I have not always been proud of my mom. She knows this, mainly because I would tell her constantly about all of the things she should be doing differently. It’s only fair then that I take the time to tell her–and you–how incredibly proud of her I am today.
Today, my mother receives her Master of Science in Nursing.
At 51 years old, she’ll walk across a stage in a cap and gown. She’ll stand at a podium on that stage and speak for her class, an honor bestowed upon her by her peers and instructors, in part because of her academic excellence.
This journey started about twenty years ago.
I don’t remember what my mom was doing for a living, or if she was able to find work at all. I remember we were poor. Very poor. I know that her husband at the time spent whatever cash she could come up with on drugs and alcohol. I know that they fought in the middle of the night and she used her arms to protect her head from pummeling fists.
And then they decided to go back to school. Both of them enrolled in nursing school, earning first an LPN degree and then an RN. The RN my mom earned while working full time. Her job prospects got better, but the abuse continued.
When I was 12, she left. We left. She took us from that home and that town and started over in a new place with a new job. There would be many new jobs and new homes for her over the next decade. She would even leave the nursing industry entirely for a while in one of her many efforts to make things better. She worked in sales and then she started her own business, always striving to make things more normal and safe for my brothers and me.
About ten years ago, she called to tell me that she was thinking about going back into nursing. It sounded crazy to me; she hadn’t worked as a nurse for at least five years. She had to take a bunch of classes and get her license renewed. She had to explain a five year absence to a prospective employer. Nursing was something she’d tried and quit years ago; why would she go back to it?
“I think I can do this,” she told me.
“Why would you want to?” I asked.
We’re taught to see going back as failure. We move forward. We move on. We don’t revisit a passion we’d held years ago; it’s practically admitting you were wrong to give up in the first place!
She didn’t care. She went back. She got a job in a nursing home near her house, the same nursing home where my mother-in-law works. It was there that I told them both that we were expecting another baby. It was there that she heard about a storm that had wiped out half of the town. It was there that she got her groove back. It was there that she decided she wanted more.
I was driving on I-4 in Central Florida, enjoying my daily commute-and-chat with my mom, when she told me she was thinking of going back to school. She had befriended a woman at work, a nurse practitioner, who had been encouraging her to consider graduate school. My mom was 48 and asking me if it was a good idea to go back to college.
“Is this stupid? Am I crazy?” she asked.
“Of course not! Two years is nothing!” I told her.
A couple weeks later she called to tell me she’d learned it would actually take three years for her to become a nurse practitioner. She had to earn her bachelor’s degree first and then earn her master’s degree.
“That’s another year before I can even think about practicing,” she said. “I’ll be almost 52 before I even graduate!”
I guess at 48, 52 seems really far away.
“You can do this,” I told her. “You can do anything.”
I figured she probably could, but I wasn’t sure if she’d actually go through with it. My mom is notorious for her grand ideas.
She went back. A year into her schooling, her oldest son was arrested. He was accused of robbing ten banks, an accusation that sounded absolutely ludicrous at first. Of course it did. And then it became slightly less ludicrous as we began to learn more. The bottom fell out of her world and it seemed as if it would be forever until she got to hold her child again.
“I don’t think I can keep doing this,” she told me one morning.
I wasn’t sure if she was talking specifically about school or all of it, but I knew she wanted to quit. Working full time and going to school was already pushing her to her limits; the added toll of her son’s problems threatened to break her.
“You can do this,” I told her. “You can do anything.”
I was starting to believe maybe she really could. She’d already done so much. She stayed. She pushed on. She grieved for the life she had wanted for her son, stood beside his girlfriend through a pregnancy and the birth of her grandchild, and still managed to go to school and work. And she did it well. She made A’s and B’s even when she was sure she was failing.
She earned her bachelor’s degree with academic honors and almost no fanfare from her family. Only her husband attended the graduation ceremony. The rest of us were incarcerated, sick, or simply too busy to make a big deal out of it. Maybe we believed her when she said it was nothing. But we were wrong; it wasn’t nothing.
Still she wasn’t done. She took a new job, one with a better salary and more responsibilities. She struggled to learn her new role while keeping up with her school work. When the long days stretched into long weeks and even longer months, she questioned whether or not she’d taken on too much.
“I don’t think it was a good idea to take on a new job while I’m still in school,” she said. “I’m not sure I can do all of this.”
“You can do this,” I told her again. “You can do anything.”
I knew it was true. My mom had shown all of us that she was super hero.
Today she graduates.
She has finished her graduate program and done it extraordinarily well. She’ll wear a special hood over her robe to symbolize her academic excellence, to symbolize her ability to not only survive but thrive.
My mom is amazing. She can do anything. And I am so, so proud to be her daughter.
Britt Reints wrote this story about her mother in May of 2012. She is a happiness expert and owner of “In Pursuit of Happiness”. As a happiness coach, inspirational speaker and author, she helps busy people find practical ways to be happier.