Wednesday, August 09, 2006

No crying in Chemistry!

Published August 10, 2006

I had an epiphany after taking my chemistry final last Thursday. First of all, I would never have taken a chemistry class at my age, had it not been for my father’s health crisis this last year. Second, I am a crazy person who has abandoned her family for 8 weeks to study chemistry (my kids have done everything - laundry and cooking-I love these children). Put that in a recipe with a husband who has basically what it takes and I'll handle everything else and you get one blessed woman who is a glutton for punishment in the land of acids and bases.

I dropped out of chemistry at age 19. I was not a serious student. I always took the easy way out. This summer, however, I spent 40 extra hours per week outside of class working on chemistry. This is a science class you cannot (despite your best attempts) bluff your way through. Those of us with BA degrees now know what those with BS degrees found out. Bluffing cannot fit into a chemical equation anywhere. So I had to start from scratch. I took a hard class, the hard way. What a whiner. I know I drove my tutors to drink.

It was difficult....I didn't do great on exams...I did average and poor on exams....I flogged myself to death because of professor was patient and said to hang in there. I hardly believed her until my (two), count em' 2 tutors....encouraged me to keep going. I was at the tutors every minute I wasn't in class. I turned in every stitch of homework, every lab report, my research project (a short dissertation on oxygenated hydrocarbons...yeah, take sound effect of one big yawn), and then I showed up for every class, every lab and suffered through my younger counterparts' ability to balance equations and chew gum and listen to I-Pods for two months.....I was the old lady in the class who had a binder full of calculations and a book from Borders called “Chemistry for Dummies”. My research project was about gasoline. This was ridiculous. It took a tutor drawing an ‘Electron Hotel’ for me to understand how electrons fill their orbital shells in atoms.

However, little epiphany revealed something big I hardly expected to happen. I did well on quizzes, I got full credit for homework plus I turned in detailed lab reports... but for some reasons on major exams...I made stupid mistakes...old lady stuff....) I hit rock bottom two weekends ago when I thought I had aced an exam....and got a 65. (8 points were from not transposing answers correctly). Test anxiety syndrome….bad contacts, blurry vision…whatever. I then put myself to bed for one day and believed everything I ever heard about people who wanted to become nurses but couldn’t because of the chemistry class they had failed….I started to despair about the last 8 weeks. A friend in tutoring said “Oh this is the class that made us cry. Hang in there. It will pay off. Trust me.” A week ago, I listened to those encouraging voices and went to bed early. I decided not to cram for the final. I looked over the book, my notes and the quizzes I had done so well on, and said “I’ve studied enough”. This class is over. I did my best. It’s not up to me anymore, either I pass or I fail…”God, you take the final tomorrow…I’ll bring the calculator”. It was time to take the final and get on with my life. I talked to myself until I fell asleep for the first good night’s sleep I had in 8 weeks.

I took the final, and finished early. My professor agreed to let us wait so she could give us our grades. After putting the ScanTron into the machine to grade my final....she handed it back to me and all I could say was, "thank you God"....I got a rock solid "B" on the final..... My grade for the class cumulatively was “B” because of the work, the hard stuff....and I cried...then I cried all the way out to the parking lot thinking, ‘Hey, maybe I actually learned something this summer”.

The gift in finishing this class was watching my father take some steps this weekend with his bilateral leg braces and his walker. It’s been 10 months since his aneurysm surgery. It was a priceless. His tan is coming back and the hospital bed was picked up a couple weeks ago. I asked him if I could take a sledgehammer to his wheelchair someday, but he’s not ready for that yet. We have to save something for Christmas.

What a ride. Don't ever quit- God can work miracles, even with old ladies who cry over chemistry. Folsom Lake College – You rock! Next semester is Nutrition. Compared to summer school, this should be a picnic. I can’t wait for the class to start.

Tammy Maher is a resident of El Dorado Hills and biweekly columnist for the Mountain Democrat. You can reach her at


Jeeps said...

Great tips and post, Mrs. Maher. Good luck with the work!

Tammy Maher said...

Thanks from Aunt Tam

TCB said...

nice job with chemistry aunt tammy and pop is doing better