by Maria Ruiz
I thought I had a rotten life. I wasn’t a beauty. I wasn’t slim. My husband wasn’t perfect. My kids were typical, horrible and lots of work.
I had gotten pregnant, mostly so I could leave home and start my own family. Little did I realize at eighteen that I would not be a perfect mother myself. I probably scarred my own children at least as much as my parents had scarred me. I certainly wasn’t a perfect wife, which was proved by my divorce after sixteen years. Then, single again, I stumbled through affairs, a few broken hearts, and bouts of fright.
Somehow I found companionship, a couple of really good friends and a new life. It too was complicated by the everyday problems of work, budgets, and life in general.
Finally at age 58 my life companion and I sold everything or gave it away and began a ten-year trip to see as much of the world as we could, on a very tight budget. That meant that we stayed in very low cost hotels, shopped in grocery stores and prepared our own meals. We rented apartments in Spain, Thailand, Kenya, and Argentina. We traveled by local buses, taxis, boats and whatever was going our way.
What I saw around the world opened my eyes. It didn’t matter that I thought my own parents had the parenting skills of a pumpkin. I had parents. I had grown up with three meals a day, a bed to sleep on, and clothes and shoes to wear. Too many children around the world don’t have parents, food, clothes, or a bed.
I saw a three-year-old hauling water up a steep mountain to irrigate the plants. I saw women and children take off their shoes and walk to save the leather. I saw children as young as four working all day weaving carpets in a “Job Training School.” Many children never attend any school. I had gone to school. I attended a junior college and a University in the early years of my marriage.
We saw so many children playing catch with their flip-flops. They can never hope to receive a real ball. One little boy made his own toys out of straw and donkey dung, even the wheels. Toys are for the very rich.
I had chosen the boys to date and the one with whom I had gotten pregnant. So many girls in the world never have that choice. In some countries, the act of speaking with a strange boy can get them killed, an “honor killing.” I married my choice.
My husband applied for a number of jobs and chose one that would support me and the kids. Most places in the world, the boy goes into life doing what his father has done and his grandfather before him. He must not only support his wife and children but his parents and sometimes his grandparents. He has no choice.
I wanted and received a divorce. A very unusual gift in most of the world. I went out and found a job. A priceless thing for a woman to be able to do.
The more we traveled, the more we appreciated the greatness of being American. We had choices. Both males and females in America grow up with choices. We can choose to vote while so many are dying for the chance. We can marry or not, our choice. We choose our friends. We can make of our lives something to be proud of or not, our choice.
It is not the items we can buy in our stores, not the money we have, not the toys we buy for our children that make us American. It is our right to make the choices.
Our dreams may be for more money, health or wisdom but we already have the “American Dream.”