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  • Mama PhD

    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.

Outside the Box
December 2, 2012 - 4:09pm

I am taking five classes this semester, in musical theater, improvisation and musical improvisation. I am learning important skills and concepts in all of them. However, I am also working and participating in a musical improv group that practices for two hours a week, and I was recently cast in a staged reading of a new play, with a tight rehearsal schedule. I am exhausted.

I know something has to give, and last night I skipped a class and made the difficult decision not to return. This is not only my most demanding class in terms of time and energy, but it is psychically draining as well. The teacher is brilliant and supportive, and the other students are gifted and funny and nice. But we delve into areas that are often disturbing and frightening to me, and I come home late at night, unable to relax. I frequently have nightmares on class night that color my emotions for a day or two afterward.

Until recently, I considered this a challenge to which I was obligated to rise. I would steel myself starting the day before, give myself pep talks, write in my journal, and talk to my friends. After, there would be post-class debriefings. I thought it was what I had to do; that retreating would mean I was a coward and a wimp. After all, I was learning a lot in a supportive atmosphere; if I couldn't handle it, wasn't that something I needed to overcome?

When I described my struggle to Ben, he responded, "Mom, you have a bachelor's degree, two masters' and a PhD. Don't you think you're entitled to drop a class at this point?"

I truly hadn't looked at it that way. Even though I finished my last degree program in 1994, it seems I have been stuck in academic student mode, slogging through required classes, grateful for those that sparked my interest but expecting to endure others in the service of a long-term goal.

Here, there is no rigid long-term goal. I would love to be on a house team at an improv theater, but I want to do this because I think it would be fun, not because I have any illusions about earning a living performing. There is nothing riding on this at all. I can study whatever appeals to me, and shed whatever doesn't. What a revolutionary thought. My kid is, in many ways, a valuable teacher, and his is one class I plan never to drop.


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