Saturday, May 12, 2012

Mother's Day Specials Part 4 of 4 - "Mom"

Here is a picture of Mom.  I like it because she's got her winning smile, her Wyoming shirt, and a nice scene of Mt. Rainer in the background. 
When I was in fourth grade my mother was unable to make some commitment at my school because she was working for a local community college, teaching people in a local prison how to read, after which she had to go take her graduate school entrance exam, known as a GRE.  On the day in question, I was perhaps 9, and I told my teacher that my mother could not attended because she was in prison taking her GED. 
This was the first of many mix-ups that occurred as my mother began to pursue her masters degree in public administration.  I remember that as her studies went on, our family purchased our first computer, a large PC, which I used to play CD ROM games, and once forged a letter to my 5th grade teacher claiming that I had permission to bring home and keep two chicks hatched during a class science experiment.  It was two days before my mother found the chicks living under a heat lamp in my bedroom closet.
On Tuesdays and Thursdays I often helped out by cooking simple meals.  In fact, I'm pretty sure that for the two or three years that my mother was in school,spaghetti and bean soup made up our diet for those two days a week, nearly every week that she was registered in classes. 
Back then, the popular t.v. show was Home Improvement.  On Tuesday nights, while my real life mom was in class, my sister and I would sit up and watch Tim's wife Jill act out the difficulties of being a mom of kids our age and trying to go back to school.  We experienced many of the same ups and downs.  Like Jill, my mom suffered the tragedy of having her kids erase her homework from the family computer.  Like the tool man's family, my dad, sister and I stood ever so proudly with my mom at her graduation.
My sister and I always remember when Mom won an award from Mike Lowery, then governor of Washington State, for her excellence in education.  I believe it was called, "The Governors Executive Fellowship Award."  On the day that we went with Mom to watch her accept the award, Laura and I were to wear matching shorts outfits.  In the hurry and nervousness to prepare, we switched our outfits.  As a result, my shorts were way too short, Laura's were much too long.  I don't know how my mother feels about this distortion in her special photo with the governor, but to me, it says that my mom, for one day perhaps in our entire lives, was too excited to look twice at Laura and I and I'm okay with that.  I'm actually more than okay with that.  I like it that way.  For once, Mom got something for Mom and she deserved it.
Of course, once she graduated, Mom's education changed the finances, the aspirations, and the entire course of reality for our family.  We went from watching her substitute teach, do other people's taxes and run a daycare on the side, to hold nationally recognized award winning positions.  She became a leader in her field as a fire information officer, as a fire prevention officer, and an outreach education worker.
She would often take me, and sometimes my sister, to work with her.  She let me watch her lead.  This made a big impact in my life.  Instead of walking into the world with a chip on my shoulder, wondering if I should be listened to, or if I was worthy of respect as a woman, I had the pleasure of watching her work and I knew from moment one that the men that she bossed, as well as the men that I might one day boss, were lucky for their feminine leadership. 
When I was 19, and living on less than $300 dollars a month,  without any education, and without gainful employment, Tim an I found out we were expecting our first child.  Because of my mom, I knew what to do.  Along with every doctor or insurance form I filled out that spring, I also filled out college applications.  I was determined to raise my child with the power of my education, just as my mother had.  By the time I was admitted to school and classes were starting, my son was only a few days old.  In fact, my son was 8 days old the day he and I attended our first college classes.  On our first day, I was traumatized.  I was terrified.  I was still learning how to nurse, and ended up having to feed the baby in the middle of my first college class.  When it was time to pick up and take a walk around campus for a tour, I was despondent.  I wondered if I was where I belonged.  I struggled with my belongings and my baby as I waddled uncomfortably behind my peers toward the library.
As we went through the different sections of the library I paid far more attention to my new son than anything my teacher or the librarian said.  I worried to myself, if I was exposing him to germs or other risk that might scar him for life.  I started to plan a hasty exit... and then, we entered a special room in the library.  Every book was bound in the same green leather that matched our school colors.  It was the thesis room.  There, on the shelf with the W's.... Under my mother's name, Tammie Wilson.... I saw her thesis. (Every time I think of this moment, or tell someone about it I cry)
My eyes welled, with shame I imagined how many times Mom must have wanted to give up.  I remembered how much opportunity she brought us by pressing onward.  Still ignoring the teacher I ran my fingers over the spine of my mother's bound thesis and I breathed in the knowledge, effort and determination of that book and that room.  Then I cupped my hand over my son's skull and kissed his forehead.  I said a little prayer and made a promise in that moment.  I promised not to give up, and prayed that my efforts would be worth it.
For years I hauled my son and eventually his brother, in my belly, on my breast, on my hip, in a stroller, in a sling, and on my back with me.  We took college course after college course together till I was finished.  Unlike my 4th grade self, they may not remember that this happened, but they will know it happened.  They will know that our family of four (like me, my sister, mother and father before us) sacrificed for education.  They will know that we believe in it with every core fiber of our being.  Neither I or Grandma ever gave up. 
I can think of many fine lessons that my mother has taught me, but this is the one I'll thank her for this Mother's Day.  Without her dedication to education, I don't know where I or my family would be.  I don't know if I would have made it through even one day of college without her.  Her example, as always, drove me through a difficult situation.  I am proud, damn proud, to be half her. 
Thanks Mom.  Happy Mother's Day. 

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