Get the Picture

Carlos' mother is a little too enthusiastic about his college plans, while Alicia's mom doesn't want her to go to school at all. Meanwhile, Susan is devastated when she hears back from the colleges she applied to.

Carlos’ mother plans out his college and career – without checking in with him first.

Carlos and his mother disagree about what he should study.

When I was little, my mom would have her parents over every Sunday, all day long. She’d cook special Cuban meals and make us show our schoolwork to them. Then my grandpa would sit in the easy chair and nap and grandma would “help” mom, pointing out everything wrong. After they’d gone, Mom would go on and on about all the things they’d said or done that had bugged her. There was plenty. And then she’d take some Excedrin and go to bed. I used to wonder why she kept inviting them back when their visits made her so miserable.

It’s just, my mom wants everything perfect and she’s got definite ideas of what perfect looks like. She pretty much runs our house – and dad’s sheetrock business. She’s always on the phone and going back and forth between the office and home. The funny thing is, she hates her job. She always says if she’d gone to college, she would’ve been a nurse or something, but the money just wasn’t there. Dad always says she would’ve made a great lawyer, cuz she’s always right.


Click here to watch Carlos talk with his mother about her plans for his college education. (dialup  OR broadband)

Carlos and Maria get along well.

But being a doctor? That’s just not me. I don’t know why she can’t see that.

Maria, my little sister, has it so much easier. My parents leave her alone more, cut her more slack. Way more than they ever did me. I don’t know if it’s because she’s a girl or because she’s the baby of the family, but she gets away with so much more than me. I bet if she said she wanted to be a writer, they’d just smile, and say, “great.” But me? No way. I gotta be a doctor! Me, the son who faked a stomach ache so I didn’t have to dissect a worm in biology.


Click here to watch Carlos and his sister talk about how he should handle his mother’s taking over his life. (dialup  OR broadband)

Alicia asks her mom for advice, but doesn’t really like what she hears.

Alicia wants help deciding
what to do.

It’s always been me, my mom, and my two little sisters, as long as I can remember. Even when my dad was around, he wasn’t here, if you know what I mean. And I’m older than my sisters, a lot older, so my mom has always relied on me. When they were little, really little, I used to babysit them after school while she worked. I was changing diapers and fixing baby bottles when I was nine years old!

And I didn’t mind. Not most of the time. My sisters are great! Can you imagine anything cuter than twin girls? When my parents split up for sure, we moved here, to be closer to my mom’s family, and that’s been a big help. My sisters go to Grandma’s after school now, and I can work and hang out with my friends and just relax, some days. I still take care of my sisters, but they’re older now, more like regular sisters than like my baby dolls. I like to buy them stuff, make sure they have things that I never did. Maybe it’s because we went through so much together, but we’re tight, my sisters, my mom, and me.

So it’s not like I even want to leave town. But I do want to go to college – and my mom just doesn’t get it.

I tried to talk to her about it. Last night, when she got home from work and stretched out on the sofa, I got us both big bowls of icecream. I was nervous, I guess because I knew she wouldn’t agree with me.

So I sat down on the floor and leaned up against the sofa and said, “Mom, I’m thinking I won’t take that assistant manager’s position.”

She sat right up, too. “That’s a big mistake! People don’t offer you jobs like that all the time, you know!”

“Mom!” I was sharp back. “I want to go to college. Take some art classes.”

She rolled her eyes. “I took a few classes back when we lived in Raleigh, and they didn’t get me anywhere. Waste of money.”

She always brings this up, whenever we talk. “Mom, you took two classes. Two!!! I want to get a degree.”

“In art? What kind of job will that get you?”

My mom’s bitter. She was a good landscape painter herself and she used to try to sell her work at fairs and stuff. One time, a woman offered her fifty dollars for this big painting that was marked $250. We needed the money, so she got the picture, but mom had worked on that piece for weeks, and it was gorgeous.

“I can take care of myself, Mom,” I said. She’s always needed me to do that, and I don’t mind. I actually like it that I can make it on my own, if I have to. I buy all my own clothes, plus stuff for the twins, and my art supplies, and food, if I need to. It’s not like I’m asking her to pay for anything.

“I just hate to see you throw your money away, is all,” she said. “I know you can take care of yourself. I just don’t want you to make the same mistakes I did.” Then she said something I’ve never heard before. “I could’ve had a better life if I hadn’t tried to chase my dreams.” She means art and the stuff with dad, but I think she’s so much sadder without them in her life.

“Like I said, Mom, I’ll keep my job, then, if school doesn’t work out, I can always sell shoes.” I don’t really think so, though. I mean, even if I don’t become a Frida Kahlo or Georgia O’Keefe, I can still make a career that uses art, you know, illustrating kids’ books or something. Not art for art’s sake, maybe, but I can earn a living being creative, I’m pretty sure.

“Well, you do what you want,” she said. And that hurts, somehow.

She took a big bite of ice cream and then pointed at my bowl with her spoon. “Eat up before it turns into soup,” she said. Meaning, case closed.

Nobody understands how Susan feels when she gets rejected from college.

Susan gets rejection letters from three colleges.

The letters came all in the same week. The first one arrived on Tuesday. My mom threw it on my bed, so I didn’t even see it till I got home from Alicia’s. I got this weird feeling in my stomach when I saw who it was from. Not that I get much mail or anything. I ripped open the envelope, thinking I had a chance. But I should’ve known – a thin letter means the school doesn’t want you. I learned that fast.

Then I saw the words: “We’re sorry, but we cannot offer you a place in our freshman class.” It ended with something like, “we wish you success in the future.” Whatever. All the schools must use the same form, because I swear, every letter I got said the same thing. By the third one, I was laughing. I mean, I didn’t even apply to really hard schools or anything. I must be so dumb.

But this was my first rejection. I started crying hard, and my mom came in. I showed her the letter, and all she said was, “Well, college isn’t for everyone.” Like that was supposed to help. She went to work right after high school, and I don’t think my dad ever really finished school. He’s got his GED or something. So they just think it’s great that I’m even graduating. They don’t get that maybe I want something more.

So I called Alicia, and she got all excited. See, now we can go to community college together. But I feel like a big loser. I mean, she chose community college. Nobody else would take me.

It’s just, I kinda thought I’d get in somewhere. I had this picture in my head of how it would be, me moving into the dorm and all that. And now it’s all changed. Maybe I didn’t work as hard as I should’ve this year. I don’t know. But it’s senior year. Isn’t it supposed to be fun?

Click here to watch Valerie H. Gregory, Asssistant Dean and Directory, Office of Admission at the University of Virginia talk about how to involve family in the college planning process. (dialup  OR broadband)

These sites offer advice for dealing with family issues:

Talking to Your Parents – Or Other Adults

Why Do I Fight with My Parents So Much?

How to Talk to Your Parents

When you don’t get accepted to the school of your dreams, these sites can help:

Rejected: Now what?

What to Do if You Are Wait-Listed

Explore these sites for help dealing with senior stress:

Causes of Stress for High School Seniors

Keeping It All Together: Time Management Senior Year

Senior Stress: Soon Comes Graduation, Work, College

Surviving Senior Year: In Their Own Words (diaries of three seniors)

What To Do About Senioritis?

Time Management Tips for High School Students

Personal Time Management Tool