I slouched in my brand new car seat. My 6-year-old bottom started to hurt from sitting too long, and my stomach started to make funny noises. “Are we there yet?” I whined to my dad, who was unusually quiet on that drive to Ohio. My 2-year-old brother slept silently next to me.
Little did I know that was to be a journey into maturity and responsibility beyond my years – and my mother would be my guide on that journey.
I had noticed my parents’ arguments were getting more intense, leaving my mom crying in her room and my dad barging out of the house. Some days those arguments were so bitter, I would hide under the dining room table with my legs pulled up to my chest and cry. Our once warm and welcoming home felt cold and foreign the day my brother and I left for Ohio. While we were there, my mom told me on the phone she was having another baby, and she found us a new home.
Coming back from Ohio to home in Minnesota, there were a lot of changes: My mom was pregnant, my parents were separated, and we now lived in a small, two-bedroom townhome. It was completely different from the big white house we used to live in.
My parents’ separation was the biggest change. My dad remarried into a new family, and my mom was left to raise us on her own. I could tell she was struggling, because after my sister was born, Mom had to take more shifts at both her jobs. When she got home from one job at 9:15 in the evening, I could see how her shoulders sagged and her face looked drained as she prepared to go to her next job.
She had left her family behind in Liberia in 2000 and had no relatives here in Minnesota to help her with us kids, so she had to hire nannies. It felt like she was never home, and by age 8, I often had to accept the responsibility of caring for my siblings and myself.
I had to prepare food, clean the house, potty train my brother and teach myself how to do the hard problems in my homework assignments. When my little brother was born my family would call me “Big Sista,” and I hated this because I was used to being the baby. I knew the title would bring changes, but seeing my mom dedicate her life to making sure all three of her babies were okay pushed me to grow up and embrace the title and the responsibility.
Throughout all these struggles, my mom continued to push me and encourage me to aim higher in school. Her rooting me on made me feel like I was doing something right. Not only for myself but for her too. She remembered why she came to this country in the first place: to better her own life and the future lives of her kids. She learned to be independent, to manage two jobs and to raise her kids with little help.
Changes in my family’s life have made me grow up, see the bigger picture, and assume new responsibilities. My mom taught me independence and how to be determined and to keep working for anything I want. When things get tough, I don’t quit. This will be true in college, and I will achieve everything I am working toward. My degree will be the result, but my biggest reward will be seeing my elated mom cheering me on from the crowd when I walk across my college graduation stage.