Posts Tagged ‘college’

The “B” Word

Thursday, March 6, 2014
No Gravatar

I look at you sitting there politely — hands clasped, feet crossed at the ankle — and I wonder when and where it all went wrong.  With your Kate Middleton-inspired hair and makeup, monogrammed sweater, pearls, Ralph Lauren oxford, starched khakis, penny loafers, and blush-polished nails, I see your image on every Pinterest board dedicated to pretty, preppy girls. You are the poster child for a sought-after adolescence: academic achievements in a private school, elite social position, athletic involvement, Ivy League hopeful.

But this footage is also proof that you’re a kid who has come to expect it.  Since you aren’t getting your way, you’ve turned into an adult who has come to demand it.

I’m responding to news reports, of course, because I don’t know what’s gone on behind closed doors.  Yet I seriously doubt that you grew up in a house of horrors.  If your mother called you fat, and if your father invited you to drink beer with him, then that’s their misery. However, your account of psychological abuse is challenged by a rant directed toward your mother, which was laced with the filthiest words in the English vocabulary.

Have you been rebellious and disrespectful all along?

You’re the daughter of a former police chief. If a father of his professional background can’t control your tantrums, then who can? You see, that’s what bothers me.  All of the pieces that promise a better shot in this world were in place. You appear to have (or have had) it all.  Then, when you reportedly stepped out of line by drinking, cutting school, and dating boys who weren’t ideal, stricter rules and harsher consequences were enforced by Mom and Dad (obviously too little, too late). Now, you’re suing them.

I’m sitting here trying to figure out a way to make sure my daughters don’t turn out like you.  Why? Because you, my darling, are a brat.

While I don’t know you personally, I do know of you publicly.  You are not special.  You are common. There are many teenagers in this world who could be your identical twin. They just haven’t dragged their parents into court and made a media spectacle out of private family matters to get even more attention.

Yes, thanks to your drama, I’m in a tight spot. I now see the dangers of giving my children too much, too soon, and too often. I pray I haven’t already established a similar pattern of expectation and delivery. I suddenly question everything I’ve ever done for them, and what their father and I intend to do in the near future. I keep repeating to myself: Everything in moderation…including parenting.  But what does that mean, exactly?

Growing up as an only child, I was comfortable. When I turned 16, my mother bought a car for me to travel back and forth to a remote high school.  My dad put gas in it (I could drive all week on $5).  They bought the majority of my clothes and paid for a lot of my fun.  Most of this support was in exchange for never giving them any trouble. But when it came to my college education, my mother was frank: “I’ll do the best I can, but you’re going to have to help.” She sold a farm in Greenbrier County, and it guaranteed 40% of my undergraduate tuition to a local university. I was awarded a partial scholarship, and I worked on campus to pay the balance due.  When it came to graduate school, though, I was on my own. I got a loan.  I earned a master’s degree. I found a better job.  I paid off the loan.

My husband is a true do-it-yourselfer.  He wanted to attend college, but the money wasn’t there.  As an honor student, he could have earned scholarships, I suppose. Instead, he joined the Army, served his time, accepted GI Bill funding, graduated from engineering school, launched a career, and made a life for himself.  By himself.

Now, he’s saving every nickel to help send our children to college.  Unless our daughters land full scholarships or piece together enough financial aid to pay the way, they’ll owe something when it’s over.  And this fact keeps us up at night. Before hearing about your little situation, I felt terribly guilty that we wouldn’t be able to give our children free rides. Now, I’m beginning to think that it would be a mistake to underwrite the entire thing. In reality, we can only save and do so much. There are limits, and you don’t seem to comprehend them.  To be so bright, you don’t understand the meaning of the word “no”.

If you were my daughter, I would be thoroughly disgusted with myself. Mothers, in particular, have such high hopes for their children.  We want to make life easier for them. We want to give our kids material possessions and exciting experiences that we never had. We want them to be happier. Today, I see what all of those wants can do to a child, even if they are well intended.

What I need is the courage to be a bitch now — not later.  I need to remember that I am a mother, not a friend.  I am a parent, not a bank.  This hurts. It’s an entirely different type of labor pain.  But I refuse to be afraid that my daughters won’t like me someday.  I have to stress the importance of personal responsibility and accountability. What they can rely on and expect in this lifetime is unconditional love from us. But the rest is up to them.

As for you? Your family and everyone else’s family will wait for a judge to decide if children are entitled to prepaid college funds. Recent testimony revealed that after a series of infractions, your parents allegedly cut your access to a life of privilege that you took for granted.  Indeed, you should go away to school.  But biomedicine is the very last thing you need to learn.




A School of Thought

Monday, January 30, 2012
No Gravatar

Finding my happy place.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the different themes in Nanya Friend’s column, “Do you leave or stay in W.Va?”, as well as Philip Maramba’s story, “Some of us stay behind to build something.”  Both pieces stemmed from a blog post written by Jason Headley, who confesses to up and leaving West Virginia for no real reason other than because he could. Now that I’ve properly cited all my sources, I’m ready to give my own thoughts on why “kids” leave home, and why some of them (like me) return.

When I was growing up, I held on to the same dream:  Succeed Joan Lunden on Good Morning America.  I wanted to become the lead anchor on the news desk at a major network and own a fabulous apartment on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.  I had no plans to marry and no wishes for children.  I wanted to work hard and live well in front of a camera that promised millions of fans across the country.   That was my life’s ambition through the age of 18.

Today, I’m a freelance writer in Charleston, working out of a basement office between the hours of 9:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m., which is when I have to stop for a few hours to pick up my children from an elementary school situated a stone’s throw away from our traditional, two-story home.

Dreams derailed? Not at all.  That grass simply wasn’t greener on the other side.  It was just a different patch of grass.

When I was a high school student, I believed that I couldn’t become a true reporter unless I graduated from Ohio University.  I applied to one school and was accepted, thankfully, but I didn’t stay long.  After one month of classes, I learned that I missed my mother more than I wanted a degree from the prestigious Scripps School of Journalism.  I didn’t care that I was one of 12 students welcomed into the broadcast program.  I wanted to go home.

I enrolled at the University of Charleston through the help of an academic scholarship and picked up where I left off in the mass communications program.  I returned to the small TV studio that I worked at during my junior and senior years of high school, and I returned to my small bedroom in the back of my parent’s Kanawha City cottage.  I never regretted leaving O.U. or becoming a commuter student.  I regretted letting myself be influenced by other people and other places.  I didn’t follow my heart.  I followed everybody else.

And my parents watched me do it, even though it was costly.  “I had to let you go,” my mother told me during the trip back to Charleston.  “You would have always blamed me if I hadn’t let you try it, but I knew that it wasn’t the place for you.”

Where is the best place for our kids? With us? With someone else? Here or there?

Less than a week after our daughters were born, my husband made appointments with a financial adviser to set up college funds.  As soon as we got them home from the hospital, we started thinking of how to send them away! It’s ironic, really.  We work so hard to bring healthy children into our lives, but then we have to plan to let them go.  It’s often called giving them roots and wings.

Both of our daughters want to become teachers when they grow up.   At age 8, Ava is adamant about becoming a kindergarten teacher so she can help children learn how to read. Maryn, age 5, wants to be an art teacher so she can “draw like her daddy.”  Both of them have said that they want to go to the University of Charleston so they’ll never have to leave us.  “I’m going to sit on this couch forever,” Maryn told me one night.

We’ll see about that, little one.

Deep down, I want them to stay.  I know, I know…ask me how I feel about this when they’re teenagers with smart mouths and bad attitudes.  But, I have to admit that I don’t think it’s necessary for the girls to attend UCLA to become school teachers.  What they want to do in life (even though they’re young and most likely going to change their minds 10 times), can be done here.  They can have a good life here.  They can be happy as Mike and I are here.

But even deeper down in my heart, I know that I want them to see new places and try new things.  I want them to have experiences that are full of life, as opposed to full of caution.  I played it safe.  I stayed close to home and avoided change almost every time opportunity presented itself. I was afraid to fly too far away from the nest.  No, I don’t want that for my girls. But, in the end, what I want doesn’t matter one bit.

Could I have been Joan Lunden?  I don’t know.  I suppose life in the Big Apple didn’t mean that much to me, or else I would have stuck with it.  However, I’ve done well professionally, and I’ve certainly “got it all” personally. I’m glad that I chose to return to West Virginia, but had my loved ones been in Wilmington, NC or Napa Valley, CA, I would have found my way back to those places, too.  A physical address didn’t factor into it.  I wanted to be near my mother, who was both a person and a place to me.  She was home.