Grad School

by Kyla

Before I started at VIU I figured I wouldn’t make it through. I’d be too fat, stupid, and poor to succeed – one way or another I’d screw it up and it would all blow up on me. But then I started at VIU, and I did all right, and my professors and other staff at VIU made me believe I could succeed, and that was probably the best part of it all. University gets you thinking that people care what you have to say, what you have to write, and so you start thinking that your input might be pretty valuable after all. Suddenly grad school starts to look good, because you start to think that you might be capable of such a thing, and because it sounds like it’d probably be as delightfully wonderful an experience as undergrad has been.

This is where things got complicated for me. I wonder if any of you have had this same experience. You start looking at grad schools and find it impossibly hard to decide what you want to take or where you want to take it? How to choose, how to choose! It’s sort of an agony of delight. “I have a problem,” I said to a friend the other day, “a delightfully spoiled and first-world problem. I can’t decide where to apply to grad school.” My friend had the intelligence to laugh at me. A problem indeed.

My problem was that so many things looked and sounded interesting. How do I pick just one?! So I decided to apply for them all. (Well, not all of them, but quite a number.) I figured I wouldn’t self-limit to start with; I’d keep the funnel wide open. Then, as I got rejected from this one or that one, or this one offered money but that one did not, or if I came to realize I just didn’t want to live in town X after all, my final options would become more clear. I asked a professor if he’d be willing to write reference letters for me, even though there might be a lot of them. He agreed that he would, and I turned myself to the task of getting my applications ready to go.

As a parent of two, I wanted to be conscientious about grad school. Where was I willing to move my family? What would be a delightful adventure to them, what would teach them more about Canada, what would give them a great new experience rather than being merely a move? My oldest daughter’s been putting the hard sell on me to do grad school in Montreal, or possibly Nova Scotia. “Come on, Mum!” she kept saying. At twelve, she is ready for an adventure, and, frankly, at thirty-seven, I am ready for one, too.

I have had a number of adventures in my life so far, so wonderful, some less so. But they have generally been adventures of someone else’s making; I was a leaf floating along in someone else’s river. Considering grad school meant considering the construction of my own adventuresome waterway. My children and I would decide together, and then we three would strike off for two years doing something new and magical, two years in some place unexpected. At the end of it, I would get a job that would pay for them to do things like eat, and play hockey, and one day go to university themselves. But in the immediate, we would unlock ourselves a little bit in space and try something new. PEI, Winnipeg, Newfoundland, Prince George, Montreal, Dartmouth, St. Catherine’s … all unknown and rich with adventurous possibility. The educational programs themselves were much the same: law school, MFA, history, social justice, first nations studies, indigenous self-governance, english … how does one decide? They’re all so magical and ripe with possibility.

As I considered my applications I felt a bit like a kid in the proverbial candy store. And it was fun, if somewhat wrought with indecision.

Yesterday I met with someone from the Ministry of Children to discuss support offered for one of my children, who has high-functioning autism but more to the point, in my view, has a severe learning disability which makes it a pain in the ass, as reflected in my earlier post, for her to do things like read. Thanks to ministry autism funding my daughter has access to tutoring, among other wonderful programs, and as we discussed various autism-related things, I said, “hey, I’m thinking about moving for grad school…”

The woman across from me began shaking her head.

“Not moving?” I said.

“This transfers with you anywhere in BC,” she said. “But if you go to a new province, you have to start the whole process all over again.”

“Is that a pain -”

the woman started shaking her head,

“or I do I just … not move.”

The woman nodded.

“I don’t move – ”

She nodded, ” – outside of BC.”

“Right. I don’t move outside of BC.”

“Right.”

Okay. I don’t move outside of BC. Let me be clear, I could move outside of BC, and one day I even might. But right now my non-reading eight-year-old gets tutoring to help her read, and if I move out of BC, she loses that and while will likely get it again after doing the process in the new province, there is both a chance she might not – depending on the funding in the new province – and a very likely chance the whole process will take years.

So I don’t move.

Suddenly the grad school decision seems delightfully simple. Now I consider grad school no longer drowning in choice but with clarity of vision. There’s a slight “it’s-a-wonderful-life” feeling regarding not leaving BC, when I think we were all ready to learn about and experience a different part of our country, but the whole point of “it’s-a-wonderful-life” the movie is that none of that stuff happened to him, he chose it. He chose to stay; he chose to work at the bank; he chose to give up his money .. he chose because all the people he did those things for, all the reasons he had to do those things, were greater than his desire to see the world. He chose those things because he loved them. So I could move anywhere to do my Masters degree, and my little daughter would undoubtedly be just fine, but I choose to stay in BC, because I love her, and because her learning to be a strong and delighted reader is more important, actually, than our living for two years in Halifax, Nova Scotia, now matter how good that Masters degree program may have been.

I moved to BC six years ago and I never thought that I would be here for as long as I have been; I never thought I’d be here for good. I don’t know if I am here for good or if I am not, but I am here for a little while longer. One day we might choose to move and get my little daughter set up with ministry-support in the next province; I am certain families with autistic children move all the time. Any limiting that is going on here is self-, not state-, inflicted. But for now I choose to stay in BC, until my little daughter is a more capable reader. It may take one year; it may take three. But I choose this because her reading is more important than my Masters degree program and even more important than my having a ‘dream’ job.

And that’s why it is a wonderful life; because there are two little people who share my home, and I choose them.

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