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Vail Family: Mom struggles with son’s college doubts

Jill Marchione Papangelis
Vail, CO Colorado

VAIL, Colorado – My son told me the other day he doesn’t want to go to college. I took this news rather well (after I checked my blood pressure, grabbed my Day Planner, penciled in a nervous breakdown, and scribbled him out of my will).

After an extraordinary life so far with three boys and one daughter, I’m pretty sure I could teach a class on handling these types of bombshells. My first thought was, “I gave up coffee and wine during my pregnancy and years without sleep for this?”

My second thought was to hear him out. My son is very contemplative, a real thinker, so I secretly knew one day we would be having this discussion.

You see, when he was seven he told me when he grew up he wanted to be a bus driver or the president of the United States. He was on the fence because he thought a bus driver would have to work hard, concentrating on driving whilst children screamed behind him, which would be difficult. The president on the other hand, would have a big, quiet office to work in and people would bring him coffee or chocolate milk whenever he asked. Even at this age he was evaluating his options.

Although he’s an avid reader, writer, and lover of learning, my son’s always disliked the classroom environment. I think this began in kindergarten where he insisted his teacher had bad breath and he was yelled at for coloring out of the lines.

He doesn’t have any evidence to prove it, but I’m pretty sure he believes math was invented as a means of torture, designed to suck the creative soul out of whomever is forced to solve for x and y. In all probability, officials are persecuting prisoners at Gitmo with algebra and trigonometry as I write this.

Deciding to listen more than I spoke, I sat down with him to explain all the things he already knew: how important an education is, how much richer his life will be after having a college experience and how much happier his mother will be, but then he had the gall to back up his logic:

There has never been a tougher time to graduate from college and enter the workforce, he explained. With downsizing and layoffs, it is more difficult to get hired for almost any job. Not only that, Corporate America has recently shown how unreliable are all those “good” jobs parents dream of their children obtaining.

He described having a career doing what he loves, not academic, but something artistic and creative. There are so many avenues of earning; he wants the freedom to pursue his dreams.

Hadn’t I often said we’re not cookie cutter people and didn’t I always encourage him in his pursuits? (What was I thinking?) His words were hard to argue with. Then I had a brilliant thought – he’s a fantastic and relentless arguer. There’s a perfect profession for that – a lawyer.

It began to get late and we discussed that, although he’s right about the current economic challenges, it’s even more difficult to get a good job without higher education. Maybe he could go to college anyway, just as a backup plan, or perhaps attend an art school. If it cramps his creative style, I won’t even tell anyone when he graduates (except my mom. I can tell my mom, right?).

After our conversation, I went upstairs planning on recording subliminal message tapes to hide under his bed and play while he sleeps (“You want to go to college”…”College is fun”…”You’ll save your mother a lifetime of crying into her pillow”) but I flipped through his baby book instead. In it, when he was only a month or two old, I had written a little letter to him, professing my undying love and pride, and basically promising to be his biggest cheerleader.

Then I noticed my last line, “My hopes and dreams for you are your hopes and dreams for yourself.” Darn it! I hope I have the humility to stand by those now almost 17-year-old words and allow him to chase his own dream and gently guide him in achieving his own success.

Jill Marchione Papangelis is a freelance writer and mother of four. She lives in Edwards with her family. Send column suggestions or comments to-jillscolumn@gmail.com.


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