Last night was beautiful. Feather River College’s graduation was in particularly poignant to me. So many students I’d had for two, three, some four classes over the last four years were graduating (my babies!). I celebrate them one and all. Some graduates were highly visible. Some? Not so much.
The speeches at the podium were directed towards the main demographic: those between the ages of 20-30, those who have yet to determine their destinations, those who spent their Friday nights partying it up as a release of intense deadlines through out the week– those without children. There was certainly well-deserved talk and praise of this young demographic of graduates who are following the path of young adulthood in its linear fashion to the next step and they have certainly had their challenges. But my eye kept straying over to those that largely go unsung or less sung. The mothers among them.
For a mother to go back to school while her children are still at home is such a tough and arduous task and we overlook the enormity of it–perhaps because it’s so overwhelming or perhaps because the work of mothers is so thankless in the first place. We have been socially conditioned as mothers in this society to believe in one word: sacrifice. But the word sacrifice isn’t used to speak of the sacrifices we choose in order to succeed–instead the word means that we sacrifice ourselves and our hopes and our dreams for the sake of our children–no matter what age we started having them. We say things like, “I hope my daughter will have it better than I did…” We say things like, “I want to give her everything and pave the way for her to have the opportunities I didn’t have.”
Never mind that our mothers said the same things about us and yet, rather than achieving our dreams, our goals, we go into sacrifice mode and hope and pray the next generation goes beyond us.
Social conditioning is nearly an insurmountable asshole of a mindset to get around. Because even if we refuse to sacrifice ourselves, if we are the least bit insecure that we are doing the right thing, there will always be plenty of people in our lives and in our communities that want to tell us otherwise.
Sacrifice to the student mother is HUGE. For the student who is also a mother it means missing some of the immediate moments of your kids’ childhoods for the bigger picture down the road moments that won’t be possible unless you continue on your path. Only your kids can’t always see it that way. Only your partners get resentful that you have your head in a book or at a keyboard and screen. It means even when you’re present you might not be present fully. It also means you are ten people at once. If you have more than one kid you have a duty to each one and yourself and your studies and possibly a partner. It is an emotional toll far greater than most realize. It is exhausting.
You carve out a night to write a paper and then someone throws up on it. You set aside time to read and someone gets in trouble at school and you show up and THEY give you that look like why aren’t you paying attention to your kid? Why aren’t you sacrificing like we told you to? You partner once thought it was a good idea because you’d be making more money in the end but the end is five years out and the relationship isn’t equitable and he wants that home-cooked dinner you used to make before school got in the way.
Something happens to mothers who go to school. The lightbulbs click on. They become empowered. Their life experience coupled with what they are learning makes them dangerous. It makes them alive. And there is nothing more frightening to the status quo than smart women empowered, is there?
Mother graduates far and near you are beyond the nice speeches of go forth into the world, because you already know the world. The world has been a messy place and it did its utmost to insure that you didn’t succeed. Your college itself may not have provided everything you needed. You had classes scheduled at impossible times for mothers to make. You had childcare challenges, partner challenges, sick kids, bosses at your job who scheduled you last minute so that you missed tests and quizzes. But your badass self made it through the gauntlets that were thrown down and I’d like to acknowledge right here and now that more was thrown in front of you than those students who are not mothers.
But you did it. Because you are one bad ass mother who can do anything. And instead of showing your daughters that you sacrifice your very essence and vitality and become a doormat to walk over, you instead showed her that the bar is raised. That you expect more and that she should expect more, from her world and herself.
Happy Graduation, Mother Students. You are the ones who truly are fierce.