We’d been married just a few weeks the first time I heard that expression. I don’t even remember where I wanted to go or what I wanted to do. I just remember standing in our bedroom. He was near the closet, about to pull a shirt from a hanger. He was wearing a thread bare, old, plain white T-shirt and was glaring at me, his veins bulging on his muscular arms. “It’s my way or the highway. You make the decision!” We hadn’t even been arguing. I just asked a question that he apparently didn’t like.
Perhaps it was a test. If so, I flunked. Or, passed depending on your perspective. I chose his way. And, then, I spent the next sixteen years choosing his way. No, make that seventeen.
After he left us I had no idea how to provide for myself and my children. He had left me with all of the debt, no income, and was racking up a high cell phone bill each month in my name. This man with a second grade reading level somehow hacked into my bank account, the children’s bank accounts, and my cell phone account. My cell phone company sent me a text notifying me of the change in administrator, or who knows what havoc he may have wreaked before I realized what was going on.
I’d had a decent job, working from home, ten years earlier but had “retired” at his insistence. I was thrilled to be with my children full-time, but now it presented a problem. My former career path had become extinct in the decade I spent cleaning house, cooking, nursing babies, and catering to him. And, now I found activities of daily living difficult. I was a mere six months out from my initial “episode,” which appeared to be a transient ischemic attack (sort of like a mini-stroke). I wasn’t in any condition to pound the pavement looking for work.
My children have always been home-schooled and have never been in daycare. I’ve been their sole caregiver, teacher, mentor, and counselor, much to his chagrin. He was insanely jealous of my relationship with our children. I didn’t want to put them in the foreign world of daycare and school and be away from them all day. That would please him greatly though.
It seemed that everyone I knew had a job connection for me, most of them barely above minimum wage and were typical 8 to 5 shifts. I wanted to scream. Did these well meaning folks stop to consider that, with those hours, every dime I made would go to daycare? And, with no family, who was going to take my older boys to and from school? School–the private Christian school where I could get a scholarship to pay for half of the tuition, and I would only have to volunteer a couple of hours each week after I got home from working on my feet all day. Others had decided for me that was a wonderful solution to the schooling issue.
With that kind of social pressure and the financial vise squeezing tighter and tighter, I did it. I put my babies in daycare and got a J-O-B. Sure enough, almost all of my earnings went to gas and daycare. I was exhausted, strung out, and my symptoms were consistently worsening.
As summer drew to a close, it also became evident that I didn’t have enough money left over after daycare, gas, and bills to pay even half of the tuition at the private school. I knew the boys would have to leave the security of all things familiar and go to public school.
I began to deeply resent the fact that he was gone but was still determining the outcome of my life. He made desirable choices for himself and, thereby, greatly limited, or completely removed, my ability to choose. I began to deeply resent my friends and church members who had such simple solutions for my complex problems.
Then, it hit me. I remembered saying long ago, before I married him, when I was a single mom to three small children, that if I had it to do over again I would just keep cleaning houses and be there for my children. I’d been happy in that station. My under-employed mother and my unemployed brother, however, had convinced me all those years ago that I needed to go back to school and get a better job–for the children’s sake. I woke up two years later to find myself working swing shift full-time at the local hospital and going to school full-time during the day while my mother and brother controlled my children’s upbringing. And, I paid them for doing it.
It would be a bold move, but I seriously considered quitting my ten hour a day J-O-B to continue home-schooling my boys. I prayed and prayed, and the little ones’ daycare suddenly announced it was closing. I took it as a sign, and I quit.
It was liberating! Not just in that I no longer spent all of my energy, time, and self on that clinic, but in that I had made a decision for myself. I made a decision based upon what I felt to be best for my children and for me.
I’m still broke and it is difficult to squeeze schooling in to only three days a week, but that was my decision. We are home-schooling nonetheless. I’m the one raising my children, not a stranger. I love the people I clean for on those two days a week, most of them have become my dearest and closest friends. And, I’m writing again, which breathes life into me. These were MY choices. And, his choices did not determine mine.
He chose to take the highway, and I have chosen to do things my way.