In high school I was a straight A student; President of the Drama and Debate teams. I was awarded a full scholarship to the University of Utah. I loved school and devoured my classes as an English major. I also was able to indulge my love of theater with a part time job at a theater box office.
After one year of studies, I was more than halfway done with my undergrad degree when I married my high school sweetheart. He was going to school on an ROTC scholarship which required him to take a full load of classes, plus his ROTC duties. I wasn’t in any big hurry to finish school so it made sense for me to cut back to part time studies and take on a full time job at the theater writing study guides and arranging field trips for local schools. I was well suited to the work and loved my job, but I was young and very in love and was soon overcome with a desire to start a family.
Growing up in a small Utah town, I had very few working mother role models, so the idea of keeping my job after having babies never occurred to me. My dear husband took on a full time job, in addition to his full school and military schedule, so that I could stay home to care for our baby. I would continue school on a part time basis, attending classes during his lunch hour. This worked for about a year until I became pregnant again and our son, then just over a year old, developed severe asthma. We were spending days in the hospital with him. Meanwhile, I was suffering from severe morning sickness (more like all day and all night sickness). School just had to be set aside.
My husband graduated college and was commissioned as an officer in the United States Navy. His job was very demanding. He was at sea about 50% of the time; when he was in port, he was working 70-80 hour weeks. I was largely on my own, in faraway places, very young, and raising small children. I thought often of my hopes to finish school, but just couldn’t see a way to make it reality. I found other ways to keep myself engaged and interesting. Everywhere we lived I started or joined a book club. I took a small role in a community theater production of “The Music Man.” I kept busy with church callings.
In 2004 we took orders to Yokosuka, Japan. There I found an amazing support network of women and developed friendships unlike anything I have experienced before or since. The mutual support we were able to lend each other allowed me to develop as an individual in a myriad of ways. I taught English as a Second Language to Japanese women in my home and used the money I earned doing that to complete an online course to become certified as a doula, qualifying me to lend support to women giving birth far away from their families and support networks. I also spent a lot of time traveling, sometimes with my husband or my friends, sometimes just me and my children. I drove all over Japan and soaked up as much of the culture as I could in the two years we had there.
Four years ago my husband separated from the military. We’ve lived in the suburbs of Washington, DC for six years now. We’ve settled into civilian life and had two more babies. I have filled my time here with a lot of volunteering—teaching art and literature classes at my children’s schools and working in the PTA. For almost a year I volunteered on a committee appointed by the county to advise the school board on overcrowding.
I am 33 years old now and have begun experiencing a mid-life crisis of sorts. I occasionally become overwhelmed with the feeling that I am a failure. That I have achieved nothing in my life. I look around and see women who have “Made Something of Themselves” and I feel small and insignificant. I have no degrees or titles, I never wrote that book, I haven’t earned a paycheck in over a decade.
This year I decided to go back to school. I’m going to finish that English degree. I think a part of me really needs to feel that sense of accomplishment, of completion. I calculate that I should finish my degree just before my oldest graduates high school and just after my youngest starts kindergarten. I haven’t really decided what I’m going to do with it. Some days I feel like I am nineteen again with all these possibilities open to me and I decide that I’m going to become a journalist or a diplomat and save the world. Other days I remember that I really like being able to go to the gym every morning (without waking up before dawn) and I like being able to help my kids with their homework and drive them to sports and music practices. I’m not sure I’d be able to do all that while also saving the world.
I do know that the process of applying to school has been an opportunity for me to reflect on my life. My application required me to write a resume. When I sat down and did that, I realized that I have done some interesting things! I am a valuable member of society!
I’ve also realized that while my life hasn’t followed the path I thought it would, or any of the path renovations I imagined along the way, I have been blessed with the ability to be flexible and accommodate the needs of my family while still carving out some pieces of my life for my own personal growth. I look forward to seeing where this next turn in the path will take us.
-Submitted by Chelsea