Dispatch from the Middle Ages

Ten days ago, I quit the kind of job this school is meant to prepare you for. I left the investment bank I'd worked for, to return to school as a full-time student. Why would I make such a seemingly crazy choice? Well, I had never finished my degree, and as an adult, non-traditional, part-time undergrad student, I finally crossed the registration Rubicon – there were no more classes I could take that were offered online or in the evening, at least nothing that didn't mean a significant departure from my planned academic path. For example – I'd taken enough high school French to need only two courses, not three, to fulfill the degree requirements. Taking the only language course I saw offered online – Spanish – would mean starting the language clock at zero.

So with my own trepidation and more than a little spousal consternation, I flung myself into the fray of full-time, on-campus classes. How's it been so far, nearly one week in? Well, to give you an honest idea of what it's like, I'll have to create a new gauge – let's call it the PDQ. The Personal Dignity Quotient. It's a measure of how much insult, small or large, I'm holding at any one time. And let me tell you... this gauge gets a workout.

My friends are the types of folks that many of your parents are: engineers, veterinarians, science professionals, college professors. And when they hear that I can't join them at the wine bar or have no time for brunch, I often hear a litany of laments on my behalf, "Oh, I could never go back to school, and be the oldest student on campus by a mile – I don't know how you do it." Well, how I do it is to tolerate the volatility in my PDQ. Don't think it's a big thing? Well, let me walk you through a little of what it's like:

Here's how it went on my first few days of classes...

I arrived on campus having properly planned for parking and only needed to figure out the code to use for the already downloaded parking app. Super nice older dude tells me it's 4461 – a small nicety that gives me a little boost. Let's say my PDQ went from 8 to 9.

Bolstered by the good energy, I figure it's better to walk the 10 minutes to class than try to find the RU bus stop and wait, but it's also 90 degrees in the shade, and I'm wearing 15 pounds of backpack, so I arrive to class sweaty and disheveled – not a state I'm used to starting my day in. PDQ now back at 8.

Next up, French class! We're learning physical attributes and we're meant to describe ourselves. The version of options that apply to me are conspicuously geriatric. I intone, "Je suis âgée, avec les cheveux gris" (which literally translates as ‘I am aged' – like a cheese, ‘with gray hair'). Well, that was fun, now I'm sweaty, disheveled and basically Jurassic. My PDQ takes another ding – now at 7.

Luckily, my next class is an African American philosophy course (conspicuously taught by someone decidedly not African American, but that's a topic for another day), where the very kind, thoughtful and earnest students hear that I've quit my job to be able to finish my degree requirements, and give me a supportive round of clapping. That's nice. We're back up to 8.

Afterwards, comes my Political Science course. Little to note here, except that after recitation, a fellow student tells me how great it was to be exposed to my knowledge, perspective and insight. I'm positively aglow with self-regard and my PDQ pings in at a jubilant 9!

Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end, and my hot streak meets its abrupt and ignominious demise. In a fit of ambition, I reserved a swimming lane at the outdoor pool behind the rec center. This being my first day, I found the help desk at the rec center and asked about using the pool. I was told the indoor one was open, and was easier to get to as well, being just off the women's locker rooms, which were, in full horror film fashion, down the dingy stairs to the dimly lit basement, along the oddly empty corridor. Enjoy your swim!

Being audacity itself, I moved, undaunted, towards my goal – bathing suit on, shower cap fixed, plus flip flops, towel and goggles. Let's roll! I dutifully showered and sauntered to the door labeled ‘pool.' It didn't open. There was just enough give from the shove that I shoved harder next time. Still nothing. After a few more tries, I figured there was another way in. I found some stairs, saw a person in what seemed a custodial office, and asked how to fix the jammed door.

Well, turns out the indoor pool was not actually open and the help desk was not all that helpful. Luckily, she was able to explain how to get to the outdoor pool. Again, through the dingy dimness and murder-y halls, three zigs and a zag, past the double doors, outside past the garbage bins, across the driveway, to the outdoor pool. Only problem was, I was meant to have my OnePass swipe card, and no amount of sweet-voiced cajoling of the blonde and slight, 19-year old pool attendant was getting me in the outdoor pool without it, despite my 7pm reservation. OK, a little crestfallen (PDQ falls to 8), I figured I'll just go get the card.

Here's where it gets fun – NONE of the doors towards the back of the rec center were open; everything was locked. So here I am, in all my middle-aged, bathing-suited glory, with wet flip flops and a damp towel, jiggling every door handle to check if it's open, marching up the side of the building, then around the next promenade, past the throngs of robust and jaunty teenagers, keenly aware of the jiggling of my own love handles (my PDQ now plummets to a 7), as I make my way towards the main street, discovering at last a door that opens, and it turns out it's the door to the office of the same woman from before, who explained about the indoor pool being closed.

She commiserated with my having to parade my semi-naked self all through god's creation to find an unlocked door. "Yeah, not everyone's comfortable going that way." "Yeah, no kidding..." And with that, my PDQ is now at about a 6. (I'm going to need some ice cream.)

So that's how this works. I'm no longer able to avoid the vicissitudes of awkward insults that adults (at least those with resources, anyway) are usually more able to insulate themselves against. But then, I knew returning to school would be a soul-bruising endeavor when I started back part-time, six years ago. I knew it would require that I willingly suffer the slings and arrows of constant injury to ego. So be it. It's the quiet toll it costs to cross the college finish line. Even if the race takes an extra 30 years.