(Originally published on Blogger in December 2016)
When I was six years old, my dad graduated from college.
He was 41.
I clearly remember Dad's graduation ceremony, partly because my little brother was complaining of a stomachache the entire time, partly because the ceremony itself was dreadfully long and boring for a first grader, and partly because I thought my dad was just so cool to be walking across the stage in a black hat and "dress".
For years, I never knew that graduating as a 41-year-old was not exactly "normal". I always just knew that Daddy worked tirelessly for our family. He was, and is still, the only one of his four siblings to graduate from college, just as my granddad was one of a select few in his generation to do the same.
I went to college because my granddad started a college fund for both my brother and me when we were infants, and this savings account grew until I was 18 so that my parents paid relatively little to help me attend the University of Oklahoma.
I never took out student loans. I realize that, in today's world, that is nothing short of a miracle.
I also went to college because of the legacy that my granddad left, even after his passing, and the example that my dad gave me as he completed his degree. I honestly didn't realize that there were other options after high school, and I'm not sure that I would have considered them anyway.
College as an 18-year-old certainly required some effort on my part, but much of my time at OU was spent playing ultimate frisbee until 2:00 a.m. and doing lunch dates in the Union. I graduated with an excellent GPA and did not kill myself trying to do so. My social life was rich.
Today, I'm back in school, ten years after graduation, and I am only now comprehending the many sacrifices that my dad made for our family when I was little. He worked full-time, went to school in the evenings, and still found time to be with Tim and me. I remember him being gone at night, but he was never absent from our lives.
Several years ago, I started working on my master's degree at OU. The longer I was in school, the less I felt the calling to become a reading specialist. My original motive to pursue a higher degree was based out of a love for learning and a desire to recreate my undergrad experience. Selfishly, I wanted to boost my ego and knew that a master's degree would make me look better on paper. In the end, those were not good enough reasons to continue.
This time around is different than when I was fresh out of high school, and it is also different than when I was working on a higher level degree.
This time, school is for my family.
I haven't loved coming home from lab at 10:00 p.m. with studying left to do, and there are so many days when it feels impossible to hold a part-time job and make everyone stop screaming and fold the laundry and do all the things. (I truly have no idea how single parents make that happen.)
College isn't exactly fun this time around.
It's also expensive, and I frequently find myself questioning if all of this is worth it. But, I keep coming back to the same answer that it is, or at least it will be.
It will be worth it when I can help my girls pay for their own college and their weddings.
It will be worth it to have a job which allows my people to get my best instead of getting my leftovers because I gave everyone else's people my best all day.
It will be worth it when I can say, "Yes, I will read you that book for the 47th time today because I can because it's a Tuesday and I only work three days a week."
Right now, all of those "worth its" seem forever away. They are at least six more semesters away, to be exact. They are coming, though, and that thought has pushed me through many a night when I would rather be home with my family than listening to another lecture about electrons and other topics which have virtually no relevance in my everyday life.
I finished my first semester back in college with As, but my perfectionist self surprisingly would have been okay if I hadn't. I don't need to be perfect to do well or to get accepted into the dental hygiene program (I hope!). Sometimes, everyone's best interest is found in closing the textbook and running around in the backyard with the little people, who aren't going to be little for much longer.