Always on my mind

By Marisa Rodriguez
Published on February 3, 2019

Dear Tyler,

It’s Friday and I’m finally off work. I get in the car. It’s 5 pm- rush hour on the 405 freeway. 19 miles to go. How was school? Did you have fun? Do you have homework tonight? How was the homework you turned in today? Are you hungry? Did you eat at grandma’s house or did your dad cook for you? Do I need to cook for you when I get home? 20 minutes pass. I’m merging on the 10 freeway. I’m driving slower than I was on the 405. 15 miles to go.

My overthinking is making me crazy, so I call you.

Ya comiste?” I ask.

Si,” you say.

Te hestas portando bien?

“Yes, mama, are you almost home?” you ask.

“It will take me about another two hours to get home from where I am, babe,” I answer.

You reply, “Okay,” and hang up.

Your crestfallen voice makes me sad. It breaks my heart to be apart from you. Unfortunately, the more cars there are, the longer it takes me to get to you, at this specific time, every single day. 12 miles to go.

Tyler, when I was young like you, I wanted to go to college because it looked like fun. However, when you were born, everything changed. I changed everything. I finished community college and transferred to UCLA, a 4-year university. It took me ten years.

I love going to school and learning new things so I can provide a better future for you. I do not want you to grow up with the same education that I grew up with. I’m preparing you for college, and that is an expectation I have for you, that my family didn’t have for me. I go to school every day because I love you unconditionally. I’m sad when I leave you in the morning and come home late at night. After I graduate with my Bachelor’s degree, I am all yours. (Until I decide to get my Master’s degree.) I’m merging on the 60 freeway. 3.5 miles away. I’m almost home.

At UCLA, my education expands my mind to think in a different way. It is a demanding university. I fight through it because I want to absorb everything and learn. Although I have access to higher education, it is hard for me to fit in here. Not only as a woman, but as a mom. I feel out of place here. Other students here do not know what it is like to juggle the responsibilities of a full-time student, full-time mom, and working while pregnant.

Most students do not have to worry about keeping two other human beings alive. It is tough.

At UCLA. Photo by Marisa Rodriguez, 2017.
At UCLA. Photo by Marisa Rodriguez, 2017.

Tyler, I know you do not understand yet because you are still young, but to attend UCLA is a great achievement. Fifty-three percent (53%) of the time, college students who are mothers do not graduate with a degree after 6 years. Even with the odds against me after 10 years, I will graduate — pregnant and with a 7 year-old. I’m the first one from my family to graduate from a university. Graduating is a great accomplishment for me, for us. It seems surreal. I cannot believe it is almost over. We did it, little man.

I am proud to be your mom every day. I hope you are proud of me. Do you like school? What do you think you want to do when you grow up? You can do whatever you want. I hope you do. 0 miles to go. I am pulling into the driveway now. See you soon.

I love you.


Works Cited


Marisa Rodriguez recently graduated from UCLA with a double major in History and Gender Studies. She loves the History Channel, but she’s disappointed that they rarely play history anymore. Marisa is a lot older than many of the other students at UCLA, but takes pride in being old because she doesn’t look it. She is proud of her Mexican heritage and loves Mexican food, especially her mom’s Pozole.


  1. Always on My Mind is a story that honestly pulled on my heart strings and made me see things in a different light. You see, college/universities has always been portrayed as a place where young adults (usually between the ages of 17 and 23) go to learn and experiment. But no one ever talks about those students who don’t necessarily fall into this category. I always assume, and wrongfully so, that my peers are around the same age as I and don’t have anyone depending on them besides themselves. I simply cannot fathom what it must be like to have a child to take care of whilst attending college. However, it goes beyond that. Rodriguez also emphasizes on the fact that it is not easy leaving behind your child so that they could one day have a better future than you. Rodriguez is able to pull me into her atmosphere –even if for just a few minutes– and make me feel the pain and sacrifice that comes along with becoming a part of the academy, especially as a parent. There’s something about her story being a letter format that makes the experience more personal and heartwarming, both for her son and for the audience.

  2. This story is incredibly important. As a traditional college student, I oftentimes forget that there are people of all ages and backgrounds at UCLA. It is easy to become comfortable and complacent in the bubble of this school, and to assume that your experience is the only one out there. Marisa Rodriguez brings to light the multiplicity of student experiences while also illustrating the difficulty and heartbreak that comes along with being a mother and a full-time student. I commend Rodriguez for her determination and work ethic – I simply cannot fathom the strength it takes to pursue a college degree while raising 2 children. In this narrative, Rodriguez is powerful in her vulnerability. She highlights the personal sacrifices she makes daily and the magnitude of her love for her children. She makes these sacrifices not just for her own education, but for her children’s futures as well.

  3. I found your story extremely moving. I felt the story was perfectly set up as it mirrored the drive along with your thoughts; starting with an impatience to be home and then slowly mellowing out as you began to get closer. The links that you added to your story were also great as they added some concrete statistics and facts behind your experience. I loved the way you brought the audience into your story and into your drive as well by giving this detailed map of your thought process as well as your drive home on the LA highways.

  4. Being a first generation, female, Latina student at UCLA I resonate with parts of this incredible story. After classes all I can think about is walking back to my apartment to get my homework done and relax. Rodriguez’s openness about the difficulties she faces in juggling school while being pregnant, working, and raising a child is highly commendable.Writing this short story in the form of a letter to her son adds another layer of depth to an already extremely personal story. As she counts down the miles till she gets reunited with her son, I feel like I’m right alongside her, feeling how anxious she is to get home. Her commitment to her education and family really show throughout her letter and I feel honored to have gotten a glimpse into the life of one of the non-traditional students going to classes amongst us.

  5. Always on my mind is written in a way that I felt as if I was in the car with Marisa. In the letter I felt her anxiousness to get home because she would count down the miles to get to her son. Marisa also described how slow the 405 was going that I even felt frustrated. By describing the traffic she painted a picture of LA traffic and how that amplified her anxiousness to get home. Besides creating a clear image of her surroundings, she was also able to give insight on what being a mother in college was like. She explained to the audience how she had to balance school, being a mother and working full time ,which is very eye opening. Her work ethic is very admirable. Marisa’s letter is also powerful because despite the odds against her getting a degree she shows determination and strength. She does not let the statistics define her .In the letter she also becomes very vulnerable with her son by telling him why she is coming home late and how he is her motivation. Overall I think this letter provided so much emotion, vulnerability and imagery that it pulls the reader in.

  6. It was a treasure reading Always on my mind. It was interesting to hear about Marisa’s seemingly usual, normal commute along with her accompanied daily thoughts about her son. Not only does one get a sense of longing to be with her son, but a longing for what is to come of the future. It is exactly this mechanism, attending UCLA, for her future and her child’s future, that temporarily keeps her away from the one she longs and cares for most. The way Marisa told her story really puts the reader in her thoughts and therefore in her shoes. Being a non-traditional student myself, some parts of Marisa’s story definitely resonated with me– feeling the difference of mindset and responsibility between traditional and non-traditional students. While I related to some parts, I could only imagine what struggles are endured by being both a full-time student and a mom.

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