Wednesday, July 26, 2006

expenses and ideas

So I am still waiting for the financial aid office to disburse my scholarship funds. I'm wondering if they're going to do it in time for me to order my scrubs. If not, well, things are going to be hideously tight again. It's tax free weekend, next weekend, and the way things are looking, we're going to be too short to take advantage of it. Unless, of course, that guy buys the body of our old Buick this weekend, as he said he would, in which case I can pick up a few things.

Elsa, being thirteen and on her way to 8th grade, is thinking of back-to-school shopping with a gleam in her eye. People can say all they want about spoiled kids of Yuppies and how this modern life is just so evil and wrong-- I was thirteen once, not so very long ago, and I remember the thrill of buying that ultra cute outfit. And my designer jeans-- Guess?, back when they were still $70 a pair. They fit like a glove though, comfortable and sleek, and they made me feel like a supermodel, no matter how bad a hair day I was having. Of course, I'd already gone through my growth spurt when I got them-- that's the only reason I hesitate to buy Elsa the cute "boyfriend crop" jeans she wants from the Gap. She hasn't finished growing yet, not by a longshot. It would be my luck that I'd buy her a pair of $68 jeans and she'd outgrow them before October. Until she finishes growing, she's going to have to make do with less expensive jeans. (And honestly, my parents were kind of Yuppies, you know. My dad is only 56, only 8 years older than my husband.)

The great thing, now, about shopping, is really the internet. I can surf over to the Gap, let her look at the cute outfits and choose the looks she wants to emulate (they have two pages of different "looks", some of them really cute), and then I can surf over to the websites of more reasonably-priced retailers to look for lookalike components of the outfits. Then, list in hand, I can have her go try on the clothes at the mall, knowing ahead of time what we need to create the outfits she wants. Her choices are really classic and really simple, actually, so they should be easy to duplicate-- a pencil skirt, corduroys, cropped jeans, Oxford shirts layered over tanks, and the oh-so-desirable and desperately-wanted ballet flats to finish off the look. Slightly preppie without being snooty, casual but able to be dressed-up with the right combination.

And, as a bonus, very much a look driven by mix-and-match. A different color of Oxford shirt and tank and the outfit looks fresh and different. And Oxford shirts, thank goodness, are easily found and reasonably priced.

The Little Guy, being 8 and a boy, is much simpler to dress. He's getting some new shorts and a couple new t-shirts, along with some new sneakers. Out the door for hardly anything, and no worrying about torn knees in jeans for another three months, at least.

It's one thing, I think, that people who don't have teenagers tend to overlook when they look forward to the future. No, your child doesn't need designer jeans, but they are going to want to look nice-- and your child's definition of nice may range from tattered jeans by virtue of wearing the same pair every day . . . or the tattered jeans that are at the Gap, and no, they're not going to be happy with the plain pair of store brand. And a teenager's way of rebelling against clothes they hate is simple-- they just won't wear them, and before you know it, they're outgrown. Something as simple as clothes can escalate into a horrible, stressful, angst-ridden exercise in teenage drama.

Sure, we all hope to have the Ultra Perfect Pious Kids, but who are we kidding. Most of our kids can be right proper little snots every once in a while, and you never know what they'll decide to have a hormone-driven outburst about. In my world, spending the time to make sure that the teenager likes the clothes we buy her is a simple step in warding off drama. I have enough drama in my life, thank you.

And besides. I love her. I want her to be happy. I want her to look cute. It's a win-win situation.

Oh yeah, and JC Penney has Oxfords for 1/3 the price of the Gap. She's a smart enough girl to see that three shirts is better than one.

Raising kids gets exponentially more expensive when they're teenagers. School lunches are more expensive-- by double, sometimes. Clothes are all more expensive. They eat more, they use more hot water, their clothes take up more room in the washer and dryer. They suddenly need deoderant and razors as well as toothpaste and shampoo. Haircuts are now at the adult rate. Admission to the movies is at the adult rate. Everything they do, in short, costs more than it did when they were a sweet 7 year old.

And that's not even mentioning college.

I, for one, have a strong belief that everyone needs a college education. Despite all our struggles with the teenager, our desire for him to go to college is the one constant which keeps us from making him move out on his own. He'd never be able to afford college that way, and he needs an education.

We used to be lucky here in Texas-- tuition at state universities was a fixed rate, set by the state legislature. A couple years ago, however, they de-regulated the tuition. Prices at desirable state universities immediately doubled.

Nowadays, financial aid is hard to come by-- I'm lucky in that my GPA is, frankly, damn good, as well as my test scores on everything. It's not an inconsiderable accomplishment, considering I started college at the age of 24, with four small children in the house. I'm proud of it. But not all of our kids will have a 4.0 and superb scores on their SAT and ACT exams. I'm sorry-- they just won't. Some of our kids will, but if you have four or five or six kids . . . not all of them are going to be salutorians. I know our teenager isn't. But somehow he has to get the money together to attend college. And as his parents, our income is figured against him when he applies for financial aid.

I'll probably finish college with about $15,000 outstanding in loans. That's considering that the last year for my bachelor's degree costs twice what my little local nursing school does. I expect that Elsa will have to take out extensive loans to finance medical school.

The thing is, though, that these are my kids. I don't want them living on the edge of poverty. I don't want my daughters going into a marriage without a viable economic support for themselves. I don't want my kids to have to pinch and scrape and struggle as we have. I'd much prefer that they go into fields where they will have decent incomes and livable lifestyles.

And so, because I love them and want them to be happy, I am going to make sure that they go to college. That means making sure they can do it-- this isn't the old days, where you could work a summer job and make enough money for tuition for the next semester. This is the twenty first century. College tuition is insane. I'm going to help them apply for grants and scholarships, and then help them decide on loan options. I'm going to make sure they have clothes to wear, a car to drive, and that they can afford to eat. They need to be learning, and it's hard to do while surviving on Ramen. I'm going to pay for as much of their college as I can afford to, to help keep them out of debt. This is my gift to them, my hope invested in them.

That is one of the major reasons that my own education has become so important to me. My oldest daughter is 13. In five short years, she'll be deciding what university she wants to attend. She'll be visiting campuses and looking at dorms and I'll be sending her out into the world to become someone, some adult with hopes and dreams and ambitions, someone who can change the world and make it a better place. I don't want to have to say to my daughter, "No, you can't afford to go to a good out-of-state university. You're going to have to cut your dreams down to fit into a community college."

If you will pardon my vulgarity, to HELL with that.

I had to butcher my dreams to make them fit into my budget, not so very long ago. Medical school, for me, was out of the question. I spent a decade living a life that did not suit me, just because I did not see any other option. I will work 60 hour weeks before I let that happen to my daughter. A mind as clever and compassionate as hers shouldn't be wasted. A heart as brave and generous as hers shouldn't be limited by the scope of a pocketbook.

Which is why I need to go to sleep, I suppose, so I can finish my lab report in the morning and work on studying about the initial immune response. 97 on my last exam. Not bad. Two more chapters tomorrow night and yet another lab. My brain sometimes feels like it's going to melt, but I keep trudging along.

It means that much to me.