It was only our car’s starter that blew this time — but we were almost an hour from our home in upstate New York when it happened. Not convenient.
Still, this was small change compared to what we’d endured with this vehicle. Throughout its roughly 240,000 miles, the car has needed new sets of brakes and tires, a muffler every few winters, a catalytic converter or two — and a timing belt.
What’s more, an occasional pinhole leak loves to set off the “check engine” dashboard warning, which needs repairing in order to pass the state inspection. One other thing worth a mention: This car, by six years, is the newer one of the two we have (don’t get me started on the other!).
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That’s not all that needs replacing in and around our home, and for this we blame our two now-adult children. Oh, not them specifically, of course. Rather, it’s that modern tradition that the smarter the kids, the more you have to pay to send them to good colleges. And how that tuition smarts.
Over a recent 20-year period, the average tuition and fees at private national universities have jumped 179 percent — largely due to the availability of student aid, says a study from the National Bureau of Economic Research.
OK, as a dad, a husband, a taxpayer, a citizen, I get it: The more money the federal government gives to colleges to help the most disadvantaged students, the higher tuition rises for the middle class. And since the government’s primary cash flow is the taxpayer tap (drinks on the house!), we pay twice.
No wonder other things aren’t getting done around here. Aside from that still-off-in-the-future purchase of a new car, other upgrades have taken a back seat. Consider the windows in our home, not replaced since the original 1952 construction. A bathroom needs some serious TLC, and the laundry area downstairs needs elves to come in the night to put down the new tile we bought 10 years ago. But what we’d most like to renovate — our home’s ne plus ultra —is the kitchen.
It has enough room for anyone to work in, with emphasis on the “one.” Fact is, two’s a crowd, and our countertop and storage requirements long ago outgrew the space. (Clearly the architect was a bachelor.) We’ve been talking about upgrading the cabinets, flooring, walls and certain appliances for almost a quarter of a century (yikes!), when we first moved here. Or, even better, bailing for a different and far larger home.
But until last year, any time we started to get any such grand ideas, another tuition bill arrived. Dutiful parents that we are, we also somehow agreed to pay off our younger child’s student loan. Maybe we needed more schooling ourselves?
No, it isn’t a matter of brains. Neither is it about money. We do what we do because we’re parents, and we’d love our children even if we had no roof over our heads.
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And as we were there for them, they’re there for us.
In early 2015, my wife needed to go to the emergency room after midnight while I was 2,500 miles away on business. I couldn’t get home in time — but our son, home for his winter break, dropped what he was doing, took her to the hospital, and stayed with her.
More recently, when my car’s starter blew, the closest person we could call for help was our daughter, who lives about 20 miles in the opposite direction. She and her husband were entertaining friends, but she made her apologies, grabbed her keys and rushed out to help.
You can’t put a price on your children’s love, either.
But oh, how great a new car would look in the driveway!