Tuesday 13 November 2018

The magical messiness of growing into being a third level student

Megan Lewis (20) dropped out of university in first year and reapplied to the CAO. Now a second year BEd in Education and Psychology student at Mary Immaculate College, Limerick, her thoughts on her journey from school and home will resonate widely

Megan Lewis pictured at home in Terenure, Dublin. Photo: Caroline Quinn
Megan Lewis pictured at home in Terenure, Dublin. Photo: Caroline Quinn

Leaving home, flying the nest, growing up; it sounds poetic. The reality is red rimmed eyes from sleepless nights, cheeks stained with diluted mascara and snotty tissues shoved up the sleeve of my jumper. Poetic.

I remember the car journey. Mom was coming. If Mom came then I couldn't be visibly worried because then she would worry and then I would worry there was something to be worried about. Dad and I don't see eye to eye on several issues but here's the great thing about him: when you're caught up in your worry, he assumes the polar opposite state of being, a state of utter tranquillity. "Would yih geh over yerself."

I felt guilty to grow up, the first of Mom's 'chicks' (is it any wonder I'm so sensitive?) to fly the nest. After everything my parents had done for me, this felt like an abandonment. I didn't want to feel like this. I kept waiting to feel excited or, at least, brave. I'd miss my bed. I'd miss the dog. I'd miss my Mom. I'd miss the lack of peace with her reminding me, quite painfully between bites, to clean the pan because it won't scrub itself. I'd miss asking her to let me live in the present, to let me sit and eat my organic, ethically produced eggs.

I'm a middle-class millennial who has been fortunate enough to have lived a sheltered life. My comfort zone is relatively tiny and stepping outside of it results in a drastic spike in heart rate. We, bubble-wrapped, middle class millennials need to run from our comfort zones. Run like your mother is about to sit you down and give you advice on boys. Faster than that. Run like your Da is about to sit you down and give you advice on boys. It's not our fault we were molly-coddled. Our parents showered us in love and praise (what were they thinking?). It's not our fault that there was a rule in primary school which banned running in yard, and later skipping ropes for the fear one of us fell and, God forbid, scraped a knee. I was one of those unfortunate children with little co-ordination and a love for running and so, at lunch time, you could find me at the secretary's office. I was what Brenda, the school's beloved secretary, termed, "a bleeder". "Your poor knees again," she'd say. Later the school playground incorporated rubber flooring. The kids who came after me would never know what I knew.

On the way down to Limerick, I have my earphones in. I'm banging out the High School Musical tunes in the back of the car because the alternative is to listen to my parents bicker about who's going to win the All-Ireland. Mom is a Kerry woman and Dad bleeds blue. Even the tension in that car could not provide sufficient distraction from that feeling. My belly filled with tiny moths. Moths, not butterflies, because butterflies are reserved for excitement and nervous enthusiasm for the future. I didn't have the butterflies, I had a case of the moths.

They creeped and crawled inside of me, foraging into the nooks and crannies of my intestines. I wish I was brought alive by change. I wish I spent the whole journey with my face pressed against the window, unable to contain myself. Instead, I found myself thinking of all the ways it could all go wrong. The year prior, I learned it will go wrong. You fall and your knees bleed. So, I lied. I lied when asked "are you buzzing to start college again?". "Yep, can't wait." Mostly, I think I was terrified of this thing called failure. I left for college feeling fearful and cowardly, vulnerable and incapable. I told myself I would be ok. I had my nails chewed to stumps as I tried not to call home because I didn't want to need anyone, trying my best to adult independently.

I won't sugar coat the realities of change. I'm not laying down the rubber flooring in the playground. The location of your life is irrelevant. If you can't control yourself around the Nutella jar late at 1am in Dublin, it's likely this will remain a problem for you when you move to Limerick. If you're not a wake-up at 6.30am, make your bed and run five miles kind-of-gal, it's unlikely a new city will incite drastic internal change. I still have no self-control around a Nutella jar and I'm still a night owl and a terrible runner. There's no flying away from your problems. I have changed though. I'm not the same person I was when I started college the first time round or even the second time round for that matter. I eat less Nutella. I try to eat it on fruit now as opposed to straight out of the jar with a soup spoon. I suppose one might say I've blossomed from a scared chick into this socially awkward, sensitive, compulsive Nutella-eating, young chicken. Or rather, I'm blossoming. It's a process.

Although you can't escape yourself, you can work on yourself. I admit it is hard work, to change yourself; but if change is the only constant there is, we can apply this principle to ourselves. Young people are not soft. They're just learning to cope in a world that is changing faster than before. We're learning. Change is hard. The rate at which change occurs changes too. As adolescents move into adulthood, the rate of change increases. Several aspects of their lives change at once. We should be mindful of our young people during this period of change. It's not about feeding them romantic platitudes or drowning their idealism in realism. It's about offering a support, something solid, something concrete.

My advice to incoming first years is to expect failure. This failure will not be pretty, especially if, like me, you are not adept in the acceptance of imperfection. You do not want to see me after I get subbed in a match or a C on an assignment. I am a teary, messy failure. We're all failures though, aren't we? Failure and change. Change and failure. The two, I find, are inextricably linked. We grow up through this process of encountering change and failing at first to adapt. It is because of failure, we make necessary changes to ourselves to meet life's demands. Then, life changes again and we begin once more with failure. When starting off in college, when change and failure are omnipresent in your life, I now know the best thing to do is make yourself a cuppa, sit down and give your auld mother a call.

'What doesn't kill you makes you stronger'. Nietzsche said this originally but then Jessie J wrote a hit song about it and one too many girls had it tattooed on their lower backs and it lost meaning. It's a cliché, but it epitomises the process. This life, this student life, is messy. You can't afford organic eggs and your knees bleed. Then, the wound heals itself. Just like that. Magic. The skin where the wound used to be is harder, tougher, stronger. I think that's magical. This magical, messy life.

'If you can’t control yourself around the Nutella jar late at 1am in Dublin, it’s likely this will remain a problem for you when you move to Limerick.' Photo: Getty
'If you can’t control yourself around the Nutella jar late at 1am in Dublin, it’s likely this will remain a problem for you when you move to Limerick.' Photo: Getty

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