I've changed my face, I've changed my name
but no one wants you when you lose.
- Peter Gabriel, So
"How will you know when you're done?" That's a question I often ask my learners. Sometimes they have an answer. Sometimes they don't.
This has been another year of young moms. When I think back, different moms stick out for different reasons. One sticks out because of what she helped me learn about myself (although I haven't yet figured how to put it into words).
This was a smart, successful young woman who, upon becoming a mom, lost most of her confidence and self-esteem. I recognized the patterns, the signals, from back in the day when I was working with a family resource centre. Don't get me wrong: she loved her little girl like life itself. But the trajectory of her life had collapsed, and she was long done believing she could get it back on track.
Some of what we talked about was that: about how you can't go back, but you can build something new and good. Some of what we talked about was math or where commas go and why. I worked really hard at scaffolding, at staying hard inside her instructional level, at listening to her fears without confirming or discounting them. I leaned heavily, as I always do, on my best friend Cheryl's understanding of Choice Theory and adult learning and being a mom. I planned, and made better plans, and brought my A game to almost every class. She worked hard, too. Of course. But that was outside my control. I'm talking here about my own work and worry.
When it came time for her to challenge the GED, I was nothing but confident and clear-eyed. (I am an accomplished liar.) There was no doubt at all that she would do well, I told her. At worst, she would flub the essay and we'd fix that with a quick June re-write. For her part, she bought me a very nice card, wrote a "thank you" inside, and disappeared, pale-faced, to write the test.
I brought the card home to stick in my inspiration file, but I didn't.
I don't know about how it is where you live, but in New Brunswick we wait 4 to 6 weeks for GED results. I think they fly them in from Neptune. Four weeks of waiting and worrying and not thinking, I am not thinking about....
And I dunno. It was just a card. It wasn't... enough. It didn't seem like we were done.
Then, at last, the marks came. By chance, I was notified a day before she got her envelope, so I knew she passed everything before she told me. Congratulations, her note from the Minister would say. She'd be so happy.
Now that was something worth keeping - the pdf file of her marks! That I printed off and put right up on my fridge. At work, I waited for her phone call.
And while I was waiting, I thought, now what?
Okay, you've got your GED. But it's not like it comes with a cash award. How was she supposed to go on? If she got brave enough to try college or university, how could she afford it? Would she be able to get a job now? How would she manage childcare? (Who was going to - we'll just whisper this - look out for her self-esteem now that she wasn't my learner anymore?)
I took my worry out on Cheryl when we were supposed to be getting ready for Bookwagon - waving my arms and ranting about our lack of an effective, local women's support movement and just generally being in the way as she packed books. Not two weeks ago there were all these women saying we needed to elect women because they were going to somehow support women and now where are those influential and affluent women to stick up for this young mom's who's still trapped without access to adequate daycare or support without going on welfare and then a bunch of women who are caseworkers are just going to tell her what to do while the rest of us say she's no good because, look, she's on welfare but how's she supposed to get a job or an education if she's got to raise her little girl and if she tries to get a student loan she'll be in debt the rest of her life and when she puts her daughter first it's like we say she has to put her daughter last and it just makes me so angry, so angry! (Cheryl, being a trained therapist remained completely calm and said things like, "So, what are you going to do about that?" and "Have you packed the picture books yet?" and "Are you coming with me or what?")
Then, the next day, my learner showed up with her little girl. She wanted to show off her certificate. She wanted to say "Thank you" and stuff. She wanted me to know it was a big deal and it all worked out. "So," I timidly asked (because I couldn't think of any way of not asking), "what's next for you?"
It was too in the year late for getting into college, she reasoned, "so I'll probably get a job - which I can do with this" (she waved the GED). She reached down for her daughter's hand and said, "We're going places."
I don't know how to write this, really. Don't know how to explain her tone. But it was convincing, and brimming with confidence. She knew she was going places! She is going places! It is going to be okay! And my job's done.
That's what I felt. A whole bunch of weight came up off my shoulders, and I knew we were done.
"I gotta get back in class," I said. Goodbye, goodbye. And that was that.
What I didn't say was this:
Thank you. Thank you for bringing me along with you. Thank you for trusting me and listening to what I said (even when I was wrong). Thanks for believing in me.
You go, girl.
(We're done, and that's ok.)
Don't give up, because you have friends.
Don't give up, you're not the only one.
Don't give up. No reason to be ashamed.
Don't give up. You still have us
Don't give up now. We're proud of who you are.
Don't give up. You know it's never been easy.
Don't give up, because I believe there's a place,
there's a place where we belong.
- Peter Gabriel, So