My Second First Day of School: Part I

As the white minivan jerked to a stop, my daughter mumbled, “Sorry, Mom, I can’t seem to remember that this brake pedal is super-sensitive. I think we’re at the corner where you want to be, right?”

“If we’re at the corner of Pollock and Burrows Roads, then yes,” I croaked through the sawdust and butterflies in my throat. I got out of the minivan pointing my long white ‘finger’ at the hot sidewalk. Taking a deep breath, I propped my white walking cane between my legs, hoisted the heavy backpack onto my back, adjusted the straps, tugged my top back down to my jeans, transferred the cane back to my right hand, and sucking my lungs full of air again, stepped off the edge of a cliff . . .

On my first, first-day-of-school, I hugged to myself the thrill of learning how to read. My only preparation then was that I got to wear the new dress I had watched my mother make and carry the shiny also-new metal lunchbox with red and yellow flowers on it that was my very own.

Now on my second, first-day-of-school after fifty years in the school of hard knocks, I had only doubts and desperation. And the fear caused by overkill preparation. Not only had I survived a five-hour psychiatric evaluation along with personality, career, and academic assessment tests, but there had also been endless discussions with family and friends weighing the pros and cons, an interview with an admissions counselor, a letter of acceptance from The Pennsylvania State University, an interview with an academic advisor who helped me choose and register four courses, not to mention the dozens of hours spent learning my way around a brand new laptop equipped with a large-print keyboard and screen magnification software. A new dress and a shiny new lunchbox were not even considered. I was also armed with a new backpack as big as a house and a shiny new photo-ID badge that showed me grinning like an idiot.

My one safety net was that, this time, I had a choice. Fifty years ago, I did what all six-year-old children did, I went to school. It was expected. Now, no one was forcing me to pursue what my Amish father called a “worldly education.” I could always quit this whole ludicrously insane adventure.  Or so I kept telling myself.

First, though, I would put my instinctive Amish work ethic into action and vanquish those nasty doubts. There was an additional Amish characteristic at work here; I would not waste either the several-hundred-dollar application fee or the hard-earned money I’d spent on textbooks.


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