With my Big Black Boots and an Old Suitcase…

Ten years ago I had no job.

It was summer and I had finished up a great long-term subbing position at the beginning of June, but there were no substitute teaching positions during the summer months. I had yet to find a “real’ teaching job.

Ten years ago I had no relationship.

I had been dumped after a five-year relationship in the spring and I had been barely getting by on a wing and a prayer (also know as Doritos and booze) for months.

I was depressed, but I didn’t know it.

Then in July of 2003, after four months of sulking and one month of being unemployed, a friend from college emailed me that he was moving from Michigan to Santa Monica, California in August.  He had a place lined up, but would love a roommate if I wanted to come too.

I laughed at first. Yeah, right.

And then I looked around at my tiny house.  The one next-door to my grandparents that I was renting from them. The one where I ate cereal and Doritos as my only meals and some days didn’t get out of bed until 4pm.

The one I shared with my cat.

That spring all of my plans for the future gone right down the toilet.

I no longer had dreams of marrying my long-time boyfriend. I had sent out and stopped by a combination of over 100 schools looking for a teaching position and hadn’t heard from even one. I couldn’t live on $65 a day subbing (sporadically) for another school year.

Why should I stay in this tiny town? I asked myself.

I had been back from college for almost a year now; what was keeping me from packing up and moving away and trying something else?

It was so unlike me, but I went online and applied for about ten different teaching positions in and around the Santa Monica area. I also emailed my friend and told him if I could find a job offer, we might be in business.

And then I got three emails and a phone call from four of the districts I applied to in California. Three of those four wanted to hire me right there sight unseen.  No interview.  No practice lesson. In fact, they would fly me out there and help me move in.

With my big black boots and an old suitcase…
I do believe I’ll find myself a new place.*

I started to get excited.  As in call my parents and try to decide whether or not to take my cat with me across the country kind of excited.

I emailed all my friends and family and told them I was moving to California at some point.

I started thinking about how one moves across the country. Via moving trucks? On a plane? Yeah, I was not bringing the cat. He would die of the trauma.

We can live beside the ocean,
leave the fire behind
Swim out past the breakers
watch the world die.

My friend, Cortney, emailed me to tell me good luck and that he thought it was a cool idea, but that truthfully he would miss me an awful lot. He was the only person (other than my mom) to convey such a feeling. That I would be missed if I left.

I remember thinking he was sweet and that I would surely miss him too. I mean, he was such a great friend.

Less than a month later, this happened.

And a week after that, my current school district called me for an interview…and I got the job.

A couple weeks after that Cortney was not my friend anymore, he was my boyfriend.

I didn’t move, obviously. I decided to take the job in my current school district (where I had done my student teaching and several long-term substitute positions).  I decided to take the plunge on Cortney.

It’s been ten years since I made that decision.  The decision to stay in the tiny small town I always said I would leave.

When I went to college, I had determined that I would meet a guy from somewhere and go to that somewhere.  I was not going to follow the pattern of marrying a guy from my high school and having his babies and living my whole life in this hick town.

Until I did.

Not because I didn’t try to NOT end up this way.  But because this is the way I was supposed to end up.

It’s been ten years and I rarely think about the chance I had to “get away” from this life.  Probably because I never wish this life away. Even when it sucks, I never wish I was somewhere else with a different guy with different (or no) kids.

I never don’t want this life.

Sometimes I don’t think I am doing a good job at this life I was gifted, but I never ever wish it away.

Not for all the white sands on a Santa Monica beach.

*Lyrics from “Santa Monica” by Everclear

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.

why we already know charlie’s birthday date

Let me add the disclaimer here that this post was hard to write not because I am unsure of my decision, but because I know it is not a popular one.  But by not saying anything, I feel like I am hiding something…which I am not.  And if there is anyone else out there who is feeling ashamed for her choice?  I want to squash that shame. 

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

We already know what day Charlie will be born on because we have decided to schedule a c-section.

Let me tell you why…

When I went into labor with Eddie (the day before his due date), I knew there was a possibility of a C-Section because I had been measuring really big, my pelvic region is narrower than most, and my tilted uterus was…well…still tilted.

But my OB, Doc VH, was determined to let my body do what God made it to do…deliver a baby vaginally.

So when we packed up and headed for the ER at 5:00am on the morning of Eddie’s due date, and I was dilated to 4.5, 80% effaced, and things were looking textbook, I got my epidural and sat back and was a dilating/effacing machine.

My nurse was sure Eddie would be there by noon.

And then he wasn’t.

Oh, I was progressing nicely, but he wasn’t.

Just before 2pm, I asked if I could push since I was starting to feel uncomfortable (and I had secretly pushed against the pressure to see if it felt better that way.  It did).

My nurse was totally gung-ho.  “Heck yes, you can!”

So away we went!

For over 2 hours.

And in that 2 hours?  Eddie refused to cooperate.  At all.

He was nine and a half pounds of huge with a head the size of a cantaloupe.  Plus he was face up.  Plus he just refused to descend any further. The harder I pushed, the more he refused…until his heart rate plummeted and went wonky from being so stubborn all the strain.

Plus all this gave me a fever of close to 105.

So at 4:30pm Doc VH made the call that we needed to get Eddie out NOW.  It was becoming WAY too dangerous…for both of us.

And so, Eddie was born at 4:51pm on his due date via c-section.

For whatever reason, one of the questions everyone who came to visit asked was, “if you have another, will you do another c-section?”

This question sort of shocked me.

For one, I was sitting there with a wound that still had staples in it and was still bleeding every now and then.  I was also sitting there with a fresh from the oven infant.

I was NOT thinking about a repeat performance of either.  I was thinking about sleep and would I ever get any.

But low and behold two and a half years later, I found myself knocked up again.

And the questions started flowing in the millisecond after I announced the pregnancy…”are you going to have a repeat c/s or go for a VBAC (vaginal birth after c-section)?”

I sort of avoided the question because I really didn’t know and I didn’t really want anyone’s advice. I wanted it to be decided between me, Cort, and Dr. VH.  Oh, and I asked my therapist what she thought of the plan too since I struggle with anxiety and have a history of depression and postpartum depression.

We decided not to make any calls before we got a better idea of Charlie’s growth compared to Eddie’s.

Doc VH is almost notorious for his push for VBACs–even though our hospital doesn’t do “elective VBACs”.  He would rather have a woman’s body do what it is supposed to do and only intervene if there is a definite medical emergency.

It is why I chose to stay with him as my doc after my miscarriages.  He didn’t want me to come in and get things “taken care of” in the office because he felt that my body should be given the time to finish the miscarriage process itself.

And while it was painful, I felt most comfortable with that plan too.

I should also say that Dr. VH is extremely open and honest.  This guy is a no BS dude.  He tells it like it is and sugar-coats nothing.  He lays out all possibilities, lets you make your own choice, and then gives his opinion, but will respect what you choose.

Did I mention I love my OB?

So when he explained to me that he prefers to see a VBAC in 90% of his patients, he said he wasn’t sure it would work for me, but that we would wait and see.

And wait we did.

And people just kept asking, and I just kept dodging the question.

Cort didn’t come with me to my appointment this week, but we had discussed ad nauseum at length the options before us, and he told me that it was ultimately up to me and that he would be there to support me 100% no matter how Charlie came into the world.

So this week, at 29 weeks, I was measuring at 31 weeks.  The Good Doc and I looked back at Eddie’s charts and…BOOM…same thing.

We talked about all the issues I had with Eddie.

We discussed trying a VBAC in a different hospital, possibly with a different doctor, where I wasn’t familiar with things and how that would effect my anxiety.

We discussed trying the VBAC and then ending up on the table anyway.  In a different hospital.  With a different doctor.  With unfamiliarity.  With my anxiety.

I told him I was thinking even before this talk that I wanted another c-section, but I felt bad about it.

He told me that although most women really should try a VBAC in his opinion, maybe with my physical and mental history, I should do the csection.  “After all,” he told me, “Your comfort and ease goes a LONG way in the baby’s comfort and ease when he is first placed in your arms.”

And of course, being Dr. VH, he went on for a while (forever, actually) about all the medical facts about how “back in the day” without these options, babies and women died all the time when forced to do vaginal birth. And then he mentioned something about crushed baby heads and/or ripping from crotch to butt and how we don’t have those happen anymore due to more options.   Because that is how he rolls.  He is quite nerdy and excited about medical stuff.  It’s a good quality in a doctor, in my opinion.

So before I left on Friday, we scheduled my csection.

Before we did, however, he assured me we would watch Charlie’s growth carefully and if things look more favorable this time than with Eddie, we could always cancel the csection.  But at least this way I was scheduled on a day that was for sure his surgery day and he could be there with me in an environment I am comfortable with already.

I left feeling very good about our decision.

Because it was OUR decision based on OUR personal experience and history.

And I still do.

If we have number three will I automatically go for a c/section?  I have no idea.  It will all depend on the situation.  Just like this time.

And unless anything changes drastically, Charlie will be born on March 13, 2012.

Lucky 13.

Exactly two weeks before his Momma’s birthday.

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