Friday, November 6, 2009

The Importance of a Support System

I’m only at the beginning of my journey as an adult learner. I’m sure that, as I adjust to the craziness of changing classes and homework demands, my feelings towards school will change; it will eventually become just another thing that I do, so it won’t be as difficult as it is now. Right now though, I'll admit that I struggle with some of it.

This is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I don’t think there’s any way I ever could’ve prepared myself for how much work returning to school really would be. I’m currently only taking one class one night a week so, because I’ve selected accelerated class, I’m taking two classes a semester. In addition to that, I’m trying to do at least one competency each semester in order to get them out of the way (only four fit into my degree plan). Competencies are a way to quickly complete credits to avoid taking a whole class. They’re designed to give the student credit for prior learning, or credit for life experience, and they’re even quicker and cheaper than accelerated classes. The subject matter of the competency determines what the student is required to do. See this blog: Another One Down for an example of the work I have to do to complete the Interpersonal Communications Competency (it’s about the 6th paragraph in).

It doesn’t sound like much, but trust me, it is. I’ve been consistently surprised by the amount of homework given in each class. That’s the part I struggle with the most right now. It’s hard finding the time to get it all done. I work forty hours per week, and by the time I get home each night all I want to do is unwind, which I can’t do when I have homework to tend to. All I do at work most days is try hard to look like I’m working. I don’t have a lot of work to do on any given day; my boss knows this, but he doesn’t really care and he doesn’t try to fix it. Apparently, that’s my responsibility though every time I try to find or create work for myself it ends up being something he doesn’t think I should be focusing on for one reason or another; it’s frustrating to say the least.

On the one hand, it can be nice because I can work on homework if it’s an assignment where I don’t have to refer to a book or anything—like a writing assignment, for example—so that it’s not obvious to the other residents of cubicleland that I’m not working on work related things. On the other hand, it’s exhausting to be bored to tears for up to eight hours a day. Needless to say, the last thing I feel like doing when I get home from work is homework. The assigned readings practically put me to sleep, which isn’t good when one of the things I need to get done is summaries of certain essays I’ve read. I’ve done a really really really bad job of keeping up with homework this week, because I haven’t been feeling well so I’ve been extra exhausted. This weekend is going to suck again in terms of homework, because that is all I’ll be doing.

All of that being said, if you’re an adult who’s considering returning to school, I have some advice for you. First, understand that returning to school is life changing in a big way. Second, it is essential, I think, to have a really good support system in place. I’m lucky that I have Music Man in my corner. He is completely and totally amazing. When I’m upset and crabby about homework or overwhelmed with trying to get everything done, the first words out of his mouth are always, “What can I do to help?” He helped me out so much this week alone. Monday, he traded cars with me so that he could take mine in for an oil change, which was long overdue. Getting a haircut was also long overdue, and I wanted to get it done before standing up in front of my whole class for discussion leading on Tuesday. Then, when I finished the handout for discussion leading on Monday night, he ran to kinkos for me and got the 25 color copies I needed so that I could finish up the rest of my homework. It’s the little things like that that can make a huge difference when you’re at the pressure cooker stage of feeling overloaded.

My BFF is also greatly supportive. As is my cousinfriend. In addition to the supportive people, there are apathetic people (my boss and coworkers) and completely unsupportive people. This latter category is tricky. They can make you doubt yourself and can be upsetting and exhausting to deal with. Sadly, my own mother falls into this category.

Below are some examples of how helpful supportive people can be and how destructive unsupportive people can be:

Me: I HATE this class! It SUCKS! It’s sooooooooooooooooooooooooo much work.

Music Man: “Don’t let it get you down, hon. You’ve only got 'x' weeks left. You CAN do it! When you’re done, you’re going to be one step closer to completing your degree. It’s going to be worth it in the end. I’m sooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo proud of you. What can I do to help?”

BFF: “I don’t blame you! It sounds really stupid. I could never do what you’re doing; I could never ever go back to school. I just couldn’t handle it. I really don’t know how you do it.”

Cousinfriend: “I’m so proud of you. You can do it!!”

Mom: “Oh that’s too bad. Yeah, my life is majorly busy lately too. I get home from work and cook dinner and do a few other things, and before I know it, it’s time for bed! My life is going to be changing in a big way next month because I have a couple seminars I have to take for a board of director’s position I took with a local charity. It’s going to be so super busy and hectic.” Lays on guilt trip that I never see her or nephew and never talk to her anymore.

Me: I’m so sorry. I can’t make it to event “A, B, C,” because I have homework (class, study group, etc.).

Music Man: “It sucks that you don’t get to go have fun because you have to work. I can’t wait until this class is over for you so that you can take a much deserved break. I’ll run the dog out of energy before I go to this gig. I love you. Anything else I can do to help?”

BFF: Doesn’t ask me to go to any event that conflicts with my class or homework schedule, because she already knows my schedule because we talk every single day.

Cousinfriend: “I totally understand. It’s cool. We’ll get together soon.”

Mom: *Blank stare or incredulous silence on other end of phone* “Oh. I figured as much.” OR “Oh. I forgot you have school.” *GIGANTIC SIGH* “Fine.” Files my horrible rejection of her away for future guilt trips.

Me: Someone asks what I’m up to and I tell them I’ve been busy with school. They say something like, “Oh! I didn’t know you were in school. That’s great! What for?” I reply, “Social Work.” They reply, “That’s exciting! Good for you!”

Music Man: Big, proud smile.

Mom: “Yep! That’s my super smart daughter!” (She loves taking credit for the good stuff.) “I wish I had the time to go back to school,” *SIGH* “but, I’m so busy raising a three year-old and working. I’m going to be working in a social work capacity in my position on the board of directors of local charity.” And on, and on, and on, ad nauseam because the world does, in fact, revolve around her.

As you can see, dear readers, those supportive people are awesome. They empathize, sympathize, offer to help, lift your spirits, act as a sounding board, and would do anything they could to help you. Never once do they say what’s probably really on their mind: “Ummmm…you signed up for this, dummy. This is all your doing. Why don’t you just quit?”

You would think my mother would be one of those awesome people, wouldn’t you? Well, maybe not so much after reading the above, but logically one would think that a parent would be one of their child’s biggest supporters. As you can see from what you’ve read above, my mother is not like that. She’s been this way my whole life, so I’m used to it. It doesn’t mean that it doesn’t still hurt sometimes. It would be nice, just once, for her to say that she’s proud or to empathize or even just to not make everything all about her for a change. I think when I was younger, my mom probably taught me, “If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all,” but as you can see, she doesn’t live by that. (So maybe she didn’t teach me that after all???? Well, someone did, because I know, remember, and use it.)

If she were a wild animal, my mother would be one that would eat her young, and I’d be the first to go. Since I’ve been a teenager, my mother has competed with me in a contest that exists only in her mind. She acts almost jealous of me at times, which I don’t understand and is quite unsettling when you consider that she’s the adult and I’m the child. (Well, not anymore—I am over thirty after all—but I am and always will be her child.) Then again, for as long as I can remember, I’ve been more of an adult than my mother ever has. I mean, it’s not very adult to tell your seventeen year old daughter that she’s a “prima donna bitch” who needs to get out of your house because she’s obviously outgrown it and thinks she’s too good for it.

You might wonder why I haven’t or don’t write my mother off completely, and the main reason that I don’t is my nephew. She has custody of my nephew (the explanation of that is a blog for another day), and if I didn’t play nice with her, I fear that I wouldn’t get to see or spend time with him. And that would just about kill me. I feel as though I see him too little the way it is, so to have my time with him be even more restricted (or even taken away all together) would just absolutely crush me.

I don’t know, nor do I think I’ll ever know, why my mother feels the way she does towards me, and at this point, I’m getting really sick of even pretending to care. We both do it though. We both put on our masks to give the world the appearance that we are a wonderful mother/daughter duo and everything is status quo. We wear our pretend faces for each other too—her to appear to be the loving and proud mother, and me to pretend that I’m the respectful and loving daughter. It is what it is, and it will not change. So, I have to continue to roll with the punches, and I have to remember not to try to have any sort of meaningful conversation or relationship with her. From now on, when she asks how I am or what’s new or anything like that, I’m going to stick with, “I’m fine. Things are good.” Because I am and they are. I have my support system; people who love me unconditionally and would do most anything for me, and for that, I am most grateful.

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