by Heather Medley
It can be such an awkward dilemma to know how to address someone on campus. Dr.? Professor? Instructor? First name or both names? I hired a student assistant once, who had been my student when I taught high school English and journalism. She couldn’t bring herself to call me “Heather”, but she knew that the others in the office would give her a hard time if she continued to call me, “Mrs. Medley,” the name she knew me by when we first met. For YEARS she just called me “Boss.” I didn’t feel like a boss. I hoped we were a team. Most of the time she didn’t call me anything and would just launch into her story or question…
I’ve had a few names throughout the years. Changing my name after getting married was tough for me. I actually made my maiden name legally my middle name. I guess we get used to our names or being named by a particular aspect of ourselves. “Oh, you’re the Terry Lady!” is one that I hear frequently these days, in addition to the “Girl Scout leader” or my kids’ mom... you get the picture.
On Being a Mom
Being a mom is a role I’m extremely proud of and it’s a huge part of my identity. I have quite a few children and I’m very active in their lives and – as you can imagine, in the lives of their friends.
It first begins when you're pregnant, the doctor and staff start referring to you as mom. So at first it's disorienting. Someone has put you in a role you don't have experience in, and is talking to you like you're in charge. And that's because you are.
Then of course the baby is born, and everyone in the universe starts calling you mom. At this point it's a Fact, and you're exhausted, and it's overwhelming, but there are things to do now. It's like Day 1 of your new job, that lasts the rest of your life and no one has trained you properly for, and you're supposed to just ask if you have questions.
The first time they smile at you and thereafter, every time their face lights up when they see you, it's exactly the same as them calling you mom. The next major milestone is when the baby is old enough to actually call you mom. It evokes a sense of awe and responsibility and frankly giggly joy -- emotions are contagious, and a happy baby just POURS happiness all over everyone nearby.
A few years ago, I once again that someone had put me in a role I didn't have experience in, and is they were talking to me like I was in charge. And that's because I am.
Many new Terry’s ask me, “What do I call you?” and I typically answer with a list of options, followed with “it doesn’t really matter.” Titles don’t matter to me a whole lot. I have one though that gets me every time I hear it. It really started with a group of transfer students that started jokingly calling me “Mama Medley.” I assumed it was because I meddled too much, asking lots of questions, and giving lots of advice.
Apparently, there are lists of reasons people call you mom and all the cool kids are calling their favorite celebs, “Mom” these days according to BuzzFeed.
I could write a long creed on this and wax poetic, but really, I just want to say it feels good. It feels really, really good.
In a bizarre time in a student’s life, I’m happy to play a role as the Terry Mom, to help when it’s needed. In the document, “The Terry Foundation University Responsibilities,” the first section on the 3 page list is Family Environment and Student Organization with the first item charging the campus coordinator to “Foster a family environment for Terry Scholars on campus” and is followed by a bullet point list of ways to execute this charge.
I probably take the “Terry Family” thing to an extreme. I keep tissues in my office for the big things. I have a strict no crying by yourself policy. I’m always ready to rejoice with students over the seemingly small things too. I get protective and offended, proud as a peacock, and mad-sad for them and with them.
With parents geographically separated from their children, some by a few blocks and some by many hours, I’m happy to be a voice of reason, a safe place to fall, a shoulder to cry on.
Yesterday I took a scholar to lunch on her birthday. Today, I told one which dress shoes to wear. I’ve helped plan engagements. Took one home to my house from the surgery center for recovery one summer. Knocked on dorm doors to check on them when they’re sick. Answered, “What if?” a million times. Talked through budding relationships and break ups, professor issues and roommate drama. I was even honored to stand in as the mother-of-the-groom at a wedding (I love me some Terry weddings).
It is, of course, necessary to play the part effectively and within parameters. If my children called someone else mom, it might bother me. But the more that I think about it, I hope that I would be thrilled that someone else treated my children in a way that inspired that kind of relationship. With ages from 14-7, they have had quite a few amazing role models. As a matter of fact, one of my kids called a teacher, “mom,” by accident and her sons started calling him their brother! It’s a hoot. She even let him host his 14th birthday party at her barn.
I just hung up with a scholar who graduated our program two years ago. He makes me laugh. Even though he is a second year Medical School student, I still remember the first time I met him over grilled cheese sandwiches and when we was voted the Graduate Vice President of SGA and the guy who felt the extreme responsibility of serving on his first Terry interview panel. He's still "one of mine." Always will be.
Right now, I’m getting play-by-play texts from a scholar who is road tripping for a week full of interviews for his first “real” job after graduate school and I’m just so excited for him. I just wish it was closer to “home.”
Dale Carnegie said, "There is no sweeter sound to any person’s ear than the sound of their own name…" I whole heartedly disagree.