I made a promise 15 years ago to a little blond haired kindergartener who wanted to know if I had finished school. His question arose as I was explaining the importance of doing well so he would get into a good college one day. I answered no but promised that when he graduated high school and was ready to start college, I’d go back too. He reminded me of that promise often throughout his childhood.
I was 21 the year Anthony was born which meant he spent the first years of his life wearing donated clothes and playing with toys other kids threw away. I made ends meet delivering newspapers and doing freelance writing whenever I could. Stacks of unassembled papers arrived at night and I would spend hours inserting flyers, then folding and lugging them to the car by 5am. Anthony always slept peacefully in his infant seat beside me as I hurled papers at front lawns in the chilly morning hours of 1993. Writing for the local paper was more fun than delivering it but it only garnered us a dingy apartment behind a chiropractor’s office in downtown nowhere.
I married and had four more children over the next thirteen years. During that time, I designed and built a small restaurant with my husband. I also worked alongside him as a waitress until the day before our fourth child was born; with our third child on my hip. After that, I took on the easier job of staying home with the kids, keeping the house and doing the bookkeeping. My father always told me that the years went by faster as you got older and sure enough, the time between kindergarten and senior year passed too soon.
While we were struggling to get the business off the ground, raise a family of 7 and sell a house that had lost half its value; Anthony grew up and graduated high school. By now, the economy had all but closed our business, and we hadn’t been able to pay the mortgage in a year. After putting over $200k down on our house and another $100k into it, we couldn’t even sell it for what we owed. My husband was working over 60 hours a week in a restaurant that was barely breaking even and I was juggling our finances without success. If it weren’t for scholarships, Anthony wouldn’t have had the slightest chance of attending college. After all those years of encouraging him to succeed in school, I had failed my son. The promise loomed in my mind all summer long. I knew it was time to make good on it but going back to school when our finances were in ruin seemed preposterous.
A few days before he left for college, I asked Anthony if he remembered what I promised him when he started kindergarten. Senior year had been a difficult one for me. Letting go of Anthony was hard, not just because he was my first, but because we had been through so much when he was young. To say I was overprotective was an understatement and this caused friction between us during his last year of school. Throughout the year he expressed disdain for most of what I had to say. On this night though, things changed. When I told him I had applied to college and would be starting that fall, I knew immediately that he remembered. For the first time in a long while, I saw pride in my boy’s eyes again.
So, at the age of 40, I was a college student again, with 49 credits under my belt. It was October of 2011. Five months after I started, I became pregnant with my 6th child. Later that same month we received notice that the bank was filing for a final judgment of foreclosure. The registered letter did not come as a surprise, after all, it had been 34 months since we paid our mortgage. The irony was the timing of the letter, it arrived the same day as my father’s surprise quintuple bypass surgery; which he survived.
I am thrilled to report that after 18 grueling months in which I experienced setbacks that would have driven the average person into therapy, I graduated from college on May 20, 2013. My final exam was a project management certification test that I studied longer and harder for than any other yet was convinced I had failed. The proctor who gave me my results must have wondered why I was tearing up so I told her that I had just graduated college after 20 years of trying. The greatest moments of your life can happen with little fanfare. The first person to find out I had my degree was a stranger. The second person was Anthony.