I never made it through high school. Situations beyond my control shaped my behavior and outlook toward life, left me feeling undeserving. Who was I to think I could go back to school?
I existed, living in a world where I always felt a little less than what I wanted to be. Conversations around me floated like clouds just above my reach – unless I talked to my four children.
Barney, Baby Bop, and funny dancing bananas – wearing very silly pajamas – sang in my head. I was sure my brilliant husband had not married his equal. Of course, having four children surrounding you daily can make even the most intelligent person babble incoherently – with the only ones understanding the kids. My “Irish Twins” (10 months apart), were then two and three – my other two – five and ten. My husband, as wonderful as he is, has been a Law Enforcement Officer for 15 years. For those of you who do not know, that means I am a single parent. Third shift, sleep all day, gone crazy hours I took on the role of Mommy, Daddy, friend, nurse, teacher, therapist( for my speech impaired son), cook, cleaning lady, chauffeur, and even personal assistant for the ones old enough for play dates. When did I even have time to think of educating myself? I didn’t consciously. Subconsciously, however, the idea of a formal education continued to prowl, waiting for the perfect opportunity to pounce and let me know it was serious. Like a cat that’s finally ready to leap, it sprang silently, with deadly precision. I don’t think I had a chance.
I took my little sister to a small New England College to gather some paper work, and came home a student. I did not think about it, did not give myself a chance to give up before I started. I simply became a student. I glanced around the quaint campus, watching with envy as the other women walked, heads held high, carrying schoolbooks. I wanted that to be me.
I came home, approached my husband, and flashed my new school photo ID, “Look Honey! I’m a student!” Not that it mattered. I did it alone anyway.
School began. I couldn’t write. I had never written a research paper. I had never taken Algebra. I had never taken a history course. My children initially screamed for my attention and I thought, What kind of mother am I? I am depriving them of my attentions.’ Then it hit me. I would be depriving them of a lot more if I did not set an example that education is important and that you can accomplish your dreams if you want it bad enough. I began to incorporate the children into my school work, making them feel as if they were a part of my success ( which I believe they were and continue to be). I had the two younger children make me funny hats, any way they wanted big, silly, with feathers and when Mommy studied, I put on my “study hat.” The kids, being proud that they had contributed, were serious when they placed the hat on my head. The older children began to ask how they could help. They made sandwiches’ on those nights before a crazy test and would play with their younger siblings. We began to see who would get the better grades on tests usually them but I loved to see how they seemed to put more effort in by being involved.
Now understand that it was definitely not always rosy. The kids would be cranky, I would cry and want to quit, but deep down I knew I couldn’t. That would only teach my children to be quitters and this journey was as much for them as it was for me.
I wrote one word at a time, followed my instructors’ guidance like the gospel, learned that imaginary numbers are not important, and that I love history. In 2002, I walked for my Associates degree. I was continuing with my education; however, I wanted to feel the sense of accomplishment that accepting that degree availed me. In addition, I needed my children to see that their sacrifices – for the children do sacrifice as well meant something special. I had a degree!
It snowed the day I donned my first cap and gown. Funny thing, it was in May. I walked up to my family, degree in hand. My oldest daughter, who had two broken arms from falling off her bike, hugged me tight. My two youngest, sniffling from a recent cold, laughed as they chased each other around my legs, and my eldest son, the severe pre-teen, said, “Cool, Mom. Can I see it?”
As I handed the diploma to my son, my mother whispered, “I told you hell would freeze over when you graduated.” The proud look on her face belied any words she could have spoken and we both started to laugh.
In 2004, I walked again. The struggles with time, money and children were all worth that moment. Arguments, tears, and the frustration I had felt could not have been too bad. I continued.
It is now 2007. I have my Masters in Communication and I am about to begin a doctoral program. I hold my head high and feel confident when I participate in any conversation. I love that I can admit, without feelings of insecurity, that I do not know something. I learned, as Aristotle said, “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it,” and “Courage is the first of human qualities because it is the quality which guarantees the others.” More importantly, these are lessons my children learned as well.
My educational journey has taken me full circle. I now teach at the very same college where I began to explore the wonders of learning. I assisted in the creation of a pilot program that helps adult women adjust to college life – the complexities of balancing work, children, husbands – and I show them, by example, that it can be done. I see myself in every adult woman that walks through that door and find that I have enough room in my heart for them all.
And they call me Professor. Me!
I sit alone sometimes and think back to that frightened; self-doubting person I used to be and I am so grateful I became a student and developed a love of learning in the process.
Remember, the only one stopping YOU is YOU. And we both know you can do it!