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Sunday, July 09, 2006

"Are you OK?" Yes, thank you. I am.

On Saturday mornings the family takes a long walk to Caribou Coffee to get coffee and orange juice. We always bring Sherman along to wear him out so that we can have some family time without the Psycho Dog running around like a maniac.

A week ago we went on our walk and were sitting at a cafe table outside. I took Liv inside to get some napkins and across the dining area I was spotted by my favorite professor from back when I was in school. He was one of those professors that really knew how to encourage you into working hard, tackling difficult material, and pushing yourself farther than you thought you could go. He only gave you an A if you deserved it. I loved his classes. Long-time L&B readers might remember me talking about him before when I was taking his Medieval Lit class.

When he saw me at Caribou I was excited to say hello. It has been over a year since I've taken a class and I miss it sometimes. He called me over to talk, and I took Liv with me intending to have a nice conversation about how things are going and blah blah blah.

Before I could say anything more than, "Hello!" He looked at me with worried eyes. He said in a lowered tone, "Are you OK?"

His posture and his eyes told me that he meant, "Are you crazy? Why are you having more kids, now you'll never finish your degree."

I realize that he didn't intend to be so transparent and he meant to say "how are you," but it was probably shocking for him to see an A student with 20 credits to go until her degree "giving up" and having kids. I mean, why didn't I just put my daughter in daycare and go full time until I was done? How can I get a job if I don't have my Bachelor's?

This is compounded by the fact that I was studying in the English Program. The program defined by Chopin and Ibsen. The program populated with liberals ready to organize the next march on Washington Avenue. Why would a liberated, literate woman of the twenty-first century like me want to roll over and let my husband win the bread? And I certainly don't have to be tied down by children when there are formula and Head Start to feed and watch them.

When I face this criticism now a week after being offended I can say, "What does this guy know? He has no kids, he has no wife, he's not a Christian. He doesn't know who I am or my values. All he knows is that I really liked Chaucer." But in that moment, I stuttered. I was caught off guard and a little intimidated. In that moment I knew that he meant all of those things, but I wasn't confident enough to say, "I'm great. There will be tons of Bachelors of Arts graduating from the University of Akron this year, but there will only be one mom to my kids, and only a few years when they're young enough to need me more than at any other time."

Instead of holding my head high, I made excuses. I made small talk. I joked about how hard it is to raise kids. I apologized and talked about when I would likely be able to come back and finish up. I am embarrassed of myself.

The truth is I loved college. If I didn't have the values I have I would probably be single and a graduate, moving to somewhere USA to begin my Master's at University of No-Where-in-Particular. I miss school now, and sometimes I dream about private teacher conferences and staying after class talking with the other kids who gave a hoot about vowel shifts. And I don't mean day-dream, I mean I have dreams at night.

If I am so liberated, if I have the freedom to choose how I want to live my life, why do I feel pressured to apologize for the choices I've made? Especially when I made them after much consideration of my options. Especially when everyone who loved me encouraged me to continue in school if I wanted to, and I still wanted to be a Stay-at-home mom. It was one of the hardest decisions of my life, and I made it with my eyes wide open, totally aware of what I was walking away from.

I learned something that day, and in the week that followed. I learned that I need to feel confident in myself, no matter what the post-feminist world thinks of those of us who do the "menial" task of raising kids. And I also learned that I need to own my decisions if I want to convince anyone that what I'm doing makes a difference. Right now, Dr. Professor thinks that I am oppressed and under Rob's thumb. Not that if I had answered more confidently I would have changed his mind, but I might have. And if I didn't at least I wouldn't have second guessed myself.

Besides, confident educated moms make confident educated kids. And soon Olivia will be old enough to read my reactions as a reflection of her and I want her to know that she is infinitely more important than a $20,000 piece of paper. There might be a whole generation of kids raised by moms like me-- moms who chose to stay home because they truly believed it was the right thing to do in spite of the culture telling us otherwise. Those kids might grow up to make the same decisions we're making now. And it probably won't change to world, but it will change the quality of life that our own children grow up with. And I love my kids so much, that's all the reason I need to give up the world and its prestige for them.