I haven’t been a busy blogger for the past year, and that is not for lack of interest or input. I’m always shooting photos and writing posts in my head. The difficulty lies in finding time to write. I’ve gone back to college.
As I’ve traveled through my life as a female I’ve been very fortunate in my jobs and by proving myself through lots of hard work. A year ago I came across a new barrier that I hadn’t expected: age. I have discovered that once mid-fifties is paired with the female sex, doubt arises as to your competency and abilities. As all of my formal education, other than my permaculture design certificate, was experienced in the 80’s, and even though all the subsequent years have had excellent work records in the same fields, I’ve been stereotyped. People want current credentialing. With looming increased life expectancy I will need to work for a long time, I need to do everything I can RIGHT NOW before I age any more.
In the Fall of 2018 I enrolled at Mira Costa College, an hour’s drive from here, in their horticultural program. I was fearful of being the odd-ball oldest one in the class, of my struggle to memorize as quickly as I used to, of being in class with students who grew up with computers, of school itself. I hated school the first time around.
I had been the awkward, chubby, shy wallflower who was in the mentally gifted programs, but held a low A or B+ average. I loved choir, drama, and working on the school newspaper. I disliked socialites and their casual cruelty. Still do, although I’ve forgiven them.
I attended UCSD, UC Berkeley, and then Mesa College, and although freeing in many ways the experiences made me realize that I was certainly not cut from the commonly accepted fabric. I would always be slightly on the outside looking in. School was something to endure.
I am now in my fourth semester at Mira Costa, shortly will turn 58, and I love it. I found that I don’t have the social issues from before. There are such a range of ages and backgrounds in my classes that sometimes I’m not the oldest one. I have been the only female in a class, and that was okay. I have found only one person who objected to my being alive (that I know of), and I don’t think I’ll encounter her and her loud mouth again. And I just don’t care about how she acted. Its her problem, not mine. In most horticultural classes the students bond, and then when they see them again in another class they are friendly. Socially, its a far better experience than when I was younger.
The learning has been amazing, but I work extra hard to memorize and to retain what I’ve learned. I know that I’ve lost about half of what I’ve memorized, and only repetition will bring it back. That’s on me. However, the brain work is excellent and I know that I am warding off future brain failure with every assignment.
I am working, volunteering, keeping up the garden and attending 3 classes, so life is very busy. My daughter has taken up my slack and has been working in the garden keeping it going far more than I have. She has three jobs, so between balancing them and caring for our animals and property she is just as busy. She has made me some meals and frozen burritos to take for dinner at school as well. Its really nice to be taken care of a little. My mother was the last person to do that when I was a teen.
Challenges with technology have not been an issue. I have felt comfortable taking tests on the computer when required and have enjoyed the completely online classes. There have been technical glitches, but there have been support channels through the schools and with my fellow students that have helped me through them. And I have helped others. The professors have been great.
What I’ve been learning I’ve been putting to use immediately in my consultations and at Finch Frolic Garden. The more I know, the better I can help.
The interesting part of this endeavor has been the reactions from my peers. Many who are my age or slightly younger are amazed and delighted that I would do the unthinkable… go back to school at an age when most are looking towards retirement. It seems to them as if I was moving to a different country without understanding the language or customs for an immersion program. I receive delighted support from them. Some are appalled and treat it like a sentence that I have to serve. “How much longer do you have to do this?” I have one friend who thinks its nonsense, a waste of my time. But then from him I not only receive support, but a subtle ‘old fashioned’ repression because I’m female although he’d be appalled to think he did. Most people just don’t understand that, without a steady income for as long as I can earn it, and judicious savings, I might run out of money and become a burden to my children long before I can shuffle off this world. Longevity is inherited on my mother’s side. I have many friends, and know many others, who are single women from ages 50 to 80 who have a very, very low income and who rent casitas or rooms. They rely on the tolerance and stability of the landowner for the roof over their heads, and if that changes they may be outpriced to find another accommodation in the town they’ve lived in for decades. They have gone minimalist, having to get rid of belongings because there just isn’t a place to put memorabilia. Some work part time at as many jobs as they can find just to stay ahead. Many receive supplemental food from the Fallbrook Food Pantry, especially if they have to pay for medications. It is a nightmarish situation where instead of being cared for as their bodies fail them in so many ways, they are completely self-reliant and have to get themselves to the DMV, to the doctor, to the grocery store, to the bus, to the lab, to a specialist, to the pharmacy. Its something American should be ashamed of, the abandoning of its mature generations. And no one would think of hiring them.
What I realized when I began working with volunteer groups years ago is the amazing experience and abilities of the retirees who now had time to contribute towards a cause they believed in. Grey hair and wrinkles make we who are aging all look similar, but these people are survivors, movers and shakers. These people are constantly reading, vibrantly involved, often continue to have their own businesses, have survived the death of spouses and children and siblings and schoolmates. And now I am one of them.
Going back to school has given me a purpose, as I am a goal-oriented person and can feel cast adrift if I am left without a path. I am enjoying the challenge and accepting my short comings, and realizing that I have been guilty of stereotyping the younger students as well. Many are second language learners in a foreign country trying to write technical papers fluently in another language. Many have served in the military and are looking for kinder, gentler occupations such as growing plants. Many are juggling families, work and school. Some have had horrific health issues. And many are going through the agonies that I went through as a youth, feeling awkward and ugly and stupid, and hoping there is a place where they’ll find acceptance at the end of the tunnel.
Two years ago I read a Facebook post from a former school mate of my age who had gone back to school to receive certifications that would improve her job and income working with students with disabilities. I thought, “How amazing that she’s gone back to school! That’s a horror I’ll never repeat.” I praised her for her success. Then, as karma has it, when faced with being rejected for several jobs because I was of a certain age, and my schooling had happened decades before and somehow didn’t qualify anymore, the idea of going back to school was the only thing left to me. Because of my friend’s testing the waters first, I realized that I could do it, too. I am hoping that this lengthy blog might inspire others to do the same: Its better the second time around.
So when in a crowded room of thirty students the guest lecturer asks if anyone would have issues with taking a quiz through their smartphones and his eyes end up and linger on mine as the oldest one in the class, I smile back. And help the student next to me. And when I overthink a problem and screw up I ask the people around me, who are always…always ready to help. And I bring in extra vegetables and fruit when I can because so many of these students have no food security and many are living in their cars. Something unthinkable back in my school days, although I’m sure now that it happened. And I do homework crosslegged on my bed just as I did thirty years ago, but this time with a laptop amongst the papers, and I’m good with it. And I qualify for student aid and scholarships which help me get through it all, which is amazing. And my daughter bails me out when my laptop gives me troubles. I am a lucky woman.
And showing my student ID card has given me some good discounts long before any Senior discounts will kick in!
Think about taking classes, even just for fun, or for pass/no pass. The school programs need students to keep them funded, and what a better way to help yourself and help young people by ensuring their future educational options by supporting and attending them yourself? Who knows, you may still find someone to flirt with, just like the old days.