When we last left Lorna, she was struggling with the demands of her doctoral program and her maternal/domestic responsibilities…

My doctoral program required two years of course work, which supposedly absolutely prepared me to pass two 72-hour “qualifying exams” in my chosen areas of specialization: quantitative research methods and gerontology (the study of aging and its impact on the individual and society). The program allowed students who completed the requisite coursework one year to pass both exams and only one try to pass each exam. A Master’s Degree in Philosophy was the consolation prize for failing either exam–the equivalent of being “gonging” on the “Gong Show.”

By the end of my 2nd year (May 1987), I completed all of my coursework. Classes ended just before Alex’s first birthday, so I was able to give him a proper party, complete with a cake he could smash to smithereens. While I was working and in school, Alex spent most of his days in the care of “M” the Magical

Don't know if it's the sugar or the smashing, but I could use a nap.

Grandmotherly daycare provider. I dropped him off and picked him up, often mid-afternoonish.  We would grocery shop, practice words, walk Humphrey, and pretend to clean the condo until Daddy came home. Daddy took Alex and I vanished into our bedroom/study room until dinner time. Together, we ate the meal Chuck prepared; then I would disappear again until it was bath-time for Alex. Chuck never liked to bathe Alex. I enjoyed this bubbly time to splash and tell him

We had the soap, but not the box. This wasn't going to stop Alex from his goal of becoming a great orator.

silly, made-up stories. The fragrance of a freshly bathed and powdered babe was intoxicating (in the most wholesome way). Chuck entertained him before his bedtime and I often, but not always rocked him to sleep.

Wanting to get these exams over as soon as possible, I continued working part-time and prepared for my exams full-time through the summer and fall. Alex didn’t see much of Mommy; neither did Chuck, but the GWU librarians and the D.C. Metro workers and I were getting quite chummy. At home, I became like a Magician’s Assistant; disappearing into the bedroom was my special talent.

Leave it to Beaver children to snap us back on track when we’ve veered into a ditch. I knew I was shirking my maternal duties with all this studying, but Alex hit me over the head with just how much when, one evening I emerged from the bedroom/study prison room earlier in the evening than usual. I strolled in to the kitchen to make myself some tea. Alex, who was playing build-something-with-blocks-and-Daddy’s-socks, looked over at me with wide, questioning eyes. He was clearly confused. “What’s the matter, Buddy?” I asked. He responded, “Mama? Dada’s ch-chin (kitchen)?” He thought I didn’t belong in his father’s kitchen! While we laughed about his 18-month-old observation, I got the message: Mama’s a great student and sucks fails could do better at everything else.

Um, Mommy, it says here in that you should spend more time with me and Daddy. Do you want me to read it to you, or just bookmark the page? There's also a great recipe for extra cheesy mac and cheese and an article on how to make your nail polish last longer. You really should read this paper book Daddy got for you.

By Thanksgiving 1987, I passed both grueling exams, thus began Phase 2 of my program. Because there were no classes in this phase, I thought I could make up for lost time with Alex, cook gourmet meals for my family, and pay more attention to my supportive husband—show him some gratitude, if you know what I mean.

Aphrodisiac? Are you sure that’s a word? It’s not a sociology term. I’ll have to look that one up. Can you wait a minute? What’s that strange look in your eyes? 


I had one year to write a dissertation proposal and get it approved by my Dissertation Committee (3 faculty members I selected). If not approved in one year, I would have to take those Apocalyptic Abu Ghriabic arduous “qualifying exams” again–a wonderful incentive to write a brilliant proposal within a year. In September 1988, 200-ish page dissertation proposal was approved. My reward? I got the privilege of doing what I said I would in the proposal. The program allowed me four years to complete that task. Easy-peasy.


I got that familiar strange feeling in my core; it was either an extended case of gas or, despite my post-Alex weight gain, libido loss, and more fatigue than air-traffic controllers during the holidays, Chuck’s pre-planned family was going according to his schedule.

What happens to Lorna’s plans as Chuck’s plan ripens?