My kid, and my money, go to college

Maybe because it made me feel old; here I am, a guy who usually thinks of himself as a young man when my back isn’t giving out, discovering the people I share so many interests with are actually a generation behind me.

Maybe because I’m scared. She’s there, I’m here, and what do I do if she needs me? Not that she’d admit it if she did.

Maybe it’s because I’ve become more and more worried that, for one of the few times in American history, the world I’m handing down to my kids is becoming worse, not better, than the one I inherited from my parents.

Maybe because I’m still in denial about the fists full of money thing. By the way, do you know they actually buy plasma down in Fort Wayne? It’s true. Be warned, needles are involved.

Well, this is supposed to be a humor column, doggone it – I don’t have time to be emoish. I’m not sure if emoish is even a word. But I’m not sure sending Jillian to college was funny, so much as it was … strange.

Jillian is attending Ball State University, which is about a two hour drive from home: close enough to get back and forth on occasion, far enough that I – that is, she – can get alone time without worrying about the other generation hanging around all the time. Okay, I’ll admit it – some quiet time is nice, every now and then. I enjoyed it for all of a week. She, on the other hand, loves her roommate, has a meal card, and doesn’t have to worry about a parent barging in for any reason whatsoever.

If it wasn’t for classes, college would be perfect.

I, meanwhile, spent half my annual income completely outfitting her life. I mean, it was like setting up a new apartment from scratch – was there nothing from her old life that she couldn’t take along? She got a new refrigerator. Mine is 20 years old. She got a brand new MacBook Pro computer, twice the size of my little old iBook. I fail to understand why she couldn’t take the old stuff, and leave me the new stuff.

Do you remember the old country song, “Convoy”? We convoyed down Interstate 69 to Ball State: We had two cars, four vans, a semi, a flatbed with the bigger items, and a 5,000 gallon tanker full of Coca-Cola. Then we showed up at the school, only to be trapped in a traffic jam of a thousand other shell-shocked parents piloting U-Hauls around a parking lot meant for five hundred.

These days, a quarter in the parking meter gives you – twelve minutes. Yeah, right, we can get her unloaded in that time.

Thank goodness, the people at Ball State have done this rodeo before. We got a hand cart and a key to the freight elevator, since – for reasons that have never been explained to me – the regular elevator only goes to the sixth floor of the eight story building.

The biggest problem we had during unloading was a group of female students, practicing their flag routine in the open area between the parking lot and the dorm entrance. It was hot that day – 92 degrees. I’m talking shorts and sports bra hot. That area became a high impact zone of young males carrying stuff while trying to watch, and old males carrying stuff while trying not to watch. More than one guy went home that day with a black eye, depending on how closely their wives were watching them.

Still, all in all, it went pretty smoothly — until we saw her room.

It was tiny. Tiny. It was the size of her room at our house, which is so small that you can touch the wall at each end without jumping off the bed – and it’s a twin bed. The place had block walls and one tiny window, and she was sharing it with another girl. It reminded me of a typical jail cell, which I guess makes sense, because money comes out of my paycheck for people who stay in those, too.

I turned to her and said, “Yeah – all that stuff will never fit in here. I think they accidentally put you in the broom closet.”

That’s when something amazing happened. Jillian, the person voted most likely to be buried under a landslide of her own stuff, developed a sudden and heretofore unforeseen ability to organize. By the end of the week she not only had all of her stuff inside, she had it put away in places where she could actually find it again, with enough room left over for her roommate to unpack.

I was impressed. Suddenly I was looking not at a school kid, but at an adult college student who within weeks had her very first regular job, and who in five years or so will start paying me back for all the time, sweat, and cash I’ve invested in her over all these years.

Okay, let’s not get crazy with that idea. But at least she’s finally figured out how to clean her room.

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