11/25/2014 11:39 am ET Updated Jan 25, 2015

When This Tenacious Learner Became a Mom

Every woman has her story. Mine could be "Surprised by Fertility." I hear my daughter play with the salt and pepper shakers and pretend that they are getting married by the mustard, on the verge of creating many salt-and-pepper children. This was never me growing up. I remember picking up beetles and studying them. I remember loving to dance and reading a lot. When my grandma took me to St. Sophia's, I loved every moment. Dolls were okay, but they didn't get my blood pumping like colored pencils and paper. I liked climbing trees. Boys were interesting but I never planned a wedding officiated by Mr. Condiment. I wanted to travel, interview people, and write about it. Like a hot gypsy nun.  

Suddenly I was pregnant, and just as suddenly I was pregnant again. Two kids. Married. The funny thing is my husband is also a little like this. As we are expecting our third child, we are still surprised. I thought I'd be meditating in Tibet, and he thought he'd be counting his money on a throne in order to invest in businesses. Instead, I'm teaching my kids to pray in one of the most polluted counties in America. He is pouring money into health insurance companies, grocery stores, preschools, and enrichments services.  But we are still the same people inside who dream, love traveling, and crave being outdoors. We just have kids now and a different perspective.  We had no idea how much we would love each other and our children. I go to hug my husband and it turns into a side hug because I am all belly in the front. I thought I'd be leading a company, but here I am leading with my belly.  At home. With two kids. My mom -- the epitome of tenacious -- often says, "Go with what you're given."  If God gives me children, I receive and appreciate them as gifts.  I am a tenacious learner in the classroom who became a tenacious learner at home.

It hurt to give up going to graduate school when little guy was born, but I knew I wanted to be there for my little people, plus my husband's job was 1,000 miles away. I wanted us to be together as a family (this choice was right for me). Leaving school had many consequences -- mostly negative for my career in academia, mostly positive for my familia. It was hard to give up something in which I was excelling for something that is constantly humbling.  I say, "These people are more important than my career right now" but my heart hears "These people are more important than me." Then the whisper of a voice says, "You chose this because you love them so much. It is a testament to the strength of your love, valuing family at a time when family is being devalued." Yet that doesn't take away my desire to nurture myself. I am finding more time to write and celebrate successes in the kitchen, like my mean minestrone (call me "E" for Epicurious). I am so deeply thankful for my family, though sometimes I feel frustrated and overwhelmed, dreaming of walking in Paris along the Seine. I am tenacious.  I am staying to do the best job I can with and for my family, even when I'm discouraged and exhausted.

Facebook recently asked me, "What is your position at Stay-at-Home Mom?"  Well, it's on my knees cleaning up pee around the gorshok because my little guy is potty training. In just a second, I will be squatting to bathe him, just like I washed his sister five minutes earlier.  The position is "I'm here for them." I am here to make chicken soup and stay up with them when they are not feeling well. I am here to give them a hug after we sit together at the chapel service. I am here to take them to swimming, tae kwon do, ballet, tennis, language school, church, and a birthday party every weekend. I am here to make dinner that little guy will eat voraciously and to which my daughter will initially say "No, thank you" unless it has pasta or "myaso," particularly steak. I am here to listen, laugh, and discipline. I am well-positioned to be present to them. 

I heard on NPR a person complaining that anyone could add to his schedule at the office, and it felt maddening to have someone impose on his time. When you have children, especially the first year, it feels like you gave your Google Calendar to a baby gorilla. "Here, go ahead, plan my life." With a newborn, you can schedule some things, and increasingly more activities and routines as the she gets older, but you are never going to have a conversation that sounds like, "Perhaps you could schedule the poop meeting to earlier in the day, let's say 9:00 a.m." Your baby is not going to answer, "Sure! I was thinking 7:00 p.m. right after you washed me, but I can see how that may be inconvenient for you." Life is constantly asking you to be flexible, understanding, and available immediately to address each issue. Sometimes you have help to keep your sanity, but most of the time, you are on your own, learning to survive the most difficult job of your life. There is no going home and putting your feet up (you're grounded theory research is really developing whether you like it or not). There is just day-in-and-day-out family life. Moment by moment, you are moving your kids in the right direction, with what must be the steepest learning curve of any endeavor. And who better to be at home than a life-long student? Your grade comes in every smile, in every laugh, from every tickle.

It's that thing that professors say that drives me crazy, "The process is the reward." But in this case, it's true.