54: Make Yourself Your Own Heroine

I’m sitting at the Starbucks on Main, which is by far the coolest coffee shop in Hendersonville. Some would beg to differ because there are two other stand alone Starbucks here, and they are perfectly fine and routinely the same, but the atmosphere just doesn’t compare. There’s something about sitting down at this location and at these tables and opening my laptop; it’s quiet, traffic flows at a slower and steady pace, and so it’s relatively calm. We used to live a few blocks down, which makes this particular Starbucks a novelty.

Gallatin—which socially and economically bleeds so heavily into Hendersonville that we might as well incorporate one way or the other—has Umbra, a locally owned and severely cool coffee shop on the square. The existing structure has been refurbished, which gives the entire atmosphere a satisfying mix of trendiness and old world charm. Their coffee is reasonably priced and comes with pretty designs in the foam. I have spoken with the barista a few times, and I immediately fell in love with her attitude and zest. There is a chance I would abandon Starbucks completely if a place like Umbra was a few blocks from home, and I secretly admire the owners of the cute bungalows that line the downtown city streets and along the greenway. But for now, I will enjoy my ultra suburban lifestyle in this ultra suburban southern town, and I will save my fancy coffees for dates with friends and an escape from the norm. For work, I frequent this favorite nearby location of my favorite chain.

Hendersonville has a small stop and go coffee shop called Kávé Express. As far as I know, it is locally owned and has its own mass following that has either taken a hiatus from, or generally does not like the corporate dominance Starbucks has on the world of all things coffee…and Frappuccinos…and cake pops for the kids in the backseat when mom needs to re-juice in the minivan, which is quite often my story. I have tried Kávé a few times, but I have never been able to fall in love with it. I’ll take the tastebuds of opposing friends as reason enough to believe that, if you like their coffee, you probably love it, but if you don’t like their coffee, you probably won’t ever understand what it is people love about it.

Today I’m at Starbucks without the kids, so hold the cake pops, or in my case with older children, their own $5 coffees. I’m doing things a little differently these days:  I’m making myself a priority. And so, here I sit, completely alone, carving out time every week to devote to myself. For the majority all of my life, I have put other people first. I have four biological children, but I technically have five children all together. I practically raised my younger brother who is now thirty and living in Chicago with his wife; they are in the stage of life he refers to as “The IKEA Stage”. They don’t have any children, but when they do, I will gladly take on the role of grandmother…of my grandchild…who was birthed by the wife of my younger brother who is merely eight years younger than me. We have to somehow carry the torch for our unconventional family. My friend adopted her niece, and she refers to herself as Aunt Mommy. You know, Aunt Granny kind of has a ring to it.

I have been a writer since about the same time Zac came into the world and I first became a mother. I was eight-years-old, and writing has since become my escape into a world where I have a sense of identity and strength outside of myself that can propel me into wonderful worlds doing incredible things. Today I write memoir and study journalism, but in those days I was a tireless fiction author. I would fill pages taking my protagonist through suspenseful crime stories. She had to do things like solve the murder mystery of her fiancé whom she had suspected all along was involved in a plot to take control of his company. My heroine was always fierce and passionate, a lover of truth and justice, and an honest person people could count on to sweep in and save the day. I wanted to be her when I grew up, so I wrote about her effortlessly in different lives and in different scenarios. Sometimes she was a mother, but at other times, she was a private investigator who unraveled mysteries and (in my curious teenage years) found exotic love. If my mother had set an example of balance in motherhood and work-life, I probably would have written my heroine into both roles, but in those days it was pick and choose.

A few weeks ago I started taking journalism courses to continue expanding off blog, off Facebook (I do love Facebook, though.), and out into the world of larger stories beyond myself. I don’t quite have the skillset to go about all of this just yet (but I will). In true Caroline fashion—a process that never lacks in spontaneity, or follows a typical textbook path—I’m crafting my own degree. It is without concluding papers and ceremonies; however, it is thorough, useful, and the classes are taught by professors from one of the top journalism schools in the country, some of whom are professionals in the business. I also have a few mentors whom I refer to as my Yodas, and without their guidance, I would still be wandering a little more lost than I am today.

So far so good, and I fully expect this entire professional development path I have crafted  to transpire exactly one day at a time and into a future I can’t claim to see clearly. This is HUGE for me. Typically by now, I would have already seen five years down the road, assumed complete failure, and quit, but I’m not doing typical anymore. Typical bores the shit out of me and gets me nowhere. To change my trajectory, I need to do things differently and authentically and both of those two things with a ton of confidence, so much confidence that I learn how to fake it when I don’t quite have it all together just yet (but I will). At the same time, I need to try really damn hard not to overthink things.

I’m good at writing about myself, and in fact, I think the required skillset to do so is to simply slink away into your own mind and allow the words to spill out onto pages. (That’s what I’m doing now.) I don’t find it difficult to find some kind of arrangement for this type of writing; it comes naturally the way remembering to ride a bike feels. If I haven’t written in a while, I’m a little wobbly at first, but I get the hang of it rather quickly. Back when I started this blog, I took a leap of faith to write what a dear friend at the time called my voice, a term I knew and something I thought I had, but I didn’t realize how much I was holding back until he critiqued those earliest posts with love and honesty. Those were days I spent in this same Starbucks, hammering away and gaining perspective and encouragement, but I was aiming at something different then. I knew who I was and what I wanted in life, but I kept it hidden and compressed for so long that when it finally burst out, it was a big, fantastic, and lovely mess that exploded all along the seams. For the first time, I did what I needed to do for me, following my heart and my desires, knowing what I needed to fulfill in myself, in the process letting go of toxic friendships that pulled me down and instead filling those spaces with people with whom I connected deeply and whose existence gave life a greater meaning. It’s funny how when you finally come to the realization of who you are and what you need, the universe attracts to you that which you need to gain in order to stand a little taller and speak a little louder, to know you’re worth something, a light in the world and holding the capability to empower yourself by dreaming big and then figuring out how to make it come true.

It’s been more than a year since I have come to this Starbucks to take myself seriously. Back then I was scared and confused. I was in a marriage that made me miserable and I desperately needed to put myself first for a change. A move and another move and another baby later, I have stood my ground facing none other than myself. Here I sit in a room more empty than before, but still full of possibility. For the first time in my life, I have a solid direction to move in, and the best part is that it’s a direction I have mapped out exclusively for me.

Now, hold on, I know what you may be thinking:  “But you’re a mom and a wife. How selfish!” And I would respond, “Yes, and I am, but I’m also a writer.” I’m tending to my loves, but also to my first love, without I would have surely sank all of those years ago under the pressures of taking care of a young boy ascending into manhood—the years I wasn’t physically around him, coaching him over the phone, as I do now, when he stumbles and needs support along his way.

My girls think this whole thing about mom going to “school” and working is incredibly cool, and they are my biggest supporters and sources of encouragement these days. I look at all three of them (and my little boy), and I know that I want to set an example for them, to model what it looks like to take your life and make yourself your own heroine.