Sunday, September 11, 2011

Sunday Update: Looking Forward

I wasn't going to do it.  I wasn't going to write a 9/11 post.  I'm not calloused against the events that happened a decade ago.  I'm just not big on this idea that everyone has to feel a certain way just because it's been 10 years since the terrorist attack that devastated America--and the rest of the world, too.  I can't turn on the radio without hearing some sort of reminder that we should remember.  Thanks for reminding me to remember.  Check.  Got it.  I haven't forgotten.  It's not like any of us could.

I'm not calloused at all about 9/11, but I'm also not one to jump on the "let's all talk about what happened that day" bandwagon, either.  But yesterday I was talking to someone who is over a decade younger than I am, and it made me think about who I was a decade ago.  So I guess what I'm saying is, I'm about to write a post about 9/11, but not really.

I've heard it said that everyone remembers exactly where they were and what they were doing when they heard about the attack on the World Trade Center, but NO ONE remembers what they were doing the day before.  That's not true.  I remember exactly what I was doing the day before.

9/10/01 was a Monday.  It was my first day at a new job.  I was a recent college drop-out, having just made that decision near the end of the previous spring semester.  I finished up that semester and just decided not to reregister for classes.  I'm sure there was something else I was supposed to do in order to officially drop out of school, but I didn't do it.  The school sent me some reminders that I hadn't yet signed up for classes, but that's all they ever sent.  I was done with them, and I knew it was the right decision, but it still kind of sucked that I didn't have a degree or anything else lined up.  But over the summer of 2001, I worked at Ridgecrest, a Baptist conference center in western NC.  I'd worked there the summer before that, too, and expected them to put me in the same department (Laundry) for my second summer.  Instead, much to my dismay, they put me in preschool.  But God had a plan in that, because I figured out that I actually liked kids a lot more than I knew I did.

So when I found myself back in KY at my parents' house in August, I didn't have a job or anything.  Someone told my mom they needed help at their church's daycare, so I went in for an interview.  Next thing I knew, I had a job.  I was very excited.  I thought it was going to be amazing. 

It wasn't.

Turns out, this daycare job was not what I expected.  To say that we were understaffed was a gross understatement.  There were times when I was the only "grown up" at the entire facility, watching many different ages of kids all lumped together.  There was little to no security--which meant parents or anyone else could have walked in at any time.  I'm not saying this to put down the daycare.  The funds were just not great, and this little church was doing the best they could to love on these kids and their families.  But at this point in my life, I, personally, wasn't mature or experienced enough to handle it.  For one thing, up to this point, I'd only worked with 4 and 5 year olds.  Officially, I was in the 2 and 3 year old class (even though I kind of had to help out everywhere), and I had no idea how to deal with their biting and tantrums.  And the 21 year old me was not very confident (you think I'm socially awkward now?  You have no idea...).

It was my second day of working here that the tragic events of 9/11 happened.  I remember hearing about it on the radio while feeding kids their lunch.  Then I went home for my lunch break and just sat with my mom and stared in disbelief at the images on the tv.  Then I had to go back to work and deal with a room full of kids that didn't listen and had potty accidents and just generally made me feel helpless and hopeless.  I remember going home every night and crying my eyes out, partly because the world was in chaos, and partly because I was in chaos.  When I came home from work every night, I dreaded going back the next day.  I dreaded it so much that I was physically sick.

I lasted about 3 weeks there.  It was when I started having mild panic attacks that I realized I wasn't healthy.  I did not need to be around kids.  I explained this to the day care director, who only hadn't fired me at that point because they were so desperate for help.

So, at 21, I was a college drop-out.  I couldn't handle a job for more than three weeks.  I was an emotional wreck. 

Eventually, I learned that the gym at my church needed help for exactly one hour a week.  An hour.  I took this "job" because I needed some source of income, even if it was a measly $5.15 a week.  Minus taxes.  But in the state I was in, I don't really know if I could have handled too much more than that. 

I think it's safe to say, that was one of my lowest points. 

It's also the time in my life that I started writing my first book.  It took about six or seven years to get finished, and it's only been edited well in the past couple of years.  And I guess it's kind of a good thing that it took me a while to get the book done, because it meant that I eventually started doing other things again.

I picked up more hours at the gym at the church.  For a few months, I worked at a restaurant.  I topped my "let's see how short of a time I can work at a job" record by lasting all of ONE DAY at a factory where I was required to push insanely large air compressors down a conveyor belt (after specifically telling my employer that I couldn't do heavy lifting--which was why I quit).  Maybe I've gotten some of these events out of order because honestly, they are now just one big blur of the "two wasted years" of my life.  But during those two years, I was thinking about North Greenville College--a college I had heard about that second summer at Ridgecrest.  As soon as I heard the name of that school, I knew I'd go there someday.  But it wasn't time yet.  And I figure that while I could have done a LOT more with those two years, they weren't really as wasted as I make them out to be.

When I dropped out of my first college, it was because I realized that I wasn't going for the right reasons.  Some people know what they want to do, who they want to be, where they want to go at the age of 18.  I just wasn't one of those people.  I went to college the first time around because it was expected of me.  I knew everyone wanted me to go, and since I didn't really want to be there for any particular reason, I figured I'd just go to class and simultaneously try to find a nice guy who wanted to be a pastor, fall in love, and live happily ever after just being a pastor's wife.  That didn't happen, and two years into college, I was through pretending that it was going to happen.  So I dropped out because I was wasting time and (my parents') money not going anywhere.

And two years after I dropped out, I did go to North Greenville.  I went because I'd spent two years trying to figure out what it was I wanted to do and what God wanted me to do, and not just doing what other people expected.  When I went to NGC, I wasn't a clueless 18 year old.  I was a 22 year old who knew herself a lot better and who had at least an idea of what she wanted.  I still didn't know everything I wanted out of life.  I still didn't even really know what I wanted to do career-wise (does anyone EVER really figure that out?  Maybe...?).  But I knew I wanted an education.  I'm STILL paying for it, but I got that education.  Those years were NOT wasted.

There are times when I do end up (for whatever reason) watching a room full of kids of various ages all by myself.  It's never an ideal situation, but the difference now is that I'm mature and experienced enough to handle it if it happens.  I went from being someone who could barely hold down a job to someone who has worked the same job for almost 6 years.  I look back 6 years ago and laugh, because it was my original goal to just be able to say that I'd worked the same place for one year.  Things are a lot better than they were a decade ago.

But yesterday, I talked to a 19 year old.  She was telling me about all the things she's accomplished and all the things she wants to do.  And I just remember thinking, "Dang.  When I was your age, I could never have handled all the stuff you've done or want to do."  I remember thinking, "I'm 31 years old and working in a child care center.  That's so much lamer than a 19 year old who's working in a child care center."

And part of me starts really regretting those "two wasted years."  Part of me starts regretting other things I have or haven't done.

The thing about regret is, it doesn't really do much good.  I guess it could be argued that regret might help you make better choices in the future, but sometimes I think you just have to toss regret out the window.  When bad things happen, like terrorist attacks that shake the whole world, it's good to look back and remember.  I'm not saying we shouldn't look back and remember 9/11/01.  We definitely should, because, as I said--how could we forget?

But sometimes when we look too closely at things in the past, or when we look too far back, we neglect to look forward.  And when I was talking to that 19 year old girl yesterday, there wasn't anything redeeming about the internalized pity party I was throwing myself.  Thing is, God is just as in control of my life as He was 10 years ago.  And maybe I'll never understand the things I did a decade ago, just as right now I don't completely understand why I'm working all these jobs and making crappy pay.  I do know that I love the jobs I work.  I love the kids.  I love the people I work with.  And if I don't start worrying too much about others' expectations of me (again), it doesn't occur to me to feel that life is anything besides stinkin' awesome.  I'm blessed far beyond what I deserve.  I love my life.  And because God is in control, I have so much hope for the future.

Edit: I got some details wrong, when I really started to think about it.  When I started the job at the daycare on 9/10/01, I had already been a college drop out for a year.  I dropped out after my spring semester in 2000, not 2001.  In 2000, I had my first summer at Ridgecrest, THEN came home and got the aforementioned job at the restaurant.  It was also during this time that I worked that one day at the air compressor factory.  It was after this that I had my second summer at Ridgecrest, found out I liked kids, and then had the miserable experience at the struggling daycare.  Then I had a small breakdown, began working that one hour a week at my church's gym, and started writing my first novel.  But it was less than a year after all that when I began attending NGC. It doesn't truly matter, but I wanted to correct the sequence of things, since my fuzzy memory messed them up the first time I wrote this blog.  Kthx!

P.S. I just realized that I've officially been working on the same novel for a decade.  That makes me feel somewhat depressed, but--gotta keep looking forward!

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