I was born in 1963, in rural Wisconsin. My parents were 17 and 19 and baby boomers themselves. They were both in their senior year of high school and “forced” to get married. My mother was not allowed to walk for graduation ceremony because she was pregnant. After I was born, my father worked 60-70 hours a week while my mother cared for me. We lived in a small mobile home. As rock and roll continued to evolve, so did my family. By the time I was four, our family had grown from one child to three. These were difficult years for my parents. My father’s idea of teaching us how to behave was a belt across the back side. Everything on my plate needed to be eaten “due to the starving children in Africa.” Children were to be seen and not heard. Additionally, my mother struggled with anxiety and depression during a time when help wasn’t an option.
Due to a chaotic home life, I spent lots of time with my grandparents, aunts, and uncles. My favorite day of the week was Sunday. It was off to church in the morning. My grandmother would give me Certs to keep me quiet while my grandfather snored in the pew. After church the extended family got together for lunch. The adults sat at the big table while the kids sat in the living room laughing. Summers consisted of fireflies so abundant I thought I was looking at New York City, soft serve ice cream cones brought by a car hop balancing on roller skates, Walter Kronkite droning in the background during supper through the neighbors’ open windows as well as my grandparents’ brand new color tv, and the smell of outdoor fabric softener on the fresh linens hung from the clothesline. Red light… Green light was a favorite neighborhood game, I rode my bike everywhere, and the Five and Dime drugstore was a real place. Nobody worried about us falling out of the back of my uncle’s pickup truck and my cousins were my best friends. The Brady Bunch and Happy Days were my favorite television shows. What would life be without Alice or “The Fonz?”
By the time I was nine my parents had divorced. Neither parent could properly care for me and my siblings, and we wound up in a foster home for three years, through all of my middle school years. I needed to get used to a family I didn’t know with values that weren’t mine. New friends developed though, and although I didn’t like foster care, I did appreciate the opportunity to feel stable. I excelled in dance, band, and choir. One of my favorite pastimes was roller skating on Friday nights. I loved Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin, and my olive green bike with the banana seat and sissy bars was my prized possession. I swore If I heard Da Do Ron Ron Ron, by Shaun Cassidy one more time, I was going to throw up.
At the end of my eighth grade year, I was reunited with my mom and new stepdad. I began another chapter of my life in Milwaukee, which was a culture shock. The year was 1977. There were over 3,000 kids in my new high school, more people than the entire town’s population where I had lived. I’d had zero exposure to any culture but my own. Our school was the first desegregated high school in the city. Racism was rampant on both sides. Tension between the “white” and “black” kids created fear almost everywhere I went. Everybody drank where I came from, but now marijuana and acid were the drugs of choice, of which I knew nothing about. I struggled to fit in. Should I listen to the Bee Gees and disco, which I loved, or Ted Nugent, Rush, and Alice Cooper which seemed to be more popular?
Also, life with my mom and stepdad wasn’t all that I had fantasized it would be. They both abused alcohol and spent most weekends out. Although I was grateful to be living with my mom again, I struggled with loneliness that I couldn’t express. However, my resilience kicked in and once again I found my groove. I made many friends and choir continued to be a huge part of my life. My grades were excellent. Weekend nights were filled with The Love Boat, Fantasy Island, and Saturday Night Live (which I wasn’t supposed to watch). The love of my life was Barry Manilow until I met my first true love at the age of 16. He was 19 and an alcoholic. My life path would twist and turn again as I was introduced to fast cars, alcohol, cigarettes, skipping school, and many fights with my mother and stepdad. In their attempt to get me back on track, I found myself living back in rural Wisconsin with my biological father and stepmother in the fall of my senior year. I felt as if I had lost everything and didn’t think life could get any worse. After a month or two of acclimation to strict rules and small town living, I settled once again into a new life. I would meet the man who would become my first husband during the winter of my senior year. I was engaged that spring and married a year later at the ripe ole age of 18.
I thought marriage would solve all my problems. My husband was physically and emotionally abusive. Honestly, I didn’t know any better and kept trying to make things right. We had four children and after my youngest was born I went to college at age 29 to get a degree in accounting. Working part-time, going to school full-time, raising a family, and running a household became my emotional distraction. It was also how I defined my self-worth.
Stress, though I didn’t know it at the time, was always nipping at my backside. I weighed 236 pounds, was smoking a pack of cigarettes a day, and Mountain Dew was my drink of choice. At age 38, I woke up one morning and realized I couldn’t do “this” any longer. I ended a twenty-year marriage and moved to Madison with my kids. I had $2000 in my pocket and a U-Haul full of stuff. I never looked back. I remember sitting in my rented duplex on that first night, boxes surrounding me, empty pizza cartons on the floor…for the first time, I felt free. It wasn’t just a chapter in my life that came to an end, but the whole book.
My fortieth birthday was a time for celebration. I found a job I loved, had bought a house, and my kids were doing well. I started dating and was enjoying all the exciting adventures. Although life looked good on the outside, something inside of me was beginning to stir. Thus began my journey of self-acceptance and spiritual awakening. I began reading every book I could get my hands on, went to retreats and workshops, and started practicing mindfulness techniques. I met my current hubby and life partner and went back to school to get my degree in counseling. I quit smoking, kicked the Mountain Dew habit, and lost weight. This was one of those times in my life where I was grateful for the deep healing that occurred, but honestly, I would never want to go through that again. We can all remember times in our lives like that. I had started to fulfill my destiny…that’s what made it all worth it.
What a difference a decade makes. The kids are grown and I have grandkids. My hubby and I live in a rural community where we can connect with nature, see the beautiful night sky, and appreciate the quiet around us. I continue to follow my dreams which include working in private practice as a “life therapist.” I set my own hours, spend most mornings taking care of me, eat organic as much as possible, and enjoy movement in my life (I don’t call it exercise anymore). I’ve learned to slow down and listen. I enjoy photography and creating glass mosaics. I can never have too many pets in the house and I feel most content with people around me. Where once I felt isolated, now I give back and want to be a part of something bigger than myself. The quest for knowledge is always with me and I enjoy nothing more than passing the best pieces on to others. I’ve learned to worry less and stay in the present more. Happiness is not just an emotion, but a state of being and love is about forgiveness, mostly forgiveness of ourselves. I finally understand what it means to “not sweat the small stuff.”
For every one of us, our values and belief systems have been established by the generations before us. The difficult times during our early years gave us courage, strength, resilience, and intuition. For myself, I received many gifts from the boomers in my life. All of them, both positive and negative helped bring me to a future path of healing. I am forever grateful for all that I learned.