I am working diligently with my 17 yr old son to get him in college. Each day I learn something new and exciting. A dorm, a scholarship, a better life for him forever. I keep joking that it would cost less money if I just bought this boy a house. But I’m finding that sitting down with him one on one reviewing SAT questions is more satisfying than I could have ever imagined. I am learning so much about my self through my children. But the reality is I am so excited for him because this is an opportunity I never had.
I graduated high school in the early 80s in the deep south. Girls weren’t encouraged to go to college then. It was still something for boys. I was a smart kid, certainly smarter than my brother. Yet I was told, be a beautician because that’s all you will ever be able to do. After all, you really should marry quickly after high school and raise a family, you’re only young once. And if you wait too long you’ll be too old and no man will want you. It was the standard that all girls were told.
I told my mother one time that I wanted to be a lawyer, and my friend, who was with me at the time, was also going to be an attorney. We were going to open a practice together in Charlotte NC. She looked at me as if I was the most foolish person she had ever seen and said, “Don’t be ridiculous, you are too stupid to be an attorney.” I was heart-broken, but since I had heard it so many times before, I believed it.
My friend was angry. I didn’t know why at the time, of course I do now. Even now, when we talk about being children, she remembers how crushed I was when my mother called me “stupid”. She said I needed to try again. So I went to her in her bedroom and told her we needed to talk. That I really did want to go to college and I was sure I was smart enough. I will never forget her patronizing look, the way she refused to even discuss it. She told me she had money for college, but it was for my brother, that he was the smart one and she didn’t want to waste her money on me when she had a son.
When I finished beauty school I moved out and was an overnight success,. Not all hairdressers hit the fast track, but I was one of the top 5%. I was a fast learner and moved into management very quickly. I was making pretty good money for a 19 yr old. In fact there are adults today that wish they had my salary from 30 years ago. I was making 80k a year by then. Yes, cutting hair. I was the exception, not the rule. I decided that it was time to figure out what this college thing was about. So without telling anyone, because I was sure they would tell me not to go, I went to visit an Ivy league school near where I lived. I told the lady at the admissions desk that I wanted to go to school there and I could afford it, which in my mind was the only thing standing in my way. I told her that I made enough money to pay cash for everything and I was a hard worker and I would do well there. I didn’t know that different schools had different criteria. Since my family didn’t want to put me through school, no one had ever explained how it worked to me. She said my GPA was 1/100th of a point too low. She didn’t tell me that their standards were exceptionally high and there were other schools that would be a better fit. Nope, just that I wasn’t good enough. I felt so stupid. But she was a professional, and she had acknowledges that I wasn’t college material. Maybe I was stupid after all.
Here I was, 19, managing a staff of 24, with a good salary, a brand new car, and apartment, doing pretty ok for myself. But I had been told I was stupid so many times I believed it. In fact my brother believed it and told me so on a regular basis, even more than my mother. Yes, the brother that took 5 years to finish his associates degree because he kept failing classes. I decided that if I couldn’t go to school, at least I should educate myself, so I didn’t sound stupid and embarrass myself. I started reading things that I had heard were “classics” or books that people said they read in college. You know the ones that were somehow expected and “everyone” had read. I wrote down the names and read them all. I learned everything I could, just to make myself feel better about who I was. I even went to college bookstores and bought the used books so I could study.
I eventually dated a man who told me I was smart, and I needed to go to school. I thought he was just trying to get in my pants. But he helped me apply to a community college where I did pretty good. I made A’s, except for English and Sociology… Bs. Yet again, proof of my “stupidity”. It took a long time for me to realize that I wasn’t so stupid after all. My son’s first grade teacher was the one to finally tell me those were pretty exceptional college grades and I should finish school. I was stunned and it took a long time for me to believe it. I ended up with a 3.86 GPA in college. I still do things to prove I’m not stupid, and I suppose I will always have a piece of me that doubts I am good enough. But I do know that I’m not stupid, even if my family isn’t quite sure. I still cut hair, I love it. It’s fun and relaxing and I love to see people excited about an exceptional cut. I’m really really good at what I do, I always have been. But I am also building a pretty decent sized company at the same time. So hair has become a part-time hobby that I get a huge amount of satisfaction from.
My parents and brother have finally realized I’m not so slow after all. The reality is I did a lot of things to prove myself to them, and even though I don’t need their approval anymore, children crave their parents approval. And upon occasion, they concede that I am indeed doing pretty ok. I have worked very hard to make sure my children know I will always be in their corner. And I’m pretty sure they know. Five kids down, 2 to go for the college ride. Some went, some weren’t interested, but it’s always available. One of my 24 yr old’s is currently working on his masters. I love it! The 29 yr old finished years ago, the 20 yr old is just starting night school. They are all different. But they are all determined to be outstanding.
Now it’s my 17 yr old son’s turn. We live in a type A personality town, where college education is expected, pretty much a given, not a maybe. His school counselor told him his grades weren’t good enough and he should join the army. Seriously? I was livid. That woman should be fired. He may not be headed to an Ivy league school either, but he will go to school. And he will succeed.
My son wants to be a Cardiologist. He is a smart kid and makes decent grades. He never gets in trouble, and he has a good heart. He also has me for a mother. I have done my homework by now. I am not stupid. And I know what he needs to get to where he wants to be. There will be no excuses and no people allowed to hold him back. Anyone that tries will have to go through me. He will go to college, and he will be exceptional. We have found several colleges that he is eligible to go to, and even gotten him money to go. A full ride including his dorm. We have narrowed it down to 15 four year universities with his major that aren’t in towns that are too cold to live in, we are Southerners you know. Now he gets to choose which school he likes best and go be the amazing person I know he can be.
I have a daughter, she is younger than him. I already have a college fund set up in her name. She will go to college too. And she will also be exceptional. My children are smart, all of them. And no one should ever tell them they can’t go to college. If they want to go, and they have a dream, together we will find a way to make it happen. I have told my children that sometimes the answer is no, and that’s ok. But if you don’t ask, it is ALWAYS no, and that’s not ok.