On Tuesdays and Thursdays for most of the year, after I give myself my daily pep talk and eat the leftover pop-tarts crusts on the table, I take my kids to school. Well, five separate schools actually, but that’s a different story, one that requires more vodka to tell.
And then I point my mini-van toward that haven of higher learning, the mysterious and self-defeating place my children often refer to as, simply, “your college”.
As in, “Mama, do they have snack time at ‘your college’?”
And, “Is the teacher nice at ‘your college’?”
And also, “why the fuck did you ever decide to go to ‘your college’?”
The last one is me conversing with…me. In case you were worried my children had a swearing problem.
Which they do. But then, again…different story, more vodka.
I will say, truthfully, that a series of misguided decisions brought me to this unique interval of my life. That should be adequate information enough, the details (the failed marriage, the frequent gestations, the career working with the Psychic Friends Network) aren’t really part of this story. Just know that I tread a bumpy, lumpy road most days in which I am both a witty and progressive (re)married mother of many children and also an incredibly disheartened, saggy 35-year-old college junior.
Needless to say, I do not fit into either social sphere very well.
The cool moms at the (five different) schools view my swearing and messiness as “low brow”. And possibly contagious. I view their clean children and matching socks as pretentious. It’s a frequently vicious tete-a-tete where I feel my tattoos should give me a certain amount of street cred, but these moms have sharp, manicured nails so I try not to throw down. If I can help it.
And at “my college” things aren’t much better. My only friends are the other misfits like me–the moms, the kids with chronic and untreated acne, the grandma auditing Art History that uses a Dictaphone who asked for my telephone number. Right. Because I look like I still have a home phone. The other students, the “real” college-goers are mostly hipsters, with a bit of beatnik mixed in. Some of them even wear berets. And since I’m so far below them in social status, the hipsters at “my college” don ‘t even feel like it’s worth their time to mock me. Instead they pet me and send me Facebook requests (to mock me behind my back). Or ask me to buy them beer. Sometimes, the really nice ones will lend me their scarf so I can fit in for just an hour or two. It feels really terrific, let me tell you: those few minutes when I feel like I am one of them.
And tomorrow is the start of a brand new semester. I’m an English major, I love the smell of new Norton Anthologies. And I can’t help it that I am a wee bit excited, I have my school clothes all laid out. My backpack ready. Like a first grader. With cellulite.
But I know the drill too well by now. I will walk in to the classroom and sit down, the second seat in the second row. The professor will walk in and I will realize suddenly that I am older than she is. And more matronly. One of us has a uni-bosom and it’s isn’t her. She will call me “Ms. Jankowski” instead of “Nicole”, as though my hairstyle alone screams “BORN IN 1978”. And Kylie and Savanah and Boy with the Plaid Beret will smile at me, knowingly. And right away, I will feel like I am different, but worse than that—like I am less than.
Except not this semester. I am walking into class and sitting in the front row, front seat. After three years on that campus, I am going to find the library at “my college” and be brave enough to walk inside. I am kicking ass and taking first names—and I’m inviting all my friends to join me. I’m even inviting the grandma with the throat condition who sat next to me in Film class. Everyone’s in.
Me and the misfits, we’re taking “my college” back.
All I can say is this year, there’s a whole lot of hipsters in scarves going down.