Just over four years ago, in January of 2010, I started my first course in the Master of Arts in Counselling program at Providence Theological Seminary. It was a psychopathology course and apparently I was the only one in the class to read the textbook. At least that’s what my good friend Amanda said. Except at that point she wasn’t my good friend. I actually met Amanda for the first time in that class. I remember so clearly her standing talking to some students at a break and calling me over and asking if I was “Marc’s wife who we’ve been waiting to meet.” The running joke that whole week was that I’d finally be allowed to leave the trailer! Another memory of the week was when the professor was highlighting symptoms of OCD and said in a panicked voice, “Did I lock the front door this morning?!” I replied very casually, “We don’t worry about that. The cold shifted the ground over at the trailer, so the door doesn’t even close anymore.”
And so I began a four year journey to get this masters degree. Something I hadn’t even thought of a year prior nor had ever considered as a career option in my life. But the more I learned, the more I loved what I was learning and saw how well it fit with my interests and abilities. And I did well, academically. And I tried my best to balance life as a part-time student, full-time mom, and wife of a full-time seminary student (and later, pastor) all while living in 800 square feet of trailer with the nearest family 900km away. The kids were 2, 4, and a just-turned 7 year-old Madeline when I started. Olivia was in diapers! And now at the end of this, I will graduate on my 35th birthday and Olivia will turn 7, herself, two days later!
Marc and I will have our 14th anniversary this August. Right now we’re sitting at 13.5 years of marriage. We got married right before our final year of university. I did the math last week. In 13.5 years of marriage, one or both of us have been in school for 7 of those 13.5 years. And you know what we were doing the other 6.5 years? Those were the baby years of course! So we’ve either been stressed and sleep-deprived from taking care of kids or writing papers. I know that the regular 9 to 5 work world is stressful in its own right. But the only time we’ve ever lived that life was for the 9 months I was pregnant with Madeline and we moved twice in those 9 months. (We’ve moved 6 times total in our marriage, and, truly, I don’t feel like we are as gypsy-ish as we sound.)
So I am simultaneously looking forward to having just work (because did I mention that the counselling agency I’m interning at has asked me to work there after I graduate?) and also feel like I may have a slight identity crisis. I feel like I’ve lived life for so long with, at the very least, a constant low-grade (moving to medium to high depending on the week!) stress because of deadlines that I know it will take some time for me to adjust to the lack of external stress and pressure in my daily life. I know this because at the end of every semester (if it actually ended before the next one started), I always took about a week to not feel lost in my days because the deadlines weren’t there. I also know this because today I found out that one of my courses from the masters of philosophy I started after university will count as my final theology elective and so I am now a half a paper away from being done my degree! And when I got the news I cried tears of joy and felt such relief. And then as the day went on, I had these moments of feeling lost and disoriented, but eventually the relief of not having one more course to do would come again and I’d try hard to believe it.
I’ve been waiting for this day for so long. It’s always seemed like something so far away — possibly even something that wouldn’t happen or that I couldn’t do. But here it is. And so tonight we celebrated. Marc and the kids and I drove into Camrose and we celebrated “Dixie-style”. Meaning we ate as cheaply and efficiently as possible. East Side Mario’s has this great “4 can dine for $24.99″ deal with bread, soup or salad, and pizza. Knowing we’d be out for supper, I gave the kids a little bit of pop with their lunch so that we didn’t have to buy drinks at the restaurant. Then we ate lots of bread and soup and salad, so that we got full on that and took some of the pizza home. Marc thought our lack of beverage purchases wasn’t very celebratory, but I thought it was the perfect way to “celebrate Dixie.”
And while it seems like I have been in school forever, I know that these years will fade in memory pretty quickly. So tonight I want to give a few snapshots of my life as MA student ma.
That first semester, we had 30 days to from the end of the modular to complete all of the assignments, and I recall locking myself in the bedroom of the trailer a few times when Marc would get home from school, telling him, “I just need 30 uninterrupted minutes to write this paper.” And that’s how I’d do it. I’d power through with gusto when I could be by myself — which was not often. I worked a lot during naptime. The thing was, the school work was not my main focus being a mom way. I always thought of the degree as my hobby of choice, rather than — say knitting — and so I could jump into pretty easily whereas the full-time students would easily get bogged down with the never-ending schoolwork.
Then there were the week long courses that took me away from home. I had three in Calgary and one that took me back to Manitoba after we’d moved to Alberta. The first time, Olivia had burnt her arm the week before and so Marc was left with the responsibility of taking three kids to the ER for dressing changes every night before driving 1,400km on his own with them at the end of the week to pick me up. During the other courses, the kids were, inevitably, sick. My modular in Manitoba last year included Marc texting me pictures of Olivia’s swollen face and telling of trips to the ER while I was in class. Then there was the time that my license plate fell off on the drive to Calgary. Yes. Those modulars were always very interesting. And I know Marc is an exceptional dad.
I recall finishing up my class on the book of Job (with the president of the seminary, Gus Konkel, who actually translated Job for the New Living translation) while lying in bed with strep throat two days before we moved to Alberta. I did *really* well on that paper. Seriously. Because, I have also learned that 20 drafts of a paper doesn’t necessarily make for a better paper. I have gotten some of my highest marks when I’ve said, “Screw it!” and submitted my paper thinking that it would just “have to do” and then finding out what I did do was a 98%.
You see, the researching and writing papers has always come easily to me. I enjoy it and know I can do it well. The biggest stress came when I actually had to counsel people. I felt so inadequate. Part of the reason was because I had done quite a few courses online and so I felt like my professors maybe didn’t have a good gauge of whether I was capable of counselling. And I also never really knew (still don’t!) how I compared to my classmates and whether I had learned “enough” to be able to really try this counselling stuff for real.
So imagine, if you will, Dixie going in for her first counselling session — a roleplay — with her dear friend Amanda as the fake client. Luckily, Amanda knows how to run the videocamera in the session room, as she was also a counselling student. And, so Dixie goes to hit “record” on the video camera and turns to Amanda and says, “Just one minute.” And out she goes, down the hall to the bathroom, because Dixie has a bit of a “nervous stomach” which needed to be relieved before she could press record. But she did come back and press record and she did her first session ever and didn’t get one negative comment, and the prof even commented that Dixie and her nervous stomach didn’t seem at all nervous on the tape.
And after that I knew I could do it! Of course! I mean, I did it once, so, of course, I could do it again! I would never have to run to the bathroom before a session again. I certainly wouldn’t have to go before pressing record on the second session…
Thankfully, that was a Practicum I only condition. And I have now made it through 120+ real counselling sessions without having to go to the bathroom once! I’m still not sure if I’m doing this counselling stuff up to snuff but I am listening to the words of my supervisor and am “being Dixie” more and more in session. And that is, for the most part, good. And I’m learning so much and loving the work the more I do it. I will always love the research and the security of having my nose in a book and the possibility of formulating a sentence in ten different ways before it comes out in a satisfactory way. But I am also finding joy that I never thought I would in the interactions of the counselling room, even if there is less security and more risk involved in participating in the story of another in-the-moment.
So, those are my seminary memories. My semories. I remember the good and the bad. The highs and the lows. And I think, as I look back, I don’t regret too much. I’m certainly more aware of my own struggles and faults now than I was four years ago. But I also have a lot more compassion for myself now too.
And tonight we raised our glasses of water to having my masters being done just a few months sooner than we thought and the palpable sense of relief that comes with that. And we raised a glass to our dear friend Jeff in the registrar’s office who emailed the good news today. And we raised a glass to making it through these months and years of stress and change and still loving and caring for each other in the middle of it all — and probably loving each other better because of it.
So, here’s to four years and 60 credit hours and *cough cough* thousand dollars done… well, after I finish that last half a paper.