We all remember the Robert Frost poem about two roads diverging in the woods. I’ve thought about that concept many times over the years. If Mr. Frost intended the woods as a metaphor for life, I think he got off pretty lucky. There sure have been a lot more than two roads in my woods. They didn’t come with a map or even a clear vision of where I wanted to go.

I was one of those people who just never found IT. I worked hard for a scholarship to college, had good jobs, met interesting people, and saw some beautiful places in the world. I just never found IT. That calling you are excited about — the one that makes the hours melt away. The one that lets you know you are home.

The roads of my life took me on a journey. Some of those roads I hope to never travel again. Some of those roads were scenic and led me closer to where I needed to be.

Through the years, I thought about teaching. I felt a pull toward it. I knew I loved to see the spark in children’s eyes when something really connected and their view of the world got a little bigger. I looked at alternative teacher certification programs like PACE and CREATE. I was always so busy with life that I didn’t want to take the long road before I could teach. I researched master’s degrees that would lead to teaching. But the time it would take for me to make the change felt like a barrier, and there was always a new road to travel, something else that took my energy and attention.

Roadblocks and changing course aren’t foreign to me. In my mid-twenties, my doctor informed me that I would likely never have children. Surprising even myself, the news didn’t devastate me. I somehow knew that children would come, that I would have the opportunity to love and be loved as a mother. One ordinary day, a phone call came from out of the blue that led to my little boy and girl, siblings that needed me as much as I needed them. Other roads led to the adoption of my young nephew. Later, two more sons were added by marriage. During the memorable trip known as “Turning 40” I was shocked to find that I was expecting the sweet baby girl that would be the final of my six children. Six children, more than I would have ever dreamed, added by love, loss, and being willing to take some new roads without a map.

I feel the need to share a little about those dark roads that I never wanted to travel. The story of my journey wouldn’t be complete without them. No matter how hard we plan, roadblocks and sometimes a difficult wreck are part of the trip.

My childhood was hard. My parents divorced while I was still very young and life was harsh with a mother who thought only about her needs. I grew up in a house where perfection was expected of me, but not rewarded. Anything less was a failure and punished as such. There were no idyllic, tender years, only adult-like responsibility and child-like restrictions. I have few happy memories of that time.

Somehow my early life was easier than the ultimate losses. The long illness and passing of my little sister and the sudden death of my baby brother at Christmas halted me in my tracks. The birth of the one child I was blessed to carry came during the beginnings of a divorce, just two short weeks before the death of my sister, and the sudden adoption of my seven-year-old nephew. Some mornings I longed to go back to sleep and escape the reality of my life. It was hard to draw breath with so much grief and responsibility.

Again, I found my strength and looked for a new road.

Then came the news of my oldest son. My sweet boy, forever tormented by his memories, had taken his own life, just as it was beginning. Children who lose their parents are called orphans. But there is no word for parents who lose their children. It’s too unbearable to name.

I share the losses and heartbreak only to say that we all have breathtakingly difficult times in life that stop us in our tracks. Sad, lonely, and dark roads that we hope to never travel again, but that are part of our journey nonetheless. They teach us hard lessons:

Protect the innocent.

Live every day you are given.

Don’t take your eyes off the road.

Remember them, honor them, but don’t let them be a place to permanently break down.

When I gave birth to my youngest, it wasn’t hard for me to leave the corporate world behind and enjoy those precious baby years at home. The day I registered her for preschool I knew it was time for a new journey. I wish I could say I signed up right away for graduate school or a teaching program. Instead, I took a family engagement position at my daughter’s school and proceeded to enjoy the next two years immersed in the school experience. Even in my small way, I felt like I was making an impact. The days passed quickly, and before I knew it I was moved to the district office to serve as interim secretary to the superintendent. The district office was a fast-paced world, but I loved working with the administrators and helping with the business of running a school district. I felt at home and put the idea of teaching out of my mind.

Just like the phone call that started me down the road to motherhood, a new path suddenly presented itself. Our school district made the decision to become a founding partner in the new Carolina Collaborative for Alternative Preparation (CarolinaCAP). Suddenly, there was the path I had been looking for all those years. A chance to teach and continue my education at the same time. I applied immediately but somehow felt like a roadblock would surely present itself. To my surprise, I was accepted into the inaugural class.

Then came the hard part.

Making the decision to finally take a journey I never thought I would take, leaving behind a job that I already loved, and taking a sharp turn into something brand new.

This time, I didn’t hesitate or fumble around looking for that elusive map. I remembered the hard lessons learned along the roads I’d traveled. This time, I took the road that led straight to becoming a teacher. I became a teacher during the worst possible year — during a worldwide pandemic. But it never slowed me down. I became not only a first-year classroom teacher, but also a virtual teacher, all while taking graduate classes through CarolinaCAP and continuing to raise my family.

I know that I have finally found the road to IT. The woods are finally getting a little clearer now and the storm has broken. I’ve got the windows rolled down and the wind is in my hair. And as far as those children I was told I would never have, I just added 61 sixth graders and my namesake first grandchild.

I can tell you for sure that my journey is not over.

The roads will continue to curve, and I might hit a roadblock or two. I still don’t have a map, but I’ve learned a few hard-earned travel tips:

Buckle up.

Don’t waste your chance.

Never stop moving forward.

Life is a difficult journey, but keep going. You might be just around the corner from the best part of the trip.

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Adadra Neville

Adadra Neville is a first year social studies teacher at Williston Elko Middle School. She is a graduate of the University of South Carolina, a member of the inaugural class of the Carolina Collaborative for Alternative Preparation (CarolinaCAP) and plans to continue her graduate studies in education. She is a Navy Blue Star Mother in memory of her late son Evan. She lives in her hometown of Williston, SC where she serves as a town councilwoman. Her family, with husband Ronnie, continues to grow with the recent addition of their first grandchild, Alice Lin.