I took a lot of really informative, engaging, and challenging courses at the University of Michigan while earning my bachelor’s and master’s degrees, all of which would prove useful in my future life. But there was one course that I will never forget. It wasn’t listed, nor did it offer any credits. It was Motherhood 101.
“You said your name is Ania?” asked a student while introducing ourselves at the entrance of Stockwell Hall. “That’s a very pretty name.”
“No,” I said, “My name is Anita — with a ‘t.’ But you’re right, Ania is a pretty name.”
I’d acquired the name of my firstborn child because I was too tired from cramming all night to clearly enunciate my own name. But that’s not all I would take with me when I left the University of Michigan campus. Here are 10 of the most precious lessons I learned in Motherhood 101:
1. Sleep isn’t really necessary.
During my six years at U-M, I learned to go without adequate sleep for days — pulling all-nighters to cram for that midterm or final I’d conveniently neglected to study for all semester. I’d stay up all night, grab coffee from the Stop-N-Go on East University en route to the exam, and not skip a beat. It was the perfect prerequisite for my future life as a mom. With four children under the age of 5 — including a newborn and a 1-year-old — I don’t sleep now either. I make sure I keep that dose of coffee in the cupboard and I keep on skipping.
2. Pizza is a well-balanced meal.
“Mom, it provides the four basic food groups,” I’d reassure my mother when it seemed as though the $3 pizza from Domino’s was becoming my staple. Sometimes I detested it, but it was the best I could do on those hungry, tight-budget evenings. I’ve now come full circle. I assure myself pizza really does provide the four basic food groups and the $5 Little Caesar’s Hot-N-Ready pizza offers the quickest resolution to a minivan of screaming, hungry children.
3. It’s never too early for a smile.
I took a job on the morning shift at McDonald’s during my junior year. I’d wake up at 4:30 a.m., walk two blocks down South University from Oxford Housing for my 5:00 a.m. start time, bake the biscuits, and then serve them with a smile. I even won the company award for best attitude. If I could wake up at 4:30 a.m., bake biscuits (almost from scratch), and serve strangers with a smile — don’t my children deserve as much? And as for homemade biscuits, I still make them almost once a week. They are my children’s favorite breakfast item.
4. I’m stronger than I thought.
Before the popularity of backpacks on wheels, I’m sure I lugged an extra 30 pounds worth of books from one side of the campus to another so that I wouldn’t have to go back to the dorm between classes. Inevitably that back-strengthening exercise was pure preparation. If I could learn to carry 30 pounds on my back, I could carry it on my front — in the womb, that is.
5. Resident rivalry and sibling rivalry are one in the same.
As a resident advisor in Mosher-Jordan during my senior year, I functioned as the onsite “mommy” for 30 women on MoJo’s Fifth Jordan End and Wing. It was here that I would learn how to listen, manage disagreements, and be fair. The training I received in conflict intervention and how to handle emergencies would certainly come in handy. I did not use it a whole lot back then, but I sure use it now as the mommy of four independent, opinionated, and adventurous busy-body babies.
6. Red Hot Lovers is more than a name.
Red Hot Lovers [now Ray’s Red Hots] is the name of the only restaurant on campus where one can get an authentic Chicago-style hot dog. Their dogs are the best! Even still, Red Hot Lovers must be more than just the name of your favorite hot dog joint if you want to maintain a successful marriage when you have kids — enough said.
7. A 10-minute grace period isn’t enough.
After walking from East University to the Diag, running into a few good friends, chatting for only a second, and finally making my way to the Modern Language Building and up the stairs, the 10-minute “Michigan Time” grace period was never enough. It still isn’t. One hour would be more appropriate. After feeding, clothing, putting on coats, boots, hats, and gloves for four young children and loading and fastening them into the minivan, I’m lucky to get anywhere within a one-hour grace period, let alone a 10-minute one.
8. Group dynamics are real.
In my group dynamics course, they taught us that there are various roles one can play in a group — initiator, analyzer, blocker, encourager, observer, etc. It seems I have every one of those roles in my family unit. Every day is a new adventure in leading, negotiating, and engaging in a sometimes-futile attempt to gain group consensus. On a positive note, I’ve taught my children to recite the TEAM acronym — “Together Everyone Accomplishes More” — so there is hope. I’m glad I didn’t sleep through that course.
9. ECON 101 actually has some utility.
As the family economist, I’ve become skilled at stretching the family dollar and divvying up the family’s resources among the commodities — food, clothes, toys — that bring my “consumers” satisfaction. But contrary to the fundamental economics law of diminishing marginal utility, it seems like the more ice cream I give my children, the happier they become. I guess sometimes you can’t have too much of a good thing.
10. There really is love at first sight.
We first met in the center of the Diag. He was tall, handsome, and had a great smile (not to mention a great upper body that he’d perfected at the CCRB). He had on a short-sleeved polo shirt, shorts, and hiking boots. He was very friendly, and I never forgot that smile. Five years later, we’d run into one another at a restaurant in Detroit. I eventually married that handsome guy with the beautiful smile and together we have four wonderful children. Whew! Now that I’m totally “Ms. Mom,” one might think all those tuition dollars, study groups, and all-nighters were in vain. Not even. When I look back at my University experience, it’s easy for me to see: some of the most important lessons I learned about motherhood I learned at the University of Michigan.
ANITA SHREE LANE, ’91, MPP’93, is the founder and CEO of Sensei Communications. She hails from Los Angeles.