“You are going back to graduate school? Oh!” is the usual response I receive when I tell people about my plans.
The facial expression that goes with the “oh” is particularly interesting. Sometimes it signifies pity as in, “Why would you want to put your self through the misery of school life again?” or sometimes it signifies admiration, “Aren’t you brave to venture into school life again!” and sometimes a very confused reaction just short of saying “I can’t figure out if this is smart or foolish.” Whatever the response, I always have the same answer “I believe I have a mutated gene which likes to study.”
At times, I wonder why I decided to pursue graduate school after a gap of nearly three decades. It is true that my life was busy with transitions from changing diapers to preschool, middle school and high school. And with a rambunctious son and super shy daughter, there was much to deal with. But before I knew it, they were off to college. And time slowed. I did not have to worry about after-school activities and could get by with simple one-pot meals and salads. My husband and I were like a newly married couple again.
When we were newly married, my husband had asked me to look deep within my heart to figure out what I really wanted to do. I had always dreamt of becoming a dietitian and working in a hospital, but at the time it had seemed too complicated to pursue that dream—I had an accounting and taxation background and I would have to go through science pre-requisites before enrolling for the dietetics program. So I bubble wrapped my dream and continued with life.
Fast-forward 25 years and I was dreaming again, “How do I keep myself busy when my youngest flies the coop?” With my husband’s encouragement I decided to enroll in community college for a biology refresher course. The class was absolutely fascinating and I could not wait after each class to chat with my professor to ask more questions, and over the semester I became really good friends with her. She sensed my apprehension and hesitation in going to graduate school. “Hema, just do it. Everything will fall in place if you really want to do something, all the forces of the Universe will work for you,” she had said and her words are etched in my memory. So, I decided to take the leap and started my graduate studies in nutrition and dietetics. I was fifty and my youngest had just left for college.
Surprisingly, my children played cheerleaders when I went back to college. When I complained about a B grade, my daughter consoled me with “You worked really hard, so the grade you really earned is an A,” she assured me. And once when I was worried about failing and my scientist son asked, “Do you realize scientists would never have flourished if they feared failure. Why are you so afraid of failing? What happens if you fail? And if you fail, won’t you know how to do better next time?”
My empty-nest-life is challenging with school projects, assignments and eccentric professors.
Last week as I was washing dishes I saw a small nest in the bush near my kitchen window. I texted my children: “We are no longer an empty nest, Mr. and Mrs. Hummingbird have moved in with us.”
Hema Kundargi is currently a graduate student in Nutrition and Dietetics at San Jose State University and works part time at Apple Wellness Center. She used to produce a cooking show that aired on local channels and past shows are available on Youtube and at the Santa Clara library.