I awake with a start, groaning inwardly. The slow, melodic alarm gradually increases its pitch and intensity. I check my phone. 5:00 A.M. I can almost feel the icy wind as I curl my toes deeply into the warmth of my bed. Then, that voice inside me reverberates and I propel myself quickly out of bed, feet tapping the cold floor. This draws an annoyed grunt from the other side of the bed. I smile as I pull on my exercise clothing for my 5:30 class.
Some might call it a mid-life crisis. I only know that something inside me shifted. At my 40th birthday party in August, surrounded by the most beloved people in my life, my sister-in-law asked me a question. “How do you want to look back on your 40th year? What do you want to be able to say about it?”
I thought briefly. My eyes got blurry and I nodded slightly, whispering “I survived”.
Twenty years earlier. as a student at the University of Calgary, I sat in MacEwan hall, flipping through the Calgary Sun. I was chatting idly with a group of friends who made the transition from high school to the sprawling grounds of higher learning. We pontificated our spiritual and political views, broaching subjects that we dare not. Youthful bliss. My eyes landed on a bit of sparkle in the midst of the drab editorials. An application for Miss Calgary. “Look at this,” I pointed. Lazily, my finger lolled over the pretty, smiling photo of Miss Calgary 1997. I rolled my eyes, laughing.
“Oooohhh, Julie, yes! You HAVE to!”
I blanched, “Ah yeah, no, don’t think so. Not for me.”
“Come on” my friends chanted at me. “You gotta do it, I’ll be fun. This is totally you!” I looked down at my MEC sweatpants skeptically.
“I dare you,” Jenny taunted at me, eliciting bored looks from our fellow students.
“You dare me?” I replied.
Four weeks later, a stunningly poor performance. Teetering precariously on a set of high heels that were recently wedged in the stage during the “graceful” evening gown competition, a recycled tiara of fake rhinestones was placed atop my head, and a sash flung with flourish across my shoulder. Thus began an adventure that took my life in a whole new direction, including the derailing of my academic life. The trajectory of my life took a complete 180.
The year 1998 was a whirlwind. I automatically went to the national competition and there I won the Canadian crown. From there, I went to Miss Universe, travelled the world, dropped out of school, met Donald Trump, got engaged, shot a pilot in LA, wrote a weekly column for the Calgary Herald, and had the adventure that an 18-year-old could never fathom. I was eons away from that fateful newspaper ad pointed out a scant 8 months prior.
Only three years later I stood staring doubtfully at the grey minivan. Twenty-one is too young to drive a minivan. My sundress accentuated a belly too big for such a young girl; a responsibility too big—a life moving too fast.
I carried a beautiful daughter, whom I conveyed with great delight in a vehicle “too old for a 21-year-old”. Yet, I was happy, eager to be a “great mom.” Full of the hope of what life would bring. Four more minivans followed, and three more sons. And the life that I once envisioned as a high-powered corporate lawyer, or TV anchorwoman, or a print journalist quickly faded into the rear-view. All replaced with sticky fingerprints on my sliding van door. And yet, for all those years gone by, I couldn’t regret one, because now those kids are getting big. That beautiful baby girl is now a beautiful college-girl making her own mark in life.
My husband never felt the need for me to complete my degree. He had a good, stable job. Our kids were busy and needing all the attention I could give. There was “no time.” I agreed with this; I thought it was best at the time. Yet, as I looked at my daughter and the years she had ahead to plot her own course, I couldn’t help but remember my long-suppressed dreams—the ones buried under those soggy Cheerios and half-eaten suckers stuck to that grey matted carpet in the mini-van my husband insisted was the “practical choice”.
When one lives a certain number of years on this earth, they can get lulled. Lulled into a predictable life. Joining the streams of faithful parents in the carpool lines, the Fieldtrip Moms, the classroom helpers. It’s good. These are good things. I acknowledge that many moms would be thrilled to have the time and space to do these things. However, I always felt like a fish out of water.
I think some saw me as standoffish. The truth was that I was shy, and sure that at any moment someone would see past my façade and point accusingly, “She doesn’t belong here! She doesn’t even like the park!”
The truth is, my head was always in the business side of life. I loved the accomplishment of completing a job, learning new things, pouring my mind into business conundrums, and finding solutions. Perhaps it was my feast or famine upbringing by a serial entrepreneur (that man is my hero). Often my husband would smile amusedly while I cornered the business owners for whom he worked: dominating their conversation at those fundraising dinners, curious and trying to learn everything about their businesses, asking endless questions until the salads were long past and the chicken was growing cold on my plate. Entrepreneurs are still my very favorite people.
Like a perfect storm, the desires I had long hidden under my longing to be a “good mom” slowly cycled to the surface. I was offered my dream job. I realized that, although I could perform reasonably well, my drive to perform better and aspire to greater things left me grasping for more. That’s when I found Athabasca.
It wasn’t long before I clicked the “confirm payment” button. But it was my secret. I don’t know if I was embarrassed, self-conscious, worried that I would fail, or that my brain had died from disuse. No one knew about me going back to school until my first visit to my daughter’s college in Vancouver. “I got my first test back,” I told her shyly.
“Mom” she exclaimed, “that’s so awesome!”
My heart squeezed within me. This child—now young woman—so worth the sacrifice of putting that aspect of my life on hold, she saw the value in what I was doing.
But now the house is still quiet when I return home at 6:45am. A few minutes to pray before I wake my kids for the day ahead. Once they are at school, my schooling begins. With school, work, and growing kids, my life is full. There aren’t enough hours in the day, so I’ve started waking up earlier to accomplish everything. Thinking back to the question my sister-in-law asked at my 40th birthday earlier this year, I am struck by how different my answer would be now. “What would I say about my 40th year?” Opportunity. Determination. Rebirth. It’s all happening, and I am grateful beyond words.