College After Thirty-Five: Adventures in Education
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Few things in my life have proven more daunting than my decision to enter college twenty years and six children after high school. As a parent, I can enter any school office with utter confidence to confer, adult to adult, about my children’s education. However, walking in as a student is quite another matter. There’s something about a mere two decades’ absence that sets off a butterfly rampage in my stomach that killer bees wouldn’t tangle with. I am no longer the one showing the younger generation the ropes -- I now depend on students who are all young enough to be my own offspring to show me.

On registration day, I stood in line, a quivering mass of nerves and uncertainty. What if I can’t remember the Pythagorean Theorem? What if the other kids catch me with my participles dangling? After all, my brain has shoved aside some of my prior education to make room for other things. My eleven-year-old must remind me of the formula for finding the area of a triangle, but I can tell you the best buy on laundry detergent. Don’t know how to properly format a college lit paper, but I write one heck of a “Please excuse my child from school” note. And I may not recall the scientific abbreviation for ammonia, but I can readily demonstrate what chemicals and temperatures to use to get ketchup stains out of a tablecloth or hard water rings off the toilet bowl.

I got a good look at my fellow students during the orientation and entrance exam. It confirmed I would indeed be the oldest one on campus who was not a professor. A roomful of slightly-bored teenagers were able to take the exam while sitting sideways in their chair, one eye barely focusing on the computer screen. I had to stare at the screen from an arm’s length away to see anything, and what I did see frightened me. There was not one single question on how to handle arguing siblings or what to do when you overdraw your checking account.

After staggering through the exam and being accepted, my coursework was planned out. It was then I learned that I, too, required Physical Education credits in order to graduate. I politely suggested that P.E. credit should be extended to students over thirty-five for being able to make the walk across the large campus, backpack strapped to the shoulders, without falling over. The Office Lady did not look amused. So, I enrolled in karate. While the other students’ lithe, young bodies fly around the room, knocking over punching bags and barely breaking a sweat, I huff and puff in agony as I try to raise my slightly cottage cheese thighs higher than six inches off the ground. I punch at the punching bag, only to aggravate the carpal tunnel syndrome threatening to take hold after twenty years of office typing. To think I was an athlete, back in the day. For this torture, I earn a whopping one credit per semester.

Fortunately, I have discovered benefits that weren’t available in my youth to make this manic quest for higher learning easier. I have a supportive husband and built-in offspring tutors eager to help. Backpacks nowadays magically transform into rolling luggage carriers for the one hundred pounds of equipment one must carry across the vast expanse of territory between classes. And calculators are now allowed in class, though the one recommended by my professor has more complex features and buttons on it than the space shuttle. I’m still trying to figure out how to turn it on. My nine-year-old will have to teach me.

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