Should I Go Back to School?
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“Should I Go Back to School?” Ensign, Aug. 1989, 72

Should I Go Back to School?

My husband was ill, and I was unprepared to support our family.

I was sitting in Relief Society watching the teacher, but my mind was far away on other matters. Wayne, my husband, had been sick for the past few years with an undiagnosed illness that threatened his dental career and our family’s livelihood.

My attention returned to the lesson as the teacher told about a girl who had discussed with her painting instructor the possibility of attending art school. Responding to her indecision, he had said, “The next five years will go by anyway.”

Suddenly the budding artist had understood. Whether she went to art school or not, five years would pass by, and she would look back and say, “I went to art school” or “I didn’t go.” If she chose not to go, she would be no better a painter than she had been before.

There was my encouragement and my answer. I felt it strongly. I decided to go back to school—by taking a home-study course. However, I had the challenges of being a mother of nine. Some days I wondered what I had done except run—to the children’s schools, to their activities, and to church meetings.

I decided to become a dental assistant since I could work in my husband’s office for the required on-the-job training, and he could help me with my studies. Also, my two years of classwork could be done at home. Fortunately, all of our children were in school, so I could spend my days studying and be with them when they came home.

When the course came, I was overwhelmed! The first year’s work, consisting of sixty units and sixteen tests, arrived all at once, and thick manila envelopes seemed to be everywhere. I shuddered at the commitment I had made and wondered whether I could really do it.

Learning how to be a student at the age of forty-seven was an incredibly complicated task. I despaired at the daily transition from mother and homemaker to student and then back again, but I was determined to make this work. I knew if there was going to be a change in my life, it needed to occur now; my desire and the opportunity might not be there later.

With some practice, I was able to assume my various roles. Many times, however, when I sat down to study, I fell asleep. My brain felt as though it hadn’t been used for years and was full of cobwebs. But Wayne gave me a beautiful blessing to help me cope, and soon I was on my way.

The children were excited about my new role as a student, and they encouraged me at every turn. I can hardly remember a night when they didn’t ask Heavenly Father to “bless Mom that she will do her best, and not be nervous, and pass.” And each time I passed a test, they cheered!

My two years in school were a growing experience for all of us. We rearranged our schedule of household chores so that I could study during the day. Each morning before the children left for school, they worked together to tidy up the house. Then, around dinnertime, they would help out again for about half an hour. The job list was posted, and the first one there got to choose his or her preferred task. We did mountains of work that way!

Another project we shared was writing to two missionary sons and two children who were away at school. My love and appreciation for my family grew as the children wrote letters of encouragement to each other. The spirit of love and cooperation shone as they studied together in the evenings.

During my last term of study, my grades arrived in the mail on December 31. I was too apprehensive to open the letter, so Wayne did. Smiling, he said that he’d tell me what the grades were at midnight so we could welcome in a glorious new year. But, toward evening, he said he couldn’t wait any longer—my high marks were too exciting to keep secret!

I am now a certified dental assistant and have the necessary skills to support our family in case Wayne’s health worsens. In the meantime, I assist him occasionally when he has an emergency or when someone in the office wants a day off.

Because of my “back-to-school” experience, I can understand the overwhelming responsibilities of a mother who has to work and also take care of a home and children. I also appreciate how hard my university-student children need to study in order to achieve good grades. With several family members in dentistry—Wayne, a son who is a dentist, a daughter who is a dental assistant, and myself—we enjoy “talking shop” when we’re together. I have also realized that, because of my newly acquired knowledge and skills, I have gained confidence in myself and a sense of accomplishment.

Though I wish at times that I had started sooner in my studies, I realize that there is a time and a season for everything. I have also learned that if we want Heavenly Father to guide our footsteps, we must first be willing to move our feet.

  • Karen Olsen is Young Women president in the Cardston Second Ward, Cardston Alberta Canada West Stake.

Illustrated by Nancy Crookston