Wednesday, June 14, 2006

It's finally happening.

Many of you know that ever since visiting California to be the flower girl in my Aunt Maria and Uncle Jeff's wedding, I have been enamored with the San Francisco Bay area. Because my grandparents lived in Concord, California while I was growing up, we went back to the area for visits a couple of times. I have wanted to live there since I was eight years old.

When I was 16, our family had a reunion in the Monterrey Bay area. After visiting the aquarium there, I decided I was going to be a marine biologist. (To this day, I still greatly appreciate my uncle Jerry encouraging me in pursuing this dream by taking me to talk with practicing marine biologists at aquariums in North Carolina when we visited his family later that summer.)

I was looking into schools on several coasts. Then at 17, shortly after my family moved to Iowa, I met Sam's dad and was sure I was in love. All of a sudden, the dream of being a marine biologist was put on the back burner while the dream of being a wife and mother moved to the forefront.

I hadn't given up completely on my career dreams, during my first semester at Iowa State University, my plan was to get my undergraduate degree in Biology then head to a coast for graduate school. However, it turned out I didn't really have an aptitude for science. I was failing chemistry (for chemical engineering majors) and ended up dropping the class. Instead, I decided to be a journalism major, hoping to put my insatiable curiosity to good use. Maybe I wouldn't be a marine biologist. But that didn't mean I didn't still feel drawn to the sea. Maybe I could be more of a Jacques Cousteau type person, learning about and appreciating marine animals and sharing what I learned with others.

Somehow upon graduation from college, I ended up working in advertising. I never liked selling things. And while I was involved with many interesting advertising campaigns in the 10 years I worked in the industry and had good jobs that allowed me to provide for myself and Sam, the work was meaningless to me.

When Sam was three, I quit a job in St. Louis and we drove cross country in search of jellyfish and career opportunities near family and the beach. It seems the country was in the middle of a recession and I didn't find anyone in California interested in giving me a job that would allow me the time and money I needed to care for us there at the time. We made the most of it and still feel that experience is one of the most remarkable things I have done in my life. Thank you Aunt Kay for welcoming us.

Remembering back to my days in the journalism school, I know I selected public relations as my area of emphasis because I felt I was a "nice person." I have sense learned that being nice doesn't have much to do with advertising or public relations. Recently, with the support of Sam and Cameron, I have begun pursuing a second career in social services.

After leaving advertising, I spent many long months trying to figure out how to make the transition into a field where I had interest but no practical experience. Eventually, I started a graduate program working towards a masters degree in mental health counseling. I also started volunteering in the call center of the National Runaway Switchboard (1-800-RUNAWAY). Through this organization, whose mission is to keep at-risk youth safe and off the streets, I have received crisis intervention training, been given a direct service opportunity and am allowed to really help people who desperately need it on a regular basis.

In the meantime, while Cameron is providing the bulk of our income, I still needed to bring some money into the household. At the beginning of this school year, I learned that Sam's school was planning to hire people to help some kids with special needs integrate into the school. I was able to meet their job requirements and was offered a job. I was paired with an amazing 11-year-old boy who has Autism. He is an incredible kid with many gifts and just like all of us, he needs a little help from time to time. Being there with him, helping him navigate fifth grade has been a wonderful way to make a living this year.

I became so interested and engaged in what was happening at the school and consumed with wanting to learn more about how to better do what I was doing every day that I decided to put grad school on hold and take advantage of the free training I was being offered on how to work with people who have Autism and to study sign language. One of the deaf schools for Chicago is housed in Sam's schools. I had direct interaction every day with beautiful children who were trying to communicate with me. I wanted to be able to understand and respond to them.

Between my work at school, being a newlywed and mother, I didn't feel I was able to give grad school my full attention. Also, I enjoyed the schedule of my workin the school so much and saw so many kids in need of someone to take an interest in them that I began to consider shifting my grad school focus to being a counselor in the schools. The person who is doing what I would call counseling at Sam's school is actually a licensed social worker. I wanted to take some more time and be sure I was in the right program before investing more time and money towards a degree.

So that is what I've been up to lately. In the meantime, Cameron was offered an opportunity to relocate with his company to their San Francisco office. His supervisor and another primary member of his department's team are housed there. He has much respect and rapport with both of them. We know the area is considerably more expensive than Chicago but he was offered a sizable increase and we've decided it is worth it. He has accepted the offer and at the end of the school year, we are getting into a U-Haul truck and driving 2200 miles to our new home.

Hence the heading, it is finally happening. Dreams can come true. I will turn 34 in a couple of weeks. For my birthday and our anniversary, my husband is giving me a new life in California. I have already talked to people who are looking for "counselors" to work with very young kids who have been diagnosed with Autism, in their homes, implementing the ABA methodology. I'm impressed with what I've learned about ABA and the potential it has to greatly improve a child's functioning. I've also applied for the opening they have for a special education paraprofessional (the job I've held this year) at the school district we are planning to move into.

We've been focusing primarily on Marin County. When Sam and I spent time with Aunt Kay in Walnut Creek five years ago, I found myself driving into the city and out of it again across the Golden Gate Bridge to explore the area near Muir Woods and the National Marine Sanctuary off Point Reyes most often. Sam and I saw a whale the last time we were there.

I really love Big Sur too. In Marin County, we'll be less than 200 miles from Lake Tahoe and Yosemite .

It looks like we will end up in Tiburon. From there, all of the nature we long to be close to is right in our back yard. I'm learning about new amazing natural wonders in the area every day. And, the city is easily accessible by bus or even ferry.

We are very impressed with the middle school and junior high schools in Reed County. We haven't made our mind up about high schools yet. One is very impressive and we just don't know that much about the others yet but since Sam is just starting fourth grade next year, we have time.

I will have money coming in through the summer from the job I worked this year. That will allow my some time to take care of Sam during the break from school and get us situated and acclimated. I hope to find meaningful work and wait a year to establish residency and investigate grad school programs then dive back into one in the fall of '07. Who knows what adventures life will bring?

Thanks so much for the friendships, kindness, love and support you have shown me in my life. I appreciate you. I hope wonderful things are happening in your world and am always interested in hearing what you and your family have been up to. I'm sorry I am not always good at maintaining communication. Just trying to find my way. Please know you are important to me.

Much love,

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi Mary, its me Yvette, remember me from Chicago, lol. Wow, Mary what an adventure you are having, I love it, I can't wait to read more. Good luck on the job search out there, who ever hires you will gain an incredible asset and loving person to their team.