I'm the Strong, Independent Woman I Am Today Because of My Mom

mother daughter

"Don't worry, we'll figure it out." If I had a dollar for every time my mom spoke those words to me, I'd probably be doing something more exciting than typing on my laptop right now. (Like relaxing on a beach chair in the tropics, or something.) While I can't remember every little family crisis that made those words of wisdom come out of my mom's mouth, somewhere along the way, "Don't worry, we'll figure it out ..." became one of life's mottos for the two of us.


Because that's what strong, independent, don't-take-any-bull kinda women do. They take a deep breath and a step back from any sticky situation in life -- and they figure it out on their own without expecting anyone else to step in and fix their problems for them.

And as cliché as this may sound, if you looked up the definition of "strong, independent woman" in the dictionary, odds are good that you'd find my mom's picture there. Let's just say -- because her story isn't mine to tell -- the woman has gone through more than her fair share in her life (and then some).

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But even when she encountered curveballs that not many other people in this world would be able to work around, somehow she got up off the ground whenever she was knocked down, stood back up on her own two feet, and moved forward -- and guess what? I paid attention.

It's no big secret that kids learn a lot more by example than they do from anything that's taught to them from a textbook. And from the time I was a little girl to the present day, as a divorced woman inching closer and closer to 40, I'm absolutely positive that the only reason I've turned out to be a person who can hold her head high and stand on her own two feet without any sort of certainty about what the future holds is because I learned how to be this way by watching my mom.

I remember when I was about 10 years old or so, she followed her dream of working in the travel industry and got a job in reservations with Eastern Airlines. As a new employee with no seniority, she unfortunately got stuck with a lot of overnight shifts, which were a huge adjustment for her, considering she'd been a teacher up until that point in her life.

But even though there were days when her schedule was opposite from mine, I never once heard her complain about how tired she was or gripe about how she had to pay her dues and work her way up. Instead I saw someone who was determined to follow a dream, even if that meant making a few sacrifices.

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And then there were a couple of times when I was in high school when she and I hopped into the car and drove from Connecticut to South Carolina for vacations -- and friends of hers said, "Are you crazy? You're driving with your daughter for all those hours by yourself -- without your husband? I could never do that!"

It didn't really strike me as odd at the time, but now as an adult, I know other women who can't even fathom the idea of embarking on a trip (or doing anything for that matter) without their husbands -- but I never batted an eyelash at traveling alone, even when I was married. How anyone can be that dependent on another person is unimaginable to me, but I wonder how different I might be if I hadn't seen my mom's independent spirit.

Right after I went off to college, my parents relocated to Memphis, Tennessee, and at that time, my mom was working in reservations for American Airlines. And since there were no openings at the ticket counter for American at the Memphis airport, my mom took an opening at the Little Rock airport, which was two hours away, just to keep her career with American thriving.

She drove back and forth between the two cities, and on days that she worked, she came "home" to a studio apartment with a futon mattress, a cardboard box that was used as a TV stand, and a plastic chair. It definitely wasn't "home." Not even close. But she did what she had to do in order to maintain a career that she loved. She "figured it out."

And eventually she went on to work at the American Airlines Admiral's Club at Reagan National Airport in Washington, DC, even winning the Agent Excellence Award one year. She never would've made such a huge accomplishment if she hadn't had the determination to figure out how to keep her career when the odds were stacked against her. (Funny how life has a way of working out if you refuse to give up.)

Fast-forward to 2016, as we prepare to celebrate Mother's Day -- which will be my first Mother's Day as a single mom, since my divorce was finalized last May. The past couple of years have been a whirlwind, to say the least, and I know that the only reason I made it through them and have reached the point of happiness and contentment that I'm at today is because my mom taught me to figure things out and live life on my own terms as opposed to settling for a life I didn't belong in simply for the sake of security.

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Circling back to the whole not-knowing-what-the-future-holds thing -- I still have absolutely no idea what my life will look like 5, 10, or even 20 years from now, but regardless of how the next chapters of my story play out, I'm confident that I'll wind up with a happy ending, whatever that happens to mean.

As parents, we all do the best we can as far as raising our kids to be successful, responsible adults, but let's be honest -- it's really kind of a crapshoot. We all have challenges that arise from whatever cards we happen to be dealt, and we can only hope that our kids turn out okay in the long run.

Well, Mom? My life may not have turned out the way I planned, and I'm sure it didn't turn out the way you always hoped and dreamed it would for me, but there is a silver lining. Thanks to the example you set and the way you shaped me into a strong, independent woman, my life is actually a hell of a lot better than I ever could've imagined -- and it's only going to get better from here. I'm sure of it.

(And no matter what obstacles I run into on my journey from this point forward, don't worry ... I'll figure them out.)


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