Ask any adult. Life has a habit of playing with your hand of cards and changing your game. Caregivers I would suggest experience that reality on steroids. We make plans and then life, or our loved one, decides to change the rules. Often. In big ways. Learning to be flexible with myself and my personal goals has been a huge but important learning experience on my caregiving journey.
This morning I clicked the “accept” link for an offer of admission to a local doctoral program. I am embarrassed to admit that this is the third time I will have registered in a doctoral program. Isn’t the classic definition of stupidity doing the same thing over and over but expecting a different result???
In the mid-nineties I completed a M.Sc. in Occupational Therapy. I honestly never saw myself as an academic. While I was a strong high school student, I was only a mediocre undergraduate student. However I had the life-changing opportunity to earn a M.Sc. at Western University and there met some wonderful mentors who not only taught me to be a researcher, but instilled a sense of confidence in my abilities. I will be forever grateful to these inspiring professors. (I am looking at you JMP!). I completed my MSc with plans to return and earn a doctorate in the not too distant future.
And return I did. A few years and three children later I registered (for the first time) as a doctoral student at Western. I knew juggling family and academic work would be demanding but working women did it all the time. I could do this! I also knew that Matthew had been diagnosed with cerebral palsy, but I hadn’t yet wrapped my head around the medically fragile part of his diagnosis. About a year into the program it became patently obvious that this was not the time in my life to take on a demanding advanced degree. I can remember trying to work as I sat at Matthew’s bedside in hospital. It wasn’t sustainable. I will never forget the telephone call with the academic advisor at Western. I couldn’t speak I was crying so hard.
I ended up being at home living as a full-time mom/caregiver for about a decade. While I missed my work I don’t want to suggest that that time was unhappy. I had a decade of focusing exclusively on my kids and on Matthew’s needs. I was able to function without the pressure of a job, which was a gift that I know many mothers would envy.
But after about a decade I knew I had to get out of the house if I wanted to maintain my sanity. Along this journey I became pretty darn angry at God and established religion. I decided to take some courses at the local seminary (affiliated with a local university) for interest. Initially I did not see those courses as more than an interesting hobby. However I found I liked theology and ended up completing a second Masters degree. I also decided that I still had questions I wanted to ask and I enrolled in a doctoral program in theology (attempt number two) at a university over an hour away. What on earth was I thinking?!
For the most part I loved my time in this doctoral program. I learned much and had the opportunity to study and chat with some of the greatest thinkers exploring the topic of caregiving. But as I began approaching the dissertation stage it became apparent that working in isolation so far from the university was a liability. I took a year leave to discern whether I wanted to complete the program rationalizing that at almost 50 years of age perhaps I could appreciate the journey of learning without actually needing the letters after my name. I genuinely thought I was done.
But then I learned of an opportunity to finish my degree locally. However there was part of me that felt that the idea of “trying again” seemed almost pathetic. Didn’t I know when to give up? But apparently I am thick headed because today I clicked that darned “accept” button.
I shake my head at all of this. There is this chronic sense of anxiety that my journey was supposed to be that straight line even though rationally I know better. As a caregiver who has tried to make Matthew’s care a priority there was probably never any other way the story would unfold. My narrative was always going to be that really squiggly, dare I say chaotic, line you see at the top of this post. I hope that it is because of this squiggly line that my studies will be richer and the final accomplishment that much more satisfying!!! I really hope I finish this journey. But yet I know that if I don’t I will also be okay. I have learned that my goals and my real life aren’t always compatible, but that the story often turns out okay anyway. And I have met some really amazing people on this journey so that alone makes it worthwhile.
But as I have said. I really hope the third time is the charm!!!