The Beginning—and the End—by Jamie Levine
Next Sunday is my final day of graduate school. Back in September, I likened the last nine months of my graduate program to a pregnancy. I knew that just like my pregnancy, this time in my life would be filled with ups and downs, and would pass by in a blur, but at the end, I’d have my baby: A new career that would be a part of me for the rest of my life. Thus, it’s quite apt that I’ll be completing my degree on Mother’s Day. It’s even more fitting that my graduation ceremony is on May 19th, the day after my daughter, Jayda, turns six years old.
Being a part-time freelance copywriter, full-time student, and full-time single mother has certainly been challenging—but I’ve been juggling these identities for so long that this crazy life of mine is all that I know. And while I am looking forward to starting a new career (and making a more stable and lucrative salary), I’m also nervous about the change. It’s true I have been stressed 12 months a year by course- and clinic-work, have had to study or write papers and complete freelance assignments most nights after putting Jayda to bed, and haven’t been out on a Saturday night for years because of my early morning/eight-hour Sunday classes; but my graduate student lifestyle has also had some perks. As busy as I’ve been, I’ve always had a free day or two during the week upon which I could pick up Jayda after school at 3 p.m. and watch her play at the playground while I’m socializing with other moms, time to take her to after-school activities and watch her participate, and ample occasions upon which to visit her classroom when her teacher needs a parent-volunteer. In addition, I’ve been able to get to the gym several mornings a week (I hate working out in the afternoon or evenings, so this luxury has thrilled me), run errands and get some of my food shopping done during the week—without dragging Jayda along with me—as well as book doctor’s appointments at times other than my lunch hour. I chose speech-language pathology as a profession because of the flexible hours this occupation could afford me, but as I’m starting out in the field, without much leverage for negotiating hours, I fear that soon, my free time with Jayda will be limited to the weekends (like most full-time working moms), and I’m not happy about it.
Because I complete my school and freelance work in the evenings after my daughter goes to bed, I often use my pending work as an excuse to get out of Jayda’s bed, where I lie with her for a few minutes every night before she goes to sleep. Our conversation generally goes like this:
“I need to go now, Jayda. I’m tired and I have a lot of work to do. And you need your sleep.”
“How many papers do you have to do tonight, Mommy?”
If I have a lot of work to do, I say, “I have six papers, Jayda” (though this number can be low as “three” on a less-stressful evening).
“Well, do five tonight and go to sleep. Then you can do one in the morning while I watch TV.”
“That’s a great idea, Jayda. Thanks for looking out for me! Now go to sleep, sweetheart, so I can get started.”
I know Jayda is excited that I’m finishing school because I will no longer be overwhelmed by the “papers” I need to do every night. She’s also thrilled that she will now be able to spend her Sundays with me, rather than with her babysitter. But what she doesn’t realize is that my completion of graduate school also means that I’ll be less available to her during the week. Jayda is in the early morning breakfast program at her elementary school three days a week, and attends after care twice a week. She loves these programs, but she also loves that I pick her up by 4:30 on her after care days—unlike some of her friends whom she says “have to stay there very late.” What Jayda doesn’t realize is that she’ll likely be one of those kids next year. If I’m working full-time—as I hope to be—she’ll be in morning care and after care five days a week—and I’ll never pick her up before 5:00 pm. Jayda also doesn’t realize that I’ll still likely have work to do at night—paperwork—and that I won’t always be able to spend summer afternoons and school vacations with her. Yes, finally being done with graduate school is a very good thing—but it’s also not the fantasy Jayda or even I have always imagined.
Lately, for some strange reason, Jayda has been telling me she wants me to get married. When I ask her why, she says she “wants to be a flower girl” and she “wants to see me in a beautiful wedding dress.” I figure if I press her, she’ll tell me she wants me to marry a prince, too! My kid clearly lives for fairy tale endings. But maybe that’s not such a bad thing. Because whether I’m single or married, working full-time or not, as Jayda’s devoted speech-language pathologist mom, I’m always going to do whatever I can to make sure there’s a happily-ever-after for both of us. Here’s hoping everything works out for the best!