In 2008, I graduated from college at the age of 42. What a triumphant day that was for me! It was a journey down a road filled with potholes, sometimes there was no shoulder on the side of the road, and often there were steep inclines and declines. But, it was worth every bit of the difficulty it took to get to my destination.
1984 was the year I graduated from high school. I majored in art in high school and wanted to go to art school. But, I had no money and I desperately wanted to get out of Dodge and explore the world. So, I joined the army. I signed up for 3 years and would recieve $30,000 to go to school on when I got out. That's when I hit a pothole. One month into boot camp, I was diagnosed with hepatitis. I got out on a trainee discharge and came home, with the assurance I could reinlist in two years. But, that wouldn't prove to be part of my story. After two weeks in the hospital and 3 months on doctor's ordered bedrest, I was given the okay to start living my life again.
I got a job and enrolled in school at the Art Institute of Houston. After going to the Art Institute for a year, I took a full time job offer as the Assistant Manager of a boutique in the Galleria. I decided to take a break from school and work for a while, with the intention of finding a way to do both sooner rather than later. I found there was no shoulder on the side of that road, though. No where for me to get off. I was stuck until I could come to a safe place to pull over. Life, financial obligations, meeting my husband, all played a part in why I stayed in the super crazy life of a retail manager for as long as I did.
I never really gave up on my dream though. It was always in the back of my mind. Always a loose end in my life that I wanted to tie up.
So, after being married for a few years and having my first child, my husband and I decided that I would not work and would stay home with him. Those first young years of his life were some of the sweetest of mine. I loved being a mom, everything about it. I especially loved doing creative things with him. I'll talk more about those things in another post.
Once he was about ready to enter pre-school, I had a friend offer me a job doing some faux finishing and mural work. I had never done faux finishing before and didn't really even know what it was. But, I checked out every book from the library I could find on the subject and taught myself how to do it. This is a picture of my first serious mural:
It is a Trompe L'oise of a balcony overlooking a vineyard done on a dining room wall. This is the part of my journey that was a steep incline. I was learning as I went, inch by inch, minute by minute, day by day. Still am for that matter. But, this was the beginning of a whole new adventure in my life, into the unknown world of freelance artistry. I literally painted this mural in a home that was still under construction, and had no electricity in January under freezing cold temperatures. For two weeks I drove 45 minutes to the home in the early morning and worked all day until just before dark. My hands were like blocks of ice, cracked and bleeding at the knuckles. I cried every day all day long. It was the first time I had been away from my child and I abhorred it. My heart ached for him and I felt tormented by the artistic challenge of this mural. I had never painted in this style before, on such a large scale and in these types of conditions. But, looking back on it now, I see that it was in God's plan for me to do that job. I grew as an artist, a business person, a human being. It is said that from great pain comes great art (well, this isn't great art, but it was the greatest work I had done up to that point). I will say, that I do not subscribe to a life of drama in order to grow as an artist, it is not necessary. In fact, I think that the more at peace one is with oneself, the more open the channel is. But, the greatest therapy in the world is losing yourself in creation.
From that job, I was hired for another, then another, and that was the way I spent the next 15 years of my life. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. God always provided me with a job when we needed it the most. I was successful at what I did and most of the time I was filled to overflowing with gratitude. I was able to do my art and get paid for it and help to support my family. I had challenges that fulfilled me and helped me to grow as an artist. I learned how to deal with people in a business capacity and how important it was to be dependable, honest, trustworthy, punctual and go the extra mile to please a customer. Almost always I worked more than once for a client.
In 2005, my husband was laid off from his job of 14 years. This is the part of the journey that took us down a steep decline. We had a home, two children, all the financial obligations that come with that. It was a difficult time in many ways, but most of all, we are still recovering to this day financially from it. We went through our savings in order to keep a roof over our heads and we are both so grateful that we had that to fall back on at the time.
But, it is a really scary place to be when you are middle aged and have no retirement funds. Something had to be done about it. I knew that, more than anything, I wanted to do my part in building those funds back up. But, that meant getting the type of job that I could make a significant contribution toward retirement with, and it would have been very difficult to try to do that through my freelance art work. I could have started my own business possibly and had employees and gone that route, but by this point, my heart wasn't really in it anymore. The only way I would have been successful doing that is if I had felt passionate about it. I've always heard- do what you love and the money will follow. So, I asked myself the question, what do you love? I love art. I love children. I love teaching. Art + children + teaching= art teacher. Elementary art teacher. Does it pay a lot? No. Can you contribute to a retirement fund? Yes. Could I still do freelance art work on the side to make extra money? Yes. Could I still be at home with my children at night, on the weekends, during their school holidays, in the summer months? Yes. Only one problem. I was a 40 year old mother with a very busy life as a mom and an artist with no college degree. I couldn't be a teacher without a degree.
I didn't want to have to add going to a school several times a week, running in and out of classes, libraries, labs, etc. to my already hectic schedule. So, I looked into online university programs.
That was the answer to all my problems. I could have a flexible schedule- do my work in my own time and even in my pajamas if I wanted.
But, something like that would take serious discipline. I had that. I knew I did. I had been in the army, and if I could survive that month of boot camp, I could survive anything! I had given birth to two children and raised them! I had taken on seriously hard art work and risen to the occasion every time! I had been in the retail business for years and was a reliable, dedicated, creative manager. I knew I could do what was required of me, and if I didn't know how to do it, I would learn. I was always a self-taught type of gal anyway.
Everyone in my life totally supported my decision to go back to school (even if it was in my own home). They all told me they thought I would be a great art teacher. They knew I could do it. But, it meant taking on student loans and going into debt to do it. My husband wasn't phased by that. He said, it's only money. Live your dream. So, I enrolled shortly after my 40th birthday and began my first classes with American Intercontinental University Online, in front of my own computer...fully dressed, having eaten and taken care to get rid of all distractions. I was ready. Some weeks later, I would not be that rigid about my routine. I was always on time, always had my work done by the deadline, sat in on almost every chat for every class, even if I was out of town at the time (another great aspect of online education- you can travel and still go to school at the same time). I learned so much, recieved a great education and met incredible people. People serving our country and earning a degree while they were doing it, moms like me that wanted to accomplish their dreams, men who wanted to earn more money for their families, so they were going back to school to earn a higher degree. So many inspirational people and stories. I loved being a part of that crowd. I loved thinking about new and different things. It opened up my world. Every struggle usually ended in a victory. I love the feeling of being challenged. (Which is probably why I am so addicted to shows on television like Cupcake Wars, Chopped, Iron Chef...oh yeah, I love food, too).
I managed to juggle it all. I even took on Substitute Teaching while I was going to school. I figured, if I was going to be a teacher, I better get in there and start doing it. I subbed for two years...two invaluable years. It took me 19 months to earn my Bachelor's of Fine Arts degree in Visual Communications. Oh, yeah...I forgot to mention...AIU even accepted my 36 hours of credits I had earned from the Art Institute some 21 years before. It was all meant to be.
Something else I forgot to mention...I was doing all of this with one specific goal in mind. Yes, to be an elementary art teacher, which also required me to get alternative certification to teach. But, not a teacher in just any school district...in my childrens' school district. We have exactly 15 elementary art teachers in our district...and the chances of me getting one of those positions you might think would be almost as difficult as winning the lottery. But, I knew I would get a job in this school district. I wasn't going to stop until I did.
In the second year of substitute teaching I was offered a long term sub position for an elementary art teacher that was ill. She needed to take about 3 weeks off for her medical care. I worked those three weeks and then a couple more and then a couple more...she kept needing more time off. I loved it because I was able to work in the job what I had worked so hard to get to. It was great for me.
One evening the elementary art facilitator for our district called me and told me that teacher I was working for had resigned. She asked me to consider taking over her position...she wanted to hire me. She told me I didn't have to say yes right away, to talk it over with my husband and I could get back with her. What?!!!!!! Obviously she didn't understand what I had gone through to get to that very moment. That moment when someone would say to me, Mrs. Gallow, we would like to offer you a job with our school district. Think it over?!!!!! I said, I don't have to think it over, Yes!!! I would love to accept the offer.
A new beginning...the journey has only just begun.
I thank God first and foremost, my husband and children, my parents, my wonderful friends and fellow teachers for supporting me, believing in me and having patience with me. I think what I lack in experience, I make up for in enthusiasm...I want to be the best teacher for my students, I am passionate about my profession. It was worth every pothole, bump and side road to get here. I am a better person for it...but, I still have so far to go. One thing that anyone knows me will tell you though...I'm always ready for a road trip! So, I hope you'll come along with me for the ride...