• debraleegroup

Twenty Years Later

This is me celebrating my 36th birthday with my little girls, Lilly 7 and Lana 3. A few days before, I gave my notice to the job and the identity I’d spent my entire life creating up until then.


They were waiting for me to get home and I remember leaving the box of personal items from my desk in the car. That day, I could’ve never imagined how life would change. Twenty years later, and I know that this was the way it was all supposed to be.


It’d been a busy few weeks that had left me shaken. We had planned our first family vacation and I meticulously prepared for it for months. I was working in technology in the 90s, and it was a busy year. We had a nanny coming to our home that allowed me to work longer hours than I would’ve liked. Time with my daughters was more precious than ever, although that’s no different now.


The week before, I was asked to represent the company at an event in San Diego. I was never good at leaving my kids, so on short notice, my husband, sister, to help out, and kids all flew to San Diego for the event. It was a memorable few days.


We arrived home late Friday night, and our flight to Jamaica left that Sunday. I barely had 24 hours to update the company, do laundry, repack and make to the airport by 7 am. I stayed up most of the night getting everything done and planned to sleep on the plane and let my husband take care of the girls on the way. When we reached the airport, he’d forgotten his birth certificate, and they wouldn’t let him on the flight, so we went ahead without him.


The rugged two-hour open air drive to the resort with two tired girls and a lot of luggage was an adventure. We finally settled in, got our suits on, and went to wade our feet in the water. I remember the mixture of pure exhaustion and exhilaration as I thought of us in a different ocean a few days before.


My life had come a long way from how I grew up, and this is how I always dreamt it would be.


Before San Diego, I had laid awake more than a few nights thinking about how I was missing the only time my girls would ever be like this. My youngest daughter had asthma and needed extra care, and it never felt right having the babysitter take her to the doctor. Among other reasons, I was beginning to think of home.


We arrived in Milwaukee the following Saturday when I was asked if that Monday morning I could fly with a client to Omaha for a meeting. I had initially taken the day off, but back then, I didn’t know how to say no.


I got a speeding ticket rushing to the airport, and while the policeman was writing it up, I remember thinking that it has been weeks since I’d been to the grocery store. We were eating out a lot and on the run, and something was beginning to give.


It was 1999, and a few months before the first technology crash. The industry was changing, and there was pressure to perform at higher levels. My husband had started a business a few years earlier and between us, there was no more room to move.


Omaha was a one day trip and I was home that evening. The next day as our nanny arrived and as the routine was going to start again, she told me she needed to talk. She said she had been diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer and tomorrow would be her last day.


In case I had missed the signs before, the universe was beginning to scream.


At work, new management was recently brought in and having managed the companies two largest accounts, there was suddenly a lot of hands in the soup. At the time, I was outgoing and outspoken, and not willing to change what I intuitively felt was right.


As a top rep for many years, I was shocked to receive my first warning. It wasn’t my numbers, but a question of how the company was represented to senior management in Omaha. It was a sticky time in tech.


After spending the next two days preparing the document that would later be used by me to remember who I used to be, I quit my job. This picture was taken after a few days of negotiations in hopes they could walk it back and find a way to make me stay.


I knew the industry, and I had lots of connections. I didn't think I'd be home for long. Best laid plans...


It was time to take a break and step away. On the way home, I stopped at a bookstore. The first book I saw was by Starr Jones, “You Have to Stand for Something, Or You’ll Fall for Anything.” I thought it was appropriate.


That picture represents the passing of time, and life evolving where nothing stays the same.


My nanny died that next month, and my dad died the following year. I lost friends, and I at times, I lost myself, but life has a way of working out.


My girls grew up, and I was able to be there every step of the way. Looking back, I wouldn't change a thing.