“Education is a progressive discovery of our own ignorance.” -Will Durant


My friend wrote me an e-mail the other day as she and her family “ventured into the world of college visits.”  I have a huge amount of respect for this mom, the way she knows when to guide her children and when to step back and I’ve grown from our friendship!  But the e-mail also brought up some resentment for me.  After all, it took me four schools and changing majors 7 times to get an undergraduate degree!  The resentment I felt was towards my parents for their absolute not caring where I went or what I did and towards myself for being so stupid.  Perspective changes and I’m using this post, right now, this very second to FORGIVE MYSELF.  Which, it turns out, is actually harder than it sounds.

                First you have to accept the surrounding circumstances.  The year leading up to my official high school graduation was rather insane.  That summer my two older sisters both got married and my mother had another child.  Yes, you read that correctly.

                I’d skipped most of my senior year of high school to attend the community college and start earning credits.  At this point I thought I wanted to be a surgeon.  This, I felt, was supported by my winning Aberdeen’s science fair in 11th grade and my job at the Maryland Science Center.  Only, my project, in hindsight, won for artistic reasons and my job was for the EDUCATION department of the MSC.          

                I *chose* to attend UMBC, but I really just bumbled into it, thinking I was smart because they offered me full tuition.  I do remember looking at the brochure for a performing arts school in New York, but worrying I’d never get in.  I also remember looking at a catalogue for St. John’s in Annapolis.  I didn’t apply to either one and, sigh, I’M LETTING THAT GO.  Right now.

                Then I was sad – maybe because it finally struck me that all my liberal arts classes were smooshed into one building while the rest of the campus was for the actual target students or I’d just changed to double-majoring in Psych and Pre-Med (self-awareness coming slowly) or maybe because my boyfriend had left for California pursuing his own dream.  Whatever. 

                I took a year off and went to Prague, Czech Republic to teach English.

                From there I went to Los Angeles.  Where I wasn’t a CA resident because I didn’t have the state driver’s license.  So I got one.  But I still wasn’t a CA resident so I spent most of my saved money paying out-of-state tuition at a community college that would be on my transcripts and cause problems every time I needed documentation of previous credits.  This one is really hard.  I forgive you self.  I understand you wanted to feel like you were being productive and taking steps to finish your degree.  I forgive you.

                Then I moved back to Maryland to attend Frostburg.  They were very kind, believed in me, gave me tuition money.  I dropped the criminal science major from California (did I really think I’d work with the LAPD as a profiler?)  and here at FSU I switched to English.  Because who would ever have thought someone who reads constantly should pursue a literature degree?

                But, too rural.  So I went back to UMBC where I had more earned credits because other schools don’t accept all transfer classes.  Except.  After I returned, the powers that be decided that not only was I not a Maryland resident – because I had that stupid California license — but I’d also given up my scholarship and was not available for financial aid for several reasons including that the salary I’d made in Prague didn’t compute because it was too low for someone to live on.  Aid officers unimpressed when I pointed out that I’d made a third-world wage while living in a third-world country.   

                So circuitous and full of blunders.  Not the way I would have liked, but it worked.  I graduated with honors and was accepted into graduate school…after they received transcripts from ALL the places I’d attended.  BTW the California school charged for transcripts and always took the longest to send. 

                I wrote a book later, my first attempt, about that year in Prague, but it kept getting rejected and I didn’t understand why.  Thought it was a funny premise – a 20-year-old teaching in a post-communist country.  One editor finally clued me in.  The disgust and anger I felt with the main character came through.  I said that was ridiculous, the character was based on myself.  It was dark humor.  She answered that she didn’t know about that, but readers didn’t want to identify with this main character.
                I’m not really good with saying “I’m sorry” and “you’re forgiven.”  I think I forgot, somehow, about how important that life lesson really is.  I’m ready to re-learn.  Maybe if this forgiveness-stuff works I can come back to that novel and give it another try because I do think the premise is good and can be funny.  Maybe the main character just needs a little guidance, a little help, a little intervention to deal with her pain.  Heck, maybe I’ll even give her a friend.

Swim Test

Teacher:  You failed the test.
Student:  You failed to educate.

                Termites, totaled car, normal day in suburbia.  BUT, something yesterday did upset me.  The twins’ had their swim test.  Yes, I am their proud mother, but I can objectively assure you that they can swim underwater, fetch things from the bottom, and I don’t, even as a helicopter mommy, feel the need to always get in the pool with them.  And yet, they did not pass their swim test. THEY WERE NOT PROMOTED EVEN THOUGH THEY ARE, in my opinion, THE BEST SWIMMERS IN THEIR GOLDFISH CLASS.

                The paper rubric, damp with chlorinated water, handed to me at the end of the session notes that they each have only half mastered floating on their backs and Sylvia only does proper ‘triangle arms’ when prompted.  However, the teacher is willing to let me register them for another session and then bump them up to the next level after a few lessons as she feels confident they are almost there.

                I’m familiar with failing swim tests.  We moved around a lot when I was a kid – so I don’t exactly remember where we were, but I remember the community pool with its concrete edge and the rough bottom that always tore up kids’ feet and the older man, escaped gym teacher(?), who always gave an ominous story about picking up something brown and gross from the bottom of the pool and then pointed to the bathrooms while waggling bushy white eyebrows.  The swim tests with kids lined up, arms stretched out, “Put your face in the water and BLOW THOSE BUBBLES.”  And treading water while a bored teenager stood there with a stopwatch.  I’m not exactly sure which part I kept failing.  I put my face in the water and both ‘listened to the fishies’ and ‘talked to the fishies’ (crawl stroke).  Maybe, like Sylvia, I didn’t use proper triangle arms unless prompted.

                Life is full of swim tests.  Like my dear friend Serra.  We were on vacation together and someone stopped us to ask …I don’t know, directions or something.  Her son, 5-years-old, ran ahead.  It was only a second, but he ran to a waterslide and went down without floaties on.  No one was anywhere near the pool.  Serra didn’t pause.  That Momma ran to the pool, jumped in, and grabbed her son up and out of that water.  Later we inventoried – magnetic room key, credit cards, watch, ticket stubs, all soaked.  That Momma passed her swim test with highest marks.   

                I wasn’t quite so graceful.  When I started the mermaid twins at their lessons they would not be rushed when it was time to get out.  All the other children obediently went to parents to be swaddled in giant towels and carted off to bath and bed.  My girls both slipped around the instructor and got back in the free swim area.   This particular occasion I was able to coax Sylvia out, but when I called to Evelyn she just swam to the middle.  I used universal parent language: stamping one foot, giving a huffy breath, and repeatedly pointing down with my index finger.  E swam to the other side of the pool.  I followed around the edge, walking past the gawking lifeguard.  Yes, I know it’s boring up there, but you could at least pretend to not be watching.

                E swam away again, smiling serenely and then held her breath and went under.  “Wow, she’s really good at that,” noted a woman in a chair.  Yeah  — too bad it’s not part of THE GOLDFISH PROMOTION TEST.

                By this time Sylvia had dropped her towel and jumped back in.  I almost caught E’s wrist when she came up for air, but missed.  By now EVERYONE in the vicinity is watching.  So, I rolled up my white linen capris as far as they would go.  Whispered a brief ‘thank you’ that I was wearing panties, because you know that linen is see-through when wet – and went in.  I came out with two giggling girls and, I’m sure, a blushing face.  But I passed my swim test.  Barely, but I passed.  I know because I haven’t had to make a repeat performance.

                In conclusion.  I’m okay with staying in Goldfish while they learn to triangulate their arms or whatever.  I would only, helpfully, constructively even, suggest to the instructor that in a twenty-nine minute lesson you spend less time on the strainer going over their heads at the beginning, maybe cut back on the Ringing-around-the-Rosy in the middle and spend a couple more minutes FLOATING THEM ON THEIR BACKS.  Just sayin’      

Dating Again

“The greater part of our happiness or misery depends upon our dispositions, and not upon our circumstances.” ― Martha Washington

Yesterday morning, and then again this morning, I woke to the thought, “No smoothies today” and a corresponding sigh of relief.  This may seem strange, but for those who have followed my daughter’s fight with leukemia, you know exactly what I mean.  This month the week of 11 doses of cancer-fighting medication mixed into a blended drink met in a perfect storm with my children being off from school and my helper Anna taking holiday while her friend visits from Germany.

The medication, the routine to take the medication, the chaos while trying to keep her focused and the other children not distracting…it can be messy. 

So I want to recognize that we are BREAKING OUT of our protective cocoon.  Not all the way, of course, Purell and shoes still at the door and FEVERS still send us straight to Hopkins, but enough to let light filter in through the holes.  For example, resuming DATING.  Not as easy as it sounds to change the ‘emergency/scared’ mindset, to back off the SuperParent role that we both play well, to introduce ourselves to each other.    

We started in January.  A good time to start, being the beginning of a new year and our tenth anniversary.  We went to New York City. Also a good choice because who doesn’t like NYC?  Husband gets props for planning the whole trip as a mirror to our engagement trip.  We went to an ice hockey game that was really a boxing match on ice.  We had dinner at Gramercy Tavern: the tastings menu. Hotel on the highest possible floor at the Marriott Marquis looking out over Times Square.  Big plush bed (we’re married, it’s okay). Meeting up with Geoff and Anita for coffee and then a Broadway show that just won a bunch of Tonys.  Friends redux at “The View” nightclub THAT SPINS AROUND.  And has napkins with the named buildings.  Pretty cool. You’d think that maybe it’s not the best idea when sipping martinis, but it all works out. A tour through an Irish tenement building.  It was like being on “The Bachelorette” where the environment is sumptuous; you’re treated like royalty and is complete fantasy wrapped in a realistic robe.  I loved it.

So, we tried to go on another date a couple months later.  Just dinner.  Errm.  Not much to say about that except it wouldn’t have gotten a second date.  That’s okay.  Try, try, again.

Went to the Meyerhoff to see “The Tao of Drumming.”  Fantastic show!  Japanese martial arts choreographed to music, primarily drums and flute.  Stunning backdrop, beautiful costumes, and dramatic and humorous sketches mixed in.  First Note:  Hmmm.  Having something to watch or experience together might be better idea for starting dating than having jumped straight to dinner which relied on conversation.  Second Note:  Women had FANTASTICLY TONED arms and back muscles.  Maybe get giant drum to beat on for birthday? 

Next date: A double date with our friends Sid and Deb to see the Capitals beaten down in DC.  Seats right behind the goal.  Yes, that was Sid pounding on the glass on television.  If you don’t believe me, ask Pat Sajak.  He was there too.  But he left early.  Don’t blame him.  Wasn’t the Caps best night, but it was SO FUN for us because of our seats.  Next Note:  Having another couple join you for a date lets you see your own partner in a different light and brings up new conversation points.  Why didn’t I remember this sooner?

That’s all I got so far.  Although, it strikes me that on the train to NYC we each brought one bag – the same bags we’d packed when we eloped to Florence, Italy.  Honey, does this mean a repeat of our Tuscan adventure in a couple of years?