Cindy Barnes, DVM, CVSMT
Allow me to introduce myself. I’m a wife, a mother of five, a veterinarian, an emergency animal practice owner, and an entrepreneur. I’m 45 years old, and life is really good. It hasn’t always been. Let me share with you a bit of the journey, and perhaps you will find inspiration to go out and create a life that you love too!
You can have it all, maybe just not all at the same time…
Growing up in Southern California, my family consisted of my mom and my two sisters. My sisters and I rode horses, and competed in hunters and equitation. My mom was an accountant. She did the best she could as a single mom. My dad was no where to be found, literally. He did come back into my life as a teenager, but then died a few years later when he was hit by a car while walking to work. Money was tight. We moved a lot, from rental to rental, always wondering when the electricity or telephone would be turned off due to lack of payment. My mom focused on getting us to horse shows and making sure we “looked” the part. Competing in the hunter-jumper world is expensive, and frankly, I don’t know how my mom did it. I worked off a lot of expenses by working at the barn and riding horses for the trainers. Of course, on the flipside, it was embarrassing when our phone was turned off or we didn’t have money for gas or food. But boy did we look good in that show ring!
Horses were my saving grace. Life was chaotic at home. The constant financial struggles and the task of raising 3 daughters alone, took their toll on my mom. Mentally and emotionally, she had a hard time. Once my older sisters moved out of the house, things became worse. The simple task of getting me to school became a burden. I was often late to class, and in high school, that was an awful feeling. I would hide in the girl’s bathroom until the next class, just so I didn’t have to walk into class late. Eventually, I stopped going to school all together. My oldest sister lived on a ranch with her fiancé, so I spent my days riding horses and not worrying about school. Of course, that’s not legal. I eventually took my GED and legally was released from the constraints of high school. I was free. Free to go live my life as I saw fit, free from the stresses of home, free from the responsibility of school. As I type this, I realize that none of my children know that I didn’t actually graduate high school, but took my GED. I wonder what they’ll think?Living my newly independent life, I moved out of my house at the age of 16. One of the clients at the barn I rode at, was going to Europe for the summer. She offered for me to live in her home, rent-free, including the use of her car, for the summer. Well duh! Of course I lived it up. I worked for a local barn, riding and training horses, spent my nights and weekends hanging out at the beach, and it was magical. Then summer came to an end and I was faced with the reality of finding a place to live. I moved in with a friend of my cousin’s, and my best childhood friend moved in with us as well. The three amigos. I continued riding horses and training for a living, and when I was 18, I met my first husband. We dated for a year before we got married. We both agreed that we wanted children right away, and that I was going to stay home and raise them.
My first child was born when I was just 20 years old. A 9lb monster of a boy. Labor and delivery was long and hard. I came home exhausted, but determined to give my child every tool in life to succeed. During my pregnancy, I read books. Lots of books on labor and delivery, what to expect, parenting, etc. You name it, I read it. I practiced co-sleeping, breastfeeding, baby wearing, and ate organic food, everything that’s cool today, I was doing 25 years ago. I threw myself into parenting. Everything I did, thought about, read about, dreamed about, was parenting. My children were the reason for my very existence in life.
Three years later, my daughter, another 9lb baby, came along. I’m 5’4”, why am I having such big babies? Anyway, the journey continued. My son was now 3 years old and quite the master at his MS-DOS computer games. I was leading an Attachment Parenting chat group on ParentSoup.com which was bought by iVillage.com, which are both nonexistent today. Needless to say, I’ve been a technology geek most of my life.
Two kids in tow, I became eager to start making my own money. My husband kept me on a tight budget, and that was just not going to work for me. I started a gift basket business called, Organic Creations. Gift baskets filled with organic and compostable materials. Mind you, this was 21 years ago. People were not concerned about pesticides in their food or global warming. I think I was ahead of my time. The business did well, for a while. But ultimately, I just couldn’t balance being super mom to my kids, and running a business effectively. So that business was put to rest. I was still left with the dilemma of needing extra money. I found a gal who was starting a new equine magazine and needed someone to get ads sold. Well I knew the horse show industry inside and out, so this was a perfect gig for me. My kids were finally getting to the age where I felt comfortable leaving them for a few hours. I traveled around the California Horse Show Circuit, talking to vendors, selling ads, creating content for the magazine, etc. It was actually a lot of fun. Unfortunately, the CEO and editor of the magazine went bankrupt and the magazine disappeared.
So what is this mom of two supposed to do with her life? She has a GED, no education, but a ton of ambition, desire to work hard, and a will of steel. I took inventory of what my skills were, what my passions were, and decided that working in an animal hospital was perfect for me. My kids were in preschool now and I had some free time.
With my resume in hand, I set out to find a job as a Veterinary Assistant. Surely, a Veterinary Assistant was an important job, right? Assisting the veterinarian. Like, in surgery? With treatments? Fixing sick animals, right? Wrong. Wrong about the duties I thought were involved. Right about it being an important position! My first job at an animal hospital was with a small animal day practice, as a Veterinary Assistant. I cleaned poop-laden kennels and cages, walked animals, took out the trash, and gave dogs a bath. I was a glorified janitor. But you know what? I took that position seriously. My cages were clean, you could eat off the kennel floors, the hospital was always in spic and span if I was on that day. I learned how to hold and handle animals for procedures, started picking up more duties in the treatment area, and eventually made it to become Technician Assistant. My goal was to become a Veterinary Technician. I enrolled in the closest Vet Tech School around, which was an hour away, and started classes.
Fast forward a year later, I was working full-time as a Vet Tech, still in school, and balancing life as a wife and mom. My husband was not thrilled with me working and going to school, it did take a toll on our marriage. I loved gaining new experiences, learning a new trade, and the independence of my own money. Remember that I grew up with a mom who struggled to pay for basic necessities, and financial freedom was a good feeling. Eventually, my marriage ended. I moved out of my home, and started my life as a single mom. I was a failure. This was not what I wanted for my kids, this was not the plan. My spirit was broken.
My husband was a widower, and had two children of his own. A son, 11 at the time, and a daughter, 9 at the time. My kids were 7 and 5. I was now the mother of four beautiful kids! A year after we were married, our son came along and made five. Working outside of the home was not possible, nor feasible. Being the mom of a large family was amazing, scary, and hard work. Blending the family, raising two children that have lost their mother, two children that are now split between two homes, and a new baby, was exhausting. Never did I waiver in my steadfast desire to give them all the tools necessary to be successful in life. I loved them unconditionally. I set boundaries. I held them accountable. Life was good. Easy? No. But good. My husband was a car salesman working for a Chevrolet store. He worked his way up to Sales Manager and then Fleet Manager. His income, our only income, was commission only. We struggled financially. There were good months and bad months. There were months when we didn’t know how we were going to make it another day. I reached out to our church for help. I reached out to family for help. I bought my groceries through WIC and the rest came from the local food bank. I remember searching the house for change in the couch and in the junk drawer, to take to the market, dump into a Coin Star machine, in order to buy a boxed cake mix and some soda for my son’s birthday party. We were struggling, to say the least. We never gave up hope. Faith in our God kept us going.
I finally went back to work, out of necessity. My youngest son was old enough to be left for a few hours. Back to veterinary medicine. This time, I went to work for an emergency and critical care veterinary hospital. The hours were better for my schedule, swing shifts were perfect. I could still do most of the mommy things after school, work late nights, and nap during the day. My husband was awesome in helping out, doing dishes, laundry, and being amazing in general. We pulled ourselves out of the money pit, and things were leveling out. My good friend from vet tech school told me about an opportunity to donate my time as a vet tech. This organization provides free spay/neuter/castration and vaccine clinics to Indian Reservations across America, and I was in! My first trip was a local one. A weekend of spays, neuters, vaccines, and minor wound repairs. It was 18 hour days, sleeping on the floor in the community room with all the equipment, and a lot of physical labor. This was not a glamorous outreach, but a deeply needed one. I went on several more trips with this outreach, to places like Pine Ridge, South Dakota, and the Reservations in Northern California. I met hundreds of vet students, joining us to learn critical thinking and surgical skills, other vet techs, and of course, the people who lived on the reservations. The Indians were welcoming and thankful on some reservations, distant and untrusting on others. I gained a deep appreciation for their struggles and the tumultuous history with America. Providing veterinary care and medicine for their animals was the least I could do. It inspired me.One night after a weeklong trip to South Dakota, my husband and I were catching up over a bottle of wine. I was sharing all of my experiences from the past week on the reservation, he was telling me about the adventures he and the kids enjoyed while I was gone. That’s when he suggested that I become a veterinarian. A veterinarian?! Don’t you know how long it takes to get into vet school? Don’t you know how hard it is to get into vet school? For goodness sakes, I’ll be OLD by the time I graduate vet school! I came up with a million reasons why this was a bad idea. My husband countered all of them. He said, you’re going to be OLD anyway. Why not be old, AND a veterinarian? But we’ll have to move. OK, he said. But it costs money. We’ll figure it out, he said. The thought of going to school for 8 years was daunting. The thought of moving out of the same town my children have known their entire life was dreadful. The thought of becoming financially fit, being in a position to help others, and healing animals? Compelling!