Today I was featured in an associated press article that is going wild online.
When kids head off to college, some parents go with them
(you can also see it here: US Parents Following Kids To College For Gap Year and Parents Are Moving To The Same Towns Where Their Kids Go To College )
Its explains in so many ways the actions we’ve taken these past few months, and our goals and desires as a family for the road ahead. I was excited, too, to see how other parents are incorporating this new phase into their lives as well.
Yes, I know we’re not the American “norm”. For most of my adult life, I’ve heard “what did you say?” more often than not when I tell people what I do and how I choose to live my life.
It all started with my upbringing. I lived the American Dream life – two kids in the suburbs, dad worked 9 to 5, mom stayed home, white picket fence, dog in the backyard, great school, college education. You get it. The “norm”.
They showed me that was the road to follow. So I went to school, got the degree, got the 9 to 5 job. And then things started to happen.
Before my dad even turned 50, corporate downsizing became a way of life. He began having to reinterview for his position over and over again. One step at a time, he made his way closer to the magical age of 55, when he could retire and have a steady income coming in for the rest of his life. That was his goal – 55. Then he could rest a little easier, find a job he loved instead of had to work at for the money, and pursue something else in his life.
72 days short of his 55th birthday, he died of a massive heart attack.
I was already on the corporate track with stress of my own. At 28, my job had gone through ups and down, cutbacks and downsizing. There was constant threats of moving our department back to headquarters in Washington DC – a long way from Denver. Andrew had cutbacks of his own. He lost three jobs in three years, all to corporate downsizing. With this much change in our lives, after he lost his third position, he decided to make his love of photography into a full time business. At least that way we had control over our income source, and we could plot our destiny.
It wasn’t easy, but we quickly found ourselves at the top of the industry, bringing in a mid six figure range income where the industry average is just above poverty.
That morphed again and again. You can read more about it here.
Eventually we had a child, raised her without the help of daycare or nannies, and enjoyed every moment of having her in our lives.
Funny thing about having kids, however, is they eventually grow up. And we looked at it as a job well done. We absolutely love who she’s become, the way she thinks, the person she’s turning out to be.
We looked at colleges, and if you’ve ever gone down that road, you hopefully have experienced the joy of knowing you’ve found the perfect college environment. We walked on campus and it felt right. We took the tour and felt like we were at home. The tour guide said things we related to. They spoke our language.
Applications were submitted. Papers were signed. And we quickly moved her from Denver to Portland.
Was freshman year easy? I would bet it’s hard to find a parent or a child out there that said it was an easy process. College campuses have some of the highest depression rates around, no matter how well your child seems to adjust to the new lifestyle. Its hard going from a room on your own to sharing a small cubbyhole with a person you’ve never met before.
Its especially harder when you’re going through a lot of those things 1200 miles away.
She had her ups and downs. She had good days and bad. But she did it all at her level of success, made great grades, and started weighing her options carefully.
Isn’t that just like all of us though? We have good days and bad. We look at what we’ve accomplished, and try and fit it into our plans for the future. That’s just a part of living.
Living in a new environment is only half of the battle when it comes to college life. The other part is cost.
I know this isn’t the post that first opens your eyes up to the true cost of a college education. If you go private, you’re looking at a yearly cost of $50,000 or more – that’s over $200,000 for a degree! Around $10,000 of that is dedicated to living expenses – room and board.
Many, many college kids today look for any way possible to save money. They work several jobs throughout the year. They room with lots of people. They look for cheap housing. And when possible, they live at home.
During her first year away, Andrew and I began looking at what we wanted for our future. We sold our house while she was still in high school, anticipating our desire for more travel. We have a job that allows us to work from anywhere with an Internet connection, so geography wasn’t an issue.
Did we want some place warm? Did we want a different country? What did we want to see? What did we want to experience? We started looking; we started planning; we called it our #GapYearShift
Our concept of travel wasn’t about a two week vacation to Hawaii, or a cruise in the Mediterranean. Our concept of travel was about slow travel … a way of immersing ourselves into an environment for an extended period of time, learning about the culture, discovering what makes a region different. We discovered that two years ago when we spent the summer in Europe touring Spain and Italy. We rented an apartment in the town of Lucca, Italy, and used it as our base home while we discovered things you would never find on a two week tour. Like how to navigate the local grocery store when you don’t speak Italian. Or how to “talk” with the local police when you’re standing outside of your apartment at 4 am waiting for a ride to the airport.
As we planned our #GapYearShift, we knew we wanted that same flexibility, and we wanted to discover new cultures, new things, things we never discovered as two natives living in Denver for our entire lives. (Okay, Andrew moved to Denver when he was 4; I think that makes him an almost-native.)
We silently made our plans, and at one point included our daughter in on our goals. After all, she wouldn’t have a “Denver home” to come home to on winter and summer breaks any more if we lived some place new.
We talked. We planned. And eventually we came up with an idea. How about if our first year was spent in the Pacific Northwest?
Andrew and I had been to Seattle once in 1997 for training for a week. Otherwise San Francisco was the farthest north we had ever been on the west coast. Our bucket list included things like “travel to Vancouver”, “kayak in the Puget Sound” and “take an Alaskan cruise”.
What if we made the first year of our gap year in the Pacific Northwest?
As much as our daughter loved her new school, she missed her dog, she missed her own space, and yes, she missed having family close by.
By making our base home in Portland, we could save money by eliminating the $10,000 room and board cost, and give her a place she could call her own. (Granted, $10,000 isn’t a huge chunk out of $50,000 per year, but its still enough to make a difference, right?)
She can come and go as she pleases. We can travel as much as we want. She can tag along when she feels like it. And we can eliminate a whole bunch of things off of our bucket list.
Some people might see it as helicoptering. I would say we’re simply enjoying another phase of our lives.
I enjoy my daughter. We enjoy each other. She enjoys us.
We don’t step on each other’s toes. I respect her as the adult she is.
And at almost 50, I see things in a completely different way. 54 is creeping up fast, and while my lifestyle is completely different from my father’s, one thing I know for sure. Life is short. When you love someone, be with them. Love them. Support them.
Really, is there any other way?