Until about a month ago, my eighteen-year-old daughter had her college plans set: she was to attend the local community college for two years before transferring to a University in pursuit of a degree in marketing. This was a plan I could support, not only because it kept thousands of dollars tucked away in her 529 plan, but also because it meant she would remain at home, doing her coming and going right beneath the safety of my watchful eyes. All was well with the both of us.
Until the mailman delivered a postcard from Northern Arizona University. A postcard—mind you—that touted fixed tuition for all four years. A postcard that put going away to college within our means. A postcard that turned my quiet little purse of safety topsy-turvy, sufficiently scattering its contents clear across the state.
It’s not that I don’t want her to enjoy the full college experience; I do. I’m just not sure that she’s ready to be on her own. Last fall my husband and I left her at home alone for a week while we set sail on a seven-night Caribbean cruise. We thought all was well until we came home to the smell of stale smoke. Thankfully, the smoke was not of the cigarette variety; our daughter, it seems, had a small mishap with a microwave meal while we were away. She charred it to a crisp, in fact. It took a week of open windows and all the scented candles we could get our hands on to clear the smell. You can imagine, then, why I hesitate to send her off to a college 281 miles from home.
It all comes back on me, I know. I’ve heard it said that the measure of our success as parents is not what we do for our children, but what we teach them to do for themselves. There are some things she’s perfectly capable of handling—laundry and cleaning duties, for instance—but when she goes beyond peeling an orange or scrambling an egg in the kitchen, the entire family is put at fire risk. Cooking is just not in her skill set.
I know, I know: Universities have dining halls and fast food options galore. Eventually she’s going to go and when she does she’ll have to figure out the basics. But I was resting in the knowledge that she’d chosen to stay home a little longer; I didn’t spend the year preparing to watch her go. These were the but fors running through my head as we delved deeper into the NAU possibility. It all came to a head yesterday when she came to me with her decision.
She’s decided not to go. She’s sticking with her original plan to knock two years out locally before going off to college.
I could tell you that I’m happy with her decision because in the end she’ll get the same degree for a fraction of the cost. I could tell you that I’m happy with her decision because she’ll be able to graduate college without a single student loan hanging over her head. Both would be true, but neither tell the whole story. Mostly, I’m happy with her decision because I’m not quite done with her yet. With any luck, by the time she does decide to go she’ll be a pro at microwave meals. If all goes well, we might even venture into Hamburger Helper. I apologize in advance to the local fire department.