And it was at that age … Poetry arrived
in search of me. I don’t know, I don’t know where
it came from, from winter or a river. ~Pablo Neruda
Over the past couple of years, I have taken a variety of classes alongside traditional students. It is awkward (in case I haven’t mentioned it before) at times, not for them I am sure, but for me. However, I have also had some college moments that are rather regular alongside traditional students—such as sitting on a hallway floor amidst backpacks, coats and scarves, waiting for an instructor to come open the door. During those times, there is the usual chatting about the class, complaining about assignments or the course load, and expressing mutual frustrations about college life in general. There have been exchanges about the experiences we liked in the class we were taking, the assignments that were interesting, and observations of the instructor’s quirks.
This past spring, I began my English classes in earnest. One of my first classes with completely traditional students was a fiction writing class (the other was “Effective Parenting”—something I will write about another time). I have to admit, there were moments when I could feel my ‘mom mode’ rise up, as I would become concerned about this or that student. When every student is near the same age as your own children, this is just bound to happen. I think I have been lucky, since in my mom world, as my own kids were growing up, there was always an abundance of friends in the house; slumber parties, and funny moments where I would come downstairs to discover some teen or another eating in the kitchen, or sleeping on the couch, or watching movies in the basement. That lifestyle has lent itself to being comfortable surrounded by young adults, and taking it at least a little in stride.
Still, adjusting to that classroom situation took a few weeks. The first funny thing that started happening occurred as we all began to ‘workshop’ our writing. For those of you who have never done this, let me explain. You all have an assignment, say writing a poem, or a short story. Then, you bring it to class, and pass out a copy to everyone. The class takes it home and reads it, then returns next class ready to critique the writing, in both positive and suggested improvement fashion. This is done all semester, and the first time you experience this, it is a little startling. The part that is the hardest is this: first you read your work out loud, while the others follow along with their copy. Then, the author must sit, and only listen. No defending your work, or your choices. The result is an oddly intimate experience and this sort of out of body moment, as you observe others discuss your work, as though you are floating above it all, movie fashion. You should try it sometime.
I knew this would be weird. After all, I had 20-something years on these people! What could I possibly write about that would even mean something to them? Well, when it came time to read our first poem—an image of something from our past—I wrote about the kitchen of my youth. I mentioned my parent’s cigarettes, and after I read it the students were allowed to discuss it. Well, turns out, the class appreciated the details of life in the 70’s. I had started my reading by saying “Okay, so—I am old…” which got a laugh, and then somehow, I didn’t feel as old anymore. It was all good, as they say. The cigarettes really hit home for a few of them, and the discussion centered around that for quite awhile.
After that experience the joking took on a new theme that traveled into my next poetry class the following semester (with the same instructor). It seemed like at first, all the traditional students writings, fiction though it was, focused on what I deemed as “bad mom” reflections. A short story here, a poem there, and pretty soon I began to wonder if there were any good moms in these students’ lives! So, after about the third “bad mom” story, I said; “oh no, another bad mom story!” There were some laughs about that, and even though I had not talked about being a mom, the instructor knew I was (we had filled out little biography papers for him at the start of the semester), and the students had assumed I was a mom. So, for the rest of the semester, we would acknowledge the occasional “bad mom” story or poem with chuckles, and I was really relieved when, at last, one of the students wrote a “bad dad” piece! Stay tuned, and I will post that poem, and perhaps share more about my observations of the traditional student!!