Thursday, April 26, 2012

How Do I Make Lemonade When Life Keeps Giving Me Prunes?

And here's what happened this week...

Malea had her regular CT scan last week and on Monday she called me to say that the cancer has spread into her lung tissues. She also has pleurisy, but they can't drain the fluid because of the high risk of infection. She started advanced chemo yesterday, but they are again out of money because the treatment is so expensive (at least $2500 a week). Malea is a 38 year old mother of four and expecting her first granddaughter on August 1st. Her youngest child is 12. If you can help with any amount at all, please go to There is a paypal donation button on the site. Believe me when I tell you this is a person we need here for the long run. Please help if you can.

The day after this horrific blow came, my oldest son came to tell me that he's decided he doesn't want to transfer to James Madison University after he completes his associates degree. He wants to quit school and get a full time job and save towards moving out. Somehow, I saw this coming, as he has not been enjoying his student/teacher observation for his education course this semester.

Ben currently works about 8 hours a week at the local retirement home as a waiter and he wants to go full time there. He's gone to human resources and asked to apply for a job in the security department. I can only pray that it pays more than the restaurant job, because he simply can't live on what he is making there unless he lives at home with us. Which neither of us wants.

I am torn about his decision because on the one hand, he has a good point that spending thousands and thousands of dollars on an education degree doesn't make a lot of sense if he doesn't want to teach. And yes, thank God he figured that out now. He is talking about doing online courses while working full time. I haven't ever seen any desire on his part to actually work that hard, so I doubt that will come to fruition. I made him promise me he would finish the associate's degree, but if his job goes to full time this summer, I can see those last four courses just drying up and blowing away.

But I guess I have to let him make his own decisions and learn how hard life is on his own. Justin said to him, "You have no idea how easy you have it here." He wasn't trying to make Ben feel bad. He just doesn't want him to repeat our mistakes. Justin didn't finish his bachelor's degree and it has closed many doors in his face over the years. Yes, he is amazingly successful considering he doesn't have a degree, but I know he wonders how much more money he could have made at a better job with one.

I sat down with Ben yesterday while I paid bills to give him an idea of the cost of living in the house we currently own. He finished up his state tax return and we started going over what it would cost for him to live on his own with a friend. If he's really careful and he can get a job paying a few more dollars an hour, I believe he could swing it. Of course, he isn't taking into consideration the fact that the car we gave him will inevitably need repairs or that he might want to buy food.

But he's thinking it through and not just dropping out, so I trust him to do what's best for him. I can remember feeling all important and grown up when I moved out for the first time into a place of my own. I worked selling furniture at a store that no longer exists and hardly made any money. Between Justin and myself, we could barely pay our small bills at that time. But I do believe it's important that Ben learn things himself and not through us because the lessons stick better when you learn them yourself.

It's a shame that things are so backwards in our house, because I think we've set a lousy example here. Justin does not have a degree, but he is amazingly successful at what he does. Of course, Ben hasn't seen how hard he worked and how much learning he had to do on his own to get there. He's trained himself to be a computer engineer because it pays to support his family. He never had a choice as to whether he would work or not because he had his first child when he was 20 years old. Ben's age. Thank God we're not going to be grandparents that I know of.

Me, on the other hand, I went in and dropped out and went in and dropped out and finally completed my bachelor's degree in 2001, coming out with approximately $50,000 in student loan debt.  Do you know what you can do with a four year psychology degree? You can hang it on your wall in a pretty frame to look at while you try to scrape up money for your student loan payment while not working. Okay, so that's really what I'm doing, but it happens to a lot of people in this economy.

So, with my example, clearly there is a ring of truth to Ben's observation that lots of people with college degrees can't find work. Of course a degree would give him an edge, but he will at least have a two year degree (if I have to register him, pay for the last four classes, and drive him to class every week). He's willing to work a 40 hour a week, low stress job and, while he does that, figure out if going back for a bachelor's degree would be a good idea or whether he is happy without it.

He's got a level head on his shoulders and he's smart. He's just not worldly smart and that's where I get truly afraid for him. I feel like I haven't done my job well enough for him to understand how the real world works and I don't like the idea of watching my child struggle to make the rent money.

He is entitled to make his own choices. Hopefully he will work for awhile, discover that his job is mind numbing, and decide to go back to school. He's talking about maybe doing a business degree at some point, so I know school isn't completely off the table.

We always want our kids to do better than we did. Unfortunately, the cost of a higher education makes that difficult. And the job market is horrible where we live. He's very lucky that he is already working and they like him and are willing to give him more hours or switch him to a new department. And he likes his job. I just hope he can like it 40 hours a week and be responsible enough to finish that two year degree.



  1. aw, Chelle...I'm so sorry you're having a bad time right now! I guess when you keep getting prunes, you throw in LOTS of sugar and make prune juice! :)
    Sending prayers up for your friend Malea!

  2. I just donated to Save Malea. If I had more, I'd give more.
    My son has just started University at the age of 23. He wasn't ready beforehand. My daughter started a Diploma of Children's services last July, but only passed 2 subjects. She now has a full-time job at a childcare centre and is thinking of giving the diploma another go, but this time doing it part-time. We have to let them make their own decisions. Some kids aren't ready for more study when they leave school, and like my son, may need to work a few years before they feel ready. I didn't go to University, but that was my choice.. Not everyone is suited to study though. Tradespeople can make just as much money if they're successful. My Dad worked for over 40 years at a job he hated, then died about 18 months into his retirement. He always told us to do what we're interested in, whether it requires a degree or not.


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