Salute to Spouses Blog

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One Bite at a Time

Woman on computer with babyMy husband and I met young, while we were teenagers. Within two years, we were married, and shortly thereafter, pregnant with our first son. I did something I swore I would never do, because we didn’t have another financial option: I dropped out of college. I told myself that I’d go back, that this was only temporary. The kicker about momentum is that when you stop, it feels impossible to start up again.

It took me years to go back, to work up the nerve and try again. I promised myself I’d graduate college, if only to prove to my sons that I did, and I wanted to do it before I turned thirty. When I did, it was a class at a time, just enough to keep my toes in the water while I juggled my career, our two sons and our second deployment. 

The hardest part? Looking at the daunting list of classes I needed to graduate. All I could think was, “There’s no chance I can do this. I can’t take two classes at once. I’m never going to graduate.”

I felt like Sisyphus, eternally rolling this heavier-than-life boulder up the hill, and getting . . . nowhere.  Sure, I was making progress, but when you’re adding water drops to a pitcher, it doesn’t seem to add up quickly. But college was never about “quickly.” It’s about tearing off the chunks you can handle and keeping up the sheer momentum. Remember the whole, “an object in motion stays in motion?” The same philosophy applies when you’re in college.

I went back for multiple hours when we PCS’d to Germany, and I took the real plunge when we got to Fort Rucker. For two years, I took 21 hours a semester. I had our fourth little boy in the middle of the semester - and kept up. I took a little maternity leave, and hit the books harder than ever when I returned. I may have been up at 2 a.m. with a term paper due and a crying baby, but that was the price I was willing to pay. Or maybe I was insane. Either way, it worked out before I lost my mind.

I graduated with my bachelor’s degree in history (minor in English) during Jason’s third deployment, just after we PCS’d to New York. I smiled, and washed out sippy cups, while my class walked the stage in Alabama. I was 29-years-old. I did it.

The point here is, if you’re looking at going back for your degree, or you’re in the middle of the program, stop looking at the whole. The whole is intimidating. Instead, bite off what you can chew. Take on the classes you can handle and set yourself up for success. Don’t get scared by a time commitment, because a year from now, you’re going to wish you’d started today. Build your confidence until the fear is gone, and there’s nothing left but the certainty that you’ll meet your goal. 

You can graduate. I promise, it’s doable.

Will it be hard? Yes. Everything that’s worth it is. But the measure of what we sacrifice is equal to the reward, the accomplishment we feel when we look back and know that we kicked some serious butt. And being the type-A person that I am, I loved coloring in my little boxes when each class was complete, and I could see my degree plan being eaten away, bite by bite.

Oh, and what do I use my history degree for?  I write books. Seriously. But it’s never been about the career, or what followed. It was about setting the goal for myself and seeing it hang on the wall. It’s about looking at our children and saying, “Look, if I did it in between four duty stations, three deployments and four little boys, you can do it too. We’re going to make it easier on you.” 

And they get a kick out of seeing my name on the wall.

I do too.

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