This past year, the program published its first ever Scholar Magazine, much of which was devoted to the "success stories" of people who have graduated from the program. I enjoyed reading it. I'm thrilled to know about the successes of other scholars, whether I knew them personally or not. But I couldn't help feeling a little pang of sadness as I read it.
My college years were successful ones. I had an amazing scholarship, was a student member of the university's board of trustees my last two years, held multiple on-campus jobs, served on the Academic Senate, the Re-accreditation Committee and Student Government, and graduated with a 4.0 GPA. Halfway through my tenure there, quotes from Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgandy became very popular, and the joke that I was "kind of a big deal" came up. Positive reinforcement abounded.
Four years after graduation, I am not a "success story." Yes, I did earn a master's degree, and when I worked, I stayed within the education field. I'm sure that the program administrators would be very pleased with these developments. But a little over a year ago, I became a stay-at-home mom, which isn't the sort of story you see in alumni spotlights.
Now, my days are consumed with taking care of an affectionate, sweet, hilarious, demanding, high-spirited one-year-old. Most of my time consists of nursing her, attempting to get her to eat solids without covering herself in filth, comforting her, reading to her, playing with her, and cleaning up her bowel movements. I cannot eat, sleep, or go to the bathroom without my little buddy tagging along.
And yet, as I told my mom this past weekend, the things that I do now -- the nursing, the playing, the feces-cleaning -- form the pinnacle of my life's success. Years before I found out I was pregnant, before I was married, before I was even dating my husband, I knew that I wanted to be a wife and mother more than anything in the world. I enjoyed my successes in college, but in the back of my mind, I always felt that my achievements were paving the road to my real vocation. I wanted to be educated, I wanted to be (at least somewhat) wise, but I wanted to be these things for more than just myself. I wanted to be them for my children.
I know I will likely never be featured in the Scholar Magazine, and that is okay with me, even if it sometimes makes me feel a little wistful. I understand that stay-at-home mom alumni do not "sell" the program. But, truth be told, my time at YSU in the Scholars program enriched my life and prepared me for my vocation in many ways. For example, as we are currently living on just my husband's graduate student stipend, I doubt we would have been comfortable with my being a full-time stay-at-home mom if we were saddled with student loan debt. But thanks to my scholarship (and his at Westminster College, which, incredibly, was also full-tuition and full-room-and-board), we do not have to face that. Furthermore, being in the scholar program allowed me to meet some absolutely wonderful friends that I probably never would have known otherwise. One of those friends is Lindsy, with whom I often chat online about our mothering ups and downs.
Most of all, anyone who thinks education is solely about getting a job is woefully mistaken. I used to be one of those people, actually. And I can still understand why people think that -- after all, especially in this economy, getting a decent job can be very difficult, and livelihood is a very important part of life! So certainly, job preparation is a huge part of education, but it's not everything. My college courses shaped and expanded my mind in more ways than I could imagine. More importantly, they taught me how to learn, a skill which I try to use daily. Whether my children are schooled traditionally or at home, my husband and I will be their primary educators. What better way to use my education that to teach my own children?
The baby and I stopped by our local natural foods store this afternoon in search of organic green bell peppers, which are much cheaper there than at our supermarket. Sadly, there were none. As we were walking out, I noticed a couple getting out of their car to go in. It was "Jeff," my graduate advisor, and his wife. I had not seen him since defending my thesis over two years ago. It may have been possible to avoid him entirely, and my awkward, introverted self considered it, but I decided to go ahead and say hello. He and his wife were very kind to me and complimentary of the baby. As luck would have it, I happened to be wearing a t-shirt with the name of the school where I used to teach across the font. Jeff's wife asked me how it was going there. I smiled. "Actually, I'm a stay-at-home mom."
They both reacted nicely to this news; we exchanged a few more pleasantries and then parted. I was happy with the encounter. I don't know what they really thought, but I don't mind. I love what I am doing. Being a mother is the most difficult, most rewarding thing I have ever done. Don't get me wrong: I don't feel like I'm better than moms who work. But I don't feel inferior to them, either, nor do I feel inferior to my former classmates who are racking up resumés full of "success stories."
College life was good. I enjoyed the awards, accolades, recognition, and free food, none of which I receive anymore. But my life as a mother is infinitely better. Even on days when I feel exhausted, unappreciated, lonely, and like the biggest failure on earth, I unwaveringly believe that motherhood is my calling. It is a beautiful, miraculous, and humbling honor, and it is my success story.