I am tempted to begin my blogs these days as one does Catholic confession: "Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned...it has been four days since my last blog." I give in to the temptation. Why not? Therein lies the beauty of a blog.
Today's topic, though, to go or not to go to college, and when to go to college if you do, has been swirling around in my head for days. It seems to come up at every turn, to be the reason for so many of my gold star giveaways. It's time to discuss.
It started last week with my kids, who took out the SpongeBob version of Life, a game we hadn't played in a while. Eli took it upon himself to guide his younger brother.
"First," he said, "you have to decide whether or not you're going to go to college. I'm going to college," he said definitively. "You make more money that way."
I interjected. "Excuse me," I said, "money isn't everything..."
Eli just looked at me and I think I saw a slight almost imperceptible eye-roll. He is used to this. I don't want him to take the idea of going to college for granted, to imagine it as a given. I am constantly piping up when the subject is raised to make sure he knows there is more than one way to go. He, though, as children with vocal parents often do, has made a clear-cut decision already, at 8, just to spite me: he is not only determined to go to college, he told me recently, but he's aiming for the top, he's headed to Harvard. Ugh. What have I done?
Back in the game, my children head to college and I, of course, playing devil's advocate, do not. I end up with a $400 job as a mail carrier and, opting not to live with Grandma but on my own, I also end up with a $400-a-month Clam Shell rental. Between my low-wage job and my bad luck, I am very short on cash. My progeny, however, especially Oscar, a conscientious risk-taker, confident in his moves, are loaded.
"I hope you guys are going to take care of me when I run out of money..." I joked. After briefly balking, they both proffered their hard-won $1,000 bills to help me out. I declined. "Thank you, but I'm fine right now, still holding on. Nice to know that you'll help out if necessary."
It was an amazing experience. Such are the lessons of the Game of Life: accepting money from your children feels weird, even if they have bucketfuls and you have barely enough to get by. Interesting. They, of course, in their little minds, I'm sure decided for certain that college was the road to take, seeing me as I was in desperate straits. But I'm not sure college is always the sure route, especially straight out of high school.
The other day, at an event I attended, a 40-something woman who had entered a French's mustard cook-off contest offered up the fact that she was back at college along with her kids.
She shook her head. "I wouldn't have been ready back then," she said assuredly. "Now, though, I'm getting straight A's. Oh, except for that one B..." The look on her face was so proud, it was amazing. She didn't win the $25,000 prize for her Stoplight Sausage Stuffed Peppers using French's Spicy Brown Mustard (that was offered to the creator of Onion Polenta with Spiced Tomato Avocado Salad made with both French's Cheddar French Fried Onions and French's Horseradish Mustard). She did, however, get a gold star, which she wore proudly on her sweater.
This incident came right on the heels of hearing from a friend that he had finished his graduate degree. He was a great example to show my kids, someone who has been able to get great, well-paid jobs not because he had a college degree (he didn't) but because he had the brains and the courage to take risks and go for what he wanted, and the confidence to convince others he knew what he was talking about. While working at said jobs, he finished his first degree and went on, quickly, to post-graduate work that he recently completed. He is overseas, moving and shaking, but I sent him a digital gold star. I hope he visits soon to tell my kids his story, to convince them that not every person has to take the same path to get solid results.
We have recently swapped French roommates from a young man who is in one of Paris's top university programs to his cousin, who was headed into the same program until, shortly before, he decided instead to travel and work for a while. He worked, straight through and barely stopping for a break, for a year at a Greek restaurant in London and now is planning on spending time travelling around, first taking his time to get to know New York then the larger U.S. He took advantage of the incredible snow day yesterday and wandered through magical Central Park. Now that, my friends, is an education.
This isn't a game. The outcome of Life is the culmination of many choices made. I just want to remind my kids, as I do myself every day, that decisions we make in a free country, common as they seem, are indeed still choices.