Your aunt and I drove over to the community college to pick you up yesterday afternoon. You texted us: You would be a little late because you were taking a test. We ended up waiting a little bit in the lovely fall sunshine of northern California. I grabbed my Starbucks soy latte and sat on a bench situated on one of the college’s expansive lawns.
When you appeared, I asked you about the test. Was it math? Yep. Did you do okay? Nope.
Alrighty, then. I asked you whether you have the opportunity to take it again. You said you think so, but I could detect a note of disgust creeping into your voice. I asked whether you had the graded test with you and whether your errors were marked. Yes. I offered to go over the test with you and help you work the problems if you want to try it again. Silence.
I get the message. You really don’t want to talk about it.
I know. I had a hell of a time with math in high school and college.
I’m not going to push. I will be here if you want my help. If not, that’s okay, too.
I have never stood in your shoes. I never had a baby daughter to care for at the age of sixteen (or at any other age, for that matter). I never had to take a full load of college courses and also work a zillion hours for minimum wage at a fast food restaurant filled with rude, ungrateful customers.
I had the privilege of going away to college and living in a dormitory with lots of friends and music and fun. I ate to my heart’s content at the dining hall three times daily, without ever having to think about shopping and cooking and cleaning. I got to stay up all night having ridiculous bull sessions without a thought as to what time the baby would wake up and who’s turn it is to watch her and am I running out of diapers and do I have a few bucks to put in the gas tank so I can get to school and work and do it all over again tomorrow and the next day and the next day.
My sisters were back at home, attending high school and being taken care of by my parents. I never felt I had to give money to the brother who is unemployed and facing having his utilities shut off. I never had to worry about the other brother who broke up with his long-time girlfriend but still has to live with her in a tiny trailer because neither of them can afford to move out. I never had to worry about being grounded by my mother and having my car taken away from me because I didn’t put the laundry away or accidentally left the garage door open or let a few too many four-letter words fly out of my mouth in a fit of anger.
No, I never had to worry about any of these things. College was a carefree time for me, as it should be for you. And it hurts my heart, dear niece, that you are missing out on the experience of being young while you can still enjoy it.
So next Saturday, when I drive you two hours down the road to a group tour of Mills College, please keep your eyes and your ears and your mind open to the limitless possibilities that are open to you. We have discussed on a number of occasions about the full-day child care program, the housing for mothers with children, the financial aid opportunities made possible by the college’s foundation grants.
I think I understand how much you rely on your extended family for emotional and financial support. I know you depend on your aunt and your nana and your mom to help take care of that little sweetie. I know you depend on your friends from high school to keep you sane and your brothers to remind you that you are loved. And I know that, for these reasons, you are reluctant to leave the nest and cast your net out into the big, bad world.
I know it’s scary being the first. The first in your extended family to pursue a four-year college degree. But I also know that you are concerned about being able to support yourself and making a good life for your daughter. And I know you are aware that there are no guarantees in life, not even with a B.A. I only hope that I can set an example for you. It’s not really fair for me to say “take my word for it, college is the way to go.” But I am hopeful that you will give it a chance and figure this out for yourself.
I know you think it’s more than a little strange to get your education at an all-women’s school. But I have reminded you that the Berkeley campus, filled with guys, is just a few miles away. I know you’re afraid of living in Oakland with all its grime and crime. I have tried to explain how the campus is a self-contained enclave, a port in a storm where the green surroundings can make you forget that you are in the midst of one of the nation’s largest urban areas.
I can refute your arguments and try to allay your fears, but only you can make the final decision. I realize that we are playing a game of détente here. Since your aunt and I moved to town a month ago, I have tried to forge a different type of relationship with you. Not a long-distance relationship based on a visit every few months and an occasional phone call. A relationship built on trust. Trust and being there for you. Because I am your biggest cheerleader and because, in the end, being there for you is all I can really offer.
And I will still be here for you, no matter what you decide.
Even if you need help with quadratic equations. Even if you need someone to babysit because you have an exam coming up and you’re starting to lose it (or just because it’s Saturday night and you have a date). Even if you just need someone to talk to.
Even if I have to jump in the car and drive two hours.
Because that’s what uncles do.