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By Gretel Patch www.gretelpatch.com May is always my favorite month. It starts off with my birthday, followed by Mother’s Day, and then our wedding anniversary (fifteen years!). May means the near-end of school, the beginning of summer, warmer weather, and blossoms. I love May. This May I will also add in one more huge celebration: I will receive my Master’s of Educational Technology. This is a huge accomplishment that speaks of learning, effort, courage, perseverance, challenge, growth, endurance, and support. A favorite leader recently said that “every life is a collection of individual journey stories.”1 Pursuing my Master’s at this stage in my life has certainly been a journey: one that my husband and children have shared with me each step of the way. Fifteen years ago, I graduated from BYU and worked to support my husband through school. Our first was born, then our second, and before we knew it we were living grown-up lives striving to make ends meet, keep mouths fed, and mostly just keep it together. My husband eventually joined the Foreign Service for the U.S. Department of State and we enjoy the unique opportunity to live in various overseas locations with our four children. We began in Djibouti, Djibouti, a hot and dusty little country on the Horn of Africa. While there, we adopted our son Yared from Ethiopia. Our next stop was Sydney, a stunningly gorgeous city with equally lovely people. We had our youngest Adelaide there. This July we will finish up a two-year assignment in Kathmandu, Nepal: a vibrant city where every day is truly an adventure. BE OPEN TO NEW EXPERIENCES Have you ever received an answer before you even asked? That’s what happened to me just before I came to Nepal. I had always wanted to get a Master’s because I truly loved learning. However, with young children, a very busy husband, and a mobile overseas life I hadn’t seriously considered it. I never stopped to ask the question: what do I want to do with the rest of my life? I am content that my calling as a mother is the most important work I will ever do, and I pray every day that I can do a better job. However, I must admit I had neglected my zest for learning. Sure, I still would read books and relished the occasional conversations with other moms about non-mom things. But I felt that my brain needed to be more active and that my thirst for knowledge needed to be fed. More than that, I wanted my children to know that I am a living, breathing being with needs and thoughts of my own. I wanted them to see me work really hard at something that didn’t involve them. And so, the answer came even before I asked, one night while I was talking with my husband. To his great credit, he has always been my supporter and is very encouraging of me to be and
Dieter F. Uchtdorf “Your Wonderful Journey Home”
do my best. In the course of the conversation I knew it was time to pursue a Master’s degree and I knew exactly the field I wanted to focus on. My path of study was a perfect fusion of my three passions: children, education, and technology. Within an hour it all came together perfectly before my eyes. Within a few weeks I had applied and was accepted. I was going to be a student again! PRESS FORWARD WITH WHAT IS RIGHT There were a few moments of fear, of doubt, of questioning how I could possibly make it work. How could I take this on, considering the craziness of our lives with moving, living, and adjusting to a new overseas home? Moving our family half-way around the world comes with its challenges and it is not for the faint of heart. Our life is never without adventure. Ever. Yet we do it, time after time, because in a way we can’t explain it is the right thing for our family. Just like this new Master’s program was the right plan for me. I couldn’t explain it, and it may not be the right path for everyone. I just knew it was the right path and the right time for me. Not because my life was calm. Not because my children didn’t need me anymore. Not because I even asked the question. It came anyway, and it felt so right. STIMULATE YOUR BRAIN I say it’s been a journey, and it has been. I have had to organize myself beyond belief and push forward even when I was beyond exhausted. I read when I could read no more. I created. I connected. I learned. Aside from Saturday (our Sabbath here in Nepal and a day I keep set apart for faith and family), I study every single night after the kids are in bed. There is little break. My husband puts them to bed when he’s home in time and has made countless other gestures to support me. Due to his help and support, and a great deal of hard work on my part, I have plowed through this intensive program in a year and a half: no small feat. I have learned more than I possibly could have envisioned and have been able to develop talents I didn’t even know I had. I received both a department scholarship and a grant. I maintained a 4.0 GPA. I truly embraced the opportunities and experiences along the way. USE YOUR SKILLS TO BE A BETTER MOTHER The best part of this journey for me, aside from the education itself, has been that I have become a better mother. That probably sounds contradictory. Sure, I’ve lost my temper when I’m tired. I’m often distracted and torn in several directions. I’ve nodded off mid-sentence, called my children by the wrong names, and I’ve missed some family outings. That much is true. Still, I am a better mom because my brain is fed. I have found my niche, something that excites and inspires me. I can carry on an intelligent conversation without searching for content. I’m up on all the latest research in my field. More importantly, I have set a goal and achieved it. And I have shared it all with my children. INCLUDE YOUR CHILDREN For example, I volunteer-teach basic technology skills to at-risk Nepali students. It has taken me to several outlying towns and villages throughout Nepal. These 14-16-year-old students are learning English through a program at the U.S. Embassy called the English Access
Microscholarship Program. I help them set up email accounts, learn basic technology terminology, and give them a chance to explore various gadgets. I’ve often included my own children in these experiences which has been immensely enriching for them and for me. I have also taken on a part-time position at the school where my children attend. I ride the bus with them, eat lunch with them when we can, am closely involved with their teachers and class projects, and love knowing their friends and daily lives. We exchange inside jokes and high fives. They stop in my office between classes just to say hi and grab a snack from my snack drawer. I love being there for this part of their lives and the doors that have already opened to me because of my efforts. The culminating project for my degree was not a Master’s Thesis but an ePortfolio. I designed a website filled with artifacts I created throughout the program. I charted exactly which standards I met and how I met them. In short, I had to document and justify my journey. Did I go where I wanted to go? Did I become who I wanted to become? It’s made me draw a lot of parallels to motherhood and makes me wonder if I’ll create a similar ePortfolio on my motherhood experience. I already have in my mind. CELEBRATE YOUR ACCOMPLISHMENTS TOGETHER I am not able to attend my graduation because Boise, Idaho is a very long way from Kathmandu, Nepal. I’m really sad about it because I wanted my children and husband to be there with me. I’ve secretly considered ordering a cap and gown and walking across the lawn with the kids and having our own celebration. Whatever we decide to do I know they’ll be cheering me on. A few weeks later we’ll pack up our lives again, this time to Washington D.C. for a year while my husband learns Kurdish and then heads to Iraq for a year without us. We all have plenty of challenges still ahead and journeys to face together. I’ll eventually receive my diploma in the mail and buy the biggest frame I can find. I will put it up where all of us can see it, in hopes that it will inspire the kids to stick with something even when it’s hard, to embrace the opportunities that come their way, and to never, ever, stop learning. For everyone Challenge: Make time to include your children in more brain-stimulating conversations about the things you’re interested in. Question: Is there something you used to really enjoy doing that you don’t do now that you’re a mother? Is there a way to rekindle that interest and share it with your children?