I've always been a daydreamer. I have spent countless hours dreaming about the future, how I'll grow up and be a figure skater, or an author, or an artist, or a weatherwoman, or maybe just a doctor who makes a hefty salary each year. I've dreamt about my fairy tale prom, my momentous graduation, falling in love, a media worthy wedding, and a beautiful family of five living in a posh home. I've dreamt about driving a BMW and shopping in svelte downtown boutiques. All my life I have believed that these things would make me an enviable person with a great story. At 25 years now, I am confident that these dreams would not improve my life story. These are other people's stories.
I was adopted in 1984 by two people who have amazing stories. My parents never said "no " to an opportunity or adventure. We spent the first five years of my life traveling around California and Colorado then settling down in Minnesota. My two brothers were born shortly after. We made our home on a humble piece of property in rural Minnesota, the same property my family and I live on now. My mom kept us busy with 4H and clubs, outings and activities. When I was young I was jealous of the kids in my class. Our home was old and embarrassing, we didn't have a landscaped yard, I didn't have designer clothes, we constantly had mice, and our cars were always breaking down. I never had any friends over and dating was nearly impossible because of the shame I felt. We were in poverty and I hated it. I couldn't understand why my parents would move us to such a pathetic house in a farming community. I thought our story stunk.
In 2007, I received the worst phone call of my life. "I think Mom is dead!" my brother shrieked into the phone. He sounded like a demon. My mom had passed away at home in bed and my 15 year old brother found her. My dad was in the hospital struggling against a two year battle against Pancreatitis at the time. All of a sudden I was the designated parent and decision maker. I sent my mother's lifeless body to the funeral home and began the calls to family. At the end of the week we had her funeral. I remember thinking that life would never be good again. My heart ached more than I could ever describe and I was trying to mourn as well as care for my dad and brothers. The night of her funeral, I laid in bed and her name repeated over and over again as if by some unseen announcer…"Wendy Lynn Dodge, Wendy Lynn Dodge, Wendy Lynn Dodge."
Ten months after my mother passed away, on Valentine's Day, God gave my husband and I support in the form of a healthy, 7 lb baby girl with thick brown hair and bright eyes. At the time, I was mortified. What was I going to do with a kid?! We had just recently moved onto my family farm to be closer to my dad and brothers, and we had no indoor plumbing and we were in the middle of some intense renovations. We had minimum wage jobs that barely paid the electric bill, let alone another mouth. The day we brought our daughter Eleanor home, our septic system backed up into the house. I remember feeling like a complete failure as a parent. I was hopeless. My husband took Eleanor on her first tour of her new home, taking special time to stop in front of my mom's picture in the dining room, "This is your Grandma Wendy and she loves you very much…"
As Ella aced her milestones and grew taller, we found blessings everywhere we looked. Things were tough, but when things looked impossible, a pinhole of light would shine through at the end of our dark tunnel. We worked multiple jobs with low wages, but we were able to provide. On May 7th, 2009, I woke up with a heavy weight in my chest. It had been two years exactly since we had lost mom. I crawled out of bed and checked on Ella, now over a year old, in her crib. She was peacefully snoring. I went outside and sat on the top stair in front of the home my parents had once lived in. The sun was coming up in the east and the mourning doves were cooing loudly to one another. Mourning doves had been Mom's favorite and the memories brought tears to my eyes. I started to think about how many things I had given up in my adult life, some because of fear and some because of laziness. I had given up some of my greatest passions and I knew my Mom would encourage me to dive back into them. I felt overwhelmed with disappointment for myself. How could I have fallen so far from where I started from? I was sick of sitting around and waiting for good things to happen. I had to set an example for my daughter. I decided to call a local college to find out about taking some art classes for no credit. I had always wanted to be an artist, I just never knew how to make money doing art. I couldn't actually enroll in the college because six years earlier, I graduated high school with no diploma. I was ½ credit short from a diploma and I was bitter and secretive about it. A woman with a warm voice answered at the college and explained how I had to have a diploma to take any courses from there. "Oh. Okay. Thanks." I muttered. As I was about to hang up defeated, she interrupted and told me how she had been in the same boat once too. She explained her story and gave me the contact info for a free program that helped adults receive and actual diploma. I thanked her excitedly and called the number I had scrawled on the palm of my hand. Six weeks later, I had a diploma in hand and turned in my application to Minnesota State University, Mankato. I waited anxiously by the mailbox for an acceptance letter. Finally it arrived. The same day I found out I was starting my four year commitment to school, I discovered I was pregnant again. We had a lot to celebrate!
The autumn of 2009 I began school as a full-time 25 year old pregnant mother and wife. I set my goals high and achieved them all. I made Dean's List both semesters, made several art shows, and participated in many extra-curricular opportunities. In the spring, we had our healthy son, Sullivan, on Saint Patrick's Day. Now we were blessed with "love and luck". I finished my semester on time.
The last year has been one of the most important of my life. I no longer dream of the future, I make it happen. I have been functioning as a self-employed artist and I was just recently hired to illustrate five books for next fall. Things are changing, and for once in my life, I feel ready for them. After my birthday last December I made a list of 25 things to do before I turned 26. Some things seem small or goofy, but they are all things I want and need to accomplish. I take my list very seriously and have been crossing things off steadily. My two best friends also have lists to complete before their next birthdays. We encourage one another to not only complete the tasks, but to do them with 'Bob style'.
Since I finished reading A Million Miles in a Thousand Years I celebrate my trials. Things that I thought were ruining my life, are really improving it. My husband has been unemployed since last October, we're behind on our mortgage, and today we are selling our car to pay a past due electric bill. These are my altars. They are hard, but they are improving my story. Since I have began making conscious decisions in my life scenes, I feel like a better mother, friend, daughter, wife, and most importantly, person. My failing marriage has taken a drastic turn for the better because I gave my husband and I a better story to star in. We have begun to read a chapter from A Million Miles in a Thousand Years aloud every night together. My story will be around much longer than me, and I am confident many will enjoy it. I'm not trying to be eloquent and brag about my life, I'm just overjoyed being a great character in a blockbuster story, and my story has only just begun.
25 before 26 (to be completed by December 20, 2010)
*Write a rap
*Go to the ocean
DONE-Re-read Fahrenheit 451
DONE-Get another tattoo
DONE-Get a 4.0 GPA
DONE-Make college art show
DONE-Host art show
DONE-Paint bedroom lime green
*Make a professional portfolio
*Take a legit family studio pic
*Get hot tub working
DONE-Read e.e. cummings Complete Poems
*Go to a sushi bar
*Go to a vineyard
* Watch the whole Godfather series
*Play more piano
*Learn all the words to Lil Wayne's "A Mille"
*Learn more French
DONE-Get a blue-tongued skink
*Make a quilt
*Go ice skating
*Read Jesus for President
* Call my biological father
Memorable Mentions (amazing things I didn't plan):
*Rode in a limo in Minneapolis
* Auditioned for American Idol in Milwaukee
*Joined a volleyball league
*Painted an 8 x 60' mural for Mankato YMCA
* Hired to illustrate five books
* Face painting in the rain on the Fourth of July
*Tornado warnings at Drum Corp International in Minneapolis
*Finding my biological father
*Illustrating a friend's book
*Being a part of a national exhibit , The Sketchbook Project
*Jumping into a giant pit of foam
*Seeing Frank Warren speak at a Post Secret event