“He’s going to community college,” were the words I had uttered many times, as people asked what my son was doing after high school graduation. Those same people would then go on to tell me what a great decision it was, how smart we were, how bad student debt is, or how much money we would save. They would say this, while at the same time telling me that their son or daughter was going away to a 4 years school.
“Going away,” the opposite of “staying home.”
“Going away” meant anything from Tampa, to Delaware, to Denver, Pennsylvania, anywhere but “home.”
They would then close the conversation with “my husband’s best friend’s nephew went to community college, he’s a doctor now.” Was this supposed to make me feel better? Did I need words to make me feel better? I honestly thought I was feeling pretty good about this decision. I knew that community college was the right decision for our son. Financially it was a no brainer and academically it made sense. I had no doubt in my mind that we had made the right decision.
Then why did I feel the need to justify my decision?
Why did I feel the need to say, “well, he really isn’t sure what he wants to go to school for” or “we asked him to pick some schools over his senior year that he wanted to visit, but he dragged his feet” or “we were not able to save money to send him to college, because we had him so young”? (Side note: I was 22 and my husband was 23 when we had our first son, making saving for college a challenge.)
My feelings would fluctuate between “I am a bad parent,” to “this is clearly the right decision,” back to “my son is missing out on this new season of his life.”
Even as an adult I am not immune to the downside of social media. Watching my friends and family post pictures of their sons and daughters shopping at Bed Bath and Beyond, picking out comforters, moving into their dorms, and debating on whether their sons would ever use a toilet brush. While I watched my son pack his backpack, and get in his car, and drive to the local community college to start his classes, on the same day his younger brothers and sister started school. Somehow that didn’t seem fair. The least they could do was have county college start early, like his buddy living it up in Tampa. Nope, no cafeteria or carving station here, just the same old pantry you have been looking at every day after high school.
He was living at home, watching his friends post pictures of parties they were attending, or fraternities they were pledging, new friends they were making, all the while home. “Home” as if it is the last place he would want to be. We gave him more freedom that he had prior, not hounding him on where he was going, or when he would be back. We reminded ourselves that if he were in college, he would not have curfews. He didn’t talk about it, despite me asking, which any mother of a son knows what I am talking about. However I am sure coming home after classes to his room which he shares with his then 16-year-old brother sucked!
Slight pangs of guilt continued as the first few days of the school year passed. I felt it was our fault, because financially, we could not afford to send him away to a four-year school, and I refuse to allow him to take out four years in loans, but I knew county college was right for him. This is my son, who had no idea what he wanted to do. His senior quote in the yearbook was “I’ll worry about it tomorrow.” Which, in fact, sums up every frustration I have ever had parenting him.
Soon the visits started, “Sure! Go visit your friends, have a great time, text me when you get there.” Because somehow that took the edge off the guilt I had for him missing out on the “experience.” I think he visited at least 5 colleges that year. He seemed to have fun, made it back in one piece, but remember, if I asked how it was the reply was “good.”
During his first year at community college, he failed one class, changed his major completely, and learned what paying for books was like. He saw 4 of his best friends “come home” and decide to take the next few semesters at county college. I think he grew a lot, and has zero dollars in student loans for that growth. Something I am not sure his friends who transferred to county college could say.
Now he is starting year two. He decided to join the soccer team, something he debated last year, but ultimately decided his heart was not in it. He has taken a left turn with his major, changing from engineering to liberal arts. We have started visiting colleges, and he has made it clear his wants to “go away” next year, aka “not home.” My son will have the college experience, it will just be a little delayed, and I have learned, that is OK. Who knows, maybe he will even become a doctor, the stuff of county college legends.
Tricia Zurawski is a married working mother of four kids ages 19, 17, 12, and 9. She lives in New Jersey. She is a runner who loves her running tribe and believes running with them is cheaper than therapy. She thought parenting would become easier as her family grew, but she realizes she was so wrong.