Final Exam Nightmares

Final exam nightmares.

It’s the first week of December, which means college students everywhere are either preparing for or taking final exams. Our daughter is among those students preparing. Her first college final exam is Monday. Oh, how I remember the days leading up to those first college finals my freshman year.

I was a different person then. I carried more anxiety. I had not yet learned that worrying about something doesn’t change it. My parents used to tell me 98% of the things we worry about never happen. They also used to tell me that worrying won’t change things. Aside from that, they would tell me, if we prepare properly and turn the rest over to God, we are in good hands. Does it always mean we will succeed? No, but don’t we learn a lot more from our failures than from our successes?

It was after that first semester that I relaxed a little. I stopped worrying so much. Over time, I have become a non-worrier, except where our daughter’s safety is concerned. That’s a whole different level of worry that will likely never change.

Every now and then, though, my brain finds a way to remind me of the stress of college finals. I go to bed perfectly happy, but I wake up in a sweat, with an elevated pulse rate. No, it’s not about our daughter. It’s about me. I wake up in an absolute panic, because I am dreaming that I have just slept through a college final, or that I forgot to take one altogether. I think it’s a pretty common recurring nightmare for people who went to college, but 33 years after graduating? Doesn’t that seem like a long time to still be having that nightmare? No matter how much time passes, it’s still a painful nightmare.

Here’s the funny thing: when I was a junior in college, I actually did sleep through a final. It was my Spanish oral final. I had been up late studying the night before and knew I had the Spanish oral exam at 10:00am. Every student in the class had signed up for a 10-minute time slot, and that was mine. I feel sure I had set my clock, but I guess I set it wrong, or maybe I turned it off without really waking up. Whatever happened, I slept through the exam. I woke up at 10:30, when a friend came into my room, and I immediately realized what had happened. I had slept in a sweatshirt. I have no idea what kind of pants I slept in, but probably lightweight sweats. I jumped up, put on shoes as quickly as I could, and ran out the door without even brushing my teeth or my hair. I just ran.

Of course, the exam was about as far from my room as it could possibly be, but I ran. I ran as fast as I could and said a prayer that my teacher would still be in the room when I arrived. Additionally, the testing was taking place on the third floor of the building, so after running all the way to the building, I had to run up the stairs to the third floor…and all the way to the end of the hall. When I arrived, there were a couple of students sitting on the floor outside the classroom, waiting their turns, I suppose. I hardly noticed them as I pushed the door open and saw my professor sitting with another professor in front of the student who was testing at the time. Yes, it was rude for me to burst in, and frankly, I was out of breath…huffing and puffing…probably trying to hold back tears. Fortunately, I’d had both professors as teachers, one the first semester of junior year and one second semester, and I was on good terms with them. My professor paused the exam and said to me, “It’s OK. Go outside and catch your breath. We will call you in shortly.” Thank the Lord I had a forgiving professor. And thank the Lord I had developed good relationships with both the professors. I had been in their classes in back-to-back semesters. After waiting for a little while, they called me in, and I took my oral exam, passing it with an A. Afterward, hen I returned to my room, my friends who had witnessed my wild departure came in, wide-eyed, and asked how it had gone. I told them to let me brush my teeth and hair first, and I would be happy to give them the details!

Yes, I’m that person who actually slept through a final and lived to tell about it.

That’s not my only recurring nightmare about college, though. I also have a recurring nightmare in which it’s the end of the semester, and I have forgotten to attend a class for the whole semester! Again, I wake up in a sweat after this one too, but this one never actually happened in real life. Sure, I missed some classes here and there, but never a whole semester of class.

Sunday night, I will remind my daughter to set multiple alarms to wake up for her 8:30am exam. I don’t want her to live the nightmare of missing the exam.

And even though I don’t consider myself a worrier anymore, I’m sure I will go to bed Sunday night worried that she will sleep through her exam.

Because I’ll go to bed worried, chances are, I will have my exam nightmare again.

My College Advice to My Daughter

My college advice to my daughter.

It has been a long time since I was in college. In fact, I graduated with my bachelor’s degree 33 years ago…hard to believe! It’s especially hard to believe, because I have so many great memories from college, and when I see friends from college, we fall right in step…as if we have been hanging out together every day for the past 33 years. But I remember…I remember college. And because of that, I have some advice for my daughter, who is leaving for college in five weeks. Yes! Five weeks! My “wisdom” might not be wise…I’m the first to admit that, but I can only base my advice on my own experiences or things I witnessed in college. Here we go:

  • Make your college/university your home. Wait at least six weeks before going home. You might be homesick, but you want to become a part of your college/university community. That won’t happen if you’re running home every weekend. We are encouraging our daughter to stay at her university (450 miles away) until Thanksgiving week. Sure, we will attend some football games and see her then, but she needs to stay there. As long as she has one foot in her hometown, she’ll never become a part of the school community.
  • Butt in seat. First and foremost, go to class. If your butt is in the seat in classes, you are more likely to have success. You can’t succeed if you don’t go to class. It has been proven time and time again. I know I was most successful when I never missed classes.
  • Don’t put the key to your happiness in someone else’s pocket. This is something my husband shared with our daughter recently, and wow…it’s wise. Whether it’s a friend or a love interest, no matter what, do not let your happiness be dependent on another person. You need to make yourself happy. It’s a difficult lesson, but your happiness is your own responsibility. I have told friends and family for years, “You can’t make someone love you.” But you can create your own happiness.
  • Make as many friends as you possibly can. Become friends with people from all socioeconomic backgrounds, different geographic areas, and different ethnicities. College is the perfect time to make lifelong friendships. And it’s also important to make at least one friend in each class you take; you never know when y’all will need each other.
  • Attend sporting events, even if they don’t sound interesting at the time. I always went to football games in college, but I didn’t always go to other sporting events. In my junior year, I realized how much fun basketball games and baseball games were at my university. And track meets too! All those sporting events made for some fun memories, and they were great opportunities to make new friends!
  • Keep a planner. Keeping a planner is the easiest way to manage your time. This was something our school taught students starting in third grade. Each year, they learned more organizational skills. Because of all the newfound freedom, time management can be a big problem in college. It’s crucial that students find a way to keep time from getting away from them.
  • Get to know your teachers. I’ve told this story a million times: when I was a second semester freshman in college, I took a math class that was tough for me. I got to know my teacher and met with him two or three times a week to make it through the class. Going into the final, I had a high B or low A, but then I failed the final. The next day, I went to meet with my teacher to find out my grade, and after he told me what I had made on the final, he asked what grade I thought I deserved. I turned it to him and asked the same thing. That’s when he said, in broken English, “I give you B. You do good in long journey.” I was grateful. And this is a perfect example of how a teacher who knows you have worked hard might give you the benefit of the doubt.
  • Get involved. Find activities you love and try new things. Participate in some leadership opportunities. Enjoy some outdoor activities. Learn a new sport! It will enrich your college experience and your life.
  • Exercise. Always get plenty of exercise for your physical health and for your mental health. Exercise releases endorphins, the hormones that relieve stress and create a feeling of well-being. Work out regularly…whether it’s walking, running, playing tennis, rowing, hiking, racquetball…just exercise.
  • Don’t burn bridges. This is crucial life advice. I am a forgiver, so I know the importance of forgiveness. Why do I forgive? Because it’s easier than carrying the burden of a grudge or anger. Plus, it just feels better. My daughter has heard me say it her whole life…don’t burn bridges. You never know when a friendship can be mended, but it will never be mended if you burn the bridge behind you.
  • Do what you need to do so you can do what you want to do. Take care of business…or as I always say to my daughter, “TCB.” When I was in college, I saw lots of people having “too much” fun. Trust me, I liked to have as much fun as the next person, but I knew I had to make my grades to be able to stay there to have the fun. And I did. But I knew people who didn’t, and they failed out of college. Take care of business.
  • Have a budget (or at least be aware of your spending). This is a life skill. Know how much you can/can’t spend on different things. If you know you have $100 to spend on food but spend $120, you’ll need to take that $20 from another part of your budget. Truly…life lessons.
  • Keep the laundry under control. Whether you do your own laundry, have a service, or pay a friend to do it, keep it under control. You don’t want to run out of clean clothes. Make sure it gets done one way or another.
  • Change your sheets once a week. Just do it.
  • No friend left behind. This one is especially important for girls. Going out with friends? Do not let one friend linger alone somewhere (a bar, a party, anywhere) after everyone else leaves. And don’t let your friend leave with someone she doesn’t know. Be a good friend.
  • Be careful where you park. Girls generally know this, but it’s OK to remind them. I also tell my daughter not to use the parking deck alone. If she drives into the parking deck, and it appears there are no other people there, call a friend to meet you…safety in numbers.
  • If you think you need to call 911, you probably do. Dorm living means our kids might witness or have medical situations they have never encountered before…or never had to deal with on their own before: seizures, choking, injuries, illness, etc. It is important that they understand how crucial it is to get medical help. If you think you might need to call 911, go ahead and do it. You won’t regret calling, but you might regret not calling. On a side note, make sure they know not to mix alcohol and acetaminophen/Tylenol, as it can cause liver toxicity. Don’t even take Tylenol the day after drinking. If they’re hungover, the best thing to do is hydrate. Make sure they have plenty of Drip Drop or Liquid IV on hand in their room. You can purchase Drip Drop in your local Walgreen’s, or you can order it here. You can order Liquid IV here. Or you can order from Amazon.
  • Never leave your drink unattended. Why? Because people will drug your drink. They can even do it when you’re holding the drink; and bartenders have been known to do it when preparing drinks. Always watch your drink being prepared. Or better yet, just order beer. But always keep it with you, and don’t make it easily accessible to anyone.
  • Don’t abandon your friends for a boyfriend/girlfriend. I know falling in love is fun. I know people enjoy spending time with their significant others. But if you abandon your friends for a boy/girl, you will regret it, without a doubt. How do I know? Because I have seen it happen time and time again. You need friends. And college is when you want to make lifelong friends. Don’t let having a significant other mess that up for you.
  • Take some classes that will broaden your horizons. When I was in college, I took an art history class. I was majoring in journalism. I didn’t need art history. However, I learned a lot about 19th century art, and that knowledge has been useful for me in lots of conversations in different settings over the years since. I even surprise myself sometimes with my knowledge of 19th century art!
  • Call your parents! We are part of your support system. We always have your best interest at heart. You’re our favorite.

I know I’m leaving out some things, so this piece will likely be fluid and ever-growing. Let’s equip our college students with knowledge and wisdom they need…and send up lots of prayers.

I Never Wanted to Homeschool

I never wanted to homeschool.

Seriously…never. It never, ever crossed my mind in a serious way. There were times I thought, “If we homeschool, we can go on vacation all the time! We can educate our daughter on the road!” And I know that works for some folks. But for me? Nope, nope, nope. I love my daughter, but we don’t need to be together 24/7.

Yet here we are, in the middle of a pandemic, and homeschooling is the only way. I’m not officially homeschooling, because she is still signing in to her school website and having remote video “class” and conferences with teachers. Thank God. We just returned from “spring break,” during which our trip was actually canceled, but we had a break nonetheless. And now school is starting back.

Lucky for us, our daughter is 16 and a sophomore in high school. She is old enough to figure it out herself. In fact, I have been receiving emails from her teachers about remote learning, and every time I see one, I think, “Really? Don’t y’all tell us to be ‘hands off’ when they get to high school?” Why do they suddenly want us to be hands on?!? I know the students are home, but my daughter needs to drive this bus herself. I never know what her homework is, just like my mother never knew what my homework was in the 80s. That is entirely her responsibility.

When my daughter was in third grade, another mom approached me at school one day and asked, “Is your daughter ready for the Bunnicula test?” I must have looked at her like she had three heads, because I responded, “What the heck is a Bunnicula?” Apparently, it was a book they had read, and they were having a test on it that day. For a brief moment, I wondered how the other mom knew they were having a test! I had no idea, because even when she was in third grade, I didn’t help with homework. I didn’t help her get or stay organized. I didn’t help her with her homework at all. It was all up to her. That was her job…just like it is now. I know…I know…some of you will say that was a little too hands off. Trust me, I am a very present parent in every other way, but I have always believed she needed to learn how to do her schoolwork the same way I did…without any help from parents. I remember when she was in sixth grade, I sat down with her and taught her my secret method for studying for tests, and she has thanked me a million times since. I’ll offer guidance. But helping with daily homework? I’ve never done it.

She knows she can come to me for guidance when she needs it. I will always provide support and guidance. As recently as this morning, I reminded her that she needs to stay in close touch with her teachers. She needs to email or conference with them pretty regularly, even if she doesn’t feel like she needs help. She needs to keep the lines of communication open. That’s my advice for the day. That’s how I help her with her education.

Many times I’ve told her about a calculus class I had in college. I had a low A going into the final, but I had been meeting with the teacher two or three times a week to keep that A. And then I bombed the final…I don’t mean I made a C.  I bombed it. Back then, to see our exam grades before we left school at the end of the semester, we had to go see where they were posted outside the teacher/professor’s office door. After I saw my terrible grade, I entered his office, he said, “Oh, Kelly, you did not do well on the final.” I said, “I saw that!” I then asked him what grade I would get for the semester (the final was supposed to have a lot of weight). Instead of answering me, he asked, “What grade do you think you deserve?” I would have said a C. But seeing an opening, I returned the question, “What do you think I deserve?” He looked at me, very kindly, and said, “I give you B. You do good in long journey.” He was from another country…I don’t remember where…so he spoke in broken English, but he had the sweetest way of expressing his wisdom, and he was a very compassionate man. I thanked him profusely, and I was on my way. I have remembered his kindness for all these years…and when someone in our family works hard and meets a goal or accomplishment, I say, “You do good in long journey.”

That’s my long way of saying I worked hard to try to get a good grade in that class, and my teacher recognized that. That’s what I am encouraging my daughter to do right now. She has heard that story a million times, and as a teenager, she might not fully hear it, but one day, something will happen, and she will know I’m right.

So, while I’m sure her teachers and school are simply making sure I’m informed with those emails they’re sending me, I’m not getting into the fray. If she were younger, I might have to jump in with both feet, but in 10th grade? Nah. She can do this, and she’ll appreciate it a lot more if she does it on her own.

Homeschooling? It’s still not for me. That’s one thing I know for sure. I’ll be team mom. I was a homeroom mom many times when she was in elementary school. I volunteer all over the place. But I’m not planning to take the reins on this homeschooling.

She’s got this. She will “do good in long journey.”

 

First Day of Sophomore Year

Today is the first day of school at our daughter’s school. She will be starting her sophomore year of high school. Seriously…only three more years of school before she is off to college. How can that be?!?

She survived…even thrived in freshman year! She learned a lot academically, socially, and athletically. She got good grades. She loved her teachers. She made new friends. She had some solid extracurricular activities. In fact, she played varsity field hockey and varsity lacrosse, and she was a basketball cheerleader. The cheerleading part is a big deal. She is not one who likes to perform. She likes to play sports. She isn’t looking at her “audience” when she plays sports, but cheerleading is different. I was very proud of her for trying something new. And it wasn’t just new to her. Her school hadn’t had cheerleaders in years, so she was a part of a new team altogether.

And now she begins her second year of high school. She has already had a few field hockey games. She had school orientation yesterday, and after a rough morning of “I have nothing to wear,” she rebounded after orientation, telling me she was thrilled with her schedule for the year. Even though she had no idea which of her friends were in her classes, she was happy with her schedule. Whew! That’s a win!

The first couple months of school, my husband will drive her to school, or she will ride with friends. I will pick her up after field hockey practice most of the time, and I’m sure she will get rides with friends when she can. But in October, she should be getting her driver’s license, and life will change for all of us. She will drive herself to school and home from practice in the afternoons. She will be able to meet her friends on weekends on her own. I won’t have to take her where she wants to go, because she will be able to drive herself. It’s going to be a big change, and though I’m sure I will worry every single time she drives away, she will be gaining some independence.

Independence is the goal. Our little girl is growing up…that’s for sure.

Last night, before going to bed, she made sure she had everything she needs for school today…notebooks, paper, pens, pencils, books, book bag, etc. We made sure she is prepared for a new school year. After forcing her to take “first day of school” pictures, my husband drove her to school this morning, and they stopped at Starbucks on the way. I feel sure she reunited with friends she hasn’t seen this summer, and right now, she’s likely meeting her new teachers. She’ll eat grilled cheese from the cafeteria at lunch, and if she doesn’t get a ride home with a friend, I’ll pick her up after school.

And chances are, she will tell me very little till she is good and ready to tell me.

But I’m embracing this 10th grade year, even though I prefer an eternal summer…and I’m already planning vacations for the holidays, spring break, and next summer. It’s what I do. We always need something to look forward to. Because I want her to know that life is meant to be lived NOW. Do the things you have to do so you can do the things you want to do. See the world. Enjoy your friends. Learn new things.

I’m not going to pretend I’m happy the school year is starting. I’m not. If I could do it, life would be one big adventure. But reality is that she needs to go to school…for lots of reasons.

Our baby is not a baby anymore.

Let’s get this school year started…and I’ll be looking forward to the next holiday!

Our Marriage Survived My Husband’s Brain Surgery

When our daughter was six years old, in 2010, my husband had brain surgeries. Yes, plural…two operations that were nine days apart.

We got married in 2000, but prior to being married, we hadn’t lived in the same city. I was in Mobile, Alabama, and he was in Charlotte, North Carolina.

As soon as we were married, I moved to Charlotte into what is now “our house,” and I soon noticed he had “spells.” I didn’t know what they were, but he seemed to “lose time.”   He would suddenly start blinking hard, fidgeting, and mumbling…for 30 to 45 seconds.

I spoke with his doctor, who ran tests, and while she saw a small spot on the left temporal lobe of his brain, she wasn’t concerned.

He had a series of unexplained car accidents, always saying afterward that he didn’t remember what had happened. I knew we had to get some answers. I was angry. I wasn’t angry at him; I was angry that the doctor hadn’t addressed the problem. I called her, telling her we needed to see a doctor who could help us.

She finally referred him to a neurologist.

At the neurologist’s office, we explained everything to the doctor, who promptly told us, “He’s having petit mal seizures.” Five minutes into the appointment we had an answer.

More tests showed what appeared to be a benign tumor in the front part of his left temporal lobe.

After months of anti-seizure medications, his seizures weren’t under control. Surgery was recommended. First, he had an inpatient evaluation in June of 2010, meaning he was hooked up to external electrodes in an epilepsy ward to monitor brain activity. The hope was that he would have a seizure while there, and the epileptologist would garner useful information. After a week in the hospital, he finally had a seizure…a full-on gran mal seizure, and the doctor witnessed it.

Working with two neurosurgeons, the epileptologist scheduled surgery for that September. First, they opened his skull and placed electrodes and probes directly into and on the surface of his brain. Wires hung out of the incision while we waited for him to have another seizure, and after nine days, he did.

The second surgery was scheduled for a couple days later, and he had the affected parts of his brain removed…part of his temporal lobe, his amygdala, and his hippocampus. Afterward, he was in pain, but it soon became apparent he had very few lasting effects. His “naming center” was affected, so he has trouble recalling words or names, but the biggest loss was short term memory. It was tough at first, but we have a different normal now.

It’s hard to believe it has been eight years.

Our daughter was six years old. She had just started first grade, and while I don’t claim to be the most organized person in the world, I became even less so throughout this ordeal. God bless her first grade teachers for providing snacks, extra patience, and love.

My goal was to keep life as normal as possible for our daughter. She didn’t need to know how scary it was, and I wanted her life to continue as if nothing were going on.

I needed to be at the hospital every day, but I made it a point to take our daughter to school every morning, so things would seem “normal.” I would rush home after dropping her off and get a shower before spending the day at the hospital. Friends would pick her up after school, so at night, when I left the hospital I could pick her up from their houses.

Thank God for friends…people rallied to keep us going. People who lived near the hospital graciously offered to let me nap at their homes. People filled our refrigerator with meals. Family came in from out of town to help. Friends let us sleep at their houses when I was too tired to drive home.

Both operations went smoothly, and after a couple weeks in the hospital, he came home. It was a tough time for him because of the pain and memory issues.

On top of everything else, he was experiencing what the doctor referred to as “disinhibition,” a temporary effect of the surgery. It manifests in different ways, but his manifested in terrible language. Some people experience far worse types of disinhibition…they walk around naked, or become sexually promiscuous. The excessive bad language was embarrassing, but at least he wasn’t walking around naked or having sex with random strangers. Unfortunately, our daughter heard some words she didn’t need to know. Fortunately, the disinhibition didn’t last.

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Photo from December 22, 2010…two months after the surgeries.

Because of the seizures, he was not allowed to drive. This was a low point. He was angry.  He wanted to drive. It affected everything. I was trying to hold everything together, but on Christmas morning, I had forgotten to put his medications in his weekly container. He came into the kitchen, and when he realized his meds weren’t ready, he became angry. When I said I would get the meds, he said I was trying to control him. It was the brain surgery talking, and I knew it, but I’d had enough.

It angered me, and I said, “You know what? Manage your own damn medicine. I can PROMISE you I won’t touch it again.” And I never touched the meds again. He had to take control of his recovery at that point. I was tired. I was tired of his anger about not being able to drive, and I was tired of being the scapegoat. Frankly, I was just tired.

The next day, our daughter and I went to visit family in Alabama. I took all the car keys with me, because I knew he wanted to drive but legally couldn’t. He called asking where I’d hidden the keys, and I told him I had them with me. He got angry, and I hung up the phone, turning it off so he couldn’t call me for the rest of the day. The next day, he apologized.

I know it was frustrating to depend on other people for transportation. I’m sure he felt trapped. He had an unemployed friend who drove him where he needed to go for those months, which worked out nicely for both of them. But it wasn’t the same as driving.

Eventually, the day came that he could drive again. I joyfully handed him the keys.

He was happy.

He got in the car and drove away with a smile on his face, and immediately, things got better. The anger was gone.

We had survived the storm. Most importantly, he had survived brain surgery and was making a recovery. Our daughter had survived, and except for knowing a few more choice words, she was unscathed. Time had healed his physical wounds, but time also healed our marriage. Once he could drive again, we fell back into a happy place.

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Photo from March 2018

Sure, we’ve had challenges and had to make adjustments. My husband doesn’t like to travel and wants to be home more than he used to. His brain processes things differently. He gets headaches in overcrowded, loud places. He only likes to visit familiar places. He doesn’t mind that we continue to travel without him. I’ve told him before, “God put us together for a reason. Some women would be angry that you don’t want to go anywhere, and some would be afraid to go without you, so they would stay home and complain.” I’m not angry, and I’m not afraid. Because he doesn’t enjoy being on the go, we spend quality time together at home or familiar places.

A year or so ago, our now-14-yr-old daughter and I were talking about the brain surgery experience, and she asked, “Could Daddy have died?” I responded, “Yes. He could have died. You didn’t know that?” She said, “No.” I smiled and said, “Well, then I did my job. I didn’t want you to know.”

He turns 52 today, and we have settled into our new normal…lots of repetitive conversations and lots of reminder notes. It would seem strange to a lot of people, but it’s our normal…and thankfully, that doesn’t include seizures anymore.

Happy Birthday, Cary!