and I’d already put much work into it. I also reminded myself that a job in dentistry would be one I could “leave at work,” unlike my job as a preschool teacher, where I brought lots of worries home.
Our beautiful, healthy baby girl was born, followed by her beautiful, healthy baby sister three years later. The pain of losing their brother had carved out an even larger place in my heart for the joy they brought me. They became my reason for living; everything I did, I did for them.
I remained in the dental field as a registered dental assistant as well as a manager of several dental clinics, on and off over the next 30 years. After the dental clinic manager stint, which I disliked as much as the job in the bank, I returned to my first love, working with children, as a family childcare provider. I attained my license, we transformed the lower level of our home into a space for childcare and I soon had the best of both worlds: earning money and being home with my children, who had previously been in daycare. A favourite memory is of my then three-year-old daughter saying, “Mommy! I can feel the wind blowing my hair!” as she learned to pump her legs on the swings in our backyard, a moment I might have otherwise missed. Every morning, I awoke feeling excited about the day ahead. This was one of the happiest times in my life.
A move to a new home in a different suburb ended my family childcare career. I would be a stay-at-home mom for the first time. I had mixed feelings, especially saying goodbye to my daycare families, but was excited to devote all my time and attention to my daughters. During those years, I became a “professional volunteer,” at my daughters’ schools, Girl Scout troops, Sunday School—you name it, I did it! I also worked part-time at my daughters’ schools as a playground supervisor and a classroom aide. This was a busy time and I was grateful to have the option to be with my children.
During this time, for various reasons, my marriage began to flounder more than it had before. My husband was no longer a musician but worked in sales for different companies. When my part-time jobs at school were no longer sufficient financially, I went back to work as a dental assistant. Doing that provided us with health insurance, a much-needed benefit. From that point, I remained in the field of dentistry until retirement in 2015.
Happiness follows sadness
My life path took another difficult turn in 2007, with a divorce after 27 years of marriage. The decision was right, made after difficult years of trying to salvage our relationship, but this was a sad, dark time.
The divorce brought another move since we had to sell our house. The real estate market was difficult at the time, and finding a buyer was a relief, even though we had to bring money to closing. I was happy to move into a more affordable home but ambivalent as well. Selling the home where my children grew up was heartbreaking, but I was escaping the place that held painful memories of a dying marriage.
Several years later, I found love again with a wonderful, divorced man, something I never imagined could happen in my fifties. We married and have found happiness with each other. We both regret that our first marriages failed, mostly for our children, but are happy to know that a loving, healthy marriage is possible at any age.
In this current stretch of my life path, I’ve revisited my younger self in some ways. After retiring from dentistry, I worked in an elementary school with special education students. I have also followed my writing dream, writing and publishing three novels. Even though my path has taken curious detours, some I regret and some I don’t, my dreams have travelled with me, waiting for me to explore and make them come true.
At times I’ve wondered what life would have been like if I’d remained in one career. At insecure moments, I’ve felt that my career path had less meaning or was less legitimate than that of people who studied for and stayed in one profession. Now, however, despite some regrets, I realize that I wouldn’t want my life to be any other way. Along the twists, turns and detours, I have made friends and memories that I treasure. I am better for knowing these people and having those experiences. I am grateful because they have brought me to where I am today.