Craig Norman/The Gauntlet

First day jitters know no age

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I hate the word "mature."

Just because I took 30 years between high school and university instead of one I am suddenly identified by a word that implies age, knowledge and confidence. Did I mention age? Okay, I have grey hair, but maturity? I don't even know what faculty I should apply to. Or how, for that matter.

I needed my son to give me a guided tour of how to get from class A to class B, and show me where I should catch the bus.

If I am so damned mature, why am I having recurring nightmares that I've fallen hopelessly behind the rest of the class on the first day? That is not even the worst part.

No, the worst part is when I found myself changing in the boys locker room. Is there such a thing? And why in God's name was I there, changing into gym clothes?

I've decided to run a little contest with my gratitude as the prize. I want to discover a better word for that age group between youth and death. A word that when coupled with student does not bring to mind a picture of a no-nonsense, self-assured, but slightly loony adult. A word for someone who has nothing better to do with their time than take classes taught and attended by people who were not alive to hear the boom of all those babies--myself included--being born.

Sitting in my first class, terrified that I am in the wrong room, it suddenly hits me. I have become a visible minority. I stand out like a sore thumb. If I get up and leave before class starts, who would know? I wonder how long I could keep up the pretense that I was leaving the house to go to class? I have read stories about people who never admit to being fired. No one in the class would miss me. But I sit, glued to my seat, because if I get up now I would be even more visible.

A boy a couple of seats down from me asks people if they know what they want to be when they grow up. He asks me. Someone engages me in conversation.

"Umm, no, I don't know. I mean, I should, but I don't."

He smiles and says that's okay. It is? I mean, sure it is.

The first class ends and I survived. I even became part of a group. For the love of God, could I not just sit here quietly and take notes? Please? I enter the next class, and again, the terror of being in the wrong class comes on.

Go to Plan B. If I am in the wrong class I will just sit it out and pretend I am in the right place, a sensible, mature thing to do. I don't want to disrupt anything. The prof looks so stern and unhappy. I am reluctant to make eye contact, no way am I going to ask a question. The no-nonsense man turns out to be some sort of media aide who sets up the computer. How could I know?

The class progresses and there is yet another formation of groups. We have to talk to each other, aloud. I would almost rather be in the boys change room.

My upcoming challenge is finding my way around the art building and making it from one class to another with only an hour to spare. I don't know where the washrooms are. I wonder if I went into the men's room, would anyone notice? If you happen to see a mature woman on campus, somewhere she obviously should not be, do not be alarmed. She is not crazy, just living her dreams in full technicolour horror.

I started classes on Sept. 11. My own apprehensions now seem silly and inconsequential to what is happening in our world. After the initial shock, scenarios of future changes creep across my brain. It is as if the earth and our perceptions blew askew from the impact of those hijacked planes. I hope I'm in a place where my own perspective will broaden. For that chance I will keep swallowing my own small fears.