One year out

Today is the anniversary of President Obama's inauguration, but it's also another milestone: it's the anniversary of the day I resigned from my PhD program. So much went into that decision, and then it was over so quickly as Kent and I walked from one university office to another, gathering signatures from people who didn't care who I was or that I was leaving. And then we had our Inauguration Party that evening, the best application of a party I can think of in recent memory. The coolness of the blue O-shaped ice was nothing compared to the sheer optimism we all felt.

I reinvented myself in this past year, just as our country did. We were both stuck up until that point, restricted by the decisions and choices of the previous few years and badly in need of a change of perspective. We needed to loose our bonds, to look beyond ourselves, and to get back to what made us tick in the first place.

I'm free now, and I don't look back. I don't miss academia. To put it bluntly, the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake in a closed institution feels small to me, when the other things I can do with my life seem so much bigger.

Though I'm "just" a mom right now, I see so many possibilities for service and volunteering when my children get a little older. Maybe a mission trip to Haiti, or fundraising or a trip to Africa with my uncle, and certainly doing more locally to combat economic imbalance. And I still may teach. I love teaching. As one of my former students who *thought* s/he was writing a negative review of me said, "She loves music and thinks everyone else should love it, too!"

Just as I said I would, I have started reading for pleasure. I was on an African literature kick for a while: Cry, the Beloved Country, Where Rain Clouds Gather, Maru, and Things Fall Apart. Then I moved through a few classics, including a mind-blowing reread of The Awakening, which my 11th grade English teacher told us we *had* to reread when we were 29. I've never forgotten that, and now I understand how brilliant she was to recommend it. I'm now relishing Three Cups of Tea, a work of nonfiction about a man whose failed mountain-climbing expedition on K2 led to a lifelong commitment to helping build schools in the some of the poorest mountain villages in Pakistan. I hadn't read for pleasure in years, with only the rarest exception here and there. Now I feel free in this regard as well, not only to read uplifting novels with a global perspective to give me some idea of what to do with my time and talents, but also to spend more time reading about parenting and education philosophy to help me be a better mother. And yes, I do feel like a better mother now, despite the emotional battles and challenges of life with a two-and-a-half-year-old.

That two-and-a-half-year-old is about to be a big brother, a circumstance I never would have thought of attempting while I was still slogging through a PhD. It's bringing us so much happiness and fulfillment as a family, knowing we're expanding this little circle of love we've carved out here in the swamp.

One year out: no regrets.

Jack recently confided to me that he didn't quite understand my decision at the time, or maybe he thought I was temporarily insane or that I'd come to regret it soon. Maybe some of you felt that way as well. But he gets it now. He trusted me, just as I needed him to, because he's an incredible man.

My parenting group/playgroup has an online discussion board, and there's been a thread recently entitled "What did you want to be when you grew up?" with my friends chiming in about how their life plan evolved as they got older, where their education led them, etc. Most, but not all, of my friends in this group are stay-at-home moms, so their responses have been varied and fascinating. I haven't crafted a response yet, and I'm not sure that I will. I feel like I'm still writing my story. I love where I am at this point, but it feels to me sometimes that I'm not using my degree — even though I don't think I wasted my time, it's difficult to put the whole thing into context.

But I'm happy. Even on sad or difficult days, I'm happy, and I wouldn't change a thing.

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I'm pretty sure the whole meaning of your academic journey was to meet me. :-)

Seriously, though, you're a great friend, and I'm really happy that you're really happy. It's interesting where God takes us to find meaning in this world.
With so many thoughts of Haiti running around in my head I can not help retelling the story of our first days in Haiti when a man who was making it possible for us to live there said "If you do in Haiti what you came to do, you will be the first." Or something to that effect. Say it out loud, it doesn't read right.

So it with with our ideas about what we will do if we grow up (I DO see that as an option not a given). I "got it" when you told us about your decision, and I thought it was a great idea. It doesn't in any way keep you from going down that path again, but it does, as you say, set you free.
Great post Erica, thanks for sharing. And congratulations on having the courage to make the right decision a year ago. We are proud of you.
I totally understood your decision (has it really been a year?), and I had no doubt that it would be a great choice for your family.

Now you make me want to re-read The Awakening. I first read it in AP English. Epiphany is a word that comes to mind.
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