Graduation Weekend

DSCN7136

Recently, I left town to attend my daughter’s college graduation. A milestone in her life and mine.

Luckily, despite all my parenting, she did everything right. For starters, she studied way harder than I ever did when I was a student. Applying herself, strategically planning her course schedule, focusing on everything she needed to do for her Economics major, and participating in extra-curricular activities, including becoming co-president of the Undergraduate Economics Society. And of course, last summer she did a study abroad program in Barcelona.

Whereas, I can’t tell you how many classes I cut during my four years in college. Nor, how many all-nighter’s I pulled–sometimes studying, and sometimes just to play countless rounds of Bid Wisp. Lord knows how many times I just managed to scrape by. Physics 101 is a prime example of this.

Frankly, it’s a miracle I graduated at all, leaving college with no plan except the knowledge that I liked to write. And, because of that, I went on to pursue a Master’s in Journalism. Anything to avoid entering the workplace, right? Meanwhile, my daughter graduated knowing she had long ago lined up a job in her field.

I’m sure you can imagine just how proud I am of her and all her accomplishments.

Well, it rained the weekend of her graduation. And, sometimes it just poured. Practically the entire time, if you ask me. Despite the inclement weather, we made the most of it, and had a grand time. And, if there’s anything you know about me by now, it’s my delight in taking pictures. Here’s a sampling of graduation weekend:

DSCN7068

The skies were gray and everything was damp. I think the following photos pretty much capture it. But they also capture the lush beauty of the campus. How serene and bejeweled by nature it appears. So peaceful it was to amble through its many paths, and so much splendor to take in.

DSCN7074

One look at this building and you know where the expression, the halls of ivy, came from:DSCN7118

DSCN7090

DSCN7119

DSCN7128

It rained while we waited for the students to take their seats, but once they did, the rain miraculously stopped and didn’t resume until the ceremony was over.DSCN7179

A sea of purple. Can you spot my daughter? Hint: She’s smiling at me.

DSCN7194

I got a chuckle out of seeing the school photographer, who appeared out of place in his shorts.DSCN7235

And one more. I couldn’t help myself in taking this last photo. After all, I absolutely adore seeing the natural beauty of flowers!DSCN7325

In case you’re interested, I’ve attached a video of the keynote speaker, Mikail Baryshnikov. To be honest, I wasn’t sure what a renowned dancer would have to say to graduates, but it was a good speech and gave us all lots to consider.

Spring Break, FAFSA Style

Spring Break’s a bust!

Sarah’s home from college for one week and one week only. After a school quarter filled with reports, exams and intense studying, this is the time for her to have some much needed R&R, and some tender lovin’ comfort, courtesy of her mom (aka, me).  I take the week off from work so I can administer all my love and affection, prepare her favorite meals, and have lots of mother-daughter moments going shopping, seeing movies and just doing nothing. In other words, for us Spring Break represents the hopes that we can have some lazy, fun-filled days. Ah, bliss.

But nooooooooo!  Rest and enjoyment, be damned! Thanks to the Feds, Spring Break might as well be dubbed “FAFSA Break.” For we have to spend nearly every waking moment filling out the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid), the CSS (College Scholarship Service) Profile and the IDOC (Institutional Documentation Service) applications.  Any parent with a kid in college, or a kid who’s been through college, knows exactly what I’m talking about. It’s time for the annual ask, otherwise known as, please-bestow-on-me-some-financial-aid!

I'm thinking these must be the nice people that decide your fate. They're busy reviewing FAFSA applications and determining the financial future of your college bound kid.

These are the applications that determine whether your child is eligible for financial aid for college and if so, how much they’ll get.  Every year, institutions of higher learning require that you complete these applications which contain hundreds and hundreds of questions. So many questions, that a lot of them are repeat questions, just because they’ve run out of questions to ask. And each application is a variation of the other, so you have to answer 100 or so questions  per application, but in a different order each time.

It’s kind of like a scavenger hunt, one that involves finding the right paperwork that’s going to help you answer each question.  And one that is grueling, aggravating and hair-pulling insane. It makes completing your tax returns seem like a walk in the park. To begin filling out these financial aid forms, you must have available your latest tax returns, as well as the returns you submitted for the prior year.  Tax returns for both you and your child, that is.  You must also have at the ready, your W-2’s.

Then, you must know exactly how much you currently have in your savings and checking. How much your home is worth. What’s in your retirement and investments, and exactly how much you have socked away in foreign investments and, perhaps, under your mattress? Also, what is the value of your car and, while we’re on the subject, why haven’t you fixed that nasty scratch to help maintain its value? And, do you have any insurance policies you can turn into college moolah?

They also want to know, how much interest did you earn this year, and were there any proceeds from garage sales? What about the tooth fairy? Did she bring you any money this year that you can apply toward the cost of tuition? And exactly how much currency is in your pockets at this very moment? Under the sofa cushions? Oh, and do you know the value of your grandmother’s jewelry?

Yes, the nice people that decide your fate–or exactly how much you’ll have to pay toward your child’s education–want to know how much you’re worth, and no rock will be left unturned. For us, every year it’s the same:  Not eligible. Except for maybe a paltry unsubsidized loan (not to be confused with a subsidized one) of limited amount, which barely covers placing one foot on the college campus of your choice. You have to be living at or near the poverty level to qualify for anything more than that.

But who knows? Maybe this year we’ll get a windfall. The folks at FAFSA will have money to burn in their pockets and say, “Hey, let’s give Sarah a break. Let’s give her a big fat scholarship to make her mother happy.”

Nah. Ain’t gonna happen. Our FAFSA ship sailed long ago. Oh, well. Back to the application. We only have 38 questions to go, at which time Sarah can pack her bags and head back to college. So much for Spring Break.

My Night as a College Student

I figured out the key to survival as a college student: you have to be a vampire. Or, at least, be ready to live like one.

Here’s why I know this to be true.  Recently, I got to spend one wintry night in my daughter’s dorm room. That’s when I discovered that college students can stay awake until daybreak, the hour vampires fear most. During the night these young folk eat, drink and mindlessly chatter as if it’s the middle of the day. They do not know the meaning of a good night’s sleep and thanks to them, neither do I.

Roughing it with Sarah in her dorm room.

This all started the night before my trip to Chicago for the Thanksgiving holiday.  My daughter, Sarah, asked me if I would sleep in her dorm room on my first night in that toddlin’ town.

Excuse me? Is that the sound of crazy talk I hear?

In other words, instead of going to my brother and his wife’s comfortable home with a comfortable queen-size guest bed, I was to go directly to jail (I mean, the dorm), do not pass Go, and absolutely do not pine for the luxury of uninterrupted, blissful sleep.

Wait. Does she know how old I am? I mean, is that even allowed? For a woman of my age to spend the night among a bevy of college students—in a coed dorm? Aren’t there rules about this? These are the things that went through my head. But here’s what I said to Sarah:

“What a great idea! I’d love to stay with you!”

I said this because I consider myself to be a good mother and good mothers realize that such invitations from their grown children come once in a blue moon. So if one of my kids wants me to stay with them—whether in a dorm room or a truck stop—I’m all in. Consequences, be damned!

Though I had to wonder, wouldn’t Sarah be embarrassed to have her mom stay with her, hanging around like some fish out of water or, worse, a damsel in distress?  (Which I would definitely be if I had to wait in line just to use the bathroom because there were eight kids ahead of me.) I knew I’d be embarrassed. In fact, it never occurred to me to ask my mother to stay in the dorm with me when I was going to college. Might as well have asked her if she wanted to get high.

But Sarah isn’t me and for that I’m grateful. She is a thoughtful, level-headed young woman. Although, if you ask me, she does happen to have my knack for laying on the guilt. All she had to do was pointedly remind me that I hadn’t yet seen her dorm room, on account that I didn’t help her move in this year, like I did the year before. True, I had sheepishly decided not to fly out with her for move-in day. So now, being her mother’s daughter, she was throwing it in my face. Touché!

And here I was. Me, who’s accustomed to the finer things, like the Hilton or the Hyatt, reduced to staying in a dorm room on the third floor of a building with no working elevators and the smell of sweat clinging to the hallway walls. Perhaps I could look at it as an adventure. I was slumming it. I was now one of the few, the proud, the parents who dare stay over in their kid’s dorm. Word on the street was that last fall, a dad had spent a night in his son’s room but had never been seen coming out. Alive. Sheesh. The sacrifices a parent makes for their children—don’t get me started!

Luckily, Sarah did her best to accommodate me, letting me use her bed while she slept on the hard, cold floor, in a sleeping bag borrowed from a friend. The sounds of mayhem, deafening chatter and earsplitting music  kept me awake until sunrise and provided me plenty of time to reflect on the peccadilloes of my own college days.

Meanwhile, Sarah slept soundly, completely oblivious to the cacophony of sounds.  She was unaware, too, that her mom was wondering if daylight would ever break. Thankfully, it did. At which time, said mom finally fell into peaceful slumber—for a full two hours. Having pulled an all-nighter, there were no sugarplums dancing in this head. Instead, there was the reoccurring nightmare of taking an Economics 101 final exam—without ever having attended the class. Darn. Nothing like reliving the old days.