Once upon a time I was in college. More specifically, from 1991-1996. That's FIVE years of higher learning (cough, cough). FIVE years of expanding my little world. FIVE years to get a degree that would benefit my future. FIVE years to "find myself."
Five very long years.
No degree. More specifically, no graduate degree - only a measly AA degree obtained quickly and effortlessly during the first 2 years spent at a junior college before transferring to the university.
And then I came undone.
It isn't that I lacked direction and drive. I knew I loved language, knew my heart was in the English field, somewhere. I knew I wanted to inspire others to use their voices. I knew I wanted to help them find their voices, however far buried under what is life, so that their voices could be heard and read and understood. I knew I wanted to write.
But there was an awful lot of life to learn about as well. I shed my identity by breaking up with my now-husband. I just wanted to be me.
Turns out, that wasn't such a great idea although I'm sure, in the long run, that experience helped shape who I am today, who we are together, and maybe we needed that. But without a clear sign from the universe that yes, that was the true course of our paths, we never knew at the time.
I was suspended from the university. Suspended from an education my family was paying for. During that time, I worked. I paid my rent. I bought my groceries and learned what it was like to heat the apartment I shared with my roommates on pennies I put in my own pocket.
I worked my ass off.
I got back into school, with much letter writing, conferencing, begging and pleading that I'd be a better student, that I'd find my inner geek and employ her to make the decisions regarding my education instead of my inner wild child who thought taking off on hikes in the hills and schlepping around old book stores pretending to enjoy the taste of black coffee was far more important. It was a struggle.
I mended my relationship with my now-husband, things were good. We were planning for our future after my graduation, we were hopeful. As the rest of my friends graduated and moved into their future careers, I stayed behind. That quarter of suspension had taken it's toll on my projected graduation timeline and I constantly defended my academic standing by citing the statistic "Only 4.8% of college graduates finish in four years." Constantly.
And again I worked my ass off.
Until I got pregnant.
The shift from one to two was unlike anything else I'd ever gone through. Suddenly, caring for this being growing inside me took precedence over everything else in my life. Everything. I found it hard to focus in my classes, even though I wanted to. I found it equally hard to complete my work, even though I wanted to. I was different from the other students now, not because I was in my 5th year, but because I had a ring on my finger and a bump under my flannel shirt.
And I gave up caring about finishing.
When my husband and my parents came to move me home in December of 1996, during one of the worst winters to date, I felt ready. I'd lived for three months, my belly growing rounder and more prominent each week (especially the week I drank all the orange juice and ate a box of Wheaties a day), apart from my new life and I wanted so desperately to shut the door on this old one and begin anew.
So that's what I did.
When my final grades came in the mail, I shamefully tucked them away. I didn't want to think about that last quarter of school. I wanted to read more about diapers and routines and breastfeeding vs. bottle feeding. I wanted to attend my birthing classes and count the kicks I was feeling each day. I wanted to put on an apron and have dinner waiting for my husband when he came home from work.
That is all I wanted.
Motherhood was coming, it was practically here, and the rest could wait.
We don't have an outside thermometer, but I knew it was cold when I opened up the front door and saw ice on the inside of the glass storm door. I slipped on a pair of shoes abandoned next to the shoe basket (this is a constant thing in our home, actually getting the shoes into the basket) and stepped out on the front porch.
When I inhaled the still air, the cold rushed to my lungs and filled them with what felt like thousands of tiny ice crystals. Yes, it was cold. I found one of the boys' carabeeners with a temperature gauge on it and placed it on our milk box. I closed the ice-covered door and waited before checking it a few minutes later.
Somewhere between ten and fifteen degrees, Fahrenheit, it read. That's cold.
Memories of that other cold winter instantly presented themselves. Digging my tiny Mazda out of 4 feet of snow in front of the ancient apartment building I lived in on 3rd street. Rubbing my hands together to avoid the numbness that would come if left still. Driving behind my parents on the highway, each vehicle heavily weighted with all my belongings. The swirling snow all the way from there to here . . . my baby.
I have never once regretted the path I've walked for the past twelve years, as a mother. Or the experiences I had during college - although I can't say that each and every one of those experiences were the best. I have always known this would be my life. Full, happy, comfortable.
The completeness of being a mother, to me, is not something I can easily describe without sounding all Jerry McGuire "You had me at hello." It just is. Nothing else has ever been so difficult, or felt so incredibly right. Nothing.