So, I graduated at seventeen with a high school diploma written in red crayon on white construction paper. There were 21 kids in my graduating class. Most showed up in ripped blue denim shorts and sandals. Now that may be the uniform standard now, but in 1976, it was outrageous. My dad was horrified. I, of course, had dressed up nicely as we would be having a formal family dinner afterwards.
We were supposed to get official high school transcripts, but that year City School lost its accreditation, so I never saw one. Somehow I managed to get into college anyway. Partly, it was because I got a scholarship. City School was allowed to bestow two National Honors Scholarships to the graduating class. Since only two of us wanted to go to college, they arbitrarily gave them to another student and me. I did graduate second in my class, but only because we graduated in alphabetical order and my last name began with “b”.
In the fall I went to University Wisconsin – Parkside, in Racine, for one year. That was totally at the opposite end of the spectrum from City School. The college freshmen wore dress shirts and ties! Most of the students dressed up really nice, and many of them were business majors. The legal drinking age was 18, and while they might go out for a social drink on Fridays (I couldn’t join, as I was underage) getting drunk was not part of the plan. They were a serious bunch, already thinking about investments and retirement funds, while I hadn’t a grown-up thought in my head.
I took piano lessons there, because I felt like it. I took a creative writing class for fun. I took 12 credits in anthropology, which never did appy towards my major, because I wanted to go on the summer field trip to the Kiabab Paiute reservation. And most importantly, I scheduled all my classes to fall on Tuesday or Thursday, so I could spend three days a week at home doing things that really mattered. Writing stories, gardening, puttering around the house. I think even then I knew I was destined to be a mom and a homemaker, although I wasn’t dating anyone.
The next year my best friend Vicky graduated. We were the same age, and should have been freshmen together, but I’d finished high school a year early. Anyway, we had always planned to go to the University Wisconsin – Madison together, and share a dorm. So for my second year of college, I transferred.
That went well. People had always advised us not to dorm with our best friend because it could kill a friendship, but I knew Vicky so well, and I think she really knew me. We’d been having “sleep overs” (you know, when kids get together and don’t sleep?) for years. I didn’t like the man she started dating, and she didn’t like the boys I flirted with, but we agreed to disagree and let it go. But my second year of college felt like a waste as well.
I took Russian History, a graduate level course which I was allowed to take because I was still an honor student. The professor was really sweet, and seemed to take an interest in me. (Nothing inappropriate). He invited me to go to his Russian Orthodox Church with him one Sunday morning, and that was fascinating. He worked with me to help me write the mandatory term paper, because I confessed to him that I had never written one before in my life. He was appalled that I could get to that level of education and so uneducated. He did require that I read at least one book that wasn’t in English, though. That was quite a challenge, as I’d only had a semester of Russian and one high school year of German. I did manage to understand enough from one book to get a quote, and called it good enough.
I had a strange boyfriend that year. He proposed to me, and I foolishly accepted. I think I was starting to realize that I was going nowhere, and maybe being someone’s wife, or someone’s mother, would give me purpose. My parents felt it was just jealously because my older sister was getting married, but I didn’t think a thing about that. I was happy for her, and I don’t believe I’ve ever been truly jealous of her for anything. Accept that she’s never been overweight! (Grrrr!)
My older brother Steve was moving to Maine that summer to build a log cabin from a kit on fifteen acres he had bought with Dad’s co-signature. He had big ideas for a young man of 24. He invited me to go with him. In some ways it was the best experience, and in some ways I regret decisions I had made then. It was my first time truly being on my own. I wasn’t in a dormitory where the college was responsible to keep a roof over my head and a clean sheet on my bed. I didn’t have a cafeteria where all my meals were well-balanced and nutritionally complete. And I didn’t have a “lights out” curfew.
Steve and I lived under a tarp while he worked on his cabin of jumbo Lincoln logs. We never did get an outhouse built before the snow fell. He got the roof up, the dormer framed, but never got the siding on the dormer. We used to have to brush the snow off our sleeping bags in the morning before stuffing logs in the woodstove. Ah, those were the days! I truly felt alive. Like I was experiencing life on my terms, not simply passing time.
My second summer in Maine, things started changing. I had a boyfriend – the kind you don’t take home to meet your parents. I went to my first pot party, and had to walk out. Just the fumes were making me sick. I got injured at work, severe burns on my right hand which left a scar, and was unemployed for months. I got the flu, and discovered that not having an outhouse had lost its appeal. Life just seemed too hard, and I was depressed.
Then one morning I woke up and realized that I had a loving home. I could just pack up and leave, and then everything seemed right as rain. A girlfriend wanted to travel part way with me and share the driving. She had enough money to catch a bus to her next destination, so off we went. I broke up with the boyfriend, thanked my brother (at least, I hope I did! I have a lot of great memories!) and made my first cross-county trip by myself. Well, with a girlfriend. But neither one of us was even twenty, yet.
My parents were relieved to have me home. I hope they hadn’t been worried about me, but I hadn’t learned yet that was what parents do. As I’d been unemployed for a number of months, partly because of my hand, I then qualified for the CETA program – the Comprehensive Educational Training Act. There was a day care that happened to be renting space from my dad’s church, and they happened to be looking for a teacher for their kindergarten group. Since CETA would pay half my wages, I was exactly the person they were looking for. They sent me to a four-hour course, “child development”, and I was certified.
My experiences at the Day Care were fantastic. I had this overwhelming sense of “I’m home!” I couldn’t wait for Monday mornings, and for my five-year-olds to greet me with their enthusiastic smushy kisses and strangle-hold hugs. I can still remember their names, although they’d have to be nearing forty now.
I labored over my lesson plans. I devoured books on preschoolers, discovering methods of discipline, crowd control, what to expect from a five-year-old, teaching physical fitness (remember, I barely passed that!), understanding a one-to-one correspondence – necessary before learning to count, add, or subtract. I memorized fingerplays. I practiced singing children’s songs on the weekends so I could teach them during the week. I really worked for my minimum wage!
Then one day we had a substitute teacher come in. During a quiet period, I made small talk with her, and discovered that she had a degree in Early Childhood Education. I didn’t even know they had such a degree! That was my “eureka” moment. Before nightfall, I had made the decision to return to college (pleasing my father immensely) and get my degree in Early Childhood Education, as well.
I went to Mount Senario College that fall, where I met my husband. But that, as they say, is another story.