Seven years later – during which time I tried very hard to be the best wife and mother, cook and bottle washer, floor polisher and window washer this side of the North Pole – I found myself at the edge of a cliff.
With little education, no work experience and nothing but a need to provide, I set myself the task of finding a job. What would I do with my little Sharon, not yet old enough to go to kindergarten. I would deal with that later after I had work. My husband refused to accept the fact that his wife must work and that some solutions to our money problems must be found. He insisted that if I left the house to go out into the working world, I would, in effect, be leaving our marriage. Torn but determined, I ventured out into the ranks of adults earning money and supporting themselves and their families. Let me tell you, I was frightened to death. I had no self-esteem, no notion of any marketable skills or abilities to offer and no idea of where to begin. But, my children were depending on me and I learned the first lesson:
Face your fears, acknowledge them …but don’t let them stop you!
The position I ultimately found seemed ideally suited to my meager talents: a customer-service clerk in a publishing company. After all, I was pretty good at communicating with people and I had always loved books. Some of the warmest memories of my youth were of long days spent in a corner of our local library, lost in the world of other places and interesting people. The money I would be earning was just enough to pay the rent and put food on the table. And of course, my husband’s reaction was disgruntled and negative, but I didn’t care. My personal feelings of accomplishment and satisfaction were finally important. This later became my second lesson:
Take Action to solve your own problems.
I was beginning to learn. It was 1966, several years before the Women’s Movement actually became a force in American society. There were no support groups or government agencies protecting the rights of women. In fact, society was still frowning on the “working mother,” and negative articles about “latch-key children” with a non-existing homelife were constantly appearing. Neighbors scorned the working woman who left before the school bus came and returned at dusk.
Worse yet, divorce was a sin, a threat to the underpinnings of middle-class society and yes, divorce was the next step in my personal path of becoming. As my own sense of worth and competency grew, my husband seemed increasingly unable to cope with a woman not turned out of the typical mold. His personal image did not include partnership with a woman “with a life of her own.” Sadly, and with a great sense of failure, my husband and I came to a parting of the ways.
By then, I had begun to experience real satisfaction at being able to take care of myself and my children. I was not interested in continuing any dependency on my husband by accepting alimony. I did however, follow the judge’s advice and accepted my husband’s contribution to the children’s welfare. Unfortunately, our divorce also proved to be a divorce from my parents.
My father had found that son he’d always wanted in my husband. My mother believed in accepting “for better or for worse.” These were very difficult times for me, but in looking back, I realized my strongest instinct was for survival. I felt I couldn’t breathe within the confines of my life as it had been. The only way I would be able to live and thrive, would be on my own.
The daily problems of juggling a job and two children was frustrating and sometimes brought me to the point of questioning my own sanity; but the rewards of growth and recognition, as well as the joy of seeing my daughters develop into lovely little girls, made it worthwhile.
On the job, I never said “no” to additional responsibility. When the Vice-President asked me if I could stand in for his absent secretary, I remembered some rudimentary shorthand I had had in high school and I said I’d try. It took me more than two hours to decipher my own chicken scratches, but eventually I placed the crisply typed letter on his desk. Of course there were mistakes, but I typed that letter again and again (and again) until the finished copy was signed and in the envelope. In the following weeks, I took more dictation until my shorthand reached proficiency level and soon I was promoted to Office Manager, with a fine raise in salary. I was ready for my third lesson:
LUCK is that special place where opportunity, perseverance and preparation meet.