Recently, I was reviewing my English 101 textbook when I came across an essay titled “On Keeping a Journal” By Roy Hoffman. According to the headnote, Hoffman wrote this piece for Newsweek on Campus. As I read his essay, I was inspired to write my own; from the perspective of a middle-aged woman attending college for the first time, and about how I feel intimidated and fearful. I feel this way because in two of my classes, my classmates were children–to my eyes–on average, they are only four to six years older than my daughter is.
It makes me feel old; at a time when they were entering kindergarten or first grade, I was already a mother. When my daughter was born, I was nineteen–only a year or two younger than some of them are now.
It presented a gulf, in my mind, that cannot be crossed. I have nothing in common with them, except that we happen to be in college, in the same class at the same time. Ironically, when I was their age, I felt the same way that I do now.
When I was nineteen, whenever I was in a group of people my own age, I thought:
‘I don’t belong here; I have nothing in common with them.’
I thought this way, because I was raising a daughter, working, paying bills, and trying to survive. I worked, but the jobs I was qualified for—Burger King and Wal-Mart—are not the types of jobs that dreams are built on. Nevertheless, this was my life; I worked to pay the bills. The hours I was given were always just under full time; but I knew better than to complain.
My paycheck paid the rent, put food on the table, and paid the babysitter. A car was an impossible dream. My transportation was a bicycle, which I bought from the same Wal-Mart where I worked.
My paycheck was not always enough to put food on the table, so I used food stamps, sometimes. I hated that, but sometimes you have to do what you hate, in order to survive. Sometimes my paycheck was not enough to pay the babysitter. In those times, my daughter’s father was the babysitter.
Unless he refused, and many times he did. Then, I was stuck.
No babysitter meant I could not go to work. Not going to work meant I would no longer have a job. Not having a job meant I could not pay the rent. Then we would be homeless. On and on it went. This scenario played out many times, until my daughter became a teenager; she decided she would rather live with her dad, and that was that.
I had devoted my whole life to her, and now I was left wondering “Now what?”
I was thirty-two years old by then—and married—but that is another story. My question of now what was answered by Finger Lakes Community College. As I write this, I am thinking, maybe I do belong in this group of young people, because I have already been where they are going. Perhaps I can be another mentor to them–an equal–different from their professors. I did not see it that way before. In trying to get through college, I developed tunnel vision. That happens so often in life. So now, I am wondering: ‘How can I use what I have learned from life to help them?’ I do not yet know the answer to that question.
Additional reading, if you are interested: