By Heidi Hemling – Imagine, if you will, that you are a first year student in a master’s program filling the beginning of the semester with the intensity of attending orientation, becoming acquainted with those in your cohort, meeting professors and advisors, and attempting to survive your first lectures and assignments. You are spending every second of spare time reading, researching, and writing, and struggling to shake out what your daily routine will look like in light of this new and exciting challenge.
Now, imagine that you are embarking on this journey while also being the mother of an infant.
The first year graduate student you are imagining, hiding out at a table in the back corner of Raynor with books and syllabi scattered all around, making a desperate attempt at getting all critical due dates onto a calendar, is me.
I enjoyed every sweet second with my daughter, as we were able to be home together, from the day she was born until the day I began my graduate studies. I planned and prepared for the change that would come along with my return to student-hood. I organized sitters, made meal plans for my family, and fully embraced my Type-A personality in all its multi-tasking glory. I drove to campus on my first day feeling confident, excited, and primed.
And then, as I walked down the hallway to enter my first class as a graduate student, I stopped. My eyes began to well up with tears and my heart caught in my throat. I began to cry as I realized the precious newborn chapter of motherhood was closing. Up until that moment, I had only been away from my daughter on a couple of short occasions. Our only time apart had been during quick trips to the grocery store or while I ran out to grab a cup of coffee. (Even then, more often than not, those things were done with her in tow, asleep on my chest in a baby carrier).
However, I was now choosing to be away from her for a few hours each day in order to pursue an achievement that meant a great deal to me and for a split second this felt selfish. Thoughts of my daughter’s beautiful face flooded my mind and I considered turning around and running home.
Thankfully, the voice of reason (which usually sounds like my husband’s voice, ha!) pushed its way into my whirling mommy-mind and gently encouraged me to remember all the work I had done to arrive at this point. I had sacrificed so many things, worked so hard in both career and academia, and had such a loving and supportive crowd of cheerleaders in my family and friends who were waiting to hear about my first day. I thought of my daughter and the example I want to be for her — a strong, empowered, dedicated, committed, and successful woman.
I wiped the tears from my face, took a deep breath, and continued toward the classroom door. It may sound silly but as I turned the doorknob and walked in, I felt a surge of energy. I was filled with the positivity, focus, determination, and frame of mind I needed to get through that first day.
Even now, a few weeks into the semester, I am able to remember and channel that energy when I need it. As I grow accustomed to being a graduate student and the mother of a young baby, I have promised to be kind to myself. I will read the stacks of books, find time to research articles, take notes, attend lectures, and get all of those critical due dates onto my calendar.
However, I will also commit to self-care throughout my program and ensure that I am engaging in mindful behavior; being present for my family just as I am present for my studies. I will not allow my Type-A personality to infringe on my time with my daughter and husband. I will take it all one day at a time.
Please don’t misunderstand me, as we are still merely wading into the school year, I am well aware of the fact that the struggle has only just begun. And as I attempt to assimilate into this new graduate student culture, I can guarantee you will catch me in the library surrounded by textbooks, notes, articles, and calendars with a disheveled appearance and an extra-large coffee.
However, if you look closely, you will also see me flipping through the camera roll on my phone and smiling as pictures of my sweet daughter motivate me to be that strong, empowered, dedicated, committed, and successful woman I want her to see when she looks at her mother. It is that motivation that will channel the energy I need to accomplish each task, one day at a time.
Wherever you are in your student, career, or family life I’m sure it is evident to you that transition is all around. Change is an integral part our lives and we can either trust the process or rail against it. Closing chapters in order to move forward can, at times, be an emotional process. But my hope is that each of you will be able to embrace the period of transition you find yourselves in, that you will discover the excitement, hope, and possibility within the change you face, that you would be able to surround yourself with those you love as you enjoy the journey, and that you are able to channel the motivation needed to drive you toward your goals one day at a time.