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Thursday, February 23, 2006

Bye bye student loans...where am I now?

Almost ten years after graduation, I've paid off my $20-some thousand dollars in student loans from my undergraduate degree. I sent a check for the final lump sum last month, and the letter congratulating me arrived a few days ago. "This letter is official verification that your Federal Perkins Student Loan/s with Northeastern University is paid in full."

It feels like a huge accomplishment to have those loans paid off. Not only did I go to college and graduate, I managed to actually pay for that degree legitimately. I'm proud of myself for my success so many years ago, but it's also a sore spot simultaneously. Where have I come? What have I really accomplished? What do I really have to show for it?

Ten years after graduating from college, I'm not using my degree, my skills, my rolodex. My diploma hangs on the wall opposite me as I type this and I wonder what it really means to have that framed piece of paper. I suppose it means at some point in my past I was disciplined. I set a goal and I fulfilled that goal. But now that I've officially paid for that piece of paper, it's almost as if it mocks me. What I'm doing now as a mother requires no previous experience. No degree. No special skills. No references. No letters of recommendation. No essays. Anyone can do what I do. That's probably why it is not a respected position in society. No prerequisites. No qualifications needed.

I had a good run as a journalist. I was respected and had a lovely sizable paycheck to back it up. I traveled to exciting conferences in Napa and Boston and New York City, ate in fancy restaurants, and slept in cozy, swanky hotels on the company's dime. It was so glamorous. Then I realized it wasn't for me. I didn't like many parts of being a reporter--the deadlines, the annoying editors standing over my shoulder, the pressure to break stories before the Wall Street Journal. So I mustered up the courage to try something new, and then I got pregnant. And now more than three years later, I'm pregnant again.

For now, my diploma and my skills will continue to gather dust, and I will continue to rack up years of experience in my new profession. Perhaps ten years from now when I look back on my years as a struggling mother, I will no longer wonder if I was doing the right thing. Hopefully my kids will be my daily reminder.

7 comments:

  1. Congratulations on paying off your student loans. I paid mine off when I was pregnant with my first, but I have to admit that I didn't look at it the same way you are. Maybe that's because I was so miserable physically, I couldn't think of anything else.

    I have no doubt that having children is easier as time goes by. It's only when they're so young, fragile, dependent, and WHINY that it's this hard.

    At least, that's what I keep telling myself when I'm having a bad day. Which is like every other day. :)

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  2. If mothering takes no special skills, then why do we have children addicted to drugs as soon as they're born, children suffering from abuse and neglect, or even the milder problems of undisciplined, disrespectful children in schools.

    It is true that society doesn't respect mothers, especially stay-at-home mothers as much as we deserve, but we need to give ourselves credit for what we do. It is challenging work to raise happy, healthy, knowledgeable, and respectful children. It is so hard to give them the things they need in the face of their demands for the the things they want. This challenge can fill us with frustration and self-doubt.

    So I have to say that you have not wasted the time, money, or energy spent on earning your undergraduate degree. You use your intellect (which was developed during those college years) on a daily basis. Toddlers have a way of making us think differently. Please do not underestimate the significance of the writing you do for this blog and for Oh Baby. You reach women every day - women who need to be reached.

    I realize my tone may be out of line in this comment. But I want you to know that I have a great deal of respect and admiration for mothers who blog. Mothering brings our our vulnerabilities, and to post them on the Internet for all the world to read and comment on is quite brave.

    Hang in there. You're doing a great, vitally important job!

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  3. Anonymous3:24 PM

    Hurray for Lisa's comments. At one point I thought about who I would hire if I needed someone to take care of my children. I'd want someone college educated with a fine mind. I'd want a highly literate person who could speak with intelligence. I'd want a disciplined person, but also one with a love of spontaneity. I'd want someone with excellent knowledge of nutrition, exercise and health, music, art, literature, etc... So I hired myself and my kids got quantity time, not quality time. :-)

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  4. Anonymous3:24 PM

    Hurray for Lisa's comments. At one point I thought about who I would hire if I needed someone to take care of my children. I'd want someone college educated with a fine mind. I'd want a highly literate person who could speak with intelligence. I'd want a disciplined person, but also one with a love of spontaneity. I'd want someone with excellent knowledge of nutrition, exercise and health, music, art, literature, etc... So I hired myself and my kids got quantity time, not quality time. :-)

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  5. That very fact is what drove me back to the work force with three young children. I am not always sure that it is the right choice. I admire your choice to stay home, like anything: anyone can do a mediocre job, but it takes someone special to do it really well.

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