Watching my three older kids become young adults has been hugely rewarding, and of course, leaves me a little wistful for their childhood days. Olivia, our oldest at 23, is now living and working in Bogota, Colombia, after being awarded a Fulbright fellowship to teach English at a prestigious national university. After completing his sophomore year studying abroad in Salzburg, Austria, and traveling independently throughout Europe, Nico is now back at the University of Portland, excited and focused about his newly declared major in Political Science. Erica, ever the free-spirit, has decided to forego college and is getting her real life education working a full-time job, living with housemates and (largely) paying her own expenses. They are, for the most part, “adulting.” Not long ago, Olivia asked me what I was doing in my life at her age. I thought about it and realized that my own experience at “adulting” looked very different from hers.
When I was 23 I was working at my third full-time job in the 18 months since I graduated from college. My first two jobs, a receptionist in a commercial production company, and a mailroom clerk for a major television network, left me uninspired, bored, and with little income. I lived with my parents throughout college and continued to live with them after graduation, but my $250 a month car payment, gas, insurance and all my personal expenses, rapidly cut into my $800 per month paycheck. When a local television network called and offered me a job making a whopping $320 per week as a production secretary, I jumped at the opportunity. With the extra money and chance to do some real television production, I finally felt that I was launching my life.
One year later, in an even bigger leap into adulthood, I plotted my escape from my parents’ house and made the fateful decision to marry my college boyfriend. I loved him enough and we had similar interests so I ignored the doubting voice in my head and dismissed it as pre-wedding jitters. Looking back, I realize that the marriage was a way for me to break away from my parents and assert myself as an independent woman. I find it ironic that I subconsciously believed I had to marry in order to declare my autonomy. Our newlywed years were marred by sadness and loneliness because I was often left alone, missing my family while my husband worked day and night launching his own business. Four years later, when I found out those long work hours also involved my husband’s extra-marital affairs, I immediately filed for divorce. I escaped that marriage a little wiser, a little older, and feeling more liberated. With a marriage and divorce between my parents’ house and my new life, I was firmly planted into ADULTHOOD.
Perhaps that is why I chose not to return to live with my parents when they offered me a place to live while I mended my bruised heart and ego. Instead, I lived in a series of sub-let apartments while I re-invented my life and applied to law school. When the sub-let apartments dried up and as I was faced with an enormous amount of law school student debt, I moved in with my then boyfriend for the first year of law school. My last two years of law school I lived with a classmate, juggling school, a part-time job and my relationship with my boyfriend. After law school and passing the bar, I married and I landed a job in a small law firm. Finally, I was making enough money to pay my student loans, buy a house with my husband, and indulge in some adult-scale luxuries.
One of those luxuries was the purchase of my first “real” piece of art. Our law firm had a local school district as one of its clients, and some of the attorneys became friends with the teachers and administrators. A teacher at the school district was also an accomplished artist who painted in one of my favorite styles of Mexican folk art. My colleague offered to host an art show to help him further his art career. I attended the show and fell in love with one of the paintings. The work, entitled “Tres Mujeres” (Three Women) with its bright colors, bold lines and feminine images made me feel happy and nostalgic.
Even though I was making a decent salary, I had a $900 monthly law school loan payment, and paying over $300 for a piece of art was a real indulgence. I splurged and brought home my new symbol of adulthood. My husband loved the painting too and we proudly displayed it in our newly painted dining room.
The painting has become even more meaningful to me since I first bought it. When my second husband and I divorced and we divided up our personal property, I quickly claimed the painting. The painting still hangs in my dining room, but that is one of the only things unchanged since I bought the painting. In this third chapter of my adult life, I am married to Juan, I am almost done raising four kids, and I am excited at the opportunities and challenges as I contemplate my retirement from my legal career and pursue writing.
As I re-launched this blog, I looked around my world and scoured the internet for an image that would be a good representation of me and this blog. I couldn’t come up with anything until Juan looked at the painting and suggested it. Of course! Tres Mujeres. Three women. The woman I have become over the years, through three distinct phases in my life. The painting, purchased when I saw it as a symbol of my ascent into adulthood, has become an image of my own life and a reflection of who I am as my own work of art.