Pamela Rodriguez, GED Student
Of the thousands of adult students in America’s adult education classes, many are mothers. For these women, the balancing act they practice is much more complex than that of the more accomplished career mother. They must get up each day and face more obstacles than a busy schedule, a demanding job and the needs of their families. They must also navigate through the doubts and fears that lurk in the landscape of their own minds. For them, the biggest and most elusive obstacle is the act of chipping away at the self-doubt. The daily act of slowly building a lifetime of self-esteem that was not afforded to them earlier in life; whether from the hand of someone else, mistakes made, or more likely a combination of both. Each day they must carve out a future with very few life tools. Each day they must find the determination not to give up. Each day they must set a good example for their children. All the while, not really being sure if they are setting one at all.
I know these demons well, for each day, I wake to face them myself. I look in my mirror and see, not a figure of success or a shining example for my eight-year-old daughter, but the little homeless girl being schooled by her parents. Trying to absorb her daily lessons along with her four siblings, all with empty tummies confined in the backseat of the family car while wandering the streets and highways of east Texas. Unlike some disadvantaged youth, drugs and alcohol did not play a factor in my homelessness. During my upbringing, my father suffered from severe A.D.D. syndrome which went undiagnosed until he was in his seventies. Unable to maintain stable employment, he wandered, taking his family with him.
Eventually we landed in California where the homelessness continued for a solid three-and-a-half years. Homeless all the way through what would have been my high school years. Never truly knowing what hope lay inside the walls of these institutions. Only knowing that I was on the outside of them. Being told by my loving parents that I was a valuable person, but not feeling that way at all. How could I know the light they saw in me when I had no place for it to shine through. A place where I could be enlightened. A place where I could see my accomplishments shine… a place like school.
Despite my unconventional upbringing, I’ve had my share of success. A wonderful husband and beautiful daughter. I even managed to have some career success as an executive administrative assistant, armed only with some poise and a charismatic personality; I thought I had cracked the code, believing my lack of education was inconsequential. As always in life, over time, truth would no longer be denied its place in realty. It bled through, like red wine on a fine white napkin, placed on the table of denial I had dined at for years. I found myself 44 years old and asking for twice the salary of girls half my age with college educations. With no job offers coming in and time on my hands, I found myself volunteering at my daughter’s elementary school. Her teacher encouraged me to get my GED.
On this advice, I enrolled here at my local adult school in Antelope Valley, California. My first time in a classroom and I am filled with wonderment at all the things I never knew in life. I watch the teacher, as she stands before us, gazing over the upward facing eyes. Eyes filled both with hope and discouragement, of interest and of distractions. Patiently, they teach. Each day they give us tools and slowly, over time, they fill us with a renewed sense of self-worth. One day I too, will be a teacher. One day, the little homeless girl who never went to school, will teach in one too. One day soon. I vow to try and be like the teachers that have inspired me. To hold up the beacon of light that an education can be, on the path for kids to find their way in life. I still fight through the daily obstacles and on the days that I fall short, my daughter reminds me that, “I have homework to do.” Indeed I do.