Thursday, May 3, 2012

Tying up threads

It's been a long time since I updated my blog while I've been working hard to graduate. That phase of my life is finally over and I will graduate on mine and Greg's anniversary, which is to say the 23rd of May. The date is a funny coincidence really. After nearly two years back in school I realized a number of things about my choice to go back that surprised me, not least that it was a much bigger sacrifice for our family than I was expecting or prepared for. And another was that my motives for finishing were incredibly mixed up and I would be lying if I said they had nothing to do with my own vanity.

Ultimately, however, finishing school had a number of important advantages for my family as whole. For one, I am now that much closer to a paid profession which we have discovered I will eventually need if we are to afford living in the lower mainland of BC --especially if we have more kids. For another, our family has grown a lot and learned a lot. My husband and I have navigated a rocky road trying to figure out how to manage our finances and actually co-parent instead of one person taking all the responsibilities and the other retreating to do "work." I've also learned a lot more about myself than perhaps I learned about literature or academia. I learned just how much my kids needed me, how crappy I am at parenting and being a wife, how to sacrifice my own perceived needs for my children's actual ones. These things may seem like the sorts of things that come naturally in healthy family relationships, but I guess they came a little slower for selfish old me.

I also had the chance for closure when it came to what I wished to have before I met and married Greg and what I felt like I'd given up before I had really decided it wasn't what I wanted. Before I got married, having kids seemed more worth while than pursuing an academic career or a career in theatre, and of course I never changed my mind about that, even when I was desperately sleep deprived and dealing with daily meltdowns and toilet accidents. But after the kids turned up and the daily slog of constant demand began to wear on me, I began to wonder if I could have my cake and eat it too, that is, be a good mom/wife and still pursue academia or theatre. I began to wonder if I could be 23 again and continue to follow the path I abandoned 10 years ago and just drag my kids and husband along it. I am sure there must be some moms and families that can do that, but I found that I wasn't one of them.

This discovery wasn't a disappointment though. Just good closure for me. I didn't know what kind of a sacrifice it would be to try to juggle both until I actually tried to juggle both. The truth is that I wasn't sure how many balls academia or theatre required until I tried to keep them all up and I wasn't prepared to drop any balls out of my ambitions as a parent. There's only so many balls a person can juggle, even a smart, hardworking person who excels at multi-tasking. I still only have two arms. And when it came down to a decision between having more children and homeschooling or stopping at two and sending them to school, I chose the former. Ultimately that was a bigger priority for me and for my family. That's not a judgement on the choices any other family makes with regard to mom's career or activities. It's just what I learned that I wanted to do and I'm not sure that I could have learned that for certain if I hadn't gone back to school and tried to have it all. Deep down I kept wondering if I should have dropped out or if I couldn't go back, and the thought always plagued me when I was most dissatisfied with my marriage or my kids. Now that I've put it to rest, I can focus on being a better mom and a better wife instead of looking at the past with rose colored glasses.

And I am incredibly lucky, blessed actually, that I got to do it. That I got to go back to age 20 and pick up the path I dropped 10 years ago before I got married. When I think of how many people had to make sacrifices so that I could do that and not lose everything I had gained since leaving school, I'm overwhelmed with gratitude. My long-suffering husband put up with months, years even, of neglect as I tried to get through my work and revisit my life's plans from before we met. He paid for my tuition without complaint, working over time to manage it, and he never walked out on me even though I was probably the world's biggest you-know-what for about two years straight. My kids still snuggle me every morning and are somehow the world's most fantastic, loving, little urchins in spite of the fact that their mother has more or less ignored them whenever she wasn't screaming at them to shut the !!! up. Beyond all reason I'm still lucky enough to be their favorite person in the whole world and I don't deserve em.

My parents and my sister have been incredibly patient and generous with their time while I tried to juggle homework and classes and I owe it all to their care and attention (and of course my husband's) that my kids haven't turn into hellions during my two year emotional and mental absence. I would not have finished this degree without them. They gave me this oppotunity and did everything they could to help me see it through. And I haven't thanked them enough. I'm not sure I could if I had tried.

Including my folks, the kids had any number of terrific babysitters. These people not only watched or entertained them, but loved them. They made me feel less guilty about leaving my kids behind because I knew they were in good hands. They made me feel as though being with my kids wasn't just a job or a favour but an utter delight. They were reliable and generous, they gave me energy, taught ME how to be more patient and a better mom, and they even cleaned my house!

Then there was my many loving and understanding friends who encouraged me through it all, who never let on that they probably figured I was off my nut, never judged me for being constantly short tempered and exasperated, never hinted that maybe I shouldn't be going to school after all or thought I was selfish to try. They just patted me on the back, tried to keep my spirits up, and listened patiently to my endless complaining. If only I were such a friend.

There were teachers, friends, and family members without whom I would never have gotten through my work. They read my papers and encouraged me in my writing. They stayed up late to talk about my work or the books I was reading or the theory my class was discussing or the Shakespeare play I was working on. They never failed to email me, to answer my questions or help me muddle through a problem. And they never treated me like I was anything less than brilliant, even though I know that I owe most of my academic achievements to their help and not my own intelligence or talent.

Finally, there were the people at the UBC theatre department and Bard on the Beach who gave me the chance to see what I was missing. Who opened the door to me in spite of my long absence from the theatre, my relative inexperience, and my lack of connection to anyone in the business. I never would have been able to let go of that dream if they hadn't let me in and given me the opportunity to judge whether I could ever pursue it while raising my kids.

The last two years have been probably the hardest of my life and certainly of my marriage. I stepped back in time and I'm darn lucky that I didn't mess up the space time continuum and lose my family or destroy their world in the process of figuring out what part of me I'd left behind and whether it was worth recovering. Now that I'm standing back where I was before I turned back, threads of my past all tied up fittingly on the day of my anniversary, I feel ready to face the future. I've got so many people who love me to keep me from failing along the way, to keep the threads of my life from unravelling while I muddle through.