Summer swelters here in Pasadena, CA, so it's hard for me to imagine kids going back to school. As the cost of going to college continue to rise, and with schools now going virtual, many are wondering, "Is it worth it?"
My friend and coach, Laverne McKinnon, reflects on her parents' sacrifices to allow her to attend Northwestern, which coincidentally, starts its Fall semester today (August 24, 2020). (Laverne's original post appeared HERE.)
“Chop wood, carry water.” My father’s words irritate me. It’s like he thinks that I’m not working my ass off: I make salads and desserts at Country Kitchen three nights a week, I’m secretary of student council, a cheerleader, in the chorus of Hello Dolly!, and keeping up pretty good grades. I won’t be valedictorian or Prom Queen, but I’m getting a lot out of senior year to prove to colleges that I’m worthy.
Dad wants to teach me how to change the oil in my crappy white Chevette. He bought me the junker for $400 so I could drive to an internship at the Hinsdale Doings. So glad I did that cuz now I know I do NOT want to work for a small town newspaper. Still interested in broadcast journalism, or being an actor though. He’s being insistent that I learn how to take care of the car. Curious if he knows how to fix the hole in the passenger side floor. We threw a mat over it and I try to remember to tell my friends to be careful where they put their feet. I explain that I’ll pay the $20 bucks at Jiffy Lube and use the time to read or write or study. The outrage of such a waste of money is evident from his request for another Schlitz. He knows how much it annoys me that he asks for things he could just do himself. I stand there defiantly, which backfires because Mom gets it for him. She also grabs the sardines and some saltines. She’s trying to diffuse the situation. I hate that she’s an old-fashioned house-wife.
I love my Pops. I really do. His mom died when he was 9 years old and he grew up with an alcoholic father. He struggled a lot with learning although he’s quite smart. I think he might have some kind of reading disability: he uses two index cards to block out the lines above and below the sentence he’s trying to read. It takes him forever to read his union newsletters, but he does it. The empathy I feel for him allows me to forgive most of his trespasses. Even the time he punched a hole in the bedroom wall when Teresa came home late with hickeys on her neck, and Mom wanted to throw her out of the house. She was wearing her Burger King uniform and it smelled like old French fries. “Who’d want to make out with that?”
We sit at the kitchen table with the orange place mats. Originally they were squares, but Mom cut them to fit our hexagonal table. I swivel back and forth on the matching orange chairs and wait for Dad to slide me a sardine sitting on top of a cracker. When Mom has her back to us doing the dishes, he lets me take a sip of beer. Mom hates alcohol – don’t blame her. It makes men less than. Mom’s father abandoned her and her sisters at the outbreak of WWII. She was about 8 years old and was sent to a farm to earn money. They lived in Osaka and because she barely, rarely talks about it, I believe it must have been a rough childhood. Part of me thinks she married dad because she thought he was a knight in shining armor and could save her.
The conversation that’s waiting to be had is a heavy one. I’ve been waitlisted for Northwestern University and just found out that they have a spot for me. We’d already put down a $250 housing deposit at Indiana University and if I accept NU then we lose that money, and pay a shit ton more for tuition. Dad’s pulled out a note pad to crunch the numbers. We jot down what we know will be hard costs, and then estimate the soft costs of food, books, supplies. It’s over $25,000 per year.
Mom joins us, giving Dad another beer, dishes put away, water boiling on the stove. Not much to say. There’s no way we can afford for me to go to Northwestern. They hold hands, it’s odd to see their fingers intertwined. They’re not affectionate people. Mom shies away every time I give her a hug. She’s so tiny she fits under my armpit.
There’s some unspoken conversation happening between them. I don’t get it. She has tears in her eyes. Dad’s a little misty too. Neither of them graduated from high school. Mom never even completed elementary school because of the war. They don’t get it. They don’t understand how this could change the trajectory of my life. I can feel the rage bubbling inside of me at their ignorance and naivete. I get up, to cry privately. I don’t want them to see my disappointment in them.
As I walk away, Dad says, “Ok, ok.” Mom looks at me. “You are the first.”
What did you get wrong about your parents?
Laverne McKinnon is a certified coach who works with smart, driven people who are longing for deeper connection and to have a significant, positive impact in the world. She’s a life-long learner and holds many certifications including grief therapy, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Neuro-Linguistic Programming. Laverne’s passion is helping individuals to access their courage & wisdom, discover their life purpose and live their own unique values…ultimately, achieving outer accomplishment through finding inner meaning.