I told my boys - as they enter the 6th grade and 10th grade - I am a 17th grader! I am a new graduate student at the University of North Carolina - Charlotte - in the Elementary Education Program. I'm old and excited and nervous and my hot flashes may differentiate me from the others but that's ok.
My first day of graduate school - although I proactively visited the Uptown campus to get my student ID, parking pass and lay of the land - didn't go as I had planned. Which is shocking and upsetting, especially because my know-it-all inspirational speeches to my children are often about advance planning being the solution to most of their knuckle-head problems.
I left work in plenty of time to allow for traffic. It took me 6 minutes to get to campus. I parked in the designated area - no parking tickets for me! My class starts at 5:30pm, I arrive at 5:06pm so I have plenty of time to sit in the common area, sizing up my fellow students, deciding who is going to be my new best friend.
I opened my newly downloaded UNCC app to see if there were any new announcements since the last time I checked - 52 minutes ago. I pull up my class schedule to verify the classroom number. Hmmm. I notice the classroom changed since my walkthrough last week.
"Could you tell me where to find room 036", I asked the lady behind the security desk. I'm not above asking for help.
"Oh honey...you are on the wrong campus." We are in the South, I am no longer offended by honey. I smile at her. Maybe a little condescendingly.
"No, I'm pretty sure I am in the right place. I came here last week - and was told all of my classes would be here - at the Uptown campus. I even went to the classrooms so I would know my way." Because I am a planner. And I am a grown-up. And my class starts in 15 minutes. And I am here on time.
"Well honey," she continued, speaking slowly because she saw the look of panic on my face. "Looks like your classes are now on the main campus. They do that sometimes." She winks at me, like I am now in-on some inside joke.
Me, inside my head: ARE YOU F-ING KIDDING ME!? They sometimes do this? I want to talk to "they" this minute!
Me, out loud: "Ok, I am freaking out a bit so can you please tell me where, exactly, the main campus is located?" Cue the police officer who was watching this exchange from the corner of the room.
"Everything ok, Ma'am?" MA'AM? I know I am in the South but DO NOT Ma'am me. Not today!
"Yes, I just found out I am at the wrong campus and I am a little freaked out because I don't know where the main campus is and I came here last week to avoid this very thing from happening and yet it is happening and I am not sure where to go or what to do and now I am babbling and I apologize so please go back to dealing with real crime, not this nonsense, I'll be fine, I'll be fine, really, I'll be fine." The police officer pulls out his phone and I think he is calling for backup but instead he pulls up the map of Charlotte and points to where UNCC's main campus is located. I can't see anything because my eyes are filling with water - or sweat is dripping down from my forehead into my eyes, I am unclear of the source.
"I can help you find your way," says a young man who is suddenly standing very close to me. "They changed my class too - I'm heading up to the main campus now. I'll show you the way." I look at him - he seems familiar to me, like the son of a friend of mine. And then I look at the police officer, basically asking him with my eyes if he thinks this is a good idea. He nods and I shrug and I follow this young man out of the Uptown campus building, across the street, up the road to the Light Rail Train (Charlotte's very clean version of a subway). I leave my car and my plans, my comfort zone and take the train to UNCC's main campus.
10 minutes into the ride.
"Should we have purchased tickets?" Certainly the train isn't free. I've never taken the Light Rail which now makes me feel sort of bad.
"Nah," he replies. Nah, I repeat in my head.
"How long of a ride will this be?" My class starts in 9 minutes.
"About 25-30 minutes," he replies casually. I am now crying on the inside. My first day of graduate school and I am going to be really, really late to class.
"How come you are not freaking out too?" I ask, while pretending not to care that I am holding on to a train handlebar crawling with public transportation germs.
"I dunno. It's the first day," he pauses. "And I'm in Theater." I laugh. He laughs and we chat the rest of the way.
When we arrive at UNCC - we now have to walk across the massive campus to find my building. My new friend (Reggie? David? Joe?) gives me a little tour as we walk - the student center, the bookstore, the football stadium, the place to get good french fries.
"Well, here is your building," he points to a gorgeously academic looking building. "I think your class is in the basement." The whirlwind of our fast friendship is winding down. I want to hug him, but he walks away before I can make my move. He looks back and waves. I wave back and thank God for sending me a chill Angel from the Theater department. He magically diffused my freakout.
I find my classroom, wipe my face (I was not dressed for a 10,000 step trek!) and go to open the door. My plan is to sneak in the back so nobody will really know how late I am. NOPE! The door is locked and it is located at the front of the classroom. I almost change majors and run to the Theater building. But I knock on the door instead. The instructor opens the door, I apologize for being late, he points to a chair and the class continued their discussion. It is 6:05pm.
When class ended at 8:15pm, I felt excited about learning and engaging with my fellow like-minded classmates. A few of us walked out together, chattering and laughing. And then it hit me. I had to find my way back to my car! The walking and the training and walking - in the dark without my Angel. I paused, took a deep breath, and I found my way back - to the train, to my car, to my home. And as I retold the story to my family, I felt alive. Because I had an experience. A real life, learning, messy, ridiculous experience.
Dwight D. Eisenhower said, “In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.” I totally get that. Or as my sister says, "Live the day you have - not the day you plan". Amen. And Amen.
Lori Ann Dinkins
One blog at a time, I write the truth about my life as it is, as I hope it will be, as I wish it would have been. Business insights and personal triumphs. Thank you for joining me.