Sometimes very special people come into your life unexpectedly. When those very special people also happen to be the caregivers of your only child is when you know you are truly blessed.
Nearly three years ago to the day, I took my two year old – my crazy, wild, stubborn, sarcastic, would-not-potty-train-for-anything little girl – to preschool for the first time. I didn’t know any of these people, and I was terrified to let go of her and walk out the door. I’m pretty sure that I called and/or emailed several times that day, just to make sure she was okay. Deep down I knew she was okay. The emails and calls were really for my own well-being. I got through my fears, and Lucy thrived.
Within a month, Lucy was potty trained. She started eating foods she had refused before. She learned to share. She learned to stand up for herself. She learned her ABCs and then learned the sounds they make. She started singing random songs out of nowhere that boggled mine and Cory’s minds and made us laugh hysterically. She grew smarter. She grew sassier. She has always been sweet.
I call it preschool, but it has been so much more than that. It has been daycare when I’m at work. It has been fun and games and the best place to play. It has been life lessons (sometimes learned the hard way). It has been friendship and love and support and new discoveries. It has been a new best friend every day. It has been celebrations. It has been a dozen or so women (and occasional man) who have helped me raise my daughter. These individuals have been there for her when I couldn’t be. They’ve taught her and loved her and have helped make her the beautiful person she is. They’ve been comforting arms when she is sad or sick. They’ve kissed her owies and held ice packs to her head (Lucy obviously inherited my grace and poise). They’ve been my eyes and ears when I am not with her. They’ve been her protectors.
And for everything they’ve done for Lucy, they’ve done just as much for me. They’ve assured me that all the weird things my child does is completely normal. They’ve offered advice to get us through the tougher days. They laugh with me and cry with me and offer their unending support and friendship.
I know that these women love my daughter almost as much as I do, and words simply do not exist that can adequately describe how important they have been to our lives these past three years. Even though today we say goodbye, they will always be a part of our lives. Lucy’s first memories happened while she was with them. A large part of who she is is because of them. Julie made her sassy. Sarah made her silly. Tami made her smart. They’ve all helped her become the lovely little person that she is.
So I just want to say thank you to the amazing people at LPA. Thank you for choosing the profession you did and for loving what you do. Thank you for taking us in and making us feel at home. But most importantly, thank you for loving and protecting my baby. We love you.
I have to end it here, because now I’m crying.
Lucy: Mommy, where did the first animal come from?
Me: [Shit, is it okay to Google and drive?] Um, evolution.
Lucy: (blank stare)
Me: Okay, so millions and billions and trillions of years ago, living things were just tiny micro-organisms. And they changed and grew and changed and grew over all those years and now there are animals and people.
Lucy: I have a scratch on my nose.
Today’s science lesson was made possible by the State of Arizona public education system and the support of viewers like you.
I was asked to write a few paragraphs about my first semester grad school experiences for the new cohort coming in next year. A few paragraphs turned into a lot of paragraphs. Some of this is just regurgitation of what has previously been posted, but since I’ve been so absent from writing lately I thought I would share.
My name is Caroline. I work full-time. I am the mother of a four year-old and the wife of a thirty-seven going on… well, nevermind. I am a terrible housekeeper and even worse chef. As of August 2014, I am also a part-time master’s student in HESA.
It’s been approximately sixteen months since I made the decision to go back to school. In all honesty, the initial motivating factor that led me to apply was that my office would help me pay – secession planning, for the win! I always wanted to go back to school, but it was easy to make excuses: it wasn’t the right time, I was in a career I disliked, we just got married, we just bought a house, we had a baby… there wasn’t time to consider higher education. There was barely time to sleep.
The craziness of those years where I actually became a grown-up settled down. We formed a routine. I had a new job in a field that I was completely enamored with – higher ed administration. The big boss and my amazing supervisor had my back. The stage was set.
I had a less than stellar undergraduate performance and didn’t think I would get into Iowa. I considered an online program in higher education because I didn’t want to face rejection. The big boss encouraged me to at least apply to Iowa, so I registered for the GRE, dug in my heels, and attempted to relearn all of the math skills I had conveniently forgotten over the past thirteen years. I submitted my application, asked for letters of recommendation, took the dreaded GRE… and waited. It was during the period of waiting that I truly realized how much I wanted to be a part of HESA. I was emotionally invested.
And, amazingly, I got in.
When I no longer had the application process to focus on, doubt overcame me. I was nervous and completely terrified of making a fool of myself. I had no idea how I was going to juggle motherhood, family, full-time work, and part-time school. Every day I was overwhelmed with hectic mornings, taking my daughter to daycare, getting to work, making dinner, trying to keep my house clean, spending time with my daughter and husband, and trying to throw in a few moments doing the things I enjoy somewhere in between. I wanted to add grad school to the mix? I had to be nuts. In the midst of my fears and anxieties, it was the simplest advice that calmed me down – a good friend told me that it would all work itself out. It just would. And you know what…
This isn’t to say that it has been a perfect transition. Nearly every day during the fall semester I felt guilt, stress, and/or anxiety – something or someone in my life was being neglected. I didn’t have time to play with my daughter, I never saw my best friend, I didn’t have the energy to make dinner, and my house was (and still is) a state of disaster. There were days my focus at work wasn’t up to par, and there were days in class that I wasn’t as prepared as I wanted to be. It wasn’t until the end of the semester that I realized how very true my friend’s advice was – it really did work itself out.
My first semester is over. I am still excited and motivated to embrace this experience and opportunity. I wish I had a simple formula for figuring out the family/work/school/life balance, but I don’t honestly think there is one. There are things that certainly help – being organized, getting enough sleep, having an amazing partner and support system, being supported and encouraged by my supervisors and co-workers, and lots and lots (and lots and lots) of coffee.
There is one aspect of being a part-time student that is both good and bad. The Iowa program is cohort based, but when you are a part-time student (especially a part-time student in the admin/policy track) you miss out on the cohort experience. This is the bad. While I have gotten to know my cohort a little bit, I have never and may never have a class with them. The appeal of a cohort-based program is that you get to form a close knit support network, and I don’t get to experience that. The good, however, is that I have been incredibly lucky to have the freedom to take classes as I can, which means that I get to take classes with the M2 cohort, the PhD students, and students from other EPLS disciplines.
Last spring my advisor and I made a road map for my course work. We created a game plan for squeezing in as much as possible so that I am able to finish as quickly as possible. Seeing the next three years laid out has been a huge stress reliever. Not only do I know what I need to do and when I need to do it, but (perhaps most importantly) there is an actual end in sight!
With this in mind, I have composed a list of the most important survival skills I learned one semester into graduate school:
- Books, notebooks, and binders are heavy, and they only get heavier as the semester progresses. Invest in a nice back pack, even if you think you look stupid.
- Sleep is crucial. Reading comprehension will not occur if you can’t keep your eyes open.
- Form a support system if you don’t already have one. Partners, family, friends, daycare providers, supervisors, health care providers… everyone has the ability to help you in some way, from listening to you vent to watching your children.
- Ask for help. You can’t do everything, and the sooner you realize it the better. HESA is an amazing community and I have not met a single person who wouldn’t help someone if they needed it. People aren’t mind readers, though, so actively seek help if you need it.
- It is impossible to multi-task when it comes to parenting and reading. Both require your undivided attention, and chances are the dimpled ball of energy that never stops talking is going to win in the battle for your attention. Take a break and play with your kids.
- Take however much time you think you will need to get through your readings and multiply it by 3. Reading is easy. Comprehension takes time.
- Sit down and plan your courses, semester by semester, so that you have a plan. This is already done for most full-time students, but part-time students really need to lay it out. Not only will it help you stay organized, but it will you help you see that your goal is actually achievable.
- Caffeine is your friend.
- Have fun amidst the chaos. Hang out with your friends. Make time for your hobbies or find a new hobby. Remember that you are an actual living, breathing human being who needs to laugh.
- You will be stressed out. You will have days where you have no idea what you are doing. You will always feel like you could be doing something better. It’s okay to feel like that.
I’ve been absent from the blogosphere for awhile now, and for good reason – I don’t have time to write for pleasure. In the midst of a finance group project, preparing for a class discussion that I have to lead, and various readings that never seem to end, I am taking the time because something is weighing on my mind.
We all have opinions. Some strong, some weak, some conforming, and others that are just way out there. As parents, we have even more opinions. Stronger opinions. Soap boxes to stand on and lectures to preach. Because as parents, we recognize that our children are our world. Everything we do, say, think and feel always has our children at the very heart. And that’s okay, because they are our children, and they are our world.
We need to recognize, however, that while our children are OUR world, they are not the world to the rest of the world.
I just ran a quick search through Amazon books with the keyword “parenting”, and this is the result:
194,639 results for Books : Parenting
Nearly 200,000 books on parenting. Those are 200,000 differing opinions on how to parent a child. Obviously there is no user manual for raising a child and what works for one family doesn’t work for another. As parents, our first instinct always seems to be a defensive one – attack attack attack any opinion that differs from our own. Of course, since we know what is best for our child, we somehow translate that into knowing what is best for every child.
And we are so incredibly wrong to do that.
I am choosing to send my daughter to public school when she is 5. We are lucky and happen to live in an amazing, well educated city with amazing public schools. We are even luckier to live in one of the best school districts in that city. I am absolutely 100% confident that Lulu will thrive during her public schooling.
But you know what? Not everyone is as lucky as we are. Public schools are grossly underfunded. Some urban area public schools can be a frightening prospect to face as a parent. Some children have special needs and don’t or can’t conform to the public school standard. If Lu had special needs or we lived in an area with a less than stellar school system, I would absolutely consider alternatives. Private schools and homeschooling are always options. And even if someone lives in an area with amazing public schools, and they still choose to send their child to private school or homeschool, who am I to judge that decision? Those parents know what is best for their family, not me. All I can do is make the best decision for MY child and family.
(To throw a shout out to my SIL – my homeschooled nieces are smarter, funnier, more compassionate, and more well rounded than most adults I know.)
When we become parents, we join this amazing club. A club of late nights, worries, no sleep, stress, messes, smiles, hugs, joy, happiness, accomplishment, and unconditional love. Public school vs. homeschool, disposable vs. cloth, SAHM vs. working mom, organic vs. whatever you can afford, breast vs. bottle… these are not one size fits all categories. I might not agree with the decisions you have decided to make as a parent, but to be quite honest – it’s none of my business.
We are all a part of this amazing, special club where our greatest reward is the love of another human being. We need to support each other, because we need each other. We need to listen, understand, learn and sympathize with each other. Judgement is a nasty thing that only perpetuates nastiness. Instead of belittling the mom who homeschools, why not ask her why she has chosen to homeschool. I bet she has a really good reason. I bet the mom who uses disposable diapers, who feeds her baby formula, or who puts her child in daycare to work full-time has a really good reason too.
Meaningful conversations are scarce these days. Let’s bring open-minded discussion back.
We all have our fair share of fantasies, sometimes inappropriate, sometimes outlandish, sometimes ridiculously obscure. As of late, one particular fantasy dominates for me. It is not inappropriate, outlandish, or obscure, but it is pretty unobtainable. It goes a little something like this:
Wake up early one day. Put on comfy clothes that aren’t too tight on my ever-fattening body. Kiss my sweet girl and husband good-bye, and leave the house. Grab a coffee. Wander the aisles of Target for an hour or two (or three). Wander the aisles of the fabric store for an hour or two (or three). More coffee. Come home. Kiss the sweet girl and husband hello, and then lock myself in my sewing room. Play some Format, Jimmy Eat World, Less Than Jake (and everything that reminds me of when I was young). Sew lots of pretty things for an hour or two (or ten). Read a book. Cuddle the sweet girl and watch some random Disney movie. And, finally, sleep without waking up ten times throughout the night.
Some mornings Lulu loves getting dropped off at daycare. She runs inside and is perfectly at ease. Other mornings, not so much. Sometimes she is shy, sometimes sad, sometimes tired, happy, crazy… I never know what I am going to get with this girl.
She was happy this morning. She sat down at a table to finish eating her Cheerios. I hung her sweatshirt up, gave her a kiss, and asked her to be a good girl at school today, to which she replied, in her commanding little voice:
“Mmhm. And you be a good girl at work today.” – Lulu, age 3
“I’m happy I’ve got your love.” – Lulu, age 3
I was out of town for my birthday this weekend. When I got home last night, Lulu was excited beyond belief. She told me all about the cupcakes they picked up, and then ran into the living room for a moment. When she came back, she was holding a little blue present. She squealed in delight…
“Do you want to open your present?? It’s shiny earrings!” – Lulu, age 3
I adore her.