Who I tried to be and who I am

The arrival of my son had fulfilled a dream I did not know I had.”

— Diane Russell

How becoming a single parent helped me follow my dreams

In 2014 I started at Pierce College Fort Steilacoom with the intention of becoming a Registered Nurse. I was not one hundred percent happy about my career choice. For seven years I had worked as a Certified Nurses Aid and I was burnt out.

I believed that my key to happiness was stability. And stability meant a secure job with reliable income. Happiness was in the future and I had to hold on for a while longer. I was right, but not in the way I thought.

My son arrived two days after my birthday in 2015. I became a single parent two weeks later. It is an understatement to say my life turned upside down. It turned upside down, sideways, and inside out.

I had left my job as a CNA and the relief had been immediate. The nursing field did not need one more burnt out person only in it for the paycheck. Gazing down at my son’s innocent face, I knew I had to change my life to make ours better. The arrival of my son had fulfilled a dream I did not know I had. It was time to realize all my dreams.

Alyssa Wilkins / Staff Photo
Diane Russell is so thankful for everything her son has taught her.

From an early age I had known I wanted to be an artist. For my third birthday I received the paint box and real acrylic paints I had asked for. But as I grew older, I was told more and more that artists are called “starving artists” for a reason.

I did not want my son to be told that his dreams were unrealistic. Or that money mattered more than living the life he wanted. I had to be an example of someone that followed their heart. I changed my degree focus to digital design in 2016 and the relief was immediate.

Being a single parent is hard. Being a college student is hard work. Add those two together and you have a recipe for overload, poverty, and massive sleep deprivation. But there has not been a single day that I regret my choices.

I have had some help as a single mom and even more as a student. Without the Basic Food Employment & Training (BFET) program I would not have been able to attend school. The Milgard Child Development Center at the Fort Steilacoom campus provides an unexpected source of emotional support for my son and me. I recommend Milgard to any parent looking for daycare or preschool.

The instructors at Fort Steilacoom have been hands down the best I have ever had in my long school career. There are days when I realize how lucky I am that I chose Pierce. I am not the only one benefiting from my choices; my son is too.

Sometimes, while driving to school I wonder how I ever thought I needed to be someone other than myself. Looking back, I realize I believed that happiness was not really an option for me. My son made me happy in ways I never knew. His love made me feel lovable.

How wonderful it is that I am the artist I always wanted to be and have a wonderful son with me on my journey. My life might not have turned out the exact way I dreamed, but in many ways it is much better.