I embarked on the terrifying journey of applying to grad school 5 years after I left undergrad. My constant thought was, “Can I do this?” Not only was the idea of applying to grad school daunting, but I had completely switched career paths.
I grew up watching old musicals with my mother and my grandfather. My grandfather used to play Judy Garland on our drives to his house in Florida, and it was love at first sound. He used to say that he went to high school with her, which I passionately believed until later in life when, I found out he never went past the eighth grade. I bragged about this to my fellow second and third grade friends who had no idea who she was. I was the only ten-year-old I knew who could sing “Zing! Went the Strings of My Heart!” from memory, or really who sang it at all.
With my mom, it was Funny Girl, Hello Dolly, and Oklahoma! At 13, I was pretending to be Fanny Brice in my bedroom. Barbra Streisand was my idol, and I knew I was born to perform. And not just perform, but to perform on Broadway. I was going to be a star. I wanted to sing “I’m Just a Girl Who Can’t Say No” from Oklahoma in my 6th grade talent show. They told my mother I needed to choose a different song because it was inappropriate. Seriously? It’s Rodgers and Hammerstein. For my 14th birthday, my mother took me to NYC to see Glen Close in Sunset Boulevard. It was Game Over. The final nail in the destiny coffin. Broadway star I would be. Norma Desmond is still one of my dream roles. Twenty-five years later, I’m finally almost old enough to play her… almost.
Life had different plans. I got married at the ripe old age of 26 (already way late in the acting game) and moved to Japan for a year to save up and teach English. Towards the end of that year, the CEO of the English school I worked for stole all the company’s money. While I got a heartfelt apology from the company, I did not get paid for my last two months of work. Since the company was supposed to be paying for my apartment, I was now being evicted because they also, hadn’t paid my rent for two months. I was forced to purchase last-minute airfare to the states. Between not being paid, having to dip into savings to pay my bills back in America, purchasing a costly flight ticket, and needing a place to rent, which required a down payment, almost $10,000 in savings were gone. So, instead of landing in New York ready to begin my struggling actor attempt, I arrived in D.C. as a reading instructor in D.C. public schools. From there, I transitioned to an assistant preschool teacher.
During my first two years in that position, I decided to commit to education as a career. I’d always enjoyed being around children and had worked with them in a multitude of settings, church, girl scouts, babysitting, to name a few. I seemed to be good at it, and I enjoyed it. The kids made me laugh and smile, it was a good feeling. The more I learned about child development, the more I became hooked. Who knew so much learning and development occurred between birth and age 5? Well, I mean the experts knew, but I didn’t, and I found it fascinating. The question I posed to myself was, “So, now what?” I hadn’t given up my dream of acting yet, D.C. has a vibrant theater community, and I was still performing. Since I needed to maintain a full-time job due to having lost all my savings, I didn’t have the time to pursue acting on a professional level right now. I had to make one of the most difficult choices I have ever made, and that was not to no longer pursue acting as a career. After a few months of indecision, I applied to grad school.
When you’ve grown up knowing you were only going to do one thing and life throws a curve-ball straight to your head and makes you see stars, you have to come to and make a decision. Once I made the choice and became accepted to school, the idea was no longer scary or painful. Two months into school, I became pregnant. It wasn’t wholly unplanned; since I was no longer going to auditions why not peruse my other dream, becoming a mom. I just didn’t think it would happen that fast. As my due date approached, I worked ahead and informed my professors. The day my son was born, about a week and a half before the semester ended, I submitted my final project hooked up to IV’s and in the delivery room. I am nothing, if not dedicated, to my work. I had a few weeks of new mom bliss (Ha! Mesh maternity underwear, ice packs for my vagina, and nipples so cracked and sore from nursing I had to get $80 prescription-strength cream) and then it was time to go back to school. Fortunately, I was earning my degree online from a brick and mortar university; that’s campus, to this day, I have never stepped foot on. I fit assignments in between nursing and naps and diaper changes. When it came time to begin work on my thesis, I would leave the house. I was back at work by this point and could often be found on my lunch break at the Starbucks on N.W. D Street and Indiana Ave in D.C. doing research. In the evenings and on the weekends, if my husband of the time was home (he was taking pre-med classes), I would head to our local Starbucks, sometimes for hours at a time. On my walk over there, my anxiety would kick in, wondering if someone would be at one of two favorite tables. If someone was at my table, yes, my table, I couldn’t concentrate or get any real work done.
I would sit where I could see the coveted spot and watch like a furtive hawk so I could sweep and claim the table once vacated. These days that anxiety is channeled towards my weekly trip out of the house to the grocery store. I go early every Friday morning, re-stock day, and panic prior to my arrival. What if they don’t have toilet paper again? What if there are out of the flavor of Hot Pockets my son obsesses over? Can there please be my favorite brand of seltzer water?? And don’t even get me started over the lack of frozen French toast sticks…. It’s not fun.
I pushed on through anxiety, countless hours of research and writing, and re-writing, and finally, two years after I started, I graduated with a 4.0. Going back to school was one of the greatest things I have done for myself. I still perform regularly, although corona-virus has put that temporarily on hold, but now, I do it solely for me. I may not have made it to Broadway, and honestly, I still hold out hope, but I have become a pretty big deal in my own way, and for that, I couldn’t be prouder of myself.
From top to bottom: Your’e a Good Man Charlie Brown 2019, Damn Yankees 2018, How the Grinch Stole Christmas 2017.