Older and Wiser?—by Jamie Levine
This summer, in addition to my requisite speech-language pathology graduate school clinical work, I’m also enrolled in a diagnostic practicum; this entails testing potential new clients every week, and writing incredibly detailed evaluation reports for each of them. And although the six students in my class were split up into two groups of three to perform the testing as teams, we are required to write the reports individually. However, after every evaluation we’ve done, I’ve gotten countless texts and phone calls from my two team members asking me questions, and looking to me for the final answers on everything about which they need to write. Rather than finding this attention flattering, I find it annoying. I want to say “do your own work” or “it would be nice if someone would help me for a change.” But deep-down, I know the reason they’re looking to me; the same thing happened last semester when I was with paired with two 20-somethings in a language stimulation group for toddlers: I’m MUCH older than my co-clinicians are—and I’m a mother.
Of course people who know me well know that I’m very smart, hard-working, and a perfectionist. But my young co-clinicians don’t know me—and they can’t be sure that I know what I’m doing. They just think I look and sound like I do. And I guess it’s true—being an older mommy can do that to someone. For instance, before our first evaluation, my team members were nervous wrecks—reviewing their testing materials for a week, meeting countless times to go over techniques, and losing sleep the night before the evaluation. As for me? I barely prepared; I glanced over my test questions, and didn’t think twice about the session until moments before it started. It was, after all, a session that entailed evaluating a kid’s play skills. I needed to play with a two-year-old, glean language samples from her, and probe her abilities with some requisite questions. I’ve been playing with my own daughter for five years—and being with a little girl certainly doesn’t make me nervous. It was also our first session of the diagnostic practicum; I knew that our supervisor didn’t expect us to be pros, and that if I, or any of my co-clinicians didn’t do something right, she would help us. Why stress for no reason? But had I been a graduate student 20 years ago, maybe I wouldn’t have been so relaxed.
Time—and mommy-experience—does mellow a person. And it makes you do things you may never have done sans a child. For example, a few weekends ago, I took my first mommy-daughter road trip with Jayda. I’ve been on vacation alone with Jayda before, but we’ve traveled by airplane—or stayed close to home. But this time, I drove over three hours to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, with my car-hating kid, and even detoured on my way home to cover another destination on our trip. I never even printed out directions (which I always do—even when we’re driving 30 minutes away) and had no idea what bridges I’d be crossing or which interstates I’d be cruising. Instead, I programmed my good friend’s GPS the morning we left, and after packing at the last minute (which is something this chronic-planner has also never done before), because I’d been so busy with school, we hopped in the car and took off.
Our three days away were wonderful. While Jayda did hate the car ride to Dutch Wonderland, she made it through with barely a 15-minute rest stop, and more importantly, I kept my cool when she got impatient. And we both had so much fun while we were away that I didn’t stop smiling all weekend long. But while we were at the hotel—and at the amusement park—I never did see a mom and child vacationing without a dad. And one man I chatted with for awhile at the hotel pool marveled at the fact that I’d taken a trip with Jayda on my own. Huh? I’m a single mom—not Wonder Woman! What’s the big deal? But in some ways—even for myself—I guess it was. Before I had Jayda, I hated driving long distances on my own—I was nervous about the prospect of getting lost. And before I had Jayda, I could never have imagined myself keeping a child safe and happy running around a theme park and beyond, without anyone to help me. But now it comes easy. Or at least easier. With age comes experience. And confidence. And simply the knowledge that if you don’t believe in yourself, no one else will. Jayda thinks I’m fearless and that I can do anything. And because of her, I keep trying. I’m a mommy. And a pretty good mommy at that. But I’m not sure how I got there…except through time and experience.
Becoming a speech-language pathologist takes a lot of work. As a second-year graduate student, I certainly don’t know everything—and I don’t claim to. But my co-clinicians still seem to think I do. So, when I’m feeling generous, I answer their questions as best I can…but sometimes I play dumb and force them to figure things out on their own. I may be as old as our clinical supervisor—but that’s where the similarities end. I have a lot more work to do. And, as a student and as a mom, I know it’s important to take the wheel, yourself—and step on the gas—and eventually you’ll get where you need to go. It just takes time. And more experience.