A Tale of Tuition & Turmoil

I feel like sharing one of several defining moments of my family history with money….

When I was in college, all checking accounts had monthly fees of $5-10, so I refused to get one. I gave my mother my paychecks (3 weekly and 1 monthly from 4 PT jobs), and once a month I’d have her cut a check for my tuition bill, which wasn’t too bad because I had grants, scholarships, and a delightful little Perkins loan. But all of those stayed the same while tuition and dorms went up 10% a year, so I had 2 jobs my junior year and 4 jobs my senior year.

Along comes the last installment in May, two weeks before graduation, and Mom was supposed to have $750 of mine in her account to add to the sheaf of checks I was handing over. She looked at her check log, looked at me, looked at her check log, and mumbled, “Well, I just deposited my paycheckfor $400, I guess that’s technically yours.” Yeah right, like I’d ever leave my parents and little sister literally penniless, no money for food/gas/etc, with nothing coming in for 2 weeks. My tuition payment – earned from working 60 hours a week at some truly horrid jobs, including four graveyard shifts – had been used to cover a large chunk of the rent that month. My grandmother was supposed to be covering that expense, but the executor of my grandfather’s estate, her eldest son, had charged the bejesus out of her AmEx and left her with a pittance to cover her own food, utilities, etc. In other words, there was nothing left for us (not that we deserved it, but it was promised and depended on). It’s one of the two times I ever saw my grandmother cry.

It must have killed my mother to take that money. Every weekend she watched me come home from college on Friday after 4 hours of class and 5 hours at my afternoon office job, take a karate class, nap for an hour, work a midnight shift, come home for a quick shower before going out to my 9am-6pm Saturday job, collapse in bed for 3 hours before heading out for another midnight shift, then a 2 hour nap Sunday morning before teaching a private martial arts lesson as barter for the following jiu jitsu class, back on the train to school, pass out for 4-6 hours in my dorm room, and then do a midnight shift at yet another job, get off at 7:45am…class 8:30am-12:30pm… lather, rinse, repeat every weekend for all of senior year. And I worked during the week too, but I’ll spare you the yawn-inducing details. I hardly remember anything from my last year in college because I was catatonic with fatigue the whole time.

I did all this to realize my 10-year-old dream of living abroad. I had worked my ASS OFF to pay my tuition in full by graduation so I could quit my miserable, weird, underpaid jobs and escape to Europe with my temporary work permit – only to charge $1100 to my Visa and postpone my dream for another two months. But there was also a (significantly smaller) part of me was proud that I could ease my mother’s burden instead of adding to it like everyone else.

That was 16 years ago, and I’m still not sure my mom understands the impact that has had on my approach to family and money. I now give her embarrassingly nice gifts to make up for the decades she was forced into a genteel begging role by the financial incompetence of everyone else (there’s only so much dirty laundry I’m willing to air here, but trust me, there’s so much more). When all is said and done, the woman gave me life, therefore it must be okay for me to give her the occasional airplane ticket, gently used car, or new bed, right?

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One Response

  1. I just found your blog today and have been skimming through your posts! I really enjoy your writings!

    It’s amazing how these events in our lives shape us into who we are today. I have many memories that shadow what you’ve written, even to the point of slipping money into my mom’s bill envelopes to try to help her out when I was a teenager. To this day, I know my mother feels bad about having to go through that as a family, and wishes she could change the past, but I know that if I hadn’t gone through that with her as a child, I would have any financial sense today.

    Sometimes I’ll tell my friends when I go a little overboard on getting nice gifts for my mom, (recently a new laptop) and they don’t usually understand why I would do it. They often tell me that its the parents responsibility to do things for their child, not the other way around. I just want to do things for my family that they haven’t been able to do for themselves!

    It’s good to know that there are other people out there that feel the same way I do. Thanks for sharing

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