Sticker Shock: After High School Graduation

by Nancy Berk, PhD
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As millions of parents prepare to proudly watch their high school seniors march down the aisle toward their next academic milestone, there’s no denying that, this summer, in many homes plenty of attention will be focused on the upcoming college launch. In honor of college-bound graduates and that higher education road trip, I’d like to share one of my most popular essays from my book College Bound and Gagged: How to Help Your Kid Get into a Great College Without Losing Your Savings, Your Relationship, or Your Mind. This essay was one of the winners of the 2010 Erma Bombeck Writing Competition, which I think reflects the fact that we’re all in sticker shock.

capandgownIt fell out of the most important letter of the year. A thin adhesive sticker tucked inside the anxiously awaited university acceptance letter.

“Mom, I got in!” my son exclaimed. “Now you can get off my back.”

I might have cried, but I was too busy thanking a higher power for giving me my life back. The admissions office insisted I didn’t owe them that phone call. Like proud parents everywhere, I took the highly coveted university decal mobile. Clinging to the rear window of our SUV, the victory sticker symbolized closure from a process I thought would never end. This would be the last and most expensive decal on the journey of parenthood. Soon the nest and the bank account would be empty.

“What will you do with your time now that you won’t have to nag him to write essays and study SAT words?” my mother asked.

That’s when it hit me…maybe I could offset college sticker shock by creating my own line of empty-nest bumper stickers.

I was never a bumper sticker mom, but I’ve spent enough time on the road to notice the epidemic. Ever since they took baby on board, people have been taking their family business out for a test drive.

bumperstickerFor the put-it-out-there proud and bragging parent, car decals are a way of life. For some, they are the best invention since vanity plates. We know their children’s names, sports, musical instruments, and grade point averages. If the university sticker is the end of an era, empty nesters will be in decal deprivation once their honor students secure bachelor’s degrees.

“Let me get this straight—you feel obligated to create a line of midlife bumper stickers?” My husband wasn’t convinced.

“That’s right, there are creatures of habit out there with midlife messages to broadcast. I can’t sit by and watch them drive off into the sunset of their lives in stickerless sedans, proclaiming absolutely nothing.”

I showed him three samples.

For the midlife driver with night vision problems: “I brake for just about everything”

For the midlife driver with a little extra time: “I ♥ naps”

For the empty nester with senior moments: “I think my kid was an honor student”

“Those are very cute,” he conceded, “but this sounds like a big commitment. I kind of thought you’d have some time for me once the kids were gone.”

“Excellent point.” I jotted down another one sure to generate profits that will cover four years of college.

For every woman with a needy spouse: “BIG baby on board”

 

Nancy Berk, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist, award-winning humorist, stand-up comic, and author. A frequent contributor to Chicken Soup for the Soul, she blogs for The Huffington Post, USA Today College, and MORE Magazine.

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