…I just declined graduate school.
I have known for a while this was probably what I was going to need to do, but I promise you, if you had told me at any point in my life prior to just a few weeks ago that I would a) get into graduate school b) get offered money to attend and c) decline such an invitation, I would never have believed you. I would have questioned my mental health, certainly, which some of you may still be inclined to do.
I only applied to one graduate program, one that was so delightful to me I literally did a little jig there in the library when I discovered it. I assumed I would not get in, because this graduate school is so very awesome that surely it must be flooded with applicants each year, applicants who are not predisposed to overuse swear words and who do not show an affectionate disregard for appropriate comma placement. But I did get in, and they even offered me a little money to go along with their acceptance.
I just about passed out with delight. I told my children. We started informally planning a two-year long adventure in another part of the country. We graffitied Newfoundland in sharpie marker onto our bathroom wall, so that every time one of us was in there to shower or wash we could dream about showering or washing in Newfoundland less than a year from now. We thought of all the reasons living in Newfoundland would be wonderful: they would be closer to their Papa; it’s Newfoundland!; I’ve wanted to go there since I was a kid; I’d be attending the most fabulous graduate program, I’m quite certain, of all time.
My children were delighted. They got stars in their eyes as they dreamed of Newfoundland. We talked about how we would sell all of our stuff, how we would drive there with blow-up air mattresses in the back of our car. We would get little harnesses to put on the cats so we could let them out of the car at rest stops. We imagined a 12-hour long ferry ride. I thought about marrying, one day, a fisher. I lay awake at night and thought about the grad school program, dreamed of my Masters project.
For several weeks, we lived in a fog of surprise and delight. But these weeks were weeks on pause, because there is a residency requirement for the program – a period of study in a remote community that I would have to attend sans children. We lived in dream land for those weeks while I tried to figure out how to meet that requirement, while I wondered what to do with the kids. Where would they go? And how would I afford to maintain them and myself separately? How would they join me in the end? And in the pause while I tried to figure this out, I thought about these children of mine, and how they support me no matter what I do, and how their love for me eclipses everything else in their lives.
What, I wondered, would happen if for a while I stopped being single-minded about my academic progress and future academic career. What would happen if I didn’t farm them out for three weeks, didn’t go to grad school now, and instead got a job, and worked, and supported them, and gave back to them as they give so much to me? I know what it is like to be driven for the future, to dream of the ideal career, to want and want and want for yourself. I get that. I get how pursuing that could also be good for my family in the long-term – the promise of a higher income, or more job security perhaps, or something – but I also get how pausing – how not having to do everything right now – is good for them, too.
I don’t have to prove anything any more. But I do have to take care of my children, who will be with me for so brief a time. And so in the pause offered me by this hard-to-beat residency requirement came the gift of due consideration, and I duly decided to pass, for now, on this wonderful graduate program, and to build up a life for my children here instead. And in a few years when my children have flown away from me, as they shall do, I will apply to Newfoundland again. I will be older and weaker in the knees. I will fly briefly away for my own little adventure.