Updated: Jun 27
| This is the 357th story of Our Life Logs |
I was born to strict, but loving parents in 1983 in Hannover, Germany. We were Turkish, and like the other Turkish families in Germany, my sister and I were taught to be responsible and helpful at a very young age. My dad worked two jobs and my mom had her own business, so the little time my parents had free was spent grocery shopping, preparing our meals, and spending some “quality” time with us. And so, they left household chores to my sister and me.
Beginning at age 9, I was doing chores—a lot of them! By age 10, I was basically managing the entire household with my sister. I grew to like it, though. As a pre-teen, there were many days I’d spend cleaning bathroom floors and washing windows instead of playing outside. I became kind of nit-picky and held tidying up to a higher standard than most. Most kids in town were watching TV, while I was neatly folding blankets and making sure my dusting would pass the “white glove” test.
At 17, I still lived with my parents and felt like I’d never get to be the boss of my own life. Not that my parents were bossy, but I was ready to be on my own. To earn extra cash and keep myself out of the house, I started working part-time as a server at an upscale hotel while I was finishing up high school. I liked my job—I learned a lot about hospitality and found it fun to see the guests’ happy reactions to the little things the hotel staff would do to enhance their stay. Something as small as a cute fold to a napkin or complimentary lemon water in the lobby made guests smile wide.
Soon, the idea of climbing the ranks to be part of hotel hospitality appealed to me so much that I decided then that that would be my future career. Little did I know that, oftentimes, people don’t have much to say in where they end up!
After two years of hard work serving tables, it paid off and I was offered an apprenticeship at a hotel. It all made sense since I had grown up loving to clean. I could see my independence was finally arriving! Even though I still worked as a server, the program also had me in classes two days a week. Then, I’d get to work in different hotel departments. I was excited to think that I could live my life working in high-end resorts. So, at age 20, I earned my degree in hospitality. I envisioned myself managing upscale hotels in exotic locations—some on a beach, some in the Alps, and some in places I didn’t even know yet. I loved the scenes playing in my mind! I just knew I’d be happy, especially given my proclivity for cleanliness and customer service skills.
My first hotel job after graduating was in America. Just like that, my life was beginning! I was off to see the world! I already spoke German and Turkish, but I had to improve my English. Still, I wasn’t worried. Nothing was going to stop me. I felt both excited and afraid. It was going to be a big change—a new language, living alone, no friends or relatives nearby. I was even more unnerved when I arrived in Chicago to such different food, lifestyles, and architecture…it was like another world! Of course, 9/11 had just happened, so being a Muslim in the USA certainly did not ease my anxiety! Suffice it to say, I kept that to myself.
My first two months in America felt like a mental and emotional freefall, and I cried practically every day, but I was still glad to be out exploring the world. I worked hard at the hotel, determined to get the life I had always wanted. However, just as it all seemed within my grasp, Screeeeech—my life was halted. Why? Well, I fell in love with a man who worked in the hotel. My crying sure subsided after that.
After a year of dating, we began talks of marriage which raised serious obstacles. Even though I planned to move around for my job, I had always figured that I’d settle down near my family back home in my early/mid-30s with a husband and kids. I especially wanted to be near my sister, so we could be the “cool” aunts for each other’s kids. Marrying in Chicago and staying in Chicago was never part of my plans—but that’s exactly what I did.
Besides getting married much earlier in life than I planned, I also had no American college degree to open doors to jobs paying more than a hotel worker. While I had my German hospitality education, it didn’t mean much in the States without an associate’s or a bachelor’s degree. For a good-paying job, I’d have to return to Europe. I was at my first profound fork in the road of life. One way led to a life close to my family—but without my boyfriend—while the other way led to life with my love, but less time with my family—and living in America, hoping I wouldn’t be career-less.
Ultimately, what it came down to, what mattered, was my heart. I was deeply in love and could not bear the thought of a future without the wonderful man I had fallen for by my side. So, I had to take a wide eraser to the future I had previously painted so vividly in my mind. I had no idea how much loving a person could affect one’s life. I started to question, would I ever really be the boss of my own life?
And so, we got hitched in 2006, and within three years I was pregnant. We were thrilled to have a healthy baby girl. I became primarily a stay-at-home mom, but I waited tables on weekends. My husband was making a good living for us…he had his bachelor’s and over six years of hotel operations experience. Unfortunately, with all of my husband’s job transfers…Mississippi, Tennessee, Ohio, and Chicago…long-term bonds were hard to form, and I had to keep leaving new friends.
On top of that, I was discouraged I had to leave behind my professional dreams. Although it was sad, I knew I had to change my outlook if I wanted to be happy. I needed to choose a career path to better fit my life ahead. Being practical, I did some job market research and landed my sights on education. I could have hours similar to my daughter’s school schedule which would be great! I had to shoot for an “in-demand” teaching position to get as much job security as possible. Special education teacher became my new goal. Although I felt the teaching path would be enjoyable, it still was not my dream.
At age five, our daughter became the big sister to a baby brother. The birth of my son was not easy. He was a large baby, literally splitting apart my pelvic bones in delivery which brought a long and painful recovery. I couldn’t walk for weeks, yet I had to care for a small child and a newborn. I just kept telling myself, “I will heal, just be patient.” Patience is not one of my strengths! It took many months, another surgery, painful medical procedures, and therapy, but eventually, I healed. Again, that was not my plan when I had plotted my new life!
It was not until our son was two years old, that we noticed something was off with him. Although he was a cuddly child and happy around my husband and me, he’d often stare into space longer than what seemed normal and became upset by minor things, like crayons not being in a perfect row. Our son would also have severe outbursts and fits when there was loud noise or too many different noises around him. In those moments, I didn’t know how to calm him and felt afraid. I worried that he might need medical help. He was my sweet little boy, and seemingly lost in another world of which I was not part of.
Long story short, we had him examined by doctors. His hearing was underdeveloped, but most shockingly, we learned that he was Autistic. Hearing that news put my heart in my throat, and it’s been there ever since. Knowing the extraordinary challenges he would have ahead was heartbreaking, but I put on a brave face.
Then it hit me. Goosebumps sprung up on my arms, as a sudden chill took my breath away. Out of all the jobs in the world, I had determined that special education was the only realistic career for me. Then, I learned my son has special needs. I knew in that moment, that I, in fact, was not the boss of my life. The universe was. I was slapped in the face with the reality that everything really does happen for a reason. Basically, my dreams had to be set aside, so I could marry a wonderful man with a secure job which allowed me the luxury of choosing whether or not to work. The reason was that a little boy in my future would need more love and attention than most children.
After this realization, I became 100% secure in my special education plans. They were a perfect fit for my incredible son, and I know I was meant for this. I no longer mourned my lost hotel career. When I envision my new future, it’s scary, but also filled with family and lots of love which I’ve come to desire much more than any job. I am right where I am supposed to be. So, sometimes “not the plan” is actually the best plan.
This is the story of Belen Reis
Belen now lives in Glen Ellyn, Illinois, with her husband, two children, and their family dog. Growing up, Belen longed to be in charge of her own life. When she finally got the chance to, she came to see that life cannot always go according to plan. Your fate is not always in your own hands, and she’s made peace with that, understanding now why things didn’t go her way. Belen remains close with her parents, sister, and her niece by spending five weeks in Germany with them every year. Through the magic of Skype, she also shares her life with her family across the Atlantic. She is still emotionally struggling with her son’s Autism but is learning more every day about how her son’s brain works. Belen and her family love to visit petting zoos and pumpkin fests around town and visit Walt Disney World at least once a year–where she and her husband got engaged! Belen just earned her associate’s degree with honors and is beginning the special education curriculum this fall. She will also be taking the SAT in order to become a part-time teacher’s assistant later this year. If she’s not studying, Belen’s often with her daughter at one of her youth swim meets or with her son, reading to him or playing games. She and her husband remain very happily married! Her daughter has serious allergies and her dear son insists on orderly surroundings, so Belen’s natural talent for cleaning is still put to work! She’s really enjoying “not the plan.”
This story first touched our hearts on April 23, 2019.
| Writer: Donnalyn Vojta | Editor: Kristen Petronio |