About a month ago I finished my last fulltime semester of law school and it hit me that
I did it.
To be honest, I was quite taken back by the overwhelming emotion. I was expecting it when I graduated but not then. The truth is I think my life slowed down just enough for it to sink in (thanks covid). I was up, like usual, after everyone in my house had gone to bed. Out of habit I was preparing to start homework, work, and household tasks into the wee hours of the morning. But this evening was different. I looked around my house and realized I did not have the immense workload to tackle. My house was beautifully decorated for Christmas. In a rare occurrence the laundry and dishes were all caught up, work was stable, and I had no schoolwork to do. Then it hit me…like a freight train. I felt this overwhelming deep breathe go all the way through my body and into my soul. With the release of that breathe the weight I had not realized I had been carrying was lifted and the tears started flowing. In the light of Christmas decorations, I was standing in my kitchen crying uncontrollably. I can only describe it to you as utter relief.
As I stood in my kitchen crying, I started to process this overwhelming feeling that I least expected. Why did it hit me so hard? Why did it hit me now? I still have 2.5 classes left of law school and a bar exam to pass. Yet, I knew that I did it at that very moment. It was a night I will never forget. It was a night of raw emotion and pure relief that I experienced alone with the magic of Christmas surrounding me. I walked over and sat in a chair by our Christmas tree. As I sat there, I thought about what I did. And I did something I do not normally do – I thought about myself. I thought about my journey to where I was that very day. How did I get here?
My journey has been anything but typical. I had a dream childhood raised alongside my brother by parents who loved us and surrounded by family and friends. It was not until high school that my classic American life would hit turmoil with the biggest bomb dropping my senior year. At just seventeen (17) years old, I was pregnant. I graduated from Rosati Kain High School in May of 2003 and two months later my world changed dramatically and for the better. On July 23, 2003, I had my first baby, Kyle. At barely eighteen (18) years old, I stared down at my perfect infant and felt my heart swell. It was a love like no other. A love that grows stronger just when you think it cannot possibly. A love that makes you vulnerable. A love that empowers you like no other. On that day, my love for Kyle gave me relentless determination and drive. I was not delusional. I knew as a young single mother my road was not going to be easy or smooth. But the love I had (and still have) would give me the strength I needed to succeed. I knew if I did nothing else in this world, being a good mom would be enough.
After having Kyle, I took a semester off college and worked full time. In 2004, I took a second job and started working part time for an attorney, Jon Fortman. Part time quickly turned into full time and I have been there ever since. Over the years I had attended college here and there but never finished my degree. I had many attorneys that we worked with (and against) along the way mention to me that I would be a good attorney or that I was already better than most attorneys they worked with. I took the compliments with no further thought. At some point those comments evolved to “You really should go to law school.” Like before I would not think much of it other than “maybe in another life.” By that point, I had gotten married to my husband, Todd, and had another beautiful baby, Kinley. Kyle was involved in every sport and activity imaginable, including travel hockey. Needless to say, my calendar was full. But they kept pressing me, particularly Jon. Then one day in 2012 Jon said to me “You know I am going to want to retire one day, right?” and it hit me. I do not want to work for anyone else. Over those last eight (8) years we had established a successful law practice, conquered battles in our personal lives, and most importantly built a friendship. To be honest, he was one of my best friends (still is). It was at that point that my wheels started turning…Could I really go to law school? Should I? HOW?
I knew the first step was I had to complete my bachelor’s degree. I would need that even if I chose not to go to law school. So, in August of 2013, I began classes online at Western Governor’s University (WGU) to obtain a bachelor’s degree. I registered full time with an expected graduation date in July of 2017. I completed all my classes, along with various certifications and recognitions of excellence, and graduated almost a year early in June of 2016. During my last year at WGU, I added a third beautiful baby, Kane, to our family. Kyle was keeping me busier than ever and Kinley now had her own schedule of activities. My calendar was even more full. Now what do I do? I looked back at my calendar and at my kids’ faces and thought “not now.” I decided to take a year and I will reassess then.
A year went by and I once again had to wrestle with the decision to go to law school or not. Filled with doubt and anxiety I decided I would at least apply. I might not even make it in. I applied to SLU School of Law in late 2017 for admission in fall of 2018. The weeks went by until I got a letter that I had been placed on a waitlist. While I was slightly disappointed, I was also relieved. More weeks went by with no admission letter. Then one day about three (3) weeks before school was supposed to start, I got a call from SLU. The lady on the other end excitedly told me that I had been accepted to SLU Law with scholarships. (insert silence) As she is questioning whether I am still on the line, I stammer out “This fall?”. She said yes. Still stunned at what was happening, I asked her if it was at all possible to “save” the admission for the next year to which she said no. It was a very awkward phone call. So much so I apologized to her later. I felt terrible that she was so excited for me and I was, well, not.
Now I was faced with a huge decision with very little time to make it. I had a massive line up of reasons not to accept my admission. I talked with the Dean and some prior law school students. I explained my situation to each of them and asked them a million questions including the ultimate question…Do you think I can do this? The each responded with “I don’t know” or “It is going to be very difficult.” It is not every day that a fulltime working mother of three active children goes to law school full time as well. To be honest, I did not know if I could do it either. I was coming up with every reason not to. Ultimately, I was terrified. Terrified of failing as a mother, wife, daughter, friend, etc… How am I going to balance everything while competing against the other students for my grades? Full of doubt and anxiety I talked with those who know me best. I asked each of them to be honest with me. Do you think this is a good idea? Should I do this right now? Can I do this? They each said yes. They told me you will always have reasons not to go, but if anyone can do this, you can. With that (and before I lost my courage), I called SLU back and accepted my entry. From that point forward, I put my foot on the gas and cut all the brake lines.
Over the next almost three (3) years, I would have to pull off the balancing act of the century. I may be going to law school, but I was a mother first and foremost. I was determined to keep my kids’ life as normal as possible. I would be at all the games and practices, school events, help them with homework, and tuck them in bed (the little ones anyway). My schoolwork could wait until I had a minute. And I used every minute of every day. It was not unusual to find me on the sidelines of a field or at an ice rink with a book in hand. Stops in play meant time to read and study. I did most of my work at night though. After everyone went to bed, I would start a load of laundry and dishes and get everything ready for my family for the next day. Then I would pull out my books and computer and work until the wee hours of the morning (usually 1 or 2 am). Once I was done, I would get a couple of hours of sleep and wake up to hit the ground running at 5 or 6 am. I realize now that I was so busy that I barely had time to breath. In fact, my “I did it” night felt like the first real breath since fall of 2018.
But if you think I did it alone, you are wrong. I never would have been able to do it without an amazing support system. As much as I tried, I could not make every event or do everything on my own even if I slept zero (0) hours a day. Therefore, I had to do one of the things I hate the most – ask for help. I am blessed to have so many people in my life that did not hesitate to help me. Whether it was transporting my kids to school or taking Kyle out of town for his hockey games or doing a load of laundry or sending me a picture of Kinley’s reading at mass or smiling at me and encouraging me. Every little to big thing helped me get to this point. The point where I realized I did it. I managed to make it through law school without destroying my children, my marriage, my friendships, and my sanity. While some of it waivered (particularly my sanity) most of it flourished. So, as I saw in that chair in the light of the Christmas season, with tears flowing and the most grateful heart, I knew…
WE DID IT.