Who Was That Woman?
How can a thirty-two year old woman with three children, a husband, and a nice home be so stupid? I often ask myself this question. One might think this description would be the American dream. I had that dream, but when I was this thirty-two years old, I took it for granted. I did not appreciate the life that I had, and it is only through tragedy that I have evolved into the woman I am today. On July 17, 1995, my husband, the father of three beautiful children, was diagnosed with brain cancer. This diagnosis was the beginning of my transformation. Although my outward appearance is relatively the same as it was then, I consider myself quite changed on the inside. I now take a very different approach to my life’s responsibilities, my role as a parent, and my overall outlook on life.
The responsibilities that have been put upon me have doubled since 1995. When I was thirty-two years old, I became a stay-at-home mom. It was something that I truly wanted to do. I volunteered at my children’s schools, and anywhere they had to be is where I was. The only duties I had, besides my children, were laundry and keeping the house clean. My husband, Eddie, took care of the income and keeping bills in order. All I had to do each month was sit down and write out the checks to pay the bills. If a problem arose with a bill, he would call and take care of it. As Eddie began forgetting more and having more problems speaking, the responsibilities with the checking account slowly shifted into my hands. As much as I hated confronting creditors or complaining about a balance mistake, I made myself pick up the phone. Back then I would usually burst into tears after one of these calls, but I now could not care less what anyone says to me, especially when I know that the problem is not my fault. Eddie and I also shared many of the household chores. It was always convenient for him to do the cooking while I worked, but he continued to cook even after I became a homemaker. I did not realize just how wonderful that was until Eddie started having trouble finding his way around the kitchen. I can recall one evening when I went into the kitchen and found he had cut himself. He was not hurt seriously, but he also burned the food because he forgot to check it. Later on in the evening, I might find food and dishes out of place. I remember finding the ice cream in the cabinet, or I would catch sight of a dish or package of cookies in the garbage. Today, I have to plan all the meals, do all the shopping, as well as cook and serve the meals. When it came to my automobile, I never had to worry about changing the oil or getting it serviced. Eddie would change the oil or take it to the mechanic to get it fixed. Now, tasks like these are very frustrating to me. I have to fix that noise, get the oil changed, rotate the tires, get the brakes checked, and even fill the gas tank. I also have to do this in not only one car but two. I can remember when the most sweat I put into our yard was to plant the annuals each spring in my flowerbed. These days I have become quite the operator of Eddie’s beloved Craftsman riding lawn mower. I must keep it in proper working order with oil changes, gas fillings, and sharpening the blades. Looking at the duties and commitments that are my responsibility today, the person I was at thirty-two would have been too timid and afraid to have attempted any of them.
Parenthood has never been easy for me. I thought being a parent nine years ago with Eddie was difficult, but we were a team and these children were ours. It used to be both of our responsibilities to raise them. I was always the more affectionate parent and willing to give the benefit of the doubt. Mom was the one that gave the hugs and kisses and seldom the punishment. Eddie was strict. Back then I could not quite understand why, but I now am so thankful the children had that discipline. When our middle son started to go through puberty, Daddy was the one who sat down and had the talk with him. He taught Ashley and the boys how to ride a bicycle. Another memorable time happened one beautiful spring day when Eddie drove up into the driveway with two dirt bikes in the back of the truck. I could have strangled him right on the spot. However, the look of joy on Reggie and Brody’s faces remains a vivid memory to me. I watched as their Daddy patiently taught them how to ride those dirt bikes. When it came to our daughter, Eddie told her why she needed to be wary of boys, and how she could not go on a date at age fourteen. Now I stand alone as a single parent. This often strict, abide-by-my-rules father is gone, and I now am the one to confront every problem that arises with our children. If I cannot show my sons how to fix that back brake on the dirt bike, I have to find someone that can. If Reggie or Brody is in need of punishment, I am the one to administer it. If Ashley calls home from college, I am the only parent to share the good or bad news. I have to listen to every word from the children and deal with it as I may. There no longer remains anyone else to help me. The parent I have to be today is a complete transformation from the parent nine years earlier.
Along with the added responsibilities and changed parent role, the emotional growth I have experienced has let me see a person in me that I am still getting used to. Presently, my outlook on life has priorities that meant little to me earlier. I used to be obsessed with keeping the house clean, and if one of the children dirtied my freshly mopped floor, I would get so angry. If one of the children spilled a drink, she would hold her breath waiting for me to explode. Last week when Brody spilled a full glass of orange juice, he was more upset over the situation than I would have been nine years ago; I was not upset at all. I just told him that it happens and it is no big deal. I can think of so much worse to be upset about other than spilled juice. In the past, I was concerned about how other people perceived my family and my house. I often asked myself if everything could ever have been good enough. The person I am today could not care less. Nine years ago, I thought that Eddie and I had forever. We were going to grow old together, and after he retired, we would enjoy our grandchildren. I now look at the future as an empty picture. It is rare that I look past the present day. I do what I have to do within my power to make the most of what I have today. Eddie and I took each other for granted. After his diagnosis, we began to appreciate each other again. We had to take care of each other, and I had to turn into the strong one. At least the time we did have together was long enough so the transition could take place. If I had to admit to a worry now, I suppose it would be that my children grow up and not lose sight of what is important. I tell each one of my children that it makes no difference to me what they want to do, whether it is now or when they become adults. They just need to choose what will make them happy. Life is hard enough as it is, so I always make sure I teach them to choose what they enjoy. At thirty-two years of age, I would have stayed with a job I hated. I never imagined the thought of just quitting. I did not think of doing something just because it made me happy. I did a job because that was what I had to do. I have learned to be assertive when I have to get something done. I am no longer intimidated by sales representatives, mechanics, or customer service people. I have learned that I must do what I have to do. I am confident now; whereas, before I continuously doubted myself. I am not afraid of the world anymore. As I compare the woman I was at thirty-two and the woman I am now, I see a stronger and confident person who can now take care of herself and her children.
Whether it is the added responsibilities, the different parent role, or the reverse outlook on life, I am happy with the stronger and more assertive person that I see in the mirror today. The change is so different to me that I can hardly relate to who I was at thirty-two. Unlike her, I have no doubt that I can do whatever it takes to provide for my children. Eddie would be proud to see that I can take care of the life that we made together. I only wish I could have been this person earlier so that I could have appreciated what I had.
This essay was written by Kimberly Crowder, then a freshman majoring in Nursing. It was written for Dr. Barbara Murray’s ENGL 1101 class during fall 2004 semester.