Here we are, closing in on the College years. My conversations these days with friends and family seem to so often swirl around the questions of…..How did we get here? Where did the time go? Weren’t we just chasing our kids on the playground? When we have babies, we know that they will eventually grow up. When our babies become toddlers, we joke with our friends who also have toddlers as we survive the terrible threes, the temper tantrums, and the throwing of food on floor, that we should do our best to enjoy it now, because… someday they’ll go off to college.
Well, for us, that someday is here. For the past year, we have been immersed in everything that is related to prepping Shannon for going to college, ranging from whether to take the SAT or the ACT, to surviving Junior year (yes, all of us), to deciding which schools to visit, which ones to discard…and which ones to finally apply to – and everything in between. I have friends who have already been through this with their kids. I have older siblings who have already been through this multiple times. I watched, I listened, I nodded with empathy over FAFSA applications, stressful teen angst, and financial aid “packages.” And I can tell you, after all that exposure, I was still not prepared for this process.
As I now look back over the 18 months to get to the place where we can say: Shannon is going to college – I envision it as a boot camp of some kind, where thankfully there is no shortage of good advice. Like when my sister told me to have something on hand like ice cream or cookies to celebrate when acceptance letters came in – and moral support – when all of my friends and colleagues joined me in sending congratulatory “thumbs up” photos to Shannon while I was away at a company meeting and I was getting text messages everyday with good news. And probably my biggest lesson here – we are following our own compass. We are warriors in the college process, swords drawn, armor on, helmets bruised and dented as we prepare for the eventual send off of of our babies.
On the advice of a friend, I joined a Facebook group “Paying for college 101.” I had been to Financial planning nights, and I had read up on how things work, and I thought – what the hell. This group exposed me to questions I didn’t even know to ask, circumstances that I never would have thought of, and hardships that a few people shared that made me feel as if I had absolutely nothing to complain about.
Knowing the good side and the bad side of social media, I waded into this group completely at my own risk, so at first I admit that I was taken aback by some of the posts that were all about how shining sons or daughters had nailed a near perfect score on the SAT, or how they were ranked 5th in their high school class, or that they were National Merit scholars, and does anyone know how Financial Aid at MIT is disbursed? And then I thought, Oh hell no.
But I hung in there, and by sifting through the posts, I learned so many things that helped me navigate some uncharted territory. I knew that you could try to negotiate and ask for more Merit scholarship money, but I never would have had the courage to appeal for more aid based on the offer of another school, so that we could better afford the school we wanted. But thanks to hearing that others had been successful in this endeavor, I put in the time to write an appeal letter, and we got additional money. And I felt like a freakin’ rock star.
Then there were the college visits. Spanning over a year, we headed up and down the East Coast from Maine to Maryland, (not a single NJ college was on the list….)and these are the memories I am so grateful for, squeezed and layered into these journeys.
On one such visit, as we were driving back from a college in Maryland, we stopped for gas, and Shannon got out of the car to go into the convenience store. She came back to say that she couldn’t find the front door. And I just yelled out the window,
YOU’RE GOING TO COLLEGE!
Which has now become our mantra over the last few weeks.
How do I cook this chicken? YOU’RE GOING TO COLLEGE!
How do I clean this pan? YOU’RE GOING TO COLLEGE!
I also told my pork chop story.
On one of our final college tour car rides this spring, I can’t remember why this topic came up or why we ended up discussing it, but I found myself happily re-telling one of my favorite stories about high school dinners.
I had ballet class most nights, so I would have to eat dinner pretty late after I got home. My mom was not, shall we say, a “meal planner”, and we did not have microwave, so I’d have to eat whatever was available. In whatever state that was in. Sometimes she would take a pork chop out of the freezer and just broil it in the oven – yup. Well, imagine how a rock solid frozen pork chop responds under the broiler on high heat. As the moisture left the meat, and spewed up to the red hot broiler, there would literally be flames shooting out of the oven – and I watched with wide eyes as I fully expected the cabinets to catch on fire. (Somehow they did not.) I suppose in hindsight, this might have been better entertainment than a dinner at Banzai, though no one threw the meat at me across the table. After the exciting oven fire, there was the eating of the pork chop, which sadly as you might expect, was not a really tasty culinary experience, as the poor thing was pretty much drained dry of any juice that had ever existed. I used to think that this was how all pork chops were cooked, and then finally I figured out (10 years later) that this was not true.
Shannon was actually crying tears of laughter as I told this story. I couldn’t believe she had never heard it before. I’m sure that I had told it. But it took the college car ride to cement the flaming pork chop/near kitchen fire legacy. I thought about all of the other things I wanted to tell her. The successes, the failures, the insecurities, the thrill of knowing exactly what I wanted to do with my life at age 17. The worry my parents must have had about me not going to college immediately after high school. The pride I had in paying my own way through school as an adult. I realized that there were so many more pork chop stories to tell. Even if I had told them before, they resonate differently now. Maybe she is ready to hear them.
I hope that all of us going through the college process with our kids have tried to take the good with the bad, the small assurances with the vast unknown, the worry with the calm, and enjoy the well deserved celebrations along the way. I have really, really attempted to keep my sense of humor. (This was hard, especially when there was crying….and deadlines…) I recognize that we’re really at the beginning of the next journey, not the end of this one, and I thankfully have found some zen moments along with the sleepless nights.
I am particularly grateful for all the little miracles along the way – somehow, it all works out. Somehow, this tremendous and fantastic village of people we know help get us through the difficult decisions. Somehow, our kids are growing up. We need to take the journey, tell them our pork chop stories, and let them know that we were exactly where they are now at one time. They’re going to college.