Higher Education

Is Not a Jar of Pineapple Preserves

Author’s Photo

I shop alone.

With nobody else. (So much better than drinking alone, right?)

Can you guess why I prefer to shop alone?

It’s because anytime somebody from my family joins me in the grocery store aisles, the cart fills with Let’s Try Its.

Ohhh, look! waffle and fried chicken flavored potato chips, blueberry cheddar cheese, or last week, pineapple preserves. When my son pulled the glass jar of transformed, sugared citrus off the shelf, my personal reaction was — ick! “Put it back,” I said before checking myself.

After a quick internal discussion, I reversed my initial response. “Are you actually going to eat it? It’s not just going to sit on the refrigerator shelf for months? You don’t even know if you like it!” I said.

“Exactly, mom. How will I ever know if I like it, if I can’t try it?” he replied with infinite teenage wisdom.

I hate it when his logic outshines mine.

The jar of jam, which by the way he does like and is eating, cost all of two dollars and fifty cents. That’s a pretty small price to pay to find out if you like something, right?

Higher education, on the other hand, is no two dollar and fifty cent, try-it, commitment. The decision of how, where, why and what he’ll be doing after he receives a handshake and high school diploma in a year and a half is already looming large.

It seems there are weekly emails, announcements, and meetings to attend. There are tests to consider — ACT, SAT, PSAT. Should he take classes to prepare for these tests? Does he have enough activities for his college applications — sports, clubs, volunteer hours? Can we shape him up to be more well-rounded before he starts filling out college applications next fall? How many college visits can we squeeze in over the next year? What scholarships might he be eligible for? How can we make him look like an all-star candidate?!!!

Honestly, I’m not sweating any of that stuff. OK, maybe a little, but only because my peers are sweating every last detail of where their children will go, and what they will become, and how they will look while doing it. What I’m really sweating is, why am I not sweating those things?

Am I broken?

I get it. I completely understand.

This is not a two dollar and fifty cent decision we’re talking about here.

Families have either been saving for decades to purchase higher education for their children, or young people will be taking on exorbitant sums of debt to obtain a college degree. Everyone wants to shore up the odds and receive a great return on their investment. Oh, and we’d like to be happy — before, during and after, too.

You know that phrase —like a deer caught in headlights? I wonder if that is what many young people feel while trying to decide which college to attend and what career path to follow. I wonder how much of their ensuing decisions are based on group think, projected rate of return, and the pressure of finding a good job. Oh, and today’s parents — you can bet they’re weighing all of the same questions.

So you see, higher education takes on a much bigger try it price tag than a jar of pineapple preserves.

Over the next year and a half, my job will be to encourage my high school junior to try it on lots of little things, and to remember that there are no certainties in life. Sometimes jam sits on a shelf or ends up in the trash.

I wonder if the best bet lies in following one’s interests, allowing intuition to lead the dance, and deciding to be happy — wherever life leads?