I’ve talked about the fact that I have always felt like a natural learner. That’s not to say, however, that I am a natural student. Neither of my parents had the opportunity to attend college, however it was extremely important to them that their children had the opportunity for higher education. My sister followed a traditional path, and headed straight for college the fall after her graduation. My parents certainly assumed that I would do the same. The money was there, but my heart was not. I had just finished school…I wanted to backpack around Europe. See the World. That was my plan for my college fund.
It didn’t happen. My parents sent me of to a State University as an undeclared major and hoped for the best. I lasted all of one semester. I missed home so much I was physically sick, and grudgingly, they agreed I could come home. I took a job as a waitress and was married with a baby within the year. I worked hard. I learned lessons about life. I wished that I had made different choices, but made the best of the choices I had made.
Years later, I longed for the days when I could have just gotten my degree, on my parents’ dime, and followed the easier path. I was disappointed for my lost opportunity. But higher education had changed so much in twenty years, I thought to myself “What if I did go back now?”. I bounced the idea around for a long time. I knew I had been a good student, but I had been out of the classroom for twenty years.
When I was downsized from my job, I knew I couldn’t wait any longer.Within a week I started classes, and have enjoyed much success. My kids were teenagers, and I have so enjoyed taking this journey with them. And when my son chose a less traditional path for himself, I knew in my heart that he knew what was best. Though my parents had been gravely disappointed in my choice at the time, I see the pride in my father’s face as he walks this journey with me today. My only regret is that I waited so long.
So for those of you out there who wonder if you could go back and finish your degree, or perhaps start one you never had the chance to begin, the answer is yes. Don’t wait, never stop learning, and never doubt yourself.
Images retrieved at http://www.explore.org
Some of us are just born to be lifelong learners. Others will struggle to acquire knowledge, regardless of the best intentions. I consider myself one of the former; I’ve never had trouble learning something if I put my mind to it, and sometimes even without putting my mind to it. My oldest child, however, has always been one of the latter. Don’t get me wrong, he is an incredibly smart kid, and continues to prove it to me (and more importantly, to himself) every day. But he struggled in school, no matter how hard he tried. As he neared his eighteenth birthday, I feared that his frustration would overcome him and I would never see my firstborn walk across a stage and get his diploma.
On his eighteenth birthday, he confirmed my fear. He was leaving school, and I couldn’t stop him. The saddest part was that the school counselor agreed it was for the best. He was not thriving in the environment he was in, despite his hard work, tutors, and every solution we could think of. I had just been downsized out of my job and returned to college myself, and I was so fearful for him. What would he do? How would he ever support himself? He assured me it was the right decision, and I begged him to reconsider. We were at a stalemate.
In the end, what I did was trust him, and trust that I had raised him right, though I had done it by myself. I’m proud to say that my son did have a plan. He enrolled in a construction internship program for troubled boys. He worked hard with special instructors who evaluated his needs, and along with his carpentry team helped to build two houses for Habitat for Humanity. On his nineteenth birthday, we got the news that he passed his GED, with perfect scores in Writing. When he left school a year earlier, he had only earned eight credits toward his graduation.
My son taught me something that day. He taught me that sometimes the road to success doesn’t look the same for everyone. He also taught me that hard work and never giving up is the ultimate way to achieve our goals, whether we are a born learner or not. He’s working full time today, and plans to attend culinary school eventually. And I am so proud of the lessons that I have learned from him.
When I was a child, my mother was always making something. Always. She was baking custom birthday cakes, or sewing someone a new dress. She was making legwarmers (it was the eighties after all) with no pattern; she’d just sit there in her favorite chair with her yarn bag, and articles seemed to magically appear! I couldn’t appreciate in my youth how hard she worked, how not a birthday or Christmas would pass that there was not a handmade, personal gift. At the time, her work seemed just a hobby to me; I didn’t understand that for her, it was a legacy of love that she so wanted to pass down to her girls and her grandchildren.
To her credit, she tried to teach me. More than once…in fact, more than I would like to admit. She drug me to enormous craft warehouses relentlessly. She could spend hours in even the tiniest hole in the wall yarn store, begging me to choose something I liked that she could teach me to make for myself. As a little girl, I was in awe at the dozens of colors and shades, at the thought that I could learn to MAKE something. Each time I agreed to try something, she would return home with bags and bags of yarn for projects and a renewed hope that one day, she would have passed down her love for crochet to her daughter.
I was hopeless. Utterly hopeless. I suppose at the time my heart wasn’t in it. While I wanted to please her, I wanted to play and be with my friends more. Eventually, she gave up trying. I didn’t know at the time how sad she was to think that her daughter’s daughters would not have the same love for creating things that she did. I didn’t think much about it, I just always assumed that she would be there, making things for her own grandchildren and passing her love down through the generations in her handmade gifts.
And she did. When my son was born, there were booties and sweaters, quilts and afghans, handmade clothes (more than he could ever wear). As more grandchildren came along, she was always there making Christmas outfits and Easter dresses and never a holiday passed that everyone didn’t have a new sweater “Made Especially for Me by Grandma”. I still had never taken the time to learn.
I was unprepared to lose my mother suddenly when I was only thirty-two. My daughter was only five, my son eight. They would remember the Christmas sweaters and the customized birthday cakes, to a point. They would look back and remember all the holiday outfits she had made them, but how would those memories ever last into the next generation? Neither my sister nor I had ever bothered to learn her craft. As I plowed through trunks of yarn and unfinished projects following her passing, I insisted that I was taking all of these patterns and yarns home with me, though everyone thought I was being crazy. Someday, someone would use these things, keeping her legacy alive.
I brought the trunks and boxes home with me, and eventually they found their way to my closet, where they might have been forgotten again. While my intentions were good, I still lacked motivation. Until my little girl came to me one day, at six years old, and said to me “Mama, my Blue’s Clues sweater that Grandma made me doesn’t fit anymore, I need you to make me a new one” The look on her face, when I gently told her that I couldn’t do that said it all. She was unconvinced. And she said to me, “You’re a mommy, mommies can do anything!”. She skipped away from me that day, and never mentioned the new sweater again, but she planted a seed in my mind that wouldn’t go away. I pulled a trunk from the closet and picked up my first skein of yarn and crochet hook that day.
I parked myself in front of YouTube, determined to learn to crochet, and keep my mother’s legacy alive. Believe me, it didn’t happen overnight. For the first year or two I ripped out more stitches than I made, at least it seemed that way. But I kept at it, eventually getting my daughter learning as well. Today it is me who makes the handmade gifts for family members. Today it is me who knows that she has the legacy to pass on to the next generation. Each year during the holiday season, my daughter and I take the hats, scarves, and blankets that we have worked on all year long to a local women’s shelter to distribute. I’d like to think that somewhere out there, my mother is finally proud that her legacy lives on.