Thursday, October 16, 2014

It Takes a Village

Dear Jules,

Well, it's not totally official yet, but I received unanimous votes on my tenure on Tuesday from work. This means that we can stay here, you can go to school here, and I can keep working at this awesome place, the College of Charleston.  Maybe someday you can attend the REACH Program there.

It's been seven years (almost) of teaching in Charleston.  I remember my first day teaching; I lost my keys, couldn't get into my office, was in tears not knowing how I was going to get home.  I knew no one and felt so out of place.  Now I walk on campus and say 'hi' to almost everyone, from the groundspeople to the janitorial staff to my colleagues to my students.  It's so nice to feel that I'm somewhere I belong, somewhere I'm accepted, somewhere I'm even respected.

When you graduate from college of find a job (or whatever your goals will be), you will know this feeling: the feeling of moving through a world where you "fit."  It's not an easy thing to accomplish, and I know that, in some ways, it will be harder for you, but if anyone can do it, I know you can! And when you do, I want you to remember the people who helped you get to where you were going.

People congratulate me, but this accomplishment belongs equally to the people in my life who have pushed me on when I wanted to give up.  My dad, who you are named after, was always so proud of me; thankfully, he knew I was in a Ph.D. program before he passed away, and I just know he would be proud now, but he was the one who put in 50+ hour weeks working retail to support our family; he was the one who always did what he needed to do so that we could go to good colleges and get good jobs.

My mom, Nagyi, deserves perhaps even more of the credit.  She spent so many nights quizzing me before tests in junior high and high school; she helped me when I decided to apply for a Fulbright in Hungary; she drove me to my interview at Assumption when I was too anxious to go by myself; she always believed in me, even when I did not believe in myself.  At one point, my anxiety was so bad that I honestly don't know if I would be here right now if I could not have called her ever night, sometimes even at 3 a.m.  One time, she came to my apartment and held my hand so that I could sleep at night.  These are the unacknowledged sacrifices of a mother--they don't come with Ph.D.'s or "associate professor" titles, but I would not be here right now if it were not for her.

Ben, the love of my life, your Daddy, has always believed in me.  He's the smartest person I know, so it means a lot that he engages me intellectually, that he's always willing to talk about my teaching or about my research.  He has been there with me since my Ph.D. exam, through the dissertation defense, and obviously through these seven years.  He's seen me cry about article rejections and teaching evaluations, but he's always turned it around and made me believe in myself again.

My in-laws and Ben's family have been very supportive, and I would love to give a shout out to my mother-in-law, who always understood how important my job is to me, my father-in-law for his quiet but steady support, my brother-in-law, who really has the biggest heart ever, and especially Maggie, my sis-in-law, your aunt, who remembered the date of my tenure review and took the time to email and then call me.  That just meant so much to me.

And then there are my wonderful friends--Cindy, who has known me since our MA at Boston College, who was also there for me during that really tough time in Worcester, who was there when I was accepted to UNC and visited me when I felt equally out of place in a Ph.D. program, who flew down for my dissertation defense and my wedding, who is your wonderful Godmother, and without whom I don't know where I would be.  Eliza, who I met during our Ph.D. program, was there for me when I didn't know anything else.  Her and her husband, Mark, have accepted me as members of their family, have been so very supportive of me, and are also wonderful Godparents to you.  Liz, who I also met in the Ph.D. program, who has also been there for me when I needed to talk, is one of the best listeners I know, who is always excited and enthusiastic about life, who reminds me why I love literature so much.  Mike, who was my first friend in Chapel Hill and has heard about so much as I've gone through the Ph.D. and now tenure, and Sara, my friend who always reminds me to focus on what matters in life.  When I think about the service learning my students do, and I think about my own interest in service, I think of her.  Pam and Sandy have been there since, well, Kindergarten and second grade.  They've seen me develop from a shy, awkward, and perpetually naive/clumsy high schooler into a still clumsy but much less shy and awkward person.  I'm really blessed to have all of these people in my life.

So when I think about it, "it takes a village" not only to raise a child, but to enable us to get through life's up and downs and still stay above water.  I know there will be many more ups and downs on this road but, as I think about where I've gotten to, my heart feels extremely grateful.  I hope to some day be one of these people on your list, which will also include your Daddy, your grandparents, and your honorary sister Bertie.  And hopefully many, many more.

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