It has been an eventful year, but then, I’d like to think that most of my life has been eventful. What is life, if not one event after another? Some more celebratory, for sure, but events, nonetheless. One of the best parts of this past year when I accepted a new job, in a new town, has been meeting new people, especially a network of women at Penn State who have become a great support system. We meet regularly, sometimes in a group and sometimes just one-on-one over coffee or lunch to discuss how things are going. What has sprung from these new connections is the idea to edit a collection of essays by women academics, asking them essentially to “tell your story.” An observation from our informal group meetings is that many of us lacked female role models as we carved out our lives and careers and this book promises to help younger women learn how others have made choices and forged their way in a career that is underrepresented by women. As I consider what to include in my chapter and as our son, Ian is about to have a birthday, I thought of this “pre-lean in era” big lean:
August 23rd was Ian’s due date. You are probably thinking: “not one of those ‘when I gave birth’ blogs, right?” It seems that every woman who has ever given birth has a “my-experience-was-unique story” and most people are bored to tears by them. Including me. I remember siting in the OB/GYNs office where pregnant women over shared more detail about their childbirth experience that I ever wanted to hear. While childbirth is a true miracle, I would prefer to talk about something else. Like how about the third season of House of Cards. I am a lady in waiting for that, for sure. Can’t believe we gorged on the whole second season in two sittings and now we are just waiting. But I digress.
I was 26 years old when our son Ian was born, and I felt ready to be a mom. But when he came into the world on July 10, 1991 instead of August 23rd, I was not ready exactly. In fact, I promised Penn State Allentown (now Penn State Lehigh Valley) I would teach the second summer session that ran from July 10 through about mid August. Instead, early labor meant that I was being prepped for a C-section at just about the time my class was going to start. Anyone who knows me well knows I’m almost never late for anything. Both my mom and dad were never late and they instilled the timeliness trait in me. If anything, like my dad, I usually show up a bit early.
It drove me crazy to think I was going to let my class down. I can’t not be there, I kept thinking to myself as the doctor explained that I was going to have the baby early. So, I sent Geoff to the campus to open up the class, distribute the syllabus, and told him to please do not say: “Your instructor is having a baby tonight, so read chapters 1-3,write a reaction paper instead of a face-to-face class tomorrow night and your instructor will see you right here, in this classroom on Monday.” Instead he said something like: “Your instructor had an emergency…but the class will continue as scheduled. Plan to show up Monday, and she’ll be here too.” I’ll never forget the look on the faces of my students when I showed up the following Monday and explained the reason for my absence. But it felt right to fulfill my agreement to teach the class. My word is my bond. Beisdes, Ian was “booked” in the neo-natal intensive care unit till mid-August. In essence, perfect timing.
Ian will be 23 this July 10th. I know it is cliche, but it is hard to believe it. Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project, an inventive book I very much enjoyed, describes the journey and passing time of motherhood this way: she says, “the days are long, but the years are short.” I think she means that when you are in the middle of parenting young children and there are a multitude of responsibilities: scout camp, clothes shopping, cleaning, cooking, school supervision, driving (lots of driving) and room parenting, vacation planning, etc., etc., etc., it seems like it will never end. But, one day, you turn around and the child who consumed so much of day-to-day living is grown.
I thought I dodged the “empty nest” syndrome by taking a new job and kicking up enough new dust (moving, new house, new almost everything) but the graduation of Ian from college (Oberlin, with high honors, history) and the realization that he’s off to his first real job in the fall (an incredible one in Detroit, Michigan, teaching for the Cristo Rey School) makes me realize that Gretchen is right: the days are long, but the years are short. Ian was a fascinating, intense child: obsessed with keys, computers, building, space and passionate about politics in 2008. I think especially because I never had a brother, I marveled at all the toys he loved: legos, Thomas the Tank, Matchbox and Brio and I got into his childhood in a way I simply didn’t expect. I loved being the mom of a boy, and that caught me by surprise. Though we always traveled as a family, and he took a trip to Peru in college, he chose to spend a semester volunteering at a homeless shelter in Rochester, New York instead of the usual study abroad and it led to his life’s calling. He is an associate in the order of the Basilian priesthood.
There isn’t as much day-to-day mothering anymore and to let him live his life and reach his potential, there is a certain amount of letting go. That doesn’t mean I’m not really looking forward to (okay, counting the days) till we head up to Rochester to visit and have a little family time at Niagara Falls.
Ian has been a wonderful son who continues to make our lives more interesting and wonderful because he is here. I feel very fortunate to be his mom and I’m really proud of the man he is becoming.
And I hope he lives his life just the way he came into the world: in his own time and on his own terms.