Parents are supposed to inspire their children to do great things. In my life, it has been the other way around.
While I was a single mom to three special needs sons, it felt like all I ever did was fight for them-with their schools, our insurance, and the people who served us self-righteous stares on a daily basis. But the more my sons succeeded, the more I realized that, together, we were winning the fight.
And then I wanted to help others win, too. I wanted other moms and dads to beat their insurance companies so that they could afford speech therapy and finally hear their developmentally delayed children say, "I love you." I wanted to advocate for families who were intimidated by IEPs so that their kids would love school as much as mine did. My sons inspired me to do more.
But in order to do that, I had to sacrifice the very thing that motivated me. I had to make the difficult decision to let someone else do my mom job so that I could go to law school full-time. Soon, full-time law student evolved into full-time legal intern, and then my favorite moments with my kids just vanished-like sliding in socks in the kitchen with them, reading the latest Wimpy Kid book together, planting strawberries and watching our garden grow.
I would be lying if I said that I haven't regretted my decision and missed my family every day over the last three years, especially now that I have married the perfect husband and added four more fun kids (yes, that's seven altogether) to my household. The four-hour daily commute to and from law school, the struggle to survive the demanding schedule, the deep-fried dinners I have let us all eat instead of preparing something leafy and whole grain, make me feel exhausted and sloppy and fat. I was a much better mom before law school.
Yet, I know that I will be a much better mom to my kids because I went to law school. There will never be a fight we cannot win now. Now I can be an inspiration to my kids, too. My youngest once asked me, "Mom, what does a lawyer do?" I explained using big words like advocacy and he replied, "Oh, so a lawyer helps people." Yes, that's right. Mommy's going to help people.
On May 19, I will attend my commencement, and will beg, borrow and steal every extra ticket that I can so that all seven of my kids can attend. As I write this, it has dawned on me that the root word for the ceremony ending my three years in law school, "commence," actually means "to begin." And so here I go, beginning again, as a family lawyer and a special needs attorney. But I never stopped being a mom, which is still the best job in the world, if you ask me.
Jennifer Wheeler Wood is a Plainfield mom of seven and a frequent contributor.
See more of Jennifer's stories here.