Friday, January 16, 2009

The Very Opposite of a Burden

Last night, my son accused me of not telling him about a full-tuition scholarship application that he found in his room (how does he think it got in his room?). The deadline for applying had just passed, and we went back and forth, as we do—yes I told you, no you didn't, on and on—until finally I cursed and he walked away, secure in his moral superiority.

After he left, I sat alone in the living room and tears just rolled down my face. I felt a slow sad panic that I wouldn't be able to send him to college, because we couldn't afford it. WPI sent his financial package, it arrived yesterday: $28,000 in scholarship money, and I still can't afford to make up the difference of $22,000. (I keep saying I, even though it's really my husband and I who have to find the money to send our boy on to his future, but my husband at that moment was sound asleep, untroubled by my financial gloom, serene as a baby taking an evening nap.)

I just feel, in so many ways, that I have failed my son. I didn't push him to do certain things (such as take the ACTs), and did too many other things for him, and now he doesn't know whether to be mad at me for what I did, or what I didn't do.

How do families manage this, year in, year out? Hundreds of thousands of families manage to file for financial aid and secure enough in scholarships to cover college tuition. Meanwhile, we are in the pit, too employed to get the money we truly need, but not rich enough to be able to actually afford the tuition they think we should be able to afford, even for the so-called Ivy League of the SUNY's, Binghamton University. That school, my secret hope, may be harder than Harvard to get into this year since the entire nation of 17- and 18 year-olds will probably apply there, given that its tuition and expenses, even for out-of-staters, is still under $20,000. I tend to be really obsessive and on top of this sort of thing. If I don't know how to figure out this college tuition thing, who does? Would we actually have been better off if one of us had lost our job? At least we'd have been able to check the dislocated worker box on the FAFSA (federal financial aid form). I hear it helps to be unemployed. (Okay, before the universe gets wind of that, I take it back. Grateful to still have my job, God!)

Called my mom in Jamaica this morning, and she was full of hope and light. You can make up the difference, she said. Twenty-eight thousand is a wonderful award, she said. If I die, you can sell my house and use the money, she said. Don't you dare think of dying, I told her. I never want to be a burden, she said. Mom, you are not a burden, I told her. You are the very opposite of a burden. You remind me to believe that there is a way to do this—to do everything.

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