Sacrifice - FamilyEducation

Sacrifice

March 25,2010
Professor Mom
Aliki McElreath

Aliki is a writer and college English teacher. She lives in North Carolina with her husband, two children (ages seven and ten), a dog, a cat, a rabbit, and too many fish.

My office-mate and I were working yesterday afternoon when an older woman, dressed in a suit jacket and purple felt hat, and dragging an enormous wheeled suitcase, stopped by. She was frail-looking, and out-of-breath, and cranky, and clearly had something on her mind. We were a little afraid of her, actually; afraid we were in for a big scolding from a crotchety but well-meaning grandparent--she had that look about her. As it turned out, she was looking for her Spanish teacher, but she plopped herself down in a chair with a huge sigh, took off her hat, and made herself at home. Her problems, she told us, had to do with her Spanish class. She was falling behind in it, and scared it would prevent her from graduating. She was also, as she told us right away, in her late 60s, and in college for the second time. "Do you want to hear my story?" she asked, in a way that implied she was going to tell it, whether we wanted to hear it or not. And we did want to hear it--this story behind the tiny woman with the purple hat. It was the classic, heart-pulling tale of a woman's--a mother's dream deferred. After raising her daughter, she enrolled in college in the late 1980s when her daughter turned twenty. They were undergraduates together--she at the same college she found her way back to today, and her daughter at the nearby state school. But then the unplanned--the disastrous--happened: the daughter got pregnant. "And you know what I did?" the purple-hat lady leaned forward, her eyes big and insistent, her lips quivering. She wasn't going to let her drop out of school, let her daughter's dreams go up in smoke, as her own had years before. Instead, she dropped out of college to raise her grandson. Which she did. For twenty-some years. And now she's back, at 67, to get her college degree. And she's worried she's failing Spanish. And NOBODY better stand in her way. She lugs her laptop around in her huge suitcase. She's held onto the same textbooks she used over twenty years ago when she came to college that first time. They are like a good luck charm to her, the outdated elementary Spanish, and the torn psychology text. She must have looked at them hundreds of times, between then and now--dreaming of the day she'd get to use them again. I think about her for the rest of the day, the frail-looking, cranky, gutsy, brave lady with the purple felt hat. I think about all the young people out there who take college for granted, who waste away opportunities, who glide through life on a cloud of entitlement. And then I think about a mother's love, and sacrifice, and the astounding, brilliant, power of dreams.