When Chickadee decided on Tinytown College (not its real name), we made several trips to campus before she began her time there. Every time, we went to the bookstore and accumulated more Overpriced Licensed Stuff™, of course, including shirts for the whole family, which was ESPECIALLY important because we have since discovered that perhaps the REAL reason Chickie picked this school is because every occasion merits a free shirt. She has the shirts that we bought her and a shirt for every activity she’s in and a shirt she got at freshman orientation and a shirt for her dorm and a shirt for the Honors program and a shirt for having accumulated shirts and don’t forget the free shirts for things she doesn’t even belong to which are apparently rained down on campus at regular intervals. (Me: “Where did you even get that? You don’t live in that apartment complex.” Her: “Well, yeah, but they were giving them out in the quad, soooo….”)
Chickadee also owns a licensed lanyard, TC-mascot-themed earbuds, some sort of Terrible Towel-esque scrap of cloth (hilarious, as this school doesn’t have any Division 1 sports teams), and so on. MANY MANY MANY licensed Tinytown College THINGS.
(In case you’re wondering, I also received a licensed mug for taking her to their scholarship competition and a licensed logo imitation Tervis tumbler for taking her to orientation. That seems like a fair return on the tens of thousands of dollars we pay them, right? Sure!)
What I did not buy, initially, was a decal for my car. I don’t know that it was a conscious decision. I just… didn’t. It didn’t occur to me, I guess? I was too busy gasping for air once I saw the price tag on the “TC MOM” shirt my child insisted I needed? Who knows. When she left for college, my car did not yet proclaim OH HEY I RAISED A CHILD TO SEMI-FUNCTIONALITY AND COLLEGE ATTENDANCE IN ANOTHER TOWN yet, or, you know, via shorthand: Tinytown College.
And then Monkey started the whole college application thing and was accepted at Giant Nerd University (also not its real name) and somehow, at some point, I became convinced that I needed car decals. We went down to TC at some point in the spring and I carefully selected the window decal I felt was the best one—I had to get the right design, but also the right size because I’d have two decals and the back window of my little hatchback isn’t all that big. The winning decal said Tinytown College, of course, but also featured the mascot (which amuses me, both because I think mascots are funny AND because it turns out that my daughter has something of a mascot phobia and I am so supportive that I now feel EVERY piece of TC merchandise I buy needs to have the mascot on it). It was perfect.
When we dropped Monkey at his summer program at GNU, the bookstore was closed by the time we had a chance to get over there. Oh, well. No matter! We went in to see him a couple of weeks later, and I did manage a quick spin through the bookstore, then. They did not have the decal I wanted—I figured every school has one like the TC one I’d bought, with the name and mascot, but they didn’t—but I bought one that was about the same size as the other one and put it aside with the TC one I already had. Once the program was over and it was time for orientation, we arrived to behold a decidedly unwell Monkey whose summer had not at all gone the way we’d all planned. And that sucked. So we got him packed up and attended as much of orientation as he could manage and then we left.
Once home again, said decals weren’t exactly high on my list of priorities. Monkey was sick, Chickadee was getting over a summer of sickness and getting ready to return to school, we were figuring out Monkey deferring, etc. Still, after a couple of weeks, things started to settle down, and one day I went outside to my car and carefully affixed the decals to the lower corners of my rear window. Tinytown College on the left, Giant Nerd University on the right. Lest the children try to aggravate me about it, I reasoned that that worked both in terms of the kids ages/admissions as well as alphabetically (okay, it doesn’t work alphabetically with the pseudonyms, but trust me).
Fun fact: I brought home college car decals for all three of the colleges I attended, I think (two for undergrad, one for grad school), and my parents never put any of them on a car. I’m not complaining, I’m just saying. Not their thing, I guess. But—I don’t know if you’ve ever noticed this—I am just SO FREAKING PROUD of my kids. Do I need decals for that? No, I’m sure I don’t. But I also do not “need” my Flying Spaghetti Monster car emblem but I do NEED my Flying Spaghetti Monster car emblem, if you understand. So. The decals went on the car and they made me happy.
Still, summer turned to fall, Chickadee went back to school, Monkey was still here at home healing up and insisting that the only logical option was to head to GNU in January. And his commitment was admirable, but also… worrisome. Because all attempts to discuss What Happened This Summer and Other Options and such were met with insistence that the only thing which had changed was that he was delaying a semester, and (according to him) there was no reason to revisit the initial decision to go there.
With our encouragement, Monkey has been auditing a class at our local university—the same one where he took classes as a senior when he was dual-enrolled. This was partly to fill some of his time this semester in a low-stress but mind-exercising way, and partly because we’d begun to suspect that perhaps Monkey might be better served by staying at home, or at least in his hometown. And this is keeping his foot in the water there, as it were. Anyway! The deadline to register for spring housing at GNU was approaching. We had previously put down a housing deposit for fall, which was subsequently refunded after, oh, fifteen phone calls, when Monkey took his medical deferment. Said deposit was now going to be required, again, and this time would be non-refundable if he didn’t show up in January.
“I’m going,” he said.
“Let’s talk about this some more,” we said.
“I’M GOING,” he said.
“Maybe you are,” we said. “But we just want to make sure that’s absolutely the right choice. Why are you so adamant about going? And what’s going to be different in the spring from how hard it was this summer?”
“I don’t want to talk about it,” he said.
The preceding dialogue played out approximately half-a-dozen times before we arrived at the week when Money Must Be Forked Over, at which point we all agreed to sit down with a whiteboard and pro/con columns and talk through every possible option until we all hated each other or until a logical decision was reached.
The way we saw it, he has three somewhat-immediate options:
1) Go to GNU in January.
2) Re-enroll at the local university; start in January.
3) Take the entire year off, start fresh in August (buys him some time on a school decision, although this option means reapplying to GNU if he still wants to go there).
Together, we worked on the pros and cons. As a surprise to no one, Monkey shifted in his seat and rolled his eyes and participated, yes, but, uh, not exactly enthusiastically. The whole thing made him feel uncomfortable; he reiterated again and again that he felt like it was a huge decision and he was sure no matter what he chose would be wrong. For every pro he had a con; for every con, a corresponding pro. It wasn’t helping.
And anyway—he finally said—we’d left an option off the list.
That got our attention. We… had?
Over the next few minutes, Monkey made his case. He sat up straight for the first time since we started the conversation. He waved his hands around, and his voice gained volume and speed, and by the end we were all laughing and nodding and wondering why he hadn’t said something sooner, and why we hadn’t seen it.
Later that day, in the car, I reached over and patted his knee. “You know what, dude?” I said. “You DID know what you needed. Nice job making a smart decision. I’m excited for you. Are you excited?”
He nodded, ever so slightly. “I’m still always gonna wonder ‘what if’ a little, but yeah. I’m excited.”
Monkey commenced working on The New Plan and—maybe it was my imagination, but I don’t think so—seemed calmer and more relaxed over the next couple of weeks, even though he was busier than he’d been for a while. We called his sister and filled her in, and she was so excited I found myself tearing up. Because these kids, man. It’s rarely been a straight path, for either of them. And through it all, they’ve always had each others’ backs.
I went out to the car a few days after Monkey had made his decision, and I carefully peeled off the Giant Nerd University decal. It’s still just in the back of my car, for now, but I’ll stick it in a bag and put it away at some point when I think of it. Monkey may still go there, someday. Maybe for grad school. Maybe never. I don’t know, and I’m not worried about it. GNU is an amazing school and Monkey worked really, really hard to be admitted there. But for him—right here, right now—it’s not where he’ll be happy and healthy.
I peeled off the Tinytown College decal, too. I cleaned off the window one more time, and then I repositioned the TC decal to the middle of the bottom edge, now that I just have the one decal to display.
It’s nearly November (which still sort of blows my mind). In December, Monkey will finish auditing his class and Chickadee will finish the fall semester and come home for break. We’ll celebrate Christmas and New Year’s and Monkey’s 18th birthday, and then they’ll pack back up, and both of them will head down to Tinytown College, together. They will live in the same dorm and continue having each others’ backs (Monkey: “If I have a problem, I can go see Chickadee, plus I can borrow her car if I need to!” Chickadee: “I can make him kill bugs for me, plus when I run out of Easy Mac I can just go steal some from him!”) and hopefully both have a great semester.
This is something I don’t say all that often, but: I have a really good feeling about this.