diplomaA work in progress…

I hung our graduate school degrees from Columbia over our marital bed. My husband’s on the left where he slept, and mine on the right. Mine was actually delayed in its receipt as I took an incomplete in the pottery course I should have finished in 1971. I hated the cliquish atmosphere of the ceramics studio and stopped going. I had learned to center pots on the wheel, but didn’t get much further than that. Ultimately, I designed enough hand-built bowls and mugs to fulfill the requirements of the course and received my physical diploma a year late. My parents never noticed the year on the sheepskin.

I’ve always had a high regard for certifications. If you had letters after your name, that spoke for itself. No one would question your presence here on earth.

When I attended Mount Holyoke College in the late 60’s, there was the unspoken desire to graduate with an M.R.S. My freshman year, every senior in the dorm had an engagement ring, subscribed to Bride’s Magazine and was given a surprise bridal shower by her classmates. By the time I graduated in 1970, everything in our world had changed. No one in my dorm was engaged or read Modern Bride. Kent State happened that spring. There was a moratorium on final exams, and we wore peace signs on our mortarboards.

I’ve taken a lot of courses since graduating. The first non-academic class I enrolled in was Assertiveness Training. No certification, but a world of difference in my life. It was only four sessions, and there was no piece of paper indicating I’d achieved anything. But that one unaccredited course began a trajectory of self-examination, self-improvement and self-acceptence that has been a theme for me ever since.

I went to LaMaze classes to learn how to give birth. My husband and I returned to the group after our successful delivery to share the experience with the still-pregnant couples who craved hearing real-life stories and how the breathing techniques worked in the labor room.

I attended La Leche League meetings for years before and after my first two children were born. I wanted to learn how to be a mother. I learn best by being in a real situation, not reading it from a book. When I was 8 1/2 months pregnant with my first, I found my way to a woman’s apartment in Stamford and watched wide-eyed as infants suckled at their mother’s breasts on and off for the entire 2-hour meeting. One woman said during her share, all the time with her infant latched onto her nipple, “I believe this is the best thing for Alistair.” Beyond the constant sucking, I also learned that a baby born in 1974 could have that big a name.

I nursed each of my three children for three years. I learned a lot from those women.

Including from Sharon Roberts who talked about going to her gynecologist with a concern about a small growth in her vagina. “What were you doing with your fingers in there?” he grilled her. She repeated his outrage at her self-examination. I have to admit, at 26, I, too, thought that was his territory, not hers. I had so much more to learn.

Although this wasn’t really a course, part of my parental education included enrolling my kids at the Community Cooperative Nursery School where parents worked in the classroom alongside the paid teachers on a bi-weekly basis. I learned how to say, “Use your words” and “You need to tell me what you want” instead of “Don’t do that!” or “She had the toy first.” I learned to use my words and speak from the I perspective–all new to me.

Through the nursery school I enrolled in PET – Parent Effectiveness Training class to become a more effective parent. This was all pre-internet where blogs sharing experiences proliferate today. My mother was not a reliable source of parenting education. I needed to go where women were parenting the way I wanted to parent. These courses and schools that required hands-on classroom time were good filters for finding role models and peers.

In addition to finding classes for parenting and life, I was introduced to audiotapes by my chiropractor. She lent me her set of Wayne Dyer’s cassette collection called “Choose Your Own Greatness.” I honestly believed that I was engaging in some counter-cultural movement listening to words without really knowing the author of its message.

A funny thing happened though. I loved it. I loved being able to rewind and re-listen. I loved that he told stories of magical coincidences. It was the first time I ever began to contemplate the role of the universe in my life. Wayne Dyer was making a case for it, and I was buying it.

I was careful who I shared this new knowledge with. Maggie, my new friend down the street, also listened to these messages. Others, closer to me, thought it was hooey.

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