Sunday, August 18, 2013

The Masters Degree, from my perspective

Five years ago I met a boy who had just started his masters degree.

He was also working part time at a start-up company, living in a three-to-a-room bedroom in an apartment complex, and contemplating if he would be single for the rest of his life (he was 26).

No one in his family had ever gotten a masters degree. He was in uncharted territory. It took all that he had. He wondered if he had made the wrong choice, if he should drop out.

About 9 months later, I married this man. We were both in school and working, it worked out great. Then I got pregnant and was terribly sick. I lived for the days when he had class, when I knew I would see him at 3pm instead of 6. He would come home to a sink full of dishes and his wife sick in bed, trying to sleep off the nausea. I was less than available, and he had to play a lot of roles. It was a dark time in our memories.

Ben started working full time, which I didn't realize would make him a "non-traditional" master's student. Most thesis students get paid to research their thesis (albeit a student's salary, of course). Cheyenne was born. Ben finished his very last class. Now he can focus on his thesis, we thought. We told ourselves he could write and finish his thesis in four months, April 2011. Make that six, August.

We bought a duplex. Ben became an official handyman. I was pregnant again, this time with Delaney.

How about this April? I could really use some help when the baby was born. At this point any spare time we had was dedicated to the thesis. Every Saturday, weeknight, weekend. Let's go to the park as a family! No, Ben should spend time on his thesis. Let's catch a movie tonight. No I really should be working on my thesis. How about a relaxing evening with nothing planned? I shouldn't. Even if we did do these things occasionally, the thesis was always hanging over our heads. Anytime I asked him for help, needed a break, or had a job for him to do, I knew I was only prolonging this misery of the thesis. We were always contemplating how much of life we should live, and how much we should give up until this was over.

Delaney came, the thesis did not. Writing was excruciating for Ben. I married an engineer, not a writer, and he had to fight for every sentence.

By now we were pushing for April 2013. We pushed, but we didn't make it. I cried. I knew now that the thesis would never be over. I was pregnant again.

There were a lot of dark, dark days. Ben would come home at 6 and only stay long enough to eat dinner. Saturdays were just like any other day of the week. There was no weekend. I had a hard time remembering what day it was.

Sometimes Ben would come into bed at night and I would cry. "I am alone," I would tell him. "I am alone. It's just me." I would sob into his back. His heaving breathing would tell me that his exhaustion had already put him to sleep.

It wasn't all bad of course. Children can infuse joy into any dark moment. Sundays were a healing balm for us. I got better at coping. And we have always been dreamers.

A ray of hope came in May. We might just finish this thing! I was cautiously optimistic. Dates were scheduled. The defense was set. But would it? My heart was twisted in a permanent knot until the middle of June.

Alas, it did all end on June 17, 2013. Ben defended his thesis and we were officially done. Nearly four years to the day that we got married. Two and half kids later.

And now in August he donned his cap and gown and walked across the stage. The rough parts of those four years seem like a dream, really. Even now I have a hard time recalling the raw emotions and the inner turmoil I felt during many different points of it.

And Ben, what a real man he is. He contemplated quitting as a single person, but once he had a family he saw only one plan of action. He is committed. Ben is not a student, in the traditional sense. Although he loves learning, reading is not his pastime and writing is not his forte. If you would have told me my husband was going to write a thesis over 100 pages long, I would have laughed at you. But he has persevered. He gave up countless hours of down time, "me" time, and "stree free" time only to pick up where I was lacking and then continue to work on his thesis. He IS love. Commitment, perseverance,  love, these are the words that are brought to mind when I think of our thesis experience.

Oh yeah, and finished.


  1. holy hannah!!!! i had no idea how huge of a mountain this thesis was, way to go BEN!!!!!!

  2. Wow! You described much of my experiences when Jer was in med school and intern year last year. The long hours, the working on weekends, the feeling of the never ending work load and not enough me/us time for Jer. I'm sorry you guys went through that too. It was tough. But we both survived! Yeah for Ben and you! A HUGE congrats! I'm so happy for you guys!

  3. So so happy for you both. What a great accomplishment! I still literally kick Joseph for not doing it too! I totally understand what you had to go through Ashley because that is my life. The only difference is that unlike mine, your sacrifice and suffering had an end and was for a greater good. We both couldn't be more excited for the great future you have before you.