Yesterday I registered for my first semester of graduate school and had a fantastic first meeting with my advisor. That overachieving student in me woke up and shot out of bed for the first time in nearly 10 years. With the adrenaline I had pumping right then, I probably could’ve read my first textbook cover to cover, unfortunately, the textbook assignments haven’t been posted yet.
Today was a little different. I spent the entire morning trying to log into my student orientation. When I was finally in, I was greeted by a header that read, “Karen S.” Which is only an issue because my name isn’t Karen. If ever there was a head-to-desk moment, this was it. I had visions of my hard-earned master’s degree with the name Karen on it, and I wondered — only half seriously — if it would be easier to just legally change my name or get back on hold for the remainder of the day.
I have to see the humor in that situation. I mean, it is a pretty funny story. But, there is a lesson in it — aside from the all-important realization that the tech helpline is long on knowledge, but short on appreciating my jokes. Yes, this snafu was a hearty reality check alright. You see, I’m not the only one going back to school this fall. My son will start kindergarten (sniff, sniff), and my daughter will head to preschool for the very first time ever (sniff, sniff, cry uncontrollably).
As a mom who has worked from home longer than my babies have been alive, I saw the opportunity in them starting school. No more am I juggling my schedule around a 3-hour “school day” or no school at all. More uninterrupted time means I can accomplish more in one day. Not to mention it’s a good distraction from the fact that my kids are growing up.
Just yesterday, after my most frustrating day of grad school to date (granted I don’t start until the end of August), I was still able to remind another military spouse that there isn’t much that a mom with a goal can’t handle. And I stand by that. We can multitask. We can focus while the noisiest toys in the house sound simultaneously, cereal flies across the room and the dog barks at every … single … person walking down the sidewalk.
But, though I’d like to think so, we aren’t superheroes. To be successful, we do need a plan and some serious organization, after all this isn’t just keeping track of one person’s assignments, it’s that on top of everything else moms already do.
Put it (all of it) on the calendar
I already know I’ll get a calendar of all my assignments on the first day of class. That magical paper is getting printed and posted by our family’s communication station (which isn’t as complex as it sounds — it’s a calendar and bulletin board in our pantry). I will also post the monthly calendars for both kids in there as well — no mom wants to be the one that forgot about preschool pajama day.
Make time for school
My grad school is 100 percent online, which for convenience’s sake is more fabulous than fabulous, but it also means forcing myself to block off a time and space where I focus only on school. I figured this out years ago when I started working from home, but it’s only human to find distraction in laundry, errands, whatever is on TV and — of course — my family. I don’t have the luxury of an actual office in our quaint 1,200-square feet of townhouse, so the best I can do is section off a space for my desk in the living room. That’s my setup, and while it isn’t a favorable study space when we have a full house, it should do the job when I’m the only one home. As a backup, I’ve also found an installation library right down the street from both of the kids’ schools. Who says you can’t still be hover mom when everyone’s at school?
Fight the urge to “mom” all day
As far as small kids go, mine are pretty patient. When I tell them I need them to play on their own for 15 minutes so I can finish something, they’re pretty respectful. But a 5-year old that respects your time is not always all the respect you need to get the job done. Someone will always need a drink of water. Someone will always give you puppy-dog eyes because it’s been eight minutes since you last played with her and she’s bored. There will always be laundry, and a dirty dish, and an errand. My biggest challenge — and maybe yours too — will be tuning everything else out. I want to give my goals just as much attention as I do everyone else’s. It’s not selfish, no matter what that mothering instinct is telling you.
So, from my freshly organized desk, I’ll wrap this up so I can focus on the last few days of summer with my kids. We’re full of butterflies, and with our new school clothes (them, not me — there’s no dress code for distance learning) and a fresh stack of school supplies, we can’t wait to kick off a successful school year.