I’m turning 27 this year. Now for those of you who don’t know, turning 27 is a big deal for a first generation university student like me. This is because traditionally, not only should I have job by now, but I should be taking care of my entire family financially and making sure that the next generation of young people in the family are going to school. But I’m not: I’m still a student, and that has its dark days.

I first went to University of the North West seven years ago. But, because of financial reasons, I couldn’t finish the first year of my studies and had to go back home. I sat home for two years, applied and got accepted at Wits, and I got my finances in order for the first year of university. I stayed there for two years but then I dropped out again because I couldn’t afford to pay for the year. I then applied to the University of Pretoria the following year and stayed there for three months – again, because of financial reasons, I couldn’t continue. Last year, I applied to the University of the Free State, and I am currently doing my second year here. This time I hope money won’t get in my way.

Luckily, my mother has been my emotional support throughout all of these dropping-out-of-university episodes of my life. As the mother to the first child to go to university at home, I expected her to pressurise me into finishing my studies so I can support her and my family, but the total opposite has been happening. She has done nothing but support me every time I apply to study at a university, and that has meant more to me than anything in the world.

About two months ago, she moved out of our hometown in Klerksdorp to Pretoria. I didn’t know why she did so at the time, until earlier last month when she told me she had done so because she was looking for a job. She was looking for a job because she didn’t want me to worry about her financial situation while I was at school – something I cannot seem to stop doing – and focus on my studies. And that’s not even the worst part. The worst part is that she did this even though she was diagnosed with a medical condition that limits her ability to do physical labor for a long time. I tried to stop her, but the stubborn person that she is, she never listened to me.

Two days ago, she called me to check up on how I was doing. She sounded the same way she always does when she’s on the phone with me: sick but trying very hard to hide it from me. We spoke about my school work, my little brother’s up-coming school trip (which is going to cost well over R 1000), and my financial situation at school (which is also not looking so good). We never spoke about her health, though. Every time I tried to do so, she changed the subject, like she always does.

But wait, I still haven’t told you why I think she’s the best mother in the world. So here’s why:

When other mothers are in this situation where their oldest son has dropped out of three universities, and is a 27-year-old boy who can’t provide for her, they would have forced him to find a job. But the only thing she asks me whenever she calls me is whether I’m still happy doing what I’m doing. Yes, she does say that she would like to be like other mothers and attend her son’s graduation, but she only wants to do so if her son’s degree is for something he loves doing. She says that she doesn’t know what job my B.A in Art History and Philosophy degree is going to get me, but that the only thing that’s important to her is that I’m happy doing it.

I’m doing my second year at university and plan to keep going until I get my PhD. This means more years of not being paid and not being able to support my mother. But I know that, through it all, I will always have her support, and that means more to me than all the money in the world.