A fitting gift

By: Cris Evert Lato-Ruffolo August 05,2016 - 10:05 PM

Graduate school is tough.

The overconfident 2014 version of myself did not realize this. I was a mother to then one-year-old twins and the family was based in Guangzhou, China.

The original plan was to work on a communication-related master’s degree but as I was checking the different programs of the University of the Philippines Open University, my eyes got stuck in the Faculty of Education’s Language and Literacy program.

I saw it as an opportunity to reach my goal of being my children’s first teacher.

But not just any first teacher, I wanted to be their best first teacher. I taught a language and culture appreciation class back in 2012 and hosted/organized several storytelling sessions since I was 11 but when it comes to writing lesson plans and knowledge and skills on language teaching and literacy development, I had very little background.

So… I started graduate school in August 2014.

I was scared and confused.

My classmates were mostly teachers and school administrators. There were mothers but I was the lone person there who enrolled in the program because of my children and because I wanted to contribute to the growth of the Basadours, the volunteer storytelling group of which I am part of.

Classes were held online and though I did not have any issues with technology, I had a hard time grasping terms and concepts that were so alien to me. I tried to bank on my ability to communicate in six languages but, truth to be told, I had a hard time keeping up with my classmates who were discussing scaffolding students’ learning and metacognitive thinking process when I was still stuck on differentiating literal questioning and creative thinking.

There were exams to take and papers to write.

They seemed manageable between August to November 2014 but in December 2014 when we found out that we were pregnant with our third child, the challenge grew like Goliath.

And my family was David.

In his Facebook post in my blog called Reading Ruffolos, my husband Jeff wrote that he could not believe that we were at the UPOU Headquarters in Laguna for my graduation.

He wrote: “I never thought this day would come because getting here took so much sacrifice for this woman and this family. She moved countries, worked on projects, led literacy initiatives, raised a family, got pregnant, gave birth, battled depression (and triumphed over it!) and remained very nationalistic and loyal to the Philippines — all these while completing a program that was outside her comfort zone.”

He was telling the truth.

Several times, I wanted to quit.

It was so easy to give up.

We moved and traveled around three countries in the two and a half years that I worked on this program. I delivered Jeff Junior one fine day in September and five days after, a paper was due.

How did I finish that paper on time?

I banished my husband to the living room, converted the bedroom into a study room, and spent my time writing the paper, breastfeeding the baby, and changing the twins’ diapers (and yes, feeding them).

If you asked me how I survived the last two and a half years of juggling graduate school and family life, I cannot give you tips because quite frankly, my life was a big, frantic mess.
But I am glad I did it.

I was able to use my learnings from the program to start homeschooling the twins and understand how their minds work. I understood myself better as a learner and as an aspiring teacher. I found myself in awe of my classmates back in college who were studying and working at the same time. How little value I gave to them when they worked so hard to send themselves to school!

Last Saturday, I went back to UP to accept my second degree. I thought it would just be another UP graduation.

But it wasn’t.

My husband was there cheering me on.

He refused to sit comfortably on one of the chairs reserved for loved ones.

Instead, he ran around the areas where I passed during the processional and when I was on top of that stage to accept my diploma, I saw him on the side where the official photographers were documenting the moment with just my red tablet as his camera.

I could never thank my parents enough for the support they extended to me during my undergraduate years. But this chance at completing a graduate degree added so much maturity to my 29 short years of human existence that I have learned to be humble and forgiving and yes, even patient (when it is not even my strongest point).

I received all sorts of congratulatory messages for hurdling the rigorous UP life the second time around. My friends say this is a fitting gift for my 30th birthday this month. But I feel that this degree is the best present for Jeff, who will also celebrate his natal day this month.

He took care of the children when I was overwhelmed, stood by me when I was battling depression, and edited my papers even when it involved staying awake at 2:00 a.m.

This one is for you, Jeffrey!


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TAGS: classes, graduate school, graduation, metacognitive thinking, University of the Philippines, UP

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