A few weeks ago an old friend from college stopped by the house to visit and meet Clara and Elyse. I hadn’t seen him since July 2009 when I was pregnant with Clara. While we were catching up, he asked me if I had finished my Ph.D. I regretfully answered, “No.” Then he asked me if I was A.B.D. (All But Dissertation, which is when you’ve finished all of the Ph.D. requirements minus the dissertation itself). Again, I regretfully answered, “No.” Not finishing what would have been my most important academic achievement is the only major task that I’ve started and never saw to completion. By nature, I’m not one to give up; even if I get sidetracked in the midst of a project or task, I always go back to finish it. But, unfortunately, this was not the case with the elusive Ph.D.
I started the Ph.D. program in the Communication Studies Department at UCONN a few months after we got married in 2005. I remember feeling reluctant beginning such a major undertaking so soon after getting married, but heeded my major professor’s advice — that there was no time like the present — and jumped head first into what ended up being a very rigorous five semesters. Long story short, between the 90-minute commute from the East Side of Providence (where we were living at the time), my course load, my teaching schedule and my own research requirements, I found myself feeling miserable, imprisoned and alone. Hence, I decided to suspend my studies, leave UCONN behind and just focus on teaching. Thankfully, a couple of weeks after leaving the Ph.D. program in December 2007, I landed a job at Bridgewater State University, where I spent the following four years teaching undergraduates how to speak in public, work in groups and successfully navigate personal relationships (well, at least I hope this is what they learned from taking my classes).
Although I do have some regrets about leaving UCONN without having attained the degree I once sought, my life would have definitely turned out much differently had I taken a more academically focused path. But, at the age of 29, the alarm on my biological clock was screaming; I was ready to put aside my need for academic prowess in exchange for exploring an area in which I had absolutely no expertise — motherhood. Before I was a mother (and even while pregnant with Clara), I often joked that after all of the years I spent in school, I had a great deal of knowledge in many areas, motherhood not being one of them. Mommy101 was not a class offered at any of the schools I attended. This was one area where I needed to study up. But, unfortunately, you can’t learn how to be a good parent from reading Dr. Spock — you learn as you live and you live as you make mistake after mistake. In no way am I a perfect parent, but after almost two and a half years of experience, I feel that I have definitely earned my parenting degree. Thus, the title of today’s post: JLMH, M.A., M.O.M.
I earned the Master’s Degree (M.A.) by studying hard, reading article upon article of research, citing pages upon pages of academic inquiries and completing my Master’s Thesis. But it wasn’t until I spent hour upon hour in the middle of the night nursing my babies back to sleep, learning to patiently raise a baby from a newborn to a toddler and realizing that parenting a child means putting your own needs out of reach at times, that I felt comfortable enough having earned the title of M.O.M.
For years, I watched my own mother care for my sister and I. She really made it look so easy. And, more importantly, she welcomed each day with a smile on her face and an agenda for how the day would unfold. Although she never made it apparent to my sister and I, whenever Mom would say, “And this is the order of the day,” we knew that we had things to accomplish, but we would have fun all the while. Now that I’m a mom, I’ve taken my mother’s lead in trying to make the most out of each day. Although Clara and Elyse are still too small to understand, I am really focused on making lots of wonderful childhood memories for them — memories much like the ones that I can recall. In particular, I want the girls to have an appreciation for holidays — all of the holidays. So, as my own mother once did, I hang holiday-themed cardboard cut-outs on my kitchen cabinets for the major holidays. I have them all –Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, Easter, you name it. I even string appropriately matched colored lights on a fake Ficus tree in the living room. All of this is in an attempt to make the various times of the year special for my children. I have such fond childhood memories of baking pink frosted heart-shaped cakes, scouring the front yard for the perfect foliage to make leaf placemats and dying brightly colored Easter eggs on the kitchen table, all thanks to my mom. Now, I am fortunate in that I can share these same experiences with my girls.
So, I’m no longer a Ph.D. student and I’ve traded in my Powerpoint slides and lecture notes for dirty diapers and children’s literature. Although I once dreamed of the day when a student would call me Doctor, this once-desired aspiration could never compare to the overwhelming feeling of love I experience every time Clara proudly calls me “Mommy.”
Happy Mother’s Day to all of my DTT Moms. You’ve all earned your M.O.M. suffixes — display them with pride and use them in good health.