It felt like 7th grade. What was I going to wear? I didn’t want to look like I was trying too hard, but I also didn’t want to look like a frumpy mom, which I hated to admit, I had totally become. Actually, it didn’t really bother me to admit that at all (to people in my age bracket). I sleep in the same thing I wear all day, unless it’s jeans. I shower at the gym, which means I typically forget my brush, my razor, sometimes my underwear. I embraced the frump. “Yoga pants” had become my mainstay; when I brushed my hair and put on non-yoga-pants, my husband would ask me why I was so dressed up. My frump was fine by me. Until I went back to school. All of the sudden I was going to be a 38-year-old graduate student. I would finish school at age 41, if I finished at all. Was grad school ready for the frump?
The night before my first class I looked online at the maps of the campus. The school chose names like “Paramita” and “Nalanda” for their buildings and the classrooms were worse. My mouth was confused. How the hell do I say these words and not sound like an asshole? So, I decided I would not say them until year two. One step at a time. I packed a lunch (like a mom would do), I drank some coffee. My first class was meditation, so I opted to wear yoga pants, just this once. A class on meditation, how hard could that be? I’ll sit there and space out. Groovy man. I hadn’t had time to do that since I since I’d had a baby six years before.
I entered the foreign named class room. The floor was covered with back jacks, which are chairs made for young people and the chronically flexible. I had done this before. I had been in this same building, this very same room, fifteen years ago. At that time it was a massage school. I remembered these chairs. What I didn’t remember was how hard it was to get out of them, off the floor. Hello age. When I’m on the floor, I want to be either licking chocolate off of it or laying down.
My classmates were pretty much what I expected: mid 20’s for the most part, Caucasian for the most part, women for the most part, beautiful for the most part, unwrinkled bodies dressed in stylish clothes, with nice hair. If there were any slobs, the slob look appeared intentional. Uh oh. So, I sat down in my evil back jack (which I keep calling a “flap jack”), feeling like an obvious impostor while trying my best to look relaxed and confident, smiling easily, hoping my butt wasn’t sweating through the yoga pants, questioning my decision to stop wearing deodorant a couple of years ago. Sure, I am white and female, so that part was easy to blend in with. But the wrinkles were not going anywhere.
After learning how to mindfully drink from my water bottle and to sit without complaining about my back hurting, I headed to my next class. I had this all figured out. It was on another campus, and I would be 5 minutes late because of the drive. Oh well, I guess that was just the way it works at this school. In college no one cared if I was late, let alone if I ever showed up. I raced into the classroom, kind of winded, kind of sweaty, bright-eyed and ready for class. Everyone was there. In a circle. All eyes on the frumpy, wrinkled mama person who does not seem to fit this grad student mold. The teacher looked at me tragically. I kid you not. It was like I had interrupted a funeral. I started speaking far too fast (especially considering just minutes before I was slowing down, mindfully drinking from my reusable water bottle), explaining my weird schedule, how it wasn’t possible for me to get there on time, etc. She looked at me with such disappointment in her expression and said, “Well, I just don’t know what you’re going to do. This isn’t going to work. You can’t be an hour late for class every week. This IS graduate school.” AN HOUR? What the fuck? The people in the circle were looking at me, pity on their faces, which I read to say, “Aw. Look at the poor older student. She is trying to be a mom and a student. She can’t even handle her schedule.” The teacher said we could discuss it later and continued whatever sacred activity had been taking place before my rude arrival. I left. I went to the bathroom and cried. My first day of grad school was only half way over.
I returned to class a bit red-faced and cranky, already hating the teacher for something completely not her fault. I didn’t like anyone. I had no one to relate to. Why was I doing this at all? I had a job. I had a life. Things were going along quite copacetically. I wanted to be back in my comfort zone. After class I went to talk to the person in charge of scheduling.
She was all business, which struck me as odd at this Buddhist school of love and peace and mediation and raw diets. I told her my predicament. She said, “Well, you can’t take that meditation class, it doesn’t work with your schedule.” (Duh) “You’ll have to take this other one.” I told her that would mean I would have to drive to campus five days a week and get child care and I don’t live in town. She looked at me sternly and said, “You know, this IS graduate school.” Really? I had no idea? Is that what the first year of $30,000 in student loans is for? I thought it was day camp. I thought it was a mindfulness retreat. I thought it was a wine tasting. Jesus. Instead of saying any of those brilliant comebacks, I went to my car, called my sister and cried again. I sobbed. It had been 5 hours. Day one. I never wanted to come back to this. I told my sister all of my insecurities, I told her how mean the Buddhists seemed to be, and she calmly talked me down from the fence, convincing me to give it a week at least. It’s been two years. Hopefully this is because things have improved and I’m mindfully drinking my water, but maybe it’s just because I’m a glutton for punishment.