Choosing Change

Expression |

How doctoral student, mother, and creative Maureen Nicol created a life that’s her own—despite disasters and obstacles. Words by Maureen Nicol. Photos by Taylor S. Hunter.

My professor told me once, “Oh Maureen, you are chasing catastrophes.” That really hit home for me.

Within the past three years, I have transferred doctoral programs, moved three times, and had a baby in an unplanned city and with providers that were not in my detailed birth plan (thanks COVID-19).

Maureen wears the ReEmber slip-on shoe in Aragon.

Maureen wears the ReEmber slip-on shoe in Aragon.

As a doctoral student at Columbia University during uncertain times—the push and pull of maneuvering life and parenting—graduating continually feels further away, instead of closer. As a full-time freelancer and model, income can be unsteady. And with a toddler, anything can happen. I am often living on the margins and things sometimes feel out of control.

Never did I imagine my life would look like this. Navigating challenges as a mother, creative, and student while also swerving around circumstances out of my control like natural disasters, environmental issues, and a global health pandemic. As a self-employed creative, I depend on federal assistance in the form of childcare. These systems and structures are painful to maneuver and can be demoralizing.

Maureen and her daughter explore outside.
The cozy and quilted ReEmber Mid in Total Eclipse/Fudge.

The cozy and quilted ReEmber Mid in Total Eclipse/Fudge.

For almost 19 months, my daughter was home with me because I could not find affordable and accessible childcare options that I was comfortable with. For a full year, I had to play a political Tetris game to secure my daughter a spot that was affordable, diverse, and aligned with my views of what a preschool should be for her. This looked like calling schools daily, making several trips to the family resource centers to secure childcare funding, and advocating for our unique family dynamic. It felt like a circular but also uphill battle that I was fighting for myself and my daughter in this world. As a result, my mental, emotional, and physical health waned—as did my work and schooling. I started to doubt myself in every way, and in all of my identities.

Maureen and her daughter.
Adi wears the ReEmber Infant bootie in Festival Fuschia.

Adi wears the ReEmber Infant bootie in Festival Fuschia.

In my younger years, I had ideas of how my life would pan out and what success and “settled” should look like. In high school, I wrote a letter to myself and where I thought I would be in my mid to late 20s. The letter said I would be married with two kids, living in a house with a porch swing, and I would have a convertible. This could not be further from the truth.

At such a young age, I had these ideas for life that being settled correlated to success, a career, and very traditional ideas of family. Because of these notions, I thought so many things would be easier. I never thought I would have to exert so much of myself to feel human—or matter-of-fact, not feel dehumanized.

Maureen plays with her daughter on a slide.

I kept wondering why these things were happening to me and why I was not where I was supposed to be. I blamed myself, I blamed Mercury Retrograde (haha), I blamed the inequitable societal structures and systems. It took a lot of work to realize that these things are happening in MY world but they are not happening to me because of who I am.

When the snowstorm shook Austin, Texas in February, we were freezing without power on our vacation and a car was undriveable. Our friends came to our rescue and I did not realize how much I needed community—both in that immediate moment and in the form of family style meals and cozy catch-ups.

My friendships and relationships have been some of my most intimate forms of love and vulnerability. In the midst of a disaster in Austin when I felt a bit powerless, I realized that my friends have and will always show up for me to give me the momentum to keep going, and the safety and support to pause. My friends fed us, played with my baby, made a plan to help get me out of the storm, and helped me take my mind off of things. These generous and consistent acts of love and care are what keep me grounded.

Exploring New Orleans in the ReEmber Mid.

That experience in Texas was a lightbulb moment for me. As I have slowly worked to unbraid that things are happening in my world (and things are not happening to me), I have been able to reimagine what life is and could be. I can envision working through tough times while taking care of myself in those times.

Going for a walk, talking to a friend, making myself something really good to eat, creating boundaries, and just taking time to respond to these catastrophes have been some of my biggest achievements lately. Catastrophes around me do not have to take over this actually beautiful and unique life that I have.

I never thought I would be able to pivot, rise up, and still be flexible enough to keep trying and experimenting in order to envision a life of purpose and goodness for my daughter and I. This life that I have is where I am supposed to be right now.

The Ietter I wrote to myself as a teenager did not mention the joy I would feel about being a parent. The calm I would experience being with friends and family that make me feel safe. The overwhelming emotions I experience when hiking in a place that I spontaneously decided to visit. Things have not been easy but they have been good.

ReEmber Infant keeps tiny toes cozy.

Even now, I have no idea where we are heading. We do not have a place of our own yet. I still do not have a full time job and life feels scrappy still. But I remember that I make the rules for myself and Adi. I have the flexibility, love, support, and privilege to take risks right now. This risk-taking affords me the experiences to play and explore as I find myself in, after, and during all of the catastrophes. I feel so lucky (at times) for all these beautiful disruptions.

Life has humbled me in ways that I still cannot believe I survived and thrived in. When I experience moments that do not feel out of control, I have to remember that I do have power. I remind myself by delving deep and asking, “How in this moment can I create something new or entertain a new beginning or what could a different ending be?”

When challenges arise, I always dance between a new beginning and/or ending. But ultimately, I always know that standing still and waiting in the middle will never feel comfortable for me. My power is in knowing that I can choose and when I do choose, it is always to move towards change and the life that I know I deserve. I am privileged to be reminded that I have built the stamina, dreams, and relationships to give me the momentum to keep trying and to keep going, even when it is hard or unclear. 

Shop the ReEmber collection at Teva.com

Shop the ReEmber collection at Teva.com.

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