At a young age, I learned countless lessons through simple observations in life. Many lessons profoundly influenced on me, molding me into the person I am today.
At three years old, my mother became a foster parent to a colicky six-week old baby named Tim who had burned through five foster families in six weeks. Mom was his sixth foster parent, but as a Special Education professional, she was up for the challenge. I noticed Tim would stiffen his body for long periods as he cried. “It’s likely he’s not used to being held,” Mom said to me.
Mom figured out that the poor little baby was allergic to milk, and soon a strong bond formed between them. When we adopted Tim, it was a sudden change to go from being an only child to being a big sister, but I learned that a mother’s love for her child knows no boundaries. It is one of the most precious things offered in this world, and through my mother’s love, Tim was destined to become a part of our family.
When I was six years old, my dad left us and my parents divorced. I recall the countless times my brother and I sat outside, suitcases all packed, eagerly waiting for my dad to pick us up for the weekend. Most of the time, Dad didn’t show up, and it was excruciatingly painful to be abandoned over and over again. I learned that even though we may love someone and desperately need love back, we have to find ways to cope if the love isn’t reciprocated.
A mother’s love for her child knows no boundaries.
Later that year, my brother almost died during one of our weekends with Dad. Tim got hit on the head with a horse shoe and I remember the panic I felt when he began to bleed profusely. Dad seemed slow in responding to his medical needs and wouldn’t call Mom. He lived far from the hospital and decided to drive my brother there, rather than calling for an ambulance. It was one of the most frightening and awful moments of my life. I felt helpless and terrified to lose my brother.
Even though we may love someone and desperately need love back,
we have to find ways to cope if the love isn’t reciprocated.
Tim ended up with permanent brain damage, and this negatively affected his school performance. It also welcomed endless bullying from other children. Every time Tim was given a hard time, I felt ashamed as if I was somehow responsible for what had happened to him. Maybe had I known how to contact an ambulance or how to contact my mom, things could have turned out better for Tim.
At six years old, I realized I needed to be an adult, or at least be as smart as one. I never wanted to be unprepared again. I knew it would be better to be in control and have a better chance of survival than to leave life in the hands of an unreliable person.
Later, my brother was diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), which may have been caused by the head injury or the injury could have contributed to his condition. His symptoms were severe, and we learned that medication only made matters worse…he hallucinated. His special needs took quite a toll on our family.
It would be better to be in control and have a better chance of survival than to leave life in the hands of an unreliable person.
I watched my mom struggle from day to day trying to juggle the demands of being a special needs and single mother. We would drive across town to purchase two-day old bread, and have to move out of apartments when the rent would increase. Tim and I were never in one school district for very long because of all the moving we’d have to do.
In addition to working in Special Education, Mom took on other odd jobs to subsidize the rent by cleaning our apartment complex’s public bathrooms. While other girls may have been playing in their bedrooms filled with toys and Barbie dolls, I babysat my brother as we tagged along with Mom. She always taught me, “Nothing in life comes for free. Whatever you want, you gotta work hard for it…you gotta earn it.”
Through it all, I can honestly say I never felt like we were poor, and I never felt uncared for by my mother. She was amazing at meeting my needs although most attention rightfully went to my brother. But I’ll never forget the day I watched Mom cry as she scrubbed feces off the back wall of the public bathroom stalls.
Nothing in life comes for free…you gotta earn it.
Seeing her cry forever changed me. I wanted a different life for her and myself. I decided that day that I would work hard and persevere to reach a level of success where work wasn’t oppressive.
These memories and many others laid the foundation of my values. My mother’s unselfish and undying love for us taught me how to love others and put their needs above my own. My mother’s work ethic demonstrated how we must earn the things we want and need in life. And my dad’s negligence taught me of the dire consequences it has on others when we do not take care of those who depend on us.
Work hard and persevere to reach a level of success
where work isn’t oppressive.
I became an overachiever, driven to compete, energized by accomplishment, and addicted to winning. Part of it was because I was still seeking my dad’s approval (of which I never received). I became a natural leader at a young age, ready to take charge and direct others to stretch for and accomplish lofty goals. I also became a very decisive individual, with the enhanced ability to evaluate options quickly in the midst of chaos.
So when my son was born, I followed my mother’s footsteps. Joey became my number one priority. But when Joey was only six weeks old, I had to face the hard fact that being with his dad wouldn’t be in our best interests. Joey had to be raised with the right values and staying married to his dad would only interfere with that.
As an Italian Catholic, divorce was one of the most difficult decisions I had to make in life. But, just as I had learned from my mother when Tim was only six weeks old, the love of a mother knows no boundaries and will sacrifice much just to protect her child.
Another major pivot in life occurred when Joey was only seven years old. I had a thriving career working for a large Fortune 500 corporation, making money hand over fist, but I’ll never forget the day I came home and Joey was crying. He told me I had missed an important event at his school. When I asked him why he didn’t tell me about it, his response was, “Because you’re never home.” Suddenly, the memories of my dad came rushing back to me when I sat on the doorstep of my mother’s house. I never wanted Joey to feel the pain of an uninvolved parent.
The next day I quit my job.
This pivot in life gave me the courage to go down the path of being an entrepreneur. I ventured off on my own to create a brand management, creative services and marketing agency called ReTool Marketing. I wanted to create a livelihood that would allow me to be there for my son when he needed me. I knew that if I worked hard, I could reach a level of success where work wasn’t oppressive. As a result, I’ve center my life around my son while building a company that has thrived for over ten years.
When Joey was ten and had nighttime terrors, I took another chance. I authored and created a children’s educational product, “Bye Bye Monster,” to help other kids in similar situations. The product was featured in Neiman Marcus and still sells today on Amazon. I also recently published another book in February 2016 called “Moolahgy: uncovering the secret cash cow hidden in your brand,” after completing the manuscript in only seven days. My motivation was to offer the branding wisdom I had learned over the years to a wider audience, especially since most entrepreneurs don’t have the resources to hire an agency.
I humbly list these accomplishments only to show that we all can learn from life’s lessons. I've never felt like I've received the short end of the stick. In fact, I've lived a great life and I feel so blessed! I've had great support from my family, including my brother, and each day is a challenge to make it a great day.
Every day we choose. We can build our lives upon our values, and when necessary, make the tough decisions to pivot in a new direction to follow those principles. Some people believe I am an example of courage, but I really see it more as decisiveness and perseverance guided by what’s most important in life. When we let our values guide all of our decisions, life doesn’t necessarily become easier, but the right decisions become much more evident in the midst of life’s complexity.
I’m proud to say that my brother Tim is married and owns his own thriving business. He is the father of a child who was abandoned by his mother. He and I are very close, and he has been a tremendous support in my life. Joey has flown the coup as a freshmen in college. For me personally, I’m entering a new stage in life. I want to focus more time and attention to mentoring others.
In the meantime, I feel it necessary to take this moment to thank my mom for showing me the way. Her hard work never went unnoticed, and it was her resilient love and dedication that helped me be a strong example for Joey.
Kelly Lucente, CEO of Re-Tool Marketing – Minneapolis, MN