a diverged path

When I was a kid and my family was going anywhere, my dad drove.  And when my dad drove, we took the scenic route.  The back roads.  The path less traveled, if you will.

(Aside: My dad still does this.)

It didn’t matter if it took more time, in my parents’ opinion it was better than busy, fast highways.  Slowing it down meant you might see a deer or five grazing in a field.  You might spot a hawk circling her nest.  You might get stopped–even detoured–because of a cow just standing in the road chewing his cud.  And you will always see more beauty going slowly than speeding past.

As a kid these “Sunday drive” style driving habits annoyed me.  It seem like my family was the only one on earth who did not use highways…or even extremely main roads.  We didn’t take the quickest route to almost anywhere.  It wasn’t that we arrived late (okay, sometimes we did), our journey was just longer than everyone else’s.

Since being able to drive, I have ditched the scenic route whenever possible in favor of the quickest way. I take highways and expressways and busy, main routes.  I take the path most traveled.

I have been this way with my life choices as well.  After high school I went to college, never changing my major.  Then I did my student teaching, graduated, worked odd jobs and substitute taught for two years before getting the teaching position that I am still in.  I got married, went to grad school for my Masters Degree, then had babies.

I just jumped on the road most traveled and loved it.

Cort took more of a scenic route.  He started out on the same highway as I was on, but took an exit before college graduation and worked for almost 10 years before going back.

Now that he is done, I am surprised to see I have a choice in paths to take next.

I was planning on staying on this expressway and getting a second Masters both to fulfill my +30 credits to get my next pay jump, but also because if I have to take 30 credits, I may as well get a degree out of the deal, right?

And then, suddenly, my path diverged.

And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth*

I have the opportunity to apply to a Doctoral Degree program that I have a fairly good chance of being accepted to.

It would take a bunch of prep work this summer–including re-taking my GREs because it’s been over a decade since I took them last–and the application window is November-January for admission to fall 2014.

Instead of starting a new Master’s Program this fall, I would have a year off before jumping feet first into a PhD program that could take me up to five years to complete.  When it’s done, I will not only have gotten my pay raise at my current job, but I will have lots of other options open to me, the biggest being the opportunity to apply all over the country for tenure-track professor positions at colleges and universities.

Here is the catch:  I don’t know if I should take this path.

Getting my PhD has been on my bucket list since I started college.  It is a HUGE dream of mine to be Dr. Katie Sluiter, PhD.  I long to be working with other academics and publishing my work and even teaching English Education students, guiding them to find their teaching style before sending them out to student teach.

But I know to pursue this dream would require massive sacrifice.  I have my Masters in English Education already from the same University. I know what the courses are like, what the professor’s expectations are like.  I remember the hours I poured into reading and writing and creating.  And I did these things while teaching full-time, but we didn’t have an children yet.  Our time was our own.  I missed Cortney a lot the few nights a week I had to travel the hour south to attend class and then the hour back north.  Many times Cort would be in bed already.

That sacrifice, while difficult, was a no-brainer.  We still had flexibility in our schedule.  We could still go out to dinner at 7pm during the week for some alone time, and then return for me to hit the books for a few hours before falling into bed without worrying about anyone waking up in the night needing comforting.

This time around, the studies would be even more intense, the stakes higher.  It would require two or more days where I go straight from work to class and not get home until well after the boys are in bed.

Quitting my teaching job to stay home with the boys and pursue my PhD full time is not an option. We need my income, but more importantly, we need my benefits.

And I don’t want to quit my job.  I love it.

The fact that I would be working full time and would not require a fellowship expedites my application process, but ironically makes my decision that much more difficult.

It’s not my time I worry about sacrificing, it’s my children’s time.

I have found myself near tears the past few weeks during bath time thinking about missing those moments.  I snuggled Eddie closer at bedtime imagining that I will have to give this up in order to pursue my dream.

And what about the boys?  Having two parents who work full-time is hard enough, but when Cort was in school, it took a toll on Eddie who was keenly aware that his daddy was absent three nights a week.  Charlie is now also at the age where he will notice.  Is it fair to now take myself away?

And what about the possibility of adding to our family?

If we follow the plan we have laid out for ourselves, I may very well be pregnant again this time next year.  Do I really want to start my first year of my PhD program on the verge of giving birth?  Do I want the long commute while I am 8 months pregnant?  Is that even a good idea given how difficult pregnancy can be on me and my mental health?  Is the risk too big?

Do I put off having more children for this dream?  I’m already 35 years old.

I started reading a book one of my professors edited and published about the English Education Doctoral program.  It has testimonies from many people who pursued the degree…and some who started, but chose not to finish.  When I read about some of the sacrifice, I started to weep.

Giving up teaching high school.  Giving up family time.  Giving up a lot of the parental obligations and privileges in order to be in class or do homework or research or write a dissertation.

I am not sure I am ready for that.

But the thought of letting my dream go makes my heart ache too.

The opportunity is now.  Do I take it?  Or do I put it off and hope the opportunity comes up again?

Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.

The safe way is the logical, highway route.  Stay on the planned route, get the second Masters, take the pay raise, keep teaching high school.

It’s the path most taken.

It’s the sure thing.

It’s safe.

But…what if?

I am afraid I will regret my decision whichever way I go.

I am afraid I shall be telling this with a sigh.

*************

*words from the poem “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost, which, I have always thought was a depressing poem, not a hopeful one.

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About Katie

Just a small town girl...wait no. That is a Journey song. Katie Sluiter is a small town girl, but she is far from living in a lonely world. She is a middle school English teacher, writer, mother, and wife. Life has thrown her a fair share of challenges, but her belief is that writing through them makes her stronger.

Comments

  1. I feel for you. I go through this with so many decisions. I want to make life better for my family, but I don’t want to sacrifice my time with them. I love my job, but it’s an hour commute each way. I should find something closer to home. But…

    My family time is most important to me, but if I’m miserable in a job 40 hours a week, is that okay?

    I don’t know. Hard decisions. Good luck.

  2. The older we get, the further into our careers, the harder it is to make these decisions. And I totally agree with you on Frost.

  3. I am fine with little decisions but struggle so much with the big ones. I try to remember that having choices is a good thing. Your family is beloved, and they know that, and no matter what decision you make it will end up being the right one for you because Team Sluiter is pretty darn strong 🙂 xoxo

  4. OK, Katie…here’s my opinion. I know you struggle with this, and I totally get that it is your dream. And a long-standing dream at that. And I am sure at 35 you feel at a crossroads of sorts, like “Wow, I don’t have much time!”.

    But if this is a dream, and you feel compelled to chase it, does it have to be now? What about in five years? A very good friend of mine has been working on her Ph.D. for about five years, and just graduated in December. At the age of 48. Her three boys are older, she has energy and time and a good 15 years or more of teaching at the college she adores. And being almost 50 myself, I can honestly tell you I feel young and so able to take n a other degree at this point if I chose to.

    So that is just my observation from the “other side” of 40. I admire your drive and enthusiasm, but I don’t see another year or five changing ANY of that.

    Boom.

    • I think you may have helped me make my decision, friend. Seriously. This comment was the one I turned over and over in my head all day yesterday and used when Cort and I further discussed the matter. I think you may just be right! Thank you!

  5. Oh hon, this IS a big one.
    My take is this: if you plan one expanding the family, then there’s the age thing to think about. And you can be 45 and still pursue a PhD.
    However, by age 45, would you still have that dream? I’m not sure anyone can answer that.
    My sister has a PhD, she’s currently teaching pre-university courses. It’s been a blessing and a deterrent for her, career-wise. Many colleges think she’s overqualified and want to hire her but not pay her what she deserves, and many more (of her coworkers) are intimidated by her (and it). On the other hand, it opens up doors that wouldn’t exist if she didn’t have the Dr. in her name.
    Whatever decision you come to, I know you will come to it with a sure heart. Good luck, my friend. xo

    • I think you are right. I need to concentrate on our current project: building a family. That is what is most time sensitive and important right now and I want to give it my all!

  6. That poem reduces me to tears basically every time I read it. I have always wanted to be a librarian. And as I get older, that aspiration fades further back because of the choices I’ve made, the paths I’ve chosen (and, lets face it, libraries are dying as it is). This poem makes me feel like: If I don’t become a librarian, then I’ll NEVER be a librarian. Life is hard that way.

    If I don’t have another child, then I’ll NEVER have another child.

    I completely feel you on the “missing out” sentiments. I tend to agree with some of the other commenters that the Ph.D. program will “always” be there, but childhood is so fleeting … BUT, that being said, way leads on to way, as we know.

    So hard. Good luck. I’ll try to stop crying now. 😉

    • “way leads on to way” is the most depressing line ever. So full of regret.

      And yeah. Even if I make the decision to wait on the PhD (which is how I am leaning now), I have to accept the fact that by waiting, I may also be closing the door permanently.

  7. I too have plans to get a doctoral degree, but once I became pregnant (after years of trying) there was no doubt that it would take a back seat. I have always felt that there will always be time for more education later. That is not going to go anywhere, but my children will only need me a short time.
    Ann

    • You are exactly right and I think I may just wait. Yes, I want the PhD badly, but I want to be present for my family when they are so young too.

  8. That is a major one..
    While this is a decision only you can make, I do agree with Sherri… If your dream is to have another child, then to me, that is the more time sensitive desire…
    But, that is just me.. Big life decisions are so hard.. I struggled so much when we were deciding whether or not to have children – something I desperately wanted, but also so life-changing..

  9. I agree with Sherri too that having a 3rd child is more time sensitive. Also, do you read the Chronicle of Higher Ed? Tenure-track positions, especially in the humanities, are becoming very rare. A lot of colleges and universities are farming out the teaching to low-paid adjuncts and the few tenure-track positions that do exist have hundreds of applicants. I’m not saying it isn’t worth pursuing a PhD, but before you decide to spend the time, research the likelihood of being able to get a tenure-track position.

    • This particular program has 3-5 openings per graduate because it is a rare and in demand. I could pretty much choose where I would want to go anywhere in the country with it, but that is also the kicker. I don’t want to move from where we are now. We are in love with our town and area and have zero desire to leave. Plus I don’t even know if I would want a professorship until I retire from teaching high school anyway. I love my job.

  10. It is so hard to know what to do. Big decisions! As an older mom myself, these times with my son are going to be the moments I remember; on the other hand, I don’t love my job like you do. Remember that putting your dream off a year or two will not make it go away, but the snuggling moments with your kids will, if that helps at all. I say that without judgement, because you should follow your own heart and it will all work out!

    • Kristin, I think that is what I am going to do. Right now, after writing it all out, reading the comments, hashing it out (AGAIN) with my husband, I think I am going to postpone for 3-5 years and see where I am then. I can’t get these little years back with my kids. I think missing out on their growing up will be a bigger regret than if I end up not pursuing the PhD.

      • I am enjoying your blog posts and your story, Katie! As a fellow working mom, some of these struggles are so difficult. That’s what I wrote about for my Listen to Your Mother piece a few weeks ago and it’s hard to balance it all. Thank you for sharing your thoughts!

        • Thank you! While it sucks that we both have struggles, at least we know we aren’t alone. There are other working moms who are going through similar journeys as we are. And the balance? Oh my. OH MY.

  11. Wow! I wish I had some wisdom to impart on you to help you make this decision but I don’t. I just think that sure, there will be sacrifices and time away from your family but think about how proud they will be of you when you reach your dream… think of the lesson your are teaching your boys about hard work and following your dream. That is one powerful thing.

  12. You have to do what’s in your heart and what’s best for you and your family. I know you’ll make the right decision based on those two things. Best of luck as you mull it over.