Can I get real for a moment? Like, painfully personal? I just need a moment to take a breath. Nothing more. A validation to myself, really.
In the age of social media, we talk about all the things that we as people make us feel happy, proud, show the cool experiences we are doing. Everything on the surface of everyone’s lives looks amazing! I admit, I’m guilty of doing this. Who wants to see the behind the scenes stress and crippling anxiety? The hard work, the door knocking, the long hours, the advocating, the worry… I don’t think we even want to admit it out loud because it would make it that much more real to ourselves too. We just want to remember the good times.
On the surface, everything looks amazing. We have a profoundly gifted child that is quick to learn and has accelerated his schooling. We don’t have fights over IEPs and 504 plans, troubles with grades, acting out, bad attitudes etc., but we do have struggles. The financial implications are especially grand on the path we are on. That’s a hard one to admit. We are not financially independent, and we don’t have a big savings account. And we certainly didn’t have any money saved for college, especially when we thought that college would have come 8+ years later in a typical educational progression. We are self-employed in the arts, taking every job we can, working strange hours in evenings and weekends to make ends meet.
I think the public thinks we have offers coming out of our ears when they hear Elliott’s story. But Elliott hasn’t received any checks from appearing on tv shows, no big companies have offered grants or internships, and no colleges have asked him to come study there. I’m the queen of networking and finding resources but I keep coming up short.
My daytime hours are filled with all things Elliott. It’s a full-time job. The obvious being that a parent having been campus with him daily (before remote learning this year due to Covid). When he enrolled in community college and started on campus at 9, the school requested we stay on campus. That was an easy term to agree to. Here’s our little guy in a world of 18+ year old students. It made us feel comfortable as well. When he was admitted to the university, they were less concerned with having a parent on campus but the campus that stretches miles across two banks and two cities with over 50,000 students enrolled… it seems obviously that we would also be on campus to walk him to classes and keep him company between classes. To keep him safe. We are very aware he’s still a kid. A kid that can be fiercely independent but there’s a difference between being on his own in an age-similar environment as compared to being a minor in an adult world.
Days are also filled with meetings, paperwork, advocating, scheduling building, advising meetings… basically management of an 11-year-old university student. Any given day I am filling out FASFA forms, hunting for scholarships, filling out paperwork required for the state, fighting with the College Board to sign up for SAT tests, trying to arrange his class schedule to line up with his degree progress and classroom locations as well as timing and fall/spring offerings, communicating with his colleges to get transcripts transferred back and forth…the list goes on. Did you know that you can’t sign up a student for any online accounts when they are under 13? This is the bane of my existence. It slows down every process. When one gear stops, the whole machine comes to a grinding halt. All those forms and applications students typically can do online, have to be done by hand and mailed in. Everything takes SO. MUCH. TIME. Let’s not forget about all the phone calls, emails, meetings, networking we had to do to get Elliott into the community college and then the university and now grad school. Let me tell you, you don’t just submit an application like an 18-year-old. While these things are typical for the 18-year-old going off to college, it’s nothing typical for a 9-year-old.
Point is… it’s an unpaid full-time job. All the while trying to tend to and nurture our businesses as much as possible. I can’t work a “regular” full time 9-5 job. This is a very different lifestyle in order to accommodate Elliott’s educational needs. Why do it? In short, we’ve been there, done that and learned all the negative effects the hard way. We decided to take on this lifestyle to give Elliott the education he needs. It’s the air that he breaths to survive. Could we throw him back into 6th grade and get typical full-time jobs with vacation time, 501ks, health insurance…? No. It isn’t an option. When he went to kindergarten at 5, I thought this meant I would be able to focus back on my career… to work full time. Life had other plans!
We’ve taken advantage of all we can in order to pay for college. We utilized the states Post-Secondary Education Program (PSEO) that allows high school students 2 free years of college. We didn’t implement that program until the second year of college because we had no idea how the first year was going to go. We paid $6,000 to pay for Elliott’s first year at community college. The following two years were covered under the state’s PSEO plan and then I had to scramble to fund the rest of his undergraduate studies (which thankfully have worked out with financial aid and a Presidential scholarship after much worry and stress.) I’m working full time to advocate for Elliott, and we are in the middle of a pandemic where my husband’s industry was one of the hardest hit, with mine right behind his. I’m exhausted trying to make it all work out.
Now that our search starts for looking for graduate schools for Elliott, it could possibly mean a move across the country. We would be starting our businesses all over and the hustle would start from the very beginning of building our careers in another town, particularly an expensive one that has a music industry that would actually pay enough to bring in enough money for living expenses. I’m already exhausted thinking of this overwhelming obstacle. We can’t just send a 12-year-old to CalTech or USCSB to live on his own. We’ve decided if one goes, we all go. Being together is a strong value we hold, and we won’t compromise on it nor should we have to.
Along with our sacrifices, we’ve been incredibly blessed with extremely wonderful friends and family that have been supportive to us on our journey in ways that we will forever be grateful for. Thank you all for being a part of Elliott’s story!
But hey, if you have a rich uncle with a vacant house that needs looked after for 4 years in California, maybe you can put in a good word for Elliott and his parents? Kidding. Well, kind of… but not really.