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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