Tag Archives: college

Taking my Youngest Daughter to College



Yesterday we drove our youngest daughter, Josie, to Virginia to start college.  It was an emotional day for me.  I’m not saying only bad emotions were involved.  It was just an emotional day.

The good emotions included excitement that she is attending my much-beloved alma mater, Randolph College (formerly and forever known by me as Randolph-Macon Woman’s College—to hell with the fact that it is now co-ed!), relief that she has a great roommate, and happiness that the college seems to be the same great place, full of brilliant professors and caring people, that I remember.

Main Hall, Randolph College
Main Hall, Randolph College

Also, there was gratitude that her sister and brother went with us on the trip and that her other sister and her husband,  who couldn’t come because of work, kept in touch by text throughout the day!  I think they all wanted to make sure their baby sister was going to be all right, and it touched my heart.

Finally, there was the pleasure of witnessing Josie finding her way in a new environment and seeing that she will be fine without me.  Sometimes it helps to see our kids in different settings, just to be reminded of how much they make us proud.

Before you are overwhelmed with my sappiness, let me admit there was also the pure joy of realizing that I no longer have to prepare a single school lunch or attend a single Parents’ Night at our local high school ever again!

oops50 women
Josie (R) and her wonderful friend Nora (L) in Pittsburgh at the Phipps Conservatory

So, that’ was the good stuff.  There were also bad emotions, or I guess I should say “difficult” ones, as in the ones that made me want to curl up in the fetal position and sleep for about 48 hours.

First of all, the experience of actually being a parent, bringing my daughter to college, at my very own campus was somewhat surreal, especially considering the fact that all the people who taught me such wonderful topics as “The Poetry of W. H. Auden” or “Social Stratification Systems” or “German History before 1900” (yes, a liberal arts curriculum) are dead.  It’s strange enough to walk around a campus and see no students you recognize but it’s past bizarre to see a bunch of young upstarts pretending to be professors, sitting in all my professors’ offices.  It was a little like being in a Twilight Zone episode involving, perhaps, time travel and robots.

Secondly,  I have to say, it is really, really hard to say goodbye to your youngest child, the last one leaving the nest.  It doesn’t matter that your logical brain says, “she’ll be back for fall break,” or “but you have your oldest daughter and her husband back at home with you at the moment, so the house won’t even really be empty for another few months.”  None of that apparently weighs in heavily enough to balance out the overwhelming feeling at the pit of your stomach: “My baby is all grown up!  How in the world did that happen so soon?”

(There was also, I admit, a self-centered, nagging feeling of fear and depression that, damn, I must be really old if Josie is old enough to go to college, but we’ll ignore that one for now.)

I can sum up the whole experience this way:  I am really happy that my girl is off to college, and I am thrilled that she was able to walk off confidently to her new dorm room, with only a couple tears in her eyes, but I am also heavily burdened at the moment with the grief that comes from realizing my youngest child is leaving home, officially, and probably for good.  Hold on, you say, she’ll be home for Christmas and spring break and summer.  What are you bitching and moaning about?  Here’s the reality:  once they walk out that door to go to college, they never really come home again, not in the way you want them to.  Not in an everyday, being there and belonging there sort of way, where they can take their time to grow up, since you’ve got all the time in the world to go on vacations together, eat food at the same table, plan what color to paint their room.  Yes, they come back, but only in a visiting their parents sort of way, where you get a temporary hold on their time, nothing permanent.  You may be able to check out that book for a few weeks, but don’t fool yourself into thinking it will ever be part of your library again!

So, this whole “empty nest” thing that I thought would never have reality in my world,  is real.  Big time.  And so I’m dealing with some rough, emotional stuff at the moment.  As a result, I may not be in the best shape for a while.

This is, however, only Day One of this new phase.  I’m sure I’ll be much better, real soon. Come a week or two, I’ll be able to walk in her room without crying!  And, after some more time,  I’ll only weep uncontrollably on those days when she (like her sisters and brother) leaves again, after a visit, to go back to school/new home/new job/whatever.  In the meantime, I’ll just curl up tonight in her room and bury my face in her pillow for comfort!

Oops, I forgot:  she took that with her, too!

Paying for a College Education in this Country

Allow me to rant.  I don’t know how many of you out there are in my same boat:  approaching 60 years old but nowhere near retirement, due, in large part, to student loan debt!  When I was younger, in my early days of working, I always imagined that when I was approaching 60, I’d  be winding down, getting ready to do projects like putting old pictures into albums or organizing my closet. But here I am, 57 years old, and, instead of picking out a retirement village or planning a cruise down the Nile, I’m putting in my 40 hours a week and, even with that, trying to figure out how we’re going to pay tuition for another 9 years—at a minimum—for our 3 kids who are still in college!

Here’s our story, but all you have to do is change the small details and you’re hearing the story of lots of so-called “middle class” people in America: my husband and I both attended graduate school using student loans.  Since we married fairly late—and, as a result, had kids fairly quickly—and therefore couldn’t earn as much as we might have if we’d gotten an earlier start on things—we  couldn’t pay off those student loans until we were well into our forties.  So, about the time we got completely free of our own student loan debt, we had only a few years before we had to take on new debt to help our kids go to college.  And why did we have to take on that new debt?  Because we made enough income at that point to not qualify for the kind of financial aid that could have made it possible for us to do it without loans.  In fact, we would have had to live at or near the poverty level to qualify for that kind of financial aid!


And, in case you’re wondering: the debt is pretty much the same, no matter where your kids go to school—unless he/she qualifies for a few amazing scholarships that are out there for the straight-A kids who play six instruments and five sports and started their own non-profit while in the 9th grade!  The fancy private schools offer great financial aid, if they have good endowments—but that only brings down their massive tuition to the same level as the public schools—and the public schools offer only minimal financial aid.  We’ve had kids at a big public university and at two small, liberal arts colleges—and the bill has, in each case, been about the same.


I have to say: it’s not hard to envision a time when our colleges, especially fancy private ones like Yale or Princeton or Duke or Davidson, will have as their student body a mix of only extremely wealthy kids, whose parents can pay their way, and extremely poor kids on scholarship. It’s happening!


Continue reading Paying for a College Education in this Country

Taking My 3rd Child to College

This whole thing of releasing kids into the universe should be easier by now.  After all, parts of it are so much easier:   we are not ingénue parents going to our first college to drop off our first kid; we don’t take long, extensive notes at Orientation sessions; we smoothly navigate college websites. And we are no longer intimidated by the process of packing enough stuff to make sure she has all she needs.  We know there is always the U.S. Mail.  Most of all, we no longer stay up late, worrying that our child might be homesick—or worrying more when she isn’t. We know that, either way, there is nothing we can do about it.  Not a damn thing.

 But that’s part of what makes this whole process hard, every single, damn time:  there is nothing we can do about anything any more.  Once again, one of our children—in this case, our daughter, Becky,  has stepped over the threshold that takes her out of our home, out from under us, into her own world.  We may still be here to provide financial—and occasional emotional—support, but, really, our work is done.  As the colleges love to point out these days, she is on her own now, making her own choices, setting her own curfew (or not), and we won’t even hear about it unless she chooses to tell us.  No helicoptering allowed! 

Becky with her sisters at high school graduation

So, it’s damn hard.  First of all, there is the big, gaping hole that one person’s absence creates in a family.  Secondly, there is the emptiness of rooms once occupied by Becky.  But, worst of all, there is the suddenness of it all.  In one breath,  you have moved from waking up at night and feeding a baby to pushing that baby out the door.  Overnight, you have gone from soccer practises and piano lessons, in a land where time stands still, to this strange, alien planet where kids become grownups and function on their own. Overnight, you’re supposed to make that dramatic, sudden shift that is required—from being an active parent, overseeing a teenager’s actions, keeping track of a teenager’s hours, to being a calm, uninvolved, hip, laissez faire parent who trusts that her child will be fine, no matter what.  It’s not a natural process.  It throws off all your signals. It doesn’t come naturally to me.

Becky's stuff on the ground outside her dorm

 But I’m working on it. 

It helps to make promises to myself:  I promise I won’t go whacko and think up bogus reasons to drive to Greensboro in order to show up on her doorstep in tears, with homemade brownies in hand.  I promise that I won’t cry in my beer about the fact that I never read all the Harry Potter books to her out loud.  I promise that I won’t do again what I did the first night and eat five bowls of ice cream to try to make myself feel better.  But I also promise that I will cry, damn it, when I feel like it and to hell with how pathetic I look!  Most of all, I will celebrate the fact that our daughter is happily ensconced in college, so I will be a saint and not get angry when I read her Facebook status that says “Yaay, College!” at the same time that mine says, “Bereft.” 

Becky's dorm room

A Meditation on Children Going Off to College



Every August, I think I’m prepared for it.  After all, the house has been a mess all summer with their cartons full of school books, their various computers and printers,  and their mini-fridges.  But then, every August, I have to face the reality that my older children are no longer mine, come the 25th of August,  and I get to turn back into a non-speaking, uninvolved hose that feeds money to them on a weekly/monthly basis, for their latest bookstore bill, parking sticker,  or Art History field trip to the great museums of New York.  I no longer know what they’re doing on Saturday night (thank God!).  Unless they happen to call me up and tell me, I don’t know if they are happy or sad or getting sick or anything.  I know of people who didn’t even realize that their son/daughter had never attended a single class at their college of choice until they went to Parents’ Weekend!  Parents don’t get to be involved in any structured way in the whole process of choosing what classes they take (unless you count paying for those classes).  I am happy to say that I have no role in their choice of clothing! But I also don’t get to ask questions about most subjects without their permission, and  I don’t get a copy of their grades, unless they choose to share them with me. The only thing I have reasonable access to is the tuition bill. There’s a surprise! Continue reading A Meditation on Children Going Off to College