Suffice it to say that November 2007 - November 2008 was not my year. I'm tenderhearted. I hate conflict. No, really. I H.A.T.E it. But in November, 2007, when my second husband left me, sold our car for cash and defaulted on our house payments, then left the country after "falling in love" with the daughter of a high school friend of mine, my world was turned on its ear. Add to that the fact that I'd just lost my brand, new, exciting job (thanks, recession) and there was a hiring freeze at my previous company (thanks again, recession) and, let's see, what else? Oh, yes. My sister lost her battle against breast cancer and, in the middle of all of those fun hi jinx, my first husband, an occasionally violent alcoholic who barely functions well enough to hold down his job as a developer at a well-known insurance company, took advantage of my struggles and kidnapped our daughter before working with his attorney in his small, central Illinois town to build a "case," stating that I was endangering our daughter's life by residing in the city of Chicago. You haven't lived until custody of your child, who's been required to attend a custodial court hearing, is transferred to your ex-partner and that child is pulled from you by having their fingers pried, one-by-one, from your arm as she's sobbing, "Mama, no! Please don't make me go live with him! Please, Mama! Please, no!"
Even though it's several years behind us, my stomach still twists into horrible knots at the memory. I spent so many days in court that holding down a job was next to impossible. Trying to survive on $500 per month in unemployment insurance was also a stretch. I couldn't keep up with my rent and I was evicted from my apartment. On the street with two suitcases full of clothes, a handful of photographs and children's artwork, an ancient laptop, and my dog. I had to leave my cats behind because nobody would take them in. I, a writer, can't dredge up the words to describe how frightened I was, standing on the streets, choking back sobs so no one would see me cry or know, God forbid, that I was now among the ranks of the homeless.
I wandered around a while, wondering what the hell I was going to do. After the sun went down, my tears flowed freely. Wordlessly, I dragged my suitcases down Division Street, wheels scraping, laptop bag slung over my shoulder, my sweet, faithful dog at my side. As I slowly made my way toward Ashland Avenue, I saw that there were a few coffee shops that offered free wi-fi and made a mental note. I wandered around and let the tears stream down my face. What was I going to do?? I'll tell you this much: I've never felt so scared and alone in my entire life and I wouldn't wish that experience on my worst enemy.
I saw, of course, many other homeless people as I wandered around. I had one, driving goal: what could I do to keep people from knowing I was now homeless, too? I who used to wear Ferragamo stilettos. I who used to live in a five bedroom house on a lake. How could this be? I was afraid to fall asleep so I walked and walked and walked. The next morning, I walked, bleary-eyed, back to one of the coffee shops I'd noticed the night before, tied my dog to a tree, went in, bought a cup of coffee, sat down at an outside bistro table and turned my laptop on (fun fact: there are many active outlets in public places all around the city, if you know where to find them so keeping my computer charged wasn't too difficult). I logged into Facebook - strange choice, I know; I think I just needed to feel a shred of normalcy in this nightmare - and I saw a letter my lifelong friend, Mia, had written to the recession. A letter to the recession. What?? Yes, she did, and here is what it said:
Nothing personal but you suck and I reject you.
What?? "You can't write that - the recession is a thing, not a person! And it's happening to all of us!" I said to her. "I can, I did, and I meant it," she fired back. "The recession's only going to 'happen to you' if you let it. And I reject that. You can, too, sweetie!" I should note here that Mia, had just launched a business and it seemed to be teeming with success. "Well, huh," I thought, and I finished my coffee. Slowly, I packed up my laptop, walked to the trash can and threw my cup away, then gathered my things and began walking with my dog. "When will I start smelling sour?" I wondered with a sigh as I looked around, trying once again not to cry. But then I looked up and saw high rises. Lots of them. All occupied. I looked around. I saw families walking down the street pushing babies in strollers. I thought, "hm." There was a hiring freeze in my field but people were still having babies. And now, more than ever, that meant child care was needed. In that moment, I suddenly decided to become a nanny. My path as a mompreneur suddenly became clear.
I'd like to say the process was smooth. It wasn't. I had to find someone who didn't mind dogs who was willing to let me couch surf. And have access to a shower. Thanks to Craigslist (yes, I know, not the preferred method, but desperate times call for drastic measures), it wasn't long before I was sleeping on a sofa bed while I hunted for nannying gigs. I found a job - it didn't offer much pay but it was a job and I took it. From there, I worked up to being able to afford partial rent in an apartment with three room mates (we're friends, to this day). Then, a new job, higher pay and my own apartment.... waaaaaay on the edge of the city but it was mine.
Eventually, month by month, year by year, I moved up in the ranks of professional nannies. I'm now a highly successful nanny certified via the International Nanny Association and the proud co-owner of Sharp Mamas - a thriving baby concierge business that teaches new parents, parents to be, extended family and nannies how to work together to raise children with confidence. We've partnered with world-renowned physicians and experts, creating innovative ways to educate new families on a wide variety of subjects. I love being an entrepreneur. I'm proud of my company's success and I'm very, very proud of the strength I've discovered within myself.
I've never forgotten how it felt to have absolutely nothing and I never will. It's a terrible, lonely feeling. And you want desperately for people - someone... anyone!! - to see you and to help you believe it's going to be okay. I'm glad I had the wherewithal to do what I needed to do. And my heart breaks for those who don't know how to find their way out of their own dire situations. Maybe I can't change their circumstances but I remember how it feels to be in their shoes. And I'll never forget. And so, I can't save the world but I can - and I always will - do what I can to help anyone, no matter what.
If you're reading this and life isn't going well, please, please be encouraged. Whatever it is you're going through, you'll get through it. Just keep going and know that, as long as you never, never give up, things WILL get better. Keep going. Keep fighting. Persevere. Find your path to success - it's out there waiting for you! And I hope you - yes, you... no really. YOU! - know I'm right here rooting for you.
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