At 38, I got my first divorce. I found myself a “displaced homemaker” as defined by The Department of Social Services in Wayne County, NY. I was out of my home, with 4 children in tow, and nowhere to go. The circumstances are complicated, but that’s where things stood. Suddenly, I was in the midst of a great new adventure. At least, that’s how I tried to make it look to the kids. "Oh, boy, we get to find a new home and mom gets to have some sort of training, which is what they do when you are a 'displaced homemaker.'"
Sometimes, for the sake of your children, you have to accept graciously what you cannot change. Make it count
With the counsel of my good bishop, I gave us one year of "charity." We got a decent place to live, some food stamps, and the opportunity to be trained in something new.
Take advantage of every opportunity to educate yourself and think outside the box
My first contacts told me to pursue my education as a hairdresser or cook. Those are great professions, but you don't have to get boxed in because of your gender. When they asked me what sort of training I would like, my response was immediate. Without having to think, I blurted out, “I want to be a carpenter.” The reason for this was that I had two uncles in North Carolina who were master cabinetmakers. I would sit and gawk at the lovely pieces of furniture they would craft, and I was in complete awe. I wanted to do that. So, before I knew it, I was enrolled in the local Vo-Tech learning how to use powerful tools. I attended this class in jeans, steel-toed work boots and flannel shirts. We studied our lessons and read from books then we got to build things. I mean to tell you, real things for real people. We built an attached garage for one family. We built a wood foundation for another. (Author’s note: Did you know that 1” of wood = 12” of cinderblock as far as insulation goes? See, Mr. S? I remember.) We replaced windows, put on roofs and installed an electric garage door opener. The best part was that I was in a class with 15 16-year-old boys and one very possessive 16-year-old girl.
Learn in and outside of school. This can be a time of unprecedented personal growth
I learned that I could learn
I learned about so much more than wood that year. I learned about interpersonal relations. I learned about standing up for myself. I learned to look people in the eye. I learned that I could measure and make a cut within 1/64th of an inch. More importantly, I learned that I could learn. My self-esteem, which was pretty much in the toilet from 17 years in an oppressive marriage, rose like a barometer in an approaching storm. The best part? I got asked to prom!
This can be a springboard for greater things in life
Years later, what I learned about myself in that little shop, allowed me to enter the college classroom as an older adult. There, I took a variety of classes and learned that I could retain more than water. I loved attending with the myriad of adults, a full-spectrum of ethnicities, a huge span of ages, all of us there to learn.
Find joy in the learning and the journey
I continued my education both in and out of the classroom. I learned about personal toughness, and how I can endure pain and find joy. Though, it is the toughest work around I learned how to make life work post-divorce as a single mom.
What began as a year of despair turned into one of the greatest years of my life. I still use my carpentry skills, both for myself and friends. I gained an unquenchable thirst for learning and take every opportunity to learn something new each day.
When my year was up, I marched, head up, into Social Services and declined further assistance. Because of what I learned that year, I was able to work and support my family. Because of that year, I am stronger. I am a survivor.