Readers of this column form strong opinions about choices I make in my life. Part of the purpose of writing this column is to give a voice to issues many people consider private. It has been my experience that being open about my humanity — my mistakes even more than my accomplishments — can help others.
A reader of my personal blog recently asked why I don’t make my own almond milk and instead buy the pre-made cartons. The reader was sure it would be more cost effective to make almond milk at home. At first, I laughed with some contempt. Was this person kidding? Making almond milk at home would be a terrible use of my time. Then I realized that for that reader making almond milk would be a good choice. I didn’t reply to the comment with a justification, apology, excuse or argument. I simply pointed out that we make different choices based on what’s best for our unique life situations.
With the far reach of social media, our worlds can expand. We can read about the life experiences of people very different than us or anyone we know well. There are people born biologically male who are actually female. Having black or brown skin can mean living in fear of the police instead of feeling the police are a protective force. There are people who believe enough prayer can make something literally change, such as curing a cancer or saving a marriage.
If we choose to see them, we can encounter lifestyles — online and off — vastly different from our own. How we respond to those differences can break us apart or bring us together.
I decided I had to miss an important conference this week. The day would be a loss of billable work time while clients have deadlines. I can’t afford to miss that work. Also, being a single mother, I need to reserve energy so I have something left to give my children at the end of the day. Despite having a scholarship for the conference, I needed to back out. The administrative coordinator replied, saying she understood completely; she had been a single mother of four young children and knew what it was like. My eyes filled with tears when I read that. How wonderful and warm it felt to know that she really got it. She knew that our choices need to be right for us and that she had sort of “been there” too.
Readers of this column have made amazing assumptions about my life and my choices. That’s OK with me. It’s part of the gig. Readers of this column have a great time bashing my choices, my intelligence, my everything. Again, that’s OK with me. I recognize everyone brings only his or her own life experience to the table. I don’t take it personally.
Right now I’m sitting in a Starbucks as I write this, drinking a peppermint mocha that cost more than $5. For many people working hard to live within limited means, as I am, this choice would be the wrong choice. Readers have picked at the expensive coffee choice as an example of my irresponsibility. Then again, I’ve talked to other single mothers who understand exactly why I’m doing it. It’s the right choice for me.
In fact, laying my cards on the table, knowing one of the consequences will be reader disdain, is part of why I do this. I’m not the only one making mistakes, such as replacing a roof using a credit card. I’m not the only one who has gone through a divorce, bankruptcy and mental health troubles. I’m not the only single mother out there trying to make ends meet. Simply knowing we are not alone can be a gift. I know I’ve helped some people feel less alone, and they’ve certainly done the same for me.
Heather Denkmire is a writer and artist who lives in Portland with her two young daughters. After a few challenging years, she is growing her small business, where her team helps nonprofit organizations win grants. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Her columns appear monthly.