The fall after we moved to Canada, back in 1975, I couldn’t wait to start school. It was just before ‘the big day’ when mom took me aside, and explained I would need to wait a little longer. My head felt light. A lump formed in my throat. And her explanation, that I needed to wait and start with my fourth cousin Kenny Guenther, made no sense to me. I didn’t want to wait. I wanted to go to school. I had waited since I was about four, or even younger, when I watched my brothers and sisters leave, and secretly wanted to go with them. So whatever mom said after explaining I would need to wait, fell on deaf ears and a sad heart.Looking back I understand that it was only a short wait. But that wait seemed like an eternity…
I loved kindergarten. And grade one… and two.. and three… and four.. And I loved parts of grades five through nine. And then I left home and school. But I never stopped dreaming of it.
In my late twenties, maybe early thirties, when I found the courage and confidence to get my GED. But the longing to hold a ‘real’ high school diploma in my hand, never died.
In 2006 I returned to adult high school to take Grade 12 University English, just one course, to prove to myself that my grammar and writing were at least close to ‘on track’. The young woman taking my information at the desk asked if I had done grade eleven. “No, M’am, I only went to grade nine.” She informed me I would have to do ten and eleven first. I asked if they could make an exception, give me two weeks to prove myself in grade 12, and if I was in over my head, I would take her advice. She smiled. “You seem pretty confident. We’ll register you.”
Ms. Forwell was an outstanding teacher. I approached her before the first essay and asked for advice on how to write an essay. She looked bewildered. “But you know how. You would have done them throughout high school.” I explained that I had dropped out at grade nine from private school, and had never written an essay. She gave me permission to come to her any time if I had questions, and she would help me.
For my first essay, I hired an English teacher to proof and edit my work and give me feedback, and got a decent mark, somewhere in the 90’s. And after that I was on my own. I kept his feedback handy, and used it to edit my next one, and handed it in as early as possible, to get the bonus mark. Classmates supported each other. And the principal was an outstanding cheerleader for all students. She believed in us. She believed in me.
It was then, when I wasn’t even looking, that my dreams coming true, started to take shape. The guidance counselor wanted to meet with me. What were my dreams, my goals, so far as school were concerned. For the time being, I said, all I wanted was my Grade 12 University English. Nothing more. I had a young family–five children between 12 and 4. The counselor looked at me then, intently, and asked, “Do you realize how close you are to getting an official high school diploma?” I had no clue. The documentation I handed in included Life Insurance and Mutual Funds Licensing, a variety of college courses, and a resume. “You only need for credits, Ms. Metzger. Are you sure you don’t want to do this?”
That evening I shared with Tim. Only four more credits! I would take Chemistry, Biology and do a Co-op and with my English course that would earn me a diploma. Tim agreed that while it was inconvenient, I needed to get it done, and his parents helped with
babysitting. Thanks to Ms. Day, who patiently helped me grasp the concepts of Chemistry, and made Biology class interesting, both classes went very well.
Fall of 2006 I finished my final course at an adult learning centre. The principal called me not long after, and asked if I would take on approximately 10 students struggling in math–the one subject I had skirted by using my mutual funds & life insurance licensing, and the various bookkeeping systems I knew as credit. I made excuses but in the end her faith in me gave me the courage to try it. “I’ll try anything once, and if I am in too deep, I’ll let you know.” And with that I was ‘in’. To be honest, I haven’t a clue how she got by with it, with me not having my diploma, but she did. And I taught.
Our classroom was a blast. Each evening Tim taught me the lesson, and the following day I taught my class, with the support of a genius student. And by first tests, all students who previously were failing, had pulled marks over 80’s. All tests were sent away for marking, leaving no room for questioning. It wasn’t my brilliance that transformed their marks; it was the reality that I too struggled and once having it explained, I was able to connect with struggling students and explain it in a way that made sense to them. (God forbid I should be asked to teach those same lessons now… Tim would have to teach me all over again!)
Unfortunately, before the term was up, I suffered a massive heart attack, ending my short-lived career as high school teacher. By the following school year the adult high school closed down. I was in the last graduating class.
June 27, 2007, I graduated, having completed my co-op earlier that year, and handed in my final projects, and received my official high school diploma. The school honoured me with the Valedictorian Award, and the Governor General’s Award for highest academic achievement in the school. The experience of pulling off high marks in my courses, and successfully teaching grade 10 applied and academic math, boosted my confidence. I was no dummy, after all, as I had long believed.
I started dreaming more of university and what I would do next, but with my heart and health, it wasn’t the right time. I looked into it, but laid the dream aside for a time. For nine years I left it ‘on hold’ and in that time I took medication for my heart. It was summer 2015 when we suddenly discovered I had lost much of my short-term memory, which was mildly frightening. A little research into my meds and I found one with the side effect ‘may cause short term memory loss’. My heart sank. What if it never returned? What if it continued to deteriorate?
By September 2015 I had weaned myself off of all medications, determined to live whatever time I have to the fullest. It was then I decided that I would rather have my life cut shorter, and have a memory and feel well, than to take meds and live to ninety, but with poor quality of life.
In November a gentleman who had read a review of my memoir connected me with Michelle Jackett of University of Waterloo, and encouraged us to meet. In December we met and in the course of conversation she recommended I take some undergrad courses in the Peace & Conflict Studies. But within a day or two she emailed and encouraged me to consider applying to the Masters program, as a mature student. There were no guarantees, but it was worth a try. I met with the director and assistant to ‘ask a gazillion questions’ and in January I applied.
It was a long wait from January when I applied, to May when the email came in telling me I had been accepted on the condition that I was willing to do a 5-course term of undergrad studies, and prove that I am able to maintain a minimum of 75% in all 5 courses.
Tomorrow is the big day. I will go for a full day of orientation, in preparation for the first three months of study. I am excited. Mildly nervous… or at least with butterflies in my tummy… I don’t know what ten years of medication has done to my memory in the context of studying, but I know I will fight through and give it all I’ve got.
For the next two years my family plans to eat grilled cheese two nights a week, sandwiches two nights, pizza one night, and eat big meals on weekends. (Which my men will cook.)
In all seriousness, the course schedule is such that it feels very do-able. I will be away less with school than I was with one-on-one clients, and home for all dinners except Tuesday evenings. The rest of my week will be spent with my nose in a book, right here in the comfort of home.
~ T ~
© Trudy Metzger
And tonight there is no one telling me I have to wait a bit longer. It is time..