Not only is there a (future) doctor in the house, but there are also diapers, toys and several other people who don’t often sit still.
It’s Walmart day for the Rhodes family. Erin Rhodes pulls a shopping cart, where three-year-old Cailyn perches, and a double stroller, where two-year-old Peyton sits in front. Attached to the back is a car seat, where baby brother Carson snuggles. Erin is on a mission, doing a week’s worth of grocery shopping. “I was a finance major – I have to have everything in order,” she says.
“I’m not sure I would have graduated undergrad had I not been married with children… For me, it’s a motivation, while others may look at it like a ball and chain.”
That’s a good thing, because her husband, Brady, is in his second year in the College of Podiatric Medicine and Surgery, which can create a fair amount of disorder. Brady, Erin, Cailyn and Peyton moved from Texas last year when Brady became a DMU student; Carson was born in May, the day after Brady’s last physiology exam of his first academic year.
“We knew what we were signing up for,” he says about taking on parenthood and medical school. “We knew we wanted our kids to be close together in age and to be settled by our 30s. We knew our 20s would be hell.”
“Hell” on those days when he had to leave home before the kids were awake and didn’t return until after they were in bed. But a tough schedule wasn’t new to the couple. They were married as undergraduates, he at the University of Texas-Arlington, she at Texas Christian University; after Cailyn arrived, Brady got a second job, the 5-to-10 a.m. shift at a local Costco.
“Then I’d go to school from 11 to 4 and wait tables three days a week,” he recalls. These days, he valets at a country club on Saturday nights, which Erin spends cleaning their Waukee, IA, house. Not that either is complaining. In fact, Brady credits his family affairs for his accomplishments.
“I’m not sure I would have graduated undergrad had I not been married with children. I’d probably be golfing and fishing,” he smiles. “For me, it’s a motivation, while others may look at it like a ball and chain. The most rewarding times in your life seem to be when you’re thinking about others.”
Preschooler Cailyn sagely understands the purpose of her dad’s weighty textbooks and time spent on campus: “so he can be a doctor foot.”
Oh, sure, there’s spit-up, sleepless nights, stress – your point?
DMU students with children agree they’re blessings, not burdens – even when they are burdens.
“When Clark comes home, he has a little boy running up to him, so excited to see him. There’s nothing better than that.”
Chatting amiably in the lounge of DMU’s Student Education Center, while two-year-old son Ethan bounces non-stop around the upholstered chairs and cherubic three-month-old Caden naps in his car seat, Clark and Stephanie Johnson recall a night when Clark – a podiatric medicine and master of anatomy degree student – had to study for a big test the next day. Stephanie, then pregnant, wasn’t feeling well and, as the natural laws of parenting decree, Ethan got sick.
“Clark sat on the floor all night with his hand through the crib bars, holding Ethan’s hand,” Stephanie says. “They both fell asleep that way.”
Not that one should pity Clark, who did just fine on that test. Stephanie, a former fifth-grade teacher, says that since she’s the stay-at-home mom, Clark is “definitely the fun parent.”
But she praises the way he makes time for the family. “Medical students could live at school,” she says. Clark recalls wise words from first-year orientation: “One of our counselors said if you’re at school, you need to be at school and not wishing you were home, and that if you’re at home, you can’t be wishing you were at school.
“Our family is a built-in support network,” he adds. “Sometimes I feel sorry for my single classmates and those far away from family.”
We have to talk
Communication is critical to managing family life sanely, married students say. In his first semester as a College of Osteopathic Medicine student, Barry Palizzi admits he didn’t let his wife, Christia, know enough about his schedule and class workload.
“She didn’t know when I’d have a test the next day and why I was stressed out,” he says. “I was in my own world, trying to do it on my own. Then I realized that would affect our family life.”
Now the couple uses Google Calendar, a free scheduling website that lets them post events and get reminders via e-mail and text messages. When they have breaks, they catch up on domestic chores and take advantage of central Iowa’s family-oriented activities with sons Julian, four, and Gabriel, two, including Des Moines’ zoo, science center, festivals, farmers’ markets and local parks. Despite the heavy workload that medical school puts on married couples, Barry and Christia are determined to enjoy their family now as well as later.
“I definitely have to cram sometimes, and I’m not at the top of my class. But I usually know when I’ve gotten to the point where I’ve studied enough to pass a test,” he says. “In two years, I’ll still be called ‘doctor,’ and no one will ask what grade I got on that anatomy exam.”
Barry, who met Christia during their high school jobs at Wilson’s Leather in an Auburn, WA, shopping mall, says moving to Iowa was “definitely a big leap of faith.” They quickly made friends, though, among his classmates and through their church. Christia became active in Significant Others’ Support, a campus organization for significant others of DMU students.
“DMU is very family-friendly,” she says. During Barry’s first two years at DMU, she often brought the kids to campus to have lunch.
“They like to see the skeleton in the OMM lab, and they love the ping pong table [in the SEC game room],” Christia says. “Plus the kids are rock stars among the DMU students.”
That, plus their father’s academic pursuits, likely will have a positive influence on their children. The Palizzis – who welcomed third son Owen on Nov. 4 – set up a home office for Barry; Julian sometimes sits at the desk with his preschool workbook.
“He’ll say, ‘I’m studying like Daddy,” Christia says. “He knows school is important.”