All the feels in the New Year

Friday, January 12, 2018

The first part of January was over in the blink of an eye. Kiddo had a gloriously long Christmas break, and Mario and I each took a week off of work so we could focus on family time. I remember sitting in the living room on January 1st reflecting on how perfect this break seemed; the first in a long time to really stand out. I felt so connected to our family. Before I knew it the decorations were being stowed and life resumed its normal rhythm. Kiddo went back to school, I went back to work, and Husband left this week for an extended business trip.

At one point during the drive home from Montana my belly exploded with butterflies thinking about the year ahead. Mario just accepted a promotion at work and is chartering a new(ish) course in his career; Kiddo graduates from high school in about 5 months; and the culmination of nearly a decade's worth of work means my life's goal will be realized starting this summer.

For all the anxiety and frustration that has bogged down periods of my life, I look back and see how fortunate I've been. This life and my relationships have afforded me some amazing opportunities: the ability to stay home with my son (and also work, when the time was right); to travel; to attend college (and now grad school); to explore my many creative interests; and to establish rewarding, lifelong friendships throughout the country. I didn't often see it for what it was when I was in the thick of it, and sometimes I find that regrettable. Life could have turned out so differently, and not necessarily for the better, a realization that has instilled a deep appreciation for the less sunshine-y periods in my life. Because they were important, too.

Over the years my memories of the hard times have softened—the sharp edges becoming rounded—and what is left is profound gratitude. Gratitude for a husband who becomes more beautiful with time, both inside and out. True story: the other day I was meeting him for lunch in downtown Portland. I looked up as I entered a crosswalk and met eyes with a man whose attractiveness nearly stopped me in my tracks. A half second later my brain processed that it was my very own husband. It was an impactful moment and I've mentally relived it numerous times since that day. Because, you know, daily life and work and dish duty sometimes get in the way and you forget just how enamored you are with each other. The fact is, my fondness for that man has grown exponentially since the day we said I Do and I don't take for granted the fact that not everyone is so fortunate in their relationships. I have total equality, love and support from Mario and I strive everyday to make him feel just as loved. (Though my intensity makes me considerably less easy to love, I imagine.)

Last weekend we met up with some friends for an afternoon. We played pool (flashback to my friend's basement rec room in high school!), ate, and chatted. There was so much laughter. On the drive home my heart ached with the thought of packing up and leaving the life we've made here. We are uprooting ourselves again for all the right reasons—for the sake of an amazing future—but the heartache is real. I love the PNW, Portland, and all the amazing people we have in our lives because we chose this place to call home. Feeling equal parts excited and heartbroken is a strange place to live emotionally, but I'm trying to let all the feelings have their moment of recognition as they pop up.

Work has been tough lately. The end of the year is the busiest for the surgical services department, with people scheduling procedures before their deductible resets in the New Year. January has been busy, too, with flu season raging and traumas and unscheduled procedures. Last week I stayed several hours past my shift to assist with a deluge of emergency cases, finally crawling into bed at 2a feeling mentally and physically depleted. Yet I feel this intense responsibility to work more. To pick up all the extra shifts, to change my direct deposit to savings, and to throw money at our account for my remaining months in the workforce before school starts. This pressure is solely self-imposed, but powerful nonetheless.

In a matter of 6 short months I want to pay off every cent of debt we carry and have a savings account that is bursting at the seams. Come July I want to set all of our bills to autopay and not think about them once while I'm in school. And yet, that's completely unrealistic. An unfair expectation that only serves to create more stress and strife. The fact is we are in the best place we've ever been financially, making it the perfect time to leave the workforce for a few years. But the subject of money is complicated and emotionally charged and I am prone to overextending myself for the sake of possibly stowing away a few extra dollars. I imagine a lot of it originates out of guilt: I'll be taking on significant debt in the form of student loans and relocating our family for the sake of my dreams. (Mario doesn't feel this way at all, and reassures me all the time. Though guilt is guilt is guilt.) That internal drive that has led to my successes in life has a dark side: it often provokes me into putting unnecessary pressure on myself to make everything just right. It's an overarching lesson in self compassion I work toward perennially. Perfectionism aside, this coming endeavor is a big one; an undertaking that will require a great deal of time, money, and sacrifice. I am working to mentally prepare for all it entails, as much as one can having not yet personally experienced its intensity. In the meantime I need to cut  myself some slack and prepare in a realistic way, which means accepting imperfection for the sake of sanity. As much as I'd love to enter school with zero life interruptions and every possible scenario and snafu accounted for, it's simply not how life works.

Earlier this week I received an email from my program. It has our class roster, complete with the photos taken during our interview session, and several essay assignments. We are roughly 7 months out from our start date and already there are books to read, documentaries to watch, and a 17-week medical terminology course to complete. Upon reading the email it all became very real. Soon we will be shopping for new technology (switch to a Mac?!), tools of the trade, and a white coat (with my very own name on it!). There will be financial aid packages to negotiate and a house to pack up. Where will we live? (Apartment/condo vs house?) What plans will Kiddo make post-graduation? (Work, college or both?) What will life look like for us this fall? What do I do with my houseplants? When do I give my notice at work? Butterflies + anxiety. Butterflies + anxiety. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Compounding matters is a choice I made about a month ago: I accepted an interview at another program. There were two pipe dream schools, you see. A year ago when I was compiling my list of potential programs in preparation for the upcoming application cycle, I had a definitive Top 2. I thought I'd likely be invited to interview at one of them, and I was right. I have a seat with my name on it and have been absolutely over the moon since finding out. Mid-December I received an invitation to interview at my other top choice program. In the end I decided to go for it. Next week I will once again hop on a plane, suit in hand, to go through the arduous interview process just one more time.

Here's the thing: this second program costs $30,000 less overall and is in a state with no income tax, which combined would save us tens of thousands of dollars over the course of our time there. If I am accepted (the big IF), and my gut tells me there is a clear winner, money will not factor into my choice. However, if I'm presented with equally excellent options I'll likely be changing programs. Which leaves me feeling unsteady and uncertain. And more than a little guilty for even considering somewhere else in light of the amazing opportunity already awarded to me. (Again with the guilt!) In the end this is the absolute right decision and what is meant to happen will come to be. My life goals are too important to not thoroughly vet every amazing opportunity that comes my way. In addition to being nervous, I'm also incredibly proud of myself and humbled by my fortune. I've worked really hard and it feels amazing to have these highly competitive programs recognize my efforts.

At the end of the day these are First World problems, at best. As word gets out at work that I was accepted to PA school, I have been inundated with questions and comments by my coworkers. The physicians tell me how hard is it to get into a program (agreed) and others lament about how much they want the same opportunity. ("Yes, grades matter." "Yes, you have to have a degree first." "Yes, it's very competitive." and so on.) I am one of the fortunate ones who had the drive and ability to jump over the many hurdles this process has presented. (And the stamina to keep pursuing The Dream, always.) The fact that I have a rock solid support system in place allowing me to take on this venture hasn't escaped me for a second. Some have it easier, but there are many, many more who've had it harder.

And so I'm feeling all the feels and thinking all the thoughts. I'm putting the impending assignments on hold until the final decision has been made. Instead I'm actively trying to focus on the right now. Parenting a teenager, holding down a job, learning to throw pottery, and trying not to look too far ahead. There will be a time and a place for that.

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