[Author’s note: The following is a memo I plan to send our daughters in three years, when both of them will have graduated from college, informing them that they are now officially responsible for their own lives – and phone bills.]
MEMO TO: Junior members of Jones Family Enterprises
FROM: Senior Executive Team
Congratulations to the junior members of Jones Family Enterprises [henceforth JFE] on your recent completion of your undergraduate studies. The Senior Executive Team is confident that your long-term economic forecast is bright. We wish we could say the same for your near-term economic outlook. This memo is to inform you of an important decision the executive committee has made regarding your status on the JFE org chart.
After a series of challenging years in which JFE has experienced steadily declining economic growth and spiraling costs, primarily in the area of our educational assistance program, the senior management has decided to implement some immediate cost-cutting measures in order to preserve the organization’s long-term cash reserves. This decision has forced us to make difficult personnel decisions to improve efficiencies and eliminate waste.
Effective immediately, JFE is announcing a 50% reduction in force. As a consequence, we are forced to terminate your roles as fully-funded dependents of this organization and re-classify your status as “non-essential employees.” We considered all other viable options before coming to this decision, including a recommendation by our firm’s Co-CEO, Ms. Jones, to eliminate my position on the executive steering committee. But that recommendation failed to receive the necessary two-thirds vote required for passage by the two-person executive steering committee.
Every year about this time, thousands of families endure an emotionally trying ritual: Sending their young high school graduate off to college – or in the case of my neighbor Bert Zablinski’s under-achieving boy Freddie, a four-week correspondence course for road construction flag operators. For many distraught parents it means driving hundreds of miles in a tightly cramped car filled with college gear, then coming to a startling realization – they forgot to bring one essential item: Their child. Don’t let this happen to you.
The experience of sending your offspring to college is different for every family. But there is one feeling almost every parent shares: a desperate hope they’ll have the winning Powerball lottery tickets so they can pay for college. That’s their Plan A. Most parents don’t have a Plan B, now that by latest estimates the average cost of four years of college recently has surpassed the GNP of Uruguay.
I’ve decided to come out of the closet about my little dark secret. I’ve lived with it in quiet shame my entire life. Until now, nobody has known about it. Not even my kids. Will they respect me after they read my public confession? Will you?
I simply can’t hold this secret in any longer. I hope I won’t ruin my marriage. This is really hard to talk about. I am searching for the right words. Okay, here it comes……
I am ………… a lifelong……… slooooooow reeeeeeader.
I confess. My slow reading problem started in first grade. I would read a passage like this: See Dick. See Jane. See Spot. See Dick throw the ball. See Jane catch the ball. See Jane through the ball. See Spot catch the ball… and I’d think, Golly! (What do you want – I was in first grade.) This is going to take forever! Couldn’t they have shaved off five pages simply by stipulating in one concisely-worded sentence that the three of them were playing with the ball? Little did I know then that Dick and Jane were just the first chapter of my slow reading saga.
In seventh grade, our teacher at my all-boys school, Mr. Alanson, made us read Marjori Kinnan Rawling’s Pulitzer Prize-winning 1938 novel The Yearling, about a young deer named Flag that becomes a family pet, then eventually dies, and everybody cries. Scientists should have stopped searching then and there for a cure for insomnia. I had discovered it. Took me forever to wade through this award-winningly boring book. [Suggestion to the author: Marjori, next time, spend a little more time on plot development and little less time describing a tattered leaf’s meandering journey down a gurgling creek.]
Now that school’s back in session, high school seniors are scrambling to pull together college applications. It’s an anxious time for parents like me. Some parents may be sweating more than others. Take my over-achieving Microsoft senior executive next door neighbors, David and Judy Wong (recent immigrants from Shanghai). They’re frantically hoping their little first violinist, chess champion daughter Vivian gets into Harvard or Yale.
Even with her staggering 6.8 GPA (I have no idea how either), in this competitive environment, Vivian might have to settle for her safety school, Oxford. In our family’s case, we’re just hoping we don’t have to fall back on our daughter’s safety school, the Louisiana Truck Driving Academy for Asian Drivers.
Here at VFTB, our expert staff of college planning advisors and part-time Wal-Mart greeters has assembled a strategy guaranteed to get your child into the Ivy* League college campus of their choice (* we’re talking of course about Ivy Tech Community College with 30 campuses throughout Indiana).
About 18 years ago, my wife and I committed a horrible lapse of financial judgment. We are still paying for this reckless mistake these many years later: We became parents. At first it seemed like a great idea – staring into the innocent, helpless eyes of our two adorably sweet, tiny angel babies we adopted from China.
If only someone could have intervened – stopped me from boarding that plane for Hong Kong – and pointed out that over the next 17 years, these little angels would morph into retirement-savings-draining, eye-rolling, “take me to the mall now” moody, fashion-obsessed teenage drama queens who would eventually become legally permitted to drive my car and whose primary function on this planet appears to be texting their friends about how lame their parents were for not letting them go to a party simply because we don’t know the boy or his family… if only somebody had intervened back then and told me what we would be in for, I would have undoubtedly made … the same reckless decision. But that’s beside the point.
My point is this: Raising kids is expensive. The return on your college investment is highly speculative at best, particularly when you learn your son has decided to major in Medieval French Gender Studies. For many parents a far less risky investment would be to put down their entire life savings on the trifecta in the second race at Belmont Park.