six EEK!s indeed
Upon becoming a mom, a friend immediately endowed me with a special mom calendar, as pictured above. I felt it might be somewhat premature for me, as it has several blank columns for multiple children, all of whom appear to be running around with backpacks and soccer balls. It also comes with two sheets of stickers which moms may use to tag recurring events, like “doctor,” “recital,” or “big game.” Esme makes regular trips to the doctor, but at five and a half months of age is not yet giving piano recitals, so most of these stickers will go unused in 2007. I was, however, pleased to find EEK! stickers included, which will certainly be useful. What I don’t understand is why there are only six allotted per calendar year.
Our latest EEK! involves Jeff’s application to doctoral programs. I marked the day that the Notre Dame acceptance committee would be meeting to decide his fate– no, our fate as a family, though they are surely not thinking of it in those terms. EEK! is the most suitable word for describing how it feels to await these outcomes which will determine where we will live for the next five, six years. This is no small thing, and I am tempted to bemoan our situation. Jeff himself continually talks of giving up academia and seeking out a more simple career. As I entertain this idea, I find it tempting for a moment. Then I remember that Jeff has spent the last six years learning Armenian, Syriac, Arabic, Classical Greek, Latin, and a smattering of modern languages as well. Then I remember how he wakes up most mornings before dawn to translate texts, research papers, read books. I remember that our entire apartment, including the basket of reading by the toilet, is stuffed and stacked with books whose titles are so horribly dense and dry, that only someone genuinely interested and passionate for these topics could persist in reading them year, after year, after year, even while on vacation, and in the last moments before we turn out the bedside lamp. I also remember Jeff’s uncanny ability to challenge me in my stagnent views of the world and people, and challenge others, while at the same time connecting with them as human beings.
No, he is meant to be a teacher, sometime, somewhere, even if it’s the smallest, most no-name college, and even if it takes more years than we planned. I can’t explain to anyone who asks me exactly what Jeff is studying (“late antique Christianity as it existed in the near east” is as best I can do, and I had to practice that sentence), but I have a strong sense of his vocation, and I know it isn’t delivering pizzas, or joining a guild, which would be among his better options, should he give up the one thing he’s poured all of his energies into for so long now.
We’ve been very nervous the last few weeks and fearful that he might not make it into any program. All of Jeff’s peers kept telling us this fear is crazy, but the truth is, Jeff is not the most conventional high calibar student on paper. He spent the first half of his college years in a rock band, making barely passable grades, and his undergraduate GPA reflects that. His GRE scores are good enough, but not those of a shooting star. But I know, and so do many who know him, that as a student, as a person, he is a shooting star. Acceptance committees may or may not see this, wrapped up in politics and more impersonal concerns. If someone is going to fall through the cracks of the system unjustly, it would be Jeff. If I dwell on it, I could become bitter and plot a strangulation of some poor professor in his or her bed, but Jeff is actually doing a wonderful job of avoiding those black feelings.
As we go through this time, I keep thinking that if only he could get into a good doctoral program, then we will have arrived. But then I remember what lies ahead within academia. Getting a job will surely be brutal (Ser, if you’re reading this, I cringed when I read that bit about your husband’s job search). Then there is tenure and publication requirements. If Jeff stays on this path, there will be so many EEK!s ahead for our family. If he were doing this out of pride, out of ego, as some academics surely are, I would beg him to quit now. But no matter how I look at it, I can’t avoid this feeling that this is what he is supposed to do, no matter how hard and trecherous all of the calendar years ahead will be, and even if we have to spend an entire calendar year biding our time until his next opportunity. I’m the mom of the 2007 official mom’s calendar and that’s my final word.