I am an adult learner. There I said it.
I was beyond terrified to go back to college. The idea of sitting in a classroom full of people who were years younger and pounds thinner than me was no less horrifying than waking up and finding myself a player in a most dangerous game. It was John and Rachel Hughes who finally talked me into going back.
“Heather, how many books a year do you read?”
“I don’t know anywhere from six to twelve.”
“You’ve read 12 more books than anyone in my class.”
John explained the Mid Continent Advantage Program to me and it made a great deal of sense for my lifestyle. Four hours a night, for one night a week, with each class being five weeks long. With Trey’s crazy coaching schedule, my work schedule, and the world’s busiest five year old it made perfect sense. I signed up.
There was a blip that happened on May 6, 2011. At five in the morning the phone rang. It was Dad calling from Arkansas telling me that Mom had died. It was also the morning of Selena’s junior prom. Trey woke up Selena to tell her the news. She cried and was generally devastated. After a few minutes of wailing and teeth gnashing I asked her to please stop, because it was prom day and “Mom Mom” would be pissed if her prom pictures turned out bad. Trey took charge of the Mayfield aspect of the day. He told our middle school family what had happened, and got Selena to school and Saidee to the sitters. I met Kara in Paducah so we could tell Kiaya in person. The next two weeks are a blur of tears, funerals, laughs, and New York City. My thoughts of school had been forgotten until another friend, Natalie Hayden, wrote a check for $50 and told me to use it for the registration fee.
“It is time for new beginnings.” she said.
That $50 was my new start. I finished enrolling and met my new cohort. My cohort was full of people that I was pretty sure I had nothing in common with. This group of men and women were the people that I would now spend every Monday night with. There were married couples, women older than me, women younger then me, veterans, an impressive array of tattoos, a Pentecostal, and a pretend socialite. It was a little like the adult education version of The Breakfast Club and I was pretty sure I was playing the role of Ally Sheedy.
Our first class together was dedicated to getting to know each other and to easing these adult learners back into paper writing and homework. The teacher was a sweet man who I am sure never graded anything. He was encouraging and never spoke down to us. Our big assignment due on the last day of class was a paper on a personal experience that rocked us to our core. I, of course, talked about grief and Mom. Others discussed topics like depression, infidelity, divorce, alcoholism, homelessness. Each one of us had a story to tell and we cried… a lot. With each class our group grew tighter; we lost people and occasionally picked up new members. We lost the heavy metal couple that made out in the back of the classroom. I cannot say that we were unhappy to see them go. We lost the pretty girl with the braided hair; she was nice and always smiled at me. I was sad to see her leave. I was amazed that the people I most connected with were some of the same ones that I thought I would have nothing in common with.
Much like high school we have broken into cliques. Each of us sit in the same place every week, and if someone new to the cohort sits in our spot, we are stunned beyond all measure. The next week I will arrive 30 minutes early to stake out my rightful spot and smile pleasantly at the person who so cruelly stole my spot the week before. I am an adult, you see, but not really. I am forever trapped in a high school mentality. I like my group of friends and dislike change of any kind. Every class I sit with Rachel, Marissa, and Nicole and I don’t like anything to change it; I am a creature of habit.
I am decidedly more liberal than most in my class, and at first I was terrified to say what I really felt. I had no problem being the funny or weird girl, but being the girl who was waving the huge gay pride flag was a bigger issue for me. I’m in the Bible belt and attending a Christian college, some of the “far right’ sit just to the right and in front of me. See, I’m not sure if you’ve noticed but there are people in this world who think the louder you talk the more right you are. We have a few of those in the class, but for the most part, I think our cohort is very good at listening to each other and keeping the “you’re a stupid mother fucker” comments to at least a low growl. I have been pleasantly surprised by one girl who happens to be Pentecostal and home schools her children. I originally thought that we would have nothing in common and she would have a very limited point of view. But, I was wrong. That girl can and will argue for four hours on any side of a subject. She knows where she stands on subjects but never makes you feel bad for disagreeing. She is funny and has a biting wit.
We recently had a new person enter our cohort and she will be referred to as “the bitch with the belted trench” for the remainder of this post. From the minute she walked into class she knocked our energy off. Most importantly she knocked my energy off. If this was a real life version of Buffy the Vampire Slayer she would be this season’s big bad. The bitch with the belted trench came into the cohort with the attitude that she was better than the rest of us. That she was more worldly, traveled, and generally smarter than us. She works for the school and treats the job as if she is the administrative assistant for POTUS. After class each week different members of our class would come to me and say, “What’s up with…” and my instinctive reply was, “the bitch in the belted trench, I know right.”
I feel awful for feeling this way. My high school mentality is not something I am proud of, but then again sometimes people are just bitches. During one of our 15 minute class breaks I was telling a group of friends that I was excited about the response the blog was getting. In that conversation I probably said Sex on a Hobo Mattress and Other Bad Decisions about five times. Later my friend Carrie, the Pentecostal, laughed and told me every time I said the name the bitch in the belted trench rolled her eyes. If she had been a part of the original cohort she would have known what a huge step writing this blog was for me. She also would have known that nothing makes you worldlier then having had sex on an actual hobo mattress.
I am an adult learner and I am proud of the friendships I have made. I was wrong to walk into class on the first night and think that I had nothing in common with my fellow students. We have everything in common. We are over-coming past bad decisions and we sometimes work out those issues in class. There is no need to feel superior to anyone because if you are an adult learner shit has probably went down somewhere in your life.
“…what we found out is that each one of us is: a brain, and an athlete, and a basket case, and a princess, and a criminal. Does that answer your question? Sincerely yours, The Breakfast club” (Mayfield 17F)