When Rachel Comerford made the decision at 29 with two kids to pursue her degree, she knew it wouldn't be easy. But it would be worth it.
Bag one; folders, pens, student I.D, lunch. Check. Bag two; nappies, wipes, change of clothes. Check. Bag three; two sets of clothes, socks and inhaler. Check. This is exactly how the night before I started my first year in the Institute of Technology, Carlow went. Pretty different from a lot of people, I know, but my college experience has been different. Different, because I was not your typical first year. I was beginning my education at the ripe old age of 29, deemed a mature student, albeit a mature student with two children under 4 at home.
 
Making the decision was never easy. There were times, after I accepted my place, that I wanted to give up. I felt the split life I was living was too much. I am not a fan of change, I like knowing which way things are going to go and when they are going to happen. This is impossible in most factors of life and certainly in mine.
 
The first six months of college flew by. I didn’t feel like I was struggling at that time. From the start, I had promised myself that once I left college I was a parent. Once that last class finished for the day, it was back to meal planning, washing and organising. Sometimes this left very little time for doing what I longed to do, be with the boys watching them be boys but I had taken the push to put myself first for a change and I chose to make the most out of what time we did have.
 
There were times I had to miss the odd day because let’s face it, kids get sick at the worst of times. Mine seem to prefer exam time. It wasn’t long until the end of first year was looming and it seemed that the boys had grown up so quick in that year. When the college year had started, one of the boys wasn’t really talking but by the end of that year he was talking in full sentences. At times, I felt like life was flashing before my eyes. In that year, there were plenty of ups and downs.
 
Exams came and went, results were posted and I registered for second year. Once again, the fear of missing out was there lurking in the background. I had to place trust in others to make sure that the boys were ok and happy and I managed to get on with my days in college, dedicating as much time during the day to getting assignments done and studying. Organization made our days easier. Thankfully, with both boys being that bit older, they understood that if the laptops were set up on the table (my partner was in his final year of a four-year degree – it was him who inspired me to go to college) projects were being done. Eventually, we noticed our older boy doing his “college work”, as their shoes were left stacked with their clothes piles for the following morning. Our college life was beginning to rub off on our boys.
 
Now, I wait to start third year but most importantly, my final year. Sometime down the road, I will pursue a Master’s Degree but for now the plan is to just get through what I know will be the toughest of all the years. How I am going to do it, I am not entirely sure, but I will, because it was stubbornness and ambition that got me through the first two years. Watching the babies turn into little boys and learning the value of time with them has been my biggest success over the last two years.
 
My biggest achievement? Learning that there was more to life than just staying at home and overcoming the fear of losing who I was as a person.
 
There have been so many times when I thought college wasn’t for me because I am a parent, but I figured out something – being a parent isn’t the only thing that defines me. Achieving a Bachelor’s Degree in three years is something I never thought I could have done. I will wear that cape November 2018 and there will be no-one prouder than me.