I grew up without a hometown. As the eldest child of an active duty military pilot, much of my childhood was spent moving from state to state, wherever my dad was transferred. I was born in Hawaii in 1985, but by the time I was two we were out of the tropical paradise and back to the mainland. After my parents’ divorce in 1998, my mom, my two siblings, and I finally settled in Colorado.
Before the divorce, my dad was an elusive being, not quite by choice, but by necessity as the military shipped him off for months at a time. But after the divorce, he became more like a mirage — within our grasp, but still so far away. We would see him on breaks and holidays, then eventually, barely at all.
With my dad elsewhere and my mom busy trying to provide for us, I helped raise and nurture my little sister Kylie, who has Down syndrome. Despite her condition, Kylie was a lovely girl. She liked sparkly things, the color purple, and singing. Because my sister developed cognitively slower than other children, she never learned the alphabet or how to write, but if you turned on a karaoke machine, then she would light up and dance. Having to help care for her forced me to grow up faster, and from her I developed a deep empathy in my heart to understand all people at their core, why people act and think the way they do.
I know my family loved me, but there was always a distance forged by our own busy lives. It led me to vow — very early in life — that when I had children, I would create a stable family for them. They would never feel ignored, and no matter the distance (though I didn’t plan on having any), they’d never question my love for them. I promised myself that I would be better.
As I got older, I wanted to better understand how my sister functioned, why people treated her the way they did, and how I could better relate to her. Not only did I just want to better understand my sister, but really, all people. Why does that woman look at my sister with scornful eyes? Why does that man pick at his nails when he’s nervous? I craved to know the ins and outs of humans, what makes them tick and cry and smile in the ways that they did. This eventually, along with a lingering desire to help others, led me down the path to psychology. I believed if I understood people then I could become a better person.
I graduated with my Bachelor’s in Psychology in 2005 and began working in property management as I figured out what I wanted to do next. In 2009, a new path unfolded before my eyes. With all this knowledge of people, I’d make a great writer! I dove into an English program and paddled like a pro, finding a passion for literary analysis where I could pick apart the meaning of literature and understand its writer.
Everything seemed to fall into place. I started seeing a handsome guy on campus and I flourished in my classes. After graduating with my English degree, I made plans to continue my study of literary analysis, I sent in my applications, and awaited the replies from universities. What I wish I’d realized then was that when things seem perfect, you should be suspicious. But I wasn’t.
And so, without warning, I hit a fork in the road around New Years in 2011.
My hands shook as I stared down at the pregnancy test I had taken as I waited for it to give me the verdict: pregnant or not pregnant. With each passing second, I felt more nauseous as I waited for the indicator to reveal my fate. Finally, my heart sunk as the plus sign stared back at me. It wasn’t that I didn’t want a child, of course I did! Just…not now. Not when I was about to start grad school. Not when my boyfriend and I weren’t serious enough to start a family. I couldn’t believe how terrible the timing was! How was I going to get through school pregnant? It was hard enough as a regular student!
Another fear crept in with the news. Would I be able to give my child the proper family stability I vowed to provide if I was in grad school? I felt like crying and screaming all at once. Would the father be willing to step up and help, or would I be raising this baby alone? So much uncertainty loomed in my head.
After speaking with the father, the stress I’d felt buzzing inside began to subside. Thank God, he didn’t run away. Instead, he stepped up to the plate and encouraged me to stay in school. He offered to quit his job and stay home with the baby for the first semester while I worked to balance everything. Knowing that he would be there soothed my nerves. I felt confident that once I graduated, I could give our child the stability I had promised.
I had received an offer to teach undergraduate classes part time accompanied by a hefty stipend from one of my top university choices. The schedule was flexible, so I decided to go for it. Was it going to be hard? Absolutely! But did I do it anyway? You bet! I was determined to finish what I started — with even more purpose now. I was determined to give my child a better life.
Right around the time school began in August of 2012, I had my son. I will say — I would not recommend going through grad school with a newborn, nor do I want to go through it ever again! It was the busiest, most stressful time of my life. I wouldn’t have made it through without the help of my son’s father. I’d go to campus at nine in the morning, and after classes and tutoring I’d trudge home around nine at night. Then I’d catch a few hours of sleep before I’d get woken up to take care of my crying newborn.
Those mid-night wake-ups were the only times I saw my son at the beginning of the program. I was so busy that I wasn’t physically there for some of my son’s wonderful milestones. I didn’t get to watch him wake up in the morning or dress him for the day. We would only meet when the sun had set and he was tucked in his crib. My heart broke each time his father would text me a photo or video of our son. It was another reminder that I wasn’t there. I wasn’t being the mom I promised to be. In my heart, I told myself that I was missing time with him for his own sake, and as soon as I got the chance, I knew I’d be there for him full time. I just had to finish this chapter of my life first.
And I did. I finished grad school and life started settling down. Unfortunately, things between me and my son’s father didn’t quite work out. As we spent more time together, we realized that we weren’t meant to be. Even though I desperately wanted to keep a two-parent household for my son, I realized that a life with parents who were together, but unhappy, was not the stability I wanted for him. I realized that our son would be at his happiest when his parents were at their best. Things may not have worked out for me and my son’s father, but he and I have actively worked to get along and create a strong family unit for our child. The difficult times in my childhood wound up helping me learn how to raise my boy so he could have a better life in ways that I did not.
As time went on and I had more time spend with my son, I realized something else very important. The old and new books of my life were connected! I had spent most of my life trying to understand people and build up my empathy, and now with a child of my own I had a chance to share the wisdom and experiences I’ve had to make sure he was raised with an open mind.
In hindsight, my life had never been halted or lacking. All I had learned and all my experiences had prepared me for this point in my life. And when I realized that, I felt an inner peace.
This is the story of Cortni Merritt
Cortni lives in Florida with her boyfriend and son. Helping take care of her sister with Down syndrome, Cortni grew up with an interest in understanding people and human behaviors, which led her to a degree in Psychology that she later paired with English to help write and analyze people-related topics. After years of studying people, she found her purpose. With a child of her own, she knew it was her duty to share her knowledge and experiences so that she can change the way people with special needs are viewed. In her spare time, Cortni likes to attend belly dancing classes and take new freelance opportunities. She has a certification in editing and publishing which has helped her edit manuscripts and in 2019, she plans to launch a website to showcase her talents. She also hopes to finally publish her novel next year and travel more often.
Life Log #230
This story first touched our hearts on December 6, 2018.
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