Having said that, I've spent all of Summer trying to get over the exhaustion of 1st year and struggling to face the thought of returning to uni. It's only been in the last 2 weeks that I can truthfully say I am ready to go back. Thank goodness. I mean, it's only taken 3 months, countless afternoon/evening naps, multiple avocados and other nutritious foods, several hibernation days with Reubs, a week at Capernwray with no wifi/ lots of God time (plus more God time in general over the holidays), a week at New Horizon, AND a big massive cry into my microwave (I was midst-clean). The exhaustion has finally worn off and I feel like a new woman (that is a massive exaggeration, but it's worth being dramatic about).
Exhaustion, and getting-over-the-exhaustion aside, I've been looking back on the past year and all of it's crazy mind-boggling changes, and what I've learnt. And I've been wondering if I've made student-parenting seem unrealistically cute. You know... walking to class together, wearing matching school bags, having after-school coffee dates, the toddler hanging out with the students, cuddling up in bed to study beside the toddler, not working in a job I hate... you get the picture. Or in my case, you've seen the pictures - it makes for a very cute and dreamy Instagram photo. What Instagram doesn't show, however, is pictures of me having a snotty, tearful, semi-psychotic breakdown in the toilets at uni because I can't cope with my to-do list and as a result, suffering a great deal because I'm very passionate about my to-do list. Sometimes it's been the opposite of cute and dreamy.
I pride myself in being honest, and sometimes I kick myself for being toooo honest, but I want you all to know that there were countless times where I asked myself, 'why on earth am I doing this?'... Only to be reminded that this was my dream from the moment I got pregnant.
I've been connecting with more and more mums who want to go back into education, and they ask me what they should expect. And I guess that's what I want to tell them - it is excruciatingly hard and tear/snot-inducing, but it's my dream come true. And you're all about to cringe at this pinterest-worthy line (Sara, this is your fault), but I guess a dream wouldn't be worth having, if it wasn't worth working for.
So to all the mamas/parents in general who are considering doing the student thing, or to anyone who is just genuinely curious as to how on earth it all works, here's what I've learnt - particularly in the last year.
- Don't let your brain die. Seriously, if you don't have it already, find a way to practice some self discipline. We are all different but this has saved me big time. When I found out Reuben was in my belly, I told myself I'd continue to study, even over maternity leave. I knew if I took a 'break', it would last approx. 50 years and Reuben would end up funding my life because I succumbed to the 'teen mum' stereotype and fell into a downward spiral of benefits and lack of hope. (Okay, maybe that was a bit dramatic. But the hormones were a-flowing and I was terrified, so I made myself a promise that I wouldn't go back on). And I haven't stopped since! This Summer was the first time I stopped ALL study related reading/writing and I can already feel how hard it's going to be to get my brain back in the swing of things. If you even have the slightest hint of desire to return to education, get reading!
- Save money in advance. I'm terrible with money. Horrendous, in fact. I've never had savings and any short term savings were spent on adventures. Ahem, Paris, Rome and Amsterdam - oops. All about the memories though, eh? The year before moving to Belfast I started putting some money away 'just incase'. First year for me was a trial run and a massive learning curve. And although that money wasn't much, it was extremely helpful when unexpected issues arose. And by unexpected issues I mean, when I was an idiot. Like when I crashed my car. There are loans and grants available to student parents and you're welcome to contact me if you want help getting your head around it all. But I would encourage everyone to try and save a little before jumping head first into quitting your job and joining me in the bank-breaking student world.
- Freshers' Fifteen is a real thing. Whether you're a fresh-from-school, alcohol-bingeing 18 year old, or a not-so-fresh coffee-and-chocolate-bingeing 20 year old parent, the Freshers' Fifteen is a very real thing. In the grand scheme of things, putting on a stone in weight is not a big deal, but I'm just putting a gentle warning out there for anyone who is made up like me. i.e. doesn't own a metabolism but loves chocolate as much as one's offspring. This Summer I have had to learn to be super-prepared with shopping, meal planning, and cooking, or else I end up running from one thing to another on sugary energy and just grab whatever I can on the go. When I'm a massive stress-monster at exam time (you can read about that here, it's not pretty), I eat my way through revision. Recently I've had more time to get back into the way of cooking and eating nutritious, filling food again, so I'm hoping to make that a priority going into the new semester.
- Study what you love. It's okay to leave school and not know what you want to do. As a teenager with minimal responsibilities, it's okay to go into a course that may or may not lead to your desired career. And it's okay to figure it out along the way. But if you are like me and have bills to pay and a 2 year old who exhausts you beyond what you thought possible, and admittedly makes you question everything in life, then it's not okay to study something that you don't really want to do. This year I realised that sometimes the only thing that kept me going was my love for my course. I am passionate about what I'm learning and I hope to use it in a future career. If I'm going to study something that will mean time away from Reuben, then I sure as anything better be studying something that is worthy of the sacrifice. And it is - God has a purpose for my theology degree and although I question this every single week of my life, I'm learning to trust him.
- I'd be snookered without a support network. This is basically a roundabout way of saying my friends have made everything easier, and they will never know just how much I've appreciated it. This year could have been very different. Let's face it, I do this whole parenting thing on my own and I moved away from my family. I could have went to class and went straight home again, or straight to the library, as I've seen some parents do. Everyone was younger than me, so I could have said no to everything and easily have spent every single evening hiding away in my house. To be fair, I probably should have spent more time cleaning my house, making dinners in advance, and keeping on top of the washing so that I wouldn't have to wear the same pair of tights 5 days in a row (some pointers to work on this year, maybe?). BUT instead, I put myself out there. I talked to everyone (sometimes being annoyingly forward, apologies to Andy and Jack) and I went for lunch with anyone who would take me. I always get my energy from being with people (typical extrovert, I know) so I knew I needed to make friends. I said yes to everything and I spent time getting to know the people who, little did I know, would become my family.
I used to be queen of putting up walls, and not letting anyone in incase I got hurt. These days I've become more and more open to letting people into my life and I LOVE adding to my family. I love that my friends treat my house as their own and more importantly, that they treat Reuben as their own. If you're going back into education as a parent you need to have a support network. Whether that's a listening ear to share in your burdens, someone to talk things through with, or someone you can ring at the last minute to babysit. AND Someone to invite over after the kids have gone to bed, during those evenings when you don't know how to say it but you're so very tempted to lie down and sob, and all you need is someone to make you laugh. But if you're sitting there thinking, 'Alright Reb, that's all very well and good for you, but I've got no one', then PLEASE send me a message. PLEASE. We are in this together.
- I've learned to be selfish. I've learned to ditch work, ditch responsibilities, sometimes even ditch class (I doubt my lecturers are reading this, but if you are, many apologies), and go AWOL with Reuben when quality time and perspective is just what the doctor (or the student medic friend) ordered. I've learned to get my priorities right and realise that just because there's no 9-5 working limit on studying for a degree, it doesn't mean I have to stress and work 24/7.
I realise that my closest friends will be reading this and I'll get a wee Whatsapp message telling me that I'm a massive hypocrite - I have yet to learn how to make time for myself. And perhaps that's why I burnt out towards the end of 1st year. I'm tellin' ya, I burnt out with a BANG. I'm talking a 'fireworks display' kind of bang. My new years (university) resolution is to leave a margin in my week. I picked up this useful concept at a seminar at New Horizon in August. And by 'picked up' I mean, it was like a punch in the stomach. You know when you're convicted to change something but you've been avoiding the change for a long time? Yep, that's me. I'm good at filling my week to a tee, and I love being in control. But then I have no space for when something crops up, or if I need to be alone, or when Reuben hasn't been sleeping, or if it's just been a hard week with Reuben in general, or basically - if life happens. As I go into second year, I want to make sure there's a margin in each week - whether it's having 3 free evenings a week, or leaving weekends wide open. And I want everyone who loves and cares for me to hold me accountable to that resolution. Thank you. Much love.
So here's to second year and giving it stacks, to learning from the trial run and being committed to change, and to staying on Reuben's good side, and having FUN.