When he graduated with his Masters degree in Architecture, my husband Chris was given a congratulatory card by his mom Barbara. It had a handwritten note in Latin. Ad astra per aspera.
Neither of us knew that classical language, but we had fun trying to translate it. Something like “A rough road leads to the stars” or “Through hardships to the stars.” He had worked hard, since he first decided to be an architect at the age of 13, to achieve his goal. He had more milestones ahead in his vocation, which he would successfully handle, one by one.
Now it’s our daughter Sarah’s turn. Years of effort are culminating in a flurry of year-end experiences as graduation approaches, high school ends, and the next part of her life begins.
This week is frenzied. We just came off Holy Week and Easter, not to mention the performances of Sarah’s modern dance ensemble. Now it’s production week and performance weekend for the musical Titanic (Thursday, Friday and Saturday: the anniversary of the ship’s sinking); Sarah’s in the cast. She’s also submitting local scholarship applications, in the hope she may receive some financial assistance toward her education at Northeastern University, which is where she expects to study nursing. So she’s finishing forms and printing essays. She just took an exam in her college Statistics class at Salem State this week. She’s attending “Admitted Students” day on campus at Northeastern this Saturday, to learn more about the program into which she’s been accepted. And then there’s preparation for a busy work schedule this weekend at the restaurant that’s serving lunch for Orthodox (Greek) Easter. Plus being a liturgist at church the same day. And, oh, she turns 18 next week, so while she’s working in her dad’s office next week, she’s trying to decide how to celebrate her big milestone, too.
We’re all drafted to support her hectic schedule. Mom (me) goes out to buy paper for the printer late at a 24-hour CVS, because we’re out of supplies. Dad provides a stapler and black ink cartridge at unmentionable hours of the night (ahem, morning). We email, scan, download and print. We staple. We sign. We offer cups of coffee and give rides.
In a few more days, it will be vacation week, and this hurried pace will slacken … the shows will be over, the applications submitted and under review, and she (and we) can relax until the next deadline. For a while, rhythms will grow more sedate and predictable.
In the midst of this week’s non-stop pace, it’s easy to be cranky. Short-tempered. Lose focus. Step on each others’ toes instead of being gentle.
In fact, the expense of college is frightening for our family, like everyone else. We will make it work, somehow, but it’s not going to be easy or pretty. Lots of loans ahead. Potential debt that equals another mortgage.
We encouraged Sarah to reach for her goals. To hold on. To risk. To strive. And if she got there, we made a promise to make it possible.
She was accepted at other institutions with lower tuitions or bigger scholarship offers, but Northeastern is her dream. And we won’t ask her to compromise. The hope of attending school on this campus and in this program pulled her through complex junior and senior high school years.
We’re working out a plan.
After all, we once had two daughters full of dreams. Only one lived to make hers come true. We would give anything to help both girls go to school, reach for their goals, and grow up. We are privileged and grateful to do so for Sarah.
Meanwhile, we try to remember that during a busy week. We’re all awake at crazy hours and driving too many miles at all times of day, and juggling too many commitments, but somehow showing up where we have to be, prepared to participate, most of the time … well, that’s the best we can do.
This is the living complexity of a family. It’s messy and uncomfortable. We often challenge each other, and sometimes come up short, other times rise to the occasion.
I remind myself that these are all ways of investing in my daughter and family. Even if I complain, I believe she’s worth it all. We are each worth this commitment. Trust me that the alternative, which we also endure, is not even imaginable.
Yet on any given day, it’s easy to lose that perspective. One too many late nights or early mornings, a cranky exchange of words and rolled eyes on the way to school, followed by a request to “borrow” five dollars and be available to offer a ride later in the day, and I once more zoom in on the “little stuff” versus the “big stuff”
In case I needed a reminder, yesterday I picked up a stapled scholarship application and glanced through the essay attached to it. Sarah’s compositions are all about her relationship with her little sister Jessie, and why she wants to be a nurse.
It’s Sarah’s turn: Ad astra per aspera.