A different back-to-school by Mona Risk

All over the nation, children are preparing to go back to school, and exhausted mothers are counting the days with a subtle smile. Imagine if it’s a mom with two teenagers who’s preparing to go back to study for a degree. It happened to me years ago.

What prompted my decision was a medical problem: two slipped disks in my back and continuous pain due to standing in a research lab for hours and days, running analyses and developing new procedures. After spending two months lying down, taking pain killers, and wearing a brace around my hips, my doctor declared, “You can’t continue to work in a lab. You’ll have to find yourself something else to do.” I agreed with him. But the lab was my life. So I decided to go back to graduate school and prepare a Ph.D. in chemistry.

My children were ten and fourteen the day I sat again in a classroom. I was a nervous wreck. Would I be able to understand the textbooks’ jargon after so many years away? Would I have time to study with all my responsibilities as a mother and a wife to a husband who continuously traveled for business? Would I be able to pass the exams? Would I be accepted by the younger students?

I put aside my usual clothing, wore jeans, t-shirts, and sneakers to look like the others. To my husband’s horror, soon my jeans exhibited a hole on the thigh due to a drop of nitric acid. “You’re not going to wear THIS?” Sure I did.

At night, I insisted the kids turn off their radios, stereos —there was no iPod, or iPad at the time— and told them they could sit with me at the dining room table to do home work or stay in their rooms and be quiet. Before my first exam, I swallowed two aspirins to calm myself and answered correctly. Thank God I did well. I continued taking the aspirins before each exam. Is it any wonder I destroyed my stomach and got myself an incurable ulcer?

Going back to school had more fringe benefits than working full time. A mother being always a mother, I used my flexible hours wisely and attended soccer practice, baseball games, and ballet lesson, but I always had a book with me and tried to study.

During the first year, I didn’t mingle much and the students thought I was newly married. I let them believe what they wanted. Then one day, my daughter called me at school. Another student took the call. You should have seen her face when she said, “A little girl called saying she’s your daughter.” I just nodded, but eventually I answered their questions about my daughter’s age, etc…

My son remained a secret until graduation. By then I was comfortable enough in my student skin to introduce him to my friends and colleagues. During my third year, he was applying for college and adamantly refused to go to U.C. while I was still there. “What would I do if we meet on campus? Can you see me telling my friends, ‘this is my Mom’?” I didn’t see anything wrong with that, but according to my son, it was very tacky!

My husband, kids, and parents attended my graduation. My professor was very proud of his mom-student, and had me carry the graduate school banner leading the entering procession for the graduation ceremony.

Many years later, I abandoned chemistry and work, and threw myself, with the same tenacity, into the romance world, and I learned to be a romance writer.

My latest book, NEIGHBORS and MORE, is a romantic suspense, and the first book of the High Rise Series. It’s available at Amazon. http://tinyurl.com/96bjqcm

High Rises are like large families where members face love, hate, meddling, and gossiping. When the neighbor who was harassing her is found dead in the Jacuzzi, Alexa is a prime suspect. Can she count on her dear neighbors, including the delectable Italian, Dante, for help? With too many skeletons in their own closets, would they save her or incriminate her?

26 thoughts on “A different back-to-school by Mona Risk

  1. We have a lot in common. I went back to college and got my bachelor’s degree when my youngest (of 4) was 9 months old. I’d just recovered from cancer surgery and a back injury and could no longer work as a day care director. I was teaching a 4 grades per classroom high school class in a small school, had kids ages 1, 3, 11, and 13, and I led Sunday morning worship at church. I still don’t know how I did it, but I had a lot more energy back then. 🙂

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    • Hi Pam, I can imagine how difficult it was to study with four kids at home, especially with a baby and toddler. And working on top of that. You were amazing. I’m sure your family was so proud of you.

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  2. Oh, Mona, thanks so much for sharing. What a wonderful inspiration to anyone who is considering going back to school. Yes, it can be done! Sitting at the dining room table (or anyplace else) studying is a great role model for children. They do learn by example. I can see the pride on the family’s face at your graduation.

    I can’t wait to read your newest book. It’s a great story premise. High rises are like mini cities or overgrown families. It doesn’t matter if you want to know your neighbors or not, it tends to happen.

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    • Hi E. I think that my going back to school encourage my kids to go to college and do their best at getting degrees. It took me three months of pondering and evaluating the situation before making this big decision. My husband was very supportive. While grad students usually get a teaching assistanship– means they get paid for teaching lab to undergraduate students– I declined the assistanship as I didn’t have time to teach, and only requested a minimum scholarship that would cover my classes and lab fees. I used the time to be with my children who really enjoyed having Mom with them more than when I worked from 8-5.

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  3. What a great role model! Your daughter looks just like you…none of my kids look anything like me. Major congrats on doing what you felt you had to do…I never finished college, though I did go back once. I’d like to have a degree, but am enjoying myself too much with my writing. If I ever do go back again, I’m waiting until I’m eighty, as there might be a good book in there. LOL…I think I’ll add this to my ‘bucket list.’ Now to make it to eighty!

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    • Kelly, that is so true. We often underestimate ourselves. I remember that when I went to my first RWA National Conference, at lunchtime, I looked at the crowd of 3000 women and thought, Good God, all these women are writers. There’s no way on earth I can compete and be published. And yet, dreams do happen.

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  4. Wonderful post, Mona. That must have been tough going back to school, but also fun. In your graduation photo you don’t look old enough to have teenage kids! I can see why you college friends were surprised how old your children were.

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    • Hi Helen, good to see you here. Yes it was a lot of fun going back to school, almost like shedding ten years of my life and been given a new youth. Thanks for the compliment, that’s the good thing about marrying young and having children right away.

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  5. I still love to take a coarse now and then. It’s good for my brain and reinforces the importance of learning to my kids and grand-kids. They’d probably be devastated if I showed up in one of their classes though.

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  6. HI Mona,
    It takes a lot of courage to go back to college as an adult and a mom. I did it when my kids were little, one class at a time in the evenings. Keeping up with the course work was hard for me because I wanted to do so many things for the kids as well. But we always find a way to manage the things we want and need to do, don’t we? I’m proud of you for getting a PhD. That’s so wonderful.
    Maggie

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    • Hi Maggie, good to see you here. Yes, it’s always difficult for a mother to work full time or study for a degree. Thank you for your kind words. The picture is fuzzy because I took a picture of the original picture that is framed and hanging on the wall.

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  7. Dear Mona,
    It sounds like you can do anything you set your mind to doing! What a perfect trait for an author who needs to be a jack-of-all-trades she writes about (at least enough to be credible 🙂 ). Channeling your drive and creativity, not to mention sheer tenacity into your High Rise Series sounds like a nature extension to me. Congratulations and may your passions always be prosperous! 🙂
    Leigh

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