I joined the military at the age of eighteen and also had my first baby at that young age. These two events I think of as my first steps to growing up. Before then, I worked in McDonald's. Everybody sees the yellow arch, the red and yellow surroundings, the fast food and maybe the smile but not the person who works there. I might just have been anyone saying "Enjoy your meal" or "Have a nice day." I was, and still am, bubbly, friendly and outgoing, but wanted and needed more. My family could not afford to send me to college, but I wanted to extend myself, to learn more, to find out what I could achieve and who I was. But at that time, my life was fun, I was a kid.
I saw the army as an opportunity to do something better. Early experiences of army life were a whole other world, one in which perfection and discipline ruled. Beds with sheets like fresh fallen snow, boots black and shining as tar. Obedience to rules, aching limbs and heavy backpacks, the tools that built physical and mental strength. Best of all was the sense of belonging, the teamwork and the realization that what I did mattered to others, my contribution was valued by my officers, company, division, regiment and country. In a short space of time, I was achieving a wider
But even these exciting discoveries could not compare to giving birth to my beautiful baby. If blood, sweat and tears were put together, then that goes a little way to explaining the experience. The tears were of joy, at such an accomplishment, at creating a life. Labor was nothing anyone could have prepared me for - the pain, volcanic at times, pushing and forcing me towards the hope of a prize. At eighteen years old, I had my first understanding of the meaning of unconditional love, the beginning of mature responsibility. Nothing since has ever quite matched that experience, which made me more aware of the cycle of life and also, how important it was for me to try to be the best for somebody I loved, who depended on me. A squally scrap of humanity captured my heart and opened my mind. It was no longer just about me, I had to sing a different tune now.
In reflecting on myself, I looked at how I was before I took steps to better myself. Even as a young person, I worked hard and did my best in my job. I saw that I also liked to play hard, have fun with my friends, maybe argue with my parents, and in truth, I did not care too much, so long as I had the money to enjoy myself and not to worry about responsibilities. I did not look further than having fun and getting along with everyone. At the same time, I was becoming more aware that I could maybe do better. I knew I was good with people, could always empathize and communicate and that I had a strong will and values around hard work and striving to improve. These parts of me made me search for a way to grow and better myself in life, while searching for independence. They are what made me join the military, which as I said earlier, moved me a little further along the road to becoming a mature and independent woman, not a thoughtless girl, just drifting through life.
Now I believe, I have reached that maturity and independence. I think for myself, I