They’d known each other a long time but had only been dating a few months as they lay on his apartment floor dreaming of the future.
“So, what do you wanna do?” he asked his girlfriend. “What are your goals?"
She thought for a bit and replied, “You know what, I would really love to be an art teacher."
She held her breath waiting for his response. Did it sound nuts? I mean it was a dream, not like she thought it would happen, right?
"Well, what's stopping you?" he asked without an ounce of disbelief.
- All the things in her life she looked at as roadblocks were still there, but was it really possible?
- Could it be more than a dream?
- What was stopping her?
“Having him has been amazing,” Lindsay Opp says of her 5-year-old son Raiden. “But the whole journey of having him, with his father and everything, was not a good thing.”
Lindsay was 19 when she found out she was pregnant.
“We were high school sweethearts, together for four years,” she shares about Raiden’s birth dad. “Basically, he got really into drinking and drugs after high school.”
And he became abusive. But leaving wasn’t easy. “He just had this hold on me, that’s hard to explain. It was very hard,” Lindsay says.
She tried leaving several times but returned on promises of change and the desire to make it work for Raiden. But things only got worse.
“Things got so bad and I knew I didn’t want this to be my son's role model," she says.
“It's hard,” Opp says. “I didn’t want to break up my family. But at the end of the day, if that person isn't a good role model for your child, why stay?”
“I moved back home and was working at Subway as the assistant manager just trying to work full-time to be able to support Raiden,” Lindsay says.
And then she started dating Christian.
“We've known each other since middle school,” Opp says with a smile. “We've always been friends of friends, but we were never really close or anything.”
As friends gathered to celebrate Opp’s twentieth birthday, Christian attended too.
“We really hit it off and things went great from there,” Opp says.
Christian says Lindsey is a friendly, fun person who is “contagious to be around,” he adds with a smile.
Just a month after Christian graduated from Minnesota State Community and Technical College, he started to work as an electrician and began dating Lindsey.
“When Lindsay and I started dating, some people in my life defiantly turned their heads at me considering I was 19 and Raiden was a month shy of his first birthday, " Christian says. "Lindsay was a mother at 20. Trading a lifestyle that could be single-life or party-life for family-life, that young, to some people seemed like a very bad idea.”
But it seemed right to Lindsay and Christian. The couple didn’t look back.
“He is the most caring, charismatic, hardworking, talented, lovable person,” Lindsay says about her now-husband of more than a year. “Looking back there were all these little nuggets that lead us to where we are today.”
Leaving fear behind
Lindsay remembers the spark in her that was lit during the conversation with Christian as they lay on his apartment floor dreaming of the future. Sure, she always thought being an art teacher would be the best job, but as soon as she said it, she let the excuses flood in.
“I had applied for college before, and then on the registration date I chickened out,” she says. “I guess I had this idea of college that it's hard, it's expensive and you're going to get yourself into a lot of debt.”
“I'm a young mom. Where would I find the time? Who would watch Raiden?” Lindsay remembers rebutting.
“We'll make it work," Christian assured Lindsay.
Lindsay was always drawn to the arts, whether it be participating in dance for twelve years or tagging along to work with her mom as a young girl and drawing to pass the time. Art has been important to Lindsay.
“Every aspect of the arts, I just adored,” she says. “I was always one of those kids in school where the art room was my home. Like, if I didn't have anyone to sit with at lunch, the art room was where I went to eat lunch and I would just do my thing in there. The art room was my safe place and I want to offer that safe place to kids.”
The more they thought about it and the more Christian encouraged her, Lindsay decided to follow her dream and applied for college. She was accepted at Minnesota State University Moorhead and this time she wasn’t backing out. She had the support and encouragement.
“When I first met Lindsay, I immediately saw tremendous opportunity ahead for her that she didn’t see for herself,” says Caryn Neary, Christian’s mother. “When she spoke of becoming an art teacher, I right away remembered my childhood where art was the most favored and peaceful period of the school week. It showed me as a child that I can create something of value that is a representation of who I am and that it’s O.K. to be who I am, no matter what the outcome of the artwork was or what others thought of it. My art teachers and mother always received my projects with praise and encouragement to express myself which produced a very confident feeling inside that I carry today. If someone believes in who you are and accepts you for who you are, there is nothing stopping you from becoming successful in whatever you do.”
“I was so nervous,” Lindsay recalls of her first days on the MSUM campus. “MSUM isn't that big of a campus, but it's bigger than what I was used to!”
There were times it was tough but the support she had from those around her was invaluable.
“Christian has definitely been my cheerleader and there to watch Raiden through the long nights when I was gone in the art studio or writing a paper. And Caryn, without her, I wouldn't have been able to do it. She watched Raiden the entire time I went to school. She's so supportive, such an encourager.”
“I knew Lindsay had a lot to offer people in life and since I was in love with her, I wanted her to reach her full potential,” Christian says. “I had a very positive experience in the Fargo public school system growing up and I had a lot of excellent teachers who shaped me into the person I am today. I completely felt like her becoming a teacher was what she was meant to do, and I felt there are generations of kids out there who will be better off having her as their art teacher.”
Caryn also sees the profession Lindsay has chosen perfectly aligning with her.
“Many of us do the same things every day and we tire of it quickly because we are not expressing who we are or our inner passion. If you look deep inside, there is a passion inside us all. Lindsay will be successful in teaching art because she is passionate about it. She’s a good role model to follow as many of us are collecting a paycheck at a job we don’t like instead of picking a career where our gifts and talents can meld alongside our passions.”
Her course work and student teaching experience only solidified that her dream of being an art teacher was meant to be. December 2018, four and a half years after starting, Lindsay received her degree.
“It felt really good,” she says with a smile. “As long as you have a really strong support system I think anything's possible. You're going to feel guilty and you're going to feel like, at times, it's easier to just give up, but don't. You'll get through it. And don't feel guilty, because in the long run, that sacrifice that you're making is bettering your life and your child's life. So, in the end, it's worth it.”
“If you apply yourself daily to your cause or goal, you will succeed most when you humble yourself and seek knowledge from other positive influences or sources that will assist you with achieving your goals,” Caryn says. “It takes a team to win a football game. It also takes a team to raise children and graduate from college. Without parents, teachers, and friends who support and cheer us on, we will lose hope quickly and give up. When you have those cheerleaders on the sidelines, telling you that you can do it, it produces hope and encouragement to endure and persevere.”
“She provides a safe and secure environment for her son and the children she teaches. She also puts her son first instead of putting her own needs first,” Caryn shares of her daughter-in-law. “The first thing a parent needs to learn is how to teach a child, as a child isn’t born with the knowledge to survive or take care of themselves. They watch us each day and Lindsay has been a successful mother because she provides her son the love and time that children need to be healthy, both physically and mentally.”
“In the beginning, I wanted him to still have a relationship with his. But you know, he just proved himself to not be able to handle it,” Lindsay says of Raiden’s birth dad. “I'm gonna try with you, but you need to meet me halfway, and if you can't handle this, then I'm not gonna try with you.”
And when Christian began dating Lindsay he knew he wasn’t just dating her.
“Raiden has always been a blessing to everyone that has met him, and it was a privilege then and is a privilege now to spend time with him,” Christian says. “I always viewed them, since the beginning, as a package deal. I have always had a family attitude toward them.”
That family attitude is important to Christian. He has a personal history to fall back on.
“I feel like people often view children as an extension of themselves and their own legacy, and therefore really struggle with the idea of loving a child as their own that isn't biologically theirs,” Christian says. “I was the only boy in my High School who took child development class, who didn't have a child and have always wanted to have kids. I have always viewed kids as a child of God before they were a child of their parents, and thus I have never ruled out the idea of being open-minded to dating a single mom. My dad passed away when I was ten, and my mom married my stepdad, Jim, when I was 13. The difference Jim has made in my life is immeasurable. I was so much better off for having him as a Father in my teenage years. I could of very well ended up dead or in prison if it wasn't for him. Jim's biological father also stepped out of his life at a very early age and was absent most of his life. His mom married my grandpa Al when he was at a similar age to when he came into my life and became a fantastic father figure to him. Raiden has as strong of a Father/Son lineage as anyone could hope for. For one reason or another, he is the third son to be adopted in this lineage of boys with single Moms and absent Fathers. Going into the relationship, I knew the dynamic would not work unless I loved her child, I hate to say it like this, but almost more than her. Parents need to prioritize their children's needs above their own needs, and if I was going to be in his life, I wanted to prioritize his needs above my own, and her own.”
In May 2017, Lindsay and Christian got married. In February 2018, Christian adopted Raiden.
“When I adopted Raiden, I felt very content and overjoyed to have the law recognize how I have felt for a very long time about my son," he says. "My family and friends also adopted Raiden into their hearts as their family for many years now, and it felt like a victory for all of us to have that happen. Having the law protect the rights of our family was a gift.”
Looking into the future, Lindsay sees herself teaching high school art. “When I was at Sheyenne High School student teaching, I woke up every day just pumped.”
She loved the energy of the students and being able to connect through art and her personal experiences. “I think students have this idea in their head that teachers are perfect, that they did everything the right way,” Lindsay says. “And from me having to go through harder circumstances, it's a lot easier for me to relate to kids dealing with hardship and trauma of some sort. I can relate. Life isn't always fair. But it's you that makes the decision of what you do with it. You either make it a crutch or you use it to push you forward.”
To say Christian is proud of his wife is an understatement. He is proud and grateful for what his wife’s experience has offered their son. “Striving to be successful and obtaining a college education despite being in a situation that would make it seem like that wasn't possible, was setting the example for our son,” Christian acknowledges. “Children typically don't listen as much as they imitate. It is a lot easier to tell people they should take risks and make hard decisions because it will pay off in the long run than it is actually being in that situation and showing grace and perseverance despite having self-doubt.”
Do you know of a mom or dad in Fargo-Moorhead, West Fargo or Grand Forks area who have created new life from raising babies to growing a business? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Editor’s note: Story was written by Sheri Kleinsasser Stockmoe and originally published in the February/March 2019 issue of the On The Minds of Moms magazine. Forum Communications Company is re-publishing these stories as On the Minds of Moms staff members develop a new online community.