I was a pretty smart kid. Above average, for sure. I did my homework, studied for tests, balanced a healthy interest in sports, music, and the arts–especially reading and writing. I got into a good private college, managed A’s and B’s and earned a degree in Literature. From there, although I knew I longed for something more–something I couldn’t explain or didn’t have the guts to admit–I took my Dad’s logical advice and enrolled in a Master’s program for Secondary Education. What else can one do with a degree in reading books? 

So I lived at my parents house and I continued to study hard, achieve top grades, and experience rewarding and successful semesters of student teaching.  And although with the reputation of my college I would have had no trouble finding that golden teaching job with all the stable trimmings that would please and relieve my worried father, I knew that the moment I received that diploma it was going to be shelved and I was going to be…something else.  

Well, I’m something else, alright. I am the exact opposite of the expensive degrees I earned, the exact opposite of the stable salaried woman I was encouraged to be, the exact opposite of the settled homeowner, the constant neighbor, the ever-present daughter, sister, niece, and aunt that my tight-knit Italian family expected me to be.  I am…a 31 year old waitress, living in Los Angeles, 3,000 miles away from my entire family. And I just found out that I’m pregnant.  

Eek. With a surprise baby on the way, part of me wants to rewind time, frame and hang that diploma of mine behind the desk in the classroom in the school that I would be tenured at by now, and look forward to ending the school year in June, weeks away from my due date, after which I would enjoy a stress-free summer with my husband, our new baby, and our dog. Our fully insured little family.   

But wait. You know what? If all of that had happened, if I had jumped into that job with the desk and the classroom and the imminent tenure and the paycheck and the vacations and the insurance and the 401K, if I had jumped into that job instead of working my tail off at a pizza shop so that I could earn money to travel, I would have never met the man I ended up marrying or some of the most important and influential people in my life.  

I would have never traveled alone to Brazil for a few months and, as cliche as it may sound, discovered things about myself that I didn’t know existed. 

If I had jumped into that job, I would have never moved to New York City and tried out that Working Girl lifestyle I had always wondered about–the one where you wear a fitted business outfit and running shoes on the crowded subway, ride the elevator of your 42nd street office building up to your cubicle and change into your pumps at your desk.  I would have never known a neighborhood like the East Harlem one we lived in: the one where despite project lined streets, bullet-proof bodegas, and corner drug deals, families gathered in the park to throw parties and celebrate birthdays and anniversaries, and Sundays meant being woken up by joyous gospel choirs of the churches that surrounded our apartment. 

If I had jumped into that job, the one that at this very moment seems like it could be necessary, I wouldn’t be me. I wouldn’t have learned about the world and experienced the things that have shaped me and made me the woman I have become. I would be living in some realm of untruthfulness. 

So yes, I am a pregnant waitress. Ben and I are living a lifestyle I was raised to avoid: minimum wage jobs, state funded health insurance, WIC checks…all to  supplement the seemingly outlandish dreams we’ve chosen to follow to a city where they aren’t even guaranteed to come true. But we are who we are. We are poor and happy and we are going to make it just fine.  

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