“How Do You Do It?”

It was around late October of this year and I was taking two graduate classes, was a teaching assistant to 150 fourth year undergraduate students, and taking care of a two-month old baby at home, which was only normal for many people, including my PhD advisor, to ask me the very question that I, too, have many a times pondered over: “How do you do it?” And each time my response has been, “Uh. I don’t know. It’s hard, yes. But I guess I’m just doing it. I mean it has to be done, right?”

Yes, lame answer, but honestly, I really didn’t know how to answer this question; as a matter of fact, it catches me off-guard each time someone asks me this. I guess it’s probably because they get surprised at how nonchalant I am about it; the fact that I continued to go back to school and even accepted a teaching position, just three weeks after giving birth to my first baby. I was actually dubbed fondly, by my close friends, with names like “Supermom,” which I found to be endearing, and quite flattering. Me? A Supermom? Yeah. Right. 🙂

When I showed up at my advisor’s office, back in mid- September, she almost jumped out of her seat, surprised to even see me.

“What are you doing here?!” She’d exclaimed. “Go home. Seriously, go back home to your baby. Grad school can wait.”

Yet, I didn’t falter to continue on with my plans: to continue with my studies and to continue working in a job that I love. Little did I realize how extremely difficult the next few months would be; how something  as simple as attending class, much less the nearby grocery store, would soon become such a difficult task. I was extremely lucky that I had my husband, my mom, and my mother-in-law around to help me out whenever they could. But, looking back at the past three months, I still cannot believe that I actually pulled through, without having a nervous or mental breakdown.

So, why did I do it? Why did I put myself through this predicament, clearly knowing how difficult and stressful it would be? Well, the only thing I can say is that I did it because I wanted to. I really and truly wanted to do it; I mean, at the time, I really didn’t see any reason why I wouldn’t be able to do it.

There are many women, with infants and young kids, who work, go to school, are involved in extra-curricular activities, run for presidency, etc., and are perfectly able to manage and balance out their personal, social and professional lives. So, what was stopping me? A sweet little baby? No way José! We all know too well that most babies sleep a lot in the first few months of life. And I knew that.  Hence, I decided to roll up my sleeves and take a chance. I also did it because I refused to believe that I wouldn’t be able to multi-task – something that I’m the least good at. My reader needs to know that amongst my family and very close friends, I am not a multi-tasker. I avoid doing too many things at once, simply because I suck at it. As a result, I prefer to focus on one thing at a time.

However, this was an experiment that I was determined to succeed in. And succeed in it I did; shockingly enough. Yet, it took a lot of time, effort, energy and patience. A lot of patience. It actually got to a point that I hated myself for continuing with school and on top of that accepting a job, albeit online, because I felt like I was falling behind in everything. Of course, my professors were very understanding and because I have very personable relationships with them, including the professor for whom I was TA’ing, I still felt very anxious and stressed out in the duration of the semester. And, because my daughter wasn’t on solids yet (and she won’t be until she is at least 6 months old), it made things even more difficult and complicated, especially during the days when I had to physically attend class. More than a few times, my husband came with me to campus, and waited for me in the student lounge, trying to babysit our fussier-than-usual daughter while I attended my three-hour class. Other times, I had my mom and a close family friend help out with baby-sitting as I tried to attend the last few classes of the semester. And let’s not forgot the times when I had assignments due but couldn’t hand them on time because my daughter would be taking up pretty much a majority of my time, either wanting to be comforted, fed, or changed. There were, of course, times when my baby would sleep through the whole night, or at least 6-7 hour stretches at a time – and it was only then that I would quickly grab the opportunity to do all my pending school work, grading, and even blogging!

It’s interesting because time suddenly became precious – very, very precious. There was no such thing as procrastination in my books anymore. Whatever little time I had to myself, I’d quickly and efficiently utilize it to the best of my ability, ensuring that I was as productive as possible. And it wasn’t only limited to nights: the time when my daughter slept the longest. I’d grab the opportunity to catch up with schoolwork and grading each time she took a nap during the day, even if that nap lasted for a mere ten minutes or, if I was lucky enough, a half an hour. Every. Single. Minute. Counted. Goodness, how I cherished those minutes!

So, how did I do it? Well, one huge factor is my learning the ability to manage time effectively, and then of course the other is having the most incredible people in my life who would not hesitate to lend me a hand whenever possible. I am sure if I didn’t have their support and encouragement, I never would have pulled it off. Not even close. And for that, I am and will be forever grateful.

While I realized that juggling school, work, a baby and family life is difficult, it is not impossible. Rather, I feel that it has made me more mature; more disciplined; more responsible. I didn’t realize how easy I had it, until I had a child of my own. And taking care of a child is far from easy; it is incredibly difficult and time-consuming, especially when your child is merely an infant and requires your attention pretty much around the clock, leaving very little or no time for yourself. And while I miss the times when I had all the time in the world – to myself – not a day goes by that I don’t show my gratitude for the birth of my beloved daughter.

So, although this semester is over and I managed to pull through these past few months, I’ve also come to realize that my PhD degree will be delayed by a couple or so years; I might not be able to work full-time for a little while – not until my daughter starts pre-school; and I have become more domesticated that I’ve ever been in my entire life.

But you know what, dear reader? It’s okay. It’s okay because my daughter comes first now; she is my ultimate priority, while everything else is now secondary. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that – there is nothing wrong with the fact that while being an ambitious, independent, and fairly well-educated woman, I’ve chosen to dedicate my time, and a part of my life, to raising my child well; at least the first few years of her life. I have all the time in the world to pursue my academic and professional passions; they’re not going anywhere. They will be achieved with time. However, the time you dedicate to the upbringing of your child is extremely precious, and there’s no way I am willing to compromise on that.

So, for those of you who cringe at the term “stay-at-home mom” thinking that it is “beneath” you and what you are capable of, well, please don’t. Don’t cringe. There is absolutely nothing wrong with being a stay-at-home mom, for we are simply prioritizing our children above everything else. And if you think that that “belittles” you, then there is clearly something seriously wrong with the way you are perceiving this privileged role.

Besides, I absolutely love being a mother. I love being at home, taking care of my infant daughter. I love watching her grow and reach new amazing milestones every single day. I love my incredible husband, my amazing in-laws, and all my wonderful friends who’ve helped me out and supported me ever since my daughter’s birth. I love life. And I wouldn’t change it for the world.

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