Wednesday, August 5, 2015

College bound

Now that I'm getting closer to going back to school in September, I thought I'd tell the story of how this all came to be.I know I've already kind of mentioned what my plans are, but not the whole story of how it came about. But it's sort of a weird, long story, so you're going to have to bear with me, lol.

Let's start at the beginning. When I was in high school, I wanted to be a psychologist. I'm a people watcher. I love to observe behavior, I love to read and learn about about mental illness, personality disorders, I'm fascinated by people and what they do and why they do it. I always have been. I knew from a really young age that when I had a career, I wanted it to involve helping people with their problems. 

When I graduated and went off to college, psychology was the only thing I really wanted to study. I was really excited about it, and I thought I had my life completely planned out. But if you have been a long time reader of my blog, you kind of already know what happened next. I somehow got lost after I left high school, and I had a few really tough years in my late teens and early 20's. 

Without going into it, I let someone talk me out of psychology and I decided to major in social work instead, which was the closest thing to what I wanted to do, but not really what I wanted to do. I did a year of college, I was really discouraged, I was going through a lot of personal turmoil at the time about several different things, and my year of college was a disaster. My grand plans for my life started crumbling really fast. 

So I quit college and moved across the country by myself to figure out my life. I spent a year traveling, working as a nanny and really growing up and trying to figure out who I was as an adult. Then my dad got cancer, my heart got broken by someone I loved, everything fell apart again and I spent a few more years drifting. 

By the time I sorted all of that out, I met Shawn, we got married and he was working on his doctorate degree and there was no way for us both to go to school. So I got a job to put him through school, and by the time that he was done, Josh was born and my plans for college just sort of fell away. I always felt like I had missed my window to go to college and it was too late. 

That has really eaten at me for years. I never ever thought I'd wouldn't graduate from college. When I was in high school it just felt like a given. Of course I'd go to college and earn a degree. I didn't think there was any other option for me but that. It's what I really wanted. 

I have loved being a stay at home mom all these years and I feel incredibly lucky to have a been able to stay home with my kids. Honestly, even if I had graduated with a college degree in my 20's, I'm not so sure it would have changed anything, because being home with my kids when they were little has always been important to me. But it's like I almost wished I could live two lives. I love being a stay at home mom, but I've always sort of mourned the dream that I never got to live out. I never got the college degree and the job that I always wanted. But I felt like I couldn't do both and I needed to choose the one that was more beneficial to my family, and I want to be clear that I don't regret that. I have loved my 15 years of being a stay at home mom. I know that there are plenty of successful working mothers and I have nothing but respect for them but for me and for my family staying at home with my kids was the right choice for us and for our circumstances and I wouldn't change it if I could.

But I guess when I decided to be a stay at home mom and give up my dreams of going to college, I never thought about what would happen when I would be where I am now. I never thought about the day that all of my kids would go off to school and there would be no more kids at home to take care of during the day. Josh is going to be a sophomore this year and only has a few more years before he's off to college. Matthew is in middle school and Clarissa starts first grade, so really, for the first time in 15 years, I'm going to be home alone all day. I don't have little kids anymore who need me all day long. And while I will admit that part of me is doing the happy dance at the thought of gaining a little freedom, the other part of me started to get a little panicky. What do you do when chasing toddlers has been your job for 15 years and suddenly you find yourself without any more toddlers at home? 

What I realized was that this was the perfect time for me to go back to school. Maybe you CAN live two lives. I spent a decade and a half taking care of little kids and now that chapter is over. Now that my kids are a little more independent and in the case of Josh, even looking at leaving home in few years, maybe it's time to get back to my other dream.

So in the past year and a half or so, the idea of going back to school has been creeping into my mind more and more. At first I kept pushing the thought away. I'm too old, it's too expensive, it would take too long. I had all sorts of reasons why I couldn't do it. It was partly a self confidence issue. I didn't think I had what it took to actually do it. What if I failed?

And then something really weird happened. I met someone online. And this is where the story gets weird because I don't know how much of it I can tell and still respect the privacy of the other person in the story. And let me just say that the story sounds weirder than it is. Or maybe it is weird, but it's the story, and I will try to tell it the best I can. 

I met a psychologist online who is from New York City and is well known in certain circles. He is someone I actually saw on a television show before I met him online. We met on a message board on a topic that has to do with relationships and marriage. (And before I tell this story, I know what you're going to think while you're reading it. First of all, it sounds like some weird fake internet person. It's not, I promise. And second, I met a man online, which sounds sort of scandalous or something, but it's not. To get both of those things out of the way, it's a real person and just a normal friendship. It's not as weird as it sounds, but I am very aware that it sounds weird, lol.) Over the course of several months, we chatted on the message board and e-mail and I really grew to admire this person. He has an impressive career, he's incredibly intelligent, and an expert in psychology, which even after all these years is just something I'm fascinated by. 

And then he started telling me that I have a knack for the psychology related topic we were discussing. Without knowing anything about my history, he told me that I'd be a good psychologist. And for a second that kind of hit me in the gut. I've always kind of felt like a failure for not following my dream and going to college and now here was someone whose opinion I really respect, who knows what he's talking about, telling me I should have done it. Honestly, it made me sad for a minute. It reminded me that I had given up a dream. 

But then I really started to think about it. The more we got to know each other, the more he kept encouraging me to consider college and the more it started to seem like something I could actually do. His words really stuck with me as I pondered it. Maybe it wasn't too late.

But I could still think of a million reasons why it was impossible. Cost, for one thing. College is expensive and I had my own kids school to pay for. Josh starts taking college classes through his high school next year, so we start paying college tuition in a year, and Matthew isn't all that far behind. I didn't think it was financially feasible.

Plus, being a stay at home mom, I just didn't know how I would juggle it. Would I have to be gone all day in class? What if I had a sick kid? What if I was too busy to study? I've been a stay at home mom for a long time. I'm used to my life revolving around what my kids need. What if they needed me and I wasn't there? These are things I really had to think about. 

And then it just got weirder. Over the course of the past year, in a hundred different little ways, the idea of college keeps getting brought up to me. The idea was coming from lots of random places. People mentioning college programs to me. People talking to me about what it was like when they went back to school later in life. Everywhere I looked, there was the idea of going back to college staring me in the face.

One night I was talking to a man from my church. He is someone I don't really know very well and it was supposed to just be a quick conversation, but as I was leaving he asked me what my college background was. There was that topic again! It was a totally random question that had nothing to do with what we were discussing. I told him that I had some college credits, but no degree. He asked me if I had ever considered going back through a program our church university offers, which is a really low cost way for older students to start back on the path to college. He told me to check into it and when I did I realized that not only was it realistic for me, I could do it all online and I could afford it!

Suddenly it all kind of clicked together. I could actually go to college. Clarissa will be in school all day this fall, so my days are free, I can afford this program, which is through a real accredited university, and it offered a bachelors degree that will get me on the path to the career I want.

Which, actually once I researched it more is not exactly psychology, but in the same relm. I'll be getting my bachelors in Marriage and Family Studies and then a masters in clinical mental health counseling (or possibly marriage and family counseling, I'll decide when I get there). That will allow me to eventually have a career in counseling, which is really what I wanted to do. I'll get to take psychology classes, learn about mental health and other psychology related topics and eventually counsel people, which is ultimately what I wanted to do all along.

So I told my internet psychologist friend who had first put the idea in my head and had been encouraging me and he was thrilled and offered to call me so we could discuss it. We had a great conversation and he has offered to be my mentor! This is kind of gigantic for me. This is someone whose career I really admire who is offering to show me the ropes, give me advice and help me navigate my way through my bachelors and more importantly, through grad school, which right now just sounds terrifying to me. He's been there, done that (he has a doctorate in Psychology) and he's going to be an amazing resource for me going through this.

The last hurdle I felt I had to jump was to tell my kids that I have decided to go back to school. They're used to me being here and available to them 24/7, and while they're gone most of the day during the school year, it will be an adjustment for the whole family for me to have homework to do and classes to take. My kids were amazing when I told them. I have never felt as loved and supported as I did that night when they told me how excited they were for me and offered to do anything they could to help get me through it. Shawn, of course, has also been nothing but supportive. He has always known that not finishing college was something I've struggled with and he's been incredibly supportive of my decision to give school another try.

So with the support of my family and an amazing mentor, I start college in September. I'm planning on it taking around 6 years. If things go according to plan, I could graduate with my masters degree at the same time Matthew graduates from high school. Which honestly, will be a great time to start a career. With both boys off to college and grown up lives, it will just be Clarissa at home and I'm hoping I can find a job where I can be home after school for her. Even something part time for a while in the beginning would be fine with me. I want to make sure that I'm still available to her for her teenage years. If I get into private counseling, it can be fairly flexible, which I would want.

So there is the story of how I decided to go to college. I'm terrified, I'm excited and I'm doing it. It's a brave new me. :)


Amanda said...

Good luck! That's awesome:)

Unknown said...

Congrats!! This sounds like the perfect opportunity for you and your family :)

Unknown said...

I actually read your blog after following the infamous thread you've mentioned (just a lurker, but a dedicated one) and being so impressed with your way of being on that thread. I'm so excited for you and actually got emotional reading this just now. I'm happy for you and I think it's such a cool story.