by Brianne Bouska
When I found out that I was expecting Elliana Pearl, I was in Traverse City with Michael, my husband, at a conference presenting some of the assignments that students in my literacy class are expected to tackle in order to prepare them for their final: a test designed to determine if they will pass my class and thus be deemed college-ready. Since my sophomore year in college it has been a dream of mine to work at a community college and travel to conferences to present, so as I stood in the bathroom of a Traverse City hotel the day after my session ended looking at my own test, I knew that two dreams were about to collide. Because somewhere around age 30, I could not deny the sudden yet deep desire to become a mother, but I wondered how I would reconcile my love for the classroom with my love for my child.
I consider teaching both very challenging and extremely rewarding, and as a result, after grad school, I allowed my job to quickly consume my life. It was an obsession I welcomed because teaching is a worthwhile endeavor. But too much of anything can be harmful, and in the name of hard work, I convinced myself that worrying incessantly about my students’ academic performance was helpful to them– that teaching as many sections as I could was proof I was a responsible, caring instructor. I quickly lost the balance in my life that I once had, and I was slightly terrified that there wasn’t enough room in my head or heart for both the classroom and my new bébé.
To my surprise, motherhood has given me balance as an instructor that I never thought I would have because I am finally able to accept that I have certain limitations. I can now only teach what is possible for me to remain my best self as a wife, mother, daughter, sister, friend, and teacher, because my daughter depends on me to be my best for her physical, spiritual, emotional, and mental development. Accepting my limits has helped me in the classroom because I can finally appreciate and accept what I have preached to my students for years: education is a process and not a product. Finally realizing that I cannot do it for them, I now more boldly demand my students claim their own education, thus truly giving them the gift of autonomous learning that will surely serve them for their lifetime.
Education is a process, not a product
In the same way that Ellie has given me balance as an instructor, my job at OCC has given me balance as a mother. As the days drew closer to the start of the school year after Ellie’s July arrival, I began to panic about going back to work. I wondered how Ellie would fare without me for 8 hours a week even though my closest family and friends assured me that I would be thankful to be able to go to my job to nurture one of my first loves. Still, the day I went back to the classroom, I walked into the room a little suspicious, a little unsure. Thankfully my students still were not just numbers or faces to me, but people who I might serve for a season. But as soon as class was over, it was time to go home. So home I went to my little girl, and I did not think about work again until it was time to think about work again. So, I am grateful for my work because even though in some ways my world will always be about Ellie, I am nurturing her to grow into an independent adult who will have her own life, with her own dreams, goals, and loves. When she moves on one day, my interests will once again be the focus of my life.
This October 16th will be a year since I found out my life would change in a monumental way. I plan to go back to Traverse City to celebrate. I might sit in the backseat on the way up this time, instead of next to Michael, so I can watch Ellie sleep…but I will probably be grading papers and chatting with him in a loud whisper from my new, albeit temporary, seat in the car.