A Mid-Life Success
A journey of personal growth for one single mom leads her down paths she never expected, to the happiness she always wanted.
Another Saturday night, and the restaurant where I waitressed was packed. I waved hello to a few of our regulars, tied on my apron, grabbed a pen and pad and headed to my first table of the night: a gray-haired woman and her four grown children. I hadn’t seen them in here before.
“Welcome. My name is Dennise, and I’ll be your server,” I said, launching into my new-customer spiel. The woman and I chatted about the weather and the Syracuse Orange, whose uniforms and banners hung from the walls. “You’ll love our chicken tenders,” I said to one of her sons. I took their order and brought it to the kitchen.
I’d started waitressing 20 years earlier. Back then it was the perfect job. I was a young newlywed and I liked the hustle and bustle—juggle 13 tables? no problem—and the flexible hours. When my husband and I had our daughter, Holly, I switched to the night shift so I could pick her up from school and spend time with her in the afternoon.
Now I was 42, divorced and Holly was finishing high school. I was grateful to God for having a job, especially a job I liked. But lately I’d been feeling restless. Like I needed a change.
I guess you could say I caught the bug when three of my coworkers enrolled in nursing school a few months earlier. They’d come into the restaurant beaming, going on and on about their classes. Their excitement was contagious. I’d once dreamed of going to college. I never had a career in mind, but I knew I wanted to help people, to have a lasting impact on their lives. The more I listened to my coworkers, the more I thought of becoming a nurse myself.
Sometimes, between customers, my mind would drift. Instead of khakis and an apron, I imagined myself in scrubs, with a stethoscope draped around my neck, tending to patients. I’d check vitals and administer life-saving medications to people instead of just serving them chicken wings and fries.
Then I’d catch myself. Who am I kidding? My coworkers were young, not much older than my daughter—they were at a time of life when you’re supposed to be finding your path. Not me. I was middle-aged. I should’ve found my path by now. And if I hadn’t, wasn’t it too late to start over?
Besides, I didn’t even know if any nursing school would accept me. I’d fallen in with a questionable crowd in high school and dropped out. I straightened up and got my GED, but I didn’t exactly have a stellar academic record. And what did I know about nursing? The only time I’d been in the hospital was when I’d had Holly. Suppose I spent the money and effort on nursing school only to discover that I fainted at the sight of blood?
I cleared off a few tables, then walked back to the kitchen. “Hi, just checking on those five orders I placed. How much longer?” I asked one of our cooks.
“Comin’ up, Dennise,” he said. “Wait right here.”
It felt good to stand still, if only for a minute. I was constantly on the go. I worked the night shift at the restaurant, plus 20 hours a week as sexton at my church. Was it humanly possible to fit in a full course load on top of all that? I’d been asking God for guidance. Lord, I feel like there’s something more out there for me, maybe even a new career. Please point me in the right direction.
I’d even talked to Holly about it one day. We’re really close, and I knew I could count on her for an honest opinion. “Hol, what do you think about me changing careers?” I asked.
“Like, doing what, Mom?” she asked.