How Do You Do It?

by: Danielle Lee

“How Do You Do It?” I have been asked this question no less than several hundred times since beginning my graduate studies three short years ago. It’s not because I’m doing anything particularly special, I mean, pursuing a Doctoral degree is special for many different reasons, but that’s not why I’m asked this question over and over again. I’m asked because people don’t understand why the mother of a teenager and a kindergartner would embark on such a journey with what most would say is an already full plate. As you may imagine with two children 11 years apart, each child has needs that cannot be shared between the two. Sure they both need love and guidance, but I’m talking about the practical things like play dates, rides to the movies, midnight releases of video games, and blowing bubbles in the backyard. I won’t bore you with the really horrible things like household chores and other marital duties.


The profiles of the people who ask me this question with wonder and confusion in their eyes are varied. They are either pursuing a graduate degree and do not have their own family or they have a family, have always dreamed of pursuing a degree, but just can’t see how or when it would be possible to do it. So when I’m asked this question my answer is always the same- “I don’t know. I just do it.” And that is the honest truth. What I realize, however, is that I’m never asked why I do it. How do I explain that at the core of my being, at the root of my exhaustion and why I tried not to complain about reading yet another 30-page journal article or somehow function in class on 3 hours of sleep after being up with my 5-year-old all night fighting a fever, is the overwhelming need to embrace and nurture who and what I am—A Scholar. How do I explain that motherhood and being a wife did not cancel out or suppress my need to learn, discuss, and write. Whether it was researching natural baby foods or engaging my pediatrician in conversations about new medicines, these small acts were driven by the need to be a part of a learning community. As tired as I have been over the last couple of years, the journey to my Doctorate has filled me with a purpose that does nothing but compliment my other roles. Best of all, is that the anxiety I experienced at feeling disconnected from learning has transitioned into a passion that continues to grow and burn as I work on the questions that have always been very personal and important to me. Learning as I am now fuels me. It’s why I continue to tire myself. It’s why I have made sacrifices with my time, there’s always a downside. It’s a small price to pay for work I will be able to leave my children to think and muse over, if they so choose. At the end of it all I would hope that in the same sentence they call me driven and nerdy they also say, happy. I hope this journey also fuels whatever they choose to pursue. Am I tired? Damn skippy. Am I thrilled? Hell yes. I have a lot more work to do and that thrills me. Perhaps I’ll share that work with you reader, but right now duty calls. It’s time to play some Halo 4.


MeBIO: Danielle Lee is an adjunct English professor at SUNY College at Old Westbury.  She is currently writing her dissertation on the historical recovery and reconstruction of the 16th century Akan people of the African West Coast. Her goal is to dispel the often-misconstrued identity of the passive African of the Early Modern period during the development of the Atlantic Trade system. On top of two kids and a husband, she combats two cats and a rabbit that love to walk/hop across her keyboard as she’s writing.

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