No one turns a college degree on a dime, so to speak.

In May I watched Maggie graduate and wondered how so much time had passed. Of course every parent thinks the same thing. What were the markers? The turning points? Where did her confidence come from? How did she become an academic success?

One by one, they randomly appeared as I sorted through boxes.

Maggie and HorseMaggie was three years old in this picture. Another mother with an adopted Chinese daughter invited us to a children’s fair. Mary Claire raced to the ponies, giddy with excitement. Maggie gripped the saddle, terrified, unable to look up and smile for the camera. The man running the circling ride let me walk beside her, round after around. She clutched my hand and whispered, “Thank you, Mama. I’m very scared.”

Cliff and I realized, based on our years of teaching, that we had a daughter who would not burn up athletic fields. Running, romping, rebounding would not be her future. Her success would likely be in reading and writing–another way to establish control. We read to her every night. My heart leaped up when she asked about the “little things” in a line. I explained how punctuation worked like signs and stoplights in a sentence’s journey.

When she turned four, I let her make grocery lists. I recited the items, and she wrote them down in a language that only she understood.



When she began kindergarten, morning time management became a challenge. At a family meeting, Cliff helped her outline her responsibilities and how much time they took. I wrote them down and she illustrated. We placed them on a Hello Kitty clipboard. She read the simple sentences and checked them off each morning.img20190606_14171354

By second grade, writing thank you notes began. Sending a picture to the gifter had sufficed until this point. “Writing can be hard,” I explained, “so follow a basic pattern. Sentence One lists the specific gift. Sentence Two explains how you will spend/use it. Sentence Three acknowledges the kindness/generosity. ” Not only had she learned how to write a paragraph, eventually she realized the value of gratitude when she gave gifts that went unacknowledged. “It’s not that hard to do,” she’d mumble.

Trust me when I say a great many challenges defined her language arts’ experiences from grade to grade. Nevertheless, I remain astonished by her sophomore essay on The Great Gatsby that ended with her revelation about the red-white-and-blue collapse of the American Dream. At a conference, her teacher and I marveled over the soulfulness of her conclusion.

But for me, a former English teacher, confetti fell from the sky when she gave me a desk sign with a run-on sentence that teasingly rubbed salt into my punctuation-driven heart. Maggie knew the power of a semicolon and the agony of a sentence needing one.20190606_141908

And that is her abbreviated school experience, finally completing the circling academic ride by writing her college senior thesis of 100+ pages. No gripping or clutching. Only smiling. College graduation day was glorious.

But there was one last detail.

While Maggie and Cliff walked back to the dorm to pack up, I retrieved the car. I had two ways to cross the street, and for some reason, I chose the distant one.

There was the dime.

If you’ve been a blog reader, you know that a few days after my mother died when Maggie was a toddler, single dimes began appearing, always at significant points. We’ve collected hundreds of Nana Dimes.

My mother wasn’t about to miss her granddaughter’s graduation with honors for anything in the world.

Or in heaven.



6 thoughts on “A Degree and a Dime

  1. I loved this, Karen. Again, I always feel like I get to experience all of this sitting on your shoulder. I could hear Maggie whisper, “Thank you, Mama. I’m very scared.” I could see you picking up that dime, looking at it, then raising your eyes heavenward give your Mama a slight nod of the head.

    Thank you for sharing 22 years that went by in a flash. I am looking forward to 22 more.


  2. I’m so glad you feel my writing so completely. Such a valuable compliment. My mother’s dimes continue to astound me, even though I can almost sense them coming. I felt my mother’s presence throughout that day. When I saw that dime twinkling ahead of me, I couldn’t help smiling.


    1. I’m relieved to know I’m not the only mother who keeps piecing together the details of a child’s developing personality. Such intricate patterns. I plan to be doing that very thing when my daughter is in her forties, too.


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