Things I learned from college biology as a stay-at-home mama

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I recently finished up another semester of college courses toward my associates degree. This was – by far – the hardest semester so far, as it included biology, a philosophy class, and a psychology class. I was so relieved for it to just be over. I think it may take me the entire summer to recover.

I put off taking biology because I knew it would be a killer. I remember than when I was in high school, science was always my lowest grade. I managed to eek out an A in 9th grade physical science but it was the hardest A I worked for. That was in high school when my brain had a lot more cells that had not been fried by children. I now know that cells actually do die – it’s called apoptosis. I remember it because isn’t that a cool word? aPOPtosis. Like, they literally exploded. (Officially, my biology class gave me no confirmation that CHILDREN cause apoptosis. Unofficially though…)

Back to biology. (See? My brain has already derailed me.)

I knew that having two children, a husband, and a huge to-do list of responsibilities would make it that much harder to succeed in a course like biology, so I put it off as long as I could. Finally, I knew I had to bite the bullet and get it over with.

As I have reached the end of this semester, I am never more proud of myself. I am never more exhausted, but never more proud.

Straight A’s come easy to me. They always have. Yes, I work hard. Yes, I have good study skills. Yes, I have a family history of high intelligence. But it really has never been that hard for me to get As. Science is the one exception.

So, when I got an 86…then a 78…then a 76 on the first few tests, I knew I was in trouble. This could be the one class that derails my 4.0.

Now, before you roll your eyes, please hear me out. I get REALLY annoyed with people telling me that I don’t have to be perfect and maintain a 4.0. I know that. Maintaining an average is not some arbitrary thing I clean to because I feel I have to be perfect. Maybe it was that way in the past (read: Confessions of a Recovering Perfectionist and Perfection is Not Possible).

I maintain a 4.0 because that’s what I’m CAPABLE of.

(Side note, in our house, we now call doing things we are capable of doing “caping” thanks to Ezra!) 

My parents had one rule for us kids when we were students. It wasn’t get straight As, Bs, or even Cs. It was “do your best.” Period. That’s it.

My best is a 4.0. I knew I was capable. The problem with the first few assignments were that I just ended up getting asked questions I didn’t know the answer to (although I knew about 200% about other aspects of biology, that simply were not asked).

PRO TIP: If the professor gives you a study guide – study it FIRST. 

Long story short, I eeked out an A in biology with the VERY LAST test. Not even joking, my grade hung out at 89.+ for the entire last month of the course, and it wasn’t until that last test that it rose over 90.

But that’s not why I’m proud of myself. Rather, I’m proud of what that A represents – all that biology taught me over the last five months.

Things my biology class taught me (as a stay-at-home 30-something mama)

Things my biology class taught me (as a stay-at-home 30-something mom) | I eeked out an A in biology with the VERY LAST test. But that's not why I'm proud of myself. Rather, I'm proud of what that A represents - all that biology taught me over the last five months.

Diet diet diet (and metabolism)

No, not South Beach or Atkins or Keto or Paleo. Rather, I finally learned WHY all of these diets focus on the things that they do. Throughout this course I learned what carbohydrates, sugars, and proteins actually are, what they do in your body, and how they are converted to energy. While this knowledge has not specifically helped me lose any weight (because I suck at applying), at least I know WHY my body gets SO INCREDIBLY HAPPY when I take that sip of Coca Cola, why “carb loading” is a thing, and why my muscles get sore when I am working out. (It turns out that visualizing glycolysis and cellular respiration is a very weird but helpful visualization when you are in the middle of a fitness class and feel like you are legit DYING.) 

Teeny, tiny things impact everything

Just when I thought we couldn’t get smaller, we got smaller. Particles, atoms, cells, cell membranes, proteins, nucleic acids, DNA unzipping enzymes – wowza.As time goes on, I will probably forget all of the different terms for the different phases of cellular respiration and division. But I don’t think I will ever forget knowing that there are a million tiny little processes going on in my body every single second, just to keep me alive. It’s really cool.

Science is life, and life is science

I admit it. It was a huge MENTAL challenge to switch from changing diapers, doing laundry, and packing lunches to studying elements, chromosomes, and cell membranes. This class was far less applicable to my life (and hopefully future career field) than other courses I’ve taken, which definitely contributed to the mental struggle.

However, I wrote the following for an essay for my biology class entitled “Five Benefits of Studying Biology”:

The study of biology has helped me to connect science to my everyday life. Science was never a favorite subject of mine in school. While I definitely love a good science fiction television show, I mainly watch for the drama and let the “science stuff” float over my head. Since beginning this biology class, though, I find myself thinking about things I have learned in class throughout my day. When I put a straw in my son’s sippy cup and watch him drink, I think about the chemical properties of water that allow this to take place. When I put salt in a pot of water to boil pasta, I think about the hydrogen bonds of water and how the salt is interacting with them. When I add essential oils to my diffuser, I think about why the oil floats on top of the water rather than dissolving. These are only a few examples of the running mental scientific commentary that is now accompanying me throughout my day, all thanks to taking a college biology course!

The study of biology has given me a much broader appreciation for modern medicine, specifically for psychiatric drugs. I and several of my immediate family members suffer from mental challenges of varying degrees. Thankfully, we can function in everyday life due to medications like Zoloft and Ritalin. When I learned how chemical compounds are discovered and then painstakingly developed in laboratories, I became very thankful for people who have devoted so much time and energy to this process. Studying biology has greatly increased my appreciation for the biologists and chemists – such as chemist Leandro Panizzon who first synthesized methylphenidate and named Ritalin after his wife, Rita – who indirectly have made my family’s life more manageable.

YouTube, my friends, YouTube!

There is absolutely no way on earth I would have ever even PASSED this class without YouTube. The unfortunate thing about online classes is that they pretty much give you a book and tests. I realized I’m a visual learner, so turned to YouTube, which was my lifesaver.

I found some FABULOUS YouTube users who basically became my substitute teachers. I will never forget Hank and the Amoeba Sisters (long after I forget the name of my actual professors). These people made me laugh, kept me company while I folded laundry and cleaned out the garage, and SAVED MY BUTT with their mnemonics (like OILRIG – “oxidation is loss, reduction is gain” – and “cars in the garage, apples in the tree” to remember DNA base pairs). I legit was asked questions about these very things and was able to confidently answer test questions (when EVERY POINT was super important) because of these wonderful people who have dedicated their life (and tech expertise) to helping people like me.

If you are reading this and you ever have to take a biology class in the future, you will NEED these people. (REPIN THIS to save for future reference.)

Biology teachers on @youtube that will SAVE YOUR BUTT in college biology: @hankgreen @thecrashcourse @amoebasisters @daveexplains @ricochetscience @fuseschool | Here's why: https://wp.me/p5Ivt0-5pj Click To Tweet

“Beautiful girl, you can do hard things!”

I found myself clinging to this quote throughout the semester. Biology was HARD. This semester was the first time since I started three years ago where I actually felt like maybe I was incapable as a mom of going back to school.

There was a moment I will never forget that happened within the first two weeks of classes:  was completely overwhelmed after spending HOURS on a biology lab assignment only to find out I had gotten a C on a philosophy assignment (which never happens). My kids were literally climbing all over me, clamoring for dinner, my house was a disaster, my husband was on his way home – I just fell to pieces.

Maybe I can’t do this…

Trying to read my philosophy textbook with my kiddos literally ON TOP OF ME

But instead of quitting (like I wanted to), I had a good cry, ordered pizza for dinner, closed the books, cuddled my babies, and started again the next day.

It takes a village to get a mama through college biology

I have a great support team that had my back the whole semester. The YMCA was there with there childcare, wifi, and coffee that gave me a place to work. Maggie, Luanne, and Nancy especially were verbal about cheering me on and encouraging me throughout. My parents were very supportive over text as I vented (or cheered) about my grades. My ever-patient husband dealt with pizza dinner and often took the boys out to the park on weeknights or weekends so I could work on school in peace without kids climbing all over me.

Even Ezra “helped” with my biology experiments:

Assembling chromosomes with pop beads

Ezra quizzing me on terms while working on his advanced reading skills:

I am so incredibly thankful for all of the support given to me by my friends and family – throughout the past three years, of course – but especially this semester, because it was very hard.

Also, I want to give a HUGE shoutout to my other mama-friends who are also in school. Katie and Beka, you have no idea how your posts encourage me. Seeing your graduation photos has been a highlight for me these last few weeks. I’m SO PROUD of you gals! Michelle – thanks for helping me feel a LOT less alone in taking courses. If you can manage with your chaotic home, business, and schedule – then I believe I can too!

Related: How to succeed at college when you’re a stay-at-home-mom

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