The Old College Try

Because of how our lives developed SWMBO and I have had the opportunity of sharing college experiences. We both pursued college level courses over a number of years with varying degrees of purpose and enthusiasm. We even took four or five courses together, which proved fertile ground for other stories (look for one soon concerning a book report in a Psychology class). For me it was just something that at various places in my life I felt I probably needed to do but a degree wasn't a goal in itself. As you may expect, I'm over 60 and still don't have a degree.

SWMBO, on the other hand, as mentioned elsewhere, always felt she needed sheepskin validation of her aptitude and her worth. She took courses off and on for over 35 years, finally graduating with honors and a Bachelor of Science in Nursing in 2002. By that time, I was retired and had no need nor desire to fiddle with college anymore, so chauffering her to and from classes was almost the extent of my involvement.

Actually, I was more involved than that. For one thing, we became quite the collaborators. For all of her high tech education, SWMBO never took typing—I did. And although far from inarticulate, her writing is, well, bland—functional but not artistic. Me? Well, I have a website—you may judge for yourself. But this story isn't about horn blowing—it's about SWMBO in college, and what we got pretty good at was doing papers. She created—I punched it up. It was synergy and serendipity all rolled into one.

She did the reading (which, although I do just fine, her courses are very technical in an area outside of my sphere of interest or expertise), the research (two words—I suck), and the rough draft of what she wanted to convey. I took it from there. I am a pretty good touch typist, I have a sense of artistic flair insofar as a written project is concerned, and I can sometimes manage the well turned phrase (he said modestly). As a result, her papers always exceeded her expectations and, more importantly, garnered the appropriate response from her instructors, as well.

My main task, however, was to be her ichi ban cheerleader. Do you know about glass half full, glass half empty? That's a simplistic metaphor for optimists and pessimists. Optimists see such a glass as half full and pessimists see the same glass as half empty. SWMBO says, “ohmigod, we're almost out of water!” Consequently, there were many occasions when SWMBO needed some encouragement to keep going. She also has a problem evaluating her own achievement. Here's an example of our experiences during her college years.

As is usual in college, every so often there would be a test. Whenever SWMBO had a test coming up in a week or so, I might as well stock up on take out menus because we were in for an extended period of bunker existance. She spent it in her books 16 hours per day—I remained on heightened lookout for opportunities to commit stupid, insensitive acts—usually recognizing them only after she gently brought my attention to whatever transgression I had managed at the moment.

Toward the end of the week as Test Day drew closer, I started hearing more and more, “oh, no…I'm just not getting this stuff…this Test is going to be so hard.” Variations on that theme are inumerable, but that sample captures the essence of the mood. Somewhere between 24 and 36 hours before The Test SWMBO reached saturation and would throw up her hands and declare herself incapable of further study. This was not the harbinger of smooth sailing one might imagine, because although she was no longer buried in the books, she now had plenty of free time for worrying for which her Ukrainian heritage provided a prodigous aptitude.

On the night of The Test, I would drive her out to school, hearing all the way, “I don't know what I'm going to do…I didn't even get to read all the stuff…I went through my notes and I don't even remember the lectures…I just know I'm going to fail this test.” At this juncture it may be useful to remind the reader that SWMBO graduated with honors. She got an A in almost every course she took, which implies she got an A in most every test she took. It was my job to refresh her memory of her record of success as we headed out to class (and during the preceding week, as well—me not being so totally dense as to not try to cheer her up).

As I pushed her out of the car, she still chanting her mantra of unpreparedness and impending doom, I reminding her yet again that she'd do fine, she always gets an A, blah, blah, blah. A couple of hours later she got back in the car and told me all the way home how horrible The Test had been. “Ohmigod, it was awful…I couldn't even get through the whole thing…there were some questions I didn't even know the answer to…everyone was talking about how hard it was…I know I failed it…a couple of the girls said it was the hardest test they'd ever taken…” This litany was mostly in stream-of-consciousness form, breathing-in being suspended for virtually the entire trip home.

With a week's worth of studying, an horrendous test experience, and a week to wait for the results, my life became even more of a living hell as abject depression represented the high mood of the period. I kept reminding her that she did this every time, that she clearly was unable to objectively evaluate either the severity of the examination or her performance of it, and that surely her result would be acceptable if not supurb, but she assured me that this time it was different. I'll pause here to ask you to hold that thought—test was horrible…really, this time.

As the following class night drew closer I was informed repeatedly of her dread at attending if all she was to find was that she had assuredly failed The Test and would likely be stripped of her epaulettes, her sword broken, and be drummed unceremoniously out of the nursing corps. I kept the upper lip stiff for her and continued to rain down encouragement, nevertheless remaining inwardly confident that she had yet again conquered all the examination demons extant.

Finally the big night arrived and as I pushed her out of the car, screaming yet further encouragement, she reiterated (is there such a thing as terminally iterated? SWMBO regularly approached it, I believe) that she had done horribly on The Test, she couldn't imagine any way that she could have passed, that the teacher never graded on the curve (or that there was a consistent curve breaker in the class), that she didn't know what she was going to do with her life, blah, blah, blah.

Two hours later, she sullenly got in the car without saying a word, not wanting to precipitate the inevitable. I drove for a mile or two until I couldn't wait any longer and said, “well?…”

She said, resignedly, “I got an A…” and before I could get the first deci-syllable of I-told-you-so out of my mouth, she blurted, “but I shouldn't have!”

Now, dear reader, I have no doubt that you'll think this tale exaggerated. And you'll almost certainly aver that even if it wasn't, it probably only happened once. However, as god is my witness, we went through this exercise every single time! She never once demonstrated even a scintilla of confidence in her ability, despite the honors degree and the special award for scholastic achievement. And this is the smartest woman I know.

Last updated: 27 January 2009

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