At this time of year, I’m often reminded of a game of questions my husband and I often played when we were dating. “What’s your favorite song? Movie? Book?” One question he asked that I hadn’t yet been asked: “So far in your life, what has been your favorite year?” That took a lot of thought on my part—only because I’d had so few great years. I had to walk through memory minefields to think about it before I could answer. Don’t get me wrong—I had quite a few good years. But what was the one that could stand out as the greatest?
I’m reminded of my husband asking me that question every November when people take time to offer daily thanks and count the blessings they’ve received in that year. And so it is that counting my own blessings has been on my mind for the last couple of weeks. Last night, something caused me to stop and ponder the question, What is the greatest blessing I’ve received so far in my life?
My four daughters. My husband. The “dream job” I had before the Great Recession. All of these are great blessings and the first things to come to mind. But if I had to pick one thing, what would it be? Living long enough to have met my grandchildren (those born so far) and watch them grow has been an unbelievable blessing and joy. Watching each of my children grow into a beautiful woman has given me great pride and joy. But what blessing is the greatest, so far?
It’s probably an unfair question because it’s somewhat like choosing a favorite, something most parents avoid at all cost. But last night I found myself in a college auditorium with a few hundred other people when the answer came to mind. So far in my life, at this very moment, I’m willing to go on record and say the greatest blessing so far is the transformation of my youngest daughter.
Brianna is the reason I started this blog back in February 2012—a mere three and a half years ago. It seems a lifetime ago. Our struggles began long before, in late 2008. The economy had tanked, we lost most of our savings in the market crash, we lost thirty percent of the value in our house (our other investment), and I lost my job. My husband was unemployed too. Our comfortable (and expensive) lifestyle derailed, right at the moment when Brianna “came of age” into adolescence. In the month of her fifteenth birthday when her thoughts were full of learning to drive, going to high school, having her first serious “crush”, our world turned upside down. And my nightmare began.
At that time, three of my daughters still lived at home. And the struggles with the older two were more challenging than the silly adolescent trials that Brianna faced. Or so it seemed. Hindsight is so cruel. Yes, of course, if I could do things over, I would spend more time with Brianna and do a better job of shepherding her through those years. Shoulda. Woulda. Coulda.
I started this blog out of desperation. So much in my life was so horribly wrong. And Brianna had completely derailed her life and was dangling off a cliff. If you’ve read some of my earlier posts, then you know that the police were frequently at our house, that thousands of dollars were stolen, and alcohol and other drugs (including prescription meds) were the only things Brianna consumed. By the time she was eighteen, she weighed 85 pounds, had dropped out of school (after being tossed from high school to an “alternative” school to online-only classes), and was “gifting” her body (and soul) to feel good about herself. (Oh, how it pains my heart to put all this in writing.)
So many nights I couldn’t sleep. So many days I functioned on auto-pilot. I was desperately trying to find a job, beat off depression, and show love to my “new” husband. Finding energy to deal with misbehaving teens only caused me more angst. No matter what I tried, nothing had an impact. At one point I forced Brianna to tell me the songs she wanted played at her funeral. Her death was inevitable, in my mind, and ever the consummate planner, I needed to know how to handle it.
These are the memories that swirled in my head last night as I sat in that auditorium and watched Brianna as she received recognition for her 4.0 GPA (with three semesters behind her) and was awarded with a generous scholarship that will cover a full semester of tuition and expenses.
Brianna never applied for any scholarships. (Read that again.)
The college itself pulled her record because of her GPA. She has a part-time job and another work/study job tutoring other students, so the school is well aware of her financial situation. And even though she had not applied (“So many other kids are better than me, Mom!”), the school honored her.
So much more than the money and recognition of a great GPA, this moment is a mega dose of self-esteem for Brianna, a renewal of her commitment to stay on the “right” path and do the right thing, a validation of believing in and advocating for herself so that she can live a better life. Because she knows what the “other” life looks like.
In the overall scheme of things, the scholarship award ceremony was a quiet event. We didn’t throw a party. We didn’t go out for a special dinner after the ceremony. But every single one of us who Brianna asked to attend the event pulled out all stops to be there. Every one of us had some other commitment or were scheduled to work or didn’t feel very well. No matter. Without any prodding from me, each of us cleared our calendar and made certain we would be there to celebrate this achievement with Brianna.
All those long ago nights when I couldn’t sleep—worried about where she was or whether the medicinal/alcohol/recreational drug cocktail she had taken would kill her or whether she would get pregnant or, even worse, a devastating disease—passed through my thoughts. So did the infinity of parent/teacher/counselor meetings and phone calls I attended, to no avail. The horrible things we’ve said to each other. The hurt and anger that nearly drove us mad.
In September 2008, my mind was incapable of imagining Brianna being recognized for anything worthwhile. But like many parents, that didn’t stop me from believing in her, or rather, believing in the potential I knew was inside her. Last night was a greater moment for me than when she was born or when she boarded the school bus for her first day of kindergarten; greater than the days when she learned to read and write and do math. Last night was the culmination of every step she has taken—good and bad—and all the steps she didn’t take but instead was carried by me or others or saints and angels or yes, even God. For some days He was the only one capable of the burden.
Even though I thought I was doing a horrible job as a parent during Brianna’s worst years, I did the best that I could in that moment. And more importantly, I believed in Brianna and always kept a flame of hope burning. Oh, and I prayed. It was Brianna who one day woke up and decided to change her life. It was Brianna who figured out what it took to earn a GED and she scheduled and paid for the exams all on her own. Without any help from me, she sought out a college counselor and registered for classes. And she filled out her own FAFSA. Brianna may have had my help along the way, but in the end she completely owned her transformation. I will be celebrating that joy for the rest of my life, because that transformation gave Brianna life.