September 30, 2010

the professor: life as a mature student

At the request of my sweet wife, and despite to innate sense of procrastination, I, the professor, take pen in hand and write about life as a mature student who also has 6 kids.  For those of you who love my wife's knack to flaunt conventions of capitalization (not the economic term) and punctuation, please forgive my conformity.  Here it goes...

  1. Being old(er).  Being roughly 10 years older than most of the other PhD students in my department really isn't that bad.  We joke and work and take classes.  I think it's that I am nearing the end of my program that the PhD students seem to observe me and see how I do things, like presenting papers, working with professors, and applying to schools for jobs.  I find that I get more shocked reactions from the undergrad students I teach when they find out that I have 6 kids and still look so young (thanks to Jen purchasing Dove soap).  I guess they expect only balding, gray-headed men to have 6 kids.  No offense if you are a balding, gray-headed man.
  2. The fun never ends.  Really, the fun NEVER ends.  There is always schoolwork to do.  Jen calls and tells me dinner will soon be on the table, and I say "Ugh, there is so much I still have to do today."  And that's not the best thing to say to a pregnant wife who has spent all day with young kids, picked up older kids from school, shepherded them through the after-school transition of jobs, homework, and piano practice, encouraged them gently and sometimes not-so-gently to finish work before play, and then prepared a wonderful dinner of grilled salmon, rice, and tomato-mozzerella salad.  Who am I to complain about what doesn't get done?  Yet my first reaction is still a quite-audible sigh instead of words of gratitude and appreciation.  I would like to get better at this.
  3. Being a soccer dad.  And a music-lessons dad, and a basketball dad, and a boy- and cub-scout  dad, and a dance dad.  One of the joys of being a student and a dad of 6 kids is that I get to drive them places.  With an honest heart and no sense of regret (most of the time), I can say to myself, "It's time to go now and be with my kids."  And I enjoy the distraction of driving around and talking to the kids and watching them practice.  I've realized that since this is planned and on my calender, it's OK.  [Jen's note-- at first i HATED staying at home while the professor drove the bigger kids to practice... hated it.  But, i soon learned that it works best for our whole family.  He takes the big kids and does homework in the car while they practice.  I am able to keep harmony in the home... finishing up dinner dishes, spending time with the older kids who aren't at practice, and putting the little kids to bed.  Often, I do the drop-off and the professor does the pick-up on his way home from school.  We have made this work for our family, and it has been a blessing in our lives.  Even with tons of kiddos and activities each night, we ALWAYS have family dinner with everybody.  And, my younger kids go to bed by 7pm.  It's nice having a husband that has made family a priority.]
  4. Flexibility.  My biggest difficulty is being flexible.  Like #3 above, if it's on my calender then I usually don't have a big problem transitioning.  But if Jen calls and for some unplanned reason I need to get the kids from school, or come home earlier than planned, then out comes the audible sigh.  Not good.  Of course, being the mom of 6 kids means constant flexibility.  I am amazed at how Jen has mastered the art of having a huge 2-do list and then, when life happens, and her list is still incomplete at the end of the day, she's learned to be OK with that.  I'm still learning this lesson.  Of course, if a senior professor calls and says something needs to take high priority, then of course I'm flexible too.  I'm just not choosing to be of my own accord.  Sometimes it's a strength, sometimes a weakness.
  5. It's a small world.  The academic world is so small.  Everyone knows (or has heard of) everyone else, so the importance of reputation is magnified.  I may have heard something uncomplimentary about Professor X or Y, and then they're labeled--and the label may or may not be accurate.  Of course, the same applies for having good things said about you.  Everyone knows who the good people are to work with, or the great culture of this or that department.  And then the network of scholars who are Latter-day Saints is even smaller, so people are comfortable saying that they also went to BYU and can we chat for a minute about what it's like to work at this or that university.  I'm sure that the longer I'm in this profession it will simply get even smaller.
  6. Unity.  Perhaps the most important lesson I've learned is how important it is to be unified with my spouse and with God.  If we are all on the same team, then life is great and I excel.  It's important to realize that my responsibilities and challenges don't change, but my capability to effectively handle them and to rise above them, changes dramatically.  If I'm not living my life in such a way to be close to God, or if I'm doing something that is alienating my wife, then life becomes much more difficult.  So if I get to busy, or if I'm home in body but not in spirit, or if I worry too much about WHAT needs to get done rather than HOW I'm going to do it, then I tend to loose sight of what's really important and my effectiveness drops.  Lucky for me, I have a great wife who values (and teaches me about) unity, so we help each other--usually it's her helping me, but not always.  :)
Anyway, in general life is challenging but very satisfying.  And not a day goes by without me knowing without a doubt that the decision for me to leave Corporate America and go back to school was the right decision for our family.  And that sure knowledge is what sustains me in those "what the heck am I doing here" moments.  So, if any of you are aspiring to go back to school, don't think it's impossible.  It's hard, but it's also a wonderful opportunity to move towards a better life.

1 comment:

Taneil said...

Well said Todd! It is great to hear your perspective of this. Welcome to the blogger world!

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