Hell is nine credits and a four-month-old baby who refuses to nap.
I knew I was setting myself up for a challenging year when I decided to get pregnant as I started graduate school, but a semester of unending nausea and fatigue is nothing compared to a baby who will only sleep after 10 p.m. I’ve faced obstacles and hard times in my life before, but this has been the most difficult period, and I brought it all on myself.
Conceivably, having a child while in an online grad program was a great idea–I would be able to spend the first year with him and complete my degree. We’d save on child care, and then when it was a bit more affordable, I would enter the workforce, newly mastered in the library sciences, and Gabe would toddle off to daycare. I wasn’t very clear on the logistics of this scenario, but it seemed like a good idea.
Reality is vastly different. I am currently taking nine credits, which means I need at least four hours each day to study. Those four hours would ideally be during his naps; except he doesn’t nap at home. He naps in the car, he naps when I am at my new moms’ group, and he naps at Grandma’s house, but he doesn’t nap at home. Instead, I squeeze what studying I can in the time before he wakes up in the morning and after he goes to bed at night. I listen to podcasts of lectures when we’re out driving. If Gabe finds writing research studies to be shockingly easy when he reaches college, he’ll have the hours of go-to-sleep drives to thank for it. I can’t take notes, but I can listen to the lecture four times while running errands.
Parenting is a full-time job, one that doesn’t give time off. Unfortunately, so is being in graduate school, and these two positions are not always compatible. I’m studying research ethics and sleep training, literature review and brain development, scheduling group conferences and doctor visits. I can multi-task, but often, in doing so, I do worse jobs of both studying and caring for my child.
I’ve learned the hard way to lay down my pride and ask for help. I hate to do it, and I don’t have many people to ask, but I will ask anyone I trust with my child to watch him, even if it’s just for an hour. Once a week, I make the 70+ mile round trip to my mom, where she will play with her grandbaby while I study uninterrupted (except for nursing). On the weekends, I relax the no-TV rule, and he watches college football with his daddy (only the university I attend, though!). While some grad students have learned the fine art of attending functions for free food, I’ve learned the fine art of finagling free child care from friends and family.
There are days (weeks, even) that I think I can’t do it–I can’t parent and study and be a partner in my marriage and sleep. Every day, I wonder which of these I have to sacrifice in order to succeed at the other three. When putting the baby to bed is a three-hour crying ordeal (both myself and the kid), when I don’t understand a single part of my networking tech class, when I haven’t had time with just my husband (as my husband, not as my fellow parent) in weeks. Those days are the days where I start to search for the therapist’s number, but don’t have time to find it. Those days are bad days.
But there are days where the baby bounces in his jumper for an hour, when a grandma takes him on a long walk, when I understand the concept I’m studying and can talk about it enthusiastically, when he sleeps early so we can have a glass of wine and watch whatever’s built up on the DVR. Those are the days when I have time to find that number, but not the inclination.
Everyone says that life is about balance. I’ve been lucky enough that balancing (until recently) has come easily to me. I can only hope that this is the hard part, and I’ll learn the balancing act I need to pull off every day for the next year. Because once I finish balancing parenting and schooling, the next planned step is parenting and working (and maybe getting pregnant again!). And that’s when I’ll really need help.