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First Person

Books and Babies

Campus couples balance binkies and binders, bottles and backpacks.

books and babies

Thesis Labor

Wendy Griffin Dickie, ’98, St. George, Utah

It might have been the swollen ankles or the discomfort of my eight-month-pregnant belly. It might have been the two hours of sleep I had the night before or the stress of worrying about my toddler back home. It might have been the missing page of my thesis. Whatever it was, after two years of mixing parenthood with graduate school, I almost threw my thesis in the trash the very day it was due.

I spent the entire day waddling around campus getting all the necessary signatures and copies. Finally, I put all four copies of my thesis in an envelope and took it to the library–its final destination. After waiting in line, I slapped my thesis on the counter and breathed a huge sigh of relief.

I was met with a sorrowful look by the girl at the counter, however, as she told me I needed each copy to be in a separate envelope. She may as well have told me to scale a cliff, because walking back to the bookstore for more envelopes was no simple task for me. At this time the trash became a valid option for my thesis.

Thankfully, a stranger came to the rescue. She had just handed in her thesis and had overheard our conversation. Without hesitating, she offered to go to the bookstore for me. “No, I couldn’t ask that of you,” I said as tears welled up. Too late, she was gone. Ten minutes later she returned with the envelopes and shrugged off my blubbering barrage of thank-yous. She simply said, “I understand. I have children too.”

I never knew this fellow graduate student/mother’s name, but I will never forget her for saving my thesis and for teaching me that I wasn’t alone.

Delivery Without Deliverance

J. Carlyle Parker, ’57, Turlock, Calif.

In the spring of 1957 I was completing my degree, and one of my history professors informed the class that we were going to have a major exam on the morning of April 11th. He said he would accept no excuse for missing it–“Except if you have to take your wife to the hospital for the birth of a baby!”

The night before the exam I crammed like mad. At about 4 a.m., my very pregnant wife, Janet, shook me and announced that we needed to go to the hospital.

At the hospital, I realized I had an excuse to miss the exam, but I continued to cram as I waited.

Some time after 6:50 a.m., Dr. James Webster wheeled Janet down the hall on a gurney with our newborn girl. He informed me that I should go home.

It was 7 a.m.! I was out the door, faced with an exam, because our firstborn, Denise, ’80, refused to wait.

Baby Relay

Marlene Richardson Ellingson, ’83, Mesa, Ariz.

Our first baby was almost three months old when I determined I was going to finish my bachelor’s degree. For the most part juggling the baby between my classes and my husband’s seemed to work. However, he wasn’t available to watch her during my evening New Testament class, so I took her along. I spent quite a bit of that class straining to listen from the hall while calming my colicky little girl. Thank goodness my sister and brother-in-law had the same class and could share notes.

But there was one especially tricky part of our day. One of my husband’s afternoon classes ended just as mine began. For the first part of the semester, I could hand him the baby at the end of his class and rush to mine. Then his class, a surveying class, began surveying all over campus. The trouble was he never knew ahead of time where they would be! Each day I would take the baby in her stroller to his classroom in the MARB and look on the chalkboard, where he had drawn me a map of the day’s surveying location. Then I’d race the stroller to that location, hand off the baby, and take off for the JKHB to get to my class. Though a little tight, the system worked. We all got some exercise, a few laughs, and the baby, Melanie, ’05, was no worse for the excitement!

Pregnancy Test

Kathy Colao Busch, ’83, Gambrills, Md.

My husband and I were married in early August 1981, just before I began my senior year at BYU. Two and a half years and two children later, I finally finished my BA. The April following our wedding, about three weeks before our honeymoon baby was born, I was scheduled to take a biology exam. “Waddleopagus” (a slow-moving pregnant woman) that I was, I arrived after most of the other students and had no choice but to join the other less-than-early birds seated on the stairs at the side of the lecture hall; several sections of the class were crammed into the room to take the exam together. A kind fellow student who was seated in a regular seat took pity on me and offered me his seat. I gratefully accepted and was able to take the exam in relative comfort. I had another bonus after everyone had finished the test. Our teacher kept us for a few minutes to bid us farewell and to announce that, out of all the sections of the class, another student and I had tied for first place, with respect to points accumulated. I was happy knowing that my conspicuous girth may have slowed by body, but not my brain.

Only at BYU

Heather Crawford Fisher, ’95, Las Cruces, N.M.

It was the fall of 1994, and I was beginning the semester three weeks away from giving birth to our first child. My husband was working on his master’s degree, and I was one year away from a teaching degree. I wondered how I would do it all—be a new mom and finish school. It just didn’t seem possible. The Lord answered my prayers, however. My husband had a flexible schedule and a supportive professor, my parents in Salt Lake City were able to help out a few days during the week, and my professors allowed me to bring my baby to class (as long as she wasn’t disruptive). The Lord blessed me with a good-natured baby, and my professors were incredibly supportive of me.

I believe that, because we didn’t put off our family for my schooling, the Lord made all of my goals possible. By graduation I was expecting our second child. Our stroller had logged hundreds of miles on campus, and my daughter had gained a loving extended family. I don’t know that it would have been possible for us anywhere else other than at BYU, where the value of family is so highly stressed. I am so thankful for the support and love we received there. Oh, and the education was great too!

Parenting, Professors, and PEZ

Julia Zmolek Helzer, ’00, Draper, Utah

The day I went back to BYU to finish my degree, my house burned down. I borrowed some clothes from my next-door neighbor and went to class anyway! I had three small children at the time, and I will always appreciate how kind my professors were. Once I had my toddler with me during office hours with Professor Jessie L. Embry, ’73, and she had a PEZ dispenser that kept him happy while we discussed a paper. Although I had a babysitter during class time, I often had my youngest with me while I did research. Luckily, he was very quiet. It was always helpful to have people open the door or use the handicap buttons to open doors for my big Swedish stroller. I think going back to school as a parent made me a better student. I knew how important it was, not just for me to get my education, but to set an example to my children.

On Botany Pond

Richard J. Lonas, ’66, La Crescenta, Calif.

We all know that August in Utah Valley can be particularly sultry. So it was one day many years ago for me and my best friend, Teddy Crowder. It was a hot day, but who cared, because we were “goin’ fishin’.” A perfect day by any measure. We had already discovered a secret pond where some real monsters lurked—a fisherman’s paradise. The pond was not really that far from home. Actually, it was just a couple of blocks up 700 East and west on 800 North.

We rode our bikes that morning with rods tied on and our 10-year-old minds wondering if we would be free to explore the BYU Arboretum and Botany Pond and, more to the point, to catch one of those carp that flourished just beneath a mat of algae. We had been told once before to stay out, but that admonishment was given by one of the college students, who probably didn’t even know there were fish in the pond. And besides, we actually lived in Provo, and the students were there only as temporary residents.

We arrived at the pond and, after removing our fishing rods, unceremoniously laid down our bikes, blocking the sidewalk. In those halcyon days of summers long ago, it never occurred to a Provo kid that unattended bikes had to be locked up. We jumped the fence and went straight to the pond’s south edge. Of course this put us between any uphill approach to the pond and our escape route.

Slices of Wonder Bread were the preferred bait, but getting it to stay on the hook proved difficult at first. But after some pinching and hook forming the stuff really seemed to stick. At first the fish seemed a bit skittish, probably because of the hollering and splashing that resulted from our cleaning off the layer of vegetative matter, which allowed us to see our prey. But soon the fish began to respond to the flotsam particles of bread newly separated from our hooks. Today, this might be called “chumming,” but then it was called “fishing.”

I don’t remember precisely what cast action took place that resulted in the near-perfect placement of the bread-encrusted hook practically on the nose of the fish, but it all happened in a Norman Maclean sequence that would prove fatal to this monster. After a short-lived battle, the fish seemed to give up, and it simply lay on its side as if to say, “I’ve met my match.” The fishing tackle possessed by a 10-year-old in those days probably didn’t have the technical components to allow for a lot of play, so the fish was just “horsed” ashore.

My buddy and I stood and stared at this thing as an ichthyological mystery. It was gargantuan. Something like this had to be preserved, so Teddy suggested that we take it home and revive it. He further suggested that we could do just that by putting it in my bathtub in a mixture of warm water and salt. That sounded okay with me, and anyway, we had caused such a commotion in the process of catching this fish that some people had actually stopped their journeys to class to see what these kids were doing around the pond.

It was decided that since I caught the fish, it was mine to carry, so my friend tied down the rods on his bike. He then handed me the fish to wrestle with while riding as fast as we could to my home. When we dropped our bikes at the front door, I knew we were in luck as no one was home. The bathroom was ours.

Placing the fish in the tub of lukewarm water probably wasn’t enough to finish off this log of a fish, but the dousing with Morton salt was plenty to sound its death knell. And so was the scream of my mother as she walked into the bathroom to see two little boys hovering over a now-dead carp in her bathtub.

My memory of what happened next has faded. However, with the passage of time and opportunities to fish the world—from Lake Rotorua in New Zealand to the Kenai River of Alaska—I will never forget the Botany Pond at BYU.

Juggling Act

Rauna Richardson Mortensen, ’85, Mesa, Ariz.

Fred and I were married at the end of my sophomore year at BYU. This was before the days of store-bought pregnancy tests, and so we had to go to the doctor’s office and then wait for the lab results to know if I’d become pregnant. Fred showed up at my campus work office a few hours later and handed me a tiny folded piece of paper. Inside it he had written a large plus sign, and didn’t I leap for joy?

Over the next few months, there were times when Fred would show up at my work, see my green face, and dash to the Cougareat to get me a hamburger. In class I always sat near the back door, sucking on my hard candy.

My boss left me in charge at the office at the semester break, two weeks before my due date. A few days later my doctor told me that I was ready to deliver, and said to simply put up a “Labor Day” sign and lock up the office.

Adrianne was born Aug. 29, and I headed back to fall classes the next week. We had no babysitter (and we couldn’t afford one anyway), so Fred and I took turns tending our new baby on campus. Sometimes one of us would forget the baby-swapping time or place, so we learned the art of forgiving.

One time Fred needed to drop off Adrianne at my piano lesson in the studio of Mack J. Wilberg, ’79, but I wasn’t there yet, and Fred needed to rush on to class. Brother Wilberg, still a bachelor for a couple more months, was our instant babysitter recruit. He seemed very relieved when I showed up!

Eyeing Graduation

AnnaMarie Mecham Murdock, ’99, Richmond, Va.

One spring morning I sat in our Wyview apartment holding my nine-month-old baby, Melissa. I attempted to review my honors thesis while “replying” to her gurgles. It was the day of my thesis defense, and I wanted the subject matter fresh in my mind. I was looking forward to defending my thesis and finishing my degree, closing that chapter of my life—the new chapter of motherhood having already begun.

Suddenly, Melissa swung her body around, and her little hand scratched my left eye. The pain increased until I couldn’t open either eye without extreme irritation. After a frantic phone call to my husband, a trip to the doctor, and an eye patch in place, we hurried to the JKHB. My husband guided me through the crowded hallway with one hand while pushing the stroller with his other hand until we arrived at the designated meeting room. I answered the professors’ questions as best I could, unable to see their expressions or body language. Melissa slept soundly through the entire ordeal.

My thesis passed and my eye healed. We laugh now at the pictures of me with the patch over my eye. They remain a symbol of the unexpected and unpredictable, words that entered the realm of my once-planned-and-predictable college world when our own BYU baby arrived. She taught me that the satisfaction of accomplishments and degrees are no match for the joy of family life, however unpredictable it may be.

True-Blue Baby

Desiree Low Harris, ’99, Provo

Much as I love BYU, I never dreamed that the first letter my daughter Brooke would recognize would be y. I also never dreamed that the first song she would sing from beginning to end would be the “Cougar Fight Song,” complete with the rah, rah, rahs at the end.

Brooke has absorbed everything about BYU that we have ever introduced to her, which has been a lot considering that we lived on campus for four years while I worked as a hall advisor for Residence Life. We have also taken her along to enjoy all the football, basketball, volleyball, and other sporting events we could attend.

She knows exactly where the basketball and football games are held, where the Bookstore is, Mommy’s work (SASB), and Daddy’s school (JRCB). In fact, I never realized how small her world really was until one day when we were driving up 900 East, and she started naming everything—“There’s Daddy’s school; there’s the Creamery; there’s the cafeteria (Morris Center); there’s the doctor’s office (Health Center); there’s Quincy’s house (her friend in Wymount); there’s the missionary school (MTC); and there’s our old house (Foreign Language Student Residence).” She then continued to point out the temple and our church meetinghouse just north of it. Wow, I thought, that is almost everything in her life—all within half of a mile!

There is one thing that she doesn’t like about BYU, though—and I’m sure it’s nothing personal. But the big, extra-exuberant cougar that most kids love scares her half to death. I think and hope that by the time she becomes a student here, Cosmo might not seem quite so scary.

Lessons in Labor and Delivery

Leeann Thompson Toone, ’83, Peoria, Ariz.

My husband, Steve, ’84, and I were expecting our first child in December 1982. Steve was an engineering major, and I was in my next-to-last semester of nursing school. The day my nursing class was to begin its rotation in labor and delivery, I called my instructor to tell her that I wasn’t feeling well due to the false labor I was experiencing. The baby wasn’t due for three weeks and the contractions weren’t regular, so I knew I wasn’t in true labor. So I wouldn’t miss orientation, the instructor asked that Steve and I come to the hospital so I could be the “patient” for the class orientation. Upon our arrival at the hospital, the staff told me that I needed to be assessed because I was having contractions. Two hours later our son was born. I was blessed with a healthy baby and missed only one day of clinical.

That was just the beginning of our son’s BYU experience. Chris attended classes with me the next semester, winter 1983. My sister, Robyn, ’86, would meet me at the bottom of the hill by the Richards Building. She would take Chris to American Heritage in the Joseph Smith Building while I attended aerobics. I would pick Chris up in the JSB auditorium and stay for my American Heritage class. Chris attended all of my nursing classes for the rest of the semester, and I graduated in April 1983. Chris, ’07, became an official BYU student in the fall of 2001. He served a mission to the Oregon Portland Mission from March 2002 to March 2004. In the fall he will resume his studies at BYU, where he plans on majoring in mechanical engineering and then attending law school—at the J. Reuben Clark Law School, of course!

Works of Art

Jill Davis Davis, ’96, South Jordan, Utah

My family recently moved back to Utah, and I enjoyed taking my four young children on a self-guided tour of BYU. As we drove around campus, my heart thrilled at being back after six years. I excitedly rehearsed to my children how their Dad and I met there and how I had loved my time at BYU.

We parked near the Botany Pond and began our walking tour of campus. The pond itself was a jog down memory lane. I related to my now-8-year-old daughter how I used to stroll her over to feed ducks—and that one particular duck caught on to us and approached us every time.

After frolicking around the pond a bit, we began the strenuous hike up the stairs toward campus. On the way up, we met a young couple, the woman “great with child,” on their way down. The sweet wife was puffing to her own expectant beat, and I couldn’t resist telling her that I, too, had huffed and puffed up and down those demanding stairs before I had my firstborn—just one week before I graduated with my BFA in illustration! We laughed and were on our way again.

As we entered campus, I hoped to find some of my professors and thank them yet again for guiding us students as we created our masterpieces. I suddenly floundered, feeling somewhat empty-handed, for my life had thus far been consumed with motherhood, and artwork had taken a backseat. The thought passed as quickly as it came. I reached down, embracing the hands of my little ones and decided that if I were to run into anyone of note, I would proudly introduce my finest masterpieces: my precious children. I smiled, knowing the folks at BYU would cheer.

Brought Up in Broadcasting

Catherine Porter, ’80, Bountiful, Utah

I was born a BYU baby in California during summer break in 1958. A month later the three of us moved into Wyview Village, a quaint arrangement of tiny wooden, yet colorful square cottages. My parents still fondly refer to them as crackerbox houses. The village was situated on the plateau where the Marriott Center now stands. When I was 2, my father graduated and we moved back to California, only to return two years later to our two-bedroom crackerbox—this time with two little girls.

My father enrolled in graduate school and began the fascinating work of helping to establish the KBYU Television station. I remember visiting his “office”—a half-round metal hut (a donated military barrack from World War II) in an otherwise vacant field across from the Wilkinson Center. This area later became home to the law building.

By the time I was 5, the Harris Fine Arts Center (HFAC)—the new home of KBYU—was finished and ready for dedication. My little sister and I attended the event with my parents. I remember a vacant room with red shag carpet, wood-paneled walls, and a metallic drinking fountain. It was there I made a fantastic discovery—static electricity. Because our crackerbox had only linoleum floors, I wasn’t used to carpet. I found that when I touched the drinking fountain, I got a little shock. Having the kindergarten beginnings of a scientific mind, I figured out that shuffling my feet on the red shag and touching things made a sharp click and a sting. This was fun until I touched my little sister one too many times and she cried. Then we had to leave that intriguing place.

I returned to the HFAC many times over the years, first as a child of the ’60s, climbing down the winding metal staircase into the basement bowels, where the production rooms were located. I watched the beginnings of a now-vibrant television station and cable channel as it came to life. Later in the ’70s, as a college student I explored the areas of my memories, trying to find the red-shag room and the winding metal stairs. I couldn’t find the room, but I did find the stairs. As I descended I was filled with an overwhelming nostalgia that made me homesick for my dad. After five years at KBYU, my dad moved his growing family of almost seven back to California for a Hollywood career in postproduction (which included work as the video editor on the Merv Griffin Show). But that is another story.

On Campus with Krystal

Vicki Gottfredson Hunsaker, ’98, Eden, Utah

Although I wasn’t born while my parents were BYU students, my older brother was; so was my youngest sister, who was born after my dad had returned for graduate school. My brother and each of my sisters were BYU students while I was. It took me 21 years to graduate, and for good reason—my husband and I had our first baby, Krystal, after my junior year.

Krystal was on campus with me when I went back to school part-time. My sister-in-law, Paula, between her classes, was gracious enough to watch Krystal while I attended one of my classes. Paula pushed Krystal around campus in a stroller and didn’t bother to explain when people told her she had a beautiful baby.

One of my professors, Alexander B. Darais, ’48, saw Krystal in the hall of the Harris Fine Arts Center (HFAC) and was delighted to meet her. He picked her up and held her. “Hi, Krystal,” he said. She turned her head and looked at him. “She knows her name!” he exclaimed. He recognized intelligence in the three-month-old.

After I sent Krystal off to kindergarten, and then our five other children as well, I went back to finish my degree. When I was on campus for my last semester, Krystal was a freshman living in Heritage Halls. She bought a parking sticker for my car so I could park close to the HFAC. I didn’t have to mail care packages to Krystal; I stopped by her apartment and hung them on the door on my way to class.

I was once again immersed in the sights, sounds, and smells of college. The most welcome sound in my ears was a voice I happened to hear as I left the HFAC: “Hi, Mom!” I looked up and saw Krystal walking to class.