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.

Dear Daughter

Another birthday, already?  How many times have I told you to stop these foolish shenanigans? Do I need to get a lawyer to make you cease and desist from throwing it in my face—the fact that you’re getting older? Think of all the times I begged you to be my little girl again. I don’t think that was too much to ask. Unrealistic, maybe, but miracles have been known to happen.

So yes, I know, this weekend is your birthday.  How can I forget, what with all I went through? Nine months of back pain, swollen ankles, heartburn, and elevated blood pressure. I suffered it all, and what do I have to show for it?

There you are, happily romping in the snow with your friend.

A 20-year old who’s off gallivanting somewhere far from home. Ok, so you’re in college. Dean’s List, too.  But did I ask you to go 2,000 miles away? Ok, so I did encourage you, but that was in the excitement of the moment when you were first notified that you’d been accepted at your dream school. We hugged and did a joyful dance. And yes, I did say, “Go, send in your acceptance!” But the next thing I knew, there you were, packing your bags and saying, ”So long, Mom” without batting an eye.

Twenty years old. The years have skipped by in a blur. One minute I’m cradling you in my arms and the next, you’re four, dancing in a ballet recital. Then, you’re 8 and going on your first Girl Scout camping trip. You’re 13 and preparing for your Bat Mitzvah. And now here you are, a sophomore in college, leaving me with only one thought:

When it comes to daughters, I couldn’t have done better than you.

So, Birthday Girl, I want to thank you for sparing me the grief other mothers of teenage girls so often go through. For regularly texting to let me know how you’re doing in school. For calling me when your work shift ends late at night, so I can keep you company on your walk back to your dorm. For all the love you’ve given me throughout these years. For enjoying my company as much as I enjoy yours. For being the caring, thoughtful daughter you’ve turned out to be. I know what you mean to me, and what I mean to you.

You left me verklempt recently, when you commented for the first time on this blog. It was regarding a post I wrote titled, If I Could Do it All Again. In it, I said I would have hugged my children more often when they were young, when they still loved hugging back.  You responded in a way that left me speechless:

“You got one thing wrong though, Mom…I STILL love hugging you back. In fact, I wish I could fly home right now just to get one of those amazing hugs that only you can give me.”

Well, Spring Break is already on the horizon and I’ll be seeing you soon, ready to hug you once more. Until then, when I think of you, I’ll be remembering the Martina McBride song that poignantly touches on how you make me feel:

In my daughter’s eyes I am a hero
I am strong and wise and I know no fear
But the truth is plain to see
She was sent to rescue me
I see who I want to be
In my daughter’s eyes…”

Happy Birthday, B.B.!

The Cartographer’s Daughter

That’s me, the Cartographer’s Daughter. That’s what I’ve decided I’m going to call myself.  It sounds much better and more exotic than introducing myself by just saying my name. Boring. That’s so yesterday and I, after all, like to follow a trend. You know which trend I mean. The one in the book publishing business.

Ever notice how many books are titled So and So’s Daughter or So and So’s Wife?  You know what I’m talking about.  Books with puzzling titles that tie relatives or spouses together, sometimes for no good reason, except that it sounds intriguing.  Here’s an example:

This is my favorite novel in this book title genre. Written by Audrey Niffenegger, it is her debut novel.

The Memory Keeper’s Daughter

The Heretic’s Daughter

The Hangman’s Daughter

The Virgin Queen’s Daughter

The Calligrapher’s Daughter

The Apothecary’s Daughter

The Hummingbird’s Daughter

And

The Zookeeper’s Wife

The Pilot’s Wife

The Senator’s Wife

The Kitchen God’s Wife

The Doctor’s Wife

The Time Traveler’s Wife

These are all actual book titles and from the title, I’m never certain who the book is about—the zookeeper or the wife?  The time traveler or his wife?  The hummingbird or it’s daughter? Or both? And what exactly is a memory keeper? I know what a hangman is. Never met one, but I have a good idea of what he does for a living. But half the time, I’m baffled by these cryptic titles.  And why are there so many books following this fad, anyway?  Have publishers discovered that books with such titles fly off the shelves and sell faster?

Here’s another mystery: Why are there so many books about the daughter yet hardly any about the son? What is he, chopped liver?  In fact, in a search on Amazon.com, the only book that came close was one titled, “The Poacher’s Son.”  If you ask me, I’d be more interested in learning about the poacher than the son, whose only claim to fame is that his dad was a poacher.  Or maybe it was his mother that was the poacher. Kind of like that classic riddle about an injured boy and his dad, who were both rushed to the hospital and the doctor, upon seeing the boy, said, “I can’t operate on him. That child is my son!” Turns out the doctor was the boy’s mother. So maybe the poacher is too.

Well, I’m the Cartographer’s Daughter because that’s what my father was when he was young and dashing, and still lived in Venezuela. He’d fly over the Amazon Jungle in small propeller planes, taking photos of the landscape, which were then used to make maps.  How exciting and thrilling that must have been! Wish I’d known him then. I could have joined him on one of his many adventures. Sigh.

Anyway, I’d rather be known as The Cartographer’s Daughter than by the title of the job he got after he graduated from New York University. Somehow, The Life Insurance Agent’s Daughter doesn’t sound quite the same. And I’m not alone in this judgment. Notice you don’t see any books titled, The Dental Hygienist’s Daughter or The Trash Collector’s Wife. Not exotic enough, if you ask me.

So now that I have my new title, guess I’ll have to write my memoir to go with it.  And even if I end up writing the worst book ever, with a title like this one I can’t go wrong.  The Cartographer’s Daughter is going to sell like hotcakes.  And that you can take to the bank or, better yet, to The Banker’s Daughter.

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.

Empty Nest, Indeed

Sarah, during freshman orientation. Clearly, she had no qualms about leaving me behind, in my empty nest.

It’s time to partition off my life again now that my daughter, Sarah, has returned to school. She’s a sophomore now and you’d think, having survived my oldest child’s departure as well as Sarah’s freshman year, that this would be old hat. But Sarah was home all summer, giving me a taste of life pre-empty nest and spoiling me rotten by wanting to spend time with me—the little fiend! Sigh.  And now she’s gone, and all I can say is,

Vaya con Dios!

Turns out, I’m pretty good at partitioning off my life. Sarah’s gone? Well, I’ll just close my Sarah box and put it on a shelf until she returns for winter break. Now that I’ve tucked away her box, the Work box just got a little bigger. Oh, and now there’s more room for my Blog box too!  Josh coming down this weekend to see a San Diego Charger‘s game with me?  Better dust off his box and get it ready.

By keeping myself organized in this way, I can focus on the here and now.  Kind of like when Scarlett O’Hara didn’t want to bother thinking about what wasn’t right in front of her and said, “Fiddle-dee-dee! I’ll just think about it tomorrow at Tara.”  Trust me, by concentrating on what is in front of me, and not pining for what is beyond my control (Sarah off at school and not here), I can find fulfillment in the present and in what I’m doing now.  Empty nest, indeed!

9-6-09 Empty Nest

Empty Nest, indeed. (Photo taken by roswellsgirl via Flickr.)

Of course, I first started to brace myself for the empty nest syndrome when my first child, Josh was a mere six months old.  He had awoken in the middle of the night, crying to be fed. While I rocked him back to sleep, this sweet bundle of a boy, it suddenly hit me:  My son would be wanting to move out soon.

Oh, sure 18 years seemed like a long time away, but not to me. That was his “sell by” date. Do you have any idea how fast 18 years can go?  Have you heard the expression, “time flies” or “gone with the wind?”  How about “gone in a flash” or “later, gator?” (That last one has nothing to do with the speed of time, but a friend of mine says it a lot so I thought I’d throw it in.)

So basically, the only reason Josh woke up that night—and every other night until he was three—was because he wanted nourishment so he could grow into a healthy and strong young man and be fully prepared to leave me. His big goodbye.  His swan song.  Adios, amigo, it’s been swell!  Later, gator! And sure enough, like clockwork, 18 years came and went and all I have now are the memories of my little boy. Empty nest, indeed. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!

Thankfully, I have my partitioned boxes. A box for Josh, and one for Sarah. Another for friends, for work, for my dog, and for my extracurricular activities. There’s even a box for shopping. These are the boxes I’m using now. They are the sum parts of my life and I switch them out, depending on the moment.  For these boxes keep me sane and keep me motivated. Most of all, they keep me happy.