Graduation: It’s kind of a big deal.

Today is my would-be graduation day. Scratch that. Today IS my graduation day. I’m not going to graduation (because it’s too damn expensive and my kids are at their dad’s this weekend anyway) but it is still my graduation day.

College, bitches, I did it!

As of Thursday afternoon when I handed my completed final to the professor and walked out of my last undergraduate class, I have completed my bachelor’s degree. Logistically I may need to check on the status of a form and complete my loan “exit counseling” to actually get the piece of paper but all the real stuff, the classes and course content, that’s done.

I can now say that I’ve got a B.S. in General Biochemistry.

I’m not sure how this changes anything or what it really means for my family and our quality of life but, regardless of what may or may not happen now, I am super fucking proud of myself! I understand that getting my degree is not some magic pass to a better life; I get that nothing changes now unless I work hard to make it change. (I’m a single parent running a one adult household so that’s pretty much the story of my life. The wheels don’t turn themselves, something has to drive them. I get it!) But, still, graduating from college is a big deal. At least for me it is; it’s been a long road and I worked hard for this!

I didn’t realize how I felt about graduating until I was leaving my final on Thursday. All week I was oddly emotional and off kilter. I blamed stress, hormones, and lack of sleep. The usual suspects. But as I walked out of class and down those five flights of stairs I was overwhelmed with a sense of pride, a feeling of accomplishment, and a little bit of that “Oh shit what now” fear. Emotions, strong ones but mostly good.  glass case of emotions

As usual they took me by surprise. Before that point I thought that finishing, graduating, was just kind of…meh. I mean, (hopefully) this isn’t the end of my education and I’m not taking part in all the pomp & circumstance, no cap and gown for this girl, so it’s just a box checked off this list of things I need to do to get to the big thing I want to be doing (Hello Dental School!) I’ve been downplaying this and not even realizing I was doing it; I’ve failed to acknowledge that graduating really is an accomplishment. It’s also a big status change for me. I’m no longer a student. I no longer have to check the “some college” box under educational status.

With finishing my bachelor’s degree I accomplished a long term goal and that is something to celebrate. I worked hard to do this thing and I did it well. So while my eyes are still trained on what’s yet to come and there is no time to take a break if I’m going to do the next hard thing and keep propelling my life forward, I’m going to revel in my accomplishments and be unabashedly proud of myself this weekend.

kind of a big deal

Why am I doing this?

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I keep asking myself this but I haven’t gotten an answer yet.

Today was my first day of classes for the new fall semester. I was slightly wary going into it, my class schedule is really not the greatest. Especially for me. I’ve got on-campus classes two days a week, Tuesday and Thursday, one in the morning and one in the evening with four and a half hours between them. (And of course the evening class makes it so I’m not home during divorced-parent switch time. That raises the stress of my schedule exponentially.) I’m still not sure what to do with myself in those four and a half hours. I also don’t understand why that one last chemistry class I still need to graduate doesn’t fit nicely in that space. I mean, it would but the university either didn’t realize or completely missed the memo on that one.

Really I should have picked up some easy bullshit class to fill the time and ,in doing so, avoided fucking up my financial aid. Of course I didn’t realize the financial aid was effed up until two days after my overages were supposed to be deposited into my account so I could buy books. In case you missed it, they weren’t. I’m sans student loan money until mid-September. And even then it’ll probably be less than I actually need and have gotten before. I could look at my student account and see what the adjustment yielded but I’m a little afraid to see what I’m dealing with. Which brings me to the main point of this ramble…

As I walked out of my first class (which ended less than an hour after I got there) feeling a mix of excitement, relief, and trepidation I began to wonder why I’m doing this whole school thing. Later, sitting in the three hour biochemistry lab marveling at how much I forgot since May, that thought popped back into my head: Why am I doing this? Wouldn’t we all be better off if I just worked more at my job or picked up a second job?

Things have been a struggle lately, specifically financial things. They’re piling and piling and I’ve got no exit strategy. And here I am during perfectly good working hours sitting in class accumulating student loan debt. Why? It’s supposed to make life better but I’m not sure this whole college thing is doing that. I’m happier but only when I don’t try to fathom how I’m going to pay for this education I’m (according to some people) selfishly acquiring. And, really, am I making my kids lives better by not being there when they get home from school, by constantly scrambling to patch together rides home from school and cross country practice? I’d like to think, yes, that it does do something, that it is and will continue to make our quality of life better. Maybe I’m operating on sunk cost premises here and maybe this is my competing fears of both failure and success but I if I quit now ,like I’m occasionally so tempted to do, there is no gain. Nothing at all.

I’m  ninety-percent sure this is all self-doubt and beginning of the school year angst. Tomorrow I’ll review protein chemistry and be happy to be learning new things again. I’ll remember that I really do want to be a dentist and have for a long time. I’ll think about all the cool things I’ll do for my kids and others when I am. I’ll find a way to work a little more this term and still be awesome  acceptable at my studies. And I’ll, once again, convince myself that it’s part of the process. Eggs breaking and omelets and all that.

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My kids are super thrilled about the start of a new school year too.

Possibility Without Commitment

Possibility without commitment, it’s my preferred state most the time. This applies to dating, school, and to making plans in general. I like having my options open not because I’m afraid of commitment (Okay, maybe because I’m a little afraid of commitment. Since when was caution a bad thing?) but because unadulterated possibility is so much better, so much more exciting and hopeful, so awe inspiring and amazing. Once you commit you throw away all that open ended potential to do or be anything. When you finally narrow it down and choose what you are actually going to do you give up the possibility of doing ALL the things. For me that’s hard. And that’s where I am right now. On the brink of commitment.

Realistically I haven’t actually made a commitment yet but as soon as I started telling people it felt like commitment. I mean, I had decided so why not? Except the What Ifs, you know the ones: “What if I fail?” “What if I can’t?” “What if I’m not smart enough?” “What if I’m not strong enough?”

Yeah, those what ifs. When you start telling people you create an expectation, they ask you about it later, want to know how it’s going and if you’re there yet (like kids on a road trip). Even if they don’t ask, you know they know and are probably thinking about it. “Didn’t she say she was going to be a dentist?” “Is she still in school?” Stuff like that. Sometimes they say it, sometimes they don’t but even when they don’t I can feel those thoughts. Or at least I think I can; it’s entirely possible that that’s just in my head. Probably no one notices or cares. Except me. I care. Pressure’s on even if it’s just from your own self.

Now, though, I’ve gone just a little bit further and put my money where my mouth is. I paid for the DAT (Dental Admissions Test)…almost five hundred dollars. For a (technically) poor girl like me that’s a lot. It’s an investment and also a little bit of a commitment.

Shit’s about to get real! Super real.

Over the course of the next six weeks  four weeks (I started this post two weeks ago) I plan  need to be getting my dental school application ready. Sounds simple right? Yeah. it’s not. On top of the aforementioned test there are a hundred volunteer or job shadowing hours to complete, transcripts and letters of recommendation to procure, a “personal statement” to compose, and a few other bits and pieces to get together and compacted into the correct format. Roughly 2,000 people apply to the dental school I hope to get into. They interview 300 of those candidates and maybe 200 are actually admitted to this top tier school.

I’m feeling the pressure but here’s the thing…I’m truly enjoying this moment in my life. Well, mostly. I’m a little scared, a little intimidated right about now and so I should be. This is a big deal. But I’m excited too, more excited than scared, at least that’s what I keep telling myself. Besides, if it’s not a little scary you’re probably not doing it right…whatever it is. That’s been my experience.

Ten years ago I decided I wanted to be a dentist. Ten years! That’s a third of my life. So why the fuck haven’t I done it yet? Good question. The short answer is life happens. That and self doubt is a great preventative. I’ve mastered the art of using self doubt to fuel procrastination.

When I first started down this path at the ripe old age of twenty-five I felt the pressure of my age weighing heavily on me. I estimated that if I hurried it up I could get into dental school by the time I was twenty-nine and graduate at thirty-three. Old but still worthwhile. My oldest would be fourteen at that point and my (then) youngest nine. I could do that. I just needed to push myself and get through it as fast as possible. My biggest fear was the four or five chemistry classes. High school chemistry had not gone well for me. Little did I know that chemistry would be the easy part, the stuff I actually enjoy. The rest of it, the real stuff: family, kids, relationships, that stuff, that would be the hard part and the part I had to get sorted out. Ten years later I get that, at least I think I do.

At twenty-five I equated  a doctorate level degree with success. I had four young kids, a shaky marriage, a part time job in my dad’s dental practice and a handful of random college credits. Most my friends were at least a couple years into their careers, many were having big fancy weddings and starting their perfect adult lives. The discrepancy played on my insecurities and fed into my deep seated inferiority complex. Going back to school with such a lofty goal felt like it closed the gap a little. The need to prove that I was as smart as all my friends and educated siblings brought out my inner over achiever. I got 4.0’s in every class I took. Literally every class. Turns out I actually am as smart as anyone else. Who knew?

And then I unexpectedly got pregnant…again. Seriously, I’m not even sure how it happened that time. I mean, I’ve taken multiple anatomy & physiology classes and an NFP course (I got married in the Catholic church so it was required) I know how it happens. But this one, I have no idea how it happened. At the time I was pretty upset that this monkey wrench was being thrown in my plans. I was supposed to be applying to dental school that year, not having a baby. What the fuck? It was 2009 when my youngest son was born, pretty close to ten years after my oldest. I was twenty-nine, unhappy in my marriage and life in general, and more than a little overwhelmed. I tried to continue with school the semester after my little guy was born. I got my first pair of -A’s. After that I realized I was in over my head, way over. I’ve never been a very good swimmer, I was flailing and about to drown. It wasn’t the A minuses or the baby that did it. It was everything. I had a Come to Jesus moment. I knew I could handle the academics of dental school but I also knew I couldn’t do that, be the parent my kids needed me to be, and keep my family together. So I stopped. I abandoned the dental school idea and changed paths. It wasn’t even an “I’ll come back to this later” kind of thing, it was “Welp, at least I tried…sort of…almost.” And I waved the white flag. I mean, I was 29. What’s the point of spending the time and money on dental school when you’re already in your thirties?

Obviously I had a lot to learn. I knew what I wanted but I didn’t know what I needed to know to get it. Right place, wrong time.

Now, at the ripe even older age of almost thirty-six, I’m ninety percent sure this is the right time and I’m in the right place. I definitely don’t have it all together. I still have five kids but now I’m divorced and in an ongoing custody conflict. My gpa is not perfect anymore, there are B’s and even a C on my transcripts. My finances are tenuous at best and my house is falling apart slowly and steadily. But even without a doctorate degree, or even a bachelor’s just yet, I know that I am successful. I know that whatever I attempt I will do and do well. I probably won’t be the best at anything. Ever. But that’s okay. I don’t have to be. I just have to do the important things to the best of my abilities and the other things can be good enough. So while the commitment still scares me and sometimes makes me want to run away, the possibility that comes with this one entices me. Commitment and possibility.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go run twelve miles and study for the DAT. I’ve only got four weeks now…

 

 

 

Don’t Let Your Dreams be Dreams

There’s at least five important things other than blogging that I should be doing right now. I thought you should know that. I’m not, though, because I just wasted so much time trying to register for the last general education class in my long-lived quest to complete my bachelor’s degree that I only have half an hour before it’s time to pick the kids up from school (and get some ketchup…must remember the ketchup!!!). That’s not enough time to get into studying or listen to a lecture or start a paper.

Registering for classes this go round has been a major thorn in my side. Major! This is supposed to be my last semester. I should be graduating at the end of April. Should be. It’s looking like I won’t because I can’t get into the fucking classes I need. There’s only three of them and I’m getting blocked at every turn. (Eastern, you are seriously killing my learning boner here.) First, the instrumental chemistry class that’s required for my degree only has one section offered…it’s on Thursday evening. If you’ve been here a while you might know Thursday evening is my family’s divorce parenting switch time. No way I can be on campus almost an hour away Thursday evenings. On top of that no other nearby university offers a course that transfers as that. Did I mention it’s required for the degree I’m trying to get? Next, the other chemistry class I need has a lab component that’s a separate two credit class. Guess when that lab is offered…if you said Thursday evening you win. The choices are Monday/Wednesday afternoon (going about half an hour later than I really can stay for) and Tuesday/Thursday evening. But it really doesn’t matter either way because by the time the error on my transcripts that prevented me from registering the first day I could was cleared both sections were closed. I’m waitlisted in the terrible but still preferred Monday/Wednesday lab. I was so frustrated about these two classes that I procrastinated until today to register for the gen. ed class I need. Art. Turns out all the “good” art classes are full. *sigh* Online music appreciation it is.

This litany of registration frustrations (along with the super challenging microbiology class I’m taking this semester) have lead me to ask What the fuck am I doing? I probably won’t be able to get a job with the bachelor’s degree I’m getting (or at least trying to get) and if I can barely pull a C in microbiology is dental school (my long term goal…at this point) really realistic? My inner Debbie Downer is reminding me that I’m already thirty-five and up to my eye balls in student loan debt, that I’ve got five kids to take care of, that if I go to dental school I may never have the time to date. Ever. (Well, at least not until I’m, like, forty so basically the same thing.) It might be time to cut the losses and quit while you’re just barely not ahead, she says.

Clearly I’m in need of some redirection, a little motivation perhaps…

That’s right, it’s time to embrace my inner Shai LaBeouf and …JUST DO IT!

So my new motto for this season of my academic journey is: Don’t let your dreams be dreams.

I’m pretty sure I’ve been to the point others might have given up and have kept pushing through. Whatever, I guess I can do it a little longer. What’s one more semester anyhow? I’ll still graduate…eventually. I can still apply to dental school; I’ll asses whether I can hack it or not if (when?) I get in. Why borrow that problem from tomorrow? I’ll get to it when I get to it. And besides, dating is totally overrated.