Against all odds in life

This is the only picture I can find of my grandmother.  And if she knew I was posting this photo of her when she was within months of her death, she’d kill me.


She really would.  She thought she looked like a dried out old monkey. Literally.  In fact she tried to slip a photo of a monkey to serve as her obituary photo, but my aunts and uncles intercepted it and used a real photo of her instead.

It’s just the kind of lady she was.

It’s the only photo of her I can find, but it’s one of my favorites because she’s holding my daughter and they’re both giggling.  They had a special bond, those two, and my daughter feels the same way about my grandmother as I do.

We adored her.

first grade

Starting from a very young age {this is me in 1st grade} my grandmother talked to me non-stop about getting an education.

Grandma got her nursing degree in the early 1900’s when not a lot of women were in the workplace.  She had one dress and scraped her way through school one dime at a time.  She was constantly belittled and harassed by the doctors she worked with, but she loved nursing enough to put up with it.

Grandma worked as a nurse for decades while raising a family of four. She worked all day at the hospital, came home and helped everyone with their homework, and then made a home cooked dinner for her family and half the neighborhood stray kids.

Once her own kids were in college she decided to go back to school with them and get a bachelor’s degree.  She went to school all day and came home at night to feed and counsel all the college kids who streamed in and out of her home.  And when everyone finally left her alone late at night, she finally had a chance to sit down and study for her classes and exams.

It wasn’t easy for one single solitary second.  Not one.  It wasn’t easy for her to get a nursing degree in the very early 1900’s in San Francisco, it wasn’t easy for her to work full time as a nurse in a psyche hospital while managing a family, and it definitely wasn’t easy for her to go back to college at the age of 50.

But there wasn’t a day in my life where she didn’t tell me that I had to get an education.  That I had to work hard and finish school no matter what.  I promised her that I would, and I did.


This is a photo of me at my college graduation.  It’s one of the only photos I have of me pregnant with my son because I threatened to break all cameras within 100 yards.  I gained a hundred pounds, and it wasn’t pretty.

I got married in the middle of college, took a break to have my daughter, and went back to school when she was 2 months old.  It took me NINE years to graduate from college because I continually took breaks when I was too sick to go to school.

It wasn’t any easier for me than it was for grandma.

Five months before graduation I was hospitalized with the pregnancy of my son.  I came home from the hospital with a permanent I.V. and in-home nursing care, and put on complete bed rest for the remainder of my pregnancy.  It was awful.  Truly the most terrible time of my life.  But I clung tenaciously to my dream of graduating from college, just like I’d promised grandma I would, and finished my coursework on a laptop from my bed.

I wrote my senior thesis in-between doses of medication in my I.V., trips to the hospital, and bandage changes from nurses at home.

But I did it.

I graduated. 

What you don’t see is that in my right hand I’m holding my I.V., and I’m wearing a backpack filled with a saline bag of intravenous meds.  There was an ambulance standing by and there were paramedics in the wings threatening to take me away.  After I received my diploma I was helped off the stage by a friend, and I’m gritting my teeth in the photo because I was two seconds from hitting the floor.

The only thing that mattered to me that day, aside from making it through the ceremony without the help of a wheelchair, was to have my daughter in the audience watching me.  I wanted her to see that even though it was one of the harder things I’ve done in life, my determination got me to the finish line.

I’ve spent my life being inspired by my grandmother.  I’ve tried to emulate her as a mother, as a student, as a working woman.  Now that I’m the mother and my daughter is in school, I talk to her constantly about the importance of getting an education.

My grandmother inspired me to do great things against all odds, and now it’s my turn to inspire my daughter to do the same thing.


Hallmark Special Occasion— “Hallmark sponsored this post. I’m partnering with Hallmark to shine a light to the Life Is A Special Occasion blogger campaign for the rest of this year. Everything about my kids in this post is the honest to goodness truth; I couldn’t make it up if I tried.”

If you’re interested, here’s a link where you can sign up for Hallmark email to be notified about special offers.

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Hello there! I'm Allison Czarnecki, founder + editor of Petit Elefant, a blog all about style on a budget for every part of your life: style / home / travel / family. I do a lot of how-to beauty + style tutorials, travel posts, easy recipes, home remodel projects, and cool DIY crafts you totally want to try. I'm super happily married (to a hot Polish immigrant) and am the mother of two kids, a daughter and son, all of whom are featured here on the regular. We live in the country but we're a little bit rock + roll. Welcome!


  1. Alysa (InspiredRD) :

    What an inspiring story. Most people (myself included) would have given up at some point. Congratulations to you for fighting for what was important to you. Your grandmother sounds like she was an incredible lady.

  2. Amie aka MammaLoves :

    A–I’m crying. Crying!

    Not that it matters, but holy cow I am so proud and in admiration of you!!!

    I love the personal. LOVE it!!

  3. LoveFeast Table :

    I think sometimes the greatest inspiration comes from people in our every day life. Your grandmom sounds like an amazingly strong woman. Thank you for sharing.

  4. sunny :

    I love your grandmother! She and my grandmother would have been great friends, I think. The same spunk, the same inner fire, the same “come hell or high water you WILL get an education,” attitude. Feisty ladies.

    A love of education, learning, exploring and the inner fortitude to say “More! What I know is not enough!” is what I hope to pass along to my son. I think my grandmother would approve.

  5. Christie :

    Beautiful and brilliantly written. I blog alot about my grandparents. People from that time were not women and men, but ladies and gentlemen. I could only pray to be half of the mother/grandmother that my Gran is. Here’s a small post about the day they met:

  6. Ilene :

    Your grandma was incredible! What a great influence. Reminds me of my grandma. I miss her.

    You are so tough for getting through school and not giving up. I like how you didn’t let the tough times in life keep you from accomplishing what you truly wanted. What a great example to your kids, and all of us.

    For some reason, this post pulled the heartstrings.

  7. Katrina :

    Bawling! Being super close to my grandma, this hit super close to home…
    you’re amazing Allison… this is a lovely story, thanks for sharing with us :)

  8. the emily :

    You’re awesome. So awesome! And so is your grandma. I wish I could have known her. I hate that this generation is passing on before I get the chance to know them. My last grandparent died 4 years ago. I never thought to ask them–what was the depression like? What was it like to live through two world wars? I wish I hadn’t let that opportunity pass.

    I have this journal from a far away relative. She wanted so desperately to get an education, but a man in her town wanted to marry her. She loved him but wanted to get her education first, but her parents (forced? pushed?) her to get married. These are her words: “To my daughters, granddaughters, and female posterity: you have your entire lives, and the rest of eternity, to be married. Please, get your education.” I have 5 crowning achievements of my life so far: The births of my three children, my temple marriage, and my bachelor’s degree from BYU. I can say without embarrassment that it was the proudest moment of my life to earn that degree.

  9. Karen :

    I love love love this and I love love love you! Seriously inspiring!

  10. Adrian :

    I love it when people do hard things and overcome great odds. I think that’s awesome and it isn’t something we do often enough. And I think it’s so important for our kids to have that source of inspiration in fabulous grandparents and I miss that for my kids. I fill in as best I can, but I do wish they had grandparents like this to guide them.

  11. Michelle B :

    This post made me tear up. I was in a somewhat similar situation. I started my college degree in 1999 and didn’t actually get my bachelor’s degree until December 2010. I made mistakes in my life when it came to college. Eventually, I graduated with a 2 yr degree in computer programming. I thought I was done with school until I found out I was pregnant. I knew that moment, that I needed and wanted to better myself. I started another 2 year program just a month before my son was born in 2007 by taking night classes while working full-time. Then, I continued on to get my bachelor’s while being a mother to a toddler, working full-time while my boyfriend spent most of that year on the road for work.
    While at the ceremony, it took everything I had to not bawl through the entire thing. I’m an emotional person but I was more emotional not because I was finally graduating, but I knew my 3 yr old son was there watching me and I was showing that college was important and I knew once he got older, he would be proud of me.
    It’s amazing how the presence of one single person in my life can push me to do something I never thought I could do.

  12. Audrey :

    Beautiful, heart-felt and incredible post my friend. This is so powerful… so proud of you and for you. I love your grandma… what a lady! xo

  13. Sarah :

    Beautiful. Thank you.

  14. Kalli :

    She sounds like a great lady, I love grandmas like that.

    You’re a rockstar, 9 years is no joke and you did it.

    I finished mine in 4 but graduated in the wrong field. I’m going back someday. You bet I am.

  15. Carina :

    I graduated in 7. SO THERE.

  16. Jane Maynard :

    beautifully written, allison. and I tell you this all the time, but I’ll say it again…don’t know how you do it.

  17. RookieMom Whitney :

    You go, girl! Thanks for sharing your story!

  18. Wendy :

    My mom went back at 50. She walked with one of her children a few years later. A handful of grandchildren cheered her on.

    I hope that the best my children can ever learn from me is to seek knowledge and truth. When college years are behind them, I hope that they then also have what I have in friends that teach me all the time. My friends are so much smarter than I am.

    And my mom is a total rockstar to all of us. She now tragedy special Ed at a school most of my siblings children will attend. She started for the oldest grandson who is autistic. During his hardest years, there she was to watch over him and give him encouragement and sometimes when his days were a little bit hard she gave him safe haven. She’s working on her Masters degree now at 65.

  19. Wendy :

    Oh bother! She teaches special Ed! Not tragedy. Clearly my education did nothing to help me proofread.

  20. JennyM. :

    Really! You are going to hold the answers to the very things I am sorting through in my life. Dollar Store, education- you name it and I am needing it. Let it be known that on this day, I am truly inspired by you lovely ladies. Thank you.

  21. Kelly :

    What a great story! My mother went back for a masters degree after her 10th child was born. That was me. We were always strongly encouraged to finish school. So glad I did.

  22. Liz Lemon :

    Love you Allison. When I find some good pictures of her I’ll email them to you. I think of our Grandma VERY often, even though not even my husband got to meet her. I grew up most of them time about 10 hours away, but she would call regularly and find out about everything in our own family and tell us what was happening with everyone else. I feel a great loss that we don’t all have that connection. Nobody has taken that over. She believed in a different way than anyone else. She believed in all possibilities of me and all the different me’s that could be. She expected me to figure out which reality to take and then run with it. She looked at me, eyes burning with intensity and would tell me she loved me. When she said that it wasn’t a one-line message. The message I got was that I’d better do something with myself because she knew I could. Even though she’s been gone since I was not quite grown I remember her often.

  23. Megs :

    What a beautiful post! Stories of strong women are always inspiring, and I’m sure your grandma is incredibly proud of you! Thanks for sharing your story.

  24. vanessa :

    My husband and I both don’t have a degree. I do hope though if my girl’s want to get into something that needs a degree that they work towards it. Or if they just love education and want to learn more about something they adore. And then if they want to go another route, I’ll support them as well. There are all different forms of education in this beautiful world. When my two sisters walked on the day they got their college degree I just cried and cried. Such a proud moment! I loved reading about your moment too and your sweet Grandma :) You are such a talented writer!! I love learning more about your life.

  25. Laurie {Tip Junkie} :

    I just adore you my fab friend and thank you so much for giving us another intimate glance into your life. I’m in awe that you went through so much and am so proud that you graduated through it all. I have no doubt that your Grandmother is incredibly proud of you ~ because I sure am.


  26. Marie :

    Loved this. I love your spitfire grandma, sounds a little like you! And I’m dying at that photo of you in 1st grade. SOOOO cute! Great post :)