Back to College: The first class kicked my ass

I should’ve started with something easy like a nice literature, psychology or history class. I would’ve done well in any of those subjects. But, no. I was scared and worried and so consumed by self-doubt that I did something stupid: I registered to take Earth Science.

Math and Science are not really my thing. Sure, there’s a random exception to the previous statement as I am an Algebraic rock star, but aside from the whole my-brain-loves-the-Algebra: Math and Science are not my strongest academic subjects. I’m okay with that. I thought I was freed from any Math and Science future obligations years ago . . .  until I met with the community college admission’s counselor.

She seemed quite nice when we started talking about my return to college 17 years after I left to get married, have children and become a stay-at-home mom. As we chatted like a telethon, I envisioned our future friendship. I would pop into her office with lattes on my way to class. We would joke about teachers while sipping cocktails. We would take a tropical vacation to celebrate my graduation.

She interrupted my friendship fantasy and asked for the copies of my transcript. I gave them to her, smiled and leaned forward as she started to fill out the classes-you-need-to-graduate worksheet.

Then, shit got real. She was all business-like and not at all like my imaginary new best friend sharing fruity drinks with me on the beach.

She explained that the college algebra class I took was no longer a college-level course. To make it worse, she enunciated that the class is currently a high school course. I asked her to recommend a Math course for me to take. She slapped me in the face with some more harsh information: I needed to submit my high school transcript and prove I took Geometry with a C or better (I barely passed it with a C-) or take a placement exam. I ignored her options and advocated for my once-upon-a-time-college algebra A. (I was proud of that A. That damn class and my A meant something to me. In 1996, it fulfilled part of my math graduation requirement.)

I begged. She didn’t even give me a sympathetic smile and explained the online registration system would block me from registering for any Math classes until I took the placement test.

The news got worse:

  • The community college didn’t offer Italian, so she couldn’t give me credit for my 3 semesters of Italian, which means I’ll need to take 2 semesters of another foreign language.
  • The biology I took in 1995 was no longer enough to meet my science requirement. I’ll need another science and lab.
  • Most of my 65 credit hours will transfer as electives!

Electives!! I worked my ass off at a well-respected Big Ten University! My body trembled and I fought back tears. All I could say over and over again was this: “I’m a single mom. I have to finish my degree and get a job.”

Finally, she saw me, the real me. Her eyes met mine and she asked, “Where do you want to transfer?” I replied with the names of two local universities. She took off her glasses and started talking, planning and filling out that worksheet while I regained my composure, my dignity.

When she finished talking and mapping my options, I was ready to fight. I was the woman with backbone who finally found a way to leave an unhappy marriage wherein I had been ignored, over-looked and discarded for years. So with a forced cockiness and manufactured swagger I declared, “I’m gonna take that damn Science lecture and lab. I’m gonna take it and I’m gonna pass it!” I signed up for Introduction to Earth Science and the Earth Science lab.

Last Wednesday night, I attended my first college class in 17 years. What I thought was going to be a first night getting-to-know-you class with early dismissal turned out to be a real lab.

It didn’t help my ego at all when I walked through the classroom door and noticed that the majority of the class, including my teacher, could’ve come from my vagina.  So, I sat down next to the other “mature” woman in the room. Her eyes lit up as I placed my stuff next to hers. That was the only highlight during my two-hours in hell class.

I was lost. I was confused. My eyes ached and my chest hurt. I was dizzy with self-doubt and couldn’t comprehend the basic lab. It was so fucking easy. I know that. I knew it at the time, too, which is why it was so horrible.

The lab was rudimentary in nature and covered the topics of determining latitude and longitude, drawing the lines of latitude and longitude on a globe and metric conversions. Yet, I couldnt’ remember any of this information. I spent half of the allotted time reading sections of the book and looking up definitions and terms. How had I forgotten the basics?

My fellow lab table occupants took pity on me and helped. (I worry they saw the tears I tried so desperately to hide.) The whole experience was humiliating and overwhelming, especially because I knew that I had learned the material before, but I simply couldn’t recall it. It had been too long. Too many years had passed.

I left the class shaken, confused and weary.

Tonight, I was supposed to attend my first Earth Science lecture. Class was cancelled. As much as I was dreading it, I am disappointed, too. I have a lot to learn and re-learn. I don’t want to waste any more time.

If you liked this post, you might also like last week’s pre-class post Back to School, Mom Edition.

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