Going back to school in your mid 30’s certainly comes with its challenges.
Picture this: A 35-year-old woman sitting in the last available chair at her local Starbucks with a MacBook on her lap (because you can’t swing a dead cat in there without hitting someone working on the 3rd draft of their thesis), reading glasses on her head and a grande, non-fat, vanilla latte with a double shot of espresso next to her while she works on…get this, homework.
Spoiler alert, that over-caffeinated woman is me.
“Homework” – two syllables that were always my worst enemy growing up. Never in history have there ever been two words more conflicting with each other. Home – such a warm, safe and inviting place where you can relax and not have a care in the world except for the two seconds of panic when you realize you forgot to PVR last night’s episode of 90 Day Fiancé. And work- there aren’t enough raspberry noises in my vocabulary to convey my hatred for having to work every single day of my damn life.
Making the decision nearly three years ago to go back to school as an adult (I use that word lightly) after a 13-year hiatus, was a big adjustment. Being the old lady amongst the fresh-faced 20-something’s in a classroom setting was a culture shock, to say the least. Along with sizeable crows feet, I was bringing all new meaning to the term “kicking it old school”. I’m also fairly certain that the kids in my class had never even heard that expression before. I legitimately could be some of these kids’ mothers, if I had gotten knocked up at 15 like half the girls in my high school. Or at the very least the hot step-mom their dad ends up with after his mid-life crisis divorce.
Amongst my biggest fears, one of them was being mistaken for the professor. It only happened once, but in all fairness, I did have my best pair of Banana Republic chinos on that day and was sipping loose leaf from a David’s Tea travel tumbler. Besides being completely terrified that my age would show at every turn, I also felt like I was kidding myself for thinking I’d miraculously become a decent student.
I hated absolutely everything about school as a kid and young adult. The early mornings, the bad back-to-school photos, the homework, and most of all, the pressure to get good grades and stay out of Juvenile detention. My overwhelming anxiety pretty much kept me from being carefree and wide-eyed, like the rest of my peers. And don’t even talk to me about the school bus. Having to ride a giant yellow submarine filled with school-aged versions of the anti-Christ, was my idea of literal hell.
A good grade for me in high school meant 60%. It’s not that I was a slacker, I just knew I’d
never grow up needing to know how to solve the value of ‘x’ without a calculator. I was too practical to think that there wasn’t anything I could learn in a classroom that would trump real-life experience. So, it wasn’t surprising that the class I found most useful in high school, was a business mathematics class, which taught us about stocks, mortgage rates, budgeting, and taxes. I think that was my only 70% grade I had ever received in high school. My guess is because it made sense to me and felt the most like real-life information. Judging from my current bank statements, it doesn’t appear that I actually applied any of that knowledge, but at least I can calculate the cost-per-wear on a trendy fall sweater at the drop of a hat, so I’d still call that a win.
Since the highest achievable mark in my entire school career up until now had been 70%, you can imagine the shock on my face when I received my first post-secondary assignment evaluation back which displayed a whopping 96% grade. I thought the professor must have a) made a mistake, b) was just a very forgiving marker, or c) a total idiot. I don’t get 90’s; that’s not me. I’m there to learn and add some skills to my otherwise stale resume. I would have been happy to walk out of there with a participation ribbon – shout out to Grade 9 phys ed. Assignment after assignment kept coming back with an upside-down “6” on it (was the prof dyslexic?!). It was then I realized, after taking a few courses in this program with consistent ’90s, that I might actually be good at this whole school thing after all. Hello, world! I’d like to cash in my brainiac rewards membership please; you know, the one that permits you to bring up politics in public conversations, and prep my Mensa application.
I don’t mean to paint such a negative picture of academic advancement, there are many things I loved about going back to school. Like, buying a whole new wardrobe and strolling through the aisles of Staples, filling my cart with packs of fresh lined paper and clickable pencils in an array of bright colours. I still do the same thing today, even though the invention of the laptop has ultimately replaced that trusty Hilroy exercise book and you have zero use for an actual writing utensil. Basically, I went back to school just for another excuse to shop for crap I don’t need.
Despite having very little use for one, I still carry a book bag to school. Inside you’ll find a pretty little pencil case which houses all of my brightly coloured pens and a $26 Indigo spiral-bound notebook just in case there’s a zombie apocalypse and someone needs kindling to start a fire. Somedays I feel like Elle Woods showing up to her first day at Harvard Law, with her fluffy feather pen and scented notebook paper. I’m totally the odd man out strutting into class without a laptop, or a subscription to Spotify.
Even at the age of *cough* 35, I still find myself trying to fit in with the cool kids. Although I don’t think they look at me as one of them, I’m more like the cool mom who lets you have a sip of wine underage at Christmas dinner. But, I’ve come to realize that I’m totally fine flaunting my mom jeans (which, thankfully have made a massive come-back) if it means that I don’t get picked last for group projects and activities. It took me 17 years, but somehow I finally made being a total square, cool, and ended up making lifelong friends in the process. While most students bond over Instagram influencers, podcasters, and the latest earbuds, I had real-life experience to bring to the table. Who else was going to teach these kids about the dangers of contaminated romaine?
Although many things about stepping back inside the college walls brings back a lot of nostalgia from when I was there the first time, the overall experience does not remain the same. I remember the library being filled with musty books and old busted computers. Now the college library looks like the NASA command center. Rows of top of the line computers, press quality printers, board room size tables, work stations and a few books scattered here and there probably just for good measure (or maybe also for that zombie apocalypse thing). Even mandatory textbooks aren’t in physical form anymore. You can purchase and download them straight to your computer or smartphone- what a time to be alive!
Being back on campus does have it’s perks, and I’m not just talking about the Domino’s Pizza student discount code (is there such thing as a not-so-freshman-15?). Between the state of the art gym complete with a rock-climbing wall and the Dyson hand dryers in every campus bathroom, going to school feels like spending every other weekend at your moms’ new rich boyfriend’s house. For months I tried to figure out where they were getting the budget for all of these frills, and then it dawned on me that I pay $7 a DAY to park.
They say that school is wasted on the youth, and for me, that couldn’t have been truer. Not many people get to experience a re-do in life, so when I decided to try my luck at school again, my only game plan was to lay all my cards out on the table and pray for a trick deck. I always thought that I was quite happy to take my moderate book smarts and my “mind-as-well just give it to her” diploma and carry on with my life. But, when you get to a certain age, you realize that you’re never really done learning. Just the other day, for instance, I learned the importance of eyebrows. Did you know we’re supposed to care about our eyebrows now? Finally, something I can use all those brightly coloured pencils for.
Even though I love the warm, fuzzy, and downright boring surroundings, otherwise known as my comfort zone, I knew I needed the challenge to shake things up. Getting all of my ducks in a row meant I somehow needed to find the time, money (school ain’t cheap y’all!), and the caffeine to start this new adventure. That’s when mild panic started to set in. How was I going to handle the long days, the homework, the deadlines, and the financial strain? I’m three years in, and I still haven’t fully figured it all out, but I just had to dust off my last remaining brain cells that aren’t filled with useless Seinfeld quotes and hit the books. (And by books, I obviously mean tablet).
This past September marked the first day back to school for students and parents alike. Of course, I had to match the enthusiasm of all my parent friends posting photos of their kids in new clothes holding a chalkboard marking of what grade they were heading into. So I, along with the hundreds of students awaiting the sound of the first bell, posed for my obligatory back-to-school Facebook photo. I figured, If I can’t birth them, join them.