Me and the GRE, or The Many Stages of Womanhood

I’ve been spending every waking hour (and some non-waking ones) studying for the GRE test I’m scheduled to take on August 31st. The other night I woke myself from a dream because I was so frustrated by what I was dreaming about: how to determine the dimensions of a triangle inscribed inside a circle. I got up and went downstairs and found myself studying more math, even though it was the middle of the night. I study when I get up in the morning, when I get home from work, while my husband is watching television in the evenings. And, it seems, I can’t even get away from it when I sleep.

For those who aren’t familiar with the GRE, otherwise known as the Graduate Record Examination, it’s the test many graduate school programs require so they can get an idea of your “critical thinking skills.” Apparently, my critical thinking skills are crap. I tested in the 40th percentile in math (or quantitative reasoning) when I took a practice test a couple of months ago and I managed to bring it up to 55% on a second one, but that’s probably not good enough. If I want to get a fellowship—which I desperately do—I need to score a lot higher.

I’m not doing nearly as badly with the verbal portion of the test, but math is, and always has been, the bane of my existence.  I’m even taking a preparation course with a real live teacher and I’m still having trouble with it. It isn’t just that I haven’t had math as a subject for forty years; it’s mainly that I just don’t think like a mathematician. It’s like learning another language, and God knows I have enough trouble with that.

So why am I even taking the GRE? This winter I’m applying to a Master’s program in social work which means if I get accepted I won’t start it until the fall of 2012. By the time I finish the program I’ll be 62, the age when most people are thinking of retirement.

What makes it even possible to think of starting a new career when I’m old enough to retire is the fact that women today have time for more than one focus in their lives. No matter which order we do it in we have time to raise children and have a career (or two). We can work before having kids, after they’re grown and while we’re still raising them. Women today have choices that were unheard of when their life expectancy was much shorter. At the turn of the 19th century, women were lucky to live long enough to raise their children. Now we have even have the time to have more than one family!

The fact that women are living longer has a lot to do with the rise of the feminist movement in the late 1960s. Women were finding that they had time and talents to spare. Why limit yourself to marriage and motherhood when chances are you’re going to live to the age of 85? Although you never stop being a mother, your children don’t need you quite as much when they’re in their thirties. So what else are you going to do with your life?

I’m not saying that being a wife and a mother isn’t a career or that it isn’t satisfying enough to last you a whole lifetime. What I am saying is that you have plenty of time to be more than a wife and/or mother. It doesn’t have to be paid employment; God knows there’s a tremendous need for people willing to do volunteer work.

Unlike most young women today, I dove right into marriage and motherhood before finishing college and starting a career.My daughters, who are all over 30, are either not married, or didn’t marry until they were at least 30. My oldest daughter is expecting her second child at the age of 38 and my youngest (age 31) is expecting her first. I married at 20 and had four kids by the time I was 28. But on the other hand, all my children were grown and out of the house by the time I was 48. My daughters will be raising kids far longer than I was (although I don’t think you ever stop raising them), but even they will have time after child-raising to do something else with their lives.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some more studying to do.