Don’t put your life on hold

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This picture will forever make me laugh.  It was taken two years ago, on a crazy-long (over 24 hours) trip back to the US.  It was our yearly winter visit, and for some reason everything on this trip went wrong: flat tires, delayed flights, missed flights, you name it. But what’s so funny about this picture  (besides my sad/disgusted/hilarious expression) is that my then-20-month-old daughter is sleeping soundly under the airport chairs.

Yep.  Her sweet, healthy, clean little body is laying on the floor under the nasty, dirty, I-don’t-even-want-to-know-what’s-under-there, airport waiting chairs.  I remember resorting to this after she had been awake for some ridiculous number of hours, and this was the only way we could make a dark enough environment for her to fall asleep.

I laugh because this picture captures what travel seems to do to our family.  For some reason, time stops, reality stops, and a strange survival mentality of ‘anything goes’ starts to emerge.  By around hour eighteen I find myself saying things like, “sure honey, go ahead and eat the raisin that dropped on the airplane floor, that’s fine” or “just let her sleep on the floor” or “I say we buy one of those oversized M&Ms bags for $20 and eat it in one sitting.” Gross, right?  I’m actually a very clean and organized mom, but for some reason when the stresses of travel start to wear on me, I seem to slip into a strange ‘anything goes’ mode.

 Have you ever felt like this?  A season where time just stops and it seems your idea of ‘normal’ life is on hold?

I remember reading an article on the pressures of a being a ‘caregiver’ to someone, either as a family member or as a career.  What struck me about the article was that the best caregivers were the ones who don’t put their own lives on hold in order to care for the life of the other.  It’s one thing (and such a incredible sacrifice) to give up everything for a sick family member and become their carer every waking moment.  But I suppose it’s another thing (and incredibly hard) to care for someone constantly, while at the same time trying to maintain a healthy sense of one’s own life as well.  I think I face the second kind of struggle with parenting.  And similarly, I’m convinced that I’m a better mother to my daughter when I set aside time to take care of myself, or to be involved in areas of interest outside our family circle –basically, when I don’t wear my ‘mom hat’ 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

I feel like we’ve touched on this topic on TGW a few times, but as the new term is kicking off and we have some new readers, I just want to encourage you not to let time stop while your spouse or partner is in graduate school.  It’s a strange, isolating, and sometimes confusing time, but don’t give up your entire life in supporting your partner in his or hers.  If you’ve made career sacrifices by moving to a new place, start work as soon as you are able, or volunteer or take some classes on a new or old hobby.  Over and again, people have shared with me that a part of their dreams died when they signed on to be a supporter through grad school for their significant other.  Don’t do it!  Let the dreams take new shapes and avenues, but don’t let them die, and don’t put them on hold too long.

And don’t ever buy the $20 bag of M&Ms – it’s so not worth it! :)

-M.C.

REPOST: Graduating to Motherhood

Written by Sarah, a former graduate wife 

When I graduated from my dual MA program in history and public policy, I felt relieved.  All the hard work and sacrifice of three years of intense study was over and I had achieved a major life goal.  I also felt relieved for another reason; unlike many of my fellow students who were experiencing the stress of finding jobs in the midst of a recession, I knew exactly what I would be doing for the next few months.

Right at the end of my time in graduate school, I got pregnant.  To say this was “not the plan” would be misleading since I really didn’t have a plan.  I was married and we intended to start a family “sometime soon.”  Like many other women my age, I assumed that eventually I would have both a fulfilling career and a family, but I was always a little fuzzy on what would come first, whether I’d work on these things at the same time or stagger them.  So when it came time to look for that first job out of graduate school, I was relieved to have the immediate decision made for me.  In one month, I would give birth and there was no way that I could reasonably expect an employer to be interested in an 8-months pregnant graduate.

Still, I told everyone who asked (professors, friends, family), “I plan to stay home at first and see how I like it and then I will look for a job depending on how I adapt to being at home.”  I assumed that there was a good chance I would be bored and miserable staying home full-time and that I would long to get right out and “use” the degrees I had worked so hard to earn. I also didn’t see myself as the “staying at home type”, someone I envisioned as having always longed to be a mother and homemaker.  Since well before college, I had envisioned a career that would change the world.  I hoped I would eventually have some kind of important position where I made a significant impact in education, social justice, or politics.

Three years later, I am still a stay-at-home mom, now with a new baby and a toddler.  One of the biggest surprises of my life is that I enjoy staying at home.  For the first year, I struggled with serious identity confusion.  I loved being a mother, but where was the woman I had been, that all my friends and professors knew?  A lot of things hadn’t changed (my basic personality, the types of issues that interest me) but many things had.  Every time I considered a potential job, my dread would grow.  How could I leave my child at home to pursue an entry-level job that might or might not be fulfilling?  Finally, I accepted that my immediate dreams and priorities had changed.  For the first time since graduating from college, I knew exactly where I was needed most and it felt really good.

I still don’t love housework or all aspects of childcare and I certainly would never want to do those things for a job in anyone else’s home, but still, most days I feel challenged and yet completely sure of my calling.  For this season, I belong at home with my children.  I now see my life as made up of seasons in which I might focus on one dream or another.  I can envision a general calling for my whole life (the things that I am passionate about, my roles as wife and mother, my faith) and specific seasons when I respond by focusing on certain roles.

Initially, I had to let go of a serious feeling of obligation to myself, my spouse, my former professors, even to society, a feeling that I ought to use my degrees now that I had earned them.  I still have days where I worry about this gamble I’ve taken, trading in what should have been the early years of my career to focus on my family.   Will I look back in ten years and wish I had chosen differently?  To bolster my self-esteem, I seek out women who at one time took time out from their careers and who later became successful in their professions.  There are many more than most people realize.  Their examples give me hope that someday, when I’m ready, I too will make a successful transition into meaningful work outside the home.

The main way I cope with worries about the future is by celebrating how secure I feel in my identity and choices.  I used to think that once I was done with graduate school I would be the person I longed to be, the one who would change the world in some amazing professional role.  Now I see that by cultivating a secure personal identity, I continue to grow into someone prepared to make a significant impact at any time, whether in the home or outside it.

Have you had to let go of a dream for a season?  How has the process affected your identity? 

Piecing it Together

image found here
-written by Keeley, a current graduate wife

I wonder how many of us are in this situation: I studied something which I loved in college, and still love, but had no delusions was going to be a vocation without graduate study. When I thought about what to do after school, the most appealing options were overseas volunteer or educational internships, and I figured that was a workable-enough plan until I had something more concrete figured out. In the meantime, I met my future husband the summer before senior year in college, and knew that if there were a person on earth with whom I could imagine spending any significant amount of time – let alone the rest of my life – I had found him. I decided this relationship was something I had no desire to pass up or take for granted. Fortunately, he felt the same way and we were married soon after I graduated college.

Flash forward to my first September out of school since I was five years old. Living with my new husband in a new city 1,000 miles from my folks, paying rent for the first time, and looking for work, armed with an undergraduate degree in Music History and a bazillion extra-curricular activities which probably wouldn’t help my cause. Oh, and very minimal job experience, consisting of interning at an 18th-century backcountry farm and playing in a string quartet. I tend to forget how desperate I felt to find a job at that time, but I do recall that I canvassed the areas around our apartment, applying everywhere I could, including CVS, Pier One, a local ice cream shop, a local grocery store, and LensCrafters. “Oh, you have experience analyzing the modulations in the Third Movement of Mahler’s Seventh Symphony? That’s just the type of thing we’re looking for here at LensCrafters. Why don’t you have a seat and fill out the tax information?”

Thank God I found a job which, quite honestly, suited me to a “T” and was with a company I adore, Ten Thousand Villages (look it up. For real.) I still work for them, as they have many locations in the U.S. and I was able to transfer when we moved to where we live now. I currently work 20-24 hours a week there as well as at the Historical Society a couple hours a week, and I’ve also got eight violin students and do a little paperwork for a local nonprofit organization. None of these is a “perfect job,” but as time continues to pass, I wonder if that single job exists for me. My current conclusion is that piecing together all of these different options creates an ideal situation for my interests, abilities, and desires. The reason I share this is because, for me, it is a key to appreciating this time of life more fully.

One of my best friends and I initially bonded over a wonderful book called Refuse to Choose by Barbara Sher. In it she discusses the necessity of determining your interests, skills, and goals in choosing a profession (or two or three). If it sounds rudimentary, it is–it’s just that I had never thought of it in her terms before. I found it incredibly liberating that it was “okay” to have several different interests and desires for myself in terms of employment, both paid and unpaid. As long as we are able to pay our bills, it’s fine not to have one full-time job. Remember that company I was telling you about that I started work with after college and still adore? They offer health benefits for part-time employees. Yep, these types of situations really exist! At this time in my life, it actually does make the most sense to spend my time in all these employments, because it enables me to use and develop different parts of myself–organizing, creating, reading, teaching, learning, helping others. More specifically, it helps me to integrate interests I have without leaving any aside–music, history, world crafts and cultures, and community development (Oh, and, get paid to do it).

If I were writing this to myself right out of college, I would advise myself to take opportunities that present themselves and to not be afraid of change, to be willing to try something new even if it doesn’t seem like a perfect fit. Yes, it would have been nice to study something more likely to be directly transferable into the job market, like education or nursing. But I am grateful for the rich experiences I’ve had over the past six years, including a stint working at a bakery chain, where working the closing shift promised delicious leftover baked goods for breakfast the next three days! And if you are in this boat, I want to encourage you to realize you likely have more transferable skills than you think you do. Off the top of my head, here are some things I learned in college which have undoubtedly helped me along the way: punctuality, teamwork, delegation, time management skills, listening to instruction and following directions, respecting authority, approaching a problem with creative solutions, and most importantly being able to pursue and learn anything new that interests me.

At the end of the day, I am satisfied with the ways I spend my time and energy, and I look forward to continuing to develop skills and interests I pick up throughout my life. I may not know where we’ll be in a year’s time or what I’ll be doing, but at least this time I’ll have a little more job experience on my resume.

What are some ways you have used unexpected skills in your job/jobs? How do you integrate varying interests and abilities in your employment?  Has this been especially challenging or easy being on the graduate wife journey?

Graduating to Motherhood

Written by Sarah, a former graduate wife 

When I graduated from my dual MA program in history and public policy, I felt relieved.  All the hard work and sacrifice of three years of intense study was over and I had achieved a major life goal.  I also felt relieved for another reason; unlike many of my fellow students who were experiencing the stress of finding jobs in the midst of a recession, I knew exactly what I would be doing for the next few months.

Right at the end of my time in graduate school, I got pregnant.  To say this was “not the plan” would be misleading since I really didn’t have a plan.  I was married and we intended to start a family “sometime soon.”  Like many other women my age, I assumed that eventually I would have both a fulfilling career and a family, but I was always a little fuzzy on what would come first, whether I’d work on these things at the same time or stagger them.  So when it came time to look for that first job out of graduate school, I was relieved to have the immediate decision made for me.  In one month, I would give birth and there was no way that I could reasonably expect an employer to be interested in an 8-months pregnant graduate.

Still, I told everyone who asked (professors, friends, family), “I plan to stay home at first and see how I like it and then I will look for a job depending on how I adapt to being at home.”  I assumed that there was a good chance I would be bored and miserable staying home full-time and that I would long to get right out and “use” the degrees I had worked so hard to earn. I also didn’t see myself as the “staying at home type”, someone I envisioned as having always longed to be a mother and homemaker.  Since well before college, I had envisioned a career that would change the world.  I hoped I would eventually have some kind of important position where I made a significant impact in education, social justice, or politics.

Three years later, I am still a stay-at-home mom, now with a new baby and a toddler.  One of the biggest surprises of my life is that I enjoy staying at home.  For the first year, I struggled with serious identity confusion.  I loved being a mother, but where was the woman I had been, that all my friends and professors knew?  A lot of things hadn’t changed (my basic personality, the types of issues that interest me) but many things had.  Every time I considered a potential job, my dread would grow.  How could I leave my child at home to pursue an entry-level job that might or might not be fulfilling?  Finally, I accepted that my immediate dreams and priorities had changed.  For the first time since graduating from college, I knew exactly where I was needed most and it felt really good.

I still don’t love housework or all aspects of childcare and I certainly would never want to do those things for a job in anyone else’s home, but still, most days I feel challenged and yet completely sure of my calling.  For this season, I belong at home with my children.  I now see my life as made up of seasons in which I might focus on one dream or another.  I can envision a general calling for my whole life (the things that I am passionate about, my roles as wife and mother, my faith) and specific seasons when I respond by focusing on certain roles.

Initially, I had to let go of a serious feeling of obligation to myself, my spouse, my former professors, even to society, a feeling that I ought to use my degrees now that I had earned them.  I still have days where I worry about this gamble I’ve taken, trading in what should have been the early years of my career to focus on my family.   Will I look back in ten years and wish I had chosen differently?  To bolster my self-esteem, I seek out women who at one time took time out from their careers and who later became successful in their professions.  There are many more than most people realize.  Their examples give me hope that someday, when I’m ready, I too will make a successful transition into meaningful work outside the home.

The main way I cope with worries about the future is by celebrating how secure I feel in my identity and choices.  I used to think that once I was done with graduate school I would be the person I longed to be, the one who would change the world in some amazing professional role.  Now I see that by cultivating a secure personal identity, I continue to grow into someone prepared to make a significant impact at any time, whether in the home or outside it.

Have you had to let go of a dream for a season?  How has the process affected your identity? 

I used to…

I used to dance.  I used to dance a lot.  I used to eat and sleep ballet and rehearsals and auditions.  I used to find such joy in being able to move and express myself through motion…through twists and turns and pirouettes and pas de chats.

I used to journal.  I used to get up early every morning to have a sacred quiet time alone with God and with words.

I used to really really enjoy live music.  I used to have butterflies all day as I anticipated a concert on the horizon.

Hmm…I don’t really ‘do’ any of the above three things anymore on a daily basis.  I’ve had one too many knee surgeries to dance that much, I’ve had one too many reality checks on the possibility of hopping off to a concert these days and I’ve had one too many late nights (or busy days) with a toddler to find the strength to get up early and savor the silence.  Sometimes I feel like Nicole shared in her piece on here a while back…who am I now and what makes me, me?

Recently, I have had hints of these three former ‘dos’ in my life creep up…and it has felt like running into your childhood best friend and finding them still looking and smiling and giggling in the exact same way after 20 some years or so.

  • I was playing some music with my daughter and all of the sudden we just broke out into a full on dance session.  It was like parts of my soul were screaming…”Finally! Let me move again in this way!  There is a lot of story here to be told since the last time you moved this way…let it out!  Forget the knee pain, move in other directions…just do something!”  And with a happy and confused toddler and tears streaming down my face I realized that dancing doesn’t have to be something that I ‘used to do’.

  • These next forty days in the Christian tradition are called ‘lent’.  The tradition started somewhere in the 4th century and people would pray and fast for forty days in order to ‘prepare’ their hearts to receive the resurrection of Jesus, as celebrated at Easter.  I’ve gone through phases of really engaging this season by committing to new habits or giving up old ones, and at other times I haven’t.  This year I decided to ignore the urge to snooze and to get up.  To get up when the streets are still quiet and peeps of sunlight are barely reaching my bedroom window.  To get up and make tea and get a pen and paper and just be.  I did it once already…and I found that the words wouldn’t stop.  The words, thoughts, ideas, prayers, dreams just kept coming as I sat in the silence. As I smiled with satisfaction when I heard my daughter waking up, I realized that journaling doesn’t have to be something that I ‘used to do.
  • Lastly, I have to share about the fantastic treat my husband and I experienced last week in London.  It all started around a convo that went something like…gosh, we used to be cool and into live music before kids and grad school right? As we lamented and shared fun old concert memories, it was like we were pulling out gentle treasured heirlooms of lace or silk.  Pulling them out to share and marvel at them…only to have to put them back for safekeeping.  Lace isn’t something you wear everyday, I remember hearing once.  This band came to London and we barely got tickets to one of their sold out shows. We hit the big city and were transported back in time…or at least transported somewhere.  Somewhere that involves…No deadlines, No papers to mark, No diapers to change, No bills to fret about, No worry about what you look like or what you are wearing, No sense of time or hunger or knee pain after standing for 2 hours straight.  Concerts do that don’t they?  Good, true live music takes hold of you and draws you in. You feel connected to others around you and all of the sudden everyone in the dingy, cramped music hall in NE London is like a family…all moving and swaying and singing and feeling the energy and joy that is coming from those on stage before us.  I hadn’t felt that in a long long time and as we were examining our ‘lace’ mementos from the past, I had begun to wonder if I would feel like that ever again.  But alas, as I stood there swaying and smiling, I realized that going to gigs every now and then doesn’t have to be something I ‘used to do’.

I share all of this to ask, “what did you ‘used to do’?”  What made you have butterflies or made you feel refreshed and alive?  It is easy on this graduate journey to clutter up our lives with so much important and necessary ‘stuff’ that we can easily forget to create time (or even find time) to nurture those things that used to really satisfy and inspire us.  There are meals to cook and tutorials to attend and articles to publish.  I was encouraged to discover that just because some of my favorite things had gotten a little dusty, it didn’t mean that they were any less a part of me.  Even if they don’t look exactly like they used to (I can’t actually take a ballet class at this point sadly, but I can still try to engage this part of me in some new way).  Don’t be afraid to brush off the dust and flex some old muscles.  Take a moment to dream and remember.  It’s surprising how good it feels to bump into old friends and rediscover them in a new season of life.

-M.C.

Are there hobbies or interests or passions that you have long since had a chance to enjoy?  Have you rediscovered new ways of enjoying them in different seasons?  

Identity Theft

Written by Nicole – a current graduate wife

Who am I?

I can tell you who I used to be.

A blonde, tan cheerleading captain, one half of the large California public high school power couple (the other half being the quarterback of the football team, naturally).

An over-involved, over-achieving student, active in student government, athletics, and community service from elementary school to graduate school.

A loving daughter of well-respected parents, whose connections coupled with the aforementioned drive for success earned her several job offers in education.

A capable, passionate teacher who was gifted the Award for Teaching Excellence, voted on by her colleagues.

I’m not any of those things anymore.

Who am I?

Now I’m just another graduate student’s wife.

The pier of what I have known to be my identity has been slowly crumbling because each of the pillars holding it up in the middle of the ocean is being knocked out. At this point, I’m not sure what else can be removed from under me, but I’m afraid there’s more to come. Through tears as we lay in bed one night, I told my husband that I feel like I don’t have much else for God to take away from my life. Which of these pillars could I be relying on?

Money? The year of my salary we saved to move here and pay international student fees is disappearing faster than you can say “lickety split.”

Family/Friends? We’re far, far away from them. Very far.

Marriage? We’ve been through enough seriously tough, painful crap to know better than to worship each other.

Children? Don’t have those, and can’t have those. No medical explanation on either side of the pond as to why. Can’t adopt here, and can’t adopt there. We’re just plain stuck on that front.

Health? My daily struggle with the ol’ chronic illness without a cure (a.k.a. the ‘betes) reminds me that this is not a given.

Appearance? My skin is verging on translucently pale, I’ve probably gained a solid 10 pounds (conservative estimate) this winter, and my hair is the color of dirty dishwater.

House? I live in a barn. I’m not exaggerating.

Possessions? Two suitcases worth, with half of the space in them taken up by medical supplies.

Convenience? What’s that? Most everything here is a p r o c e s s.

Luxury? Okay, I do miss driving wherever I want, whenever I want; going to the movies; getting my nails done (twice a year, but whatever); wandering through Target; and Mexican food.

Career? I don’t have one at present, and there is nothing promising on the horizon despite the dozens and dozens (and dozens!) of applications I’ve filled out.  I know that these years here require sacrifice on my part, and I am willing to do whatever it takes to keep us afloat, but bearing the sole weight of the financial responsibility for our family feels very unnatural to me. It freaks me out, to be perfectly honest.

Education? It’s hard to brag about my grade point average when that’s not a term that people here understand or accept as a legitimate form of assessment.

Myself? I started out my unemployment tenure with a strict hourly schedule to keep productive and happy. That lasted two days. Now I just stay in my pajamas too long and bake too many cookies and realize what a wretched, sinful woman I am who can’t do anything apart from God’s grace.

I know that these losses I’m grieving are completely relative. Life is hard in general, but my life is not that hard. I could lose much more. I could be suffering without food, clothing, shelter, or loving relationships. I’ll be the first to tell you that I’m really a completely spoiled American brat who doesn’t have the first understanding of God’s faithfulness or the brevity of life.

I know this is where we’re supposed to be right now. My husband is thriving in his work, being affirmed by his supervisor and peers, and really loving his studies. For that I am supremely grateful.

I, on the other hand, feel like my world has been completely rocked. All the things I thought I was either aren’t true of me anymore or don’t really matter at all.

Who am I?

 After sending a prayer SOS to some close friends, one wrote this response back to me. As a Christian, these words spoke deeply to me and I hope that even if you are not of a faith, that you can find truth and comfort in them too.

You are loved and have value by simply existing. To suddenly have no career and “little productivity” is an extreme shock to the system, but at the end of the day whether or not you have accomplished anything speaks nothing to your value. You are loved. Period. PJs, sleep in days, no work, pale skin, LOVED. “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  He loved us before we had ourselves together.
I totally appreciate the joy it brings to check things off a list and feel like you have “done something.”  But maybe there are other plans in store for you right now.  Use this time to listen, to be patient, to slow down, to discover.

In your graduate wife journey, what has been the most difficult part of your ‘identity shift’?