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The Last Tuition Check

Financial advisors tell us that the two biggest “raises” baby-boomer parents  ever get are when we pay (a) off the mortgage, and (b) make the final tuition payment.

So I should have been cheering as I wrote that last check a few days ago, right?  Instead,  I cried.

True, part of me was thrilled to be finally finished paying unspeakable sums of tuition for the youngest of my three children.  But the other part of me felt an ache. With this last payment, a chapter in our lives is closing, and although an incredibly expensive one, it’s been worth every dollar.

Of course, part of this tearful feeling is that not having “one in college” makes me feel older – and I’d rather not admit that, so we won’t discuss!

But why shouldn’t I feel emotional? College had been a major investment of time, money energy – and agita. Selecting which schools to apply to, waiting to hear about acceptance or rejection, planning for the launch, four years of attendance, had spanned almost 15 years between my oldest and youngest.  And, I had been planning – and dreaming – for many years more.

I wanted for my children the college experience I didn’t have.  As the oldest of five, I was expected to pay my own tuition, which at $1200 a year, was actually doable in those days. I commuted from home the first year-and-a-half, and then lived with a friend on the fourth floor of a house, in a bedroom with a hotplate.  For $10 a week it was a bargain, and the landlord let us paint the walls and wood floors turquoise. We took the bus down Fordham Road to the university, worked part-time jobs, and had a good time, especially since we both met our future husbands there.

For my own children, though, I‘d always envisioned the kind of idyllic experience that exists in movies and novels, with a rolling campus, football games, a dorm filled with friends, and craggy, Sean Connery- type professors.  For the most part, that’s what they got: from the shores of Lake Cayuga, to flat plains of South Bend, to the hundreds of steps in Chestnut Hill.

The memories pop like a power-point:

With my first son:  Crying as I waved goodbye, and my second child hugging me and  saying, “You’ve still got me, Mom.” Checking the webcam daily made me feel better as did the occasional “Hello. I’m still alive” email I coerced from him. Visiting campus for ROTC events and meeting my wonderful future daughter-law, and her wonderful family, for the first time at graduation.

With my second son:  Making the 14-hour drive for freshman move-in and seeing the Golden Dome for the first time. Befriending his lacrosse teammates and their families and travelling to campus for dozens of games. Sitting in a thunderous football stadium and chanting, “Go Irish!”

With my youngest, discovering that daughters truly are different: Her screams the day she got accepted to Boston College early decision. Decorating the dorm room with her room-mate so it would be color-coordinated. Getting a running commentary on college life via regular text messages (in contrast with her brothers’ occasional dispatches). Watching her perform in decidedly “edgy” plays.  Taking out large groups of girls to dinner and enjoying the nonstop chatter.

After this May, there will be no more move-ins or commencements, special weekend visits or vicariously enjoyed campus life.  However, my college fantasy did come true for them, more than I could expected. There are so many memories to turn over and over in my mind’s eye, with countless photos that chronicle the journey. So, time to dry the tears and focus on making new memories. I’m pretty sure I’ll get plenty more opportunities to whip out that checkbook.

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