Friday, April 11, 2014

30 Things Series #16: My Greatest Accomplishments

This was a hard one for me to write. I don't like to boast. I struggled coming up with five, the right five. If you're to really know me, all of me, you need to know this part of me, too. Here they are, then, as part of my 30 Things My Son Should Know About Me series - my five greatest accomplishments.

1. Becoming a mother.
Not only was this a massive feat due to the various fertility obstacles I faced, the five months of bed rest, and the 34 hours of labor that went from home birth to emergency c-section, BUT it turns out, I might be a pretty good mom and this is easily my greatest accomplishment. That you know unequivocally that you are unconditionally loved is huge. That I had absolutely no examples of breastfeeding in my life, we struggled with it at the beginning due to your tongue tie and my flat nipples, yet we are continuing to breastfeed almost 3 1/2 years later is major. That I have gone on to break cycles of unhealthy behaviors left and right to give you the very best I can give brings me both a sense of pride and a healing I never expected. I won't take credit for who you are. You are amazing you, because of, well, you. In large part, you've also made me who I am, both as a mother and a person. Some of me, though, I count as my own accomplishment. I'm proud of me. I'm proud of us. We're a good team.

2. Becoming a teacher.
Since high school, I wanted to be a teacher. Stupidly, I had applied for no scholarships and my parents made way too much money for me to qualify for financial aid, so I had no money. I should've gone to community college, but my ego wouldn't allow that at the time. (Another stupid decision.) I had a full time job when I was 18, so I did my best to take night classes, but finances were tight living on my own. It wasn't until my mid-20s that I was given the opportunity to move in with my parents, work part-time, and attend school full-time. From that point on, I took 18 credits every semester, including summers to book it through and get my degree. I did that, gained entry into the honor society for educators, and earned magna cum laude status. Before I even graduated, I had a position secured and other offers coming in. I had met my goal. Then I went on to be a good teacher - even better! I quit to be with you, a decision I have never regretted for a second, but I loved my time as a teacher and I do miss the difference that I was able to make. Keeping in touch with so many of my former students keeps me in semi-teacher mode regularly, though, so I don't feel as if I've given it up completely. I had a goal and, regardless of how long it took, I accomplished it. Score one for me.

3. Public speaking award.
Like I said above, I wanted to be a teacher since high school. There was a time between high school and actually becoming a teacher that I faltered on that goal.

That story:
The summer after graduation, my favorite teacher, the reason I wanted to be a math teacher myself, asked me to go to Las Vegas with her and her family as her 3 year old daughter's babysitter. I agreed. One day into the trip, the four adults (her, her husband, her mom, and her aunt) went to the casino while her daughter and I stayed behind in the hotel room. Her husband returned alone. He was noticeably aggravated and getting more so as time wore on. When she returned to the room alone, she shut the door behind her and his first reaction was to throw his car keys at her - hard. He then crossed the room with lightning speed and started beating her everywhere but her face (clearly, he was experienced). I tried to call 9-1-1, while simultaneously protecting her daughter's body and sight-line. She saw me dial the phone and, in the midst of being brutally beaten, yelled at me to hang up. At a naive 18 years old, when your hero tells you to do something, you do it. It's one of my biggest regrets. Only after she collapsed to the floor against the door did he push her aside and leave the room. She rushed over to retrieve her daughter from me. I rushed out to get her mom and aunt. Eventually, her husband came back and there was more fighting, verbally only this time. There was talk of going to get a quickie divorce. However, in the end, they took their daughter and left, just the three of them, to do who knows what - "have family time," I assumed. It was then that I broke down, in true me-fashion. I called my parents who firmly instructed me to get in a cab and go to the airport where they'd have a ticket home waiting for me. I did just that, sobbing the entire time. When I got off the plane, my parents were there waiting for me. I collapsed into their arms. Something inside of me had died. Something inside of me changed for a great many years. I no longer wanted to be a teacher. I no longer knew what I wanted to do with my life. I can tell you that it's only been in the last year or so that I've been able to recount this story, even to myself in my own memory, without breaking down.

I saw her a few weeks later. She claimed to have no recollection of being hit. She apologized profusely for scaring me. She was staying with him. It had happened many times before and it was to happen many times after.

A few years later, I was a teaching a teen defensive driving class (you'll read more about that later) when one of my students asked me, "Are you THE Amy Bray? You're Mrs. X's favorite student! She's told me all about you. She told me what happened. She's since left him. She's doing so much better now. She talks about you all the time." If memory serves, I cried then, too.

We lost touch for several years. I think she wanted to be lost, honestly and understandably. I found her again, though, and when I did, I again cried...hard. She was my hero and still is. My respect for her is greater now than it was in high school, a level hard to top. She is absolutely the reason I became a teacher.

Back to the accomplishment at hand:
During my years of no longer wanting to be a teacher, I took a required public speaking class. I lost my fear of public speaking somewhere around the 9th grade. I had gone on to enjoy it, even speaking at the Senior Breakfast in high school. This, though, was the most learning I'd done on the topic, the most I'd enjoyed a topic in college. Dr. Bottroff was an amazing professor. I went on to ace that class and T.A. for him the next semester. I then moved to my next professor, Rick Hogrefe, who I assumed could never top Dr. Bottroff. There was no comparison. They were different, their classes were different, their styles were different. Both were amazing. I took all of Rick's classes and, at the end of my time there, I was awarded the top honors in the public speaking division of the college. I had no family or friends with me. I was all alone, so no one cheered as I received it, but I was on cloud nine nevertheless. I loved public speaking - still do - and it turned out, I was good at it, too. Ya, that's a pretty cool deal to me.

4. Youngest and first female driving instructor.
Just before I turned 19, I went to work as a clerk at the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department in the training division, the emergency vehicle operations center (EVOC), to be exact. It was fun and I was good at it. I have a good work ethic, did even then, and my superiors took notice. Not even a year later, I was asked to take the training to become a driving instructor. I did and became the youngest (a title I still hold) and first female driving instructor at the SBSD EVOC. The next oldest instructor was more than 10 years my senior. I was then made lead instructor on the weekends, running the teen survival driving skills, adult defensive driving, and ambulance driving skills classes on my own. I loved it. I kept the position as instructor for several years after I was promoted beyond clerk and transferred to a patrol station. It wasn't until my new duties became too much for me to handle along with my instructor duties that I gave it up. Otherwise, I'd still be there rocking it, showing up the old guys, kicking ass on the skid pan and high speed track, and overall being a BAMF. That was a rad job and I was rad at it.

5. Making it through both IVF and PPD/anxiety and coming out the other side alive and still happily married.
I'm going to write about this, but I'm hesitant, because I fear you'll take it personally, that it will hurt you or make you feel guilty. That's not my goal. I wouldn't trade ANY of what I'm about to write, because in the end of it was still you - wonderful, irreplaceable, miraculous you.

IVF was HARD, physically, mentally, and emotionally. It taxed every part of me and every part of your dad's and my marriage. I gained 50 pounds in a short period of time. My veins had long since been shot since I used to donate platelets every two weeks for years prior, so the uber-frequent blood draws resulted in multiple sticks each time. Once, I even got a blood clot in my arm that was so painful I couldn't use my arm for about a week. The hormones are similar to those you'd experience in pregnancy (that's enough of a hormone rush right there), only I got them all at once, resulting in some major mood swings and imbalances. I had zero support from my direct supervisor at work. In fact, I told her ahead of time that I would be starting the process and had no idea what to expect from the hormones, so if I wasn't performing, I apologized in advance and hoped she'd understand. The DAY after I started the hormone injections, the day she knew they were starting, she made the choice to come in and do my eval and then tore me a new one when I sat during my lesson instead of walked the room like I would normally do. It only got worse with her from there. To top it all off, I didn't feel supported at home. I think your dad would willingly tell you, now that he's had time to reflect, that he was in over his head and didn't understand how to properly support a wife going through all that I was going through. How we stayed married, I sometimes still wonder.

After you were born in the manner in which you were born as opposed to what we had planned (you can read about here and here), I suffered from postpartum depression and anxiety. Just when we thought we were out off the roller coaster, we hopped right back on and it was, if possible, even scarier. Rage was my greatest symptom of PPD. And all that rage was taken out on your dad. That, coupled with the constant worries and fears, were sometimes crippling. I didn't get help until much too late - just over a year after you were born. I had no idea rage was a PPD symptom, though. I thought your dad was just an asshole. (Not that he sometimes wasn't. We all have those moments.) It wasn't until I read an article about someone else experiencing the same symptoms that I sought help through talk therapy and prescription drugs.

After all that we went through in those few years, I am amazed that we made it and terribly proud that we did. Going through all that only to come out on top is one of my our greatest accomplishments. We often say to each other that if we could make it through all that, we'll be able to make it through anything else that comes out way.


So, it turned out that I had a lot more to say than I thought I did when I started. Much of it wasn't really about the accomplishments at all, but it ended up being cathartic and enjoyable regardless. I love you, sugar. I just do. Thank you for being the great motivator that you are. Thank you for being you.

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