The Hart Home│It’s Crazy to Think

Two years ago at this time, I was engaged and towards the end of my planning for our November wedding. We were beginning to seriously discuss starting our family. I was also packing and getting ready to head off to my final doctoral residency in Dallas, Texas.  I blew the residency out of the water when I had my research plan completely approved and granted scientific merit approval the first day of residency, something that usually takes the entire residency to complete.

I am now waiting to hear back about the formatting of my dissertation for publication. I am at the end point. My dissertation is done and written. Now it’s just the last few steps towards graduation. It’s so crazy to be here. Looking forward, the last few major upgrades are going into our townhouse this week and next which means, she’ll be ready for the market soon after and we will be moving towards a single family home that we are hoping is going to be our family’s forever house.

This also means we are leaving the Jersey Shore behind us. After two years of looking all over New Jersey, we have decided that the best spot for us is more north and closer to my job. I will be less of a lunatic when I don’t have to spend 2 hours every day in a car commuting. We’ll also be saving a fortune on gas and car maintenance too. Logan (and the dogs) will have a lot more room to play and run around. Where we’re looking, houses are almost in the country and come with big pieces of property so even if the house we fall in love with is smaller than what we ultimately would have wanted, we will eventually be able to put on an addition if we want to. I am just eager to get out of drug-ridden ocean county and have Logan poised to start school in a blue ribbon school district.

That’ll be my focus this summer. I am also focusing on myself. I finally succumbed to the mom haircut that I have been fighting since I had Logan and I am so much happier. While I have lost all of my baby weight, I am now ready to lose the last of my chubby weight too and I have been following my old eating plan for a couple of weeks now. I already feel better. I would like to lose 100 pounds and get myself back to where I am happiest with my weight, but I would like to lose at least 50 before I have another baby. It’s crazy to think how much this summer is such an end to a happy chapter of my life where I began a life with the man I love, became a mom and finally, after 15 years have finished school with my Ph.D.

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It’s crazy to think that I am also ending this phase with my new mom hair cut that consists completely of my natural hair complete with my hard earned rogue stripe and all.

The Hart Home│Ruin is a Gift, Ruin is the Road to Transformation

In Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love one of my favorite lines is this: ” Ruin is a gift. Ruin is the road to transformation.”

In 2013, my life kind of fell apart much like it did when I had graduated from college. I was in an awful relationship that finally ended. I was acting as a French teacher though I wasn’t properly certified to be a French teacher and that too, abruptly ended when they found someone with the certificate to finish the year. The next 6 months brought with it so much change.

I finally landed a tenure track position that I was certified for. I met my husband. I enrolled in my master’s program. Within a year, my life was so completely different. What had started out as a really hard time quickly blossomed into what would become my real adult life. Within 2 years, I had bought my first house, moved out of my first single gal apartment and made a real commitment to my husband who was just my boyfriend then and I enrolled in my doctoral program.

Yesterday, my handsome baby boy stole my heart, even more, when he called me “mom.” And he called me mom all day because I made such a big deal every time he did. All he wanted yesterday was his mom and when I would put him down or not be by him, he was next to me in seconds with his big brown eyes fixed on me and his hands gripping my pants going “momomomomom.” I just can’t. He is the absolute best and I am so incredibly lucky that I get to be his mom.

Later yesterday evening, I took Logan outside to go get the mail from the mailbox and our entire front lawn was alive with what had to be 50-something dragonflies. We just stood and watched them zip all around us. When I was 19, I got a tattoo of a dragonfly on my hip. I got it because dragonflies are symbolic of transformation and at the time, I was transforming into a student of art history who was about to go live on her own in New Brunswick. I have always loved dragonflies and I have them throughout our home.

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Dragonflies by Gabriela Valencia

This afternoon, news came back from my mentor that my committee approved of my dissertation which means I am now, officially, only two steps away from being able to call myself Dr. My life is transforming again and by this time next year, I know that I am going to be in a very different place in my life altogether. Everything I have been working for since that point of ruin is transforming me into who I was meant to become and it is amazing and almost indescribable to finally be at this point.

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To anyone who ever said I couldn’t do it or I wouldn’t finish, take a look at this. I did all of this while pregnant and newly post-partum. I did it with no sleep and a newborn nursing from me every 2 hours. I did it because I dreamed it and I wanted it bad enough. I wanted to change my life and I did. As my mentor will always say, ONWARD!

 

The Hart Home│Onward!

I began dissertation when I was at the end of my pregnancy and was eagerly awaiting Logan’s arrival. It was an insane time to be that pregnant and trying to write a doctoral dissertation and I struggled during my first couple of terms. Whenever I hit a forward point in my dissertation, my mentor would conclude his comments, advice and/or congratulations with an ONWARD! I found it highly motivating, at first, but now that I am burning out from this 150-page paper…I am looking forward to never having to see ONWARD again.

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I lost my mind a little bit yesterday. It was a hard day of testing middle schoolers who are just done and dealing with my university that suddenly decided to stick me with a huge bill because they screwed up and overcalculated my financial aid…from LAST YEAR and are now trying to get me to pay back a loan that they awarded me and has been gathering interest all year. And they want to act like oh well, it happens. That sort of thing happens when someone doesn’t do their job correctly. This is why I hate for-profit universities. The way they mismanage students and their money is disgusting and I am, unfortunately, not the only person they have done this to. They’re actually in the midst of a class action lawsuit because of their business practices and the hefty costs that they push on to doctoral students.

I have valued my time there with their core staff. I learned a lot from really great educational leaders from all over this country and each of them has lent themselves in some way to my research and I am where I am because of their knowledge and support. What I have not loved is the vast level of incompetence that pervades much of their support departments because they hire people for those jobs that have no clue what they are doing and there is often a quick turn over amongst them so it’s often just a continuous cycle of stupidity and insanity that gets pushed onto already highly stressed doctoral students who really just want their degree.

I have reached that point. I just want my degree. I want to move on with my life.

Just as I was at my end yesterday and texting my advisor my options for withdrawing and being “all but dissertation” for the rest of my life because I didn’t have it in me for another fight with this school’s support services (this is the third time they have done something out of left field nuts which impacted my finances or ability to register) my mentor had emailed me that he had approved of my completed dissertation and had forwarded it on to my committee for their review and commentary.

And as always he concluded with his bold, ONWARD!

It calmed me down a bit. I requested for the third time documentation about this financial conundrum that they have put me in. And then I took a deep breath.

I have two weeks before I will hear back and then, I am hopeful that there won’t be any edits and that if there are, they are small. I can do the tweaking quickly and then, it goes to my school for one last back and forth review before it goes for formatting and the dean’s approval. I probably will not get to my dissertation defense during this quarter because everything from here on out is depending on other people to be available to read and edit and approve of my work. I am okay with that though and I will most likely finish over the summer which means I will not get to attend the graduation in Minneapolis, but we will have to go to Orlando which I can already hear my husband screaming with excitement in the background. He would move us to Florida if he could.

ONWARD!

Mental Health and Your PhD

I had not realized the toll my PhD had taken on my well-being until very recently.

As a PhD candidate you are always teaching or writing. Then, when you’re not you don’t know what to do with yourself and often, there is a sense of pervading guilt that you’re being “lazy” by not being involved with something.

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Because of this, completing a PhD is extremely isolating because you are spending your free time outside of teaching writing and/or reading which are solitary experiences. I also reached this point in my academic career where I realized I was in my early 30’s and if I wanted to be a mother, it was time to start my family. Being pregnant and then post-partum while I was entering my first quarter of dissertation was extremely taxing. I was dealing with all of the changes in my body and sleep deprivation as well as taking care of my son, it was a very trying time and one that I do not want to go back to.

Now that I at the end of it all, I am realizing how completely burnt out I am. I did a masters, a PhD, got married, bought and renovated a house and had a baby all within the last 6 years. I am exhausted. I am burnt out. And I have reached the point where I have realized that I need to unload something from my plate, I am going to have a full-fledged breakdown.

We are back from spring break today and for the first time in years, I actually took a spring break. I didn’t work on anything…not even a book review or dissertation editing. I hung out with my family and soaked in all the Logan time I could get and then balled my eyes out on the way into work this morning because all I wanted to do was stay home with my baby.

Years ago, an old boss told me that I should go into writing programming for organizations. She told me that I would be very good at that and would love working for myself. I keep thinking about that: getting serious about my own consulting practice. It really would be such an adventure and it would allow me to have more flexibility to be home more. I just don’t even know where I would start.

That’s a Wrap!

Yesterday, in the early hazy morning hours, I typed the final sentences to my 38,000 word, 135 page doctoral dissertation.

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The two glaring typos have since been fixed.

That is right. Yesterday morning, I finished writing my doctoral dissertation. I dedicated to my son because he was very much my dissertation baby. I got pregnant with him three months before I entered my doctoral comprehensive exam. I also dedicated it to my husband because he was the one that was there when I yelled and screamed and during that brief period when Logan was just born and hormones were raging when I declared I DIDN’T NEED A DOCTORATE. Guys, it’s really hard to write a doctoral dissertation and it’s almost impossible to do it when your body is in postpartum and your hormones are all over the place. If my husband hadn’t been there to force me into the basement and put up with my I TYPED 400 WORDS THIS AFTERNOON AND IF YOU SO MUCH AS TOUCH MY BOOKS….kind of rants than I don’t think I would have gotten to this point.

I chose to acknowledge all of the faculty that had helped me to get to this point and also my godparents. My uncle died when I was young, I was 12 years old, but he was the only other PhD in my family and it is because of him I set out on this crazy journey. I wanted to be the PhD of my family for my generation. I also included my aunt because she was such a foundation of my upbringing and she thought that I was never going to be able to complete this, but here I am. She died last June and it makes me sad that she never got to meet Logan or see that despite the intensity of a doctoral program, I have (almost) completed it.

What I am hoping to be my final quarter of dissertation begins on Monday. I am hopeful that I will attain mentor and committee approval within the first half and have my manuscript sent off to my dean and school quickly. I am hoping to defend my dissertation before the summer and if all goes smoothly, I will be graduating in Minneapolis in August.

My son has been sick with an upper respiratory infection and a double ear infection so sleep has not been something that I have been enjoying recently. I have been up with him or I have been writing this dissertation while being up with him. I was almost delirious yesterday with how bad my overall exhaustion was. Thankfully, my son slept last night and so did I because I had nothing to do and also my celebratory dinner with my husband and brother was enough to ease my stress and make me drowsy:

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Clearly, champagne and nachos are the only way you celebrate the end of a long 4-year journey. I don’t know what I am going to do with all of the time I am now going to have. I imagine that I will get to have more uninterrupted cuddle time with my son and spring and summertime adventures with him that will be so much fun and amazing because I will no longer have this monster of a study hanging over my head. I will just be able to focus on myself and my family.

But then there is also that side of me that has gotten myself to this point which makes me think how much farther can I go? I looked up this morning how many classes I would need to take in order to get my superintendent certificate.

It is one class.

I might be seeing that in my near future as well. Until then though, I am going to enjoy being a mom to the best little boy and reading all the for fun books that I can get my hands on this summer.

Now, I just can’t wait for those final approvals and an accepted defense.

As my mentor has told me throughout this process….ONWARD!

Trenton Makes, the World Takes: Leadership & Teaching in the Capital City

There is a saying in Trenton which states: Trenton makes, the world takes. It is a bold statement made by a city as vibrant as its diversity. It’s also something you wouldn’t know about Trenton unless you lived and worked in the area. While the statement comes from a time where Trenton was a huge manufacturing hub for Roebling Steel, the adage has taken on new meaning in more recent time.

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From nj.com via google images

For me, personally, I can say that Trenton made me the educator that I became. I grew up in East Brunswick, NJ about an hour north of our Capital City. I lived in a suburb of New York City and on 9/11 we were lived close enough that we were able to see the dust cloud from the top of my street. I attended Rutgers University and graduated with a dual degree in Art History and Journalism and Media Studies. I lived abroad in Paris and thought my life was going to take me to places very far from here. Trenton was not on my radar other than it being a place that you didn’t go. Where I lived, Trenton was the hood and we were often told that if you stepped foot in Trenton you would be shot. That is all I knew about our capital.

Fast forward some years to my mid-20’s when I was a teacher that was tired of my original school district making me a French teacher each chance they had instead of hiring me for tenure track English positions. I sent resumes out to everywhere I could and had several offers that summer. Trenton was one of them and Trenton was the one that I chose.

Yes, I chose to come to Trenton.

I chose Trenton because for a couple of summers I wrote and facilitated programming for the CYO in Ewing and I found that I loved the kids and the families. While Trenton is rough and raw and yes, you can get shot and killed in Trenton, our capital city also makes some of the best families and kids I have ever had the privilege to work with.

In my six years in the capital city, I have lost a student to gang violence (she was one of my favorites too), watched several of my students become mothers before their time, coached sports and facilitated clubs, run home instruction for sick kids that are often forgotten in the system, met my husband and gotten married, bought a house, finished my master’s degree and am in the final chapter of writing my doctoral dissertation. I have had kids write essays about being smuggled into our country, sat and listened to them as they cried about their losses—no matter how big or small, and have sat with kids in police stations after they were arrested and waited with them until their parents came.

And in each of these experiences and relationships I have made with students and their families, I became the educator I couldn’t have been able to become had I stayed in my original district. Trenton taught me the importance of relationships and the importance of rising up to meet the needs of your students. However, those needs aren’t always academic and sometimes a student just needs someone who would listen.

I think that is true of most people, not just kids. I moved into teaching college at a campus within our capital city and I teach foundation courses for students who do not test into regular classes. I teach reading and so often, my students are products of Trenton who are trying to better themselves. Foundation classes have a high dropout rate because they are hard and work heavy. And so often with nontraditional students, you have nontraditional problems. I have students who are under 30 and already have five or six kids. Some women are pregnant and others are part of a parole program with the state that are coming to school to better their lives out of poverty and out of the system.

And that’s the tricky piece: poverty. When you live in poverty all you know is survival. If you’re lucky enough to get to the mind frame of betterment, then you need people who are going to lead you to accomplishing something better for your life and more often than not, the key to bettering your life is through getting some form of an education whether it is completing a college degree, certificate or learning a trade is up to the person, but regardless of their choice, they need people who will help lead them out of poverty.

For me, on a teaching level, that means I allow my college students to bring their kids to class if they can’t find a baby sitter. I allow my students makeup blocks to fix any grade they don’t like. I offer embedded extra credit opportunities that they often don’t even realize is extra work because it’s quick and often, they take ownership of the task because it lends to their interest or their point that they are trying to assert on any given topic.

Now, as an emerging school leader, I see helping students living in poverty not only needing everything I provide them on a teaching level, but on a leadership level we need to be offering students consistency. We need to stop implementing new program every other year, we need leaders who are going to stay in our schools and not push to privatize and outsource teachers and staff to save money. We need to put money into our infrastructure and fix the buildings we have been teaching in (and neglecting) since the 1920’s. Our kids and our families deserve better.

They deserve a light that leads them out of poverty and into a comfortable life where day to day survival isn’t at the heart of their existence. We need leaders who care and who are going to stay and fight for our kids instead of creating situations where we’re just fighting each other.

What It’s Really Like

A lot of the time I get from people the “I don’t know how you do it all” comment.

And the truth is, I really don’t either, but I’ll give you a glimpse into what it’s really like.

It’s 3:30 AM.

The dogs are snoring on the floor. My husband is snoring on the couch. Our son is in my lap nursing as I am writing.

I am exhausted. I wanted to go to bed early tonight, but I also wanted to finish this last chapter. It’s the first time today that my son is quiet enough and preoccupied enough with food to let me do this without having to be walking him or rocking him or snuggling him.

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Google Images

He comes first. Always. But in this moment, my work finally gets to come first. My son will eventually nurse himself back to sleep and I will get a good chunk of work done.

It’s now 4:30 AM.

I quietly get us back into bed if I am lucky, but more times than not we make it to the recliner and I hold our son as I get 2 hours of sleep before my late alarm for work will go off. I will shower and throw on whatever dress I can find and am out the door to complete my 2 hour long commute.

It is now 6:45 AM.

I autopilot the hour into my job, praying the entire way that there isn’t an accident that will make the entire highway a parking lot. I review over and over again the lesson I plan on teaching and where everything is in my room that I need to get together for the lesson.

It is now 7:45 AM.

I am at work, signed in and am setting up for the day. I have 10 minutes before the kids come in. I make sure I have everything I need and my board set up for the day. My day consists of teaching 3 block classes and attending PLC meetings or using prep time to prep for my classes.

It is now 2:40 PM.

I am probably in my car. I get a few seconds to breathe before I am either commuting home to take my son from my husband before he goes off to night school or I am heading deeper into the capital city to hold my office hours for my night class. I will be there until about 10:00 PM.

It’s a four hour class on reading. I go through office hours, probably eat something, grade my papers, talk to students who come in and then I teach the class for four hours.

Then I walk to my car and finally get to drive the hour home.

I take my son from my husband because chances are he has been up and fussy all night because I am not home to lay with him at bedtime like I do or let him nurse himself to sleep. With any luck he will go down for the final time and I will either get to have some sleep myself or I will be up again writing and nursing a baby at 3:00 in the morning.

It’s hard being working mom and going to school full time. It takes a lot out of you and often times, you are giving up something else in turn. For me, I largely lack a social life because my free time at the moment goes to my son and on the rare occasions that he is tired with me, we both get to have that wonderful nap that never will fully catch me up on sleep.

I remember when I thought it was hard to be 20 something weeks pregnant, writing my doctoral comprehensive exam and being in bed with the flu. I laugh at that time now. That was easy when I think about it now.