Category Archives: College

My Other Mother

My Other Mother

I recently had an experience where I caught a glimpse of my mother from an outsider’s perspective. It happens sometimes and it reminds me that my mother is a multi-dimensional person. Just like the rest of us…she isn’t all bad or all good, she’s a complicated mix. I have written quite a bit about the bad stuff – the drunk, raging, dysfunctional mother and now I want to share another side.

A few days ago, I had lunch with my “other mother” at a student dinning hall at the University of Pennsylvania. When she 40 she decided that she wanted to go to college and prove to everyone that she wasn’t stupid. She started local at a community college where she aced her way through two years and graduated with induction into Phi Theta Kappa.

Her grades and her personal narrative were so compelling that she got a scholarship to the University of Pennsylvania. Her initial thought was that she would complete her B.A. with a law degree as the ultimate goal and somewhere she switched to history and psychology. She did graduate from University of Pennsylvania and attended one year of graduate school at Bryn Mawr College.

We found ourselves in Philadelphia for one of her doctor appointments. I insisted on driving her because she is not a great driver and I thought public transportation would overwhelm her. So we were walking from the medical facility toward campus and she mentioned that she wished she could give “them” more money. I turned toward her and said “what” rather forcibly……WTF was strongly implied. In my mind the coffers of the ivies is always so damn full and my mother is broke. She lives in a house I bought but she still has utility bills. She is on Medicaid and has no discretionary income, zero. Then she went on to say how she learned so much about women and other cultures around the world during her education. How her time there was a bit Dickens….”It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”. Clearly she just wanted to pay it forward to another woman that she will never meet and my tone softened.

I admit it, I am a hard ass around my mother. Impatient, suspicious, not trusting on any level, my armor is always up around her and I can be an obstinate jerk. I know this and I willed myself to be patient and oblige her wish for lunch on campus despite the growing list of sh*t I had to do that day. After all, I don’t know if she will get another chance to stroll down this particular neighborhood of memory lane and I didn’t want to begrudge her that request.

I could feel the pride of her accomplishment that hour. She went on about how this changed and that was the same. She wanted to eat in the hall of flags and peeked in on an event taking place in that room. That lunch she was reflecting on happy times and people that sadly have passed that helped her with that part of her journey.

During lunch I noticed that she was wearing her university ring. I got that ring for her as a graduation gift. I was in my early twenties, going to college and working two jobs to support myself. The money I used to pay for that ring was based on serious sweat equity and sacrifice. She told me that day it was the nicest gift anyone had every given her. I guess we both had something to be proud of that day.


Do You Value Free?

Do You Value Free?

Do you value something if it’s free? I was listening to the radio and the DJ was discussing college students protesting for free college tuition and she asked the question “do you value free?” It’s been stuck in my head ever since. Then I thought of what is free – air, water (not really free anymore unless it rains). Then I thought of air and water again and collectively, as the human race, we haven’t valued them much. I realize I am painting with a broad brush but look how we have f*cked up the air and water. Do we value free? I’m not so sure.

Then I reflected on my education….graduate cum laude from the school of hard knocks. I did actually graduate from college with a B.A. but I didn’t take the usual path. I grew up in a pretty messed up family and I missed a year of high school when I was a sophomore. I went back to a different school and finished my sophomore year. I got about half way through my junior year when I decided to pull the plug on high school. It just didn’t work for me and I felt like I was wasting my time….so I quit.

I took the GED as soon as I could and then registered for community college. I had to take a math class over the summer but that was it. I started full time in the fall and my grades were good, honor roll good. I left high school a year and a half early and had no problem jumping into full time community college. What does that say for a mid 80’s high school education in central New Jersey? I’d like to say that I am of superior intelligence but…eh, well, nope, not so much.

The big difference was that I had to pay for college so I was serious about it. Unlike high school where it didn’t really matter because this girl was not vying for the ivies or even a state college. You see we were broke and I wasn’t a star athlete or an academic genius so I knew I had to pay my way. I did get a few Pell Grants to get me started but that didn’t cover everything. So I worked to cover the rest including living expenses. I had been paying my share of rent, food and clothes since I was 15 so it wasn’t a new concept.

It probably took me 4 years to get my Associates Degree. Work came before school because it needed to in order to survive. After I graduated I took a couple years to just focus on work. I had always been a good worker wherever I was and I was getting consistent promotions at work. Eventually though I saw a dead end without a baccalaureate so I started to chip away at one. The companies I worked for offered some tuition reimbursement which helped. The rest I paid for one class at a time.

Was it easy, no I busted my ass. Was it worth it, definitely. I eventually finished my B.A. and got an even better job. Here’s the best part, no student loans. When I was done my education didn’t haunt me like some heinous ex reminding me of the good times in college. No I was free to go on with my life, debt free.

Do I think college is over priced and out of reach for too many students? Yes, I do. Do I think college should be free? No I don’t, because it won’t be valued.