"There's a road up ahead and it's a long one
It's written on the restless and young
With a want and desire we'll move
You know there ain't nothin' else that you can do, oh yea yea
Ain't this what dreams are made of,
Ain't this what dreams are made of, oh yea yea"
--Dreams, the BoDeans
Yesterday morning, I awoke at 6:20 am, without needing an alarm to wake me up. It was a day I've been looking forward to, with a little anxiety, for a couple of months.
A little after seven, I got a call from Jessica, another soon-to-be-student in the nursing program at Truman College. A couple of months ago, when the letters were sent out to the people who'd been accepted into the two year RN program there, I'd gone to the Nursing office to drop off my signed letter accepting my slot in the program. I discovered that I'd been slated for the nights/weekend program. It was not an ideal schedule-- I work nights and most of the time I can share with my kids is during the weekend days. They and I would have to tough it out, I figured. When I dropped off the letter, I mentioned to Erica, the lady who runs the nursing office, that a day schedule would be better for me. She told me that they usually let people who had conflicting schedules switch at orientation, a few months away.
I got home, studied for my class (Anatomy I), and ran some errands. When I got back, I discovered that Erica had called; right after I was in there that day, a woman who'd been accepted into the program-- the day program-- had come in and asked about switching to the night program. Erica remembered that I'd needed to switch to the day program. She left a message, asking if it was all right for Erica to contact me about the switch. The next day, I called the Nursing office and told Erica that by all means, yes, give the other student my contact information.
Yesterday morning, that student, Jessica, and I made plans to meet right before orientation to make sure we got the switch. We sat in the front row of the auditorium, to make sure to be able to ask questions-- which turned out to be fortuitious. The head of the nursing department sent out a sign-in sheet, and ran through the orientation, telling us about books, uniforms and other information we needed, including which cohorts were open-- time slots and hospital clinical observation time and locations.
As they got ready to start signing us up for our classes this fall, they told us that we'd be called up in the order of the sign-in sheet. Jessica and I suddenly realized what a stroke of luck had just happened; because of where we had sat, we were 5th and 6th on the sign-in sheet, out of the 100 or so people there. We'd have prime choice over class times and clinical location/times. Our lives were about to become very busy and complicated, but having a schedule that fit the rest of our lives, and a hospital location that was easy to get to would simplify things some.
Back a month and a half or so, Kim and I sat our kids down on a Friday night. She and I had Freixinet Cava (Spanish Champagne) and they had sparkling apple juice-- kids' champagne-- and had a toast. We told them that me getting into nursing school was a big deal-- it was a change in life. I was about to be immersed in work. For the next two years, there would be times that I wouldn't be able to spend the time I would like with them. But the end goal is a big one-- it would mean them being able to go to whatever college they wanted to, and study whatever they wanted, coming out of school without crippling debt. It's #1 on the 40-item list of goals I made for myself about five years ago.
This weekend, I spent all day Saturday with my kids. We hadn't had a lot of time together for the last month or so for various reasons. It was good to hang out with them. A lot of people assume that they're blood siblings-- both have done a great job in their parts of creating our "blended family" since Kim and I got married. They're kind to one another and have become better siblings than my siblings and I ever got to be.
I'd traded shifts with someone to work Friday, so that I could attend "Atwoodfest" on Saturday. Its an event a bunch of old college friends and I have every year around the time of the birthday of our friend Mark "Atwood" Evans, who was shot to death in a robbery three years ago. I had a really good night at work the previous evening, and so I had a few extra bucks to treat them a little bit. In keeping with tradition, I made them their favorite breakfasts that morning. Then we watched "The Rocker," a movie I knew they'd love. And then we went out to lunch.
We had originally planned to go to Hot Doug's, a place they love, and a place my son and I have been going to since he was little. Today, in the newspaper, I came across the fact that Anthony Bourdain has declared Hot Doug's to be one of the dozen restaurants you have to to to before you die. That would explain why it was a two hour wait to get in on Saturday. We switched gears. Hoping to come back to a shorter line, we moved up our schedule, going to another great Chicago institution, Uncle Fun's. They had their usual great time picking from Uncle Fun's enormous collection of kitsch, and chatting up the employees, who have watched them grow up.
We returned to Hot Doug's to find a line that was no shorter than it had been when we left. We had a family conference. We'd been planning to stop at a local Chinese restaurant, the Orange Garden, for a long time. With it's great Art Deco facade, it had been long beckoning us. I promised them that this summer, we could go to Hot Doug's on a weekday, when the line was shorter. They agreed-- off to the Orange Garden it was.
We got a booth-- big bonus-- and had a great meal. We had lots of good discussion-- something that always happens when I'm with my kids. Mel had a birthday party to go to later. She was a little apprehensive about it-- it was for her friend Anya, who is fascinated with Japanese culture. Consequently, they were going to a Japanese restaurant. Mel wasn't sure how she was going to feel about sushi. Adam was encouraging; he could compared sushi to his beloved smoked salmon, and likes sushi as well, and urged her to be open-minded about it. He is such a great big brother to her.
We ran home, where Mel got ready for her party, Adam played his World War II fighter game on the Wii and I took a nap, getting ready for the gathering of the middle-aged people trying to act like they were in college again.
I'd been nervous about "Atwoodfest." I'd missed last year's event-- I hadn't been able to get out of work in time. Last year, around that time, I was struggling financially, trying to recover from being fired from a job that had turned into a fiasco, and couldn't afford to take a night off. This year, I still couldn't really afford to take a night off, but was fortunately able to switch the night. It was too important to miss.
I had a marvelous time.
I've talked before about my friend Mark, who I met in college, and what a staggering loss to me his murder was. He was one of the people who I had planned on being friends with until we're old guys, one of a select handful. They're mostly people I met in college, like Larry, Jim, Dan, Dobie, Carolyn and a handful of others-- though people I've met since college, notably Bubs have been added to that list. But I tell my kids that they may keep the friends they have for a lifetime, but in my experience, you meet the people who are your lifelong friends in college. Being able to pay for my kids' college is really important to me.
At some point on Saturday, when my kids and I were running around, I heard the Replacements' "Hold My Life" on Little Steven's Underground Garage. The Replacements were, after The Clash, my second favorite band as I entered college and adulthood in the eighties. And "Unsatisfied" and "Hold My Life" were my two favorite Replacements songs.
Growing up, I was usually uncomfortable navigating between my blue collar roots and my white collar life; my father had gone from being an electrician to being a computer repairman to eventually helping run the network for one of the country's biggest banks. He never went to college. I was not only the first one in my family to go to college, but went on to get a graduate degree, in Political Science.
All of the professors on my Master's oral committee, as they announced that I'd passed, urged me to go on to get a PhD.
I wanted to wander down a lot of paths. I realized I had a lot of anger to burn off, and a lot of other things I wanted to do. I wanted to pursue a lot of avenues before I was limited to one career. I wanted to pursue some relationships, friendships and love affairs with people I would never have otherwise met if I hadn't gone down the avenues I went down. But I didn't see anything clear in front of me. As Paul Westerberg sang:
..."hold my life until Im ready to use it" For years, it felt like my theme song.
After this weekend, and after yesterday morning, I realized that I'm ready. I'm doing exactly what I should be doing, what I want to be doing, I'm doing what I love. I love being a parent, more than I ever, ever thought I'd love it. And after getting three other college degrees, two bachelor's and a master's, I'm getting a damned associate's degree that will lead to a job that I'm actually excited about. Not that I'm done-- I still may go back and get that PhD in Political Science.
I talked to my kids this weekend about plans and dreams. I recalled to them about how when I was in high school, one of the best high schools in Illinois, we college-track students were expected, by junior or senior year, to have figured out our next 50 years or so. Hardly anybody I know even got close to finding their path until they were 30 or older. I want them to go to college, explore a little bit, make lifelong friends and then figure out what they're going to do.
I chuckled to myself, remembering my trip to my old high school back in January to pick up my transcripts in order to get my nursing school application in on time. I remembered having to get directions to the records office-- and wondering if I could find my way to my old locker. I remembered walking through the halls of my old high school, thinking that if someone had told me, my senior year of high school, the path I'd take, I would have laughed.
My son is in high school now. My stepdaughter will be in seventh grade next year; this is the year that the Chicago Public School system looks at when determining if you can get into one of their "selective enrollment" schools. I've got a few more years with them. And then it's off to college.
Yesterday morning, as I walked out of the orientation and registration, I felt a huge sigh of relief. Yeah, it's going to be a tough two years-- the workload is huge. But it's going to end up with me having a profession I have a feeling that I'm going to love, and one that'll give me the financial stability I've craved for years, and enable me to fulfill my life goal of giving my kids a college education. And best of all, I got a schedule that'll allow me to be there on Saturdays and Sundays, continuing our tradition as I cook breakfast for my kids, and sitting down with them and catching up with their everchanging lives. Ain't that what dreams are made of?