Am I a late bloomer or have I already bloomed?
And if so, where is the fruit?
I was born in 1972 in Japan where I was raised by a single mother from the time I was about age four or five until I was age 11. That’s when she married my stepfather who served in the US Military. Because of his job, we moved to the US and settled in Kentucky, and then moved again to St. Louis, Missouri, during my senior year of high school. That’s a lot of moving around for a child like I was.
Still, I think I had a pretty good childhood, mainly because my mother loved and sacrificed for me. My mother was an educator and I thought that if I followed in her path of education, then I would have a good-paying job in a stable career and have opportunities to choose from. I thought I would reap the same—if not a better—lifestyle and rewards, personal, financial, and professional, as my family had done before me. That is the dream of many. That was my dream.
But as life sometimes goes, as roads turn, and as mountains plunge into valleys, I did not reach this hoped-for, middle-class destination.
After graduating high school, my eyes were bright. I lived with my grandma in Tennessee and attended the University of Tennessee-Knoxville that fall. But oh, I was so young and so unfocused. I couldn’t peel myself from my social life enough to pass my classes and had to move back to Missouri with my mother and stepfather.
The next several years was a series of temporary jobs. The dream I had once held began to fade away. I remembered it fondly, just as an old friend whom you always make plans with, but never fulfill. There was always a bill, an emergency, or a lay-off that made the path to my dream messier and messier.
I was 26 years old when my entire world changed completely. I became pregnant with twins, one boy and one girl. During my pregnancy, the twins’ father lost his job and the stress it caused in our relationship led me to break things off with him. With that, he slipped away into the land of missed calls and let-downs. That’s how I became a single mother in 1998.
Being a mother—a single mother, especially—changed everything. Yes, money became tighter (and I mean tight enough to cut off the circulation of my bank account), but something else happened. The day the twins arrived was the day my perspective shifted. Where once my goal had been to climb out of poverty the best way I knew how, now it was to turn all my long days of exhaustion and perseverance into a ladder that my children could use for themselves.
When my twins were six months old, I began working a temporary job in St. Louis, not earning enough to support me and my new little family. I knew I couldn’t stay there. So, when my mom got a job in Atlanta, Georgia and invited me to move with her, I stuffed my pride and packed up all our belongings.
When looking for jobs in Atlanta, I realized that I was somewhat limited in what I could do given my responsibilities as a single mother with two children. Most of the jobs I held were part-time and low-paying so I could pick the twins up after school or at daycare. But, what other choices did I have?
I felt like a failure as an adult while I suffered through layoff after layoff, unable to provide for myself, let alone my two children. I felt guilty for having to depend on my mother for so much and for having to receive public assistance. During this part of my work life I felt stuck in a vacuum of perpetual high-turnover entry-level work; always starting over and having to redefine and prove myself again in the new job, and striving so that I and my twins could just almost, barely survive on minimum wage, living paycheck to paycheck (but is that really living?).
From November 2000 until about February of 2006, I was depressed and afraid. My twins were growing up, and I was growing weary as I bounced from unemployment to debt to employment then back to unemployment. I filtered every penny of work and piling debt into getting the twins into two different magnet high schools. I sent out hundreds of resumes and only had maybe 10 interviews, but no matter how hard I was working and trying to reverse my misfortune, nothing seemed to take off.
In 2006, I found a seasonal job doing data entry at the IRS. Something was better than nothing, so I accepted it and held onto it for five years. During this time, I decided that maybe I could have a better job and better prospects of obtaining my dream if I obtained my college degree in anything, just to have a bachelor’s degree.
For about five years I was working seasonally by day and going to school at night. During these years, what I considered “okay” became substantially and circumstantially discounted. Big dreams tapered into satisfactory living where my goal was just meeting basic needs for me and my family. I graduated with my bachelor’s in 2015, marking the beginning of the end of the 11-year-long unstable situation. I was overjoyed!
At the end of my undergraduate studies, I had an internship at the local public library. Then they offered me a paid part-time position after I earned my bachelor’s: library reference assistant. This part-time position afforded me the time to pick up the twins from their two different schools and from their individual extra-curricular activities. It also enabled me to schedule volunteering at the twins’ two schools around my work schedule.
Finally, my children graduated from high school in 2016, and after various employment opportunities never materialized and dealing with the public for years and years, I became sought again to take a step in an upwards direction. In 2017, I finally found a full-time position elsewhere.
The twins are grown up now. Seeing them bloom in ways I could only imagine has been, without a doubt, completely worthy of all of my sacrifices. Their bright futures are well worth any setback. But now, I am free to get more education or continue just working full-time for a while before I decide to take my next step, whether that is graduate school or something else. Finally, after 21 years of making sure the twins would be okay, I am able to make sure I am okay now too.
There is no traditional happy ending with this story if you were looking for one. Instead, I’ll just tell you that the fairy tale is within the hope that still remains, after it all.
This is the story of Nikki Drew
Nikki is a successful mother of adult twins who live in the Greater Atlanta area, where she has made her home for 21 years. She was born in Japan but grew up in Kentucky. Although things are not how she thought they would be, she is surviving and her twins seem to be thriving and making their own choices. She enjoys reading mysteries and buying high-quality pens. Someday she hopes to realize her dream of earning her Master’s in Library Sciences and adding more positive chapters to her own story, which, like most life journeys, has been part struggle, part success.
This story first touched our hearts on July 23, 2019.
| Writer: April McQueen | Editor: Kristen Petronio; Colleen Walker |
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