“I see my education as for my children. Because I am more knowledgeable, more interesting, more understanding of the world around me, I am a better mother.”

Tamara was born in Croatia and moved to Minnesota for her father’s work when she was just seven years old. Though it took her time to learn English, her brilliant nature, and the fact that she was so young, she learned English quickly. And while she was always on the college track, taking advanced classes in high school and with the students who were college-bound, she had her doubts about what college would do for her.

“Why would I go to college? I know I’m going to be a mom and I don’t want to postpone that for my career.” Thoughts like this were part of her thinking about colleges. She set off to attend Bryn Mawr after graduating college, but without a clear plan of what she was going to do. She did know that she wanted to be a mom. The family had been an important part of her life, helping with her own little siblings and dreaming of being a mother herself. It was not a question for her. While she recognized that it was good to do well in school, it was also good to be a stay home mom so she could be with her kids as much as possible. And since her friends and parents encouraged the college track, it seemed like the right thing to do at that time, since she was not going to be a mom anytime soon.

While in college, a friend of hers talked to her about the challenges her grandmother was having with Alzheimer’s and the science of these questions intrigued her. She did not know anyone else in the Biology field, but she had already been inclined to science, so it seemed like a good fit. This gave her the drive to move forward in this field and enjoyed the classes at the college level.
But sometime during her Junior year of college, she decided she wanted to be a nurse instead of a neuroscience researcher. “My parents strongly discouraged me from this path, saying it wasn’t for me, and I didn’t actually want to do that, and also, if I did, why not just go the full way and be a doctor (nursing was considered as a halfway step, not good enough for me. They’ve since been educated about what nursing actually is).”

So she pushed down that desire. She did spend a few weeks shadowing a nurse over the summer from Junior to Senior year. “But Senior year came, and I buckled again to my parents and ended up applying to the grad programs.”

College had been a wonderful experience. She was inspired by women from all backgrounds and their own passions for studying. She felt newly committed to education, though the draw of motherhood was still there. It was difficult for her to think about a career that was full time when she knew that she always wanted to be a full-time mom. She however was very grateful for her years there and the experiences she had, even with the hindsight that they had not given full clarity of what to do with her future career.

She kept with her schooling and got into a graduate program in Rochester, New York, where she was going to focus on Neuroscience. There she felt out of place and confused. Not only was she surprised that she got accepted into a program since she did not have the same motivation that the other students had. “As the year went on, I felt more and more isolated and alone, like I was drowning. I just accepted it and tried to fight along. It was overall not a good experience for me. I felt like I was constantly behind like I was missing some vital information everyone else seemed to have, but I had never received. I also found out that the work I was passionate about at that time (research with human subjects) was considered ‘out of scope’ of my program, and the mentor I had found was not acceptable.”

Everything she had ever done for work after that, she fell into without clear intention on her part. When she came to her parents’ home after grad school in the summer of 2009, she was not in a good place emotionally as she tried to figure out what she should do with her life. Needing a reason to get up in the morning and do anything, her mother helped her find a job at a call center where they conducted health and human interest studies (CDC, Pew Research Center, MS Society, that kind of thing), because she had a job there, too. Her mother also encouraged her to apply to be a substitute teacher in the local school district, sometimes even accepting jobs on her behalf just to help her find more work and meaning in her life.

One of those jobs was a weeklong position that turned into a full-time job two days into it. This was as a classroom paraprofessional in a 3rd-grade class. I held this position for the rest of the school year, then was switched to be a preschool paraprofessional for the following two school years. She assisted with classroom management, leading small groups, and whatever else the headteacher needed. I worked at the call center throughout.

At the same time, she started to become more passionate about birthing issues. Her draw was always with motherhood, and she became more inspired to become a Midwife and to learn about the issues around childbirth. Her year of grad school had awakened this motivation, and she continues to be passionate about this work. In the winter of 2011 she enrolled in a Doula program.

However, work continued as it was steady and helped pay off her student debts. January of 2012, she became a Production Assistant at the call center and in February 2011 she left the paraprofessional job so she could devote more time to the other work. “As a Production Assistant, my job was to train and educate new research interviewers, and assure the quality of their data collection (monitoring by listening in to calls, giving feedback). I also kept stats on how well our projects were doing, to make sure the promised targets for data collection were being met (not as fancy or difficult as it sounds).” She did this job until October of 2015, when I went to Yankee Candle to work for their IT Help Desk where she would do similar work. Over the years she has been given more responsibility, overseeing the operations and support of multiple continents.

In that time, she has gotten married and has had two children about four years apart. With her work schedule, combined with her husband who is a teacher, plus with family support, they are able to be with their children constantly. This was one of the most important aspirations of Tamara through all her years of schooling. While she acknowledges the role she plays in providing financial stability to her growing family, she is grateful that her job has been “off hours” and has even allowed her to work from home. Her oldest is a kindergartener, and she is able to help him with homeschooling each day.

“Being with my children, being the one to guide them and be with them each day, that was what was important for me. The Pandemic has allowed me to work from home more, and I have seen how much more that means to me too. I know not each family wants to be with their children all the time, but I did and still do. This is where I am putting my time now.” Tamara does not see her job as the thing that gives meaning to her life. It is there to provide for the things that she finds meaningful.

And as far as future goals? She dreams of being a Homesteader. She wants to be with her family, educate her children. Money and work for her come as a necessity, but they are not the driving force for the decisions in her life. When her young family is more financially stable with their student loans and other debts paid, she may be able to do those things. For now she is able to be with her children with work as is.