By Anne Gagliano
Sitting on our first couch (which we found outside a dumpster) 32 years ago with our precious newborn son, my firefighter husband Mike and I were poor in money but rich in love and big dreams. Dreams for us, dreams for our baby Michael. Today we are watching that little newborn achieve those dreams as he moves to Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, where it all began for me and Mike: coming full circle from our humble beginnings to the culmination of parental hopes for a beloved child. We have three lessons learned from this that we hope will encourage and inspire other young firefighter families as they too begin their journeys down the long and difficult road of raising children.
Lesson #1: Sacrifice Matters. It takes tremendous sacrifice to raise a child–sacrifice of time, energy, resources, even dreams. Our first (and subsequent second) pregnancies were both unplanned and unexpected. I apparently was an extremely “Fertile Myrtle.” Having babies right away in a new marriage before finishing college degrees was not what Mike and I had in mind; I intended to work and help Mike finish his degree and to save to buy a house before we had kids. But it just didn’t go that way. Once I held that precious baby in my arms I knew this: I wanted to raise him myself. All else fell by the wayside. Crazy, I know, but it was a choice we made together. I stayed home. We lived on one income while I cared for the kids. This was a sacrifice of money and pride and respect from a society that typically did not then (nor does it now) value the stay-at-home mom.
Add to that crazy choice this one: We put both our boys through private school. Again, on one income—a firefighter’s income. More sacrifice. But the school district we lived in was so overcrowded that they didn’t even have enough desks or textbooks. Kids got very little one-on-one attention. It seemed our very bright and well-behaved little boy was virtually being ignored and uneducated, so we decided to switch him to a small school with small classrooms and one that taught our values. To do this, we gave up a second car, cable TV, the newspaper, eating out, and even new clothes (I shopped at thrift stores). The dreams we had for our children took precedence over our own, as is the case with most of you out there who are loving parents just like us. You may be wondering if your sacrifices matter. Let me assure you, they do–very much so.
After paying for several years of private school, we managed to move to a better school district and put the boys in public high school, where they flourished. Then, once again, we chose to sacrifice by helping them attend private Christian college. On a firefighter’s income. People thought we were crazy to take on such debt. And maybe we were. And are. But today we see our son moving into his dream house at least in part because of the sacrifices made.
With all our hearts we can say this as we stand in his beautiful new kitchen: The sacrifice was worth it. We will never recoup all the income we lost over the years with my staying home and putting the boys through private school and private college. We have only one home, not two like a lot of our peers. But we adore that one home. We’re still passionately in love; we’ve made it a priority to be so. And our son has this day achieved all that we dreamed for him. Our sacrifices were risky ones, but we see now that they mattered. A lot of his success is his own, but it feels so very good to know that some portion of it is ours too. Don’t lose heart, firefighter couples: Your sacrifices for your kids are never in vain.
Lesson #2: Swing for the fences. Firefighters, don’t let anyone ever convince you that “you can’t”—can’t put kids through college or private school because you’re not rich. YOU CAN. Don’t believe the lie that only wealthy, “white collar”’ folks should dare to dream such dreams; blue collar ones can too! We did. From the military to policing to firefighting. Call it audacity, foolishness, gumption, or sheer blind love—we dreamed big dreams for our sons from a blue-collar world. We swung for the fences with the schooling choices we made. Yes, we took on a lot of debt, but with hard work and frugal living have paid it all off. We don’t get the multiple houses and luxuries that come with keeping it all for ourselves, but we do have the deep satisfaction of watching our eldest son working a prestigious job in a nice hospital with just a 10-minute commute and a wife who gets to stay home with their baby, just as they wish. Our youngest is still contemplating what path to pursue, but he’s figuring it out backed by a law school degree. There are worse problems to have.
Not all dreams come true; there are no guarantees. But swing for those anyway. Never stop hoping for your kids or believing in their potential. Some dreams may be slow in coming or even seemingly dead; just keep swinging. It’s risky. You may strike out—but at least you tried. And every once in a while you’ll hear it—that crack as the ball makes contact with the bat—then you’ll see it, the ball soaring high and far and free. You’ve hit a home run. That’s how we feel as we watch Michael make his dreams come true. To win big you must risk big. So swing away.
Lesson #3: Let go. With all that we poured into our son and sacrificed on his behalf, our desires for him were to succeed and flourish, nearby. It was never part of the plan to have him move away. The dream for us was to be surrounded by our children and grandchildren and to see them often, very often. We’ve never cared much about money, only family. Holidays and fishing off our docks and meals together with our precious ones; this is all we’ve ever really wanted in life. Never in our “swinging away” did we imagine that it may end like this, with him moving to another state and taking our granddaughter far from us. This is the hardest lesson of all: that to achieve his dreams, ours have ultimately been lost (or at least lessened).
We sacrificed for him, we swung for the fences with all our might, and now we must let him go. So be it. He was well worth the journey, and we are forever grateful to see it all come full circle, from our humble beginnings to his successful accomplishments.
Anne Gagliano has been married to Captain Mike Gagliano of the Seattle (WA) Fire Department for 32 years. She and her husband lecture together on building and maintaining a strong marriage.