It’s Mother’s Day. I always think of the iconic Roy Lichtenstein image even though I didn’t actually forget to have children. It just always seemed possible until I realized it wasn’t. But I have spent almost every day for the past 26 years around college students and many have stayed in touch and feel, to me, like friends and family.
If you have seen my most recent posts on Instagram or Twitter you know I did, indeed, receive flowers for Mother’s Day this year. My life has been changed forever by the presence of this person (and a few others) who helped me really begin to see my students, to know them, to admire them, and to love them.
I met Patrick in 2008 through a chance encounter at the library Reference Desk where I was on duty. As library director I was fierce about protecting my desk time. Patrick came in with a question (I remember it was about snakes), and we spent 30-40 minutes talking, searching around, talking some more. We had fun. A few weeks later he was back. Political Science this time – his major. He was from Sierra Leone he told me and had been in the US for about five years. We talked more and a few weeks after that he came by my office to ask if I would become his academic advisor.
Patrick began dropping by my office every once in a while to talk politics, books, and life. I learned that he had not seen his mother since childhood, that his foster family did not support his going to college, and that teachers had provided stability and encouragement to him all of his life in the many different places in Africa he lived before coming to the US. Patrick’s story is his own to tell.
And then late in one semester he asked if we could talk. He was clearly in distress. He wanted to find his mother. He needed to. His grades were suffering and he was distracted. He wanted to take a semester leave of absence. I supported him and stayed in touch with him. With a bit of help communicating with Financial Aid, he returned to campus and graduated. During that last semester we both began to understand that our own relationship was also commencing into something more. Patrick calls for advice or just to chat. I was unhappy but patient during his “maybe I’ll go into the Marines” phase. We celebrated jobs. He made a surprise appearance in New Hampshire at my new job at the end of my first half-marathon run. He calls me his “Jewish mother.”
Patrick is engaged to an amazing woman, this young man who is so determined, so smart, and so full of a history that I only know on the surface. I think of Patrick, and my advisee who almost single-handedly prevented her roommate from committing suicide, and the student who returned from break one year after being kicked out by his parents for coming out.
We are not our students’ parents, and it is important to make that distinction. But we sometimes receive the gift of getting to know and share our students’ struggles, triumphs, and lives. They have helped me be a better librarian, and teacher, and person. And I’m really looking forward to being the mother of the groom J