Mothering and Other Great Works Redux

(The italicized portion of this post is a reprint from May 17, 2006.)

I have a BA in History and a half a Master's in Liberal Arts from St. John's College. It is a fabulous program, but I only have half a mind to finish it. It taps into my talents and interests, but my first semester being 6-9 months pregnant and the second semester having a newborn and no capacity to really discuss the Books that Have Shaped Western Civilization left me a little overwhelmed, and I have put it on hold again and again.

The thing is, I yearn for academic learning, I have a fear of my brain turning to mush before I am out of the diaper-changing years (I religiously avoid soaps operas and talk shows because of this fear), and yet to sit down and read great literature and then take several hours a week to have interesting, thought-provoking discussions with other adults who have been reading, too, seems selfish and actually a bit unimportant right now.

There is a big part of me that wants the degree because if I had it, I would actually be something, there would be actual documentation that I accomplished something, I finished something.

I waffle between what I know is most important in the long run and what I crave right now; between book knowledge and life knowledge; between the thought that the best mom is the one who's satisfied with herself and the thought that the best mom is the one who gives everything she has to her children.

I tell myself I can read all the Great Works and then some just on my own, but the real me knows that I won't unless I have to answer to someone. The decision to go back for the last year is one that dogs me at unexpected moments every day, and I know there is no one who can really tell me the right thing to do, but I just had to put it out there.

Maybe it's just a question of timing, but it always feels like a question of priorities, and it's one of my innermost struggles.

So how about now, in October 2007? School is going well. I just wrote my first paper - on an aspect of Euclid's geometry. I've discovered that I do love geometry and now consider it one of the more intellectually delicious things in life. However, as I am enrolled in the Mathematics and Science segment this term, I have a preceptorial on Einstein's Relativity that is kicking my butt. Overall, though, I'm loving the stretch and I feel good.

Some of you have e-mailed and asked both about the program and why I am going back, and many of you have in fact expressed a little incredulity that I would choose to do so right now. I thought I'd "splain" myself:

I did the first year of the program five years ago. According to college policy, I have eight years to finish it. That means I have to enroll for my last year no later than Fall of 2009 (to be finished by Summer/Fall of 2010). Um, we're going to be in Ukraine. So it was basically do it now or the money I spent for the first year might as well have been made into a bonfire. Bad timing, both times around, but I've got to finish what I've started.

But more than that, it is good for me to be there. I've grown into motherhood a lot since the first year and even since posting the above over a year ago. When I leave for school now, I don't feel that I am deserting my boys or choosing something less honorable anymore. It feels great to let go of that guilt and worry over priorities.

More importantly, I've come to really feel like I'm someone, without a degree. I'm smart and capable (albeit clumsy), and I love to learn. To three little boys, and one awesome man, I am the most valuable woman in the world. My work with them and the life we have to share with each other is just what I would have it be, and it's not secondary or menial or less important based on whether I accomplish things outside of my home.

I'm also learning to create my own structure, which is something I think I depended on school for, so now that I go to school, I'm totally there to learn, rather than kinda using it as a crutch to fill my life with deadlines or to-do's.

So, yes, it's a crazy time to go back to school. It's a serious balancing act and I'm not sure if I'm really doing that great at it. But I do know that my boys are well taken care of (they spend two hours with Auntie S and the rest of the two nights I go to school with their dad at home), that I am learning and exploring stuff I might never have otherwise, and that my heart can be in both places at once, and all I have to do it trust it to lead me in the daily choices of priorities and balance.


someone else said...

Three cheers for you! I think it's wonderful when people pursue dreams. My daughter has just returned to college at age 35, and she's having the time of her life. She's working toward a nursing degree.

megachick said...

good for you to have the desire and the confidence to tackle scholastic achievements again.
this post really hit me, where you said that to your husband and sons you are the most valuable woman in the world.
i hope i can be the same to my family.

Anonymous said...

I know we barely know each other, but ... I am proud of you.

Really proud. This takes great courage.

P.S. If you want to dish about relativity sometime, if I can remember anything, I'd be happy to chat with you about it -- at one point, (I think) I understood it. Also can recommend George Gamow's famous book on the subject -- a lot lighter than Einstein's papers, it's a great companion read and quite entertaining too!

I envy your time at St. John's!