• Mama PhD

    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.


Long Distance Mom: Choosing a College

A daughter's difficult choice.

May 8, 2013

Way down upon the Suwanee river
Far, far away

There’s where my heart is turning ever
There’s where the old folks stay

Stephen Foster’s well-known, politically incorrect, “Old Folks at Home” has been the state song for Florida since 1935.  Written in 1851 as a minstrel song, it was designed to be sung by a black slave “longing for de old plantation” on "de Swanee ribber" with a Southern vernacular substituted in the original lyrics.  The enormously popular song has been appropriately critiqued for racist depictions, but still appears next to another, less contentious state "anthem" about sawgrass.

I’ve been singing Foster's catchy song while cleaning out my Florida house, which happens to be located on Suwanee Avenue.  My second child, Katie, is about to graduate from high school so I will soon stop my constant commuting between Chicago and Florida to keep my academic job and attempting to parent on the weekends.   It’s been emotional painting the house since I have a door frame that shows the height of Katie and her brother Nick over ten years — penciled marks with dates, changing from four to six feet tall in Nick’s case.  I really don’t want to paint over it…

The main problem right now, though, is that Katie (and her parents) aren’t able to choose between the colleges to which she’s been admitted. We’ve put expensive deposits down at more than one school to reserve a place in the freshmen class and to give our child (and us) more time to think.

Talk about helicopter parenting.  Now I’m guilty as charged.  I bet that other readers may be in a similar position.  (Please tell me if you are...)  Katie was put on a waiting list for her top choice, which she applied to late in the year.  Schools where she was accepted—the university where I teach in Chicago and a school that her brother also attends, close to her Dad’s house in Florida—are split across the country, similar to how her parents split over a decade ago.  The pressure this puts on Katie is not fair.  The fact that her parents both say out loud that we want her to go where she is happy, while hinting that we would prefer her to choose a school close to us has resulted in screaming fights and tears all around.

And empty bank accounts.  I am a little annoyed at the college waiting list phenomenon, which led us to this point.  Fortunately, as a result of my research about how few kids actually get in from these lists, plus a phone call to the admissions director, I was able to tell Katie that she was not getting in this year to the top school of her choice.  (More tears.)

But Katie still has two colleges to choose from. (And now I’m part of the waiting list problem.)    So, I’m singing songs while Nick and I paint our Florida house to rent out until I can retire back there. 


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